12.31.2010

Final Thoughts on Stuff

This is a good chunk of the items that are no longer in my possession.
Did I do it? Did I meet my goal? Yes! Over the last 46 days I have confronted the belief that stuff makes me happy by:
  1. Identifying the purpose of the things I own.
  2. Sorting through all possessions and reducing what I have by one third.
  3. Only buying five non-essentials.
Yes, I have reduced what I own by one third. I bought fewer than five non-essential things. In fact, I bought just one and it was a gift. Throughout this exercise of reducing what I own, I did confront the belief that things can make me happy.

Perhaps the most striking part of this whole journey has been the reactions of friends, family and the people who read this blog. There were folks who seemed confused or unsure about the validity of reducing what I own. A gut reaction that usually involved the phrase, “I could never do that.” Oddly not unlike the reaction I get when I tell people I did Peace Corpse. However, the vast majority of folks were supportive and offered stories of times they discovered they could trim down their belongings:
We had pipe break on the second floor of our house in late May while we were away. - LeAnn
 
After just a couple of weeks of living in a small room with only a bed and a few clothes while on an international volunteer trip, I realized I could probably get rid of most everything I own. - Judy

If you're ever not sure what shoes to get rid of, just have my puppy come over and he'll pick for you! I recently got rid of three pairs of my shoes this way (including my all-time favorite Chacos) as well as a pair of my friend's shoes... You're welcome Josh! - Clarissa
I’ve had many conversations with my husband and friends about how they decide what they need, what to part with and why it is hard to let go. It is extraordinary how we relate to our stuff.

Personally, I had bought into the idea that I deserved stuff. If my articles on Demand Media did well, I got an extra thousand back on my taxes or I got to the end of the month with a cushion, I thought I should buy more clothes, go out to eat, get a four dollar coffee.

I also justified with coupons and sales. I would scour the newspaper, junk mail and the telephone book for coupons or upcoming sales so I could rationalize spending the money. I loved getting an eighty dollar sweater for twenty dollars. I felt like I had won. I now realize that I didn’t win, I spent twenty dollars on something I didn’t need.

As I went about sorting what I own and parting with one third of it, I found myself defending my stuff. The most common defenses were: sentimental value, possible future usefulness, and might be/become valuable. While all three of these are valid concerns, I had to step back, ask myself to evaluate the usefulness and weigh the cost of having those things verses their perceived value.

It has sentimental importance

This is a hard one because it isn’t a rational argument, purely emotional. I’m not immune. There are some things I did keep like my wedding dress, personal journals, grandma’s recipe books and photo albums that are wholly memorabilia and also completely irreplaceable. However, I was able to part with prom dresses, books, jewelry, glass wear and cloth napkins. The hardest were things I had at one time made plans to use. I had to admit to myself that I was never going to make a quilt out of the cloth napkins from our wedding reception or use all those button earrings from the 50’s.  Honestly it was a releif to let go.  One less thing on my mental to do list. 
It might be useful in the future

This is the excuse my husband finds the most convincing: I might want that thing again in the future and if I don’t have it I’ll just have to go buy a new one. In very specific situations that is true. My favorite nail color is I-Scream Cream. It took me a long time to find the perfect neutral polish. I put it on once a week. When it was discontinued I bought three bottles of it. I’m okay keeping those three bottles. Then there are things like the wok. Yes, I might want a wok again in the future, but I can make a mean stir fry in the big skillet too. When deciding if a potentially useful item should be kept, it is important to decide if you have another item that will serve and how hard it will be to get that item again in the future. Most of the time I found I could do without.

It could be worth a lot

This is the hope that one day the guy from the Antique Road Show will appraise your great aunt’s ugly vase and declare that it is from the Ming Dynasty and worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Horray! And then you will sell it and be rich. In the mean time, that item can sit around and clutter up your life. My thought is to sell it now. Why wait on the *chance* it could gain value? If it isn’t monetarily but historically significant, donate it to a local museum. There’s no need to keep it cluttering up your space being another thing you have to clean and keep safe.

What is Worth Keeping?

This is something you have to decide for yourself. Keep what you use often. I found it useful to ask myself if I would use this item in the next six weeks. If the answer was no, then I asked myself why I was keeping it.

In the end the things that made the cut seem like no brainers:
  • Enough dishes for four people
  • Easy to take care of, versatile clothes and shoes
  • Make-up that suits my complexion
  • Only the books I use often or are personal records.  
Now many of the things that were stored in plain site can be fit into our closet, drawers or cabinets in places that just didn’t have space before. Our apartment isn’t quite minimalist, but it is much less crowded.

So what shall I tackle next?

12.29.2010

One Third Less Clothing

The limiting factor in my closet was how many hangers I had. I knew I had too many clothes when after doing laundry I had a hanger deficit. Then I would force myself to reduce what I owned to fit the number of hangers (I have a lot of hangers). Then I started to double things up.  I thought to myself, "These two sun dresses can be on the same hanger."  My side of the closet was crammed full. But no longer!

I set out a little reluctantly to reduce my clothing by one third.  It was surprisingly easy. I went through each category: clothing, pants, short sleeves, long sleeves, socks, coats etc and took out one third. In about three hours I went through the closet and dresser drawers.

How to Choose What to Keep 

My goal was to reduce the clothing I own by one third by:
  1. Keeping only clothes that fit well.  I tried every thing on. If it was too tight, too long, too anything that was grounds for dismissal.
  2. Getting rid of high maintenance clothes that require ironing or dry cleaning.  Why have clothes that need special attention when there are clothes that can simply be washed and dried?  I did keep my wedding dress and a second fancy dress along with two pairs of dry clean only pants.  I am considering getting rid of those as well. 
  3. Giving preference to clothes that have a wide range of use.  The Kelly green top with appliqued strawberries that only works with the white skirt, those were both easy items to discard.  However the black top with the boat neck which can look dressy or casual was one of the first things that went back into my closet.  
Here's the things that "might be worth something" and the cat
 who thought rearranging the closet was great fun. 
The items that didn’t make the cut were divided into the “too far gone” and the "might be worth something” category.  Those items that had stains, starting to fall apart or were showing signs of wear went into "too far gone pile" and were taken to Goodwill.   I asked what would happen if an item was not good enough to sell.  The lady there told me that items that are considered too damaged to sell are recycled when possible and that almost all fabrics can be recycled. 

The items from my closet which might be worth something are going to go to a consignment store where perhaps I will earn a little without investing much of my own time.

Now that all is said and done I love that my closet has more space.  I even freed up a whole drawer in the dresser for cat stuff.  Now all the miscellaneous cat things that used to live in a bucket in plain sight are tucked away.   

What the Future Holds

One third was easy.  I am sure I could even reduce my clothing by two thirds and I just might. I’m seriously considering Project 333 for the New Year. The premise of this project is to reduce your wardrobe to just 33 items for three months. Check it out - Be More with Less: Project 333.

Do you think you could limit your clothing and accessories to just 33 items?

12.24.2010

Collective Consumption: How to make more of less

Yes!  How to consume less by collaborating through social networks.  What do you have laying around that could get you what you want?

12.19.2010

Linens and Things


In the corner of our bedroom there is an old steamer trunk.  It's where we keep all our linens; sheets, towels, air mattress, quilts, rag rugs and more stuff I can't remember.   It's big and it is won't shut.  It's been on my hit list for a while now.  I don't think I've ever evaluated what's in there.  I just kept cramming more stuff in. 

Before I even opened the lid I made list of what we need for linens. 

Queen Bed:
- 2 sets of sheets
- 1 quilt
- 1 fuzzy blanket

Guest Beds:
- 2 set of single sheets
- 1 air mattress and pump
- 2 quilts
- 1 comforter (Jeff insisted on keeping this.  He does have veto power.)

Towels:
- 1 Foy towel
- 1 Jeff towel
- 2 Guest towels
- 2 Beach towels
- 1 big blanket towel

Then I took everything out of the trunk and put it in stacks around the room.  I went through my list and pulled out what was on my list.  I put those things back in the trunk. 


This is what was left over: extra towels, throw blankets, throw pillows and a bunch of cloth napkins.  The napkins were from our wedding.  I collected vintage napkins for the reception.  My grand idea was to make them into a quilt.  However, I don't have the sewing skills and upon closer examination many of the napkins aren't too thin and flimsy.  I did save ten of the large dinner napkins for entertaining.  All the rest of the napkins were gifted to a local artist who uses fabric as her medium.  Everything else was boxed up and sent to Goodwill. 

Now the linen trunk closes!


If I can just clear enough space out of the closet so we can store the window air conditioner, red box and bike rack out of sight that corner of the room will be much less crowded. 

I'm close to going through everything.  I'll tell you about cleaning out the bathroom and dresser drawers next.  Then all that is left is the closet and under the bed. 

I'm excited to be living in an apartment with less clutter.

12.13.2010

Saving Sentimenal Things

I have been getting many comments from people who are concerned about getting rid of things.  The two arguements being sentimental value and possible future use.  In this post I'm going to examine the sentimal value arguement.  Lilycatherine wrote:
I appreciate your point of view and see merit and value to it. BUT, I am much older than you and have a different perspective. Most of my life is spent and most of my family gone. My treasure is an old egg bucket that my grandmother used when I was a child as we walked hand and hand into her hen house to gather eggs. There is the orange carnival glass dish from my other grandma, and the beautiful marble topped sideboard from my late in-laws.....wonderful crocks and spatter ware from my Mother, every piece is a memory of someone dear to me. It is a beautiful and comforting trove of treasure. So give it a little thought if you are looking at tossing something from someone that was given with love, and good luck to you.
I agree, lilycatherine, some items do have sentimental value. I have quite a few of them too. 

I am 29 and I value my past. The carefully chosen things I keep show my commitment to continuing family traditions and keeping memories alive. What I am learning is:

I value what I have more when there is less of it.

I also understand that not everyone is ready or willing to sort through everything in their house.  The purpose of sharing my story has been to stir the pot. And to show by example that living with less isn't a sacrifice.  Choosing to live with less is a mindful evaluation of stuff and the social norms surrounding the accumulation of stuff. 

I'm glad you have the egg bucket and the crocks in your home.  I hope you use them and enjoy them. 

If you were to walk into our apartment today you would find quite a few items that are from my grandparents or my husband's grandparents.  Most of our furniture was inherited or made for me by family. We have a whole set of carnival glass casseroles and custard cups from Jeff's grandma. I used one of the custard cups for cereal this morning.  The round casserole is in the fridge holding leftover scalloped corn.

My quest to reduce what I own by one third isn't about sending heirlooms to Goodwill.  I'm more interested in removing the cheap plastic items from my life; the half melted spatulas, the plates from Target, clothes that don't fit.

If I have family items I'm not using, I am offering them back to my family before donating them. It gives our family a chance to discus each item and think about why we have kept it and make a decision rather than passively letting clutter build up.

I hope the things we donate go to a families that needs them and will put these objects to good use; much better than sitting forgotten in my cabinets.

12.12.2010

The Tender Subject of Books

These are my books before I went through them.
Do you really need your books?

I realize this blog post is going to hit close to home for a lot of people, my own mother included. I’m going to examine books. Why do we keep them? Do you really need all your books? Look at a shelf of your books.   When was the last time you used each book? See, I told you, this is going to be an uncomfortable post.

There is a safety and security in books. They represent knowledge, information and inspiration. They are characters and stories. There is a lot of potential in a book. However, books are only these things *if* they are being read. They only have value when they are read. All the time they have been sitting on a shelf they might as well have been rocks.

In my journey to reduce what I own by one third I have done a lot of reading about others who have chosen to reduce what they own. The post: Breaking the Sentimental Attachment to Books from Becoming Minimalist gave me a good step by step method for thinning down my book collection to just the “Desert Island” books.

My bookshelf after the first pass.
I did have to go through the shelves twice.  The first time I just took out the books I didn’t really want, but had been given or acquired somewhere along the way. The second time I was able to accept that I don’t need all my books. It was this post from Mnmlist: Minimalist Books in which a former bibliophile creates the simple rule: If I don’t plan on reading it in the next six months, it’s out.  I used this rule when I went through my books. It was hard to be honest with myself and not make excuses for keeping some of them. 

Then I was faced with what to do with these books. I could donate them to Goodwill, but are there better options.

I could also:

1. Donate to libraries
2. Give them to a friend who will enjoy them
3. Sell to a second hand book store or on a website like Amazon.
 All of these options set the books free, back out into the world where they can be useful and enjoyed by others. 
These are the books that are left.  Less than half of what I started with.
What will happen to the rest of my books? I plan on donating the plant books to the arboretum’s library; the randoms are going to Goodwill; and a small selection I plan to send to Peace Corps Panama’s Lending Library.

I was a Peace Corps volunteer in (2007-2009). Like many others, I lived without electricity (i.e. no computers, no video games, and no television) and often read several books a week. Books are expensive and when you live on $10 a day, there isn’t any money left over; even then there are very few books to be had. Plus the Peace Corps office's lending library is pretty picked over. It’s mostly best selling paper backs people picked up at airports. The books I donate will have more value in Panama than in my living room.

I can't tell you what to do with your books, but I hope you closely examine why you have them. Ask yourself, "How often do I read this book?  Is this book useful?"

11.29.2010

Beauty in Less - Arranging the Cubes

Before
My dad made me these wooden cubes.  The fit perfectly on this wall.  At first they were just a catch-all of stuff.  After an afternoon of work they are now a practical pretty. 

In my new found minimalism, I have examined the idea that only useful things are necessary.  However, the logical end of this statement is that beauty is unnecessary because it isn't useful.  I don't believe that.  I believe beauty serves a purpose. 

I'm a horticulturist, I specialize in pretty plants.  I believe that ornamental plants are only pretty if they bring joy to people.  I hope my gardens and outdoor areas are appreciated.  I feel the same way about my home.  If I own something that is beautiful but it isn't enjoyed than it isn't useful.  For example, if I own a beautiful bowl but it is stashed in a cupboard and never gets used than it isn't adding beauty, I shouldn't have it.

In our 550 square foot apartment there is limited display area.  I had to choose to make the most of it.  First I cleared the six cubes of all the junk.  Than I put back the things I need to store, such as large books and hanging files.  I took all the pretty things I own and spread them out of the floor. Then I put the things I enjoy most back onto the shelves.  I arranged them to show off their beauty. I chose things for their story, like the cayman skull we found hiking in Panama; for their color like a yellow glass vase Jeff made when he did glass blowing; and for their form like the set of circling fish Jeff made at an iron pour in South Carolina.  The things that couldn't fit nicely on to the shelves have been sorted through and many of them in a pile to be donated. 

After
A new rule has been put in place.  I will only keep beautiful items if they are functional or if they can be enjoyed for their beauty.

When I sit at our table in the bay window I can see right into these wooden cubes.  I enjoy them.  They make me smile.  They have value.

11.21.2010

The Kitchen Cull - One Third Less in the Kitchen


This is it - the one third of the kitchen stuff that has been eliminated.  It includes 19 bowls, 15 plates, 9 pots and pans, 4 glass storage containers, 9 plastic storage containers, 55 cookie cutters, 21 glasses and 22 kitchen gadgets.  Most of this will be donated to Good Will.  Some, which we inherited, will be offered to other family members before donation.  And a couple things like decent knives and microwavable plates are going to my work where they will be added to our lacking communal kitchenette.

Getting rid of one third of the kitchen stuff was a lot of work.  With Jeff's help it took about three hours yesterday.  Now some of the stuff that was up on our soffits fits in the cabinets.  Our kitchen looks much less cluttered.  I have the itch to keep eliminating so I can fit the last couple things inside the cabinets. 

It's been weird working in the kitchen today, although, I haven't missed anything yet.  The biggest change is our random drawer of kitchen implements which holds the carrot peeler, knives, bottle opener and such has a lot more space. 

I was surprised to find several things in the kitchen that just didn't belong there like a hammer and pinking shears.   Those items have been relocated.   We eliminated many plates and bowls that I had accumulated for food photography for my recipe blog.  I do have one set of china I inherited from my grandma that serves eight which we kept.  For everyday use we kept a set of four place settings. Including four wine glasses and goblets, if we ever have more than four people over they can drink out of regular glasses or ball jars or something.  (We don't do disposable.) It will be fine. 

These are all my cookie cutters before.  I pretty much kept all of them from any relatives.  The thing is I only make sugar cookies at Christmas.  I pared it down to just the cookie cutters I remembered from childhood.  I had 69 and now have just the 14 shown below. 


There were several items which Jeff really wanted to keep.  He has veto power and so they stayed.  It wasn't that big of deal, we just got rid of other stuff and still managed to get rid of 1/3 of the items in every category.  And in some categories like plates, and cookie cutters we got rid of significantly more. 

Interestingly we wound up with a list of things we wanted for the kitchen.  Things we either don't have or we have a damaged version.  This included a non-aluminum pie pan, large sauce pan or deep skillet, stock pot (with pasta insert) and better tongs. 

The overall goal is to reduce what we own, but a wonderful side effect of this evaluation is we are able to identify what we'd like to improve; allowing us to increase the over all quantity of what we have as well.  Now we aren't going to run out and buy all these new things.  We will look at our finances and decided when we are willing to invest.  We'll forgo buying other things to have the money for these items.  Plus one of my goals is to only buy five non-essentials until after the New Year.  So I need to consider very carefully what these things will be.  It is also possible that with some research I'll be able to find second hand items that will work. 

What things do you have in your house that you would like to upgrade?  How are you going to go about getting these upgrades?

Evidence of Too Much Stuff - Big Blue Yoga Ball


I like to think that I am better than average that I have am a more mindful consumer than most.  But in cleaning out the closet I have found evidence to the contrary. 

I have one of those yoga ball things.  Okay so maybe you have one of these big blue balls at your house.  Maybe you even use it.  Maybe you're even sitting on it right now.  I'm not.  My giganitic plastic ball has been deflated in my closet for years.  I bought it back in 2002 when I thought I might use it instead of a chair to make my posture better or magically make me look like the girl on the box it came in. 

I've moved this ball to four different states.  I put it in storage for two years while I did Peace Corps.  And now it is taking up valuable closet space.  Have I told you we only have one closet?  

The reason I kept it was because I believed it could get me in better shape and be thinner and prettier.  Yes, I bought into commercial idea of it hook line and sinker.  I have been dragging it around because I still wish I was thinner and prettier.  This ball will never make me thinner and prettier (stage wisper:  It is just a thing.).  So this big yoga ball is going, going, gone.

11.16.2010

Why I am Getting Rid of 1/3 of My Stuff



I realize many of you think I have jumped off the deep end.  Most of you know me as a food blogger.  You'd never know that lurking underneath is a minimalist.  Minimalist...  no, not like the art, like the lifestyle.  Over the last year I've spent a lot of time reading blogs about living lightly on the land, being debt free, learning to live with less.  It wasn't until I started reading RowdyKittens.com that I found a name for this emerging idea: minimalism.  What does minimalism mean?
It means getting rid of many of the things you do so you can spend time with people you love and do the things you love. It means getting rid of the clutter so you are left with only that which gives you value.
 - Leo Babauta
I'm still working through how one goes about decluttering their life.  Value - that's the word I have latched on to.   I do understand that living a minimalist lifestyle means defining values and making them a priority.  It's something most folks, including me, aren't very good at.  It's easy to get caught up in the daily grind.  Eventually I'll have to work on evaluating how I spend my time and looking at the intangible parts of my life, but for now, I'm focusing on the physical stuff I own. 

Jeff asked me yesterday, "Why did you choose to get rid of one third of your stuff?"  Basically because I'm not hard core enough to go down to 100 items.  At least not yet.  Half seemed too extreme and a quarter didn't seem like enough so one third it was.  I'm only a week in and I've only gone through my shoes and the junk drawer, but as I look at what I own and start thinking about editing out one third, it's surprisingly easy.  Knowing that I have already decided to let one third go means that I look at what I really want.  In some cases I can actually let go of more than one third.  The best part is the overall quality of stuff I have is going up and I didn't have to buy a thing. 

What do you think?  Do you think you could go through your home this weekend and find 100 things to donate?  Are you willing to put in the time to get rid of the clutter?  Are you willing at least to consider it? 

11.15.2010

Less Shoes

Jessica Alba's Shoe Collection Via In Style
Shoes have been given a lot of power in modern society.  They signal success, prosperity, a sense of style and femininity.  Celebrities proudly show off their shoe "collections".   I like the idea of shoes.  But it's just emotional baggage.  I don't need shoes to be happy.  I don't need shoes to know I am successful. 

I knew shoes had to be one of the first things to be tackled in my quest to reduce what I own by one third. Plus I keep them all in a plastic bin in the closet; an overflowing plastic bin that I sift through regularly, leaving a mess of shoes on the floor of the closet. 

Now the old me would have wanted to create a better storage system  One that would make my shoes more accessible, visible and take up less space.  Not sure how this miracle would have been performed, but I would have tried.  That or I would have continued to have my dysfunctional shoe bin.  Instead I am going to reduce the shoes I own.  It's that simple.


These are my shoes.  I only have 23 pairs.  Nothing compared to the excess shown in the opening image, but way more than I need.  In fact I'm a little chagrined to say some don't even fit me and some I've had a long time and only worn once or twice.  It actually wasn't that hard.  Here's the seven pair that got cut. 


I took them to Goodwill.  Good-bye shoes. 

The best part, I rediscovered a pair of black boots I bought after visiting Bogota, Columbia where everyone had black boots.  I decided to wear them for the day to see if I wanted to keep them.  They pass muster and I have worn them multiple time this week.  It's an unexpected bonus of going through my stuff.  I'm finding things I forgot I had. 

Are you up for the challenge?

The shoe questions:
  • Have you worn them in the last year?
  • Do they fit?
  • Are they comfortable?
  • Are they significant (wedding shoes)?

11.14.2010

Less Stuff More Action

Hi my name is Foy. I write this blog. I’ve been writing this blog for five years. It’s been many things:
It’s time for another incarnation.

Thank you to all my readers who came for my recipe blog. You helped me reach the goal of cooking food from basic ingredients and buying local as much as possible.

My next mission is to come to terms with the stuff in my life.

I’ve lived the type of lifestyle that forced me to own little. Between the ages of 18-28 I was proud everything I owned could fit in my car. In those ten years I had 37 roommates and lived in 16 different locations. I was a nomad, I was free. Yet somehow I wasn’t free of my stuff. Sure I had to pare down and fit everything in my grandpa’s old Park Avenue Buick, but I kept as much as that car would allow. I couldn’t see out the back window and even the passenger seat was full when I drove to my next apartment.

This drawer is actually called the "junk drawer".
Today I’m 29 and my husband, Jeff, and I live in a 550 square foot apartment. It’s getting crowded. I’ve tried but I’ve never successfully made myself look at what I own from a utilitarian point of view. I always get wrapped up in the emotional story of my stuff. Well, it’s time. I’m going to break up with stuff.

Goal: To confront the belief that stuff makes me happy by identifying the purpose of the things I own; sorting through all my possessions and reducing what I own by one third by the New Year (46 days).

Want to come along and see how it goes? I hope you will. I hope you look at what you own in a different light. I hope you are inspired.

10.23.2010

Happy Wholesome Breakfast Cookies - Healthy, High Fiber Recipe


Early this spring Jeff pointed out that we had a lot of jars of jelly. They were mostly gifts from friends and family. While I love getting homemade preserves, we just don't eat them that often. Jeff made a couple batches of jam thumbprint cookies, but we still had lots of jam. We needed a healthier option than thumbprint cookies.


Then Jeff found a recipe for breakfast cookies. I just used up the last jar of jelly today. I would guess 80% of our jam was used making this breakfast cookie recipe. We make it about every other week. The oats and wheat germ make them wholesome and the pecans and raisins bring lots of flavor to the table.

We tried lots of flavors of jelly: persimmons, blueberry, blackberry, and wild grape - all were tasty. The wild grape goes perfectly with the raisins. If you have peach or apricot jam, I could see adding chopped dried apricots instead of raisins. Anyone have a jar of apricot jam they want to give me?

At first I wasn't impressed with the breakfast cookies because although they look like cookies, they don't taste like cookies. They aren't sweet. They are more like a granola bar, but that still implies sweet. Breakfast biscuit? No, that sounds like it should be light and fluffy and these are definitely dense. I guess cookie is as good description as any. And who knows, perhaps calling these cookies will entice the reluctant breakfast eater.

Just serve them with a cup of coffee or a glass of milk and no one will care what they are called because they are nutty and delicious. Plus they are portable; perfect for eating on the way to school or work.

Happy Wholesome Breakfast Cookies

1/3 cup jam or jelly
3 tablespoons butter melted or olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
2 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
1/4 raisins (optional)

Step 1:  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all the wet ingredients together in a medium bowl - jelly, oil, honey, and egg. 

Step 2:  In a second bowl whisk together the dry ingredients - flour, baking soda, salt, oats, wheat germ, pecans and raisins if desired. 

Step 3:  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix till combined.  This will be a very course dough.  Divide the dough into 12 balls and place on a cookie sheet.  Use the palm of your hand to flatten the balls until the dough is about 3/4 of an inch thick.  These cookies won't spread or rise.  Bake for 15 minutes or until the bottoms turn golden brown. 

Breakfast cookies are wonderful fresh and they store well. 

Yields: 12 cookies

Nutrition for one cookie:  3 Weight Watcher's Points each, 150 calories, 3 grams of fiber, 5 grams of fat and 4 grams of protein. 

10.19.2010

Acorn Squash Stuffed with a Wild Rice Vegetable Pilaf - Recipe


Fall is the best! I love the whole harvest vibe and the golden colors. I've been dragging my camera to work every day so I can snap photos of the autumn brilliance. Then I left my camera at work and then somehow I downloaded all my photos on to my work computer instead of just the plant pictures. All my food photos were stuck at work. I finally remembered to put my food photos on a jump drive and now I have them my laptop and I can finally share this recipe.

Check out these beautiful stuffed acorn squash. They were so tasty I made them twice! I created the recipe as I went along and I wrote down exactly what I did so I could put it up on the blog. I hope you try them. They are perfect for a vegetarian Thanksgiving or really any Thanksgiving. Who am I kidding? This is the perfect meal for any fall evening.
 

What are the acorn squash stuffed with you ask? Wild rice, mushrooms, raisins, leeks and carrots. The combination is rich and nutty with some hints of sweetness from the raisins.



Zeus, the cat we brought back with us from Panama, loves squash.  It's one of his many quirks.  I cut these babies open and he was immediately up on the table checking them out.  He loves the seeds and the stringy bits.  I scooped some into his food bowl so he wasn't licking our dinner, but not before I snapped a photo. 

Acorn Squash Stuffed with a Wild Rice Vegetable Pilaf

2 acorn squash
1 1/3 cups wild rice
5 cups broth chicken or vegetable
1 teaspoon salt
1 lbs of leaks
3 carrots
1 cup raisins (I used half golden and half purple raisins)
2 cups sliced button mushrooms
1 tablespoon butter or fat (I used bacon grease the second time and it was excellent)

 Step 1:  Over medium heat in a sauce pan combine the broth, salt and wild rice and bring to a simmer.  Cover and allow to simmer for twenty minutes.  Meanwhile cut the acorn squash in half and scoop out the seeds and stringy part.  In a 9x13 pan add 1 inch of water and place the squash cut side up in the water.  Bake the squash covered at 400 degrees for twenty minutes.  Baking the squash in water will steam it and, added bonus, if the squash releases any juices they won't stick and burn to your pan. 

Step 2:  Clean and cut the mushrooms, leeks and carrots into half inch slices.  In a sauce pan over medium heat saute the sliced veggies in the fat until they start to soften.  The mushrooms will darken and the leeks will become translucent.  It should take about 10 minutes. 

Step 3:  Take the wild rice off the heat and mix it into the sauteed veggies. The wild rice will finish cooking n the oven, so there should still be some liquid left.  Stir in the raisins.  When the squash finishes its 20 minutes in the oven take it out and drain the water (don't turn off the oven).  Fill each acorn squash half with wild rice mixture and put the remaining wild rice around the acorn squash. 

Step 4:  Cover the pan and bake at 400 for an additional 30 minutes.  Then remove your squash from the oven and let it set five minutes before serving. 

This dish goes great with green beans or broccoli. 

Yields: Four dinner sized servings

Nutrition: 370 calories, 5 grams of fat, 9 grams of fiber and 9 grams of protein.  If you are a following Weight Watchers that's just 7 points. 

10.02.2010

Local Harvest Feast - Project Food Blog Challenge #3



Hosting a luxury dinner party doesn't mean you have to spend all your time in the kitchen or spend a ton of money. This is how I like to celebrate the season and enjoy the end of summer with family and friends.

I can't believe it's already October.  We even have a chance of frost on Monday.  The tomatoes are winding down, the cucumber and summer squash vines are looking pretty pathetic.  I'm already starting to mourn the loss of warm season vegetables.  Every time I eat a tomato, I think, "This could be the last tomato of summer," which might be a little overly dramatic but I love garden fresh tomatoes and I will miss them.  (I refuse to eat the mealy pink things masquerading as tomatoes sold at super market in the winter.) 

For the third Project Food Blog challenge I put together a dinner party showcasing the last of the summer produce.  Most of the ingredients are from the kitchen garden, the local farm stand or wild harvested.  This menu showcases my favorite summer foods: tomatoes, sweet corn, and basil.  Plus some goodies that are available for a very limited window like hickory nuts, bolete mushrooms and wild onions. 


The key to this dinner party is the food can be made in advance so that it only requires quick assembly and some heating.  That way I can spend more time with my guests and less time in the kitchen.  We'll start our dinner with a small bowl of light and creamy corn chowder made from the last harvest of summer sweet corn.  This dish can be made a couple days in advance and held in the refrigerator.  The chowder even improves over night.  To serve, simply reheat it gently on the stove.  Do not let it boil or you'll risk curdling the milk.  Here's the link for the recipe:  Summer Sweet Corn Chowder



The corn chowder is served with wild onion and rosemary bread.  As the nights get cool here in the Midwest, wild onions are coming out of dormancy.  I collected the onions in a low lying wet part of the forest.  The rosemary is from the kitchen garden.  I used half the normal amount of rosemary because I wanted the thyme to come through in the chowder.  Here's the recipe:  Wild Onion and Rosemary Bread

Two small slices of bread satisfy without filling up the guests.  They need to still have an appetite for the main course.  Although I think if I just served the corn chowder people would be happy.  It is amazing.  Even if you don't throw a dinner party you should make it.

The main course is hickory nut basil pesto with roasted cherry tomatoes and a side of bolete mushrooms sauteed in butter. 


The basil is starting to look yellow and peaked now in the garden.  We have time for one last round of pesto.  To make the main course a little more local I opted not to use pine nuts.  Lately pine nuts have been really expensive.  I've been paying about two dollars an ounce.  Apparently there was a bad harvest somewhere that is driving the price up. Local nuts are a less costly option.

Locally there are lots of shag bark hickories.  During a recent camping trip we collected a bucket full of nuts and cracked them open.  I toasted a cup worth of them in a dry pan on the stove before using them in the pesto.  They are bitterer than pine nuts, but they still have the buttery flavor.  It was a nice change and perfect for this local harvest dinner party. 

You can make the pesto up to two days in advance and store it in the refrigerator, but the pasta should be fresh.  Use an angel hair or other thin pasta because they cook in under ten minutes.  Here's a link to the recipe:  Basil Pesto.

While you are waiting for the pasta to boil put cherry tomatoes cut side up on a cookie sheet, sprinkle them with kosher salt and pop them in a hot oven for ten minutes or so until they start looking wrinkled.  This will make them less watery and intensify their flavor.  Serve them nestled on the side of the pesto.   

The cherry tomatoes are the variety 'Sweet Treat'. They have amazing flavor and are quite sweet. I would consider handing them out at Halloween but I don't think they'll last that long. 


To go with the pesto Jeff found the perfect side: wild bolete mushrooms among the leaf litter under a pine tree.  Rather than mix them into the pasta where their flavor would be over shadowed by the basil, I opted to simply saute them in butter and serve them in a small bowl by themselves.  What a treat!  These are really delicate mushrooms so simply clean and prepare them ahead of time, then saute them briefly in a pan with butter before serving.


For dessert, a simple apple crisp with sassafras tea.  I picked some apples off the Johnagold tree outside my office a couple weeks ago.  These are great apples. They bridge the gap for good eating apples and good baking apples.  They have a nice crunch and tend a little to the tart side.  I made them into a quick apple crisp. 

You can make the crisp a day in advance, just keep the topping and apples refrigerated sperately and put it together right before baking.  It takes about 40 minutes to cook.  Put it in the oven when you serve the main course.  That way it will be wonderfully fresh and the smell will permeate the house right about the time you are ready to serve.  Make sure to allow at least five minutes for the crisp to sit.  It should be warm, not scalding.  Here's the recipe for Apple Crisp.

Instead of offering coffee I decided on a local option, sassafras tea.  It has a mild root beer flavor and is the perfect match for apple crisp.  Make the tea in the morning and reheat it before serving.  Find the recipe here for making sassafras tea with fresh roots. 
What a lovely evening.  It was a perfect way to celebrate the end of summer. 

This is my entry for the third Project Food Blog challenge! I hope you liked it, and if you did, become a follower of my blog by clicking the “follow” button in the right hand column.

If you are a Featured Publisher at Foodbuzz, please vote for me. I’d love ya for it, I really would.

•Voting Opens: 6AM Pacific Time October 4th
•Voting Closes: 6PM Pacific Time October 7th

9.25.2010

Moroccan Chicken Kdra with Saffron, Chickpeas and Rice - Project Food Blog #2



The results are in.  You guys voted on which cultural cuisine I should attempt for the second Project Food Blog Challenge: Cook a Classic Dish from another Culture.  South Africa received five votes, Iraq got nine votes and Morocco wins with fifteen votes!

I know very little about Moroccan cooking other than it is exotic and spicy.  I've never even eaten it, only seen it on cooking shows.  Out of my comfort zone?  Check.   With my trusty friend Google, I started by looking up maps of Morocco.  Where exactly is this country?
 
Morocco is one of those countries that falls on the edge of many maps.  I think of it as being on the North West corner of Africa.  I didn't realize it is separated from Spain by the Strait of Gibraltar or that it is so close to Italy, and Greece.  Its northern border is the Mediterranean Sea so this makes sense.  Normally maps divide Africa and Europe so I don't think of them as neighbors.  I actually had to crop a world map to get this view that shows ALL of the countries surrounding Morocco. 

The cookbook I checked out of the library, Taste of Morocco, does a wonderful job putting the food in context.
Morocco is blessed with rich resources and a vibrant food culture reflecting a grand imperialist past and a wealth of influences absorbed over the centuries from its many traders, invaders and conquering powers.  Arab, Phoenician, Senegalese, Sudanese, Spanish, Portuguese, Middle Eastern and in particular, French cuisine can be traced throughout its dishes.  The food is distinct, pungent, seasonal and intensely regional.
I selected a classic Morocco dish: chicken kdra.  Kdra is a tagine, or rather is cooked in a tagine.  A tagine is a heavy clay pot with a cone shaped lid. (It's the pot on the cover of the cookbook.)  The lid is designed to keep moisture in the dish.  The condensation forms on the lid and rolls back down to the bottom, keeping the dish moist even when cooked for hours.  I don't have a tagine, so I'm just using a heavy bottomed pot and I'll be diligent about stirring and checking on moisture content. 

To go with the chicken kdra I'm making the national dish of Morocco, couscous.  Couscous is a made from the semolina of wheat in a process kind of like making flour and then pasta.  Check out this article about couscous  if you want to know more: What is Couscous?  For dessert we'll be having mango slices.



I was surprised I didn't need to go out and find any crazy spices other than saffron.  I cook Indian curries occasionally so I already had ground ginger and turmeric on hand and there is parsley in the garden.  I did have to clarify butter to make ghee, but that's pretty easy.  I made ghee for my Turkish Dinner party a couple of years ago.  All you do is heat the butter until it's a liquid. Let it set and then remove the solids that float to the top or sink to the bottom.  See? Easy. 

The result?  I love chicken kdra.  It's very lemony and the saffron is a spice I'm really enjoying.  It has this earthy, smokey smell that does remind me of pollen.  Saffron is the stamen of a certain crocus flower.  Jeff says it smells a little sulfury and a little like tomatoes in the food dehydrator.  At $6.99 for a half ounce, it's an investment, but it really makes this dish.  The rice and chickpeas add texture and volume.  The chicken is falling off the bone it is so tender.  I'm definitely keeping this recipe! 

Chicken Kdra with Saffron, Chickpeas and Rice
14 oz cooked chickpeas (from 1 cup dry chickpeas or 1 can)
4 pinches of saffron, briefly pan-toasted
1 teaspoon sea salt crystals
3.5 pounds of chicken parts (I used 1 cut-up chicken fryer)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons ghee
2 handfuls of fresh parsley, chopped
2 Spanish onions, halved and sliced
1 ounce long-grained white rice, washed and drained
2 lemons halved

1 2/3 cups couscous
1 tablespoon ghee
2 cups chicken broth
Step 1:  Prepare the chickpeas.  If you are using dry chickpeas, rehydrate them and then remove the loose skins.  If using chickpeas from a can, pour boiling water over the chickpeas in a sieve; remove and discard as many skins as possible. 

Step 2:  Prepare the chicken.  Start by grinding the saffron with the salt to a powder, using a pestle and mortar.  Set aside half of this mixture.  To the remaining half add the ginger, turmeric, butter and parsley, stir it together.  Rub this spice mixture over the chicken, coating well. 



Step 3:  Brown the chicken.  Put the seasoned chicken, onions, and the pulp of one lemon into a large tagine or heavy bottom pan.  Bring to a sizzle; cover and cook for 10 minutes or until the chicken is part browned.  Turn the chicken over, add the skin of the lemon (without the white pith) and 1 1/2 cups of water. 

Step 4:  Add the chickpeas.  Cover and bring back to simmering, cover again and cook for 20 minutes longer.  Add the rice, stir, cover and simmer for 20 additional minutes or until the rice is tender, sauce somewhat thickened and chickpeas hot.  Then squeeze the remaining lemon over top. 

Step 5:  Make couscous.  While the chicken is in its final 20 minutes prepare the couscous by heating the broth to a boil with 1 tablespoon ghee.  Stir in cousous, take off the heat and allow to stand covered for 5 minutes.  Fluff with a fork before serving. 

(The cat decided to come over and check out the dry couscous, he actually started eating it.  Then I put his leash on and put him outside. (Yes, we leash our cat.  I'll tell you why some day.))

Step 6:  Finish the chicken kdra by sprinkling the remaining saffron-salt over top; cover; stand 5 minutes then serve hot with couscous.

Saha wa hana. (Enjoy your meal.)

This is my entry for the second Project Food Blog challenge! I hope you like what you read, and if you do, become a follower by clicking the “follow” button in the right hand column.

If you are a Featured Publisher at Foodbuzz, please vote for me. I’d love ya for it, I really would. 
    • Voting Opens: 6AM Pacific Time September 27th 
    • Voting Closes: 6PM Pacific Time September 30th

      9.23.2010

      Which Exotic Cuisine Would You Cook?

      The next Project Food Blog challenge is to tackle a classic dish from another culture.   I'm bypassing the French and Italian standards in favor of more challenging cuisines. I went down to the library and found several regional cookbooks that are completely out of my comfort zone.  Which of these would you like to see me take on?   



      The choices are:

      A. South African - I have a friend that visited South Africa for her graduate work and she made a South African peanut soup to bring to a potluck, but it spilled in the car and I never got to try it. I picked up the Complete South African Cookbook. Although, I might need to supplement it with a cookbook that has more about the cultural context because this book is mostly recipes. There has to be more to South Africa than the annoying vuvuzela.

      B. Iraq - When I think of the Middle East, I think of conflict and war, talk about out of my comfort zone. But in the Cradle of Civilization there must be depth and richness to their food as well as their history. It would be fun to discover another side to Iraq. I checked out The Iraqi Cookbook which has stunning photos of artfully arranged food in golden light. I also like that this cookbook is geared for the American cook and kitchen.

      C. Morocco - On all the cooking shows, like Master Chef, Moroccan food comes up as this spicy, exotic, amazing food. I know pretty much nothing about this cuisine. The Taste of Morocco from Harira Soup to Chicken Kdra cookbook that I found has beautiful photos of fresh vegetables, lamb and pastries. I like that the book has a glossary of ingredients including substitutions, because I know it will be hard to find za'atar in rural Midwest America.  It's excellent to know thyme, marjoram, oregano with a pinch of pepper is a viable alternative.

      What do you think?  Which should I choose?  Which would you choose?  Go over to the right hand column and vote!  I'll leave the polls open for three days. 

      Results are in check out this post to see which cuisine I'm cooking!

      9.19.2010

      Bread and Herb Butter Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes - Recipe with Nature's Pride Bread



      Bite sized bread and herb butter stuffed cherry tomatoes are the perfect appetizer for a party.The acid of the tomato balances the bread.  The bread soaks up tasty tomato juice making a lovely stuffing with a nicely browned top.  Add a little Parmesan cheese and basil to round out the flavors and you have a very sophisticated and elegant way to entice your guests. 

      The best part? Don't tell, but they are really easy to make.  All you need are these six ingredients: 



       Bread and Herb Butter Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes
      2 slices of Nature's Pride potato bread
      24 cherry tomatoes (about one pint)
      2 tablespoons butter
      1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
      2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
      1 tablespoon fresh chopped basil
      Step 1:  Prepare the tomatoes.  Wash the cherry tomatoes and then cut the tops off.  Use a small spoon, I found my 1/2 teaspoon was just the right size, to scoop out the seeds and middle part of the tomatoes.  Make sure not to pierce the walls.  Then lightly salt the inside of each cherry tomato.

      Step 2:  Make the bread stuffing.  Tear the Nature's Pride potato bread into large chunks and put it in the food processor with the butter, Parmesan cheese, parsley and basil.  Pulse 4-6 times or until the bread is fine crumbs. 



      Step 3:  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a casserole dish that is just big enough to hold the tomatoes snugly.  You don't want them shifting around.  Fill each cherry tomato with stuffing.  I used the same 1/2 teaspoon to lightly press the stuffing in and then mound it on top. 



      Step 4:  Place the stuffed tomatoes in the casserole and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.  Remove from the oven, let cool at least five minutes before serving.  They are best hot, but they can also be held and served at room temperature. 

      Yields 24 servings.
         


      This blog post and recipe are for the Nature's Pride Bread Ambassador program.  Although I bought the bread myself, I'm told I might get a coupon for a free loaf, but whatever.  I like planning party food.  This was a fun little challenge.

      9.17.2010

      Fall Apple Crisp - Recipe



      I can't believe the apples are ripe!  Fall is really here.  And with fall come shorter days, comfy sweaters, mulled cider, and pumpkins.  My favorite holiday is just a couple months away!  What foodie doesn't love Thanksgiving?  But we aren't quite there yet.  We are still back at apples. 

      I love apple crisp.  It is simple, tasty and will make your whole house smell like apples and cinnamon; the perfect dessert for autumn.  It is also a great way to use less than perfect apples.  Just cut out the bad spots, no one will ever know. 

      One of the biggest down falls to many crisps is that they aren't crispy.  They are soggy.  This recipe earns the name crisp.  The method for cutting the flour into the butter and sugar keeps the topping from getting heavy and bogged down and the nuts add some texture and crunch. 

      Get in the spirit, go pick some apples and make your own fall apple crisp. 

      Fall Apple Crisp

      Topping:
      6 tablespoons of unbleached flour
      1/4 cup brown sugar
      1/4 cup white sugar
      1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
      1/4 teaspoon salt
      5 tablespoons unsalted butter
      1/4 cup coarsely chopped nuts such as pecans or walnuts
      1/2 cup old fashion rolled oats 
      Filling:
      6 apples
      1 teaspoon lemon juice
      1/8 cup honey
      Step 1:  Make the topping by combining the flour, sugars, spices and salt in a food processor, pulse a couple times until combined.  Cut the chilled butter into 1/2 inch pieces.  Add the butter to the food processor mixture and pulse until it combines to a lumpy sand texture.  Four to five 1-second pulses should do it.  Do not over do it or the mixture will get sticky and the crisp topping, well it won't be crisp. 

      Step 2:  Pour the mixture in the food processor into a medium sized bowl and add the nuts and rolled oats.  Use a spoon to mix it all together.  (Don't use your hands, their heat will melt the butter and we want the butter to be firm.)  Then put the topping into the refrigerator to keep the butter solid while you work on the filling. 

      Step 3:  Preheat the oven to 375F.  Make the filling.  Core the apples and then chop them into 1-inch segments.  I leave the skin on, but you can peal the apples if you like.  You should have about 6 cups of apple chunks.  Toss the apples with the lemon juice to keep them from browning. 

      Step 4:  To assemble the crisp, butter a 9x9 or 9 inch round baking dish.   Pour the apple chunks into the baking dish.  Drizzle the honey on top.  Then use a rubber spatula to scrape the topping over the top.  Use the spatula to evenly distribute the topping.  Bake the crisp uncovered for 40 minutes. Then turn the oven up to 400 and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until the topping is lightly browned and the filling is bubbly. 

      Let sit for five minutes at least before serving.  Serve warm with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream or a dollop of fresh whipped cream and a cup of coffee.  Yields 4-6 servings.

      9.15.2010

      Project Food Blog Challenge #1: Ready, Set, Blog!



      Hi I’m Foy! Welcome to my kitchen. I am convinced the best food is home grown and that nourishing meals can be enjoyed on a tiny budget.

      You’ll find lots of recipes here as well as a community of readers that have great ideas for how to use up all those tomatoes or what to do with parsnip; you know the big questions in life.

      I let what’s ripe in the garden or what I can gather in the woods determine the menu. Then I try out recipes that use whole ingredients and write about my experiences.

      You won’t find jars of spaghetti sauce or cans of cream of mushroom soup on these pages. What you will find are seasonal ways to prepare and enjoy food along with occasional pictures of my crazy Panamanian cat. His name is Zeus and he got in the oven all by himself, I swear. 



      There are lots of recipes for dishes like this Roasted Beets, Peaches and Goat Cheese Salad with a Citrus Pecan Dressing:



      This summer I got the chance to share some of my food preservation recipes.

      From Top Left Clockwise: dehydrating tomatoes, freezing pesto, dill pickles, freezing strawberries
      Canning, freezing and drying are great ways to bank the bounty of summer and save time and money later in the year. We are in full swing harvest right now in the Midwest. To tell the truth, it’s kind of crazy in the kitchen. I’m freezing pesto, oil packing dehydrated tomatoes, making stock and putting up pickles. I even decided to try corn relish for the first time.

      Looking ahead, in October, I’ll be focusing on pumpkin and winter squash dishes.
      • Roasted butternut squash
      • Curried pumpkin soup
      • Some sort of delicious pumpkin dessert that isn’t pumpkin pie… I haven’t come up with it yet. I am hoping it involves walnuts or possibly pecans.
      I want your ideas too! How do you prepare winter squash?

      And one other little thing, I’m throwing my name in the hat. I’m competing in the FoodBuzz.com challenge, Project Food Blog. If I advance, you’ll see exciting posts that are a little out of my comfort zone, like throwing a dinner party, step by step foodie photo shoot tutorial, and tackling a classic dish from another culture. I’d be thrilled if you came along for the ride.
      I hope you like what you read, and if you do, become a follower by clicking the “follow” button in the right hand column.

      If you are a Featured Publisher at Foodbuzz, please vote for me. I’d love ya for it, I really would. 
      • Voting opens 6:00 am Pacific Time September 20th
      • Voting closes 6:00 pm Pacific Time September 23rd.