Now that the kids are back in school, I am eager to continue on in my series of Minimalizing Our Home. I can’t tell you what a difference it has made in the areas I have already organized/minimalized. It has been so very easy to keep those areas clean and tidy. It motivates me to get busy and continue on in my mission of embracing the slow life. Part of living life to the fullest is eliminating that which takes up precious time, and for our family, that means anything excess that I would have to deal with.
Everything we bring into our home will need attention, whether it needs to be put away continuously, dusted or cleaned, or simply sitting there taking precious space in our home. Because of this, I have become very thoughtful about what is worthy of my time and attention, and have enjoyed getting rid of anything that does not fit in that category…hence my minimalizing series!
Back to the pantry, it is a space that really is important to keep tidy. In my pursuit of health, I need to know what I have available to feed my family, and make sure it is accessible so we will actually eat it or I will actually bake with it.
I love mason jars for this very reason. With a glance I can see what we have and how much of it we have. My kitchen is plastic free for the most part. I don’t trust what is in plastics, and mason jars are just so cute and easy for me to store and use. I keep all the lids in one big bowl, and the empty jars on one shelf. The small jars can stack which really helps with storage. I love not having nasty, stained plastic containers and lids of every color and size. I love the simplicity of mason jar lids. One bowl, very accessible.
As you can see, I use mason jars to store my dried goods. They are great for rice, nuts, seeds, coconut, & nutritional yeast. I also love using a lazy susan in my pantry for the few things that come in their own resealable bag. I also keep my peanut butter there, which I use every day so it needs to be in an easy- to- grab place.
The basket holds all my tea. I like that I can quickly grab it and have everything I need for tea.
Under my tea basket are my place mats. Again, easy to see and grab when needed.
This little shelf works great for storing my foil & wax paper, etc. I keep my extra boxes of tea underneath.
I like using containers to corral certain foods. I have 2 white tubs on this shelf. One is for pasta, the other is our snack bucket. I keep bagels and bread in between the white tubs and the brown wooden tub holds all our nuts. See the wooden clothes pin sticking out of that wooden box? This is another way I simplify my kitchen. I keep a large mason jar full of wooden clips and use them as chip clips. I like that they are all the same neutral color, and it gets rid of bright colored- plastic chip clips that are all sizes and hard to store.
This shelf holds some of my larger items. My salad spinner, rice cooker and large salad bowl. I keep clipped bags of chips in that large wooden bowl. I also keep our cereal and oatmeal on this shelf.
The very top shelf holds any paper products we have, and I have put hooks up to hang our mop, broom, dust pan, mop bucket (in corner, not seen) and a plastic bag dispenser. The wire basket holds my hand blender and potatoes when I buy them. I have a large lazy susan for small appliances up top.
We recently invested in a larger trash bin with a swivel lid. It works SO much better than this one in the picture.
This door is in our kitchen right next to our pantry. It leads to the garage and to our downstairs. Our kitchen does not have much storage space, and our pantry is small, so I bought this over-the-door organizer about a year ago. I keep hand towels & dish clothes in the bottom rack, as we only have 2 drawers in our kitchen…yep…I said 2! I will share with you in an upcoming kitchen post how I deal with that! Kids straws (Momma uses glass!) and our daily vitamins in the rack above that. Coffee & coffee filters on the next shelf. Above that are ingredients that I use often in my baking…baking powder, baking soda, salt & cocoa powder. I usually keep vanilla there, too. And again, extra tea boxes! I love tea!
While we are on the subject of baking, it is really helpful to be super purposeful about where to keep ingredients if you want baking to be a “piece of cake” so to speak. I keep my flours and sugars out on the counter, then just need to turn around and grab the rest of my dry ingredients from the door organizer in the pic above. My measuring cups and spoons are all right there. Having everything so accessible has made a BIG difference in my motivation to be more purposeful in whipping up healthy foods for my family. It makes me WANT to bake.
Recap of tips:
~Use mason jars–they are good for environment, they replace stained plastic, are see-through, and use the same lids which can be stored in one area and simplifies the kitchen.
~Use wooden clothesline clips as chip clips. They are cute, small, and can fit in a mason jar for storage. Get rid of those big, multi-colored plastic chip clips!
~Use hooks to get your mop, broom and feather duster off the floor. I have added more hooks against the pantry wall that is hidden for my girls lunch boxes. Hooks are great for using vertical space.
~Use a holder to corral plastic bags. This frees up a drawer or shelf/cupboard.
~Keep things that you use often front and center. Be thoughtful and purposeful about where you place each thing. This keeps your kitchen running efficiently and simplifies the baking/cooking process.
~Keep like with like. Pasta together, nuts together, cereal together, vitamins together, snacks together, small appliances together….I really should put all my boxes of tea together…seeing them separate in the pics above is now driving me crazy!
~If you are low in drawer space, get creative with storage. Use racks for foil, etc. Use baskets for dish towels/dish cloths.
I made this great recipe after I saw a similar one on the Dr. Oz show. He featured a recipe for Tangerine Mint Green Tea as part of a series of foods that help one lose weight. He called it Tangerine “Weight-Orade.” I will share his recipe below. It looked so refreshing on his show, and I knew I should be drinking green tea due to my history (I LIKE saying “history” :)) with breast cancer. Green tea is rich in catechins, which reduce growth of blood vessels needed for tumor growth.
A study published in 1998, Japanese researchers investigated the effects of drinking green tea on the progression ofbreast cancer. The study involved 472 patients with stage I, II, and IIIbreast cancer. The results showed that increased consumption of green tea was linked to a decrease in the spread ofbreastcancerin premenopausal women. In a follow-up study, the researchers found that increased consumption ofgreen tea was correlated with decreased recurrence of stage I and II breast cancer.
Green tea has been cited to be beneficial when it comes to all kinds of disease, from heart disease to Alzheimer’s, to many types of cancers. Read more on the benefits of green tea, at the World’s Healthiest Foods website.
Iced Tangerine Mint Green Tea
~4 organic green tea bags
~1/2 tangerine, sliced
~fresh mint leaves
~honey to taste
~water, just boiling
While water is heating, prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Here is what I do:
~get out 2, 32 oz mason jars
~fill one with 2 cups of ice
~unwrap 4 green tea bags and put in the second jar
~rinse mint leaves
My electric kettle in the above picture is one of my most favorite and well used kitchen appliances. It heats water to a boil in minutes, and keeps the water hot for a long while. In the winter, I will press the button throughout the day to keep hot water ready at all times for tea or hot chocolate.
For a powerful metabolism-boosting drink, try Dr. Oz’s Tangerine Weight-Orade. It contains: green tea, shown to boost metabolism 12% by drinking just one cup; tangerine, with a chemical composition that increases sensitivity to insulin and stimulates genes that help to burn fat; and mint, a calorie-free flavor enhancer.
In a large pitcher, combine:
8 cups of brewed green tea
1 tangerine, sliced
A handful of mint leaves
Stir this delicious concoction up at night so all the flavors fuse together. Drink 1 pitcher daily for maximum metabolism-boosting results.
My daughter turned 11 years old on August 27th, and we had a super fun cupcake decorating party for her. She invited a handful of friends, and we celebrated out at Grandpa and Grandma’s pool house. It was a really easy party to prepare for, and she loved how it turned out. We kept the decorations homemade and cheap, and the food super simple and easy.
She knew she wanted lots of candy to decorate the cupcakes with, so we decided to go with bright colors and let the candy become part of the decor by using little mason jars to display the candy toppings.
We went to Hobby Lobby and started in the paper aisle. I knew paper was a cheap way to bring lots of color and fun to the party. My daughter picked out the polka dot paper. We used it to make popcorn cones (using this template), wrap water bottles, and make little round decorations. I grabbed a few pieces of coordinating paper, and a small package of round mirrors that were under $2, that I knew would add sparkle. We had the wrapping paper that you see down the middle of the table leftover from Christmas, it just happened to have little circles on it in the same fun, bright colors.
We made custom water bottles by gluing little paper jackets on them and topping them with a mirror.
We wrapped boxes in the wrapping paper to hold the popcorn cones and suckers.
I put tissue in the boxes before wrapping to keep suckers from sinking down too far.
3 tissue poms and mirrored, circle paper decorations made the bar festive.
We made little flag toothpicks out of the paper scraps. The Baked Macaroni And Cheese Cupcakes were a hit with kids and adults. Yum! I used this recipe from Giada. The rest of the menu was simple. We ordered pizza and I made fruit kabobs. Easy, easy, easy!
We had lots of fun stuff on hand to decorate cupcakes, as you can see, this birthday was full of sugar and all kinds of artificial colors! I tried to ignore that the whole day…:)
The kids had a blast decorating their cupcakes. They just piled on the toppings! Love it.
We burned off the sugar by playing a few fun pool games. It was a beautiful day, and it was such fun planning this party with my girl and celebrating her! She has brought so much joy to me in her eleven years of life, I love being her mom!
See the larger jar of salsa in the background? My husband has just about finished off the jar, and I just made it 2 days ago! This is a super easy & quick way to make salsa for the freezer. If you like a chunky salsa, then freezer salsa is not for you. Chunky salsa tends to get mushy in the freezer, but we prefer ours thick, but all chopped up, so this is perfect for us.
I have an abundance of little cherry tomatoes growing in my garden. My larger tomato plant is slow to ripen, but that is ok since we are up to our heads in cherry tomatoes.
I saw this mix (Mrs. Wages Create Salsa Mix) when I was at the grocery store and I was happy to see that the ingredient list was short and familiar. I wanted homemade salsa, but my peppers are not ripe yet, so this mix was the perfect answer.
There are 3 different options on the back of the package-Freeze It! Can It! or Serve It! Love that.
I washed my tomatoes and threw them into the food processor. I DID NOT skin and core my tomatoes. Too lazy, plus they were so small…
Then I dumped them in a pan on the stove (no pic, sorry!) and added the dry mix and 1/2 cup of vinegar, and then simmered for 10 minutes.
I let the mixture cool a bit, then poured it into jars.
We have not eaten the salsa that I froze yet, but like I said earlier, the one jar that was left out is almost gone. It really is a tasty salsa, not too expensive (2.59 for the mix, tomatoes were free from my garden), made about 21/2 quarts, and took very little effort!
**I ordered the salsa mix on Amazon, but can also be found in the canning goods in most grocery stores and Walmart.
One of my favorite things to do is to go to the library and look in the “new release” section for interesting cookbooks. There always seems to be one that catches my eye, (this week it is Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce, great cookbook!) and it keeps me up to date with what is happening with food.
Ever since I was little, I love to sit with a cookbook and read it like a regular book, starting at the front and working my way to the back. I remember when I was about 10 years old being so excited to find Amy Vanderbilt’s cookbook at a garage sale for ten cents. I bought it and devoured the insanely thick book from front to back! When I was 11, I made an entire Thanksgiving meal with very little help. I loved cooking! I think I got my love of cooking from both of my grandma’s. I remember my Grandma Thelma having us over and making us little snacks, commenting on why they were good for us. I remember her telling me why whole wheat bread was better than white– she knew back then what Doc Oz is trying to tell us now!!:) She always had something on hand to feed us, and to this day, even if our visit is unannounced, she loves on us with some sort of bite to eat. She makes the world’s best sunny- side- up egg and toast! Love her.. My Grandma Marian, who is in heaven now, was also known for her love of cooking. She had a strawberry patch in her back yard, and was the first to introduce me the amazing freshness of homemade strawberry jam. I remember watching her grate a potato when I was young, and making us the best potato cakes for breakfast. On Valentines day, she would send homemade candies in the mail to us, all the way from Michigan to Nebraska. A box delivered in the mail, full of homemade goodies from grandma, was one of my most favorite childhood memories. Under all the newspaper stuffing were tiny little chocolate peanut butter cups, wrapped with such love and care. Now that I’m old enough to know the work that was involved, I would so love to tell her how much that meant to me as a child.
The Start Of A Plan…
Back to cookbooks and meal plans… what I have been doing lately is while reading a cookbook, I keep some post its and a pen handy. When I come upon a recipe that sounds appealing, I write the name of the book at the top of the post it, *and list the recipe title along with the page number. I keep the post it (or two) stuck to the front of the library book. Then, on the day I am going grocery shopping, I find the book, look at the post it, and pick a few chosen recipes to make for the week. I look at each recipe to jot down what groceries I need to buy, which is the start of my grocery list. When I make a recipe and decide it is a keeper, then it goes on this blog. My recipe tab on this blog is slowly becoming something that I have always wanted, — recipes that I use regularly, organized and easy to find. If it is a week that I don’t have a new cookbook to inspire me, or time to browse the web for new recipes, I just click on my recipe tab and use my tried and true recipes here on the blog. *I use the same method while reading magazines.
Things I consider when meal planning:
Dinner- I usually only plan for 4 meals a week. We have Bible Club on Tuesday evenings where we are served dinner, and on a couple Saturday nights a month we have a bunch of young men here at the house for a “video game club,” so we order pizza to feed everyone. On Friday nights we have Family movie night and order Arby’s Roast Beef Sandwiches–5 for $5.95, baby! We have spaghetti with this sauce at least once a week, because it is so simple and everyone loves it. So really, that only leaves about 3 meals that I have to plan for. I try hard to make healthy meals on those evenings, especially when we are eating fast food (pizza and Arby’s) on the weekends! Breakfast- We keep it simple. Oatmeal, whole wheat bagels, cereal, toast, eggs, and whole grain pancakes are our usual choices throughout the week.
Lunch- I choose a soup recipe (one of his favorites) and make a big batch at the beginning of the week, to put into mason jars, (use 1/2 pint mason jars to freeze in individual portions) for my husbands work lunch. I pack my girls lunch all though the school year, again keeping it simple. Usually a sandwich, vegetable, fruit and crackers. Sometimes they will get hot soup or noodles in a thermos if I’m extra motivated! Snacks- I usually find some great snack ideas when reading through my cookbooks, so I refer to the post its! I talk about some healthy snack ideas in this post. Use What I Have On Hand- Before sitting down to write weekly meal list and grocery list, I do a quick check of my pantry and freezer/refrigerator. I take a mental note of what we have on hand and do my best to plan meals around those items. Flexibility- I usually do not assign meals to different days of the week. Instead, I have a list of meals that I keep on the refrigerator for the week, that I’ve bought groceries for. I am too fickle with food to assign an exact day. I have to see what “mood” I am in that day as far as what I want to cook and what sounds most appealing from the list. Because of this fickleness, I don’t think I will ever be one who has super organized & printed calenders on the refrigerator, with assigned meals for each day of the month, but I’m at peace with that. I make a grocery list every week, go to the grocery store once a week, and have at least 4-5 meals planned for the week. Simple, laid back, and good enough. This post is linked to: Tip Junkie The Trendy Treehouse We Are That Family
Tis the season of strawberries! It’s the perfect time to make strawberry jam!
My girls and I went to the strawberry patch with some friends recently. We came back with a TON of strawberries-they were only 99 cents a pound! We hulled them, pureed them, then froze the puree. I love having a freezer full of strawberry puree, sitting there ready to be used in Strawberry Bread, Strawberry Smoothies, and yes, Strawberry Jam.
I have never made jam before, but now that I have, I don’t know if I will ever buy store made again! It is so very easy to make your own, especially if you freeze it instead of can it. You can make jam with just 3 ingredients:
It is just a matter of mashing your fruit, and stirring in the sugar and pectin. That’s it! (detailed recipe below)
If you read up on jam, you will find there are 2 versions out there. One uses Sure-Jell Pectin, the other uses Ball Pectin. With the Sure-Jell version, you have to cook it, and it uses 4 cups of sugar to 2 cups of strawberries. The Ball version is no cook, uses 11/2 cups of sugar and 4 cups of strawberries. I’ll give you one guess which one I chose.:)
I usually do not use refined white sugar when I make things here at home, but I have found that there are just a few food items that I am willing to compromise on! Example-until I can find a Homemade Lemonade Recipe I like that does not use sugar (I’ve tried quite a few with honey and a couple with maple syrup), then by golly, I’m gonna use sugar! Same with Jam. I was up to my elbows in strawberries, and misplaced a recipe that I had found that used honey and grape juice instead of sugar, so white sugar it was. (gasp-ha!)
Kimba, at A Soft Place To Land, did a GREAT post on Strawberry Jam. She tried both brands of pectin and both recipes, just to see the difference between the two. She ended up with 25 containers of jam in her freezer! She is crazy awesome.
I used the low sugar recipe, and it perfectly sweet. Granted, our taste buds are now accustomed to food that is less sweet in my family due to the recipes I make, but I really think it is plenty sweet for everyone, and I have had very positive feedback from those who I have given a jar of jam to. Kimba thought you would need fairly sweet strawberries, to begin with for the ball recipe, but ours were not super sweet and it still turned out plenty sweet.
Here is the Ball Recipe I used (the insert in the Ball Pectin box has these same instructions)
Ball No-Cook Strawberry Freezer Jam
1 pkg. Ball No Cook Pectin
11/2 cups of sugar
4 cups crushed strawberries (about 4 lbs or 2 quarts)
~Wash & hull strawberries.
~Use a potato masher to mash up the strawberries for a more chunky jam. If you prefer less chunks, use a food processor or a hand blender.
~Add the sugar and pectin and stir.
~Ladle into containers, these can be any type of jar, or plastic containers with lids. (make sure to leave some room at the top for expansion when freezing)
~Let sit for 30 minutes. Put into refrigerator or freezer.
~A jar will keep in the refrigerator for 3 weeks, and in the freezer for up to a year.
I love that I now know how easy this is. I put mine in cute little jars and have already given many away to friends, family and new neighbors. We use it over ice cream and put a spoonful or 2 in our oatmeal in the morning–mmm–Strawberry Cream Oatmeal.
I will make this even in the winter, using frozen fruit that I can hopefully find on sale!
Have you made freezer jam?
Do you have any favorite strawberry recipes for me? Even if they use sugar, send them on through, most recipes that use sugar can be modified to use other forms of sweeteners, such as honey, or pure cane sugar.