Sunday, February 28, 2010

Menu Plan Monday: March 1st

Here comes another week! I'm sliding several meals from last week into this week because one night we ate leftovers and one night we spontaneously went out to dinner. (We don't eat out very often. It was a nice treat!)
  • Monday: Chicken and Dumplings Casserole (sliding from Saturday--most ingredients are frozen, so this meal is super easy to slide around!)
  • Tuesday: Homemade Beef with Broccoli over brown rice (sliding from last Wednesday) I hope to make this and share the recipe here later this week--it's my own recipe, very easy and good!
  • Wednesday: Creamy Enchilada Casserole (part of my Freezer Cooking Plan; but the kids love it so much I think it will bypass the freezer and get inhaled promptly.)
  • Thursday: Leftovers--changed to Ratatouille from The Vegetarian Mother's Cookbook (Cooking playdate!) we served this over whole wheat couscous.)
  • Friday: I am interested in exploring 'Semi-Slow' cooking: oven-roasting meals slowly in a Dutch Oven for several hours up to an entire day. Two recipes that I have my eye on include Braised Lamb Shanks with Red Wine Sauce (scroll down to view third recipe) and Stuffed Chicken with Rice (Tbiet)
  • Saturday: Date Night
  • Sunday: Dinner at Mom/Grandma's
  • Monday: Spaghetti with Turkey Meatballs with green beans (sliding from this past Monday!)
 Soup of the Week: This week I am making a vegan soup: Quinoa Vegetable Soup... delicious!

Today is an exciting day because the winner will be announced for the Once a Month Mom/Dole Menu Planning Contest--and I am a finalist! Be sure to stop by after 8 AM and find out who won.

Stop by Orgjunkie.com to see other menu plans!

Declutter Challenge February Update: Building Momentum

My Declutter Challenge really picked up some momentum this month! I felt like I barely got my feet wet in January with the two larger transactions I completed. This month I branched out a bit and had income coming in from all sorts of places!
  • My first book shipment to Powell's Books in January went so well that I decided to put together a second shipment. This box contained fewer, less valuable books, but I made $19.75. Another easy transaction!
  • I had a few books that Powell's was unwilling to purchase, but that I noticed were selling for worthwhile prices on Half.com. I listed three books, and one book sold, providing me $7.33
  • I also got my feet wet with my very first listings on Ebay, which I was a little nervous about, but everything has gone smoothly thus far. I sold four small items as well as two dozen cloth diapers, which were in high demand and ended up selling for quite competitive costs. Total sales for February: $198.81 (I am so new I don't even know if Ebay has extracted their commission/payment from this amount. I may be accounting for that next month when I have more of a clue what I am doing!)
  • I also had an unexpected opportunity to clear some broken bits out of my jewelry box and earn some cash for gold as described here. My total earnings to report: $140.00
 Total for February: $365.89!!!

The little things sure do add up! This total amount will be applied to my loan payment this month--over 3 times my goal payment.

 I'm hoping this momentum will continue into March, as I have a beautiful new basement workspace in which to organizing my declutter projects (I will reveal this soon!). I have some recycling research projects to complete, as well as a few more thoughts to share about selling on Ebay. A yard sale project is in the works, as well as a consignment sale.

These projects are keeping me busy, but it is very satisfying to connect all of these items to people and places where they will be needed and used. And not only did we gid rid of the sale items listed above, we also compiled a Goodwill donation, and I found a good home for a few small items.

Fitness Goals Update: for February

Just checking in here to report that I barely squeaked in at the last minute today with my 25th aerobics class so far this year. My goal is to go more than 150 times before the end of the year, so I am barely on track. When I think about the multiple times I am going to be out of town and not working out this year, I am a little behind!

What on Earth do fitness classes have to do with 'Navigating Domesticity'??? This is one of the ways I keep my energy and serotonin levels high so that I have more brain and muscle power to devote to keeping the household afloat.

Friday, February 26, 2010

My Freezer Cooking Plan: Fitting Around Life

Unfortunately, I won't have a bunch of time all at once to do a big Freezer Cooking event in the next few days. I have a few other things that I need to take care of, in addition to having friends over and finishing up my attempt at organizing my basement.
This doesn't mean that I don't want to cook and fill my freezer. I love having a small yet useful stash of food items on hand that I can pull out at the drop of a hat. For instance, I had a loaf of banana bread in the back of the freezer that I used earlier this week when I hosted a playgroup at the last minute. I also have meal prep items, such as bone soup and shredded chicken, that I can pull out and add into a meal when required.
My plan is to prepare some items to add to the freezer without spending much more time in the kitchen than I already have planned to cook our regular meals. Here is my strategy:

  • Soup of the Week: Next week's soup is Quinoa Vegetable Soup. What is supposed to happen is that I have leftover soup each week to freeze and eat at a later date, but that hasn't been happening! The other week I made White Bean and Kale Soup and we ate it all up. My husband and I actually had to negotiate who got the last 2 servings. This soup should be different, because my husband doesn't really care for this soup. More for the freezer!

  • Creamy Enchilada Casserole: I have the ingredients, so I might as well put one together one night while I am making something else for dinner.

  • Bouchons au Thon (tuna/salmon corks): Do I dare try to make these again after what happened last time?

  • Strawberry Bread: I'm making this on Sunday morning for a vegetarian dinner Sunday night. It makes two loaves, so one will go into the freezer for a future meal or gathering. (Finished!)

  • Lasagna: my recipe makes a huge pan, so I will put some in an 11x7 pan for the same dinner, then make an 8x8 for a future family meal. First I will need to extricate the Baked Ziti currently living in my 8x8 so I can use it for the lasagna. Did you know that an 8x8 casserole will fit in a gallon size freezer bag? (Finished!)

  • ETA: I need to mix up another batch of multi grain pancake mix (recipe from The Vegetarian Mother's Cookbook)


When I'm ready to bake it, I'll peel the foil off and pop it back into the 8x8 pan.
So I have some ideas. It's definitely not a month's worth of food, but my freezer is too small to handle that quantity of food anyway!

And now, off to do a bunch of other stuff.

Menu Plan for Vegetarian Dinner

We are having a few friends over for dinner this weekend, and one person is vegetarian, so I need to come up with a menu that is meat-free yet filling and nice enough for dinner guests. Here is what I've come up with:
  • Appetizer: Gougeres (Cheese Puffs) These are so good! also veggies w/hummus Darn it! I ran out of time to make these. We had a cranberry goat cheese log w/crackers and grapes instead, courtesy of Trader Joe. (I don't want my guests to read this and get confused!)
  • Salad: Caesar Salad with homemade dressing
  • Main Course: Lasagna (if I omit the ground beef, it's a vegetarian dish!)
  • Dessert: Strawberry Bread (Part of my menu from the Once a Month Mom cooking contest. I find out on Monday if my menu was selected!--ETA: I didn't win, but it was still fun!)
 This will be a simple get-together, no drink set-up or other elaborate plans, just having people over for food and friendship.

I'll share the recipes for the Caesar salad dressing and Strawberry bread next week.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I Finally Used the Frozen Mango!

I've been trying to find the ideal recipe for the frozen mango that has been living in my freezer since last summer, and I think I have perfected a winning recipe!

For some reason, I was drawn to the idea of making a chicken dish with mango in it. I found and made this recipe in the crock pot, but I think the long cooking time overcooked the chicken and the seasonings in the mango mixture were not enough to bring out the flavor of the mango (which was probably overcooked along with the chicken!) It was a decent enough meal, but I wanted to make it extra special since it is a part of my Once a Month Menu contest entry--2 more days left to submit your votes for your favoite menu!

Instead of cooking the chicken in the crockpot all day, I recommend using boneless skinless breasts so that the chicken can marinate in the mango mixture all day while defrosting, then cook up in under 30 minutes without overcooking the mango. Increasing the seasonings helps to enhance the sweet/tangy mango flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large mango (or 1 cup frozen mango chunks)

  • 3 tsp lemon juice

  • 2 tsp honey

  • 4 garlic cloves minced

  • 1/2 tsp paprika

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 1/4 tsp pepper

  • 1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts (reduced amount of chicken due to switching to boneless skinless chicken)

  • A drizzle of olive oil
To Prepare:
1. Cut up or defrost mango. Place in food processor and puree to desired consistency. (I like mine a little chunky).
2. In a small mixing bowl, combine mango and next 6 ingredients.
3. To freeze: Place chicken and mango mixture into a resealable freezer bag and freeze.
4. To cook: Defrost if frozen. Preheat to 375 degrees. Place chicken in baking dish, pour mango mixture over top of chicken and add drizzle of olive oil. Bake until chicken is fully cooked approximately 25 minutes.

This dish is wonderful (and fast!) served over whole wheat couscous, which I made with some of my bone soup so that it has a nice chickeny flavor. We ate it all. The mango flavor was preserved much better this way than in the crock pot; I highly recommend it!

I haven't had a chance to try the topping yet; maybe I'll have time to try it if I prep this meal on a freezer cooking day! ;)

Cupcake Recipe Review


I made these cupcakes for my Book Club meeting this past weekend, and I wanted to let everyone know that they are were Fantastic! If you scroll down in the recipe for the basic Bite-Size Sour Cream Pound Cake Cupcakes, you will find 5 variations from the basic recipe. The recipe for the basic Vanilla Buttercream frosting can be found here. I made the basic cupcake recipes and followed the variations for the Salted Caramel Chocolate Cupcakes.

They were also incredibly easy to make, thanks to my new mini muffin pans and my beloved Pampered Chef mini scoop: 



(If you missed the story of what happened to my OLD mini muffin pan, you can read about it here.)

The Highlights:
  • The new mini muffin pan is actually a pair of pans that make a total of 24 mini muffins at once. They are Wilton pans and the labeling says that it is safe to use metal untensils on the pan. (I will not be doing this, having learned my lesson with the last pan.) I used mini muffin liners for the cupcakes, but a few liners got out of place when I was loading them with my handy dandy scooper and they came out of the pan beautifully even though I hadn't greased the pan at all. We'll see how long that feature lasts!
  • The chocolate ganache layer you see under the frosting was so easy to do! You just mix chocolate chips and whipping cream in a microwave safe bowl, heat for 30-second intervals, add more cream, and stir until smooth, then dip the cupcake tops in the chocolate. Not only does this add a wonderful chocolate flavor to the vanilla cupcake, it also seals in the cupcake's moisture so that the cupcake doesn't dry out as quickly.
  • The caramel buttercream frosting is quite easy to apply. I loaded up the frosting in two sealable plastic bags and snipped a quarter inch hole in the corner of the bag to apply the frosting quickly in a spiral pattern. Very fast and easy.
  • The most wonderful part of these cupcakes was that next I added salt on top of the frosting! You can see the salt flakes in the picture above. I used sea salt from a salt grater for larger flakes. The combination of the sweet caramel buttercream and the salt was wonderful. (The recipe called for a small piece of caramel to be added on top of the cupcake. I didn't do this part because I am such a slacker--clearly. ;)
  • When you make a batch of mini-cupcakes and use the handy dandy scoop, you can make over 60 cupcakes out of one batch of batter! This is a good thing because when you serve them, they will disappear quickly.
One last thing: I used boring old white cupcake liners for these cupcakes, but you can find some adorable mini liners and cases at bakeitpretty.com, which is also a fascinating and dangerous place to shop for gifts for the baker in your life.

Happy baking!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Decluttering: Sell Your Gold!

Maybe one of the themes for my Declutter Challenge in February should be Super Small Items because this week I donated my unused contact lenses in addition to selling some old and broken bits of jewelry for cash!

What happened was this: I have a friend who has been out of work for a long while due to health problems. She is a single mother helping to finance her son's college education, so she is always trying to come up with strategies to come up with a little additional money to help make ends meet (at least make the ends come a bit closer anyway!).

She knows that I am trying to find a useful home for my unneeded stuff, so she suggested that I accompany her to sell some gold jewelry and other precious metals (sliver, pewter, etc.). I had a schedule conflict, so I found some broken gold necklaces and a few other items, popped them in a plastic bag, and sent them off with my friend to see what she could sell them for.

My friend has sold gold several different times now, and she has a few tips to share:
  • Avoid offers that require you to send your gold through the mail. If at all possible, find a place where you can go in person to sell your gold. The buyers can make an offer for your pieces, and you can decide on the spot whether you want to sell them or not. You have less control over this process if you are sending your pieces through the mail, and could be more vulnerable to scams.
  • Bring a friend. Some buyers offer to pay you an additional percentage for your pieces if you bring additional people with you. Your friends can also help you decide whether to accept the purchase offers or not. A third benefit of bringing your friends is that they can look over your unwanted items and perhaps offer them a new home. I had two pair of earrings that I sent which were too large for me and not my style at all. I wasn't even sure if they were made of gold or not. The type of gold they were made of was low quality, so the buyers declined to purchase them, but my friend really liked them, so I gave them to her. Better than having them return to clutter my jewelry box! Which leads to our next tip:
  • Bring your items even if you aren't sure they are made of gold. You never know! On the other hand,
  • Avoid selling sentimental items if you think you will regret it later. For several of my broken necklaces, I kept the pendant, but sold the broken chain. The pendants carry the sentiment, so I kept those. I avoided selling items that have sentimental value to our family. I may not use them right now, but my daughter may be interested in them when she is older.
  • Think 'outside' the box when locating items to sell. My friend did this literally when she was looking through a small jewelry box one day for potential gold pieces. Suddenly it hit her that the actual jewelry box was made of sterling silver, and could be a sellable item! (She kept it for now, but she may sell it in the future if silver prices go up.)
We had a sucessful gold sale; the results of which will be included in my Declutter Challenge Report for February. I am still tallying up the rest of the items I sold this month, and I will put the February results up next week. Stay tuned!

Donate Your Unused Contact Lenses to MADRE

Several times now I have ended up with a number of unused disposable contact lenses that I wasn't able to wear. In one case I became allergic to the brand, and in another more recent case, my vision changed dramatically after my daughter weaned and the lens prescription began to cause eye strain.

I could have just swept the unused lenses into the garbage without another thought, but I got to thinking about how much I paid for those contact lenses in the first place, and it didn't seem right to just throw them away. Someone somewhere must be able to use them!

I found an organization called MADRE that promotes rights for women worldwide. They accept a number of items for donation, including contact lenses that are at least 6 months away from expiring (they also accept cell phones with chargers, non-prescription medications, sewing supplies, etc.). They then match the contact lenses (or other items) to women around the world who have that need. You can just mail your items to the following address:

MADRE
Helping Hands Campaign
121 West 27th Street Room 301
New York, NY 10001

If you include a return address, they will send a thank you letter that you can use as a receipt for your donation.

It's a very small thing that can help a woman in need somewhere in the world, and also keep the three Five (I found two more!) extra contact lenses I have on hand from being thrown away before being used. It's the smallest decluttering project I'll ever do, probably, but it meets my goal of finding a useful and needed place for my unwanted stuff.

Check your medicine cabinet and see if you have contacts or other items that could be donated to a good cause!

PS I will also be donating my extra earnings from January to MADRE to help with their Haiti relief efforts, partly as a thank you for taking on the onerous task of collecting and redistributing contact lenses that would otherwise go into a landfill unused. Thanks, MADRE!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Menu Plan Monday: Feb 22nd

This week I want to make a few items from my OAMM menu plan to tweak seasoning, test shortcuts, and confirm cooking times before I submit the grocery list and instructions for the contest. (I'm a finalist! You can vote for the menu you like best at OnceAMonthMom.com)

Let's see when I'll have time to cook:
  • Monday: Baked Ziti with Mini Meatballs from The Sopranos Family Cookbook--my friend and I are getting together for a mini Freezer Cooking day to put this together. We'll each get two: one to eat and one to freeze. It's labor intensive to make all those mini meatballs, but I love them so much! I can't wait.
  • Tuesday: Tweaking and confirming cook time for one of the menu plan recipes, see here for the update
  • Wednesday: Homemade Beef with Broccoli over brown rice
  • Thursday: Lentil Rice Casserole
  • Friday: Out and About (possibly dinner out)
  • Saturday: Chicken and Dumplings Casserole
  • Sunday: Friends over for Dinner...need to prepare vegetarian menu plan
  • Monday: Spaghetti and Turkey Meatballs with green beans
Soup of the Week: Basic Marinara Sauce (is spaghetti sauce considered soup? If not, then I'm bending the rules for Soup of the Week)

I am finding it extremely helpful to compile this menu plan each week (This is my fourth week keeping up with a menu plan). It helps me to consider when I already have on hand and factor in the evenings when I am not going to have a lot of time to cook. I don't always make everything as planned, because life happens. I just move the recipes to a later date and we eat leftovers!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I'm a Finalist!

I entered the Once a Month Mom and Dole Frozen Fruit Menu Planning Contest, and my menu plan was selected as one of the top three finalists! You can check out my menu submission and links to the proposed recipes here. You can vote for the menu you like best on the right side bar at Once a Month Mom once per day per computer until the contest closes on February 26th. (Please vote for me!)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Soup of the Week: White Bean and Kale Soup

Kale is a super nutritious green that many people find intimidating to prepare, and this is the easiest, most delicious way I've found to prepare it. I based my recipe on the recipe found in Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook, but I've made a few modifications to make it every more delicious as noted below.

Ingredients:
  • Three 14 ounce cans vegetable broth "[I use 5 1/2 cups bone soup, stock of choice, and/or water--combine whatever you have on hand for a richer flavor]
  • One 15-ounce can tomato puree [I sometimes use an extra large can of crushed tomatoes with basil]
  • 1 can white, cannellini, or great nothern beans [or whatever you prefer]
  • 1/2 cup converted rice [I use 1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice]
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 lb kale [1 'bunch'], washed, stems removed, and leaves coarsely cut on the diagonal into wide ribbons and coarsely chopped [approx 6-8 packed cups]
  • 1 lb sweet or hot Italian sausage (optional), cooked all the way through in a saute pan, cooled, and thickly sliced [I prefer to remove the casing, crumble, and cook like browning ground beef]

For Serving:
  • Finely shredded Parmesan Cheese
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

1. Combine the broth, tomato puree, beans, rice, onion, garlic, and basil in the slow cooker, season with salt and pepper, and stir to blend. Cover and cook on LOW 5 to 7 hours.

2. Stir in the kale and sausage, if using, cover, and continue to cook on LOW until the kale is limp and tender, another 20-30 minutes. When you add the kale, it will fill the cooker at first; you can add it in batches if you need to. [If the soup is too thick, add water.]
Serve your soup with a dollop of olive oil and a generous shredding of Parmesan cheese on top. You will love the flavor, hardly notice the kale texture, and enjoy an abundance of energy after eating such nutrient-rich food. Did I mention that this soup freezes well? You can save a serving or two to have on hand when you are feeling drained or under the weather.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Super Easy Quesadillas

Sometimes combining a few simple ingredients can produce a very satisfying meal. I have to remind myself that not everything has to be a elaborate combination of ingredients to be something filling and nutritious that my family will want to eat.

My kids really like the Handmade Whole Wheat Tortillas available at Trader Joe's, so a while back I started making simple quesadillas using refried beans and shredded cheese. It is a nutritious, quick lunch for them!

I used to make quesadillas the inefficient way. I would open a can of refried beans, spread some on the tortillas, shred a little cheese, add it on top, and bake however many we needed for lunch. Then I would put the rest of the beans in the fridge where they would go bad after a few days.

I finally figured out one day that I should just keep making the quesadillas until I run out of ingredients, and freeze the extras. I don't know why it took me so long (years!) to figure this out. Now I just keep making quesadillas until I run out of the refried beans and instead of making them once a week or so, I can go several weeks serving them occasionally for lunch using the stash that I have in the freezer.

What you need:
  • Tortillas (we like the Handmade Whole Wheat Tortillas from Trader Joe's)
  • Refried Beans (we are addicted to Bearitos Organic Low-Fat Vegetarian Refried Beans... they are wonderful!)
  • Pinto Beans (optional to make a larger, beanier batch)
  • Shredded Cheddar Cheese (to taste)

If you are using pinto beans, mix them together with the refried beans in a small mixing bowl. Using a butter knife, spread the bean mixture on half a tortilla in a thick layer (to taste). Sprinkle with shredded cheese. Fold the empty half of the tortilla over the toppings and press together.

At this point you can freeze the tortillas for a future meal. I recommend stacking them with slips of wax paper in between so that they don't get stuck together while frozen.

Some people heat quesadillas the official way in a pan on the stovetop. This is a very hands-on method. I prefer to bake them on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees. I think they take about 7-10 minutes if they start out frozen. (I don't keep track. I put them in and forget about then while cutting up fruit, etc. and then I start to smell them and remember to pull them out.) Just one heats beautifully in the toaster oven.

I slice them into triangles with a pizza cutter and serve them with fresh fruit and veggies for kids; we add sour cream and salsa for adults. They are a great finger food for parties and everyone enjoys them. It's a convenient way for my kids to ingest beans without really being aware of it, and it is great to have them on hand for a quick hot lunch rather than letting half a can of refried beans go bad in the fridge.

I've linked this post to Life as Mom's Ultimate Recipe Swap, where you can check out some additional simple lunch ideas.


Simple can be delicious!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Menu Plan for Julia Child

My book club is reading My Life in France by Julia Child, and it is my turn to host. I had this wild idea that I would make some of Julia Child's recipes to eat at our meeting (the host provides snacks). After some brief research, I've decided that I don't have the time or concentration to attempt Julia Child recipes at this point in my life. Sorry, Book Club folks.

 
But I'm going to make it up to you! Check out the recipes for these Salted Caramel-Chocolate Cupcakes! I have been thinking about this recipe for weeks now, but I didn't have a good excuse to make it until now, I've been too busy making cookies anyway. Also, I first had to obtain a new mini muffin pan after that unfortunate catastrophe with the last pan.

 
I'll also have some various savories as this menu will also serve as dinner for my family. Hmmmm... let me take a look around and see what we have on hand.
  • Cranberry Goat Cheese log with various crackers
  • Assorted fresh vegetables with dip
  • Turkey Tortilla Wraps
  • Mini Stuffed Potatoes
  • Strawberry Bread
  • The hopefully delectable cupcakes as mentioned above.
There! That should feed everyone. They probably won't miss the Julia Child recipes if I use plenty of butter, right?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Menu Plan Monday: Feb 15th

Well, the menu plan from last week didn't work out so well! We got another foot of snow, which not only rearranged our evening plans for the entire week, but also cancelled our trip to see the grandparents over the weekend. Added to these problems was the Snow Fatigue, which is when your hours and days start blending together with no end in sight and your ability to focus and be productive is completely derailed by your fear that the power might go off again any minute, so what's the point in trying to cook anything? And we all have colds.

I did bake Valentine cookies. They were good. I also made some discoveries in the freezer which I hope to put to good use now that I know they are there.

  • Monday: Leftovers: (pasta, pizza, chicken, etc. We've got plenty of food!)
  • Tuesday: Asian Peanut Butter Pork (crock pot)
  • Wednesday (Kids only): Bean and Cheese Quesadillas w/vegetable and fruit (Didn't eat as planned last week)
  • Thursday: Chicken with Whole Wheat Couscous with Zucchini and Cherry Tomatoes from The Joy of Cooking (Didn't eat as planned last week)
  • Friday: Lentil Rice Casserole (made with brown rice)
  • Saturday: Leftovers
  • Sunday: Book Club Menu Plan The family will eat from what I prepare for my Book Club meeting.
  • Monday: Baked Ziti with Mini Meatballs (prepared with friend during Freezer Cooking Day that day) from The Sopranos Family Cookbook I can't wait for this one!!!

Soup of the Week: White Bean and Kale Tomato Soup from Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook (I didn't use the kale for the quiche last week as I had planned. The week was completely derailed!)

Stop by I'm an Organizing Junkie to see more menu plans!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Decorated Cutout Cookies: Part II (Icing)


They're nothing amazing, but they're done! Fortunately I had hidden the rest of my cookie stash, so we still have a few dozen cookies to work with. As with the baking of the cookies, I turn to Raeanne's recipe for icing advice. I like her icing recipe because it's easy to mix up (I find the meringue powder at Michael's); it doesn't require heating on the stove, etc. It works really well to color the icing and then load it up into some basic resealable plastic bags for piping outlines. To outline, just snip a small hole in the bottom corner of the bag, and squeeze. You can enlarge the hole if you want a larger outline.

When I am ready to flood the interior, I just add a little water from the tap to the plastic bag and carefully mix the water into the icing, trying to avoid making bubbles, then thinly spread the icing on the interior of the cookie.

For some reason I had a hard time with the icing this time. My theory is that I used organic powdered sugar, which is missing some key ingredient(s) that more processed sugars contain. At least that's my explanation for the off-white color of the icing and the general icing gloppiness that I don't usually see with this cookie icing recipe. Be sure to use standard confectioner's sugar for an easier time. Another frustration was that the new pink icing tint I bought turned out to be Pepto-Bismol Pink no matter what amount you use; I had been hoping for a softer shade. On top of that, I just wasn't in a creative mood. All I could think about were Cake Wrecks. It was a little distracting, but I did manage to properly spell Valentine's messages on the larger hearts for the kidlets.

I tried a new icing technique with my Small Assistant that I thought was worth sharing. It works well if you want to ice your cookies quickly. You mix up the icing, and then carefully hold the edges while dipping the top of the cookie into the icing bowl. I held it up for a while to let the excess icing drip off, then brushed off more excess icing with a butter knife. This was a great technique for some small heart cookies I had. I didn't care for the icing recipe so much, but I think I will do this again and use Raeanne's recipe.

Each cookie ended up with quite a bit of icing, so they took a while to dry. I would show you a picture of the finished, dried cookies... but they were eaten before I thought of photographing them!

Another fun technique for cutout cookies is to dip them in chocolate. I melt some chocolate chips by microwaving them in a pyrex measuring cup for 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth. Then simply dip half the cookie in the mix, and lay on parchment paper to cool/dry. These are incredibly rich, so I usually do this for very small cutout cookies. You could swirl some colored icing on top if you were so inspired; I was fed up with icing gloppiness by then. You can see a few of the chocolate hearts in the top picture above.

Anyway, I'm finished with cookie cutouts for a while! Hopefully at least for a few months before the urge strikes again.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Decorated Cutout Cookies: Part I (Cookie Prep)

It's that time of year again...cookie time!!! Well, I guess for most people it's actually Valentine's Day, but I use any excuse to make cutout cookies with decorative icing. They can be challenging and they do take some time from start to finish, so I typically make the process stretch over several days, broken into smaller steps. They aren't as difficult as one might think if you follow a few important tips. And they are so worth it!

Preparing Cookie Dough
I use the recipe for cookie dough found here. My stand mixer, a trusty old Oster from the 80's, can barely handle it when I double the recipe--but that's what I recommend if your mixer can handle it. I have been known to quadruple this recipe, making two double batches all at once. (It you're going to the trouble of making decorated cutout cookies, you might as well make a bunch! Then you will have at least SOME cookies left to decorate after your family members scarf down the warm, buttery cookies right when they come out of the oven...)

Tips for mixing cookie dough:
  • Start with ingredients (butter and eggs) at room temperature
  • Mix the butter and sugar until fluffy
  • Add flour relatively quickly, mixing until just blended (to avoid overmixing flour)

I like the recipe's detailed instructions on how to cut out the cookies. The most important tip is to keep the dough very cold. Turn portions of the dough out onto a piece of wax paper (I prefer wax paper; Raeanne uses plastic wrap) and pat it into a disk.
 
You're supposed to chill the dough at this point, but I find it works just as well to get the dough rolled out right away and then chill it. (What you see above are chilled disks, because I didn't have time to roll the dough out when I made it, but that is what I prefer to do.) It is much easier to roll out the dough if you place another piece of wax paper on top of the disk. The recipe calls for rolling the dough to 1/8 of an inch. I roll mine a little bit thicker by rolling the edges of the rolling pin on paint stirrers (free from the hardware store! Not ever used in paint!)
 
You may think the next step is to cut out the cookies, but it isn't. The next step is to pop your rolled dough disks into the freezer and go do something else.

 
Later (or the next day) when you are ready to bake the cookies, remove one disk from the freezer and gently peel both the top and bottom wax paper pieces from the disk, leaving one in place under the dough. Put a piece of parchment paper on your cookie sheet, and you are ready to cut cookies!

You can accumulate the scraps and then reroll them out in the wax paper layers and return them to the freezer to re-chill before cutting.
 
Another one of Raeanne's great tricks is to chill the cutout cookies for 10 minutes or so before baking them in the oven. This helps the dough avoid getting all blobby while baking; cold dough is more likely to retain its cutout shape. So the flat disk comes out of the freezer, gets cut and placed on the cookie sheet, goes in the fridge, then bakes in the oven until uniformly golden brown. I turn mine every 5 minutes or so. After a while you get the feel for how long your cutouts need to bake in your oven. You want them to be golden because that enhances the crisp buttery taste. Mmmmmm.... Try not to eat them all at this point.


After the cookies cool, store them in airtight containers and hide them. Seriously! If you want to have cookies left to decorate when you return, you will need to store them in a secure location. I have stowed my stash in two different secure locations that I cannot disclose here because The Cookie Thieves might read this.
 
I'll be back tomorrow to share my icing tips and techniques.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Let's Excavate the Freezer!


This is something I should have done in January during the Pantry Challenge... but I never got around to it. Then yesterday I was searching high and low for the salmon I was supposed to make for dinner, and I couldn't find it anywhere! It's not like the freezer is a huge cavernous space; there were only a few places where the salmon could be located, but I couldn't find it to defrost it before I dashed out of the house for the first time in days. It was time!

There was a lot more food in there than I had expected.

Prepared Items: 1 serving lasagna, 2 cups tortilla soup, 2 cups chopped cooked chicken, 1 loaf banana bread, twenty-four sixteen mini pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, 7 containers Bone Soup, 4 Mini Beef Wellingtons (I thought we had eaten them all!)

I also had 6 bags frozen vegetables, 4 bags frozen fruit (plus 4 frozen bananas), 1 package ground beef, 1 package Italian Sausage, 2 packages turkey meatballs, 3 boxes pie crusts, 1 dozen mini bagels, 5 hamburger buns, 3 hotdog buns, 1 gallon size bag of single-sized baguette potions (to heat and serve with soup, etc.), 5 loaves of bread (belongs to my spouse who takes it to work) 8 bags of various types of nuts, 4 cans orange juice, 1 1/2 bags peanut butter chips, 4 types of coffee, and a bag of frozen portions of garlic scape pesto that I made last summer when we had a CSA share. Oh, and 1 container vanilla ice cream, a boo boo bunny, my husband's frozen mug, and a few ice packs for coolers.

I cleaned the freezer out, and carefully loaded everything back in except for 2 packages of buns that had freezer burn, and the garlic scape pesto. (It wasn't that great when I made it 8 months ago, and I don't think it has improved much since then!) I stored the nuts all together in a container and tried to sort things by type/use.

Much better. The best I can do, really with a freezer space that is only 10 inches wide and two missing shelves (they were missing when we moved in). I do not recommend this type of refrigerator. I can barely fit a 13 x 9 pan inside!

I should explain that I keep the one shelf empty because that it where I chill my cookie dough before cutting it. I also use that space to freeze bags of liquid foods flat so that I can store them easeier.

Now you know that when I say that my freezer is packed full yet doesn't have much in it, I'm not kidding!

Donating Yucky, Unwearable Clothing: What Really Happens?

Someone recently made a comment on my Selling vs Donating: Why Bother? post, advising that Goodwill may throw away clothing that they cannot sell in their thrift stores. This disturbed me because most of the children's clothing I donate is stained, torn, or worn out, and probably not marketable in a thrift store setting. I felt very discouraged to think of all the piles of clothes I've donated to Goodwill, just to have them in end up in a landfill anyway! I decided to do a little research and find out what really happens to the old, yucky (but clean!) clothing I donate.

St Vincent de Paul: My commenter recommended St Vincent de Paul as an organization that sells unwearable clothing as rags. This sounds promising except that the nearest location is almost 50 miles away (in Fredericksburg, VA) I decided to focus on organizations closer to home.

Goodwill: I sent an email to Goodwill inquiring about what happens to clothing they are unable to sell in their thrift stores, and they responded quickly with a lengthy explanation:

We have over 2300 in the US and Canada. The items that don’t meet the quality standard are sometimes sold at Goodwill clearance centers, such as outlets or “by the pound” stores. Not all Goodwill headquarters have such centers, but where present, this is a good way to squeeze more value from donations, keep more product from reaching landfills, and fund our job training programs and employment placement services. Any remaining product is then offered for sale to textile recyclers, which extends the life of already manufactured goods.

Some of the used clothes sold to textile recyclers are recycled into rags, carpet fibers and other products. This is an environmentally sound process - we have seen estimates that textile recyclers divert approximately 2.5 billion pounds of used clothes from landfills.

PlanetAid: I also contacted PlanetAid as they operate in Washington, DC, not too far away from me.They emailed a message including this response:
The clothing and shoes that are donated to Planet are resold to international used clothing brokers. The profits derived from these sales are used to fund sustainable development projects in Africa, Asia, & Latin America.

The brokers that buy our clothes actually have sorting facilities. Once they receive a load from us, they sort through clothing. The stained, ripped, or unwearable clothing is sorted out and then it is resold to actual textile recyclers. The textile recyclers then use that material to make shop rags, carpet padding, insulation, and other by-product materials. As you can see, there is an extensive chain of recycling that goes on within this industry.

The Salvation Army: I couldn't find a contact email for The Salvation Army so I called them. According to the two representatives I spoke with, they sell the higher quality clothing in their thrift stores. Less desirable but still wearable clothing is baled and shipped around the world to areas in need. If clothing is soiled or completely unwearable, it does end up in the trash. Good to know!

This research has led me to reassess what I am donating. I'm donating clothing that is often not resellable in a thrift store, but it is still wearable. I cannot think of anything I've donated recently that would have gone into the trash. I think that most of my items (if not sold in the thrift stores) are being packed into bales and being shipped to people who will hopefully find them useful.

I'm glad I did this research and learned a little more about where these clothes are going after I donate them. We will stick with donating to Goodwill for the present because it is conveniently located very close to our home. It's nice to know that any of these organizations in our area will treat our donations responsibly and have multiple ways to reuse clothing and keep them out of landfills.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Navigating a Snow Day--With a Power Outage

We currently have 20 inches of snow, and another foot or so is on the way! I wish that I could announce that we have everything under control: kids happily entertained and a slew of household projects underway. I can't! We had great plans for the weekend, but we learned pretty quickly on Friday night that our plans were all contingent on us having electrical power--which we lost for about 24 hours. We are still trying to get back on track.

This is the third time we have lost power for an extended period of time in the past year, but the first time we couldn't escape! In the past we've been able to get out of the house and do something else while waiting for power to be restored, but that wasn't possible due to the blizzard of snow blowing outside. I was even reluctant to let the kids play outside because it would be hard to dry them off and warm them up when they came in from the storm. (The interior of the house stayed at about 55 degrees, at least as long as I was still there to see the thermostat!)

We didn't do enough to prepare for this storm. There are a few areas where we were well-prepared:
  • We had plenty of food
  • All our technology was charged up
  • We had plenty of warm snow gear for everyone to wear
 There were other things that we didn't prepare for so well:
  • We didn't have a stockpile of water. We didn't even think of this!
  • We didn't think about how we would handle things if we lost power: we had no alternate heat source, few candles and other alternate lights (some items we had but didn't remember having them or recall where they were until after the power was restored)
  • We store our flashlights where the kids can get them and play with them. We were fortunate that the batteries still worked in the main flashlights.

One main solution that we are considering is to purchase a generator; this would allow us to keep the house functioning on a basic subsistence level while waiting for electricity to resume. We didn't expect to ever need a generator as we live in a highly populated suburban area, but our neighborhood is old with houses ranging in age from 60 years old to built yesterday. It seems that this layering of electrical power needs has created a complex, fragile system, at least in our neighborhood. One outage last summer was caused by a car accident about a half-mile away! During this most recent outage, we could see the lights on in the houses across the street from us. The general rule is that it takes a minimum of 24 hours for the power company to just restore even temporary power. It is a frustrating situation that has disrupted three weekends just in the past year. Does this level of disruption justify the purchase of a generator?
We did do a few fun things while the power was out. The kids spent several hours playing with my camera. They took pictures and made videos of each other giggling, dancing, and saying silly things. It was difficult to tell which they enjoyed more: making the videos or watching them.
I was also grateful that we have a gas water heater, so the water stayed nice and hot. We lit candles and placed them up high in the shower caddy hanging around the shower head so the kids couldn't reach them, and everyone could enjoy a nice candlelit bath or shower. Beware: we didn't have any way to dry wet hair!
We also appreciated our coffee press: we bought it to use while camping, but it came in handy to prepare warm caffeinated beverages for my Snow Removal Expert. (My husband.)
Stay safe if you are experiencing or expecting a big storm!

Ebay Update: Take Note if You Plan to Sell Cloth Diapers

When I mentioned my plans to sell cloth diapers on Ebay, a commenter observed that some people have had their cloth diaper listings removed with no notice. I didn't want this to happen to me, so I decided to do a little research and find out what the regulations are regarding cloth diaper sales.

The answer: http://pages.ebay.com/help/policies/used-clothing.html
"Used cloth diapers can be sold, as long as the listing states clearly that the item has been cleaned per manufacturer standards."
I'm really glad that I checked this out in advance; otherwise my listings may have been pulled! I appreciate the heads up about this potential problem, and I hope this info is useful to my cloth diaper selling competitiors out there as well.

Happy Selling!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Menu Plan Monday: Feb 8th

Well, we didn't host the Sunday Brunch that I've been planning for weeks! We weren't even here; we lost power for over 24 hours and finally went to stay in a hotel overnight. Our guests wouldn't have made it anyway; no one could get their cars dug out enough to attend. (How did we get to the hotel? We walked! And carried the kids most the way. We are exhausted!)

What this all means is that I have a number of fresh ingredients purchased for the brunch that I need to integrate into our menu for this week. We would like to reschedule with our guests, but the next proposed date isn't until March.

  • Monday: Marinated Salmon served on spinach with Black Bean-Sweet Potato Salsa
  • Tuesday: Spaghetti w/Meatballs, broccoli (as previously planned for Monday)
  • Wednesday: Potato Kale Quiche (from The Vegetarian Mother's Cookbook by Cathe Olson)
  • Thursday: Leftovers (cooking day with a friend)
  • Friday: Bean and Cheese Quesadillas with salsa and sour cream, salad
  • Saturday: Baked Chicken and Couscous with Zucchini and Cherry Tomatoes (from The Joy of Cooking)
  • Sunday: Visiting Grandparents; bring Shortbread Hearts pictured above and Multi-Grain Pancake mix (also from The Vegetarian Mother's Cookbook by Cathe Olson)
  • Monday: Chicken and Dumplings Casserole
Two meals will use some of the Bone Soup I made up this weekend (despite the obstacles).

In addition to the Shortbread Hearts, I'll be making heart-shaped sugar cookies for two Valentine's Day class parties; I'll be back later this week to share about that.

To see more shared menu plans, head over to I'm an Organizing Junkie (orgjunkie.com).

Fitness Goals Update

I'm working little by little each week to my fitness goal for the year. In January I made it to aerobics class 14 times, which is a little ahead considering my goal is to go 150 times this year! (I need to go 12-13 times each month.)

Unfortunately February hasn't been going so well. Between bad weather and sick children, I haven't made it to class this month except for one time. I have three weeks left to get back on track. If I can go 3 or 4 times each week, I will be okay. Wish me luck and I'll check in again in early March!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Soup of the Week: Bone Soup

I finally saved up enough chicken and turkey bones in the freezer to make Bone Soup! The larger bag in the picture above contains the bones, and the smaller bag contains frozen vegetable scraps I've been saving up (onion, carrot, zucchini, etc.). You just throw the bones and the vegetables in a large pot with a splash or two of vinegar, fill the pot with water, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 7 hours, then allow to cool.

At that point you are supposed to strain the liquid into a pitcher, but our power went out due to a storm and I didn't feel up to straining in the dark with a flashlight, so we popped the soup pot in the fridge overnight, figuring the power would soon return. It didn't. It hasn't yet!

When I checked the soup in the morning, it was semi-cool, and it had 'heated' all the milk on the shelf with it, so I had to improvise.

It's now on my back deck in the largest pitcher I own, along with several other fridge items, chilling. I have a plan to freeze the stock in smaller portions, in fact I will measure out how much I need for a few upcoming recipes, then I can just defrost it and dump it in.

I can't do all of that until the power turns back on and we go back home. We are at a hotel for tonight. I can't decide what I appreciate more, the heater, or the WiFi.

Edited to add: Finished!

Friday, February 5, 2010

New Recipe Reviews

I want to make sure that each recipe and recipe link I share here is something that I would recommend to others. I've made every one of them, except for when I mention that it is a new recipe that I am trying out. Here are a couple reviews for two new recipes I've tried this past month: Shrimp and Mushroom Linguini, and Coconut Barley Pilaf (pictured above).

I was trying to use up some shrimp that I had purchased for a holiday party that was cancelled due to extreme snowfall, and I found a recipe for Shrimp and Mushroom Linguini with Creamy Cheese Herb Sauce. I made this with a few substitutions as I was trying to keep myself out of the store for the Pantry Challenge. I used whole wheat spaghetti instead of linguine, and I had some goat cheese from a get-together with friends that I used in place of the cream cheese. I had a pound of raw shrimp that I defrosted and cooked up quickly before combining everything together.

The Verdict? Excellent! Even the kids ate it and they aren't familiar with shrimp (I think my kids would eat anything if I served it with spaghetti or soba noodles!) We had no leftovers after my husband packed the rest for lunch. I will keep this recipe on hand for special occasions, but since we don't usually eat shrimp, I don't think it will go in our regular rotation.

A friend of mine keeps a binder of all the recipes from newspapers and magazines that she is interested in trying out. That's how I discovered Coconut Barley Pilaf, an intriguing way to use up some barley that I had on hand. (Confession: I had planned to make Mushroom Barley Soup with the barley for lunches, but I just couldn't get excited about it, especially knowing that I'd be the only one eating it. So, I didn't make it. The mushrooms found a new home in the shrimp dish above as well as with a lovely omlette made Julia Child-style.)

We are this meal last night and it was fantastic! (I thought so anyway, the kids thought it was 'wierd rice'.) It was sticky and creamy with great texture from the barley, corn, and crunchy nuts. There are so many reasons I like this recipe:
  • It uses only 10 oz of chicken for 4 servings, which makes the dish more affordable to make. You only need 1/2 cup of cashews, which you could replace with peanuts if you didn't have cashews available.
  • You can use pre-cooked chicken; I had a batch from my freezer cooking day all measured out.
  • If you omitted the chicken completely, this could be a vegan dish.
  • I like that this dish uses barley to increase my family's exposure to whole grains other than wheat, but you could also easily make this dish with more standard fare such as brown rice.
I do want to mention that I think the liquid measurements in the New York Times Recipe are inaccurate.
  • I ended up adding 2 cups of water in addition to the coconut milk/water mixture mentioned in step 3. I simmered the barley mixture for 35 minutes before adding the corn, and added the chicken and cashews at 40 minutes, stirring to heat them up; it didn't take an extra 10-15 minute as stated. Be sure to monitor the liquid content carefully and add more if the barley needs to cook longer.
  • I thought the recipe called for a lot of salt. I used lightly salted cashews and added less salt than called for.
  • Also be careful with the cashews; they brown really fast!
I found it amusing that the recipe author came up with this meal when she was trying to avoid 'Take-Out Temptation' by scrounging for useful items from her pantry. Very fitting! You can read about it here. We are definitely adding her creation to our meal rotation.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Decluttering: The Basement Attack Plan

Since I've gone and entered my laundry room basement in an organizing contest, I thought I'd better sit down and come up with a plan of action--before I have to go put on some extra layers and actually spend some time down there!

I have a lot of stuff to move around, so I will start by sorting items into various piles, ideally in large, empty containers or boxes. My pile list:
  • Goodwill
  • Consignment Clothes
  • Baby Equipment
  • Baby Toys (no longer used)
  • Other toys not currently in rotation
  • Books
  • Gift Wrap
  • Photos, momentos, and scrapbooking items.
  • Giftwrap, boxes, ribbons, gift bags, etc.
  • Items to sell online
  • Items to consign/sell at yard sale
  • Extra Bedding
  • Laundry Supplies
  • Beverage Stockpile
Items in boldface are those that will require a permanent storage place, even in the actual items in that location rotate.

My next step is to find some boxes and bags to use so that I can start sorting everything out. After everything is sorted, I will need to clean the storage spaces and come up with a plan for where everything should be stored, then start putting everything where it belongs.

I think I am going to have some free time this weekend to work on this. We are supposed to host our Brunch, but we are expecting a foot of snow, and transportation comes to a standstill when it snows in this area, so we may have to reschedule.

To Ebay or not to Ebay... That is the Question

I have used Ebay occasionally over the years to purchase various items, and have had great experiences most of the time, but I've never tried selling before. I finally worked up the nerve and posted some items for sale last week. The good news is that I sold 3 items! The bad news... I didn't make very much money. I find myself wondering whether selling items on Ebay is worth it.

Not that I am trying to make a big profit, but I do want it to be at least somewhat financially worthwhile to count towards my challenge. The thought of profit helps especially when I have to go to the post office with two kids in tow. (They were very helpful and liked sliding the packages through the slot... they liked it so much they started trying to 'mail' everything in the room that wasn't nailed to the floor. Very exciting!)

The entire process of listing items on Ebay takes some getting used to. There are many decisions to make and many added features to decline so that you don't pay more for listing and shipping than you need to. I feel like I am wandering through the dark sometimes, unsure exactly what I need to do next, but ultimately I've been able to figure everything out in time. These first listings were guinea pigs; I wasn't really expecting them to do amazingly well. They did fine for practice purposes.

My hope is that I will become comfortable with the selling process so that whenever I accumulate a small pile of items to sell, I can list them without all the deliberation that I'm going through right now, and process the transactions more quickly. If I can get to this place (and make some profit!) I will be sure to let you know. Right now, I'm just not sure.

What I do know is that I am only going to sell items on Ebay when it seems to make sense. If I have an item that has particular value, is hard to find in stores (or no longer sold), is easy to ship, and is in demand for a hard-to-reach group of people who shop on Ebay, I will attempt to sell the item.

The perfect example of items that meet these criteria are our cloth diapers. Most are in nice condition, cannot be found in stores, will be easy to ship (stuff in box and go!), and I can reach a larger portion of the cloth diapering demographic on Ebay than say, at a yard sale. The yard sale would be a better location to sell, for example, a used baby toy that is available all over town. That sort of item is probably not worth shipping.

The one area that I feel like I am on top of the process for selling online is packaging!

This is my packaging material and envelope stockpile. Hopefully I'll be putting these items to good use in the new few months. I'll check in periodically and report how things are going. My decluttering/selling results for January are posted here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Let's Have Brunch: The Drink Setup

We've covered the meal plan, we've started the paperwhites growing (they're coming along nicely! You can see some in the picture below.)

The other main steps are to clean the house (I won't bore you with those details!) and also how to have everything set up the day of the party.

One thing that has helped us simplify party setup is that we arrange the drinks the same way for every gathering. We use an ice bucket for plenty of ice and put drinks out at room temperature, including water, which seems to be the drink of choice these days at almost all our parties. This saves the limited refrigerator space for foodstuffs when I don't have to worry about chilling drinks (other than white wine, etc.) I have a carafe I fill with boiling hot water to make tea (for tea drinkers) and our coffee pot is another carafe; we simply brew the coffee and it stays warm in the container. We set out cream and sugar with teabags and cups, and guests can help themselves. We bought 2 dozen plain, cheap stackable glasses from Ikea some years ago so that we don't have to rely on paper cups for cold drinks. Everything more or less fits together on our bar in the dining room:



For a larger party, say in the summer, we might add coolers filled with kid-drinks (water, juice boxes) or Dad-drinks (beer, soda).

For brunch this Sunday, I plan on making fresh squeezed orange juice and using it to make champagne mimosas, in addition to the standard drink fare you see pictured here.

We have set up this drink arrangement so many times now, and it works really well! Our guests can help themselves to a wide variety of drink options without having to invade the kitchen; and the arrangement is something we can set up in our sleep we have done it so many times. This allow more time and energy to focus on cooking the food! Which is what I need to focus on next...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Declutter Inspiration: I'm Entering my Scary Laundry Room in a Contest!

I admit it. I am a procrastinator. I have gotten amazing things done recently while working to avoid focusing on my Declutter Challenge for myself. I've planned brunches, planted paperwhites, read books, cooked delicious food, provided elaborate answers to my son's neverending questions... the list goes on and on.

'I'm an Organizing Junkie' is hosting a 28 Day Organizing Challenge for the month of February, complete with Before and After pictures. I immediately thought of a great set of Before pictures I just posted the other week: My Laundry Room Basement!

Just in case you haven't had the experience of viewing my Disaster Area:


Oh, my. I have my work cut out for me. It's so scary that I don't like to go into my basement unless absolutely neccessary, such as when we are all out of underwear and I need to do laundry (just kidding, I keep up with the laundry before underwear emergencies occur, but you get the idea!).

My main goal is to declutter in a more thoughtful way, but it occurs to me that it would make sense to simply go through the mass confusion in the basement and organize it based on which decluttering projects I plan on working on first. I have already wasted time to search randomly through the piles for my book and dish sales. It would be great to go through everything, sort it, and store it more efficiently so that I can focus more time in finding good homes for everything.

I'm sure that the organizing pros who enter this challenge will put together amazingly beautiful spaces and win all the wonderful prizes. I will be happy to just participate and be inspired to be more productive by the opportunity to share my experience (and 'After' pictures at the end of the month!)

My goals for the challenge:
  • To use this blogging exercise to motivate me to work on this mess. Whomever is reading can hold me accountable to get at least *something* done!
  • Rather than focusing on getting rid of all this stuff this month, I want to store and organize it so that I can find things when I am working on certain decluttering projects throughout the year without overlooking lost items.
  • I want to clear a work space that I can use to sort/decluter, fold laundry, send packages/wrap gifts, etc.
  • I want to work on all of these things without spending money. Organizing solutions are fun but since my focus this year is on decluttering, I want to get creative and see what I can do with what I already own.
This should be fun (except the part where I have to spend actual time in the basement. Argh!)

You can check out other 'Before' pictures and reports at orgjunkie.com. Enjoy!