Posts Tagged ‘organization’

Best Laid Plans

February 9, 2017

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I am currently in the midst of a pink marshmallow nightmare. My fingertips have little tiny cuts on them, and all the scrubbing and soaking is not getting the chocolate out from under my fingernails. It’s Valentine’s Day, and I am happily inundated with orders for mostly heart shaped sweet treats. This morning, it took a little internal pep talk to get me up and out and ready to dive back into the task at hand. Here are a few of the tips and tricks I’m using to get through the latest holiday rush: (BTW, wasn’t the last holiday rush just a few weeks ago?)

These tips work whether you are shipping hundreds of s’mores, or planning a dinner party:

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Mis en place: You’ve heard me mention this before, and although it has a little different format in this case, the concept still works. Mis en place, is a French term for “putting everything in it’s place.” For many chefs, that means having all of the washing, chopping and even some of the measuring done in advance. In this instance, that meant that I pre-ordered or puchased my ingredients ahead of time, and made all of my different doughs, (which can live nicely in the refrigerator for a few days) early in the week so that I just need to roll and bake them along the way.

Categorize: Rather than fill the orders one by one, I have been trying to make all the like items at once where possible. That means that all the fortune cookies are done, and I am finishing what I hope will be the last of the hot chocolate sticks, before starting the s’mores. Since my product is perishable, and there is a singular “due date”so it pretty much has to be done over the course of just a couple of days.

All the retail orders got shipped last week, and any orders that didn’t request waiting for Valentine’s delivery have been moving through, but it feels like for every order I shipped, 3 more grew back in it’s place. ( NOT COMPLAINING!)

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Pick the most daunting task and get it done first: Right now, the hot chocolate sticks are my kryptonite. I have made a ton of them, and wiggling the chocolate out of the heart shaped cutter is slow and messy process. This morning, I am committed to getting all of the heart shaped ones finished off and packaged so I can move on to the next. Since I cut most of them last night, it’s just busy work that will feel so fulfilling once it is complete.

Make a list and check it twice. I keep going back through the orders and double checking them. I am down to the last 24 or so, but in checking them carefully last night, I realized that many of them not only had multiple items, but also multiple quantities. Because my individual elements (marshmallows, hot chocolate, dough etc. ) need to be made and allowed to set for many hours before using them, I need to make sure I am not caught short at the last minute. That means, don’t just check, but break it down. I figured out how many more marshmallows I needed across the various items, how many batches of chocolate, or dough, etc. For a dinner party, it might equate to how many onions and garlic cloves you can dice at once to be used across several dishes. Work smart.

Don’t put off for tomorrow, what you can do today. At midnight, when I finally finished up, I forced myself to replenish a couple of batches of marshmallows and some hot chocolate so it would be ready to use in the morning. I am so glad that I did. It frees up the pans for the next batches, and gives me something to work with without having to wait several hours to use them.

Give yourself the satisfaction of crossing things off that list! Somehow, crossing things off, or shipping things out and having the order leave the queue is very satisfying, and takes a little stress off as the list gets shorter.

Take mini breaks to keep productivity high. Check email, read the paper,have a snack,  or even take a 15 minute nap when you need it to keep yourself going for long periods of time. Sometimes hitting your personal reset button is all it takes to get refreshed and reinvigorated.

Promise yourself a treat when it’s over. Have something to set your sights on, even if it is as simple as sleeping in, having a glass of wine, or binging a new tv show. Give yourself something to look forward to, to keep you moving towards your goal.

What do you do to get through big projects at work or at home? Tell us in the comments.

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Kitchen Organizing

January 13, 2017

The end of the year was a whirlwind for me, with 20 hour days in the kitchen and frenzied shopping for ingredients. Lack of time, and lack of patience, brought on by lack of sleep, left my kitchen in a state of disarray. It was technically clean. Scrupuously so. But when you get hit on the head with falling items everytime you open a cupboard, and you don’t have anymore canvas bags because you couldn’t fully unpack the groceries from the prior trip, it’s time to regroup.

I have a decent sized kitchen by New York City standards, and I have extra storage for serving pieces and sets of dishes. I even have an extra refrigerator, which is a godsend during busy times. Yet, my kitchen itself lacks a real pantry. With the need to always have stocked quantities of flours, sugars, nuts, dried fruit and assorted forms of chocolate, being organized so I can actually find what I need is a must.  Once I started buying flour and sugar in 50 pound bags, I knew it was time to retool my kitchen storage.

Canisters:

Canisters from Bed Bath and Beyond

Canisters from Bed Bath and Beyond

I was still using the set of terracotta cannisters that I got as a wedding gift. They were not only too small, but they weren’t airtight. Flour and sugar was constantly spilled on my shelves, and grimy fingerprints were visable, even if they were properly wiped down each night for hygiene purposes.

The fix: Large stainless steel canisters with latched lids now hold all-purpose flour, sugar and brown sugar. I will be returning to the store to get medium sized ones for wheat flour, and confectioner’s sugar. They sanitize easily, seal tightly, and are big enough that I am not lugging a huge bag around to refill them every hour. I can also get a large measuring cup into the canister to make scooping and measuring a breeze.

Wire bins:

Wire bins from Bed Bath and Beyond

Wire bins from Bed Bath and Beyond

I buy dried fruit and nuts in quantity, but often in small bags from Trader Joe’s. Those bags were all over the place, no matter how hard I tried to keep them organized.

The fix: Simple and inexpensive wire bins are the perfect size to hold all those bags, as well as boxes, and bags of chocolate. I can just reach in, or pull the whole bin out to find what I need. A piece of parchment as a liner allowed me to coral a selection of small items used for decoration, such as food coloring, sprinkles and candy melts.

Glass jars:

Glass jars for everything!

Glass jars for everything!

Open bags and oversized boxes can spill, or take up valuable space.

The fix: Pouring things into appropriately sized glass jars allow me to store things like spice blends, chocolate shavings and small, usable amounts of various salts and specialty sugars. They are reusable, free of BPAs, and easy to clean. The fact that they are transparent, makes it easy to see what is inside.

Labels:

Not my kitchen! But a girl can dream, right?

Not my kitchen! But a girl can dream, right?

Is it seasalt, or kosher salt? What percentage of cacao is that chocolate? Marking the jars and canisters makes it easy to tell.

The fix: While you could get nice labels to put on things, I have found that the chef’s trick of using tape works fine for me. Often, restaurants label foods in the refrigerator with blue tape to not only mark what is inside, but to note the date it was prepped to ensure freshness. I like plain old masking tape and a sharpie to mark my containers. It peels off easily, and provides a broad surface to write on.

My kitchen won’t be winning any design awards, and nobody will be saving photos of my cupboards on Pinterest. But they are now very organized and servicable, and got that way with a very meager investment.

Not my kitchen either. This person doesn't really cook. I'm sure of it!

Not my kitchen either. This person doesn’t really cook. I’m sure of it! But their pantry does look nice!

Now, if I can just keep it this way, I’ll be in good shape~

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To keep up with the latest, show us some “like” by liking our Facebook page

Check out our new site Indigo Jones Eats

Visit our shops on Gourmly ,EcohabitudeChocolate.orgThe Foodworks, and Etsy

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Game Plan

November 14, 2013

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Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and if you are hosting dinner, it’s time to get cooking; in a figurative sense. Unless you prepare a massive feast for a crowd on a regular basis, planning ahead is everything.

Here are a few of our favorite tips to ensure a successful meal:

Nail down the guest list:

Our Thanksgiving guest list ebbs and flows each year, with regulars often asking to bring friends at the last minute.  While there is always room for one more, a few more, or a few less can wreck havoc. Try to get a head count so you can plan more efficiently.

Order the turkey:

If you have ever had a fresh, free range or organic turkey, vs. a frozen conventional turkey, you will know this step is critical. I order mine from Dipaola Turkeys at the Union Square Greenmarket, and you really can taste the difference.

Create a menu:

With the wide variety of traditional dishes served for Thanksgiving, a plan is necessary. Everyone seems to have a favorite side dish that they look forward to, and with all of the food issues floating around, it is important to serve items that fit into your guests’ dietary restrictions. Check to see if you have any vegetarians, vegans or gluten free diners. You can work around those issues in some dishes to make sure that everyone has an enjoyable meal. Copy your recipes, and place them in a folder so that they are all in one place when you need them. 

Make shopping lists:

The grocery stores get crazy the day before Thanksgiving. Other than the impeding nervous breakdown one might experience when food shopping the evening before the holiday, the most popular items are often sold out. You can’t make pumpkin pie without pumpkin, or cranberry sauce without cranberries. Dividing the list into non- perishables, which can be purchased far in advance, semi-perishables, which can be purchased a few days in advance, last minute items, and specialty store items, will allow you to be a stealth shopper, with a minimum amount of stress. 

Have a game plan:

Take that menu you just created, and figure out the best way to execute it. Several dishes can be made the day before and finished off right before dinner, and others can be prepped to minimize the muss and fuss. Cleaning and chopping vegetables, and making piecrusts are good items to get out of the way in advance.

Setting the table:

If you have room, go ahead and set the table the day before and cover it with a sheet.At the very least, inventory dishes, tableware, linens and serving pieces a week in advance. Polish the silver, wipe the dishes, iron the linens and make sure you have everything you need. When you discover you don’t have a serving piece, or a place setting on Thanksgiving Day, there is little to nothing you can do about it.

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Taking the time to plan ahead will be one of the many things to be thankful for, come Thanksgiving Day.

photo: Glasshouse Images

Closet Case

May 25, 2013

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I am home on a dreary day, attempting to clean out my closet and drawers. Now that everything is scattered across the bed and floors, I have completely lost interest in this project. Closet cleaning is a chore, but a worthwhile one. Once it’s done, it is so much easier to get dressed in the morning. Seasonal closet switching is also a great time to evaluate what you have and what strategic purchases will make everything you own feel new again.

As a diversion from this daunting and tedious chore, I decided to share my closet cleaning wisdom.

As you remove things from hangers and drawers, separate them into distinct piles:

Keep, donate, toss, repair or remodel.

Keepers are clearly those things that you intend to hang onto. Practice tough love by asking yourself a few questions:

Do I love this? Do I wear this? Does it flatter me? If the answers are no, move it along to the next pile.

Donate items are those in decent condition that someone less fortunate might be able to use. Single socks, tattered tee shirts and nasty undergarments don’t fall into that category. Those get tossed.

Anything that needs repair should go into a separate pile. Take the time now to sew those loose buttons, or unraveling hems. Trust me, you don’t want to do it when you are racing to get out the door in the morning.

The last pile is the most interesting. Are there things you own that could benefit from a makeover? Use a discerning eye and a good tailor to up-cycle items that are good quality and fit well.

I took some trousers that hadn’t been worn in a few years, and cut them into shorts. The winter versions became wardrobe staples when paired with tights, boots and chunky sweaters or blazers. Summer shorts that were long and bordering on dumpy got shortened or tapered into a more modern silhouette that gave them new life. Skirts and dresses can be shortened, and pants can get cropped or slimmed down to be more relevant or flattering.

Now comes the unpleasant but critically important part. (This is where I got bored.) Pack it up, or put it back.

Sweep closet floors and shelves, and wipe down the inside of drawers to start with a clean, fresh backdrop.

Pack up all of the off-season items so that they can be used next season without needing to be cleaned or pressed, if possible.

Pack up the donate items and make an itemized list, if your charity of choice requires it.  Take the “tossables” place them in the garbage can, and don’t look back!

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Take what is left and transfer it all to matching hangers. The disarray caused by a jumble of different hangers is distracting. Invest in hangers that can be used over and over again, and give all those wire hangers back to your dry cleaner to recycle. Durable plastic hangers are inexpensive, and well worth the money spent.

As you put things back, place them in the closet or drawers by category. It makes things look neater, and items easier to find.

Once the purging and organizing is under control, it’s time to make “looks.” Put together a few perfect go-to outfits and make sure you have all of the elements to make them work. This is the perfect time to assess what you have and what you need. Are you using the same pants or layering piece for every outfit? If so, it’s time to add a few other variations. Would everything be perfect, if only you had a certain type of shoe or accessory? Add it to the shopping list. Try to avoid the common trap of having a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear. Either add the pivotal elements to making your wardrobe work, or go back and reassess if it could be of better use in the donate or remodel bin.

If you are a little bit “fashion challenged,” take photos and create a “look book” to remind you of your newly created outfits. As you expand your wardrobe, think about adding pieces that fit into your current mix and enhance what you have.

Flip through magazines and fashion blogs to see what the must haves of the season are, and consider adding some of them to your wardrobe to keep it fresh and updated. A few well-placed additions can make everything you own seem new again.

It’s a lot of work, but once it’s done, you will be glad you persevered and accomplished the task.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have my own piles to deal with. Ughhh!

photos: glasshouse images

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Ready or Not, Here it Comes!!

November 12, 2012

With all that has been going on, I almost forgot that Thanksgiving is coming in just 10 days!  With all that is on my plate between now and then, it is going to take some serious planning to pull it off without a hitch.

Are you too hosting Thanksgiving dinner and wondering how it could possibly be coming so soon?  Here is a breakdown of how to get to Thanksgiving without, well, having a breakdown!

Ready, set, GO!

Make a guest list and confirm how many to expect. I find my guest list often grows and recedes as I discover and include people who have not made other plans, or find out about frequent guests who will not make it this year. Try to nail down the amount of people as soon as possible, so you can start to plan ahead. Also, figure out if anyone has any dietary restrictions. Gluten free, vegetarian and other food issues are easy to work around this time of year, as long as you know in advance.

Create your menu. I printed out my menu from last year, and I am pulling all of the recipes together in a file. If I want to try something new, that goes into the file and the menu gets updated.
Make lists! Guest lists, shopping lists, to do lists. If you write it down, it is more likely to actually happen.

Create a shopping list and break it down by non-perishables, which can be purchased in advance, and the fresh foods, which need to be bought at the last minute. Also break the perishable foods list down by where you will purchase the items. If you are like me, it’s not one stop shopping!

Order anything that requires advance booking, like a fresh turkey. I get mine at Di Paola Turkey Farms, and pick it up at the Union Square Greenmarket the day before Thanksgiving.  If you think turkey is dry and unappetizing, try to find a fresh turkey from a reputable farm. The quality of the bird is as critical to the outcome as how you cook it.

Get organized. If you can, clean out the kitchen cupboards and assess your pantry. Do you really have enough of all of those staple items you think you have? If not, put them on the shopping list!

Think about serving pieces and table settings. Do you have enough seating and dishes to accommodate the guests? If not, it is better to know now, than the day of the event. You still have time to borrow or buy whatever you need, if you plan ahead.

While I am not a big proponent of freezing things, think about what you might be able to make in advance and pop into the freezer. Unbaked biscuits, for example, work well when frozen.

Start at least the day before. You cannot cook a great meal of this magnitude from scratch in one day, no matter how organized you are. Solicit kitchen help that takes direction well, and is up to the challenge of doing things to your standards and not making you nuts in the process. Yes, I admit to becoming a bit of a Chefzilla, so I have found that keeping everyone away the first day, and assigning tasks the second day keeps it in check (sort of).

Prep work is essential. Clean and chop all of the vegetables the day before, and assemble as many parts of the meal you can before the big day. This includes salad dressing, the ingredients for the stuffing, the roasted garlic herb butter I spread on the turkey, and many of the side dishes. I made some desserts in advance, and may make the dough for the piecrusts but hold off baking the pies until the morning. The more you do in advance, the more relaxed you will be on Thanksgiving Day.

 

Think about how much will fit into your oven at one time. Be creative about how to make it all work, and be realistic about pulling it off. Plan your menu accordingly.

During the time leading up to the big day, I will post recipes and other tips to make the preparation as enjoyable as the meal itself.
If there is a particular dish or topic you would like addressed, leave a comment and I will try to tackle it!

(Dis)Organized Living Update

April 3, 2010

I promised to provide an update to my post on organization (Organized Living 1/29/10) and how I am faring with my attempt to re-organize my life.
I have been working like crazy (yeah!) and I have been absolutely exhausted. The month long “Fashion Weeks”: New York, London. Milan and Paris were filled with long hours and Friday night marathons that often lasted until 11:00 pm. and totally wrecked havoc in our lives.

I followed my own advice, and managed to keep it together somehow.

I am now (grudgingly) up at 6:00 am trudging through the dark morning gloom to get to the gym before 6:30 am. I return home to shower and get ready for work, eat breakfast and get a child to school. This week, due to a special Spring break program, I have been fixing 2 different breakfasts and packing 2 different lunches in the morning as well. This helps me eat healthfully, inexpensively, and on some semblance of a schedule. The rest is necessary maintenance.

Dinners are not always cooked at 7 pm, especially when I am still at work at that hour. Thankfully, I had the unexpected luxury of a few gentlemen who came by and cooked dinner for us during the last month. (Someone’s in the Kitchen with Jonesie). It was an unanticipated pleasure to say the least, and something that is not likely to become commonplace.

I try to get the cleaning done over the weekend. Remember the section about prioritization and “have to do’, want to do” and other?
I have to clean the kitchen and bathrooms. I have to vacuum and mop the floors and the main floor needs to be tidy. I confess: my closets are a disaster and the upstairs master bedroom is not always the way I would like it to be. While I am not thrilled about it, I am not beating myself up over an extra pile of magazines or some laundry folded and not yet put away.

My daughter always comes first. Last month I paper mache-ed, attended school functions during the worst of the deadlines and always took her to school and put her to bed. In between, others, mostly her father, had to pick up some slack, but they all survived. Paris fashion shows proved to be slightly less of a priority than Prairie Day for some of us, and I did my best to juggle both, albeit at the expense of clean laundry. (Let it be said that we were always clean, but not always chic that week!!)

Much of my to-do list of “want to do’s” gave way to “other” but I know some day I will get those things back.

Sometimes, Saturday afternoon chores get waylaid by a nap. By the time I had edited and documented my way through Milan, those naps became critical and allowed me to recover just enough to get through the rest of the “must do” list.

The most important lesson I learned through this is that we can’t do it all alone. We are not superhuman, although somewhere along the line we were taught that we needed to be.

I have learned to live a less than perfect life  (whatever that fairy tale was) and now live a very realistic one. In the on-going pursuit of a balanced life, the scale often tips to one side or the other. Accepting that and prioritizing what is important to YOU is the best route to an organized life.

Gotta go…I’m organizing that messy closet this morning!!

photo: Glasshouse Images


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