Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Scrap Veggies

I feel like everyone has something they're super passionate about, right? Well, (one of) mine is the environment. I'm really thankful that our new city has really awesome recycling facilities, because back in College Station we could basically only recycle white paper, plastic, and certain colors of glass, and it made my soul die a little every time I had to throw away something that could have totally been recycled in any other city.

But even with the better recycling options, I'm always looking for ways to reduce the amount of trash we produce, because it bothers me a lot how wasteful we are as a society. How wasteful we are as a household, and there's only the two of us! We are far from perfect, and send an awful lot of trash to the landfill every week, and my goal is to be more aware of it and reduce our refuse when possible.

A long time ago, I decided I wanted to try my hand at composting our food scraps, and it didn't go over that well. I ended up with a tiny bucket full of sludge because I didn't know the first thing about helping stuff decompose. But, live and learn: I did some more research this time, and about a month ago, I built my own large bin composter for the backyard. (I used this tutorial.)

And by "built" I mean "drilled some holes in this trash can I got from Lowe's."

Thankfully, Matt has been really on board with all my efforts to throw away less stuff. We hardly use paper towels anymore, thanks to having clean rags within easy reach all the time. And now we throw away significantly fewer food scraps. He's gotten even more into composting than I have!

We keep a little flower pot in the kitchen to collect egg shells and veggie peelings, and then every day (or every other day), we'll toss it out into the compost bin. Every week, when I get the newspaper and circulars in the mail, I'll shred them and toss them in as well, along with a handfull of potting soil. And then one of us (most likely Matt) shakes the bin up to keep it all mixed and working.

And despite the fact we've been throwing food in here for more than a month, it doesn't really even smell.

It hasn't been that long, and we use the 32-gallon bin an awful lot, but I'm excited to get to a place where we can turn all our compostable food waste into soil. My goal is to eventually have a small garden in our backyard, so we can grow a few types of veggies. (Our basil plant didn't survive the drive to Virginia, and our pepper plant gave us two marble-sized Mexibells before the weather got cold and it freaked out.) At some point, I may have to make a second bin, so we can keep throwing scraps in while the first bin decomposes, but we're not to that point yet.

What is it that you're really passionate about? Do you compost?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Cookbook Challenge: I Bake Some Stuff

I've been recipe-ing up a storm! And baking more than is normal for me, but I have determined that 2015 is the year I'm going to finish this challenge! Since I don't eat meat (it's been more than a year now!), I haven't really touched very many of the meat recipes, and I need to get started on those soon or I'll never finish. Thankfully, I go to a good amount of potlucks for various book clubs and meetup groups I'm in, and Matt will never turn down a good, meaty dinner.

As a reminder, I'm cooking through the Bride and Groom First and Forever Cookbook. We are far from a bride and a groom anymore. But my sister is getting married! Maybe I should gift her a copy of this cookbook for her wedding. It's been pretty consistently awesome.



Cosmopolitans
I know that mixing drinks isn't really the same as cooking, but … there are cocktail recipes in this cookbook! And I love cosmos! And I don't think I've ever tried one that wasn't made from that gross, sweet, pre-made mix. It had triple-sec in it! Which is probably not ground-breaking, but cut me some slack, I don't mix yummy cocktails all that often. (The recipe made far too many for one person, and I got a little tipsy off just one, and so I refrigerated the rest because WHO WASTES GOOD VODKA. It didn't end up tasting all that good after refrigeration. I cut it with leftover cranberry juice and drank it anyway.)


Shortbread Sweethearts
Ya'll, I bought a cookie cutter and everything for this adventure. I used my new rolling pin. I was patient while the dough sat in the refrigerator, and then again when it sat out on the counter to soften again. (Which made the dough kind of crumbly; if it was supposed to be soft, what was the point of the refrigeration?) Anyway, they were a little too buttery for my taste (butter is the main ingredient), but Matt said they tasted like the butter cookies you could get from those holiday tins, and he liked them. (I wonder if it would have been better with margarine? I started buying real butter to get away from consuming so many chemicals, but I definitely feel like real butter should be used more sparingly than this recipe would have allowed. Thoughts?)


Frittata with Sundried Tomatoes, Cream Cheese and Basil
As you can see, my first-ever attempt at making a frittata was not at all beautiful, but at least it was really freaking easy to make. And it did taste fancier than scrambled eggs, which I seriously considered turning it into when the eggs on top didn't want to flow onto the bottom of the pan like the recipe said. Also I accidentally broiled it on the wrong side and had to flip it and broil it again. But it was quite tasty, once all was said and done. Also, I bought sriracha for the first time to use on the frittata, and now Matt and I put it on everything.


Our Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies
Were these the most delicious chocolate-chip-and-walnut cookies I'd ever tasted? No. But they were still pretty darn yummy. I just wish they hadn't pancaked out so much — I put the requisite space between them and cooked them for the recommended time, and they just flattened and turned dark around the edges, instead of staying ooey gooey like the book said they would.


Party Pecans
The combination of spices and sauces (liquid smoke! worchestershire sauce! butter! garlic powder! sugar! more stuff!) smelled amazing before I'd even popped these suckers in the oven. And when they were done? Hoo boy, I could see myself sitting with a bowl of these and hoovering them all up in one go. A little spicy, a little smoky, a little sweet … mmm. Matt thought they were only okay, though. All the more for me!

Completed: 50 of 147* recipes

How do you feel about butter vs. margarine? Do you like to bake?

*I've updated the total number of recipes. It turns out, when I initially tallied it up, I miscounted. There are only 147 recipes in the book.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Gift Guide for People Who Don't Have Space in Their Luggage

I'm not going to show you a pretty collage of things that you can buy for every person you've ever met. Most of the time, those things are so impersonal, so I don't like them. EXCEPTION: Funny (on purpose or on accident) gift guides. On Sunday I was flipping through the December issue of Glamour, and in the "For the Man in Your Life" gift-guide section, I saw a gold-plated HATCHET, with the caption: "Svbscription x SS&Co., a subscription service for an array of luxury men's products, like this hatchet ($155)."


I don't know how a hatchet is considered a "luxury men's product," but I did ask Matt if he'd like one, and it made him laugh.

ANYWAY.

When we lived in Texas, going home for the holidays meant loading up one of our vehicles, driving two or three hours and unloading all the lovely wrapped gifts we'd bought for our families.

Since we moved across the country and all gifts must be stashed in luggage (that we'll have to pay baggage fees to fly), I've been thinking a lot about how we do Christmas gifts, what we've got on our own Christmas lists, and how best to shop for our loved ones.

So here are some of my ideas — a gift guide of sorts — to making that process not take so many suitcases.

Shop online and ship gifts to your destination.
We will be celebrating with various family members on four different occasions over the week of Christmas. Because our first stop will be my parents' house, every time I order a gift online for anyone, I have it shipped to their house with strict instructions not to open the box if it's addressed to me (or, I threaten, I'll have to return all the goodies). I plan to wrap everything up all pretty when we get there, and my mom and sister and I will have a wrap party like we do most every year. (I was careful not to ship any gifts for either of them, so they will still be surprised.) Then, we're borrowing my mom's car to travel to the other celebrations, and we can load up like normal.

Give experiences.
I don't know why this one never occurred to me during previous holiday seasons, but now that space is at a premium, I've been thinking about how to give people the gift of their own adventures. Think: gift cards to unique destinations, tickets to cool events, classes for new hobbies or experiences. Listen to your loved ones when they say they've always wanted to learn to play the banjo or go to Coachella or break the world record for biggest flash mob. Help them cross something off their own Life List! Let your creativity fly!

Give to a good cause.
Matt's a better person than I am, and he thought of this one. Instead of giving someone some stuff, why not spend the money on a charity or organization that is close to their heart? There are literally thousands of organizations you can donate to: a local food pantry, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, ASPCAUNICEF, Kiva, Ronald McDonald House, Room to Read, just to name a few! Whatever your people are passionate about, find a way to give to those causes.

Will you have to travel for Christmas? What are your tips for minimizing the costs of traveling with gifts?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Let's Read ALL THE THINGS!

The other day, I was struck by a little inspiration. I had just added "The Year of Reading Dangerously" by Andy Miller to my Goodreads list, about all the books he's claimed to have read but had never actually gotten around to reading, and his resolution to get through some of them.

Now, I haven't read it yet, and I don't lie to people about what I have or have not read, but I started thinking about all the books that I've been wanting to read for a long time, but haven't gotten around to yet. Books that have made a big impression on readers, or books that are classics, or books that just came highly recommended by someone at the right time.

So I made a list of the top 20 that have been languishing on my to-read list. I think I'd like to make those books my reading goal for 2015.


1) "Oryx and Crake" by Margaret Atwood. I asked for the second book in this series ("Year of the Flood") a few years ago for Christmas, not realizing that it was not a standalone book. I still haven't gotten around to reading the first one in the series, and should probably get on that.

2) "The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger. I've been told that I need to read this before I turn 30, because only young people can appreciate it. I don't know if this is true or not, but 30 is only a couple of years away, and I'd hate to miss out.

3) "The Canterbury Tales: A Retelling" by Peter Ackroyd/Geoffrey Chaucer. I bought this at a book sale like three years ago, and never read it. It's supposed to be a more modern translation of the original Chaucer, which is good, because … I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that I have a hard time understanding and getting into Old English. (I mean, I've never even read Shakespeare without side-by-side modern English translations.)

4) "The Slaughterhouse-Five" by Kurt Vonnegut. It's about time I read something by Vonnegut.

5) "East of Eden" by John Steinbeck. My one and only book regret was not finishing this one in high school. Now I've got to start all over because the only things I remember about it is that it was really messed up and the main character's name was Adam.


6) "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot. My book club read this a while back, but I didn't, because I don't like medical stuff. I have been assured that it will not upset my hypochondria.

7) "The Idiot" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Even though I didn't manage to make it through "Anna Karenina," I want to give Russian literature another go. I feel like the author must have a sense of humor with that title.

8) "Little Women" by Louisa May Alcott. I think I'm the only girl in the world that never read this book as a kid.

9) "Vanity Fair" by William Makepeace Thackeray. Totally inspired by the Reese Witherspoon movie that came out 10 years ago. I didn't see the movie, but the trailer made it look really good, and … well, if the trailer is good, the book must be good too?

10) "A Moveable Feast" by Ernest Hemingway. I also managed to get through high school without reading any Hemingway. Amanda told me that this one is really good.


11) "Memoirs of a Geisha" by Arthur Golden. I wanted to read this in college, when a friend was obsessed with it. I wanted to read it when the movie came out. I wanted to read it after I saw the movie. Now I've forgotten what happened in the movie, and so I have to read it.

12) "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury. You can't go wrong with a book about books! Another one I didn't finish in high school.

13) "Les Misérables" by Victor Hugo. The movie was good. I'm not sure if I have the abridged or unabridged version, but I'm going to read the one I already have on my shelf.

14) "Harry Potter y La Piedra Filosofal" by J.K. Rowling. Yes, I've read Harry Potter a bazillion times, but you know what I have not done? Read it in Spanish. THAT'S RIGHT. #micdrop

15) "The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver. I've heard that this one is kind of … classic-adjacent? I liked the last Kingsolver I read ("Animal Vegetable Miracle"), but my grandma told me she hated this one.


16) "This is the Story of a Happy Marriage" by Ann Patchett. This one keeps popping up in my periphery, and David Sedaris is going around recommending it, so … I just do what David Sedaris says. :)

17) "Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, A Marriage" by Molly Wizenberg. The movie just came out, and the trailer looked so good.

18) "The Marriage Plot" by Jeffrey Eugenides. Matt and I were listening to the audiobook of "Middlesex" last year and decided it was too weird/boring to finish. But I will give Eugenides one more chance.

19) "The Thornbirds" by Colleen McCullough. I have no idea what this one is about, but it came SO highly recommended by an online book group I'm in that I feel no choice but to read it.

20) "The Complete Sherlock Holmes" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I love Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock, and Matt tells me the books are almost identical to the show. (It actually encompasses two enormous books.) One of the few times in which Matt can say he has read something that I haven't!

Have you read any of these? What books have been on your to-read list forever? Do you ever lie about what you've read?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Life List: I Get to Be Best Person of Awesomeness!

Matt has been in like, millions of weddings. (Okay, I think it's actually 9 or 10.) Almost every friend of his that has gotten married has invited him to be a groomsman. In fact, one of my best friends even asked him to be an usher at her wedding, and I wasn't even in the bridal party. (No worries though, I will forever be immortalized as The Girl Who Gave The Bride Her Bra.)

I have never been a bridesmaid at anyone's wedding. (I was the ring bearer at my aunt's wedding, but I was six at the time.) I have lots of good friends, but I'm not anyone's BEST friend. I'm okay with that, but it bummed me out that I'm not likely to be anyone's bridesmaid.

But my little sister got engaged in October! To Matteo! And Rachel asked me if I'd be her matron of honor!


And I said, "Matron of honor! Okay! But I hate the word 'matron.' It makes me sound old, and like I should have a bun and a yardstick. I should be the best person of awesomeness!" And she laughed, and  I dropped it, figuring she didn't take me seriously because it was kind of ridiculous.

But then I got the sweetest card in the mail this week.


She told me the Etsy designer she bought it from didn't have "Best Person of Awesomeness" as an option, but wrote on the back that it could be my title anyway. I have the best sister.

Have you been a bridesmaid before? What's the most ridiculous thing you've ever done for a friend?