Around the House

Set Yourself Up For Success Part 4 The Little Things

This process we’ve been working through usually includes some questions along the line of “How?”. How do I organize? How do I set up?

I’d love to be able to say “Do this and this and this. Print this. Label that. Plug in this and you are all set!” but I can’t. Well, actually I suppose I could but that would be doing both of us a a disservice.

Why? Because One Size Does Not Fit All.

What works for me, might not work for you and what you need may not be in my tool kit to offer.

What I can do, however, is offer a few suggestions.

My goal for Meal Planning is to be able to create a variety of meals without a lot of fuss or preparation or cost. I don’t have a lot of mouths to feed and I don’t always need to have a lot of things ready to go at the last minute. But that’s me; you might need to be a lot more organized.

What I found for myself was that creating a system that would keep the recipes I needed on a regular basis handy saved a lot of time. I could add recipes as I input them into my regular meal rotation or remove them when they were no longer something I wanted to make.

This could be a 3 ring binder that was broken down into meal type (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) or by main ingredient (chicken, beef or vegan) or by process (roast, slow cook, quick). This is a flexible system that could evolve into multiple binders depending upon your need (Main dishes in one, sides in another, desserts in a third, etc.)

You could use a journal format. I’ve seen some astoundingly useful bullet journals. You could invest in some recipe management software. The options are as varied as the number of potential users.

The thing to remember is that you don’t need to make it more complicated than it needs to be. If you don’t need to plan for certain meals, don’t. If you need to be more detailed, add that into your process. The idea is to be a help to your daily life, not a time consuming hurdle that keeps you from actually living your life.

I like the idea of an app for my phone or tablet, but reality for me is that I dislike the need to refresh the screen, or keep it clean while cooking. I do, however, keep my pantry list on my iPod. The app I use allows me to use bar code scanners to add items to my list, which makes keeping track of specific brand items a breeze, while also being able to manually input items where I just need a reminder (popcorn rather than Brand Name Popcorn, for example).

A few years back I discovered that Julia Child kept a notebook in her kitchen with reminders for various tasks and recipes. The Julia Child who created wonderful collections of recipes had a notebook?! (Note: “Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom” is still available. Check it out.)

Turns out, it is a wonderful idea.

There are some things we don’t do often enough to encourage our brains to recall without prompting. How often do you create a white sauce? Would a reminder of the timing of boiling eggs be handy? Where’s that recipes for… ?

When I bought my new stove a few years ago, there were enough differences between what was on the new one from on the old, that I found keeping the Owner’s Manual handy important. That could be added to a 3 ring binder kept nearby in the kitchen. Same could be said for any appliance that isn’t in daily use.

Last year we talked about creating a family recipe collection or cookbook. By organizing your kitchen and your recipes, you are well on the way to doing just that.

Yeah, it is a bit of a surprise to think about, isn’t it? 🙂

You now have the bare bones of how to set up a system to keep track of your pantry, collect recipes and plan for meals.

Try it out for a few weeks and see how it impacts your time, your budget and your meals. Don’t be afraid to tweak it to make it work better for you – you are the one in control, after all.

Around the House · YouTube

Food For Thought

I recently discovered “Farmhouse Vernacular” on YouTube and have become a devoted follower.

The description of the channel reads: “An adventure in to renovating and recreating historic interiors in a thoughtful, respectful, and budget friendly manner.”

Paige and her husband bought a 1905 farmhouse and have been renovating it themselves. As both are trained engineers, their process is interesting and exciting.

Theirs is a thoughtful approach to what they deem to be the lifetime home. They are incorporating thought not only to the historical aspect of renovation, but looking forward to how they can live in the house as they age and have potential physical limitations.

The channel is well presented, provides great information, not to mention humor, and is a different approach to home DIY.

Their most recent project in the house is the kitchen. Personally, I’m loving the approach they are taking and am looking forward to the results.


Around the House · Food

Setting Up For Success Part Three

I’ve been craving something I haven’t had in a while. What comes to mind is a luscious cheesy pasta combination with wonderful flavor and Comfort Food embedded into the title.

I found myself browsing recipes and searching grocery ads and fretting and fussing until it hit me. I already have what I’ve been craving and it is in my freezer.

Insert Head Slap moment here. 🙂

If you have been following along on this series, and I sincerely hope you have, you will have inventoried your pantry, reviewed your food list or if you have no food list, you’ve prepared one.

Why a “Food List”?

Many of us tend to operate on a simple basis of routine. Monday is Slow Cooker Meal, Tuesday is tacos, Wednesday might be pasta, Thursday is left overs and Friday is eating out…or in depending. You get my drift.

We all get terribly bored with what we are eating, but few ever really stop to consider (a) what we are eating and (b) what we like to eat. Toss in a diet (ugh) food list and you get a better idea of the upheaval of the zen like rhythm of our eating life.

By preparing a Food List, you not only see what you like, but you also get an opportunity to build multiple meals out of the foods you like.

Like chicken? Have you baked, roasted, oven fried, boiled, poached, or sauteed it? Do you use it in casseroles, soups, as taco filling, for fajitas, or as an addition to other foods just because? Have you batch cooked chicken and stored in in the freezer for when you need it?

I hear a few “Ah ha!”s out there.

I try to keep broccoli in my freezer. I love it, it is easy to prepare and very versatile. I also have a fondness (okay, love) for cheese tortellini that can become an obsession depending upon mood. Put the two together and … enjoy. Also, if you get down to basics, cheese tortellini is just a different version of mac and cheese. Think about it.

I also try to keep several types of dried pasta on hand along with cheese (I’m sensing a pattern here…) and a sauce or two. Tomato sauce and I have begun to have issues and I have found myself not reaching for it as much. In years past, however, it was a favorite – and inexpensive – menu item. Spaghetti and garlic bread, anyone?

I love getting large amounts of meats, cooking it up or splitting it off and freezing for later use. I put flats of boneless chicken into the slow cooker or the oven and let it cook until done, moist, tender and useful for lots of things. Ground meats can be separated into patties, browned some with various seasonings, packaged and frozen for further use. I’ve heard some folks buy turkeys in off season, cook and debone the meat for freezing. Not sure I’m up to that, but the frugal in me likes the idea.

I rarely buy fresh fruit or veg because I’m notorious for not eating it fast enough. However, give me frozen and I’m a happy camper. It is inexpensive, processed at peak of flavor and takes up little space.

By having these items in my pantry, I can put together quick and easy meals with little hassle. If I choose, I can go further and put together dump meals that can be packaged, frozen and put into the slow cooker when I want rather than have to run around gathering ingredients at the last minute.

This all begins with knowing what you like to eat, what you will, or will not, give up, and how much effort and space you have to put into the process.

My suggestion for you this week it to collect all the recipes your family likes and put them in one place. Note the ingredients you need for them – this will be put on a pantry need list. You don’t need to make a huge project of this; it can be done as you put together your weekly menu or shopping list.

In fact, this could be a project that might go for a while because food changes over the seasons. You might be thinking apple crisp today, totally forgetting strawberries or peach pie or salad greens that won’t be available for a few months yet.

As you collect your recipes, if you aren’t already doing so, create a menu that will incorporate these items and save it.

As you repeat the process every week, biweekly, monthly, whatever, you will be creating a Meal Plan that will be usable all year round. You will have a collection of recipes that your family loves that will be easy to maintain.

Queue Head Slap Moment. 🙂

Have a great week – let me know how this process is working for you.

Food · Musings

Setting up For Success. Part 2

Welcome Back!

If you are like me, you’ve seen a lot of commercials for gyms and weight loss programs in the past few weeks. They seem to appear in droves in January, don’t they? <sigh>

No matter.

One thing I have noticed a lot this year is the propensity of the idea of Easing Into The New Year from various bloggers and vloggers. Have you seen it, too?

Frankly, I think it is a welcome respite from the frantic urging to lose more, spend more, do more, ad infinitum that’s more exhausting than just going about life, right?

Last week I talked about getting ready to make changes. I’ll bet you were surprised to discover that I did not, and do not, propose to jump into the deep end. Let’s just say that a few too many years of experience has taught me that, for most of us, that might not be a good idea…

If you took my suggestion and inventoried your pantry, etc., you now have an idea what you already have and can now start to build on that.

One of the things I always found overwhelming when starting a weight loss program was all the stuff I already had. I was raised to be frugal, so tossing out good food just wasn’t an option. Give it away? Possible, but unlikely as what I had on hand wasn’t what food pantries looked for.

When given the inevitable food list, I found myself at a loss because what came with the food list were recipes I wasn’t all that excited to try (I’d have to go out and buy more stuff rather than use what I had), not to mention the foods on the list that didn’t exactly entice me to begin with.

Have you been there, too? Are you there now?

Here’s a thought: Take out that list and give it a good look over. Note those things you already eat. Here are a few items on my list:

  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit

Here are a few of my eating options:

Chicken – baked, broiled, boiled, oven fried, grilled

Pork – roasted

Vegetables – broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, zucchini, snap peas, potatoes (baked, boiled, roasted)

Fruit – fresh, frozen, canned

What I’ve discovered is that I love simple food as much, if not more, than the fancy stuff.

So, I can steam a veg to add to a piece of chicken cooked pretty much any way I want and add a salad and some fruit to the meal.

I can also make a simple casserole using most of the foods on my list along with a low fat version of a cream soup.

I can also gussie it up a bit by adding a bread alongside or on top.

Now, take a look at your food list and compare it to your pantry inventory and see how much overlap you find.

For this next week, take it one step at a time. Cook simply. Find meal ideas that appeal without requiring a lot of effort (unless, of course, you would like to make a bit of effort). Ease into the week by not making it an Olympic event. 🙂

Now, take a deep breath and let it out slowly. This might not be as difficult as you thought, right?

Let me know what you discover by commenting or emailing.

Have a great week!


Ah Ha! Moments

aka: Head slap moments. 😉

I managed to have a couple of epiphanies during the last couple of weeks. I’m always sort of amused when I discover these moments. I guess I’m at that age where I don’t expect them to occur. Silly me.

One of the more surprising ones came about as I was clearing and inventorying my pantry. I came across a can of corn meal. Simple, right?

When I was growing up there were certain things we never ate at home. Dried beans and corn meal mush were absolute no-no’s. I’d had beans and ham for lunch at school – and loved it. We often had corn bread, too. But my mother never fixed a pot of beans or a pan of mush. Why? Because my dad, who was raised on a farm with a large family apparently ate far more of these items than he ever cared to and did not want them again. Ever.

I get it. I have a similar reaction to a certain vegetable recipe we had at home that I can still taste to this day – and I haven’t eaten it in over 40 years. I can categorically confirm it will NEVER be cooked in my home.

Anyway, back to the corn meal. I have been thinking about Polenta and how I am curious to give it a try.

In my ignorance, I had been thinking about the ways I might get a sample or prepare it. And then I found the corn meal in the pantry.

Corn meal. The key ingredient to Polenta.

Did I mention this was a “head slap” moment?

It wasn’t long before I was off to find a good, simple recipe to try it out…

The other thing that snuck up and surprised me was the realization that I already owned an array of tools and guides for a variety of cookery projects.

I love my bread machine and while I don’t use it often, it is a useful (to me) tool and resource. Ditto for the stand and hand mixers and my food processor. I no longer own a microwave. Shocking? Shouldn’t be. Why? Well, I have an extremely compact <cough> kitchen with little to no counter space for things I don’t use. I gave up the microwave when I moved because I discovered that the only things I used it for was to boil water or steam vegetables. Both things I could (and do) use my stove for.

Thanks to that amazing resource called the Internet, I no longer collect magazines or cookbooks willy nilly. I do, however, have some tried and true cookbooks that I’ve kept and refer to.

I just realized that I hadn’t referred to them in a very long time. So, after spending an afternoon browsing and marking things I wanted to try, I realized that I could dive in without spending a dime or need WiFi and a printer.

If this is an indication on how 2020 is going to unfold, it could be an interesting year. 🙂


Set Yourself Up for Success – Easily

“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.”

Lucille Ball

Happy 2020!

I don’t know about you, but it has taken me a few days to come to grips with not only a new year, but a new decade.

I hadn’t even thought about it until it came up in conversation after Christmas.

Twenty years ago I lived in a different part of the country. By the end of that year, I had left a job, moved house, taken a new job and embarked on a different life. At the time, it was a no-brainer move. Upon reflection, there could have been (should have been?) a tad more thought, but <shrug>.

As I mentioned to my newsletter subscribers, when I started thinking about what I wanted to do in 2020, I began thinking about a more intentional life that starts in the kitchen and flows into other areas of not only my home, but my life.

What does it mean to be intentional? It means you are purposeful in word and action. It means you live a life that is meaningful and fulfilling to you. It means you make thoughtful choices in your life. Being intentional means you actively interact and engage with your life.

This comes at a time when many people are dealing with New Year’s resolutions and pressure from many sides to <cough> encourage you to lose weight, improve your health, spend money to not spend money and the like. Why? Because it is a new year, right? Fresh start?

The problem with all of this is that some folks, for many reasons, jump into what they think is a great swimming pool only to discover that (a) they can’t swim, (b) they don’t know which end the exit stairs are at, or (c) they weren’t really interested or invested in the exercise to begin with.

In other words, to make absolutely certain you will fail at a resolution, set yourself up to fail.

We do it all the time. We broadcast our endeavors with excitement and flair only to discover that we weren’t sure what we were doing in the first place. This, after being certain to notify those souls in our lives that, intentionally or not, sabotage our efforts and make us feel worse than we already felt by not succeeding.

Many of us have played “Kick Me” in various forms for many, many years. We are so good at it, we have no idea that we are even doing it.

What is “Kick Me”? It is a psychological game where we set ourselves up for a fail and, to make things even more interesting, be sure to include those people or functions that will make us feel even worse. Sort of like going through an engagement, marriage and divorce on social media…all within 6 weeks.

It Is Time To Stop Playing The Game

A few years ago I went back to what was called Weight Watchers at about the same time I embarked on a Dave Ramsey course on financial management. What I learned from both was not only useful, but inspirational.

Weight Watchers started with the premise of paying attention to what you eat. Counting points, watching portions, making choices.

Dave Ramsey teaches paying attention to what you spend, noting everything you spend in order to get control of where your money goes, making choices.

I’ll never forget the day I found myself calculating that one piece of dark chocolate as “one penny a piece” as I marked it off my food budget for the day. The penny was actually a point, but you get my drift.

I learned that I could control my food intake the same way I controlled my budget. And it worked.

If you always do what you always did you’ll always get what you always got!

One Day At A Time, No Guilt and Move On.

Dotti’s Weight Loss Zone

Let’s be honest, many of us approach “diets” as temporary states that will eventually (soon) be replaced by real life.

Weight loss, health and financial health are not temporary states, they are a way of life. A lifestyle, if you will.

I haven’t been a paying member of WW in years, but I do follow their plan. I found that it worked for me and I was able to do it without feeling deprived or punished.

I say “plan” because what I follow is several years old. I was amazed and astounded to discover that there are quite a few folks who do the same, but with different versions of the plan.

Learning that was a game changer!

I’m not promoting any particular program or food plan or whatever. Why? Because there are far too many and there are far too many other people who devote their time to doing exactly that. It is also the reason I don’t devote my time, or this blog, to recipe development and the like. I simply do not have the time, money or interest to go that route when there are thousands (literally) of other blogs that do exactly the same thing.

What I do want to do with this blog is to provide you with a quiet space to find encouragement, support, ideas that will help you help yourself.

I talk about a lot of things here, not just food, and that will continue. Life is more than just one thing, after all.

Why am I doing this? I find I need to focus on these things for myself. I recently did a pantry / kitchen audit that, frankly, surprised me. I had a bit of an epiphany as I cleared out shelves and took stock of my equipment. The afternoon I spent perusing cookbooks in my library got me to thinking about the resources that I already had in my own home, that had never been explored.

As I began thinking about this process, I realized that it would not be covered in one day, week, blog post or whatever. It will be a day by day, step by step, endeavor that will hopefully succeed more than it fails.

What I propose is not difficult or costly in monetary terms. It will require some effort (i.e.: Intention).

I will be working with small steps. Some parts of the process could be quite emotional. There are things we don’t want to deal with and having to come to terms with them may take some time. That’s okay. Be kind to yourself.

First Step: Inventory

The first thing to be done is to know what you have to work with. So, grab a pencil and some paper and head off to the kitchen. What is in your freezer, pantry, cabinets, etc.?

There are several apps that you can get to help with this, but it is important to actually do it. You need to know what you have on hand before you think about hitting the market.

Also, take stock of the equipment you have on hand. Do you have a slow cooker, food processor, blender, set of cookware and good knives?

This is enough for this week.

Next week we’ll dive into step two, but for now, have a great week.