Month: March 2008

Smart Strip

Smart StripI’m excited because I recently received my Smart Strip and plugged it in. My Smart Strip is a tan color, not the white that the product pictures show, but it works just fine!

The basic concept is that you can use the Smart Strip for one main appliance and related peripherals. Common uses would be for your computer/printer/drives/etc. or a home entertainment center. When the one main item is powered off, all the other peripherals have the power shut off to them as well, so you avoid electricity drain and save money! (The Smart Strip does include three plugs that are “always on” for things that you don’t want to be powered off — those are the red plugs.)

I first read about the Smart Strip at The Simple Dollar and finally tried to get one when we moved. Our local Office Max staff looked at me blankly when I asked about it, so I ended up ordering mine off of Amazon. Of course, a few days later, I saw them available at Ace Hardware along with other “green” products! Go figure.

CSA Box: More greens

I’ve used up all the greens from our CSA box, just in time for Wednesday’s delivery!

Salad

Our box had some young, soft lettuce (I’m not very well versed in types of lettuces, so I have no idea what kind of lettuce it was). I chopped up one of the Fuji apples that came with the box and made a sweet bacon vinaigrette.

Bacon Vinaigrette

This makes enough to dress 1 or 2 servings of salad.

  1. Cut up two slices of bacon into 1/2″ pieces. I usually use cooking scissors to do this straight into the pan.
  2. Cook the bacon over medium heat until it’s as crisp as you like. Scoop out the bacon and drain, but reserve about a tablespoon of bacon grease in the pan.
  3. If the pan is still pretty hot, turn off the stove and remove it from the heat. Add another tablespoon or two of olive oil and swirl around.
  4. Add about two teaspoons of sugar to the pan.
  5. Add a tablespoon of vinegar. I usually use balsamic vinegar, but you can use any kind you want. The vinegar may sizzle and spatter, but stir it in until everything is combined.
  6. Drizzle immediately over the salad and top with the bacon bits.

Shrimp scampi and braised leeks

Our box also had four beautiful leeks. I tried out a recipe from Perfect Vegetables for braised leeks, but I was also making spaghetti mizithra and shrimp scampi at the same time and ended up carmelizing the leeks by accident! They were still pretty tasty, however.

Spaghetti Mizithra

Spaghetti mizithra is a super-easy dish to make, especially if you pre-grate the mizithra cheese and store it in the freezer, ready to go. You can find mizithra cheese in your deli section, usually in plastic-wrapped wedges.

  1. Grate mizithra cheese using the finest grater that you have. Some people like to combine it with parmesan and romano cheese as well in equal quantities, but by the time I’m done grating the mizithra the last thing I want to do is grate more cheese! You can do this step ahead of time and store in the fridge or freezer.
  2. Boil water and cook spaghetti according to package instructions.
  3. While the water is boiling, brown butter in a small skillet. You’ll want about 4 tablespoons of butter per serving, although having extra is always a good thing! To brown butter, melt the butter over medium-low heat and let it keep cooking until the melted butter turns brown. You can skim off the brown foam if you want, then pour the butter into a small serving dish.
  4. To serve spaghetti mizithra, give each person a serving of pasta. Put the cheese and butter in separate serving bowls with spoons. Each person can sprinkle as much cheese as they want on the pasta, then spoon the browned butter over the pasta and cheese, then mix it all together!

Sausage with blanched greens

I’m still trying to find a way to make kale and similar tougher greens in a way that Steve likes. I tried another recipe from Perfect Vegetables which involved blanching the greens (I used kale and mixed stir fry greens from our box), cooking sausage (the recipe called for kielbasa but I used andouille sausage instead), and mixing the greens and sausage with other seasonings. I served a generous helping of this mixture over couscous. Steve liked the sausage but still wasn’t enthused with the greens, so I’ll have to keep trying other recipes!

Tri-tip, chard with bacon, artichoke

I somehow found myself buying giant artichokes and added it to my dinner menu along with leftover couscous, pan-fried tri tip steak with a Worcestershire-mustard-parsley-wine sauce, and Swiss chard cooked with red onion and bacon — again, another recipe from Perfect Vegetables. As Swiss chard is a more tender green, Steve loved it (especially with the bacon!). The addition of the artichoke made this way too much food for us and we had leftovers for a few days!

Do-it-yourself baby clothes organization

We have generous family and friends who have given us lots of used and new baby clothes. What to do with them all?

After getting some advice from a friend, I sorted out the clothing by age:

  • Newborn
  • 0-6 months
  • 6-9 months
  • 9-12 months
  • 12-18 months
  • 18-24 months

We have a lot of newborn to 6-9 month clothing. I boxed up the other clothes by age in banker’s boxes and labeled them.

Then, I separated the remaining clothing by type within each age group:

  • Short-sleeve onesies
  • Long-sleeve onesies
  • Socks, “shoes,” caps, hats
  • Footie pajamas
  • Sleep gowns/sacks
  • Outer clothing/outfits (shirts, pants, overalls)
  • Outerwear

The outerwear and outer clothing/outfits got hung on individual hangers and put in the closet. In the photo below, you can also see the banker boxes that store the bigger clothing:

Organized closet - baby clothes

I also cut out tags from manila folders (a rectangle with a slit and circle cut in it for the closet rod) to separate the clothing by age:

Make your own hanger dividers

For the other clothing (onesies, pajamas, etc.), I organized them in dresser drawers by making my own drawer dividers out of used wrapping paper (from the baby shower) and pieces of cardboard cut to size:

Make your own drawer dividers

There is one long piece of paper that fits horizontally, folded to fit pieces of cardboard (that run vertically in the picture). Then I covered individual pieces of cardboard for the horizontal pieces and taped them in.

In this specific drawer, the left two “cells” hold newborn onesies (short sleeves on the bottom, long sleeves on top), the middle cells hold 0-6 month onesies, and the right column is for socks, hats, etc.

I used the sticky part of a post-it note to make easy-to-remove drawer labels:

post-it note labels

Post-its also worked nicely to label the subdividers:

Post-it note labels

This way, when Steve folds the laundry (or if we have friends who come and help us), he’ll know where things go!

The best part? The cardboard was from an Ikea furniture box that was going to be recycled anyway. The gift wrap was from my baby shower and also would have been recycled. The manila folder that I cut up had already been reused with multiple labels and was nearing the end of its useful life. So the only waste that I generated were the non-sticky parts of post-it notes. No need to go out and buy fancy drawer organizers when you can make stuff yourself for free!

More efficient moving tips

Less than seven months after our last move, we’ve moved again, this time into our own home!

We had one 17′ U-haul truck and three pickup trucks. The U-haul truck got crammed full, the other trucks just had a few things in them that were awkward (such as our bikes). We packed the trucks in 1 hour and 15 minutes and unloaded in 30 minutes; since this was an in-town move, it took about 5 minutes to go from one house to the other!

In addition to following last time’s moving tips, we did a few more things that made this move even more organized:

  • Boxed as much as we could. Last time we mostly used banker’s boxes, which are easy to stack and carry but don’t fit larger things very well. This time we used banker’s boxes and larger cardboard boxes so we were able to box up almost everything we owned. This mean less loose stuff for our helpers to deal with.
  • Printed out floor plans. I had measured the new place and measured our furniture and put together some floor plans for each room of where I thought the furniture could go. I printed these out and taped them on the doors or walls so that our helpers could see where to put the furniture. Here’s a sample of my living room floor plan:

    Sample floor plan

  • Had “jobs” for other helpers. I didn’t really plan this, but we did have some helpers that weren’t as able to lift things but were still willing to help; we also had some people who were willing to stay after everything was moved in and help. I happened to already be prepared with some things I wanted to get done, such as lining the kitchen shelves or putting together furniture. I was able to assign these to our non-moving-boxes helpers; it ended up being a huge help as being eight/nine months pregnant makes it difficult to do some of the putting-together-heavy-furniture tasks!

The past several days have been long days of unpacking and shopping. I’ve done some fun organizing projects which I’ll talk about in later posts!

One year old

Happy birthday, public blog! It’s been exactly one year since I added my very first post. Over the year, I seem to have posted about quite a large variety of topics, from productivity and time management to personal goals to food and cats and design. A “focused” blog this certainly is not!

So, thanks to all of you for continuing to read my ramblings and interact with me through them. It’s been fun to have existing friends reading this blog and to have been able to meet new friends, as well!

Official homeowners!

Our house closed today, we got the keys, and we are official homeowners!

We’re moving in tomorrow so now I need to do the last bits of packing — finish packing up my office, take nails out of the walls, etc. Posting will probably be spotty for the next few days (not that I’ve been Ms. Consistency lately, anyway).

CSA Box: Catching up

Now to catch up on CSA Box food photos!

Tokyo turnips braised in soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and water; bok choy with soy sauce and garlic; teriyaki salmon.

This meal used up two items from my box: tokyo turnips and bok choy. I tried a turnip recipe where you braise the turnip in soy sauce, mirin (a sweet Japanese wine), sugar, and water, but totally overcooked them so they were really mushy. White rice and teriyaki salmon completed the meal.

Teriyaki sauce is actually quite easy to make, once you compile the ingredients. You will need a bottle of sake, a bottle of mirin, soy sauce, and sugar. The sake and mirin can be purchased in the alcohol section or Asian food section of most grocery stores, or you can find a specialty Asian food shop that carries them. Here’s what I do for making teriyaki salmon:

Teriyaki Salmon

  1. Blend 2 tablespoons of sake and 4 teaspoons of soy sauce in a shallow dish. Marinate the salmon in this mixture for 10 minutes (fleshy side down).
  2. Blend 1/4 cup of mirin, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon of sugar in a small bowl. This is what will make the actual teriyaki sauce.
  3. Heat some oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Blot the fish fillets dry with a paper towel, then add to the oil  and cook 5 minutes skin-side down.
  4. Turn the fillets and cook for one more minute, then transfer to a plate and peel off the skin.
  5. Wipe away the grease from the pan with a paper towel, then add the teriyaki sauce. It may spatter a little bit. Over medium-high heat, let the mixture boil, then turn it down to medium and simmer for another minute.
  6. You can pour the sauce over the fish, or for extra flavor, put the fish in the pan and finish cooking it for another minute while spooning the sauce over the fish.

Salad with cilantro dressing

One of the CSA newsletters included a recipe for cilantro dressing, which was a nice way to use up some of the large bunch of cilantro that came in the box. I put together a salad with lettuce, a free-range egg, a Pink Lady apple, and the cilantro dressing to use up more items from the box.

Red cabbage with bacon and vinegar, pasta, and chicken

I wasn’t sure what to do with a small head of red cabbage until I looked through Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food cookbook. She had a recipe for red cabbage braised with bacon and vinegar. The meal plan included this dish with breaded pork cutlets; I didn’t have pork on hand but I had some chicken breasts in the freezer, so I filleted the chicken breasts, dipped them in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs, and fried them up, serving them with a generous dollop of dijon mustard. I also made a small side of pasta with store-bought pesto sauce mixed with sour cream for a creamy texture.

Salmon, daikon radish, and spinach

More salmon, this time baked and glazed with hoisin sauce. I tried making a quick pickle of daikon radish, but they were still way too spicy-strong for us! I’ll have to try slicing them thinner and possibly trying a different pickling recipe. Sauteed spinach rounded out our meal.

Pasta with arugula and creamy pesto sauce

Arugula is probably the most challenging item for me to use. I can only take the slightly spicy/bitter leaves in small quantities, so using a whole bunch in a salad is out for me. This time, I boiled the pasta and tossed it with chopped arugula until the arugula wilted, then added my shortcut creamy pesto sauce (pesto and sour cream). Delicious!

Pasta with sausage, tomatoes, and veggies

The America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook has a wonderful recipe for “skillet penne with sausage and spinach” which involves sausage, sun dried tomatoes, wilted spinach, chicken broth, and a cup of milk. The sauce is more watery than creamy, but I love the flavor and can eat a whole batch of this all by myself over several days! I decided to modify the recipe with what I had on hand — a can of diced tomatoes instead of sun-dried tomatoes, and a bag of stir-fry greens from the box (looked like some kale, chard, and I’m not sure what else). I forgot to reduce the liquid to account for the canned tomatoes so the sauce turned out REALLY watery, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying my meal!

Asparagus salad with goat cheese

Another recipe from Everyday Food involved breaded goat cheese which looked yummy, so I made up my own salad of lettuce, the Farmer’s Market first batch of tender asparagus, and a sliced-and-fried potato in order to try out the goat cheese medallions. Those involved slicing the goat cheese log into discs (most of which fell apart and had to be molded back together) and dipping the cheese into egg, then breadcrumbs. Drizzle olive oil on top and bake until brown, then add to the salad along with a basic vinaigrette. I added some chopped Fuji apple from our box as well to add some sweetness to the salad.

We’ve renewed our subscription for another 13 every-other-week deliveries, upping our egg allotment to a dozen and a half as we were going through them so quickly. So the CSA box goodness continues!

Reading: Catching up

I’ve been such an inconsistent blogger recently that I’ve really fallen behind in my book summaries!

Finished reading: 

If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat by John Ortberg – I like John Ortberg. This “Christian living” book looks at the story of Jesus and Peter walking on the water and breaks it down, applying it to life, risk-taking, and being proactive. John’s style is friendly, conversational, and real.

Birthing from Within by Pam England and Rob Horowitz – This book is the most “artsy” pregnancy-and-birth preparation book I’ve come across. There are lots of suggestions for using art as a way to explore your feelings and expectations about pregnancy and birth. Steve and I had fun a couple times doing “birth art” together. Like other birth books, this one also covers all the basics of what to expect, how to prepare for labor and delivery, etc., etc. I thought this book had the best “relaxation practice” exercises out of the other books I’ve read, although I have yet to practice consistently!

What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg, and Sandee Hathaway – I didn’t read every word in this book, but basically skimmed as needed. Good reference; each chapter has plenty of FAQs that address common “symptoms” and questions that women have during each month of their pregnancy.

Me, Myself, and Bob by Phil Vischer – Phil Vischer is the creator of Veggie Tales, and this book his his memoir detailing his life story, including the creation and astounding success of Veggie Tales and its subsequent spectacular failure (Phil’s company went bankrupt and Veggie Tales was sold). I wouldn’t expect anything less from the creator of Veggie Tales, but Phil is hilarious, and describes his conservative evangelical Christian upbringing, childhood quirks, and adventures as a startup and groundbreaking computer animator with wit and humor. Some parts of this book were very poignant and thought-provoking for me, personally, as Phil explores questions about why God might let a “good dream” die.

How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates – Picked this one randomly from the “new books” shelf and I’m glad I did! Michael Gates, born into a rich and privileged family, was 55 when he was let go from the big advertising company he had worked at for 25 years; shortly afterwards, his wife divorced him because he had an affair and his mistress got pregnant. His freelance consulting was going downhill and he was sipping a latte that he couldn’t really afford when he randomly got offered a job with Starbucks. This turned his life around as Michael began to learn about respecting other people, taking pride in his work, and accepting and relating with people of different backgrounds and ethnicities.

The friendly tone of his book often made me forget the “privileged” life he had led when younger — graduated from Yale, partied with New York upper-class, and rubbed shoulders with people like Hemingway (!), so the little name-dropping anecdotes about his younger years were a little startling.

Michael faces and admits his poorer choices honestly, without excuse, and gratitude and grace echo throughout his book. Reading this almost made me want to work at Starbucks.

A Slice of Organic Life edited by Sheherazade Goldsmith – A big photo-heavy book with lots of different suggestions for how you can make more environmentally-friendly choices. Each suggestion is just a few pages with plenty of gorgeous photography, ranging from growing lettuces in a small container to owning a cow. The tips are organized by chapters according to how much space you have — from small spaces (such as apartments) to large rural-area spaces. No matter what kind of environment you live in, this book helps you to make the world a better place.

Simplify Your Space by Marcia Ramsland – I picked this one up randomly as well from the “new book” section. Marcia takes you through different sections of the house and provides tips and step-by-steps for decluttering. The goal, it seems, is to get your house to look like a model home with clear surfaces and Less Stuff. She also has lots of practical suggestions for developing habits and systems to maintain your New Clean Home and how to get your family on board.

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan – “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” So goes the “eater’s manifesto” according to Michael Pollan. Yet Michael doesn’t flesh that out until the last half of the book; the first half explorse the western food culture and “nutritionism” and how science, industry, and media try to reduce foods to simple combinations of “good” components (vitamins, omega-3 fats, antioxidants) and “bad” components (at any point in the last few years, these may have included cholesterol, saturated fats, and now trans fats). We, as consumers, blindly follow the labels and recommendations, but to the detriment of our health — simply pumping vitamins into a slice of fortified white bread really isn’t going to do much for us, for example. Even more sobering, all of the “low fat is good!” messages that we’ve been bombarded with have led us to heavily processed foods and eating less vegetables, and our increasing rates of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer may be the result… but as recent research has shown, a low-fat diet may not really have any correlation with reduced heart disease or cancer! If anything, the first half of this book exposes the futility of nutrition science and our arrogance in believing that what we put together in a factory can be just as good — or better — than what nature provides.

The second half of the book unpacks and defines “eat food,” “not too much,” and “mostly plants.” It’s encouraging that we do live in an age where we have the option to opt-out of the western diet without opting out of civilization altogether. Michael self-admittedly doesn’t try to dictate a specific “diet” to follow, but gives general principles such as “don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize” (yogurt in a tube? colored blue? are you sure that’s not toothpaste?), “avoid food with ingredients that are unpronounceable, unfamiliar, more than 5 in number, or contain high-fructose corn syrup,” and “eat leaves.”

Another excellent book, which inspired me to wash off the veggies in my fridge and cook them up!

With a bookmark: (Books I just started reading, or books I’ve been “reading” for ages. Most recent first.)

  • Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
  • The Best of Ogden Nash edited by Linell Nash Smith
  • Sacred Attitudes by Erica Ross-Krieger
  • Body, Soul, and Baby by Tracy Gaudet
  • The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
  • A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson

In the library book box:

  • The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp, M.D.
  • So That’s What They’re For! by Janet Tamero

Unusual uses for ziploc bags

I came across another unusual use* for zip-top plastic bags and thought I’d start a post to collect other ideas. Here goes!

1. Frugal heating system

Fill gallon-sized bag with rice. Heat in microwave for 1-2 minutes. Enjoy the heat.

2. Organize tea bags

Cut a piece of cardstock that is about the same size as a quart-sized bag and slide into the bag to help keep it “stiff.” Pull tea bags out of their box and put into the bag. Cut off box cover, if desired, and tape onto the cardstock. You can now “file” your tea bags in a basket or on a shelf. (You can even try matching the box cover with the card stock color!)

Organized tea bags

Organized tea bags

3. Finance organizer

And now for the final unusual use. This is a photo from my friend, Rebecca Wendlandt, who is an award-winning fashion designer-slash-mild-mannered custom clothing designer and seamstress. She keeps her business receipts in individual bags for each month which are then safety-pinned and hung from a hanger. The hangers are then organized by year in her closet. Very appropriate for a clothing designer, I thought!

Finance organization

Any other unusual uses you’d like to share?

* Unusual use: For the purposes of this post, I’ll define “unusual use” as “non-food-storage use.”

March 2008 Groundhog Day Resolution Review

It’s March 3rd, which means that it’s time to review my Groundhog Day resolutions!

How I did:

  • Gain 4 pounds. 🙂
  • Walk 30 minutes daily, rain or shine. 😐
    I started off strong with two full weeks of consistent walking. Then, work got really busy, and house-buying-related stuff got really crazy. Excuses, excuses. I think I averaged 3 times a week of walking for the next two weeks.
  • Use all veggies/fruits from CSA boxes. Consider renewing subscription. 🙂
    I mostly met this goal. I threw out half a bunch of arugula that didn’t get used up quickly enough. I did go ahead and renew our subscription for another 6 months!
  • Analyze current work projects and if they fit into “new design,” “current clients,” or “developers.” 🙂
  • Analyze projected income for next 3 months to see if I need to work more. 🙂
  • Write two articles. 8)
    I actually wrote three!
  • Continue house hunting. 8)
    We made an offer on a house!
  • Plan special Valentine’s Day date. 8)
    Steve and I took a weekend trip to Santa Cruz starting Thursday night (Steve had Friday off). It was a great time.
  • Sign up to lead two activities for small group. 🙂
  • Follow through on daily/weekly spiritual/character goals. 🙂

I had also set a bonus goal for myself to finish taxes, which I did!

And for next month…

  • Gain about 2 pounds (last month!)
  • Walk 30 minutes daily
  • Use all veggies in CSA box
  • Research meat CSA
  • Wrap up all work projects by the end of the month
  • Arrange “maternity leave” plan for forwarding email support and checking email/phone schedule
  • Write one article
  • Close on the house and move!
  • Plan a date with Steve
  • Lead two activities for small group.
  • Follow through on daily/weekly spiritual/character goals.

I wasn’t too crazy or ambitious with setting new/different milestones, because we’ll theoretically be moving in the middle of this month which will definitely throw off all of my routines and productivity! Coming on the heels of the move will be the month-long window when the baby could come at any time. It’s certainly going to be an interesting time.