June 30, 2009

World's Oldest Case Study on Happiness

What's the secret to happiness?

There have been countless studies and reports aimed at discovering the answer. The latest finding on the subject is a 72-year-old study that started back in 1937 at Harvard University. It involved 268 students who were asked to participate in a study that would measure the "ideal mix of love, work, and adaptation for a good life."

The participants continue to be followed as they grow old and die, and the study has been maintained to this day. And the lessons learned from the results are illuminating...

First, the happiest people in the study had a healthy outlet for their fears, doubts, and struggles. They funneled their energy into sports, were altruistic, or had a good sense of humor. The study found that people can get away with fears and worries for years, but eventually they'll crack. So if you haven't done it already, develop an outlet: find a sport, commit to helping others, lighten up, and laugh more often. Great advice.

Next, don't take life too seriously. We all have weaknesses, but do you really want to do battle with your dark side year after year? Maybe it's time to lay down your arms, take a deep breath, and enjoy life. It's shorter than you think.

And finally, happiness must be shared. The movie Into The Wild, adapted from the excellent book by Jon Krakauer, tells the true story of Chris McCandless, who sold all his belongings and ventured into the wilderness. He wrote these last words in his journal before dying of starvation, "Happiness only real when shared." The 72-year-old study found the same truth: people who spent too much time alone struggled. The happiest subjects were the ones who sustained healthy, meaningful relationships with family and friends. You can never give enough hugs or say "I Love You" too often.

So give someone a hug today. A good hug is a tonic. Take a deep breath. And remember to laugh. You can read an article that gives a great summation of the study here.

Do these findings ring true for you? Is there a secret to happiness? Is our culture obsessed with it? Please leave your thoughts and observations in the Comments section.

June 29, 2009

CSA Delivery #4

Oh my goodness, even my husband was oohing and aahing over this one. Then he grabbed one of those funny little sci-fi light green peppers in front to put on his sandwich. How did we get so lucky as to have someone deliver this to our door every other week?

This all costs $42 per delivery, and so far I haven't spent any more for groceries (typically $320 for two per month). So we're now eating fresh, local, and organic, plus it's being delivered, for the same price! Remarkable. I think it's partly because I'm so careful not to waste anything. Believe me, even the potatoes are so good, you don't want to waste a speck of this beautiful produce.

I'm having a little trouble with my camera, so what you can't see is off to the right- two light green squash plus two roundish yellow cucumbers. I only knew they were cucumbers by reading the list of what I received this week. The peaches are called Saturn peaches or Doughnut peaches, and are supposed to be deliciously sweet. I'm not sure what kind of melon that is, it's actually not on the list. And just look at those bright red carrots!

Tonight I'm going to resist making the tomato tart with parmesan crust in order to save our waistlines. So I'll have to find another recipe for that huge heirloom tomato- let me know if you have any suggestions. I'll also use the lettuce right away, and maybe the green beans.

I can't recommend joining a CSA highly enough. There's absolutely no downside. The produce tastes so much fresher and healthier. It's delicious. And it's so much fun. All the benefits for the farmers and the environment are like icing on the cake.

Do you have a CSA delivery available where you live? Do you go to the Farmer's Market? Please leave your ideas and questions in the Comments section.

June 27, 2009

Non-consumer Friday Night Date

Last night after dinner, I asked my husband what he wanted to do...

Then I said, "We could go to Columbo's (our local bar/restaurant/live music joint), or take a walk, or watch a movie, or go over to Jean-Marie's and lay in the hammock." My husband knows I love to make lists, so he indulged me by allowing me to finish that run-on sentence.

Jean-Marie is our neighbor, and he's a man. He sometimes refers to himself as Jean-Paul, because it's just too confusing for some people. But it's actually a common name in France.

Anyway, he's on holiday in France for a few weeks, and he told us to feel free to hang out in his yard while he was away. He has a lovely, peaceful backyard with a lot of big trees and plants, and best of all he has a really comfortable hammock.

To my delight, my husband suggested a walk followed by a visit to Jean-Marie's backyard. So we took a leisurely stroll through the neighborhood and ended up in the hammock by the light of the crescent moon and a candle. It was so peaceful it was like we'd been transported to the country.

The cost of our non-consumer date? Nothing, of course. And it was fabulous. What are some of your favorite non-consumer dates and activities? Let us know in the Comments section.

June 26, 2009

It's Food Waste Friday again

I'm sorry I don't have a photo. We did have a little bit of food waste this week.

My husband cleaned out the pantry and found some breadsticks, mini toasts, and a small bag of pistachios that the moths had gotten into. He threw it out before I had a chance to take a picture.

On the good side, my husband cleaned out the pantry (yay!) and made a great system for our recycling in there so it doesn't sit out in the kitchen. And we're making progress because usually when we clean out the pantry, we have A LOT more stuff to trash than that.

Once again, the problem was TOO MUCH FOOD. My new plan is to make at least one pantry dinner per week, maybe more. And I'm going to get to a point where the pantry is about half as full as it is now. I need to strike a balance between having things on hand and not forgetting about and wasting what's there. I'm starting to realize we don't need quite as much variety. Three or four choices of cereal, or nuts, or dried fruit is enough- we don't need to always have on hand every single possibility that might strike our fancy.

I found a great article about food safety and leftovers on Delish dot com. Click here to take a quiz about how long you can safely leave food out on the counter before putting it in the refrigerator, how long you can keep cooked chicken in the refrigerator, how long to wash your hands, and a lot of other questions.

And one more thing... our house guest left soy milk in the refrigerator, which I don't like very much, and I still have a head of fennel that frankly frightens me. I learn so much from you all, I'd love some suggestions on what to do with soy milk and fennel (not together!) so I can avoid seeing them in my food waste photo next week! Please leave your ideas in the Comments section, and thank you in advance.

June 25, 2009

Thrifty Threads

Welcome to another installment of Thrifty Threads, AKA Most Stylish Compact-y Outfit, where readers model their favorite secondhand clothes.

A Compact-y outfit is anything used or recycled, from the Goodwill, a thrift store, or a consignment shop.

Today's model is Stephanie, who says she buys about 90 percent of her clothing used. She found this fantastic dress at the House of Dang for $18. It's a late 70s vintage piece, and what you can't see in the photo is the drawstring waist. It looks super comfortable as well as being stylish, which sounds like a perfect combination to me. Stephanie says it's what she imagines Ali McGraw would have been padding around her Upper East Side Manhattan apartment in, once she was married to a lawyer in Love Story. The House of Dang is a boutique in Dallas, but they also do a lot of their sales online, so check it out.

Stephanie and I worked together as film editors back in the early 2000s, before she left the film industry to become a musician. She currently makes her home in Dallas, and you can listen to her sing and play guitar on her My Space page. I won't try to describe her lovely voice, but she lists some of her influences as Kristin Hersh, PJ Harvey, and Veruca Salt. Stephanie also works with the lions and tigers and is the Media Director at In-Sync Exotics, a rescue and education center for big cats. In her spare time she does yoga and enjoys wine, food, and art with friends and family. She says she learned a lot about being a locavore when she lived in Portland for a few years, and she tries to keep those ideals in her current lifestyle.

Thanks Stephanie for sharing those photos! Now we're all imagining lounging around a giant apartment barefoot, drinking wine and listening to Nina Simone or Ella Fitzgerald. I know I am. I'm definitely going to the thrift store to look for a "maxi" dress. I remember my mom and her best friend wearing them back in the 1970s when they were all the rage. Comfortable elegance, it's a great look. And Stephanie, you wear it well. Readers, it's your turn. Put on some of your favorite thrift store scores and send me a photo. You can find my email address on my profile page. We all want to see your fabulous finds, so don't be shy. It's so inspiring to see how stylish you can be wearing secondhand clothes.

Please share your thoughts, tips, and ideas in the Comments section. And click here to check out past installments of Thrifty Threads.

June 24, 2009

"Oops" paint

I've just learned about this Compact-y way to buy paint. I've heard a lot of people express concern about doing The Compact because they'll be remodeling their home.

Well, it's getting easier than ever. With Freecycle and Craigslist, you can pick up major appliances at a discount, sometimes even free. And now with "Oops" paint from Home Depot, you can improve your surroundings with recycled paint. And it will cost you a lot less.

You'll have to be a little flexible about the color, because "Oops" paint is basically paint that someone bought and didn't like for one reason or another. Now you benefit by getting it for as little as $1 to $5 a gallon. So if you want to paint your office, or your bedroom, or any other room in your house, head over to Home Depot and ask to see their selection of "Oops" paint. And if they don't have anything you like, be patient. Go back in a week, and the selection will have changed.

Click here to read an eHow article that gives all the details. What a great way to get a quick home improvement without spending a lot of money.

Update: One of my readers has informed me that "Oops" paint is available at any hardware or paint store. So it's not just a Home Depot thing. She advises that if you mix colors, just make sure they're the same sheen: flat, semi-gloss, etc. Thanks for the information, Ellen. You can check out Ellen's blog at Within My Means. She's an incredible stained glass artist, an amazing gardener (really- you won't believe the photos), and seems to have never met a project she didn't want to tackle. As a bonus, if you live in Los Angeles, she's always up on fun things to do. I learn so much from my readers.

Have you ever tried "Oops" paint? Do you have any other Compact-y home improvement tips? Let us know in the Comments section.

June 23, 2009

20 Questions to ask your parents...

...or your grandparents, if they're still alive.

That's my dear grandmother in the photo. She died two years ago, but I know she wouldn't mind if I used this picture to demonstrate the unconditional love our parents and grandparents have for us.

Because they love us so much, we often don't know very much about them. Their focus is on us, and until we're adults, most of the time our focus is on ourselves.

I've been thinking about this question of what to ask your parents a lot lately, because I'm fortunate to still have both my parents alive and well. My husband lost his mother in his 20s and his father just before he turned 40. His mom died before he reached that sentimental stage when he might have started asking her what it was like to have 11 siblings, or why she didn't like cats.

Lately he wishes he could ask her why there was no music in their home, even though there's a photo of her playing the piano when his older sisters were very small, long before he was born. His father didn't enjoy music, so he never heard it during his childhood, he didn't even have a record player. But seeing that photo of his mom makes him want to ask her what kind of music she liked.

Here are some of the questions I've been asking my parents (and 91-year-old grandfather) lately. I've gotten some very interesting answers, and they seem to enjoy answering them:

1. What was your best ever family vacation?
2. Your favorite pet?
3. Your first love?
4. Your favorite teacher, and why?
5. Your best friend in grade school?
6. How did you meet (mom or dad)?
7. (If they were alive) what do you remember about VE Day?
8. (If they were alive) where were you when JFK was shot?
9. Do you remember watching the moon landing?
10. What's your favorite movie, and when did you first watch it?
11. Who's your favorite movie star?
12. What's your favorite song?
13. What's your favorite book, and when did you first read it?
14. Did you ever learn to play a musical instrument?
15. Did you ever win a trophy or award?
16. What was your first job, and do you remember your wage?
17. Do you remember the first TV program you ever watched?
18. Who's your favorite comedian?
19. What's your favorite childhood memory?
20. Who was your favorite president?

I like asking these questions as part of a conversation, but you can also ask them to write down their answers so you'll remember them. Another idea is to videotape them if they're not too self-conscious.

Most people love to answer questions about themselves and to reminisce. So go ahead, start asking questions. At the least, you'll learn something about your parent or grandparent you never knew before. You may come to understand them better, learn to love them in a different way, and strengthen the bond between you.

Do you ask your parents or grandparents about themselves? What interesting tidbits have you learned in the process? Tell us in the Comments section.

June 22, 2009

Meatless Monday

I just pledged to go meatless on Mondays! Check out the Meatless Monday website, where you can find out why going without meat on Mondays can improve our health, help the environment, and bring us together as a nation. It takes just a few seconds to take the pledge, and you can sign up to receive delicious vegetarian recipes via email every Monday.

According to the website, going meatless just once a week can reduce your risk of chronic conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. It can also reduce your carbon footprint and save precious resources like fresh water and fossil fuel.

My husband and I go without meat several nights a week already, so this won't be difficult for us. What will also make it easier is getting our CSA delivery of amazing produce every other Monday. I'm excited to be part of the "Meatless Monday movement" and encourage you to check it out.

Producing meat uses so much water and energy, we can all make a big difference just by pledging to get our protein from eggs, beans, or soy one day of the week. And it's an extra bonus that your health will probably improve.

Here's just one amazing statistic: If everyone went vegetarian for just ONE DAY, the United States would save 100 billion gallons of water, enough to supply all the homes in New England for almost 4 months.

Have you heard about this? Maybe you're already doing it. What are some of your favorite meatless meals? What will you be eating tonight? We'll be enjoying eggplant lasagna. Let me know your thoughts and questions in a Comment.

June 20, 2009

My favorite new recipe from the blogs

Guadalajaran Swiss Chard Quesadillas

I found this recipe at My Friend Oprah, and she got it from Vegetarian Times. It's easy and scrumptious. I love to check out My Friend Oprah for delicious vegetarian recipes, along with a lot of other things. Stacey writes about living a joyful life and she's inspired me to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) because she made it look so delicious.

She also feeds her family of 3 a local, organic diet on $80 a week. I think that's remarkable. She answered a challenge by The Crunchy Chicken to eat local and organic on the Food Stamp budget, and she's kept it up. Now we're doing the same, to help dispel the myth that if you're poor, you can't eat healthy food.

These quesadillas were so delicious, not only did my husband eat them without complaining, he wanted seconds. What's great about that is that he hates swiss chard, and most greens in general. So if you want to encourage someone in your family to eat more greens, this is a delicious option. And if it comes from Vegetarian Times, it must be healthy.

Please leave your ideas and questions in the Comments section.

June 19, 2009

Food Waste Friday: A bad week

A really terrible week!

This is the worst we've done since I've started paying attention to food waste. And I have to say being vigilant about this is really hard. It's also hard to walk that tightrope between having healthy food on hand and throwing stuff out.

Really, I can explain all of this. Maybe it will make me feel better. It was mostly a result of cooking too much food.

The 50s era round orange Tupperware (my favorite, inherited from my mother-in-law) contains the last bits of a whole chicken I made in the crockpot. I've NEVER made an entire chicken in my life, and I was looking forward to all the leftovers we'd have to use up. So we ate chicken, and chicken burritos, and chicken quesadillas, and chicken sandwiches... And there was still more chicken left! We couldn't finish it, and after four or five days we didn't want anymore. Plus it might not have been safe to eat at that point. The small container on top of the chicken is the chicken juice.

Then there's the other large container, which is the rest of the rice pudding I made in the crockpot. Do you see a pattern emerging? Cooking a crockpot full of food might be too much for a family of two, unless you freeze some of it right away. And I don't know if you can freeze rice pudding. It didn't come out very well, it was very mushy. My husband is a champ and still ate all but 1 or 2 servings. Plus I know what I'd do differently next time, so then I'd eat it too. Have I mentioned how much better my husband is about eating less-than-appetizing food than I am?

The goat cheese went bad very quickly this time. We almost never have a problem using up any type of cheese. And those flowerlike things are squash flowers that came with our CSA and I didn't know what to do with them. I had left them out and they were supposed to be refrigerated right away.

I did do one thing right: I didn't like the homemade yogurt I made, so instead of throwing it away I gave it to our neighbor. He ate it and said it was fine, so I guess I'm just picky about my yogurt. I might try it one more time, but I have to realize that it took me all this time to actually find a plain yogurt I love, so I might not end up loving what I make at home.

Overall, the main problem this week was TOO MUCH FOOD. I've found that the best way to avoid waste is to have less food. And there's almost no danger of not having anything to eat if you keep the freezer and pantry stocked. The lesson I learned was that when I'm cooking in bulk, I have to have a plan for how it will all be used. Because even though we like leftovers, even we can't eat them more than 4 or 5 times.

Which brings me to my promised research on the NUTRITIONAL VALUE OF LEFTOVERS. The long and short of it is this: the biggest problem with food losing its nutrients is in cooking the food in the first place. It loses roughly half of the vitamins and minerals and other things our body needs when it's cooked in any fashion. This is why the raw food diet movement is taking off. It really is good for your body. I don't know too much about it, and anyway that would be another whole post.

The point is that it's cooking food that causes it to lose its nutrients, not letting it sit in the fridge. It loses another 10% or so of its nutrients every time you reheat it though, so when my husband and I reheat something, we'll try to do it one serving at a time, which we usually do. Because theoretically, if you cooked something and then reheated it several times, it could lose all its nutritional value at some point.

This article shows a detailed chart of the nutritional effects on food of cooking, drying, reheating, and other kinds of processing. Check it out, it has a lot of good information. Also, please note that I'm talking about the nutritional value of leftovers, not its safety. You should follow public health standards, and if you're not sure about something, toss it. In general, don't eat food that has been sitting out and don't eat food after more than 4 days in the refrigerator.

Please leave your thoughts and questions about food waste and leftovers in the Comments section.

June 18, 2009

Non-consumer Father's Day gift ideas

Here are some ideas for celebrating Father's Day in a Compact-y way...

Your dad probably doesn't need another tie. What most dads really want is to spend time with you, so try these experiences instead:

1. Camping- Get out in nature, pitch a tent, start a fire, and bond. You might even want to make it a tradition.

2. Fishing- Similarly, it's about nature and bonding. And the meditative aspect might be good for some heartfelt conversation.

3. Other outdoor activities- Hiking, biking, kayaking and canoeing...the options are endless.

4. Golf- Enjoy a beautiful day on the fairway. If you're not golfers, take a lesson together.

5. Go Kart racing- A fun option that will get the adrenaline pumping.

6. Ballgame- Go see his favorite sports team together. Check out ticket prices on ebay or Craigslist.

7. Concert- If your father enjoys music, this can be a lot of fun, especially in the summertime with a picnic. I took my dad to a Dave Brubeck concert on the bay in San Diego a few years ago and he loved it.

8. Beer or wine tasting- A good option if your dad isn't the sporty type.

Remember, you don't have to do these things ON Father's Day. You can give him a card and plan a date.

And if none of these ideas fit the bill, or your dad is infirm or lives far away, homemade gifts or food are always an option:

1. A handmade card. Mine (above) shows my dad and I on two different beach days when I was young (and so was he!)

2. If you're an artist or photographer, have one of your creations put onto a mug or a t-shirt. My husband does this all the time with his caricatures and they are really great gifts. It's fun to see who will notice if you're wearing a caricature of yourself.

3. Bake bread, cookies, brownies, a pie, or a cake. My dad's favorite is gingerbread, and he always gets two loaves.

4. If he lives alone, cooking his favorite meal is a thoughtful gesture. Especially if he's older, he probably doesn't cook much more for himself than a frozen dinner.

Those are just a few ideas for celebrating Father's Day without spending a lot of money. Spend TIME instead. Figure out what would be meaningful for your dad, and get creative. Tell me your gift ideas or some of your best Father's Day memories in the Comments section.

June 17, 2009

Free Elvis Costello concert

FREE STUFF ALERT: I don't know about you, but I LOVE Elvis Costello. His voice takes me straight back to the 80s, and I don't care how silly they were (the 80s). "Peace, Love, and Understanding" is still one of my favorite songs of all time.

So if you live in Los Angeles, take advantage of this FREE CONCERT at Amoeba Records on Monday, June 22nd. That's in Hollywood, at 6400 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90018. Tel: 323-245-6400.

I'm letting you know ahead of time so you can PLAN in advance. Monday night at 8pm, but you'd better get there early. How early? I wish I had a crystal ball...

Do you have a favorite Elvis Costello song? Any fond memories? Let me know in the Comments section.

June 16, 2009

June baby steps challenge: progress report

That's me, hanging out laundry in our own backyard.

The baby steps challenge for June is to air dry the laundry. And as you can tell by the smile on my face, I LOVE hanging out the laundry. I'm joking. It was okay, but I'm not smiling with glee over it. That would be a little bit too much excitement over laundry. My husband is taking the photo and I'm laughing at something he said.

I was skeptical when people said they loved hanging the laundry out to dry. It reminded me of how my dad always says he doesn't like sweets. It was more like he's convinced himself he doesn't like sweets. And I think I thought people who said they loved hanging out their clothes to dry were convincing themselves in this same way. But I can see how they might actually come to love the meditative, deliberate quality of it. Especially if their sheets were fresh-smelling, which I'm afraid I can't claim.

This was really easy. My husband had the toughest part, putting up the line. Other than when it rains, I don't think it's going to be a problem at all. My only tiny complaint is that with just the one line, I have to do two rounds per load. So that takes a little more time and attention than just throwing it in the dryer. But we only have 3 or 4 loads a week, so I think this will be easy. I still don't like the aesthetic, and will have to get used to taking down the line between washings.

Okay, I'm ready for my next challenge. Bring it on. I'm wrestling with an imaginary foe: "is that all you got?" I may even tackle composting next month. Leave me your thoughts about air drying the laundry in the Comments section.

June 15, 2009

CSA delivery #3

Having this cornucopia delivered every other Monday feels like Santa has come to visit. This week there are raspberries, nectarines, and plums, plus greens (in the bag), kale, a variety of squash, a cucumber, fennel, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, onions, a gorgeous tomato, and a peanut butter cookie.

I don't think I'll be able to resist making the heirloom tomato tart with parmesan crust again tonight. You can find that recipe here. We'll have that with a simple green salad.

Our CSA comes from Auntie Em's in northeast Los Angeles. I like what Terri Wahl, owner and chef, has to say in answer to the question "Why eat local and seasonal food?"

1. To reduce CO2 emissions needed to grow and transport food that is grown far away.
2. To avoid paying such high prices for food that is scarcer and has traveled a long way.
3. For our bodies to reconnect with nature and to satisfy our bodies' cravings.
4. It tastes better!

She says the reason she started the service was to help people who can't always get to the Farmer's Market eat better. And we're benefiting from the delivery, in so many ways. We're not only eating locally and healthfully, we're eating a wider variety of food, and I'm becoming a better cook! If you live in Los Angeles, I highly recommend checking out this invaluable service.

And now, I'm off to buy some parmesan cheese for tonight's tart. Then I'll have to figure out what to do with the rest of this haul. Does anyone know how to prepare fennel? Let me know in a Comment. And weigh in with your thoughts on CSAs, eating locally, and all things food-related.

June 13, 2009


I bought something new.

I'm a member of a Book Club. A really awesome Book Club. I like everyone in it, and I'm honored to be a member. I LOVE my Book Club.

For the past two or three years, I've been getting the Book Club book from the library. They weren't always that great, and I'd been spending too much on books.

But this month, the Public Library System let me down. It's the first time it's happened. I won't go into the details, but after three weeks, I still didn't have a copy of the book in my hot little hands. And our meeting is Tuesday. That gives me three days to read the book.

If I didn't want to read this book so much, I'd just forget about it. But I've been wanting to read The Moviegoer for awhile. It's famous for being the book that won the National Book Award in 1962 over Catch-22 and Revolutionary Road. It's a Southern coming-of-age story. I can't wait to read it.

So now, with the clock ticking, I had no choice but to buy it new. My intentions were pure. I tried to get it from the library. And then when it became clear I wasn't going to get it from the library, I sent out an email to the group in hopes of borrowing a copy. But no one who had it was finished. So my choices were to either buy it new or not read it at all.

As my husband observed, "You take your Book Club very seriously." I guess I do. So my 4th "fall off the wagon" is my Book Club's selection for June: The Moviegoer. By Walker Percy. I don't feel too bad about it.

If you want to check out my other slip ups, click here for my January search for gloves for the Jane Austen Ball, here to hear about my purchase of a Congratulations card for a co-worker (does that really count?), and here to read about how I purposely leapt off the wagon by purchasing books by my friend at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

So that's my confession. Do you have anything you'd like to confess? Tell me about it in the Comments section.

June 12, 2009

Food Waste Friday

Drumroll, please...

No waste this week! Yay! So you will be spared photos of rotten lettuce, onions, and grapefruit. If you're new to this blog, on Fridays I post a photo of the food that went bad that week. And hopefully there isn't any because I'm trying really hard to use up everything I buy.

I've been working on reducing our food waste for the past couple of months, since I answered The Frugal Girl's waste-no-food challenge. We have very seldom had zero food waste, but we're wasting much less than we used to.

For the benefit of my newer readers, I'm going to tell you a little bit about my journey. Sometime back in February or March, I started reading Jonathan Bloom's blog called Wasted Food. He's writing a book about the food we waste in this country, its effects, and what we can do about it. So I was inspired to start thinking about our own food waste.

My first effort was to label our leftovers so we wouldn't forget about them. That worked brilliantly and you can read that post here. It even turned out to be fun. My next inspiration was to create an "Eat Me" shelf in our fridge and that post was noticed by Jonathan Bloom himself and mentioned on his blog. Thanks to my husband, the "Eat Me" shelf has been a big success and it's the first place he goes whenever he's hungry. He's much better than I am with eating all the food that's about to go rotten.

Since we've been labeling our leftovers and using the "Eat Me" shelf, our waste has dropped dramatically. One other thing I've done is to be very careful about food shopping. I buy less than I used to and we still have plenty of food. I used to buy a lot more produce than we actually needed. I like to think that's because I'm an optimist. But it feels great not to throw so much food away.

If you want to find out more about the devastating impact on the environment of all the food we're wasting, check out Wasted Food. And if you need another incentive, I've cut our grocery budget from $100 a week for 2 people to $80 a week. I'm pretty happy with that, but The Frugal Girl feeds her family of six very well on that amount. Check out her blog if you want to get inspired to spend less on top of reducing your environmental impact.

So how did you do this week? Please leave all your food-related tips, questions, and musings in the Comments section. Next week I promise to bring you my findings about the nutritional value of leftovers. I think I'm avoiding that, because we eat A LOT of leftovers.

June 10, 2009

Gross National... Happiness?

I read this interesting NY Times article a little while back about how the government of the tiny country of Bhutan in the Himalayas is being judged by the happiness it produces, not the economic benefits.

The prime minister of the Buddhist kingdom blames the current worldwide economic catastrophe on "insatiable human greed" and insists that what's needed is a radical shift in thinking.

To that end, the government aims to produce the conditions necessary for the "pursuit of gross national happiness," paraphrasing the American Declaration of Independence. The Bhutanese are busy working out a system of definitions and standards that can be quantified in concrete way.

Their intricate model of well-being consists of the 4 pillars, 9 domains, and 72 indicators of happiness. That sounds a little complicated, but I love the idea of focusing on happiness over wealth. What's that old saying, "Money can't buy happiness?"

The four pillars of a happy society involve the economy, culture, the environment, and good governance. Sounds like they're onto something. They've even managed to devise mathematical formulas to measure the components that make up the elusive mental state. Maybe we can learn something from this country with a population of just 700,000. The secret to happiness, perhaps?

Click here to read the entire article. What do you think of the idea of measuring Gross National Happiness? Please leave your thoughts in the Comments section.

June 9, 2009

What's your favorite recipe for...

...zucchini? This isn't a photo of our food waste for the week, it's a perfectly good zucchini that I'm going to fix for dinner. And since one of my favorite things about blogging and following other blogs is turning out to be exchanging recipes, I thought I'd start asking for your favorite ideas for specific foods.

This time it's zucchini, which of course there are a million different ways to prepare. One of my favorites is very simple: just slice it fairly thin, steam it for about 6 to 8 minutes, and add a little butter and salt and pepper. I got that from a friend of mine and it's delicious if the zucchini is cooked enough to be tender and bring out the flavor.

So what are your favorite zucchini recipes? I could title this "what should we have for dinner?" Maybe I'll do that next time. I can't wait to hear all your creative ideas. Please leave them in the Comments section.

June 8, 2009

Frugal vacations

That's a photo of me taken last summer in London. Yes, it's freezing. It's cold in London in the summer. But it was a fantastic trip! We went there for the theater, the museums, the Indian food, the history, and walking the streets. We didn't go there for the weather. You probably wouldn't expect to see London in a discussion about frugal vacations, but this one was very affordable. How could an extended holiday of 5 weeks in London be frugal, you ask? Because we did a house swap. And it was one of the best travel experiences we've ever had.

HOUSE SWAP: We're hooked on this type of travel now. As long as you're planning a destination vacation, and not touring an entire region, it's a great way to get to know a place. I originally considered it because of the cost savings, but it turned out to be so much more than an affordable way to travel.

We've become friends with the couple we exchanged homes with, and we feel like we've lived in London. We got to know the neighbors, the ethnic neighborhood markets, the Tube (underground) lines, and adopted a local pub, as well as our favorite Indian restaurant within walking distance. Instead of having to rush out the door in the morning, stay out all day, and pay for three meals out, we'd eat breakfast at "home," and then relax and go out for an afternoon of adventure and an evening play and dinner. A few nights we stayed in and cooked and then went to the pub for a nightcap. Our schedule was completely flexible, which was much more fun and relaxing. If we didn't make it to a museum one day, we'd go the next. Sometimes we'd like one so well (they have absolutely fabulous museums in London, and they're free!) we'd visit two or three days in a row.

A lot of Europeans do want to swap for a month or even more, but since most Americans don't have that option, you can arrange your holiday for whatever length of time suits your schedule. You just have to come to an agreement with someone who wants to visit your town. The whole concept works best if you live in a big city that's a tourist attraction, but it's not mandatory. There are home swapping opportunities listed for all over the U.S., you just have to focus on what your home and neighborhood have to offer to a visitor. And maybe that's just getting away from it all and enjoying a little peace and quiet.

If you're interested in a Home Swap holiday, I recommend both Home Exchange and Homelink. We ultimately did our exchange through Homelink, but we had many interactions with people on both sites. The cost is less than $100 for a year, and you'll list your home with photos and a description. Then you sit back and wait for the offers or start making inquiries about places you're interested in visiting. The websites answer all your questions and lead you through the steps of setting up your listing.

And if the idea of having strangers in your home worries you, let me reassure you that by the time you do the swap, they're not strangers anymore. You've exchanged many emails and had lots of phone conversations, and you have come to know them. Our exchange partners even picked us up at the airport, brought us to their home to help us settle in, and took us on a motor tour of the countryside the following day. They bought us a pub lunch and showed us the 12th century church their daughter had been married in. They slept at another daughter's home down the street before flying to Los Angeles the next day. Even if this extra attention might not be the norm, if you're nervous about the "strangers" in your house, remember that you're in their house as well. So really everyone has an incentive to treat their surroundings with respect.

I consider it a marvelous bonus that we have new friends who live in London. They are fascinating people who've travelled all over the world on two teacher's salaries by doing home swaps. And they've assured us that we always have a place to stay whenever we pass through their city.

A few other frugal vacation ideas:

COUNTRIES WHERE THE DOLLAR IS STRONG: Right now, that list includes Argentina, Costa Rica, Morocco, Vietnam, and Panama. Most of your budget will go to the flight, and once you're there food and lodging will be very cheap. Another one of our favorite vacations was to the Mexican Riviera, where we spent two weeks several years ago. I'm almost embarrassed to quote the budget of our trip, but we spent $700 on two plane tickets to Cancun, and then less than $600 for accommodation, food, and all other expenses. That's what I call a budget vacation. We left Cancun immediately, and headed for more off-the-beaten-path destinations, and stayed in simple but clean motels. We went snorkeling, saw Mayan ruins, and ate plenty of seafood and Mexican food and drank margaritas. We didn't feel like we were penny-pinching. Click here to read an article about places where the dollar is strong right now.

STATE DEPARTMENT LIST COUNTRIES: I might lose a few of you here, but hear me out. Even when a country makes this list, the odds that you'll come into danger are usually very low. For example, my brother enjoyed a holiday in Bali a few years back while it was on the list after being the site of a terrorist attack. And there was even another attack while he was there. But he wasn't anywhere near the discotheque where it took place. The odds of being in the wrong place at the wrong time are small, and could really happen anywhere. So consider traveling to a country like Bali, which has natural beauty, marvelous culture, and warm, friendly people. Their economy relies on tourism, and it's so sad that these isolated incidents keep travelers away for years.

POST-CRISIS AREAS: Along those same lines, you'll probably have a lot of luck visiting a city or region that's recently been hit by tragedy. You'll be warmly welcomed, and will most likely enjoy great deals. Places like Bali after the terrorist attack, New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and New York City after 9/11. Your trip may even take on a significance and poignance as you make your journey into an area that needs assistance. You could almost consider your vacation a form of charity, especially if you do some post-crisis volunteering while you're there. Habitat for Humanity works all over the world to rebuild homes for families who've been struck by disaster.

Finally, STAYCATIONS. This is a marvelous option, especially for families who can't spend a lot of money on plane flights or gassing up the car. Instead of waiting for out-of-town guests to enjoy the attractions of your own city, visit them on your own. Have each family member pick an outing of their choice, and then order pizza and watch a movie at night. Or if you have young children, camp out in the backyard! The options are endless, but the key is to do things you don't normally do in your everyday life, spend a lot of time together, and make it special.

What are your vacation plans this summer? What's your best frugal vacation idea? Please leave your thoughts, tips and questions in the Comments section.

June 7, 2009

A note about Thrifty Threads

I just want to make something clear: when I ask you to send in a photo modeling your favorite secondhand clothes, I'm serious. I need more participants, and I'd like to do the series more often.

And it's not a contest or anything, I'm not picking the cutest photo out of a bunch of entrants. If you send in a photo, I'll post it. As long as it's not indecipherable or X-rated, or a picture of a dog or something.

And isn't the average women's size 10 or 12? So here's a challenge: I particularly want you to send in a photo if you're average size or larger. The purpose of the series is to show that you can buy secondhand and still be stylish. There are lots of different versions of stylish, but you know when you look and feel good. So put on that outfit, take a picture, and send it to me.

I love the Thrifty Threads series and I want to keep doing it, but I need more photos! You can find my email address on my profile page. I can't wait to hear from you.

June 6, 2009

Free museums and a festival

FREE STUFF ALERT: Bank of America is continuing its Museums on Us program, which allows free admission on the first weekend of the month into participating museums across the country. So if you want to go to a museum this Saturday or Sunday, and you're a B of A customer, all you have to do is flash your debit card. Click here to find out which museums in your area will be free.

And if you live in Los Angeles, click here to check out the Lummis Day festival this Sunday June 7th from 10:30 am- 7pm. Come celebrate the spirit and diverse culture of L.A.'s Northeast neighborhoods with Food, Music, Art, Poetry, and Dance. That sounds fun. Too bad I'm afraid of crowds (California Jam 2 at Ontario Motor Speedway at age 15).

Please let me know if you take advantage of either of these tips in the Comments section.

June 5, 2009

It's that time again...

... Friday. And that means it's time to talk about food waste. I really hate to go from that cute photo of Kristen to this ugly photo of rotten food, but we must move forward...

Our waste for the week: one onion and half a grapefruit. The theme here is produce, but a specific type of produce. The kind that usually lasts so long I don't pay much attention to it. I keep onions in the pantry for weeks, and I can keep a grapefruit in the refrigerator for weeks as well.

I think my love affair with the more exotic items in our CSA delivery caused me to forget about the lowly onions and grapefruit that are some of the staples of our diet. It was hard to go back to that other grapefruit half when I had cherries and plums and peaches to devour. And the onion: I usually have at least a couple for cooking, and this one must have been there a long time while I chose another because you might not be able to tell, but it's REALLY rotten- black and soggy. I've never had that happen before.

So, all my focus on kale and chard was the issue this week. I'll try to do better next week. But still, this wasn't too bad. I doubt if I'll let an onion rot again.

Also, I did something differently because of my new commitment to wasting less food. When we had friends over for veggie burgers on the grill, I put the buns on the grill and got distracted and in just a few minutes they were a little too browned (almost burnt). I put them aside to toss, and then realized they'd be fine for croutons or any other recipe that calls for bread crumbs, etc. So I put them in the freezer. Now the challenge is to actually USE them. But at least I didn't automatically throw them in the trash.

How did you do this week? Have you joined The Frugal Girl's waste-no-food challenge? Check out her blog to find out the details. You'll definitely save money. And if you want to learn more about how you'll also be doing your own small part for the environment, check out Wasted Food to get all the facts. Please leave your thoughts, suggestions, ideas, and questions on all things food-related in the Comments section.

June 4, 2009

Thrifty Threads

Welcome to another installment of "Thrifty Threads," AKA "Most Stylish Compact-y Outfit," where readers model their favorite secondhand clothes.

A Compact-y outfit is anything used or recycled, from the Goodwill, a thrift store, or consignment shop.

Today's model is Kristen, who blogs at The Frugal Girl. What a cute photo! I know many of you love her blog as much as I do. If you haven't visited yet, you're in for a treat. If you want to bake your own bread, she not only gives you the recipe and leads you through it step by step, she posts PHOTOS of what it should look like.

Kristen is also the first person (as far as we know!) who started photographing her wasted food each week in an effort to waste less. Her creative approach to being accountable was noticed by Jonathan at Wasted Food. And now every week hundreds, or maybe thousands, of people are taking photos of rotten food and documenting their efforts to cut down on food waste one family at a time. Check out Jonathan's blog to learn about how you can make a difference for the environment on top of saving money by trying not to throw out food.

There are so many great features about her blog it's impossible to list them all in this short blurb. Another thing she posts are meal plans and photos of what she got at the grocery store each week. And get this: she shops for a family of six on an $80 per week budget! Kristen manages to make raising and homeschooling four young children along with preparing homecooked meals and running a household look easy, but not in a "Martha Stewart- I'm better than you are" way, more like your wise older sister or the girl you wished was your best friend. She's a pleasure to be around, and that's why people love her blog.

The Frugal Girl also writes about refinishing furniture, simple gardening, and the pleasures of frugality, including shopping at the Goodwill. Which is where she scored this fabulous summer dress. Isn't it cute? Kristen paid $6.50 for this fabulous find from the Gap, and she often comes across great deals like that for both herself and her kids. The photo was taken by her 9-year-old son, but I think he had a little help from his mom because Kristen is also a fantastic photographer and sometimes shares photos of her beautiful children on her blog, as well as having a photography blog called KK Photography. There are similar styles on The Gap's website right now that are selling between $40 and $60. Kristen says she loves this dress because it's lightweight and comfortable, and it can be dressed up or down depending on the footwear she chooses. She also offers the tip to look through the Juniors dresses section at the Goodwill because teenagers often discard items before they're worn out and they're usually very stylish.

Thanks Kristen for sharing that photo. You look great! Readers, it's your turn. Put on your favorite thrift store score, snap a photo, and send it to me. You can find my email address on my profile page. And you don't have to be young and thin and beautiful. We want to see ALL kinds of women wearing their fabulous finds. I know you're a creative bunch, so show us what you've got.

And click here if you want to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads. Do you wear secondhand clothes? What's your favorite thrift store score? Tell us about it in the Comments section.

June 3, 2009

Free music downloads from amazon

FREE STUFF ALERT: Click here to get your free music downloads from amazon. It looks like there are 879 songs available, ranging from Death Cab For Cutie to Michael Franti to The Dave Brubeck Quartet and everything in between. I don't know how long this deal will last, so get your free music now.

I got this awesome tip from Natalie at The Frugalista Files. Let me know if you take advantage of it in the Comments section.

June 2, 2009

June baby steps challenge: air dry laundry

That's my husband, and that's me in the background hanging the laundry. But this isn't our house, this is the London home we stayed in last summer when we did a house swap with a couple there. It was fabulous: they stayed in our home in Los Angeles and we stayed in theirs in London. It felt just like living there, and was much more fun that staying in a hotel, on top of being actually affordable.

Our "exchange partners" had a very small washing machine in the kitchen, and didn't even own a dryer. Since it rains a lot in London, even in the summer, a lot of days we were hanging laundry inside the house. When it was fairly nice out, we'd hang it outside. Hanging out the clothes seemed to be much more common there, so it made us start thinking about doing it back in L.A.

In May, I issued this baby steps challenge to stop those catalogs and junk mail once and for all. So far, I've accomplished 75 percent of that goal, and I won't be able to see the full effect for a couple of months. But I feel good about the progress I've made on that issue so far. Now for June, I think using a clothesline to air dry the laundry is appropriate for the warm weather.

I've got to admit I have some trepidation about air drying the laundry. I know it's absolutely better for the environment. But I've resisted because I know it will take more time, I'm not crazy about the aesthetic of the line hanging across the backyard, and I actually worry that the smoggy air isn't healthy for drying clothes. But I'm moving forward, with a little nudge from my husband. Because even without my asking him, he's put a clothesline up in our backyard. It even took him some time, because he had to saw the poles to the proper length and install a retractable line. Now all we have to do is actually use it.

Do you want to join me in the June baby steps challenge? Or maybe you've been air drying your laundry for years. Either way, let me know in the Comments section.

June 1, 2009

CSA Delivery #2

Our second CSA delivery just arrived! And it's gorgeous!

We got cherries again, and both kale and chard (rainbow with reddish stems in the back right) plus that adorable little head of red leaf lettuce, the multicolored carrots, and a zucchini! Also more beets, a small bunch of basil, garlic, spring onion, and some peaches, a plum, and a kiwi. I'm particularly excited about that giant hierloom tomato. I'm going to try a tomato tart with parmesan crust tonight from a recipe on the CSA's website. I'll post it for you below this post.

Also, that white bag in the foreground says "Snickerdoodle." The CSA we belong to is Auntie Em's in northeast Los Angeles county, and the restaurant that organized the CSA is known not just for their food, but for their delicious baked goods. Apparently, we'll be getting a little something with each delivery because we received this cookie today. Last time we got a scrumptious toffee bar and I assumed it was for being a new customer. But I guess not! I never turn down baked goods.

So tonight we'll have the tomato tart and a simple salad, and then I'll use the greens this week and the carrots and potatoes and beets will still be good for next week.

Joining a CSA is like bringing the Farmer's Market to you. And one thing I'm really enjoying so far is trying out new recipes and things I might not have chosen on my own. Are you a member of a CSA? Do you have a Farmer's Market close by? Let me know if you have any good ideas for any of this produce in the Comments section.

Auntie Em's Delivery - Recipes

Auntie Em's Delivery - Recipes: "Heirloom Tomato Tart in a Parmesan Crust"
This recipe will make one 9 or 10-inch tart OR five 4 1/2-inch tarts.
2 large heirloom tomatoes - washed and sliced 1/6-inch thick
1 t. fine-grain sea salt
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unsalted organic butter, well chilled + cut into 1/4-inch cubes
4-ounce chunk of good fresh Parmesan, microplane-grated (you should end up with about 2 cups loosely packed grated cheese. Save any leftover grated cheese for sprinkling on the crusts when they come out of the oven.
2 T. ice cold water
2 T. best quality extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup slivered basil
Special equipment: tart pan(s), pie weights, paper towels
Preheat the oven to 350˚F."

Click on the link above for the entire recipe. I'm going to try it tonight and I'll let you know how it goes.