Cooking & Serving Preparation Hacks

07.18.2017

0600

Quick, easy and simple are always my goals when I do any type of task. If I can hack a procedure to simplify steps in any task, then I will. I find more value and satisfaction in saving time and energy when I do tasks. I’m simply not the type to make extravagant dinners or parties. There are always ways to simplify life and that is always a goal in life for me. My personal hacks might cut out one extra step but one less step is still saving time.

Cooking Preparation Hacks

When you’re in a hurry, and you need to eat or prepare food fast, here are some hacks that I use so I can speed up the preparation process.

  • Using a spoon to scoop and round produce or vegetable that fits in the palm of your hands
    • Hard boiled eggs, avocados, kiwis or any other small round produce that will fit in the palm of your hand

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    • Dicing or Cutting on a cutting board
      • To change the direction of the cuts, rotate the cutting board or move your own position towards the board. Don’t move the produce on the cutting board.

 

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  • Sliding produce to pan from cutting board
    • Once done with dicing or slicing your vegetables on the cutting board, use the opposite side of the knife blade to slide the chopped items the pot or larger container. This way, you don’t ruin the blade of the knife.

 

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  • Cutting oranges
    • Cut oranges in half by cutting the first slice horizontally, and then create the divides from there. That way you create small triangles when you peel bech each individual slice.

 

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  • When cutting long vegetables
    • When cutting long vegetables, always cut the produce in half for each cut, so it takes less cuts to reach the desired length.
    • When I cut carrots it’s in a similar manner. I cut them in half and then split the halves into halves. I pretty much use this method for most any vegetable I cut.

 

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  • Extracting garlic
    • Gently extract garlic out of its skin by using the side of a large knife and simply pressing on it, on the counter. The garlic will loosen from its skin and simply cutting off the end of the garlic will release the skin from the garlic meat

 

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Serving Food Hacks

A lot of my workday consists of time management so my hacks really stem from my desire to save time.

  1. Serving Food
    1. I use glass tupperware bowls when I eat, that way, if I have leftover food, I throw on the tupperware lid and I’ll have leftovers for a snack or for another meal. Also, there are less dishes to wash after the meal.
    2. Mugs with handles are our friends for foods that have temperature issues such as hot soups, or cold ice cream.

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Cheap and Easy TV Mount

06.27.2017

0600

Materials:

  • One 1-1/2″ (width) x 5-1/2″ (depth) wood lumber about 18″ (length)
  • Two 2-1/2″ wood screws (to hold the first wood piece against the wall)
  • Two M4-7.0 screws , at 40 mm in length (to hold the second wood piece against the television)

Tools:

  • Drill
    • Drill bits (drill bits to drill holes for the screws that will hold the wood piece against the wall as well as to drill holes in the wood piece that will attach to the television.
    • Flat wood drill bit (to create the holes that I’ll use to sink the screws into the wood, so that it won’t pop out)
  • Table saw (or saw it by hand with a rip hand saw)
  • Measuring Tape
  • Heavy duty block magnets

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Locating the studs in the wall:

So I wanted to mount my TV up on my wall, and I wanted to do it in a simple and cheap way so I figured that a French Cleat would be the best. First I located my studs in my walls, and I used a different method this time. Usually, I can differentiate stud sounds through the gypsum board, but I thought I would share the other method I use. If you take strong magnets and move along the wall, they will be able to locate the existing nails embedded on the studs. Now, because this can leave scratches along the paint on your wall, I actually sewed little fabric sleeves for each one from fabric I had left over from other previous projects. You don’t have to use fabric, you can wrap paper around it and locate the studs that way too. Sometimes it takes a bit of searching to find the first nail, but once you do, the rest of the nails will be located within the same location on the other studs.

Knowing where the studs were located, gave me the general length of how long of a piece of wood I would need, so I chose an 18″ piece of wood.

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I first divided the piece of wood in half. Because the width of the wood was 1-1/2″, I moved the center line off by 1/4″ to offset the width. I did this because the next step was to cut the wood piece in half at a 45° angle. By offsetting the divided line by 1/4″, the 45° angle cut would be more centered. I then designated which piece would be screwed against the wall and which one would be attached to the TV. To avoid confusion, mark the surfaces of the pieces which will need to be screwed into the wall and TV with a black line in the corner. So mark the actual surfaces which you know will have screws entering the wood piece.

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To start this, first unhook all of the wires and cords from the back of your television set and place it face down on a towel. It’ll be easier to measure the mounting holes this way.

For the wood piece that would be attached to the TV, I measured the width of the mounting holes on the back of my TV (each flat screen television comes with). I simply measured the same distance on my wood piece and marked up the two locations. I marked these holes slightly higher on this piece because I knew the bottom inch of the wood was the angle and I wanted to avoid it. Once you remove the screws where the mounting holes are, you can bring these screws to the hardware store to find longer ones which will be used to attach the wood piece with.

To find the existing depth of the hole on the back of your television, I actually folded a tiny piece of paper and stuck it in the hole until it couldn’t move any further. When it stopped, I marked it with a pencil. My television mounting holes were 1/2″, in case you wanted to use that as a reference. When buying the new screws for attaching the wood piece to the TV, make sure you take into account the depth of the hole and the thickness of the wood. Because I could only find 40mm length screws, I knew I would have to “sink” my screws into the TV wood piece.

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I used the same method for placing the screw holes on the wood piece that would be screwed to the wall. I measured the distance where my magnets were hanging and placed the holes slightly lower on the wood piece. (Always measure the center of the stud to the center of the next stud.) I did this because I knew the top inch of wood was the angle cut.

I drilled my holes accordingly, and the diameter of the holes was based on the diameter of the screws I was going to use for each wood piece. I personally like a slightly snug hole for my screws, so I always measure the drill diameter to be slightly smaller than the diameter of my screw. I like that the screw will fit snug, but it’ll embed itself in the wood as well. For the drill bit that created the holes for the wood piece that attached to the television, I placed that aside, because I would need it to pre-drill holes in the wall when it came time.

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Once the drill holes were made, I took a Flat Wood Drill Bit to create the sinking spaces for the screws. The depth for the sinking holes varied because I used 2-1/2″ screws for the wood piece that would attach to my wall and only 40mm screws for my wood piece for my TV.

For this part, you have to measure the depth of each set of screws. As long as the screws are sunk into the wood and the surface is flush without anything protruding out, it’ll hang nicely. For the TV wood piece, I made sure that when the screws were screwed all the way in,  that they would only protrude out 1/2″ (which would be where it would attach to the TV). Because the other piece of wood would be attached to the wall, I just had to make sure I pre-drilled holes into the wall.

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I took the wood piece that was designated to be attached to the TV, and screwed it in. I then located the height at which I wanted to place my TV, then I pre-drilled the holes into the wall. I took the wood piece that was to be attached the wall and screwed it to the the pre-drilled holes.

I attached all of the television cords while my TV was still faced down on the towel, and then hung it up on the new French Cleat Hook. This is a really quick way to hang almost anything. This method is cheaper than buying a mount and with leftover materials, you can create this too. I really liked this design hacks due to the fact that it’s such a strong hook and it was so cheap to make.

Maybe this might help you find solutions to hanging furniture issues.

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Creating Sliding Drawers

06.20.2017

0600

Materials:

  1. One sheet of brown peg board
  2. KOMPLEMENT drawer handles from IKEA
  3. Bulk rope from Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Store
  4. Extra nuts and bolts to secure the handles to the peg boards

 

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I first had to measure the width of my cabinet openings, due to the fact that they were old up-cycled cabinets from when we had first moved into this house. The cabinet drawer opening measured 12″ wide and 24″ deep. Ideally, most new cabinet installments would add a nice overall look and clean up the space a bit, but the way new sliding drawers are built, the thickness of the wood would eat up a lot of the width opening. This is why I decided to make some generic sliding drawers.

I measured out the dimensions of 11-1/2″ wide and 20″deep on the peg board, and I had just enough board to make up three drawers. Because the peg board came with pre-drilled holes, it was easy to guesstimate where the handles would be located, and not all of the handles would necessarily be centered. Also, the screws that came with the handles accessories package were designed to fit a 3/4″ thick board, but the peg board was only 1/4″ thick. this is why I had to gather a few extra nuts to infill the space between the original handle screw and the end of the handle itself.

Once I cut the boards to the right size to fit the openings, I placed the handles where I wanted them to be located and attached the nuts and screws accordingly. Because I wanted these drawers to slide, I went to a local fabric store and bought some thick bulk rope. I used this rope to wrap around the long sides of the drawers so that they would slide out easier. The rope also evidently contained the items sitting on top. You can also contain the items that would sit on top of these drawers by screwing a thin piece of wood onto the top of the drawer so  you have a more secure way of holding your items.

Because the motion of the drawers is more of a pull-out motion when in use, I was more concerned about the items falling off in the back of the drawer when the drawer was pulled outward. Once the rope was tied on, I placed my items inside my small rectangular, fabric containers.

 

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Drawer Guides:

I nailed down 12″(L) x 1/4″(W) x 3/4″(D) wooden pieces on each side of the drawers, inside the cabinet, as guides for the drawers. I chose to use a 12″(L) because the depth of the cabinet is 24″. I braced the guides up against the front of the cabinet, in which these guides will help slide out the drawers along a smoother line.

Conclusion:

These drawers are very simple sliding drawers made form material found around the house. There are a number of designs to secure drawer guides in place, and this one was a very simple design. If I had used a 1/4″ bottom for the drawers, I would have secured a different drawer guide design underneath the drawer. I genuinely like the fact that these drawers slide on the rope and it makes virtually no sound when pulled out and pushed back in. It doesn’t’ scratch the surface of the cabinet shelves and it’s simple enough to take apart if I no longer have the need for this design. Maybe this design will work for you, in other areas of your home. I hope this post might have helped brainstorm some ideas.

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Upcycling Shelves

06.13.2017

0600

Materials:

Tools:

  • Miter saw
  • Electric drill  and drill bits

So my family usually keeps leftover material from previous house projects or from items that were disassembled. A lot of the time wood planks are left over. These vary in sizes so I try to upcycle them around the house. My father had a book shelf a while back and it had two 42″ shelves that were 1″ thick and two 72″ shelves that were one inch thick.

I  knew those shelves could be used elsewhere in the house so I designated the shorter shelves for the upstairs kitchenette and created shelves with the other two longer pieces, in two other separate areas of the house.

I bought four grey Everbilt 10 in. x 8 in. Gray Medium Duty Shelf Bracket for the kitchenette and I bought two white Everbilt 9.75 in. x 7.75 in. White Elegant Shelf Bracket for the shelf in the bedroom. The shelf in the hallway will be mounted up with two wood 2x4s on each side.

For the kitchenette, I located the studs by knocking on the wall (you can also use magnets to locate the nails located in the studs as well) and since I wanted the top shelf to have at least 16″ of space from the shelf to the ceiling, I had to create two marks that marked both the top and bottom of the top shelf. I then measured another 11″ below the bottom line of the top shelf and made two marks for the bottom shelf. I wanted to leave at least 22″ above the countertop so there was enough room for using the countertop surface.

Because the shorter shelves didn’t reach across the wall of the kitchenette, I offset the shelves to make the weight of the items on the wall even. I measured the distance between the studs for each shelf, and transferred that onto each shelf. It’s easier to attach the shelf brackets to the shelves first, and then attach them to the wall. My studs were 30″ (on center) between each, so I knew to leave half an inch from the edge of each shelf edge and then measure inwards 30″ to mark the next center of the next bracket.

Once I attached the brackets to the shelves, I had to pre-drill the holes for the screws in the studs on the wall. If you screw in the top screw on the bracket closest to the wall (where the blue arrow is pointing to), and then place a  small level on top (where the violet arrow is pointing), then you can swing the other bracket up (where the maroon arrow is pointing), until the level shows that the shelf is at an even plane.  This seemed to be the easiest way for me to attach the shelves and also double checking the correct balance of the shelves.

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For the shelf under the window, I first located where my studs were and made sure I cleared the electrical outlet. Ideally, I would have place a bracket where that electrical outlet is located, but there wasn’t any room. I wanted the height for this shelf to have an 8″ clearance, so I simply measured 8 inches below the existing shelf and marked two lines for the top and bottom of the shelf. For this shelf I trimmed the edges so it would fit the width of this space better. I also drilled a hole above where the outlet was located, so there would be access to the outlet.  I attached the brackets to the shelf based on the width of my studs. For this shelf, I literally held up the shelf with one hand, and traced the inside of the drill hole locations with the other. As long as I continued to press the shelf against the wall, it didn’t move much. I did this because I wanted to mark where the drill holes were and also to pinpoint the center of the holes. There wasn’t room to swing the shelf up to level it out, (such as the kitchenette example), so when I placed the level on the shelf, I only had to adjust the shelf slightly to even it out. Once the first screw was placed, it pretty much held up it’s own weight until I could drill in the last three screws.

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The shelf in the hallway was mounted with a different method. I actually had to cut this original shelf piece in half. It was the other 72″ long shelf piece, and by placing each of the halves next to one another, I created a  18-1/2″ depth shelf. I first located the studs in each wall and measured 11″ height clearance for the space above this shelf.  The width of the space was so small, that putting up brackets would have taken up too much room. I pre drilled the holes in the 2x4s based on the width of my studs I had located. Always remember which 2×4 belongs on which wall, so you’re not accidentally drilling extra holes. After that, I placed each piece on the new mount and held the shelf pieces in place with finishing nails.

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This was just one of my upcycling projects using materials I found in the garage. If you can find materials that are still in fairly good shape, I would try to upcycle it for a useful piece of item that you may need. It’s cheaper than going out to buy brand new material- especially since you’ll still have your extra supply of material laying around.  I like to use up what I buy, it’s habit of mine and it’s saved me money over the years. I hope this post helped jog some ideas for you!

Zero Waste Take Out Food

03.28.2017

0700

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Ordering take out food is the one thing I didn’t want to give up when I started living a zero waste lifestyle. The concept of always going out to eat when I didn’t want to cook, seemed viable when I first started this journey. Of course, going home, not wanting to cook and  finding the energy to go out to eat was also another challenge. So, after some investigating, and research I had to put together a “Food Take Out Kit”. Most of my research was simply through trial and error with this kit, and finding restaurants willing to serve food in my dishes. I’m lucky that I live in a city that is trying to be more environmentally friendly so I did find a lot of restaurants willing to serve my take out food in my own dishes.

I first called a lot of the restaurants in my downtown area, to see if they were willing to participate in my zero waste effort. A lot of the restaurants were more than willing to participate, but with different methods. Some were willing to take my dishes to the kitchen where they would directly serve my dishes right into my containers, and some were more adamant about bringing the food out on one of their own plates and then transfer it into mine, so to not contaminate their kitchen. Either way, it was fine with me. However, during my research, I did come across some restaurants that were not willing to do either method.

I furthered my research by ordering take out from as many restaurants as I could, when I could. It takes a bit of trial and error, but if you have a Food Take Out Kit, I think it make these trips much smoother. The one thing that seemed a bit tricky was the different types and sizes of side dishes these restaurants offered. Also, I had to slowly gauge what sauces or dips would come along with certain dishes. I didn’t really know what sized to go container each restaurant used, so I used large glass tupperware in hopes that the volume of my tupperware would suffice.

I usually go to the prospective restaurant and order my food with the hostess right then and there, so that I can hand them my glass tupperware dishes to fill up. I had to make a couple of trips to really get this kit down correctly, but here it goes. In my Food Takeout Food Kit, I have:

Food Take Out Kit:

  1. Containers:
    1. Three 54 oz. containers (for main dishes)
    2. Three 35 oz. containers (for smaller portion dishes and side dishes)
    3. Four 1 cup containers (for sauces)
  2. Reusable cloth produce bags
    1. Three medium sized bags
    2. One large bag

I use tupperware by Kinetic GoGREEN Glassworks Series 6-Piece Rectangular Oven Safe Glass Food Storage Container Set 54-Ounce Each for my larger dishes, as well as Kinetic GoGREEN Glassworks Series 6 Piece Square Oven Safe Glass Food Storage Container Set 35-Ounce Each for my smaller dishes, side sides or appetizers. I use Pyrex Simply Store 1-Cup Round Glass Food Storage Dish for sauces or dips that the dishes might come with.

I also will bring my dishes to my local grocery stores, to their deli counter to fill up on whatever I need to. It’s also easy to fill up on cheeses or meats at the deli counter with large rectangular dishes like these. It’s easier for the deli worker to tare the weight of your dish and to fit your choices easily as it’s also easy for them to move around the items to fit more snug.

The downfall of this system is that not every restaurant will allow you to use your own dishes so therefore you either have the choice of eating out at the restaurant or not at all. On the other hand, there is a way to bring that food home which you may have a good selection of restaurants willing to participate in it, and you’re not producing unnecessary trash. I don’t mind that certain restaurants opt out of this participation. They have every right to run their business as they please. However, I’d prefer to buy from restaurants willing to do this though.

If you want to try this Food Take Out Kit, you actually may already have tupperware at home that you could use. If not, I included links to the ones I use. To clear up any confusion, make sure to show the hostess that you already have the 1-cup containers for sauces and dips ready to be filled. I’ve noticed that their concerns are usually associated with the condiments that come with the dishes. The last bonus with creating a zero waste take out food system, is that if you’re not finished with the meals once you bring them home, just place the lids back on and you can save the food for later or eat it the next day. It’s such a simple clean up system!

Yes, I use two bags to carry these dishes around.

Yes, it gets heavy at times.

Yes, it’s worth it, knowing that I’m not contributing to more trash to the landfill.

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