Thursday, October 29, 2009

Holiday System Day 4 - plans...expanded

Today is a simple task- start filling out your holiday plan. Since this month covers mainly Thanksgiving, I will start with ideas for these tasks. Basically, you will be

Planning a Master To-do List

Think of all your tasks the way you would if you were writing a regular to-do list. I have heard this called "brain dumping" and I think the term applies well. Just grab a fresh paper (or word document) and start listing. Don't worry about editing- just get it all out. Big, time-consuming tasks (decorate, get food for holiday dinner) and the small stuff (organize guest closet, clean tablecloths and napkins), it doesn't matter -put it all down.

Once you've written all your tasks down- relax! That's it- fitting these all into a schedule is a task for another day (namely, tomorrow.)

Two Good Fat-full Sauces

that are easy and delicious...

Hot Bacon Dressing

This is a family recipe, of Pennsylvania Dutch origin, traditionally served over dandelion greens. Yes, I mean the weed in your lawn! Dandelions are slightly bitter, and delicious. Substitute endive and escarole, or another sharp salad green. I've also used this over spinach and steamed broccoli. It's very flexible and could go over pretty much anything else you can think of.

1-2 tablespoons reserved bacon fat (I always save this- in keeps so well in refrigerator)
1 tablespoon honey (adaptation- this is traditionally sugar)*
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar*
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped (separate some of the yolk and put aside)
2 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 green onions, chopped (optional)

In a pan over medium low heat, melt bacon fat. Add in honey, stir until melted through. Add in the vinegar, and about two teaspoon of the separated egg yolk. Whisk together until heated through and the egg yolk is broken up and thickens the dressing.**
Take off the heat, add in the eggs, bacon, and onions. Pour immediately over your salad and stir to wilt the greens. Serve while warm.

*- This is the ratio we like- add in the honey and vinegar to suit your own tastes.
**- The thickening is traditionally accomplished with flour. I omit this as it can clump if you're not careful. The egg yolk thickens well, and makes it free of gluten.

Blender Hollandaise

For slightly overworked (or just lazy like me) cooks, hollandiase can seem overwhelming. Try this, adapted from Fannie Farmer (one of my favorite cookbooks) made in the blender- so simple!

3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons boiling water (may be replaced with broth for additional flavor and nutrition)
1/2 pound of melted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice*
salt and pepper to taste

Put the egg yolks in blender. Turn on to the lowest speed, and slowly add the water. Add in the butter, also very slowly. Mix until thick and lemon-colored. Add in the lemon juice and flavorings, pulsing lightly for only a few seconds. This will last in the refrigerator for about a week.
If reheating, place in a jar. Put jar in warm water, and stir sauce. Change water a few times until sauce is warmed through. I have also reheated this sauce in a bowl over hot water (as in a double boiler.)
If you have heated this sauce over straight heat and it separates (curdles), try adding a few drops of hot water and whisking quickly. As a last resort, you can try adding a bit more butter or egg yolk. The whisking quickly is what will really bring it back together.
*Again, you can play around with the amount of lemon juice to taste. Also, make a mock Bearnaise sauce by adding in some tarragon. You might also try some parsley, chives or other herbs, or try replacing the lemon juice with lime juice. This is a versatile sauce and can be changed around, and used on just about anything.

This post was inspired by Katie at Kitchen Stewardship- I am pleased to share this at this week's October Fest carnival- for her Fat-Full Fall. This is also shared at Fight Back Friday by FoodRenegade- check out the great ideas and recipes.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Soaked Empanada Dough

This recipe was super easy to convert to soaking, as it already had an acidic liquid included. Traditionally the liquid is white wine, I've made it this way also and it works very well. Either way, this is very simple and delicious.

Empanada Dough

3 cups whole grain flour (I like plain wheat for this)
3/4 cup lard (butter may be substituted with good results, some bacon fat is also delicious!)
3/4 cup water + 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or replace with another acid)

Mix together, until dough forms a loose shaggy ball. You might not need all of the liquid, try to use the least amount that will make the dough come together in one mass. Let this sit for 8-12 hours to "soak" the flour.
Chill for at least 1/2 hour in refrigerator to make rolling easier. I like to roll this out between parchment paper, and separate the dough into two pieces. Roll each piece out to about 1/8- 1/4 inch thickness, or a bit thinner than you would for a pie crust.
Cut the dough into circles, I use a large can from canned tomatoes. The larger the form is, the easier that it will be to fill the pies and seal them.
For filling, you may use any meat pie recipe, I have also had seafood fillings and vegetarian fillings with summer squash, onions, peppers, etc. See below for my filling recipe. Place about a tablespoon of the filling on one half of the circle, and fold dough over, and seal edges. This is similar to the process for a ravioli. The dough shouldn't need a water seal on the edges, but sometimes the dough is a bit too dry. If sealing is difficult, simply use your finger, dip in water and brush over one half of the edge (in a semi-circle on the edges.) Then fold over and seal.
Fry in a pan with lard (traditional), a mix of butter and unrefined oil (such as regular olive oil) can be used also. Cook for 2-3 minutes over medium heat each side. Dough will be nicely browned and crisped when done.

Traditional Empanada Meat Filling
8- 10 oz. of ground meat (a mix of beef and pork is delicious) but chicken is also very good
1 onion, diced
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano or 1 Tablespoon fresh
1 teaspoon paprika (optional, but good to include)
1 ripe tomato (optional)
2 Tablespoons tomato paste

Brown meat over medium heat, add in onion and garlic after about 3-4 minutes in pan. Cook until meat is done through. Add in the seasonings, tomatoes and paste. Turn heat off and stir to combine. It is a good idea to let the filling sit for a few minutes, and then put in a colander or strainer to get the liquid out. This will make the filling drier and easier to use as filling in the dough. This may be made a few days ahead and kept in the refrigerator, or even frozen for a month or two.

I am happy to post this at Pennywise Platter Thursday and Real Food Wednesdays- stop by to see lots of great recipes!

Monday, October 26, 2009

30 days... Holiday System Index

Week 1

Day 1- Introduction

Day 2- Keep your Focus

Day 3-Making a Plan

Day 4- Master To-Do List

Day 5-Scheduling Tasks

Day 6- Meal Planning

Day 7- Gift Planning and cookie recipe

Day 8- Homemade Gifts and recipes

Week 2

Day 9- Keeping Focused on Family

Day 10- Being Prepared

Day 11- Countdown Plan

Day 12- A Break

Day 13- Making New Recipes

Day 14- Recipe- Mashed Yams

Day 15- Visiting and Hosting

Week 3

Day 16- Recipe- New Green Beans

Day 17- Holiday Traditions

Day 18- Remember Your Focus

Day 19- Slowcooker Holiday Drinks

Day 20- Trying New Things

Day 21- Taking A Break

Day 22- Make-Ahead Dishes

Day 23- Recipe- Raw Cranberry/ Orange Relish

Week 4

Day 24- Recipe- Traditional Cornbread

Day 25- Rechecking Your Lists

Day 26-

Day 27-

Day 28-

Day 29-

Day 30-

Making your Schedules Flexible

I've said many times how building flexibility into your schedules is vital. Today I'd like to share some personal examples illustrating this in my own life, and give you some more solid tips for making sure your schedule leaves room for the unexpected, otherwise known as life.
Since I've started school up again, I've noticed that flexibility is lacking in my schedule. I am taking two classes, both online since the baby is still so young. I initially planned on a three-day (M,W,F) schedule for this blog, and two for school (Tues. and Thurs.) When my second class started (this was a delayed class which began a month later) I planned that I would switch these days, leaving me with three days for school and two days here. If you've been coming by, you might have noticed my lack of posting recently. My schedule wasn't working for me in either area- I fell behind here, and in classes.
So, I decided to do one of my favorite things with schedules- change them! I love switching things around and working them into a new plan- one that works well for me. A plan, a system, is no use if it doesn't fit into your life. And since life changes, systems need to change too. Right now, I have altered my schedule to allow time each day to work on school, and on here. Once again I've found that the more specific and scheduled a task is (for me at least) the easier it then becomes to complete it on time and with my best effort behind it. Which, after all, is the point. Why do something at all unless it's your best?
Here are some of the ways I've found to make flexibility a part of your system:
  1. As I said in the last post here, if you schedule your days (or even just have a planned event occasionally) make sure to give yourself a buffer. Leave some extra time, I like 15 minutes to a half hour, around each task just in case. If nothing comes up (yeah, right) you'll have a nice built-in break period.
  2. Again, this I've said before but it is my favorite tip: more structure equals more flexibility. I know, I know, you're saying: this is ridiculous, more structure means more work, less fun, I'll never stop cleaning and have no time to myself, and so on. I've been there and said that, but it's just not true. See this post for more on how to set up your systems, and just try it. Allowing yourself to follow a good plan that works for you will mean that you'll know when things need to be done, and when the best time to do them is (otherwise known as being efficient - sounds nice doesn't it?) Then the rest of the time will be yours. Don't forget to schedule some personal time.
  3. Clipping on the heels of this last tip, my last tip will be covered in more detail next week here, and deals with scheduling the sometimes tasks. You know, things that only come up once a month, or for only one month (like decorating for holidays, or for those of us in the great Northeast, stacking up firewood.) Trust me, when you can go into your household binder and know what you're serving for Thanksgiving, how many more days until you need to submit a rebate form, and who's getting what for Christmas, you will be happy indeed. (As a side on a holiday system - see here.)

I hope these tips will help you, and encourage you to go get some more freedom in your days. Life is too short to be focused constantly on housework- that's what a system is for.

I am happy to share this at Works for me Wednesday and Homemaker Mondays- come see all the great tips.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Homemade Foods

... in place of storebought

This post was inspired by Katie over at Kitchen Stewardship, whose October Carnival this week features on taking processed foods and making them at home. Check it out here. Some of my favorite homemade goodies to take you through your day:


Granola (soaked recipe)

Buttermilk Muffins

Pancakes (includes recipe for pancake mix)



Pasta (soaked recipe)

Extras/ All the time

Flavored vinegars

White Sauce (with updates)


Pie Crust (soaked recipe)

I am happy to share this post at Food Renegade's weekly Fight Back Friday- check it out for lots of great posts, recipes and ideas!

Monday, October 19, 2009

3 Inspirations for Overwhelmed Homemakers and Parents

There are times when at-home parenting, and homemaking, will try your patience, stretch your limits, and (if you're like me!) even make you feel like you're losing your mind. Those people who seem to think this is an easy undertaking, the apparently never-ending piles of laundry, the careful balancing act between healthy, natural, kid-friendly and frugal meals... can make this feel like a fight you'll never win. On days when I just want to give in and curl back under the covers, I find it helps to have some inspiration, some advice, some understanding from someone who's been there too. Some of my favorite ladies have served to inspire me, and I want to share these posts with all of you too. Happy reading!

Passionate Homemaking Encouragement for Weary Mothers

Home Ever After Looking for a Real Job: a Professional Homemaker's Essay from the Past

Life As MOM Embracing My Life as MOM

Bonus: the last post was featured on an amazing series from Amy at Finer Things in Life- Mommy, Come Home. Find the posts on page 1, page 2, and page 3. These posts are chock-full of help for those not-yet in or new to at-home parenting, and inspiration for veterans.

As always, I am happy to post this at Finer Things Friday from Amy, Family Fridays at HomeEverAfter, at Homemaker Mondays, check out her site while you're there; and at Works For Me Wednesdays at this site.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Super Foods- Ideas and Recipes

I am happy to share in Kitchen Stewardship's Carnival of Super Foods this week, check it out for some great posts. Katie has a list of great foods that really give you a 'bang for your buck.' Two of my favorites and most used are:

Oats- check out my all-time favorite granola recipe- and it's soaked for even more health benefits. Also includes nuts and seeds, honey and dried fruits.

Also, see some tips on:
Turkey- my first time breaking down a turkey into breasts and wings for baking, and bones for stock.

Thanks for visiting, and remember to check out the carnival here.

Homemade Flavored Vinegars- frugal food tips

I first made flavored vinegars a few years ago for Christmas presents. After becoming a stay at home mom, I realized how difficult it can be to give on a one-income budget. I always loved searching for and buying the perfect gift for each person on my list, but it had become impossible to spend money on everyone, especially with my DH's large family. Thus began my new tradition of making homemade goodies for presents. One of my ideas was flavored vinegars. I had intended to give oils as well, but chickened out due to the slight chance of botulism. I know, it's silly, but it could happen, and with my luck it would. This is not a concern with vinegar, due to the acidity. These are super easy, frugal and fun. (And yes, I still make them for Christmas!)

The process is simple: fill a container with your choice of vinegar and flavorings such as herbs or certain produce. Let sit for 3-8 weeks in a cool place, preferably out of the light (I usually put mine in a pantry closet or cabinet.) When finished, you can strain the vinegar into a bottle or cruet, and add in fresh flavorings for appearance. It's that easy! Some of my favorite mixtures are:

  • red wine vinegar with rosemary

  • apple cider vinegar with lemon zest and peppercorns

  • apple cider vinegar with garlic

  • white wine vinegar with tarragon or chives

  • white vinegar with jalapenos

Experiment with other flavors you might enjoy. A good basic rule of thumb is that the lighter flavored ingredients should be paired with a light vinegar, such as white wine. Stronger herbs like rosemary can stand up to stronger vinegars. I use white vinegar rarely, but for something like chiles, it's great since the flavor of the peppers is so strong it could overwhelm subtle flavors in the more expensive vinegars. Speaking of cost, at restaurant supply stores you can find large jugs of vinegars frugally, and they often carry bottles or cruets also. For larger amounts, try repurposed wine bottles.

I am happy to post this at Pennywise Platter Thursday- check it out for more great tips!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Schedules- Starting a daily schedule

Last week, we talked about how to begin creating your schedules. This post will go into a bit more detail on a daily schedule. This schedule just covers what it is you'll be doing regularly during each day. I gave you a introduction of my weekly schedule last week, and some tips on how to start your own.

I set up my weekly schedule to work on a room or area of my house each day, as well as fitting in extra things. These include such things as rebates on Mondays, filing and paperwork on Thursdays, and emptying all trash baskets on Sundays. As I've said, I am not organized by nature. If you fit in this category with me, my suggestion to you is to simple: try to make a schedule that includes everything you will be doing. Otherwise, the recycling will build up, the sheets won't get washed, and your windows will be so dirty you'll start to think they just came with fingerprints imprinted on them originally.

Every schedule is, and should be, different- customized for you, created around however your household is best run. The thing I hear the most is that people just can't actually do it- get up and get started with their duties every day. This is why the daily schedule is the basis, the blueprint, for your day. Monday might be for cleaning bedrooms, and Thursdays for kitchens, but each day will still unfold much the same way. When I first started my daily schedules, I worked from Flylady's system of AM/PM. Basically, it calls for creating a morning schedule and evening schedule, specifying what tasks need to be done.

This is a good system, and worked well for me for awhile. You might want to try this way when first making your schedule. However, one of the most important aspects of any plan is flexibility. Your plan has to be ready to change, and you have to be willing to change it. Any schedule might work at a time in your life, and then not work as well when new times or events occur. For me, after my second child, my daily schedule stopped working for me. It just wasn't structured enough. So I took a page from how many work-out-of-home people schedule their days: hour by hour.

Now, this might seem too complicated, but it can actually provide a great way to stay on track. Just knowing I have to clean the bathroom, and do my menu planning on Fridays isn't exactly a motivation for me. But when I set up a schedule with set "work times" at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. it kept me working. I started this schedule by just writing down each hour on a line of notebook paper. I started with 7 a.m., when we are up by, and went through 9:00 p.m., right before we put the children to bed. I put in even the most basic, everyday tasks, such as meals and cleaning the kitchen afterwards. For me, (lazy as I am!) it really helps to be accountable to my schedule. I leave between a half-hour and an hour for each main task, as to allow flexibility. The baby will have to be fed, someone will need a diaper change, the phone will ring... Something will always come up, so don't make your schedule too tight or tasks will run into each other.

The last part is to write in your weekly tasks into your daily schedule. As I said, I have two times, one in the morning (during baby's nap/rest time and William's snack time) and in the afternoon (naptime for both.) I find myself doing more complicated/detailed tasks in the morning, when I am more alert (such as filing or schoolwork.) Afternoon naptime is for easy tasks like cleaning. I also make some of this time for my personal time, when I might read or work on this blog.

I find that irregardless of the system, having a daily schedule is so important to actually getting up and going every day. Do you feel like this might help you? Any tips of your own? Please share in the comments. Check back next week for more on creating task lists, and how to fit in those occasional duties into a monthly schedule.
I am please to share this at Homemaker Mondays and Works For Me Wednesday- check out all the great ideas!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Schedules and Task Lists - Time Management

How to start schedules and task lists (to-do lists) for a household binder
In the last DOC post, I covered setting up a household binder. This is an important organizing tool for holding important papers, and your to-go area where all schedules and lists should live.
How do you go about creating these schedules and lists? Follow along...

I like many different schedules, this seems counterintuitive but it actually allows me more freedom and flexibility. I find the more structure I have, the easier my life is. My schedules are broken down into the following: (adapted in part from Flylady)
  • Daily (AM/PM) schedule
  • Weekly schedule
  • Monthly schedule

Now, in case this seems like too much at one time, it is! I started with only a weekly schedule, or a schedule of what things I choose to do on each day of the week. After that, I made a daily schedule, or what things needed to be accomplished in the morning and evenings (thus AM/PM schedule.) I made this after discovering the Flylady system. Until then, I had been a disorganized person (or slob, according to some people!)

I decided- only after becoming pregnant for the second time- that the house really needed to be fixed up. Despite having been born to the most organized and clean woman ever (hi mom) I was inept at housekeeping. I was, however, a big fan of schedules and systems. This means that I always liked the idea of them, they just didn't actually do anything for me- because I didn't use them properly. I made a weekly schedule anyway, and just worked on it, determined. With a strong motivation behind me, I started making headway on the clutter (big, gigantic mess.) This system helped me get started, though I wish I had found Flylady sooner- it might have been easier to start with a daily schedule like she recommends.

Since I started with a weekly schedule, this is what I'll be going over here. For a daily schedule, you can either wait for my still slightly lazy self to post next week, or check out Flylady here.


Create a blank weekly schedule, I used plain white blank paper, such as copy paper. Make a graph set-up, with the days of the week listed across side, and then write in any permanent duties- things that are always done the same day. For example, if you go to class on Mondays, write that in. If yoga is Thursday night, write it in. This helps you to see what happens when. Now, you can start adding tasks.

Start a task list, or a to-do list. If it helps, think about all the rooms/ areas in your house. I set my schedule up so that each day I had a different room, i.e. Monday- upstairs bedroom, Tuesday- living room, and so on. I worked this around my other permanent duties. Mondays I always organized my coupons, and went over circulars to write my shopping lists. At the time, our only computer was upstairs, so I made Monday the day I cleaned upstairs mainly because I already was up there! Tuesday I run errands, and our living room is really easy to clean, so since I know I don't like running errands, I made Tuesday a simple housekeeping day. Set up a schedule that works for you.

After you've put in housekeeping responsibilities, I think it's very important to add in what I call "special times." Things like family day, couple day or date night, and personal time all fall in here. Life can be hectic, and if you don't schedule these things, they might never happen. I have two couple days, and three family days written in on my weekly schedule. I also have a personal day, and a few little blocks of personal time for things I love doing throughout the week. Also, try to include time to spend with friends- especially important for at home parents.

I hope this helps give you some ideas of how to set up a schedule. Next week, I'll post on having a morning/evening schedule to help keep your daily chores on autopilot. Have any tips or questions? Please, leave a comment- I love reading what you all think.

I am happy to post this at Family Fridays, Finer Things Friday, and Homemaker Mondays, come see all the great posts!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Soaked Pasta

I love this recipe, based on my mother's. Mixing the dough in a food processor makes it simple.

Soaked Pasta

2 cup flour
1/2 teas. salt (optional, might inhibit the "soak" of the flour)

Mix together in food processor, or by hand in large bowl.
4 1/2 Tablespoons ( or 1/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon) water
1/2 Tablespoon vinegar (I like apple cider)

Mix the liquids together. Slowly add to the flour, while pulsing on your processor, just until the dough comes together into a ball. You might not need quite all of it, try not to add in too much water. If hand mixing, a fork works well. Continue pulsing/ mixing for 1-2 minutes (on low.) If you will be using a pasta machine to roll out the noodles, you are done. Just leave at room temperature for 8-12 hours to "soak" the flour. If you will be rolling out the noodles by hand, you will want to knead the dough for about 5-8 minutes.
After the soaking time is up, roll the dough out by hand or through your machine. If using a machine, roll the dough 3-4 times on the thickest setting to take the place of kneading. You might need to add some flour to roll the dough out, if doing this by hand you can reduce the flour needed by rolling between parchment/ wax paper. ( Sprouted flour works well here, though for reducing my budget I do use unbleached white all-purpose flour. It mostly boils off anyway, at least that's my thought on it!) Cut as desired- see here for great photos if making by hand.
When cooking fresh noodles, I bring the water to a boil and add in a good helping of salt- especially if dough is unsalted. Reduce to a heavy simmer (or a light rolling boil) and add in the noodles. You might want to add in some olive oil, as it helps prevent sticking. Keep an eye on the noodles, and stir them a few times, again to prevent sticking. Fresh noodles will cook much quicker than dried, usually in a few minutes. They are finished after all they float to the top and stay there fow a minute.
This recipe can also be used to make lasagna (do parboil noodles), ravioli, or any other filled noodle. Be creative in making them your own, they really are adaptable to anything. I guarantee that once you and your family are used to freah pasta, you won't want storebought again!
I am happy to post this at Pennywise Platter Thursdays and Fight Back Friday- come by and see all the great posts!
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