Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Black Holes in My Kitchen

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this, but I’m short. Not kind of short, but really short. As in I haven’t been measured without shoes on in years and I’m still only 5′ 3/4″. Even standing on my tippy toes on my step ladder, I can just reach the edge of the top shelf of my pantry and the cabinets over my refrigerator. As a result, those spaces have turned into black holes. Every time I go to put something away up there, I kind of just shove it in and ignore whatever else is getting shoved around or tipped over in there.

Yesterday evening for my last step in cleaning out my kitchen, I decided to tackle those spaces. My Swiffer has a rubberized handle which helped me to kind of push things towards me, which I set out on the counters and table to sort: 3 water bottles, 3 thermoses of various sizes, some serving dishes, a never used butterfly covered tea set, an Easter basket, Christmas cookie tins, a selection of bento boxes, paper plates and napkins, plastic cups and silverware, disposable cake and pie tins, and a ridiculous array of empty glass jars. Not Mason jars, but random jars that I’ve emptied and saved just in case.

Water bottles were put on a lower shelf where I’ll use them more often, the tea set has been set aside to give to my niece for Christmas, a Goodwill box has been started with Easter basket and some thermoses, and a lot of jars went into the recycling bin. A few tall ones from oils and sauces got set aside for a future project and everything else was returned to the cabinets within reach. Mission accomplished and all within 30 minutes.

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DIY Scarf Hanger

In the past year or so, I’ve noticed more light weight scarves infiltrating my wardrobe. They’re an easy way to add a bit of color pattern to an outfit, cover up cleavage (something I’ve got to spare), and protect myself from drafty classrooms. But, they’re somewhat awkward to store and my dresser is already overflowing. A while back on Pinterest I saw an idea for a homemade scarf hanger that even I couldn’t mess up.

All you need is a plastic hanger, a set of shower curtain rings (available at the Dollar Store) and 12 pieces of ribbon or string, each at least 6 to 8 inches long (longer if you want bows instead of knots).

Knot the ribbon once around the skinny part of each ring. Then double knot the ribbon around the bottom part of the hanger.

Then simply feed your scarves through and take a slightly out of focus picture of it to show the internet that you have awesome craft and photography skills.

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Pistou

It’s the peak of the summer harvest right now, which means it’s time to make pistou. What’s pistou? It’s the Spanish version of ratatouille, and is easier for me to spell. (Aren’t you glad you asked?) Anyways, whatever you call it, it is a classic Mediterranean summer dish filled with fresh veggies that is already vegetarian, so no modifications were needed.

It does call for a bit more of oil than I usually use, and while I’ve tried to cut it back, the eggplant becomes unhappy. And while I also try and cut back on longer prep steps, peeling and salting the eggplant is pretty necessary: otherwise, it can be bitter. By itself, it makes a nice but light dinner. The traditional Spanish way of serving this dish is to poach eggs in it just before serving. When I’m short on eggs, like this week, I add some plain Greek yogurt for protein or have a side of bread and cheese. My sister who first introduced me to ratatouille serves it over orzo and topped with parmesan or goat cheese. However you do it, it’s yummy and packed full of veggies.

Pistou

  • 1 large or 2 medium eggplant, peeleed and diced
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium bell pepper, diced
  • 1 medium zucchini, diced
  • 6 medium tomatoes, diced, or 2 14 oz cans of diced tomatoes
  • salt to taste
  • 4 eggs (optional)
  1. Put eggplant in a colander in the sink or over a bowl, salt generously and set aside for half an hour. When ready, throughly rinse the eggplant and shake off most of the excess water.
  2. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add onions and cook until translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, and cook until fragrant and soft, about 1 to 2 minutes, then sprinkle with salt.
  4. Add the eggplant and cook until most of the oil is absorbed, stirring occasionally, about 3 to 4 minutes.
  5. Add the zucchini and bell pepper, stir until coated and evenly mixed.
  6. Add the tomatoes, juice and and all, stir into the pot and bring to a simmer.
  7. Allow to simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes, and adjust salt to taste.
  8. If desired, crack one egg at a time into a mug, then gently pour into the pistou, taking care to not break the yolks.
  9. Poach until whites are set and yolks are at their desired hardness.
  10. Serve with 1 egg per bowl.

Serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side.

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August 27 Weekly Update

As much as I have loved My Pretty Pennies’ Weekly Money Check-Up format, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to take a step forward and create my own weekly update post. Thanks for the inspiration over the months, Ginna! It’s helped me look back at how I’ve done and given me inspiration for the week ahead.

Money

Spending:  A little too much on going out. I went out for a beer with some new friends, everybody else ordered a bunch of food and when the check came, we were a little short. I decided to suck it up and throw in a few extra bucks, but next time I’m asking for a separate check. Also on Friday I had a bit of a meltdown, so for sanity reasons I opted for take-out and renting a DVD rather than cooking for a friend.

Earnings: 1 mystery shop and 1 lost check from house cleaning. Double boo on the lost check since I had rented a steam cleaner and they reimbursed me in that check, so I’m actually out money on this one.

School

I’m still freaking out about my big test in 3 (!) weeks, but that’s to be expected. My goal is to do more practice problems which hopefully will calm me down a little. My boss is also asking for a final report on one of my projects by the end of this week so we can polish for a conference next month and get it ready for publication.

Health and Fitness

I’m down 5 pounds this first week, which I’m sure is mostly water weight, but still, yay! I’m doing better about working out and this week my goal is to bike to campus 2 days, run 2 days, and work out with Jillian 2 days.

Menu

Lunches: Chinese garlic green beans with pasta and gingery carrot and cucumber salad, lima beans in pluot chutney with roasted corn and baked zucchini

Suppers: Right now the only thing I have planned is pistou (recipe tomorrow!), but I love this stuff and made a giant batch.

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Land of the Misfit Condiments

Tuesday night I came home and felt ambitious. I canned 9 ½ pints of crushed tomatoes (thank you Tomato Fairy!), 4 half pints of sweet pickle relish, and baked a loaf of whole wheat bread. During the long water bath time for tomatoes, I decided to tackle my refrigerator. The shelves and drawers weren’t too bad: they just required a wiping down.

However, the door was another story all together. Apparently my refrigerator door is where unwanted condiments go into exile. I had a few jars of hot sauce with only few drops left, some sauces I bought on a whim that I never liked. Those were easy to empty, rinse, and put in the recycling bin. However, the scary parts were things I actually use. When I moved in, I bought medium sized containers of ketchup, mayo, and mustard, since they were cheaper by the ounce. Along the way I picked up a handful of salad dressings on nights when I was too lazy to even mix my own salad dressing. What’s wrong with that, you might ask? Well, I finally checked the expiration dates, and the most recent one was December of last year. Yes, they still smelled and looked ok and apparently tasted fine the last time I used them, but do I really need foods that are so processed they last for a YEAR beyond their official expiration date?

Obviously, those all got dumped. But what to do about any potential replacements? Well, salad dressing dressing takes about 10 seconds to whip together between olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice, and a pinch of seasonings, so no more excuses there. Also, lately I’ve been making my own mayonnaise, which comes out in small batches and is ah-mazing. I’ve seen some recipes for mustard that seem pretty straight forward and should give me super fancy mustard for not much money.

Anyways, now I have a clean and organized refrigerator where I can actually see all the condiments I own! Hurrah! Here’s hoping I’m not repeating this experiment in a few months.

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Eat Less, Move More, Spend Less?

So, if you’ve been following my new Twitter feed, I’ve been posting a budget friendly outfit every day. However, taking a full length picture every day is forcing me to confront the fact I really have gained almost 30 pounds in 4 years. I have a more active social life since I moved out to California (more alcohol, cheese, and fries) and I fell out of the habit of dealing with stress by running and into the habit of dealing with it by eating.

I know there’s lots of expensive ways to help me lose the weight, from providing the food like NutriSystem, to support systems like Weight Watchers. Fortunately, in the past I’ve had luck with Spark People, a free website for recording food and exercise. They also have a free app, which I downloaded to my phone so I can enter what I eat as I go through my day. As for the exercise side of things, I found a good deal on entry in a local half marathon this November. I’ve run a few before, so while it’ll take some work I love having a goal when I exercise. Next month I regain free access to the student gym and in the mean time I’ll spend some more quality time with my kettlebell and Jillian Michaels dvd.

And who knows? I could even save some more money along the way, by cutting back on snacks at work, ordering fewer drinks and fries, and splurging on less fancy cheeses.

Got any tips or affordable healthy recipes for me?

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A Summer’s Day on the Farm

I know I talk about Nevermore Farm a lot, so I thought I’d document one of my visits and share it with y’all.

I started out my morning in the greenhouse, watering all the plants found in there. Currently, most of these guys are things being nursed along or have no home elsewhere. The beast of a plant on the lower left is a rose scented geranium, that smells amazing every time I brush past it.

Next I headed to the seedling tent. Last time I went up, I started a number of seed trays for fall plantings, but the one of lettuce completely failed. Note to self: next time check that seed packets didn’t expire 7 years ago. Some of the other trays had a lot of seeds that didn’t sprout, so I spent an hour or so placing 2 lettuce seeds in each of those cells in the black tray, and cabbage, kale, and spinach seeds into their own appropriate trays.  Not the most exciting task in the world, but I’m looking forward to lots of tasty greens this falls, so I’ll count this as worth it.

By that point it was hot outside, but fortunately, Deborah had lots of produce to can inside. I started with the above trays of tomatoes, running them through the white machine on the left, which pureed them and separated them from their seeds and skins. While I worked on the tomatoes in the living room, she had the joyous task of peeling and pitting peaches by hand in the kitchen.

All those tomatoes went into the large pot in the back right, to make a giant batch of tomato sauce. The prettiest of peaches went into the lower right pot with simple syrup for canned half peaches. The not so pretty peaches, which seem to outnumber the pretty ones 9 to 1, went into the two pots on the left to make peach butter, which has to be stirred almost constantly to prevent burning. Fortunately, I’m getting better at using my phone one handed, so I spent a good half an hour or so perched on a stool alternating between stirring the two pots of peach butter and texting.

Was this a thrilling day? No. Was it a lot of work? Yes. Occasionally tedious? Yes. But was it fun? Definitely. With a career that’s currently computer focused, it’s nice to work with my hands, get a little messy, and have tangible results at the end of the day. It’s also really great to to be so involved with producing my own food. Cap it off with spending all that time with a good friend who I can talk with for hours, and it made for a really great day.

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