Reader question: How store loose leaf teas?

Reader Jeni sent us the following question:

I was hoping you might have suggestions for storing loose-leaf teas. I’m a pretty avid collector and drinker of tea, and my collection has gotten to the point where it’s taken over my available pantry space. The traditional tins used for storing tea may keep it fresh, but they’re also big and add to the clutter. Any thoughts? Thanks!

As the weather turns cooler (at least in theory, we’ve had highs of 85 degrees in the Mid-Atlantic region all week), drinking a warm pot of tea is a terrific way to start a morning or settle in at night. Regardless of if you drink loose-leaf or pouch teas, storing the tea can be a cumbersome task.

To maintain its freshness, tea should be kept dry, at room temperature, away from direct light, and in an air-tight container. Additionally, tea should be stored away from other strong scents.

If you typically drink mild aroma teas, then my first suggestion for you is the following low-cost method. Start by moving all of your teas out of their tins and into appropriately sized Ziploc bags. Using a permanent magic marker, label the exterior of the bag with the name of the tea and its purchase date. Finally, put all of the teas into an opaque storage container of your choice. I use a decorative canister for my teas to hide the utilitarian design of the Ziploc-style bags.

If you tend to drink strong aroma teas, then my first suggestion isn’t going to work for you. If you put all of your teas together, their scents will infuse with each other and you’ll have bizarre flavored concoctions. In this situation, I suggest storing all of your mild aroma teas as described previously and then keeping your strong aroma teas in their supplied tins (as long as the supplied tins are air tight). My assumption is that you only have one or two strong aroma teas, so they will take up a limited space in your cupboard.

Another option is to use air-tight spice bottles and a spice rack of your preference. It isn’t as financially friendly, but it will certainly take up less space. You will need to store the spice rack in a dark pantry or drawer to keep the teas out of direct light, but the glass or metal will keep strong aromas from cross infusing.

Good luck, Jeni, with your endeavor to free up space in your pantry!

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in October 2007.

Is everything in your home in its best place?

Imagine your kitchen for a moment. What is the one thing that you use most every time you’re in it? Your refrigerator? Your stove? Your trash can?

Most people don’t think about their trash can as being an integral aspect of their kitchens, but it is. During the course of preparing a meal, a trash can needs to be accessed numerous times. That is why I am always surprised when I walk into a kitchen and don’t immediately see one easily accessible from all aspects of the room. Even worse, I’m confused by kitchen designs where the trash can is behind a door, under the kitchen sink.

Yes, a trash can hidden behind a cabinet door looks clean, but it is completely impractical. You have to touch a cabinet nob, likely with dirty and full hands, to access it repeatedly. When it’s time to change the garbage bags, you have to strategically pull out the full canister without dropping anything inside the cabinet. A poorly placed trash can doesn’t help you in the kitchen, it hinders you. And, with the sexy, foot controlled, stand-alone models that are on the market, you shouldn’t feel that you need to hide this essential item.

I have a friend who hides her trash can under her sink and she says that she avoids the constant opening and closing of the door by keeping a large bowl on her countertop for trash while she’s cooking. (I think Rachel Ray promotes this idea on her show, too.) That makes some sense, but by doing this she dirties an extra bowl every time she cooks and adds steps to the cleaning process. An accessible trash can seems like the more efficient solution to me.

Think about the rest of your house. Are you creating extra, unnecessary steps for yourself because of poor organization? Are your pot holders in a drawer no where near your stove? Is your vacuum in a basement closet and not in a closet on the floor where it is used? Remember that good organization and design should be based on what you use and how you use it. I continue to support the idea that everything in your home should have a place to live, I just want you to think about if everything is living in its best place.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in September 2007.

Bulk food buying may lead to a more cluttered lifestyle

I enjoy taking advantage of my parent’s membership at their local bulk food store every now and again. Some of the items I see in these warehouses, however, make no sense to me for personal use.

Obviously, bulk warehouses like Costco and Sam’s Club cater to small business owners. You need to be careful not to let the prices entice you into purchasing a gallon of Frank’s Red Hot when you will never use all of that hot sauce by the expiration date. The giant condiment aisle should be bypassed unless you are the owner of a restaurant or on the planning committee for the next extended family reunion or school barbecue. There is no rhyme or reason for an individual to buy a tub of mayo. Your family can make due with the regular size condiments at your local grocery store. Don’t clutter your cupboards with drums of mustard, mayo, or whatever else you can purchase at the bulk food stores. Realize that you are getting a great deal per unit price, but the deal is not always worth it for the storage space you have to sacrifice.

Another thing to consider when buying food in bulk is the temptation that all of that food presents when it sits in your home. The more food you have, the more food you eat. If you have a huge supply of snacks cluttering up your cupboards, chances are your family will be more inclined to polish them off simply because they are there. If you are going to buy snacks and treats do so in moderation and don’t buy junk food in bulk. Cluttered arteries are worse than cluttered cupboards.

Bulk buying has its positives and negatives. You can definitely take advantage of prices by buying bulk, but don’t let the deals lead you to buy things that you otherwise would not purchase, cannot physically consume before the expiration date, or have to sacrifice unreasonable amounts of space to store.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in October 2007.

Simple solution for small packets in your kitchen pantry

Card FileHere’s a simple solution for packets of dry goods in your pantry: Store them together in an index card file.

I store packets of yeast in a 3×5 card file and larger packets of taco and stew seasonings in a 4×6 card file. These card files keep small packets from getting lost behind boxes of pasta and cereal and they make inventory simple when creating grocery lists.

An index card file is just a simple, inexpensive way to keep clutter at bay in your pantry!

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in October 2007.

The slow cooker: Uncluttered kitchen cooking

As fall nears and the weather cools, I start looking forward to a good bowl of chili while watching my favorite football team play on a Sunday afternoon. My thoughts of chili then progress into musings of stews and soups and all the wonderful things that can be made in my slow cooker.

I like using a slow cooker because it means that I dirty it and no other pots or pans during meal preparation. There are a few exceptions when an additional pan is needed to brown or sear meat, but these instances are rare. After the meal has been served, cleanup is as simple as moving the empty crock from the slow cooker to the dishwasher. The slow cooker is definitely an uncluttered kitchen solution.

If you don’t currently own a slow cooker, there are really only two features that I see as essential components. The first necessary feature is a separate, removable inner crock. The second feature is a temperature indicator that has at least three settings: Off, Low, and High. I have never found use for any of the other slow cooker features currently on the market. A crock pot with these two features also has the benefit of usually costing less than $30 and will last you many years.

The majority of the recipes I make in my slow cooker are in my head. However, I took a trip recently to my local bookstore and saw that there are now dozens of slow cooker recipe books in publication for people seeking printed recipes. Also, an internet search for “slow cooker recipe” yielded thousands of recipes from online sources. If you’re looking for inspiration, here are some of the slow cooker cookbooks on the market:

Enjoy your uncluttered cooking experience!

 

This post has been updated since it was originally published in September 2007.

Unitasker Wednesday: 60 second salad

All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!

Facebook knows me well. Often its ads are kitchen-related and the other day it suggested that I might want to buy a 60 second salad cutter. When I saw the video for this kitchen tool, my first thought that it would make an ideal item for a Unitasker Wednesday post. When a knife all you need to make salad, why would you want another bulky item filling up your cupboards?

Then I got thinking as well about mobility issues. For anyone with wrist problems or perhaps the use of only one hand, the 60 second salad tool would be a fantastic solution.

Although I have no mobility issues, I’ve been making a lot of salads recently. While cutting up the veggies is a simple task with the knife, it’s not the fastest process. When making a lunchtime salad, often at six o’clock in the morning, the last thing I want to do is spend a great deal of time cutting up the various components of the dish, the 60 seconds in the name of the tool is the real attention-getter here and it may just end up on my Christmas wish list.

What are your thoughts? Do any of you have the 60 second salad and swear by it? Or are you chuckling at the idea of buying this classic Unitasker item?

Collapsible measuring cups

I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to close the utensil drawer in our kitchen when a measuring cup gets caught up in the drawer. The process of fishing the measuring cup out of the partially closed door is maddening.

This collapsible measuring cup set is a great solution to that problem. The silicone cups collapse and nest into each other for a space saving solution that will surely remedy my drawer closing problem. We featured a collapsible colander here a while ago. Why can’t everything in the kitchen be collapsible?

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in August 2007.

An idea for inherited china

Since the 1880s, when a woman in my family has raised her children and finds herself getting along in years she has picked up a small paint brush and signed her full name and birth date to the bottom of her china’s tea cups and saucers. Then, as she sees fit, she distributes the tea cups and matching saucers to her family and friends.

My mother has a collection of seven tea cups and saucers on a shelf in her dining room’s china cabinet. As a child, I would ask about the tea cups and my mother would pull them out and tell me the stories of the people to whom they had belonged. Not all of the tea cups and saucers were signed, those had come from my paternal line where signing the china hadn’t been the tradition. My mother had collected the unsigned pieces from my father’s family members so that when she one day passes on the collection to me that I will have a set including pieces from more than her family.

It seems a bit cluttered to collect seven different tea cups and saucers to store on a shelf of a china cabinet, but in comparison to keeping seven complete sets of china it is quite uncluttered. Also, with the sentimentality of past generations being passed on in tea cups, it means that other, more clutter-prone objects, are eliminated guilt-free from the inheritance process.

 

This post was originally published in August 2007.

Reader question: How to dispose of old knives

Recently, a reader wrote in with a question about disposing of old knives:

Most were cheap knives [with] handles that are in extremely poor shape. The blades don’t look all that great either. A charity would not want any of them for sure. What options are there for safely disposing them?

I’m sure this reader is not alone. Often times knives simply wear out their usefulness and get replaced. Of course, disposal is not as simple as tossing them into the trash. Here are some safe and effective options for safely disposing of unwanted knives.

First, check with your local recycling facility. Here in my neighborhood, it’s the town dump (or “transfer station” if you want to get technical). Often they accept metal including knives. There may be a fee involved, but it’s likely very small.

If recycling is not an option for whatever reason, and you’re not going to donate the knives, you can in fact throw in away, as long as you do some preparation first. Start by contacting the town or company that hauls your trash away, as they probably have guidelines for disposing of “sharps.” If you live in an area that requires you to take trash to the dump yourself, like I do, ask an attendant there for advice.

There are general safety guidelines to follow as well. Find a piece of cardboard that’s longer than the blade and fold it in half. Place the knife inside so that the blade is against the fold. Next, tape it down so that the cardboard won’t slip off.

You can also wrap it in newspaper — five or six sheets will do it — and then again in bubble wrap. Also consider dulling the blade a bit beforehand. The knives are ready for disposal.

I hope this was helpful. Again, my first hope is that you can recycle these knives. If not, contact whoever handles your trash for guidance, and then prepare the knives so that they’ll be safely handled. Good luck.

More than 15 ways to handle recurrent clutter

There are three areas in my home that are on a recurrent cycle of being cluttered and cause me stress: the kitchen, the family room, and the dirty clothes hamper in the bedroom.

I have taken many steps to try to get my laundry problem under control, but I continue to wrestle with it. The kitchen is a similar stress aggravated by the fact that my husband and I eat three meals a day at home. Then, there is the family room where things come in and never leave.

These three areas have one thing in common: they have a constant supply of input. Every night I deposit clothes into the hamper. Every day I sit and knit or read or watch TV or whatever I’m doing to relax in my family room. Every meal I dirty pots, pans, plates, utensils, and cups, and every week I bring in more food to repeat the cycle.

I’ve been working diligently recently to keep these areas clutter free in my own home, and can share a few tips and advice. I hope that you find at least one or more helpful.

Laundry

  • If you haven’t already read it, start by going to my previous post on dealing with laundry clutter. Following these tips have made my laundry situation bearable.
  • Additionally, I recommend making your laundry room as welcoming, cheerful, and serene as possible. A laundry room that is pleasant to be in makes doing the laundry much less of an annoyance. A dark, dreary basement with bare concrete walls isn’t inviting. Spruce up your space so that being in it is a reward, not a punishment.

Family Room

  • Institute a “no food” rule for your family room. No food outside the kitchen or dining room is a good general house rule, too.
  • Assess the amount of furniture in your family room. Do you really need four end tables and two coffee tables? I find that the more tables I have in a room, the more stuff I set on the tables.
  • Every time a person leaves the room, have them put something away. If everything is properly in its place, celebrate.
  • Have a vacuum cleaner/broom easily accessible to the room. I find that I need to vacuum the carpet in this room twice as often as in the rest of the house. Having the ability to use it with very little effort is essential.
  • Have a place for everything in the room: a knitting basket with a lid, a storage system for your video games, a chest for children’s toys, a bin for piano music, a CD and DVD solution, etc.

Kitchen

  • My first suggestion for the kitchen is to get your hands on Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook. The kitchen section in the book is really good and I learned a great deal from reading it. I reference it a handful of times a month.
  • Put dirty dishes straight into the dishwasher. No plates or cups should ever sit dirty on the counter.
  • Own dishwasher-safe stainless steel cookware and other kitchen items. If you have to wash it by hand it is likely to sit cluttered on the counter.
  • Avoid unitasker appliances and utensils. Based on your cooking style, a few may creep into your home, but it’s best to try to keep these numbers small.
  • Monitor what small appliances and entertaining dishes you use, and get rid of those you don’t. I’ve used our reader-suggested dot system for my monitoring with great success.
  • If you must store small appliances on your counter, only have out those you use often. My toaster, coffee pot, vacuum sealer, and mixer sit out all the time. I use all of these daily or almost daily.
  • Organize your kitchen so that what you use is stored next to where it is used. It’s a bit of a no-brainer, but things like pots and pans should be next to the stove and leftover storage containers next to the refrigerator.
  • If you’re like me, don’t use a bread box. I put bread in there, forget about it, and then discover it weeks later all moldy. I currently store aluminum foil, wax paper, ziplock bags, and such in my bread box instead. I set my bread on top of the bread box.

Please feel welcome to add suggestions in the comments section. There are so many effective strategies out there that I couldn’t possibly name them all in this post. So, let us know what works for you!

 

This post was originally published in July 2007.

The inexpensive kitchen tools I love

Last week I saw this great post from Brett Terpstra, The best cheap stuff in my kitchen. In the course of teaching himself how to cook, Brett accumulated many tools, including “…inexpensive tools…that I’ve picked up either out of need or curiosity, and am repeatedly amazed at both how durable they are for the price, and how much they’ve helped make my kitchen life better.” The resulting list is a good one, and it has prompted me to look at the inexpensive and reliable kitchen tools that I love.

I’ve got a small kitchen so tools must earn their way in. As a result I’m very picky, and many would-be additions that don’t “pass the audition,” get the boot. One winner is an inexpensive cooling rack, much like this one from Wilton. I use it to cool baked goods, but also as a landing spot for almost anything that’s hot. When I’m not cooking, it doubles as a drying rack for glasses next to the sink.

Next, this great little colander from Oggi is a go-to item. The feet on the bottom make it nice and sturdy, the long handle keeps my hands away from hot water and steam and the hook on the end lets me hang it when not in use and rest over the edge of a sink when I need it to be out of the way. Finally, its small size lets me put it in a sauce pot for steaming veggies. It’s super versatile and I use it several times per week.

A good set of ramekins, like these from HIC are great multitaskers. They can hold chopped and measured ingredients when you’re working on your mise en place. They’re great for serving individual sauces or dips, holding spent tea bags and of course, you can bake in them.

I also have a microplane that I love dearly. It’s super for grating hard cheese and zesting citrus. I’ve even used it to grind nutmeg on occasion. It cleans up quickly and stores away easily.

I received the AccuSharp 001 Knife Sharpener as a Christmas gift, as I’m often complaining about dull knives. What I like like about the AccuSharp is that you don’t have to worry about holding the knife properly or maintaining the right angle. Just a few broad swipes and you’ve got a nice, sharp knife.

I’ll wrap this up the same way Brett ended his article, with a question to the readers. What else should I get? Any must-have kitchen tools I need to know about? Sound off.

Weekend project: Tackle the area beneath your kitchen sink

I have to admit that I never think about the area under my sink. Even when I reach inside of it to grab the dish-washing detergent, I keep my eye on the soap and nothing else. It’s a dark pit and can be a scary place if left unattended.

This weekend, I want you to tackle the area beneath your kitchen sink. Would a pull-out drawer or shelving system help you to better organize the space? (I love ours, which is pictured, but I don’t know where the previous homeowner purchased it.) Are there things down there that can be thrown out or relocated to a more appropriate space? Are you accidentally hoarding sponges because you forgot you have already purchased two dozen of them?

Remember, too, that I’m not a fan of having your trashcan beneath your sink. I understand that if you have dogs, small children, or an incredibly small space that you may have no other choice. But, if your trash could be moved someplace else, maybe now is the time to consider that option.

If the area beneath your kitchen sink is organized, what about the area beneath your bathroom sinks? Can those areas be straightened or the space more efficiently arranged?

These areas are best to keep clear of clutter because of the damage that can result if a pipe bursts or your drain starts leaking. Plus, it’s good to be able to tell if your pipe or drain is leaking — something that is difficult to do if you have too much stuff in this place. It’s best to keep valuables out of these spaces and the area easily accessible for a plumber. The last thing you want to do is have to waste time clearing a path for someone who is about to cost you a hundred or more dollars an hour.

 

This post was originally published in February 2008.