Mission Organization: Week 52 - Keep a Sense of Humor

"Where do I start?"

That was the first thought I remember having when I began the Mission Organization 52 Week Challenge for 2012.

I didn't have to look far for something to do because it was right after the Christmas holiday, and it was time to take down the tree and deal with all the ornaments and decor. It just seemed to make sense that my first project would be organizing and labeling the Christmas decor for storage. After that first week, there seemed to be no end to the number of household projects needing attention.

Now, after an entire year of weekly projects in addition to the regular cleaning routines, one would think that there would be very little organizing left to do at my house. Oh, if only that were so. Even with all my projects and good intentions, I have not yet achieved that perfectly clean, uncluttered, serene household that I so longingly have desired.

In view of all my household missions for this year, my son found a cartoon that he thought applied to my efforts to get "in control of everything" at home. I have to agree, some days I have just wanted to take this route! Fortunately, this talented cartoonist can put those frustrations on paper and make me laugh at myself.

My son has always been a reminder to me to keep a sense of humor. When he was very young, he loved to read joke books, and he would remember the jokes and retell them to me with delight. Now that he's older and away from home, sometimes I'll get a call during his commute to work. He often has a funny story to share about something he has read, heard on NPR, or just observed. I think the cartoon that he sent me about home organization is a good reminder that the home organization process should not take control over our lives. Organization is a tool that should make our lives easier. Taking the housework too seriously can be stressful for the whole family. One thing I noted during my year of organizing is that you can't organize other people. If the success of a project is dependent upon someone else's cooperation, then it just might fail.

My best advice after spending a year diligently working on home organization: declutter to make cleaning easier, set cleaning routines that fit your lifestyle and work for your family, utilize quality tools and cleaning supplies, and keep a sense of humor because things won't always be perfect.

I hope my Mission Organization for 2012 has been helpful to someone. Weeks 1 - 52 are indexed in the Thoughts and Mission Organization Page on the header bar above.

After looking back at the year, I realized that one of my favorite organizational projects of all is not even a part of Mission Organization. One of the most helpful projects that I have done has been to organize a spice drawer in my kitchen.

My solution for dealing with the many spice jars was to organize them into small baskets in a drawer. With the jars lying in the baskets, I can see the labels clearly. Before I put them in the drawer, I would spend too much time searching through the cabinet for the jar that I needed. This saves me time and looks so much neater than the jumble of jars I had in the upper cabinet.

It's now that time of year that many folks make some resolutions for the coming new year. Is one of yours to get your household organized? If so, good luck to you and happy organizing in 2013!


Toasted Ham & Cheese Tortas

I really hate to find I am out of a needed item when I am cooking, and I try to prevent that from happening by always keeping a running list on my iPhone so I don't forget to buy what I need when I'm at the grocery store. On Christmas Eve though, I discovered I was short of mayonnaise, so I asked my husband to stop by the store and buy a jar for me, as I was very busy with the cooking. He was happy to help, but he doesn't usually do the grocery shopping. I specified I wanted Hellman's mayonnaise, and I thought that would be an easy mission. He brought home some Hellman's mayo, but it wasn't what I was expecting. Instead of the regular mayo I needed and usually buy, he bought mayo with lime juice. Hmm, interesting mayo. I couldn't use it for my intended recipe, but on closer inspection I saw there was a recipe on the back of the jar for Toasted Ham and Cheese Tortas that sounded very good. I set the jar aside and called my daughter to ask her to bring a jar of regular Hellman's mayo.
The Christmas Eve meal went as planned, but I just couldn't forget about that Torta recipe on the back of the lime mayo jar.

These sandwiches kept calling my name.

Toasted Ham & Cheese Tortas

1/4 cup Hellman's mayo with lime juice
1 medium chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, finely chopped
4 Italian rolls, split and toasted
1 ripe avocado, sliced
3/4 pound thinly sliced smoked ham
1 cup shredded Monterrey Jack cheese (I used shredded cheddar)
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, combine mayo with chipotle pepper. Spread mayo mixture on rolls, evenly top with avocado, ham, cheese, and onion. Wrap in foil, bake in preheated oven for 12 minutes or until cheese is melted.

This is the kind of mayo I was expecting my husband to bring home.

This is the mayo he brought home instead, but it turned out to be my lucky day!

We just happened to have some of our yummy Petit Jean ham left over from Christmas.

Chopped red onion and sliced avocado add color and flavor, but the chipotle pepper and lime mayo give this sandwich a real wallop!

After toasting the rolls, assemble the ingredients, wrap in foil, and bake for about 12 minutes at 350 degrees. Delicious!

My new motto: When life (or your husband) hands you lime mayo, make Toasted Ham & Cheese Tortas!

I have received no compensation for the mention of any products in this post. All opinions stated are my own.


White Chocolate Popcorn Mix

The weather has turned frightfully cold in northeast Arkansas today for Christmas Day, and very uncommon blizzard warnings for this area have been issued. We usually get a snowfall or two during the winter months, but a blizzard?? I'm not sure that I've ever seen one. Sounds like a good time to cuddle up with a good book, a cup of tea, and a bowl of White Chocolate Popcorn Mix.

The recipe for this treat comes from Scissors and Spatulas, and it is not only good to serve at home, it would also make a pretty snack mix to bag up and give away.

White Chocolate Popcorn Mix

3 bags microwave popcorn, popped
3 cups mini pretzel twists
1 (12.60 ounce) bag holiday M & M's
1 (12 ounce) bag white chocolate morsels

In a large bowl, combine popcorn, pretzels, and M & M's. In a separate bowl, melt the white chocolate chips in the microwave oven at 50% power in 30 second increments, stirring until melted. Pour about 1/4 cup of the melted chocolate over the popcorn mixture and stir, repeat this twice more stirring to coat the popcorn in chocolate, reserving some of the melted chocolate. Pour the popcorn mixture out onto two large sheet pans that have been lined with wax paper. Drizzle the remaining melted chocolate over the popcorn mixture. Allow chocolate to dry for about one hour, then store mixture in an air tight container.

The snack mix ingredients are microwave popcorn, pretzels, M & M's, and white chocolate chips.

After mixing the ingredients, spread the snack mix on wax paper lined sheet pans to dry.

My grandson helped me stir up this sweet and salty snack mix combination for the family, and it has been a real treat today. When the blizzard hits we'll probably need to make up another batch!


Gingerbread Oreo Truffles

Certain flavors belong to certain seasons, and I think gingerbread definitely belongs to the Christmas holiday season. Nabisco must think so too, because this year they have been baking these yummy gingerbread Oreo cookies. I love to make truffles with regular chocolate Oreo cookies, so why not with gingerbread cookies? Let's hope these limited edition gingerbread Oreo cookies will become a regular seasonal offering.

Gingerbread Oreo Truffles

1 (15.25 ounce) package gingerbread Oreo cookies
4 ounces cream cheese
12 ounces vanilla almond bark candy coating
1/4 cup butterscotch chips

Place the Oreo cookies in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until cookies are finely crushed. Add the cream cheese and pulse until blended with the crushed cookies. Place the mixture in the refrigerator and chill for 1 hour. Prepare a sheet pan by lining with wax paper. After mixture has chilled, roll into 1-inch balls and place on prepared pan. Place the balls back in the refrigerator to stay chilled while you prepare the candy coating. 
Melt the almond bark according to package directions, then dip the cookie balls in the melted candy coating, placing on wax paper to dry.
Melt the butterscotch chips in microwave oven on half power in 30 second increments, stirring until melted. Decorate the top of the truffles with the melted butterscotch chips using a #4 decorator tip, (or you can just use a small zip top bag with one corner cut off). Store truffles in refrigerator. Makes about 40.

The truffles are made from crushed Gingerbread Oreo cookies and 4 ounces of cream cheese. My chocolate Oreo truffle recipe uses 8 ounces of cream cheese, but less cream cheese is required in these truffles because of the very creamy filling in these cookies -  a very great tip from Mommy's Kitchen.

They are dipped in vanilla flavored candy coating and decorated with butterscotch chips.

Chill the truffle dough for about an hour before rolling into 1-inch balls.

Dip the balls in vanilla candy coating and decorate with melted butterscotch chips.


Mint Chocolate Pretzels

My grandson came to visit last night and helped me make these yummy Mint Chocolate Pretzels. I've seen these pretzel and Hershey's kisses snacks made in many different ways, but Landon and I decided to make ours in a mint chocolate version. These little snacks are both sweet and salty, and the added mint flavor gives them a real holiday taste.

Mint Chocolate Pretzels

1 bag tiny pretzel twists
1 bag (10 ounce) Mint Truffle Hershey's kisses
1 bag (9.90 ounce) mint chocolate M & M candies

Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Lay pretzels in a single layer on the prepared pan. Top each pretzel with a Hershey's kiss. Place in the preheated oven for about 3 to 4 minutes. Watch carefully, as kisses should be softened, but not melted. Remove from oven and press one M & M candy piece on the top of each Hershey's kiss. Place the pan in the refrigerator or freezer for a few minutes until chocolate has cooled and candy has set. Makes about 60.

The ingredients are tiny pretzel twists, Mint Truffle Hershey's kisses, and mint chocolate M & M's.

Lay the pretzels out in a single layer.

Top each pretzel with a Hershey's kiss, then place in the preheated oven for about 3 to 4 minutes.

Remove from the oven and press one M & M candy piece into the top of the Hershey's kiss. Place pan in refrigerator or freezer for a few minutes to let the chocolate set.


Mission Organization: Week 51 - The Top Five Missions of 2012

This week for Mission Organization I am taking a look back at the posts readers viewed most frequently in 2012. These five were the reader favorites from the weekly household mission tips and were also popular on Pinterest.

1. Are the Dishes Clean or Dirty?

This is a question that can be answered with a simple DIY project. Scrabble game tiles are glued to a magnet that can be placed on the front of the dishwasher, then the magnet can be flipped over to indicate the answer to that oft repeated question.

2. The Ironing

This project was not only a favorite of the blog readers this year, it is also a favorite of mine. I made a dryer-top ironing board that is always in place. This eliminates the need for setting up my big ironing board that never seemed to be put away.

All those splatters that are made when someone forgets to cover the food they are reheating just wipe away with this recipe for a vinegar and water steam cleaning. This makes the gunk wipe right off.

Finding a better way to store my bakeware led to this project. I stood these corner shelving units on their sides so I could slide the various sheet pans and other baking pans into the slots.

My bakeware cabinet is so much better organized now, and I can find the pan I'm looking for without so much digging.

5. My Bathroom Countertop 

One of the hot spots in my house is the bathroom countertop. For this project a kitchen plate rack was repurposed to organize the bathroom. I used a plate rack and added some metal bowls to hold the items that I frequently use in the bathroom. This eliminates the clutter and makes wiping off the countertop so much easier.

So those are the top five projects of this year, and each one has helped me come a step closer in my quest for home organization. The remaining projects of 2012 are indexed and can be viewed in the Mission Organization tab in the header bar.


Super-Duper Chocolate Kisses

Here's a recipe to add to the holiday cookie trays that will be sure to please the chocolate lovers. These little chocolate cookies are called Super-Duper for a very good reason; they are made with chocolate chip cookie dough that has cocoa powder added, then rolled in chocolate sprinkles and topped with a dark chocolate kiss! With all there is to do at this time of year, most everyone will appreciate that this recipe is simplified with a refrigerated cookie dough.

Recipe adapted from bhg.com

Super-Duper Chocolate Kisses

1 (16 1/2 ounce) package refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup chocolate sprinkles
2 tablespoons milk
40 dark chocolate Hershey's kisses, unwrapped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment paper.
In a large resealable plastic bag, combine the cookie dough and cocoa powder. Seal bag; knead until dough and cocoa powder are well mixed. Remove dough from bag. Place chocolate sprinkles in a small dish or shallow plate. Place milk in another small dish. Shape the dough into 1-inch balls. Dip the balls in milk first to moisten, then roll in chocolate sprinkles to coat. Place balls 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for about 8 minutes or until edges are firm. Remove from oven and press a chocolate kiss into the center of each cookie. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool. Makes about 40 cookies. These cookies can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days or can be frozen for up to 3 months.

The ingredients for these cookies are refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough, cocoa powder, chocolate sprinkles, milk, and dark chocolate Hershey's kisses.

After mixing the cocoa powder with the chocolate chip cookie dough, form the dough into 1-inch balls.

Dip each ball in milk and roll in chocolate sprinkles before baking.

Press a chocolate kiss in the center of each cookie when they come out of the oven.


Mission Organization: Week 50 - The Missions That Failed

Mission Organization started for me way back in January of this year, and unbelievably, I am now at week 50 in the year. I have worked diligently to find a project each week that would not only be beneficial to me, but one that might be useful to others as well. In trying to find solutions for household problems, I have looked at many different resources. Household hint books, Pinterest, organizing blogs, and home magazines have been my main sources of help, but not all the hints I tried were good ones. In fact, some of my organization projects completely bombed. I think it might be time to do a little reporting on some of my failed home organization projects for the year.

1. DIY Color Catcher Sheets

This was an idea I was excited about because I purchase and love to use Color Catcher sheets for my laundry. Following another blogger's tip from Pinterest, I set out to make my own sheets to catch the dyes from clothing that are released in the wash.

According to the blogger, washing soda is supposed to be the magic ingredient.

I followed the directions, cutting up a whole batch of fabric the size of regular Color Catchers and had my tutorial all documented in photos. I soaked the fabric in the solution, then air dried according to the directions, but when I washed a new white wash cloth with my almost new dark blue denim jeans and one of my homemade color catchers, the wash cloth caught just as much blue dye as the treated fabric. FAIL

2. Wasp Trap

This is another DIY idea that came from Pinterest, and the source is a gardening blog. Landon and I worked on this project over his spring break, and I was so hopeful that this would be the answer to those red wasps that hang around my patio every summer. Landon was hopeful too, as he was the recipient of one of their nasty stings last year.

We cut the top off a two liter soda bottle and inverted it funnel-style into the bottle. We made a solution of vinegar, sugar, and salt to attract the wasps to the bottom of the bottle. The wasps are supposed to crawl down the funnel to get to the liquid and become trapped. We set our trap out on the patio and waited . . . and waited . . . and waited. We freshened the solution in case it had gotten stale. We caught a few gnats. Weeks passed . . . were our wasps too smart or too dumb? We never did catch a wasp.  FAIL

3. Iron Cleaner

I had absolute confidence this project would work when I saw it listed on Pinterest. The source for this one is a nationally known magazine. The recommendation is to use dryer fabric softener sheets to remove built up gunk from an iron soleplate. Because I have successfully used fabric softener sheets in ways other than their intended purpose, I just knew this would be a great tip.

The directions are to turn the iron to a low setting and iron back and forth over a dryer sheet until the residue is removed from the iron, now doesn't that sound easy? I pushed the iron across the dryer sheet many times with absolutely no result except that the dryer sheet was nicely pressed. I gave it my best shot, but nothing happened.

While these tips may have worked for someone else, they just didn't work out for me. I can't say if the reason for the FAIL was user error or something else, as I only gave each project one trial, but I'm still on my quest for good home organization tips. Maybe a new Pinterest Board called "Projects that Failed" is what I need.

All opinions stated are my own. This post is non-sponsored.


Mission Organization: Week 49 - Keeping the Knives Sharp

According to an article on kitchen safety found at the site The Kitchn, a sharp kitchen knife causes fewer injuries than a dull one. A sharp knife is more efficient and quicker to use than a dull knife. A dull knife requires you to make more cuts to finish a job and with greater risk of slippage than with a sharp knife.

With safety and efficiency being high on my list of priorities in the kitchen, I want to keep all my knives sharp. 

I used to ask my husband to sharpen my knives for me, but once I learned how easy it is to do, I now like to sharpen them myself.

When a knife starts to feel not quite as sharp as it should be, use a honing tool to put the sharp edge back.

Hold the honing tool perpendicular to hard surface like a cutting board with one hand, and with the other hand hold the knife at about a 15 degree angle to the honing tool and draw the edge of the blade across, first on one side and then the other. I didn't have enough hands to hold the tool, the knife, and the camera all at once, but there is a great demonstration video at thekitchn.com on honing your knife.

Honing will put a sharp edge back on your knife, but after a knife has been used a lot, if the honing steel seems not to be getting the knife back to its top condition, it is probably time to use a stone. 

Photo source Amazon.com

There are many different sizes and kinds of stones available for sharpening knives, but this is the kind of stone that I have on my wish list. It has a base with rubber feet to hold it in place and a reversible stone with a medium grit on one side and a finer grit on the opposite side. Thekitchn.com also has a second video to demo stoning your knife. You might want to practice with an older knife to get the hang of stoning, but it is very quick and easy once you have mastered the correct angle, pressure, and strokes.

Whether your knife is at the stage of needing to be honed or stoned, either process only takes a few minutes. By keeping your knife sharp, your chopping and slicing will go faster, and you will reduce your chances of a kitchen injury.


Create Memories with Christmas Cookies

Christmas just wouldn't be complete at our house without cookies. I love to bake them, to give them away, and to eat them too! Baking and decorating Christmas cookies is a fun project to involve children in the kitchen. Almost all children love to cut out shapes, sprinkle colored sugar, and spread some frosting. Christmas cookie baking day can be a family tradition that becomes a treasured memory for a child.

I'll be adding some new cookies throughout the month, but here are several from the archives that you might enjoy baking up for Christmas this year.

This gingerbread cookie recipe is flavored with orange zest, and it can be prepared ahead and refrigerated until you're ready to bake.

Peppermint Snowballs are little melt-in-your-mouth cookies flavored with bits of crushed candy canes.

A bit of peppermint extract flavors these cookies, and they are rolled in red and green sugars for their color. A peppermint kiss crowns the top of each dainty cookie.

These bar cookies have a creamy chocolate layer made with sweetened condensed milk that is sandwiched between peanut butter and oat cookie layers. The Christmas colors are added by sprinkling with mini M & M's.

Now just pick out a recipe and invite the children into the kitchen for a cookie-baking memory!


Watergate Cake

The recipe for this cake was passed around years ago when the national news was abuzz with talk of the Watergate Scandal.  I don't remember which of my friends gave me the recipe, but I remember that the cake got its name because the frosting was a "secret cover-up." This is not only a great cake, it is also a keepsake of a recipe with a political spin. If you have been cooking as many years as I have, you may also have some version of this recipe stashed away in your files.

Watergate Cake

1 package regular white cake mix
1 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
3/4 cup oil
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare three 8-inch round cake pans by spraying with Baker's Joy cooking spray or grease and flour the pans.
In a large bowl, combine cake mix, pudding mix, oil, eggs, and water. Mix ingredients together at low speed of an electric mixer until blended, then beat at medium speed for two minutes. Stir the pecans and coconut into the mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake in preheated oven for 20 - 25 minutes or until cake tests done. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing from pans. 

Secret Cover-up (Icing)
1 (2.6 ounce) package Dream Whip (contains 2 envelopes)
1 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
2 cups milk
1 cup coconut
1/4 cup chopped pecans

In a large bowl, combine contents of both envelopes of Dream Whip, the pudding mix, and milk. Blend ingredients at low speed of an electric mixer until combined, then beat at medium speed for about 4 minutes, or until soft peaks form. When cake has completely cooled, frost between the layers and on the top and sides. Sprinkle frosting with coconut and chopped pecans. Keep refrigerated.

This recipe uses a white cake mix, instant vanilla pudding, coconut, and chopped pecans along with eggs, oil, and water.

Use 8-inch round pans to bake 3 layers.

To make the "secret cover-up" beat 2 envelopes of Dream Whip with a box of instant vanilla pudding and 2 cups of milk.

This makes a creamy light frosting that will stand with soft peaks.

Wait until the cake has completely cooled before applying the frosting, then sprinkle with coconut and pecans.

I made this cake to celebrate my husband's birthday over the weekend. Watergate Cake is one of the cakes that has long been on his "most requested" list. Last year we celebrated his birthday with a 14-Karat Cake. Sure seems like those birthdays are coming around more frequently than they used to!