Monday, September 26, 2005

A Work in Progress

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how God has answered my prayers in the area of homemaking. For a long time, I’ve been asking God to help me improve and sharpen my skills in the areas of homemaking and time management. I’ve always felt that a schedule was necessary to keeping housework done and the house presentable, and I’ve even managed to create such a schedule, but I’ve seldom been able to stick to one for very long. I’ve tried all different systems and none of them have worked really well for me. Though the “index card” system of daily, weekly, monthly, etc. tasks to do worked the best, it was still lacking something. I was just muddling along from day to day, doing the best I could, but still praying about it (though not as faithfully as I should have been). Each time we would have overnight guests it meant a major cleaning project.

Still, there was progress. As my two daughters went off to college, each chose to major in Home and Family Management. In their various classes they would learn things about cleaning and organizing which they would often share with me. Their discovery of a product called “Clean Shower” revolutionized my life. We live in a hard water area, which means hard-to-remove soap scum on tubs and showers. For years, my husband cleaned our tub because he had the necessary muscle and force to budge this soap scum. He usually used a heavy-duty cleaner along with large abrasive Scotch-Brite pads. I found that simply spraying Clean Shower each morning after my shower, or after a bath, kept the soap scum to a minimal, manageable level. No longer was a tub-scrubbing session a prerequisite to having overnight guests! Now, daily shower cleaners are everywhere, but back then they were an innovation. They have improved a lot, both in scent and efficiency, in the intervening years. I’ve also learned over time that if there are 2 people using the same shower in the course of a day, and one forgets to use the cleaner, things will stay clean. However, if there are 3 or more using the shower in the course of a day, and only one remembers to use the cleaner, you still have quite a bit of scum. But I find that with just my hubby and me here (and he almost never remembers to use the cleaner!) I can get by with actually only scrubbing the tub/shower once a month. And I just use either Comet spray bathroom cleaner or Greased Lightning, with a regular sponge!

As time has gone on and my daughters have married and left home, they’ve continued to share tips with me, and one of the most life-changing had to do with FlyLady. My “local” daughter began alluding to FlyLady from time to time. When we were chatting once about how Mondays always seemed to be a time for restoring order to the house from the weekend, she remarked, “FlyLady calls it ‘Blessing Your Home’.” For a long time I didn’t check into this FlyLady business, but a lot of it seemed to make sense, so one day I visited It was so cheering to be greeted with that day’s date and the welcoming words, “Come On Into FlyLady’s House!”.

I soon found out that FlyLady is a terrific coach and motivator for my goal of a neat, orderly house that almost cleans itself. Is my house at that stage yet? No, but things are sooooo much better than they have ever been. I’ve also been helped in my goal by several of Elizabeth George’s books, especially God’s Wisdom for a Woman’s Life, A Woman After God’s Own Heart, and Life Management for Busy Women. Mrs. George stresses the need of routines and scheduling. FlyLady offers the tools to make the routines and schedules happen. I now have a “Control Journal” which I created from FlyLady’s directions and it is such a help. I have a weekly schedule and even a daily schedule. I follow a basic morning routine, evening routine, and afternoon routine. For those not familiar with FlyLady, each week you work in a different zone of your home -- this week we are in Zone 5, the living room. Each day you declutter for 15 minutes in your zone. Of course, your routines mean that things like laundry, dishes, meals, bed-making, bathroom spiffing, and other necessary things are still getting done. When I work in my zone I also do additional chores in that zone that FlyLady (or her able assistant, Kelly) may not always tell me to do. For example, last week in Zone 4, the master bedroom, I also washed the bedspread and the mattress pad. This week, I’ll do the living room curtains. And so on...

This system makes so much sense for me! No, things are not perfect in my home. But they are getting better all the time. Now, when overnight guests are expected, usually all I have to do is change the guest room sheets and possibly do a quick vacuum. (I hate vacuuming!) The bathrooms are always “company ready” with FlyLady’s system. I still do have several areas that are not completely decluttered, but they are improving. And I have to admit that my guest room is rather dismantled at the moment, as my daughter and her hubby removed some items (a hope chest and a large painting which they had stored there) this past week. I have items to put in their places, which will free up more space in other rooms, but want to repaint the guest room walls first while it is still somewhat empty in there. Hopefully that will get done this week.

Yes, my home is a work in progress! But as I look back over the past few years, I see how God has faithfully answered my prayers to help me grow in the areas of homemaking and time management. It is such an encouragement as I see how He cares about even the minutest detail of our lives!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Memories of a Summer Place

It’s been well over 30 years now, but once upon a time I had the delightful summer job of being “second cook” at a beautiful New England inn by a lake. I worked two days a week, substituting for the chef on his day off and then for the pastry cook on her day off. It was the “chef” part that terrified me, but I was assured the menu would be made easy for me, and it was. Fortunately, this was a place with a limited menu -- the sort that may change a bit everyday but is short and simple enough for a waitress to recite from memory. I will never forget how scared I was that first day as I arrived at the basement entrance to the kitchen in the early-morning hours. I knew one lady who had assured me she would be praying for me -- that was my first real experience with actually sensing that someone was praying. Soon enough, the job settled into a routine and I enjoyed almost every moment of it.

The waitresses were around my age or a little younger, mostly college or high school girls from wealthier families. Their uniforms were unusual then and would be even more so now, when most waitresses seem to wear jeans -- or, in the dressier places, shorts or slacks. These uniforms were flowered print dresses in a sort of dirndl style, very demure. As I mentioned earlier, the menu could be recited easily from memory, although it varied each day, and the waitresses were required to do so. They were also required to memorize their orders -- nothing so lower-class as an order pad would be in view here! It got rather complicated at dinner if one had a table of ten or twelve! At breakfast, they squeezed fresh orange juice for those at their tables who ordered it.

At lunch, one thing I particularly remember is that there was a bread basket. The contents varied with the day, but there was usually some sort of muffin or quick bread along with the rolls and bread. All the food here was homemade, but I guess that goes without saying. I remember making donut muffins, blueberry muffins, banana bread, lemon bread, apple bread -- and two kinds of apricot bread, dark and light. Many of the recipes were quite unique to the inn or its pastry cook, and thus new to me. I itched to copy some of them down to use at home, but that was forbidden. So, in my free moments I put my mind to work memorizing the recipes, and wrote them down when I got home. Sometimes it took several tries to memorize the longer recipes, but I eventually got the ones I wanted. After all, I had no intention of competing with them or selling their recipes -- I just wanted some yummy new things to try out on my family and/or guests.

Desserts have always been fun for me to make, so the pastry chef part of the job was a dream come true! The lunch desserts would be things like gingerbread with whipped cream, or grapenut pudding. Ice cream was always on the menu, but I believe the flavor selection was quite limited. Like maybe vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry. The dinner desserts, however, were fancier and even more fun to make. I remember a 3-layer chocolate cake decorated with walnut halves; a tall walnut chiffon cake; a special ice cream pie that was one of the inn’s signature desserts; and a delicious lemon meringue pie. There was also a special berry cream pie in which the top layer was a glaze made with fresh strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries. The bottom layer was simply billows of freshly whipped cream, sweetened only with a bit of vanilla and piled in a pastry crust. It was a truly heavenly dessert.

The “chef” part of the job was not too bad. They kept it very simple on the nights I cooked. There was a wonderful entree made with mushrooms and boneless chicken breasts that I could easily do. Back then, boneless chicken breasts were practically unheard of unless you boned them yourself. But these had been purchased frozen, if I remember right, and after we had doctored them up with mushrooms, broth, etc. they were very good. The accompanying vegetables were served in heavy silver divided vegetable dishes -- dinner was served family style. I really can’t remember much about what was served at those meals. Sometimes baked potatoes, or mashed potatoes, or parsley potatoes, or occasionally rice pilaf, I think. And of course other veggies like carrots, or mashed squash, peas, green beans -- possibly even brussels sprouts. It’s clear to see that my heart was really not in this part of the job!

After dinner, the waitresses brought out trays of crystal finger bowls filled with water for the guests to dabble their fingers in.  This still amazes me.

One of the neat things about this inn was that it had its own gardens -- both for fruits and vegetables and a cutting garden to provide flowers for the tables. An elderly local man maintained the gardens, which were just beautiful and were located out back between the inn and the lake. I can see the walk-in coolers now, loaded with boxes of freshly picked strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries in their respective seasons.

This wonderful New England inn no longer exists, but what a wonderful memory to share with those around my kitchen table today!

Favorite Freezer Recipes

One of my favorite sites online is Organized As I've spent time there the past couple of weeks, I've been challenged to think about doing a little cooking ahead for the holidays. I always bake dozens of cookies to freeze and use for gifts and holiday refreshments. Main dishes and side dishes are something I don't always think about making ahead and freezing. I gave a little thought to a couple of my family's favorite holiday dishes that happen to freeze very well. I'll be doing a couple pans of lasagna and at least one of sweet potatoes -- assuming I can find room in the freezer amongst all the cookies! Here are my recipes:

1 1/2 cups chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 Tblsp. olive oil
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped broccoli, thawed
1/2 tsp. salt-free garlic-herb seasoning blend
1 lb. part-skim ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (divided use)
1 egg
3 Tblsp. grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
3/4 tsp. oregano OR Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 quart spaghetti sauce
9 lasagna noodles, UNCOOKED
1 cup water (maybe less)
Extra Parmesan, if desired

In large skillet, sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until soft. Add the thawed vegetables and the herb mix. Stir to combine, cover skillet, reduce heat, and simmer about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

In medium bowl, combine ricotta, 1 cup mozzarella, egg, Parmesan, and seasonings. Set aside.

Spread 1 cup spaghetti sauce on bottom of a 13 x 9” baking dish. Layer on: 3 noodles, half of cheese mixture, half of vegetable mixture, and 1 cup sauce. Repeat layers. Top with remaining 3 noodles, 1 cup sauce, 1/2 cup mozzarella. Sprinkle with extra Parmesan if desired.

Pour water around the edges of the baking dish. If your vegetables happened to produce a lot of liquid, reduce the amount of water accordingly. Cover baking dish tightly with foil.

Bake at 350 for 1 hour 15 minutes. Let stand 15 more minutes before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

May be made ahead and frozen for future use. Simply thaw overnight in refrigerator and bake as directed.

2 large cans cut yams, drained and mashed*
1/4 cup margarine, melted
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup evaporated milk**
Pinch of nutmeg
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour (may use whole wheat)
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1/4 cup softened margarine (may use 3 Tablespoons oil instead)

Mix the first six ingredients in a large bowl; beat with electric mixer until well combined. Pile into a 2-quart baking dish.

In another bowl, stir together topping ingredients. Sprinkle over top of potatoes.

Bake the casserole at 325 to 350 degrees for 35 minutes.

Makes 6 to 8 side-dish servings

May be made ahead and frozen for future use. Simply thaw overnight in refrigerator and bake as directed.

* Or substitute about 2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, cooked, and mashed.
** Or substitute evaporated skim milk or fat-free half & half.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

A Tale of Two Coffeecakes

It surely has been awhile since I posted here, but I’ve been busy in the kitchen -- and elsewhere! My hubby and I have been serving as chaperones at a childrens’ ministry campout sponsored by our church for the past few days. It’s been an exhausting time, but a worthwhile one as we have seen how well the campout went and what a blessing it all was to the children.

Before that, however. I WAS in the kitchen. I baked two coffeecakes -- a pumpkin streusel one and a blueberry one -- for a Labor Day breakfast with campground friends. I baked a second blueberry coffeecake for the children’s campout; it was served, along with oatmeal, juice, hot chocolate, and muffins, for breakfast this morning. I had many requests for both coffeecake recipes over the 2 events, so thought I would post them here. Now I’ll know where to find them!

1/2 cup butter or margarine
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup sour cream
Pumpkin Layer:
1 (15 to 16-oz.) can pumpkin
1 slightly beaten egg
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 to 1 cup chopped pecans
Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla in mixer bowl. Add eggs, beating
well. Sift together flour, baking powder, and soda and add them to the
creamed mixture alternately with the sour cream.
In a smaller bowl, combine the pumpkin, egg, sugar and pie spice.
In another small bowl, combine all the streusel ingredients until
Spoon half of the cake batter into a well-greased 13 x 9-inch pan. Spread
the batter evenly, being sure to get into the corners of the pan.
Sprinkle half of the streusel over the batter. Now spread all of the
pumpkin layer over the streusel. Next, spread the remaining cake batter
evenly over the pumpkin layer. sprinkle the remaining streusel over the
top. Bake at 325 until a toothpick comes out clean.
Makes one 13 x 9-inch coffee cake.


Coffee cake batter:
2 1/3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup butter
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 cup milk
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 to 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
Cheese filling:
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 egg
2 Tblsp. sugar
1 Tblsp. grated lemon peel (or substitute 1/2 tsp. pure lemon extract)
Streusel topping:
1 cup reserved crumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped nuts (optional)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
To make batter, combine flour, sugar and salt in large bowl. Cut in
butter until crumbly. Reserve 1 cup of this crumb mixture and set
aside. Add baking powder, milk, eggs, and vanilla to dry mixture
remaining in bowl. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping bowl
often. Pour evenly into greased 13x9-inch baking pan. Sprinkle blueberries
evenly over batter. For cheese filling, blend all ingredients together
until smooth; spoon evenly over blueberries. For topping, combine
reserved crumbs with brown sugar, cinnamon, and nuts if using them.
Sprinkle over cheese layer. Bake at 350 for 45 to 60 minutes or until a
toothpick comes out clean. Cool slightly before cutting. Makes 1 13x9-inch
coffeecake -- about 20 to 24 servings.