Spring Cleaning Tips and Tricks

It’s officially Spring, the days are getting warmer and it’s time to think about cleaning things out. I love spring cleaning because I love organizing and getting rid of stuff that I don’t need or use. Here are some tips on how to clean and freshen up our your home without being overwhelmed.

Do a little at a time

It might seem like you need to set aside an entire weekend to clean but you will dread it and get burned out really quickly. Instead make a list of things you would like to accomplish. Over the next two months complete one whenever you have some free time. For example, I might skip the gym and clean out all of the closets. Cleaning burns a decent amount of calories so I say it counts :).

Lose the emotional attachment

Have you used it in the past year? If not, toss it. This also applies to clothes and shoes but doesn’t necessarily count for special items like skis, camping gear etc. Put a 5 year limit on those.

Make a life box

My husband and I are each allowed one life box. We can keep anything that we want in our box without judgement or whining. This will allow you to hold on to the really special stuff without going over board.

Tackle ONE big project

Small projects like cleaning out closets and under beds will make your home tidy but put something on your list to change the way you FEEL about your home. You could give the guest room a coat of paint and new linens or get a closet organizer for your clothes. When things are organized, clean and fresh you will be less stressed (there are studies on this, I’m not making this up!) These bigger projects will make you feel better about your space.

Tackle ALL of those little projects

That stain on the carpet next to the couch, that thing in the refrigerator that you can’t identify, that stain on the wall… Write all of these things down and tackle one at a time. These little things are easy to complete and will make you feel like you accomplished something.

Photo by HappilyInsane1

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War of the Weevils

After a ton of holiday baking this year, I replenished my baking supplies and to my surprise, I found my food infested with small black bugs – weevils! Weevils are tiny herbivorous beetles that live in grains. They usually get into your cupboard through old flour and they will get into just about anything that isn’t sealed tightly. Here are some tips on how to win the war on weevils.

  1. If you find weevils in your cupboard – don’t panic. They won’t bite or sting you but you will want to address the problem immediately. They lay a ton of eggs and they infestation will just get worse.
  2. Get a new garbage bag and toss everything that isn’t in a tightly sealed container. This includes all grains, crackers, cereals, dry beans, rice, pasta and anything that has a bug on it. I found some on my disposable plates and cups so I tossed those too.
  3. Wipe down all shelves thoroughly with soap and water and replace any shelving paper. Toss all paper towels used to clean in the same garbage bag.
  4. Put the garbage bag outside. Keeping it inside might make the problem come back.
  5. Replace any non-contaminated food into your cupboard. Do not put any grain based food in the cupboard for about three days. This is to make sure you killed all bugs. Chances are you will need some sort of grain in the next couple of days so store any newly bought cereals, pastas or crackers in the fridge. Store any newly bought flour in the freezer.
  6. After about three days, if you don’t see any more bugs, feel free to put everything back in the cupboard. If you do see a few more bugs, wipe down the cupboard again and make sure you tossed all grains.
  7. Some people recommend freezing the infested flour and sifting out the bugs so you can still use it – gross. Just toss it. You have already tossed half of your cupboard and if you miss any, you will have to go through this process again.

How to Avoid Weevils:

  1. Freezing newly bought flour will kill any weevils that might be in there already (never microwave – it won’t work). I recommend purchasing brand name flour at a well known grocery store so the flour stays on the shelf for the shortest period of time. It is a little more expensive but it is less expensive then replacing your whole pantry.
  2. Always store flour in a tightly sealed container. I really like the OXO Good Grips POP Containers and I store all of the grains in these. Why did I get an infestation then? After I purchased the flour, I just tossed it into the cupboard. It was open a little and they got out!
  3. Don’t purchase any more flour then you will use in a couple of months. You don’t want it sitting on the shelf in the store and you don’t want it sitting on the shelf in your home.
  4. Some people think storing bay leaves in your flour will discourage infestation. I haven’t tried it but it can’t hurt.
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The Best Apples for Eating and Baking

There are so many varieties of apples, sometimes it is hard to know what you should buy. Personally, the McIntosh apple is my all around favorite. I grew up eating these in upstate New York and every other apple pales in comparison to their crisp and juicy but not too sweet flavor. Check out my recommendations for eating and baking with apples.

For Eating:

If you want a great apple to eat as a snack or to slice up with some peanut butter – I will always recommend the McIntosh. It is a New England and Canadian favorite and I have spent more time (and money) then I would like to admit hunting them down in San Francisco. They are not very popular on the west coast but you can find them if you look. Sometimes if you ask your local grocer they can order them for you.

For Baking:

If you haven’t caught on yet – I love McIntosh apples – but if you are baking a pie, cake or bread, I would recommend a few alternatives. McIntosh apples tend to be more expensive so if you are adding a lot of spices and other ingredients I would recommend less expensive varieties. The Fuji, Pink Lady or Gala apples are great for baking. I like to mix them together with some Granny Smith apples for some tartness and textural differences (one Granny Smith for every two Fuji, Pink Lady or Gala).  If you live in New England and can get McIntosh for a good price, buy nothing else!

Good For Nothing:

If there is one apple that is better for a decoration on your kitchen table it is the Red Delicious. This variety is very sweet and grainy and lacks the quintessential sweet/tart flavor that I love about apples. Better yet, don’t waste your money on this decoration. Buy something that you can actually enjoy – a McIntosh!

What’s your favorite apple?

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10 Great Kitchen Items for YOUR Domestic Ninja

The holidays are a great time to get (or give) some things that you might be missing in the kitchen. If you know someone who likes to cook do a little digging and find out what they need. If you’re not sure, go with one of the my favorite items listed below.

1. Mixing Bowls

Having a good set of mixing bowls is great whether you love to bake or cook. I really like these mixing bowls made by OXO Good Grips because they come in three sizes and have a rubber bottom to keep the bowl still while you are mixing.

2. Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet

Cast iron skillets are great for cooking because they retain heat very well. They also need to be seasoned which means they are sprayed with oil and baked at a high temperature to allow the oil to seep into the pours of the metal. It is best to buy them pre-seasoned so your gift receiver will not have to do it themselves. Oh and grab them a silicone handle sleeve so they don’t burn their hand!

3. Silpat

Silpat non-stick silicone baking liners are a great gift for a baker. It creates a non-stick surface that is great for the oven or sticky toffees and caramels. I love using them for cookies and I could never have too many!

4. Slow Cooker

Slow cookers are great for busy moms and dads or someone who just doesn’t want to put a lot of effort into a great meal (sign me up!). I have the Hamilton Beach Set ‘n Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker and I love it. It is great for cooking meat or whole meals low and slow. Print out my shredded buffalo chicken recipe and give it along with this slow cooker to get them started.

5. Spoons and Spatulas

When I was registering for stuff for my wedding, I realized that I had one large mixing spoon and a wisk. Every kitchen should have at least a wooden spoon, a ladle, a set of silicone spatulas, an offset spatula, a stainless steel spatula (or I guess they are called turners?), a good whisk, and a pair of tongs.

6. Knife and Cutting Board

Having a great knife and cutting board is essential to enjoying the cooking experience. Cutting vegetables and meats will be much easier and faster. If you have a good knife you need to also have a good cutting board or your knife will get dull very quickly. Epicurean makes great cutting boards that are also affordable. I have a Miyabi chef knife that I love and don’t forget the edge-guard! If you’re unsure of their knife skills (or your own) you can also get them a knife skills class as your local Sur La Table.

7. KitchenAid Mixer

Everyone loves a KitchenAid Mixer. You can get them in a bunch of different colors but stick to the artisan series unless you are making serious amounts of baked goods. You will find that the professional series doesn’t mix as well with smaller batches. If you don’t want to spend the cash on a KitchenAid mixer, the next best thing is a really good hand mixer. I use mine all the time to whip up quick batches of cookies.

8. Cookbooks

There are a lot of cookbooks out there so it might be overwhelming to find a great one. I would recommend deciding on a specific cuisine and searching Amazon.com. Read the reviews and pick the best one you can find. My favorite cookbooks are Martha Stewart’s Cookies and The Biggest Loser Cookbook but you can also go with classic cookbooks like Joy of Cooking and How to Cook Everything.

9. Something Special

There might be something special that your domestic ninja would like to have in the kitchen. It might be a cake stand, dutch oven or maybe some fancy martini glasses for their next dinner party.

10. Spices

Spices can be really expensive so a gift card to Penseys Spices or their local grocer would be much appreciated. Penseys also has a lot of affordable gift packages that are great. An old roommate of mine got the Indian spice package one year and it was awesome.

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Top Six Reasons to Shop at Trader Joe’s

I used to shop at large chain stores like Safeway and Whole Foods…until I discovered Trader Joe’s. TJ’s is a different kind of grocery store. It’s not based on club cards and thousands of choices by big name brands. They hand pick awesome local products, which usually means rock bottom prices. And although the footprint of the store is small, they do a great job of exposing you to new foods that you might not try otherwise (frozen Mahi Mahi burgers are my latest addiction). For me, Trader Joe’s has made a routine trip to the grocery store into a culinary adventure.

The top 6 reasons I love Trader Joe’s:

  1. Low prices – I’m not sure why, but I always manage to fill up my cart and never spend more than $70.
  2. They are awesome at bagging groceries. (this is a big pet peeve of mine at normal grocery stores).
  3. Dried fruit and nuts – They have a great selection and most of them don’t have added sugar or preservatives. My favorite: Just Mango.
  4. Organic – Most of their products are organic. I’m sure the rest are close enough. 🙂
  5. Spices – Spices can be EXPENSIVE. Trader Joe’s has a limited selection, but they’re high quality and very inexpensive.
  6. Wine – I’ll admit, I don’t know much about wine. Telling between “red and white” is about as deep as I get. TJ’s consistently has a large selection of wines for under $10. Although the Two Buck Chuck (Charles Shaw) is always a purse pleaser.
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