Organized: Laundry Room

I hate laundry. It's my total housekeeping nemesis. I can't stand doing it. One of the reasons I hate it so badly is that, until very recently, we had one laundry basket. This was a problem because no matter what I did, I would have to sort through all the laundry just to figure out what loads needed done. This led to our entire laundry "landing'" (our laundry closet is in a closet in our upstairs landing) being covered in piles of dirty clothes, leaving barely enough room to walk, let alone efficiently complete the task at hand. Having one basket also led to some confusion on where dirty clothes went - which meant most of them landed on the floor.

To try and combat this laundry area disaster, I figured what I needed was some serious organization. I could have gotten fancier baskets, but it's laundry. These were cheap, the right size, and would be up to the job. I looked into other baskets, but it seems that all the ones that come pre-divided have three pouches (darks, lights and colors). I don't wash my reds with my blues and since I was trying to avoid the repetitive sorting, I wanted four - one for each load I typically do - reds, lights, darks and other colors (greens, blues and yellows).

I also wanted to make some sort of label so that anyone could easily figure out my laundry sorting that way maybe the clothing would end up in the appropriate bin. Instead of just making some simple labels, I took some fabric scraps and made it visual.

Here's how it works. I have a regular laundry basket in the bedroom. Laundry gets placed in the basket each day since it's always empty. Every morning, I make a sweep of the house and pick up any other clothing (socks, outer shirts, etc.) that may have been placed elsewhere. I then take a peek in the bedroom hamper and grab those clothes as well, sorting all those dirty clothes into the laundry room bins. It's easy to see which bin is fullest and needs attention. Whichever is full gets placed in the washer and the bin sits on top of the washer. When the laundry switches, the bin moves to in front of the dryer, ready to catch the clean clothes. Once the laundry is done, I can easily fold the clothes into the empty bin and hang clothes that typically get hung. The clothes can then be put away quickly and  the (now empty) bin now placed back on the shelf. The load that will need done next moves to atop the washer until the basket gets filled enough to warrant a load.

If you easily keep up with your laundry, this is probably overkill for you. But I dreaded the chore and this organization really helped make it enjoyable less dreadful.

A Quilting Dilemma

Last year, I was looking for a blanket to go in our spare bedroom. Our guest bathroom has this shower curtain, which I just love. I liked the bedspread, but it was a little matchy-matchy and I really wanted a quilt. There's just something about quilts that are warm and comfortable and isn't that what a guest bedroom should feel like?

I looked around for a quilt with no luck. But, I found this fabric collection that would just be the perfect compliment to the bathroom. So, I figured, I guess I'm going to quilt.

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After a few months of cutting and piecing and lots of internet searching, I now have my top and back pieced (this is the fabric I used for the backing) and ready to be sandwiched with my batting (Warm and Natural, a thin batting that only requires it be stitched every 10"). My question at this point is: should I machine quilt or tie it?

Right now, I'm leaning towards tying. First, because it is my first quilt and the thought of machine quilting a queen size quilt seems daunting (maybe try a lap size first?). Also, when I was younger, my mom had this very 1970's patchwork quilt that was, if I remember correctly, tied. And while the color choices were clearly dated (and never really that pretty to begin with, sorry mom), it was a cute little blanket. While I love the puckering that comes from quilting, I really do like the floppy, playful quality you get from tying. My only concern is that I've read that tying isn't really that stable - the ties can come undone, the batting can shift more easily - and so the quilt itself isn't as durable.

But...I did a little sample with some scraps and both quilted and tied it, just to see what each would look like. And now I can't decide. I love the tied look, especially for a scrappy patchwork quilt, but the puckers and poofs and pinches I got from quilting sure do look pretty nice.

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If I went the tying route,  I was planning to use either a red perle cotton thread or a light pink/peach one (shown above). The red would be a nice contrast to the backing fabric I think, but the light one wouldn't really be noticeable. Or I could do a combination of both. If I machine quilt it, I would go with a neutral color (white, shown above, is a little too bright, but an off white would work).

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What do you think, internets, should I take my time and try and machine quilt? This has already taken me quite some time, so I don't want to rush this last step just to get it done and regret it. Or should I tie it, be done with it, and start to enjoy using it?

Because let's be real, it's not a show piece. I want it to be used and loved, but I also don't want it to be falling apart either.

Club Baked: Mississippi Mud Pie (A) or, How to Salvage a Mess and Improvise

I love chocolate. So, despite the fact that my spring form pan was currently at a friends (because I had recently taken over a gluten free, dairy free cheesecake), I definitely wanted to make this cake. I thought about the possible alternatives: I had two 8" cake pans, one 9" cake pan, a deep pie pan or I could use a square or rectangular baking dish. I was leaning towards the baking dish, then the pie pan, then my husband intervened and said to just use the 9" cake pan.

I was also out of parchment. I figured I could deal with some white dust on the outside of the cake, so I buttered and floured the cake pan instead.

The freezer is full, so instead of freezing the pie crust, I just left it in the fridge for some time while I set out other ingredients to come to room temperature until I thought it felt pretty solid.

I then proceeded to make the filling. It came together easily and without issue. It looked amazing, sort of like a very light, less sweet version of French silk pie. I can get behind anything that even moderately resembles French silk.

The first problem came when I poured the batter into the cake pan. It was bound to overflow, so I fit as much in as I could without actually overflowing and hoped for the best. Once in the oven, the batter started to rise. It then started to spurt like a volcano from one of the sides. Once it started to firm up, it stopped and rose almost beautifully. Once removed from the oven, it fell (as it was supposed to) to almost fit back in the pan. But I knew that there was no chance that pudding was ever going to sit on top of this thing in any way, shape or form resembling the cookbook's photo.

While the cake cooled, I made the pudding (with goat's milk - the only substitute I made in the recipe). I learned my lesson with the Boston Cream Pie Cake, so once it started to thicken, even though with my continuous whisking I hadn't actually seen any bubbles, I pulled it off the heat and poured it into the awaiting bowl where I added the finishing touches. It really is a tasty pudding - very smooth, rich, but not too sweet.

Because I had no way to assemble and finish this cake in the way it was intended, I used the 3 hour chill time to figure out what to do. Should I build a fort around the cake to keep the pudding until it firms? Should I try and pour what I can into the well made by the sunken cake? I ended up settling on the best, and far by easiest, solution: a trifle.

This way no cake would be wasted, and it wouldn't matter if it was a bit sloppy, especially since I don't actually have a trifle dish. The only drawback being that this would be one boring, all brown trifle. I hoped the taste would make up for it, and it did.

It's a light and fluffy cake layered with rich, almost chocolate mousse type pudding in between homemade whipped cream. I took the few remaining sandwich cookies and crushed them up to use as a topping. It's really very good, not too sweet, but very rich.

I feel pretty good about myself and this cake and the progress I've made at baking. When I started baking along with this group, I was adamant about following recipes, I didn't trust my instincts, and never would I consider thinking out of the box. Even cutting a recipe in half gave me stress. I know had this little hiccup happened to me a few months ago, I would not have handled it as well. Now, as I have been doing with savory recipes for years, I'm able to go with the flow. By no means do I feel confident to go willy-nilly baking without a recipe just yet, but at least I have gotten past the point of being overwhelmed and upset when things don't turn out perfect.

Check out the other baker's outcomes here, and then head on over to Alexis' blog for the recipe! Nice pick, Alexis.

Organized: My Freezer

So, with it being spring and all (almost), and my Lenten goal to become more purposeful, I thought about organizing some of the systems in our house. But during some research online, I realized that maybe documenting some of what we do (and some thing I implement that we currently don't do) will help someone else out there in cyber space. Because while none of the home organization solutions I found were perfect for me, they at least gave me a starting point. And with a Frankenstein of those, plus a little creativity, I came up with some solutions that worked for us.

Our freezer has been organized like this for quite some time. The hubs is fabulous at organizing kitchen things and he came up with this system while we were still in Florida. But the label part, that's all me (I have a thing for bins and labels).

We have plastic bins of varying sizes (it's dependent upon your freezer size and shape, obvs) that we place like items in and then label (with chalk). When we take one out, we re-write the number. This way, nothing gets buried in the freezer and becomes a "What is that?" It also cuts down on the amount of rummaging we do for "I thought we had.." The key here is that once you bring food home or have leftovers you want to package, to do it in portions that are realistic for your family. We usually do half pounds and sometimes even quarter pound packages of ground meat because we're only two people. Steaks and other meat cuts are wrapped individually. A family of 6 would obviously portion differently. You can also use one large freezer bag with smaller portions just wrapped in plastic wrap to cut down on bags (and space in the containers).

I tuck ice pack for the hubs lunch bag in between the containers. And since we took out our ice maker, we have a few ice trays in the top left corner there.

We also portion everything, and shape it for the containers before we freeze it. Trying to fit already frozen items into bins can work, but it's less space efficient. To maximize freezer space, shaping fresh items allows you to "mold" things into the bins so that there is little wasted space.

Behind all these bins, we have our prepared meals (soups, pot pie fillings, chilis, etc.) in 2 c. Ziploc containers. The 2 cup size works well for a serving size of two portions - exactly what we need). They sell larger cup sizes that we use on occasion, but we mostly use the 2 c. size. The nice thing is, though, is that the 4 c. size fits in the location of two 2 cup containers, so you can use a mix of both if you need some larger portions and some smaller. To keep tabs on the back of the freezer, we keep a running list of what gets put back there so that we know without having to unearth what's in front of it. Take it out, cross it off.

On the door, we keep go-to items again in the Ziploc containers (for easy rearranging if necessary). Things like chicken stock and fruit for smoothies goes here, along with odd items like old bananas, popsicles, etc. that would clutter up the freezer bins or won't fit into them efficiently.

How do you keep your freezer organized? Anyone have tips for the fridge?

If life gives you (giant) lemons...

When we were in California, we picked lots of citrus and avocados from the hub's aunt's farm, so recently we've been making all sorts of citrus-y things: Blood Orange Tarts, Citrus Cupcakes, Lemon & Shrimp Pasta, Orange and Beet Salads, Citrus Pancakes, Avocado and Grapefruit Salads, Orange Juice, Margaritas (you knew it was coming), and who knows what else - oh yeah, Limoncello.

But I just had to show you guys this monster lemon that my hubs picked while we were there. To fully illustrate how ginormous this is, I thought it would be good to show some comparisons.

A regular lemon.

My hand. (Don't look at the spot on my counter.)

We jokingly have been shouting "Go long!" with the accompanying tossing and catching motions for a couple weeks now, as we've been saving this football lemon for last.

Club Baked: Nutella Scones

My mom has always tried to instill healthy eating habits in me. We had rules in our house. One sweet thing a day, no cereal with more than 11g of sugar per serving. I was the only kid who read nutrition labels in the second grade. Grocery shopping included a lot of veggies and fresh foods. I got excited when I was able to pick out a new fruit to try because I knew I wouldn't get away with sneaking Bubbalicious into the cart. Eyes in the back of her head, she said. She cooked our meals, which I never thought was abnormal until I went away to school.

Fast forward to college: Shopping with my roommate senior year, she mentioned that she wanted meatballs. So, I steered our cart towards the meat section. She looked at me like I was crazy and asked, "Where are you going?" I told her to the meat section, so she could get meat for meatballs. She then introduced me to the frozen foods section, two whole aisles of food that is already made. And then pointed out the meatballs. In a bag. Ready to be eaten. (Did you also know they made french toast like that? Sheesh, the education I got that day.)

So, I immediately text my mother (who I think might still have this text message): "You did not prepare me properly for the world. Did you know that they have meatballs already made in the freezer section? They make lots of things already made. How could you not tell me this?" I'm paraphrasing, of course, but that was the gist of it.

Her response of course, was that I could make my own meatballs, freeze them individually on parchment paper and then bag them up to have my own ready made meatballs in the freezer. Totally missing the point that you could buy them that way.

Anyways, that whole meatball intro was to help you understand my culinary background and it's lack of processed foods. And the fact that I've never in my life had Nutella. 

Deprived. I know.

Anyhow, now that I am all old and grown, I have this pesky milk allergy and I can't have Nutella. (Thanks Mom, seriously, all those years that I missed out.) So, for the Club Baked Nutella Scones recipe, I made the "Hazelnut Spread" recipe that was found in the cookbook. And my loving husband said that it does not taste like Nutella. Great...

Despite that fact, I continued on and made the scones. I actually love scones. They are easy to put together, quick to make, and can have almost any flavor, sweet or savory. These are no exception in ease of preparation and the flavor is nice. A chocolate scone with a layer of Nutella (or, in my case, hazelnut spread) running through, topped with another drizzle of Nutella and crushed, toasted hazelnuts.

My only complaint: These are dry. I get that scones are dry. But I guess I got spoiled with the scones recipe from the Sweet Melissa Baking Book, my preferred scone recipe that makes a lovely, as moist as a scone can be, scone.

All in all, these weren't bad. And I'm glad I got to try sort of, almost, but not quite Nutella.

This recipe was hosted by Lorraine, so go over and check out her blog for the recipe.  Check out the Baked site for the other baker's takes on this one!

**We were recently at a party with the hub's co-workers and their families. One of the other girls said something about wanting almond butter, and did I know anywhere to get it, to which I replied "Just make it." Not realizing that this was weird until the hubs called me out on it. Outcast for life. Thanks, Mom.