Archives for Food
Last summer, while sharing a bottle of wine with food columnist Kim O’Donnel, I professed that I wanted to learn to can. Kim didn’t skip a beat, she’s always game for whatever random schemes I hatch, and said that she would teach me. Then, before we could set a date, she decided to follow her husband to Seattle and skipped town (if I didn’t like her husband so much, I would have protested this decision much more vehemently — whisking my pal away to live on the other coast is usually grounds for a good fist shaking and finger waving).
So, this summer, I had to give this canning thing a try without her seasoned help. My belief is that canning is preferred to freezing because the power can’t go out on your pantry. Also, when done with friends, you get to divvy up the goods and everyone goes home with amazing treats. It’s wonderful in the middle of winter to open up a can of tomatoes picked from your own garden when they were at their peak. (And, even though I put fake flowers in my window boxes, I do have a garden. Growing food is a much different endeavor in my mind than frivolous ornamental plants required by the HOA.)
I decided to take a sweet route on my first foray into canning. My friend Krystal and I headed to the Chesterfield Berry Farm near Richmond, Virginia, with high hopes for making strawberry jam. In the fields, we picked more than 20 pounds of beautifully ripe strawberries and then made what can only be described as the world’s best jam. (Twenty pounds of strawberries was overkill, by the way — eight or nine pounds would have been enough.)
Over the next 12 months, in addition to consuming as much of it as my stomach will hold, I’ll be giving out the extra jars as gifts instead of the obligatory bottle of wine when I go to dinner parties at friends’ homes.
How is canning uncluttered? Well, I’m not sure that it is in the strictest of senses. It is, however, a great way to extend the fresh fruits and vegetables of summer throughout the whole of the year. It saves money (a lot cheaper to grow your own than it is to buy it in a store during the off-season) and it makes meal planning extremely simple. The New York Times ran an informative article this week on this very subject titled “Can It, Preserve It, Pickle It, Savor It” that provides many resources for new canners. Even if you don’t have a garden, you can head to your local farmer’s market and pick up the in-season foods you wish to can.
Do you can food? How does it help you with meal planning? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.
I often get requests from readers asking me to put together “bare minimum” lists. Lists that answer the question: How many items of X should I have and should I even have Y? I understand the desire for such lists — we’ve even written a few in the past — but they’re always met with mixed reviews. What works for me doesn’t necessarily work best for you.
That being said, I recently stumbled upon two great “bare minimum” lists for kitchen pantries in the Chicago Tribune. Instead of thinking about them as lists of must-have items, I thought about them as guides to figuring out what was clutter in my cupboard. If something in my pantry wasn’t on either list, I put it on the dining room table for further evaluation.
After this sorting process, I constructed a series of meals to use up the extraneous items. Most of these questionable items were nearing their expiration dates, too, so it made for a worthwhile activity.
Check out the lists and consider using them as clutter identification guides for your kitchen pantry:
I highlighted Built NY’s uncluttered lunch bag a while back, so I figured I’d point our readers to their new lunch bag for kids called the Munchler. The Munchler is a lunch bag that can also be carried like a backpack. It also unzips into a placemat for easy use and stores flat. Made from polypropylene, it will insulate your child’s food.
Munchlers come in four varieties including a dog, panda, tiger, and bunny. These are fun, practical, and, most importantly, reusable lunch bags. Built NY has some great designs while offering very affordable products.
I have a secret. See this cookie jar:
Are you imagining that it is filled with scrumptious chocolate chip cookies? Mmmmmm, cookies. Let’s take a peak inside of it:
Wait, those aren’t cookies!
Now you know my secret. I store garlic, potatoes, and onions in our cookie jar. It’s dry and dark in there, and no one suspects that Cookie Monster’s belly is full of healthy vegetables. Plus, I don’t have to sacrifice drawer or cupboard space to store these items that shouldn’t be refrigerated.
I’m not the only one with unusual items in my cookie jar:
Reader Sharon stores all of her chargers in her cookie jar, which sits right next to an electrical outlet. The chargers are where she needs them, and nicely stored when not in use.
Do you have any storage spaces in your kitchen that you use in creative ways? Let us know about them in the comments.
They are coming over for the holidays, and they are bringing more than just presents. That’s right, your relatives along with their kids, their stuff, and lots of stress! However, you can be prepared! The following tips will give you some simple ways to get yourself prepared ahead of time:
- Clean off your dining table today! I don’t mean the night before, do it today (or at least start). Start finding a permanent home for each item that has accumulated on your dining room table. Chances are the same items end up there again and again because they don’t have a permanent home within your home. Involve the whole family as most of the time, clutter on the dining table belongs to more than just one person. Once you have the table cleaned off, put a centerpiece on it, or something out of the ordinary to make sure it does not accumulate stuff before your dinner party.
- Get the dishes ready. If you need to borrow or use special serving dishes or holiday dishes, start taking them out now or borrowing them and get them washed. Use the dining room table as a staging ground to keep them until the holiday.
- Clean the house room by room. Pick a room each day or a few rooms each week. Or schedule a special session with your normal cleaning service.
Don’t wait until the night before everyone arrives to start cleaning.
- Take inventory of your guest spaces. Can your guests sleep on your pull out couch or in your spare room comfortably? Does the room need to be cleaned? This is a great time to get your guest items organized, and to throw out and donate any unnecessary items that have found their way into your guest spaces.
- Create a friendly environment for your guests. Lay out guest towels, bathrobes, magazines, mints, maps (for your out of town guests), and water for your guests. Provide your guests with enough information so that they can enjoy your geographic area without assistance from you. Make sure they are familiar with phone and Internet access at your home as well.
- Be prepared to spend time with your relatives. Do your cleaning and preparation ahead of time so you can spend time relaxing and visiting, and not in the kitchen. If your relatives will be around for a number of days, consider making dinner reservations at a local restaurant so you can take a night and all relax together.
- Ask your guests if they have any special dietary needs before they arrive. This will help you avid any last minute trips to the grocery store.
- Have any gifts wrapped and ready to distribute before your guests arrive. They are lots of fun to shake and look at for the kids in your family. This will also allow you to spend time with your family instead of locked up in your bedroom wrapping presents.
- Remember to enjoy your company. Sharing your home can be stressful, but by cleaning and organizing in advance, you can have a relaxing time visiting with those you love!
Bonnie Joy Dewkett is the owner and operator of The Joyful Organizer. She offers professional organization services to help you organize your home and your life.
One of my favorite humans is cooking maven Kim O’Donnel. If you are unfamiliar with Kim, she writes the popular “A Mighty Appetite” blog and online chat for WashingtonPost.com. One of the reasons I love to spend time with Kim is because she is a pragmatist. When she talks about cooking, it is with the perspective that normal people, not highly trained chefs, will be making the food that ends up on your dinner table.
I’m mentioning Kim because she wrote a book a while back called A Mighty Appetite for the Holidays that fits in nicely with the Unclutterer philosophy. The book has holiday-themed recipes like you would expect, but most importantly it is organized like a calendar: What to do T Minus 7 days before Thanksgiving, What to do T Minus 6 days before Thanksgiving, etc. The point of the book is to help its reader throw a wonderful Thanksgiving feast without all the stress and worry that typically comes with such an endeavor. Being organized and methodical can mean that the maker of the meal can actually enjoy the celebration.
Along these same lines, I noticed that the November issue of Gourmet magazine did a similar thing this year. Most of the Thanksgiving menus it suggests are set up over a three-day period, but I still think three-day preparation is much preferred to a single-day preparation.
Do you know of other guides or books that help to plan out Thanksgiving meal preparations? As we inch closer to the holiday, I think it would be wonderful to have a full collection of resources in the comments to this post of organized sources to turn to for keeping the stress out of Thanksgiving meal preparation. I look forward to reading your suggestions!
Eating nutritious food is essential for my health. If I eat more than two high-fat, low nutrition meals in a week it takes longer for me to heal after injury and my energy level plummets. For most of us, more than two high-fat, low nutrition meals in a week also adds unwanted pounds and can mess with our hearts and arteries. The easiest way I’ve found to keep on track with healthy eating is to have the majority of my meals at home where I can control the ingredients.
On Unclutterer, we’ve written in the past about how to make eating at home easier with meal planning techniques. The process allows you to plan for healthy meals, create a simple shopping list, and avoid the stressful “what’s for dinner” moment in front of the open refrigerator.
Since our meal planning article initially ran, I’ve received dozens of e-mails asking if my husband and I use a deep freezer in addition to the refrigerator/freezer we have in our kitchen. We currently don’t have one, but it is something we discuss a couple times a month. (What? You don’t have such sexy conversations with your partner/roommate/friends/spouse?) One of the questions we’ve been trying to answer is if the expense of the deep freezer plus the cost of the electrical energy to run it is less than the amount we spend buying in smaller portions and driving more frequently to our butcher and local market.
Then, a PR guy from Frigidaire sent me a press release, and instantly I could ask someone all of my weird deep freezer questions. (I am certain this guy thinks I am one of the strangest contacts he’s ever made.)
So, to start off our brief series on using deep freezers for meal planning, I want to address my initial question of cost. Is it financially prudent to own and use a deep freezer?
The commonly purchased model Frigidaire deep freezer is around $850. This model is an upright freezer — and upright freezers cost considerably more than chest freezers. If my husband and I were to buy one, we would go for a small chest freezer (under 10 cu. ft.), which has an MSRP of less than $250. (Amazon lists the freezer for $209.)
After going to the Energy Star website, I plugged in the numbers for a chest freezer under 16 cu. ft. manufactured after 2001 and discovered that it costs just under $50 a year to power the model my husband and I have been discussing. (I entered in the data as if I wanted to get rid of my current deep freezer.)
Looking at the average $850 upright unit I mentioned previously, it costs around $85 a year to power.
A small chest freezer may be a decent purchase for us. The first year, the price of the freezer is less than a dollar a day, and, in the years after the initial purchase, the price falls to less than 14 cents a day. Not yet considering food savings, the convenience gained is probably worth 14 cents a day.
The more common, upright, $850 freezer is a little more than $2.50 a day the first year, and 24 cents a day in subsequent years. I would have a much more difficult time justifying the expense of this larger freezer solely based on convenience. But, if I had kids and more mouths to feed, then its price tag would even be reasonable.
The cost of food
To get a good comparison of food prices in bulk versus smaller portions, I want to look at the price of beef. I know not everyone eats beef, but I had to pick something to compare and beef figures are easily obtained.
I purchase my beef from an organic butcher who gets the majority of his stock from regional farms. In his butcher shop, I can order half a cow twice a year (butchered and vacuum sealed into meal-size portions) or I can make weekly trips into his shop to buy cuts of beef as I need them. Half a cow roughly translates to about $3.50 per pound, and beef I buy on a weekly basis usually starts at $5 per pound (for roasts) and can be as much as $30 per pound for premium cuts. Without argument, it is cheaper to buy half a cow and freeze the bulk meat than it is to buy weekly.
Even if you don’t buy your meat from an organic butcher and pay grocery store prices, you’ll still spend more than $3.50 per pound for a cut of beef.
Ultimately, the expense of a deep freezer plus the cost of the electrical energy to run it is less than the amount we’re currently wasting when we buy our food in smaller portions. My final answer is that it is financially prudent for us to purchase a deep freezer and buy in bulk.