Guest Post–Skillets and Knives

I asked my very good friend Clay to write a guest post.  He and I are of a mind as far as getting organized/achieving contentedness and such.  I thought I’d introduce him to you.  And as I read this, it’s with no small amount of greedy anticipation that I express my thankfulness that he’s hosting my family for Thanksgiving day, and I can’t wait.

You can read more about Clay at the blog written by his dogs, The Buck-White Boys.  Enjoy!

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My heart skipped a beat the other day when a friend said, “Black Friday is less than a week away!”  The fact that she was more excited about the shopping than the holiday notwithstanding, I realized that Thanksgiving, therefore, is right around the corner.  Which means, at least at our house, it’s time to begin some of our annual traditions.

Every family has holiday traditions, of course – Christmas Eve services, the traditional stuffing recipe, Hanukkah rituals – but there are a whole slew of other annual activities that, for us, really signify the special time of year.  Such as – the annual “pre-Thanksgiving cleaning of the oven.”  Yep, the weekend before the weekend before Thanksgiving, every year, I deep clean the oven from a year’s worth of frozen pizza drips and last-minute casserole spills.

The other big signifier of the impending holidays is the annual sharpening of the knives.  The best culinary advice I ever got – or listened to – was to invest in at least one really good kitchen knife.  Sure you can buy the block sets or cheap ones at a big box store, but a really good quality, well-made kitchen knife is the most important kitchen tool you can have.

And just like any investment, you want to take good care of it.  A well-made knife that is properly cared for will last forever, just about.  After much research I bought the Victorinox (yes, the Swiss Army Knife people) 8-inch chef’s knife.  It has a good balance, a sharp edge and is very well made.  Cook’s Illustrated and several other reviewers named it one of the best knives made.

I also have several other knives – a “junk” set that I use for very general day-to-day stuff, another 10” chef’s knife, an 8” Santoku, etc.  Over time, a knife blade will start to bend and dull.  Regular use of a sharpening steel will help to keep the blade inline but at least once a year, a knife needs to be sharpened.

 

For years I listened to my mother complain about Thanksgiving, “I don’t want to do all that cooking.  Who enjoys that?  It’s never that good. And then you have to clean up.”  I have very few memories of Thanksgiving at home but wonderful memories of the day at friends’ and relative’s houses.  And I loved everything about it – the hustle and bustle, the smells, the mess, the cooking, the noise.  It’s probably my favorite holiday and I love to do all the cooking.  So since I’m going to be doing a lot of chopping and cutting, it just makes sense that this is the time of year to sharpen all the knives.  Kind of like replacing the batteries in a smoke detector at Daylight Saving Time, this way, too, I remember when all the knives were last sharpened.  You can have it professionally done, but good, electric sharpeners that produce great results are not terribly expensive.

My knives live in a very organized drawer because, once sharpened, I want to protect them as much as possible.  My pots and pans, not so much.  Every Thanksgiving there is always at least one day of my sitting on the floor by the cabinet, banging pans together trying to find all the right ones.  There’s usually a dismantling, too, of whatever organizational system I tried last year – I’m still throwing out wadded up coffee filters from the year I thought using those to protect the pans would be a good idea.

There’s one pan I really only use once a year – my great grandmother’s cast iron skillet.  This thing is a treasure.  I’ve said it’s the first thing I’d grab in case of a fire (after the dogs) but it would probably be the last man standing should the house burn down.  Grandma Buck’s cast-iron skillet has been used by generations of Bucks and it just makes me tremendously happy to use it every Thanksgiving.

As a Yankee, however, she would probably shudder to know that I’m using it to make Southern cornbread, but it’s how I honor both sides of the family.  My paternal great grandmother’s pan making my maternal grandmother’s cornbread.

Now, here’s the trick.  Monday or Tuesday before Thanksgiving, make the cornbread for the stuffing.  It’s a very simple recipe – corn meal, flour, milk, eggs, baking soda (this is not the time to use a mix).  But the first thing to do is to make the sausage for the stuffing, too.  So, in Grandma Buck’s skillet I brown a pound of sausage – full fat, full flavor, don’t skimp here.  Sometimes I use the sage-flavored sausage, but just a good quality sausage will work fine.

While the sausage is browning, mix together the cornbread batter and pre-heat the oven.  Line a Tupperware container with a paper towel and when the sausage is done, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon or strainer.  Yes, you’re trying to leave as much rendered fat in the pan as possible.  DO NOT turn off the burner – you want that iron skillet screaming hot.  And, if you do it right, once you’ve removed the sausage and pour the batter into the skillet it will “seize” and essentially cook the edges of the cornbread.

Oh, and when that cornbread comes out of the oven . . . I can’t tell you how many pre-Thanksgiving mornings I’ve spent over the sink eating that hot cornbread with butter dripping down my fingers and chin.  And that’s the moment, for me, the holidays begin.  The oven is clean, the knives sharpened, we’re ready for the holiday stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year’s and that taste, that smell, that moment of tasting that fresh cornbread with my grandmother’s traditions combined with our new ones is a time I look forward to all year.

Guest Post! Learning To Love Your Junk Drawer

Today we have a guest post from my friend Rhiana, with whom I bonded years ago over the lethal combination of designer shoes and wedding planning. When a friendship begins in such a manner, naturally it’s going to thrive.

You can find more of Rhiana’s musings over on http://kitetailsplaycenter.blogspot.com/, where she is a frequent contributor of much acclaim. I invited her to write a post because I know she’s crafty (in more of the “makes craft-type things” way than the “she gets around” way, at least for purposes of my blog…) and she and I tend to be of the same mind when it comes to organizing. As it turns out, she ran into a common organizing conundrum, which she of course turned into a victory. Enjoy!

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When Kristie asked me to guest blog I was ecstatic. What you may not know is that I love, love, love me some Kristie B. I just adore this woman and I jump at in any opportunity to be part of her amazingness. (Yes, I just made up that word).

So Kristie initially asked me to blog about my craft/art area since I teach art. So that is what I started doing. And then I realized my craft area doesn’t actually functioning the way I really need it to function. So I tore it apart and put it together again. Still no dice. So I am going to work on that some more and hopefully Kristie will be gracious enough to invite me back when it is finished so I can reveal that to you. Oh, and the moral to that story- just because it is organized doesn’t make it functional.

So instead of my craft room I am going to share something else. Something dark and personal. My “junk” drawer. Now I think it goes without saying that if it was truly junk it would be in the garbage so “junk” for me is that miscellaneous stuff that doesn’t really have a home but you need to keep somewhere. I have for you exhibit A:


So I used a bamboo kitchen organizer from either Williams-Sonoma or Crate and Barrel (I can’t remember which) to wrangle all of my crap. In the way back I have my label maker. Now I don’t use it every day but I use it often enough that it needs to be handy. And if you don’t have one you should go get one. Like now. Or after you finish reading my very, very important post.

I keep all my charging stuff in there. All the camera and phone cords are in their own compartment. I always know where they are and I always know where to find them. The front left is where I keep my pens and post it notes. The middle back is where I keep my D batteries. Why just the D batteries you ask…? Well, the rest of the batteries belong in the “Man Room” (which is a post for another day). The D batteries belong in the heavy duty Mag Light flashlight that we keep in the kitchen for power outages so it makes sense that in an emergency we aren’t shlepping down the dark stairs to our basement and into the dark, dark Man Room looking for extra batteries. We also have lighters, a stapler, the camera, tape, and extra wine cork in there. The key here is the drawer organizer. This prevents things from sliding around every time you open and close the drawer and also prevents search and destroy missions. When things are compartmentalized you can see things so much better. (Close your eyes, can you see everything in your “junk” drawer? If not, go and get your drawer organizer. And your label maker.) A place for everything and everything in it’s place. It becomes less of a “junk” drawer and more of a miscellaneous drawer.

To recap, the organizing tips are:

* Just because it is organized doesn’t mean it is functional
* Drawer organizers are indeed the best thing since sliced bread
* Get a Label maker. It will change your life in ways you never thought possible.

Thanks again to Kristie B for letting me guest blog- she is da Bomb! For reals yo!

Guest Post! Movin’ on up

My friend Christina offered to lend a new voice to Get A Grip.  Her background is in Interior Design, and her current status as a bona fide New Yorker give her serious space management cred.

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Hi.  I’m Christina, and I’m a fan of the folks over at Get A Grip.  You know, there are days when I read the blog and see the Huddle Up and I say “Amen, sister!” and there are others when I learn something new.   I’m big on organization over here too, even though we’re kind of messy. Messy, but hey, I know where pretty much everything is.  To be honest, my organization happens mostly behind closed doors.  Our closets and drawers are freakishly neat. Most of the time.

So why am I here? A little bit of a different perspective, some of my own organization tips, and most of it in the context of moving.  You see, we over here are “movin’ on up”.  We, my little family of 3 and a dog, are living in New York City (East Coast, represent!) and while we aren’t moving to the East Side, we are moving “up” – 10 blocks north, to be precise, and we are doubling our space.  This move will happen in about 3 months, and in the meantime we are trying to sell our current home and I am obsessively planning everything ahead for the new place.  The Get A Grip folks and I thought that sharing the experience with you, the lovely readers, might be worthwhile.  They help you get your life organized, and maybe, just maybe, I can help with ideas to get your stuff organized.  So let’s humor each other a bit, why don’t we?

Binge & Purge. Clothing, that is.

A couple of weeks ago I bought a new dress.  A really cute one too.  I needed to hang it up, and when I stepped into my closet I realized that not only were my dresses crammed into the dress section, but some were forced to share hangers.  Quel horror!  So the dress stayed folded in the shopping bag, which sat on the floor of my closet.  This is never good.  I mean, why would a new dress want to be hidden from view?  It should be out there, looking at me, saying “wear me!”, and not in seclusion waiting to be forgotten.

So then one fine rainy Saturday, I found it: my Motivation.  The voice inside my head was screaming at me to go clean out the closet.  And I listened.  And once I was done I had a big pile of stuff that I wasn’t going to keep.  And herein lies the problem: what to do with it all.  Sure, Goodwill comes to mind, but that’s too easy, and let’s be honest, not always the right place for everything.  Why don’t we discuss our options here, of where to send those old friends of yours who you are sending out into the world.

Resale/Consignment

I have some stuff that is on the ‘nicer’ end of the spectrum, clothes that maybe I can make some money back on.  It’s not like I’m running around in Chanel over here (I wish), but there are some “ready to wear” brands that you’d find in the fancier sections of your local department store.  One never knows – they might be worth something and don’t I owe it to myself to find out?

One thing I have learned is that there are resale and consignment shops for every level and price range of clothes.  Even if you can make just one dollar on something, isn’t that better than nothing?  It might seem like a chore, hauling your stuff to the shop on the off chance they will want your stuff, but you know what? Just do it.  You may have a local shop where you can do this, or you can find a shop that is part of a larger chain, such as Plato’s Closet (for your clothes-horse teen) or Second Time Around (for your fancy department store stuff).

Charity shops

Goodwill and the Salvation Army are the biggies here, but you might also look at donating your non-resalable clothing to a local church or other charitable organization.  Here in NYC my preferred donation location of choice is Housing Works, which provides services, advocacy, and housing for those in the community suffering from AIDS.  The shops don’t just accept and sell clothing – they take books and some furnishings as well. (I bought our AMAZING Danish modern dining set there for a relative steal).   Bottom line, if your can’t get money back from your clothes at a resale shop, you may as well send it out into the world to do good for someone else.

Recycling

I read a shocking statistic that, at least here in New York, textiles make up almost 6% of landfill waste.  SIX PERCENT! And as much as we like to tell ourselves that the stuff we throw out is biodegradable (or whatever) the truth is that once something is part of the landfill and is buried under other Stuff and deprived of light and air, well, it’s just not going to break down and become on with the earth.  It’s just not.

Here in NYC we are lucky to have textile recycling available to us, and I can drop off stuff at any number of local farmer’s markets.  What would you recycle?  Anything you might not know what to do with that you might be sneaking into your Goodwill bag with the hopes that they will figure it out.  “Who me?”, you say. Yeah you, you know what I’m talking about.  The t-shirt with a hole in it, or the duvet cover that has ripped at the seams, or the favorite pyjama pants that you split the seat on thus rendering them unwearable, even in the privacy of your own home.  The damaged stuff that still has large areas of good useable fabric, that’s the stuff I’m talking about.

If you can find local textile recycling, then this is an awesome option.  The sad truth is that I have seen torn-open garbage bags on the sidewalk outside of some charity shops filled with clothing that they didn’t deem acceptable.  You think you are asking them to deal with it so you don’t have to, and they’re just throwing it in the trash anyways. This bums me out.

Other things for the more ambitious 

I can’t exactly throw up a sign and have a garage sale here on the island of Manhattan.  Sure, people have “Stoop Sales” or hold sales in their apartments, but I just don’t think that would fly in my co-op building.   But you suburbanites out there, this might be a great option for you.  From what I gather, yard sales can be a lot of work, but if you’re up for it, then go for it.    There’s ebay too, though I’m not sure how effective this is for grown-up clothes.  For kid stuff I hear it’s great – put your child’s outgrown clothes up for sale in groups, rather than as individual pieces.  Or host a clothing swap!  Among my friends we have little kids of all ages and will sometimes host a swap – set up tables by size, toss your used clothes in the pile, and pick up some new stuff in the sizes you need.  Combine this with brunch and a playdate and you’ve got a fun and productive Saturday morning!

It’s a lot of information, and maybe the thought of multiple piles of stuff going to different places overwhelms you, but it’s easier than it looks.  So go purge that closet and make room for some great new stuff!

You know, I’ve never figured out what is the best way to get rid of old undies.  If you figure that one out, please let me know.

Field Trip!

I’m over at Days of Chalk and Chocolate today!  Jenny is a good friend who has been wonderfully supportive of this endeavor of mine, and I’m so happy that she asked me to write about organizing craft stuff!  So, if you’re visiting from Jenny’s blog, take a look around, tell me if you like what you see, follow me (!!!), and let me know if you have an organization conundrum that you’d like to talk about.

And if you’re one of my usual fans, go over to Days of Chalk and Chocolate and check out the amazing projects that Jenny comes up with.  Enjoy!