Friday, March 11, 2011

The Organized Nest: Rise and Shine!

She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Proverbs 31:27

I tend to be a little Monica Geller-ish. I actually enjoy cleaning. Cleaning is good edifying fun! Right??

But I often get to a point where one of the following situations happens:

1. I clean too much and don't have time for other fun stuff.

2. I get crazed by my routine and completely neglect certain areas in my house.

3. My schedule changes and I make myself insane trying to get our house back to the way I like it.

All of these things can pose a problem. But the fact remains that my house really does need attention every single day. Here's why:


Has anyone else dealt with a giant husky in South Carolina? It's not pretty. Not pretty at all. We're coming up on shedding season, so things really get interesting around here in the "Keep the House Clean" department.

Thing 1 and Thing 2

I'm continually amazed at how filthy little girls can get. But they house proves it.

'Nuff said.

A couple of years ago, I found Flylady. She does a great job of making sense out of a mess without getting overwhelmed. She also gets you to establish routines making certain chores second nature (genius!). On top of that, she sends one tiny chore a day (that really no one likes to do, but it only takes a few minutes), so you really don't ever have the huge need of "Spring Cleaning" because you keep up with it all through the year.

But even things like Flylady sometimes need to be tweaked to work for you. So although my house is not the cleanest house in the world, I try hard to make sure it's close! Let's look at how to start the housework list to quickly check those items off My Listy...

Morning Routine:
I admit that I'm not that person that "gets dressed to shoes" first thing in the morning like Flylade insists that I do. I need a minute. I need several cups of coffee and some quiet moments with my iGoogle lists. One list reminds me of what actually has to be accomplished that day. Another reminds me of what we're having for dinner. Since the lists were made in advance, I just have to check them instead of thinking them up!

Then I'm ready to hop up and get dressed for the day. But what I do accomplish right off the bat (usually) is starting a load of laundry. Since the washer and dryer are "conveniently" in the master bathroom, I just throw a load in after I brush my teeth. Then, as I'm waiting on that oh so important pot of coffee to brew, I unload the dishwasher (it only takes me about 2 and 1/2 minutes to do that). With an empty dishwasher, I have no excuses for letting dishes accumulate in the sink for very long. I tell ya, when I get off schedule with the dishwasher, my whole day is wonky. Along the same lines, if I make sure my sink is shiny (or as as shiny as it's going to get!) and my counters are wiped down after breakfast, I am far more likely to keep them clutter free for the rest of the day. Disclaimer: I have gone years without a dishwasher in the past and it's misery. It really is. But I found if I keep up the shiny sink goal, I would still keep dishes washed and out of the sink.

Once everyone is up, we make sure the beds are made (and Homey is responsible for making her bed right after she eats). I feel like a made bed just makes you feel calm when you walk in the bedroom. It is, after all, a room that you rest in. It should look restful. For adults and munchkins. I did not agree with this at all when I was a munchkin. But JMom had other plans and now I'm a bed making nazi. It's one of the most important things I do as far as making the house look put together as opposed to the House of Free For Alls.

At this point, Homey and I can spend some time learning or creating together, and planning our day (obviously when I'm working I am dressed and out of the house rather early, and Homey goes off to school...I try to keep the school routine the same at home, though). When we know our plan for the day, we take a break to play(her)/exercise(me) then get dressed and ready. Right after I get out of the shower, I take Flylady's advice and "swish and swipe" my bathroom (I do the same to Homey's while she's taking a bath at night, but hopefully that will all be under construction soon!). Switch the laundry over then, too, and you're good to go! And it's not even 10 am...sweet.

There's more housework to be done later in the day, but I find that these very fast and simple tasks really set the tone for staying organized all day long. I take on the responsibility of creating a calm and pleasing home for my family. I don't succeed everyday, but overall, I enjoy the calm of my home.

What are your tips for starting the day in an organized and calm way?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Hashbrown Casserole

Now there is nothing healthy or low calorie about this. But it is warm...comforting...cozy...delicious. So don't have it for breakfast every day, but certainly make this for a weekend brunch or when you have breakfast-for-dinner (something that shows up on a meal plan in some form or another at least once every three weeks around here).

This is a big casserole, so it's a great way to feed a crowd. Or just eat the leftovers for snack over the next few days. (In fact, I'm going to go heat up a bowl of it now!). And actually, it's a lot of bang for the buck since you get so much food out of it. Super inexpensive, look:

A bag of frozen hashbrowns, thawed
A can of cream of chicken soup
A half an onion, diced
A cup of shredded cheddar
A stick of butter, softened
Salt and pepper to taste

Stir the cheese and onions into the hashbrowns.

Add in the butter and soup. Stir this very well; seems that the butter doesn't want to play well with others sometimes. Add in a little salt and pepper now.
Once you have everyone in there and getting along, toss the mixture into a large casserole dish. My largest is about 9x13 but I think it's deeper than most. Seems like it anyway....

Bake in a 375 degree oven for at least 35 minutes. It may take more like 45 to 50, so be prepared. It really depends on how thawed the hashbrowns are. If they're even a tiny bit frozen still, that really ups the baking time. But its worth it, and it doesn't change the outcome:

All bubbly and golden and warm and delicious!

Serve it up with eggs, bacon, fruit, biscuits, grits...who needs to wait in a line of rocking chairs playing checkers when you can have this all at home??

Monday, March 7, 2011

Anatomy of a Birthday Party: Part 2

Now it's time to delve deeper into the intricate inner workings of a child's birthday party. In part one we talked about establishing a theme. Now let's talk about taking that theme to the next level to make this party a step (several steps!) above a typical party. This step is really more of a honing in on the details and thinking about the guest list.

I'm going to just start with a few aspects of some of Homey's past parties. We are just going to look at a few details that help get the ball rolling.

I've gotten several great ideas from etsy shops. You can find almost anything on etsy. I get ridiculously specific with party detail, but you know what? It's never anything that etsy can't handle! For Homey's 4th birthday, I found this adorable t-shirt at Vintage Lucy's etsy shop. I don't personally know the seller for Vintage Lucy's, but I have the feeling we'd be fast friends. Please go through her can find the most adorable retro-inspired things there! Tell her I sent ya! Maybe she'll be my friend.

I never thought I'd be the person to do a western themed party. But that shirt was just adorable. And it wouldn't just be a cowboy/girl party it would be a vintage cowboy/girl party. Very reminiscent of this awesome pin up that Pioneer Woman uses on her site.

This is when I start getting giddy and over the top. It's okay to get giddy and over the top because you'll start to sort some of the details that get cluttered in your brain, and you'll eventually throttle it back to something manageable. It might still end up a little over the top. Whatever. It's a BIRTHDAY, for cryin' out loud.

Here are a couple of other etsy items that we've used:

Mermaid dress for Thing 1

Retro pirate dress for Thing 2
(and doesn't her cousin look perfect in her mermaid shirt?!)

Yes, I was able to type in a search for retro cowboy cupcake picks. Ta-da!!

The fact that there exists retro cowboy cupcake picks is proof that I am not as crazy as you people might think I am!! And that is great news.

So we've found a few items to get us started with the party planning. All you have to do for this next step is think about your guest list. You have to know who your guests are to plan anything else. It seems like to me there are three basic kinds of parties:

Equal-ish amounts of adults and children of various ages.

Just a few adults and children of various ages.

Just a few adults and children that are mostly the same age.

In order to think about food, cake, activities and favors, you absolutely have to know who will be there. Obviously, you can't know exactly how many will be there until you get RSVP's in, which won't be until a lot closer to your party date. But I have found that I can usually call it within 2 children. And you will obviously know the number of adults as well (really only important as far as logistics, space needed, and food amounts). Homey's parties have all been just as many adults as children. She has her grandmothers, aunts, and uncles there as well as the parents of all of her friends. If your child is older, you may not have the parents there for the whole party. You may have a separate gathering for family members. If this is the case, I do recommend that you have someone (or 2 someones) there for crowd control. Everyone should have a JMom. Like I said, I'm not about to throw a kids' party without JMom around.

So, wow. Part two is really easy, and pretty fun because it involves window shopping and making a list! In the next installment, we'll start talking more about decorations and food...this is where things start getting really fun!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Organized Nest: Meal Planning 101

When I started this blog, I didn't really plan on it being so recipe heavy. Who knew I cook so much! My goal was really to make it more "domesticity unleashed" than silly, easy recipes. So I'm going to switch gears for just a minute to start another aspect of the blog: An Organized Nest. There are so many little tiny ways I try to employ to keep this nest ticking along like a well oiled machine. I am an over the top planner and an over the top cleaner. These two things have been known to actually keep me from enjoying my little nest. I find myself having to streamline and throttle that madness back just to have time to hang out with the family and do other things I enjoy (I'm still really behind on getting to a lot of the things that I enjoy!).

So here's one way, I spend just a little time planning and thinking to save me tons of time (and money!) in the long run. The Meal Plan. My heart rejoices a little bit every time I spend a minute on The Meal Plan. Let's discuss:

First of all, find the "list system" that works best for you. That could be a notepad on the fridge, a clipboard hanging in the kitchen, or an online gadget (my only fear is when if the internet goes down, I'm out of luck...not cool.). I use iGoogle. If you have any kind of Google account, just sign up for iGoogle and get the My Listy gadget. I. Love. My Listy. I have about 5 of them. I have a real problem with lists. Here are the advantages of the iGoogle system though:

The My Listy lets me have 5 and 6 tabs within one list. Mine are "Target", "Trader Joe's", "Grocery", "Meal 1", Meal 2", and "Meal 3". The Meal 1-3 tabs each contain a full week's worth of meals, listed Sunday through Saturday. Then I just rotate. I spend a few minutes looking over and tweaking the current week's plan, and then I check the next two weeks to add in any new meal ideas I might get. This way, at a glance, I know exactly how much food I need to buy at the store. No more, no less.

Secondly, let's think of the day of the week you have the time and energy to cook a "big" meal. Everyone's schedules are so wonky these days that it will be different for each family. Let's just pretend it's on Sunday. So on your list for Week 1, you're biggest meal should be scheduled for that day. It is kind of like your anchor meal for the week. Prepare a large cut of meat like a whole chicken, a pork loin, or a flat iron steak (or just grab a rotisserie chicken). Those kinds of meats tend to be very hands off, yet take a long-ish time to cook, giving you time to leisure prepare some delicious sides. If you're going to have a rice based side, then make extra rice to add into chicken divan, greek chicken soup, etc. If you're making mashed potatoes, make extra to use in your "pork pie". See how this works for me? It cuts down on work and incorporates the same ingredients into other meals that same week. Doesn't that just make your heart happy and relaxed?!

Here are two other things that help the meal plan along:

1. Buying meat when it's on sale. Here's my most recent thrilling adventure in meal planning: I recently found an incredible price on a 4 pound pork loin. I had no idea what to do with it, so I just froze it. Soon, Tracy called me raving about a brine recipe she found. I decided to try it on the pork and let it slow cook on the grill. I also decided to have a "small gathering" to help us eat it up. That was a huge slab of meat! So from that $10 pork loin, I fed 7 adults and 3 children one Saturday evening. A few evening later, I sliced what was left and made incredible Cuban sandwiches for 5 adults and 2 children. AND the great news is that I have frozen enough slices that I can have another Cuban sandwich night. All with a $10 giant hunk of pork. Hoodeehoo!

2. Cooking freezable things in bulk. This goes along with the buying meat on sale thing, for sure. If you find ground beef on sale, buy all of it!! Then you can double or triple a batch of spaghetti sauce to freeze in individual bags. Do the same with chili. When you have 4 dinners worth of spaghetti sauce in the freezer, it's like shopping in your own home! I can just keep adding that to the meal plan every other week or every other 2 weeks. Homey loves spaghetti, so I personally don't mind having it several times in a month. Especially if all I have to do it thaw, reheat, and cook noodles. EASY!

So let's look at a sample meal plan:

Sunday-- Whole chicken (beer butt chicken on the grill or rotisserie from the store) with salad and mashed potatoes
Monday-- Tacos (use up part of the salad ingredients as taco toppings)
Tuesday--Chicken Divan (using leftover chicken)
Wednesday--Pork Pie (use the leftover mashed potatoes)
Thursday--Nacho night! (leftover taco meat over chips with cheese, tomato, green onion, sour cream)
Friday--homemade pizza night (use up all your leftovers...tomato and arugula from salads with leftover pieces of rotisserie chicken would be delicious!)
Saturday--Give yourself a break and either go out or get take out (I usually add this to at least one of my 3 meal plans)

So let's look at what you've had to buy (taking into consideration that a lot of ingredients from those meals are staples and you'll just have most of them on hand):

Ground beef in bulk or on sale: Use a pound for tacos, a half a pound for pork pie, and maybe even a little bit for your pizza night. I love cheeseburger pizza! If you've bought 5 pounds on sale, then you can easily knock out 2 meatloaves to throw in the freezer also. Or cook a giant batch of spaghetti sauce! I get really excited about stuff like this!!

A bag of frozen broccoli

Whole chicken (buy those birds when they're on sale and throw it in the freezer)...You'll get at least 2 and a half meals out of it. Since you can get a whole chicken to stretch that far, then what's the harm of buying a $6 rotisserie to give yourself a break from cooking one night.

Pie crust (if you are talented and can make one, I know you have the ingredients on hand, so it's virtually free. I'm not talented, I keep them in my freezer).

A pound of sausage (or ground pork if you can follow the original recipe, which I could not!)

Tortilla chips

Pizza dough ($.70 at Trader Joe's)

Lettuce, tomato, and various other salad toppings

The meals on this plan either have a veggie included in the main meal or are complemented by a green salad. Plus from the chicken divan you have half a bag of frozen broccoli to use next week in your meal plan. Let's do one more:

Sunday: flat iron steak with risotto and asparagus
Monday: spaghetti (because you made it in bulk and had it in the freezer!)
Tuesday: kielbasa with broccoli and macaroni and cheese (Who doesn't eat left over mac and cheese for lunch??)
Wednesday: steak sandwiches with potato wedges and corn (using thin sliced flat iron steak, potatoes you bought last week, and corn from risotto)
Thursday: grilled chicken (make extra to use in other recipes) with a veggie pasta salad (add in left over asparagus or salad ingredients)
Friday: Meatloaf with baked potatoes and veggie
Saturday: Spinach and bacon quiche (to use up the rest of your spinach. Or heck, throw in some leftover grilled chicken, too. Delicious.)

So you have had to buy:
A flat iron or skirt steak (when you find it on sale, of course)
Extra cheese for the macaroni
Hoagie rolls
Chicken breasts

Um, that's, like, it. It just takes a few minutes a day to keep adding on, soon you'll have three weeks of meals kickin' on your iGoogle. The other wonderful thing about iGoogle is that if you are at your work computer and think of something you need on your grocery list or a meal to add to the plan, you can just type it in while you're thinking of it. Then the next time you review your Listy at home it's all updated and smiling back at you.

Just lovely! And a step towards being effortlessly domestic like me! (HA!)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Homemade Alphabet Soup

Ok, folks. This is gooood. Kids love it, it's far healthier than it's canned counterpart (um, gross!!), it freezes well, and I guarantee that you have at least 90% of the ingredients in your kitchen right now.

Here's what you need:

32 oz beef broth
1 lb ground beef, cooked and drained
a cup of carrots
a cup-ish of baby spinach
a cup of alphabet noodles
a can of diced tomatoes*
a clove of garlic, minced
parmesan, salt, and pepper to taste

Side note A:
How cute are these alphabet noodles??

Side note B:
*In this particular batch, I used some of my garden tomatoes that I froze. I will tell you that the results were fantastic. I will be substituting those tomatoes for canned as long as possible. (And the cooked and drained ground beef just wanted to say hello since he didn't fit in the first picture).

Another incredibly complicated Busy B's recipe. Pour the broth in a large pot, and add in the ground beef, carrots, garlic and tomatoes.

Let this simmer on medium low heat until the carrots no longer taste like carrots (15-20 minutes).

About 5 minutes before you are ready to serve it, add in the pasta.

At serving time, stir in the spinach, just to let it wilt a little bit:

Garnish with parmesan cheese. Yum: