Monday, April 25, 2011

Things I have learned

Do not crack an egg into a cup and cook it on high in the microwave for several minutes.  Just don't.

Do not stir canned baked beans constantly and then be surprised that they have the consistency of mashed potatoes.

Really, do not eat canned baked beans if you ever hope to like beans.

Do not poke holes in hot dogs you are boiling more than once or twice.  Doing this over enthusiastically will result in split hot dogs.

It is probably a very good idea to not try to iron sheets.  You will only wrinkle them up again, if you tend to slack like me, you'll feel vaguely foolish midway through the task.  And by "midway" I mean about five minutes into it.

Some people are really organized and do everything perfectly.  Most people aren't.  I'm fine with being in the latter group.

A tablecloth is very pretty until you spill something on it.  I spill things a lot.

I cannot conceive of cleaning my house in high heels, even ironically.

No matter how many cookbooks you have, the chances of making a fantastic four-course meal when you get home if a) you commute b) you're tired or c) you're only cooking for yourself are pretty slim.

No matter how much of a foodie I can be sometimes, I will always have an unreasonable love for boxed mac n' cheese dinner.  With the powdered cheese.

The best way to clean your house in a hurry is to invite people over.  That's motiviation.

The best way to eat well is to invite people over for dinner.  Unless you hang out with folks who love themselves some boxed mac and cheese.

The best way to be social and stress free is to hang out with people who love themselves some boxed mac and cheese.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Fun weekend and a bean dip recipe.

Easy Beans: Fast and Delicious Bean, Pea, and Lentil Recipes, Second EditionI spent this weekend getting the garden beds ready at the community garden I am a part of.  I met with friends, got my hair cut (finally, it needed it), and promised myself I'd clean the house but ended up dorking out and You Tubing Old English.  (Why yes, I am a geek.  Why do you ask?)

I made a really nice dip for my friend's get together.  I took some white beans that I had canned (a pint of them), added a tablespoon each of garlic, paprika, oregano, and black pepper, some lemon juice and some olive oil, and pureed the mixture.  I used about a quarter cup of lemon juice--I'll probably use less next time.

I can my own beans--I buy the dried beans and soak them, cook them, and pressure can them.  The dried beans are much less expensive, and easier on my back to carry home than the canned beans.  Also, when I can them myself I can do so without adding salt.  Before my friend gave me her old pressure canner to use (she no longer cans) I soaked beans, cooked them partway, and froze them.  I like having them onhand--this way, I don't have to soak them or cook them and I can add them to soups or stews or create dips at a moment's notice.  The beans do tend to be a bit soft--this is probably due to my relative neophyte status as a canner--but as I don't tend to eat a plate of beans, I'm not too fussy.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

How to clean your house when you'd rather do something else

Watch either "Hoarders" or "Hoarding: Buried Alive." Or try to. I've been on a tear getting rid of things--things that stayed around because I was either reluctant to get rid of them, or I was just kind of inert about the whole thing. Really, I'm down to very little now--the only headache I've got now is paper (things I need to shred) but I keep up with that weekly. I just hate dealing with paper. My home should not feel like an office.

I had to chuckle at the irony of the TLC lineup last night--they've made a show out of "Extreme Couponing" and the show they chose to advertise in the commercial breaks was "Hoarding: Buried Alive." Now, I'm all for stocking up, but whoa. Some of these folks got stuff just because it was free. Their hoard was well-organized and clean, but let's face it, when you've got enough body wash to last you for 20,000 showers (seriously--I am not exaggerating), it's time to stop. Or at least, it's time to donate that stuff to a shelter if you want to continue the bargain hunting. Some people get a real thrill from it, I guess.

One woman would use coupons and deals to get free diapers. Here's the thing: She didn't have kids. She has her diaper hoard for when she has kids. Now, look--I'm a big planner and I like to prepare for eventualities but really? She may never have kids. And then what? Will we see her on a hoarding show down the road, holding on to these packages of diapers just in case?

She was one of two twins, and they seemed like very nice women--they had a good relationship, they were enthusiastic, and cheerful, and funny, and supportive and sweet.  But wow, did they love stockpiling.

They picked up antacid tablets because they could get them for free.  They don't use antacids, but "they're free, so why not?" was the thinking.  Well, I don't use Viagra, and if someone offered it to me free I wouldn't waste the space in my home to store it.

Everyone was clever--they'd buy things because between the sale and the doubled coupons, they'd actually get money back.  But I did see people buy a lot of stuff that they already had a five year supply of or stuff they didn't really use.  And they needed room to store all of this--they'd convert garages or bedrooms or sometimes, they'd store it in every room, including the kids rooms.

One guy--who had been featured in the original special--got a bunch of toothpaste to donate to care packages for the troops.  Which was nice.  But he already had something like 1,200 tubes of the stuff at home.

Most of the people they featured had either grown up in very frugal families, or had struggled financially in the past--either their families were poor, they encountered job losses or other hardships as adults or they had been in serious debt.  I was impressed with the way one woman--who said she put $10K on a a credit card in college--took that same energy and went about getting her groceries for about 95% off.  But I also wanted to give her a friendly nudge and say, "Look, it's okay.  You can take a break now.  You're all set."

My mother was quite a couponer and saved a lot of money doing it.  And she stocked up (our basement has three or four sets of shelves with food and hygiene items on them).  But if we had enough of something, she didn't bother.  She wouldn't clear the shelves of things just because she could get them for free or dirt cheap, nor would she buy things that we didn't use just because they were free or dirt cheap.  A friend of mine does the same thing--she saves money by being strategic, but she doesn't hoard.  (She can't, she lives in a small place, and that would make her a little, um, twitchy.)

I think shopping strategically and couponing is a good thing--if you're buying things that you already need and you can save a lot of money doing it, that's great.  But when you have to insure your hoard to the tune of $30K, or you have to buy or rent a larger home to store it, or you have enough stuff to last you through the next millennium, it's time to relax and enjoy the time you don't need to spend shopping.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Getting your priorities right

On a lot of personal finance/simplicity/homemaking type blogs, people talk about getting their priorities straight. Build up your emergency fund. Give to charity. Develop a super system for cleaning your house. Or whatever.

Well, I'd rather have finances and home in complete disarray and have the fantastic common sense that I am the working poor demonstrated in this blog post.

I urge you to read it.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

I should try this.

I have a jiggle top pressure cooker that I picked up at a yard sale, but I've been nervous about using it.  This guy has inspired me to try it.

Also, I want to go to his house for dinner.  That stew looks delectable.

Friday, April 8, 2011


Garden Zombie

If I had a yard, I would totally get this.

How will my garden(s) grow?

This year, the landscapers trimmed back some of the branches from the tree that is directly in front of my balcony.  My home will get a little warmer this summer, but the good news is (or may be) that I will be able to plant things that require more sun.  Up until now, it was mainly impatiens that were in my window boxes.

Obviously, I'll have to wait until the leaves come in to see how much sun I'll be getting--there's another balcony above me, and I have a solid wall on mine, not a metal lattice like on some buildings I've seen.  So that may also be a consideration.

However, if all goes well, I'll be planting herbs and nasturtiums at the very least. Nasturtiums are really tasty in a salad or as a garnish; they're a bit peppery and add some color.  I am fast running out of pesto, so basil's a must, and I'd like to grow some mint, parsley, chives, oregano and thyme.  I'd love to grow tomatoes but I suspect I'm not going to get enough sun for that.

Of course, if I don't get enough light, I'll go to plan B--lots of shade loving plants and flowers.  I resolved to turn the balcony into a true oasis.  When the summer gets hot, it's nice to sit out there in the morning and eat my breakfast.  And it looks pretty when there are plants on it.

I have two other garden plots--one in my town (part of a community garden project--I am partnering with the organizer) and one where I work (which I suspect also doesn't get a lot of light--what is with that??).  If I had my druthers, I'd have a house with a sunny yard, but alas, I just don't have the money to buy a home and I'm allergic to the idea of losing more than half of my take home pay to any kind of a payment--including a mortgage payment.  My current mortgage payment is quite manageable thankyouverymuch, and I've been in my humble condo for 12 years now.  I'm not a believer in flipping.  I am a believer in fresh-grown produce, though. 

I also tightened my belt a bit and joined a CSA--and got a membership for the winter (two months) as well as the summer.  They had a flower CSA, but I have to be mindful of where I put my money (that happens when you leave a job from hell for a much better but much lower-paying gig).  Also, I have a cat who loves to eat plants.  And she will eat flowers. (She sometimes likes to munch on the rosemary plant I have inside for the winter.)

I'll post on my progress--maybe if I get my stuff together, I'll even post pictures. 

McGee & Stuckey's Bountiful Container: Create Container Gardens of Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, and Edible Flowers