Spice It Up!

While thinking about the topic of spice storage it seemed a fine time to discuss how long to keep those little jars in your cupboards!

I don’t post much about cooking here on the blog but I do quite a lot of it. We are a family that eats together at home each night and that means a meal to please a family. And while Mr. Brown is actually quite a good cook, the kitchen is most often my domain. For me, it’s important to have a variety of herbs and spices available. Many times I use a recipe but often I wing it. Just as important, is having spices that taste good! I’ve never had a spice go “bad” on me, but I have kept some well-past when they actually added any flavor to the food.

The key when checking your spices for quality is to actually LOOK at them and TASTE them. I have been known to sprinkle a bit of something on a spoon and taste it directly.

McCormick has a simple chart that breaks it down.  In addition to giving the basic breakdown on how long spices will last they also provide tips on checking color and aroma and how best to store and handle them to retain their freshness.

If you don’t like keeping ground spices around the house in full jars because you don’t use them often enough, there are a few things you can do.
1. Buy whole spices and grind them yourself. A coffee grinder works well for this.
2. Try the new McCormick Recipe Inspirations packages of pre-measured spices. I have not tried these yet (I tend to cook enough to buy full bottles!) but it’s a great idea. I think I’d like to try the Asian Sesame Salmon. (Thanks to reader Valerie for this great tip!)
If you love spices and want some fabulous high-quality additions to your cupboard, check out the great selection from Penzeys. We are fortunate enough to have one of their actual store-fronts just a few miles away and going in there is heavenly. There are so many wonderful aromas to take in and you can really see and smell the difference in the different varieties.

Personally, I have a set of their glass jars on my wish list along with the Pasta & Salad Seasonings Gift Crate! (*hints for anyone who’d like to buy me gifts!*)

Finally, I know you just read this and you’re thinking “Hmmm…. just how old IS that jar of oregano in my pantry?”  I can’t answer that. But I can tell you that when you buy a NEW jar put the date on the bottom with a permanent marker (or a little sticky label if you have reusable glass jars). Then when you check your cabinets the next time you’ll know if that jar is 6 months or 6 years old.

Tour My Pantry

Two weeks ago I spend a day giving my pantry a mini face lift.  I am so happy with the results.

Come take a tour with me!

Paint! The very first thing I did after emptying the pantry was paint it. Previously it was a hideous uninspired shade of builder-grade white flat paint.  I painted the walls a pale, butter yellow that I already had from a project I was going to do awhile back.  The shelves got a fresh coat of high gloss white.

Starting at the top:  Dry goods are stored in restaurant-style food storage bins. I love them because they hold a lot, are clear, sturdy and my labels stick easily. I use them for flour, sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, baking mix and cookie/cake decorating supplies.  Other things on the top shelf are my vacuum sealer and the storage containers I use for freezing meals.

The next shelf (at eye level):  Baking supplies (this is where I’ve always kept them). 

And on the other half the larger items for everyday dinners – rice, pasta, taco shells, salad toppings

Shelf #3 (just below eye level): This is where I had some fun at The Container Store.
On the left I used a simple cabinet shelf to stack cans.  On the bottom I have just my true “staples” chicken broth and tomatoes.  On the top, everything else.

In the middle I wanted some pull out drawers like you would put in a cabinet. But since my shelves are only 15″ deep all of the ones made for the kitchen were too big. I told the helpful employee my dilemma and she suggested that there might be a 15″ pull out in the bathroom section. Sure enough, we found these Roll-Out Cabinet Drawers. I bought two – one for bottles and one for small boxes and packages.

Seriously, how awesome is it that I can pull the drawer out and find that bottle of apple cider vinegar tucked way in the back without moving everything in front of it?

The other side of that shelf holds some other miscellaneous cooking supplies (like bread crumbs, extra peanut butter, seasoning packets, and extra ketchup).  You might have noticed that my seasoning packets are in a little box.  That is a kids shoe box from Stride-Rite.  The opening in the lid was just the right size for those packets.
Shelf #4 is kid accessible.  I moved the cereal down there and snacks.  We keep a door knob lock on the pantry door because our kids are young (just 3 & 2) and I don’t want unlimited access to snacks.  But when I open the door at breakfast time they can grab the cereal themselves. The cereal is in containers from The Container Store (that I couldn’t find online.)
I did NOT label the cereal containers because we switch up what we eat from time to time and I wanted these to stay flexible.  Next to the cereal is drinks (lemonade & hot cocoa mix), popcorn kernels for our air popper, nuts, and treats for potty training in some Oggi canisters I got at TJ Maxx but I think you can find them at Target and other places as well. In addition to the canisters I have the nuts and things in a variety of old jelly jars.  These, again are not labeled because they get changed out.
Shelf #5 is also kid accessible. Here I put bigger snacks like crackers & chips along with stuff for the baby – formula, baby food & bibs. It’s great to grab a bib while I’m grabbing a container of applesauce.  I’m not sure I’m in love with the Rubbermaid containers I have here but I already had them on hand so I’m using them for now.

On the floor: This is for bulk storage.  On the far left I have an old diaper box with party supplies (paper plates, napkins, etc that I need like 3x a year).  Then water bottles.  Then this pull-out shelf I had from before that I put extra Ziploc bags and foil and cling wrap.  I keep the current package of these items in other locations.  These are just extras.  Finally, more extra supplies like paper towels, dishwasher detergent and giant jugs of vegetable oil.

Did you think I was done?  Not yet.  I haven’t showed you the walls on the sides and front!
To the left: the previous owner of our home already had these shelves installed.  I put our storage bags on the top here and my “make a turkey” stuff on the bottom self.  What is “make a turkey stuff”, you ask?  Well, it’s brining bags, twine, cheese cloth.  As my dear husband pointed out I only make a turkey a few times a year.  Well, yes, I responded, but I still need to store the tools somewhere!

Under the shelves I put a 3M Command Hook to hold a bag full of my plastic grocery bags to use for lunches for work and small trash cans.

And on the front wall, another Command Hook for my broom & dustpan

To the right, the top shelf has cleaning stuff for my Shark Steam Mop and carpet steam cleaner.  The bottom shelf is what I like to call the “Nana & Papa shelf” – things my parents like when they visit like coffee and tea.

Under the shelves another Command Hook for my Shark.

On the front wall, a magnetic strip from The Container Store for holding extra bag clips.

And finally… on the back of the door I put all of my reusable shopping bags inside of one bag on a hook.  Now I can just grab the bag on my way out the door to the store.

So there you have it!  I hope you enjoyed my tour. 
To see my previous pantry reorganization check here.

This post is shared at:
Organize With Sandy – Organizing Missing Monday #17
Organize and Decorate Everything – We’re Organized Wednesday #26


Last night I had the pleasure of attending my very first Thirty-One party.  What is Thirty-One, you ask?  It’s a great line of bags, baskets, purses, and other assorted carry-alls and accessories.  The fabrics are adorable and the products are functional. 

I’ve been invited to a few catalog parties but I had to see the products in person before I could decide if I liked them or not.  Seriously, I loved them.  I am anxious for the next 3 weeks to pass so I can get my goodies.  I restrained myself from purchasing one of everything in the catalog like I had wanted to and instead settled on 3 things:

Organizing Shoulder Bag – with 3 kids having my hands free is critical when we’re out and about.  This bag fits across your body and is just the right size for the essentials plus a diaper or two.

Organizing Utility Tote – Seriously cute.  And functional. This will be getting a permanent home in our car for all the things we need and sometimes forget to pack in the diaper bag – water bottles, diapers wipes, non-perishable snacks, sanitizer, etc.  I could have probably ordered 5 of these for different purposes.

Thermal Tote – Insulated to keep things cool. I anticipate using this for trips to the zoo and the park and everywhere else we want to take a few snacks that need to be kept cool.

Now, since I haven’t actually used these yet I can’t give you a full review.  But I promise to give more info once I get mine in a few weeks.  In the meantime, browse you can browse the catalog.  And if you want to order something I’m sure my consultant Yvonne would be happy to help or you can find a consultant in your area.
*Disclaimer: Suzanne and Delightfully Organized have not been compensated in any way for this review.  All opinions are entirely my own and expressed based on my experience.

St. Patrick’s Day Inspired Organizational Tools

Since it’s a fun day for celebrating all things Irish I thought we could review a few fun, functional and green-colored tools for organizing your home.

And just for fun…

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields and,
Until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Organized Cooking

This Sunday I spent about 4 hours cooking.  “FOUR HOURS?” You’re shouting at your screen.  Yes, friends, 4 hours (okay, 1 of those was shopping).  But I made five meals!  A few months ago I signed up to receive the menu plans from Once A Week Cooking.  I did it several weeks before the holidays and loved the process.  It’s a good amount of work on Sunday but it makes for much more pleasant week nights.  Then the holidays came and our meals were all over the place.  And so far this year I’ve had trouble getting things planned in advance and setting aside several hours on the weekend to get the shopping and cooking done.

But this weekend it was time to get back on track.  How did I do it?

We took the kids to the park this morning to burn off some extra energy.  Right before we left I printed out my menu and shopping list (Val puts it all together for you!).  I popped it on my clipboard and worked while Mr. Brown did the driving (we went to a farther away park).  Val’s menus are great but there’s usually at least one that isn’t right for my family so I always figure out which ones we’re going to actually make (this week I made 3 of her recipes and 2 of my own) then adjust the shopping list accordingly.  Next I rewrite the list, adding any extra things my family needs (like breakfast foods, milk, butter, etc) and put things in the order I shop through our supermarket.  This sounds like a lot of work but it probably takes 10 minutes – tops.

Once the kids were down for afternoon naps I headed out to the grocery store.  I’m much faster alone.  By the time I got home the kids were up and watching a movie.  I immediately unloaded the groceries and got to work.  One of my adjustments was the addition of a chili that Mr. Brown saw on Barefoot Contessa (it must have been a slow day in sports) so he basically made that one.  I made the rest.

Here’s what the kitchen looked like as we got started – Mr. Brown cubing the brisket

Our hardworking stove – ground beef browning for taco casserole, chicken cooking in the big pot for enchiladas and oil getting hot for browning brisket in the dutch oven.

More of the fun

And here’s what we ended up with:

Chicken Enchiladas (which we ate tonight)

Beef Stew, Chili, Honey Ginger Chicken & Taco Casserole
With the exception of the chicken everything is cooked and just needs to be reheated to serve.  Even the chicken is easy to prepare, just pop into the oven and bake. We’ll serve them all with simple sides (salad, rice, rolls, frozen veggies, etc) and my evenings will be a million times easier.
When you sign up for the Once A Week Cooking service, you’ll be provided with great information on how to prepare and carry out the process.  Here’s a few of my own tips:
  • Wear comfortable shoes when you’re cooking.  It’s a lot of standing.  You don’t want to have sore feet.
  • Unless your kids are old enough to actually help and know not to touch hot stoves and things, find a way to keep them entertained elsewhere.
  • Start with a cleared countertops and an empty dishwasher.
  • Put things away when you’re done using them so you don’t have tons of ingredients to put up at the end.
  • Put anything you can directly into the dishwasher.  For everything else… fill your sink with soapy water and let them soak until the end.
  • If you don’t want your glass baking dishes tied up in your freezer, go with disposable aluminum trays for your freezer meals.  I’ve found you can get them really cheap at the Dollar Store.
  • Write any reheating instructions you can right on the freezer package so if you aren’t home to do the actual cooking the cook doesn’t have to hunt around for instructions.
  • Swap out ingredients or meals you know your family won’t like for tried and true ones.
  • 6 meals is too many for our family.  We do 5 so I have meals for Sunday – Thursday.  We eat 5 nights, have 5 days of leftovers for lunch and usually still have a “leftover lunch” on Saturday afternoon.  Of course my kids are little and not big eaters.  Your family might be different.
  • Clean up when you are done.  Waking up to a messy kitchen on Monday morning won’t do you any favors.  Then all your hard work will feel futile.
  • If you use up an ingredient from your pantry or spice cabinet, write it down on your shopping list at the end of the meal prep so you can get it on your next shopping list.  Today I used the last of my ground ginger and added it right away to the shopping list I keep in my Springpad account.
Overall I’ve found that life as a family of five requires a good amount of extra planning.  This advanced meal prep really saves my sanity during the week.  Maybe you’ll find some help from it to.
***Disclaimer: Neither Suzanne or Delightfully Organized has been compensated in any way, monetarily or otherwise for this review of Once A Week Cooking.  All opinions expressed are my own.  I do have an affiliate link with OAWC.  If you subscribe to their service I will receive a small amount.  If you’d rather not use my affiliate link you can go to http://www.onceaweekcooking.com/ 

Medicine Cabinet Update

I am lucky to have a medicine cabinet in my bathroom that’s on MY side.  Poor Mr. Brown does not have one on his side.  Well, I suppose it’s his side because it doesn’t have a cabinet.  And you may have noticed the recurring theme here that I have basically taken over the bathroom.  Oh well, that’s married life I guess.

In any case, back to my not-so-glorious medicine cabinet.  I love having it.  I don’t love the cabinet itself so much.  It’s the cheap builder kind that comes with all new construction houses.  Functional but not fabulous.  But for now, it’ll have to do.  It holds all the lotions and potions I need to get myself ready for the day.  Until recently it looked pretty much like this:

Now it looks like this:

“Wait,” you’re asking, “what’s different?”  This is what’s different my friends – The InterDesign Med+ Organizer:

I found this little number at Target.  It was an organizing tool I hadn’t seen before and for the bargain price of $9.99 (okay, not such a bargain, but not as expensive as putting in a whole new cabinet) I quickly dropped it in my cart.

I realized later that I had no idea if it would actually fit in my medicine cabinet. I was delighted when I got home and found that it was just the right size.  (Are medicine cabinets a standard size?)  I used it to corral all the little things floating around. 
It’s kind of deceptive because it doesn’t look like it changes much.  But having little slots for things actually adds quite a bit of storage ability to the space.  It means that things like tweezers and nail clippers don’t get lost behind bottles of things. 

They had other layouts as well.  I picked up the one I thought would work best for my things.  You might have different needs.  I’m tempted to head back and grab two more – one for the tall bottles on the bottom and one for the wide jars and bottles on the top.

*** Disclaimer.  This product review is not an endorsement of a specific company or product.  Suzanne and Delightfully Organized have not been compenstated in any way, monetarily or otherwise, for this review. Opinions given are entirely the personal opinion of Suzanne Brown.

My Life In One Place

My newest favorite organizational tool is my Spring Pad account.  I’ve been using it for almost 2 months and I can’t get enough of it.  The reason it took me so long to let you all in on it is because I wanted to make sure I really loved it before I raved about it.  But I do.  I really, really love it.

What is Spring Pad, you ask?  Only a totally awesome web tool and mobile app that you can use to track every thing you need for all sorts of different projects.

Here’s a brief description from their company website:

Things I love About Spring Pad:

  • I can add items while at my computer and pull them up later on my phone.  This is amazing for shopping lists (make at home, use at the store).
  • I can add items from my phone and pull them up later at my computer.  This is perfect for when I see inspiration at the store and want to blog about it later.
  • There are only a few background choices – I don’t feel compelled to waste spend hours designing a cool background for something that no one will ever see but me.  The designs they offer are simple, modern and attractive.
  • I can type in the name of a product or book and it will find an exact match for me.
  • It gives me alerts when I have deadlines coming up.
  • I can keep all of the areas of my life in one place – my family, my job, my blog, my other organizations.
  • I don’t make notes in 10 different spots and lose the notes later. 
  • It’s free!

***Note – Suzanne has not been compensated in any way, monitarily or otherwise, for this review.  This is my personal opinion of a product that I personally use. 

Organizing Run Amok!

I love bins and baskets and buckets and all sorts of other containers.  Love them.  But I only love them because they are useful to me.  And believe it or not, there is such a thing as too many containers.   It is possible.

The problem with containers is that they can create the ILLUSION of being organized and hide the reality of too much stuff.  Containers allow you to hold a lot of small things in a space that might normally only fit one larger item.  And, in general, that’s a good thing.  But it can go too far.  Using containers can allow you to keep things you don’t really need simply because you have the space for them. 

Here are a couple of other ways that containers can be an organizing disaster:
* You create a label for a container but later put something else in it.  If you never change the label then it’s not creating the “easy to find things” solution you originally intended.
* You designate containers for specific items – for example blue bucket for building blocks and green bucket for toy trains.  Eventually the building blocks bucket gets full but there is still space in the train bucket.  Now the green bucket is a mixture of trains & blocks and everytime your kids want to play with blocks the trains are all over the floor too.
* You take everything out of a cabinet and put it in neat little plastic bins.  But you don’t put them in with any kind of rhyme or reason.  Now your items are “organized” into bins but you have a harder time finding what you need because they are no longer immediately visible and you don’t know what you put where.

So before you run off to your local big box discount store or home improvement store or The Container Store, make a real assessment of what you need.  Measure your space so you know what size containers will fit.  Have a plan in mind for how you will label the containers you buy.  And finally, don’t buy every cute box and bin you see.  Buy the ones you think you actually need.  You can always come back for more.

I loved this segment on The Nate Berkus show last week and I think it has some great reminders for all of us.  Just one note, Nate implies that this woman may be “too organized.”  The truth is that she’s not organized.  She mearly has the illusion of being organized.