Athena Magazine

Fashion, lifestyle, passions

The Domestic Goddess Has Entered the Building September 3, 2008

Filed under: Domestic Goddess,Food is Good — rebmas03 @ 2:32 am
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By Julia Pantoga

I can’t take credit for the terrific title of this new “Domestic Goddess” column. Rosanne Barr originally used the term in one of her comedy routines, but I first heard it when Nigella Lawson, cooking celebrity and cookbook author extraordinaire, named one of her baking cookbooks, How to be a Domestic Goddess. When I saw that title, I had to have that book, regardless of whether or not any of the recipes were any good. As it turns out, many of the recipes are quite scrumptious, but the secret to being a domestic goddess, as Nigella obviously knows, and as the exquisite photographs in the cookbook illustrate, is to make everything look easy and fabulous.

There are tricks to making everything look easy and fabulous, and I intend to use this column to share tricks that I know with you. Not just baking, but lots of things around the house.

But I’ll start with baking. As Ruth Reichl, food writer and editor of Gourmet magazine, says, baking is a cheap trick.  It doesn’t matter how simple or complex the recipe, baking impresses people (The message here is to make the simplest recipes you can find.). I am not really a very talented baker, but people think I am because I like to bake, and I do it a lot. Here are some pointers to make baking work for you every time:

1.    Use your oven timer, so you NEVER burn baked goods.
2.    Whenever you take baked goods out of your house, make sure they look nice. Pick the broken cookies out, turn all of them right side up and put them on a good looking plate (I keep cheery and tasteful paper plates on hand for this sole purpose.)
3.    Don’t take baked goods that need a fork to an event where people will be moving around while they are eating. It is sooooo discouraging to watch your homemade key lime pie go uneaten!
4.    Unless you love to do it, and you are good at it, avoid complex decorations. A spice cake dusted with powdered sugar (which is easy), looks far more elegant than a sloppily frosted cake.
5.    Write in your cookbooks. When a recipe works, write it right on that page. When something goes wrong, write it down.
6.    Stick with the tried and true. Whenever you find a recipe that works for you and other people love it, make it over and over again. If you must bake something for the first time, packages are the best source of recipes. The brownie recipe that I used for over twenty years was from the back of the Baker’s Chocolate box. My oatmeal cookie recipe is from the lid of Quaker Oats.  I just found a fabulous cake recipe on the back of a raisin box. These recipes have been tested and tested and tested.

Last spring I broke my ankle, and I needed a friend to come to my house everyday and take care of everyday things like making my meals, doing my dishes and sweeping my kitchen. (Needless to say, I was quite unhappy with this turn of events. Taking away my ability to take care of my house is severe punishment indeed.)  Anyhow, after a few days of taking care of my house, my friend said to me, “Julia, I had no idea you were so domestic.” Now that’s a real domestic goddess compliment!


Order = Calm: Unpacking housework

Filed under: Domestic Goddess — rebmas03 @ 2:28 am
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By Julia Pantoga

The first point I’ll make about housework is that it TAKES TIME. Even I, a person who keeps a far-from-immaculate house, lives alone and hires a cleaning service to take care of my floors and bathroom, plan for at least ¾ hour of housework a day. That’s how long it takes me to make my bed, load and unload the dishwasher, wash my knives and pans, wipe the kitchen counters, sweep my floors and pick up the clutter that has accumulated from the previous day. I used imagine that people with clean houses kept them that way effortlessly.  Now I know that is pure fantasy.

My mother’s house is very, very neat and clean; which I always envied. Then I broke my ankle last spring and spent six weeks sitting in her living room watching how she and her husband really live. I was shocked to realize that they spend about the same amount of time each week that I do on housework. They clean up promptly and completely after each meal; they pick up the house everyday after work; and every Saturday morning they sort the accumulated mail and magazines of the week. I thought that neat houses happened magically for people who were organized and always put things away; I was wrong.

As I see it, there are only three ways to have a neat house:
1.    Don’t live in your house. Eat all your meals out. Always shower and dress at the gym. Never have people over; entertain only in public places that other people keep clean. Have your mail delivered to a post office box and never, ever bring it into your house.
2.    Clean-as-you-go. Always, always, always, pick up and put away everything you use. As soon as you finish eating, thoroughly clean the kitchen. Open all of your mail everyday over a waste basket. Make your bed as soon as you wake up. Unpack as soon as you get home.
3.    Schedule time for housework everyday. This is what I do and the time that I’ve scheduled is in the morning. I try not to leave the house for the day unless it is reasonably neat.

This list assumes that you schedule separate time for cleaning the house. I hire that out, and I know that seems terribly indulgent of me to some, but I don’t care and I highly recommend it. For one thing, it forces me to do a thorough job of picking up every two weeks. It also means that every two weeks, my whole house is tidy and clean. When I’ve done my cleaning myself, the whole house was never clean. One week, the bathroom was clean. The next week, the bookshelves were dusted, but the bathroom was starting to get dirty. The next week the kitchen floor was clean, but the bathroom floor wasn’t.

Well, anyhow, if you clean your house yourself (which I think is kind of crazy), you need to schedule separate time to do that, apart from daily housework.

Between cleanings, there are tricks to making your home look tidier than it is. Along with my tips, I’ve included some actual photos from my house, which is actually quite small and filled with “stuff.” That way, you’ll know that I’m talking about a real house, with real storage and cleaning issues.

1.    Make sure that the first area people see when they walk in your house is neat. In my house, the first thing you see is a corner of my kitchen where I keep my plastic bags and onions. As you can see from the photo, this is not the loveliest corner of my house, but it is organized, and I do my best to keep it tidy.

2.    Keep counters and your stovetop clean. You’d be surprised at how people assume you are tidier than you are if you always keep your stovetop clean. And, even just coffee grounds or crumbs from your breakfast toast on your counter will make your kitchen look unkempt. Remember, if it’s at eye level it’s going to be seen and registered, even if only subconsciously. Likewise, you can get away with a sink full of dirty dishes if your stovetop and counters are clean.

3.    Make your bed. It is truly amazing how much cleaner your bedroom looks when the bed is made. You get extra housekeeping points if your bedroom is adjacent to a living space and you can keep the door open to remind visitors of just how very neat you are. This is the view of my bed, as you walk from my kitchen to my living room:

When you keep your house looking neat, you will find that the neatness picks up momentum. Not only do you become more conscious of putting things away, people who visit your home will keep your home neater too. When my kitchen floor was always lined with unpacked groceries and my kitchen table was cluttered with books and the week’s mail, my friends would tromp snowy mud into my house without a second thought that muddy boot prints on my carpet might bother me. Now, friends who walk into my house often offer to take their shoes off at the door and I get to say something hospitable like, “Don’t bother; I’m just happy that you’re here.”

The biggest advantage to keeping your house neat, hands down, is how it makes you feel. When you are tidying up, you become aware of how lucky you are to have the possessions that you do.  When you need something, you know where it is. When it is time to relax, you are not looking at something undone. One friend summed it up best for me when I was commenting about how much time and effort it takes to keep my house neat and she said simply, “Order = calm.”

(Editor’s note: For more on the real-person clean home, visit