Category Archives: Babble

Kitchn Cure: remember that?

A while back I posted about my efforts to whip my kitchen into shape via the Kitchn Cure. I even blogged about the first week. Maybe (okay, probably not) you are wondering where weeks 2-4 went. Well, I finished those too! But, it turned out that deep-cleaning your kitchen is EXHAUSTING. Yes, even with a tiny kitchen that was not exactly disgusting to start with. So I lost the energy to actually blog about it. But, I was scrolling through my photos recently and was reminded that I had actually finished the thing. So here’s a quick little recap of the Cure.

First, I should acknowledge that for me, the final three weeks stretched out to five, bringing my total Cure time to six weeks rather than four. I first began to run into trouble cleaning the oven:

The Cure estimates you will spend about an hour cleaning your oven (plus an overnight application of baking soda paste). I am pretty sure I spent quite a bit longer, and this task stretched over several evenings, with a final Saturday cleaning session to get it wrapped up. Still, in the end, it did look much nicer:

I also cleaned a number of small appliances (toaster oven, dehydrator, food processor) with a little more thoroughness than usual:

Reorganized my pantry:

Emptied out and cleaned my cabinets, then put things back nicely:

And then completely ran out of steam and failed to photograph the cleaning of my under-sink area, floors, surfaces, or trash can. But I did actually do those things, promise!

One thing I did not do? Download the 20 min/day monthlong cleaning guide that’s recommended to keep your kitchen tidy. I cannot fathom having that much time available just for cleaning the kitchen. And some of the chores seem, frankly, excessive. What on earth are you doing in your fridge that it requires cleaning every two weeks? Since finishing the Cure, I’d say M. and I have collectively spent an average of maybe 10 min/day on kitchen cleaning outside of the routine “hey, we cooked a meal, time to do the dishes and wipe down the surfaces we dirtied”. The kitchen is fine.

Despite that little hiccup of the last chore, it was a good six weeks of cleaning and organizing and I’m happy to have done it. It’s been a few weeks since I finished, so I can report on whether or not the Cure is “sticking”. My thoughts?

1) The Cure helped me get back into the habit of doing a little bit of housework each evening, which I like. It’s nice to come home to a cleaner space and when there’s only one or two things out of place, housework doesn’t seem like a very daunting task.

2) But, some of the tasks were just too much for a weeknight. Nothing like finding yourself elbow deep in oven soot and baking soda paste and 10:30 at night, with a 5AM alarm and 9AM conference call looming, right? If I do this project again, I’ll be developing my own timeline for each week’s tasks, and if that means my Cure extends by a week or so, oh well.

3) Staying power: My new pantry system is sticking pretty well. We’re also trying to “shop the pantry” a little more over the next few months, and having things sorted and organized is making that much easier. In other areas, the cabinet interiors are also still looking nice, as is the oven. Much of the surface cleaning, obviously, does not last as long and has already been repeated once or twice since I finished the Cure. I find I’m more conscious of the grub that quickly builds around our cabinet handles and have been finding myself giving those areas a quick wipe-down while I’m waiting for something to finish cooking.

Kitchn cure: Week 1 recap

Last Friday, I mentioned that I was signing up for the 2014 Kitchn Cure. The concept of the Cure is pretty simple: “a 4-week program of small daily tasks and encouragements to get your kitchen into shape for fall cooking. We’ll gently prompt you to clean your fridge, wipe out your spice shelves, and take charge of your cooking space.”.

While our kitchen space is in reasonably good shape, I do tend to let the deep cleaning tasks fall by the wayside, so getting reminders to focus on them for a while sounded perfect. Also, I was hoping the Cure would get me back into a more general habit of doing a bit of housecleaning each day, rather than letting it build up during the week and then taking care of everything on the weekend. In theory, M. and I prefer the “do a little each evening” approach, both because it is so nice to live in a tidy environment, and because not spending your weekend on chores is AWESOME. But with M. traveling a lot lately, I’ll admit I have gotten slack.

With all that preamble out of the way, I thought I’d do a little recap of how the first week is going. This week focused on the fridge and freezer. But first, I had to spend a little time making a list of kitchen likes/dislikes:

Since we rent, we have pretty limited options for major kitchen overhauls, but I think there are still a few things on my “dislike” list that can be fixed with no more than a little extra effort. Overall, if the worst thing I can say about my cooking space is that it’s “bland” (and that “maybe?” is “maybe fixable?”, it is “definitely” bland!), well…that’s pretty good.

Next up, the actual cleaning. The fridge and freezer were tackled over four days: clear out fridge (1), clean fridge (2), clear out freezer (3) and clean freezer (4). Here are a couple of quick “before” shots:

It wasn’t terrible, but some attention was needed. Fortunately I did not have much that needed to actually go into the trash–meal planning and going to the grocery store with a list both really help to cut down on food waste!

The actual cleaning was nicely therapeutic. My cleaning products of choice are vinegar, Simple Green, soap, and a generous amount of elbow grease. After a few evenings of rearranging and scrubbing, I was able to stand back and take in the fruits of my labor:

So nice to be faced with a gleaming fridge every time I open the door! Per my list dislikes, and the Kitchn’s recommendation, I have split the freezer into “zones”, though since the freezer doesn’t really have compartments I’m unsure how long this will last. Probably until we do another batch cook day, at which point it will become a precisely calibrated 3-d jigsaw aimed at stuffing in the maximum amount of food possible.

After all that, I was on such a cleaning roll, I scrubbed out the microwave on Friday morning as well, just because it was annoying me. Then I hit up the market and stocked my shiny new fridge with food for the coming week, so I would be well-provisioned for my next round of chores:

A few Friday favorites

A few things I’m enjoying lately, some food, some not.

My mother is visiting this week, and it turns out she likes peanut butter these days. So I whipped some up for her in the food processor and it was, seriously, the best peanut butter EVER. Yes, even better than the grind-your-own from the hippie food co-op. So I’m now extra alert for recipes using peanut butter, and naturally these spring rolls with peanut sauce caught my eye.

I’m always game for an excuse to work chocolate into smoothies, and this choc & ginger crunch smoothie is the perfect dessert for a warm summer evening.

Or for a more polished summer dessert, a tart with a layer of pistachio cream. Take advantage of stone fruit season while it lasts, right?

If you’re like me, you probably wonder if your closet can be programmed to present you with a perfect outfit each morning, no thought required. So I enjoyed this little slideshow of ideas for redesigning your closet. I’m thinking of giving 1 & 2 a go, and have been reminded to make better use of the little hook I have on the side of my closet. But I can’t really see myself investing in closet wallpaper…yet.

And speaking of re-orgs, I’ve also decided that this year I’m signing up for the Kitchn cure. We keep a pretty well-organized kitchen, but it’s not perfect and I’d love to pick up some new ideas. Plus, sometimes you need a little reminding to do those occasional deep-clean tasks, and I’m hoping this will help me get on with that. Sparkly clean fridge, ahoy!

Thanksgiving: feast on the beach

Well, here we are, back from the Thanksgiving break. M. and I grabbed a few friends and headed north to Point Reyes National Seashore for a weekend of camping.

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Camping in Pt. Reyes is fairly limited–no car camping, and only four areas where camping is permitted (though each area has multiple sites). I booked our site back in September and it was one of the few left open by then! We had a relatively short hike (about 2 miles) in, so we got a little crazy with gear: M. insisted on a double-burner Coleman stove AND two cast-iron skillets. Worth doing once, probably not to be repeated in future.

We filled our weekend with lots of beach wandering:

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Plus the almost mandatory beach bonfire:

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As food went, the weekend was a little over-the-top (it *was* Thanksgiving, after all), but by far the craziest thing M. and I brought to share was a Christmas pudding:

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This year we’ve committed to providing the pudding for Christmas at my parents. As neither of us has made a pudding solo before (actually, I usually stay out of the way of it all together!), we decided a test run was in order. M. got his grandmother’s recipe, I hunted down ingredients, and the weekend before the trip, we got busy in the kitchen.

By the end of the weekend, we were completely out of pudding, so the recipe appears to be a success! M. is pounding the second (“real”) pudding into its basin as I type.

And now that Thanksgiving has passed, I’m starting to feel the Christmas spirit properly. I’ll be back later this week with a new recipe for something festive 🙂

Weekend in food

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A few women I met through an East Coast fellowship program several years ago have now settled themselves around the Bay Area. We try to get together every few months ago to catch up on each other (with varying degrees of success). Over the summer, someone devised the idea of having a baking day: we pick a recipe or two, somebody volunteers to host, and on the appointed day we all get together and bake the chosen item(s). This past Saturday, I volunteered for hosting duties. We selected this chocolate babka recipe as baked good number one, and I exercised my hostessing rights and declared that the second item should be a ginger pear tart (because I needed to give the another test drive before letting it loose here on the blog). We wound up being a party of just two (see what I mean about success and its varying degrees?), but went full steam ahead with the baking program as planned. Some highlights:

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Weighing out the chocolate to make sure we get the full 8oz

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This recipe is not joking around: whole milk, eggs, mascarpone

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Finished products

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Chocolate swirls

My thoughts? The babka recipe was incredibly rich, and fresh out of the oven it was amazing and needed no smear of butter, jam, or preserves. However…by Sunday afternoon the remaining babka had gotten quite firm, and my Monday morning slice was bordering on greasy. I’ll concede some of the problems may have been our own fault for opting to rush the rising process a little. If I use this recipe again, I’ll make myself wait until the dough has really, truly doubled in volume. I’ll probably also cut back on the 1/2 cup of sugar that’s mixed with the chocolate, as some of it definitely retained its granularity post-baking. Finally, I might cut the butter content by a tiny bit, maybe down to an even stick rather than the 1 1/4 sticks called for in the recipe.

As for the tart, it’s about 99% right, but there’s one more tweak I want to try still. The ingredients are now all balanced, but the baking time needs some work. So, sorry, no recipe just yet.

Despite the slight room for improvement, we still managed quite the afternoon tea, adding some banana cinnamon soft serve into the mix:

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Enjoying the fruits of our labors

So that was Saturday. On Sunday, I spent a far more pedestrian few hours chopping up vegetables, making a batch of chili, and generally getting a head start on food for the week. Check out our stocked fridge on Sunday night:

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The goal here is to spend less time on meal prep and (more importantly) much less time on clean up during the week. I’m really trying to get into a habit on this and also figure out which tasks are most time saving when they’re grouped together. I’ll probably post a few updates as I figure things out, so if dinner amidst weeknight time crunches is a problem for you too, feel free to follow along (or leave a comment with your strategies!).

For reference, this week’s prep session included:
1. making a medium sized batch of chocolate chili (~8 servings, plan to eat 6 this week and freeze the other two)
2. slicing and salting two eggplants (for making balsamic eggplant later in the week)
3. peeling and dicing two heads of garlic (I think weaning ourselves down to a lower level of garlic might be a big timesaver!)
4. filling several containers with sliced carrots (for afternoon snacking at work)
5. grating two heads of cauliflower. One was immediately made into Spanish “rice”, the other’s in the fridge to be cooked into cauliflower rice pilaf
6. slicing a head of red cabbage and two bunches of kale. Half sauteed on Sunday, half in the fridge to be cooked later. Some of this will be eaten plain, some will be getting mixed with spicy peanut sauce.
7. chopping and cooking a mix of onions/bell peppers/zucchini, part for M. to take to work during the week, part to serve as an all purpose vegetable side at dinners.

If all goes according to plan, I won’t have to do any major food prep again until Friday, and I’ll only have to do any serious cooking on Wednesday (microwaving does not count as cooking, and neither does anything that requires less than five minutes of stove time, like fried eggs). Phew!

Kitchen thrift scores

This past Friday I was off work and running errands. I had a few things to drop off at the nearby Goodwill, and while I was there I decided to pop in and browse for a bit. While our kitchen has all of the really really basic items covered, there are a few things that would make life a little nicer or easier.

First up was this sturdy (and reflective!) little brown teapot:

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We’ve been making do with a large mason jar for the past couple of months, ever since M.’s old teapot finally gave up the ghost and cracked irreparably. It’s functional but requires a certain amount of technique to pour without spilling. The pot, in contrast, is much easier to manage.

A few small plates (shown here with a serving of Three-Seed Cauliflower Braise, a recipe from dear old Vegan with a Vengeance):

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These are the same brand and color scheme as our full size dishes (nothing fancy, available at Target for not a whole lot more than the thrift store price). There were only three of them, so I will probably have to get at least one new before we can use them for their intended purpose: serving dessert to dinner guests.

And I picked up a couple of small white bowls, perfect for holding the hummus I made to bring to a Saturday evening get-together:

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(red pepper hummus, baba ghanoush, regular hummus. Recipes coming)

Of course, I couldn’t restrict myself to just the kitchen section, and took a quick spin through the shoe racks as well:

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For my monstrous size 11 feet, a major score.

road tripping

This week I spent a few days tooling around northern California, in a beautiful and remote little corner of the state. I saw (and ate) too many things for a single blog post, but here are a few highlights.

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My driving survival kit: a massive container of carrots, some scribbled directions, water, and an audiobook (The Tsarina’s Daughter, by Carrolly Erickson. Not my favorite book ever–it was a little slow-moving and then tied things up too neatly at the end, but decent and a massive improvement over static or unknown radio options).
Continue reading road tripping