Meal Planning

I know that decluttering and cooking are not entirely aligned. But part of decluttering the house is decluttering my life. And most people spend a great deal of time shopping.

So. The most effective way to declutter shopping is to meal plan; to work out what you will eat next week and then buy it. It can take a while though, which is where structured meal planning books or websites come in. Once you have one of those, you can very quickly create a list of things you buy every week, a list of things required for a week’s plan, and the odd extra thing you need. You can take that list to the supermarket; but it’s even faster to order the lot online. It’s also cheaper because you don’t buy all that other stuff you see while wandering round the shop. I tend to mix weeks of a structured plan with weeks where I pick favourite family recipes for our plan, normally in the mix ‘two dishes with lumps of meat, one dish with mince, one dish with fish, one vegetarian dish, one slow cooked dish’.

The cover of the Kitchen Revolution cookbookI have for some years used Ocado, which is the best (sadly, also the most expensive) of the UK online grocers. I keep a list of the regular things we buy there. For meal planning I’ve tended to use Menu Mailer, an American meal planning system. It’s worked, and the menus are affordable. The recipe printouts are easy and clear and I can leave them for Bloke to cook without worry.

Nevertheless, there are problems with Menu Mailer. It’s American, so there are unfamiliar ingredients, strange equipment and seasonal mismatches; it is not normally warm enough for salads and barbecues here in May. Many dishes are partly based on processed foods like salsa, pasta sauce or salad dressing. Some of the dishes are just plain strange, and many standard British foods don’t appear at all. Of course you can adapt, but we were hoping for something a bit more local.

So this week we are trying out the Kitchen Revolution. I will let you know how it goes.

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The Really Useful Box

The standard unit of clutter in this house is the Really Useful Box. Not just any Really Useful Box, but the perfectly standard 35 litre one. We have quite a lot in other sizes, mind; half height, quarter height, 12×12 crafting boxes, 3 litre boxes that are like a shoebox only better. Even a couple of wrapping paper shaped boxes.

An ad for really useful boxesSo here’s the plan. RUB make a really good product, and we are happy to have given them our custom. I guess the amount of clutter in this house is equal to some several hundreds of RUBs. So here’s the plan; over the next year we are going to liberate our really useful boxes. They are yearning to be free.

Meanwhile, our friend Dougs offers a tip for the spare room. “Take the mattress off the spare bed. Throw the bed away. Fill the space with Really Useful Boxes, stacked two high, full of clutter. Put a valance over the top. Replace mattress. Win!” I mention it because it may work for you. But here’s the thing; if you have clutter in the house that you wouldn’t mind storing that deep, perhaps you should just throw it away.

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Motivational Poster

Keep Busy and Tidy Up
Brought to you by the Keep Calm and Carry On Image Generator

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Step one: Admitting You Have a Problem

a collage of cluttery bits of our houseThis morning I went round the house with the camera. This is what it’s like. I haven’t included the cellar; these are just snapshots. What’s your house like?

Of course, we are beginning to get rid of stuff. Yesterday, for example, I found a piece of slightly eaten mango pickle. Our friends brought it to New Year. The Chinese believe that eating foods you’ve never tried before extends your life. Let’s hope so.

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The Bottom of the Fridge Soup

I find that our fridge needs decluttering every week or two; doesn’t yours? And unlike the rest of the house, if you don’t do it then it gets worse very quickly. We buy our vegetables on a market; cheap and good, but also plentiful. “Why do we have four cucumbers?” I asked Bloke today. “Because they were four for a pound.” Ah.

And so every couple of weeks we make a bottom of the fridge soup. Obviously, the amounts vary depending on what’s at the bottom of the fridge. But normally this is a large main course for eight people, for very little money. It started, to be fair, as Nigella Lawson’s minestrone recipe.

On a morning when you are at home, audit the fridge. Not just the bottom; sometimes things from the middle of the fridge will do too. This was a very special, sort of post-Christmas bottom of the fridge soup.

If you have leftover fat in the fridge, then heat some of that, otherwise a mixture of olive oil and butter, in your biggest pan. Chop and fry two or three onions, till they’re soft. While the onions are frying, start chopping the things you find at the bottom of the fridge.

We nearly always have floppy celery, so that’s a good place to start, and slightly elderly carrots. In this case we also had some garlic which had come in a jar to flavour roasted peppers; I add garlic anyway, even if it doesn’t need eating up. We had some rather sad spring onions, a pot of previously cooked red cabbage and apple, and two small pots, one of leftover gravy and one of turkey stock. There was a courgette, and half a pepper; the other half was unspeakable. Casting my net a bit wider, I checked the box I keep potatoes in. Normally I only put one or two potatoes in this, but there were about half a dozen in the ‘really need eating up soon’ camp. Back in the fridge, there was about half a pack of formerly fresh basil now only suitable for soup.

Peel them all, chop them finely (I use a mandoline, but a food processor is great too, or you can do it by hand) adding as you go, and saute the lot for a bit. Add a few pints of water or stock (I tend to include some Marigold bouillon powder), and any cheese rinds lying around (this another tip from Nigella) and leave to stew for several hours then turn off. Bake a loaf of bread in this time if you don’t have one.

About half an hour before you want to eat, bring it up to the boil and add a can or two of rinsed beans (this one has lentils and black eye beans); bring it back to the boil and then add some soup pasta; in this case conchigliette. Cook until the pasta is done. Taste for seasoning; I added a chopped bunch of rather sad parsley and the juice of two limes that had somehow failed to make their way into gin and tonic. Serve to hungry family members with a block of parmesan and a grater.

The things that did not go into the bottom of the fridge soup:

  • some leftover bread sauce. There’s a different soup I do for which the basis is bread and I think this will go into that perfectly well.
  • the leftover brandy butter. I bought a half-price Christmas pud last week and we’ll use the brandy butter with that.

Feeds as many as will, really. The soup pasta costs about 50p for 500g (use half) and the beans are 50p a tin. All the veg came from the bottom of the fridge so I count the lot as free apart from 20p worth of onions. The loaf of bread will cost 50p as well if you bake it yourself. Under £2 the lot unless you’re really excessive with parmesan.

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Glass Drinking Vessels

There are four of us in the house. We occasionally entertain; often inviting four or six people round, periodically inviting twenty or thirty for a party. We regularly drink beer, red and white wine, champagne and or bucks fizz, gin and tonic, fruit juice, milk and fizzy water. We occasionally drink other cocktails, whisky or liqueurs.

I think what we need is 8 each of the glass types we regularly use. In practice we have slightly damaged sets of most of those; only five champagne glasses now, but 12 red wine. We have a couple of dozen commemorative glasses from beer festivals that don’t go in the dishwasher, a couple of dozen specific glasses for Belgian beer that seemed like a lovely idea in 1995 when we visited Belgium but now feel really excessive, a pile of glasses for mulled wine which we make about once a decade, a few glasses I inherited from my grandparents which have huge sentimental value and no practical use, and so on.

Glasses are, therefore, an early target for action. The glasses cupboard in action

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I am a geek and I have a cave

a very cluttered corner of the very cluttered studyI’m told that geeks have caves. This is my geek cave. It is full of clutter. Somewhere under the clutter are my flatbed scanner and my Intuos tablet. It’s quite a comfortable corner. I like it. I wonder if I would like it more if it were tidy?

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Our house is a mess.

This is a blog about a house. It’s an ordinary London house, which is to say it’s a terrace house that is slightly too small all round, in an ordinary sort of street. It has three receptions, five bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, and a cellar. All of these rooms are full of stuff. Some of it is good stuff that we love, like artwork, books and shiny gadgets. But a lot of it is junk.

I live here, together with my husband, Bloke, and our two children, Munchkin and Ducks. Munchkin is nearly 14; she has therefore perfected the art of the sarcastic sulk. Ducks is 10 and has a developmental disorder that causes him to play video games 24 hours a day. We also appear to have an indeterminate number of mice. They keep to themselves in the day but come out and have squeaky parties at night; our house is a star venue on Mouse Facebook.

During 2011 we are going to tidy the house. The kids are going to help! I am not sure they realise this yet. We are going to get rid of all the stuff we don’t need or use.

If your house is untidy too then do join in.

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