Friday, April 11, 2014

I love super glue.



There is a surprising little clutter culprit that you can take care of in one morning or afternoon. Its your pile of "things that need fixing".  Well, your pile might be a box or a drawer.  If it's really neglected it might even be a closet full of things.  It's all just sitting there - waiting.  Waiting for you to finally find the time to fix it.

If your "fix it" pile is really large, you may find it is half full of things that you no longer need.   While I wouldn't recommend this system to anyone, if that is you, going through your giant pile might be easier than you think.  You can just toss half of it immediately.

Here is how you start.
1- Put an appointment on your calendar to do this task.  Really.  That gives it importance and you time.

2- Have on hand a needle and thread (white and black), a scissors, a bottle of super glue and a trash can (because if you don't need it, you aren't going to spend time fixing it either….).

3- Just have at it.  Gather all your items (Don't forget to look in the garage!).  Sit at a table and go through each item that needs fixing.  Immediately put it into a new "fix" pile or toss it*.

3- Now go through your "fix" pile.  Sort it into items that you can fix and items you need to have a professional fix (watches that need new batteries, too difficult sewing projects, electronic repairs, etc.).

4- While you are sitting there - fix everything you can.
-- Sew on missing or loose buttons and make all small sewing repairs**.  If you have a machine and know how to use it, plan to get those bigger projects done next.
-- Get out your super glue and go to town.  I LOVE superglue.  You can fix just about anything with it!   Make sure to use it on a piece of newspaper and be VERY careful to not get it on your fingers***.  (I have done this - it's terrible. My kids would say hilarious, but I say terrible.)   We always have a few bottles of super glue on hand and use it frequently.  Here are a few examples of the many, many things I have repaired or used super glue on:
The heads fell off this mahogany statue
my husband purchased in Africa.
The corner of my iPhone
silicon case ripped.
My daughter's clay money lost
a couple of limbs. (This is the one
that I glued myself to…) 
I made an iPad stand using a business
card holder, some rug/shelf liner and
a tiny wooden shoe. It works great!

iPad stand in action.



I made this necklace storage frame
(see previous post) by gluing little
hooks to the glass.
5- When you are done fixing everything you can - PUT IT AWAY.

6- Now take a look at that pile of things you can't fix.  Take the time right now to find out where to get the repairs done.  Call around. Find out how much it will cost and decide if it's something you want to do.  If it's not - get rid of it.  If it is, set it aside.  Once you have all of your items ready and know where to bring them, GO.  Go right now - make an errand of it, dropping off everything for repairs.

7- Take a look around and take a deep breath.  Isn't it nice to have all that broken stuff fixed or gone? Think of how much money you saved by fixing some of it, rather than replacing it! And next time, deal with these items as they break.




Notes:
* Batteries and most electronics cannot be thrown into the trash.  They will leech hazardous chemicals into our ground water.  In our city, we can recycle batteries at the library and we can bring hazardous waste to a specific drop-off location.  If you need to do this - add it to step 6!  Get it done!
** Sewing on a button is VERY easy.  You don't want to be throwing out clothes or spending money on a tailor for this simple task.  See here: http://www.wikihow.com/Sew-a-Button  
or this great link that shows you how to do all sorts of mini- repairs on clothing: http://www.wikihow.com/Fix-Clothes
***I have (embarrassingly) super glued myself to a few of my projects when the glue came out quicker than I expected, or started to run while I was  holding something together and didn't notice it.  Its actually pretty scary - so be careful!  I had the best luck by soaking my hand in warm water for a while, but here are some other suggestions just in case:  http://www.wikihow.com/Remove-Super-Glue

Friday, February 28, 2014

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Tamara Nugteren

Homemade oatmeal bars - The best part of my day.


Tamara Nugteren




This is my very own concocted recipe and I'm quite proud of how it turned out.
It is both wheat and dairy free and full of other great ingredients - without tasting like cardboard.  Delicious in fact!

I know in the last year or so, homemade oatmeal treat recipes have become increasingly popular, but I would just like to say that I have been making this one for years.  I started experimenting with it when my children were very young, with the desire of feeding them better foods.  This has given me plenty of time to tweak the original recipe and come up with many other tasty versions.

Below is the "base recipe".
I will list variations at the bottom of the page, but feel free to come up with some of your own as well!

Not only are there endless ingredient variations, but there are also several baking variations.
I most commonly bake this recipe in a stoneware muffin pan, but you can also do it in two 8x8's, a 9x13 or even spread thin on a cookie sheet.  You will just need to adjust the baking time (more on that later.)

This recipe also makes a fantastic dry mix.  I often make up several extra batches of the dry mix for my pantry or to give as a gift for teachers, friends or anyone else. Just make sure to include the list of wet ingredients that will need to be added later along with the baking instructions if you gift it away.

Base recipe - Tamara's Homemade Oatmeal Bars
(Healthy enough for breakfast, yummy enough for snacks)

- 3 c. rolled oats; old fashioned - NOT quick cooking.*
- 1 c. oatmeal flour **
- 1/2 c. ground roasted soy nuts **
- 1/2 c. ground flax **
- 1/2 c. brown sugar ***
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Mix the above ingredients well, by hand, with a whisk.
If you are making dry mixes, stop here.  Put it into some appropriately sized zip-seal baggies and squeeze out all the extra air.  Mark your dry mixes well - Sharpies work great, as does just dropping a post-it note with the rest of the instructions inside.
Dry ingredients
Next - the wet ingredients:
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1 cup applesauce (or two individual 4 oz. servings, if you buy it that way.)
- 2 T. oil of your choosing (something not to flavorful - coconut or a vegetable oil is best.)
- 1-3 T. water (start low, add more if your mix is dry after you add in your variations below.)

If you are baking up the batch, now is when you can add in your family's favorite ingredients.
I always start with 1/2 - 1 full bag of chocolate chips.  For my daughter, I buy dairy-free chips. Whole Life makes a dairy free variety (sold at Target), Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet are also dairy-free or you could do a high quality dark chocolate.
(Above) Adding in the wet ingredients 
(Above) Moist, but sticks together well.
I filled my 12 cup pan with about 2/3 of this batter.
(Above) Each muffin cup was 2/3- 3/4 full.
At this point, I divide up my batter to tailor it to my family's diverse tastes.
 - For my daughter I make a portion with dried cranberries.
 - For my son, no cranberries but peanut butter.  (The entire recipe would call for 1 cup of peanut butter.  Less if you are doing a half, third or quarter batch.)
 - For myself, I add coconut and chopped walnuts into the base recipe.
There are not specific amounts that I use - just add in what looks good to you, but keep the base recipe moist.  For a reference point, into a whole recipe you would end up with no more than an additional 1 cup of dry ingredients, not including the chocolate chips or peanut butter.
If your recipe seems too dry, add in 1/4 cup of water.
Chopped walnuts and shredded coconut for me.
I made the first 12 in the muffin tin and added about
1 cup of these ingredients to the remainder of the batter.
After adding in the walnuts and the coconut shred,
I was able to make an additional 7 bars in the muffin pan.
So in this batch, I ended up with 19 bars total.
12 chocolate chip and 7 chocolate chip/walnut/coconut. 
Baking:
The baking times can vary greatly based on your pan and your preference for doneness.  There are no safety concerns with under baking (no eggs or raw meats) so go with what you like.  You will have to experiment a bit each time.

If you use a stoneware pan, you should heat it with the oven, then pull it out and fill it for the best results.  Stoneware also takes a bit longer to bake because it it so much thicker than a metal or glass pan.

I prefer moist and thick, my husband likes the bars to be baked longer and more "done".  If you use a cookie sheet, your bars will be much thinner than if you use another type of pan, and you will want to make sure they are a bit tougher so they hold together.

Here are some guidelines:
Always grease whatever pan you use for the best result.  Also always let your bars cool fully before removing them from your pan or they may fall apart.

- 8x8 pans will take approximately 25 minutes
- My pre-heated stoneware muffin pan bakes for 30 minutes - I add an extra 5 minutes if they are for my husband.  This recipe makes 12-18 servings in a muffin pan, depending on your add-ins.
- A standard cookie sheet will bake about 15 minutes.
- No matter your type of muffin pan, grease it well and don't use the paper liners.  You don't need them.
Please remember to watch the first few times you bake as your experience may be slightly different.
If they turn out too soft, add a 5 minutes next time.  If they are too tough, take a few minutes away.

Enjoy! I'd love to hear about your results.

(Above) Finished product - plain variety "AKA chocolate chip.
(Above) Finished product - chocolate chip/walnut/coconut.
I love how the exposed coconut gets all toasty on top!
Notes:
* Bob's Red Mill makes a guaranteed gluten-free oatmeal if you need that.
** I grind the oatmeal to make a flour, the soy nuts and whole flax in my blender.  You could also use a Magic Bullet, Nutri-Bullet or something similar.  Flax can also be purchased pre-ground.
*** I have not found a great substitute for the brown sugar.  It has the right texture for this recipe.  My daughter cannot have honey or agave, so I haven't tried that, but I think the liquid may change the out come anyway.  If you try that and it works well, let me know. The amount of sugar in this recipe is pretty low, however if your add-ins are naturally sweet, you may be able to leave it out entirely.  My kids don't love it without the added sweetness at this point - maybe when they are older.








Healthy Muffins for a quick breakfast or snack (dairy free, too!)



Tamara Nugteren




Zucchinis and pumpkins are sure signs of fall.

Zucchinis have never been one of my favorite foods, but I'm learning new ways to eat them as I get older.  This year, for the first time, I actually used zucchinis in roasted vegetable blends for dinner and in stir frys.  A big step for me! It was pretty good, so I'll keep it in the mix.  Savory is new to me, but not sweet.  I've always liked zucchinis that way - but this recipe is SO MUCH BETTER than any version of zucchini bread.  Of course, the trouble with the Autumn harvest is keeping it available to use all winter.  Especially if you are lucky enough to grow them or have someone who loves you growing them.

Saving zucchinis for baking isn't hard - it just takes a little time.  Do a bunch at once and you'll have a winter's worth for baking. Here are my zucchini totals - just so you know what you might get:


This year, I purchased zucchinis.  I could only find
the small ones, but larger ones work just as well.
12 small Zucchini = 14-16 cups shredded = 11 1-cup portions (water and air squeezed out.)
Grating.
Grated zucchini has a lot of moisture in it.
Squeeze and drip it out through a colander.
One cup portions, drained and zipped up in baggies.
Get as much air out as possible. 

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins (Dairy Free)
Dry ingredients
- 1 cup flour*
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup cocoa powder
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. salt
(Consider making extra batches of the dry ingredients, zipping it up into baggies and putting it into your pantry for next time!)

Wet ingredients
- 1/2 cup milk or milk substitute; I use unsweetened almond milk.
- 2 tsp. vinegar (omit if using regular milk)
- 1/4 cup oil (vegetable, canola or coconut)
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1/2 c. boiling water
- 1 cup shredded zucchini
- 1/2 cup chocolate chips (I use dairy free.  Trader Joes and Ghiradelli Semi-Sweets both are.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease muffin tin and/or liners**.

In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. (Or, just pull them out of your pantry if you are using some you have set aside from earlier!)  In another bowl, whisk together all wet ingredients EXCEPT zucchini and chocolate chips. Pour wet mixture and dry mixture together and blend thoroughly.  Mixture will be very thin.  Stir in the zucchini.

Fill muffin cups 3/4 full.  These muffins don't raise much, so if you shouldn't have any problems with overflowing.
My favorite muffin pan - Pampered Chef stoneware.
The batter is REALLY thin.  Don't worry.
Drop the chocolate chips onto the top of the filled muffin cups by hand - the mixture is so thin that if you do it earlier in the process they just sink to the bottom of the bowl and you don't get them evenly into each muffin.  Or at all.
Ready to go in the oven - see the chocolate chips on top?
Some will sink in - even better.

The final product - moist, chocolatey and utterly delicious.
I had more muffin batter than would fit into 12 cups, so
I'm using the extra to make "muffin tops".  A little frosting
between two and I have homemade Whoopie Pies!
Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  These are extra moist muffins!

Eat some now...
... and freeze some for later.
I call this breakfast OR snack. Yum.

Notes:
* I use my own flour blend of 50% all purpose flour and 50% whole wheat pastry flour.  Whole wheat pastry flour has all the nutritional benefits or regular whole wheat flour, but it is ground more finely and it much more "usable" in baking.  I haven't switched over to 100% whole wheat because it is just too difficult to bake with. The result is very "heavy".  This way, I get the best of both worlds. 
** I really love my Pampered Chef stoneware muffin pan.  You'll see me using it in recipes a lot.  I'm sure there are competitors who sell this as well, if you are interested.  The qualities of the stoneware allow me to bake without muffin liners, which I love.  



Thursday, December 12, 2013

In December, I love the mail. It's the other 11 months I don't care for...



Tamara Nugteren


As soon as Thanksgiving has passed, a new joy comes to our house that is only here for 31 days.   Our whole family shares in this experience.   I know… this could be so many things!  Christmas shopping? Decorating? The music?  How about the food?  No, no, no and no – though we love all those things, too.  This joy, is one that will be replaced in January with it’s opposite – dread.  What is it you wonder?  LOVE of getting the mail.  But just for December.

In December, our mailbox is flooded with holiday cards from friends and family, far and near.  Some we see frequently, some we see never.  It is such a joy to see the growing, changing families in pictures.   As soon as we see Steve, the mailman, coming up the street we keep an eye on the box.  We rush out to grab the mail to see who we got cards from that day.   The picture cards are too beautiful to discard, and so our family displays them all year.  A few years ago, I found the perfect picture display at Pier One.  One by one, the cards go in.  We get to look at our friends and family all year. Their families have become our art.  It’s a nice reference point for the kids as well – whenever they wonder who we are talking about, we can point out a corresponding photo on the wall. 

The annual re-filling of the card display.
But what about the other 11 months? When the mailbox is filled with junk, bills and unwanted catalogs?  We used to have periods where we could go a few days before anyone pulled the mail out of the box. Why? Because we have an informal rule in our house to combat clutter:  If you get the mail, you have to deal with it right away.  It’s a great rule and it really helps – but there isn’t always time to deal with the mail.  Dealing with the mail simply means, immediately recycling the junk, shredding the credit card applications and opening the bills (they then go in a “to pay” pile).   
Incidentally, this same rule also applies to the reams of paperwork that come out of the kids’ backpacks. 

Implementing the rule “if you get the mail (or empty backpacks) you have to deal with it right away” seems easy – but you need to have a few systems in place before you start this, or you will just end up with more piles.   Here are a few easy things you should do to simplify this job that no one wants in the other eleven months of the year:

1.  Stop the junk from coming into your mailbox in the first place.   You can find the links needed for stopping credit card applications, catalogs and other junk in this previous post.

2. Have a permanent paper recycling bin where you open your mail – for us, that is in the kitchen.  You can stand right over it while you handle the incoming stack.  Be realistic about what you are looking at.  If you aren’t in the middle of back to school or holiday shopping, I strongly suggest you just put the catalogs and other retail ads directly into the recycling.  If you need them, you can find them online.  You probably won’t look at them later anyway, right? 

3.  Make a “shred” pile for any mail coming in that doesn’t need filing, but contains personal information - especially credit card applications, statements, etc.  At least once a week – shred it all.  If you don’t have a shredder, add it to your list.  It will pay for itself by keeping your information secure.

4.  Have a place for bills that need to be paid and another for things that need to be filed.  For us, this is by our computer.  It’s unrealistic to pay or file everything immediately – but at least it’s together and you know where it is.

5.  Last, but very important, have a system in place to deal with all the papers you need to keep “for a while” or want to keep as a reference.  This is a tough batch of papers.  It is also the main culprit in everyone’s growing pile on the counter. 

What to do with receipts for things you bought online that haven’t arrived yet? Or items you purchased but want to make sure they are working out ok before you throw out the receipt?  Think gifts for others, snow boots for the kids, a new small appliance… etc. 

What about those lists of phone numbers for the school or the description of the homework assignment that is due in several weeks?   Or the coupons for the restaurants you really want to try?  What do you do with those things?? 

That is the tricky part.  Here is what you do.  You set up a small filing system right where you open your mail.  Make it look nice – it’s always going to be out.  Determine what your top 8-12 categories are make file folders for those. 

I purchased a silver upright file at Target and splurged on the “fancy” file folders.  Mine has the option of standing or being hung on the wall.  Bonus, it’s metal so I can put magnets on it if I desire.  I magnetically adhered two smaller sorters to the front of ours.  One holds mail supplies (address labels and stamps) and one holds business cards for people I don’t want in my main online contacts list (salon, plumber, piano tuner, etc.).  I initially hand wrote the labels because I wanted to see how the categories worked out before using the more permanent label maker.  Several years later, and I still haven't gotten around to that.  Now that I see how it looks in a picture though, I think I'll have to fix that! 
 
Simple and effective at cutting the counter clutter.
Determining what your file folders should be is not as tough as it sounds.  When you sort through your huge existing “counter pile”, separate the papers into like categories and use those to start.  You may think of a few extras.  For a place to begin, here are our family’s categories.
- Receipts – temporary keep.  If there is a receipt for something we need to keep indefinitely, it goes into a more permanent file. 
- Tickets and receipts – waiting.  This is for things that have been ordered online that haven’t arrived yet and for holding tickets to upcoming shows & events. 
- Restaurant coupons and travel fliers.  For all the BOGO and free appetizer coupons to places we will actually go to and fliers for places we want to.
- School papers.  This is specific to things I may want to keep for the kids keepsakes.  That A+ math test or heart-warming essay. I’ll sort it at the end of the school year to make my final picks.
School – Misc.  This is the file that holds the school directory, all the details about important school related activities, the kids individual class schedules and anything else that is school “reference” related.
- Classes & Activities.  Details about specific classes and/or sports that family members are taking, schedules, phone numbers and other related information.  It also holds all the things we need for summer camps and activities – you know, they come in February, but you don’t need them again until July? Grrr….
- Reference.  Everything else reference.  Parenting tips, family agreements and contracts, the reminder sheet about what to recycle and how, neighborhood directory.
- Other.  A catch all for things I need to keep that don’t fit into another file category.
- Last there is a file for myself, my husband and our dog.  My husband and I can put whatever we are currently working on in this file.  Use it as we wish.  The file for our dog holds his latest shot records, information on dog foods, the groomer, the boarding facility, etc.  I was surprised how often I needed these things!

Implementing these simple steps up front will save you time and frustration in the long run.  It’s not a perfect system, sometimes a few things slip through the cracks and land on the counter – but when they do, you’ll know how to quickly take care of it.  

Good luck and happy de-cluttering! 


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hot oatmeal on a cold morning... mmm.....


Tamara Nugteren


Other than a nice frothy cappuccino, there isn't much better on a cold morning than the perfect bowl of oatmeal.  

I know, these days, you can pick up just about any variety at the grocery store.  It's quick and it's easy.  But it's not perfect - and that is what I want in my oatmeal. Perfect. 

And oatmeal is just SO EASY to make - it's really not a big deal to get it that way.
So in our house, I make up a big batch of individual serving packets every two weeks or so and everyone gets what they want.

It's hot, it's hearty, it's healthy and it's made to order.  It's probably a little cheaper, too - but that wasn't my main goal here.  I just couldn't find perfect in the store...

Taking out the ingredients I didn't want (carmel coloring, guar gum and sometimes artificial ingredients) and adding in the ones I did (flax, fiber and real fruit).

Fiber was a top add in for me.  I really wanted to find a way to get more of it in my diet.  I wasn't have any "problems", but about two years ago - when I started making this - I had just read an article about American's fiber intake.  Here is what I had heard - the recommendation for fiber amounts for women is 25 grams a day.  Sounds fine... until I actually started checking the amounts I was getting and was shocked to find out how far from that I was! One whole apple - only 4 grams.  Slice of whole wheat bread?  Only 1-2 grams.  Yikes! So you will see below, this is a fiber rich breakfast. 

And it's good.  Really good.  I've even made a few converts.  A few relatives, who shall be left unnamed and my husband, who have always "hated" oatmeal, now eat it nearly every day.  

Here is how I do it - the beauty is, you can modify it to fit your taste.

You will need:
- A big container of Old Fashioned Rolled Oats (not the quick cooking - too mushy).*
- Snack-sized baggies (reused, over and over....)
- Ground flax**
- Cinnamon
- Chia Seeds***
- Clear Soluble Fiber Supplement (such as Benefiber)****
- 1/3 cup dry measurer and 1 Tablespoon


* Regular, organic or even guaranteed Gluten Free to meet everyone's wants and needs.
** Flax is a "super food".  It is full of fiber (about 8 grams per tablespoon) and it is an excellent source of Omega-3's.
*** Chia is another "super food".  It is also full of fiber (about 5 grams per tablespoon), Omega 3's, Omega- 6's, calcium antioxidants and even protein! Read more about that here: http://www.doctoroz.com/blog/lindsey-duncan-nd-cn/chia-ancient-super-secret
**** Clear Soluble Fiber Supplements come in a powder and are absolutely undetectable when added to recipes.  

The assembly line. 
Our oatmeal container.
The top one is with brown sugar, Craisens and mini chocolate chips.
The bottom one is just cinnamon and mini chocolate chips - later
I'll add syrup for sweetness and frozen fruit.
Optional dry add ins: 
- Craisens  (my daughter's favorite)
- Mini -chocolate chips (I use the Way of Life Diary Free chips for my daughter)
- Chopped walnuts or pecans
- Brown sugar, if you do not use syrup

Optional wet add ins (this is my list...):
- Pears
- Peaches
- Blueberries (My husband's favorite)
- real Maple Syrup (omit brown sugar)
- Apples
Note:  Since I use one of these fruits in my oatmeal everyday, for ease - I have pre chopped and frozen individual servings of apples, peaches or pears in a mini muffin tin and then transferred to a bag.  I just grab one "puck" out and drop it in my oatmeal before cooking it. See pictures.

Mini-muffin pan, filled with diced peaches and just a 
bit of peach juice or water (to keep it frozen all together).

Frozen "pucks" of diced pears.

The exact recipe, done assembly line style:
- Open all the baggies and fold over the tops so they stay open.
- Add in to each: 
          - 1/3 cup oatmeal
          - 1 Tbs. chia seeds
          - 1 Tbs. ground flax
          - 2 Tbs. fiber
          - Sprinkle of cinnamon
          - Approx. 2 tsp. of mini chocolate chips 
- Zip up all bags, taking out as much air as possible.
- When ready to serve, add mix to small bowl or coffee mug.  Add in 1 Tbs. real maple syrup, and 2/3 cup water.  My husband and I make ours without the Craisens, preferring instead to add in a little chopped and pre-frozen fruit or blueberries.
- Store all the pre-made oatmeals in an easy to access container.
- Heat in microwave approximately 1 minute, stir and heat another 30-40 seconds (varies by appliance) OR heat on the stove per the instructions on the oatmeal container.  

All ready to heat - with my frozen diced pears, just needs water. 
Hot and ready to eat.

Enjoy.  Nevermind... you will.  It's just that good.