Make-It Monday: Cheap cabinet storage

I couldn’t decide whether this was a Make-It Monday entry or a Tiny Tuesday entry. The two often overlap, as many of the things I make around here are meant to increase my storage or organize my stuff. This one is kind of a combination.

First, the “make it” part, which is pictured above: I got sick of looking for the lid to my big saucepan — which has a bad habit of hiding in the back of the cabinet when I need it — so I got online and found some storage ideas. This one wasn’t the prettiest, but it was cheap and practical, and I knew I had a package of tiny screw eyes in the junk drawer and a roll of wire in my craft closet, so I grabbed the drill and rigged up an easy way to keep track of that lid.

While I was thinking about the unused space on the back of the cabinet, my eye fell on the small graniteware stockpot I’ve been using to store cooking utensils since we moved to Cape almost four years ago.

I really could have used that stockpot a few times last winter, but it was busy storing utensils on the countertop — handy but not really the highest and best use for the space or the stockpot.

I went back to the junk drawer and rustled up a handful of Command hooks, which I pressed into service holding measuring spoons and cups, kitchen shears, quail-egg scissors and any other odds and ends I could hang back there without hitting the shelf every time I closed the door.

Stick-on hooks aren't exactly a new concept, but I reclaimed some unused space by putting them inside a cabinet door above my jury-rigged pot-lid holder.
Stick-on hooks aren’t exactly a new concept, but I reclaimed some unused space by putting them inside a cabinet door above my jury-rigged pot-lid holder.

I stuck a couple more on the back of the door to the cabinet where I keep mugs and drinking glasses and hung up my tea infuser and bottle opener.

IKEA came through the other day with an elegant solution to the problem of oversized utensils that wouldn’t hang well on the cabinet door, but I’ll save that post for another day.

Emily

Sunday self-care: Everything in its place

I opened a folder in my photo archive the other night and saw something alarming.

I saw how I used to live.

When we moved from Belleville to Tulsa, I put away as much stuff as I could. Some of it fit in our new house. Some of it didn’t. I piled the excess in a spare room and promised myself I’d organize it eventually.

While I waited for “eventually,” I went about the business of living. I started projects with the intent of using up art supplies. I bought art supplies with the intent of starting projects. I subscribed to magazines I didn’t have time to read. I pursued new hobbies, accumulating equipment and materials each time. Clutter grew like kudzu over every flat surface in the house, and I just couldn’t seem to get ahead of it and stay there.

Looking at old photos, I cringe now, realizing even my occasional attempts at decluttering often ended up looking — well, cluttered. (Case in point: I once decided it would be more efficient to hang all my accessories on the wall above our bed. Just thinking about that wall gives me a headache.)

When we moved to Cape, we lost about 250 square feet, so before we moved, I halved our household inventory, and when we arrived, I unpacked everything and put it away immediately. This little bungalow, I decided, would be my laboratory for learning minimalism and test-driving storage methods ahead of our tiny-house retirement dream.

My life is neither more nor less stressful than it was during most of my time in Tulsa. But back then, I took at least a dozen road trips a year and had dinner out several times a week. I was never home if I could help it. Route 66 was my excuse, but looking back, I think I was trying to get away from the mess. Looking at the state of my house made me feel guilty, so I didn’t look.

Today, my house is generally uncluttered, and despite its diminutive size, it feels open and spacious. Cooking is easier. Cleaning is easier. Living is easier. Breathing is easier. I spend more time with my dogs and enjoy being at home. Decluttering has become one of my most valuable forms of self-care, because my mind and my home tend to sync up. If the house is cluttered, my thoughts are a jumble. If the house is neat, it’s easier to find a peaceful space in my mind.

I needed that peace more than I realized.

Emily

P.S.: If you need to declutter but aren’t sure where to start, I highly recommend Flylady.net. She’s got some great tools for establishing good habits without getting overwhelmed.

Eco-Saturday: Fall garden chores

We’re sneaking up on the first frost of the year, which means it’s time to start putting the garden to bed.

This is always a bittersweet task for me — more bitter than sweet, because I’ve never liked winter — but prepping the garden for winter ensures it’s ready to go in the spring, and this year, I have a long list of projects to work on.

I’ll share more specifics about some of these tasks as I go, but today, I’d like to offer a general overview, in case you’re looking at a soon-to-be-dormant garden and trying to figure out what to do before the next planting season. Your garden’s specific needs may vary, but here’s my to-do list for the next 25 weekends:

* Make compost. Not sure how? Click here.
* Buy six more fire rings. These will become raised beds.
* Harvest seeds. Instructions here.
* Harvest the last of the produce and pull out the old plants.
* Rake leaves. If yours are from safe trees, compost them. We don’t have that luxury, as our house is flanked by pecan and walnut trees, so we’ll have to let the city take ours.
* Plant daffodils and tulips.
* Winterize the pond.
* Winterize the quail pen. The Great Stuff I used to seal it when I built it is wearing out, and the polystyrene panels are degrading a bit, so I’ll have to hit the hardware store for replacements.
* Fence the berry patch.
* Treat the strawberries with coffee grounds. Supposedly this will ward off slugs.
* Inventory beekeeping and gardening equipment.
* Buy flagstone and install more paths.
* Mulch between paths.
* Mulch strawberries.
* Build raised bed in the front yard.
* Prune rosebush.
* Map next year’s garden.
* Order seeds. Two good sources: Seedsavers.org and Baker Creek Heirloom seeds.
* Start plants. Check the USDA planting-zone map and consult your seed packets before you schedule this.

Chaff on the left; seeds on the right.
Harvesting seeds: Chaff on the left; seeds on the right.

Harvesting seeds is one of my favorite fall chores. This year, I’ve brought in tomato seeds, which are drying on paper towels on top of the refrigerator as we speak; Trail of Tears beans, which need to be removed from their pods; and a newcomer to the garden this year: zinnias.

This doesn't really look like an hour's worth of work, does it?
This doesn’t really look like an hour’s worth of work, does it?

I spent the better end of an hour the other day separating zinnia seeds from chaff. It’s tedious work, but there’s something hopeful in the act of saving seeds — a sort of contract between the plants and their caretaker. The seeds contain the promise of spring; saving them is an act of faith in that promise and a statement of intention: “I’ll be back to tend you in a few months.”

Emily

Vegetarian Friday: Onion soup in a bread bowl

Today’s recipe is kind of a two-fer. You can make the bread in oven-safe mugs and hollow out the resulting oversized rolls to use as bowls, or you can just make a regular loaf and serve big slices alongside the soup to use in place of croutons. I went with the former because it’s prettier, but it tastes just as good the easy way. Either way, top it with plenty of cheese.

For the soup:

Ingredients

4-5 medium yellow onions
2 tbsp. butter or olive oil
1 can cheap beer (Stag, Budweiser, whatever)
1/2 c. strong vegetable stock or 1 veggie bouillon cube
1 tbsp. dried parsley
Shredded white cheese (Swiss is traditional, but I prefer mozzarella)
Grated Parmesan

Chop up the onions and saute in butter or olive oil until they become translucent and start to caramelize.

Dump onions into Crock-Pot with all remaining ingredients except cheese. Add a cup or so of water and cook for 6-8 hours on low.

For the bread:

Ingredients

2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. whole-wheat flour
3 tbsp. baking powder
1 can cheap beer
2 tbsp. honey
Oil or butter for the baking container(s)

Mix dry ingredients thoroughly, breaking up any clumps of baking powder. Using a sturdy wooden spoon, stir in beer, a little at a time, and then the honey.

If you’re making bread bowls, grease two to four of those big oven-safe Corning or Pyrex soup mugs — depending on how big you want the finished bowls to be — and use your hands to knead the dough just slightly and divide it among the containers. I used two and ended up with enormous rolls with enormous crowns — pretty, but I wound up cutting off the tops and carving out a LOT of bread to make room for the soup. Four mugs would have worked much better.

How ridiculous is the crown on this beer bread?
How ridiculous is the crown on this beer bread?

Bake at 350 until tops are brown and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. For two mugs, this takes about 45 to 50 minutes. A regular loaf pan generally takes upwards of an hour or more; smaller containers will go faster. (If you want to keep your portion size under control, muffin tins are a good alternative; plan on serving one or two rolls with each bowl of soup.)

I had to cut off the top before I could hollow out the space for the soup.
I had to cut off the top before I could hollow out the space for the soup.

For bread bowls, let the bread cool, then use a sharp knife to carve a big hole out of the middle, fill with hot soup, and top with mozzarella or Swiss and Parmesan.

Top with cheese. This is very important.
Top with cheese. This is very important.

This is a warm, comforting recipe for a chilly day.

Emily

Folk Thursday: Bob Seger

This song was part of a trove of previously unheard Woody Guthrie lyrics, which Billy Bragg and Wilco set to music several years ago for an album called Mermaid Avenue. I can’t think of anybody it suits better than Bob Seger (although I wouldn’t complain if Bruce Springsteen or maybe Neil Diamond wanted to have a go at it).

Emily

Tiny Tuesday: Kitchen-sink organizer

When I started washing dishes by hand last winter, I discovered another storage need and another example of wasted space in my kitchen.

Dishwashing tools — rags, scrubbers, Scotch-Brite pads, rubber gloves and the like — are fairly ugly and tend to clutter up the area between the faucet and the backsplash.

Fortunately, thanks to the positioning of the window and cabinets in my kitchen, I had a big, empty vertical space to the left of my sink, so last winter, I rigged up a storage caddy from a small metal sign, some magnetic clips, and a dollar-store basket.

It wasn’t pretty, and the magnets occasionally slipped if I put something too heavy in the basket, but it kept my tools handy, and I decided it was probably worth my effort to construct a more permanent setup.

Here is what I came up with:

Cheap and handy.
Cheap and handy.

And here is how to make it:

Materials
Cheap Masonite clipboard
Clothespins
Two Command hooks or similar product
Small, narrow plastic storage basket
Gel-type super glue
Lacquer
Sturdy cup hook
Paint and/or paintmarkers (optional)

Instructions
Decorate the clipboard to suit your tastes. (I doodled a sort of faux-mid-century pattern on mine, but I’m not wild about how it turned out and will probably paint over it at some point.)

Super-glue the clothespins to the clipboard. Arrange them at whatever height and spacing seem convenient based on what you’re planning to hang up there.

Super-glue the Command hooks to the clipboard about two inches from the bottom and as close to the edges as possible based on the spacing of the holes in your basket. (I put the hooks on the basket and then laid the whole thing on the clipboard to figure out the spacing.) If you can find very small screws that won’t go all the way through the clipboard, you can use them to reinforce it, but I didn’t have anything that small on hand, so we’ll have to see how the glue works by itself.

Work in progress.
Work in progress.

Seal the board with lacquer on both sides, making sure to coat the edges so the Masonite won’t get too wet and start to deteriorate.

After the lacquer dries, use the cup hook to hang the clipboard from the side of the cabinet, hang the basket from the Command hooks, and you’re good to go.

Clutter corralled.
Clutter corralled.

I like this little organizer because it’s cheap, easy to make, and corrals all my dishwashing tools in a convenient spot while reclaiming some previously unused vertical space.

Emily