April 30, 2009

Wine finds

It's way past time for another installment of Wine Finds. So I hope the wait hasn't kept you from buying wine.

This is when I tell you about a delicious bottle of wine I've found for under $10. I'm not a connoisseur, and I don't use any fancy language, but I HAVE done a lot of research. Over the years. I love wine, and sharing a bottle with friends is one of my favorite activities. It can be one friend, most commonly my husband. Luckily he loves wine almost as much as I do.

I sometimes refer to myself half-jokingly as a wino. My friend Stacey who blogs at My Friend Oprah prefers the term "lush." I think maybe that is a bit more flattering, or at least less unflattering.

I recently bought this bottle of Gnarlyhead Old Vine Zinfandel for 2 reasons. The first is because I love Zinfandel, especially Old Vine Zinfandel. It's a kind of wine they do pretty well here in California. It's a less risky choice than a Pinot Noir. The second reason I'll admit was the super-cool bottle. Again, I apologize for the photo. I had to flip it horizontally and that squished it and made the bottle look stubby. It's actually a normal-sized bottle.

This was a tasty wine. It has the Zinfandel slightly fruity/sweetness, with an undercurrent of earthiness. My husband first thought it was too sweet, but then ended up liking it. Red wines particularly need to "breathe" for at least ten minutes, preferably more, to bring out their flavor. Sorry if that was too much vocabulary for you.

I found this bottle at World Market (what used to be called Cost Plus). Click here to find a store near you. They're all over the place. If you don't have a World Market nearby, you can go to Gnarlyhead's website by clicking here. Please let me know if you try this wine, or fill us in on some of your favorite under $10 wines in the Comments section. And next time I promise I'll write about a white wine.

April 29, 2009

Continuing the welcome...

I just wanted to write a short post about yesterday's post. When I welcomed The Frugal Girl's readers, I certainly didn't mean to leave anyone out! So I hope it didn't come across that way. It was just that I had gotten so many in such a short time from Kristen that I felt a particular urge to acknowledge you all were out there. I get a lot of new readers all the time from Katy at The Non-Consumer Advocate, and Jonathan at Wasted Food sent me a lot of readers lately, and lots of other blogs as well. And some people come from google and blogger referrals. So I want to give a great big welcome to all of you, however you got here and however long you've been around.

The only place that doesn't seem to bring me many readers is my regular life. I could take that as an insult, but it doesn't surprise me. In fact, I got a distinctly irritated vibe from a few people when I told them I was writing a blog about joining The Compact. Maybe they think I'll judge them every time they buy something new. Which is certainly not the case. I'm positive no one in my family reads this, and very few of my good friends. In a way, it's kind of liberating. One of my friends who has a blog got into a terrible argument with her mother because of something she'd written on her blog. I said to her, "I don't know which is worse: your mother being insulted by something you wrote on your blog, or my mother being so uninterested she doesn't even register that I have one, or even what a blog is."

In fact, I can only think of five people who read my blog that I knew before I started writing this. And four of them make comments sometimes. The other one is too shy- that's okay! But I'm curious if any of my other friends are out there. Show yourself and make a comment if you are! I would also love to hear from any fellow Compacters. And anyone else who'd care to muse on any of this.

This was supposed to be a short post, but of course almost none of my posts actually turn out that way. I just wanted to make sure all my readers felt welcomed, because this experiment is becoming about much more than just not buying new stuff. It's really changing how I think about almost everything. Please leave your thoughts and questions in the Comments section.

April 28, 2009

Welcome Frugal Girl readers

I know a lot of you are new readers who were referred to me by The Frugal Girl and I just want to welcome you here. I am always happy to have new readers, because it means more ideas and interaction. The more the merrier!

Every day I'm learning so much about simple living, frugal living, and green living from people all over the Internet. And I'm so thrilled about how democratic the blogosphere is. If you like someone's blog, if there's something there that you can learn from or that you find useful or entertaining, you can go back. If you get annoyed or offended, you don't return.

And it's only in this incredibly open, democratic environment that I could have made these new friends. I would never have met The Frugal Girl in my regular life. She's a Christian, homeschooling mom and I'm an agnostic with no kids. Of course, those are only a few of the things that define who we are. But they're the kinds of things that demographers and marketers use to make us feel separate from each other in all those surveys and polls you're constantly reading about and hearing about on TV.

But through our blogs, we can meet through our shared interests. So it becomes about what we have in COMMON rather than what's DIFFERENT about us. I've had my blog less than four months and been reading hers for maybe two, and I've already learned so many new things from her. And she was part of the reason I've been so inspired to cut back on our food waste and cut our grocery bill at the same time.

So lately I feel like I've been living in a different reality than what the brief glimpses of TV news would have me believe the rest of the world is living. I know this recession is really hard on a lot of people, but I can't help but believe there's a silver lining in putting the brakes on the mass consumerism we've been witnessing for the past several decades. And for me this experiment of Buying Nothing New (The Compact) is turning out to be not about deprivation at all, but about abundance. I feel richer than ever - in friendships, and ideas, and experiences, and even in things. I've really come to believe that there will always be plenty of whatever I need. Because we are all so much more resourceful and creative than the people who want us to be consumers would have us believe.

So thanks for reading my blog, whether you're an old reader from way back in January, or whether you've just come by in the past few weeks. I'm happy you're here on this journey with me. Please leave your thoughts, questions, and ideas in the Comments section.

April 26, 2009

I jumped off the wagon this weekend

I say jumped, and not fell or toppled, because I did it on purpose. It was something I planned and carried out. I bought three new books at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books! And I'm so glad I did.

The Festival of Books is one of my favorite L.A. events. Part of it is a chaotic mass of humanity, a big commercial enterprise, and a magnet for crazed fans. But it attracts so many wonderful writers, it's difficult to decide which panels to go to. And it's always inspiring to me to listen to writers talk about books and writing. And to be around a bunch of people who love to read.

So I knew I was going to see one of my favorite writers, who's actually an acquaintance, and I knew I wanted to buy some of his books as gifts for friends. And I did. I want to support the arts in general and the festival in particular, and I wanted to support this writer.

I even consulted the Compact yahoo group to solicit their opinion on the matter. All but one of them were fully in favor of supporting the arts in general and local arts in particular. The one who dissented said that while she respected their opinions, The Compact was about not buying new, and therefore even if it was a good cause, it was still technically a violation. I actually think she's right, in which case I can either make this an exception to my Compact rules, or I can just say I goofed. Either way, I'm comfortable with it.

I'm going to think about this and decide how I feel about supporting the arts/buying local and handmade crafts, etc. It seems even The Compact members are split on the issue. I feel like I could probably last the year abiding by the strict interpretation, but since I've actually started to think I might be able to do this indefinitely, in that case I would definitely want to support local artists and writers.

The last time I wrote about falling off the wagon was when I bought a Congratulations card for a coworker who had just passed his citizenship test. And the first time I fell off the wagon, way back in January, was when I absolutely had to have gloves for the Jane Austen Ball. So almost four months into this experiment, I've only bought something new that wasn't on my exception list 3 times. And each time I would make the same decision if I had the chance to do it over.

I'm really happy that I supported the festival and my friend and also have 3 excellent holiday gifts already taken care of (signed copies with personal notes). But part of me wonders about the value of making a commitment and then rationalizing why I broke it. Is it a little bit like telling my husband I couldn't help myself if I happened to meet Colin Firth and he had his way with me? What do you think? Please share your thoughts and opinions in the Comments section.

April 24, 2009

Is it Friday already?

Well, that's not a very pretty picture. That's this week's food waste, and this ugly photo makes me more determined than ever to have NO waste next week so I don't have to post another photo like this one.

What's in the pan, you ask? Homebaked cornbread. About half of it never got eaten. My husband is from the south, but doesn't like cornbread very much. Now I remember why I don't bake it very often. I love cornbread, but if I ate that whole pan by myself, I'd probably gain a few pounds.

This photo, ugly as it is, is typical of our food waste and raises two issues for me. The first is about eating something just because you don't want it to go to waste. But it might be fattening or unhealthy to eat too much of it. I grew up with the "clean plate club" philosophy, and that's not really the best thing for your health (or your figure). You should eat until you're full, not until your plate is clean.

The other issue is the lettuce and spinach. I like to ALWAYS have fresh greens available, so they are often wasted. If I used them up, they wouldn't be in there the next time I wanted a salad. That one is kind of a conundrum to me.

Please let me know if you have any ideas or suggestions for these dilemmas. I don't think I'll be making cornbread anytime soon, but when I bake something and I don't want to eat too much of it, I'll try to remember to give half of it away to a friend or a neighbor, right after I bake it. As for the greens, the only thing I can think of is to try to eat them when I know I'll be going grocery shopping within the next day or two.

I also wanted to mention an article I read this week about the truth behind "sell by" dates on foods. An editor from Prevention magazine gives the lowdown. She claims milk is good up to a week past the sell-by date, eggs are good for 3 to 4 weeks as long as they're refrigerated in their original packaging, hard cheeses will last 3 to 4 months beyond their sell-by date, and yogurt is fine 10 days to 2 week later. Read the full article to get the details.

Another thing the article mentions is that on average, a family of four throws out more than 120 POUNDS of food each month. I hoped that couldn't possibly be true, and checked the figure with Jonathan Bloom at Wasted Food. He agreed that the number seemed high, but reiterated the finding (from Garbage project founder Bill Rathje) that we don't eat 1/4 of what we bring home. So if the family of four brings home 120 pounds of food a week, then the statistic is correct.

Even if the figure is high, there's an awful lot of food going to waste! I've been inspired to do something about ours from reading Jonathan's blog and by Kristen at The Frugal Girl. I never would have imagined when I started this blog about going a year without buying anything new that I'd be taking photographs of spoiled food, but what can I say? I'm actually amazed at how easy it is once you pay attention. And if saving the environment isn't inspiration enough, so far I think I'm saving at least 25% on groceries.

So how did you do this week? Weigh in with your triumphs, confessions, ponderings, and questions in the Comments section. And please share any tips you have for my problems with wasting greens and baked goods.

April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day

In honor of Earth Day, here are 3 things you can do that will benefit the planet:

1) Eat less meat. Raising livestock is one of the most significant contributors to a long list of environmental problems from climate change to deforestation to water pollution. You don't have to go vegan, but anything you can do to cut back on meat will make a big difference. Start by trimming down your portion size to about three ounces (the size of a deck of playing cards), suggests Aaron Huertas at The Union of Concerned Scientists. Incidentally, their website also has tons of suggestions on what you can do about global warming.

2) Take good care of your car. Tuning up your engine, replacing your air filters and motor oil regularly, and keeping your tires properly inflated will improve your car's fuel economy by 8% to 20%, according to Jenny Powers at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

3) Make changes in how you do your laundry. Wash your clothes in cold water. Up to 90 percent of the energy used for washing clothing goes to heating the water, according to the Department of Energy. Rack up even more savings by air-drying some of your clothing.

This is part of a post on Yahoo Green called "Pick Your Green Battles." I would have just linked to it, but I didn't agree with some of the conclusions, such as that it doesn't matter much whether we use paper or plastic bags, or cloth or disposable diapers. I find those statements dubious. So I've picked out the part of the article I like.

Cutting back on meat is one of the most important things you can do not just for the environment, but for your health and your pocketbook. Even if you're a committed carnivore, it's easy to eat one less meat meal per week. There are so many delicious vegetarian options and recipes these days, and we're well past the time when the only alternative to meat was canned beans.

I also want to let you know about this fantastic website Earth911. It's where you can go to find out how to recycle anything, plus where to do it. So if you've got an old cell phone lying around, or anything else you don't know how to properly recycle, this is your resource. And they've got lots of other articles and information, like how to make every day Earth Day.

That's kind of what I'm trying to do this year, My Year Without Spending. Part of it is about tweaking my lifestyle so that every day is Earth Day. So while I'm not going to any Earth Day events, I'll be washing our clothes in cold water and running the dishwasher in the middle of the night, and taking cloth bags to the grocery store. Just the regular stuff. I think I observed Earth Day for the past four days when I managed to keep from turning on the air conditioning when the temperature hit 100 degrees.

The thing I would love to do to celebrate Earth Day is to see the Disney movie Earth. It looks great. Every time I see the trailer with all those cute baby animals I give a big "Aaaahhh." We're not going to see it until next month, when we visit our niece and nephew.

What about you? Are you doing anything special for Earth Day? Or do you pretty much live a green lifestyle year-round? Do you have any favorite "green" websites or blogs to tell us about? Please share in the Comments section.

April 21, 2009

Free ice cream at Ben & Jerry's

FREE STUFF ALERT: Ben & Jerry's is giving away a free scoop of ice cream on Tuesday April 21st. Click here to get the details and find a store near you.

Will you eat yours for breakfast, lunch, or dinner? If I can get there, I think it will be an afternoon snack. Thanks to Natalie at The Frugalista Files for the delicious tip.

April 20, 2009

I love Freecycle

Check it out- 6 pounds of FREE CHOCOLATE!! Enough for 6 batches of Toll House cookies. Wow.

I know I'm coming to this phenomenon late. So many people have been raving to me about Freecycle, and now I'm a convert. I registered a couple of weeks ago and posted a WANTED: CLOTH NAPKINS ad. I didn't get any responses and that was that.

But then about a week ago, I opened one of the "digests" that lists all the recent ads, and how could I miss the one that said "OFFER: FREE CHOCOLATE?" My pupils dilated, I started salivating, my heartrate probably rose. I'm pretty much a chocolate freak.

I responded with a short essay about "why I should be the one to receive the chocolate" and got a response that it was already taken. After all, the ad had been up for over an hour. But a couple of days later, I received an email asking if I still wanted it because the other person had flaked out. Of course I still wanted it!

The address was right on my way home from work, so it was super convenient. And the bags are filled with chips- just a little flatter than regular Nestle's chips. I'm sure they'll be fine for baking, I've already tasted them. I usually get those bags at the market for about $2.50, so I saved about $15. But it's more fun because she was moving and they would have been thrown out if she hadn't used Freecycle.

On that same digest, I saw a WANTED post for magazines. The girl was doing a scrapbooking project for an art class, so I was motivated to go through about 20 magazines and leave them out for her. I'd been meaning to start going through the stacks of magazines anyway, and doing it for someone else made me get to it right away instead of putting it off. Plus they're not going in a landfill!

It's a great win/win, and I love those. I received free chocolate and got rid of magazines that were gathering dust. What are your best Freecycle or Craigslist scores? Please share in the Comments section.

April 18, 2009

Green Confessions

I've been wanting to write this post for awhile, and with Earth Day coming up on April 22nd, this seemed like a good time for a little confession. So here goes...

I'm bad at being green.

There, I've said it. That cat is out of the bag.

Of course I believe in being green, I'm just saying I'm not the best role model for green living. I use way too many paper products, don't always turn off the light when I leave a room, and our clothes dryer is a 1970s relic that could power a small village. But by far my worst environmental sin is the extra-long, extra-hot shower I take every day. When I was a teenager, my father would bang on the bathroom door in exasperation. Now, my husband sometimes ducks his head in with "The Department of Water and Power just called." My favorite Seinfeld episode is when Kramer is taking 25-minute showers, even ordering a pair of khakis from J. Crew, and can't understand how anyone can get everything done in 10 minutes.

But along with this being a year of Buying Nothing New and Decluttering, I want to Go Green.

So this is the first day of my greener lifestyle. See, for me, just THINKING about it and WRITING about it is the first step. I'm not really a "Take the Plunge" kind of person. I think. I plan. I deliberate. THEN I take action. If you catch me at the TAKE ACTION stage, it's probably really going to happen.

For example, I've read some blog posts about switching from paper towels to cotton napkins. They just did it, Nike Style. They stopped buying paper and started using cloth. Boom. Whereas I've been THINKING about doing that for months- using less paper, noticing when I think I need to use a paper towel, asking at the Goodwill whether they had any cotton napkins (they didn't), etc. Back when I quit smoking over 15 years ago, I didn't wake up one morning and quit cold turkey. I spent a decade THINKING about quitting and trying to quit, and then when I actually did quit, I sent away for all kinds of literature with tips and photos of cancerous lungs. That did the trick, and I gave it up for good.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not a walking advertisement for environmental irresponsibility. There are some things we're doing pretty well- we're good about recycling and my husband is diligent about disposing of toxic waste like paint at the proper centers, we use cloth bags at the market, we've planted drought tolerant landscaping in the front yard (although the backyard weeds are even more eco-friendly), we drive mid-sized Toyotas which are relatively fuel efficient, and when I take those footprint quizzes we come out below average because we live in a small house, don't have children, and aren't wasteful. Probably the most green thing I've done is to step off the consumer treadmill by joining The Compact.

But I want to do a lot better. So over the next year, I'll be using my baby steps approach to tackle the following:

1. give up paper towels
2. air dry the laundry
3. switch to natural cleansers
4. start composting
5. stop those catalogs and junk mail once and for all
6. use and waste less water

I hope you'll join me. Look for a baby steps challenge soon. I'm gearing up for it... One thing I WON'T be doing is giving up my showers. I've been trying to make them shorter, but I'm not going to start showering every other day or taking "bird baths." And you won't see me taking any Marine-style showers, unless it's government ordered. I don't think that's on Obama's agenda.

Ah, confessions are so good for the soul. I feel about 10 pounds lighter. What about you? How green are you? Do you have any green confessions you'd like to make? Or maybe you want to chastise me for my wicked ways. Please share in the Comments section.

April 17, 2009

It's Friday...

...and that means it's time to talk about food waste. I'm posting a photo of the food that had to be tossed this week in answer to a challenge by The Frugal Girl. She's on a mission to waste less food, and she's enlisting everyone who reads her blog. It's a good cause, because according to some estimates, we Americans waste about 25-40 percent of the food that's produced. You can read about the negative impact of all that wasted food and get all the facts at Wasted Food.

So we're doing our small part by trying not to throw any food away. This week I forgot about this almond milk and once it's opened it has to be used within 10 days, so it's NG. It wasn't in the Eat Me! section, so it fell through the cracks. Not too bad though, only about half full.

If you don't have an Eat Me! section in your refrigerator yet, get hip. Word is spreading. The idea was featured this week over at Wasted Food. For me, getting that email from Jonathan Bloom was kind of like getting a call to be on American Idol (if I could sing or wanted to be on television).

What tricks do you use to reduce your food waste? Or do you gleefully let it go bad, enjoying the science experiment aspect? Or maybe you have a teenager or a Labrador Retriever in the house? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section.

April 16, 2009

Creative Parenting

I like this post by Kate over at An Exercise in Frugality. She's a single mom with two daughters, and she had the older daughter make an audio book for the younger daughter. Some books they loved weren't available as audio books, so they made them! Now they can listen to them anytime- when mom's busy, or tired, or just doesn't have the patience to read the same book AGAIN. And it will be big sister's voice.

I don't have kids, but I think this is great parenting. It's teaching children to be creative and resourceful, and that sometimes it's more fun if everything isn't just dropped into your lap.

It's a great idea, and she's got other great ideas about parenting, saving more, and spending less. Please share your creative parenting tips in the Comments section.

April 14, 2009

Free ice cream

Who doesn't like ice cream? I've never met such a person.

FREE STUFF ALERT: Tomorrow, April 15th, get your free scoop of ice cream at Maggie Moo's ice cream and treatery. I don't know that brand, but you can click here to find a location near you.

It's a Tax Day promotion, I suppose as a reward for getting through the chore of filing your taxes. But I don't need an excuse. What about you? What's your favorite excuse to bring out the Ben and Jerry's? Tell me about it in the Comments section, and also let me know if you get a free Maggie Moo's. I want to hear about it.

April 12, 2009

Continuous Small Treats

Our dear sweet neighbor gave us this Easter basket. He baked the ginger cake himself. I can't wait to enjoy it with tea tomorrow afternoon. It will perfectly embody the concept of Continuous Small Treats. By the way, the flag reads "Joyenses Paques," which means "Happy Easter" in French.

The late British novelist Iris Murdoch said "One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats." She was happily married for 43 years to Oxford professor John Bayley. According to Bayley, one of Iris's greatest pleasures was swimming.

So here is my list of 20 small treats for a happy life:

1. homemade ice cream
2. stroking a purring cat
3. listening to the ocean
4. the smell of freshly brewed coffee
5. a room lit only by candles
6. any track on Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue"
7. a cup of tea
8. a warm bath at the end of a long day
9. freshly baked bread
10. a note from my sweetheart
11. the cooing of a mourning dove
12. a good hard laugh
13. a walk at magic hour
14. a perfect margarita
15. a horse eating an apple out of your hand
16. fresh herbs
17. reading a good book in my favorite chair
18. black licorice
19. a footrub
20. a big hug

I'll be enjoying my small treat tomorrow at tea time: fresh ginger cake with tea.

What are your favorite small treats? Please share in the Comments section.

April 10, 2009

I can't believe we wasted this

I'm joining a challenge from The Frugal Girl to waste less food by posting a photo each Friday of the food that went bad that week. The bottom of this jar had a tiny spot of mold on it. This has NEVER happened in our 16 years together. Spaghetti and tomato sauce is one of my husband's favorite meals, he sometimes eats it two or three times a week. I think if he were single, he'd eat it five times a week (and pizza the rest of the time).

So this is really surprising. The only thing I can figure out is that he was so focused on the "Eat Me!" section of the refrigerator I've created, that he actually forgot to eat anything else. Because it was our only food waste this week. You can read more about the "Eat Me!" fun and games here.

I guess that's not too bad, but I think I'll continue the practice of having less food in the refrigerator so we won't forget about it. I skipped the weekly shopping this week and bought only milk and bananas and lettuce so I'm hoping we won't have anything to photograph next week.

To find out more about food waste and the impact it has on our environment, visit Wasted Food. It's an added incentive to do what you can, along with the bonus of saving money. Please share your wasted food-related musings in the Comments section.

April 8, 2009

Thrifty Threads

Welcome to the 1st installment of "Thrifty Threads" AKA "Most Stylish Compact-y Outfit," which features a reader modeling some of her favorite thrift store finds.

A "Compact-y" outfit is used or recycled, so basically something you got at the Goodwill, a thrift store, or a consignment shop.

The Non Consumer Girl is modeling her recent score of a fully lined silk dress from Jigsaw, her favorite label. It's gorgeous. She bought it at the Goodwill for $20. Before she joined The Compact, she paid over $300 for other similar Jigsaw styles. Incidentally, the photographer is her 5-year-old daughter...

Check out her blog to read about her conversion to a non-consumer lifestyle, and her decluttering challenges. I'm joining her in her goal of making $5000 this year by turning clutter into cash. So far, she's made $1535. I've made a little less than that: nada. But I'll get there, I've got time... Baby steps. That's my mantra these days.

Thanks Non Consumer Girl for sharing your fabulous find with us- you look amazing. Readers- I know she's a tough act to follow, but I want to do this as a regular feature, so put on YOUR best thrift store scores, take a photo, and send it to me. You can find my email address on my profile page.
And please don't be shy- we all want to see REAL women with REAL bodies modeling their version of fabulous. That could mean funky, elegant, creative, or anything you want it to mean. I can't wait to see all your fabulous finds!

Can you believe she found that dress at the Goodwill? What's your favorite thrift store score? Please tell us about it in the Comments section.

April 7, 2009

One Pot Dinners: Hunter Chicken

I love one-pot dinners: less clean up, and all those flavors slowly mingling together. And the best one-pot dinner of all is made in a crock pot. There's nothing like coming home after a long day, and not only just having dinner ready for you, but the smell knocking you out the minute you walk in the door. It must be what it felt like to be a husband in the 1950s. Now you'll just have to find someone to bring your slippers and a martini.

Crock pot dinners are very nostalgic for me. My mom went back to college when we were kids in the 1970s, and she often started a dinner in that avocado green bowl in the morning. Our favorite was a bean meal that tasted like meat because Hickory Smoke flavoring was one of the ingredients.

My mom gave me a crock pot for Christmas a couple of years ago, and I've been using it a lot since. I wish I had her old one, but it either broke or was tossed years ago. The new one works just as well, even if it isn't as kitchy or nostalgic.

This is one of my favorite new crock pot recipes. It's from Prevention magazine, with just a few alterations. They have a lot of good recipes that are low in calories. This recipe satisfies all my criteria of being easy, healthy, economical, and- most importantly- delicious. The combination of spices is magical. It makes six servings, so my husband and I eat it three times and never get sick of it. Oh, and it's not exactly fast, because it cooks all day, but it is very quick to prepare in the morning- literally only about 10 minutes. Not cookbook 10 minutes, but reality 10 minutes. So without further ado, I bring you...


1 jar (26 oz) marinara sauce
8 oz shitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced 1/2" thick (any mushrooms work)
2 large carrots, peeled and halved lengthwise, sliced 1/4" thick
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 Tbsp chpped fresh thyme leaves or 1/3 tsp dried
1/4 tsp fennel seed
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
6 chicken thighs (about 2 lb)
2 small yellow summer squash, sliced into 3/4" rounds

for garnish: thin strips basil, thyme sprigs

1. In 4-quart or larger slow cooker, combine sauce, mushrooms, carrots, wine, theyme, fennel, and pepper. Add chicken and toss to coat. Place squash on top.
2. Cover and cook on low 7 to 9 hours or until chicken and vegetables are tender (I've had good luck with 2-3 hours on high and 2-3 hours on low). Serve with sauce, and garnish with basil and thyme.


330 calories per serving.

It's delicious over brown rice, which I unfortunately usually find barely edible. And I confess I've never even tried the fresh spice garnish, so it's not at all necessary, but probably delicious.

Please share your crock pot memories, or favorite one-pot recipes in the Comments section.

April 3, 2009

Food Waste Friday

Kristen over at The Frugal Girl photographs the food she wastes each Friday and posts it on her blog. She's one of the bloggers who has inspired me to make an effort to waste less food, along with Jonathan Bloom of Wasted Food.

In the past month, I wrote this post about my method of labeling leftovers so they wouldn't end up "out of sight and out of mind," and this one about designating one area of the refrigerator for food that needs to be eaten right away with a label that reads "Eat Me!" And our food waste has been reduced drastically in that time. My husband has been a champ about eating the food in that area, no matter how unappetizing it may seem.

Since I usually grocery shop on Wednesdays (I work mostly at home so I can shop when it's less crowded), I throw away food that's gone bad on Wednesdays. This week I had only a part of a bunch of parsley that had gone yellow. I'll post a photo next Wednesday if I have any food waste.

It may sound silly, but these little games have not just helped us waste less food, but have a little fun in the process. It really does feel good not to throw so much food away. And it's not that hard. What strategies have helped you reduce your food waste? Please share in the Comments section. Even if you're not doing so well, we can all learn from each other!

Free Stuff Alert: Bank of America is continuing its Museums on Us program, which means B of A customers can get free admission into museums on the first weekend of the month, just by flashing your debit card. That's this weekend, April 4th and 5th. In Los Angeles, that includes LACMA (the Los Angeles County Museum of Art) and the Autry Museum of Western Heritage. Click here for details and to check which museums are free in your area.

April 1, 2009

To Declutter or Not To Declutter

I've declared 2009 not just a year of Buying Nothing New by joining The Compact, but also a year of Decluttering. Actually, I thought I'd declutter in January and that would be that. On February 1st, I realized it might take a bit longer. Now, on April 1st, I think I'll be lucky if I get through it in a year.

I'm actually excited about the idea of ridding my life of all extraneous STUFF. It's taking up space, in my home and in my psyche. And I joined Non Consumer Girl in her goal of making an extra $5000 by selling things she no longer needs or uses on ebay. That made me even more excited, although my husband made a snide remark about that figure being unrealistic (he might have said crazy). Actually, he probably said unrealistic, but I heard crazy.

Anyway, the 5000 bucks really got me excited. Now I'm even more psyched to get rid of stuff. And yet. Stuff still here. Stuff not leaving the house. What could be going on?

I'm a little worried I have a bit of a hoarder in me. I'm not proud of it. In fact, it scares the hell out of me. I have seen the results of hoarding in more old relatives than I care to count. It's pathological. It's illogical. It's germy.

So I know I don't want to become the lady with 87 cats or the old man with stacks of old newspapers blocking the path to the bathroom, but what's keeping me from getting rid of some things I no longer use?

Part of it is sentimentality. I have a lot of old clothes and books and toys from when I was young that I can't part with. I've heard "organization and declutter experts" say to take a photo of the item and get rid of it, because things aren't memories. True. And yet...

I think it comes down to fear. Fear of getting rid of something I'll regret. What if I give it away and then wish I hadn't? The funny part is that I can only think of ONE THING in my whole life that I later wished I hadn't gotten rid of. And it was just a shirt that I thought about later and wondered why I'd sold it at a garage sale for a dollar. A shirt.

So, I really should take my chances. There's really no choice here. It's not as if I'm going to forget my senses and suddenly throw my favorite piece of jewelry - my great aunt's onyx ring - into the recycling bin. I'll keep all the photos, old letters, and old journals. But I can give up the Mickey Mouse alarm clock.

There are all kinds of tricks and rules for decluttering: start with one drawer, get rid of any item of clothing you haven't worn for a year, etc. The best and easiest method I've found is on FruWiki, a great website about living frugally, reducing waste, and saving money. Click here for their decluttering tips. I'm going to start using them... very soon.

What about you? Are you fearful of decluttering, or do you love it? Have you ever gotten rid of something and regretted it? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section.