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Gearing Up for the Holidays – The Kitchen

Consider:

Thanksgiving kicks off a whole season of gathering, giving, and gratitude. Consider gearing up for the holiday season by doing a few things to streamline and simplify your kitchen. You may find that a little preparation on the front side may make the holiday season (and new year) merry and bright!

My husband, Chris, is a wonderful cook and truly enjoys being in the kitchen. I can’t say that has been my relationship with the kitchen—but that is changing. I am finding that a well-stocked and intentionally equipped kitchen makes a huge difference for a cook like me. I thrive in an organized space and have found some ways to make our kitchen work for master chefs and novice cooks alike.

Take Inventory and Stock Up

Start by taking inventory of what you have on hand—pitching expired items and organizing what is left as you go. Then create a thorough shopping list of the items you need to replace as well as the additional ingredients you will need to prepare your holiday favorites. You may even go so far as to label specific ingredients as OFF LIMITS as you restock and organize your shelves and refrigerator. You don’t want to reach for the milk and find that it was finished off an hour ago with the last of the Lucky Charms! That being said, you may want to consider replenishing or having the following items on hand:

  • Dried Herbs and Spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, cardamom, cloves, oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, garlic powder, onion powder, salt (table, kosher, sea), pepper (black, white), vanilla extract, almond extract
  • Fresh Herbs and Produce: basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, dill, parsley, ginger, garlic, onions, shallots, celery, carrots
  • Pantry Items: flours, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, cream of tartar, bakers chocolate, tomato paste, chicken/beef broth or stock
  • Dairy: eggs, milk, half and half, heavy cream, salted and unsalted butter
  • Storage Staples: zipper-style baggies, plastic or glass containers for food prep and leftovers, plastic wrap, regular and heavy-duty aluminum foil, parchment paper, wax paper

Streamline and Simplify

Some people can block out the rest of the world and lose themselves in their cooking. I am not one of those people. When I cook, the kitchen often looks like it is staged for a cooking show. Before I turn on a burner or preheat the oven, I cut, chop, measure, and group all the ingredients and cooking implements according to the order they appear in the recipe. This way, I can enjoy the cooking process without rushing to mince garlic or realizing too late that half the salt was for step 1, and the other half was for step 3. I know that may sound crazy, but I get called on to do the darnedest things at the darnedest times, and I employ every safety net I can to keep myself on track!

Another way I save time and mental energy in the kitchen is to annotate my cookbooks. As I read a recipe, I mark the ingredients and cooking times to make following the recipe as at-a-glance easy as possible. I also note the type or cut of meat in the cookbook index to streamline my shopping. When bone-in chicken thighs go on sale, I can look up my bone-in chicken thigh recipes in a matter of seconds. (I know my former students are probably not surprised that I annotate my cookbooks. Work smarter, not harder!)

Mark ingredients, processes, and cook times to make the recipe easier to follow as you cook.
(America’s Test Kitchen: The Complete Make-Ahead Cookbook)
Note the type or cut of meat used in each recipe to make choosing a specific recipe quick and easy.
(America’s Test Kitchen: The Complete Make-Ahead Cookbook)

Tools, Tips, Timesavers

My approach to cooking may seem a bit rigid, but you have to learn to walk before you can run! I never thought I would be sharing cooking tips (hacks) or listing my favorite kitchen tools, but here I am, 51 years old, learning something new every day and passing it on.

These are a few of my favorite things:

Left to right: Spice and Nut Grider, Immersion Blender, Fat Separator, metal and ceramic Ramekins, Multi-Measure Shot Glass

Spice and Nut Grinder: We grind most of our spices as we need them.

Immersion Blender: Great for blending sauces and soups in the pot you are already using—no need to get the blender dirty! And we whip up our own whipped cream in seconds—YUM.

Fat Separator: This is a 3-in-1 deal. It is a strainer, measuring cup, and fat separator.

Metal and Ceramic Ramekins: We use these to prep all our ingredients before we cook. Tip: If the recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of olive oil, but 1 tablespoon is used in step 1 and the other tablespoon in used in step 4, use two separate ramekins to avoid mistakes as you cook.

Multi-Measure Shot Glass: I call it my liquid measuring spoon. Tip: Save your measuring spoons for dry ingredients.

Other Tips and Timesavers

  • Better Than Bouillon: We use this in place of broths and stocks. You simply add one teaspoon of Better Than Bouillon per cup of water. It saves shelf space and allows you to mix the amount you need when you need it.
  • Double Up: Double recipes that freeze well, so your efforts today do double-duty for later. The same goes for any recipes that make great leftovers for lunch tomorrow.
  • Dress the Part: Wear an apron to keep spills and splashes from staining your clothes.
  • Kids Can: grate cheese, wash vegetables , measure ingredients (learn fractions), organize ingredients according to the recipe, set timers, grind spices, and taste test.

Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and my kitchen and I are ready. I have given thoughtful consideration to what we need to have on hand and how to do what I can before family arrives next week. Sure, something unexpected will come my way, but I am already ahead of the game, so it will be okay.

Thank you for visiting Consider It,

Andrea

Clear Away the Clutter and Embrace Change

Consider:

Seasons change, lifestyles change, waistlines change, interests change. Whether you are moving off to college, into your first apartment, or onto the next phase of your life, change is inevitable. Consider embracing change by clearing away the clutter that naturally accumulates as we evolve from one place in life to another.

Focus Phrase: “A place for everything, everything in its place.” – Ben Franklin 

If you saw the first Sex and the City movie, you may recall the scene where Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha gather together to help Carrie pack her closet and move into a new apartment with Big, her soon to be husband. (Well, not super-soon, but by the end of the movie anyway!) They make the chore of packing up years worth of clothing accumulation into a party. I wouldn’t model too many of my life decisions after Sex and the City, but this scene has some good takeaways.

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My original thought was to embed the code from a YouTube video I found of this scene from the movie in this post. But then I considered the repercussions that may occur if I violate any fair use or copyright laws. As a teacher, I preached against plagiarism constantly, so I emailed HBO to ask permission. I did receive a polite email from HBO Clips & Licenses declining my request. Hence, the picture of Post-it Notes. Of course, you may google the scene for yourself if you would like to get the full impact of my references. Google: Sex and the City Packing The Closet – YouTube. 

Takeaway #1 -Develop a System: Charlotte gets things organized by pulling out the Post-it Notes and proclaiming that PINK is TAKE, PURPLE is TOSS, and YELLOW is STORAGE. I would add a fourth – GREEN for DONATE.

Whether you are moving or just organizing, I suggest emptying the entire closet. Then sort all your items according to a keep, donate, or toss type system. Seeing the closet empty will help you embrace how much or how little room you have before you move the items you are keeping back into the closet or pack them in a box to be moved or stored. While the closet is empty, give it a deep cleaning and consider the best way to arrange what you are keeping.

Organizing Tips:

Clothing

  • keep everyday clothes separate from special occasion clothes
  • hang/fold clothes by kind and color to make dressing and pairing separates as simple as possible
  • hang/fold shirts by sleeve length and color (camisoles, sleeveless, short sleeve, 3/4 sleeve, long sleeve)
  • hang/fold pants and skirts by kind (denim, casual, work)
  • hang/store dresses and jackets by length and season

Accessories

  • Jewelry – sort and store earrings, rings bracelets, and pins in a jewelry organizer or a divided drawer; hang necklaces on a bar to keep them from tangling
  • Shoes – sort them by kind and season
  • Belts, scarves, hats, miscellaneous – be creative with hanging these items or putting them in bins and baskets

CAUTION: Immediately remove items to be tossed or donated from your home! I have caught myself on more than one occasion sneaking these items back into my closet – Bad, very bad!

Takeaway #2 – Invite Friends: Helping hands and honest input make decluttering much more successful and certainly more fun! In the movie, these friends happily sip champagne as they take a walk down memory lane. Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha hold up TAKE or TOSS signs to weigh in on the outfits Carrie tries on as “Walk This Way” (performed by Run-DMC) plays in the background.

So gather your friends, pop open the bubbly (or beverage of your choice), and cue the music. Some of the clutter in your closet is just outdated and needs to go. If you haven’t worn or used it in a year and your friends aren’t urging you to keep it, then put it in the toss or donate bin. We tend to hold onto things for a variety of reasons which often results in more clutter and emotional baggage than we have room to store! I encourage you to visit Apple and Pear Wardrobe Design where Jennifer Mackey-Mary shares five reasons why we can’t cut the clutter.

Takeaway #3 – Clutter-Free (For Now): As this scene comes to a close, Carrie and her friends have one last group hug in her box-filled apartment. You hear her voice over the scene: “It took four friends three days to put twenty years into thirty-eight boxes.” Finally, Carrie takes one last look around her empty apartment and smiles as she closes the door. End of scene – but not the end of the movie by a long shot. Things lead to other things, and she finds herself in another empty closet trying to sort through a bunch of emotional baggage with the man she loves – You’ll have to watch the movie for all that.

Sometimes this is how decluttering life can go. You sort everything into neat piles, and you make deliberate choices about what to keep and what to toss. But somehow the clutter comes creeping back. The key is knowing that change is inevitable, and we should embrace it. If you grew up in the 80’s, you are glad hairstyles and fashion changed, but it was hard letting go. Sometimes you have to let things go to make room for what suits you best in this season of your life. There is a time and a place for everything.

I wish you all the best and thank you for visiting Consider It. I hope to see you back here soon. Please head on over to my Contact Page if you would like to see posts on specific topics or would like to inquire about my freelance writing and editing services. I would love to hear from you.

Considerately,

Andrea

College: Get Your Move On

Consider

The moment has finally arrived! The move to college has been marked on your calendar for quite some time, but now it seems to have snuck up on you from behind. Your house has been a staging area for this event all summer. In fact, there has probably been a part of you that has been counting down the days to when you can get your move on. Parents have been looking forward to reclaiming some space in the house, and students have been looking forward to making their dorm or apartment a place of their own.

Let’s Get Moving

If you have visited my About Page, you know that I have two daughters heading back to college this month. Whether you are doing the move to college for the first or fifth time, preparing for the move can be overwhelming. Checklists, shopping lists, To Do lists – the lists are endless, so I will keep this brief and to the point.

packed car 1

1) Under bed storage: To conserve space, pack your clothes and shoes in your under bed storage containers. Meet the SKUBB (IKEA). These gems are soft-sided and fold flat when they are not in use.

2) Laundry drying rack: Meet FROST (IKEA); her fold flat feature makes her barely visible. You probably want to dry your towels and sheets in the dryer, but work out clothes and anything made out of fast-drying or delicate material can be (should be) air dried. Air-drying prolongs the life and shape of garments like these.

3) Laundry hamper: The laundry hamper can do double-duty as a container for packing towels, sheets, or other items. (Caution: Don’t put wet items in the hamper unless you are a science major and would like to experiment with mold and mildew!)

4) Hanging file box: Independence is here, and so is all the paperwork that comes with it. We give our children a hanging file box at the beginning of their senior year of high school to get them in the habit of managing their own affairs, so to speak.

5) Plastic Storage Boxes: Use the shoe box size to pack and store medication and other small toiletries items. Not viewable in the picture are larger containers for packing items that don’t fold well or break (crush) easily. The containers can be stacked inside one another and fit under most dorm room beds.

6) Hand Truck: Let the good times roll! You want one of these, AND you want it to have wheels that swivel and a bungee cord.

Car packed 2

1) Space Bags: Pack bulky items, such as pillows and comforters, in Space Bags. The space you will save during the move is invaluable. Also, store clothing you won’t need right away in Space Bags and switch them out when the weather calls for warmer clothing. (See the tip below about air mattress pumps.)

2) DIMPA (IKEA): You need to check these out. They are durable, protect items from moisture, and hold more than you think. Bonus feature: They store easily until you are ready to pack up and come home at the end of the year.

You May Also Consider:

Twin air mattress and electric air pump: It’s always nice to have a place for a visiting friend to stay, AND the air pump can be used to inflate the mattress and deflate your Space Bags!

The Pouch Couch: This As Seen On TV item is a couch, a bed, a float… really anything you can think up that involves resting and reclining. Even flat, it works like a picnic blanket or beach mat.

Kleenex: Pack some! You will need it!

I wish you all the best and thank you for visiting Consider It. I hope to see you back here soon. Please head on over to my Contact Page if you would like to see posts on specific topics or would like to inquire about my freelance writing and editing services. I would love to hear from you.

Considerately,

Andrea

Back to School: STRESS LESS vs. STRESS FULL

Consider:

As the beginning of a new school year draws near, be sure to consider that everyone is a year older and expectations need to be updated accordingly. Try to build in opportunities for your children to do more for themselves, which ultimately benefits you and your child. Twenty years of teaching and parenting has conditioned me to make life less complicated.

At our house, we are setting expectations for a sophomore and a junior in college, a senior in high school, and a third grader. The divide is wide, which is one reason we try to simplify when and where we can.

Here are three easy ways to get the school year off to a good start.

Label, label, label!

Get out your Sharpie marker and simplify your life by labeling all the belongings that you would like to have returned. Lost and Found works best if the items that pile up in it can be easily identified and reclaimed.

Make labeling items a learning opportunity.  Younger children will become familiar with their supplies if they hand them to you as you label them. The same is true for older children who can label the items themselves.

STRESS LESS

fullsizeoutput_28c6

Our third grader is locker room ready. Last year, there was a mix up, and he brought home someone else’s PE shirt. No big deal! The shirt he brought home was not labeled with a name, but since his shirt was labeled “CASPER,” it was easily identified and returned to him the next day. Phew! Crisis averted.

STRESS FULL

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We own two copies of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because someone forgot to put her name in her book. Talk about a stressful situation! You can see the first copy has been thoroughly annotated. But when you misplace your book, you have to annotate your new copy in two days, so that you can hand it in on time. The old copy was found a few days later. Ouch!

Lunch – Order’s Up!

Our children began making their own lunches in second grade. Why? Because they could! When our oldest daughter Grace started second grade, I was still a full-time stay-at-home mom and had every intention of making lunches, mainly so I could leave funny notes on their napkins.

Grace had other plans. She plainly informed us that she could make her own lunch. I still slipped notes in from time to time, but I never made her school lunch again. Claire, Sarah, and Stephen followed suit. On the whole, they continue to make lunches that resemble the food pyramid. 

STRESS LESS

Here are some tips for creating successful lunchtime experiences and building independence.fullsizeoutput_28cb

  • Order school lunch: Stephen’s school has a great school lunch program. To streamline things, we print out the lunch menu for the month, he highlights the items he wants to order, I place the order online, and then we post the highlighted calendar inside our pantry door. This helps me grocery shop more efficiently, and it gives him the opportunity to make choices and practice being independent.
  • Leftovers: When we have a dinner I know they love and will pack well for lunch, I make enough to guarantee that there will be leftovers.
  • Make Ahead: Being able to grab-and-go starts the morning off right. I would rather face the stand-off over the last pack of snack size Oreos the night before, instead of, five minutes before we rush out of the house to begin a new day.

STRESS FULL

These are some avoidable lunchtime stresses that I have seen as a teacher at an EC4 – 8th-grade school.

  • Forgotten lunches: Lunches that children help make or make themselves are forgotten at home less often. Ask the front office staff at your school about the number of forgotten lunches dropped off each day. For most families, it is a once in a while occurrence and not a big deal. Sadly, for some families, it is the norm and a stressful way for a young learner to go through the day!
  • “Did I order lunch?” OR “My mom said she ordered me lunch.”: These are two avoidable situations that I encountered as an 8th-grade homeroom teacher and mother. I was frequently asked by students if they were on the lunch/snack order list for the day. Consider creating a system your family can use so that everyone leaves the house knowing what to expect.

Time for a Routine Reboot

I am often accused of being OCD because I like to organize and plan. I like things in their place because then you can find them easily; I am a fan of color coding because it helps you organize what needs to be done and see it at a glance; and who doesn’t like their house to look like a catalog more often than it looks like a crime scene.

The crime scene below is courtesy of our dog, Luna. We broke routine and did not crate her that day.  Lesson: Change routines slowly!fullsizeoutput_28cc.jpeg

As you prepare for the new school year, think about how you can streamline your daily routine.

STRESS LESS vs. STRESS FULL

  • Pack backpacks, lunches, PE clothes, etc, the night before.You don’t want to realize at 7:30am that your son’s uniform shoes are at the neighbor’s house, and they already left for the day. (Tip: Write a note to the teacher. It shows that you are a proactive parent.)
  • Establish and consistently keep age-appropriate bedtimes and bedtime routines. You realize that lack of sleep is turning your angels into demons. You wonder if more sleep or an exorcism is in order?
  • Make your bed every morning. Your little buddy is in class when he realizes, for the third time this month, the book he needs for the class is wrapped up in his sheets at home.
  • Use a family calendar. We share a Google calendar. Share and share alike. Free yourself of being the only one that knows what is going on and wondering how it will all happen.
  • Designate times and places that promote good study habits, including charging laptops and iPads used for school. Your daughter can’t submit her online assignment in class because her laptop just died!

Thank you for visiting Consider It. I hope to see you back here soon. Please head on over to my Contact Page if you would like to see posts on specific topics or would like to inquire about my freelance writing and editing services. I would love to hear from you.

Considerately,

Andrea