October 31, 2009

Just for fun

Happy Halloween! Last minute costume ideas for you or your kids, some favorites from my memory bank: Charlie Chaplin, a picnic table, the Captain & Tennille, grapes (green or purple tights and leotard and balloons), a robot, a tourist (Hawaiian shirt, shades, camera- funny for a toddler), Hugh Hefner, luxury spa guest (white plush terrycloth robe and shades), Tippi Hedren in The Birds (conservative suit pinned with birds)... that's all I can remember right now...

Hmmm... I wonder what a "Non-Consumer" costume would look like... I mean dressing up as a "Non-Consumer." A non-consumer costume could be anything you put together with items you already own... I'd love to hear what you come up with.

Are you dressing up this year? Do you have kids you take trick-or-treating? I love to dress up for Halloween, but we didn't know anyone who was having a party this year. Maybe we'll have to throw one ourselves next year.

Have fun!

October 30, 2009

Food Waste Friday continues...

No picture, but sadly, that doesn't mean we had a no-waste week. In fact, it was a pretty bad week. On 3 separate occasions, I threw a lot of food away. And because each case involved an "incident," I neglected to snap a photo. I'll go through them one at a time:

Incident #1: Last Saturday, after having such success with making dried black beans the week before, I tried to make dried fava beans for a dish I'd never cooked and was making for a friend's birthday. Without going into the details, dried fava beans were much more complicated than dried black beans, and I ended up with a "fava fiasco." I tossed the entire heap of mushy, dried out beans on the compost heap.

Incident #2 was also bean-related. On Monday, I made a vegetarian curry in the crockpot with potatoes, leeks, and what I thought were green beans from our CSA delivery. From the look on my husband's face at his first bite, I knew there was a problem. I went back and looked at the list of produce and found out we were eating flagolet beans, which were supposed to be peeled, and just the beans inside eaten, kind of like black-eyed peas. They were so stringy and dry and tough we had to pick them out, it was basically the husk we were eating. Another pile for the compost bin.

Incident #3 occurred when I opened a jar of pistachios (which had been transferred out of the Trader Joe's plastic) and found evidence of pantry moths. This was very disappointing because I've really been on top of the moth problem, making sure I put out the moth traps and also putting dried goods in jars. I've just started taking the step of freezing rice, flour, and other dried goods overnight and I hope that will help. I really hate to waste pistachios- they're not cheap!

Oh, and one other minor incident- I burned a piece of toast and threw it in the trash. A bad week for food waste, but we'll just keep plugging on. It wasn't really a matter of neglect so much as mistakes, and life. And trying new things. Because if I hadn't tried the dried beans, or the CSA, I wouldn't have wasted those items. But then I wouldn't be continuing to learn more about cooking and eating healthfully. So I think it's worth the sacrifice.

You can find out all you need to know about food waste, like why we should care, where it's all going, and how we can put a stop to it, by visiting Wasted Food. And if you want to join the Waste No Food challenge, head on over to The Frugal Girl.

How did you do this week? Tell us about in in the Comments section.

October 29, 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 used or recycled, from Goodwill, a thrift store, or a consignment shop.

I'm so happy to have Kristen from The Frugal Girl as today's model, in a repeat performance. This black dress was the inspiration for the Thrifty Threads series. Kristen had posted a photo of this dress on her blog, along with a bunch of other items she'd bought at Goodwill. Her head was cut off, and she said she usually wore the dress with black boots, and I thought to myself, "I wish I could see it like that." And the idea started percolating in my head, how fun it would be to see people's secondhand scores and how great they look in them.

Kristen bought this cute Charlotte Russe dress at Goodwill for $5, and the New York & Company camisole for $3. She says she decided the neckline was cut a little too low, but that the camisole neckline isn't usually crooked. I'm just glad her son likes to take photos, so she could send this one to me. Doesn't this make you want to go thrift store shopping right now? Kristen wanted to let everyone know that she bought the boots on clearance at Target for $14 before she started shopping at Goodwill.

Kristen probably doesn't need any introduction for most of you, but for those of you who haven't read her fabulous blog, she's "The Frugal Girl," and she totally rocks. I know that word is overused, but in this case it's true. Her blog is jam-packed with awesome recipes, fantastic tips, and she's the inspiration for taking photos of rotten food so we can all try to waste less. If you ever wished you had a best friend or older sister who just knew how to do everything, and had a great attitude about sharing it with you, that's Kristen. If you've never read her blog, you're in for a treat. And you might start baking your own bread!

Thanks Kristen for sending that photo of the dress that started the series. Readers, it's your turn. Put on your favorite thrift store scores and send me a photo at barton.angela@gmail.com. I always need more photos, so keep them coming! It is so much fun to do this Thrifty Threads series, and I'll do it as long as I continue to get your emails. Remember, I would love to get photos of children or toddlers, and guys- I would LOVE to hear from you. Only one brave man has participated so far.

Do you shop secondhand? I wonder if it's getting easier or harder because of the recession. I think there are a lot more people shopping thrift stores these days. Tell us about it in a Comment. And click here to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

October 28, 2009

Is Grandma Greener Than You?

I read an interesting article in USA Today last week called "Grandma's greener than you." The gist of it was that even when you think you're being environmentally friendly and living a "green" lifestyle, your grandparents have you beat hands down. The Great Depression taught them all about using up, making do, and going without long before there was any concern about the effects of overconsumption on the environment, or before recycling was something you did by choice.

Click here to read the entire article. I agree with the point that often the "greener" option is to go without, i.e. riding a bike or walking versus buying a Prius, air-drying laundry vs. purchasing energy-efficient appliances, wearing your old pajamas vs. buying new organic cotton brands. And I agree that too often we think that "going green" means buying something.

But I take issue with the wrapup, which states that "the economy as we know it would tank if consumers lived as 'green' as our grandparents did." There must be other ways of contributing to the economy than simply buying more crap. My husband and I eat at our local restaurants, pay for a delivery of organic produce, put gas in our cars, and buy groceries. I still have my hair cut and get an occasional facial or pedicure. I refuse to believe that I am somehow part of the problem just because I've given up buying new stuff.

Maybe the key part of that sentence is "the economy as we know it." Maybe THAT economy SHOULD tank. Maybe we need a different economy. I'm disappointed that the article didn't go into this, but maybe I'm expecting too much from a mainstream news source.

Have you heard or read any interesting news about how a new or different economy could work, one that was based more on needs and values, and that didn't rely on getting people to buy more stuff they don't need? Please tell us about it in the Comments section. And chime in with any thoughts or questions as well.

October 27, 2009

Our mini kitchen remodel

It's a mini remodel, not a mini kitchen. This photo shows off the brilliant "Lichtenstein style" painting my husband did of me.

These are all "after" photos. I know, I realize the main attraction of these transformation stories are the "before" and "after," but neither my husband nor I had the forethought to take any "before" photos.

You'll just have to use your imagination. This 60's era kitchen had a dropped flourescent ceiling, hideous brown particleboard cabinets, and a white lineoleum floor that showed everything.

Here's the view into the dining room/living room. We ended up having to use two different colors of paint on the cabinets because we liked the lighter color, but thought the kitchen would be too bright if we painted all the cabinets that color.

This one was taken at night, so the lighting is a little different. I spot evidence of my baking habit!

I really wish you could have seen this kitchen. For seven years we've put up with the most inefficient and ugly kitchen I've ever lived in (and I've lived in a lot of different apartments and houses!)

First of all, I'm not trying to claim that this was a non-consumer remodel. My husband isn't doing The Compact, and he had saved some money from a big job to put toward this kitchen. He's a great partner in my commitment, but he hasn't taken it for himself. So he did purchase some new items, but did all of the work himself (with a bit of help from a friend), bought some of the items used, and was able to sell or give away virtually everything we replaced.

The cost? Under $2500 total. Here's the breakdown:

First, we had a color scheme we'd seen in a magazine and both liked: the bright yellow walls, red floor, and turquoise cabinets. We agreed that our best resource without funds was to use color to our advantage. The bright colors make it fun.

Next, my husband wanted a stainless steel side-by-side refrigerator. He was prepared to buy one new, but I suggested he check Craigslist. He did, and spent about five or six weeks searching, to no avail. He actually even looked at 3 different refrigerators, but there was some problem with each of them. He was glad he'd tried to buy used, but ended up purchasing a new model at a greatly discounted price. Cost $1100, including tax.

The stainless steel tabletop he was able to find on Craigslist because he'd already been checking for several months. The table cost $85.

The stools were a complete luxury, he purchased them new for $125 each, for a total of $375.

The sink, which replaced the most hideous avocado-colored monstrosity I'd ever seen, was about $200.

The lineoleum flooring, which he put down himself with the help of a friend, cost about $400.

I have to confess that I was responsible for buying the simple cabinet handles new. I had been looking on Craigslist and was planning on visiting a salvage store, when I drove by a hardware store that was going out of business. The sign said "75% off" so I went in and found these. I didn't want to spend weeks searching for something I might never find when I could get it all right now, and for only $23 for all 41 handles! An incredible deal. One of my main considerations was that I wanted to find the same size so that my husband wouldn't have to do more work filling and drilling new holes.

Total cost: I think that comes to $2283, plus a couple of hundred for paint, plus A LOT of labor. We spent 10 days prepping and painting those cabinets. And my husband had spent countless hours prior to that putting in the flooring, moving in the refrigerator, etc. But it was worth it! We love our new kitchen. Our favorite thing is drinking martinis at that cool table.

My husband was able to sell or give away everything, including the absolutely hideous, grime-encrusted handles that adorned the horrible cabinets. Someone paid $26 for them on ebay, which was more than we paid for the new ones! He sold the old refrigerator and kitchen table and chairs, and gave away the sink. Someone was actually going to use it! Yay! Nothing went to the landfill. I'm SO pleased about that. Craigslist and Freecycle are a brilliant way to recycle and to find things secondhand.

I should also say that we had already done the lighting and replaced the windows many years ago, so the true cost of our remodel from the kitchen we moved into seven years ago would probably be closer to $6000.

Sorry for such a long post, but I really wanted to share this with you!

Have you done any remodeling projects lately? Tell us about it in the Comments section.

October 26, 2009

More Meatless Monday recipes

The Meatless Monday movement is spreading! The Baltimore school system has gotten some great press this week for their efforts to help their students make healthier choices. You can read about it here.

Choosing a meatless diet, even one day a week, is better for your health and better for the planet. Click here to visit the Meatless Mondays website and find out why. You can also check out their fabulous recipes and the latest news in the world of food. If you pledge to go meatless on Mondays, you'll receive a weekly email packed with recipes and suggestions that will make it easy (and delicious!)

I've got some great reader suggestions to share with you this week:

1. MaddyG from Mad on a Gray Sea reminded me of one of my old favorites, The Moosewood Cookbook. Her family loves their recipe for "Zuccanoes." Slice a few zucchinis in half and scoop out the insides. Then mix the innards with cooked rice, an egg, sauteed onion, garlic, and worcestershire sauce, sprinkle a little cheese on top and bake until tender. MaddyG says it's like a little zucchini souffle, and it's totally easy and fun.

2. Leigh from Compact by Design offers up this primer for making crepes by NY Times food writer Mark Bittman. I can't wait to try those!

3. Ellen at Within My Means shares one of her favorites from childhood, a tapioca cheese souffle. It looks easy and delicious and we will definitely be trying this one soon. We are a cheese-loving household. Click here for the easy recipe: only six ingredients!

4. Wildermiss blogs about her outdoor adventures at A Mountain Top High. She suggests a general vegetarian eating tip: if a recipe calls for white meat substitute white beans, and if it calls for red meat substitute dark beans (kidney beans, black beans, etc.)

Tonight we'll be enjoying a vegetarian curry using up some of last week's CSA vegetables. I usually make it with cauliflower, onions, potatoes, carrots, and green beans, but today's version is potatoes, leeks, and green beans. I'll add some frozen peas at the end. The vegetables are coated with one can of light coconut milk, 2 tablespoons of Patak hot curry paste, and a couple of teaspoons of curry powder. We'll eat it with basmati rice. I can't wait- I love curry!

Happy meatless eating everyone. Please share your favorite meatless meal ideas so I can post them next time. And click here to check out previous posts filled with delicious meatless recipes.

October 24, 2009

How much $ do you need to live your dream?

That's the question they're asking at Married With Luggage this week, as they launch a series called "How we saved enough money to change our lives and how you can, too." It's all about the planning, saving, and lifestyle changes that'll make it happen. Click here to read the post that kicks off the series.

For Betsy and Warren, their dream is to travel the world for a year, and they're counting down the days. Your dream may be the same, or it may be something completely different, but whatever it is, it takes work to make it happen. But if you've ever talked to anyone who has lived their dream - whether it's to travel the world, get out of their corporate job to join the Peace Corps, live in another country, write a book, or simply do the work they love - it takes a plan, discipline, and hard work to pull it off.

Married With Luggage shows you how to put it all together, in a way that's user-friendly, inspirational, and fun. So check it out, if you haven't already. It's one of my favorite blogs, so I have mentioned it before.

What's your dream? Are you pursuing it now, or is it more of a fuzzy fantasy that takes place in the distant future? Or maybe you feel like you're just keeping your head above water as it is. Or maybe... you're living your dream right now. Whatever the case may be, let us know in a Comment.

October 23, 2009

Another Food Waste Friday

This was our food waste this week. The thing that looks like moldy, puffed-up naan bread is actually squash. I found it last weekend when it wasn't that moldy, but saved it in case anything else turned up. Yuck. The tahini had no "best by" date, was so separated that it couldn't be shaken back into a uniform consistency, and I don't even remember when I bought it. So it's NG. I'm planning on scooping that out and saving the jar. Does anyone know if it's okay to throw tahini in the compost bin? And the lime was in a bag in the refrigerator with others that are fine, so I don't know what went wrong with it.

We had one of those weeks of constantly changing plans and actually ended up going out and/or having to meet people several times, so I didn't do much cooking. And I'm going to have to work really hard to use up all of our CSA produce so that it doesn't go bad next week.

I'm short on time, so here's the scoop: waste less food and you'll not only save money, you'll help save the planet. Find out more at Wasted Food and The Frugal Girl.

How did you do this week? Please share your thoughts and questions in the Comments section.

October 22, 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 used or recycled, from Goodwill, a thrift store, or a consignment shop.

Today's model is Stephanie. You may remember her from this Thrifty Threads post back in June. Stephanie and I worked together in feature film editing before she left to pursue her music career full time. She now lives in Dallas, where she writes and records music between touring. You can listen to her lovely voice and guitar playing on her MySpace page.

Stephanie bought this entire outfit secondhand, including the shoes and belt. And we'll forgive her for chopping off the top of her head since she took the photo herself. It's still a great picture! She bought this dress for about $20 at Buffalo Exchange years ago. Stephanie says it's a fantastic dress that never shows wear or cat hair (very important!), is machine washable and dries without wrinkling in about 2 minutes, is slightly stretchy, comfortable, and always flattering. It sounds like the perfect dress! It's so cute. The belt was $5 at a thrift store in Bellingham, WA, and the super cool gold shoes were $26. Not bad for BCBG, which are very pricey new.

Thanks Stephanie for sending in that great photo! Readers, you know the score. I'm always in need of more photos, so put on your favorite thrift store duds, snap a photo, and send it to me at: barton.angela@gmail.com. Remember, you can be young or old, short or tall, male or female, it doesn't matter. And I would love to get pictures of your kids, too. Infants, toddlers, children, or teenagers. We want to see all your fabulous finds, so keep them coming! And click here if you want to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

Do you shop secondhand? What's your favorite thrift store score? Tell us about it in the Comments section.

October 21, 2009

Tomato/Mushroom/Leek Quiche

Sorry about the pink edges on the photo, my camera is dying a slow death!

The photo doesn't really do justice to the yumminess of this quiche. It has a couple of ingredients that make it particularly tangy and satisfying. I used a recipe I got from Ellen at Within My Means, with a few alterations.

Preheat oven to 425F.

1 cup grated cheddar
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1 1/2 cups milk
5 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
about 10 sliced mushrooms
1 leek
about 20 small cherry tomatoes, slightly frozen

Saute mushrooms with leeks in butter and set aside. Combine milk, eggs, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add cheese, mushrooms and leeks, and tomatoes. Ellen gave me the tip to put the cherry tomatoes in the freezer for an hour or two before baking, and I think that helped them keep their shape and give a burst of flavor when eaten.

Pour mixture into pie shell (I use Pillsbury roll outs, Ellen uses Marie Callendar's) and bake 15 minutes at 425. Lower oven to 350 degrees, cover pie edges with tinfoil so they don't burn, and bake another 30-35 minutes.

Super easy, super delicious. Everyone loved it. The cheddar and the nutmeg give it an extra zing.

Have you ever made quiche? What are your favorite additions? Let us know in a Comment.

October 20, 2009

No Impact Week

Inspired by Colin Beavan, A.K.A. No Impact Man, the Huffington Post has declared this "No Impact Week." I was just checking out the website, and it's all about the stuff we're talking about on this blog and other non-consumer blogs: how to reduce your carbon footprint by not buying stuff, eating less meat, wasting less, etc.

What I like about their approach is that it's focused on making your life better and happier while helping the environment. It's not about guilt trips or facts and figures, it's about getting involved in a positive way. On the website, they state that No Impact Week is "not about making strict rules but about thinking about your environmental impact in a new way and picking the goals that are right for you." Just at a glance, I saw phrases like "Find out if wasting less improves your life" and "live a fuller and happier life by buying less stuff." All right!

I think I'm doing a "No Impact Year" that is going to turn into a permanent lifestyle change. Not buying new stuff and eating less meat are probably having the biggest impact, but I'm also wasting less, composting, and inspiring others to take these steps by writing this blog. I'm going to check out the Huffington Post guide for more ideas.

If YOU want to participate, click here. A No Impact Week sounds like a manageable task, and a great way to get involved. I'll bet you'll learn a lot and be inspired.

Are you participating in No Impact Week? Do you think it will help to get people involved in the solution? Tell us your thoughts in the Comments section.

October 19, 2009

It's CSA Day, hooray!

My husband and I have been receiving this bi-weekly delivery of gorgeous organic produce for almost six months, and the excitement hasn't worn off. And since part of the whole idea is that you're eating seasonally, it's fun to see what you're going to get as the seasons change.

For those of you new to the idea, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It's a way to eat fresh, organic, local produce year-round, while supporting the local farmers. For us, it's also a convenience because it's delivered to our front door, and that's a lot easier than going to the Farmer's Market. If you like to go to the Farmer's Market and make your own choices, that's great. For me, I like the convenience of delivery and our CSA gives recipes and serving ideas on their website. Plus we're eating a greater variety, because left on my own, I tend to buy the same produce all the time.

This week we got (roughly clockwise from the back): acorn squash, butternut squash, purple potatoes, green beans, pomegranates, heirloom tomatoes, pluots, grapes, grape tomatoes, dried cranberries, black kale, red onion, music garlic, celery root, and leeks. Also, when I put away this haul, a small bunch of sage fell out from somewhere, I don't see it in the photo. It smells wonderful.

I'm definitely going to make squash soup from a friend's recipe that is fabulous. I'm jazzed about the pomegranates, and super happy about the purple potatoes and black kale. I don't have any clue what to do with that celery root, so if you have any ideas let me know in a Comment. And if you like to look at photos of fresh produce, click here to check out previous deliveries.

Are you a member of a CSA? Do you go to the Farmer's Market? The best thing about eating local and seasonal is that is tastes so much more delicious. Please share your thoughts, questions, and recipe ideas in the Comments section.

October 17, 2009

My favorite new recipe from the blogs: black bean burgers

Welcome to an occasional series where I share a great new recipe I've tried recently.

This week I finally tried The Non-Consumer Advocate's black bean burgers. Katy's blog is my absolute favorite, and this recipe didn't let me down. In fact, I was probably a little too excited about it, in the sense that "it's just a recipe, after all." But I don't mind being a geek, and sharing my geekiness with you all.

These "burgers" are delicious, easy, and incredibly cheap. We are big fans of a variety of veggie burgers in this house, we eat them several times a week for lunch. Those pre-packaged burgers cost $3 or $4 a box for 4 patties, which is fine. But these cost pennies! As an added bonus, there's no packaging to throw away.

Thanks to the great advice and tips from my readers, I felt confident to delve into the mysterious world of cooking dried beans this week. First, I soaked and cooked a bag of black beans, which cost about a dollar. I could buy them even cheaper in bulk. I cooked them in the crock pot and then added about half the beans to a skillet with sauteed onions and garlic, and added spices and salsa. We ate those delicious beans with mushroom quesadillas, and had some left over for burritos later in the week.

Then I used the other half of the beans, which was just enough for Katy's recipe, to make the black bean burgers. It took maybe 10 minutes to make the patties, and the best part was that there were 6 left over to freeze for lunches and snacks.

Black beans are my new favorite thing to cook. And they sure are worth a dollar. Do you have any recipes for homemade veggie burgers? I used to buy a mix that you shaped into balls and fried before I started buying the convenient packaged kind. Please share your tips and ideas in the Comments section.

October 16, 2009

Food Waste Friday: No Waste Week

No photo, no waste! Yay!

Every Friday I post a photo of the food that went bad that week. And I love it when there's no photo, because it means we did a good job of planning and using what was in the house.

I am so lucky to have a willing husband in this adventure, or it would be a chore that might not be worth my energy. Ever since I created the Eat Me! section of the refrigerator back in March, our food waste has dropped dramatically because my husband hits that section for lunches and snacks.

This week, when I told him I had half an avocado left over from something I made, he said, "Why are you telling me? Just put it in the Eat Me! section." In a nice way, not in a Robert DeNiro, "Are you talking to me?" way. So the experiment has been a success in our house. I highly recommend it for wasting less food, which leads to needing to buy less food, which saves money!

You can learn about the negative effects that the horrifying amount of food waste produced in the U.S. and other Western countries has on the environment at Wasted Food. And if you want to join the Waste-No-Food Challenge, head over to The Frugal Girl to find out about how you can share your food waste photos with the world.

How did you do this week? Tell us your ideas, lessons, wins, and fiascos in the Comments section. Or anything else you feel like sharing...

Friday Freebies

FREE STUFF ALERT: I've got some great tips today, but first, I have to mention that we used our Free Night of Theater last night to see an awesome play by Conor McPherson called Shining City. McPherson is one of Ireland's most popular contemporary playwrights, of The Weir fame. It was opening night at an 80-house theater in Hollywood, and it was a fantastic performance. And it was all FREE, even the street parking less than a block away. I love the freebies I'm finding on the blogs these days. Thanks again to Katy at The Non-Consumer Advocate for that one.

Here's a nationwide freebie if you're unemployed: free medicine from Pfizer. You have until Dec. 31st to apply. Click here for details. Thanks to Natalie at The Frugalista Files for that excellent information.

And for local Los Angeles folks: FREE FRIDAYS at Santa Anita continues through October 30th during the short Oak Tree season at this beautiful racetrack. We are definitely going to take advantage of this one. Along with free admission, there are free box seats until they're filled up, plus $1 beer, hot dogs, and popcorn all day. Woo hoo! Click here for the scoop on this one, which I found at LA Freebie.

Have a great weekend!

October 15, 2009

Thrifty Threads 2

Sadly, I still haven't received any photos for a new Thrifty Threads post, so until you (yes, you!) start sending in your fabulous finds, this post is an encore edition of an early installment...

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

A Compact-y outfit is used or recycled: anything you bought at the Goodwill, a thrift store, or a consignment shop.

Today's model is Stacey, who blogs at My Friend Oprah about living a healthy, fun, and sustainable lifestyle. She's recently taken The Sustainable Food Budget Challenge, which is to feed her family of 3 for under $80 per week on local and organic foods. And so far she's doing it! She posts a lot of delicious vegetarian recipes on her blog, along with menu plans, how to make mayonnaise from scratch, gardening tips, and a lot of other interesting topics. Check it out.

Doesn't Stacey look great in this jacket? She bought it for $12 at her local consignment shop in Asheville, North Carolina. It's called Enchanted Forrest. The label is Zara, which she'd never heard of until a recent trip to New York City, when she walked by the shop. Judging from the other items, she thinks the jacket would have easily sold for over $100.

Thanks Stacey for sending in that lovely photo. Okay readers, who's next? Put on YOUR favorite thrift store duds, take a photo, and send it to me. I know my first two models are both gorgeous and look like models themselves, but don't be intimidated. We all want to see your fabulous finds. So please don't be shy. We want to see REAL women with REAL bodies modeling their versions of fabulous. You can find my email address listed on my profile page.

What's your favorite thrift store score? Please tell us about it in the Comments section.

October 14, 2009

Wine Finds

It's been a long time since my last Wine Finds post, mainly because I haven't come across anything worth telling you about. But now I have...

Wine Finds is where I tell you about a great wine that's under $10, based on my completely subjective opinion and absolutely no training whatsoever. I've never taken a wine course, read Wine Spectator magazine, or anything like that. My sole qualification is the fact that I drink a fair amount of wine, and I know what I like. I think people should be able to drink quality wine on a budget, and especially in California it's very possible to do so.

This Menage a Trois California Red Wine is a reader recommendation, and it's a great one. Betsy from Married With Luggage suggested I try it, and boy am I glad I did. I shared this with my husband and one of our best friends, and we all enjoyed it very much. Yes, appropriately, three of us shared this bottle.

The taste was complex, jam-like, and delicious. I will definitely buy it again. It's a blend of zinfandel, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon, and I think it brings the best of each to the table. And I love blends, which you can read in this post about Bogle Merlot. Betsy says they refer to it as their "house wine" because they drink it more than any other wine and buy it by the case. She says they actually get a better price that way.

Even if you don't live in California, you may soon be able to buy a greater variety of good affordable wines. When my husband and I drove across Highway 40 last month, we were surprised to see vineyards in nearly every state we passed through: Tennessee, Arkansas, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma. We even stopped for a wine tasting in Tennessee, and bought a bottle to share in our hotel room that evening. It was a Cabernet Sauvignon, and it was smooth and delicious.

Have you ever tried the Menage a Trois? Do you have any favorite wines that cost less than $10? Let me know in the Comments section. And click here if you want to check out previous installments of Wine Finds.

October 13, 2009

My First Real Temptation: AKA "The Skirt"

A few weeks ago, my husband and I attended a "block party" event in nearby Pasadena. The shops and restaurants in the downtown area known as "Old Town Pasadena" were opening their doors and offering free champagne, appetizers, wine, and raffle prizes. Free stuff, we're there.

Of course they weren't doing it out of the good of their hearts or to dish with the neighbors, it was a way of promoting the businesses that weren't doing so well. I marked our flyer with all the places to hit, and we arrived early to get a good parking spot.

It wasn't a trick, and we had a good time visiting some of our favorite restaurants for free wine and food samples. But in one couture clothing store that I'd never stepped foot in, my husband pulled out a blouse and said, "This would look good on you. You should try it on."

Say what? We'd gone in for the spicy tuna on crackers, not to look at the enticing, spell-inducing clothing. The blouse was so pretty. It was a piece of art, really. Literally, an artist had painted these gorgeous designs that were printed on the clothing. And it was my favorite colors. I knew it would look good on me before I even tried it on.

You should know that my husband watching me try on clothes in a clothing store is about as rare as... pandas mating in the wild. You know, like when Richard Gere buys Julia Roberts a new wardrobe in Pretty Woman? Not really our usual mode of interaction. But the salesgirl quickly had me in $150 jeans that fit really well, and the blouse looked really good, and... I looked great. When she said, "you're not going to buy it?" I think she was truly baffled. She really couldn't understand the madness. I didn't mention The Compact.

But I knew I could live without the blouse, even the super cute jeans. But THEN... my husband pulled out the skirt. The skirt of my dreams. This same designer had put together a patchwork of beautiful fabrics into this skirt which was exactly the kind of thing I wear, only a lot nicer and a lot more expensive. It fit perfectly, it would look great with my boots, I knew I would wear it all the time... The cost? $200.

This is a price I've never paid for a skirt. The skirts I bought before I started The Compact and still wear usually cost about $50. They're stylish, but not trendy, and will last for years. So $200 was way outside my budget, even without the complication of my commitment to The Compact.

The interesting thing was that I noticed how my brain was working. I was starting to try to figure out how to GET THE SKIRT. What if... I waited until it was marked down? Not an option, it was the last one left, and just happened to be my size. It would probably be sold by the next day. What if... I asked for it as a holiday gift? Too much money to ask my husband to spend. What if... I just bought it, to heck with The Compact? Who would know?

Literally, this is what my crazy brain was doing. My first time in a clothing store all year, the first time I've tried anything on, and I was in a full gotta-have-it, can't-live-without-it, frothing-at-the-mouth consumer frenzy.

I did manage to walk away from the skirt. I was very proud of myself. It flitted through my brain a few times over the next couple of days, first offering itself as a real possibility, and finally fading out as a wistful what might have been (the skirt: "we could have been good together, you know.")

But it taught me very clearly something I'd been vaguely aware of for a long time: if you don't see the stuff, you don't want it. Why in the world would I need another skirt, especially one that costs $200? Because I saw it, and that made me want it, and have to have it. It's obvious really, but most of our wants originate from magazines, advertisements, and malls. If you stop seeing the stuff, you don't want it.

I'm not suggesting we should all start dressing like Minnie Pearl (sorry, that reference is probably a little obscure for younger readers), but there's no reason you can't be stylish without spending tons of money. You can buy less trendy clothes and wear them longer. You can shop secondhand. Or you can eschew fashion altogether. That's probably the most effective way to break the addiction.

Because, speaking for myself, I do feel like wanting this stuff, thinking about it, and conspiring ways to get it (not to mention working to make the money to buy it), is a habit that takes way too much time and energy, and so in a sense it's like an addiction.

If my Buy Nothing New year helps me break that addiction (as low-level as mine was), then it will have been a very successful experiment.

What about you? Are you, or have you ever been, a shopping addict? Is there a 12-step program for shopaholics? Or are you oblivious to fashion? Tell us about it in the Comments section.

October 11, 2009

Meatless Monday recipes = delicious

Just another meatless Monday...

Why should you go meatless on Mondays? For your health and the health of the planet, that's why. Meatless Mondays is a campaign to encourage people to go without meat one day a week, and when you take the pledge, you'll receive a weekly email with all kinds of delicious meatless recipes plus food-related news of the week.

So click here to check out their website and find out why going meatless on Mondays can improve your health, help the environment, and bring us together as a nation.

And click here for a recipe from the website that sounds so delicious I just have to share it with you, in case you haven't taken the pledge yet. It's called Foul Mudammas, which are regarded as "the original people's food." It's a savory breakfast popular in Eygpt and Sudan, and it looks a little like a tostada, but with flatbread instead of a tortilla, garlicky fava beans instead of refried pinto beans, and feta cheese instead of cheddar. I can't wait to try it.

Plus I've got a few terrific reader suggestions from last time:

First, WilliamB offers this recipe for Salsa-Juice Beans, which he says is a favorite in his household. Here's the preparation: boil black beans in a lot of water for 2 minutes, let sit for an hour, then drain off water. Drain the liquid from a good salsa or salsa fresca. Add it to the beans, plus enough liquid to be about twice the volume of the beans: water, veggie stock, tomato juice, etc. Then cook the beans in this liquid in a covered pot until almost soft. In a pressure cooker this will take less than 10 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer some of the liquid if there's too much, but be careful not to burn the beans. Puree or mash some of the beans until the liquid is thick. Season to taste with hot sauce, vinegar, V-8, or whatever "floats your boat," and serve over rice.

Next, Alea from Premeditated Leftovers linked to this recipe for Tomato Black Bean Barley Soup. I think she and WilliamB were on the same flavor wavelength.

And an anonymous reader suggested making tacos with refried beans instead of meat (and since we're on a black beans kick this week, those would work as well). And crepes or thin pancakes filled with creamed veggies and topped with a little grated cheese sound great. I'll have to find an easy crepe recipe because I love the sound of that.

Tonight we'll be having mushroom quesadillas, another idea from Alea. I'm going to tweak the recipe slightly and saute the mushrooms and onions first, omit the red pepper, and use cheddar cheese.

Do you go meatless on Mondays? It's a lot easier when you've got delicious meatless recipes to choose from. Tell us about YOUR favorite meatless meals in the Comments section. And click here if you want to check out the recipes and great reader suggestions from previous Meatless Monday recipes posts.

October 9, 2009

Food Waste Friday, again

It's hard to imagine wasting this delicious watermelon, but there was so much fruit in our house, and this watermelon was so big. But I wish I'd known we weren't going to be able to eat it all and given some away. At least we did eat most of it, and the rest of the fruit as well.

Being conscious of our food waste, along with getting a CSA delivery, is making me think more about sharing our food. I just have to get better about thinking of it BEFORE something goes bad instead of AFTER the fact.

This week I did manage to give away some carrot cake to our neighbor, right after I'd baked it. My husband claimed he didn't want any and didn't even like carrot cake, so I didn't want to eat too much myself. Of course, after my husband tried it he loved it, because it was delicious. Duh. I guess he hadn't had good carrot cake before, but I love most carrot cake. Oh, and I baked the carrot cake because I had some carrots getting a little limp and didn't want to waste them, so I just boiled them and mushed them up and found an easy recipe.

If you're new to this blog or the whole rather wacky concept of photographing rotten food, the idea is to be accountable for what we throw away in an attempt to waste less. The concept was started by The Frugal Girl, and it helped her so much that she shared it on her blog and invited other bloggers to join in. It's a little like keeping a food diary when you're on a diet: you might not inhale a pint of Ben & Jerry's if you have to write it down in your diary. In this case, you might be more likely to keep track of and use the food you already have if you have to photograph what's going into the trash.

In our house, we're using a number of tricks to waste less food. The first is to label the leftovers so they don't get shoved to the back of the refrigerator. Another is to create an Eat Me! section of the refrigerator for stuff that needs to be eaten right away.

We also buy less food and eat out of the pantry more often. And having a home delivery of organic produce really motivates us, because it's fresh and delicious and so we hardly ever waste it (notable exception above).

To learn more about the impact of wasted food on the environment and our pocketbooks, check out Wasted Food and The Frugal Girl.

How did you do this week? Also, a question: can seeds go in the compost bin? Some seeds, but not others? I've been avoiding putting avocado pits and watermelon seeds in the bin, but didn't worry about the cantaloupe and other melons until a friend mentioned it. Does anyone know about this stuff? I mean, what's the worst that could happen? Please weigh in by leaving a Comment.

October 8, 2009

Thrifty Threads

I've got no Thrifty Threads post today because... I completely ran out of photos!

I was getting a lot for awhile there, so I started doing it every week, but I guess everyone has been busy with fall and back to school.

So please send in those photos! Put on a secondhand outfit, have someone snap a photo (your kid will do if there's no one else around, a lot of Thrifty Threads photographs are the work of 5 or 6-year olds), and send it to me at: barton.angela@gmail.com.

And as long as I start getting pictures of your fabulous finds again, Thrifty Threads will be back next week. In the meantime, click here to check out all the previous installments of this series... 16 terrific models so far.

October 7, 2009

What's your favorite recipe for...

... dried beans?

I got such great ideas when I asked about zucchini a few months back that I've decided to ask again.

We use quite a bit of canned beans in our house since we eat meatless several times a week, and I think it's about time to switch to dried beans. It will be a whole lot healthier and cheaper than canned.

I know I could just go online or peruse a cookbook, but I have such smart and resourceful readers that I think I'll do better just asking like this.

So first I want to start cooking batches of pinto beans, and when I've got that mastered, I'll try black beans. They'll both be great with a variety of vegetables, quesadillas, tacos, or burritos.

I don't have a pressure cooker, but I do have a crockpot. Ideally, I would rinse this bag of beans and throw them in the crockpot with an onion and a couple of garlic cloves (and cover with water of course) and that would be that. And that just might work. But I'd like to hear from people who've actually done it before I give it a try.

What's your favorite way to make dried beans? It can be stovetop or crockpot, and please include whether or not to soak the beans first, and how long to cook them.

I can't wait to hear your suggestions! Please share in the Comments section.

October 6, 2009

October baby steps challenge: use less water

Way back in April, I wrote this post about how during my Buy Nothing New year I wanted to become a better role model for green living. So I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish during the year, and embarked upon a new one each month, using the baby steps method. The idea is that it's easiest to change one behavior at a time, by focusing on it, getting advice and information, and giving yourself plenty of time to make it a lasting habit.

So far, I've made an effort to stop catalogs and junk mail, started air drying the laundry, started a compost bin, and switched to natural cleansers. That last one is still in progress, but will be complete by the end of the month.

This month, I'm going to tackle the goal of using less water. I went to the DWP website and found this list of "The Top 5 Actions to Save Water Now." I should add that we live in Los Angeles and we're in a drought, so we're already pretty aware about conserving water.

I'm happy that we're already doing or have done the "Top 5 Actions:"

1. Stop those leaks! My husband is super handy and does this on a regular basis.
2. Replace your old toilet, the largest water user inside your home. Again, my husband is in the process of doing this. The toilet has been researched and ordered and is on its way to being installed. He bought the ultra-low-flush, and we'll receive a rebate from the DWP.
3. Replace your clothes washer, the second largest water user in your home. Kudos to my husband, who took this step last spring.
4. Plant the right plants with proper landscape design and irrigation. Over the past two years, I tackled the project of landscaping our front yard after my husband installed a drainage system. I used all native grasses and ground cover and succulents. It looks great and uses much less water. During the winter months, as long as it rains at least once every ten days, I don't need to water at all.
5. Water only what your plants need. Again, I water plants the most when they're first put in the ground, but after that only as much as they need.

I next looked over this 16-item list called "More Water Conservation Tips for your Home." Happily, we already practice 13 of these habits, including using the dishwasher and clothes washer for full loads only, watering plants less often and changing the schedule seasonally, and not leaving the hose running while washing the car (I go to a car wash, my husband washes his car only once every several months). You can check the list to see how you're doing with water conservation.

I did identify 3 things we'll work on this month in order to use less water:

1. Turn off water while brushing your teeth.
2. Turn off water while you're shaving. Fill sink just a little and rinse razor as you go. (I'll have to speak to my husband about that one).
3. Rinse vegetables in sinkful of clean water rather than letting the water run.

Even though taking a shorter shower isn't on either of these lists, it's the next most obvious thing, so I'm going to make an effort to shorten them a bit, and make them a little less scalding. This is a sacrifice for me, because I love showers and baths, and the shower is where I come up with some of my best ideas. So my shower space-outs aren't entirely a waste, productivity-wise. But they're not cool, water-wise.

How about you? Tell me about your water-saving efforts. And let me know if you want to join in the baby steps challenge. Please share all your tips, advice, and questions in the Comments section.

October 5, 2009

It's CSA Day: the first of fall

I'm very excited about today's delivery. There are more greens, and the potatoes are back! I never thought I'd get so excited about potatoes, but these fingerlings are delicious. I'm also quite happy with the whole spread, and those raisins look really tasty. They'll be good added to salads.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It's a great idea if you want to eat fresh, local, organic produce, but can't seem to get to the Farmer's Market. Our CSA (Auntie Em's) delivers right to our door in an insulated bag. It also posts recipes and serving tips for each week's produce on their website.

This week we got (roughly clockwise from the back): watermelon, collard greens, fingerling potatoes, loose baby greens in bag, chocolate chip brownie, dried thyme and marjoram bundle, yellow peaches, pluots, raisins, brandywine tomatoes, sun gold tomatoes, tongue of fire beans, red flame grapes, music garlic, cippolini onions, red leaf lettuce, acorn squash, and leeks.

I think I'll make a Meatless Monday dinner of Baked Squash with Heirloom Tomatoes and Pine Nuts and a red leaf lettuce salad. I'll post the recipe below. It calls for butternut squash but I'm going to substitute the acorn squash and I know it will be just as good. I'm also going to roast some of the cherry tomatoes until they're sweet for the side salad.

If you see any ingredients that just scream out a recipe or preparation to you, please share in a comment. I'd love to hear your ideas. And tell us about your CSA or Farmer's Market routines and experiences.

Auntie Em's Kitchen, Catering and Local Organic Produce Delivery

Auntie Em's Kitchen, Catering and Local Organic Produce Delivery: "Baked Butternut Squash with Heirloom Tomatoes and Pine Nuts"

yield: Makes 4 servings

1/2 large butternut squash (1 1/2 pounds)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup water
1 medium onions, halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced crosswise
1 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 heirloom tomato-diced
1 teaspoons chopped fresh margoram
1/4 pound crumbled feta (scant 1/4 cup)
1/3 cup pine nuts

Accompaniment: extra-virgin olive oil

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.

Take ½ of a butternut squash and peel it then salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then cook squash, in batches if necessary, until browned, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Add water to skillet and cook squash, covered, over moderately low heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Gently transfer squash with a spatula to a 2-quart gratin or other shallow baking dish, overlapping slices if necessary, then pour any juices from pan over squash.

Cook onions and garlic in remaining 2 tablespoons oil in skillet over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until soft, about 8 minutes. Stir in tomatoes with juice, margoram and salt and pepper to taste and simmer 3 minutes.

Cover squash with tomato mixture and crumble feta on top, then sprinkle with nuts.

Bake gratin until heated through and cheese is softened, about 10 minutes.

Serve gratin drizzled with oil.

October 4, 2009

A Note About Recycling

Keep in mind that most city's recycling rules are constantly changing.

For example, we had a list up on our refrigerator of what could be put into our blue recycling bin for pick up, which included plastics #1 and #2. But I recently went to the Department of Sanitation website for something else, and found out we can now recycle ALL numbers of recyclable plastics, plus a lot of other things, including some styrofoam. Good to know.

Click here for the link to the Department of Sanitation in Los Angeles. There's a complete list of everything that CAN and CAN'T be recycled. Otherwise, just do a google search to find the Department of Sanitation in your area.

Does your city have a recycling program? I remember the old days of saving newspapers and bringing them to a recycling center. I'm so glad Los Angeles has progressive recycling policies.

October 2, 2009

Food Waste Friday (X2)

This is last week's food waste. Yucky! My husband and I both forgot about the lettuce, and we don't put greens out on the Eat Me! shelf. This grapefruit was very old, from a tree in the neighborhood. It had been forgotten in the hoopla of the CSA and the more sexy fruit contained in the delivery box.

On the good side, it all went in the compost bin. Also, I was able to save two other bad grapefruit by squeezing them into juice, and it was delicious.

This week I was very disappointed (angry) to see a moth fly out of the oatmeal box when I went to make granola. It's the Quaker big round cardboard box, and the moths had penetrated it. I think I forgot to put new moth traps out, which I did this week after almost all those oats went to waste. I was so irritated I forgot to take a photo before tossing it. The moth traps generally work really well and help us avoid a lot of food waste, you can click here to read a post about them.

Why am I trying to waste less food, and even taking photos of rotten produce? Because keeping food out of the landfill is not only good for the environment, it saves money. Visit Wasted Food to find out all the facts about how the food we toss turns into pollution, and go to The Frugal Girl if you want to start wasting less by taking photos of your food waste every week.

We're wasting less mostly by buying less food and paying attention to leftovers. What are your best tips to waste less food? Please share them in the Comments section.

Friday Freebies

FREE STUFF ALERT: During the month of October, CVS pharmacy is giving out free flu shots if you're unemployed. There are some conditions, and you need to pick up a voucher, so click here to get the details.

Next, click here to get your Free Evening of Theater. This is a nationwide program with over 650 theaters in 120 cities participating in sharing the joys of the theater. Click here to find a performance near you, on the house! Dates and times vary, so check it out now so you don't miss out. Thanks to Katy at The Non-Consumer Advocate for that awesome tip. Have fun! I will definitely be taking advantage of this one.

And finally, don't forget about Bank of America's ongoing Museums on Us program. You can get into participating museums free on the first weekend of the month, just by flashing your debit card. This month, that's Saturday Oct. 3rd and Sunday Oct. 4th. Click here for details.

I'll be back with a Food Waste Fridays post.

October 1, 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 used or recycled, from Goodwill, a thrift store, or a consignment shop.

Today's model is Marylyn, wearing the fantastic striped pants she bought at the local Salvation Army for $4. Marylyn says they're a really well-made German label called Zerres Design. The top is from a local vintage clothing store and cost $3. The most expensive part of the outfit is the shoes, which were $5 at the Salvation Army. Here's my favorite detail: she's wearing a leopard-print bra that she bought at Value Village for $1.50! Marylyn says she's been shopping secondhand for decades, and that probably only about 5 percent of her wardrobe was bought new (that includes the cute green socks.)

Marylyn is a full-time art department secretary and part-time English teacher at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. I think she's also a really good writer. She's very modest about it, but I've seen a few of her stories and poems. Marylyn writes a blog called "Missing Marylyn," which she describes as "personal but not private." She says it's "about her FEELINGS, nothing more than FEELINGS... And a few thoughts." (That's from a 70s song by Morris Albert, for those of you too young to get the reference.) Check out her blog, you'll get a flavor of her writing talent and idiosyncratic personality (and I mean that as a compliment.)

Thanks Marylyn for the fun photos! How cool is it that almost any day of the week she's wearing an outfit that could be featured on Thrifty Threads? Not just cool, but very smart. And very thrifty. It occurs to me particularly with Marylyn's photo that shopping secondhand is not only more affordable, but it gives us a chance to put together our own outfits and express ourselves in a more creative, original way. I used to love doing that back in college, but got away from it. I think buying new clothes makes us look more like cardboard cutouts, reflections of fashion's latest whim, rather than of our own style.

Readers, I need more photos! I've been doing this as a weekly feature, but I've run out of photos so you won't see it again unless I start getting some emails. Please put on your favorite secondhand outfit, snap a photo, and send it to me at: barton.angela@gmail. com. We all want to see your fabulous finds, so please don't be shy. It really is so much fun to see what great clothes people are buying secondhand. Photos of your husband or child would also be welcome. So far, I've only had one man brave enough to model for Thrifty Threads, I'd love to see another.

Do you shop secondhand? Tell us about your best scores in the Comments section. And feel free to give a compliment to Marylyn. Click here to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.