The Inspired Mundane

reflections on life from a creative being made in the image of a Creator

Category: Uncategorized

My Kitchen Essentials

(This is written as a resource for a friend of mine who is getting married soon! I thought it would be easier to write a blog post than send her a wall of text. While I haven’t written this with profit in mind, I have included a few affiliate links to help offset the cost of running this website. I hope you find this guide helpful!)

Dear Amy,

I sat down this morning to text you back about my kitchen essentials. Several paragraphs later (plus an accidental deletion of the looooong message I wrote on my phone), I decided it might be easier to read (and write) a blog post. So here is a list of what I consider my kitchen essentials.

One caveat: a lot of this is my own opinions, and the items I chose to put on my wedding registry are based on the fact that I anticipated spending a lot of time in the kitchen as I wanted to cook from scratch and I love to bake. Think about your priorities and invest in those (for example, I wanted an amazing knife set, as Asian cooking involves lots of chopping).

Also, if you were still wanting to make a registry on Zola, here’s my referral link so you can have $50 in store credit: Zola. (Other readers: this should work for you too!) This will be especially handy after the wedding as you settle into your new lifestyle and realize you needed, say, a shoe rack, and forgot to register for one. Also, Zola gives you a 10% discount on everything in their store for a year after your wedding, not just the items left on your registry.

Without further ado, here are the things I use most frequently in my kitchen:

Knives

I got Wusthof’s 18pc block set, which is $299, mainly because I knew of the high reputation German steel has. I am definitely very happy with it. I can’t yet vouch for how they will stand up to years of daily use, but I can tell you that when I first got them, they were so much sharper than any other knife I used that I kept accidentally giving myself small cuts while cleaning them. They’re not the most expensive knife set out there, but they’re not the cheapest either. My main advice is to look for knives that have a full tang – meaning that the blade extends into the handle – as they will last much longer than knives without it (the handles will loosen and fall off). If you really want quality I also recommend forged knives over stamped; however, my knives are stamped and are still really great knives. Whatever kind you get, hand wash them, as the dishwasher will damage any knife.

Side note on cutting boards: Regardless of whether you go with wood or plastic, I recommend keeping a small bottle of a weak bleach solution to sanitize when you are done, especially if you use a wooden cutting board that can’t go through the dishwasher. A bonus for wood cutting boards though is that after it’s got some grooves from cutting on it, you can take it to a carpenter to have it sanded back down. As another side note, sharper knives will reduce the amount of deeper grooves because you don’t need as much force to slice through your food.

Cookware

I initially thought one had to spend $300+ to get good cookware, but fortunately I ended up getting a set from Cuisinart for around $180 and have been very happy with it. It looks like this set but with glass lids instead of steel ones (I wouldn’t worry about it; I heard the advantage to glass is you can check on the food without lifting the lid, but mine just get steamed up). The main thing I was looking for was even heating and riveted handles (so that they don’t fall off in a few years). I most frequently use the two saucepans, the 8-inch skillet, and the saute pan.

Something I learned: don’t use steel wool to scrub them, as it will leave little scratches and over time damage the pan’s ability to heat evenly. Related to this discovery is learning that the pan must be preheated for nonstick cooking. You can test for when it’s ready by putting a drop of water in the pan; when it dances, it’s ready. I think this is super cool to watch and it’s called the Liedenfrost effect. 🙂 #nerding

As yet another side note: it costs less to buy sets than individual pieces (for both cookware and knives). I wouldn’t buy individual pieces unless space was really strict.

Mixing Bowls

I recommend getting glass over stainless steel or plastic because it can go in both the oven and microwave. The set I registered for is Creo’s 4 pc set in Shanghai Red, because I liked the vivid color, plus there’s a pour spout (though it doesn’t always work super well – but it’s easier than not having any pour spout). Right now the largest bowl is holding all our fruit. Whatever your aesthetic, get a set you love – I truly believe it impacts how happy you feel while making food. Also, if the mixing bowls look nice you can use them as serving dishes too!

Food Storage

I would consider my Pyrex 18 pc food storage set to be pretty essential for leftovers, especially since Sean packs his lunch every day. The glass is, of course, microwave safe, but the lids will warp a little if they get too hot.

For pantry food storage, I really like the Oxo POP canisters. The 4-quart container can hold a 5lb bag of flour, and I use those for rice, cornmeal, and sugar. I also have some of the smaller containers to hold spaghetti, lentils, powdered sugar, and a 10-grain pancake mix that I buy in the bulk section of WinCo. For labeling, I just use a wet-erase marker.

If you have the space and inclination to get things like flour and rice at Costco, I recommend you swing by Home Depot and get a 5-gal food-safe bucket and a screw-top lid. It’s not the prettiest storage solution, but it also doesn’t cost $30 or more per container.

Baking Equipment

If nothing else, get a pair of baking sheets. I have two of NordicWare’s Big Sheets, depending on your oven or storage space you might want something smaller. I use these not just for cookies, but also for things like fries and frozen seafood.

For baking pans, I have Pyrex’s Bake n Store 11 pc set, which has so far met all my non-baking-sheet needs. Honestly, I don’t know why I thought I needed to hoard a dozen pie plates before I got married…as much as I love pie, one only needs at most two pie plates. And that’s if you’re obsessed enough with pie to make two at once. Anyway, having a square pan and a rectangular pan with lids is helpful for making things like cornbread or potluck dishes.

Word of warning: do NOT put hot glassware on wet surfaces, or they will shatter!

If you anticipate doing a lot of from-scratch baking, you might also consider a stand mixer. I got a KitchenAid mixer because I anticipate using it weekly to bake cookies like my family did growing up. While I currently do not use it that often for just the two of us, I consider it an investment in the future, especially because there are a zillion attachments that increase the mixer’s versatility, from a meat grinder to a spiralizer to the ice cream maker you got me. <3

Miscellaneous Little Things

Other pieces of kitchen equipment I find helpful:

Waffle maker – Get one unless you are both strictly pancake people. Nothing like making waffles for Saturday breakfasts! Also, cake mix works just as well as waffle batter. 😀

Tongs – I never realized how useful it was to have tongs until I got a pair in a set. It makes serving spaghetti a million times easier.

Round cookie cutters – I got this heavy-duty 11pc set and I love it! The rings are so sturdy, I’ll never have to worry about bending them. I have so far used them for making copycat thin mints and homemade burger patties (which taste a million times better, imo). The next thing I want to try with them are crab cakes (with the help of Gordon Ramsay videos – this one cracks me up).

That’s all I can think of for now. I hope you find this list useful!

12 Usable Homemade Gift Ideas

(Heads-up: there might be a few affiliate links here, which means that if you make a purchase after clicking through them, I get a little money that helps me pay for maintaining this website. I only link to products that I would actually use, and always to where I find the best price!)

Holiday season is fast approaching! I am not one to play Christmas music before December, but I do enjoy the opportunity to give gifts to others!

Here’s the thing though: I hate Christmas shopping. It’s way too busy, advertising and sales associates are working their hardest to make you impulse buy, and the flood of returns after Christmas indicates to me that most people receive gifts that are either useless, meaningless, or both. Hence, my gift-giving philosophy:

  1. Never give a gift out of obligation. Obligation makes it a payment, not a genuine gift.
  2. If I find something that I immediately know would be loved by someone else, I am going to give it to them regardless of special occasions. Gift-giving can be spontaneous, y’all! It doesn’t have to be centered around birthdays and holidays!
  3. It doesn’t have to be expensive.

I’ve been in a crafting mood lately – today I baked dozens of cookies while waiting for my order of soapmaking supplies to arrive – and I would love to give homemade gifts this year. But no one needs more crocheted potholders, kitschy picture frames, or painted mason jars! So what sort of things could I make?

gift-ideas

One of my friends shared with me a few years ago that her family generally gives consumables or experiences, not stuff that sits around collecting dust. I think that is a great idea! I’ve been researching (read: aggressively browsing Pinterest) for homemade consumable ideas, and here are some of my favorites:

Personal Care

Lotion Bars

This was the project that inspired me to write this post! My hands are getting sooo dry with the winter weather in eastern WA, so when I came across lotion bars on Pinterest I immediately thought it would be more convenient to carry lotion around in an empty mint tin. (Ever had a tube of lotion leak in your purse? It ain’t pretty.) An added bonus is that I have control over the ingredients, so I can use whatever essentials oils I like to add scent. Since there is no water in them, they have a long shelf life of about 6-12 months (you could store them in the fridge if you’re really concerned).

I ordered my supplies from Bulk Apothecary and followed FoodFunFamily’s recipe of 1/4 c beeswax, 1/4 c shea butter, and 3 Tbsp of coconut oil. The bars are very nourishing but felt a little too melty for my taste…so as I write this I’m melting the bars back down again to add a little more beeswax.

(That’s not an affiliate link BTW…I ordered from Bulk Apothecary because the same supplies I found through someone else’s Amazon link were way more expensive. Think $6/lb vs $12/lb for shea butter. And I checked a health food store to see if I could buy shea butter in bulk without packaging…it was $17.99/lb!)

Handy tutorials (the ones I’m referencing, anyways) can be found here and here. The one blog says it cost only about $0.31 per bar, but I did my own calculations with the Bulk Apothecary prices and it came out to $0.19 per bar! So this is also quite economical.

Beard Balm

This is great to make along with lotion bars, since it uses the same basic ingredients in different proportions. As an added bonus, you can add a few drops of a nice smelling essential oil – my husband has requested pine for his beard balm, but other good options would be cedar and sandalwood!

Tutorial here.

Soap

You don’t even have to actually make the soap from scratch, you can just order melt-and-pour blocks, add scents and colors, and pour them in a soap mold. According to this tutorial, goat’s milk soap has quite a few potential benefits to explore. My only caveat is read the ingredients, as most of the “goat’s milk soap” I looked at was actually a detergent-based soap goat milk added in (sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate are the typical detergents) than a genuine soap (oil + sodium hydroxide). I’m still waiting for my order of soap to arrive, but the best price I found is from Bramble Berry. A regular bar of soap is around 4 oz, so at $3.30/lb that’s $0.82 per bar of soap. You can add a few cents for the cost of any dyes or great-smelling fragrances, but that’s still really inexpensive for soap!

(…I wonder how much money I’d save if I just bought soap in bulk and scented it at home?)

Tie a pretty ribbon around it or wrap it in nice paper and you have a gift you can give to both ladies and gents!

Microwaveable Heat Packs

I grew up with an electric heating pad, but sometimes those get way too hot! And my chiropractor told me that if you use those, you should alternate between hot and cool on the area you’re using, to promote better circulation. I just want something that’ll help me stay cozy, not overheat.

Microwaveable heat packs are pretty easy to make. In its most basic form, you sew a rectangle pouch and fill it with rice. You can throw in a few drops of a relaxing essential oil if you like. If you are very skilled, you can sew other things too – at one craft fair I once saw a stuffed animal that was filled with rice, so that it could keep children warm on winter nights.

This isn’t really a consumable gift, but I think a pair of handwarmers for a loved one’s coat pockets would be a perfect Christmas gift to make.

You don’t even have to click through the full tutorial here, since (I think) the cover photo is pretty self-explanatory.

Shower Disks

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never filled up the tub for a bath. Maybe I’m missing out, but because of my preference for showers, I don’t use bath bombs. Who says a shower can’t be just as nicely scented, though? For all your shower-loving friends, here is a gift they don’t need a bathtub for. Even if you’re not crafty, it’s super easy to make. Easier than pancakes.

Tutorial here.

Yummy Treats

Homemade Treats

Got a signature baked good or two? Why not make a few dozen and put them in gift tins for friends? There are so many possibilities for different cookies, as well as presentation ideas. If you’re a baker, this is a great idea to share your talents.

If chocolate is more of your thing, you can also make a variety of chocolate-covered confections, or melt chocolate and put them in cute molds (like the soap idea above). More adventurous confectioners can also add a dash of peppermint essential oil or orange essential oil (essential oils are less finicky to work into chocolate than extracts, IMO) for some flavor.

If you are good at allergen-free baking, this can also be a wonderful gift for gluten-free, dairy-free, and other-free friends who otherwise have to miss out on holiday treats.

No tutorial link needed! Pinterest has a lot of great presentation ideas though.

DIY Extracts

Extracts are helpful to have on hand in any kitchen, and are pretty easy to make. Just put your extract object (e.g. mint leaves, or vanilla beans, or citrus zest) into a bottle, fill it with vodka, and let it age for a few weeks. Add some nice packaging and you’ve got a gift set for your culinary friends.

Tutorial here.

Treat Kits

Put your favorite recipe’s dry ingredients in a jar, add instructions for what wet ingredients to mix in, and baking instructions. Presto! You can do this for cookies, brownies, and cakes.

Here’s a tutorial for chocolate mug cake mix in a jar, and another for ice cream sundaes.

Herb Butter

Ohhhh this sounds so yummy! And perfect for that friend who loves to entertain and/or eat fresh homemade bread! Typically they use savory herbs, but sweeter flavors are an option too (honey butter on an English muffin, anyone?).

Excellent tutorial with 3 recipes and pretty pictures here!

Some Other Ideas

Toilet Cleaning Bombs

Confession: I hate cleaning toilets. I was never taught how to while growing up, so I usually convince my husband to take care of it. However, this week he was away at a work conference, so I had to tackle the job myself.

Afterwards, I came across a recipe on Pinterest for toilet bombs. The author wrote that they allowed her mess-free and hands-free toilet cleaning – just drop one in and let it fizz! I wish I’d found this earlier this week!

Cleaning supplies are kind of an odd gift to give, but hands-free toilet cleaning sounds pretty awesome to me. This is also a good gift idea for a friend who is looking for ways to green up/simplify the cleaning of their home, or as part of a cleaning kit for a friend who has recently moved.

Personalized Scrapbook/Memory Book

After our first year of dating, I made an accordion-style scrapbook for Sean and filled it with a timeline of memories from the two years we had known each other, including things like quotes from my journal. He kept it, along with every single little note I gave him ever (including a candygram from high school, the candy cane still intact) in a large yellow envelope and took it with him to college.

Memory books are definitely a sweet gift to give to friends, especially if one of you will be moving or if your stages of life just make it tricky to get together as often as you did in high school or college.

Time

If you are one of those lucky few people with a flexible schedule, one of the most valuable gifts you can give is your time. It might be in the form of babysitting so some friends/relatives can go out for an evening, or it might be as simple as telling a friend with depression or anxiety that they can call you at any hour of the day or night if they need someone to talk to.

One of the most memorable ‘time’ gifts I was offered as a teen was from a youth leader at my church: if any of us were ever out too late at night and not able to get home safely (and calling our parents wasn’t desirable or a possibility), we could call the youth leader and they would come take us home, no questions asked. This was offered to us because the youth leader in question had recently lost a young relative who was being driven home from a party by an inebriated teenager. The driver crashed and the passengers were killed.

Quality time is often a gift that speaks louder than tangible things. Don’t underestimate the value of your time to others.

What have been some unique gifts you’ve given or received? Any favorite things you like to make?

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Reducing Waste as Stewardship: 4 Practical Tips

(Disclosure: Oh hey, this post may contain affiliate links, which means if you buy a product through them, I get a small amount of money – at no additional cost to you – that helps me pay for running this website. I don’t like buying crap either, so I have no intention of linking to products that aren’t worth getting.)

This morning I watched a short video from NPR on microplastics and how they’re making their way into the ocean and our food chain. I was surprised to learn that synthetic fibers in our laundry contributed to this problem too – I had always pictured the plastic in our oceans in the form of bags, straws, and wrappers. The video left me feeling convicted about the plastic waste in my life, which is something that I would like to reduce and eventually eliminate.

As I write this, I’m munching on a Nature’s Path organic toaster pastry, made locally here in my state of WA. It also comes in those plastic foil wrappers, so obviously I’m not perfect when it comes to my commitment to keep plastic out of my life (but this is so yummy! And soooo bad for my teeth…). I also frequently forget to bring my reusable shopping bags (I got a really nice sturdy one in lieu of a plastic bag when I bought a souvenir at the Vancouver Aquarium – I’m glad they act on what they know), so I end up using paper bags at checkout.

Obviously, I have room for improvement. I do feel that we as Christians ought to give some thought about our consumption; whenever I hear about the stewardship of resources, it has to do with money. And sometimes planting trees through organizations such as Eden Reforestation Projects. But mostly money, and how to save and invest wisely. I have heard a total of one sermon that brought up the issue of wastefulness and how much we as Americans are putting in our landfills.

It’s not something that we think about very much, even after being confronted with information about the impact trash has on our environment. My mom is from the Philippines though, so I grew up with frequent admonitions to not use too much of this or that, and reusing everything possible (it’s not a stereotype that Asian-Americans grew up with parents who washed the Ziploc bags – it’s the truth). I thought I’d share a few things that help me reduce the amount of trash I generate:

Avoid Packaged Foods

A bonus of this is that it encourages you to eat healthier and save money by buying produce, which usually doesn’t come in packaging. Have you ever looked at how much packaging is involved in your food? My realization of this came about a year or so ago when I opened the fridge and was confronted with 4 loaves of bread from Costco – swaddled in a sea of plastic. The loaf was wrapped in cellophane and then put in a looser plastic bag, then two loaves were packaged together in an bigger bag. It seemed ridiculous to me, especially because it’s fairly easy to make bread. That day I set the goal to make all the bread in my future household.

Well, so far I am having trouble getting it to rise in a reasonable amount of time (I suspect it’s because I now live in a drier climate), so I’ve resorted to buying a loaf every now and then. One of these days I will figure out how to achieve a fluffy, soft loaf again, I’m just not there yet. However, I do make dough for our weekly pizzas, which does save on some plastic packaging.

My husband likes Honey Bunches of Oats, so I’ve been buying that (a LOT of that!), but I recently found a recipe on Pinterest to make it at home, so I will update you on how that goes. Homemade granola is easy and smells sooo good! I used this guide from Buzzfeed when I was learning how to make it. Making your own breakfast definitely helps cut back on waste, as well as encourages healthier eating and saves you money.

It may not be realistic to cut out ALL packaging from your food, but analyzing the largest sources of waste and then finding ways to eliminate them definitely helps.

Buy Secondhand and Choose Quality

I generally don’t buy a lot of stuff, but when I do, I try to find it secondhand (the exception being things like underwear and socks). ThredUp has been super useful for finding cute secondhand clothes – even better, I can buy higher quality clothes that will last longer and still spend less than I would at Target. Local thrift stores and online sites/apps (like Craigslist, LetGo, and Facebook groups) are also great places to look for secondhand items.

(BTW, if you want to sign up for ThredUp, use this referral link or the one above to get a $10 credit for your first order.)

It can be difficult to find anything that will last at a thrift store, so if I’m looking for something new, I usually check Buy Me Once for ideas. I must mention that quality doesn’t necessarily mean a premium price tag! When I got married, I originally wanted to get a set of All-Clad pots and pans. Their 10-pc stainless steel set was about $700! But the reality of budgets set in and after doing some research I found that Cuisinart also has a really good stainless steel setfor about $130. In the words of Gordon Ramsay, “Buy the best you can afford, and take good care of it.” So far I’ve been happy with my cookware set – the handles are all riveted securely, which was very important to me – but I’ll update you in about 10 years to see how well they hold up.

Don’t Use Plastic Bags, and Reuse What You Can

As much as you can, anyway. If I forget my reusable shopping bags, I opt for a paper bag, which I then use to hold my recyclables at home. I still use plastic trash bags (not ideal but neither is the trash contained in them so…), and if a plastic has come into contact with raw meat, I toss it rather than trying to wash it. The risk of food contamination is not worth it (to me). We don’t eat a lot of meat, so the packaging from that doesn’t make much of an impact on our household’s trash generation. When our family is bigger we’ll probably end up buying bulk meat from a local butcher or, if we have property, raise it ourselves (it’s a lot of work but homegrown meat tastes soooo good, and as an added bonus, I can ensure my animals are raised humanely and given healthy feed).

When we moved into our home, we ended up with a box of gallon-size Ziplocs, which we’ve used for sealing up things like blocks of cheese and packs of bacon. I’ve still managed to avoid buying any more Ziplocs by opting for reusable containers (the one area where I am ok with plastic – it would be far more wasteful to replace perfectly useful containers with more expensive steel and glass). I would love to be able to get these Stasher silicone bagsbut in the meantime I’ve been happy with my Pyrexand Rubbermaidstorage containers.

When we first moved in I also got a roll of aluminum foil and a roll of plastic cling wrap, both of which I would like to replace with beeswax cloth wraps, which are fairly easy to make at home. Once I get my craft and sewing stuff in order I’ll get right on that.

Do I Really Need That?

Going through my stuff with the KonMari method made me realize that I have far more stuff than I need – which is pretty wasteful if you ask me. A great example is my writing implements: I have a jar of pens and pencils on my desk, but I barely use them because I only ever use one pen now, the Pilot Precise V5 RT. I used to buy a couple packs of cheap pens every year, and frequently lost them (you aren’t as careful with cheap ‘disposable’ stuff). Now I buy a pack of two; one goes in my purse, the other goes on my desk. I will probably only ever go through 2-3 pens a year (at most).

Another one is makeup. This is a personal decision, and I would never shame someone for wearing makeup, but it just wasn’t something I could get interested in, especially because my hair tends to take up a fair bit of time. Speaking of which, I haven’t regularly used shampoo for years, which again reduces the amount of product I need to buy. My naturally curly hair tends to be dry, so I never wondered whether it would be a problem, but there are others who have also gone no-poo whose hair was initially greasy but then evened out without the shampoo to dry out the scalp. When it comes to personal products, just ask yourself if there’s anything you feel is unnecessary in your life, and keep what you enjoy doing (in other words, KonMari your personal care routines).

There are probably more things I do that help me reduce waste, but I can’t think of them right now. I hope you find this post encouraging and helpful in examining areas of waste in your life. Some of the zero-waste bloggers I’ve read seem like they live on a different planet, so I hoped to offer a perspective that shows what it’s like for a ‘normal’ person to cut back on waste. As you can see, I tend to pick and choose where I change and where I compromise.

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