Thursday, November 3, 2016

Homekeeping 101 - The Pantry

I'm going to start this post with some lovely photos of Autumnal beauty. The golden maple outside our front porch as I mowed the lawn for the last time this year on a sunny 73 degree day...
 These darling sunflowers my sweetheart had waiting for me after a weekend trip away to visit my precious daughter, Lauren, in Pennsylvania...Love!  Ok, now for the not beautiful part.  You may have noticed the name of this post. Homekeeping 101 - The Pantry.  It turns out that my daughter has some friends who would like me to do some posts on some of the things I have learned over the years on that subject.  I'm sure we can all look back and come to the conclusion that we have learned a LOT since those first few years of marriage and learning to manage our own homes! So, I promised to do a series on some of those things. Meal planning, keeping a pantry, easy meals with basic ingredients.  The next photo is not so pinterest worthy as the first two, unless it's as an example of a "before" remodeling project. I can't believe I'm putting it up here but for all it's ugliness, it is one of the hardest working areas in our home and you've been my friends a loooong time:)
 I present to you the dungeon,, er, basement pantry.  Yeah, it's in an unfinished basement circa 1945.  In the 35 years we have lived here it has had a few minor water issues so it is just not feasible to finish it.  Earl built these shelves years and years ago and as much as I hate how they look, I love how they work!
Excuse the board leaning against the wall in this photo. It was left there by the chief woodworker and head of building projects in this house. Aka, Earl.
This pantry saves us loads of money in so many ways.

First, when we see an item that we use regularly on a deep discount we can stock up.  We do rotate and put newer items to the back to keep things fresh. Let me tell you, this is like having a mini grocery store in our basement. 

Secondly, when I'm in the middle of baking and run out of flour, sugar, commonly used spices or extracts, I don't have to go to the store, I go to the basement.  This is especially nice in the winter.  It not only saves gas, but it keeps you from going into a store and picking up all those things that catch your eye that weren't really on your list.

Third, when everyone else is standing in line buying emergency supplies for that big Michigan winter storm, I'm snug on the sofa with a hot cuppa, reading a book.  I know I'm stocked with essentials.

I think the best things to stock in your pantry are  the basics of every day cooking. I know I've seen lists in magazines that made me scratch my head in wonder for all the strange oils, condiments and ingredients that I have never in my life used. Start with what you use most!  Canned broths, tomato products, (crushed, sauce, paste), pasta sauce and pasta, beans, and home canned fruits, vegetables and jams, basic oils like sunflower and vegetable oil, ketchup, mustard and mayo, baking essentials like flour, sugar (white and brown) salt, soda, baking powder, cocoa , and your most used spices. Don't forget vanilla, wines and liqueurs for flavoring your cooking. We don't drink, but we cook with wine, and the liqueurs are often used in holiday baking as a flavoring.

We have a shelf for paper plates, cups and plastic utensils, a shelf for foil, saran wrap and sandwich and freezer bags. 

If you are just starting a pantry don't expect to fill it all at once.  Pick up a few items every time you shop. Yes, at first it may stretch your budget, but as you build up a good selection of regularly used items you will find that you have the freedom to buy when they are on sale rather than when you need them immediately.  You will also find that, if you have it stocked properly, you can throw together soups, chili, and a lot of other easy and low cost meals just by shopping the pantry. 

Earl and I often bake and cook for large groups of people.  We shop the after Christmas sales for really great prices on chocolate chips (I have gotten name brand for 69 cents a bag!), nuts, dried cherries and craisins, and other dried fruits.  We use these throughout the year to add flavor and a little something extra to our baking.  Keep an eye open for great baking deals as the Christmas baking season approaches, but most of the above items show up in deep discounts in January when the stores need to get rid of the leftovers.  Be prepared to buy in bulk. When you get nestle chocolate chips at 75% off you can stock up for the year! They keep just fine.

I know a lot of my readers don't need this advice, but I bet you have some great advice to give! Do you keep a pantry? What do you keep in it?  Lets leave some great homekeeping tips for the next generation!













Wednesday, October 26, 2016

This and That

October is drawing to a close. The trees are finally reaching their peak color around here and it is so beautiful.  I wish the lovely days of  Autumn lasted longer because it was 34 degrees when I woke up this morning and the high is only supposed to reach into the low 40's. It's been blustery and grey for days and I have to say, in spite of the mums and trees and pumpkin fun, I have to admit fall is not my favorite season. Don't get me wrong, I love aspects of it all to pieces, but I need sunshine, a growing garden and the promise of fireflies and crickets. Mostly I need sunshine and the shorter days do not thrill me.  Winter in Michigan can be brutal. Time to hunker down and count the days until the winter solstice when the days get longer.
 In the meantime, I will be busying myself with baking, and decorating.  I plan to have a pie baking party sometime in November to show some friends the finer points of pie crust.  It isn't hard once you understand the process. My mother hated to cook and bake, so she always asked me to do pie crusts. I watched my little grandmother on the farm as she baked pies and everything else.  That dear woman still ranks as one of the best cooks and bakers I ever met. At 7 years old I became the maker of crusts. I was too young to know it was supposed to be difficult so I wasn't intimidated.  Teach your kids to cook and bake early so they have the confidence of youth!  I used leaf shaped cookie cutters that I got on clearance from William Sonoma a few years ago to make the top crusts on these fresh peach pies, but I just saw a similar set at Michaels for a good price.  If you use a coupon it would be a great price!
 My main decorating project will be this, the back entryway.  It is tiny. Super tiny even.  Really just enough room for the door to swing open but it is right off the kitchen and it's the door we use most often.  I looked back at old posts and this photo is from 2007, (my first year of blogging!) and I said the wallpaper was put up a couple years before that.  So 2005? Ready for a change? Yes!  The green trim will be painted a bright white and the wallpaper will be replaced with....
This. An anaglypta, or raised design that can be painted. It will give some texture and pretty pattern to the entry but I will be able to update the color easily without stripping the paper, as an added bonus it is fairly inexpensive.  I haven't decided whether to keep the blackboard paint or beadboard over it or maybe just use the wallpaper there too. I know I have seen lots of opinions that blackboard paint is still going strong, I think I might just be ready for a change.  What do you think?  Is blackboard a trend that has seen better days?
So here is my next question, when do you switch out the fall decorating for Christmas?  November 1 or after Thanksgiving? I already feel the siren call of Christmas. Maybe just a little here and there in November?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

October

The year is flying past! I don't do as much seasonal decorating as I used to, but I like to decorate the front porch and a few areas inside.  I wanted to keep the beautiful red geranium and bacopa baskets my daughter, Victoria, made for me for Mother's day. They have weathered this hot dry summer so beautifully!  
 Adding some orange accents did the trick. True to form I have a hard time passing up the seasonal flowers at the farmer's market, so the orange mums came home to join everything else on the porch. The pumpkin came from Kroger and I added a pumpkin accent pillow to the front porch chair.  The birch branches were cut and brought home by Earl last year after he visited the family cabin up north for the annual family hunting party.  The branches stay tucked into an old copper pot season to season and I decorate around them.
 The basket on my front door gets a few fresh seasonal flowers, leaves and a little pumpkin pick.  It is so easy to change out and I always love the new look.
Inside, I gathered the pumpkins that grow year to year on our compost heap and piled them into a dough bowl that my sweetheart carved.  That man is so talented! I tucked in some sweet autumn clematis, lemon verbena and rosemary from the herb garden along with some teeny battery operated fairy lights on copper wire.  The greens were tucked into some floral water tubes. You know those little green tubes the florist uses to keep flowers fresh until you can get them into water? I had a small collection and they really helped keep the herbs fresh longer. The pumpkins and greens helped hide them.

And that is about the extent of the decorating around here.  I'm mostly drinking coffee, working on etsy orders and working up the gumption to strip wallpaper off the tiny back entry so I can redecorate. I also want to cover the old living room love seat, make new throw pillows, finish the quilt I'm working on for my son in law, finish the quilt I started for a sweet little great niece, finish planning the annual women's ministry Christmas dinner for our church,,, hmmm, I think I see why I'm not getting everything done.
But it all will, so time to put down the coffee, er maybe I'll take it with me, and get crackin'.
Wish me luck and lots of energy! ;)



Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Autumn in England

It's no secret, visiting England and the British Isles has always been a dream of mine.  I'm not going, but I know someone who is.  I am torn between being incredibly happy for her and wanting to pout in a corner because I'm not going.  Happiness will win out... eventually.

In the mean time, I thought it would be fun to make a list of things that I just adore that might make fabulous souvenirs. You know, Christmas is right around the corner, (and that is the last time I'll be mentioning THAT for a few months!) and vacationing in the land of my dreams makes a great opportunity to get those things that are a little harder to come by on this side of the pond.

There are several European designers that I have always admired.  I came upon some of Emma Bridgewater's beautiful ceramics years and years ago. I love them to pieces. Granted you can get a few pieces on Amazon, but the selection is very limited.  If you have been reading this blog for very long, you also know I have a dish addiction.  There are so many beautiful patterns and designs available, my only problem is storage, but I have a basement with shelves and I am not afraid to fill it. Give me all the crockery please!

This is one of her oldest lines and I loved it the moment I saw it so many years ago.
 The blue and white is gorgeous, and that Daddy mug, so sweet!
 Earl and I seriously love watching the birds at our feeder. We have one that hangs outside our living room window and the sound of their songs and chirps as they eat is so sweet and relaxing.  So it's no surprise that I love these bird mugs.
 But then again, I love my chickens too. Morning coffee in these? Yes!
 Would this fit in a carry on? *sigh*
I know some of these are no doubt discontinued, but I KNOW this traveler knows what I love :)

What is your dream destination? Have you been there?


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Summers End

Well as much as I want to hang on to summer just a little longer I see the end clearly. The sunshine is a little more golden, the days a little shorter and I've seen my first wash of red in the trees.  I think I'm ready to give in to the changes I see around me. It's not that I don't love Autumn, I just don't love what comes after Autumn, but if you've been around for any amount of time you know that about me.
I'm deep in the work of summers end. I have a table full of ripe peaches that will be frozen and made into jam and I see a few pies in my very near future.

I have already made a batch of peach jam and it is good! Nothing can beat the fruit from the orchard, it ripens properly instead of going from hard to mush like the grocery store varieties.  With the golden light of early Autumn spilling in my kitchen windows it's no work at all to turn ripe fruit into something amazing.  I always say, if you don't like cooking and baking you aren't making the right recipes!

Using leaf cookie cutters for the top crust is even easier than lattice and it just feels like fall
Earl and I grabbed a quick weekend away the weekend before last. We found a b&b right on the Au Sable River. It turned out the forecast wasn't conducive to canoeing so we headed to Traverse City to look around.  We hid out in antique stores while it rained and looked around at a huge old asylum that has been turned into retail stores and condos. Such a great use for amazing Victorian architecture.  We found some cozy, fun little places for lunch and dinner and then headed back to the b&b to enjoy some coffee on the big porch while we watched the rain.
And then we got up early the next morning and spent more time on the porch. Feet up, hot coffee chasing the chill, and watched the rain come down and the river flow by.  So amazingly relaxing! I now need a very large porch added to our house. Some day....
The garden is mostly ready to pick.  The first tomato was eaten the day it was ripe by some garden bandit with 4 legs, but we have high hopes of getting the next one, We have harvested the onions, and most of the green beans, (we didn't plant enough!), and are working our way through the beets. I like to roast them in the oven, peel them and make fresh Greek salads for dinner.  Thank goodness most of the flowers are hanging on as we slowly harvest everything else.  It's too late to plant anything else and empty spots in the raised beds would be so sad. This is our first year growing brussels sprouts and I just can't wait to see how they turn out. I can see the little buds forming but they don't seem nearly big enough for this far along in the season. Fingers crossed that they amount to anything!

That's about the extent of the excitement around here. It must be nearly fall because I feel my focus shifting from the garden to the house.  I'm looking around and planning some freshening up in the kitchen, back entry and master bedroom. Now all I need is the gumption to get going :)  How about you, any big fall decorating / nesting plans?