Saturday, October 21, 2006


When it comes to small closets, limited storage space, and oddly shaped rooms I've found that a great way to get optimum storage is by using crates. Over time I have invested in a number of wooden crates. (Many crafts stores sell these and the larger chains like Hobby Lobby and Michael's usually have sales on all wood products once or twice a year.) They're rectangular so you can stack them vertically or horizontally. You can slide them under coffee tables for basket-like storage or stack them in rows or columns to create instant shelves. The wooden ones are especially nice because if you want to attach them together in a semi-permanent fashion nails and/or wood glue should do the trick. You can also paint them, which is a nice way to blend them into your space. I'm also a fan of wooden corner crates, which don't offer a lot of shelving space but do round off the edges of your crate shelves, giving them a more fluid look. Oh, and did I mention the usefulness of these crates if you ever have to move with them? Just grab the handles and go!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Plastic Bag Dispensers

A quick tip about storing plastic bags: Save your old tissue boxes and fill them with plastic bags. Instant bag dispensers! I use both small and large sizes of tissue boxes and leave them near the small garbage cans and the litterbox. Very useful and no more messy plastic bag drawer, cupboard, bag, whatever.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Cats and Pianos

This post actually applies to any wooden furniture your cats aren't allowed on but sneak on while you're sleeping. You can imagine when, several days after buying a new piano, I found a small scratch in it that wasn't there before. The cats had learned not to jump up on the piano, but apparently after we went to sleep each night it was party central. The nice piano tuner buffed out the scratch for me and I tried a variety of gimmicks to keep the cats off the keyboard. (Just for the record, the worst idea I tried was a slipcover. This was more inviting than the piano itself and each morning I found the cats happily napping on it.) Here's my solution:

Drawer Liners

You know, those rolls of liner that come in a variety of sizes and pretty patterns? Just cut the liner to fit the piano (I just use it on the sloping keyboard area) and put it on whenever you're not playing the instrument. Even if the cats jump up on it there won't be any scratches and the liner won't slip off.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Enchilada Casserole

My Enchilada Casserole can easily be called Leftover Casserole. I usually make it after we've had tacos and need to use up the chopped taco fixin's. The basic idea is layers in a casserole dish. Here are some examples of what I use for each layer:
  • tortillas, crushed tortilla chips (great way to use up chips that are getting stale)
  • black beans, chili beans, refried beans, soy meat
  • cheese, seasoned tofu
  • corn, peppers, black olives
  • tomatoes, salsa, hot sauce
I love throwing this together using leftovers and freezing it. Sometimes I don't have enough leftovers to fill up the dish, but I can easily freeze what I have (in layers) and add more when I actually bake it. It never turns out the same, always tastes good, and those chopped up tomatoes and grated cheeses are never wasted!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Stale Bread

Whether you bake or buy bread there's always the chance you'll end up with a few stale pieces at the end of the loaf. Here are some ways I've found to use my stale bread:
  • Garlic Bread - Break any amount of stale bread into bite-sized pieces. Put them in a frying pan on low/medium heat with some olive oil, garlic (or garlic powder), salt, basil, parsley, and any other seasonings you might use in your garlic bread. The oil will soften the bread and the bite-sized pieces make it easier to eat. Cook covered until the bread is as soft as you would like. This is also tasty with fresh mozzarella or parmesan on top.
  • French Toast - What better way to soften bread than by dipping it in batter? I like to save my stale slices of bread in a Ziplock in the freezer. When I have enough for French toast I just pull out the bag.
  • Croutons - Cut or break your stale bread into small pieces. Toss in a Ziplock with olive oil and whatever seasonings you would like to add. Bake until as crisp as you would like and, voila, homemade croutons!
When I save my stale bread in the freezer I usually have two bags - one with white and simple wheat bread that would be appropriate for French toast and one with more seasoned bread (I often make homemade bread seasoned with garlic and other potent herbs. Not great with maple syrup!)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Photo Organization

If you're like me you have piles of photos just waiting to be sorted. If you're like me you have trouble deciding how to sort them - albums, boxes, scrapbooks, frames? Here's how I like to go about sorting my photos:

  • Boxes - As soon as photos are developed I try to put them in labeled photo boxes. I have five main boxes: Family, Friends, Events, Vacations and Miscellaneous. A set of photos from a birthday party, for example, would go directly into the Events box. A set of various photos would quickly be sorted into the appropriate boxes. Some judgement calls will apply - do you put the family reunion photos in the Family box or the Event box? Don't take too much time to make these decisions - this is just a rudimentary sorting to make future organization easier.
  • Albums - Set aside an afternoon once or twice a year to take the photos from your boxes and put them into albums. Have your albums ready in advance and make sure you know what type of photos you'll be putting in each album. You may want to organize specific albums first, such as "Grand Canyon Vacation." You'll clearly know which photos go in these albums. Save the general albums for last. If you have family albums that you try to keep updated, just pull your favorites from the Family box.
  • Scrapbooks - If you're a true scrapbooker this post isn't for you. This is for anyone who likes the look of scrapbooks but doesn't spend the time picking out just the right photo for each page. If you want a scrapbook for each of your children, for example, write each of their names on a manilla envelope. As you sort through your photo boxes select the photos that might be scrapbook-worthy and put them in the appropriate envelopes. As you come across paper or other scrapbook decorations that fit each child's personality, stick them in the appropriate envelope. Sit down one day, empty the envelope, and, voila, you're ready to scrapbook!
  • Frames - This is an obvious one. As you go through your boxes have any available frames next to you. As you find photos that you want to display, find an appropriate frames and put them in.
This is just my method of sorting photos I've had developed. Digital photo organization is a story for another day...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

No-Chicken Noodle Soup

As a vegetarian I have often missed the taste of hot chicken noodle soup on a cold day. I've tried many substitutes and have a few that I really like.

  • For the Cooks: Add soy chicken (fake chicken made out of soy) to your homemade vegetable and noodle soup. There are a couple of options for the soy chicken. The best texture I have found so far has been in the Quorn brand. The best flavor has been Lightlife Smart Menu Smart Strips. In a pinch I've even used a Morningstar Farms breaded patty and removed the breading!
  • For the Soup-From-A-Cans: I'm a huge fan of Amy's No Chicken Noodle Soup. It tastes delicious and, unlike other vegetarian soups, actually has soy chicken in it.