About what matters

Writing about what really matters

Category: Recipes

How to create a filing system

Bisley silver

When you finish clearing paper clutter, what to do with what remains? You need a filing system.

For me, the purpose of a good filing system is to be able to lay your hands on the paperwork you need immediately, with an absolute minimum of hassle or stress. When your formerly-photographic memory starts to curl around the edges, a good filing system comes to the rescue!

This weekend I bought this lovely little filing cabinet on sale, and today I labeled its drawers and began using it.

Because I dislike hanging files, this is the first filing cabinet I’ve ever owned. The beauty of this one, with its 10 equally-sized 9 3/8 x 14 1/2″ drawers, is that each fits a small stack of papers, including tearsheets from just about any size magazine–no folders necessary.

My existing system consisted primarily of document boxes. I have both large and letter-size document boxes. What I’m currently buying are from Bigso Box of Sweden. They’re made of 70% post-consumer recycled fiberboard, and my color of choice is hot pink. (Sadly, Bisley doesn’t make filing cabinets in hot pink! I’d be all over that.) I’ve used these boxes for many years now–they’re sturdy and attractive.

In the letter-size boxes, I keep the images I’ve saved for SoulCollage:

  • People
  • Animals
  • Divine
  • Flowers and nature
  • Architecture
  • Objects
  • Backgrounds

I use the larger document boxes for everything else. I keep one for each year. In these boxes are

  • Paid bills
  • Receipts (except for wardrobe and flexible spending)
  • The completed kitchen calendar for the year, which shows when I did what
  • Completed tax return

There are other document boxes for

  • Important papers, like birth certificates, Social Security cards, adoption papers for the dogs, etc.
  • Collections, which has receipts for collectibles
  • Wardrobe–This includes a large manila envelope for each season (fashion seasons, Spring and Fall). On the front I write what I bought–date, store or website, manufacturer/designer, item description, price. I also keep a running total of what I’ve spent for the season. On the back I write what wore out and had to be discarded. Inside go all receipts, hang tags, catalog pages, packing slips, etc. This makes returns nearly effortless.

I’m using the drawers of my new cabinet for the following:

  • Tax paperwork–W2s, mortgage statements, etc. Previously I kept a large manila envelope recording donations in my “year” boxes. On the outside I’d record the date, organization, and amount, and inside I’d keep receipts, acknowledgment letters, etc. These envelopes are a bit too large to fit in the drawers of the new cabinet, so I’m planning to get a smaller size envelope, and keep donation information for the previous and current year here–until the tax return is complete, at which time I’ll file it in the appropriate “year” box.
  • Flexible spending receipts–I never know just when my flexible spending program will demand documentation. I’ve filed current year receipts and health insurance claim reports here. I’ve learned to ask for what I’d need while I’m still at the healthcare provider’s office. A couple minutes’ effort there saves me a big headache later.
  • Cards–my own business cards, blank cards for my beautiful handmade address file, extra drawer labels.
  • Garden inspiration–tearsheets and articles.
  • Interior inspiration
  • Products to try
  • Home improvement–sketches, estimates, products, ideas, tearsheets.
  • Work-related paperwork such as hardcopy resumes, reviews, notes, memos.
  • Summer recipes–Except for baking, I cook without recipes, so these are for inspiration.
  • Winter recipes

Adding my new filing cabinet inspired me to spring-clean my office, and pitch out a number of papers that were once important, but no longer are. I’ve added others that I couldn’t identify immediately to my paper basket, where I’ll identify whether they’re still relevant, and if so, to which category they belong.

What you care about and want to keep may be different from my categories, but I hope these ideas and strategies will be useful to you and adaptable to your needs. Happy spring cleaning and filing!

Bath nirvana

Lavender fields

Recently I put together a few simple elements that I thought resulted in the most relaxing bath ever–so of course I wanted to share!

It all started when I came across a magazine article about magnesium, “the relaxation mineral.” Magnesium fights stress, improves sleep, and not having a magnesium deficiency makes you only half as likely to die as other people. Sounds good to me! If you’ve noticed twitching around one or both of your eyes when you get stressed, that’s a symptom of magnesium deficiency, as are insomnia, high blood pressure, sensitivity to loud noises, and–you may have noticed others suffering from this!–irritability.

I have some magnesium malate tablets (horse pills if I’m honest) that I take occasionally. (It’s difficult to get the timing right for optimal absorption, I find.) But then the article I was reading mentioned that I could simply take a bath with epsom salts and absorb magnesium through my skin. Aha! I pulled the carton of epsom salts out of the linen closet.

Package instructions on epsom salts often say to use 2 cups in a bath. I’ve found that’s far too much for my sensitive skin. In a hot bath (I like to run a bath just shy of as hot as I can stand), I have gotten excellent results with 1/3 to 1/2 cup epsom salts + 6 pumps of Dermalogica Stress Relief Treatment Oil, which includes lavender. If you have lavender essential oil, such as Aveda’s, you can substitute about a dozen drops. The oil balances out any drying effects of the salts. I like to soak in this bath for about 30 minutes, flipping over so all of my skin can participate!

The first time I tried this, I cannot tell you how mellow I was–and the effect was quite noticeable for at least 24 hours. It also noticeably improved the quality and depth of my sleep. At this rate, it’s possible I could become more laid-back than my herb-smoking uncle. (OK, on further thought, that’s probably not possible.) Maybe the answer’s been completely legal and lurking in an obscure aisle of the health & beauty section all along …

Peace out.

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage card Lavender fields.

SoulCollage® cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

Now that it’s fall

To be interested in the changing seasons is … a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring. –George Santayana

All at once the leaves are finally changing color, and just beginning to fall and crunch underfoot.

Today at lunchtime, when I took Gracie out into the front yard, I noticed how beautiful the trees have become. My Chinese pistachio, redbud, and ash are all shades of gold and red. My neighbors’ trees are also turning beautiful colors. A gorgeous one across the street that I’d never noticed before caught my eye, now that it’s wearing its fall coat.

Now come the gifts of the latter seasons. Woodsmoke hangs in the air, lingers in the dogs’ fur. Friends walking in the arched front door of my English cottage-style bungalow say how cozy it is (no one appreciates cozy in the sweltering heat of summer). Hot chocolate, Dublin Dr Pepper short ribs, brisket braised with carrots, cobbler warm from the oven–these all belong to the fall and winter seasons.

Opaque tights, booties, warm woolen skirts, layered sweaters, cashmere-lined leather gloves, a plaid wool lining zipped snugly into a trench coat–getting dressed really is more fun in cooler weather.

All these gifts are ours, now that it’s fall.

Cream of sunchoke soup

I believe in the value of trying new things as often as possible, so this weekend I bought sunchokes at the farmer’s market. I find food a deliciously inconsequential way to switch things up. Whenever I hear about someone who eats the same thing at the same time, week in and week out, or engages in other repetitive behavior, a part of me thinks, “Alzheimer’s waiting to happen!” So I like to seize the opportunity to try something new whenever it presents itself. Yesterday, it was sunchokes, something I’ve never cooked (I don’t think I’ve ever eaten them before either).

Sunchokes are a root vegetable, also known as Jerusalem artichokes. Their delicate flavor is similar to that of an artichoke heart. The ones I bought were purple on the outside with pure white flesh; they can also be brown, red, and white. Sunchokes tend to be rich in the carbohydrate inulin, which some people digest better than others.

I had some leftover cream in the fridge, so in the spirit of wasting nothing, decided to make a cream soup.

In the market basket I take to farmers’ markets, I keep a couple of ceramic egg cartons, and a small ceramic berry basket. I filled this berry basket with sunchokes, which turned out to be 9.5 ounces when I weighed them. Please adjust the recipe below to the quantity of sunchokes you want to use. I used a generous half of my carton of chicken broth.

Cream of sunchoke soup

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a soup course

9.5 oz sunchokes
32 oz carton chicken broth
4 T heavy whipping cream (or 8T half and half)
1 shallot, diced fine
6 cloves garlic, peeled
olive oil
1 pat butter
thyme
salt
white peppercorns
1 t cornstarch (optional)

Scrub and rinse the sunchokes well. These knobby little tubers really know how to hang on to dirt!

Drizzle a little olive oil on a jelly roll pan. Halve the sunchokes lengthwise and place cut side down on the pan along with the garlic, ensuring each piece is lightly coated in olive oil. You can add a bit of salt and pepper at this point if you like.

Roast in a 400° oven for about 20 minutes. Place the pan where it can cool.

In a small enameled Dutch oven, melt a pat of butter over low-medium heat. Add the finely-diced shallot and soften.

Meanwhile, dice the roasted vegetables and add them to the pot. Cover generously with chicken broth. Add salt, freshly-ground white pepper, and thyme to taste. A little cayenne or nutmeg would also be a good addition.

Bring to a boil slowly over medium heat, and then reduce heat to allow the soup to simmer. Enrich with 4 T heavy whipping cream. Simmer for about 15 minutes until the sunchokes are tender.

Dissolve a teaspoon of cornstarch in water or chicken broth, and stir in to thicken the soup as desired.

Note: If you like pureed soups, you can use an immersion blender to puree the soup at this point, instead of thickening it.

Serve with whole-grain crackers and some Chardonnay.

Bon appetit!

Pantry spaghetti sauce

Just now the house smells deliciously of tomato sauce. Here’s how to make the magic from your very own pantry and garden … this recipe serves 4 moderately hungry people, or two ravenous ones. These are ingredients I consider pantry essentials and always keep on hand.

1 pat butter
1 small to medium yellow onion–or white or purple, diced medium
1 small can tomato sauce, preferably organic
1/2 small can tomato paste, preferably organic
basil from the garden (or dried Italian herbs), 12 large leaves each standard and Thai
1 small hot pepper (I used a ripe black olive pepper from my garden–thimble-sized and very hot), or cayenne pepper
white and black peppercorns
pasta, preferably Italian (I use 2-2.5 oz per person)
good Parmesan cheese

In a stainless steel saucepan, melt a pat of butter over gentle heat.

Add a small to medium onion, diced medium.

Add a small hot pepper if you have one, diced fine. Otherwise, add a sprinkle or two of cayenne pepper.

Wash a dozen leaves each standard and Thai basil (more if the leaves are small). Slice into the pan using herb scissors. (If you have no fresh basil on hand, add dried Italian herbs to taste after adding the tomato sauce, paste, and water.)

Saute gently until the onion begins to brown.

Add the tomato sauce and half the can of tomato paste, plus enough water to thin the sauce to your liking. (Add more paste to thicken the sauce.)

Add half a dozen grinds each white and black pepper. Taste, and correct the seasoning if needed.

Simmer the sauce while you put well-salted water on to boil. At the boil, toss in a small handful of good spaghetti (such as Lidia’s) for each person, and reduce the heat to medium high. Cook al dente and drain.

Plate the pasta and sauce in pasta bowls or on large rimmed plates, top with freshly-grated Parmesan cheese, and serve immediately to people you love (including you).

Bon appetit!

How to bake a farm egg

This is my favorite way to prepare a farm egg … I buy half a dozen every Saturday, and six days a week, have one for breakfast.

Why a farm egg? Well first, it’s awfully good to know for sure that my eggs are from happy chickens and ducks. I see them, with their chicks and ducklings following along behind, every time I visit the urban farm where the eggs are laid. Apparently they all have names, because one Saturday the hunt was on for Puff the duck, who’d gone missing.

But also, of course, because farm eggs taste great–rich, flavorful, fresh. The organic eggs from the gourmet grocery store that I used to eat cannot compare. Now, if I can’t get farm eggs, I don’t eat any.

One of my collections is vintage Chateau Buffet, including about 10 individual handled casseroles that are just about perfect for an individual serving of anything. Glazed toasty brown on the outside; rich duck egg blue on the inside. I line one of these with a thin slice of uncured honey ham. Then a couple of small slices of mature white cheddar. Next the farm egg.

It’s better by far not to break the yolk, but the shells’ thickness varies, making it a delicate operation. These are not a factory product.

Into the oven at 315° for 20 minutes (no preheating needed), then check the white for doneness. A steaming cup of green tea, fresh fruit … a sprinkle of fleur de sel on the yolk.

Ah … all is right with my world.

%d bloggers like this: