Category Archives: Housekeeping

Scaling back

Late Saturday night, I realized I’d spent nearly 10 straight hours doing blog-related stuff and STILL didn’t have a whole week’s worth of posts filed, and I ended up so tired and frustrated, it literally made me sick. It occurred to me that I’ve taken something I started for fun and made it stressful. That’s really screwed-up.

My New Year’s resolution was to do less, live more, and hopefully spend less time battling the stress-related health problems that plagued me for most of 2016. To that end, I’m making some changes around here:

Vegetarian Friday. When I started this feature in 2014, my goal was to try one new vegetarian recipe every week for a year in an effort to incorporate more plant-based meals into our diet. Posting them was a way to keep myself honest. Three years later, a good 80 percent of the meals I cook are vegetarian, probably a fourth are vegan, and I’ve learned a lot about staging food photos. The most important thing I’ve learned is that I don’t like staging food photos. I see no point in doing something I don’t like if I’m not being paid for it, especially if other people are better at it. With that in mind, if you enjoyed Vegetarian Friday, I would encourage you to visit Oh She Glows and Minimalist Baker. If I dream up something really exceptional, I’ll still share it like I always have, but it’s probably not going to be a weekly occurrence.

Eco-Saturday. I’m not getting rid of this, but I’m changing it. Like Vegetarian Friday, Eco-Saturday was supposed to run for a year. Three years later, I’ve gone about as far as I can where I am, so I’m going to focus more on reviews, recommendations, links, and daydreams about things I’d like to do someday. If there’s anything you’d like me to cover, feel free to suggest it in the comments.

Make-It Monday and Tiny Tuesday. You’ll get one or the other each week, but probably not both, because they overlap a lot, and separating them out is starting to feel forced.

I hope that doesn’t disappoint anybody too terribly. At this point, trying to do too much is easily my worst habit, and I’m trying very hard to break it. Bear with me; down time is still an alien concept for me, and self-care isn’t really one of my strengths.

Emily

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Tiny Tuesday: Storage cubes

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, our bedroom isn’t quite big enough to accommodate a queen-sized bed and a standard dresser or chest of drawers without feeling extremely cramped. For a while, I settled for plastic storage drawers, which are stackable, take up relatively little floor space, and came in handy when we moved, but they’re awfully ugly, and it didn’t take long for me to get tired of looking at them.

I found an inexpensive, attractive solution in the form of cheap storage cubes.

When I repainted the bedroom last year, I bought a six-cube unit and a set of faux-seagrass baskets to go in it and started using it as a dresser. It worked so well, I outfitted a nine-cube unit with little doors and cheap fabric bins for Ron a few months later.

My storage-cube dresser. Excuse the wonkiness. I had to shoot this from an odd angle, and the bedroom is small.
My storage-cube dresser. Excuse the wonkiness. I had to shoot this from an odd angle, and the bedroom is small.

Each cube holds less than a standard dresser drawer would, of course, but we store our bulkiest clothes in the closet (slacks and jeans on hangers and sweatshirts on hanging shelves), so we don’t need huge drawers. The cubes provide adequate storage for T-shirts, socks, underwear, and a few broomstick skirts, and their smaller footprints make them easy to tuck into spaces that would be too small for a dresser.

Ron's storage-cube dresser.
Ron’s storage-cube dresser.

I’ve seen storage cubes used in all sorts of configurations in tiny houses, where their low profile allows them to function as an inexpensive alternative to custom built-ins. A quick Pinterest search will turn up all sorts of bed frames, benches and desks fashioned from the ubiquitous shelves, and I personally have used them as nightstands, a faux-mid-century credenza, and even a stylish dog bed (which Lillian promptly snubbed in favor of curling up on our bed instead — and yes, that’s her fun-fur blankie in the top picture).

Emily

Tiny Tuesday: Merry minimalism

When I bought my Christmas tree, I wasn’t dreaming of living in a tiny house. I didn’t even know tiny houses existed. I just wanted a cool retro tree that would fit in my apartment.

Seventeen years and four moves later, I appreciate my shiny, easy-to-assemble aluminum Christmas tree as much for its space-saving design as for its great atomic-era look.

I’m not suggesting everybody who’s considering a tiny house should rush out and buy an aluminum tree and color wheel, but as I was taking mine down, it occurred to me that of all the things I’ll have to shrink when we finally build that tiny house in northeastern New Mexico, my Christmas tree isn’t one of them.

I have a few other decorations, but they usually stay in storage; the ones I get out just about every year are the tree (with matching green and red glass balls hanging from its branches and a color wheel underneath to illuminate it) and the little plastic creche my mom bought for me at Ben Franklin when I was 3 or 4 years old:

Next year, I might put the end table in the garage and spring for a full-size aluminum tree with the branches that have the big flared ends. I'm betting it will still pack down to a reasonable size.
Next year, I might put the end table in the garage and spring for a full-size aluminum tree with the branches that have the big flared ends. I’m betting it will still pack down to a reasonable size.

In the featured image and the one below, you can see what the tree looks like when it’s packed into its box:

Gratuitous picture of the box, just because the graphic design is great.
Gratuitous picture of the box, just because the graphic design is great.

Below is the whole setup, packed and ready to be stashed in a plastic storage tub in the garage:

Tree on the left, color wheel on the right, and a 24-pack of glass ornaments on the bottom. I've no idea where the box for the creche went. It vanished several years ago.
Tree on the left, color wheel on the right, and a 24-pack of glass ornaments on the bottom. I’ve no idea where the box for the creche went. It vanished several years ago.

If your holiday decorations are taking over your attic or spilling out of the closets, I can wholeheartedly recommend a throwback Christmas tree, ca. 1958, for ease of assembly, disassembly, and storage.

Emily

Vegetarian Friday: Stocking the pantry

This time of year, some of you will be making New Year’s resolutions. If yours involves losing weight, reducing your meat consumption, saving money, or some combination of the above, you’ll be much more successful if you plan ahead and cook at home as much as possible. About a year and a half ago, we switched from eating out four or five days a week to eating at home five to six days a week.

The transition from eating in restaurants most of the time to cooking at home most of the time could have been a real pain, but I learned early on that the key to sticking with it was making sure eating out was a bigger hassle than making dinner at home. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share several of the tricks I used to accomplish that. Today, we’ll start at the beginning: with the grocery list. The stricter your dietary restrictions, the more important it becomes to have appropriate ingredients on hand at all times.

Below are my suggestions for shopping on a vegan diet; a lacto-ovo diet, which allows eggs and dairy products; and a pesco-pollo diet, which eliminates red meat but keeps fish and poultry — not really vegetarian by any definition of the word, but a good way to lose weight, fuel an athletic goal or start phasing out animal products gradually.

If you’re planning to go vegan, it’s useful to have on hand:

Canned goods:
* Beans — red, black, pinto, garbanzo and blackeyed peas
* Diced tomatoes
* Black olives
* Chopped green chiles
* Salsa
* Marinara sauce
* Tahini (sesame paste)
* Peanut butter
* Pickles
* Lemon juice
* Lime juice
* Cider vinegar

Condiments: relish, giardiniera, Nayonaise, hot sauce, enchilada sauce, wing sauce, barbecue sauce, ketchup, mustard, soy sauce (or Bragg’s liquid aminos)

Oils: extra-virgin olive oil for sauteing and a heat-stable oil for frying

Grains and dry goods:
* Old-fashioned oats
* Cornmeal
* Rice
* Couscous
* Quinoa
* Dried TVP
* Nutritional yeast
* Flour (all-purpose and whole-wheat)
* Pasta
* Tortillas (large flour, small flour and small corn)
* Breads: hamburger buns and sandwich rounds
* Tortilla chips
* Pita chips
* Leavening: baking soda, baking powder, yeast, cheap beer

Frozen foods:
* Trinity (peppers, onions and celery — buy separately)
* Vegetable blends (Mediterranean-style and stir-fry)
* TVP crumbles
* Veggie burgers
* Berries
* Cut okra

In the fridge:
* Crescent rolls
* Margarine
* Silken tofu in aseptic package
* Soy or almond milk (plain and vanilla)

Produce:
Avocados
Mushrooms
Garlic
Yellow or white onions
Potatoes
Sweet potatoes
Celery sticks
Baby carrots
Whatever’s in season for salads

Snacks:
Dried fruit
Nuts and seeds (soynuts, sunflower kernels, mixed nuts, Spanish peanuts, raw cashews)
Clif Bars (most, if not all, are vegan)

From the above ingredients, you can make chili, chili mac, tacos, taco bowls, pasta, stuffed baked potatoes, burgers, Philly sandwiches, nachos, hummus, falafel, hoppin’ John, red beans and rice, fried pickles, burritos, beans and cornbread, minestrone, tortilla soup, smoothies, sloppy Joes, barbecue, and a host of other meals.

If you’re planning to go lacto-ovo vegetarian, you can add to that list:

* Egg noodles
* Grits (yes, they’re vegan, but I only like them with cheese)
* Swap the margarine for butter
* Frozen cheese tortellini or ravioli
* Eggs
* Greek yogurt
* Sour cream
* Cheese: shredded cheddar and mozzarella, cream cheese, string cheese, Parmesan
* Buttermilk or kefir
* Frozen buttermilk waffles

This list will add baked pasta, casseroles, stuffed breadsticks, stroganoff, quesadillas, omelets, fritattas, egg sandwiches, loaded baked potatoes, cheese grits, enchiladas, seven-layer burritos, stuffed mushrooms and huevos rancheros and several other options.

If you’re easing in with a pesco-pollo diet, add:

* Frozen chicken breasts
* Frozen seafood (salmon and shrimp)
* Canned tuna
* Canned biscuits
* Smoked turkey sausage

This extends your options to include tuna salad, chicken and waffles, chicken and dumplings, tuna marinara pasta, seafood gumbo, shrimp and grits, salmon and salad, chicken casserole, chicken-noodle soup and more.

You don’t have to have all of these items, but I try to keep most of them on hand so I can get dinner on the table fast. Stock up on shelf-stable items when they’re on sale, and adjust the list based on what your family enjoys eating.

Happy cooking, and good luck with your goals, whatever they may be.

Emily

Eco-Saturday: Clean your refrigerator coils

Several weeks ago, I picked up a special brush designed to clean the coils on a refrigerator.

I don’t know how big a difference this really makes — I’ve read articles saying it’s a miracle move that will increase your refrigerator’s efficiency by umpteen percent and/or keep it from burning your house down and killing you, and I’ve read articles saying it’s a total waste of time that won’t make any difference at all. The EPA says it’s a good idea, at least for older models, so I gave it a shot.

Couldn’t hurt. Might help. Either way, it was a good excuse to buy a pointy brush suitable for retrieving the wayward cat toys and dog biscuits that seem to find their way into otherwise unreachable locations.

Pointy brush. If I'd had one of these when Scout was a puppy, we  wouldn't have lost so many kibbles under the stove.
Pointy brush. If I’d had one of these when Scout was a puppy, we wouldn’t have lost so many kibbles under the stove.

The hardest part of the whole project was cleaning off the top of the fridge so I could pull it out from the wall without knocking anything off. (You probably don’t want to know what’s up there.)

I couldn’t remember whether the coils were on the back or the bottom of our refrigerator, so I started by running the brush underneath it just to be sure. No coils, but I extracted an impressive quantity of dust, dog hair, and cat kibbles. Bleah.

Once I’d cleaned underneath, I pulled the refrigerator out from the wall, got on a stepstool, and ran the brush down the back to clean both sides of the coils.

Not the greatest shot, because I was working at an awkward angle, but here are the coils.
Not the greatest shot, because I was working at an awkward angle, but here are the coils.

They weren’t terribly dirty, but cleaning them wasn’t terribly hard, either, so I’ll file this one under “probably worth the effort.” Our refrigerator is less than three years old, but if yours is an older model, I’d upgrade that assessment from “probably” to “definitely.” At worst, you’ll have a cleaner kitchen.

Emily

Tiny Tuesday: Over-the-door basket

Yet another product-review-type post: I was at the hardware store the other day and found a nice assortment of cabinet organizers of various types, including some fairly elaborate slide-out racks and trash bins and drawers that looked promising but way more expensive and elaborate than I felt like messing with just then. (File those under “worthy of further research.”)

I couldn’t spare the time or money to buy any of the fancy organizers, but I found a great little wire basket that hangs over the back of the cabinet door next to the stove, allowing me to reclaim yet another underutilized space. It’s not a huge basket, but it’s big enough to hold a couple of water bottles, my apple corer and slicer, and my small bamboo cutting board, which I use all the time. (It’s not in the picture because I’d just used it, actually.)

Reclaimed a little space with this basket and got those bottles up off the bottom of the cabinet so they'd stop tipping over and falling out every time I opened it.
Reclaimed a little space with this basket and got those bottles up off the bottom of the cabinet so they’d stop tipping over and falling out every time I opened it.

I got my basket at Lowe’s for about $12, but I’ve seen similar products elsewhere and can’t imagine one would really be much different from another.

Emily

Disclaimer: As always, I just posted about this product because I found it useful and thought somebody else might, too. Nobody paid me or gave me free products or anything.

Tiny Tuesday: IKEA shoe bin

As always, product reviews are provided as a service to readers. Nobody gave me any money or free products or anything like that. But if somebody would like to give me free stuff to review, I’d certainly entertain offers to that effect.

As I mentioned last week, we made an IKEA run a couple of weekends ago, and I picked up a bunch of stuff that looked handy. One of the things I was really excited about buying was a set of plastic shoe-storage bins I’d inexplicably passed up on a couple of previous trips.

I’d been storing some of the stuff I use outdoors in a peach box on top of a small plant stand near the back door in the kitchen, with several other items stashed in a wall-mounted flowerpot I’d picked up at Target a couple of years ago. That setup was convenient, but it was starting to look pretty cluttered, so I decided I’d buy a set of those shoe bins and hang them on the wall below the planter.

That would have worked fine if the measurements had been clearer, but they weren’t, and I didn’t have a tape measure with me, so I ended up with a nice set of wall-mounted bins that wouldn’t fit on the wall I had in mind.

No matter; I’ve been on a hang-stuff-off-the-sides-of-the-cabinets kick lately, so I decided to move the plant stand out to the front porch and attached one of the bins to the side of the cabinet, where it now stores an assortment of gloves, tools, mosquito dunks, beekeeping equipment, and various other items.

Everything in this corner is hanging up because I can't set anything on the floor without blocking the heat register.
Everything in this corner is hanging up because I can’t set anything on the floor without blocking the heat register.
For a relatively shallow bin, this thing really stores a lot of stuff.
For a relatively shallow bin, this thing really stores a lot of stuff.
From this angle, the single bin has sort of a toilet-tank aesthetic, but it looks better in real life.
From this angle, the single bin has sort of a toilet-tank aesthetic, but it looks better in real life.

The other two bins went to live in the bedroom, where they’re currently storing socks and underwear, although I’m thinking of moving them to the office and hanging them above Song’s crate to store leashes and stuff instead.

They’re plastic, and you’re not going to fool anybody into thinking they’re not plastic, but they’re handy, relatively cheap ($40 for a set of three), and look a lot better than having a lot of small items out in the open, cluttering up a table or shelf. I can think of several ways they’d work well in a tiny house. Highly recommended.

Emily