Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fun and Artistic Cookbook

Every once in a while, I come across a cookbook that is unique.  That's the case of a new cookbook Storey is publishing by Lauren K Stein, illustrated by Katie Eberts.  Fresh Made Simple is actually full of simple recipes.  Most "simple" recipe cookbooks aren't actually simple.  But, this one is.

Lauren and Katie worked together to create a fun and artistic cookbook.  Each recipe uses five ingredients or less.  Directions are as simple as can be.  The only direction I actually disagreed with was the one for carmelized onions.  The authors wrote that you should cook them low and slow--they didn't happen to mention that you have to cook them low and slow for a very long time.  But, other than that, I agreed with the recipes and thought they were all well written and drawn.

The recipes cover breakfast, lunch, salads, spreads, simple dress-ups for desserts, and drinks.  I loved the two cheese plate pairings!  I never know what fruits and accompaniments to put with cheeses.  What I loved most, though, about this cookbook is that it straddles a tricky line.  Most gourmet cookbooks that are appealing use expensive ingredients.  This cookbook, on the other hand, used a lot of normal ingredients and just a few unusual cheeses for some of the recipes.  Most of these ingredients regularly inhabit space in my kitchen.  

On Amazon, you can see a preview of this cookbook and I'd recommend you go check it out.  It's fun to look at it.  Katie Eberts' artwork is creative, energetic, and visually appealing.

In honor of their cookbook, I made an attempt (see below) to illustrate my favorite avocado sandwich.  I find that trying to imitate art is one of the best way to appreciate art more and my attempt definitely made me appreciate this cookbook!  

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this cookbook for review from Storey Publishing.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Tackling my house... and my life.

This school year has been full of adjustments for my kids and for me.  We joined a homeschool co-op for the first time in five years and so we go one day a week to meet with other parents and students for classes.  I'm teaching a class to middle schoolers on writing.  On another day of the week, my kids and I head over to a friend's house for French lessons and then to another mom's house for flute lessons.

One of the things that has complicated our co-op day is getting home, getting food into stomachs, heading to Violin lessons, then back home to pick up more children, and then on to soccer practice.  But, this past week, my son asked to quit violin and just keep up with piano lessons.  My husband agreed and so I get to return his violin today to where we have been renting it from.

Amidst getting used to a new school schedule and roster of activities, I decided to clean my house.  When my kids were little, I used to do this every year and go room by room.  I haven't done the deep cleaning in my house for two to three years.  I felt it was time.  So, three weeks ago, I started cleaning, going room by room.  The smaller rooms were easier to tackle.  Many years ago, I had a friend tell me about how Larry Burkett advised paying off debt--to start with the smallest debts first so that you would feel as if you'd accomplished something.  This is the same way I start tackling my house--by starting with the smallest bathroom.

Last week it was time to clean my kitchen.  It took me a whole week.  I have open cupboards.  Many people comment about them when they come to visit and ask if I like them.  In truth, I do.  I love them.  But, there is a downside to having open cupboards.  They get very dusty over time and everything has to be taken out once a year, shelves have to be dusted and cleaned, and then everything is reorganized and put back in place.  Amidst tackling school and normal life, my kitchen took me a whole week to clean.  I wasn't finished until Saturday morning when I tackled my range hood and stove.  Every time I clean out my kitchen I ask myself what I need and don't need.  Then, I purge and pass things on.  It helps.  This time I finally moved the spice rack from one wall to the opposite long wall and swapped it with our wall clock.  My whole family is thrilled with the results.  After almost 4 years in this house, my kids can finally sit down at the kitchen table without knocking their heads on the rack.

Cleaning tips from my kitchen that have helped me...
+ I have organized my pantry with many shoebox sized plastic bins to help keep things in place.  When I need cake decorations or snacks or trail mix, I can go to the right box, instead of having things falling all over the shelves.  I like the shoebox sized bins because they're cheap at around a $1 each.
+ We have a stainless hood and stove.  I use baking soda and a damp rag (a regular dishrag) to clean the inside and outside of the hood.  Baking Soda is the only thing I've found that can easily cut through the grease.  Once all the grease is gone, I can use my Norwex green and purple cloths to clean and polish it.
+ Going through my pantry is helpful because it reminds me of what I really use and don't use.  I find each time I purge, I have to throw away a few food items that I thought I would use, but never did.  This time I was very thankful for the reminder and kept it on the forefront of my mind when I went to the grocery store the next day.

This week, my homeschool room and the basement remain.  A friend once told me about the Fly Lady.  The advice she took from the site was to start with her kitchen counters.  The Fly Lady advises to declutter for 15 minutes a day.  That's how I am with cleaning my hardest rooms.  Every day, I do something.  This morning, I swept the basement.  Later this morning, I'm going to begin tackling the clothes area and sorting the homeschool books I banished to the basement a month ago.

But, before I can tackle more of my basement, I need to head to the dreaded dentist and get some schooling done ;)  Little by little, I'll get there... the blessing is that my house feels more organized again and it feels a little lighter!

The List for the Day

One of my struggles with my family is getting them to put things away.  I'm one of those people who picks things up and then puts them away in their spot--most of the time.  I think I have to go through my kitchen corner and school desk every other week or so and regroup, sort, and take care of what's there.  But, I put my shoes away and hang up my coats.  

My family, though, often doesn't.  I do a lot of reminding and asking for children to come put their things away.  Every trip from the car to the house involves bringing something back.  I realize that somewhere along the way, I learned to do this.  I'm not sure exactly when.  As I stood near some moms during VBS this summer, one mom was talking with another about her son never remembers to put anything away.  So, I knew it wasn't just my kids with this struggle.  

In her new book, Taming the To-Do List: How to Choose Your Best Work Every Day, Glynnis Whitwer talks about this struggle to take 3 more steps to put something away.  She goes into detail about talking one thing at a time.  For her, it started with her bathrobe.  She goes on to explain how that applies to us and how to tackle the things we don't have the energy for.  I liked Ms. Whitwer's tone in her book.  It wasn't critical or harsh like one book I read about organization a few years ago.

There are many things that I agree with in this new book from Bethany House Publishing.  For example, on pg. 69, she says, "A wise and loving parent trains children to do things they don't feel like doing, such as get along with siblings, clean up after themselves, and do their homework.  Very few children are born with the motivation to act in selfless ways...By teaching them responsibility, we raise children to be mature adults.  We train them to do the right thing, and hopefully the benefits are positive enough to reinforce the behavior.  Perhaps we need to return to this model of training for ourselves in order to do what's right in spite of how we feel."  It's hard to choose to do what we don't want to do in a culture that constantly tells us that we should always be able to do what we want to do.  

This quote brings to mind the Life is Good shirts in my drawer.  I like the clothing of this company because of the optimistic and fun sayings on the shirts, but I've always twisted the company's slogan in my mind.  The slogan is: "Do what you love.  Love what you do."  Instead of focusing on the idea that we should all do what we love to do and then you'll love what you do, I've always taken this to remind me of Ecclesiastes 3:13: "also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man."   To enjoy our work and food is a gift from God.  I think it isn't so much about getting to do what we want to do--but enjoying what God gives us to do.  

Ms. Whitwer's book is for someone who really wants to dig in and focus in on getting their to do lists done, but is struggling to get them done.  Her book is very matter of fact, yet not condemning or critical.  She speaks from her own experience (which I think is always important in this type of book).  If you're looking for a book on this subject, this might be one that would encourage you.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Bethany House Publishers.

Saturday, October 3, 2015


That's all this post is about.  Celery.

We went away on vacation a few weeks ago and my mom stayed in our home and took care of our dog.  I asked her to eat the food in the fridge that we'd left so that it wouldn't go bad!  And she did--just as I'd hoped she would.

But, the celery was left.

I headed to the store the next day and of course picked up some celery expecting it to have gone bad. But, the next morning when I pulled out the celery--it was just fine.

My mom had taken a twist tie and twisted the end of the celery bag shut.  It worked and extended the life of my celery!  I had never thought of doing this, but I am very glad to learn this new trick.

The trick I've always known helps when celery goes limp.  Cut the celery into pieces and place in a tupperware.  Once all of the pieces are in the container, fill it with cold water, place the lid on top, and put it in the fridge.  Within a few hours, the celery won't be limp anymore.  It will stay good for at least another week this way.

So, that's all I know.  At least about celery.