Thursday, April 29, 2010

Recipe Thursday: Raiding the Pantry

I've been a neglectful blogger as of late. My apologies.

Life has been hectic lately, and so I haven't been making dinners at home much. Or they have consisted of heating various ingredients and combining, not necessarily crafting a meal.

The only remotely-frugal thing about some of our meals this week has been their pantry-combing nature. We've been having deli or sandwich shop nights and fend-for-yourself nights, the latter being of the pantry-combing variety.

After a dentist appointment, a can of mandarin oranges, rice pudding, and stuffing (yes - from a box, full of yummy sodium, I know. Still, have to use what we have.) was one meal.

Another "on your own" meal was a can of salmon, mixed with mayo and mustard, on crackers. "Dessert" was Nutella on crackers. Why? Because I love Nutella.

The craziness should die down... soon... ish. I hope to get back on track with the whole food thing by then.

Haven't bought any new shampoo yet. I think I underestimated what was left. *whew!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The first shampoo crisis of 2010.

I'm running out of shampoo. (This is, of course, the crisis to which my post's title refers.)

Oddly enough, I still have plenty of conditioner (I generally use more conditioner than shampoo).

My husband ran out of shampoo a few days ago.

I try to buy natural shampoo, avoiding some ingredients. My husband doesn't have the same level of craziness about it all as I do, so he tends to get whatever is on sale and try it out. He wasn't very happy with his last purchase.

Even though shampoo is something I buy on a fairly regular basis, each time, I find myself confronting the same dilemma: How do I balance my desire/need to avoid certain things, while getting a shampoo that is natural and my scalp and hair will actually like, and the necessity of staying on budget.

I could take this opportunity to try out various no-poo alternatives (conditioner-only, or a baking soda wash).

I could ransack the horde of hotel toiletries I've stockpiled. (Ok, it isn't that bad. All the mini shampoos, conditioners and shower gels fit into one zip-top bag. They are very handy when you oops-run-out of soap or shampoo, or when you are traveling.)

I could price shop the various natural options I have here in town (somewhat unlikely due to being a one-car family).

Not sure what I'll do yet. I do have a few more shampoos left in the bottle. After that, we'll see!

If you were in my shoes, what would you do?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Laundry detergent!

In the course of my normal blog and article readings, I've come across a few recipes for making your own soap (cold-pressed), shampoo bar, laundry (this one has a dish soap recipe, too) detergent (and here), and even your own deodorant. (this link has everything from deodorant to laundry liquid to window cleaner to furniture/wood polish)

Imagine my disbelief, and giddiness at seeing this article in Yahoo Finance Wednesday morning. It starts off talking about how we tend to use too much detergent when we launder our clothes, since as formulas have become more concentrated, people haven't adjusted down the amount they dump in the wash. Another blogger has a great post about this article: Everyday Frugal, Everyday Green.

Aside from wanting to avoid the ingredients in some detergents, there are other reasons to check how much detergent you use versus how much you actually need. If you pour too much into the washer,  will you go through the bottle quicker, and end up buying more. This means that you'll be spending more money than you have to, and buying more plastic bottles (or cardboard boxes) to throw away. Also, if you use too much detergent, it may not all get rinsed out, and you will end up with soapy residue in your clothes. This may not adversely affect you, but it may irritate your skin.

What makes me happy about this article is that the author didn't just talk about ways to reduce your detergent usage, she actually tried making her own laundry detergent, giving a recipe to follow should her readers want to give it a go.

I haven't made my own detergent yet, although the prospect intrigues me. I just monitor how much I pour into the wash and try to buy the "good" stuff.

Have you recently re-evaluated your detergent usage? Or have you tried to make/do you make your own laundry soap?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Recipe Thursday: Bread add-ins

If you remember, last week, I posted a recipe for wheat bread that includes dry milk. Most recipes don't include dry milk. But, dry milk (aka instant or non-instant milk powder) is nutrient rich, and a great way to increase the nutritional value of food. It also is great to have on hand when baking in case the milk in the fridge has gone sour! I have made mac'n'cheese with dry milk! (I've also made the boxed stuff with leftover marinara instead of milk - it is tasty!)

But back to bread. My first forays into baking bread were with the White Bread Plus recipe, found in some editions of Joy of Cooking. I wanted to try new things, but I was a very novice baker, and nervous about switching things up too much. In my book, on the same page as White Bread Plus was the Cornell Triple Rich Flour Formula.

Yup, the Cornell Triple Rich Flour Formula. Try saying that five times fast.

Basically, before you measure each cup of flour in a given recipe, you put:
1 tablespoon of soy flour
1 tablespoon of dry milk
1 teaspoon of wheat germ

in the bottom of the cup, then add your normal flour.

This adds a nutritional punch to your final product, and is a great way fortify white bread.

Like I said, it has been a while since I've made white bread, or used this recipe. I do remember that the look, feel and taste of the loaves with the CTRFF and those without were basically the same. You could some of the wheat germ, but it just gave a slightly grain-filled look to the bread. Similar to using Hodgson Mill flour instead of the Kroger wheat flour.

Here are some interesting links about CTRFF:
The history of the creator of Cornell Triple Rich bread
A Q & A from a 1980 edition of the Eugene Register-Guard about the benefits of using CTRFF with today's flour. (really, the whole page is interesting, including an article about home-baked bread being tastier than store bought, and a shower versus bath column)
A blogger's (anecdotal and unscientific) taste test!

Cornell Triple Rich Flour Formula and White Bread Plus in Joy of Cooking (pages 602 and 603) [this version of the bread recipe was written for a baker using a mixer - the process is a little different in my book, sans mixer]

Yup, I'm a little nutty.

What sort of things to you add to meals, breads and other foods to make them better?

Happy Earth Day!

In my regular blog reading, there has been a lot of talk about green-washing, and corporations co-opting Earth Day to sell more products, knick-knacks and other stuff that may or may not actually be green. (If you click on most of the blogs with "Green" in the title to the right, then you'll probably find at least one that is or has talked about this.)

As an optimist, though, I'm going to focus on the fact that it is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. That means that for 40 years, caring for our Earth has been a mainstream idea, and not just the idea of a few kooks on the fringe. That means that while there are climate change deniers, or those who just don't that humans have caused or impacted climate change, there are many, many others who are actively working to reduce their own carbon footprint and trying to make green-living attainable.

And don't forget that every day is Earth Day! ;)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Yahoo agrees with me!

...on HFCS!
An article on what nine ingredients to avoid in food, and guess what! they are overwhelming fake or manufactured ingredients!

Some things to avoid include: 
Artificial flavoring, colors, and sweeteners, even "friendly"ones like Splenda.

High Fructose Corn Syrup made the list. Our body processes it differently than sugar-sugar. Apparently, it has to go through the liver.

Shortening, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils. Go on, try to say that three times, fast. These are palm and soybean oil, among others. These have high levels of trans fat. So, don't simply believe the nutritional fact graphic, because if the content of something, per serving is 0.4 grams or less, they can round down to 0. Sooooo - something can have partially hydrogenated oil, but still claim to have 0 grams of trans fat in their nutritional facts section. Can I just say how mad that makes me? 

I'm also upset to learn that Yoplait yogurts have HFCS in them. We were at the store, buying yogurts to have on hand for breakfast, desserts, and sweet treats (trying to be good and avoid ice cream!). Dannon and Yoplait were both on sale for 50 cents a single serving carton (I know the big carton is more cost effective - but the flavors!!). I looked at the ingredients for several flavors of both, and quickly put the Yoplait down. I suppose it is nostalgia that makes this loss sting more than others. I remember my mom getting Yoplait, and collecting the tops to send in. Guess I won't be doing that anytime soon.

Even if HFCS are/were fine in moderation, who can eat them in moderation without being vigilant in an attempt to avoid them!

Just wanted to share!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Recipe Thursday: Wheat Bread

Remember that post about bread, where I am convinced that I killed the yeast? I thought I'd share the recipe with you! The recipe is from More With Less.

I do want to say that despite not really rising, the bread was still very yummy, with great flavor, and a nice texture. It was a little heavy, but not too much. I was actually a little surprised.

First, you mix 3 cups of whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup of dry milk, 1 tablespoon of salt, and 2 packages of yeast together.

Second, you warm 3 cups of water (the recipe calls for potato water or water - I've only ever had/used plain old tap water), 1/2 cup of honey, and 2 tablespoons of oil. (Here's my first deviation, since I only had/have olive oil, I melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the pan before adding the water and honey. It has been fine so far!)

When the water mixture is warm (NOT HOT!!), add to the flour mixture, and ... mix. Recipe is written for using an electric mixer. I prefer not to use one. Recipe says to mix for 3 minutes. I just mix until it is fairly consistent, without huge lumps.

Now, you add 1 cup of whole wheat flour, mix. Add up to 4 and 1/2 cups of white flour. As most experienced bakers, and the recipe advise, you should reserve the last cup or so to be added during kneading. I generally add a cup at a time, and when it is very difficult to mix, flour my counter, and turn it out to be kneaded. Usually, I've added 3 cups of white flour.

Since I know that I will need to add flour, I usually liberally sprinkle flour on top of the dough, on my hands, and on my pastry knives/bowl scrapers, which I use to start the kneading process. Kneading really is a hands-on learning process. You want to work the dough until it will not accept more flour, but this is a tricky line, because you can overwork it. The best way I can describe kneading is that you take one side of the dough-ball, and fold it to the center, pushing with the heal of your hand. As you do this, you are rotating the dough about 90 degrees. You keep doing this, adding flour as necessary, until the dough isn't sticky anymore.

Grease a bowl, put the dough in it, and turn (to coat). Set aside in a warm, draft free area to rise. My mom always wet a cheese cloth with hot-as-you-can-stand-it water, wrung it out thoroughly, and loosely placed it over the bread. I do too.

After it had doubled in bulk (about an hour), punch down the dough, and turn back out onto the counter. Knead very lightly, and divide it so you can form loaves. Recipe says it will make 2; I have found that it can easily make 3 loaves.

Grease your loaf pans, place your formed loaves in said pans, and set aside to rise. Again with the warm towel/cheese cloth. Again with the double in bulk. Again, it will take about an hour.

Bake for about 40 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn out onto cooling rakes, and resist the urge to eat it all in one sitting. Properly stored, it should freeze just fine for at least a few weeks. I've not had it last that long though, usually gets eaten!

Do you make your own bread? Is there a recipe that you swear by?

Tax Day!

Just a quick reminder to US citizens - today is Tax Day! Have you filed your taxes or for an extension yet?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


If you've been reading this blog, or even just peaking in on occasion, then you've probably realized that I'm making changes to how I live. Some are small, and I certainly haven't completed a total overhaul. But there are changes, and some are more noticeable than others. Some are more wacky than others (honey as face wash, for one).

All of this is just fine and dandy when I'm at home, and the only one there to give me funny looks is my husband. And even he only balks at a few things (like the honey, and really, you're baking more bread... again!). Overall, he's supportive and sees the benefits of my madness. Not always so sure about step-families, in-laws and the rest.

At home, I also have access to all the accoutrement that is required (like the big jar of honey and smaller bowl for actual application). Traveling, like I do a bit of for business or we do to see family, presents another set of... opportunities for creativity.

So far, I've been able to make my squeezable-honey bear of honey work for face wash on the road, but my skin much prefers the sugared honey exfoliant. And tea tree oil, jojoba oil, and vitamin E oil are all portable enough. I just have enough insecurity about myself, and what I am doing that being "found out" and "thought of as truly different/insane" are things that scare me. My in-laws like me now, and I don't want to make them think I'm crazy!

I know that this is silly, and that in reality, I'll just be taking my toiletry bag to and from the bathroom anyway, so it is not like they'll "find me out."

Anyway, long ramblings. But it raises another question: as we are making these changes, and eliminating some things from our daily life and consumption, what do we do when visiting? I try to avoid high fructose corn syrup, because, even though it is chemically (I believe) the same as sugar, and fine in moderation, it is impossible to have only in moderation because it is in EVERYTHING! Not everyone does. Do I just deal, and eat what I think I can when visiting, or do I make a big stink about it (so not my style). But does eating that way for the weekend mess up everything I've done before?

Perhaps HFCS isn't the best example. Maybe SLS is better. If I work to purge SLS from cleaning agents in my home, what do I do at my parents' homes? Bring my own soap, or just use theirs, knowing it has SLS? Do I say anything?

Guess you can say that I have a lot of un-founded insecurities, and think about some things way too much.

Have you encountered similar situations before? How did you/would you handle it?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

We try to be thrifty and green...

....and then this happens. They really don't make things like they used to. This article outlines a few of the items that are actually designed to wear out or need to be replaced, not repaired or re-used. This is frustrating to me, in multiple ways. It makes me feel like the companies are lying to me, and just duping me into a vicious cycle of consumerism. It's hard to break that desire for new things. Hey - I may as well be honest - it is hard for me sometimes. And, it's not green to design throw-away things, especially throw-away electronics, and such. And, it is not frugal to buy things that are simply going to wear out on you, with little to no hope of being repaired.

There are only five things (or categories of things) on the list, and most of them are things that we can do without. Like MP3 players. I really like my iPod; it was a Christmas present from my husband a few years ago, and I love the portability of it, and how much of my music collection can fit in such a convenient package. (In total, I think I've spent less than $40 on iTunes - the vast majority of music on my iPod is uploaded from my CD collection.) If it broke down, or required a super expensive repair, I'd probably go back to listening to my CDs, the radio, or to playing the songs in my head.

I can't say that I was super surprised by fashion, textbooks or ink cartridges being on the list. I just shared an article about saving money on printing by being savvy with your font. So, there's that. And textbooks, especially college ones, where you actually have to go buy the books yourself (something I didn't have to do at public high school).

I could probably rant and rave about textbooks for a good while, but won't. I'm just happy that as a language and literature major, I was spared the exorbitant cost of science and math textbooks, for the most part. I briefly talked about what I did to recoup the investment in college here. I would also try to buy what I could from these sources, saving me money.

Fashion. Well, I've never been particularly fashionable myself, although, sometimes what's "in" cycles around to include my tastes. This is when my packrat tendencies work in my favor, and I can dust off that old pair of stockings or pants, and wear them with confidence. Although, truth be told, I was probably wearing them even when they weren't "in." I like wearing some current pieces, and new clothes do make me feel special, but, having been a youngest child, I'm used to wearing hand-me-downs, and while it took me a while to get this attitude, they are just clothes. As long as they are clean, well-kept, and fit (and I like them), I'm usually ok with not being "current." It is just easier to focus on a few, classic pieces that look good on you, and are well made.

Anyway. The deliberate making things to be a lesser quality, so that consumers are essentially forced to re-buy things really upsets me. It feels like they are lying to me. Not a big fan of that.

Does any of this surprise you? How do you feel about it?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bread: The rise and fall of a baker

One thing that I actually can do, and do relatively well, is bake bread. My bread baking repertoire is limited, consisting mainly of various white and wheat loaf breads; the kind of bread good for sandwiches, toast, and Nutella (mmmm).

The most challenging thing about baking bread is the waiting. Sure, you have to keep things in proportion, and make sure that nothing gets too hot (or else it will kill the yeast), but most bread recipes now take all of that into consideration, and you can use ready-packaged yeast, so even the rising is more assured.

I was reading a book a few months ago, and this particular section was set in pre-Revolutionary War America (pre- by a year or two), and the wife commented that they were having flat bread for dinner because the bread didn't rise. The words all made sense to me. I know what unrisen bread is. I know proofing/letting bread rise takes time. I know that you can kill the yeast, so the bread won't rise, but was a little baffled at the why and how behind this comment (nevermind the time travel or modern people living in the mid- to late- 1700s, I was hung up on the bread baking). Then, somewhere in the text, another seemingly throwaway line about leaving dough out/vats of beer out to collect wild yeast flipped my mental light switch to the "on" position. I'm so used to my little packets of yeast, or even seeing those jars that I didn't even think about what wall would be involved in making a yeast bread then.

So, I suppose I should remedy my "the hardest thing" statement to reference working with yeast.

Especially since I think I committed my first mass murder of yeast last week. I was working with a wheat recipe, with which I have had past and recent success, where you heat oil (or butter, in my case), water, and honey to warm before adding it to some of the flour, mixed with dry milk, salt, and yeast. I think I let the honeyed water heat up too much. Instead of just letting it be warm enough, I had to try to perfect, and ended up with too warm. Result: dead yeast, dough that never doubled in bulk, and dense loaves.

Now that I think about it, I wonder if I remembered the salt - that could have affected the rising, too.

I also kneaded a lot more than I usually do.

I ended up with these loaves that were about half to three-fourths as high as they should have been, and that didn't quite fill the entire breadth of the pan. Also, after the proofing, I took the smallest loaf, and divided it up and made into rolls. The rolls were an interesting experiment, and provided a very filling breakfast for the next day

I haven't really done sweet breads, quick breads, salt-rising, or sourdough breads. Have you?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Use less printer ink, by changing...

...the font.
Century Gothic will use less ink, but possibly more paper... discuss. Here's the article.

Blogger doesn't have Century Gothic as an option, but it is a perfectly fine looking sans-serif font. If you don't know, something like Arial(mnop) is a sans-serif font, where as Georgia(mnop) is a serif font. Those little horizontal lines at the top and bottom of letters make a difference in how we see the letters, the spacing, and even how easy it is to read on paper versus the screen. Since starting work at the university, I've learned that I prefer serif fonts, but that sans-serif are easier to read on the computer screen (so says our tech-and-tech-teaching department).

One point raised by the article is that because the space allotted to each letter in Century Gothic is more than in other fonts, the same amount of text in CG will take more paper than it would in Arial. If your one page document becomes a two pager in CG - does the extra piece of paper negate your ink savings?

This is a very fair question, but I think that changing things like margins, and font size, and using double-sided printing can alleviate this problem, in most situations. Also, this answer depends on the type of paper you use. Is it recycled? How much of it is recycled? Is it sustainably produced?

I know that personally, I can only focus on changing one or two things at a time. So I sometimes fall into the "can't see the forest for the trees" problem. I am so focused on being green and/or frugal about one item, that I forget to consider other items or habits, or what the carbon backstory of my green/frugal item is.

That is what this sort of feels like. Use less ink or less paper? Can't we do both?

This whole greening up our lives is a slow-process for us. Replacing one product or habit at a time, instead of pitching everything we have now, and spending the money to buy all 'new.' The slow approach makes sense, but it can make it difficult to see progress sometimes.

And it can make the slip ups even more pronounced. For instance, we needed to buy toothpaste. We were at the local co-op, and were prepared to plunk down some money for said toothpaste. We were a bit anxious to go ahead and get out of the store, so we picked up the cheapest one. I didn't look at the label close enough. There was no fluoride (not a huge deal to meal, I can take it or leave it, but husband prefers fluoride). Then I actually read the ingredients, and there was SLS!! (sodium laurel/laureth sulfate) The thing that I was actually trying to avoid! Sure, it was way down on the list of ingredients, instead of being second or third. Still, I was crushed.

(Why am I avoiding SLS, which is as pervasive as high fructose corn syrup? Because it is in everything, and isn't as safe as I'd like. It really does deserve a post of its own; one that I haven't found the time to write, yet. Here are some more random links, though: Crunch Chickens' SLS-free toothpaste search; from Wise Geeknatural health info site has some info on it; and from Tom's of Maine (at the bottom of the page. Here's the other side of things from

Ok, back to the paper and ink. What are your thoughts on the less-ink-font issue? Are you in favor of switching over your default font and sizing to save both ink and paper?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Recipe Thursday: Sweet Potato Fries

I love sweet potatoes. They are so rich in flavor, and generally good for you, too. There are a few mid-range steakhouses where sweet potatoes are a regular side, and sweet potato fries are popping up on more and more menus, substitutable for regular fries.

Fried food is still fried food, so you do need to consider that if you are out and considering your side options. At home, though, you have more control. Personally, I don't have a fryer, and don't really ever have enough oil, or the right kind of oil on hand for frying. But, no bother, fries can be made in the oven.

The first time I did sweet potato fries, I followed a recipe from the Food Network's website. Since I didn't print it out, I've been dredging my memory, and cobbling together recipes from other sources to create a workable sweet potato oven fry.

In this quest, I've burnt more than a few sweet potato sticks...

Here's a basic recipe upon which you can build and with which you can play:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Wash two sweet potatoes (or however many you want, since I'm generally cooking for 2, two potatoes works), and cut into roughly sticks. (think thick carrot sticks)

Toss in up to 1 tbsp. olive oil. Salt to taste, if desired. Spread on a backing sheet. You want one layer of sweet potato sticks, so if you have a smaller oven or more potatoes, you may need to do this in batches.

Bake 30-40 minutes, tossing the fries occasionally. My oven doesn't heat very evenly, so at 40 minutes, I've been burning a few of the thinner pieces.

Several recipes I saw say to pat excess moisture off the fries before baking. This will help the exterior to crisp up. I've often neglected this step, and ended up with soft, tasty, and slightly crisp fries that are more reminiscent of roasted veggies than fries I'd get at a restaurant. Still very tasty.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Books and books and more! part dos

Because yesterday's entry started to get long, I chopped it up...

So to continue:
Even if you aren't a big fan of going to the library, or your local system doesn't have the best selection, don't despair! You, too, can re-use, and recycle books, and read them on a semi-permanent basis! In addition to simply swapping with friends (who knows your taste better than some good friends), you can also use internet sites, like PaperBack Swap. In the interest of full disclosure, my friends, local libraries, and own book-buying habits keep my To Be Read pile well-stocked, so I haven't used this myself, but do have friends who have used this site with success.

PaperBack Swap is pretty straight forward (there's a neat tutorial here). Basically, you list what books you want to swap out, get two credits for listing your first ten, and use those credits to request books to be sent to you. Everyone pays postage to send books, but not to receive. So, there is some money involved, but much less than buying books, especially new. 

One potential problem I've heard of is that it can be difficult to get some of the more popular books this way. A friend waited a long time for a Sookie Stackhouse novel to come available, and not be snatched up before she could get to it.

Patience is required, but the same situation often arises with using the library.

Again, while I have not used, I do have a mini-swap set up with a friend still in NC. It is so exciting to come home to find a package filled with book-goodies from her. If you set up an informal swap with friends, near or far, you can try new books, and new genres that you haven't tried before, and experience a whole new world of books.

I like'em!
What about you?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Books and books and more!

I like to read. I love getting lost in a world not my own, and experiencing something new. Over the years, this love of reading, and being in college and university have only grown my book collection. While there are books that I do re-read, and some that are helpful, the vast majority are books that I will probably never read again, and have just been lugging from place to place (or, having my husband lug from place to place - I do carry a few of the boxes!)

Even though I love books, and being surrounded by books and the choices that provides, is amassing a collection to rival the Library of Congress (I kid) really the best use of my space, resources, and time. Probably not, especially when you consider that when I get on a reading-streak, I can clear a thousand pages in a day or two (depending on the subject).

In college, I often sold books back through or I was often able to figure it so that the commission they charged was roughly equal to the shipping allowance, and then ship the books media mail, turning a profit over what the bookstore would give me. I was also selling back science and math books, not the novels I was enjoying for my major.

About a year ago, I culled a couple dozen books from my collection, and put them up on these sites to sell. This time, the commission sometimes was higher than the shipping allowance, but since these were novels, I couldn't raise the price too much. By the time the book sold, the commission was taken out, and I shipped it, I think I was lucky to have made 50 cents off a book. At that point, I may as well have donated them.

A lot of my books didn't sell, because I was pricing them to make at least some sort of a profit off of them. I haven't tried this since. I do still have many books that I do need to purge from my shelves, but am having a hard time getting past the "But I might need them, in the future!" Unfortunately, I am a bit of a pack-rat.

After graduate school, I was enjoying not having to read anything, but after about 6 months, my love of reading was rekindled, and I rediscovered the joys of the library (and librarians). I have memories of going to the library on a regular basis with my mom and sister when I was little. I remember roaming the children's section, and climbing on the carpeted step-seats, reading. I used the library a lot as an undergraduate and graduate student, for books, internet access, and films (and a place to view films!). But, somehow, in my post-grad life, I'd forgotten about it. Plus, I am always a little frightened that I won't finish a book before the due date.

I made friends who would lend me books, and I started reading library books again. Visiting the library can be like a shopping high plus Christmas... you walk out, arms loaded with all these new and exciting books, yet you didn't have to spend a dime (unless, of course, you had to pay a fine). And you can keep borrowing! (Just don't forget to return them).

In NC, I was fortunate enough to be friends with an Assistant Librarian, who helped me to navigate everything, like reserving a copy of a new book, or requesting a book that was currently out. That does necessitate you wanting a specific book. Part of the fun of a library is the browsing, I think. Getting lost in the dust jacket descriptions is amazing (sort of like sometimes, the previews are the best part of the movie).

Now, I am fortunate to be in a university (where, as staff, I can check out books for a looooong time), and have access to all books in the university catalog, although, I may have to wait for a book to be delivered to my local branch. I am also in a county with a superb library system. Score!

Are you a fan of your local library?

Friday, April 2, 2010

What not to buy... in bulk?

Most of us in the US have seen or shopped in a big box store. I'd wager to say that a majority have also step foot in the big club stores (like Sam's Club, Costco, BJs and so on). Anecdotally, I gather that you used to actually be a small business of some sort and pay a fee to gain membership and the privilege of buying mondo boxes of pretzels, mints, paper towels and toilet paper. Now, anyone can go in, sign up, pay their fee, and shop the bulk aisles. As far as I know, there are still perks or extra discounts (or something) for actual business owners.

If memory serves, about 10 years ago, it seems that it was only businesses and Y2Kers who were buying in bulk. (Ok, so maybe 11 years for the Y2Kers - can you believe it has been that long!) Buying a small surplus of staples so you didn't run out, or having a decent pantry wasn't outrageous, but having 96 rolls of toilet paper in a home, or the tub of mayo as large as a house plant was.

I'm sure exactly when the shift happened, and I think that it may have pre-dated the economic recession, but now, buying in bulk is all the rage. (I will also admit that it could be as simple as me not being aware of the phenomena earlier.) We think that buying the larger bottle of something is automatically saving us money. More is more. People will stroll Costco on Saturday afternoons with their family, making a meal out of the samples.

And going right along with that were the articles and tips for shopping in bulk. A lot of these tips are really just transferred over from the grocery store, or coupon shopping. If you wouldn't buy it without the coupon/in a smaller amount, don't buy it with the coupon/in bulk. Don't buy more than you can use before it spoils. Think about the space you have, and don't buy what won't fit.

Recently, I came across this article about what not to buy in bulk.

Did you know that brown rice has a shorter shelf life than does white? I didn't. (The article doesn't provide a timeline.)
And the note about not buying candy in bulk because then you are just more likely to eat more. Yeah - done that. Extra calories taken in and extra money spent. Not good.
Things like nuts, condiments, and vitamins should be purchased in reasonable quantities, as they will spoil. Of course, if you are going to a pot-luck, or donating to a soup kitchen, then super-sized condiments may actually be used up quickly.

The article also cautions against buying paper towels, toilet paper and diapers in bulk. For diapers, it is because you never know when the baby will grow, rendering the diapers too small. I think that the "buy what you can use in a reasonable time" rule of thumb is helpful here. Of course, if Junior has an unexpected growth spurt, donating or gifting to someone else who has a little one is a way of keeping the extra diapers from taking over your home. Still doesn't recompense you for spending on diapers you couldn't use. (If you decide to clothe diaper, I imagine this is a moot point. Do cloth diapers have 'sizes?')

The article's main qualm with buying PT and TP in bulk is storage. While it is wise not to let these paper products over-run your life, I think that this isn't the best reason to include PT and TP on a grand list of what not to buy in bulk. There are ways to find extra storage. Above the fridge, under the bed, that shelf in the closet no one can reach easily. That being said, I'm not advocating renting a storage unit so you can save 10 cents a roll on TP, or that you buy more than will fit in your house. Of course, if you have hoarding tendencies, you probably should avoid the bulk warehouses.

Really, I just wanted to share this article, and throw my 2 cents in about paper products. I do know the alluring siren's call of the warehouse store. Sometimes, my eyes glaze slightly at the sight, but I just have to remember that we have a budget, both of money and space, and that just because it is bulk, doesn't mean I am actually getting more for my money, saving money, or that I should buy it.

How do you feel about warehouse stores?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Recipe Thursday: Meatloaf

I grew up half-knowing what my parents used to make meatloaf. Not everything, or proportions, just that worcestershire sauce, egg, spices, and oatmeal played a part, along with ground beef. In making it myself, I've added and subtracted, and made plenty of my own mistakes, some of which lead to crumbly-because-it-is-dry meatloaf or crumbly-because-it-is-too-wet-meatloaf. Go me.

Hehe. Even through all the trials, I still don't know what all of the proportions are. But here you have a rough meatloaf recipe that has seen me through:

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Have 1 lb ground meat [beef, chicken, turkey, whatever you have, we tend towards chicken] thawed.

In your bowl, combine 1 egg, up to a tablespoon of italian seasoning [give or take, as always], about a tablespoon of worcestershire sauce, one or two squeezes of ketchup, and a scant quarter cup of oatmeal [I have the rolled oat, not instant!!!]. These are all things that I tend to have on hand, and can easily be swapped out for other things. No worcestershire, use soy sauce, in moderation. No italian seasoning? Use oregano, basil, and most anything else you do have. No ketchup? No loss, use tomato paste if you have it. No oatmeal? Do you have instant potatoes, or breadcrumbs?


Add the thawed meat. [I usually use the same fork I used to mix the other ingredients together to sort of break up the meat as I add it]

You're supposed to mush it all together with your hands, but I don't always want to do that. So, I use the fork to mix it all together.

I pat it all into a loaf pan, and smooth the top. I also squeeze ketchup on the top, because my husband really likes that. A loaf this size will cook in about 30 minutes at 350 Fahrenheit. If you want to make a larger loaf, just add time [and seasoning!].

How do you feel about meatloaf? Do you have a beloved family recipe that you swear by? Or have you sworn off the stuff?