Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year! I'm starting 2012 with a marginally more organized pantry, and a bunch of "tiny people".
First with the pantry. I bought plastic cannisters for my baking goods! No luck on the oil bottles yet, I haven't really had a chance to brainstorm what I really want.

 And now for my Tiny People. I've made minor changes to this pattern to make tiny, unique toys. The plan is to make a whole bunch, and then give them to my niece for her birthday next year. I'm also going to hunt down an interesting old jewelry box at the thrift store, paint it, and use that to store the Tiny People. It'll be sort of like a playset, but handmade.
Here's what I have so far:

The first one. I mostly followed the original pattern, but had a little fun with the hat.

This one is really small. I had to use size 3 needles and a really tight stitch to
make the superfine yarn hold in stuffing.

This one has green hair :D

My (5 year-old) niece loves "scary stuff", so I made her a vampire. Eventually I'll sew on fangs and button eyes. I'll probably make a werewolf and a witch or ghost too. 


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Kitchen Organization

I've been reading this article, and it has me thinking about pantry organization.
My food cupboard is mostly organized. I keep beans, rice, pasta, and popcorn in glass jars (I use 1q canning jars because they're airtight, clear, and inexpensive). I've got a tupperware container full of tea bags, and one with some garlic in it (I know I should do something about that, garlic ought to breath. But I like that it's contained, and I haven't gotten around to searching for another solution).

I became something of a stickler about not using original packaging a couple of years back, when I had a minor mice infestation. Once you've reached into a seemingly unopened box of granola bars and find that one has been gnawed on, you're a little reluctant to trust any container that isn't hard. Even if you know you don't have a pest problem.

I like my containers to be clear, because I'm lazy. I don't have the time or the energy to go through a cupboard full of opaque canisters. If they're labelled? Well... labels aren't nearly as apetizing as looking at the food itself. There's something beautiful about a cupboard full of jars of brilliantly yellow popcorn, brown rice, green dried split-peas, and mahogany kidney beans. It's gorgeous, it makes me hungry, and it puts me in the mood to cook.

Even with the glass jars, I like to label my food. It's helpful. I don't second guess myself when a jar is clearly labelled (sometimes it's easy to get jars of similar-looking beans and grains confused). It isn't hard or expensive to label jars. I use a piece of masking tape and a permanent marker. Easy peasy. And it looks cute.

All that said, there is definitely some room for improvement when it comes to organizing my food cupboard. I have opened bags of flour and sugar cluttering up the baking shelf (ripped paper is so MESSY), and I keep my baked goods in ziplock freezer bags (my rolls are too large for the 1 quart jars). I keep my cooking oils in their original containers, which are too large to fit in the cupboard and have to sit on top of the fridge instead.

I need to figure out a solution for all this. Here are some ideas:
  • Store my flour and sugars in large airtight clear plastic containers. (I've thought about using glass canisters, but that'd be way too heavy and there'd be a risk of shattering. I've been looking at different types of containers, but I really need to measure my cabinets before making any major decisions on that front)
  • Invest in a cookie jar
  • Get reusable containers to devote exclusively to cooking oils. (They'll need to fit in my cupboards, have good lids, and be easy to pour out of. This would probably save money over time, because I could buy my cooking oils in bulk. Just keep the smaller containers filled, and store the larger ones someplace secure and out of the way)
I like to think I'm pretty well organized, but there's still a lot more waste than I'm comfortable with. Does anyone else have suggestions? How do you organize your pantry?

My food cupboard right now. It's not too bad, but there's obviously room for improvement.
 Top shelf: non-perishable staples like grains, beans, and canned tomato.
Middle Shelf: snacks, breakfast stuff. There's a bag of chocolate chips I need to put in a jar, and a plastic bag full of bread
Bottom shelf: baking stuff. Bags of sugar strewn all over the place, jars of stuff not set neatly at all.
On top of the fridge: The cereal and box of instant oatmeal aren't mine, the containers of vegetable oil and olive oil are.
On top of the cupboard left to right: thermoses, one of my tiny casserole dishes, sugary breakfast cereal (I was feeling indulgent this week), a container full of  "cheap white rice" for bulking up soups and such.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Owl hat for my niece. I knit it ages ago, but didn't sew the buttons on until Christmas Eve.

Holiday Bread, on its last rise. It's challah dough, with a filling made of dates and dried apricots.

right out of the oven. The round loaf cracked a bit, cause it stuck to the edge of the pan.

Garlic bread

My favorite corner of the kitchen, with my makeshift spice-rack (it needs another shelf)

I got sick of kitchen drawers getting stuck, so I made a "utensil bouquet". It now lives next to the stove.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I've been really liking Sam Harris lately. He has some very strong opinions, and is fairly blunt about them, but his talks are intelligent and he isn't as abrasive as a lot of his contemporaries. Today I finished up making Christmas cards, washed and blocked some knit gifts, knit a pair of socks, and watched this:

Monday, December 12, 2011

The holiday preparation continues! I've decided to do a lot of baking this year, because Christmas cookies are awesome. Last year I made my chocoholic brother a batch of fudge. He loved it, but later that day he said to me, "You know what else is really good in fudge? Walnuts." (Nut allergies run in my family and I couldn't remember if he was one of the people contending with it, so I left them out).

So this year I'm making fudge with walnuts, fudge without (for my niece, who is allergic), candied orange peels (because they're festive and very, very easy), spicy gingerbread cookies, jam thumbprints (they're a family tradition), and a riff on Northern European Christmas breads.

I'm also making Christmas cards. My roommate and I are going to buy craft paper, glue, and other card-making supplies tonight. And then tomorrow I'm going to put a big pot of soup on, make a loaf of bread, turn on some Christmas music, and we'll make cards. That should be fun :)

Today I bought supplies for making the fudge and the candied orange peels, since those are things that will keep well for a long time. I also took a trip to my neighborhood thrift store. I saw a lot of stuff that would be really cute and useful with a coat of paint, but decided to wait on any new projects. I did buy a CD of Celtic holiday music (which I'm listening to right now), a whisk, and a working Sunbeam electric hand-mixer (I've had my eye out for an electric mixer for a while). My total was $7, not bad at all. I love finding treasures. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

My pantry

Yesterday I wrote about what I found in my freezer, and it made me want to record what's in my pantry cupboard:
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1 box vegetable stock
  • 1 jar of yeast, unopened
  • dried split peas, lentils, kidney beans, and pinto beans
  • 1 can great northern beans
  • brown rice
  • jasmine rice
  • mystery rice (I bought it on sale a LONG time ago. It's not very good, but handy for bulking up soups and such)
  • whole-wheat elbow macaroni
  • whole-wheat pasta shells
  • spaghetti
  • quick oatmeal
  • some breadrolls from a couple of days ago (still tasty)
  • popcorn
  • tea
  • garlic (don't ask)
  • distilled white vinegar
  • balsamic vinegar
  • sugar
  • flour
  • cornmeal
  • baking powder
  • baking soda
  • cocoa powder
  • table salt
  • kosher salt
  • vanilla
  • some seasonings that didn't fit on the spice rack (I really need to build an extra shelf on that hing one of these days)
  • olive oil
  • vegetable oil
  • onions and potatoes
Do you know what's in your pantry?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Turkey Broth

Today I'm making turkey broth, and lots of it. I had a turkey carcass in the freezer left over from Thanksgiving and I was sick of looking at it, so last night I threw it into a crock pot and covered it with water. It cooked overnight and all day I've been straining liquid into wide-mouthed jars, letting them cool, and then chilling them in the fridge.

The idea is that chilling the broth makes the fat rise to the surface. I then remove the jars from the fridge, skim off the fat, and store THAT in it's own special jar (labelled "schmaltz". It'll be fun to cook things in turkey fat). Then I pour the broth into ice-cube trays and freeze it. The broth cubes then go into a specially labelled freezer bag, for later use in soups and stews. I like this storage method, because it's easy to pull out a bag and grab however much I need. I don't have to worry about defrosting a huge block of broth, or about it spoiling. Win win.

I also organized my part of the freezer and found:
  • a freezer bag full of the remainders of several bags of commercial frozen vegetables (there was broccoli, green beans, peas, and carrots)
  • a freezer bag full of lemons, already halved and juices squeezed out
  • a bag labelled with my name and the words "veg stock" it had some celery tops and the ends of onions in it.
  • a bag of chicken stock
  • a tupperware container full of cooked chicken pieces
  • a tupperware container full of cranberry sauce
  • an opened bag of frozen shelled edamame
  • a container of yogurt, which didn't freeze to the consistency I expected and is now thawing in the fridge.
  • half a gallon of ice-cream
  • a serving of lentil soup
And now there's turkey broth and a bag full of cooked turkey pieces that I picked off the carcass.

One of these days I'm going to have a week where I just cook out of my pantry and freezer. I'm sure it would be good eats.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What I'm reading: Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

Right now a couple of my friends and I are reading Terry Pratchett's Christmas-themed book, Hogfather. When Christmas rolls around, we're going to discuss it.
I have to say, I'm a big Prachett fan. He's one of my favorite authors. His satirical fantasy novels are the perfect blend of humor, drama, and intelligent observation. I've read this particular book before, but it's been a few years. It's nice to be able to go through it again and relive my favorite parts.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Handmade Holiday 2011: Socks

Not everyone is pumped to open their Christmas present and find a pair of socks inside, but I happen to know a few people who love having something cozy to wear on their feet. I love being able to create useful things that completely suit my friends and family members' taste. It's also nice to be able to make something that will ultimately be an object of comfort to the recipient.

Socks are also a very quick, easy knitting project. It's just difficult enough not to be monotonous.

This Christmas I'm knitting 4 pairs of socks. Here's one of the patterns I'm using:

Sock knitting resources:

Monday, December 5, 2011

Handmade Holiday 2011

A couple of years ago I decided that once I had my own place and my own life, I wanted my holidays to be as simple as possible. I still feel that way. I want home to be a cozy place filled with things that I've created with my own hands, and the smell of food that I've cooked. I want the holidays to be about enjoying good food and good company, and maybe an exchange of small thoughtful gifts.

I've never been into the noise and stress of conventional holiday preparations. I hope I won't get caught up in all that as I get older. Simple, low-key holidays seem to be where it's at.

As a part of this commitment to simplify my holidays, I've decided to make all of my Christmas gifts this year (I can knit and cook). It's a lot of work, I'm about halfway through my knitting projects and the holiday is less than a month away, but I'm having fun with it. I love being able to design and customize every single gift, making it special for the people on the receiving end.