Monday, October 6, 2008

How to get it all done and still have fun

This may be one of my most valuable tips ever. It will help you accomplish more of your everyday tasks than any other I know. Once you try this you will feel liberated; freed from the oppressive rule of your daily household chores. You may even start to look forward to the work that you usually dreaded doing!

Okay, here it is: Buy a headset for your home phone. That's it. Let me explain how a headset can change the everyday grind from something you dread to something that you actually don't mind doing. When I get up in the morning I make my cup of coffee and I tend to the little ones. Make sure they have breakfast, get to the potty and get diapers changed. Then I don my phone and headset and I call my mom. As we chat about anything and everything I unload my dishwasher from the night before. We keep talking and I keep cleaning. Wiping counters, sorting laundry and making beds. On the other end she is doing the same thing. The only thing I can't do, for obvious reasons, is talk on the phone and vacuum. I even talk on the phone when I am cleaning bathrooms and mopping the floor. If I run out of things to talk about with mom I call my sister. When it's time to make dinner I pick up the phone and get cooking. It is so liberating!

You know, this makes me think of something that my mother once told me. When she was a brand new house wife she lived next door to a very good friend. They would get up in the morning and do their housework together. Literally one would go over to the others house and they would make beds and whatever else needed to be done together. Isn't that awesome? I think that talking on the phone to my mom or sister while I work is the next best thing to doing it side by side with them. And having a headset makes it possible.

Let me know if you give this a try!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

How to make perfect lump free gravy

With Thanksgiving around the corner I thought that I would share my secret to perfect gravy. A lot of people tell me that they hate making gravy and they will shamefully admit that they will just use canned gravy or a gravy mix. Say it isn't so! Most of those "over the counter" gravies have MSG and all kinds of other stuff in them that does not belong on your Thanksgiving table. Here's my solution to making a great lump free gravy:

First, you have to decide what kind of thickener you are going to use. If you are going to make a milk gravy, you will want to use flour. If you are making a clear light brown or brown gravy you will want to use corn starch.

Next, you will want to get your thickener ready. Place the flour or cornstarch in a bowl and then slowly add a little milk, water or broth, first forming a paste. Don't add hot liquid or you will cook the flour or cornstarch. By making a paste first you are not giving the flour or cornstarch the opportunity to cook in a lump before it has been evenly distributed throughout the gravy. After you have a paste slowly start stirring in more liquid until is is thin enough to pour easily. Now set the thickener aside. If you have a pan with drippings you will want to place it in the stove over a burner. (assuming that it is stove top safe) If there is not a substantial amount of liquid you will want to add water or stock to the pan. If you don't have pan drippings to work with you can still make a very good gravy by using canned stock and reducing it a little bit. (boiling it until it reduces by almost half) Bring it to a boil and stir using a whisk to dissolve and lift any of the baked on bits in the pan. Once you have brought it to a boil you will want to quickly whisk in your thickener. Stir the thickener one more time to make sure that the flour or cornstarch didn't settle to the bottom. Then pour into the boiling liquid with one hand while whisking with the other.

It shouldn't take long for the gravy to thicken. I'm sorry I do not have actual recipe measurements, I just always guess. I think that I use about a about tablespoon of flour for every cup or so of liquid. When I am using cornstarch is is probably more like 2 teaspoons for every cup or so of liquid. I always check the seasoning as the gravy is thickening. If you are making a brown gravy, try adding soy sauce in place of salt sometime. Please comment if you have questions and let me know if you try this method and how it worked for you.

Mopping the floor...

I know that it sounds crazy but this is something that I am passionate about. There is only one right way to mop a floor. First, you have to vacuum it. Once I met this lady who was in the cleaning business and she told me that she mopped before she vacuumed. I will never forget that because it made absolutely no sense to me! I mop on my hands and knees using a wet bar towel. I fold it in half and then half again. I carry Lysol mixed with water in a spray bottle and I mist the floor and then mop over it with the towel. I cover about 8 to 12 square feet and then I flip the towel over and keep going. When the two outside sides are dirty I rinse the towel out under running water very well and then refold it and keep mopping.

I like this method because I feel like I can cover more area before I need to rinse out my mop. With a sponge mop I would be rinsing it out constantly. With a regular mop head on a stick I don't feel like I get enough pressure to actually clean the floor. When you are down on your hands and knees you see a lot more than you would if you were just standing and mopping. You can also get to the corners and the baseboards easier. There is something about a clean floor that relaxes me. I clean my house every Friday and I always do the floor first because it is the biggest and most physical part of the job. When the floor is done I feel like I am three quarters done with the house!

I would love to know if there is anyone else out there like me when it comes to mopping the floor. Incidentally, it also seems that if there is even the smallest sticky spot on the floor my feet will find it. That drives me crazy! I think that it also drives my family crazy to hear me going on about every sticky spot that I find but, oh well, I don't see that changing any time soon.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Going to have a busy day? Here's an easy dinner...

When I worked outside the home I used to love to make this vegetable beef stew for dinner. Now that fall is here I will be making it often. It's so simple, you'll need a crock pot to make it and you will want to start it in the morning. The only labor intensive part is peeling and dicing 2 small to medium potatoes, dicing half an onion and cutting up a carrot or two. Do that the night before if you are pressed for time in the morning.

Hearty Vegetable Beef Stew
1 lb. beef stew meat
2 small to medium potatoes, diced
2 carrots peeled and sliced
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
1 14 oz. can of beef broth/stock
1 14 oz. can of cut green beans, undrained
1 14 oz. can of corn, undrained
1/4 to 1/2 c. red wine
salt and pepper to taste

Dump the ingredients into the crock pot in the order listed. What I love about this recipe is that you can put the beef in completely frozen, straight from the freezer if you want to. You can stir, but it's not necessary. Set on the low, 8 to 10 hour setting and enjoy when it's time for dinner. If you are home during the day you can give it a couple stirs but it's not really necessary until right before serving.

Let me know if you try it and how you liked it!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A mommy moment...

I just can't stop smiling. I have a two and a half month old and today for the first time I heard her laugh. It was a real belly laugh; I was tickling her cheeks and under her chin. I melted. She is the last of four; I have twin daughters that are 15 and a half and a son that is three. When I brought the youngest one home, my son looked at her and asked her " you like pink?" In the months before her birth I guess we had accumulated a lot of pink.

My twins are identical and even though they are alike in a lot of ways they still manage to have great differences. They are so smart and an awesome help with the younger two; I couldn't be more proud of them. You know, thinking back to when they were babies and I was just running in survival mode, I would have never guessed that they were going to become as diverse and accomplished as they are. I was practically a baby myself when they were born; God has been right there with them, there is no other explanation for the wonderful young women they have become. Oh, and one of the funniest things they ever asked me, "Mommy, who took care of us when you were little?"

My son is just a riot, so predictable and so personable. Like his sisters, he is extremely smart. He knew all his capital letters by the time he was two. I love the funny things that he says, and I hope I never forget them. They are precious. The first time he saw his baby sister breastfeed, he asked me what she was doing. I told him that she was eating her dinner. He replied, "No, she's eating you." And besides the time he made sure to specify that he wanted the milk that came out of the refrigerator that was all he ever said about that.

Some days I can't believe how blessed I am to be the mother of four of the most wonderful children. I also have to laugh at how crazy and tense and silly it can get around here. I love them, I fear for them, I worry for them, I push them to be their best, I make them mad at me. Oh, but I do it all for them, I hope that they know that some day.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A bit too obsessive with the cleaning?

I can't help it; I love clean, I love organized. I sing the praises of Lysol and Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. I follow my family around and pick up after them to the point of annoyance. My kitchen sink sparkles and my trash cans are always empty. I firmly believe that there is nothing wrong with vacuuming at 9:00 at night. Or cleaning your baseboards once a week. I bought a new vacuum just for the accessory that is for cleaning window blinds. Do I have a problem?

Just recently we were having someone over for dinner and I was doing my usual running around to get the house ready. As I pulled out a stool to stand on and readjust the folds of my living room window drapes, my husband commented "I didn't know that Martha Stewart was coming over." Doesn't everyone do that? It's like, if I know that something somewhere is dirty or unorganized...I can't forget about it. Once it is done, it's like cleaning the cobwebs out of the corners of my mind. That's the best way that I can explain it.

That's why I titled this blog Betty Crocker or Off Your Rocker. I'll let you decide which of those I might be because I am too busy reorganizing my Tupperware cupboard to worry about it...