Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring, or Winter (?), Cleaning

Soooo, instead of sowing some seeds in the garden this weekend (you know, because of that fluffy white stuff unexpectedly smothering it) we decided to sow the seeds of change in the kitchen. After we spent much time and deliberation designing it to work best for us, we mucked it up with the detritus of a newlywed's registry. Sure, we registered for everything and got nice stemware rather than ugly tea towels, but six years ago, we hadn't become the simple-living fanatics we are today.  

Three years later, we realize how dysfunctional our space actually is; not the cabinets themselves but all the junk that's in them. Getting back to basics, we exploded the cabinets, removing all the items inside, wiping them down, cleaning the shelves and scrutinizing individual items, asking ourselves: Do we need/use/like this? Do we need three nearly empty bottles of honey? Two jars of cumin? Seven wooden spoons? Six wine openers? Chargers we've used once? Three sets of plates -- 12 each? 

Spices were checked for potency and combined and/or tossed. (The trash can smells great, but Mike's been on a sneezing rampage!) The juicer, fondue pot (still in its box), panini maker and three-tiered steamer have all been identified unnecessary and marked for departure. We also have martini glasses, margarita glasses, two sets of daily glassware and Tiffany water glasses that rarely get used; we'll be paring down to four in the cabinets and put the rest in storage. Two people -- even ones who entertain as often as we do -- do not need all this stuff. It's clutter. What we've come to realize is that cooks need some basic items and the rest is just a way for appliance manufacturers to make money. Some appliances can make your life easier, and others are just sitting around taking up space...  Besides, when has anyone known us to take the easy way out around here? Doing things the hard way is how you build muscle and character. Below are our suggestions for true ease of use and simplicity.

Clutter-buster No. 1: The steam basket vs. the timed steamer
Rather than bust out six different pieces (not to mention sanding out the stains the appliance's little rubber feet leave on our wood countertops), just drop a flower-like contraption into a pot and cover with a lid. We bought one by OXO that has a top with a slit for a fork so you don't have to lift it with your fingers.

Clutter-buster No. 2: The French press vs. the coffee maker
Only one of us drinks coffee in this house, so we don't need a large coffee maker. We bought a small, 4-cup electric coffee maker when we first moved in together, but the dingy white plastic will soon be replaced with the classic pairing of a kettle of hot water and glass jar with plunger. We have a 10-glass French press now and will probably get a single-serving size also for on-the-go use. 

Clutter-buster No. 3: The glass juicer vs. the electric juicer
This is the perfect example of an appliance that supposedly saves you some elbow grease but just causes more strain on your well-being than it does on the actual fruit at hand. Ours constantly gets clogged and we've  gone back to the old-fashioned kind and never looked back. 

Still deciding: The Dutch oven vs. the crock pot
This one's a toss up, really. We wouldn't want to leave our electric oven on all day simmering a pot of rice and beans unattended, but a crock pot plugged into the wall could do the job. It stays for now, pending our integration of this Southern tradition into our weekly menu.

Jury's also still out on: The microwave
Call us crazy but we think we can plan our dethawing ahead of time to avoid having to suck the life out of our meter to run our 20-year-old yellowing eyesore. Better keep it around in case we get lazy, though. Currently, it's been banished to the adjoining sunroom to test how often we actually need it. 

Would consider booting: The toaster
We've discovered the unmatched pleasure of pan-toasted bread, which is supremely moist, unlike when you use an appliance to toast first then butter. Of course, when you're in a hurry, a toaster and some spray butter will do.   

Keeping: The food processor for bread crumbs, dips, smoothies and numerous other things; the stand mixer, great for our new baking hobby; the griddle because it's so much faster to cook the entire package of bacon and smell up your house only once a week; and the ice cream maker because Cuisinart makes it so easy to make my favorite dessert using only three ingredients.

Voila! Two days later, it's like we have a whole new kitchen!


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Operation Coop-eration

With the chicks growing like weeds, I have been scrambling to get them a bigger home. While the galvanized metal tub was great for all of five days, it was only meant as a temporary holding place. The cheapest option is to make a brooder out of cardboard boxes that you can adjust as they grow, but with it set up in my swamp of a basement, I didn't think that was a good idea. I searched everywhere for those rigid plastic pools from my childhood that would be both wide and deep enough -- and waterproof -- but, alas, those don't arrive in stores until Easter, if at all. (I guess that's what I get for not going along with cliches and ordering 'winter chicks' instead of 'spring chicks.') Apparently, the child's pool industry is full of only deflatable plastic these days, not so good against incessantly pecking beaks. I could also have started researching water garden tubs, but honestly, I got tired...and did nothing instead. The ladies don't seem to mind; they cuddle up like cats.

So, I've focused on a bigger and more permanent solution. 

Fortunately, we have a coop that came with the property. Unfortunately, years of decay have rendered it practically useless except as a storage shed for garden tools and a safe haven for our groundhog, Phil, and other critters that burrow under the foundation and climb up through the floor boards. Windows are broken, lead paint is flaking, locks are rusting by the second...but one can only start at the beginning.

In a moment (er, entire weekend) of clarity, I began organizing and didn't stop for two days. Always cognizant of my responsibility to be environmentally friendly, I learned I had saved every cardboard box and plastic plant container I had ever come across. (I have been using cardboard to kill grass, such as between the rows in my vegetable garden, and I highly recommend this method, yet did I need enough to cover the entirety of the county?) I loaded them up in the truck to be dropped off at the recycling center.

The plastic containers I had saved for revulsion of adding them to a landfill along with delusions of growing my own plants in them someday. The director of the local extension office told me to look on the bottom of the containers for recycle numbers and add them to our curbside pickup. I called my county's waste company to verify, not wanting to contaminate the recycling stream if it didn't participate, and the lady who answered said that was a negative. If I get ambitious again this spring, I may sort and try to return them to their place of purchase. Otherwise, they may just rest outside, inadvertently growing plants -- weeds from seeds that fall out of the sky.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Freeloader or just confused?

Looks like someone hitched a ride back from Louisiana with me!
Psst, buddy, the pond's that way...

Don't know whether to throw him back in or throw him in some soup!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Goodbye Winter!

Technically, we all have to wait until March 20 for spring to arrive, but I'm sick of winter, so I'm declaring March 1 a day to celebrate the fact that we have finally reached a spring month. Yay!

Before we move forward, a look back. This weekend, the cats and I took a walk around the property to get one last romp in the snow. At least I hope it's the last.