Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Hope everyone has a fun festive time tonight!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Almost Halloween

Chocolate covered sunflower seeds, from Trader Joe's. I keep them on my coffee table this time of year


- Need to rake leaves on your lawn yet (or better yet, have a kid do it?)

- Dust your bedroom really quickly, if needed. I don't know about you, but my bedroom gets dusty so quickly. I have to dust one bookcase, two night tables, a wooden jewelry box and the "hope chest" my television sits on.

- Fill up with gas for the weekend; visit an ATM for cash if needed.

- Have you looked through your city's local events/arts newspaper lately? It can give you really good ideas for fun things to do - upcoming concerts, plays, restaurants to try, etc. Today during my lunch break I'm going to read my copies of "Seattle Metropolitan" and "Seattle Magazine" for a little catching up on what's going on in my city.

- Take inventory of pet food, and do a collar inspection. Are your pet's collars fraying? dirty? Still reflective (for pets who go outdoors)

TODAY'S PROJECT: Halloween Preparation

If you're throwing a party, you might have a lot of things to do today.

If you're a mom, you might need to finish shopping or help your kids get their costumes ready.

Need to buy candy to give to trick-or-treaters, if you are staying home? Do you have music and movies ready to enjoy tomorrow night, if you aren't going out to a party?

Need to give yourself a manicure before tomorrow? I'm painting my nails black, grey or blue to go with my Sally costume.

I'm going to a party tomorrow, and trying to cook up something fabulous and Halloween-y to bring as my contribution. Tonight I'll make sure my "Sally" costume (from Nightmare Before Christmas) fits, and I'll probably practice the makeup I'll wear on Halloween. I won't do any cleaning projects today or tomorrow, so I expect to be a bit busy on Sunday.


Fun Halloween Foods, at Food Network

Halloween Recipes Links, at Dark Side of the Net

Illuminate the Dining Table (Eye on Design)

Is the Candy Witch Coming to Your House? (Newsweek)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mid-Week in Late October

Pomegranate for my Autumn fruit bowl, 99 cents


- Kitchen floor need sweeping or mopping? Counters clean?

- Tidy bathrooms - refresh toilet paper rolls, empty trash cans if needed, wipe down mirrors, sinks and counters, change out hand towels and rugs as needed, for clean ones

- How is everybody in your house doing for fresh, clean pajamas to wear tonight?

- Do you have a fall wreath on your front door? If you own an autumn-themed or Halloween doormat, have you swapped it out so it's on your doorstep?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Guest Room Tidying

I normally embark on a huge guest room cleaning project in November, before relatives start visiting for the holidays. This year, I have guests who are arriving in time for Halloween weekend. So today I'm cleaning and tidying the guest room.

I've removed everything except the big furniture from the room. I'm washing the bedding (a set of teal sheets and blankets from IKEA), vacuuming the room, dusting the baseboards, dusting the lamp, and sorting the junk in the closet. I sorted this closet last year, but I've already filled it up again, argh. I want my guests to be able to hang their coats up when they visit!

In about an hour I should have a nice tidy dust-free guest room, bed made up, a throw on the end of the bed, pillows plumped and ready to go, lamp sitting next to the bed, and a desk tray nearby with a clock and water glass.

I'm putting a lavender candle (and nearby matches) on top of the bookcase, and making sure there's bottled water in the room for guests to drink. I have two lamps, an alarm clock, and a box of Kleenex within easy reach of the bed.

Right before guests actually arrive on Friday, I'll spritz the room with pomegranate cassis room spray, put fresh flowers in the room, and perhaps a small basket of Satsuma oranges.

Have you ever slept overnight in your guest room so you know if the bed is comfy, the blankets adequate, and the temperature in the room ideal?


I was messing around making sushi last night and enjoyed peeking at this very useful resource site. It's a great place to learn about making the perfect sushi rice, and getting tips on creative bento boxes. But there's also beautifully photographed food, plus the occasional post on gorgeous kyaraben bento boxes. I probably spent about an hour on this site last night learning things.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Last Monday in October

The L'Occitane "Golden Branch" candle I'm burning in my bedroom today

Daylight Saving Time is on November 1st this year. Before you go to bed after your Halloween festivities, turn your clocks back one hour.

Daylight Saving Time


- Plan menus for the week and write your grocery list

- Need to buy Halloween candy to give out to trick-or-treaters on Saturday?

- Finish up your Halloween costume or your children's costumes, if needed

- Book travel for Thanksgiving and/or Christmas if you haven't already

- Need to catch up on laundry you didn't finish over the weekend?


I take fire safety very seriously. I have been in a hotel that was on fire before. Though it was a small fire and I was in no real danger, it's made me extra cautious. I burn a lot of candles, and use my fireplace often, so I have to consciously think every day about minimizing fire risk.

Safety experts always suggest that we test our smoke alarm batteries twice a year, when we change our clocks. They say we should replace them once a year, during the fall clock change. Clock changing time is coming up this weekend. Let's get our safety related errands done now so we can focus on a fun festive Halloween.

Replace your batteries in your smoke detectors (whether they need it or not. Put batteries on your shopping list if you use up your stash during our safety exercise this week.

Empty and clean your dryer lint trap and clean behind the dryer and around the hose if you can. Inspect the hose for wear, and see if you need to have a professional come out to clean the hose. (Chimney sweep companies often offer this as a service they provide as well).

Vacuum or dust all the smoke detectors in your house while you're at it. Is your smoke detector more than seven years old? Pitch it out and get a new one. You can pick one up at RiteAid, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Target, Home Depot, Lowe's, and even at some grocery stores.

While you're shopping, do you have a carbon monoxide detector?

See if you need to replace your existing fire extinguishers. If you don't have any, now is the time to think about getting one for your kitchen, bedroom hallway, garage, and for each vehicle.

Do you have a flashlight with working batteries next to your bed? Test it tonight in the dark. Can you reach it and turn it on quickly from a lying down position? Is it bright enough?

Do you keep a flashlight in your car? If so, have you tested it in the last week to see if it works?

Spend some time tonight with your family, especially if you have small children, discussing what to do in event of a fire. Practice your fire escape route.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors, at Wikipedia

Fire Safety, at Wikipedia



Last week was "All About Us" week, where we pampered ourselves, selfishly did things for ourselves only, neglected big housecleaning projects, read books, did crafts, got manicures, and took long baths.

Now it's time to do a few chores, have a fun Halloween, then get back to work. With November comes removal of Halloween decorations, sprucing up of autumn decor, early Christmas shopping, Thanksgiving planning, and getting the guest room ready for houseguests. Time to start thinking about others again!

LOVELY BLOGS: Paris Parfait

This is Tara Bradford's blog on her travels and her life in Paris. It's full of amazing photography, sure to transport you away to enjoyable places during each browsing session.


Extraordinary Cakes Made Simple (Today Show)

No Einstein In Your Crib? Get a Refund (NY Times)

Trick Out Your House With Treats (Epicurious)

To Cut Global Warming, Swedes Study Their Plates (NY Times)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Did You Participate in "Time for Us" Week?

My Autumn walk in Redmond, Washington

This week instead of doing major housecleaning projects, I enjoyed time for myself, doing things I enjoyed.

I still had to do my job every day, prepare dinner for my household, run the dishwasher, start a load of laundry here or there, and do just enough maintenance cleaning projects that my house wouldn't fall into the apocalypse.

But I gave myself room and time to do things I enjoy. On Wednesday I laid around watching movies and reading magazines. I went shopping and out to dinner with my best friend on Thursday, and to dinner and a movie on Friday. On Saturday I enjoyed a birthday party, then went out for drinks with new friends. Sunday I went for an autumn walk, I spent a few hours experimenting in the kitchen, goofing around with makeup and nail polish, and reading books.

I feel majorly refreshed and destressed, and now I'm ready to handle the stress and excitement of getting ready for the holiday season. Relaxed like this, I can look forward to the houseguests who will arrive, the meals I'll cook, the parties I'll throw, and the celebrations I'll share with family.

If you participated in "Time for Us Week", what activities did you do? What did you make a priority for yourself this week?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Last Day of "Me" Time


- Tidy up real quickly for the weekend. Wipe down counters and mirrors, empty trashcans, remove magazines and clutter from the living room. Empty off the dining table and breakfast nook table if need be. Remove items piled on stairs to be taken upstairs; hang up coats, put away umbrellas and shoes.

- Fill up with gas for the weekend if needed; visit an ATM to get cash if you need some.

- Throw out dead flowers; replace with fresh new ones to enjoy

- Take quick inventory for your shopping list if you intend to go shopping this weekend. Shampoos/bath stuff? Cleaning supplies? Groceries? Lightbulbs? Batteries? Fresh flowers? Laundry detergent? Toilet paper/paper towels? Cold medicine? Christmas shopping?

- Make weekend socialization plans if you haven't already


It sounds selfish, but I'm only going to do what I want to do today after work is over. Other than brief tidying for the weekend, not a speck of cleaning. Laundry can wait for tomorrow. Vacuuming can happen tomorrow.

Tonight, I'm going out to dinner and a movie with friends. Beforehand, I'm trying to fit in a little enjoyable shopping before dinnertime. I'm headed to Macy's looking for a dress to wear to my father's 65th birthday party.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Another Day of Pampering

Today I'll tidy up the bathrooms and vacuum the living room, empty the dishwasher, then that's it for tonight. Plenty of time to clean in the upcoming festive holiday months.


- Need to tidy bathrooms?

- Have everything you need from the grocery store? Milk, butter, eggs, bread, lettuce, tomatoes?

- Thanksgiving is a little over a month away. Do you know where you're going, if you're hosting, if you're traveling? Need to make any plans? If you're traveling or going to someone else's house, do you have a hostess gift?

TODAY'S PROJECT: One More Day of Fun

After I'm done working today, I am going to lie around in bed with tea, magazines and a couple books I'm eager to finish reading. I have a pileup of Donna Hay, Rachael Ray and Oprah magazines, plus two or three Gourmets and Bon Appetits I want to scour for interesting recipes to cut out.

Tomorrow I will go to Target to begin my Christmas shopping.
Every year I try to have all my Christmas shopping (and the bulk of the wrapping) done by December 1st. Because I spread my shopping out over several months, beginning in August, I have more "fun money" left in December.

By that point, I haven't spent all my December budget on gifts, so I can still afford to go out to dinner, buy myself a holiday party dress, and treat myself to the occasional book, magazine, candle, or new lipstick.

And every year when many of my friends and family members are braving snow, wind, cold, rain, and crowds at the mall on December 20ish, I'm sitting in my cozy home, with a cup of rum-infused hot cocoa in front of my fireplace, watching TV and reading books and relaxing; all the while staring at the lovely wrapped pile of presents ready to be given out to my loved ones. (Yes, I'm smug!)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

More Time For Ourselves

I treated myself to a set of these Mathilda coasters from Crate & Barrel


- Need to run the vacuum really quickly through a couple rooms?

- Any trash cans need emptying?

- Dishwasher need to be filled, or emptied?

- Need to clean pet food bowls and water dispensers?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Treat Yourself

Do something nice for yourself today. It doesn't have to involve spending money, but it does have to involve spending time on yourself. If you do have a little room in your budget, splurge on a hot drink at Starbucks, a fall candle at Pier 1, a new shower gel at Bath & Body Works, or perhaps a potted plant at Trader Joe's? Maybe you'd like to buy a new paperback at your local bookstore, or spend just $6 on a couple new magazines to peruse.

No room in the budget? Make your partner take care of the kids this evening (if you have any). Treat yourself to a goofy TV show today, or spend the hour you would have spent housecleaning, reading a book or doing crafts instead. Take a long bath, give yourself a manicure or pedicure, scrub and moisturize your skin. Go through old photos, if that's fun, or get out old children's books to enjoy for yourself. Write in your journal or diary, or work on a short story or poem you've been creating. Paint, or do something else creative that you enjoy doing. Write a letter to someone, go through old letters people have sent you, or try on some goofy makeup and hair styles.

Make someone else cook dinner, whether that be your partner, one of the kids, the microwave, or a takeout restaurant or fast food place. You'll have plenty of time to cook for your family and friends in the upcoming busy holiday season.


Pumpkin Chocolate Cake (Whole Foods)

Monday, October 19, 2009

"Time For Us" Week

Lush "Jack-o" Bath Bomb

For the last few weeks we've been working to clean and organize our homes for our families and to welcome guests. Now it's time to turn inward, to pamper ourselves and enrich our lives.

Be a little selfish. Make time for yourself. Demand it, you deserve it! Make your children's father spend time with them while you get a manicure - or drop them off at a grandparents' or friend's house for a few hours. Encourage your boyfriend to go out with the guys, so you can go out with the girls or just have a few quiet hours at home alone. Read that book you've been dying to finish; lazily leaf through magazines drooling at the pretty pictures; take an extra long bath. Linger just a bit longer over your morning hot beverage of choice.


- With long winter nights ahead of us, consider joining an online book club or book reading group.

- Make yourself a manicure, pedicure or hair appointment for this week, or just go get a walk-in service. (Or whatever would make you feel pampered!) If your budget is tight, just make room in your schedule to give yourself a manicure or pedicure.

- See if you can make plans to have lunch with a friend this week; or go to a movie some evening. Tight budget? Rewatch an old favorite DVD or find something intriguing on cable.

- Make a list of fun things you'd enjoy doing this week. Definitely take your budget into consideration, but spoil yourself a bit if you can.


Whatever pampering means to you, see if you can treat yourself to some tonight. Get hubby to give you a massage maybe. Take a long, hot bath with lemon icewater to sip and a book or magazine. Watch a TV show that isn't very good for your brain but is deliciously fun to watch. (I recommend Eastwick on Wednesday nights!) Go out to dinner, or grab fast food (something I don't normally do) for a one-time treat. Think just about yourself, doing the bare minimum you can do tonight to keep your house in order and your family happy and fed. Remember that a happy wife and mom makes for a happy household.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Curio Cabinets


- Finalize Halloween costumes, put up decorations, finish party plans

- Spot-cleaning kitchen and bathroom floors or just using a few cleaning wipes on them will make them shine and make your weekend cleanup go faster.

- Done with the weekend's laundry? It's folded and put away? Bed linens changed?

- Is there room in your coat closet for actual coats? See if you need to declutter, get rid of unused coats, or move a vacuum to a different closet.

- Use your fragrance oil infuser, burn a candle, or spray your favorite home fragrance

TODAY'S PROJECT: Curio Cabinets

I own two curio cabinets, both full of dishes and keepsakes. Today I'm sorting them both out and dusting. I'm removing everything, including the glass shelves, and washing all the dishes. I have to wash them by hand as they're antiques or fragile fancy martini glasses, so they don't go near a dishwasher, ever.

I can't move the curio cabinets by myself to vacuum under them, but I will give them a good dusting. I'll see if there's anything I can get rid of, as each cabinet is looking cluttered. But unfortunately I think everything in these cabinets is something I either use frequently for entertaining, or keepsakes I'm too sentimental about (like my great-aunt's handmade decorated eggshells).

In the living room cabinet I have martini glasses, wine glasses, a china figurine of a witch I've had since I was a little girl, eggshells my aunt decorated, three or four amethyst glass vases, pink depression glass dessert dishes, a wacky art glass bowl I use to serve M&Ms or peanuts, and a few other miscellaneous pieces of glassware. Almost all need to be washed as dusting alone won't help them. The glass shelves will be washed too, as well as the glass in the doors.

I expect the project to take around an hour per cabinet, which gives me plenty of time to finish up laundry, make dinner and clean up after it before Desperate Housewives comes on!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Life's Celebrations

I'm going out of town to celebrate a cousin's 40th birthday party. He only lives a three hour drive away. While I'm there, I'll visit another old friend and meet up with a lady from one of my communities for a quick coffee.

It will be a busy trip, and I will have fun. Still, it will be so nice to come home to my clean, orderly home that's decorated cozily for autumn.

Remember, as you set out your homey fall decorations and give your home a personal decorating touch over the weekend, that our homes do not need to look like the latest Pottery Barn catalog.

Pottery Barn has $75 an hour stylists to help them decorate, an army of housecleaners, brand new furniture and plenty of accessories to work with, and talented photographers to make their tablescapes and rooms look exquisite.

They don't have children tramping through the house with muddy shoes, pets running through their home vomiting and depositing hair everywhere, and they don't have people living in their showhouses generating clutter and mess.

Your home will look gorgeous once you are done giving it your personal touch, so don't put yourself under pressure to make it look like a fantasy out of a magazine. The reality is we read books in our living rooms and leave one or two lying on a coffee table next to our box of Kleenex and a cup of coffee. Reality is you asked your child to tidy up the playroom and they did, but there's still a puzzle box sticking out from under a table and they forgot to vacuum the carpet. Reality is you just finished cleaning the kitchen five minutes ago, and someone's already deposited a plate on the counter, and left a half-sliced apple - plus the knife they cut it with - on the cutting board. It's ok.

Our lives shouldn't focus around cleaning our homes. Instead, our clean homes should enhance our lives. Our homes should be lived in and enjoyed, not kept like pristine museums or waiting for Architectural Digest to visit.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fall Fragrance on Friday

Earlier this month, I sorted out my candles and room sprays, putting away summery scents and getting out autumn ones. Now I'm moving on to my perfumes, home fragrance oils, incense and bath products.


- Need to visit an ATM for cash, go to the video rental store, or fill your car with gas for the weekend?

- Tidy up real fast so your home is nice to come home to. Empty trash, empty or fill dishwasher, wipe down kitchen counters, declutter stairs and entryway, vacuum as needed. Whisk through bathrooms refolding towels, changing toilet paper rolls if needed, and tidying.

- Does your microwave need cleaning? Mine does, despite thoroughly cleaning it during our kitchen preparations last week.

- Sort through and read, then recycle any catalogs which have shown up this month. I got a Crate and Barrel, CB2, L'Occitane, Pottery Barn, Sur la Table and Baker's Catalogue. Still anxiously waiting for a new Williams-Sonoma to arrive, and I wouldn't mind if West Elm sent me something.

- Perhaps tonight before it gets dark, you might like to take your children (if any) on a nature discovery walk. Look for fall leaves, pinecones and acorns. Let the children bring a few home to arrange on their dresser or in a windowsill.

- Make weekend restaurant reservations or social plans.

- Tidy up your mail table. Recycle junk mail, read and recycle catalogs, pay bills, and respond to letters.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Fragrance Sorting

(If you don't ever wear fragrance or use scented products, instead sort out your unscented soaps, bath products, etc.)

Sort out your perfume counter/drawer/box etc, preferably in a room with an open window. Sniff every perfume, but only try on those you really are unsure about ever wearing again. (Wash off before family members come home so they don't get overpowered).

Unless your perfume is totally old and gross, you probably won't want to throw away something you know you won't wear. If it's unopened, you can re-gift it. Just be sure you know for sure who gave it to you - give the perfume to someone they don't know so you won't get caught!. Or set it aside in a special box and have a Perfume Trading party after Christmas. Invite close girlfriends and trade new or barely-used perfumes you got as gifts (again, be sure none of the perfumes you are trying to trade away were given to you by anybody on your guest list).

For perfume you are keeping, put away or store your spring and summer perfumes (The citrusy and flowery ones). Dust off and clean your fall/winter perfumes, then arrange them attractively on a counter or dresser. To avoid clutter, only display four or five of your perfumes. Store the rest in an easy to find place. Sometimes I rotate which perfumes I keep out so I don't forget to wear favorites.

If you're a letter writer, think about choosing a perfume to spritz gently on your outgoing letters - but only if you are sending them to people who aren't fragrance sensitive.

Now normally when I sort things out and throw them away, I let myself get a new replacement or two, but in the case of perfume I am going to avoid it. I usually get given two or three perfumes over the holidays as gifts. I won't need to buy perfume for years to come.

Let's all be aware of perfume etiquette: Don't wear any if you are spending time with someone with asthma or allergies; don't wear any if you are riding on an airplane (your seatmate may find it oppressive), and put very very little perfume on at all ever. We should be dabbing, not spraying, for the most part. There's never a reason to spray more than once directly on our clothes, hair or bodies. Less is more! I've also read that you shouldn't ever wear perfume to a wine tasting, as it can affect the taste of wines for some people. I had no idea.

Sort out your room sprays and home fragrances, tossing out any your spouse, boyfriend, kids or roommates don't like. Get out any mulling spices or the kind you boil on the stove to scent your house, and actually use one of them up today. Pay special attention to your potpourri - if it's old and dried and doesn't look nice, toss it. If it doesn't smell strong, use your potpourri recharge oil or toss it.

Spritz the house with your favorite home spray (if it's not going to overpower the next person who comes home today!) Or you can boil a cinnamon stick in water for a nice holiday scent (though it's more Christmasy than autumny, I think).

Last year I admitted I don't usually get to take a bath - the only bathtub in my house is small, and my teenager doesn't keep it very clean. So I've given away or thrown out my beloved Lush bath bombs and other bathtub related products. So I don't have any sorting to do in that area tonight.

In my bathroom, I've discovered I have not been hoarding too many different shower gels. I might actually have an excuse to go buy a new one - just one - at Bath & Body Works this weekend!

LOVELY LIVING: In the Weeks Ahead

Next week is "Time for Us" week. We've been working our butts off to clean up our homes, cook for our families and loved ones, and decorate things all pretty for fall. And what's coming up in November and December? We'll be working even harder to get our houses ready for company, parties, holidays, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, houseguests and etcetera. Plus finishing our Christmas shopping long before December 15th.

So I don't know about you, but I'm going to take some time this next week for ME. I'll be pampering myself, taking hot baths, indulging in a few food and beverage treats, reading and watching TV and movies that I enjoy. I still have to go to work, keep my house clean, cook for my family and take care of my pets. But I'm going to not obsess over cleaning - and since I've worked so hard lately to "maintain" the house in good shape, the truth is I don't have a ton of cleaning jobs that need doing right now.

There's plenty of time in November and December for being unselfish and helpful. Right now, I'm going to be a little bit selfish. Want to join me? Can you arrange some babysitting time (if applicable) so you get some time to yourself? Can you do extra work on Monday so you can sneak a couple hours on Tuesday to pamper yourself or do things just for you?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stocking the Bar for Fall

My "Gina" wine glasses, from Crate and Barrel

I've stocked up my pantry with food. Now it's time to stock the liquor cabinet for the upcoming cocktail parties, holiday parties and celebrations I'll throw. I also like sipping sherry or port wine on a dark fall evening when it's rainy or snowing out.

In case I have a few friends who are nondrinkers, nursing or pregnant, I also try to make sure to keep interesting nonalcoholic beverages on hand for them.


- Do you have any herbs in your garden you need to dry to use all winter? With our mild weather here in Seattle, my outdoor herb garden is still producing a lot of herbs. I need to cut my peppermint, rosemary, and mint and dry them. They'll go in an old spice jar or two I washed and reused.

- Take extra time with your dinner preparations tonight (if you're eating in) and treat yourself and household to a nice, non-hurried meal. What do you have to give up timewise tonight to make this possible? Can you ask for a helper to assist you with the meal?

- Maintenance cleaning - Dust one room of your home, including baseboards, furniture, windowsills, door frames, and light fixtures. This can be done in less than ten minutes. Today I put "I Love Lucy" on in the background (thanks Tivo) so I had something funny to listen to while I worked.

- Surprise a family member or long distance friend this week, for no reason. It's not their birthday, you're just thinking of them. Send flowers if you can afford to, a handmade card, or a small gift. Send stickers or a fall-themed book to a young niece or nephew, with a small handwritten cheery note. Maybe send a recently taken digital photo of you to your grandmother? I like trying to do this before the holidays arrive. The holidays shouldn't be the only time I think of far-away relatives.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Stocking the Bar for Fall

If you entertain and serve alcohol, time to check your supplies for upcoming fall parties. If you don't serve alcohol, you can still stock up with fruit juices, interesting sodas, and yummy hot drinks to serve your guests.

If you do serve alcohol in your home, you'll need a variety for upcoming cocktail parties, dinner parties and holidays. To keep your life uncluttered, and a few bucks left in the bank, don't try to have every possible alcohol covered. You don't need to be able to make any possible unusual drink a guest asks for. But if you do consider yourself an enthusiastic entertainer, and if entertaining well is important to you, you'll want to have the basics covered, plus a few extras.

I try to have several types of alcohol (vodka, whiskey, gin, rum) needed for mixed drinks, but I've stopped stocking tequila. We just simply don't drink it up. It just sits there in my cabinet. I also never buy vermouth anymore. In the six years I've lived in this house, no guest has ever asked for a classic martini.

If you can swing an extra $20 or $30, think about picking up the latest fancy flavored vodka just for fun. Your guests might be delighted to try something new rather than just plain old Grey Goose or Absolut in regular flavor. Lately I've seen various brands debuting pineapple, cucumber, black cherry, white grape, tomato and root beer. (I think I will skip on the tomato until next time I'm making Bloody Marys, and pass on the root beer entirely).

I don't bother with cognac, bourbon or scotch, as very few of our guests in our age group request those. I stock Triple Sec, but rarely ever more expensive liqueurs like Grand Marnier, Cointreau or Drambuie. I do stock Kahlua or Bailey's for guests who might enjoy that in their coffee. For special occasions, I'll make a trip to the store the day before for Midori or specialty liqueurs, but I don't clutter up my liquor cabinet with those usually.

We keep only a few beers on hand, since few of our friends drink beer and the types of food I serve at parties are better suited to wine. Instead, I'll go to the store the day before a dinner party if I know we have guests coming who would enjoy some beer. I do keep the odd emergency Guinness or two on hand though.

Wine is a different story, since we have many friends who enjoy wine. I keep "emergency" wine around, for when we have a short-notice party, drop-in visitors, or a windy, rainy night requiring a fire, candles and wine. I try to have a sparkling wine (usually Asti or Prosecco, not champagne), a couple bottles of white (usually Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc, not Chardonnay), a dessert wine like a Gewurztraminer or a Muscat, port, and several bottles of red (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc).

It doesn't have to be expensive wine, just well chosen. This week I'll go to Trader Joe's to stock up on inexpensive 3 Buck Chuck merlot, which luckily my friends enjoy drinking. Their nonfussiness really saves me money when I need to supplement a special bottle of wine with a less expensive one during a party.

Take inventory and see how you are doing on lime juice, Grenadine, sweet and sour mix, bitters, vermouth, cocktail onions, and cocktail cherries if you tend to make drinks using those.

Check your mixers. Do you have enough Coke, Sprite, club soda, tonic water, orange juice, and cranberry juice? Add things to your shopping list, and clear an organized space to put them away. Because my fridge or cupboards would get too full, I try to limit the amount of mixers I store. I can always run to the store for tonic water or club soda or whiskey sour mix if I have a party planned.

Last, check your supply of wine glasses. You really don't need to have different glasses for brandy, for bourbon, for merlot, for reds, for whites, etc. You do need champagne flutes if you serve champagne often, as it really does promote the flavor. If you entertain formally, you'll need matching, unchipped glasses though. Martini glasses for cocktails and highball glasses are needed too, but only for frequent entertainers. Really, most people are happy to drink a lovely beverage out of whatever you hand it to them in.

Sort out your glasses, discard anything chipped or mismatched, clean if dusty, and put back in your cupboards in an organized fashion. Treat yourself to a little sip of something nice when you're done tonight!

LOVELY BLOGS: The Graphics Fairy

The Graphics Fairy shares adorable vintage clipart images from her private collection, plus shows you interesting vintage images she's found on the Internet. A few fun posts a week, so visit often!


How to Make Your Own Pumpkin-Flavored Vodka (Phoodie)

Not Your Ordinary School Lunch (Food Network)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mid-October Wednesday

We're halfway through the month. Only a couple more weeks until Halloween!

Have you decorated your home for fall yet? Is there an autumn wreath on your door, a fall welcome mat at the front door, pumpkins and squash on your mantel or your front porch? Orange, cranberry, brown, black or dark green candles around your home?


- Pay any mid-month bills coming due

- Need to order any stamps online?

- Do you have a flashlight in your car, by your bed, in the garage, and in your kitchen? Do you have a flashlight on every floor of your home? In the living room in case the power goes out while you're sitting watching TV? Test ALL of your flashlights tonight in the dark and see if the batteries need replacing. Is the light bright enough to actually see? Can you get ahold of the flashlight easily if it's pitch black in the room?

- Put out any remaining Halloween or fall decorations you haven't gotten around to yet

- Finalize Thanksgiving travel plans, book airline tickets if you haven't already, or finish inviting guests if you are hosting

- Look over the next two weeks. Can you build in time for socializing, alone time, quiet nights at home, exercise, nightly walks, pet care, special time with your kids, special time with your significant other?

- Take inventory of laundry detergent, dryer sheets, bleach and other laundry supplies. Throw out anything you don't actually use (a bleach pen? starch? baby detergent for your baby who is now a kid? Swimsuit or hosiery cleaner you never actually use?)

TODAY'S PROJECT: Medicine Cabinet

Be sure you are stocked for winter colds, flus and other maladies. Today I'm removing everything from both medicine cabinets in my house, cleaning and dusting the shelves, checking expiration dates, and sorting the medicine. Later today I'll go shopping at a drugstore or Target for things I might need this season.

I'll carefully check expiration dates and throw out anything outdated. I have a hard time "decluttering" when it comes to up-to-date medicines, because I want to be sure I have something to solve every possible problem. But I don't have a problem throwing out anything I'm unsure of the expiration date on!

Do you have headache remedies, sinus remedies, fever remedies, cold/flu medicine (both liquid and capsule form), anti-diarrhea medicine, something for upset stomachs, something for gas and/or acid heartburn, sore throat and cough lozenges, something just for coughs? Do you have aspirin AND ibuprofen, both Tylenol AND Advil? Any Benadryl on hand in case of allergic reactions? Do you have the good kind of Sudafed if your family tends to get congestion in the ears?

If you have children, do you have children's medicines (or have you read the recent warnings against giving cold medicine to children under 4?) How about Vicks VapoRub?

Outside of the medicine cabinet, do you have plenty of Kleenex/Puffs, more than one box? Do you have crackers, bouillon cubes, chicken noodle soup (or vegetarian alternative), several kinds of bottled juice, graham crackers, and other foods for sick people? Let's hope nobody gets sick and you won't need it, but it's better to be prepared.

How well are you stocked when you travel? It seems the older I get, the more just-in-case medicine I have to take with me. I put it in my checked luggage so I don't have to hassle with airport security and my carryon. (I have a cute Hello Kitty pillcase I carry stuff in).

Do you keep medicines in your guest bathroom too, so guests don't have to be embarrassed and come ASK you for diarrhea medicine?

Are your medicines stored out of the reach of children?

Also, do you have a good supply of hot water bottles/packs, coldpacks, bandaids, gauze, and other first aid and comfort supplies?

If you unfortunately develop an extended period of illness where you aren't able or feeling up to to going to the store, do you have plenty of toilet paper, pet food, laundry detergent and other supplies you might not be able to go out and get for yourself? (Hopefully you have a supportive network of friends who would shop for you in emergencies too!)

LOVELY BLOGS: The Magic Onions

This is a crafting blog by someone with a cute Etsy store. There are helpful posts on how to make peg fairies, create a Halloween birdie witch, how to create a Halloween pumpkin wreath, fairy gardens and fairy furniture, and how to make your own miniature Zen garden. I love all the step-by-step photographs she includes throughout the process of each craft.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Making a Glorious Mess in the Kitchen

Pumpkin Leaves Silicone Baking Mold, at JoAnn's

Today after my maintenance housework is done (vacuuming, sweeping and wiping down kitchen counters) I plan to experiment heavily in the kitchen. I'm trying to learn how to make a few yummy things. It will make a mess, but cleanup will be fun, aided by a pumpkin scented candle, wine and a CD player.


- Launder bedding, change sheets if needed. Do any other laundry that's piled up recently.

- Does your vacuum bag need emptying or changing? If you don't have a bagless vacuum, do you need to order any vacuum bags online?

- Can you fit in a 30 minute walk through your neighborhood today, admiring signs of autumn, exercising and getting fresh air into your lungs?

- Need to buy or work on your kids' Halloween costumes? Or your own?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Kitchen Experiments

Today I'm messing around in the kitchen, experimenting with new recipes, and using some of the lovely kitchen goodies I've bought for myself over the years. (See the silicon autumn baking pan above, which I'm putting lemon poppy seed muffins into).

I'm trying a new cream of mushroom soup recipe, and trying to learn to make better biscuits. (I won't serve the two together though, but if the mushroom soup comes out too thick, I might pretend it's gravy for the biscuits!)

Next, I have my Kitchen Aid artisan stand mixer out and I'm going to use it to learn to make miniature doughnuts. I've never used my mini doughnut pan, and tonight is the night. Even though we will probably only eat a couple of the mini doughnuts tonight (I'll take some over to the neighbors if I succeed and the doughnuts turn out tasty), I want to use this block of time to enjoy trying to learn to make them. It's worth the dollar or two for the ingredients I'll use in my learning process.

LOVELY WEBSITES: The Daring Kitchen

I absolutely love this concept! This started as a blog where a couple friends would attempt the same recipe on the same night, then post their results. It soon grew to include more people. Now, anyone can join The Daring Bakers each month as the group tries a new recipe. You must register and sometimes there's a waiting period to become a member, all to ensure the next month's challenge is a secret.

There's a lot of interesting cooking-related stuff to look through here, I think you will like it.


"Cinderella Wine Club" Similar to Gilt, Launching Soon (TechCrunch)

Crafty Ways Restaurants Cut Costs (Yahoo! Finance)

Fall Potluck Recipes (BHG)

Find $1000 By the Holidays (Yahoo! Finance)

Fun Halloween Foods (Food Network)

History of Children's Cookbooks (Journal of Antiques)

How to Photograph Your Pet in Halloween Garb (Today Show)

Martha Stewart's New "Dinner at Home" Book (Today Show)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fall Reading on Columbus Day

Have you been to the library in the past month or two? Do you have a nice selection of books to read on chilly fall evenings? Or are you like me, with a bad Barnes & Noble habit and unread books spilling out of your multiple bookcases?

If you enjoy reading, grab a book and make time to enjoy it every night this week. (Last night I read mine after Desperate Housewives was over, before bedtime).


- It's Columbus Day, so the post office and banks are closed. Need to get anything ready to mail out tomorrow morning?

- Need to get any laundry done that didn't get finished over the weekend?

- Make meal plans for the week. Today might be the perfect day to go grocery shopping if you need to.

- Celebrate fall by filling your home with fall scents. Spritz room spray, or light a pumpkin or caramel scented candle. You can also simmer water, a cinnamon stick, sugar, and a few orange slices on the stove to make your home smell fabulous.

- Have you eaten an apple, peach or pear this week?

- Check your inventory of fun fall beverages. Do you have hot chocolate? Spiced apple cider mix? A couple jars of Martinelli's apple cider? Alcoholic cider for those of you who drink? Guinness?

- Do you have a book you mean to return, loan or gift to a friend? Mail it today, or put it by your front door so you will remember to take it to them next time you see them.


I'm doing a very unglamorous but very needed project today: Cleaning all three bathrooms very thoroughly. I have a lot of work to get done today, so I will work quickly and not get distracted by other tasks. I expect this all to take no more than half an hour.

If you don't have time to do multiple bathrooms today, just choose one of your bathrooms and make it fabulous. Wash rugs, towels, handtowels and washcloths, mop floor, scrub sink, shower and tub (if applicable). Dust or wipe the baseboards clean; wipe the light fixtures and light bulbs. Empty trash cans, and check out your emergency supply of toilet paper you hide in a cabinet nearby.

See if there's anything you can get off the counters (I'm removing two of the three candles I have in the master bathroom, and removing one of the two books I keep on the toilet tank).

Take a quick look in any cabinets in your bathroom - do they need sorting or decluttering? Finish off with a quick polish of the mirror, counter and fixtures.

Did you clean your own master bathroom? Celebrate your clean bathroom with a hot bath or extra long shower tonight, perhaps while you read one of your books you'd like to finish this fall.

Don't forget an ice cold glass of water with lemon, a Perrier, or some sparkling cider or - dare I suggest it - champagne!

LOVELY BLOGS: Chronically Vintage

Chronically Vintage is a delightful blogs of findings by a woman who loves the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. She shares retro photographs she's found, postcards, artwork and other vintage images.


Halloween Creepy Cocktail Recipes (Food Network)

How to Start a Crafts Business (Shelterpop)

How to Stop Buying Clothes You Never Wear (Get Rich Slowly)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Stocking Up for Fall

Orange Celosia, on my front steps


- Fridge and freezer maintenance cleaning. See if you can fit in an extra shelf or drawer today, as needed.

- Plan menus for the week; create grocery shopping list

- Water houseplants if needed; move them into more light today as needed; rotate

- Look over your budget for the next three weeks. Plan for bills, Halloween candy, Halloween costume, savings, travel money, Christmas shopping, holiday parties, food, pet expenses, and other things you need to keep track of.

- Do a quick whisk around your kitchen, if needed, putting away clutter, wiping down counters, shining your sink, laundering kitchen towels, restocking paper towels. We worked so hard on our kitchens last week, let's make sure our hard work still shows.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Stocking the Pantry

Now that we have neatly organized pantries, and we've looked over the foodstuffs we have left, we can restock our food supplies for fall. I love having a well stocked pantry - not only for emergencies and power outages, but also for those cold rainy nights when I don't want to go to the store. I also love being able to throw a fun cocktail or dinner party at a moment's notice because I have so many foods at my disposal, easily taken out of my pantry. I'm lucky I live within a three minute drive of a PCC Natural Market, too.

Add things to your grocery list, but split it up amongst the next two or three trips if you can't afford to buy everything all at once. Check to see if you have enough food for your emergency supply, and if you have things you can cook or prepare if the power goes off.

Baking: Do you have a couple cake mixes, some shortening, flour, cake flour (if you bake cakes from scratch), sugar, brown sugar, salt, soda, baking powder, cocoa, pancake mix, chocolate chips, muffin mixes, corn starch, corn meal, a scone mix, and other baking staples? Do you have a cornbread mix or two? Yeast, if you bake bread? Pie crust mix in a box, in case you are in a hurry and don't have time to mix up pie crust from scratch? Graham cracker crumbs in a box, for lining tart shells?

Condiments: Besides what's currently in your refrigerator, are you well stocked on things you are likely to use up in the next two months? Ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, honey, maple syrup/pancake syrup, salad dressings, balsamic vinaigrette, barbecue sauce, soy sauce, virgin olive oil, tabasco?

Pasta: Do you have spaghetti, penne, lasagna, macaroni, and other pasta basics, plus several jarred sauces? Do you have an alfredo sauce for an emergency if you get a dinner guest who doesn't want tomato based sauce?

Canned foods: Do you have cocktail party staples such as olives, pickled mushrooms and pickles, perhaps some pickled beets or baby corn? Do you have plenty of soups, stews, and chilis? Refried beans? Canned whole tomatoes? Salsa? Canned beans and corn? Jarred bruschetta topping or tapenade spread?

Staples: Do you have olive oil, cooking oil, dry beans, dry lentils, and a couple kinds of rice? Do you have a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese for an emergency in case a child comes to visit? Do you have peanut butter and jelly? Do you have cereal, oatmeal, granola, raisins, and nuts?

Liquids: Do you have an emergency supply of bottled drinking water, as well as your day-to-day drinks? Cranberry juice, fruit juices, 7-Up, mineral water, beer, orange juice and other drinks? Hot cocoa and plenty of tea? Chicken, beef and/or vegetable stock for making soup? Do you have several canned or jarred soups you can open and heat easily? Enough for every person in your family for three days?

Chocolate and ice cream: The most important staple in the house. Do you have chocolate?! Do you have ice cream?


The New York Times Magazine today is "The Food Issue," with plenty of interesting articles to read. Check out the one on the Mexican Coca-Cola Cult.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Fall Kitchen Organization Part 4

The Pincushion plant that sits on my kitchen counter


- Do you have orange juice in the house? Milk? Bread?

- Clean off and declutter mail table if needed

- Take 5 minutes to sweep or vacuum floors that need it

- Need to use a mud mask or moisturizing treatment on your face tonight?

- Want to vacuum anything before tomorrow, so you're heading fresh into the weekend? How about mid-week laundry?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Kitchen Appliances

Almost done getting our kitchens ready for Fall!

Thoroughly clean the appliances in your kitchen inside and out. Start with the big ones (oven, stove, dishwasher). Then move onto smaller appliances (coffeemaker, espresso machine, deep fryer, panini grill, waffle maker, iced tea maker, mixer, crockpot, rice cooker, Cuisinart, bread maker, juicer, ice cream maker, and any other electric gadgets, but only if they truly do need to be cleaned).

Besides cleaning the appliances on your countertops, don't forget to take appliances out of your cupboards, pantry and closets too. Don't assume something is clean just because it's been in a cupboard. It may have gotten dusty, or not been cleaned thoroughly before being put away.

Before cleaning and disinfecting them, check for wear and tear on electric cords for safety reasons. Run the self-clean cycle on your oven. Run a load of white vinegar through your coffee maker and then another load of plain hot water, to clean it out. Run a load of white vinegar through your dishwasher, too. Clean your dishwasher filter, if you can find it. Freshen your garbage disposal by grinding half a lemon through it. (Use the other cut half of the lemon to flavor your water or tea today).

Wipe down your counters again and put the appliances back where they go. See if you can clear off your kitchen counters a bit more - can you find new homes for appliances that sit on the counter but don't get used every day? (We don't actually use my toaster every day, I wish I had a cupboard big enough to stash it in!)

Put some thought into getting rid of appliances you honestly don't use. (Tortilla maker? Electric iced tea maker?) You might have a friend or relative who would like to try out your bread machine you've only used twice, your ice cream maker you don't seem to make time to use, or your espresso machine now that you quit drinking coffee.

Spritz your kitchen with home spray or boil a pot of cinnamon, water and citrus peels to make the kitchen smell nice.

LOVELY WEBSITES: Project Nursery

This is a website focusing on children's room decor and "inspiring kid design." The blog features "Real rooms" and there are tons of pics of adorable nurseries here. There's a video library and tips on DIY nursery decor. I would expect this sort of site to be spammy with lots of ads, but it's not!



Easy No-Carve Halloween Pumpkins (BHG)

19 Fall Wreaths and Door Decorations (BHG)

Superfast Italian Recipes (Cooking Light)

Survey: Working Moms are Busy, But Happy (CNN)

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Fall Kitchen Organization Part 3

Purple Celosia, for my front steps

Today is our last really big push to organize our kitchens for the upcoming fall months. (I still have a couple minor kitchen projects coming up this week though). I saved the biggest project for today - the pantry. This probably should be a weekend project, but I'm busy this weekend with birthday parties and visiting relatives.

I am going to be sure to have a pen and paper ready to inventory my foods before I put them back in the pantry. With the busy holiday season coming up, I want to be very prepared. I don't want to waste money at the store buying supplies I already have enough of at home, too.


- As you begin pulling things out of your pantry to sort, grab something you KNOW you've had around a few months, and bake it for your family. We shouldn't pig out on desserts all the time, but the occasional mid-week treat as a surprise is delightful. Perhaps you have a scone mix you haven't made time to bake yet, or a box of brownies, or in my case a box of lemon poppyseed muffin mix. It will only take you a few minutes to get the mix ready to go and the oven preheated, and you can enjoy smelling the goodies bake while you finish the pantry.


Time to get our pantries organized, food sorted and grocery list created!

One organizing tip I've found very helpful is picking up some Hot Hues label stickers next time you're at Target. They come in a few different shapes - round, rectangular, square - and are very colorful. A pack of 40 or more blank labels costs less than $2. Try pre-writing a few labels (not too many so you don't waste some) marked October 2009, and then slap them onto your boxed and canned food right when you bring it home from the grocery store, before they make it into the cupboards.

Most food should already come with an expiration date, but some things don't, so I like to label them. It's also easier for my aging eyes to see the dates on the stickers than the little tiny Best By date on some products. I started labeling my canned food whenever I bought food up at my family's lake house. I'd write the month and the year we purchased it, and it made it easier to use up or discard food before it went bad. I personally am not the most organized person and do a shameful amount of impulse purchases at the grocery store, then never cook the food, so this system has really helped me keep on top of which foods have been around a long time.

Remove everything from your pantry and any food out of other cupboards. Wash down the cupboards, wash dust off of cans, and discard any food you know you won't eat or anything looking old. Right now I am going to have to admit I am not baking bread as often as I thought, and get rid of some three year old specialty flour I have in a plastic tub. I also have more than one container of half-full jasmine rice - these should be consolidated into the same plastic tub too.

Sort the food back into the pantry the way you prefer it to be. Write down the food and quantity as you put each item back into the pantry and cupboards. You'll use this info as you stock up your pantry for the upcoming holidays, festivals and house guests.

Pay special attention to your spice collection. Spices DO get old quite quickly, much more quickly than you'd think. While they won't poison you, they won't taste as good as fresher spices. Chefs would tell us to not use herbs out of jars, but sometimes we have to. They'd also tell us to get rid of spices every 3 months, but I tend to go with the 6 month rule instead. Discard spices you bought once for one recipe, spices you bought on impulse but didn't actually cook with, and spices looking old and cruddy. Open and smell and taste them if it helps you decide which to keep and which to get rid of. What about your paprika - did you buy a huge container, only to find out you only use it for deviled eggs, and you only make those twice a year?

If you've gotten rid of any extremely important spices that you know you'll use frequently, put them on your grocery list for this week. If you are brave enough, toss out ALL your spices and start over with fresh ones. You can get newer, fresher spices at Trader Joe's for $1.50 a jar. It's affordable enough you can do that twice a year. Don't forget to inventory your salt and pepper, too. Do you have kosher salt as well as regular iodized salt?

Be sure to familiarize yourself with what teas, coffees and hot chocolate mixes you have on hand. We'll all be drinking lots of these in the upcoming months, I imagine, and we'll need them to serve to guests. You'll want to get rid of old ones or consolidate down from several boxes/cans/packages into one whenever possible. Teas also get less tasty with age, so be firm with yourself and throw out ones you know are old or you know you've had a long time because they are "too weird" and nobody wants them. I am going to throw out a Vanilla Chai tea that nobody here ever drinks.

My personal challenge to overcome is trying to be the perfect hostess. I attempt to have such a huge selection of tea on hand that any guest who comes over will have something they like. In reality, I end up with a huge, overflowing cupboard of tea. Then my guests only want Earl Grey or decaf English Breakfast; we drink Earl Grey or Blackcurrant in the morning, Chamomile at night, Jasmine if we're having Thai or Chinese food, lemon if we're sick and peppermint if our tummies hurt. So why do I have 12 other boxes of tea? If you actually find you don't have very much tea, coffee and hot chocolate, add these to your grocery list for the week.

Look over your canned and boxed soups, boxed mac and cheese mixes, and other "emergency" easy-to-make type foods. Be extra careful when inventorying them. You could end up having soup a few nights in a row this cold winter, so just having two or three cans on hand probably won't do it. Consider stocking chili for heartier meals, and have plenty of pasta and rice on hand.

Imagine Foods' Portobello Mushroom Soup

Do you have foods you can make if the power goes out? Do you have food on hand when guests unexpectedly arrive late at night and you need to cook supper in half an hour? Make sure you have at least one box of Kraft macaroni and cheese - great comfort food for kids and sick people.

If you are at all a baker/dessert maker, check over your supplies of flour, sugars, cake mixes, muffin mixes, scones, brownies, bread machine mixes, raisins, chocolate chips, oatmeal, etc., to be sure you have enough for the upcoming months and for guests.

After replacing your foods in your cabinets, sit down with something yummy you just baked and a comforting hot drink. Look over your inventory list. Use this to plan your grocery shopping for the next week. If you need to buy too much for one week, make a list for next paycheck too and split the groceries between them. If you've read through any cooking magazines or cookbooks this weekend, you might have an idea of the kinds of foods you'll be serving over the next month. Pick your recipes and figure out which ingredients for them you'll need to add to your grocery list.

LOVELY BLOGS: A Southern Daydreamer

This is a delightful blog by a lady who is a fantastic gardener (you can often see gorgeous pics of her garden on this blog) and who runs interesting things on her blog such as the Summer Reading Challenge and "Outdoor Wednesdays" where participants share photos they took outside their houses (such as on their porches or lawns).

LOVELY TV: The Next Iron Chef

I have Tivo, so when I fast forwarded over ads for "The Next Iron Chef" I thought they were just ads for the existing show, Iron Chef America, and ignored them. Today I just realized these are ads for a new show sort of like "The Next Food Network Star" crossed with "Top Chef" crossed with "Iron Chef America." Fun!

I really enjoyed the episode I watched except for the extremely gross things they were cooking (grasshoppers, unlaid eggs, chicken feet). That was difficult for my lifelong vegetarian self to watch without feeling slightly ill. Still, the show is fascinating and I think I'll be back to watch next week, queasy stomach and all.

The Next Iron Chef

Monday, October 05, 2009

Fall Cooking Part 2

Fall Forest Pie Crust Cutters, at Williams-Sonoma

This week I plan to do a massive reorganization of my kitchen. I need to get ready for the fall holiday entertaining season ahead. I did extensive cleaning during my Spring Cleaning. I've maintained my cupboards that hold dishes and pans, so they are in pretty good shape. Every week, I've been keeping up with my fridge and freezer maintenance cleaning. But my pantry is terribly disorganized.


- Need to pay any beginning-of-month bills?

- Need to return any DVDs you rented over the weekend (whether from a video store or Netflix?)

- Make menu plans for the week and create your grocery shopping list

TODAY'S PROJECT: Refrigerator and Cupboards

Whether you're a stay at home mom or you work and have to do your cleaning project tonight after work, you can get this task done in less than an hour today.

Let's make this fun! Put on music in your kitchen - do you have a portable boombox or radio you can drag in? Or do you prefer a television? I don't keep a television in my kitchen, but have a small one I can drag out of the guest room for occasions like this. I can't see it while I'm working but I can listen. Put on Food Network, a favorite DVD movie, or TV Land for fun (I Love Lucy, Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie reruns perhaps?) Light a fragrant candle, make coffee or tea, or pour yourself a glass of wine. Try to make it fun and the time might just zoom by.

- Clean out the entire refrigerator and freezer. If you have been keeping up with doing it one shelf at a time on weekends, this should go quickly. Toss old food, wipe and scrub shelves, dry them off, etc. Quickly inventory what's left on a notepad you'll carry in your purse, so you can plan what to replace. If you think of something you need, immediately add it to your grocery list. Today I have to admit I am not going to finish my mango sorbet or huckleberry ice cream, and I'll get rid of them to make room for things I actually will eat.

- Make some time to think about must-have items for your freezer. For me, I don't let myself run out of vanilla and chocolate ice cream, frozen edamame and frozen corn, puff pastry and some sort of frozen berry in case I need to whip up a quick puff pastry dessert. I also try to always stock Morningstar Farms vegetarian corn dogs and some sort of mini-pizzas for when I have child-related food emergencies, like when my nephews visit. Also, I'm never, ever without one or two frozen appetizers like Nancy's frozen quiches for emergency lunches when I'm working hard, and Trader Joe's mushroom turnovers for impromptu cocktail parties.

- Cupboards - Remove all your dishes and wipe down your shelves, especially if they have contact paper. Examine your dishes for dust - if you're like me you have some goblets around for entertaining that don't get used often. Those can get quite dusty at the back of the shelf. Clean any dishes that need it, then replace in cupboards.

- Reorganize if necessary, or find new homes for things like paper plates, plastic cups, and paper napkins. I store mine in a Sterilite box specially marked for that purpose, so I have more room in my cupboads for my glass and china. Examine baby utensils, Sippy cups and baby dishes for wear and tear, discard and replace if necessary.

- Examine your pans, utensils and cooking gadgets. Toss anything that looks broken, and clean anything dirty. If you can possibly admit to yourself you have a kitchen gadget you will NEVER use, now is a really good time to own up to that and come up with a plan for disposal of that gadget. (Sell on Ebay, put in your Yard Sale box you save in the garage for the spring, give to a friend, donate to charity).

- Cookie Cutters - Do you have a million impulse-buy cookie cutters that you rarely use? I sure as heck do. Sort and inventory them. Consider storing them in some sort of plastic box or container to make them easier to find. It might be helpful to store them along with your cake and cookie decorating sugars and related items. Perhaps that will help us actually use them more often. As always, see if you can get rid of unneeded or duplicate cookie cutters. It's not a sin to throw a $1.75 rusty old rarely used cookie cutter in the trash.

- Add to your shopping list if you notice anything you are majorly missing that you absolutely need and absolutely will use. You probably have all the pans and dishes you need, but how are you doing on plastic storage containers, kitchen sponges, cleaning supplies, dishwashing detergent, kitchen hand soap, etc?

- Gadgets - Over this next week I'd like to challenge you to get out one kitchen gadget you haven't used in over four months and actually use it. Get that breadmaker out, clean it off and actually use it to bake bread. Find your tortilla or quesadilla maker and enjoy piping hot, cheesy quesadillas for a snack. Use your totally unecessary heart-shaped muffin pans to make muffins today, instead of the normal round-shaped muffin tin you normally use. Use your Cuisinart to actually make fresh salsa, or see if you can get your hand mixer to mix up a nice batch of mousse. Get out your creme brulee ramekins and your blowtorch and actually make Creme brulee and caramelize the top. Why do we have all these gadgets if we aren't going to use them to make our lives even more lovely?

- Tonight, after you are finished, reward yourself for your efforts with some sort of favorite activity that won't bring you near a kitchen. Take a long bath, watch a movie, read a book, flip through magazines, or goof off on the Web. After you've spent time fixing up your kitchen, make someone else cook for you tonight!

Tomorrow and Wednesday will bring another kitchen project, and by the weekend, your kitchen will be completely ready and organized for the fall and winter months ahead.


I have very sad news - Gourmet magazine (along with Elegant Bride and Cookie) are being shut down by their publisher. While I would have enjoyed more vegetarian-friendly content, I loved Gourmet and spent so many happy evenings flipping through the pictures and clipping recipes to try.

Gourmet Magazine Folding (CNN)


Delectable Pumpkin Desserts (Good Housekeeping)

50 Easy Soups (Food Network)

It's Mumbai! (Conde Nast Traveler)

Maple Plum Crumble

9 Websites That Can Make Your Life Easier (Today Show)

Spanish Style Tapas: Good Things Come in Small Packages (LA Daily News)