30 September 2010

where frugality and decluttering intersect (roasted poultry recipe included)

Remember our big trip to New York back in August in which we lived beyond large? (You can read about the food on the trip here, here, here and here, the shopping here and here, and the best photo from the trip and little Gossip Girl joke here.) Well those bills are finally coming due, and it's painful to say the least. (Note: I do not believe in carrying a credit card balance if at all possible after digging myself out from under credit card debt several years back, but for people who travel as much as Mark and I do, it only makes sense to use an airline miles credit card and get some benefit from the expenditures... so long as you pay off the balance each month.)

When we paid off the balance this month, our savings account took a bit of nosedive, and so it's time to tighten our belts (and I'm even hoping this will help me tighten my belt literally, since it means cutting back on restaurant food!). Food tends to be our biggest expense (we eat a looooooot of take-out), so that had to be the first place to cut back.

As you might recall, we've just ordered new kitchen appliances, including a new refrigerator, so it also behooves us to try to use up as much of what we have in the fridge and freezer currently, to avoid having a lot of spoiled food to deal with when we transition from the old one to the new. Nothing cheaper than using what you already have.

What a great mission -- save money, use what we have, and pare things down overall.

Another area ripe for decluttering? My email inbox. How many sale and promotion notices do you get every single day that tempt you to spend? Well I've just done a mass unsubscribe, and said goodbye to some of my old favorites. We just can't have this temptation around when we're on a frugality mission, and the added upside is a much more streamlined inbox.

Bye bye, old pals...

Two emails that do get to stick around are from Lowe's and Home Depot, since we are very much in home improvement mode, and don't want to miss out on any good deals on things we were going to buy anyway.

You dodged the bullet this time, buddy...

So with my email inbox faaaaaaaar less cluttered, I set about to declutter the fridge, while saving some money too. One solution? Huevos rancheros for dinner.

Stuck with some leftover pinto beans...

We added four eggs (already in stock), cooked sunny side up...

Four corn tortillas (also leftovers), a little TJ's enchilada sauce (hanging around in the fridge), a little bit of queso fresco (also leftovers)...

And voila, easy Huevos Rancheros

Net cost of the meal: $0.

Having achieved an essentially free leftover-based meal, I wanted to try a proper dinner for less than $5 a person, and Ralph's, the ubiquitous SoCal megamart, hooked me up with half price roasting chickens. They're not fancy and organic or free-range or anything, which isn't ideal, but were were going for cheap here. And at $5 for a 5 lb. bird, it's hard to complain.

A little basic poultry roasting recipe (see below), and here you have our $5 main course...

Served with a bag of spinach that was on its last leg and was otherwise destined for the dumpster, we had ourselves a nice little meal, and for something closer to $4 a person. Not bad at all. (And that's not even mentioning the leftovers which will probably serve us tonight.)

What do you do to save money, or to declutter, or both? Please share in the comments!

And here's that chicken recipe...

Whether you're roasting a turkey, a chicken, a duck, a goose, a pigeon, a cormorant, a seagull... your recipe is basically the same. Following the Alton Brown school of thought on food-borne illness, I prefer not to put any stuffing inside the bird, so this is a no-stuffing recipe. This is also a no-brine recipe. (If you like brine, check out my posts from last Thanksgiving here and here.)

Roasted Poultry
  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees
  • Rinse and pat dry the bird, and remove any giblets, etc., inside the bird. I also like to trim the tail fat.
  • After washing your hands about 50 times to avoid salmonella poisoning, apply a generous layer of salt and pepper all over the bird, and inside the cavity. Add half an onion, a few whole cloves of garlic, and some herb sprigs of your choice (I like thyme and sage) to the cavity as well. Wash hands again.
  • If you're a Julia Child devotee, you might also give the bird a butter massage at this point, but I skip this step. If you do it, wash your hands after.
  • Feel free to truss up the bird and turn the wings akimbo if you're feeling artsy or desire a more demure bird, but I also skip this step unless I'm entertaining the Queen. It is good to tuck the neck skin under the torso, though, just since it looks better. If you truss or tuck, wash your hands. (Noticing a theme?)
  • Place the bird into the roasting pan of your choice, wash your hands, and pop the pan into the oven. 
  • Bake for 10 minutes at 450 (unless it's a big turkey, in which case make it more like 20-30), then turn the oven down to 350. Approximate total baking time is 20 minutes per pound, but every bird is a little bit different.
  • The bird is done when: A.) the juices coming out when you cut deep into the thigh run clear, B.) the leg joints feel very loose when you wiggle the drumstick, and C.) the internal temp reaches 160 degrees. Do your best not to overcook it! Some guides might tell you that you have to hit 180 degrees, but the temp inside the bird will keep rising while it's resting.
  • After removing the bird from the oven, don't forget to rest it for 20 to 30 minutes under aluminum foil that hugs the bird but isn't tight. This is critical to get the juices to redistribute within the meat.

  • Carve 'er up and have yourself a nice meal!

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29 September 2010

autumn envy

While LA is baking in record heat, the blogosphere is all atwitter about the coming (and arrival -- depending on the location of the writer) of autumn.


Though I'm sure the weather will change relatively quickly, right now it feels like autumn will never arrive. And, of course, we don't get real autumn in LA anyway. More of a crispness in the air and a slight chill, but few of the warm-colored leaves and truly blustery days you see in so much of the country. Nonetheless, it's a beautiful time of year here, and it signals the coming of Thanksgiving, my favorite cooking occasion, and the imminent arrival of ski season.

But when you're busy fanning yourself to avoid turning on the air conditioning for fear of crashing the power grid (I'm not exaggerating), all of those autumnal red and orange hues just make me feel even warmer. Or everyone talking about hot toddies and apple cider? Please. What I really want is a pina colada, some watermelon and a nice-looking fella to spritz me with water. (My husband Mark is of course the nicest-looking, in my estimation, but I don't expect him to just stand there and spritz me.)

My feet start sweating just looking at this...

But I don't reject autumn completely, because it's my favorite season after winter (and winter is only my favorite because of skiing, not because I particularly enjoy being cold), and I'm more than a little envious of all those bloggers out there writing about how they can feel fall coming. Humbug.

But here are some fall-like motifs that I can get behind without raising my body temperature. Many feature just hints of those tell-tale reds and oranges, and some feature the shapes of fall and winter without those typical warming colors. (Cold squash soup, anyone??)

All images from Pinterest

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28 September 2010

la mart sample sale this weekend

It's time for LA Mart's semi-annual sample sale! You can see my last foray to the sample sale here. The sale is one of only two times each year when us regular folks (read: not professional designers) can sneak a peek inside the Mart, and check out the full range of current designs, from the throwback to the cutting edge. And there are some good deals to be had, too. (But, let's be honest... I just go to ogle the goods. Though I did get the mirrors in our entryway at the sale last year for $45 a piece. Sweet.)

For readers in LA, you can check out the sale in person, and for readers everywhere else, you can look forward to a recap from yours truly next week!

(And if you're going to go, print out the image below to get $1 off admission.)

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the faux taxidermy trend may have jumped the shark...

(Speaking of... why hasn't anyone made a faux taxidermy shark head??)

... but I completely love these new shiny white faux animal heads from Z Gallerie.

Would my former vegetarian self have liked these? No idea! But I love them now, and of course I love that no animals were harmed in the making. Maybe it's the glossy white lacquer. Maybe it's the irony (or pastiche, for you philosophical types). Maybe it's the humor. Whatever it is, I want all of these, one per room.

My favorite, though very imposing in the room at 31 inches -- $199
The ram makes me think of Homer's Odyssey and 10th grade English class -- $50
The 12" rhino is the best value for impact in the room, methinks -- $50
Another biggie, the 31" deer head -- $200

This one is a little too 'Godfather' for me, but horse haters might appreciate it -- $50

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27 September 2010

kitchen: it's on!

It's still going to be a few weeks before we really attack the kitchen, but we finally have our plan, and we've made our biggest purchases! Long-time readers will remember when we were toying with new cabinet layouts, experimenting with Ikea configurations and debating what level of remodel to undertake.

But we've finally agreed: We're not going to be in this condo forever, so we don't want to sink a ton of money (or effort!) into the kitchen. And even Ikea kitchens would be a minimum of $3500, with not quite the look I'd like to see. Fact is that our existing cabinets are structurally sound, so a little paint and hardware will really spruce them up. Add to that a new counter, sink and faucet, new appliances and a new floor, and it should feel pretty darn renovated. (And, of course, we've already replaced the dishwasher with a fancy-looking new one.)

We're going to do some shade of white(ish) on the cabinets, to try to keep the space feeling more open, we're going to do butcher block counters stained fairly dark, we'll tile the backsplash with white subway tiles, and we're going to do stainless appliances.

And the new appliances are on their way! We got a crazy good deal on this Frigidaire Gallery range and Samsung counter-depth fridge from AJ Madison.

We ordered an over-the-range microwave too, since that seemed like the best use of space.

But what type of floor to put in? What color walls? Still need to figure that out. Many of the white-with-butcher-block kitchens I've seen go with white walls around the cabinets.

But I think I like the idea of introducing some citrus or mustard tones, in addition to the wood and white. What do you think?

See sample kitchen image sources here.

Of course, there's always greige, which would feel right at home here, and would tie in easily with the rest of the condo. But that feels like a cop-out.

Stay tuned for more on the kitchen remodel, and a description of how we're going to do a little shuffling of the kitchen floor plan using the existing cabinetry (or at least we hope to pull it off!).

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26 September 2010

new page: life list

I love life lists. I think they're inspiring and offer a lot of insight into people -- even people you might know very well! So I've added a new page for my life list (in the navigation above, or click here).

Here's where my list stands right now. What's on yours?

Adopt a dog from the pound | Play craps | Learn to ski powder | Heli-ski | Ski 100 days in a year | Cook a soufflĂ© | Cook Thanksgiving dinner for 20 | Cater someone else's party | Eat at the French Laundry | Drink a Chateau D’Yquem | Complete a major DIY renovation | Design and build a piece of furniture | Paint a wall in my home bright orange | Learn to run | Finish a marathon | Run a 10K in under an hour | Learn to swim in open water | Finish a triathlon | Climb Mt. Whitney | Climb Mt. Shasta | Climb Denali | Learn to rock climb | Climb a big rock face like El Capitan | Yodel into Yosemite Valley | Read all of Proust | Visit Europe | Visit South America | Visit Africa | Visit Asia | Visit the Middle East | Visit Antarctica | Visit Australia | Trek in the Alps | Travel solo | Learn to speak French | Learn to speak German | Get published (not on my own blog, and ads don’t count) | Keep an orchid alive for more than a month | Learn to grow a really productive kitchen garden | Learn to sew for real | Paint something worth hanging on the wall | Take a photo worth hanging on the wall | Thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail | Skydive | Teach a special yoga workshop | Believe all the stuff I tell people in yoga class | Look and feel better at 50 than I did at 20 | Stop obsessing over minor weight fluctuations | Help others meet their fitness goals | Keep challenging myself until the bitter end | Find my lifelong soulmate | Retire early | Run onto a football field at the end of a game | Watch Cal play in the Rose Bowl | Go to the Super Bowl (preferably with the Packers playing) | Live in a ski town | Live in Berlin | Live in New York City | Get my feet behind my head when I’m 80 | Live to be 80 | Get through life without needing a hip or knee replacement | Leave things in better shape than when I found them

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24 September 2010

garden update: seasons change

While quite a few plants in the garden are still going strong -- namely the tomatoes, peppers, heartier herbs, rainbow chard and non-food plants -- most of the others have lived our their natural lives, and with the coming of fall, it's time for a little renewal in the garden.

Our two-week trip to Milwaukee, New York and DC led to the accelerated demise of several of the plants, namely the wall-planted strawberries that had been a bit of a challenge all summer anyway. But now they are dead dead dead.

And while the bushy Italian basil plant is not dead, taking a two-week break from pinching off all the flowers made it rapidly go to seed, meaning those leaves are no longer very tasty.

After months of getting a lot of TLC, the okra plant just made it clear that it was not meant to thrive in our SoCal climate (and our total lack of summer this year clearly did not help). So after several months, I salvaged two measly pods and decided to give up on the plants.

Fortunately, that made room for new basil plants, now housed next to a new crop of lettuce which will hopefully do a bit better than my last attempt, given that fall temps should be cooler.

But before I uprooted the okra, I did pluck out the rogue tomato plants that had started to sprout in there when the crows ravaged my tomato crop and spread seeds across the whole garden.

The broccoli really never liked the heat of the summer (preferring to flower instead of producing heads of broccoli), though it did produce some nice seed pods, so I decided to uproot the old broccoli and repurpose its pot for all of the rogue tomato plant seedlings.

Of course, now it is ideal broccoli weather, so I started some new broccoli seedlings, along with some Brussels sprouts seedlings next door.

In the happy surprise category, there are two bits of good news. The calla lily that I had uprooted a few months back, only to discover that the plant had made bulbs that looked like alien mushrooms, has now started to grow back. Fingers crossed that I will actually get some blooms out of it! (And yes, that's a rogue tomato in the lower right of the pot, but it has since gone in with the other rogue seedlings.)

The best news of all, though, is that I'm finally getting a little action from my cucumbers (not the first attempt this year). Check out one of the littler ones...

But the little guy is dwarfed by the one larger Japanese cucumber that's finally looking edible. Check out the comparison in size from one day to the next!

Okay, sure, there may be a little camera trickery in there. But I swear it's growing! And that will make the multiple attempts at growing cucumbers worthwhile -- if I can just eat one of them!

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