Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Yolk's on Me!

How could I have been cooking for 30 years without seeing a double-yolk egg? This one went into my mac and cheese tonight, but I would never have used it in baking because it would most likely alter the recipe results.


I always break my eggs into a small dish or measuring cup, instead of directly into other ingredients, primarily to prevent shell fragments from getting mixed in. (And because I have to poke around with a fork to remove the little white strand attached to the yolk, which may or may not be the umbilical cord, but creeps me out anyway.) Some recommend it in case you happen to get a rotten egg (I never have!) Now, I'm thinking the possibility of an extra yolk might be another good reason for doing it, since it could ruin a whole batch of batter.   

Have you ever cracked an egg and found more than one yolk? Do you break your eggs into a separate bowl?

You can read more about multiple-yolk eggs here. There's even a picture of one with four yolks! Apparently, the chances of a double yolk are about one in 1,000. But most are discovered in the production process and used in other egg products rather than being sold as whole eggs.  These two were inseparable, but there are many images online showing distinctly unattached yolks.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Baggie Challenge Successful and Another Reason to Call Me Crazy

With two weeks of school remaining, I think it's safe to say our baggie challenge has been successful. Here's what's left of the 200-count box we started with in September: 


When friends are waving their hands in the air dismissively and reminding me that "a baggie is, what, a penny or two?", it really almost sounds silly even to me. I mean, if I see a penny lying on the ground, I won't pick it up. A nickel? Maybe. A dime? Probably. A quarter? Definitely. So why do I insist on reusing baggies? (You can read more about that here and here if you want.) Because pennies add up to dollars!

We got through nine months on less than half a box. If I had thrown them away after just one use, I think I would've needed about a box a month. That's an extra eight and a half boxes of baggies! At around $3 a box, I saved over $25. Brand name Ziplocs cost at least a dollar more per box, so you can add in another $8.50 for purchasing the store brand. And that's without even mentioning the one box of quart-size baggies for the freezer, and one box of gallon-size for storage which I expect to last until this time next year.

Maybe you can't buy anything with a penny. But if you had an extra $25 (or $33), would you spend it on baggies? That's what I thought. That's why I wash and reuse mine!


Another Reason to Call Me Crazy

I'm actually a bit flattered when people call me crazy. It feels like a good kind of crazy when you know you have $25 in your pocket that most people spent on baggies...

So here's another reason to call me crazy:


We haven't bought plastic trash can liners in 16 years. When we moved into this house, we discovered that paper grocery bags fit our pull-out kitchen trash can just fine. And we don't just repurpose them once. We use each bag many times, until it becomes stained or torn. All you have to do to make this work is refrain from putting liquids in your trash can. If you really need to put something wet or sticky (like eggshells or coffee grounds) in there, you can enclose it in the plastic packaging from another food item, a worn-out zip-top baggie, a plastic grocery bag, or the bag your newspaper comes in.

Again, I urge you to think about your use of disposables. Reusables may be the key to saving money at the grocery store. But before you start thinking I'm all environmentally conscious, I should admit that's not what motivates me to do these "crazy" things. I just don't like to buy things just to throw them away! But I did make my contribution to the landfill with three years' worth of disposable diapers. Some conveniences are worth the cost.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

6 Ways to Clean with Vinegar (Tuesday Tips: Kitchen Edition)


I have always stocked apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and distilled white vinegar in my pantry for cooking. Over the years, I have added several gourmet varieties for use in salads and other recipes. Recently, in my quest to reduce our cleaning product cost as a way of saving money at the grocery store, I have discovered vinegar as a cleaning agent.

The first thing to know is that the variety used for cleaning is distilled white vinegar. Secondly, vinegar should never used on porous surfaces like granite or marble because its acidity can be damaging. Lastly, I can perceive no difference in the taste or performance of apple cider or distilled white vinegar, regardless of price, so I purchase the most economical brand available (usually a house brand). Shop for other vinegars like wines: taste a few in each price range and find out what suits your palate and budget.

Here are a few cleaning-with-vinegar tricks I have tried:

1. Rid your microwave of that awful "burnt popcorn smell": Put 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar in a cup of water and boil for 2-4 minutes. Then leave the microwave door open to air out overnight.

2. Clean your microwave: Use the same method as above, making sure the water boils long enough to steam up the inside of the microwave. Leave the door closed a few minutes to give the steam a chance to loosen any food debris, then wipe it down with a damp cloth.

3. Remove mineral deposits from your tea kettle: Fill your kettle half full of water and add 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar. Boil for a few minutes, then dump out the water and dry inside the kettle.

4. Clean your coffee maker: Run 2 tablespoons vinegar and a pot of water through a brewing cycle in your coffee maker. Then run clear water through once or twice, until the vinegar smell is gone.

5. Freshen your garbarge disposal: Freeze distilled white vinegar into cubes and run a few through your disposal. The ice will clean the blades and the vinegar will freshen.

6. Another way to clean your garbage disposal: Pour 1/2 cup baking soda into your disposal, followed by 1 cup of vinegar. When the foaming stops, rinse with hot water.

I have found formulas using vinegar for everything from toilet cleaner to weed killer and am dying to try a few. I'll let you know the results!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Homekeeping Inspiration


A quote from this book I picked up at the library sums up my homekeeping philosophy better than anything I've ever read:

"It is of the utmost importance... to make home attractive, not merely to a stranger, but to all the family. Order and neatness in all the domestic arrangements will, of course, conduce largely to this end. No dwelling can have the air of comfort, and cheerfulness, and thrift, without this essential condition." 
(The Farmer's Almanac, 1876)


How much time do people in your house spend searching for misplaced items, or digging through a piles to find what they are looking for? Does clutter in your living space prevent you from relaxing and enjoying your leisure time? Have you ever scrambled to neaten up the house in anticipation of a guest's when your family has lived with the mess all week? Your family deserves to live in a pleasant environment and should work together to achieve it.

I'll be the first to admit that I am not neat by nature, but I have learned that it's worth the effort to make sure there's "a place for everything, with everything in its place." And I'm not bragging on my homemaking abilities. My husband is an excellent cleaner and organizer, and my daughter was taught early on how to contribute. As a result, neatness and order dramatically reduce stress in our household. 

I'm not suggesting that your housekeeping habits have to be perfect. Just keep your home in a way that makes your family the happiest. Beauty and comfort are certainly important contributors to our well-being. And organization helps life run smoothly, creating a calming and soothing atmosphere in which your family can thrive and prosper.

Would you say that the degree of attractiveness, neatness and organization at home affects your state of mind?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Why Meal Planning Doesn't Work


If you still find it hard to accept that the only way you're ever going to really lose weight is to consume fewer calories than you expend (I know I do), you may want to just stop reading now. Because I'm going to explain why A Year of Meal Planning was over after just a couple of months. 

I've learned that while you do have to buy groceries (which I was already doing a decent job of) and think about a week ahead (which I was also doing fairly well) to put wholesome meals on your family's table and lunchboxes, an overflowing pantry and a list of planned meals a mile long still won't guarantee success. 

So what, then, do you have to do to get your family fed?:  
  1. Think ahead about what meals you'll need to prepare for the week and shop accordingly.
  2. Cook (or prepare) and assemble them into meals. If you've stocked your freezer casseroles, as a lot of "planners" advocate, remember that you can't eat them frozen, so allow time to thaw and reheat.
That's it. You can do all the elaborate planning you want, but unless you plan to cook (and actually do it), your family will be eating restaurant food or carry-out pizza, despite your best intentions.

No amount of meal planning works if you don't cook! 

Others posts in the series (which are only useful in conjunction with the act of cooking): 

New Year's Resolution Update

A balanced, nutritious (and often even delicious) dinner has made it to our table most nights so far this year. Of course, a few poorly scheduled days and evenings have resulted in a few unexpected pizzas, but overall we have done very well. Our grocery expenditures are within budget and our restaurant spending is now under control and in a reasonable range.

In summary, though 2013: A Year of Meal Planning only made it a few posts into the new year, I think "planning to cook" is here to stay!

How are your resolutions going?   

Friday, April 12, 2013

Ever Seen a Bat Up Close?



This little bat has lived behind our shutter for the last several Springs and Summers. Unfortunately, we disturbed his nap yesterday as we were doing some exterior maintenance.


He hung there and stared at us for a moment before flying away and landing in the grass, where I took the top photo. After taking some time to get his bearings in the daylight, he left (presumably to find a new, safer place to hang out for the rest of the day). 

I had never had an opportunity to see a bat up close with its wings spread! It's amazing how they fold all that up and squeeze into a tight, dark spot (upside down) for a nap. 

We also have many bluebirds flying around, and there seems to be nesting activity in at least two of our bird bottles, so we hope to have more bird bottle babies this year.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Pineapple Chicken Salad

Spring makes me want to eat chicken salad sandwiches!

My Mom used to make her chicken salad with just mayo and a little chopped celery. I liked chicken salad back then.

But I've loved chicken salad since I learned to make it this way. Bright and cheerful are not adjectives normally used in food writing, but they describe this fruity chicken salad perfectly!

Cheerful Chicken Salad

Desired amount of chopped chicken breast (I use the kind in a can)
Mayonnaise or salad dressing (I use Miracle Whip Light, Hellman's, or Duke's)
Chopped walnuts
Chopped celery 
Canned pineapple chunks
Garlic salt or other desired seasonings

1. If using canned chicken, drain completely, then use the can lid to press out as much more liquid as possible. 
2. Place chicken in a bowl and stir in enough of your chosen dressing to moisten and bond the chicken together.
3. Stir in as much or as little chopped celery as your family likes. 
4. Stir in as many chopped walnuts as desired.
5. Drain the canned pineapple, then squeeze out as much liquid as possible with your hands. (This is important! If you don't, there will be too much liquid in your chicken salad.) Mix in the pineappple chunks.
6. Season with garic salt or other desired seasonings you wish.
7. Chill before serving.

My favorite way to eat this chicken salad is on wheat toast with a lettuce leaf, but it's also elegant and delicious served atop a fresh green salad. The restaurant where I picked up this recipe used to serve it that way, with a huge banana-nut muffin on the side! Yum.

By the way, my second favorite chicken salad, served at the first "ladies' luncheon" I ever attended, was made with Hellman's mayonnaise, chopped celery, and green grape halves! Also extremely simple, fresh and delicate.

What's in your favorite chicken salad?  

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Can Peeps Drive?


I saw the idea for these adorable race-car Peeps at Everything Holiday on Facebook.  (I really wanted to direct you to their actual photo, which was way cuter than mine, and instructions, which were way better than mine, but I can't find it again!) 

All you do is cut a slot (a serrated knife works best) in the Twinkie-style snack cake for the bunny Peep and pretzel-twist steering wheel. Glue them in with a dab of icing and stick on marshmallow halves for wheels. These little guys are going to school for Madeline and her friends to celebrate her birthday on Tuesday. One "Twinkie", 2 marshmallows, a Peep and a pretzel per eight grader = 12 students falling asleep after lunch!


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Finally Spring?

This beautiful, balmy 60 degree Saturday makes me want to believe our long-awaited Spring has finally arrived! But here's what is looked like driving up our road Thursday afternoon:

Six inches of snow on April 4? Really?

Nothin's dumber than a Hummer?  


Not in our neck of the woods. Even in April!


Sunday, March 31, 2013

Chocolate for Breakfast!

That got your attention, didn't it? The Easter Bunny brought Madeline chocolate candy and glitter nail polish- what else could a girl want? So we had chocolate for breakfasst. Steve and I ate ours straight out of the wrapper, while Madeline chose add little bits of chocolate to her pancake batter.

Easter Morning Chocolate Chunk Pancakes



Our favorite method of decorating eggs is so easy! This simple, yet elegant, display of five Easter eggs took less than five minutes to assemble. (OK, we cheated a little. The eggs were already boiled.) 


Hope you had a great holiday with your family (and chocolate for breakfast), too!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

One Year Ago Today...


... Confessions of a Home Ec Dropout was born!

I had been planning procrastinating), auditioning names and checking their availability, worrying that I wouldn't be able to master the mechanics of blogging, wondering if I was capable of generating interesting content, thinking I'd be lucky if I got a single reader outside of my own family (and I have small family)... you name it and I was fretting about it.

I had been complaining for months (maybe years) that I didn't feel fulfilled, felt the need to create some body of work that I could call my own, and regretted leaving marketing and writing in pursuit of more money many years ago.

On this day a year ago (a particularly difficult day), Madeline, being the wise 12 year old she was at the time, asked me why I hadn't yet started my blog. "It seems like that it would make you happy - you've been talking about it for so long," she said. I offered excuses, the "best" ones being that I hadn't thought of a good name yet and that I still had no idea how to begin. (Insert the Mommy's Being Mommy Again look here.)

She'd rolled her eyes at every name I'd suggested. But I threw one more out there. "How about Confessions of a Home Ec Dropout?," I asked. "It's not as stupid (maybe she said lame, I can't remember now...) as most of the other names you've come up with so far," she replied. That's it then, I decided. I'm not sure why I could make that choice on that day, and not on any other, but I did.

"Now all I have to do is figure out how to create a blog," I mumbled, turning my attention to some dishes that needed handwashing in the sink while Madeline continued fiddling with the laptop. No more than 15 minutes later, she says "Here you go, Mom. See how easy it was?" She had made her own blog in that short time just to prove her point that "it can't be that hard." I said that I didn't know she wanted to be a blogger. She said, "I don't. But you do. Now let's make yours."

So we did. Right then and right there. And here we are- one year and 145 posts later.

I never dreamed that something that takes this much time and pays next to nothing would be so rewarding! Thanks to Madeline for helping making me do it, and thanks to you for reading.

In case you missed it (only two people didn't!), here's a link to my very first post, which explains why it's called Confessions of a Home Ec Dropout.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Disposable Paperbacks (Tuesday Tips: Travel Edition)


We're in the midst of planning a family trip to Europe this summer, complete with a vow renewal ceremony to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. So I've been thinking a lot about how to squeeze a lot of travel into a little suitcase (or at least one that will be easy to carry on a train, store in a ship's stateroom, stuff in the trunk of a taxi, haul up stairs, cram into elevators...).

I really look forward to lots of light (no pun intended) reading on my vacations. The Queen Mary 2 has a huge, beautiful lilbrary, so I'll have plenty of books to choose from while crossing the Atlantic. But what about hotels and trains (and train stations)? Last year I had a brainstorm. Why not take along a few paperbacks from the thrift shop (50 cents apiece)? Once you're done with one, just leave it for someone else to enjoy! So I left one on the train, two in the hotel in NYC, and another on the train back to Virginia.

Library on Queen Mary 2
The shelves all have locking fronts in case they need to "batten down the
 hatches" to keep the books from falling out in rough seas!

The room curves with the shape of the ship's bow.

This year, I think I can top that. In the free bin at the YMCA Thrift Shop, I found three newer novels by popular authors! They didn't have front covers, but who cares? (I know they're not supposed to sell those, since credit for them has probably been claimed from the publisher by the retailer who couldn't sell them for some reason, but as far as I know they are allowed to give them away). So my suitcase will just keep getting lighter and more spacious, and it costs me absolutely nothing to read the entire time!

If the thrift shop or second-hand store doesn't work for you, try asking a friend to save you some as they finish with them. All it takes is a little planning ahead! Or, if it's your style, you could just buy them and still leave behind, but I never buy new paperbacks myself.

Any travel tips you'd like to share?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Liz's Flannel Sheets


Reader Question (my very first one!)

My quilting friend, Liz, posted on Facebook this week:

"The disappointing thing today is that when I washed my flannel sheets, the bottom sheet came out of the dryer with a big hole where the sheet was shredded. I only had them ten years. But, back to Land's End, and I managed to get an order placed. I hope my bottom sheet will hold together until it comes. Maybe Karen can tell me in her Blog "diary of a home economics drop out" how to make flannel sheets last more than 10 years."

Thanks, Liz, for thinking of me. The thing is, I don't really know how to make a set of sheets last more than 10 years. I think mine do, but we rotate two sets per bed. And I'm sure that you've forgotten more about washing sheets and making beds than I ever knew!

Lands' End's Satisfaction Guarantee

What I do know, though, is that Lands' End (yes, that apostrophe is in the wrong place, but that's where they put it) has an unconditional satisfaction guarantee. Even if you've had the sheets 10 years, you ask? Well, there was only one way to find out. 

Highlights of my Web Chat with Lands' End

Home Ec Dropout: My friend has a set of flannel sheets that she feels should have lasted more than 10 years. How does your satisfaction guarantee apply to her?

Lands' End: Our policy is Guaranteed. Period. If your friend feels that our sheets have not performed as expected, she may return them. With no record of the original purchase after that many years, she would receive the lowest price charged for that or the nearest equivalent item.

HED: I'm sure she'll be pleased. Does she just send them to you with a note? Will she receive a replacement or a credit, or will that be determined once you have received and inspected them?

LE: All will be determined in our returns department. Our address for returns is listed on our site for you (here). A note will have to be included with her name, address, and a daytime phone number. She will most likely receive a credit as a gift card.

So there you go, Liz. You may not be able to make them last longer, but you can send them back for a credit! If you could dig up the receipt, I believe you'd get back the full amount you paid. Thanks so much for (indirectly) asking me a question. Good luck!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Pumpkin Gingerbread


I've posted two sweet bread recipes previously (Cranberry-Pumpkin Bread and Banana Gingerbread), which I would've sworn (and probably did swear) were the best ever! Well, they were good, but this amazing loaf is even better. I'd love to cite the original recipe source, but it's been languishing in my file too long to say where it came from! 


Pumpkin Gingerbread

Batter:
2 cups flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup molasses
2 eggs
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon ginger

Topping:
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350  degrees and grease a 9x5x3" loaf pan.
2. In a large bowl, sift together 1 cup of the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and baking soda.
3. Add pumpkin, molasses, eggs, butter, milk and ginger. Blend well.
4.Add remaining flour and beat well to combine.
5. Pour mixture into prepared pan. For topping, mix walnuts and sugar together and sprinkle over batter. 
6. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour, or until wooden pick or cake tester inserted in center of loaf comes out clean.
7. Cool on wire rack. Wrap in plastic wrap for storage. Though I didn't try it yet, this bread should freeze well, too.

My family is so-o-o-o glad I finally tried this one. It's their new favorite- and mine, too! Try it and let me know what you think.


Friday, February 22, 2013

Wish All Your Books Were Spiral-Bound?

I love how spiral-bound cookbooks lie open flat so you're not always losing your place just when your hands are all sticky! Don't you? I also hate how the paperback bindings come unglued and the pages start falling out all over the place. Everybody hates that! Wish all your books were spirals? Well, they can be! 




My favorite local printer charges about $2.50 for spiral binding a paperback book (up to two inches thick), including a transparent plastic overlay to keep the front cover clean and crisp. You can also get it done at Kinko's and most office supply stores.

And it's not just for cookbooks!  Think about reference books, instruction  manuals, craft and hobby books - anything that needs to stay open to a particular page. Madeline finds it helpful when her music books start falling apart, or when they refuse to stay open on the piano rack.

Now, go gather up a stack of books and try a few for yourself!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How Fresh Are My Eggs? (Tuesday Tips: Kitchen Edition)


Once eggs are out of the carton and in the rack on the fridge door, how do we remember how long they've been there? How long do they last once we've purchased them, anyway? I've been thinking about this since I read in one of my vintage cookbooks that a "good egg" will sink and a "bad egg" will float. I wanted to know more...

How to test an egg for freshness


Place an egg in a cup with enough water to cover it completely.
  • If the egg sinks to the bottom and lies on its side, it's very fresh.
  • If it stands upright on the bottom, it's still safe, but should be eaten soon.
  • If it floats, it should be discarded.
(Once an egg is washed, its protective coating has been removed and it should be cooked to prevent contamination). 

The science behind the test

I learned that an egg is porous. Its freshness and shelf life are determined by the amount of air that has entered the shell. So an egg that floats has taken on quite a bit of air and is no longer good to eat.

What, exactly, is wrong with a "bad egg"?

A pasteurized egg stored in your refrigerator should not grow bacteria. But it will lose moisture as it takes on air and dry out, rendering it "the incredible, inedible egg". 

What's going on between "very fresh" and "should be eaten soon"?

Apparently, the freshest egg has a well-shaped and properly placed yolk. So only the freshest eggs should be poached or boiled for deviled eggs, while those that have aged a bit would be better scrambled or mixed into a recipe.

The life cycle of a store-bought egg

According to the USDA, farmers must deliver their eggs to stores within 30 days after they're laid. The grocery store must sell them within 30 days, so this is the date usually marked on the carton as the "SELL BY" date. It is recommended that you use them within five weeks of that date.

So the good news is that our eggs have greater longevity than I thought. The bad news, I guess, is that they could be two months old before we even purchase them!

More posts about eggs: 

Devilishly Delicious - my favorite deviled egg recipes
Egg Yolk Cookie Paint - cookie decorating fun
Easter Eggs - decorating eggs with shrink wrappers

What's your favorite way with eggs?


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Fridge Drawer Humidity Levels (Tuesday Tips: Kitchen Edition)



Every year we totally take apart our fridge and freezer, clean the walls, shelves, drawers and gaskets thoroughly, clean the refrigeration coils, fix any lights that are out, inspect for mechanical problems, then put it all back together.



Only I can never remember how to put it all back together. Once I do, I can't figure out how to set the humidity levels in my two produce drawers at the bottom. They have little slide levers for humidity (low to high and everywhere in between).

My owner's manual says HIGH for veggies, LOW for fruits. My search for more information (it just couldn't be that simple, could it?) led me to a better understanding of the settings and how they're used:

High humidity keeps moist air in the drawer. This is the best environment for your leafy greens or anything else that wilts.

Low humidity means drier air for anything that rots, gets slimy, or grows mold. This is the best settting for strawberries and most fruits and vegetables with skins (like cucumbers and apples), along with root vegetables (like carrots).

There's even a little saying to help remember the settings so you don't have to look it up every single time:

"Leaves grow high on a tree, roots down low."

If you only have one "crisper" drawer in your fridge, which may not have a humidity setting and is designed to keep moist air in, use it for your green leafies. You can store your other produce on the fridge shelves, which are in a lower humidity zone.

Here's hoping that I finally understand the workings of the two humidity-controlled drawers at the bottom of my fridge!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Super Bowl Sunday at my House



This passage from Jason Gay's Super Bowl Party: 22 More Rules in the WSJ was read aloud at our breakfast table Thursday morning:

"Let's not pretend you are going to blow off the Super Bowl. Every year there are some lying liar-liars who claim to be uninterested in the game and planning on going to the gym or painting pottery or reciting Chaucer by a whale oil lamp, but this is the Great American TV Ritual, and it cannot be resisted. Don't try to be above it all. You are eating greasy food with your greasy fingers and sitting in front of the television for four hours and you will like it. Or else."

Steve's Question: Who's playing in the Super Bowl this year?

My Answer (which is actually another question): Two football teams?

Jason, we really don't watch it. Never have (even when we had cable). Never will. There's probably a better chance we'll read Chaucer by whale oil lamp. What I do love about the Super Bowl is that all the papers and magazines print great snack recipes!

Happy Super Bowl Sunday to everyone who does enjoy it! Feel free to comment if you think we're weird for not watching sports on TV.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

10 Uses for the Humble Clothespin (Tuesday Tips: Kitchen Edition)



One of the most useful (and least expensive) items in my kitchen gadget drawer is a little bin of colored plastic clothespins! If you're a a green freak, the wooden ones are great too...

Years ago I bought a pack of 25 from Dollar Tree ($1 compared to $6.99 for 10 Chip Clips at your favorite bed and bath store).

IN THE KITCHEN


1. Close bread and chip bags, cereal bags inside boxes, and opened bags of frozen veggies to keep things fresh without wire annoying twist ties.

2. Hold your cookbook open to your page while you follow your recipe (this also works for sheet music).

3 Clip a few tea bags to a pitcher or teapot to keep the tag ends from falling in. If the vessel is too thick for the pin, just clip it on and use it as a weight instead.

OUTDOORS


4. To keep your tablecoth on, clip the sides together under the table.

5. Pin a stack of napkins together to keep them from blowing away.

FOR KIDS


6. Hang artwork or notes on a string.

7. Let them attach sheets to furniture with clothespins to make a fort.

8. Who doesn't know a craft project or two that uses wooden clothespins?

AND, OF COURSE, FOR LAUNDRY...


9. Pin pleats at the bottom of the hem for easier ironing. Also use mini wooden clothespins from the craft store instead of pins for hemming.

10. Mark a stain (or an area you've pre-treated) on an item of clothing so you won't forget to attend to it when you do laundry.






BONUS


Oh, and you can also use them to hang laundry on a clothesline.






In closing, this is

EITHER THE BEST OR WORST PARENTING/CLOTHESPIN TIP EVER:

"Use a clip to your keys when your child is in a carseat as a fail-safe way to make sure you never forget." - reader comment on another blog

If you read this post, you already know where I stand on this one. All I can say is: If that's what you have to do to keep your kid safe, then please do it!

What's your vote- BEST or WORST?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Pileated Woodpeckers

These two live in our backyard. They stopped by to visit today while I was washing dishes. 



I think they're married, because as soon as I took these pictures they started fighting!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Camelia's Quilted Couch

Photo by Camelia Elliott

Just when you think you've seen everything, Camelia goes and quilts her sofa!

When Camelia first told me of her couch-quilting plans, my first question was "Are you going to let anyone sit on it?" She answered "yes" without hesitation, but after all that work I wonder if she has changed her mind!

Read more about it and view pictures of her process here on her new blog.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Cooking Veggies (Tuesday Tips: Kitchen Edition)


Tuesday Tips are back, and we're covering the kitchen - until I run out of material or tire of the topic, whichever comes first.

Covered or Uncovered?

Should you use a lid on the pan when cooking veggies? 


According to one of my vintage community cookbooks, old-fashioned wisdom dictates that any vegetable grown underground (carrots, beets, potatoes...) should be cooked covered.






Veggies that grow above ground (peas, beans, greens...) should remain uncovered. Further research leads me to believe that this helps retain the bright color of your green vegetables (all of which, of course, grow above ground).

Of course, if you're one of those city slickers who's not sure which veggies grow where, this isn't going to be very helpful advice, is it? I once witnessed a "sandwich artist" at Subway stumble over a vegetarian customer's request for a sub with "everything that grows in the ground" -so you might surprised what some people don't know about their food! 

Cold or Boiling Water?

Apparently, those who came (and cooked) before us also knew that the root veggies should start off in cold water, while those grown above ground should be placed in water that is already boiling.

How could I have cooked for thirty years (and read cookbooks and homemaking magazines for longer than that) and not learned that? 

Do you have a veggie-cooking tip to share?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Freezing Leftover Tomato Paste


Ever since this post about freezing things other than water in ice cube trays, I have been obsessively doing just that! I have zipper baggies of half and half cubes, several varieties of broth cubes, and fruit juice cubes. No leftover wine cubes yet- only because I am still trying to figure out what leftover wine is.

In the past week I've made two dishes with tomato paste, each using about a tablespoon. I understand it should last about a week in a sealed container in the fridge. Since I have no tomato paste plans for the near future (and detest food waste), I decided to try the ice cube thing.

If you've tried this, you're laughing at me right now. Because you already know that putting tomato paste into an ice tray is a very messy procedure. What was I thinking?


Dollop Method of Freezing Tomato Paste


Then I remembered reading somewhere that you could place dollops, approximately one tablespoon each (you'll see why I say approximately when you try it...), onto a piece of freezer paper and freeze until firm. Then you put the frozen lumps in a freezer bag and pull them out as you need them. Each tablespoon is about a half an ounce of paste.


Martha's Method of Freezing Tomato Paste


I also ran across Martha Stewart's method, whereby you freeze it in the can and cut into slices.

Since I'm the Home Ec Dropout, and not Martha Stewart, I chose to freeze it into sloppy little dollops. Maybe not as pretty, but just as frozen and safe from spoilage!

How to Avoid Having to Freeze Tomato Paste...


I've recently learned that tomato paste is sold in a tube, sort of like toothpaste. I think I'll check it out next time I shop for groceries! If it's not cost prohibitive, that sounds like great alternative.  




How do you deal with leftover tomato paste? Or do you manage not to have any? Either way, I'd love to hear about it.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Replacing Butter with Olive Oil




I've often wondered in what ways butter, oil and shortening are interchangeable (this spelling always looks wrong to me, but it's right) in baking and recipes. The only time I have felt comfortable experimenting is in sauteeing. I still don't know all the answers, but last time I visited Oliveto to taste (any buy) some interesting oils and vinegars I was offered one piece of the puzzle:

Butter to Olive Oil Conversion Chart

Butter/Margarine =   Olive Oil
1 teaspoon               3/4 teaspoon
1 tablespoon            2 1/4 teaspoons
2 tablespoons           1 1/2 tablespoons
1/4 cup                    3 tablespoons
1/3 cup                     1/4 cup
1/2 cup                     1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons
2/3 cup                     1/2 cup
3/4 cup                     1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon
1 cup                           3/4 cup  

I plan to experiment with this a little. I also thought about replacing the vegetable oil in my Cranberry Pumpkin Bread with walnut oil to see how it changes the flavor. (My understanding is that any oil -nut, vegetable, olive, etc.- can be exchanged measure for measure.)

Has anyone tried replacing butter with oil in a recipe? How did it turn out?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

10 Days of Meals (Not Mine!)


For me, it turns out that getting a homemade dinner on the table every night does not seem to depend on planning. Planning does not always equal food on the dinner plates. 

A list of what will be served and when does not help me at all.  What helps me is having on hand what I need to prepare several dishes my family likes. And setting aside time to cook is what makes it happen! Sometimes that means preparing it the day before. And most times that means having the same thing two nights in a row. Fortunately, no one around here minds leftovers!

My method:

THINK ABOUT THE WEEK AHEAD

When making the list for Sunday afternoon grocery shopping (the whole family goes), I note of four or five dishes I'd like to make (and eat) for the week. Most dishes on the list will feed all three of us twice.


MAKE A LIST

Then I add all the necessary ingredients and accompaniments for those meals to the list. 


COOK WHEN YOU HAVE TIME TO BE READY FOR WHEN YOU DON'T

Some nights when I'm not busy, I'll prepare two or three dishes at a time. Read about my cooking nights here  and here.


PLAN FOR TOMORROW

Once the fridge and pantry are properly stocked, it's just a matter of thinking about dinner more than an hour before dinner- preferably at least the evening before. 


10 Days of Meals from Katherine at rhymes with smile

If you like a more structured system, one of my quilting friends has come up with one of the easiest and best plans I've seen (and I've done lots of research). Follow these links to read her posts:

My New Way to Plan Food (Part 3): This is the genius part!
My New Way to Plan Food (Part 2): Read Katherine's Meal Planning Rules here.
My New Way to Plan Food (Part 1): Why Katherine wants and needs to plan her family's meals.
10 Days of Meal Plans
10 More Days of Meals Plans

What's your secret to getting dinner on the table every night?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Spicy Simmering Potpourri

Fill a small saucepan about 3/4 full of water. Add:

3 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves (or whole cloves)

Simmer this blend on low (adding water as needed) and your entire house will smell like you just baked cookies! Bonus: a little extra humidity during the dry winter months.



I tried floating a few lemon slices on top to make it pretty (otherwise it just looks like brown water), but the citrus scent clashed with the fresh-baked. Any ideas?

I've been using this batch for several days now and it still smells great. It got a little goopy around the edges after a while so I changed the pan, which I worried would be hard to clean. It wasn't!

Tomorrow, it's back to school and work for us. I'm sorry to see it end, but looking forward to getting back into a routine (although sleeping in has been nice...).

Here's my favorite picture from the holidays:

Niece Kerri (from Chicago), me, Madeline, Steve, sister-in-law Jenny (in front)
Photo by Kerri's beau, Jeff!


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Trying Two New Recipes


Steve's friend came over to visit, leaving me with the whole afternoon to cook! Only three days into my New Year's Resolution, I'm starting to think it's more about actually getting into the kitchen and cooking ahead more than it is about planning. I've always had plenty of plans- and plenty of trouble following through with them.  I may change my little graphic to "What's Cookin' in 2013?".

Spicy Bean and Lentil Loaf



I copied this recipe from a friend's vegetarian cookbook. There's no sense in giving you the recipe since, as usual, I changed a few things. It was very similar to this vegetarian meatloaf, except that I used no protein substitute- just beans and lentils. I wasn't really trying to replicate meatloaf. I'm not vegetarian and could've made a meatloaf. It's just that I like Morningstar Farms Spicy Black Bean Burgers, so I thought I might like this. If it turns out well, and I make it again to refine the recipe, I'll share it.

Veggie Stuffed Pasta Shells

On my list for this week was Veggie Stuffed Pasta Shells, loosely based on this recipe. I wanted to use the whole box of shells, so I planned on using the whole container of ricotta to increase the volume of the filling, and adding a bag of frozen spinach (thawed and squeezed very dry). Also, I like to use the whole jar of spaghetti sauce, lilke I do for my Pumpkin-Ricotta Stuffed Shells.

What I didn't plan on was forgetting to buy the pasta shells. So I dropped by a store I normally don't shop in (because I hate because they never have what I want), which didn't even have jumbo pasta shells. So I'm thinking I'm not leaving the store without something. I buy manicotti shells. Same thing, right? Wrong.

First of all, the fragile lilttle things practically come wrapped in bubble wrap! This scared me- I mean, I've even had problems with the pasta shells! Secondly, you're supposed to pipe the filling in with a pastry-icing-squeezer-thingy, which I have. But guess what? This filling is really chunky, so it won't work. (No, I didn't try- I figured it out first...)


So I took a deep breath and cooked the manicotti. They all survived the boiling, but they split a little, since they're ribbed. A few of them actually worked, but as I tried to stuff the stuffing in, some ripped further. So I opened those up and stuffed them like hot dog buns.

This is what it looked like before going into the oven. I think it'll be okey-dokey. It's not for company or anything, after all.


By the way, I love my new OXO Julienne Peeler. It came in a set along with a regular peeler and a serrated one for tomatoes and other soft fruits and veggies (haven't tried that one yet). Look what it did for my zucchini and carrots!










The veggie-stuffed manicotti just came out of the oven:



A sprinkling of shredded Parmesan cheese near the end of baking hides a multitude of sins! If this turns out to be a good recipe, I'll send you this one, too. If not, at least you know not to buy manicotti shells!

This cooking day should take us through the weekend and keep us out of restaurants. If we decide to eat out, it'll be because we want to, not because we have to!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Off to a Good Start


I've made New Year's Resolutions before that didn't last through the first day. But this one's important to me because it benefits my whole family. Not to mention that I've made it in public, in writing, online.  

Tonight's dinner (planned on the way home from errands- anytime before I drive up the driveway counts as planned): 

  • mashed potatoes (freshly made, leftovers will be potato cakes for breakfast tomorrow)
  • corn (frozen)
  • peas (frozen)
  • cranberry sauce (leftover)
  • gravy (turkey stock cubes w/ spices and cornstarch)


Cooked for the next two days:

  • lentils
  • rice (2/3 basmati, 1/3 sweet black, in chicken broth)


Later in the week, we're trying a new recipe: Veggie Stuffed Shells! Well, it's actually goin to be manicotti, because the store was out of jumbo pasta shells. It's not an obstacle, it's an opportunity to try something new. At least that's what I keep telling myself...

I think that'll take care of Week 1. How's your resolution going so far?