Athena Magazine

Fashion, lifestyle, passions

Domestic Goddess Reads: Home Cooking April 27, 2009

homecooking_By Julia Pantoga


The other day I took my favorite book off my cookbook shelf to show to someone. This book is my favorite book—not just my favorite food memoir. The book is Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin, who died suddenly and completely unexpectedly at age 48 in 1992. Of course, I’ve read the chapters with recipes that I use all the time often enough to have memorized them, but when I showed the book to my friend, I realized that I hadn’t read the entire book in about a decade. So, I’ve been reading my favorite book again. If you read this book now, I have no doubt that you will say to yourself, “Aha! The original Domestic Goddess!” It is uncanny for me to realize how much my life has turned out to be modeled after hers. I’m a writer who likes to hang out in the kitchen, too. I prefer to stay home vs. travel, too. Like Colwin, I’m always looking for the easiest way to get the most credit for the domestic skills that I have .

When Colwin advises the novice cook to call an experienced cook, take his or her advice about a dish that works, then stick with that dish, I hope that you will say to yourself, “Where have I heard that before?” If you cook, or have ever tried to cook, I dare you to try not to laugh out loud when you take the two hours it takes to read this book. Her recipes are introduced with statements such as, “Here’s an amazing dish that you will never want to serve to your cardiologist …” When I reread her chapter on cooking disasters, after wiping the tears of laughter from my cheek, I thought, “Clearly, I do not take enough risks in the kitchen …” More later, I have a lot stored in my head for you. These days I am thinking about cheesecloth and pastry bags.


Helping a Pre-Teen Clean a Room February 8, 2009

Filed under: Athena at Home,Domestic Goddess — rebmas03 @ 3:27 am
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skull-and-crossbones2By Julia Pantoga

Last month, I had the great experience of helping my 11-year-old nephew clean his room. Maybe you think that it would have been more fun to take my nephew to the fair, but I was much happier helping him clean his room.





Here’s a list of advantages to helping him clean his room over taking him to the fair:

1. It was less expensive (by far).

2. I got to focus on nothing but him and his life for two hours.

3. None of his siblings were “jealous” of our alone time.

4. We accomplished something important to him.

If you were to look at the “before” and “after” (no photos, to protect his privacy), you might suspect that I actually cleaned his room for him. Not true. For most of two hours, I sat in a chair with a garbage bag and bossed him around.

Here’s the progression of what we did: The Lecture. I sat with Sam on his bed and told him what I’m sure his mother (my sister) has told him hundreds of times, “This is your private space; you should be proud of it. Every time you come in this room, you should be happy to do so and you should easily find anything in this room. Your younger siblings look up to you; if you set an example of keeping your room neat, they will keep their rooms neat, too.” Etc., etc. You get the picture.

I followed up the lecture by laughing with him about the sign he could put on his door (he has his own room) to keep the space private (“Keep Out!” with a drawing of a skull and crossbones, for example—well, that’s not the way I would put it, but he is an 11-year-old boy).

broom2Preparation. Before we started, we got set up for some serious room cleaning. First we found a blank sheet of paper and a pen and cleared a place for them on his desk. We would use this paper to write a list that he could share with his mother of the things he needed to keep his room clean. The first item on the list was a “Keep Out” sign for his door.

Next we looked around the room and identified what big containers we would need. This is a variation on the “three container” advice I gave you in one of my first columns, “Order = Calm, Part 3, Down To Business!” We needed much bigger containers though: 1) for garbage 2) for dirty clothes and 3) for things that belong to his brother.

I sent Sam for a yard-size garbage bag. He didn’t have a hamper, so we decided to throw dirty clothes in the hall for now and add “hamper” to his list. He already had a basket started for his brother’s things, so we used what was familiar (THAT was good practice. If his brother and his things are in his room often, he should keep a basket in his room of his brother’s stuff.)

Cleaning. This part was the most miraculous and the most fun. As I’ve said before, while Sam cleaned, I pretty much sat in a chair and held the garbage bag. My method was simple: “Don’t waste energy moving around.”

We made an exception for clothes that needed to be hung up, but, for the most part, when Sam was working on one part of his room (like the top of his desk), I didn’t let him move from that area. For example, if he encountered something on his desk that belonged in his closet, I had him put it on the floor somewhere in the direction of his closet and stay put at his desk, rather than walking over to his closet.

My job was to take care of the three big containers and the various piles. Sam would crawl under his bed and hand me things and say, “garbage,” “laundry, “brother” or “closet.”

Of course we eventually needed far more than three containers. But we kept at it for almost two hours and, by the end, (if you closed the closet door), the room was clean indeed.

Encouraging Note. The final step I took was when I was left alone in his room. I left him an encouraging note with:

1. A repeat of the lecture (This is your private space; treat it with pride).

2. Reminders of the tasks he had left to do (show his mom the list we made, clean his closet, go through his desk drawers).

3. Tips for keeping his room clean (clothes never go on the floor—they are either clean and get put away or they are dirty and go in the laundry, make your bed EVERY DAY, nothing goes under your bed unless you are storing it there).

I loved that I had the opportunity to be so helpful—certainly for a week or two for Sam and his mom, but maybe, just maybe, for the long term too. I guess what I’m trying to remind you is that it isn’t housekeeping skills that make you a domestic goddess; it’s using the skills that you do have to be truly helpful. That’s why I’m certain that we all have the capability to be domestic goddesses.


Holiday Prep: Decorating Your Home Simply and Sensibly November 27, 2008

Filed under: Domestic Goddess — rebmas03 @ 5:42 am
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christmas-treesBy Julia Pantoga

Christmas Trees
I love Christmas trees. I own all the accoutrements: tree stands, tree aprons, tree toppers, lots and lots of lights, garland, and, of course, boxes of ornaments. BUT, I have also lived in many different places, many of which cannot accommodate a full-size tree. In fact as of the writing of this article, this is the third year in a row I haven’t had the space for a full-size Christmas tree.

One alternative I have for a full-size Christmas tree is to display several small trees. You can either group several together (as I have for the photo) or spread them strategically throughout the house. Either way, I would choose a theme for my trees, such as gold trees, ceramic trees or frosted trees.  You will not be able to use your store of Christmas tree trimmings, but you will certainly be able to give your home a festive flair that you can easily move and set out of reach of pets. This is also a good option for the person that will be traveling through the holidays.

decorate-everythingDecorate Everything

Save any pretty cloth ribbon you find, and pack it in your Christmas box. Actually, I keep a separate Christmas box just for ribbon and bows, so I can get to it easily. Collect your ribbons, then go around the house and decorate everything. Pay attention to what you are doing, so you don’t tie your CD player shut. If you don’t have a collection of ribbons, you can buy ribbons and bows quite inexpensively and in bulk at discount stores, at fabric stores, or at hobby stores.

floating-candlesFloating Candles

I discovered floating candles several years ago when I was getting ready for a party. I float my candles in festive green bowls, but you could float them in any container that will hold water, including an unused sink or an outdoor fountain. Light your floating candles while they are still dry–i.e. before you float them in water! Any water on the wick will extinguish your match.

hoiday-shelf-displaySet Up One Special Display

If you can’t have a tree, clear off one or two shelves of a bookcase and set up a special holiday display. This will give you the opportunity to display your favorite holiday decorations. With Christmas trees scattered around the house, ribbons on everything, candles floating around and your special shelf, your home will look quite festive.

Think ahead

On December 26, go shopping for Christmas decorations that you will use next year. Look in places that you already are, like the grocery store, at the post-Christmas sales – you will be surprised at what you find. I have been doing this for twenty years now, and it’s been a long, long time since I’ve had to shop for wrapping paper, ribbons, or household decorations before Christmas. Shopping before Christmas for Christmas decorations and supplies can be awful: there are too many cars in the parking lot, the check out lines are too long, there are so many people in the Christmas aisles that you can hardly browse, etc. You can avoid that next year. If you mostly give away baked goods, as I do, wrapping paper will last for years.