Sunday, November 25, 2012

Vintage Joy!

Today, I am OVER THE MOON excited!

For years, I have been drooling over O'Keefe and Merritt stoves of the 1940s & 50s. In fact, I loved them so much that when we were house hunting, we went to what was clearly  a flop-house in a VERY seedy section of a nearby town and I actually contemplated putting in an offer solely because there was an O'Keefe and Merritt in the gutted kitchen.

When we bought our circa 1957 house, which will need a kitchen remodel, I started thinking about what I would want to do with the kitchen. Then I saw my neighbor's kitchen, in which she has a restored O'Keefe and Merritt, and an idea was born! A vintage inspired kitchen-- one that fits with the style of our 1950s house, but doesn't look dated.

Naturally, I took to Pinterest and began pinning O'Keefe & Merritt stoves in my Kitchen board. About a week ago, I pinned this late 40s O'Keefe & Merritt stove, under which I wrote "I dream of having one in our remodeled kitchen!"

A few hours later I received an e-mail from a friend from my hometown who said that she saw my pin and that her parents, who now live in Southern California, had the exact O'Keefe and Merritt stove sitting in their garage and did I want her to ask what they would sell the stove to me for. I said sure, thinking they would likely ask more than we could afford, but that it didn't hurt for her to ask.

She got back to me on the Friday after Thanksgiving and said her parents said I could HAVE it if we picked it up and hauled it away, but that her grandpa said he wanted $50 for it, because that is what he paid for it when he bought it secondhand from a neighbor in the 1950s.

FIFTY Dollars. This was a steal!!!! I ran it by Diesel and he acquiesced to going to get the stove on Saturday. Friday night I was like a kid on Christmas Eve. I was SO excited.

We picked it up last night and it is in GREAT condition. It is missing the clock & light, but was apparently missing those when my friend's grandparents purchased it. I'm hopeful that I'll be able to find one and have it restored.

The best part is the stove is in good shape and doesn't require massive restoration! (A full restoration of a vintage stove can run $1,500-4,000) We will have to have someone come out and check that everything is working safely, but then we can go ahead and use it NOW, rather than waiting for our someday renovation!

I'm absolutely in LOVE with it.

I know this post was outside of what I normally post about, but... I saved a ton of money and I bought something secondhand, so um... that is frugal and eco-friendly, right???

**edited to add photo**

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Adventures in Pie Making

Top: Lemon Meringue & Caramel Cream Pumpkin
Bottom: Caramel Apple-Cherry & Pecan
Apparently, the universe felt the need to take me down a peg after bragging about my mad pie making skillz.

This year, I planned to make three pies. My classic Lemon Meringue, which ALWAYS gets rave reviews, and two new pie recipes I found in Better Homes & Gardens. Right there, I should've just backed the truck up and said "Um, Cluttered Mama, Better Homes & Gardens? You are out of your league, homeskillet. Let's drop the lofty 'I can bake stuff I find in BHG' pipe dream and stick with what we know!" But OOOOOH no, I had to go and say "Hey, if Gesine Bullock-Prado, of Gesine, can make Caramel Cream Pumpkin Pie and Caramel Apple-Cherry Pie, so can I!!!" Oh yes, I had delusions of granduer this year. I was not content to make plain, old pumpkin pie and my go-to Caramel Apple pie, no, I had to go and aim for the stars.

In a nutshell, I was a pie making Icarus and the BHG recipes were the sun...

(Oh and upon hearing my pie menu for the year, my father-in-law sadly noted there was no pecan pie in the list, so being a kind daughter-in-law, I decided to try my hand at that one too).

So this is where we begin on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. With me excitedly clutching three new recipes to try.

On Tuesday afternoon, during Duckie's nap, I whipped up a double batch of my Never-Fail pie crust, and Little Man and I made our first pecan pie. It went well, except I learned that the oven in this house heats warmer on one side, than the other-- there was literally a line down the middle of the pie and one side was decidedly darker than the other. Overall, however, the pie was a success.

Heady from that success, I launched into rolling out and baking the crust shells for the remaining three pies. With the kids up and about and needing to be fed, bathed, etc. this took the remainder of the day. When Diesel came home from work at 9:30 pm (and had NOT picked up the Morello cherries from Trader Joe's, like I asked), I had a crust in the oven and was about to start making the caramel for the caramel cream portion of the Caramel Cream Pumpkin Pie. D & I started chatting and I neglected to keep an eye on my pie crust.

So, of course, I burned it.

And that was the last crust of the double batch.

And I was out of Crisco.

There may have been some choice words flowing at that point. But I said to myself "Cluttered Mama, it is no worry. You can just pop out first thing in the morning and pick up the Crisco when you go to get the cherries at Trader Joe's," and I set about making caramel.

Did I mention I have NEVER made caramel?

I was trying my best to make the caramel. I stired until the sugar was all dissolved into the water and then, using all the previous knowledge I had about cooking with sugar, I kept right on stirring for the 10 minutes the recipe said it would take for my sugar-water concotion to turn into caramel.

Fun fact: if you continue stirring caramel after the water dissolves, it does not turn to caramel, but suddenly crystalizes. (You are supposed to just tilt the pan from time to time, as I learned in a late night googling of "how to make caramel").

Commence more colorful language.

At this point in the swearfest, Diesel decided it was time to go to bed (11 pm). I reread the directions to see where I went wrong and/or if I hadn't gone wrong and that this was what was supposed to happen.

"Take the caramel from the heat and immediately pour in the half-and-half; the mixture will bubble vigorously but will calm down quickly. Return to low heat and stir until the caramel dissolves into the cream."

Dissolve, eh?  I thought "okay let's just add the half and half and see what happens..." It sorta fizzled and then dissolved. I thought maybe I could salvage it. I stirred until thick. Then I added it to the egg mixture in my mixer a little too quickly and got a gelatinous yellow, vaguely scrambled egg flavored goop.

I decided maybe it was time to go to bed.

Despite having gone to bed around midnight, I sprung out of bed at 5 am (after being wakened by a teething Duckie at 4:45) and headed to my kitchen. Cleaned up, threw out the gelatinous goo, peeled 2.5 lbs of apples and made a grocery list.

7:30 am the boys and I are out the door to go to Trader Joe's. At Trader Joe's we pick up cherries and half and half. Then we pop into another grocery store for more Crisco and head home.

I successfully make my caramel filling and put the pie in the oven to bake. Things are looking up!!! That is right, I'm a master baker! What else could go wrong?

I start to make the Caramel Apple-Cherry pie and when I picked up the bag of cranberries I had purchased a few days prior, I got a whiff of fermenting fruit. "Oh NERFHERDERS!!!!" I exclaimed (true story, I try to not ACTUALLY swear when the littles are around!). Immediately I launched into damage control. My internal monologue was this:

"Maybe if I just rinse them... yeah. I'll toss them in the colander, rinse them and pick out the one or two that are rotten. Yeah, yeah. Oh shit. I sent the other bag to Little Man's school for their cranberry relish. Oh my gosh. Were THOSE fermented? Did I send fermenty cranberries to my baby's school? Am I THAT mom? Oh what must his teacher think. No, wait, I would've noticed the smell when I put them in Little Man's bucket, right? I smelled these as soon as I picked them up. I'm sure they were fine. I'm sure. Oh crap. Over half of these stupid cranberries are rotten. Son of a biscuit..."

So I schlepped the boys out to the grocery to buy cranberries (and since it was lunch time, I got the boys some fried chicken-- or "stick meat" as Little Man calls it). Got back to the house, and made pies well into the evening.

On Thanksgiving day, wouldn't you know, the dang caramel cream part of the Caramel Cream pie was all squooshy and not firm like it was supposed to be.  Everyone who tried it thought it was overpoweringly sweet. The Caramel Apple-Cherry pie came out beautifully and got so-so reviews from everyone at Thanksgiving. Pecan pie also got thumbs up from those who tried it.

And wouldn't you know, my old stand-by, the Lemon Meringue got RAVE reviews.

Moral of the story?
Don't go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to... (yeah. I just quoted TLC.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Never-Fail Pie Crust Recipe

That's right, I have a sweet Harvest Gold mixer.
You know you're jealous.

Yesterday I bragged about my mad pie-making skillz (somehow it felt like I had to add a z to that, even though it goes against every fiber in my grammar loving body). Today, I am going to give you a recipe that makes me look like a wonder in the kitchen. It is my Mammah's (pronounced Ma'am-maw) Never-Fail Pie Crust recipe, and while I make no guarantees of its never-failness*, it has yet to fail me.

I love using this pie crust recipe because as I make it, I always think of my sweet, southern Mammah and the tiny kitchen in which she would whip up the most amazing and delicious baked treats I have EVER eaten. This recipe is about as far from unprocessed as you can get, but I will NEVER stop using it, because I love it so much!

Zelma's Never-Fail Pie Crust
(makes 3 pie crusts)
3 C flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 C Crisco (I recommend Butter Flavored Crisco)
6 Tb cold water
1 whole egg, beaten
1 tsp vinegar (I use apple cider)

Mix flour & salt, blend in Crisco. Add water, egg & vinegar. Mix until all ingredients are well blended (I usually end up using my hands to mix it). Dough may seem a little sticky, but resist the temptation to add more flour.

A few tips from years of making this dough.
1) Use chilled Crisco. The colder the better.
2) Separate your dough into three balls, wrap loosely with wax paper and refrigerate for 30 min. before rolling (or if you are really pressed for time, 10-15 minutes in the freezer). Cool dough is less likely to stick to your rolling pin.
3) Roll on a cool, floured surface with a well-floured rolling pin.
4) Dough can be re-rolled if necessary
5) It can also be frozen for up to 3 months. Wrap in wax paper and then with plastic wrap. Thaw in the refrigerator for 24 hours.


*I have a sister who claims this crust always fails her, but it seems like everyone else has good luck with it, so maybe she's just got bad pie crust juju

Monday, November 19, 2012

Giving Thanks

Allow me to begin with a disclaimer. I grappled with whether to post this. I am a big believer in giving and it is a major tenet of my spiritual beliefs. I cannot express how important I feel it is, but I also feel it is something that should be done quietly and without fanfare. Think Sandra Bullock quietly donating to $1 million the Red Cross following Katrina, vs. Celine Dion calling a press conference to announce that she was donating to those same victims. To me, it seems that if you have to announce what you have donated/are donating, you're doing it for the wrong reason.

That being said, I want to tell you about a new tradition I started with my family last year and there was no way to explain it without discussing our giving. So it is my hope that you will take today's post as me explaining what we do in the hopes that you will be inspired to do likewise and not because I want eleventy-three gold stars of approval!

Knowing that I am an undomestic goddess, I am sure you will be utterly shocked when I tell you that I have never cooked a Thanksgiving dinner. Nor do I ever plan to. I do not know how to cook a turkey, I vaguely know how to make stuffing (there is bread and celery and...seasoning?) and do not know the first thing about candying a yam. I have no desire to learn to do any of these things. I'm not kidding. One year, when my mother asked me when I planned to learn to cook a turkey, I told her I didn't. My plan is this: until they are too old to cook turkeys, I plan to enjoy the labors of my mother and mother-in-law. Then, I have four sisters and one sister-in-law. I am pretty sure one of them will figure out the turkey thing... This is my end game.

(Lest you think I just mooch off the fam for the holidays, I will tell you this, I make pie like nobody's business. A weird talent, but there it is. SO, except for the Thanksgiving when I was pregnant with Duckie and everything made me throw up, so I didn't bake and instead got Costco pies, I always show up to Thanksgiving with at LEAST three pies. I call that square, but I digress).

Last year, I had an epiphany. I don't make Thanksgiving dinner, but do have the means to do so if I choose. Why not purchase the ingredients needed for a full Thanksgiving dinner and donate it to my church's Thanksgiving food basket program? And thus, a new tradition was born.

Because I think it is important for my boys to learn to give back at an early age, I have the boys help me in selecting food products to donate and I discuss with them why we are giving food away. Last year, Little Man was adamant that we buy canned peas. This year he helped me bag apples and pick out turkeys.

At any rate, if you are lucky, like me, and don't supply a whole Thanksgiving meal for your family & friends, consider donating a meal to your local food bank or food closet this year. If you are not in that position this year, keep it in mind for next year!

Some pics from our trip to the grocer's:
Picking just the right apple

We were told the food closet needed fresh fruit for baskets

"This turkey is very heavy!"

Turkey DOWN!!!!
I told Little Man he needed to put the turkey in the cart,
but he couldn't quite lift it into the basket

Problem solving like a champ!
I'm raising a snowflake genius, I tell you!
Very proud of his turkey!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Down for the Count

Hey there!
So it has been a tough week for the Cluttereds. Diesel had a rough 2 day bout of food poisoning, the boys have had colds, the baby is teething and up all night, and then I threw my back out while loading the kids into the car. Right now, I am laying on the couch, with a heating pad, all hopped up on muscle relaxers and pain pills (I don't usually take anything stronger than ibuprofen).

I don't trust my pain pill addled brain with posting anything with more depth than this post (largely because I just set my phone--on which I am posting this-- down and forgot I was in the middle of a post.

We'll be up and running soon (I hope!) I'll be back with some more good Cluttered House stuff!

Stay well, my friends!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Pinterest-y Kind of Weekend

Hey there!

Thanks to Pinterest, I've been getting all kinds of crafty & decorate-y this weekend. Why? Because I'm avoiding this:
My office. Yeeeeeah...

In honor of my creative avoidance of clutter and disorganization, I thought I'd share some of the spectacular Pinterest-y activities I've been up to this weekend!!

Project #1
Last week I was at Hobby Lobby (we just recently got one and now it is my new favorite place on the planet. Take that Switzerland.) and I saw this awesome dry erase perpetual calendar:

I loved it. It was just what I needed. But, as you can kinda see in the photo, it was $39.99. Erm... forty bucks for a framed piece of glass with a blank calendar on it? I don't think so. I figured that someone far craftier, designier, and organizier than I had probably already created something like this and then blogged about it.

I was right!

Ye olde Pinterest lead me to A Diamond in the Stuff (yeah, she has the cutely decorated house that I keep hoping will magically appear in my house), which then lead me to Sprik Space. I picked the calendar I liked, printed at Costco, hit the Hobby Lobby, and then Bob's your uncle, Fanny's your aunt... I give you my perpetual calendar (which for the record would be much harder to make if I lived in Brazil):

$2.99 for the 11x14 print at Costco, $4.99 for the frame at Hobby Lobby (on sale for 50% off), round up for taxes, I have a perpetual calendar for $8.50. That is a lot better than $40 And frankly, mine is cuter.

In fact, I like this so much that I think I may make 2 more for in my soon to be neat & organized office so that I can have a rotating perpetual calendar of deadlines and whatnots in there.

Side note-- I use Vis a Vis overhead projector markers instead of dry erase, because I find they smudge less than dry erase and they have a much finer point. And I have like 2 billion of them because when I was teaching I acted as the staunch Luddite, clinging to my overheads & overhead projector as all of my colleagues moved to digital formats... I don't care what you say, still love the overhead projector.

 Project #2
My upstairs bathroom is boring. We have done nothing with it other than hanging a new towel rack. Whilst all the other rooms got lovely paint jobs, the upstairs bath remains Navajo white. Navajo white walls, beige towels and a white shower curtain. In other words, it is bland. I remembered I had pinned some free printables in my Pinterest "Bathroom" board, and SHAZAM! Thanks to Over the Big Moon (and Costco and Ikea), I now have cute bathroom art!

This project was a little more costly, as it is four 8x10 photos and frames from Ikea. Each 8x10 cost $1.49 and each frame cost $4.99, so about $7 each. $7 x4= $28, Luckily, though, I had a $25 gift card for Ikea, so this project only cost me about $6.50.  Similar art projects at Hobby Lobby cost about $40 each, so I'm thinking $28 instead of $120 isn't too shabby!

Project #3
This one isn't so much a direct link to Pinterest, but I feel like it was a super Pinterest-y solution to my problem.

We finally got around to hanging our coat racks, so we now have a proper place to hang our stuff (y'know, instead of piling all the jackets, purses, etc. on the newel post).  At the old house, we had the boys' hooks located directly underneath the bigger hooks, and while that worked for the space we had, I always felt it made the coat area look much more jumbled than I wanted. Ideally, I wanted to hang the two coat racks side by side, but then the kids wouldn't be able to reach the hooks and I would be stuck hanging all their crap up. No thank you.

Then I had an epiphany. If I we hung the "grown-ups" coat rack on the landing, we could put the "kids" coat rack right next to it and they could stand on the stairs and be able to reach the coat rack.

Now, I'm pretty sure I'm a genius.

Anyhoo... that is what I have been up to. Guess I should go tackle the boxes in the office... 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Diaper Bag Organization

My diaper bag is one of the banes of my existence. I have struggled for years to keep it together and I haven't ever found the "right" system. I wanted something that was cute, practical and inexpensive.  I have a really great hand-me-down Diaper Dude's diaper bag that I love because it has a lot of little pockets on the front and it is very sturdy, but like almost all diaper bags it has that gaping big pocket that is so tough to keep organized (and diaper bag organizers are pricey!).

I have tried a lot of approaches to keep it organized and to date, the best I could come up with was using 1 gallon zipper storage bags. They were easy to grab and kept everything contained. I had one zipper bag with diapers, wipes and the changing pad in them and one with stuff to occupy the kids. Effective, but ugly.

I was contemplating how to better organize my diaper bag when I remembered that when I bought sheets for Little Man's big boy bed (Circo brand from Target, just FYI), they came in these cute little pouches that matched the sheets.  At that moment I had one of those Oprah "Ah Ha!" moments. The pouches would be perfect for cute organization.
Sheet pouches
So I set about organizing the heck out of my diaper bag. I now have the two pouches in the main compartment (with room to spare should I need to bring along changes of clothes or something of that nature) and have cleaned up/reorganized the front pouches (here come a ton of photos):
Main pouch. Yeah I P-Touch labelled the hell out of them!
The diapering pouch has room for 5 diapers, changing pad, wipes
and lotion, with PLENTY of room to spare.
The occupying pouch has two books, toys, snacks
and my travelling coloring kit (crayons and a small pad of paper in
an old Huggies travel wipes box)
The rest of the diaper bag has a pouch for my wallet/phone, a pouch for my travel first aid kit, and miscellaneous stuff.

Mini-First Aid kit, Organic foaming hand sanitizer and a baby leash 

Fresh breath, spare change, tape measure. Yup, that about sums up my life right now!
So that reorganization cost me $0.00, which TOTALLY fits our budget!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Homemade Oil-free Granola

Here at the Cluttered House, we're trying to get away from eating a ton of processed food. This is not to say we NEVER eat processed food ('cuz the boys and I totally had Costco pizza for lunch today. Don't judge me, Judgy!), but we are trying to make a more conscious effort to eat better foods.

We're running low on Cheerios, and I'm trying to not buy any more cereal, so I decided to make granola because we needed some kind of a grab & go breakfast. I cracked open Food to Live By, which is a really great organic cookbook by one of the founders of Earthbound Farms, because I had used its granola recipe before.

As I read it, though, I realized I didn't have a lot of the ingredients, and I also didn't like the idea of putting a bunch of canola oil in my granola. Sorta seemed like a lot more fat than I'd like in my breakfast.

Since I am the world's foremost culinary wizard, I decided to wing it and see what happened if I only used the recipe as a guide and started throwing stuff I had into a bowl (this plan rarely works in my favor).

And the result was a delicious, crunchy, autumnal, oil-free granola. BOOYAH!

Then I thought, I should share this with my peeps! So here it is:

Cluttered Mama's Homemade Oil-Free Autumnal Granola
4 1/2 cups (organic) rolled oats
1 1/4 cups REAL maple syrup (don't use Aunt Jemima's or any of that other crap parading around as syrup. As a one time Vermonter, I highly recommend VT maple syrup, but will admit I used Canadian. I would imagine you could also use honey or agave too. Anything sweet and sticky)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 Tb cinnamon
1/2 Tb nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup wheat bran (stay regular, my friends)

Preheat Oven to 325. Dump everything in a bowl and mix until all the dry ingredients are moistened.

Spray a large, rimmed cookie sheet with oil (okay, so not 100% oil-free, but you could probably not spray it and be okay)-- I lined my cookie sheet with parchment paper, but this isn't necessary. I just find it helps with the transfer of the granola to the storage container at the end.

Spread granola on the cookie sheet in one even layer. Put in the oven for 20-25 minutes. At that point, use a spatula to turn the granola (be careful, I ended up spilling it when I did this).

Put granola back in the oven for 15-20 minutes more (but keep an eye on it, mine burned a little around the edges).

Take it out of the oven and let it cool, then transfer to an air-tight container... if you don't eat it all up before you get to this point.

Added bonus? The cinnamon and nutmeg make your house smell like cookies. Yum.

This post was featured on Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways Blog Hop #52.

UPDATED 11/9/12:
Little Man has renamed this "Oatmeal Cookie Cereal" and quite enjoyed it this morning! This was after his second bowl:

Saturday, November 3, 2012

How Pinterest Saved Halloween

I have a love-hate relationship with Pinterest. (Well, more LOVE-hate). I love, love, love finding new recipes and being inspired by the many "easy" projects that I see on there. I hate that Pinterest has the ability to make women (and maybe men, but I only know the female perspective) feel like they aren't "enough." But that is a whole 'nother blog topic.

Today I am praising Pinterest in ALL her glory. You see, Pinterest saved the Cluttered Family's Halloween this year.

This year, Little Man has had a rotating list of things he wanted to dress up as for Halloween. He spent most of the spring and summer saying he wanted to be an owl, which seemed like it might be an easy costume for an undomestic goddess such as myself to make with scissors and a glue gun. Just as September rolled around and I was scouring Pinterest and filling my Halloween board with easy DIY owl costumes (here, here and here), Little Man suddenly changed his mind. Throughout the month of September he wanted to be:
  • A frog
  • Dashi from the Octonauts
  • Buzz Lightyear (score! We bought this costume for $1 at a garage sale this summer)
  • Woody (see above)
  • Jessie (double score, we have his costume from last year!)
  • A white princess
  • A shark
  • A T-Rex
About 2 weeks before Halloween, he etched in stone that his costume this year would be a T-Rex. So a week before Halloween (I am a consummate procrastinator) I schlepped Little Man to the local party store where they had the PERFECT green T-Rex costume. Little Man put on the headdress and was "so EECITED" about the costume. I was not relishing spending $25 on a costume, but I'm a sucker for happy kids, so I was gonna eat it on this one (In my head I was thinking, "You better like it kiddo, cuz that is coming out of the budget for your Christmas gifts... Ho Ho Ho!").

Then tragedy struck. The body of the costume didn't fit. The store only carried it in a 2-4T and my small-for-his-age 4 year old was too tall. There were no other sizes and there was nothing I could do. Giant, genuine, tears welled up in Little Man's eyes and in a small, disappointed voice he proclaimed "I don't want a different costume. I don't even WANT a Halloween!!!"

At that moment, I knew something had to be done. Like a woman possessed, I dropped to my knees in the middle of the party store, grabbed him by the shoulders and started babbling, "How 'bout Mommy makes you a T-Rex, buddy? It will be so AWESOME! It can have a TAIL and everything? How 'bout that? I'll sew it and you can help me pick out the fabrics and stuff, okay? That sound good? Would that make Halloween okay?"

[insert sound of record needle scratching to a halt on a record here]

Uh... Cluttered Mama, did you just promise to SEW a costume??? Uhm... You DO remember that you a) don't really know how to sew, b) don't own a sewing machine, and c) it is a week before Halloween, right?!?!

This is why I need to learn to keep my mouth shut.

BUT, luckily I have Pinterest and a good friend who was willing to lend me her sewing machine.  On Pinterest found a DIY dinosaur hoodie tutorial from Me Sew Crazy and a DIY dragon tail tutorial on Tatertots & Jello and I was off to the races!

After picking out a black fleece sweatsuit and two different shades of green felt, Little Man was "eecited" for his T-Rex costume again. Halloween was saved and I was class-A sewing hero! (Just, uhm... don't look at the seams...)
(sorry about the photo quality, my camera is wonky right now)

Double bonus? Little Man also has a new dino hoodie he can wear whenever he wants.

What about you? Any recent Pinterest finds that have saved you?