February 27, 2014

Cooking up a Recipe Organizer

As much as chaos often contributes to my creative process, eventually it has to give way to a little order at some point. 

Years ago, when I lived in the UK, I didn't really know how to cook. I hadn't amassed the cookbooks I have now, and the Internet certainly wasn't as readily accessible, especially at home. Instead, I had a few recipes scribbled in journals and on index cards given to me by friends and family. I also took to checking cookbooks out of the library and then handwriting the recipes I wanted to try out.  

I had a little journal that I used to keep track of which recipes I tried. My rule was that the recipe couldn't go into the cooking journal until I actually made it (and of course it had to be successful...) The problem was, I had way more recipes I wanted to try than the ones I'd actually made, and nowhere to put them.
Some things never change -- even across an ocean. For a long time (too long) I've collected a stack of recipes in a pile, thinking I'd eventually do something with them. Eventually finally happened. Around Christmas time, when I couldn't find the recipes for the cookies I wanted to bake, I knew I had to sort these things out, pronto

Last week, I finally got so fed up with the pile of recipes, that I commandeered the kitchen table and threw everything on top of there to sort out the paper mess. 

I found a few neat blank books at a craft show in Pennsylvania before we moved, from ReNewed Intent. They had all kinds of re-purposed blank books -- I picked out two that were recreated from old cookbooks. You can shop ReNewed Intent right here on Etsy. 

All I did was sort out the recipes according to category. Once that was done, the rest simply fell into place. 

I used the larger book for everything from beverages to side dishes to main courses. The smaller book holds general how-to cooking info and homemade condiments recipes. I simply pasted the recipes onto the pages. All you need is a glue stick, really.

For the recipes that were too big to glue onto the paper, I created little folders at the start of each 'chapter' to simply shove in the folded full-page recipes. I even made little tabs for each chapter.

I found another blank book to use for my pile of scrumptious dessert recipes. I found this one on clearance at Michael's -- I'm still not sure what brand it is; it's similar to a Smashbook, only it has a three-ring binder in it. I love the ready-made pockets at the front and back -- they're perfect for those little booklets I seem to collect out of magazines.

For a year I had a subscription to Food Network Magazine and I found that I would end up ripping out a few recipes and then recycling the magazine. Most of those recipes take up a few pages -- especially their 'mix and match' ones (which I love!) This blank spiral bound book was perfect. I simply punched holes and attached the full-sized recipes. 

Not to be left out, my trusty everyday bamboo recipe card holder still holds many of my favorite weekly recipes. But now I finally have a place to stash the recipes that either don't get used as often, are too big for the box, or ones I still want to try. 

I feel gloriously organized at the moment!

Now all I need to do is start cooking something from those recipes... 

February 24, 2014

Spring in the Air?

This morning I saw the first robin of the year. He stared at me through the window and then went about his merry way.

Less than two weeks ago, no robins were to be found and this was the view out my window. 

SNOW. In the south. 

At least I had these awesome pink socks to get me through the chill, and of course, handmade slippers. 

I'm ecstatic to report that within days the weather warmed up enough to melt the snow, and over the weekend, temperatures reached the 70s. That's right, the SEVENTIES

I spent far too much time outside to even think about taking photos anywhere... but I did manage to snap a shot of my new batch of Friday Flowers when I returned indoors. 

I do love it when Spring is in the air... especially when it's still February!

February 20, 2014

A Heavy Heart

Ukraine is never far from my heart. I spent several summers there in my early 20s, and have been back to visit at least a dozen times since. I lived there on my own once for several months and I dream of the day I can return and see my friends who are still there. 

You can imagine then, why Ukraine is heavy on my heart this week. If you've watched or read the news in the last 24 hours, you'll have seen the unrest, the protests, and the shocking deaths of so many. It breaks my heart, because the Ukrainians I know are the kindest and most generous people I can think of. 

No matter what the public opinion is on what Ukraine's next steps should be, it is indeed a tremendously tragic situation -- and one that I hope can be resolved soon, and especially, peacefully. 

And while matryoshka dolls are typically thought of as Russian souvenirs, I got mine in Ukraine in 1995, during my first summer there. The four of us gals traveling together each received a doll from a Ukrainian lady the night before we left the country. Each outer doll actually resembled us in some way with hair and eye color. It is one of the few keepsakes that has followed me around the globe and it continues to remind me of my friends still there. 

Pray for them... and pray for Ukraine. 

February 17, 2014

Decluttering the Craft Supplies

Lately, I've felt the urge to purge my crafting supplies. Maybe I have too much stuff... or maybe it's simply cabin fever from the winter. I think it's a little of both.

Chances are, if you are a regular reader here at Typing Sunflowers, or even if you've just stumbled upon this blog, you're into creating stuff. Most of us who make things regularly have quite the stash of stuff. (See ideas for stash busting your yarn here...) 

I know it's not spring yet... but there are steps you can take to clear the clutter before spring rolls around. After all -- who wants to be inside cleaning when the weather turns nice enough to spend the whole day outdoors? (Although if you want general spring cleaning and decluttering ideas, you can read this post.)

1. Take stock of what you have. 

This may give you a fright. It certainly did me. Last week I hauled out my craft supplies from behind every nook and cranny and I just left everything on the floor, scattered hither and yon (the benefits of having a dedicated office/craft room). The next morning, when I walked into the room to open the blinds, I nearly gave myself a heart attack. I thought someone had ransacked the place while I'd been sleeping. 

It certainly gave me new insight into the amount of junk I had laying around. (Sorry I don't have many photos to show you, but I had a hard time locating my camera in the mayhem. I at least took the button pic before the real ransacking occurred.

2. Clear out stuff that hasn't inspired you in years -- or even months. 

Once you get over the initial shock of how much stuff you have, sort through it and figure out what you actually want to keep. 

Some of the items in my craft arsenal are either dated, or else I purchased bulk supplies and only needed one or two of the 20. Give them away to another crafty friend, donate them to a thrift store, or sell them at a swap. 

Another alternative is to keep a small basket of craft supplies aside for younger guests or even for your own children when they too want to craft. When my nieces were small, I had a bucket of scrap paper, stickers I had no use for and miscellaneous other extras that kept them entertained for hours. Now, I have a small basket that serves the same purpose when guests with children come over. 

Whatever you do: purge. If you've been holding onto stuff for years and you're still not sure what you're going to make with it, then pass it along to someone who may have an idea. 

3. Figure out your method of organization. 

Now that you've cleared out part of the stash, you can get busy actually organizing stuff. Sometimes storage space alone dictates how much stuff you can safely stash. 

For years, I kept my stuff stashed in closets and stored under the sofa. Now that I have more space, I'm trying to put items into clear containers, or at least labeled organized boxes so that I can actually see what I have to work with.

I realized I had all of these great glass containers sitting on a shelf in the dining room with nothing in them. They now live in my craft area, full of buttons and ribbons. And now, instead of searching for the box of ribbon when I have to wrap a gift at the last minute, I know exactly where to go!

If you don't have spare shelf space or if you're not into clear plastic shelving that sits on the floor, there are lots of other fun options to store items. Craft stores sell great baskets and even boxes that look like books and old trunks -- things that look classy enough sitting anywhere in a room. 

Or consider vintage alternatives. Over the years, I've found some neat train cases and vintage sewing boxes to store craft supplies. For the longest time I kept my thread in a small box all jumbled up. Last week I realized I have a great vintage sewing box that is meant for um... sewing supplies!

One of my favorite train cases houses paper travel paraphernalia (I'm partial to old postcards and letters, plus the Sailor gives me his boarding passes from flights to and from his ships. These come in handy when I try to be cheap about scrapbooking.)

Even if you don't have a lot of space to work with, at least try to give yourself a shelf in the closet, or a corner in a room where you can keep everything together.  This last part is important... if your stuff isn't together -- you may not be as inclined to actually work on things (or you'll be like me... hunting for that ribbon at the last minute!)

4. Stop Feeding the Stash!

When all else fails, and when you don't have the time or inclination to purge, at least resist the temptation to add to the stash until you've had a chance to use up some of it. Don't even walk into a craft store and if you do, stay away from the clearance rack. It only leads to more serious stash busting later! 

When I first started this blog, I made myself use up a hefty amount of my yarn stash before I was allowed to buy any new yarn.  A few months later, I rewarded myself by making up a few new yarn rules, which I still adhere to. As lovely as that yarn looks on sale, unless I know exactly what I'm going to make with it, it's staying on the shop shelf.

Now go forth and declutter that craft stash. Blue skies are going to be here before you know it and it's far easier to take your crafting outdoors if it's all organized and you can find it!

February 14, 2014

Happy Heart Day

Today there will be a myriad of hearts. 

Crocheted ones: 

Baked ones: 

Fancy chocolate ones: 

And of course, handwritten notes, flowers and jewelry galore: 

There will also be plenty of bursting hearts... and a few broken ones. What is it about Valentine's Day that makes people feel an abundance of pressure to show someone they love them? 

I for one, am not a fan. I don't know about you, but I'm just as happy having the Sailor tell me and show me he loves me the other 364 days out of the year. (You can see how I really feel about the holiday here.)

I ran a few errands this morning and at all of the stores, bewildered men carried around balloons, flowers and chocolates, wondering what else they needed to buy to appease the likes of their ladies. They all looked quite shell-shocked. 

Earlier this week, I had to elbow my way past a gaggle of men craning their necks to figure out which handbag they should buy for their girlfriends and wives.

I wanted to tell them this: go home and tell your wife or your girlfriend you love her. Buy her flowers tomorrow, when they are half off and you can get her twice as many for the same price! Then take her with you and let her pick out the handbag she really wants.

Better yet, surprise her on any other day of the year. Take her out for dinner when it's just the two of you and not the whole city. Take her out for no reason at all. Buy her a necklace when she doesn't expect it.

Stop in the middle of mall shopping mayhem to find a place that sells both coffee and a piece of chocolate cake when you know she's about to have a meltdown (my personal favorite, and one at which the Sailor is particularly adept...) 

But I didn't say anything in the end. 

Instead, I let them buy their balloons, chocolates, flowers and even handbags. I went home and had a few heart-shaped cookies that I baked from leftover Christmas dough, found in the freezer. 

And I reminded myself that getting to chat with the Sailor this afternoon from seven time zones over, was all I needed this Valentine's Day. That and maybe a few more of those cookies... 

Happy Valentine's Day, no matter how (or if!) you choose to celebrate.

February 12, 2014

Homemade Lavender Pillows

Our neighbors used to have this amazing lilac bush. Every day, as my mom walked me to the bus stop, I would get a glorious whiff of these amazing flowers. I was always a little disappointed when the bush stopped flowering and the smell faded. Every now and again, I smell lilac in the air, and I'm right back at the location where I grew up, without a care in the world.

Lilac may not always be in season, but my other favorite calming 'L' fragrance can be: lavender. 

There are numerous lotions and potions and candles on the market with the smell of lavender to both calm the senses and to help you sleep. I decided to make my own little sleep pillow with dried lavender. You can too!

All you need is some leftover fabric, dried lavender, a funnel and some simple sewing skills. I machine-stitched a square with the right sides together, leaving a small hole open in the top. You can leave a bigger hole at the top to pour in the lavender. The bigger the hole, the easier it is to turn the fabric right side out (I don't know why I always forget this part, no matter what I'm sewing!)

Pour the lavender into the pillow. I used a chopstick to ease the lavender down, but a pencil or knife would also work.

Once the lavender is in the pillow, hand stitch the hole closed and you're done! 

Some people keep these under their pillows, or between the cover and the pillow itself. I keep mine on my nightstand and make sure to take a few deep breaths of lavender each night before I head off to dreamland.* 

These are fast and easy to whip up for yourself or as gifts for other people. Just be sure the lavender is kept away from the other spices. See the note below...

* In all honesty, I'm not so sure if my pillow actually works. Theoretically, it should though! You see, when I got the lavender, I purchased it in bulk with a bunch of other spices, including curry powder at a farmer's market during a trip over the holidays. The spices were in their own little plastic zip bags... and they stayed that way for about a week until I unpacked them at home. Spices have no scent boundaries... and I'm pretty sure I get a slight whiff of curry powder every time I inhale the lavender pillow. Next time, the spices do not get to mingle. 

February 8, 2014

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!

I've had this quote on my desk for a while now. It serves as a reminder for me to simplify my life when things start looking a little hectic around here. 

Lately, I feel like things are piling up. To do lists, laundry, stacks of books waiting to be read, stuff that needs to be written, posts that need to be blogged, letters that need to be mailed, invoices that need to be sent... you get the picture. 

We all have our own list. Some days it seems like it never ends. So how are we supposed to simplify, especially in this age of crazy and constant busyness? 

I'll have an upcoming post about de-cluttering soon, but in the meantime, there are ways to de-clutter your brain. Sometimes it's quicker. 

The Sailor often has sage words of advice whenever he's around. Whenever I'm feeling particularly stressed or overwhelmed about something (like that list), he tells me to go sit in my chair by the window and knit for a bit. He knows me well. Essentially, his advice helps me to simplify that moment.

The list hasn't gone anywhere, but for a few moments, I feel like it doesn't even exist.

Even if I've only had 10 minutes to sit there, knit and breathe, I come away from the chair, calmer and more inclined to tackle the list without getting frazzled. 

For some people it's knitting, for others it's sitting quietly drinking a cup of tea, or reading, or a prayer, or even watering the house plants. Whatever method we choose, I'm sure Thoreau would agree that we all need a little moment of simplicity during the day. What's yours? 

February 5, 2014

Bread for Brunch

So this glorious bit of brunch happened this weekend. 

Drooling? I sure did. 

Sometimes, especially when the Sailor isn't home, I don't make a great effort to sit at the table, let alone set it with any great fanfare. I end up hastily eating something over the sink, or somewhere near the counter, wondering if I should have even bothered using a plate. 

Is it just me, or do we all do this at some point when we're on our own? 

I have gotten better about this... and nowadays I do find myself eating most meals at the actual table. Last Friday, soon after I bought these flowers, I decided I had a hankering for Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread (this delightful dish is one of many found on Annie's Eats... my go-to site for great recipe ideas.) 

Bread isn't normally on my list of things to make from scratch on a weekend morning, but when I realized I could make the dough ahead of time and then store it in the fridge overnight, I decided to just go for it. The next morning, all I had to do was roll it out, assemble it, let it rise again and then bake it! 

As a bonus, this was the perfect scene for the first day of February's round of #7Vignettes on Instagram. The theme was 'love' and who doesn't love a good Saturday morning brunch? (Not to mention those wonderful pink Pyrex vintage plates?!)

February 3, 2014

Slipper Flop?

Remember when I felted these slippers last month? 

At first they felt (no pun intended...) a little big. I wore them around, and they flopped all over the place. Not really what you want in cozy slippers. Like socks, slippers should hug your feet perfectly to keep them warm. 

These did not. They felt like a flop to me.

So I bent the rules and threw them in the front-loading washing machine to felt them further. 

Absolute success. I had to stretch them out a bit while they were still wet, but the second felting worked. 

I wanted the blue layer on the outside, but even after the second felting, it kept falling off while I walked around. An hour would pass and I'd wonder why my left foot was colder than my right and then I'd find a lonely slipper on the other side of the apartment. The inside gray layer stayed on, however.

I kind of chalked it up to a bad knitting job (after all... I'm on a roll with this yarn and the sweaters...) but then I realized I could put the blue layer on the inside and the tighter gray layer could keep them on. 

While these are nice slippers... I still prefer this felt clog style in the winter, simply because they cover more of my feet. These however, are great for spring or fall, I think. 

Definitely not a flop!