How To Wash the Dishes

Anyone who spends any amount of time in the kitchen really should know how to wash a load of dishes by hand. Even if you have a state of the art dishwasher, there may come a time when (god forbid) it’s broken, or you host a party and end up with more dishes then will fit. I haven’t lived in a place with a dishwasher since I moved out of my parents house in 2000, and yet I am embarrassed to admit that it wasn’t until very very recently that I really got a handle on how to wash the dishes efficiently and with as little waste as possible. My go-to method had been to turn on the hot water, grab the dish wand with the soap in the handle, pick up a dish, scrub, rinse, set to dry. Continuing in this fashion with the hot water running all the while I would wash all the dishes in the kitchen one at a time. It took forever. I wasted tons of water. It’s no wonder I hated washing the dishes. My mother was a very good housekeeper, and I learned the finer points of bed making, sweeping and moping, and gourmet cooking under her thoughtful tutelage. However, we always had a dishwasher, so hand washing the dishes never made it into our lessons. As I’ve been reading more and more on keeping the home, and my housekeeping skills have blossomed from a slovenly college student’s habits to a (relatively) smoothly running home, I knew washing the dishes was a chore that I had to master, and I had to master it NOW.

The most recent housekeeping book I’ve been perusing is Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House. Along with information on how to care for your hard wood floors, and the secret to folding fitted sheets, it thoroughly addresses the proper way to wash the dishes.

1) Gather all of your dishes. For most people this means check the kitchen and dining room, however, if you have small children be sure to also check the living room, bed rooms and bathroom, checking under beds and behind furniture. I’m amazed at the places my kids find to stash dirty dishes. They are very creative.

2) Stack your dishes like items together. As you’re doing this scrape any food into the trash or disposal, and empty any drink cups. Once things are stacked together the job already looks less daunting.

3) Make sure you have a space ready for rinsing and drying the dishes. A dish drainer is perfect for this. If you don’t have a dish drainer a kitchen towel on the counter works fine too. If you have a double sink, use one side to wash and the other side to rinse. If you only have a single sink a plastic tub by the sink works great for receiving clean soapy dishes that need to be rinsed.

4) Fill one side of your sink with the hottest tap water you can stand. I still use afore mentioned dish wand with soap in the handle, but you can also put a squirt of soap into the dish water and scrub with a dish rag or sponge.


5) Wash your dishes, starting with the least soiled, and ending with your cooking pots. I usually start with silverware, then do glasses, bowls, plates and finally cooking pots. Change out the water when ever it starts looking gross, you run out of suds, or it cools considerably. As you scrub your dishes, place them in the second side of the sink to await rinsing. If you have a very large load of dishes, you may need to stop and rinse before continuing on with the washing. Be sure to rinse before the suds dry on the dishes.

6) Rinse your dishes in hot running water. Using hot water helps kill germs, and makes them dry faster with fewer spots if you air dry like I do.

7) The dishes aren’t done until the counters have been cleaned, so wipe down your counters and stove while you’re in there. And while you’re at it, you may as well sweep, since you got the dishes done so fast you have a couple extra minutes.

There you go! Your dishes are done and your kitchen is clean. Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?

Homemade Convenience

I am constantly trying to phase packaged convenience foods out of our home. Let me tell you it is HARD to do. The boys need snacks for school. Brad needs lunches for work. Sometimes I need something to munch that doesn’t require cooking or creating dishes to wash. Sometimes dinner time sneaks up on me and I haven’t given it the slightest bit of thought earlier in the day. Convenience foods are, well, convenient. So as I go about my journey to get the junk out of our diets, I’ve had some success in finding homemade versions of some of our favorites that have the benefits of not only being free from chemicals, preservatives, and excess packaging, but also much, much cheaper. Today I’m going to share with you 3 of our favorites: Fruit leather, cheese crackers, and mini fritattas.

Fruit Leather:
My boys love the apricot Stretch Island fruit leather. But at $1 a pop, those things are crazy expensive! We would get them occasionally as a treat in the checkout line at Whole Foods for being helpful shoppers. But now that I have an Excalibur Food Dehydrator, making our own is a snap. Since the boys love the apricot flavor, I start with dried apricots. You can use any type of fresh or dried fruit. If starting with fresh, just omit the soaking step.

Cover dried apricots in water, and leave to rehydrate for several hours. Cover the bowl so nasties don’t fall in.

Once the apricots are nice and juicy again, pour your apricots and a good bit of soaking water into your blender. I love my Blendtec , it makes short work of just about anything. Use just enough water to get things blending smoothly.

Next, spread apricot goop in a thin even layer on a piece of parchment paper on your dehydrator tray. The Excalibur comes with some teflex sheets, but I prefer the parchment paper because when it’s dry I can roll the whole thing up and cut into strips so the boys have fruit roll-ups.

This batch made four trays worth of fruit leather. I put it in the dehydrator at about 145* for around 6 hours. See how easily the fruit leather lifts off the parchment paper? It’s done when the thickest spots are dry to the touch.

Cheese Crackers:
These cheese crackers are the closest to Cheez-Its I’ve found. They are really yummy, and since I do the whole process in my food processor it’s super easy and they come together lickety split. I have made the recipe with whole wheat flour before and they turn out ok, but they really just taste better with white. Since these are a once in a while treat, it doesn’t bother me too much.

1/2 lb grated extra sharp cheddar
1/4 C butter, softened
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 C flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Cream together first 4 ingredients. Slowly add flour to make a stiff dough. It’s important to use sharp cheddar in these, even if it’s not the kind you like for eating. I like to use extra sharp. Otherwise the crackers don’t have a lot of cheese flavor. Also, you can decrease or omit the cayenne pepper if you think your kids won’t like it. With the full 1/8 tsp the crackers have a little bit of a kick. My kids don’t seem to mind, and I like it that way. 1/16 would probably be fine if you have kids with a picky palette. If you leave it out completely the crackers will be kind of bland, but hey, some kids like it that way.

Divide the dough int 3 portions and roll into logs. Wrap the logs in waxed paper and place in the fridge overnight, or the freezer for 1 hour. I’m always in a hurry so I always use the freezer method and it works great. The idea is just to get the dough chilled enough that you can slice it with out smushing it.

Slice thinly and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. These do not expand very much when baked so you can place them fairly close together, but not touching. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt.

Bake at 350* for about 12 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack. Once completely cool you can store them in a ziplock baggie or a glass jar. I really have no idea how long these keep, even if I make a double batch they are gone in less than a week.

Mini Fritattas:
Here’s my newest toy; a 24 ct mini muffin pan. Oh the possibilities! Today it was fritattas.

Bacon, spinach, cheese into every muffin cup. Then I mixed 6 eggs with 1/2 cup of cream, and topped off the fritattas. This made just enough egg mixture to do all 24, not a drop left over.

After 30 minutes in the oven at 350*, I had cheesey, bacon-y, egg-y goodness.
Yum! I meant to put half into the freezer for later, but for some reason they mysteriously disappeared before I got around to it.

Finding homemade versions of some of your favorite packaged foods is a great first step in the direction of phasing junk out of your diet and home. The kids love these snacks, and I feel good about feeding them something healthier than what comes out of a box. What are some of your favorite homemade convenience recipes?

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies, EVER!!!

Today I’m going to share my very own, completely made up by me, original recipe chocolate chip cookies. (If this is also your recipe, well then great minds think alike because I swear I came up with this on my own in my mothers kitchen)

I will update with pictures later if I can find my camera before the cookies are eaten.

The story:

Last September I was visiting family in Colorado. I had flown out with just the boys, since my husband couldn’t get the time off work. Our stay was extend by several days due to the unfortunate timing of a case of the chickenpox, leaving the boys and I stranded at my parents house while they took off for a vacation they had planned months ago to coincide with my leaving for home. So there I was with two sick kids, my mothers gorgeous kitchen at my complete disposal, and absolutely nothing to do. I decided it was a perfect time to make cookies. I got out the chocolate chips, read through the recipe on the back, and started gathering ingredients. Peering into the fridge, I encountered only a single lonely stick of butter. The recipe of course calls for two. What to do? I suppose I could have just made a half a batch of cookies, but honestly, at the time it never even crossed my mind. So I racked my brain and scoured the kitchen for something to replace that missing stick of butter. No, oil didn’t cross my mind either. However, my mom had about 5 bricks of cream cheese in the fridge, and I thought that would do the trick. The one other major modification to your typical chocolate chip recipe is that this one does not contain eggs. The reason for this is twofold. First, as I was baking and simultaneously tending to two sick kiddos, I forgot to add them in. The cookies came out great, and upon subsequent experiments I decided I liked the egg-free version better anyway. Second, the cookies are now bowl-licking safe for munchkins, and no salmonella risk to worry about. Since I’m sure very few of you really care how the recipe came about, thank you for bearing with me thus far and without further ado, the recipe:

Preheat oven to 350*
Using your stand mixer, cream together:
1/2 C (1 stick) butter
1 (8oz) brick of cream cheese
3/4 C granulated sugar
3/4 C packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla

In a small bowl, combine:
2 1/4 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Slowly add dry mixture to butter/sugar mixture, beating well after each addition. Stir in 1 C chocolate chips. Place by rounded spoonful onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 9 minutes. Cool on wire rack. Try not to eat them all at once.

My first attempts were with regular white flour and normal sugar, and they were delicious. I have since made the recipe substituting 100% whole wheat flour and Sucanat (unrefined sugar) for part or all of the flour and sugar in the recipe with terrific results. This most recent batch was all whole wheat flour and all Sucanat. My kids are used to eating whole wheat, so they didn’t even notice, but I bet you could sub up to half of the flour with WW without the munchkins noticing at all.

Enjoy!!

The Good China

Two years ago, my mother-in-law gave me her china. I belive it belonged to her mother, although the style suggests probably not her grandmother before that. It really is a beautiful set. Simple and elegant, and not at all gaudy. The spear of wheat speaks to my love of the earth and the things that grow in it.

The china had been living in my mother-in-law’s basement, wrapped in newspaper and stored in a RubberMaid tote. When she brought it to me, I unwrapped a few pieces, exclaimed over how lovely it was, then wrapped it back up and put it in my own basement. I then proptly forgot about it. In recent months, everytime I’m in the basement doing laundry I look around at all of the stuff we have stored there. Most of it is used rarely, if ever. I find myself thinking about where things came from and why we kept them, and if they were truly necessary.

After passing over this container several times and trying torecall what was in there, I finally opened it up and rediscovered my beautiful dishes. It seemed such a shame for something so lovely to be packed away out of sight and out of mind, especially when the dishes in the cubbard held no sentimental value at all and I didn’t even particularly like them. My recent quest has been to cull the house of everything that we do not truly love and enjoy or use. I truly love this china, but it was not being used and enjoyed. The dishes in my cubbard were being used, but not loved and enjoyed. So I decided it was time to get out the good china.

We now eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks on our good china. It makes me happy to look at it and use it. It’s not so obscure a pattern that pieces wouldn’t be replaceable if broken, although I am careful with it and have kids plates that the children use for lunches and snacks. I donated my current dishes set to Good Will, and assigned the now empty tote to hold wool sweaters for my longies business, which had been overflowing their container and threatining to take over the entire basement. To me, simplifying doesn’t always mean using the plainest, simplest things. It means keeping and using what you find beautiful and brings you joy, and passing on the rest.