Wednesday, January 28, 2015

No More Produce Bags!

A few years ago, I started taking reusable bags to the grocery store. I figured reducing the amount of plastic bags I used could only be a good thing.

But I was still bothered, because even though I was no longer using plastic to haul my load home, I was still bringing home several plastic bags a week in the form of produce bags. Those things are sneaky, and made me feel guilty.

I slowly started phasing them out. I stopped putting things like onions and avocadoes in plastic, figuring that the outer layer always gets removed before prepping and eating them. Then I stopped putting fruit in produce bags, letting the apples and lemons roll around my cart footloose and fancy free.

A few weeks ago, I stopped putting lettuce and cilantro in plastic bags. And things got messy. If I'm paying for a head of lettuce, I don't want the leaves to start falling off on the checkout conveyor belt. Plus, I have a thing about other people touching my food. (I once told a cashier at HEB to do something about her hands after she sneezed on them and then grabbed my loaf of bread to scan. Eeeugh.)

But I've finally found a solution to keep other people's hands off my food (for the most part) and avoid using plastic bags. I made my own mesh produce bags.

I made a few larger ones for things like lettuce and lunch fruit, and some smaller bags for things like cilantro or shallots. It was pretty easy. I just got some mesh from JoAnn's in my favorite colors (NOT tulle mesh, but a heavier kind), and I sewed some quick straight lines around the top edging and sides.

I haven't tried washing them yet, but they should hold up under the gentle cycle. I'm not sure if the dryer will shrink them, so they'll probably just air dry.

And of course, if you like the idea of avoiding plastic produce bags but don't want to deal with sewing, you can purchase pre-made produce bags here.

What craft projects have you been working on lately? Have you taken any steps recently to reduce your share of trash?

Monday, January 26, 2015

One of These Days I'll Be a Badass

After we got finished trying on bridesmaid dresses for my sister's wedding, I was looking at the photos my mom had taken of us, and made a decision.

I have never done any type of strength training. I have some hand weights, but the only ones I've ever used have been the little three-pound weights, and I find those to be a little heavy when I work out with them. I have no upper-body strength. I wasn't that thrilled with how my arms were looking in the photos, and figured that 27 is as good a time as any to figure out how to get muscles. So after we got back home from Christmas, I started doing the 100 pushups program.

In case you haven't heard of it before, it's a three-day-a-week, six-week program where you build up your arm strength, starting with just a few pushups and then adding more day by day.

Now, the website tells you to take a pre-test to determine whether you should start on level 1, 2 or 3. I skipped that because I knew I could only legitimately do one or two pushups before wilting like a delicate flower. I started with level 1, and the website says that on this level, you're supposed to be able to do 50 pushups in a row after six weeks.


I've been working for three weeks now. I repeated Week 1 twice, and I'm about to start Week 2 for a second time. Week 2 Day 3 said to do repetitions of 5, 7, 5, 5, and then a minimum of 8 pushups, and then Week 3 Day 1 tells you to start your first rep with 10 pushups! And I am faint of heart and can't fathom starting out with that many and then doing more sets after that.

On my best day yet, I managed 11 pushups in a row, and then I growled and did muscle poses all over the living room while my husband laughed at me and called me cute. But I am not deluding myself into thinking I could do 11 pushups in a row every day, not just yet. These noodles I call arms are still struggling, and my shoulder muscles that are by my chest are sore every day, and I don't want to hurt myself.

But I am going to have awesome-looking arms at my sister's wedding. And if I ever manage to get to 50 pushups, I will post a video to prove it. Because if I were you — heck, if I were me! — I wouldn't believe it.

Tell me what you're doing to work out! Are you still sticking to any New Year's resolutions? Do you like strength training?

Monday, January 19, 2015

How Many Book Clubs Am I In?!

On the way to Starbucks on Saturday night, I made a sweeping declaration:

"From now on, I am going to limit myself to only reading two books at a time! No more of this three-or-four-books-simultaneously thing. I am overwhelmed!"*

And Matt said yeah right. He pointed out that one of my "only two" book slots is currently being taken up by my slowly attempting to read "Harry Potter" in Spanish. He said he believed me for right this second, but that the second I realized that I had two book club books to read in a week's time, I'd freak out and start reading both at the same time regardless of how many other books I had going.

Not book club picks. Just for fun. :)

And then came the question: "Just how many book clubs ARE you in?!"

Um. A lot.

See, when I found out we were moving, I joined several different book clubs on Meetup. I made a lot of good friends in my book club in Texas, and I figured it was a good way to meet like-minded people. Of the three I signed up for, two of them ended up being a good fit. And then I'm also in … two online-only book clubs. And I occasionally participate in a podcast-based book discussion group. I know it's a problem, but I just love getting book recommendations and reading new things and talking about them!

(Once upon a time in middle school, I actually believed it was possible to read every book in the world and I wanted to do that. I now realize that's ridiculous and impossible, but a little part of me still harbors that irrational fantasy.)

So yeah. I'm a little overwhelmed. I had to create a Stickies note on my computer desktop so I can keep track of what book is coming up next among all these groups. But I'm starting to feel less guilt about putting books down when I'm not enjoying them, because there are just too many other things to read.

Are you in a book club? What is your favorite thing about it? How many is too many, in your opinion? What things did you believe were possible when you were a kid?

*I later clarified that audiobooks do not count in my tally. Because I listen to them in the car on the way to and from work**, and that doesn't overwhelm me at all.
**Oh, right, I got a job! One that's actually kind of in my field! I had someone tell me there were no marketing jobs in this area and that I may as well go back to school and get another degree, so suck on that, snotty girl in the third book club that I didn't end up sticking with!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Life List: That Time We Almost Got Trapped in West Virginia

"Great story," Matt said as we ran up the ramp of the parking garage.

"What?!" I said. I didn't want the police officer to think that we had lied to him. I had told the truth! I couldn't believe what Matt was saying.

"This is going to be a great story," Matt clarified. Just moments earlier, we had suddenly, frantically, found ourselves staring at the prospect of being without a vehicle in the middle of West Virginia for two days.

But let's back up.

Matt planned this trip for me as my Christmas gift. We were going to drive up to West Virginia, so I could cross another state off my Life List. He researched things to do, places we should eat, things we should try. He booked a hotel. It was really sweet of him, and he did a good job.

We drove into Charleston, WV and, after a quick lunch, headed to the state capitol building. It's really quite beautiful; gold-leaf dome, marble interiors.

When you first walk in. I couldn't get a good shot of the chandelier, which was made of thousands of crystals.

Hall of governor portraits.

And this random stuffed bear. I had to get a picture with it, of course.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Cookbook Challenge: Cheesecake and Cabbage (SO MUCH CABBAGE)

Note to self: When a dessert recipe suggests a specific type of pan, don't assume you can get away with what you already have. You need all the pans. If, say, a cheesecake recipe suggests a springform pan, and you use a regular baking round, you won't be able to get it out of the pan without destroying your labor of love. Icing will drip down the sides of the pan, and will harden, and it will look SUPER ATTRACTIVE for your book club potluck.

Here are some more recipes I made from the Bride and Groom First and Forever Cookbook, which I'm cooking through slowly but surely. I even managed to make some of them without screwing up.

Very Vanilla Cheesecake
I chipped away at the icing so it'd look prettier, but I left it in the pan. Also, I accidentally forgot to reduce the heat on the oven after I made the crust, and didn't realize it until the cheesecake filling had already been cooking for 10 minutes, so I was terrified that it wasn't going to turn out well after I spent like two hours making this freaking cheesecake. But it was delicious. My book club assured me that I am allowed to bring cheesecake for all future meetings.

Great Robert's Whiskey Sour Slush
I made these slushes for an after-dinner treat when we were at my parents' house over Christmas. And I chose to make them there so that I didn't have to buy bourbon, since they already had some.) I thought it was tasty, and it only had four ingredients — lemon juice, sugar, ice, bourbon — so there were limited chances for me to mess these up. (I did my best though … I accidentally blended stuff in the wrong order, but I don't think that should make a difference. Note to self #2: start reading recipes before you start.)

Mrs. Birdsong's Cabbage Soup
This soup re-affirmed my commitment to vegetarianism. Wait, that sounds really mean. I didn't mean it like that; in fact, I split the recipe in half and made two separate pots, one as the recipe dictated (full of beef stew meat and beef broth, as Matt was pleased to discover) and the other using no meat and veggie broth. Allie does not cook food that she does not get to eat! While the two pots were simmering, the beef one actually did smell better, but I am still having a hard time getting back on board with cooking meat. This is going to be a long challenge, yo. But the veggie version of the soup was really delicious and healthy-tasting, and Matt ate four bowls of the meaty kind for dinner, so I'd say it's a win.

Herbed Buttermilk Popcorn
Guys, I made popcorn. ON THE STOVE. This is a big deal, because I have a major addiction to PopSecret Homestyle microwave bags. (Yeah yeah, chemicals popcorn lung bad for the environment WHO CARES it's deliciousssss.) And I kind of expected that any popcorn made from scratch would not be as flavorful as my lightly-buttered salty goodness. So here I am, standing up and admitting it: I WAS WRONG. This stuff was really tasty; the seasoning was creamy-tasting but also pepper-y. I wasn't super confident about my stove technique, and was kind of afraid of burning the kernels, but I'm sure it gets easier with practice.

Arugula with Cranberries, Cambozola, Walnuts and Raspberry Vinaigrette
I couldn't find cambozola cheese at the grocery store, so I subbed in gorgonzola. It's not my favorite, but it's better than blue cheese. I was about halfway through assembling this salad when I realized it was just a fancy version of a salad I make all the time: lettuce, nuts, dried cranberries, shredded Mexi-cheese with raspberry dressing from a bottle. And frankly, while the arugula and gorgonzola did end up tasting better than expected, I think I'll stick with my simpler salad. It's cheaper, and there's no walnut-toasting or moldy-cheese-eating required.

Chinese Chicken Salad
I did mix in the chicken, and just ate around it since it was in big chunks. Which means I basically just ate cabbage with peanut sauce for dinner. Meh. It was okay. I think Matt enjoyed his dinner way more than I did. After we put the leftovers away, I went to town on some leftover Chinese takeout. Thematic?

Completed: 56 of 147 recipes.

What is your favorite popcorn topping? What was your worst cooking mishap? And how do you feel about blue cheese?