Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Home Keeper's Timing

Kind hearts are the gardens
Kind thoughts are the roots
Kind words are the flowers
Kind deeds are the fruits

Take care of your garden
And keep out the weeds;
Fill it up with sunshine,
Kind words and kind deeds

Henry Wordsworth Longfellow

Timing is an important part of a home keeper's activities. This is especially important in cooking. When planning a meal, consider how long it will take you to prepare each item from beginning to the table. Consider what you can do ahead. Also, consider what can cook by itself while you perform some other chore connected with the meal.

When determining your total cooking times, don't forget to include time to thaw items from the freezer, to chop vegetables, to set the table, to carve meat, to drain vegetables or pasta, or to put ice in glasses and perhaps pour the drinks. There's much more to the total preparation of a dish than just the cooking time. Once you've thought through the timing of your various dishes, make a written or mental schedule of what you will do when. Meat usually takes longest to cook of the dishes in a meal, so chances are you will start by preparing the meat and by starting it to cook.

Those of us who have been cooking for some time generally have an innate sense of timing a meal that we have developed from experience. However, even for those of us who are experienced cooks, it's wise to give some thought to the details -- especially if we are trying new recipes or if we are preparing a festive meal for extended family and friends. Also, we may need to pay more attention -- even to the point of writing down our entire meal plan -- if we are distracted by something, such as a new baby or extra guests in the home or even simply not feeling our best on a given day.

One easy way to serve a meal with everything timed perfectly is to choose a hot main dish, with simple side dishes such as vegetables and bread. If you plan to offer a starter, choose something that can be prepared ahead of time and served chilled. Also, prepare a dessert that can be prepared ahead of time and served cold or at room temperature.

In a way, timing a meal involves "backward" thinking. In order to have the tea made, I need to start the water by _____. In order to have the bread warm, I need to pop it in the oven at ______. In order to have the meat made, I need to start it by ______.

Sometimes, you'll be preparing items in the oven that require different temperatures. For example, you may need to take the meat out and keep it warm or carve it while you pop rolls in for a few minutes.

For even experienced cooks, if you are preparing several dishes for a large crowd, it helps to write your plan down.

If you're having people over after church, prepare what you can the day before. For example, you can bake a loaf of bread, make a congealed salad, prepare a dessert, set the dining room table, fill salt and pepper shakers, make iced tea or lemonade, stir up a vegetable casserole to be baked on Sunday, etc.

You will also be able to accomplish a few things that morning. For example, you can set your meat in an oven with the timer set to start it and stop it at the correct time. Or, you can fill a crock-pot with items to be cooked. You can measure coffee and water in your coffee pot, though you won't want to start the coffee until you are ready to serve it.

Try to have most things done so that your family and any guests will not have to wait more than a half-hour until dinner is on the table.

If you have had children in the home for some time, you have probably learned to rely on their help in bringing a meal together at the right time. This is not only helpful to you, it is excellent training for your children. Once your last child has left home, however, you may have to re-think how to prepare the meal by yourself, with perhaps a little help from hubby or guests.

The art of timing is useful in other areas, as well. For example, when planning a garden, you must think about when the best times for planting and harvesting. Careful attention to timing will enable you to stretch your garden's capacity. For example, you can plant early crops, such as lettuce, and then re-plant with a later-yielding vegetable.

Also, when gardening or landscaping, it's important to know the timing when it comes to hours of sunlight the various places in your yard get. Since this is likely to vary from season to season, it's important to observe your yard throughout the year to get a feel for the various amounts of sunlight.

When preparing for holidays, sewing something for a particular occasion, or otherwise working toward a specific deadline, consider the timing of each step you must accomplish. Again, "think backwards", and jot down when you need to start each step on your calendar. Breaking your work into small, timed steps will prevent you from having to rush at the last minute. Be sure to allow some "padding" in your scheduling, as you may not be able to proceed from step to step as quickly as you think.

Employ "backwards planning" and a sense of timing when you must catch up on many household chores during a day. Think through which chores must be done and make sure those take priority in your day's scheduling. Consider how you will work in the various steps for each chore. For example, you might throw in a load of clothing to wash while you vacuum your living room. Or, you might spray tubs with cleaner and let them soak while you do something else. Then, come back to the tubs and wipe the cleaner away. Be sure to think this through, though ,and don't just flit from thing to thing. Otherwise, you will become distracted and go on to one thing without ever finishing the other.

Great house keepers give attention to timing in all things, from the big picture of when to perform seasonal cleaning down to the smaller issue of how best to use the next five minutes. As we mentioned with cooking, the longer we have kept a house, the more we have an innate sense of what must be done when. Even so, it's still wise to plan carefully. Those of us with more experience will be able to "get by" winging it, but we likely won't experience the joy that comes from using our time to its best advantage.

Happy Home Keeping!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Home Keeping in San Antonio

Topaztook guessed correctly that we and our friends visited San Antonio, Texas. We also took an afternoon trip an hour north to see Fredriksburg. I learned some interesting things about the home keepers from past centuries in that part of Texas. Rather than write it out in an article, I'll just list a few of the random facts that I learned:

1) In the 1700's, southern Texas was populated by many different hunter/gathering native American tribes, each with its own language. The Spaniards built several missions -- including the famous Alamo -- along a river in order to convert the Indians to Catholicism and to also induce them to be loyal to the nation of Spain. Among the things the Spaniards promised the Indians was to protect them from warrior tribes coming down from the north. They also promised to protect them from diseases which had been ravaging their areas. Neither the Spanish nor the Indians knew that it was the Spaniards who were carrying diseases, such as smallpox, which the Indian immune systems had never encountered before.

Each mission would be assigned a couple of missionaries and a very few soldiers. So, the mission communities were largely composed of the local native Americans.

In the missions, the Spaniards provided apartments for each family. Most of the apartments had only two rooms for an entire family of a couple and several children. One apartment in each mission had three rooms, and that was for a family chosen to help oversee the others. The Spaniards taught the Indians various trades, how to live in a home, and two languages: Spanish and Latin.

Each apartment had its own kitchen. However, there were also large outdoor ovens placed around the courtyard. During the hot months, the women would take turns cooking in the outdoor ovens, so as not to overheat the apartments. People would gather around and eat meals together.

In the beginning, men did most of the gardening. Later on, women began to take over gardening duties. Each day, mothers and daughters would roll tortillas out on little, slanted stone stands. That was part of their daily house keeping.

The missions added to their food supplies by cooking prickly pear cactus. Also, they found ways to use the mesquite beans. The beans had a sweet taste, and children would reach up and pluck them to eat for snacks -- much as we might eat a piece of candy.

Some Indians adopted the Spanish culture, which obviously still thrives in San Antonio. Others did not enjoy being confined in the mission and went back to their old ways of living. However, the Spanish influence predominated, and the various Indian tribes gradually amalgamated into one Hispanic/native American/other European culture.

2) South Texas used to be grassland. The Indian tribes inadvertently contributed to keeping it this way. They would burn off brushy areas to drive animals out where the animals could be hunted. This actually renewed the land. As more and more European/American settlers move din to the area, they stopped the burning, and the area just north of San Antonio became more like scrub land -- with cactus, short mesquite trees, etc. Of course, San Antonio, itself, remains very lush. We used to live in the Dallas area, which has an entirely different feel than the more tropical San Antonio. Neither one is more enjoyable than the other -- just different.

3) Many Germans came to the area around San Antonio following a revolution in Germany. They brought with them features of German architecture. They established ranches. In towns, such as Fredricksburg, they established what they called "Sunday houses", which were smaller than their larger ranch homes. On the weekends, they would come into town to shop and to go to church. They would stay in these "Sunday" houses, which are an interesting blend of Texan and German building.

4) Lots of people from other parts of the U.S. poured into San Antonio. Of course, many were from Tennessee, where I live. I'm sure that these people contributed to the cultural mix around San Antonio, as well. Texas spent part of its time as a part of Mexico, as an independent country, and finally -- as a state of the U.S.

5) While in Fredricksburg, we visited the huge Wildseed Farms there. My husband and I fell in love with a butterfly hut they have on their property and jokingly said we'd love to build one ourselves. Do you think we could get that idea past our neighborhood association? I learned that in addition to planting the host plants for each species of butterfly in the hut (all butterflies that can be found in Texas), they feed the butterflies with gatorade in their hanging feeders. I had never thought of using gatorade! You can check out their site at

Dear hubby also suggested that we seed the common area, which has become a little weedy, with wildflowers! I don't think we could get away with that one, either.

I enjoy visiting various places and learning about the way families lived in the past and now live in the present.

Happy home keeping!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Where in the world is the Merry Rose?

From these photos, can you guess where we went on a few day getaway with friends?

Please note that this first photo is not a photo of us.

Here's a hint: If you were a home manager in this area in the past, you might have cooked German sausages. Or, you might have daily rolled tortillas out on a flat stone, using a rolling-pin shaped stone to shape them. Or, you might have recipes for prickly pear and for mesquite beans memorized. This area is a blend of several cultures, each of which had their own style of house and cuisine and language, and which all melded into one modern culture.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Back from a trip!

While I was there, I found out some things about how some older cultures kept home. I'll post more later.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

What's your favorite garden style?

Check the new poll and vote for your garden wish list.

School's back in sesssion

The Teacher's Been Playing Hookey...

Due to a combination of being under the weather and being busy, I've not had much time to post lately. But, now I've returned to my quest to perfect my home keeping skills and to post so that we can all work along together.

I hope that all of you who are doing the crochet project with us are enjoying it.

Next up on the project list is to make a pair of pillow cases. If you would like to join in, the materials you will need are as follows:

2 yards of 45" fabric for 1 set of Standard Cases
2.25 yards of 45" fabric for one set of Queen Cases
2.5 yards of 45" fabric for 1 set of King Cases
(I'm not sure how to convert the yardage to metric numbers for countries where the metric system is used. If anyone can help with that, please leave a comment!)

The above measurements are approximations, but should be sufficient for our project. If you want to be more exact, measure the width of your pillowcase, allow for 1/4 to 1/2 inch seam on each side plus enough inches that the pillow can slip inside the finished case easily. Measure the length and add about five and 1/2 inches for the cuff and seams.

Whether you use the numbers I have listed or you buy material according to your measurements, I would suggest buying 1/8 to 1/4 more yardage to allow for shrinkage. Pre-wash your material and iron it.

Note: If you want to make only one case for a twin bed or because you want to make just one of a special material or design, adjust the fabric amounts accordingly.

Also, you might want to make the body of your case out of one fabric and the hem out of a contrasting or complementary fabric. If so, take that into account when buying your fabric, as well.

If you are a beginner, avoid designs which require a lot of effort to match the pattern when sewing two pieces together.

If you would like to turn this into a hand or machine embroidery exercise, in addition to being a sewing project, I suggest buying a white or light fabric. If you don't sew, but you would like to hand embroider pillowcases, buy a white set and embroider them yourself. You can buy a kit that contains pillowcases and embroidery instructions, and you can also buy transfer patterns for either embroidering or cross-stitching a design on your cases. Or, you can make your own embroidery design. Moreover, you can use a piece of waste cloth over your pillowcase and cross-stitch a design onto your cases. Then, you wash the cases and pull the treads of the waste cloth out, leaving only the cross-stitched design. We'll do some projects later on that you can use to embellish your pillowcases or other items.

In addition to your material, you'll need:

Thread (white, cream, or to match background)

Ribbon or lace, etc. if you would like to place a decorative trim on your cases.

Sewing Supplies: scissors, quilting or sewing pins, large sewing ruler, fabric marking pencils, seam ripper

Pillowcases are an easy project, so they are especially fun for beginning sewers. However, even advanced sewers may want to make some to have for their own closet, to place in a hope chest, or to give as gifts to college students or new brides or to anyone who is setting up housekeeping. Making your own pillowcases can save you money, especially if you look for fabric that's on sale.

Another idea is to make pillowcases of a washable satin or satin-y finish. Satin pillowcases are good for your hair. They allow your hair to slide across the case easily, without pulling. Not only does this help keep your hair from pulling or tangling, it can preserve some of the curl of a hairdo for a longer period, as well. This is one example in which you might or might not want to make just one case. The satin material might be more expensive than cotton, and you may wish to make only one -- either for yourself or for a daughter. For example, my husband has no desire to use a satin case, but I do enjoy one for myself.

I will be doing a very simple case, but I've included some links to some other cute pillowcase
ideas and tutorials in case you would like to be a little more adventurous.

Kirsten Can
PleasantView Schoolhouse

If you have a body length pillow, you can make cases using the exact same method that we will use. You will need to measure the width and length and add the allowances as I do not have the measurements for a body pillow.

Happy Home Keeping!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Cooking and baking -- freezing foods

Are you making the most of your freezer? Even if you only have the freezer compartment of a refrigerator, you can still freeze foods for convenience and to preserve an extra bounty of something for the future.

The USDA has provided an online guide to freezing foods and answers questions about food safety. Did you know that food stored at 0 degrees will always be safe to eat, though the quality suffers when frozen beyond a certain time. Also, once you thaw food, the microorganisms within it will become active again, and food can begin to spoil as if it had never been frozen. Follow the USDA link for guidelines and tips.

According to the author of the cookbook, Frozen Assets, she started cooking ahead and freezing meals to gain the time-saving benefits. She was surprised to find that her grocery bill went down by almost $400 a month, as well. That was partly due to the fact that she always had something quick in her freezer to grab and heat, so her family was not tempted to eat out during situations where she could not cook according to her normal schedule. Also, according to her freezing plan, she bought items in bulk, which saved even more money. She watched for sales on certain items -- such as ground beef -- and planned several meals around the frozen ground beef.

If you have a garden or if you have access to garden-fresh food, you can save even more by freezing things like corn and other fruits and vegetables.

Here are some tips for cooking and freezing foods:

1) Prepare pasta sauces ahead of time. Don't cook the pasta until you are ready to eat it, however, as the pasta can turn mushy with freezing. An exception might be lasagna, which does freeze well.
2) Take time to organize your freezer. I've found that when I don't, things get piled on top of each other and I forget what I have on hand. Thus, I lose the time and money-saving benefits of freezing food.
3) Pour broth into freezer trays and place into the freezer. Once the broth has frozen into separate cubes, pop the cubes out and store in a freezer bag. Then, when you are making soup or want to flavor something with broth, you can simply take out as many cubes as you need. If you want fat-free broth, cool the broth in a container in the fridge first and scoop the fat off the top. Fat-free broth is a great way to season vegetables in lieu of using lots of butter.
4) If you have the space, store all meats together, all veggies together, etc. If you have a very large freezer, you can even break this down into smaller categories -- beef products together, chicken together.
5) Label your foods! Label what the item is, as well as the month and year it was placed in the freezer. This will save much guessing on your part. One way to label is by using frozen food labels. Another way is to use a black permanent marker.
6) If you are industrious, you can keep a freezer inventory. Write down each recipe and food item you have in your freezer. Next to that, jot down the quantity. each time you remove a freezer meal or food item, mark the quantity down by one. Each time you add, increase the quantity to reflect the additional items.
7) Periodically have weeks when you plan your meals around food items that are reaching the end of their freezer-freshness period. If you make meals and freeze them ahead of time, you can use up meals that are about to expire and gain extra time that week, as well. For example, when you are spring cleaning would be a good time to use meals you have frozen.
8) Repackage existing items to make more space. For example, if you have a large box of fish filets, and you have already cooked several, you might find a way to store them in a smaller container.
9) Here's a tip from Frozen Assets: Lay freezer bags flat to freeze them. After they are frozen, stand them on end. In this way, they will sort of be "filed" so that you can just reach in and take the one you need off the freezer shelf. Also, bags stored in this way are less likely to come tumbling out when you open the freezer door or when you move the bags for some reason.
10)Be sure that you use truly air-tight containers in your freezer. The quality of food will suffer greatly if you don't. At the very least, your food will get "freezer burn". You know you are safe with freezer containers, freezer paper, and freezer bags especially made for this purpose. You can also use (and sometimes re-use) disposable aluminum foil pans for freezing main dishes provided that you wrap them securely. Glassware containers also work. Some come with a an air-tight top; for others wrap them tightly with a good grade of aluminum foil.

Great resources:
Eat for a Month -- Frozen Assets by Deborah Taylor-Hough (I found this in our library.)
Recipe for Egg McMom's -- My children loved these!
Once a Month Cooking World
Recipe for Freezer Slaw --This is not exactly the recipe I use, but it's close. I've found that making up a batch of freezer slaw is a great way to always have a handy side dish available. I store mine in batches in freezer bags and take a bag out when I need it.
Here's a similar recipe
“The best academy....a mother's knee.” (James Lowell)

Happy cooking!