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Archive for the ‘Homemaking’ Category

I make everything from scratch, to avoid ingesting hormones, additives, and preservatives that I consdier pernicious, or at least whose beneficial or pernicious qualities are an open question. Dinners, desserts, soda, sauces and jams, breakfast cereal, trail mix, all sorts of bread. (Still haven’t made my own noodles, because I can’t seem to run out of the ones I have. I’ll get there Susy Morris, I swear.)

At almost 60, I’m a remnant of the last generation that routinely learned to cook at home. While I never stopped making dinner- the stews and soups and roasted chickens- I had largely abandoned baking, picking it back up a few years ago. I started with crackers, then scones, and moved on to pie (yes the crust too, thanks for asking).

It turns out to be like language– while I do rely on recipes, I found baking intuitive for the most part; call it “touch memory” from my childhood. Like smells, it turns out the texture of a proper pie crust, and the correct amount of cookie dough to scoop up, and the shape of a pita are learned skills that lurk in the interstices of your brain until you need them again.

But I didn’t trust myself with bread.

I’ve been through many recipes- the Browneyed Baker, and Mark Bittman and my favorite legacy cookbook. I’ve watched the complex terror that is America’s Test Kitchen’s minute description of how to fail at breadbaking. I followed every step to the letter. I asked my pro-baker buddy for tips. But it wouldn’t rise, and it didn’t look right, and the crumb was too loose or too dense.

The only expert I didn’t consult was that lizard brain of mine, which kept telling me that none of my breads felt right.

A month ago I went to a bread baking demonstration, expecting to find That One Weird Trick That Will Make Your Bread Turn Out Correctly Every Time!

And I did.

The presenter started throwing ingredients into a bowl– warm water, melted butter, yeast, sugar, coffee, salt. He dismissed experts and recipes– “two cups of liquid, some kind of shortening, yeast, flavoring like salt, 4-5 cups of flour. That’s bread. Any kind of bread– flat bread, loaf bread, fancy bread.” Now this sounded more like cooking, and less like that scary, scientific, chemical-reactions, cautiously weighed ingredients mystery that is baking. And I remembered baking bread with my mother; she used to have a cookbook out, but I seldom remember her looking at it. She would just make the bread, and tell me “this is what the dough should feel like when it’s ready to rise, and this is what it feels like when it’s ready to bake.” Here’s how it looks and here’s how it smells.

So I started making bread, instead of reading recipes. The first time I ignored the recipe, I forgot the shortening in a loaf bread. Bread without shortening gives you flat bread, like pita, so you can imagine how nice and dense that loaf was.

But it freed me from the tyranny of perfection– I made edible bread armed only with ingredients and my knowledge. So I made another loaf (and forgot to punch it down– this results in a bread “balloon” in case you’re wondering), but it looked and tasted like bread. I’m on my fifth loaf now, and third successful loaf. Easy, in fact, as pie turned out to be.

Standing at the counter kneeding bread feels not just like, hey, I’m going to have some delicious bread in a few hours. It feels like I’m Eve, or Miriam, or Mrs. Ingalls, or my mother, doing what women do, and have always done.

Making bread.

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It was pretty successful, actually.

Of course, I like to clean (don’t tell my kids), and I get positively giddy over big reorganization projects. Some of the fussiness of the way Apartment Therapy goes about it (flowers! Frame That Art! Was there something about cute hand creams? I d’no) set my teeth on edge, but I get it. All clean and no play makes for a let’s-not-finish-the-January-Cure.

So here’s a day by day:

1. The First Step: Create a Project List
Yup. Did it. However, I must confess that I have on-going lists. I have a whole moleskin devoted to lists. One of the things I put on the list was painting chalkboards at strategic spots around the house so I could make lists.

2. Weekend Chores: Flowers & Floors
Well, you know my feeling about flowers. Expensive, chore-like, and unsustainable. Floors are the one big task of the cure that I really regret missing. That was the weekend of the 12″ snow, so I shoveled. Does cleaning the sidewalk count?

3. 10 Mindful Minutes: Get a Fresh Perspective
Loved this. Not sure how it affected the cleaning project, but I loved having an actual excuse to sit and stare out the window. “Hey, the Cure said…

4. A Simple Step to Success: Set Up an Outbox January Cure:
I don’t need an outbox. I need a time machine. My problem is not that I don’t get rid of things I don’t need. It’s that I get rid of things I shouldn’t. I spend a lot of time going through trash cans (yes, and dumpsters) for the stuff that I should not have thrown out.

5. You Can Do It: Pick a Project to Cross Off Your List
I managed to do one of them– cleaning the basement, including my list-ready chalkboards. Did not get to the other one, figuring out a solution for my several dozen necklaces.

6. Making Your Home Your Own: Prep Artwork for Framing & Display
I rolled my eyes at this one, but in fact I actually did do this, because when I was cleaning the basement I found a beautiful drawing by my old art buddy Karen Lyverse. It is now hanging in my foyer. Thanks, January Cure.

7. Weekend Chores: Flowers, Kitchen Organizing & Cleaning, Make a Meal
Sweetie, flowers again? Also, I make all my meals already. Do people who live in apartments not make meals?  But yes, kitchen organizing. I love kitchen organizing. Now, there wasn’t that much organizing to do this year, since my ex organized me out of most of my stuff already, but I did get a 20-year goal completed and managed to caulk behind the sink. Don’t ask.

8. Keep Yourself on Track: Get a Get-Together Together
That’s for today. But it’s not for the January Cure, it’s gathering a couple of girlfriends for a major rant on my evil ex.

9. The Clutter Filter: Create a Landing Strip
Sigh. Seriously, do grownups need a special place to put stuff until they put it away? Just for god’s sake put stuff away.

10. Unplug for an Evening: Try a Media Fast
hahahahahahahah

11. The Halfway Point!: Project Progress
Oh, was I supposed to track this halfway through?

12. Weekend Chores: Flowers, Bedroom Cleaning & Wardrobe Organizing
Yeah, that was the necklaces (the rest of the bedroom got reorganized in the break up)

13. Less Mess & Stress: Getting Your Paperwork & Files Organized
From this I infer that people don’t routinely keep their paperwork and files organized.

14. Worth It: Clear Up Cord Clutter
I don’t have electronics, for the most part.

15. Declutter & Organize: Bathroom Cabinets Cleanout
I was into this, until I discovered that my medicine cabinet has almost nothing in it. Can’t decide if this is empowering or depressing.

16. Lightening Up: Declutter Media Collections
Also not a media consumer. I would love to get rid of Wei’s records, still in my basement, but that would probably not be in the spirit of “amicable divorce.”

17. Weekend Chores: Flowers, Outbox, Living Room & Lighting
Sigh

18. The Assignment We’ve All Been Waiting For
No clue.

19. A Gift to Yourself: Hang that Artwork!
And it looks just great. Thanks for the push, JC.

20. Final Stretch: The 60 Minute Quick Clean
I have no idea what this was. Are you seeing a theme here? Towards the “end days” it begins to get difficult to keep going.

21. The Last Lap; 22. Weekend Chores
I think the Apartment Cure people were getting tired too.

I will definitely do it again next year.

Did you do the January Cure? Do you like it better than traditional spring cleaning?

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The problem with full time employment, aside from the annoyance of having enough money to pay the bills, is that macro-projects like the January Cure are hard to keep up with.

I’ve been telling myself that I did a major home reorganization last spring, so I don’t really need to go through my closets.

I don’t approve of cut flowers from an ecological viewpoint, but the bigger problem is that I live in the ghetto (ish), where there are certainly no florists, and now there are also no large grocery store chains. We are not the sort of neighborhood that the yuppie chains like Mariano’s find attractive. Buying cut flowers is a chore, not a joy.

I did of course do the kitchen, but not at the level recommended by the Cure. Although frankly, my kitchen is pretty clean and well organized as that’s where I spend most of my time. I think if I lived in a one room apartment, that room would have to be a kitchen, with the bed stuck in a little alcove.

I did not create a landing strip, but mostly because I’m not an accumulater. I just get rid of stuff I don’t need- papers, old clothes, cracked dishes, husbands…. In fact the moving on of the husband is the reason I don’t need to reorganize things like the kitchen and the bedroom and the paperwork. Been there, done that.

I also have not planned a get together, which is actually something I’d like to do.

Partly this is procrastination, and partly it’s fear, because the last get together I planned, half the people who R.S.V.P’d didn’t show up. I’m still getting through the leftovers, more than a month later. Who needs the stress, or the cost.

I am determined to get to my Goal Projects: boxing up my husband’s detritus from the basement (he is not someone who does not accumulate things), painting “blackboards” in key places, and organizing my necklaces (I have several dozen).

I figure I have 17 days before I have to admit defeat on that.

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Kitchen deep cleaning is my favorite task of the January Cure. It’s one of those things that each of us knows should be done, but you never do it because, seriously, life’s too short.

Somehow the January Cure stands in for a scolding nanny who impels compliance.

As it happens, I had completely rearranged my kitchen in the spring when my husband moved out, taking half our stuff with him, so I didn’t really need to get that down and dirty with all the cabinets, so I tackled those projects that have been waiting literally years to be done. You know the kind– organize your bracelets. Clean off the tops of the hanging cabinets (haha, yah, I didn’t do that).

What I did do was finally caulk the counter behind the sink and the stove.

Now, I’ve never done this because I’m a little afraid of caulk. Instead, I’ve been letting moisture seep back there for more than 15 years; I’ve had nightmares about what it must look like behind that sink cabinet.

What I want to know is in what universe is caulk “ready to paint in four hours.” Because it’s going on 8, and it’s not just still tacky. It’s still wet. I guess I’ll paint tomorrow. Night. Because I have to work during the day. In the meantime, I haven’t been able to wash dishes all day.

I ran out to the local True Value for hooks and cleaner. This is one of those wonderful old neighborhood hardware stores with the little bins of screws, wooden floors, and an astonishingly huge inventory. The guy knows everything, remembers you, and will order what you can’t find. I asked for environmentally friendly cleaner, because he didn’t have anything obvious on the shelf. What he did have was something called SunBrite, which comes in a little tub that mixes up to the equivalent of several gallons of cleaning spray– I used an emply Mrs. Meyers spray bottle. I’m plugging it here, because it’s amazing stuff.

I also finally attached the Container Store roll-out cabinet bins (finally = we bought them when we first did the kitchen, in 1998. Mustn’t rush these things). You don’t really need to attach them. They work just brilliantly just sort of placed in the cabinet. But Nanny was in the corner telling me to get with the program and install them already.

Now, here’s the heroic part. And don’t lie, you have not done this. But I have. Yes, folks:

I cleaned the refrigerator.

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I get it– spring cleaning because you can set the wash tub outside, and beat the rugs when it’s warm.

But my washtub stays indoors since, despite my pioneer-woman conceits I actually don’t use a scrub board to clean; nor do I beat the rugs. I vacuum them. I don’t want to be stuck inside cleaning when the weather is finally nice and I can get out of the cave for a few hours.

Enter the January Cure.  This is one of those internet things of which you’re vaguely aware for years.  And then a friend says “I’m doing this!” and you think, okay, why not. It’s great “Dark Days” therapy.

Last year my friend petered out after a couple of weeks, but I stuck it out and went the whole month. I confess some of the tasks struck me as silly (buy some mass-produced art), or inconsistent with the eco-friendly mandate (buy some cut flowers in the middle of January– they’re only the most ecologically disastrous industry on the planet!). But for the most part it laid a really useful and effective structure for cleaning. Last year I had an entire 10-room house to clean, which was a little more than the “Apartment Therapy” home site was geared towards. This year, I’ve contracted onto my first floor, so I should be able to keep up a little more.

I’m going to add my disaster of a basement to the mix (in fact I’m headed there right after writing this).

I’ll be going back to my regular Tuesday posting day for  reporting. (It seemed ridiculous to post about cleaning on New Year’s Eve- I don’t know about you, but on New Year’s Eve my aim is making messes, not cleaning them up!)  I hope you’ll join me in signing up through the Apartment Therapy site, and that you’ll chime in on the comments here about your successes, misses, and surprises.

Happy New Year!

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When I was in college and living by myself, I used to make a big pot of something– spaghetti sauce, pea soup, stew– on Sunday nights, and then eat it all week.  I mostly did it because then I didn’t have to cook all week.

Here at the other end of my journey, I find myself in the same predicament, but it’s more because I just can’t get the hang of this cooking-for-one-person thing.

I’ve actually come up with strategies– I work late on Tuesday and Wednesday, so I need something easy to fix when I get home at 8:30. I need leftovers. So I make my too-big meals on Sunday and Monday, and reheat on Tuesday and Wednesday. This doesn’t help much with Thursday, when I work at night, and have to come up with something early, which I hate to eat early, and I end up having cheese and crackers for dinner at 10 p.m.

Which I suppose is a step above a bag of oreos.

One of my cooking-for-one innovations (you’ll be amazed to hear this is my own innovation; no one in the history of living alone has ever come up with this, in case you need to know who to credit), has been the amazing ability of the top of the fridge to actually freeze things.

I mostly use this for breads. I’ve discovered (NO, I did not read this in Barbara Kingsolver, okay maybe a little) that you can make pizza dough in large quantities ahead of time, divide and freeze, then just pull a single-pizza size out of the freezer a couple hours ahead of cooking, and voila– pizza! Same thing with pita. Since I make it myself, it was such a drag when it would go moldy or stale on me, until I read on the internet figured out (ahem) that I could bake them one at a time. Of course, you have to heat the baking stone at 450 for 45 minutes, so it’s not exactly energy efficient, but I don’t waste pita anymore.

It works for scones, too, which I learned from a scone-baking class, figured out about a month ago! This is helpful not so much for the problem of scones going bad, as for the problem of scones going in my mouth a dozen at a time, because I’m really good at scones and they are delicious.

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What are you (not) cooking?

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Things he now has to do for himself:

Make the bed

Wash the dishes

Write a budget

Call friends

Pay taxes

Balance the checkbook

Go grocery shopping

Cook

Dust

Vacuum

Find a plumber (and an electrician)

Plan entertainment

Water the plants

What would you hate having to learn how to do, or do without, if the housekeeper your spouse wasn’t around anymore?

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