Season's Greetings & Farewell to STUFF

>> Tuesday, November 30, 2010

If someone asks me if I've started my holiday shopping yet one more time, I think I may freak out. I feel like I say this every month, but I can't believe it's already November 30th. Halloween . . . done. Thanksgiving . . . also over. My answer to the shopping question, by the way, is a big fat no. In fact, we still have pumpkins in our house from Halloween. As much as I enjoy the holidays, they always speed by. I'm always stressed when I realize it's one week until the big day and I've got . . . nothing ready.

It's not that I don't care. It's not that I'm a procrastinator (in all reality, however, I most certainly am. I thrive on it.). The time simply slips away from me. Working full time will do that to a gal (or guy), am I right? This year, I'd like it to change, though.

For my actions to be proactive -- planned -- for once.

But in all of this, there's also this intense desire I've had recently to eliminate STUFF from my life. To live more simply. To buy less. To want less. To invest more time, energy, caring, love -- more of myself -- into everything I do, everything I have, everyone I know. So, by now I think you're starting to see that (cue the music) I'm dreaming of a handmade Christmas.

Realistically, I won't be able to knit, bake, and toil over gifts for every man, woman, and child in my life. And that's OK. But I have some holiday goals. (I guess we can add them to the list of my life goals.) Hopefully by following this guide, we'll make it through the season with a little less stress, strife, and less STUFF cluttering our spaces.


Consider this the pre-present preparation. We started over the weekend with our wardrobes. We'll continue over the next couple weeks with our kitchen, our games, our books, and all other items. We want to live with less. What this means is purging our house of all the excess.

The task can seem daunting at first, but becomes incredibly liberating upon completion.

How to begin?
  1. Choose a category of STUFF. For example: Clothing.
  2. Dump all that STUFF in a room. Create piles of "keep" (gotta-have-it) and "toss" (broken or unusable) and "donate/sell" (still of worth, just not for your) and "not sure" (self-explanatory). Write out labels if it helps.
  3. Then go through your STUFF and put it in a pile that corresponds with your feeling toward it. This part is tricky, but try to go with your gut. (If it doesn't fit or you haven't worn it in years, seriously -- get rid of it!)
  4. With the "not sure" STUFF, you may want to go through it again and see if your feelings have changed by the end of your sorting. If you have the space, you can hold onto it for a couple months (in your attic, perhaps) to see if you find yourself looking for it. If you don't -- TOSS or DONATE/SELL.
  5. Choose one area of your STUFF each weekend until you've gone through most of your belongings. Who knows, you may even find some gifts in there!


Most of us have things we need and things we don't need. When giving gifts, it's hard to tell what that other person might need or want sometimes. Take out the guesswork by asking. When receiving gifts, it's hard for that other person to tell what you may need or want. Take out the guesswork by sharing. C.o.m.m.u.n.i.c.a.t.i.n.g. Before doing so, though, you may want to examine your current activities/hobbies/things you find enjoyable, goals, and life situations.

By examining your life, you'll be able to tell your aunt, for example, that you really would like a winter coat this year versus 4 sweater sets. Or your brother that you'll like a gift card -- even if it's only for $15 -- to Wegmans versus a scarf that you'd otherwise just add to your pile of many, many scarves (I'm speaking, of course, from personal experience. Ryan -- Did you catch that?). Sometimes, and as in the case of my grandmother, you may want your loved ones to give on your behalf to a charity or other organization.

No, you won't always have the opportunity to openly communicate gift desires, but when you're able -- it can be most helpful to you (and your friends/family members) for both giving/receiving.


Quite literally. There are countless presents you can give that don't involve wrapping paper or boxes. I actually enjoy these kinds of gifts better than others in many cases. What am I talking about? Here are some ideas:
  • Yoga classes. Cooking class. Crafting classes. All sorts of classes!
  • Movie tickets. Concert tickets. Hockey tickets. All sorts of event tickets!
  • Dinner. You cook (little cost!). Or take a friend/family member out. 
  • Pedicures. Manicures. Spa treatments. Haircuts. Etc. 
  • Day trips. Nights out. Just going someplace -- even if it isn't far -- can be an awesome gift.
  • And, of course, homemade stuff always works. Think scarves, cookies, photo prints, etc. Whatever your talent is, you can put it to work!
Basically, don't give stuff. Give experiences. An iPod that may be obsolete next month. Or a bag that may go out of style next season. If you gift experiences, they'll create memories that last a lifetime!


I think we've all had one of those awkward moments where we've either received or given a gift that wasn't reciprocated. Well, folks, it's OK to NOT give gifts. I've read in magazines that it's advisable to be ready with some emergency presents in case you receive from someone unexpected. Nah. I say nip this problem in the bud before it becomes, well, a problem to begin with! Sometimes all you need is, again, communication.

If you're in a bad spot money-wise . . . or even just trying to simplify, start a family-only rule. Your friends should truly understand if you explain the reasoning behind it. Plus, saying no to gifts (and I'm mostly talking about STUFF) doesn't mean you can't still do something special like many of the items in tip #3. Same goes with coworkers. If your office doesn't already have some sort of system in place (like Michael's Yankee Swap), be frank. Maybe agree to treat each other to coffee or something.

But save the elaborate stuff for those nearest and dearest to your hearts. Even then, consider all these ideas for a less wasteful, less financially burdensome, less clutteriffic holiday season!

Now, I'm sure you've got some of your own tips. And we'd love to hear them! Just leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Homemade DP Dough

Though I didn't gain the "freshman 15" my first year at Ithaca College, I probably should have. Looking back, I'd most definitely have to declare DP Dough the official meal of choice that year. For, when I wasn't chowing on dining hall pizza and ice cream, I was on the phone ordering my favorite: a basic cheese calzone.

To be fair, IC has a great selection of vegetarian options, including a tasty meat-free, dairy-free chimichanga and even vegan grilled cheese. Too, there was this amazing Kosher kitchen. Many of us -- Kosher or not -- chose to eat there because they had THE BEST hummus EVER.

But every chance I got, I'd call to order DP Dough.

On a Friday night before heading to a friend's dorm to hang out. On a Sunday morning (we're talking 12:30 AM) after I'd had too much to drink and needed to fill my stomach with carbs. On a Tuesday afternoon . . . just because.

Of course, I understand the nutritional value of these hefty calzones is pretty much void. Fat, carbs, more fat. And a bit more fat. So, I'd order the cheese calzone, always making sure to add: "Light on the cheese, please." To which I'd get some sort of "Uhhh, OK?" from the guy on the phone. He was probably thinking: "Anything that'll help you sleep at night, crazy girl!"

Now that I'm older and a little wiser, I've learned to make my own calzones. This one, in particular, reminded me so much of the real thing, I just had to share it!


What you'll need . . .
  • 2-1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (or one packet)
  • 1-1/4 cups warm -- not hot -- water
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar (or honey/maple syrup)
  • 2 cups unbleached white bread flour
  • 1-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Method . . .
  1. In a small bowl, add the yeast and agave nectar to the warm water. Stir and let sit for five minutes, until frothy.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours and salt. Make an impression in the middle of the bowl with your fist.
  3. Pour the oil into the bowl with the yeast mixture. Whisk a couple times. Then pour it into the impression you made in the flour.
  4. Mix with a spatula. Then use your hands to knead everything in a smooth, elastic ball.
  5. Spritz a large bowl with some oil and place the dough ball inside -- covered with some plastic wrap -- for one hour to rise. (You can allow it to rise more, it won't hurt. But if you're in a pinch, an hour is all you really need.)
  6. Divide dough into four balls. You may wish to freeze the others (or refrigerate if you plan to use in the next two days.

  • 1/4 cup low-fat shredded mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup skim ricotta
  • 2 tablespoons (or so) grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon Earth Balance or butter

  1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. If you have a pizza stone -- allow it to preheat as well.
  2. Take one of those dough balls and stretch it into a round on a lightly floured work surface (like you would to make a pizza).
  3. On one half of the round, spread our your mozzarella.
  4. Then take dabs of the ricotta and distribute throughout.
  5. Then sprinkle on the parmesan.
  6. Then take dabs of the Earth Balance (or butter) and distribute throughout.
  7. Fold over the top end and seal the edges (you may wish to pull the bottom dough edge over the top and press down to seal).
  8. Poke the top (not the whole way through) a few times with a fork to allow steam to escape.
  9. Bake for 10 minutes.
  10. Then, get a large pan and spray it with a bit of oil. Heat on medium to high heat.
  11. Leave the oven on, but take the calzone out of the oven and put it on the hot pan. Cook until lightly browned on one side. Then flip and do the other.
  12. Return to the oven for around another 10 minutes (until cheese is bubbly and top is well browned).
  13. Cut in half an serve with marinara sauce.


I did a rough calorie count for this baby. It comes in right around 725, which isn't terrible. I estimate that the original likely has more like 1,200 (however, I searched high and low and can't find a reliable calorie count -- one of 'em says 450. I don't think so!). Plus, if you're making your own at home, you can choose to make a smaller or larger one. Use more or less cheese. Add veggies. Whatever you like!

For me, there are just days when I want to indulge. I'm planning to continue to tinker with this recipe (use wheat or pumpkin pizza dough, for example). But the key to making it great is the pan "frying" part in the middle of the process. It gives the crust a crispier texture. So, don't skip that part!

Hey! Here's the image source for the authentic DP Dough calzone.

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Ooey-Gooey Crispy Rice Treats

>> Monday, November 29, 2010

This recipe is super sweet and simple. Rice Krispies Treats were one of my childhood favorites. Even better -- when mom would make them with peanut butter. But in the years since, I haven't bought much cold cereal. I've learned what goes into those fluffy white marshmallows. And I've been experimenting with far more adult flavors to fill up our dessert recipe section on this site.

I've been meaning to try Ricemellow Creme (gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan). So, when I saw a tub of it at GreenStar this weekend, I just had to pick it up. Originally, I thought it'd be good to plop into my hot cocoa. But the aisles in the coop are narrow . . . so when I moved over to let someone pass by, I found myself smack in the middle of the cereal section.

Julie and Heather helped me locate the crispy brown rice (which, by the way, you can find in wheat-free, gluten-free varieties as well!). I honestly made these kid-friendly squares the minute I got home that evening. Now you can make them, too!


What you'll need . . .
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup Earth Balance
  • 1 tub of Ricemellow Creme
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 to 5 cups crispy brown rice cereal*

Method . . .
  1. In a medium stock pot over low heat, mix together the Earth Balance and peanut butter. Stir until smooth and well incorporated.
  2. Toss in the ricemellow creme. Mix continually until it's all smooth. Stir in the vanilla extract.
  3. Take the pot off the heat.
  4. This is the asterisk part: If you want incredibly sticky, gooey squares, use 4 cups of cereal. If you want drier, crunchier squares, use 5 cups. Whatever amount you choose, just toss the cereal into the pot and mix well with the mellow-peanut butter mixture.
  5. Press into a 9 x 13 inch pan and let cool in your fridge. (If you can't wait that long, just enjoy some warm, gooey cereal covered with deliciousness!)

Would you believe me if I told you there are only two tiny squares left? Well, it's true! And would you believe me if I told you that Stephen probably only ate like one row? Also true. So, my diet has been a lot of calzones and crispy treats. Good thing I had a big salad for lunch!

If you have a peanut allergy, I think this recipe would work great with a number of nut butters. Like cashew, almond, or even sunflower. Of course, I'd like to make some with Nutella.

PS: At-home DP Dough calzone recipe will be posted tomorrow morning (thanks to the response to this morning's weekend recap post).

What was your favorite sweet snack when you were a kid? Besides these babies (which my mom would often layer with ice cream!), I enjoyed the basics: Chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and peanut butter blossoms. Uh. The same favorites I enjoy as a late 20-something!

Just leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Weekend Happenings: T-Giving Edition

Hope you all had a great holiday weekend! I'm thankful for my break from work and blogging . . . which gave me more time to spend with family and friends. Though, I now feel somewhat exhausted from driving from place to place. It's one of those "I need a vacation from my vacation" kind of feelings. Hopefully December will go relatively fast -- I can't wait till my next big sweep of time off.

Wednesday I went to my first-ever physical therapy appointment. (You may remember that I learned little last week from my orthopedist about what's wrong with my knee.) What my PT told me wasn't incredibly shocking. My IT band is tight. My muscles in my left leg aren't as strong (but also no so terribly different) as in my right leg. Doesn't necessarily explain the sharp kneecap pain . . . that's still puzzling everyone . . . but it all likely started with my SI joint (in my back). No the piriformis muscle, as I had thought.

I'm doing stretches and strengthening exercises . . . and over the weekend I seem to have dropped the sharp kneecap pain. Now, I'm feeling the classic outside-of-the-knee-where-the-IT-band-connects pain. I have two appointments this week. So, we'll see! I'm also rolling with "The Stick" and thinking about trying the KT tape again. Overall, I'm hoping it's the IT band because that's a much better issue to deal with than cartilage or some other injuries.

Thanksgiving Day (Thursday) we visited my family in Pennsylvania. The weather was somewhat terrible driving down (ice and snow), but we made it on time . . . with some tasty cookies and chili.

The chili was a variation on our favorite smoked pumpkin kind we love so much. We didn't have any pumpkin puree (I blame the chocolate pumpkin pies for that!), so we thought maybe beets would work. The reviews were mixed, but I'm not a fan. Stick with the pumpkin, and you'll love that recipe.

The cookies? A Double-Chocolate Scottish Oatmeal Chipper. Recipe will be posted later in the week!

Friday we set out on an epic cleaning mission. I have so many clothes . . . so I took ALL of them and dumped them in the spare bedroom. Stephen helped, but I went through each and every single piece of my clothing and decided if it was a KEEP, TOSS, MAYBE, or SELL/DONATE.

In all, we now have two huge garbage bags stuffed with stuff to donate or sell. As well, we have an entire bag of shoes! Woah. More on this later in the week.

Saturday I drove to Ithaca to meet up with Julie (Savvy Eats) and Heather (Then Heather Said). These girls are so nice! The minute I got there, they told me they wanted to hit up my favorite Thai restaurant for lunch!

We ate great food and chatted about blogging (particularly how clueless I am with all the technical stuff).

We shopped at all kinds of awesome thrift spots!

My favorite finds:

We rounded out the visit with a trip to GreenStar, the natural foods coop. I bought dry roasted peanuts and cashews and made nut butters. I bought rice marshmallows and made peanut butter rice treats. I bought two bags of my favorite ready-in-5-seconds cookie dough.

Sunday I was in such a great mood after my visit with these ladies (and trip to my old stomping grounds). I decided to create one of my favorite college meals: DP Dough. For those of you who aren't familiar, DP Dough is a chain of calzone take-out joints. I believe their tagline is something like: "The pizza alternative." Let's just say, their calzones are WAY better than pizza. They're also WAY high in calories and WAY low in nutritional value.

I ate many my freshman year of college. In fact, I think DP Dough was the first place I drove to off campus. Anyway, making them at home, I was able to control the calories (my variety was just over 700 versus what I think is more like 1,200 for the original). And here's the cool thing . . . mine tasted pretty much identical!

So, that's the holiday weekend rundown. What have you been up to? Please note that all the food in this post (well, that I've made -- not the Thai) will be covered later in the week. (Do you see anything you'd like posted sooner rather than later?)

Though we very much enjoyed our Thanksgiving meal at home with family . . . we are looking forward to next weekend. We've decided to go crazy with decorating the exterior and interior of our house. And we'll need food to keep us going.

We need your help: WHAT should we make? So far, we're thinking some purple potatoes mashed with coconut milk, some cranberry-glazed tempeh, and stuffing. But we'd love suggestions! Give us a link to your favorite holiday foods!

Just leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.

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My Favorite Homemade Peanut Butter

>> Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What KIND of peanut butter, you ask, should go inside those delicious chocolate-pumpkin pies? Homemade, of course. We've covered how to make it before, though you may have missed it. If you haven't already invested in a food processor, now's the season. Making my very own peanut butter has changed my freaking LIFE, no exaggerations.

I cater each batch to my mood. But lately, I've been making the same kind over and over again. I think I found my favorite. I use only a little bit of sugar and salt. Some coconut oil for a signature flavor. I can't even begin to thank Ashley enough for showing me the way.

So, if you want to make your own peanut butter to put inside your not-pumpkin pies, keep reading.


(Adapted from Master Ashley's instructions.)

What you'll need . . .
  • 3 cups unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts (found in most bulk food sections)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 heaping tablespoon virgin coconut oil (melted or hard, it doesn't matter)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (sometimes more, depending on my mood)

Method . . .
  1. Place the peanuts in your food processor and process until they form a big lump.
  2. You'll need to break this lump into a couple smaller lumps to allow for more processing.
  3. Just be patient. This process will take a few minutes. When it looks like peanut butter (spread-like consistency), add in your sugar, salt, and coconut oil.
  4. Keep processing until smooth. You may want to let it get soupy, so just let it grind.
  5. For "chunky" peanut butter, I sometimes add in unsweetened coconut flakes. Yum!
  6. One batch of this lasts an entire week at our house. And it's less expensive than store-bought varieties!

And speaking of peanut butter. I'm definitely thinking of making these vegan whoopie pies again soon. Homemade peanut butter would be perfect in them! For now, I'll munch on the mini-pies, though. Liz had a great idea, but they are already almost gone.

What can I say? We love to eat!

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