Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


French Bread

French bread
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
This is Hunger Action Week in King County. In 2007 I shared my thoughts on the Oregon governor's Food Stamp Challenge. Everything I said then is true now. If anything I feel even more strongly , considering the way the country has changed in the last three years.

In theory I'm up for this challenge but having felt plenty of food insecurity not only do I have no desire to relive the experience but keeping my pantry stocked "just in case" is, hmm, obsession is too strong but let's say it's a high priority. So instead of tracking my spending and trying to cook from only what I bought for the week I've been trying to honor the spirit of the challenge by using what I have on hand in my newly reorganized pantry and my freezer. In a case of handy timing, our "junk food" cupboard is bare so there are no chips, pretzels, sodas or other prepackaged snacks in the house at the moment.

Despite all of my food-loving ways I've never had good luck with breads. I can whip up a quick bread, muffins, cakes, cookies, or bars with good results. Yeast breads, dinner rolls, even biscuits have been another story though. Even using a bread maker has been 50% disappointment. Seattle has many lovely local bakeries supplying the local markets with an array of fresh breads but at $3.00 to $4.50 per loaf (and with a daughter who loves bread just slightly less than potatoes and slightly more than rice in her largely white food diet) that can get spendy, especially when I know full well how inexpensive the base ingredients for bread are in comparison.

With the Hunger Awareness Challenge in mind and bread in the house running low, I decided to try again yesterday. I decided to shy away from the bread machine and try going with the Kitchen Aid and my plain ol' oven. I couldn't find my Kitchen Aid recipe booklet I had to rely on the handy Internet. Google helpfully turned up an entry from someone else who didn't want to misplace their Kitchen Aid recipe again and so put it up on RecipeZaar under the name "Old Reliable" French Bread (for Kitchen Aid Mixers). How could I resist a recipe called "Old Reliable"? I couldn't!

What do you know, it worked, too. To my shock and my family's delight, I have successfully made two good loaves of French bread for about $1 in flour. Not quite as excellent as the $4.00 loaves from our local bakery but certainly at least as good as if not better than the $2.00 loaves from the grocery store. If not spurred on by the Hunger Awareness Challenge I wouldn't have made this breakthrough.

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More Small Steps

I feel like I've been doing a reasonable job harnessing my enthusiasm to get things in order since Christmas.

We had a productive family meeting last week where we divided up household chores and established something of a schedule, which makes me very happy. Of course, we haven't begun the schedule yet and we know that saying about plans and contact with the enemy, but just having something (a plan) where there used to be nothing (chaos) counts a progress. I'm also slowly crossing small, irregular jobs off my list.

One thing that I did this weekend was a small chore that I've been meaning to take care of for years. Literally for years! It took less than five minutes. Home security experts advise homeowners to replace 1/2" screws in your deadbolt strike plates with screws 3" or longer so the strike plates are secured to the house's frame instead of the doorjamb. You can also replace the whole deadbolt, replace the wimpy two-screw plate with a four-screw style but even just changing out the screws in the existing hardware makes your deadbolt lock a ton more effective. I had some 3" wood screws left over from last year's planter box project. Zip, zip, DONE. Improved security.

Lest I seem like I'm patting myself on the back excessively, I'm not expecting anyone to be thrilled to read that I've replaced some screws, remembered to clean the oven, changed some light bulbs. I'm just pleased to be checking off a number off little things that had been piling up. Even small forward progress is satisfying.

I've also been trying out a bunch of new recipes since Christmas. I've had some decent luck with some recipes out of a slow cooker book I got for Christmas, from the author of the blog http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/ and the current issue of Bon Appetit as well as my tried and true go-to Cooking Light. Here's what we've been eating around here: Spaghetti and meatballs all'Amatriciana, Breakfast Risotto, Crockpot Lamb, Morning Glory Muffins, Spaghetti with Fennel, Ham and Lentil Soup, Turkey Orzo Soup, Cooks Illustrated's Turkey Tetrazzini, Three-Cheese Baked Penne, Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Fritatta from Eating Well, and Alton Brown's Cheesy Grits. Not a bad start to the new year!

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Kitchen Re-org 2010

Kitchen Re-org 2010
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
I wasn't lying when I said I was thinking organization. Ha!

I did the same thing in January 2009, but things had slowly grown out of hand again, so I decided to build on my successes and do another reorg. Putting the booze into its own cabinet freed up an entire shelf in the pantry, which inspired me to get another couple of organizational do-dads (like tiers for the canned goods). Half-used bags of rice or beans or other "bulk" items were combined (like with like) and put into new clear, air-tight containers. I'd previously bought a bunch of metal canisters but I could never tell what was in them or how much and often bought things I already had because I couldn't be bothered to dig to a back shelf and open canisters to check. The new set-up is definitely an improvement.

Kitchen Re-org 2010

I also put an additional rack in the laundry room (where I'd added two wire storage shelves last year) which nicely hold other dry goods. One of the problems I had with my previous storge "solution" was things in bags (like pasta or beans) were getting lost in the bin system that I'd tried to set up. I moved all the bagged beans and rices to clear jars or plastic storage containers and put bags and boxes of pasta as well as jars and bottles (maple syrup, pasta sauce, various nut butters) on the new laundry room rack. Eventually I expect that will become even more of a true dry goods area.

I only uncovered a few things that had gone past their expiration dates due to being pushed back in the pantry (a couple of shelf-stable tofu boxes and some nuts) but I did uncover a surplus of cornmeal, grits, and dried beans. I'll be working to get those supplies down to a reasonable amount now that they've been rediscovered.

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Nikchick's Thinking Organization

...must be January.

I'm not sure what it is about January that drives me into a re-org frenzy. Nothing to do with it being a new year or resolutions, I think it's more that the holiday season (my birthday, Thanksgiving, Kate's birthday, Christmas, the New Year) brings a bunch of new stuff into the house. Gifts come in, food and drink and other holiday entertaining essentials spring up, decorations are dragged out from the nooks and crannies where they've been stashed all year... and as I look at the new untidiness in the calm after the storm it's organization time.

A major relief has been getting the plumber in to finish the work of closing off our heating system from our potable water system. Our super nice plumbers came in and replaced all the piping in the water closet with lovely copper pipes and fittings, stuck a heat exchanged and pressure gauge on the heating side and replaced our ten-year-old water heater with a nice new tankless system. When they pulled out the old expansion tank it was rusted inside and full of water, a sure sign of impending failure, and I was glad to have them take away the water heater while they were at it rather than keep the thing and have to revisit this whole issue again in another few months or a year. The heating system, now that it's closed off and held at a lower pressure, only holds about three gallons of water. In the future, should any leaks spring up they'll be easily discovered because of the pressure gauge and with only a few gallons of water in the system the risk of catastrophic damage is removed.

A bonus to having the water heater out of the tiny water closet is that I have a tiny amount of extra storage! It's not much but it's enough to have a place for my brooms, mops, buckets and other small cleaning items, which were previously crowding my already crowded laundry room. (As I discovered when I had to replace my washing machine, the room is just barely big enough to hold a modern washer and dryer and still have room to open the door.)

Anyway, despite our decluttering and organizing efforts in 2009, the bottom line is that we still just have too darn much stuff! I've also reached my limit on how much cleaning and organizing I can take on myself. I'm allergic to dust and shirk dusting duties, but that just means the dusting doesn't get done. I spend several months in 2009 nursing a shoulder injury that made things like even drying my hair with a towel, chopping vegetables, or scrubbing pots a painful experience. I got the thumbs up from my physical therapist to go back to normal routine at the end of the year but my first foray into vacuuming the house and scrubbing the bathtubs left me hurting. My loving family does what I ask (most of the time) but we have very few regular, assigned chores and absolutely no schedule. Instead of continuing to try to be supermom who either does it all myself or takes the blame when things don't get done, I've been looking over options for assigning chores and creating a schedule. I have a pile of organizing books and home upkeep books beside the bed. Now that Kate's back from her dad's a family meeting is in our future. I haven't decided exactly how the chores will be divided but we're going to build on the organizational successes of 2009. Here we go!

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