Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Favorites

I will be on a plane coming home today. And after traveling for 2 weeks I will just want to crash and be. One thing to help me unwind is baking....this recipe feels like it is putting pounds to my hips just reading it.....

Millionaires Shortbread by Taste and Tell

Soaking in a tub sounds good too so here is 5 homemade bath salts and soaks

Old Spice Rack - A great thrift recycling idea for a spice rack.

A project to help raise awareness for Habit for Humanity by recycling and revamping old furniture.

Such as this at Centsational - taking a footboard and making it into a message center.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The American Historic Cookbook Project

I have a love for cookbooks, especially old cookbooks. So when I found the Feeding America: The American Historic Cookbook Project website, it was something I had to instantly bookmark. The site is a collection of old cookbooks that have been scanned and are available for your PDF reviewing pleasure, for the rock bottom price of free. The books have also been transcripted for searching too.

The site is great for anyone who likes to cook or enjoys history, but it has some especially interesting tidbits for submissive women. I say that because many of these books were written in the 1800s and early 1900s before women's lib, it was expected at that time that women would be domestically oriented and submissive to their husbands. I enjoy the fact that many of these books are written by women for women and the frankness of their domestic and "wifely"duties.

I hope you'll take a minute to look at the project and enjoy the many tips included in these books. The tips range from home keeping to cooking to frugality and everything in between. I know I'll be spending time there when I can and printing out pages now and then too.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Book: The Flavor Bible

The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chef by Karen Page, Andrew Dornenburg

A description from Barnes & Noble's website:
"Great cooking goes beyond following a recipe--it's knowing how to season ingredients to coax the greatest possible flavor from them. Drawing on dozens of leading chefs' combined experience in top restaurants across the country, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg present the definitive guide to creating "deliciousness" in any dish. Thousands of ingredient entries, organized alphabetically and cross-referenced, provide a treasure trove of spectacular flavor combinations. Readers will learn to work more intuitively and effectively with ingredients; experiment with temperature and texture; excite the nose and palate with herbs, spices, and other seasonings; and balance the sensual, emotional, and spiritual elements of an extraordinary meal. Seasoned with tips, anecdotes, and signature dishes from America's most imaginative chefs, THE FLAVOR BIBLEis an essential reference for every kitchen."

I am really really wanting to have this book. Just as I said about the other book by these authors I read - it is AMAZING! It isn't a cookbook but it is an essential reference for the kitchen and every cook. I learned things about seasoning that I would have never thought of if not picking up this book. It will make it easier for anyone to adjust any recipe to fit what you have one hand. I feel it it will help one be more creative and inventive when cooking. It will just make you into a better cooked. I know that there is so much more I would learn from it by having it in the kitchen.

A quote from the first chapter in the book....that I think summed up the book well...
"Flavor is a 'language' that anyone who love pleasures of the palate will find to be well worth mastering. Once you master the language of flavor, you can use it to communicate -- and become a better cook."

The book has 3 sections but really the third section takes up most of the book. The first section is on learning to recognize the language of food. The taste, aroma, how it feels and that x-factor. And then the second sections is maximizing the flavor by communicating the language of food. And then the final section is like the What to Drink with What You Eat book where it is basically lists. It gives lists of herbs, spices, fruit, vegetables, meat, vinegar, oils, alcohols and so on - and then each list has details under it. Such as if you look up artichokes it tells you when they are in season, the weight, the volume and the technique to use with them. (It goes into the weight and volume more also in earlier sections.) And then under it lists every seasoning that goes with artichokes, cuisines that goes them and flavor affinities. Plus with some ingredients there is a little sidebar box that says "Dishes" and it has chefs from around the world tell how a dish they make with that ingredient. Such one for artichokes says, "Fettuccine with house-made pancetta, artichokes, lemon and hot chilis -- Mario Batali, Babbo (New York)" and under Skirt Steak there is one that says, "Skirt steak marinated in seville oranges and limes --Maricel Presilla, Zafra (Hoboken, New Jersey)."

I know I won't be able to say enough good things about this book. I just feel it covers so much and gave me such amazing inspiration in the kitchen. And has helped me be a better cook. I checked it out from the library but know I would love to have it in the kitchen all the time!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday Favorites

Still Tasty - How long will your favorite food or beverage stay tasty? This website will help teach how to best store your food.

The Secret Recipe Blog - A blog dedicated to helping you recreate your restaurant favorites in your own kitchen.

25 Vintage Food Prep Tips- "This collection of vintage tips was gathered from books and magazines that were published in the 1940’s, most are still quite useful for today’s kitchen." (website summary)

Manage My Home- This website offers help for small do-it-yourself projects and repairs in the home. There's also a section that has copies of thousands of household appliance manuals. I've used that section a lot!

Garden Guides - Garden tips and techniques from beginner to expert gardeners.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

When Fate Hands You A Lemon, Clean With It.

From Frugal Families: Frugal Cleaning Using Lemons.

  • Lemons are great at dissolving soap scum and mineral deposits. Apply lemon juice directly to your shower doors, tub and tile to make it sparkle. Then rinse.

  • A bit of lemon juice will also clean and shine brass and copper faucets and fittings.

  • A nice cleaning paste can be made with lemon juice, baking soda and a bit of vinegar.

  • Cut a lemon in half, and sprinkle some baking soda on the exposed lemon half. Then use it to scrub the dishes and remove stubborn stains from kitchen sinks and kitchen counters.

  • Add lemon peels to your vinegar and water solution when cleaning to neutralize the vinegar smell.

  • Mix lemon juice with a little olive oil to make a great furniture polish. This is a great natural polish for hardwood.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stuffed Pasta Shells

I had lots of spinach so was wondering what to do with it. And so one meal I made with it was stuffed pasta shells.

1 lb fresh spinach cooked, drained and squeezed or a 10 ounce package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 cups ricotta - I used low-fat skim-milk ricotta
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 pound mozzarella, finely chopped or shredded
2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil or 2 tsp. dried, crumbled
1 large garlic clove, minced
salt and pepper to taste

3 to 4 cups tomato sauce or marina sauce - I made a homemade tomato sauce and then added browned ground spicy Italian sausage to it. I covered the bottom of pan with just tomato sauce first though before adding meat.
1 box cooked jumbo pasta shells (about 32 to 36 shells)

If using frozen spinach, thaw and squeeze to get as much water out as you can. If using fresh, cook, covered, for 2-3 minutes in 1/4 cup boiling water; drain and squeeze to get as much water out as you can.

Transfer spinach to large bowl. Add ricotta, parmesan, mozzarella, basil and garlic to bowl. Season mixture with salt and pepper; blend.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Spoon 1/2 cup tomato sauce evenly over bottom of 9"x13" baking dish. Fill each pasta shell with spinach mixture. Place shells - filling side up in pan. Spoon remaining sauce over shells. I usually sprinkle with some more Parmesan cheese but forgot this time. Cover loosely with foil and bake until heated through, about 30 minutes. Serve.

You can also freeze this after you spoon remaining sauce over shells. It freezes for up to 4 months. And you can take straight from the freezer to the oven just cooking it for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Top photo ready to serve and second photo shells in pan before spooning remaining sauce over them. This recipe makes so is good for a big family or to freeze for later.

I found this youtube video so you can see the process a bit better. But her recipe is slightly different then mine.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Book: Betty Crocker Cookbook

Nothing gourmet about this book. But this is the book that I used to teach myself how to cook and it is still a resource I go to often. It has all the basics: how to bake an apple pie, make stew, make fried chicken, how to boil corn on the cob, bake a potato, steam vegetables, how to cook certain cuts of meat and how to use measuring cups. If you are just learning to cook, this is a good starting place. It is one that I think you will turn to quite a bit.

Also this book has had so many revisions. I am not sure what edition mine is but I do remember my first one was given to me by my Mom in 1991 for a bridal shower gift. Unfortunately it was sitting on the counter and a watermelon I got for 4th of July one year was sitting on the counter in front of it and burst ruining almost all my cookbooks. Some that were my grandmothers - you know the kind that church ladies make up for fundraisers. Luckily I was able replace the Betty Crocker right away because I couldn't live without it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday Favorites

Easy Summer Grilling Menus - It is a slide show that goes through 15 summer time menus. I know Martha Stewart again. But oh my some of these recipes just made my mouth water. And having them in menu form just makes it one step easier to me to not have to think about what else to make.

7 Deadly Sins in Decorating - very easy to read and understand article.

3 Kitchen Gadgets from At Home with Kim Vallee - Okay I saw that first one, the cooking mesh, in Metropolitan Home's June 2009 issue and I have been really thinking about it since. I know there is no-way I would find it in my little town even though we do have a nice kitchen store. And a Bed, Bath and Beyond. But it is something I hope to be able to add to the gadgets in the kitchen. The other 2 products look cool too. Especially the third item. I took a look at Lekue's website also and looks like several handy items there.

Free Curtain Patterns - It gives patterns beyond just making a channel and hemming.

And because I am leaving for vacation today....What to Pack for your Vacation

Squash Casserole

For those with overachieving gardens, such as mine.

4 medium-sized yellow squash
2 tablespoons water
2-4 tablespoons butter
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup bread crumbs
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
½ cup sour cream
1 egg
1 tablespoon sugar, optional
salt and pepper to taste


  1. Wash and slice 4 medium-sized yellow squash.

  2. Place squash in microwave safe dish with 2 tablespoons water.

  3. Cook squash on high about 7-9 minutes, until soft.

  4. Preheat oven to 325.

  5. Heat small skillet over medium heat and add butter.

  6. Saute chopped onion in butter until soft, about 3-4 minutes.

  7. Drain squash and place in large bowl. Mash with potato masher or with fork.

  8. Add onion mixture. Then add the remaining ingredients and mix well. NOTE: be careful to mix quickly when adding the egg so it doesn’t scramble.

  9. Bake in greased casserole dish for 40-45 minutes, until top is browned.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Butternut Squash-Apple soup

We're harvesting a lot of squash from our garden, so on the menu is Butternut Squash-Apple soup. (yes, I know it's hot outside. But it's still yummy and not too heavy)

My favorite accompaniments are crusty warm bread and a baby spinach salad with apples, craisins, blue cheese and walnuts.

Butternut Squash-Apple soup
6 tablespoons chopped onion
4 tablespoons butter
3 pounds butternut squash, halved and seeded
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cubed
3 cups low sodium, low fat chicken broth
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
6 ounces low fat cream cheese, cubed

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a baking dish, place the squash cut side down. Pierce squash in several places with sharp knife. Bake for approximately 45 minutes or until flesh is tender.

2. Scoop out the cooked squash when cool enough to handle. Discard peel.

3. In a large saucepan, saute onions in butter until tender. Add apple cubes, chicken broth, ginger, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Cook until apples are tender.

4. Add in squash and cream cheese cubes. Use hand held blender (or food processor) to puree the soup. Heat soup again right before serving- do not boil.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Chicken in a Rut...

A post Kaya made a while back reminded me that I do stuff my boobs quite a bit too. It is something that I call chicken in a rut. I look in the fridge and see what I can do to make them different and stuffing them with different veggies, meats, cheeses is an easy solution to making chicken be a little more special. And helps me get rid of some left overs too.

The first time I stuffed chicken breasts, I had taken some boneless chicken breasts out and thought what will I make with these. Because I just got stuck in that rut of doing the same things with them always. All day I rolled several ideas around but nothing really sounded like "yes that is it!"

So right before needing to start dinner, I looked into the fridge and saw I had sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, basil, Parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, thin sliced ham so I took all those things chopped and mixed together. I pounded the chicken breasts and then spread it with the mixture and rolled them up. I dipped them in a beaten egg and coated them whole wheat bread crumbs. Secured with toothpicks. And baked.

The key is to not overcook them. Because they are pounded out and get thinner - it is easy to over cook them as they don't seem to need to bake as long.

Here is how they turned out....

They had amazing flavor.

Real Simple Magazine

I am sure this will be a temporary deal for Amazon but they have Real Simple listed at $5.00 for a year subscription. That is so inexpensive. I don't have a subscription but I pick them up every so often just because I really do enjoy the magazine. I will admit they seem to at time be more about promoting products then actually making life simpler. But I have ripped out, used and saved many articles and tips found in the magazine. So for me the things found outweigh the promoting products aspects.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday Favorites

60 Summer Side Dish Recipes - some really yummy easy looking sides. Side for me are always something I am trying to figure out and never know what to cook or just do the same ones over and over.

Making a Table Cloth - I have at times not found the color or size I wanted so this is something I think would be easy to do

Bar Planning 101 - has questions with fix it solutions for when setting up a bar for a party

Table Settings with Pictures - It has from traditional to themes (such as Asian table decorations). I think it might be a good place when throwing a party and needing to set and decorate the table.

Hostess with the Mostess - Totally what the name implies. Party ideas, recipes, entertaining help and finds to help you make your party better.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Organization & Freebies

We had a two week vacation in Florida and I seem to be having trouble catching up around here since we got home. I've been really busy lately preparing to paint our living room and keeping up with other household chores, and lets not forget entertaining on the 4th - it always seems as if everything falls apart while we're on vacation. The routine that was established prior to leaving rumbles and sputters in protest once we return.

Daddy is always understanding of the "recovery" process, but the last few days I can see his patience wearing help me (and hopefully you!) get back into the organized swing of things here are a few websites I've stumbled across lately - While I haven't tried all of them, they seem really practical in theory. Feel free to add to the list, or keep me posted if any of these are useful!

Hopefully you'll find at least one or two new websites to bookmark - the best part? They're all free - Enjoy!

PS. I have a delicious post brewing - it's bacon related, and it will change your life. Check back for that in the next few days :)

The OCD in me really enjoys the color coding aspect of this site...I also enjoy some of the other links they provide, like the summer reading list, among others.

Wish you had some help organizing your family life? Cozi is a FREE web service that helps you manage your family calendar, track your shopping and to do lists, organize your chores, and share favorite memories with your friends and relatives. Access Cozi from anywhere—home, work, or on the go—with any computer or mobile phone. All you need to get started is a Cozi account—it's quick and easy, with no downloads required!

The Ultimate Grocery List

A free one-page shopping checklist organized by aisle - put an end to the shopping cart shuffle!

There are a lot of downloadable grocery lists out there, but none are as good as The Ultimatest. Why is this one better? Comprehensiveness. Categorization. Cleverness. Helpful clues and cues. Creativity. And... it's portable, unlike a lot of shopping list software that requires you to be in front of a computer.


I'm always struck by how expensive Daily Planner books are - this website proves organization doesn't have to cost a penny...Customize your own planner, choose from over 100 templates. is a community site whose focus is on paper-based productivity, planning, journalling and creative techniques. Here you will find the official D*I*Y Planner kits, as well as daily articles, scores of useful templates, handbooks and how-to's, forums for discussing productivity in its many forms, images to clad your planners or inspire you, and so much more.

The rules are simple: be nice, try to help each other, and don't be afraid of sharing your advice, no matter how wacky or unorthodox it may be. After all, inspiration may lurk in the least obvious places, even for something as seemingly mundane as time management.

Book! Project Gutenberg

Great resource for free books - when you just don't have time to go to the library.

Project Gutenberg is the first and largest single collection of free electronic books, or eBooks. Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg, invented eBooks in 1971 and continues to inspire the creation of eBooks and related technologies today.


I recently checked and saw they've created a $9.99 a year plan for Ecards, or .99 cents per card. I didn't stick around long enough to see if I could dig around for a free option...instead I searched and found an awesome Ecard site - Convenient. Funny. Free. Happy Everything!

From highball hilarity to lowbrow mundanity, is your one stop shop for online missives. An intriguing invite? A clever birthday wish? Hey, it's your experience. We're just writing the cards.

Packing Lunch

Every weekday morning, I pack two lunches, one for me and one for Master for our workday lunch breaks. I'm sure I'm not alone in my lunch packing duties, and while it can be an incredibly frugal and healthy option, it can also be time-consuming on hectic mornings and can have the tendency to get a bit boring and repetitive.

Several years ago, it occurred to me that I needed to simplify the lunch routine and make it easier on weekday mornings. After thinking on it for a while, I came up with a plan. The first part of the plan involved buying more plastic containers, Master gave me permission to do so and we found a great set of the locking lid type at Costco. The extra containers give me enough of various sizes to pack 10 lunches at once (a week's worth).

Here's my plan:

  • On Sundays, I do as much prep work as possible. If we're having soup for lunch, I make the soup and divide it among the containers. If we're having salads, I pick from the garden, wash, chop and assemble the salads before packing them in the containers. I chop up snack items too, right now we have a ton of radishes in the garden, I quarter them and put them in containers for workday snacking.
  • We have a habit of eating some fruit every day with lunch too. If the fruit requires some prep work, I get that ready on Sunday and pack it up (draining of home canned fruit for instance). If the fruit can be packed whole (apples, pears, bananas), I just make sure its washed and ready for weekday morning packing.
  • I try to make snacks now and then for lunches as well. I do that on Sunday and divvy it up if necessary. Cookies, roasted seeds, nuts, etc. get split up into plastic bags and stored in a cabinet for quick packing.
  • Master likes to have sandwiches in His lunches often and those I do make each morning. On Sundays, I just make sure I have everything ready for quick assembly: lettuce is washed and ready to go, plenty of mayo on hand, meats and onions sliced, etc.

Having all that prep work done, doesn't generally take too long, and means that each workday morning, I can just grab our lunch bags; throw in a few containers, some silverware, and maybe a quick love note for Master and we're out the door with no muss, no fuss.

Since, I'm sharing my favorite lunch packing ideas, I figured I'd share one of Master's favorite lunch box treats: Peanut Butter Crispy Treats

  • 1 Cup Smooth Peanut Butter
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Cup Light Corn Syrup
  • 6 Cups Rice Crispy Type Cereal

Combine the sugar and corn syrup in a saucepan and heat over medium heat until thin and bubbly. Remove from the heat and stir in the peanut butter until it melts. Pour this peanut butter mixture over the cereal, mixing well. Pour the entire mixture into a 9X13 pan and allow to cool. Cut into bars and enjoy!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Month of Menus

A month worth of menus....but first a few links...

Woman's Day Menus Archive
Simple Mom's How to Create a Menu
Here is a post I did a while ago on Meal Planning

June 1 - 7
Monday - salad with roasted chicken on it and left over biscuits
Tuesday - meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, steamed California veggies with ground pepper (I am going to be out of town for 2 weeks in July so I am trying to make things and then freeze the left overs for Master to eat when I am out of town -meatloaf is something that freezes well so that is why I made it - I normally don't make it a lot during warmer months though)
Wednesday - BBQ Chicken & Bacon Pizza and salad
Thursday - Tuna Casserole and baby lima beans with sage and lemon
Friday - left overs
Saturday - out of town
Sunday - out of town

June 8 - 14
Monday - Chinese-take out
Tuesday - chicken thighs in crockpot with veggies and salad *This actually turned out gross. I did a marinade that I used on the chicken and veggies and it ended up being way to vinegary - threw out quite a lot of veggies because of it
Wednesday - brats and baked beans - with side salads
Thursday - left overs
Friday - grilled chicken breasts (marinated in lime juice, soy sayce, garlic and onion) served with baked potato and steamed green beans with pepper and garlic
Saturday - deli sandwiches and potato chips
Sunday - Porkchops in the crockpot with just a little olive oil drizzled on them and then Penzeys Bavarian Mix sprinkled on them, stuffing and peas

June 15 - 21
Monday - a skillet dish - ground beef, ginger, teriyaki sauce, milk, a little cornstarch and rice served with stir-fried veggies
Tuesday - left overs
Wednesday - taco salad
Thursday - grilled chicken (bourbon peppercorn marinade), baked potato, steamed veggies and salad
Friday - burgers and salad
Saturday - pasta tossed with pesto, sun dried tomatoes and sliced grilled chicken served with salad
Sunday - sandwiches that we took to the park and ate

June 22 - 28

Monday - enchiladas served with salad
Tuesday - left overs
Wednesday - chicken leg quarters in the crockpot with red and green peppers, diced tomatoes, onions, garlic, served with rice, steamed broccoli and salad
Thursday - nothing as we had a big lunch
Friday - stuffed pasta shells that I made in May and froze
Saturday - out of town
Sunday - left over pasta shells

June 29 - July 5

Monday - steak fajitas and Spanish rice
Tuesday - chinese take out
Wednesday - ribs that were out of this world - I did a BBQ sauce that had chipotle, tequlia and lime juice in it - served with baked beans and salad
Thursday - left overs
Friday - salad with grilled chicken on it served with fruit
Saturday - burgers and potato salad and tomato salad
Sunday - fish that I sauteed in a little olive oil and just sprinkled a little Penzeys Northwood seasoning on and lime juice - served with left over potato salad and tomato salad

What To Do When You Don't Know What To Do.

How do you tackle your to-do list when you are overwhelmed and don't know where to start?

I'm probably going to echo a lot of what Danae and Jouet said but that's because it's good advice- and it works!

* Make a list. There are a couple of reasons why I like the list. One- Trying to remember everything is difficult, and if, at the end of the day, I've forgotten something, it weighs me down. Two- There is immense satisfaction in being able to cross things OFF the list. Actually seeing the list dwindle makes me feel productive.

* Prioritize the list. If you're in a relationship like mine, I have Master prioritize it if I'm not able to. All I do is say "I have a lot to do today and I'm not sure I'll have time to do it all. Would you point out to me which items are an absolute 'must-do'?" It never fails to surprise me how often I'd have done it differently. What I probably would have put at the top of his priority list, he'll drop to the bottom. This way, if all I can manage to accomplish are a couple of things, at least they are the things that mattered most to him. I'm then not left thinking that I ran my butt off all day and still failed to please him.

*Split the list into categories (ie. Daily, Long Term, Outdoors, etc.) Because we have such unpredictable weather here, the Outdoor list will sometimes take priority over the Daily list. Also, I try and start at least one item on the long term list every day.

Splitting the list up helps me from feeling overwhelmed. I get to cross things off my Daily list (and watch it dwindle) while still accomplishing something on the Long Term list without becoming overly involved in the lower-prioritzed Long Term projects.

* Set a timer. This is often how I start those Long Term projects. I'll set the timer for 15 or 20 minutes and work on that proeject. One project I have to do is to clean out and reorganize the laundry room. In 15 minutes, I can finish one shelf. When the timer goes off, I stop what I'm doing and return to the Daily list. This way, I'm not looking at the laundry room chore as a day or two long tedious project and I'm not overwhelmed at trying to figure out how I'm going to do that room, plus do the Daily list, plus run errands, etc. It'll still get done, and I'm enjoying it as I do it.

* Do the distasteful stuff first. I find if I do the chores that I hate first, I can then zip through the rest with a lighter attitude. If that icky chore is hanging over my head, I'll slug my way through the other stuff trying to put off getting to that chore that I hate. Or, I'll be tired enough from doing everything else that I'll talk myself out of doing it at all.

* Accept it. Accept that you will always have a to-do list. Attitude goes a long way in making the unpleasant turn pleasant.

* On that same note, take care of yourself so that you can be positive. And if you need a break, a day with no chores, a flop on the couch with a good movie, take it! Everyone needs their batteries recharged.

You could even put yourself on your own to-do list. High priority, of course! ;-)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Making Houseguests Comfortable and Welcome

We are having a house guest later this week so with it I am preparing some extra things for her. And decided to take a look at an essay I wrote on the subject to make sure I am not missing anything. FetLife Domestic Servitude group also had a good thread on this subject.

Making Houseguests Comfortable and Welcome

Growing up my Mom was the hostess with the mostest and she is still the same today. Everything my Mom does to make guests feel comfortable in her house just seems so effortless. She always has those extra special touches around just waiting for a guest. Whether it was finding out a guest’s favorite soda, having just the right lotion, a basket of magazines or snacks ready. She even has a book on hand that you have dying to read. It was just all there waiting for you as her guest.

In addition to the small things, she’s always prepared for out-of-town guests staying over night or two. The guest room is prepared with the linen and an extra set of towels or two are always ready. Growing up we moved far away from family and friends. My Mom left the welcome mat at our door with that intent to truly make those that come into our home feel welcome whenever they found themselves nearby and wanted to stay a night or two. Looking back, I know this is probably where I get –it- from. Her desire to make people feel comfortable and ability to anticipate the nuances of someone staying with them is what makes her so good at being a good hostess and why she makes it look effortless.

I think after Master’s first visit with my parents, he understood my skills for entertaining and having guests because I think it just in my genes. Although I do enjoy entertaining and having guests over, I don’t feel I have been able to make it completely effortless as my Mom has been able to do. There is a lot of effort, time and thought that goes into entertaining guests. For me, it’s not just about straightening up the house. Once you have the initial preparations under control, it becomes easier every time I entertain guests thereafter.

Being Master’s property and entertaining guests, however – takes me to a much different mindset and place. It is my duty to him to be of service and as his property everything I do is direct reflection on him so making his house warm and welcoming for out of town guests is always upfront in my mind. It isn’t that I wouldn’t have tried to make it warm and welcoming if I weren’t in service but I am just more aware of every detail because I am a reflection of him. So hopefully his guest’s create special memories and positive experiences from their stay with us.

Although there are many topics of how to entertain guests I am going to focus on just two aspects of entertaining: the guest room and the guest bathroom. If your guests are going to stay over, you need to focus on creating that “home away from home” feeling for your guests.


Creating Space in the Room
• Livable Room: We all know that guest rooms tend to be that room where everything gets dumped that we don’t use that often: The exercise bike we haven’t used for 2 years, an old coat rack that with mounds of coats and scarves burying it so you can’t even see the stand itself, TV trays Uncle Ed and Aunt Emma gave you for Christmas, the extra dining room chairs that you don’t want to clutter up the dining room and so on and so forth. It is now time to make that space a guest room. Try to get rid of the things that you don’t need. Find other places for those things that aren’t needed at the moment. Those TV trays into a hall closet. Exercise bike to a family room where it might get used. Try to clear the room out enough to make it comfortable and inviting for your guests.

• Closet: Your guest will undoubtedly need a little space to hang their clothes. So create space in your closet and provide some sturdy hangers. If you absolutely can’t create a place in the closet, provide an over-the-door hook/hanger for the outside of the closet door.

• Place for Suitcase/Personal items: Have luggage rack, bench or small table to set a suitcase so that a person doesn’t have to kneel on the ground to look through their suitcase. A nice touch is having a drawer or two available in the room also.

Bed and Bedding
• Bed: Have a comfortable bed. We all know how sleeping on a pull out sofa can create a bad night sleep and body aches so try not to put your house guest through that by getting a foam pad to help make it a more comfortable place to sleep. Or are you using an old mattress in the guest room that you stopped using because it was hurting your back? Well don’t do that to your guests. You didn’t want to sleep on it why do you want to make your guests sleep on it.

• Sheets: Make the bed with clean good sheets and pillowcases. Want to take it up one more notch? Iron the sheets and pillow cases so there is no crease marks on them. Also have an extra set of linens folded and accessible for your guest as accidents do happen. It saves them some of the embarrassment if they can just take care of it themselves and only have to give you the dirty sheets.

• Blankets & Pillows: Remember in the summer time a lighter blanket might be more suitable so try to have season-appropriate blankets/linens on the bed. Place an extra blanket folded at the end of the bed. And also have an extra pillow or two available (actually at least one extra for every guest).

The Comforts
• A bedside table with a clock. Set the clock to the current time and if it is a clock radio set it to a good station. So that your guest doesn’t need to search through stations to find something.

• A pitcher or carafe of water with a glass (or two if there is more then one guest) Refill it each night and replace glasses with clean ones.

• Have a book, some magazines and a bedside light so your guests can read.

• A box of tissues and a wastebasket.

• Stationary, stamps, pens, scissors (for possibly cutting tags airport tags off), lotion and small sewing kit.

• Hang clean robe in the room to slip on to go the bathroom in and if possible provide slippers too.

• Flowers and candles make the room extra special. (But also be aware that some guests may have allergies so these type of things might cause them some problems.)

• Provide a night light as getting around a dark unfamiliar room will cause less stubbed toes.

• Place snacks, fresh fruits or chocolates in the room. Create a little basket of some treats for them to snack on late at night so they don’t have to navigate to the kitchen through a dark house.

• Pace a television, DVD player and movies in case they want to get away and just have some alone time - you have provided them an escape. Also remember to put the remote on the bedside table.

• And CD player with an assortment of music to wind down from a long flight into town.

• A chair in the room – some people don’t like to sit on a bed at all even to put their shoes or socks on so having that chair will make them more comfortable

• Provide tourist information – if your guest is going to do some local site seeing, they can browse through brochures to see what looks good to them. Include any local coupons to amusement parks or other area attractions.

• If you don’t have wired Internet service make sure to have an available phone line for your guests laptop.


The Basics
• Set out clean set of matching towels on the counter. Let guests know where extra towels are if needed.

• Stock with necessities – new bar of soap, fill liquid soap dispensers, fresh roll of toilet paper plus a back up roll easily attainable to your guest, fresh hand towel and bathmat

• A night light for your guest to get to the bathroom with ease in the middle of the night.

• Have a hair dryer and curling iron out for your guests to use.

• Bathroom cleaning supplies under the sink or in an easily visible area in case your guests desire to clean up after himself/herself.

A Basket of Extras
Think of all the things a guest might have forgotten in their packing. Or if they have been traveling a while also they might be running out of things and need fresh basics.

• Travel-size toiletries: Toothbrush (new in package), shampoo, conditioner, disposable razor, shaving cream, mouthwash
• Nail clippers, fingernail file and tweezers
• Q-tips & cotton balls
• Aspirin or ibuprofen
• Special Touches: Scented lotion or body wash, candles or bath salts and oils

You are now ready for overnight guests. Your guests aren’t expecting to be staying at a luxurious hotel but having a comfortable warm inviting home will make their stay better then a night at a hotel. As a service oriented slave giving 5-star service with personal touches is a good reflection of Master so something I strive for when having overnight guests.

I wrote this essay for Simply Service August 2008. Please subscribe to Simply Service so that it gets emailed to you.

Monday, July 6, 2009

tackling your to-do list

How do you tackled your to-do list when you are overwhelmed and don't know where to start?

Make a list: I write out everything I need to do, and list out the components of a task if it’s too general. ‘Spring cleaning’ is too vague- I break that down into individual tasks so I can estimate how much time each one will take. Then I prioritize the list. Ideally, I’d try to do one high priority a day and if time permits, a quick low/medium priority item.

Review: Each morning, I review the list. Knowing what's on the list helps me take advantage of unexpected opportunities to tackle one of the items. My favorite software for lists are Google documents and I can access those anywhere, they complement my Google calendar, and they can text me reminders. I also auto-populate reminders in my calendar for semi-annual items such as checking my credit report. If one day is so busy I can’t get to my list, I double up the next day. Items are crossed off the list as soon as they are done.

Do it smart: I bundle like tasks together. For example, if I’m running to drop off the dry cleaning, I’ll hit the bank right next door or I will clean out the fridge right before we do our next grocery shopping trip. If I can take a lunch break one week to knock out 4 errands, that’s worth it to me. I add to the list as I go along—including fun, relaxing and necessary things to make sure I am making the time to take care of me.

Bite size: I break it down into manageable bite sizes, and commit to at least 20 minutes a day to do what needs to be done. If a single task (ie: organize my closet) is overwhelming, then I break it down into tasks that can wrangle it under control.

So I might start with:

  1. Remove laundry from closet, and do it as you can.
  2. Remove items that are awaiting repair from closet into a designated box.
  3. Drop off any items needing dry cleaning.
  4. Organize shoes.
  5. Organize purses.
  6. Look for items you no longer wear- and figure out why you aren’t wearing them. Decide to store, donate or repair.
  7. Evaluate current storage methods and find out why it’s not working (do you need a better system? more shelves or boxes?)

Create zones: I also create zones that I can clean easily- I may not have 90 minutes in one sitting to clean my room, but I can spend a quick 15-20 minutes focused time tidying up my desk or wiping down the bath before bed.

Take care of you: Get enough sleep, sex and exercise. Eat well. Snuggle. It just helps you deal better when you feel overwhelmed and unmotivated.

Getting Started?

Question received from a reader: How do you tackled your to-do list when you are overwhelmed and don't know where to start?

My to-do list is looking more like one of those governmental instruction manuals that are so thick that people give up and throw them out without even looking at them. I wish I could throw it out without looking at it. But of course that wouldn't help me in the long run. In times like this, when I have a lot to do and not feeling motivated or actually just feeling overwhelmed it is hard to get started. But I do have a few tricks that help me especially in times like this...

* I set a timer for 15 minutes and just pick one thing to start on and work it for 15 minutes. Or I make a play list of 3 to 5 songs and work through that playlist.

After done with that 15 minutes, I do something I want but set a timer again for 10 to 15 minutes. Be it watch some tv, read or be online - but limit the time. And then start the process over again. But make it a little longer this time. Set the time for 20 to 30 minutes and work until the timer goes off.

I find that if I do this just a few times by the time I get to the 2nd or 3rd round I am in my groove and don't stop working.

* When I can't choose that one thing to start on - I number them and do the random number generator online. And then start on that one.

* A long list often means I won't accomplish it all. And that feeling often deflates me before even getting started so I just pick 1 to 3 things I want to accomplish that day. And put them on their own list so I am not looking at that huge long list. Then if I accomplish those things go back to the list and depending how much more time I have in the day - pick another few things to do. Breaking it up into smaller goals and lists helps it not be daunting.

* I really look through my list there things that really need to be on their right now? Can't I combine a few things to make it easier on myself? Are there things that create more work for myself then necessary? Because most of the time I do create more work for myself. Such as we have a guest coming to visit this week. Do I really need to steam all the carpets again? I just did it for spring cleaning so most likely I am just creating more work for myself by trying to be a perfectionist. If I really am stressing about it - I could just narrow it down to do the heavy traffic area in the house. And then I am knocking things off my list but still keeping attention to detail.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Book: What to Drink with What You Eat

What to Drink with What You Eat: The Definitive Guide to Pairing Food with Wine, Beer, Spirits, Coffee, Tea by Andrew Dornenburg, Karen Page

Publishers Description (I am abbreviating it as it was a little long)
"The most comprehensive guide to matching food and drink ever compiled, by the James Beard Award winning author team of Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, with practical advice from more than seventy of America’s leading pairing experts...

Exceptional in its depth and scope - with over fifteen hundred entries - What to Drink with What You Eat is based on the collective wisdom of experts at dozens of America’s best restaurants, including Alinea, Babbo, Bern’s, Blue Hill, Chanterelle, Daniel, Emeril’s, French Laundry, Frontera Grill, Inn at Little Washington, Jean Georges, Masa’s, The Modern, Per Se, Rubicon, Tru, and Valentino.

You’ll find authoritative recommendations for stocking your cellar and kitchen with must-have beverages, from wines to waters. You’ll also learn what to drink with everything from French toast to Chinese food, and what to eat with everything from Pinot Noir to green tea, to create mouthwatering matches. Follow the authors three simple Rules to Remember when making a match - or just dive into the wide-ranging listings in chapters 5 and 6. "

I really really want to have this book on my bookshelf. It is amazing. It made me feel so much more at ease about pairing food with not only wine but tea, beer and other beverages. It mostly talks about wine though. It is put together in a way that makes it easy to follow - very user friendly. It is an essential reference for serving to me.

It not only goes in how to pair food and wine but a little bit of history, geography of wine such as what areas produce what types of wine, it gives how to actually taste wine and other expert techniques.

They had 3 simple rules to follow to when starting out...
1 - Think Regionally: If it grows together, it goes together.
2 - Come to your senses: Let your five sense guide your choices
3 - Balance Flavors: Tickle your tongue in more ways then one.

Of course they explain those rules indepth in the book. And make the process as easy as possible for those of us new to pairing beverages with food or foods with beverages. And it does go both ways in this book to make it very easy. Lets say someone gave you a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and you want to make something to go with it. You would look up Cabernet Sauvignon in the book and it has a list of food that go well with it. It has a list of herbs, meats, cheese, veggies, legumes, fruits and just everything you can think of but not only that it also tells you how to cook. Such as it said Cabernet Sauvignon that grilled meats such as hamburgers and beef - braised, grilled, roasted or stewed. It also works the other way if you are serving chicken in cream sauce then it tells you what wine or beverage goes good with it it (Chardonnay - especially a full bodied California). It lists things in general too so if you aren't sure what you are going to do with the chicken yet. It just has suggestions for chicken in general. I just really loved how easy it was to follow.

As I said above I think this is an essential book for those of us serving but also those of us that enjoy wine.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Flag Folding

Happy 4th of July for those of you in the USA!

I get Martha Stewart daily emails on cookies, organizing and crafts. Today's email for organizing was how to fold a Flag. And being the 4th of July here in the USA - means many people will be folding their flags back up to put them away tonight or in a day or two.

Martha Stewart's Flag Folding Good Thing

Related links she had were for...

Flag Folding - with a diagram
Flag Etiquette

Friday, July 3, 2009

Friday Favorites

Another one of those summer menus by Whole Living that sounded yummy! Grilled Chicken with Red Pepper and basil served with caramelized corn.

I use cloth napkins because it saves money on paper products and also feel it is more eco-friendly. I think this is a very cute summery way to embellish cloth napkins you might have around the house.

Etiquette book by Emily Post free on Project Gutenberg

I know many of us are tasked to recycle, re-use and repurpose. I found this link for re-purposing plastic bottles.

And for just a wild card of a link this week that has nothing to do with really domestic service but Master likes me in eye shadow. And I am a girly girl who has done this very thing it talks about broken my eye shadow by dropping it on the floor.....Fixing Broken Eyeshadow.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

ARTICLE: The Perfect Burger

Interesting article for burger lovers covering:
  • how to cook it (and the right temperature to do it)
  • preferred type of meat
  • use of salt
  • shape of meat
  • testing for doneness
  • perfect buns
  • all the fixin's
The Perfect Burger and All Its Parts
Interviews with 30 chefs provided dozens of burger-making lessons for the home cook that aren’t terribly difficult and don’t cost much money. And it all yielded the ideal burger.


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