Not Just for Newspapers

When my daughter was born, my first, she had more clothes than she could wear.  I didn’t know that babies grew so fast or that my kids would grow faster than most.  My barely 4 year old is now in girls’ sizes!  I’ve wised up now.  My kids’ wardrobes are really bare minimum because they grow out of things before they can get good wear out of them.  That’s pricy.

I think of their clothes almost entirely in outfits.  Top and bottoms together.  I figured out my preferences in time for my son being born.  All of his onesies had pants to go with them.  By the way… why does Wal-Mart sell onesies in packages of three and baby pants in packages of two?  (This is the hot dog and bun argument all over again, I know.)  So frustrating.

In order to keep said tops and bottoms together I looked no further than my office supply drawer.  Rubber Bands!!!  When they were infants I would wrap together a white onesie and a sleep-and-play, or a onesie and pants or whatever.  This was great for quick changing, or quick packing (I had a spare “blow-out” ready outfit in the diaper bag at all times), and for seeing what items still needed its pair.

IMG_8888Now that they’re older, I don’t do it with their jeans and tops until I’m packing for a trip.  Sometimes I even strap a pair of socks with the outfits just to be sure I’m packing enough.  I also put a rubber band around my son’s button-down shirts and a t-shirt that matches.

IMG_8884My favorite thing to do is pajama sets.  It just makes the drawer look so much better.  Extra bonus, you don’t have to turn the light on to find a top and bottom when they wet through in the middle of the night.

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Before
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After

How about you?  What are your clothes organizing tricks?  Do your kids outgrow their clothes at an alarming rate?

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And It was All Yellow

232323232-fp355-nu=3293-4;3-3;6-WSNRCG=3233;78649-27nu0mrjI spent the summer of 2006 in Bangkok, Thailand, on a missions internship through CMF (Christian Missionary Fellowship).  As soon as we arrived there everything turned yellow.  We came during the 60th anniversary of the king’s ascension to the throne.  The King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, began his reign in June 1946.  He is the world’s longest-serving current head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history, serving for 68 years.   He is beloved and while I was only there for 8 weeks, I share that love.  It’s contagious.

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Megan and Stephanie wearing “we love the king” shirts.

Back to the yellow… it’s his color.  Actually, it might be your color too.  You get your color based on the day of the week when you were born.  He was born on a Monday.  Check yours out here.  During the anniversary celebration everyone donned yellow shirts saying “I Love the King.”  Yellow flags were everywhere.  I did not bring a yellow shirt.  I don’t own a yellow shirt.  I don’t look good in yellow.   I stand out enough in Thailand as a white girl with auburn hair; I guess the fact that I wasn’t wearing the right color shouldn’t matter.  But if you’ve ever worn the opposing team’s color to a game by accident… think like that, only it’s not 400 fans it’s a metropolitan area of 14 million yellow shirts!

I do love the color though.  It’s sunshine.  It’s Big Bird.  It’s The Man with the Yellow Hat.  (We watch a lot of PBS.)  And it’s my mom’s favorite (my mother-in-law’s too actually).  My mom’s birthday is a week from Sunday and I get to see her a week after that.  We’ll have to celebrate her birthday then at our house, so I thought that a food in her favorite color would be cool.  I had a can of karee curry in the fridge and Aldi had a special on squash and yellow tomatoes, so I thought I’d try my hand at a yellow northern style curry with all yellow vegetables.

IMG_8870The result: delicious.  Eating sunshine.  It’s a little less spicy than the red northern style that I do, and because of the yellow tomatoes it’s slightly sour.  It’s also only 242 calories a serving and has 169% of your daily value for vitamin C!  Because of the fish sauce, the sodium will kill you, so drink your water with this meal.  I’ve alluded to saving you money with this blog… so how’s this: (not including the rice) this meal costs $0.88 per serving!  I’ll do this again in the summer when I plant summer squash and have them coming out my ears.   But why wait?  If you live where the winter is still on, I hope this will add some bright color to your day. (To my Thai friends: don’t worry, this is my husband’s plate.  I ate mine with a large spoon properly.)

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The King’s picture (a gift from my language tutor) is always on my fridge, in the highest position for honor, but I moved it to the hood while I cooked.

In honor of His Majesty the King and my mom, I offer this recipe I’m calling King’s Curry.  I’ve adapted this from Nancie McDermott’s “Northern-Style Dipping Sauce” from Quick and Easy Thai.  Happy Birthday Mom!

IMG_8851With most recipes it’s best to do all your prep at once.  I chopped all of my vegetables, and boy they looked pretty, so I took a picture.

Then you heat the first tablespoon of oil in the pan and add your onion and garlic and cook 1 to 2 minutes, until they are shiny and fragrant.

IMG_8857Add the squash and bell peppers and stir until softened, 3-4 minutes.  Remove vegetables from pan and set aside. (I do this because I like my vegetables quite soft in this.  If you want them more al dente just add the peppers and squash after the meat is tossed with the onions, garlic, and curry.)

Heat the remaining 2 T. of oil.  Add the curry paste and cook, mashing and stirring well to soften, about 1 minute longer.  Add the turkey and toss well.   (You can use any ground meat you want.  The original called for ground pork, but we usually have ground turkey.)

IMG_8859Stir in the tomatoes, fish sauce, and brown sugar, and bring to a gentle boil.  Add the cooked vegetables and cook 3-5 more minutes, stirring now and then until meat is fully cooked and vegetables are to your liking.  Remove from heat and serve with rice (I used jasmine).

IMG_8862King’s Curry – Print a Recipe Card

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3 T. veg. oil (divided)
  • 2 T. finely chopped garlic
  • 2 T. chopped onion
  • 1 summer squash, cut in half lengthwise and sliced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper sliced
  • 10 oz. yellow cocktail tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 2 T. karee (yellow) curry paste (or 1 T red curry paste and 1 T curry powder)
  • 1/2 lb. ground turkey
  • 3 T. fish sauce
  • 1 T. brown sugar

Directions

  • In a medium skillet, heat 1 T. of oil over medium heat and then add the garlic and onion. Cook, tossing now and then, 1 to 2 minutes, until they are shiny and fragrant.  Add the squash and bell peppers and stir until softened, 3-4 minutes.  Remove vegetables from pan and set aside.
  • Heat the remaining 2 T. of oil. Add the curry paste and cook, mashing and stirring well to soften, about 1 minute longer.  Add the turkey and toss well.
  • Stir in the tomatoes, fish sauce, and brown sugar (add broth or water if you want yours soupier) and bring to a gentle boil. Add the cooked vegetables and cook 3-5 more minutes, stirring now and then until meat is fully cooked and vegetables are to your liking.  Remove from heat and serve with rice.

Fun tip on how to serve rice.  (I learned this while in Thailand.)  Press it into a bowl or a round measuring scoop and it keeps its shape!IMG_8863IMG_8865IMG_8866IMG_8867

I’ll show you my kids’ plates too.  My daughter is a vegetarian (if you can call eating mac and cheese most of the time vegetarian).  This way at least they’re getting some nutrition.  They nearly cleaned their plates with this meal!

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To Have and To Store

Our duplex is small.  My dream is someday to have a place for everything and everything in its place without a need for Rubbermaid tubs, save three or four for Christmas decorations (I do believe in taking down a tree in a timely manner.)   Until I have the space, I have storage bins… in the basement… on pallets because our basement floods. IMG_8845

I keep things in bins like books.  We had book shelves in our spare room, but our spare room became the kids’ room.  I keep things like costumes, board games, a bin of baby keepsakes, and one for missions keepsakes.  I have two bins of diplomas, certificates, yearbooks and track medals (I don’t have many of that last one, don’t be impressed).  My husband has two bins of Star Wars toys.  (We keep what’s important to us without judging the other’s choices.)    So many bins have framed pictures that no longer go with my current décor.  Now that I’m writing it all out here I feel like I need to go back through them and pitch more.  Ha! IMG_8848

On to the tip…  I used to label my bins with what was in them.  I taped “missions” on the outside of a giant bin.  But I keep more than just missions in it.  Tricky.

Then I read books by Michelle Duggar (I love her, but if you don’t you would still appreciate her advice on home organization.  19 kids and she’s still smiling.), and she talked about renting and living out of boxes when their family was about half the size it is now (which is more than twice our size).  They were waiting to move for a long time, and so things had to get packed and unpacked and repacked.  The only way she was able to get to what she needed was a card system she gleaned from someone else.  (Remember, I’m Columbusing.  Just discovering something that someone else has discovered from someone else.)

The way she did it was every box had a number on the box and on the lid.  She then had an index card with a matching number and listed all the things in the box on the card.  Now instead of opening 5 boxes to find one thing, she opened up her 1 box of cards, found the item and sent a kid to fetch a specific numbered box.

My first thought was, I could do that… and I could make a database!  Microsoft Access and I are buds.  I’ll start small when revealing how crazy I am about data entry.  This is my storage database.storage list

IMG_8846Each bin is a number which I simply put clear tape on my existing bins and wrote the number with permanent marker.  My next field is a description of what kind of bin it is (i.e. “15 gallon clear with blue lid”).   That really helps me find it when the numbers get out of order.  The next field is “items.”  I list as many items as I feel I need.  This isn’t graded… it’s just for me, so I have several that are simply “books.”  It’d be nice if I was more specific, like title and all that, but it is what it is and nap time is only so long.

The best thing about the label being a number is that I don’t have to rewrite on the bins, I just type and delete on the database.  My boxes were at one time in order, but I go through them twice a year or so and have a clear out.  I don’t move the numbers, I just move the bins and change the database.

I’m going to use the same database for when we move someday.  I’ll just continue the numbers on the moving boxes and bags, and list the items on the database.  I’ll add a field for “Destination” and write what room it belongs in.  My plan is then to color-code the boxes and put a color label on each room so people who help us move won’t have to ever ask, “Where do you want this?”  (My friend Kris did this when he moved and it was so fast!)  With a database I can also print a list for each room with what boxes are in that room and what items are in which box, so I can unpack in the order I want the items.

If databases aren’t your thing, I think the index cards are still a great idea.  The only downside is manual sorting and searching.

What about you… What sort of things do you hold on to?  How do you know where things are?  How close are you to having a place for everything?

IMG_8850PS – How great are these bins for my Christmas decorations?!  They are clear and have lids that rise above the bin itself so I can over fill!!  I bought these at Menards years ago and I haven’t found them since.

Recipe Card Renovation

Cooking at home saves money.  That’s not the only reason I do it though.  I love cooking.  It’s therapeutic.  For dinner, I start cooking almost the moment my husband comes in the door (after a warm greeting and a kiss, of course) and I essentially have alone time until the food is done…not that I ever prolong this on purpose.

6352b0bd731079f7bab19eee0c717376Presentation is also a big deal to me.   I fix our plates on the counter and then move them to the set table.  It’s not fancy, but you eat with your eyes first right.

I’ll post some of my more successful personal recipes soon, but mostly I cook from others.  I have 3 years worth of Everyday Food Magazine (a discontinued magazine by Martha Stewart that was all recipes and tips and the size of a Reader’s Digest, can you tell I’m sad it’s discontinued) that I still thumb through and find new things.  I especially love America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks, though I’ve found I have to plan ahead and begin cooking earlier to have many of their meals done in good time.  They do things right, but not always fast.  We eat a lot of Thai food.  I highly recommend Quick and Easy Thai by Nancie McDermott.  (My go to gift for a foodie.)  My husband loves cookbooks and regularly brings a new one home from the library.  Right now we’re having great success with Homesick Texan’s Family Table.  (Pictured above: my presentation of Homesick Texan’s black bean sopes with chipotle crema)

We peruse Food Network for recipes from our favorites, mostly Alton Brown and Aarti Sequeira.  My favorite place to store any recipes I find online is on Pinterest.  I pin a lot, but I’m also proud that I try out a good percentage of what I pin.  That means that I’m often cooking from a laptop or even my little phone.  Thanks to my mother-in-law for Christmas I can now cook from an iPad mini.  But when I find a recipe I repeat, I prefer to make a recipe card.  No scrolling or page turning necessary.

IMG_8697I made my first of these recipe cards for gifts on Adobe InDesign.  I gave recipes and pantry ingredients in a basket for Christmas years ago.  I printed some extras for myself and affixed them to the fridge with a sticky backed magnet strip.IMG_8699

IMG_8700Then I went to use it and realized I was an innovative genius!  My stove hood is metal and now I have my recipe card in the perfect place… eye level (or a little above for me, I’m only 5’2”).

IMG_8695I’ve filled the side of my fridge now, so I’ll soon have to place them in an old-school recipe card box, but I love these.  If you have a laminator, that’d be even better.  My cards get steam cooked a little and need to be reprinted every so often.  (Scratch and sniff recipe cards! My next million dollar idea?)

How about you… Do you try out new recipes often?  Do you scroll on your phone or turn a page?

From Allspice to Za’atar

When we got married and set up house almost 8 years ago everything was about the look.  We registered for beautiful things.  I was in to these black clay bowls that were deep.  I thought they’d be perfect for rice dishes and soups.  When we first started to use them we didn’t have a table.  We’d sit on the couch and watch shows and hold our food.  These bowls were pretty, but they were HOT!  You couldn’t hold them with anything like soup.  Then we were eating with the bowls on the coffee table and leaning over them.  No longer pretty.

We now have a kitchen table where we do most of our eating.  I crocheted bowl cozies for our bowls, and we used those for a while, but soon those bowls were gone (our first yard sale) and replaced by some with handles and some with wide brims and lips.  And black was also replaced by white.  Food looks better on white.

I’ve learned a few things along the way.  My kitchen has moved through a sort of evolution… or devolution in a way.  From form to extreme function.

Other demoted and discarded kitchen items include pretty black storage crocks for flour and sugar and such that weren’t airtight and especially a two-tiered spinning spice rack.

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I cook plenty, so of course the 16 or so spices didn’t cover all of my needs, so my cabinet quickly filled with individual spice bottles.  It was impossible to keep them in order.  I tried shelves that looked like miniature stairs and rearranging them constantly, but every time I went to cook I’d go digging and searching for the right seasonings the bottles would tumble around and spill out of the cabinet (sometimes into what I was cooking).  Sometimes, while re-rearranging I’d find multiples of some seasonings.  When you don’t know what you have you buy more.

Meanwhile my pretty spice tier on the counter started to deteriorate… the plastic caps stopped sealing and the labels themselves rubbed off.  Brilliant!

Advice from America’s Test Kitchen changed all this.  In their kitchen they seal their spices in clear bags, label them, then store them alphabetically.  A phrase IMG_8692that has become my theme at home is “use what you have.”  I didn’t have their clear, uniform bags, but I had sandwich and snack size Ziploc baggies, and index cards and postal tape.  It took two hours to transfer and label all of my spices, and I was hesitant to toss my spice jars just in case it didn’t work for me, but it has changed everything and I’ll never go back.

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I have a tub for spices alphabetically with one tub for just “C” spices (most begin with C.  Seriously, start naming your IMG_8690spices and be amazed!).  Now when I cook I just pull out one or two tubs, open the bag and use the proper measurement spoon, which reaches into a bag much better than a skinny, narrow jar.  Bonus: I got rid of the two-story space eater of a spice rack from my counter.  Love me some counter space! (More on that in a later post.)

IMG_8694This also works great for when I’m out of a spice I just lay the bag out, add the spice to my shopping list, then fill the bag and replace it in the tub when I’m done.

Someday I might print labels in a pretty font, but for now these work for me, which is the definition of function.

I’d love to hear from you.  What “it looks pretty” inspired purchase proved dysfunctional for you?  There’s lots of ways to organize, so I’d love to hear how you manage your spices?