Thursday, March 26, 2015

Catch-All Room

Despite what feels like constant chaos in my house, I love decluttering and organizing the different areas whether it is a room, closet, or just a drawer.  There are certain parts that I've done over and over but there is one room that I have put off because it was so overwhelming.  I wish I had thought to take pictures before we cleared the room.  It is truly impossible to even imagine how bad it was.  But I guess that is why there aren't any pictures!  I did find a couple to show that it was actually a functioning room at one time.

This room used to be my daughter's room (as you can see from the random Winnie the Pooh items).  When she was about 8 years old we moved her down the hall to what was then a spare bedroom.  That's when the disaster started.  First, we took the water bed that was in the other room and put it in this room.  The problem is that we didn't actually set it up as a bed so we started piling boxes and general junk into the big open bed frame.  Finally, we came to terms with the fact that we weren't going to have (nor did we really need) a spare bedroom and got rid of the water bed.  We decided to use the room as a "study room" for Kayleigh.  We set up my parent's old kitchen table for her to do her homework.  A couple months later, she got a sewing machine for her birthday so it became her sewing room.  Then a few year's ago, she really got into baking so the table was used to store all her baking supplies.  

Kayleigh sewing back when you could actually see the top of the table.  
There was even enough room for the ironing board.
Through all this, the room served several other purposes as well including a place to feed the cats, store Bill's bowling and bike supplies, keep the paper recycling, and general junk collection place.   We used to clear the table off every year for Christmas and use it as a second table for the food.
Here is the best I could do for a disaster picture.  I took this last year to show Kayleigh's cake decorating supplies organization.  Yes, we tried to organize in the middle of a big mess.  We were trying at least! You can barely even notice what we were trying to show because there is also a tower of scrapbooking paper, a bike wheel, a bowling bag, a random cup from when I was in college, and a tea pot.  You'll have to just imagine what the other 90% of the room looked like!
Eventually that became too much of a hassle so we just started shutting the door. When we were remodeling the family room and computer room, we started simply piling everything from those rooms into any open space in here.  Then, as I decided not to move some of the stuff back into the original rooms, they started to collect dust.   It was terrible.  It was almost impossible to even find an open spot to feed the cats.  The worst part is that you look straight into this room when you walk in the house.  

One day about 2 months ago, I decided I'd had enough and started clearing everything out of the room.  We took the table down and then looked around at the space.  We decided that the bowling and biking stuff would get permanently removed and that the other items needed to be better contained.  Kayleigh and I ran to Target for something completely different but stumbled across these shelving units that were on sale.  Then we found the bins and everything came together.  

Recycling is still there but hidden in that basket in the corner.  This unit has several of our larger items that used to be under the table including a pressure cooker, serving dishes and Kayleigh's sewing machine,  And, of course, there is always Dot!

This is the other shelving unit.  We managed to get tons of stuff hidden into those containers but it is still all very accessible.  My scrapbooking supplies are to the left.

One of these is holding Bill's extra water bottles and the other is actually empty!

There are Kayleigh's baking supply drawers that we were trying to show off before.

All the other, larger, baking items are in these.  
Here's inside one.  I couldn't believe everything fit so well.
Just for reference, that is the main door to our house as seen through the kitchen.

And this is what you see now from the kitchen.  Much better.  And there is Dot, again,.

The room still isn't perfect.  You'll notice a huge piece of drywall still pushed against the wall (not sure what that was even bought for) but it is so much better.  Every time I walk in this room or even just glance in from the kitchen, I feel so good.  I wish I had done this years ago but better late than never!  
The dry wall along with Dot.  Can you tell it was almost dinner time when I took the pictures.  She couldn't figure out why I was in there without her food bowl!

Please tell me I'm not the only one with a energy draining junk pile in their house.  I guess all that is left now is to tackle the basement, or maybe the garage!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Potato Tacos

For some reason I thought I already posted this recipe.  I'm assuming I had planned to back when my life was absorbed with studying and never got around to it.  While looking through my posts to make sure it wasn't a repeat, I noticed we eat a lot of Mexican food.  Not real Mexican food, but our strange version of it.  It is so easy to turn vegan and it is generally inexpensive so that meets our main food criteria.  Plus we really like it.  So here's another one.

This recipe comes with a free tip that I learned from the always useful Internet.  Aldi's sells jalapenos in a bag of about 6-8.  This always seems like a great deal to me and I can't help myself from buying the bag instead of the one jalapeno that I actually need.  Then, of course, at the end of the week I'm left looking at a mostly full bag of jalapenos just waiting to go bad.  My solution is to mince and freeze them.  This is obviously a good idea but leads to terrible, burning hands caused by chopping way too many hot peppers at once.  Usually I was my hands, wait a little bit, and I'm fine.  The last time though, I was a mess.  The pain was actually getting more and more intense.  Out of desperation, I had Kayleigh type "how to stop hands burning from jalapenos" into Google and she came up with the crazy solution was washing your hands in cold water and mustard.  This seemed very weird to say the least but I was desperate so I squirted some plain old mustard into my hands and washed them.  I kid you not, the burning stopped immediately.  Amazing.  I also smelled like hot dogs all day!

I adapted a recipe from "Color Me Vegan" by Colleen  Patrick-Goudreau.  Several year's ago I received this as a birthday present and we spent weeks trying recipes from it.  It got to the point where we'd be checking out at the grocery store and Bill would say something like "So I guess we are doing purple this week?"!

Potato Tacos

2 cups sweet potatoes (1 inch dice)
2 cups Yukon gold potatoes (1 inch dice)
1 cup onion, diced
2 red bell peppers, diced
1 jalapeno, minced
1 clove garlic
2-4 tablespoons vegetable broth (or water)
Salt & pepper
Hard shell tortillas
Toppings such as salsa, guacamole, cilantro, etc. (doesn't really need any toppings in my opinion)

Using a steamer, steam both kinds of potatoes until soft but still holding their shape (10=15 minutes).  In a large skillet, add 1 tablespoon broth and saute the onion and peppers until soft.  Add additional broth as needed. This takes about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook one additional minute.  Add the potatoes to the skillet and season with salt and pepper.  Cook until all ingredients are well blended.  Slightly mash the mixture so that it somewhat sticks together (to make an easier taco  filling).  Place into taco shells and top with your chosen toppings.




Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Tortilla Pizza (or what to eat when everything goes wrong)

We've had to get creative several times this month as we attempt to limit our grocery shopping.  One meal, in particular, really challenged us.  I had planned pizza.  Usually I make my own dough but I had a mix hiding in my pantry (I think it came in a subscription box but can't be sure).  It was supposed to make two pizzas so we decided to give it a try.

I mixed it up first thing in the morning.  It looked like a tiny puddle of nothing but I covered it as directed and waited.  3 hours later, nothing had happened.  Maybe the yeast in the mix is old?  We added a sprinkle of yeast and waited some more.  By mid-afternoon it was obvious this was not going to turn into pizza.  No problem, There's still time to make our regular pizza crust... Seriously, is this all the flour we have??  Great.  Thank goodness for tortillas!

We have often made quick lunch-time pizzas using tortillas.  The nice thing is that they are individual size so everyone gets their favorite toppings.  For Bill and Kayleigh that is basically cheese.  For me it is a variety of sauteed vegetables.  This time I used mushrooms, onions, spinach, olives, and garlic.  I meant to add artichokes but completely forgot.

But wait, we weren't in the clear yet.  I heard my daughter say "where's the pizza sauce" and I wanted to scream.  How can we be out of pizza sauce?  Probably all those lunchtime tortilla pizzas!  No problem.  We grabbed anything that sounded like it would make pizza sauce and mixed it together.  Shockingly, it worked!

What a ridiculously easy and yet exhausting meal!!

Panic Pizza Sauce

1 can diced tomatoes with juice
1 can tomato paste
1 tsp oregano
pinch of crushed red pepper
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp onion powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix it all together and mash the tomatoes a little.  If you don't want any chunks (like Kayleigh) blend it.

Tortilla Pizza

Flour tortilla - any size but smaller usually works better
Pizza sauce
Toppings of your choice

Assemble the pizza on a pan or stone.  Place in a 425 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until tortilla becomes slightly browned.  Slice like a pizza and eat.  

Oh, and that pizza dough mix didn't go to waste.  I added tons of whole wheat flour to it until it kind of formed a ball and then made bread sticks.  They were ridiculously salty so I guess it was a good thing we didn't use that for our crust.  Further proof that homemade is always better.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

March Grocery Challenge Update

Just to recap, our goal for this month was to spend $100 the first week and then $20 each of the remaining weeks.  Along with the groceries, we've tried to spend less on other things as well.  I didn't realize how much impulse buying I was doing lately until we tried this experiment.  So many times I've been tempted to run out and grab something but then I stop and think about if I really need it.  So far, every time the answer has been no.  There may be a few items that we end up buying next month but nowhere near what we would have bought if we weren't doing this.  So that is good and hopefully we've all broke some bad shopping habits.

As far as the grocery part of the challenge is going, it hasn't been as good as I hoped but not too bad.  On March 7th I sent my husband to the store with a very short list.  He didn't pay any attention to what he was spending but came back with $23.16 worth of food.  Even though that is over the budget, it isn't too bad.  We would have been well under except we discovered the first day of the challenge that we were out of tamari and that wasn't going to work for a month so he got that.  He also got 3 bags of cheddar cheese because it was on sale.  That will keep in the freezer so that's OK.

The beets and beet greens provided 3 side dishes for the week and there are still two beets in the fridge.  Nothing was thrown away this week so - Hurray!

On March 14th, my mom had asked us to run to a store in a neighboring town for her because that is the only place that carries the soy milk she likes.  That's when I made the terrible decision to just buy all our food there.  My list was so short that I thought it would be fine.

Well, all I can say is it's a good thing that list was so short (and that I forgot to get the salad dressing and Kayleigh had leftover rolls) or who knows what we would have paid!  Also, they didn't have Kayleigh's yogurt so we still ended up going to Meijer.  I'm having major buyer's remorse!  Our total came to $27.22 (including $1.79 for Palmolive to clean my husband's bike).  Hopefully we do a little better the rest of the month.

Here's the breakdown of our purchases:

3/7 all from Meijer
2 bunches of beets with greens                 $3.98
Yogurt                                                       $2.69
Mushrooms                                               $3.99
Ham                                                          $3.50
Tamari                                                      $3.00 (on sale)
3 bags of Cheddar                                     $6.00 (on sale)

3/14 from local grocery store except yogurt (Meijer)
Palmolive                                               $1.79
1 bag iceburg salad                                $2.49
2 bunches of broccoli                             $5.98
2 heads of cauliflower                            $5.98
Ham                                                        $3.00 (hmmm... surprisingly cheaper than Meijer)
2 loaves pumpernickel bread                 $5.98
Yogurt (Meijer)                                     $2.00 (on sale)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Spanish Grains

We are about half way through our March grocery challenge.  The main focus of this month is to reduce our grocery bills but a side effect I was hoping for is that we'll use up some of the items that have been sitting around for way too long.  Last week I was looking through some of my mom's cookbooks and I came across a recipe that uses quinoa, amaranth, and farro.  I have all of those items and, while we use quinoa all the time, the other two just sit there on the shelf.  I'm sure I had something in mind when I bought them but I have no idea what it was!

The recipe I found had a lot of steps and created a main dish.  Tonight with dinner I was wanting something similar to Spanish rice but with other grains so I borrowed the cooking directions for the grains and then went from there.  This turned out to be the perfect side dish to have with our enchiladas and I'll definitely be making this again.

Spanish Grains

1/4 cup quinoa, rinsed well (I had tri-color but regular quinoa cooks the same)
1/4 cup amaranth
1/4 cup farro
2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 tsp salt
1 can diced tomatoes with chilies

Combine the broth, quinoa, amaranth, and farro in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil and then partially cover and boil for about 20 minutes, stirring once or twice.  Lower the heat to medium-low and add the tomatoes with their juice.  Continue to cook until all the liquid is absorbed, about 10 - 15 minutes more.  Taste and add salt if needed.

I wish I had thought to take a picture of it on my plate but I was too hungry so all I have is the picture of it cooking.  The can of tomatoes was also from our pantry.  We had bought it at Whole Foods and it was tomatoes with jalapenos and cilantro.  A can of plain diced tomatoes with a can of diced chilies would work fine too. If it isn't spicy enough for you, you can add some chili powder when you add the tomatoes.

OK I didn't think the cooking picture did it justice so here is a picture of it in the leftover container.  Not much better, but a little!