Friday, September 23, 2022

Preserve that Produce

My garden was super prolific this summer. I credit T with hooking up irrigation. It's smart irrigation too: on a timer, so the garden gets just a few minutes each morning, and with a rain sensor, so it skips days that it rains. (The sensor is basically a $20 add-on to the system, and saves both wasted water and water costs.)

So I ended up with multiple pints of the best cherry tomatoes, and at the end of the summer several baseball-sized tomatoes. And after some slices on burgers, they just kept coming.

With more than we could eat before they would spoil, it was time to start roasting. I used this recipe for inspiration with a couple changes.

First slice your tomatoes into large pieces. I didn't bother removing skins or seeds, just the very top pith. Spread them across some baking sheets. Lining them with a reusable silicone liner will make for easy cleanup.

Next, drizzle some olive oil and season the tomatoes with salt, pepper, and herbs, and add a few whole garlic cloves.

Roast at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. The recipe said 60-90 minutes, but gut was telling me this was way too long at this temperature. So check after 20-30 and give it more time as needed. You will notice the juices starting to release, the skins wilting, and possibly a couple charred edges when they're done. 

Once they're out of the oven and fully cooled, store for later use. I loved this collapsible silicone bowl that I received in my MightyFix subscription. 

This particular batch didn't even make it into the freezer. It smelled so good after roasting that I gave it a few pulses in the mini food processor and had instant pasta sauce. That's it - nothing but roasted herbed tomatoes, pureed to a silky smooth sauce.

After this round, I still have several pounds of tomatoes still ripening, so the subsequent batches will get this same roasting treatment, then portioned and frozen for sauce throughout the winter.

This preparation is mostly "passive" cooking time, and will preserve many pounds of produce that would otherwise be excess. 

So simple, and so delicious!

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Making the Most of Mylar

My parents got me this epically large balloon for my milestone birthday last year. You know it's epically large because this is a normal sized coffee table it's laying on, with normal sized balloon weights seen in the bottom, and that it stayed floating for over 9 months.

What I see now is... that's a whole lotta festive mylar. And with several family birthdays throughout the year, it was inevitable it was going to become wrapping paper.

First step: separate the front and back of the balloon. I simply cut off the neck of the balloon, inserted the point of my scissors into the opening, and cut along the seam. 

Now I'm left with 2 large round sheets. Set your package in the middle and wrap as normal. If you prefer, you can trim to make square sheets, trim to size, or to center your package on the best part of the design.

This balloon was large enough to wrap 2 hard cover books individually, and a medium box. 

Finish your package with a bow. If you are a planner like me, you've collected all the ribbons and bows from previous gift exchanges, and have a small stash in assorted colors for re-use. 

Last, but not least, go to your celebration and have fun!

With gift bags costing $3+, and being the "throwaway" part of the gift, reusing materials is a great way to save and put your funds into the gift itself.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Tigers and Panthers, and Totally Second-Hand

Today was a good day for my wardrobe. I scored two pieces I was excited about this previous winter, but which were summery, and I finally got around to wearing them. First off, this black shrug from JM Collection (a Macy's house brand). It was new with tags at thredUP, but saved me 72%. It's lacy design means I can pair it with jeans and a tank like I did today, or even dress it up.

Next, a tiger patterned tank top. I maaaay have been slightly obsessed with and inspired by this Tigers and Toucans tracksuit from Brooklyn 99 (copyright of NBC). 

When I saw this episode, I was immediately drawn to the bold animal print, but alas, tracksuits are not my style. Instead, I went for this Old Navy tank.A bit more subdued, but I still get my tigers and palm fronds.

The tank was $15.99 (vs $27 new, 41% off). A cool feature is the convertible neckline. There is a simple hook and eye clasp, which when hooked, gives a more buttoned-up look with subtle keyhole. When unhooked, you get a great notched neckline, a little more flirty and casual.

I paired the sweater and tank with jeans, and of course, Rothy's flats for a casual, summer look. And the whole outfit was achieved as a #recycledootd. Both the shrug and tank were secondhand from thredUP, the Roebuck jeans were free from BuyNothing (a $25 value), and the Rothy's are my original pair that I've now been washing and re-wearing for years.

To keep with the big cat theme, I complete the look with some bejeweled panther earrings. These were $6 at Goodwill (compare at $40 new). Jewelry is one of the easiest items to clean and reuse, with either simple rubbing alcohol, or one of the several jewelry cleaners available.

In total, this outfit saved me $102.50 and... meow. I'm totally pleased with the tigers and panthers, even if they weren't tigers and toucans and gold tracksuits.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Resurrecting Marshmallows

About twice a year, I buy a bag of marshmallows. Once in summer, prior to our annual camping trip to Mount Baker, in which I convince myself this is the year T and I are going to gorge ourselves on s'mores (spoiler alert: we haven't yet). And once in November, when I buy a bag of minis, so I can put a cup full into the Thanksgiving ambrosia. 

And then the opened bag promptly goes into the back of the pantry, where it goes to die, until a couple months later when I think to myself "perhaps I should make some rice krispie treats". And then I get discouraged because I see the marshmallows are already sad, stale, and wrinkly. 

Like this. Have you ever bitten into one of these and realized what a snow cone made out of styrofoam must taste like, and regretted all your choices?

Sure, a large bag of marshmallows only costs $4, but I feel pretty "meh" about using only a couple and then throwing the rest of the bag out. So I was pretty excited when a few years back, I learned the coolest trick.

My guess is that many of you also don't use the ends of your sandwich bread loaves? Let's put them to work. Those slices can resurrect your marshmallows!  Simply place the slice in a storage container with your bag of mallows, and let it work its magic overnight. That's it. Less than 24 hours later you will now have soft, fluffy, restored pillows of sugar. 

How does it work? The marshmallows draw the moisture out the bread, re-plumping the marshmallow and dehydrating the slice of bread. And you can set it and forget it. Because the bread loses all its moisture, it just becomes crusty and doesn't mold.

This week, I decided I wanted to put together some quick and easy treats while cleaning out my pantry. Out came the stale large marshmallows, a few leftover semi-sweet baking chocolate squares, and 1/4 cup of graham crumbs leftover from previous recipes (and definitely not enough for a cheesecake crust). 

I melted the chocolate in the microwave (30 seconds at a time), and once the chocolate melted, dipped each marshmallow first in chocolate and then in graham crumbs. Then, leave the treats for a couple hours for the chocolate to solidify, and now you have single-bite poppable s'more treats!

Note: you can do the bread trick before or after dipping the marshmallows, or even leave a slice in with the treats to keep them fresh and fluffy for the week.

Verdict: I've now swapped some stale scraps from the back of my pantry for some decadent snacks!

Sunday, August 14, 2022

"Biodynamic" Beverages

For T's and my 10th wedding anniversary, we treated ourselves to a vacation to Sonoma and San Francisco. When checking out which wineries we wanted to visit, I was excited to learn to Benziger family winery offered a tram tour around the property in addition to tasting, and that they were a sustainable farm. Sign me up!

We arrive and the view is just astounding. While California is generally and persistently in a drought, the Mediterranean climate is suited to grapes and olive trees. Looking at this lush terrain, it reminds me of the coffee plantation I visited in Costa Rica.

We arrive a few minutes before our tour and see a timeline of the family business. In 1995, they switched their farming methods to sustainable/biodynamic methods; in 2001, they introduce their first biodynamic wine; and by 2006, all their wines were biodynamic, sustainable, or organic. 
What does all this mean? Well, Dr. Bob is about to tell us. T and I get seated on the tram and are ready for our tour.

Dr. Bob explains that "biodynamic" is organic and more. Where organic means no pesticides, biodynamic takes it several steps further. 

Natural pesticides includes these "boxes on poles", which are actually housing for screech owls, which take care of the voles which would destroy the grape plants at the roots. They also include an "insectary" in which insects like ladybugs are purposely introduced to target other pests that would attack the grape plants.

Other natural farming methods are used such as natural fertilizer from Scottish highland cows. (I'll let you attend the tour to hear more about the ritual with the cow horns and manure...) 

Likewise, all the greens and stems and skins that aren't used for winemaking, are either fed to the livestock or composted and returned to the soil. 

And the reward for all these practices? These beautiful grapes.

Per Dr. Bob, the rewards are many, including restoring the land to its natural state with plentiful microorganisms, preventing damaging erosion, and minimizing the effort needed for tilling, etc.  

 And traditional/natural farming also doesn't mean it's not modern. We were shown the super cool sorting machine that picks out the stray leaf or unripe grape from the good grapes, both gaining efficiency and saving the backs of human staff leaning over a conveyor belt for hours on end.

Our tour was followed by a tasting, and the wine definitely didn't suffer for these "non-commercial methods". The wines are competitively priced for the region, with multiple award winners.

To learn more about the biodynamic methods employed by Benziger, double click on the brochure above that Dr. Bob shared with us. And learn more about the Demeter Biodynamic Certification here

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Deals on Dresses

Last week, Tats and I got together. Since COVID, our Wednesday art nights have mostly moved virtual, but every couple of months, I get to see my dear friend in person. Things have changed, with businesses still recovering, meaning most cafes are no longer open evening hours. I sincerely hope cafe culture isn't dead... 

But that means, we often swap our in-person gatherings to thrift shopping! The Capitol Hill Goodwill is open until 9pm, and 2 stories tall, it rarely disappoints.

This visit was pretty epic with me finding 2 amazing items and saving $300! The biggest item, you'll have to wait for (I found an amazing NWT gown as the foundation for my Halloween costume), but one of the items I'll share today.

Tats knows I've been on a critter print kick and found the perfect short dress for me. 

Navy with cream large cats, I can dress this up or dress it down. All business with the color scheme, but all party with the critter print.

I love the v-neckline in the back and subtley pleated a-line skirt. Perfectly tailored for a pear shape like me! And this neckline would be great to pair with a backdrop necklace.

Easy breezy for a summer picnic (and I'm appreciating breezy with this heat wave!), but I'll be pairing this with tights and Mary Janes to wear it year round.

The best part? This Australian brand, Sunny Girl, typically goes for about $75 AUD ($52 USD), and I paid just $8 at Goodwill. 

Have you had any great second-hand summer finds?







An outtake. T brought out his inner Zoolander and asked me to "show [him] 'angry'".

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Spotlight: Taco Time NW

I nerd out a bit about Taco Time NW. Sure, it was my first summer job in high school, but also, the "sour cream" on their soft tacos is ranch dip, so what's not to love?

However, what's really cool about Taco Time is they have cared about their ingredients and packaging long before there was a plastic straw ban or "ask first before handing out consumables" law in Seattle. 

Taco Time proudly sources their ingredients from local suppliers. As a local, family-owned company themselves, they understand that sourcing from local suppliers means supporting the local economy as well as reducing fuel and costs to transport those ingredients.

Next... EVERY ITEM of packaging in their store is 100% compostable (except for ketchup packets). Long story short, back in 2010, they understood that the area was going in the direction of fully recyclable or compostable for food containers, and after testing some options, realized it's hard for customers to sort their trash, and much of the recyclables were contaminated, etc. Not only do we know you can't recycle your way out of plastic waste, but choosing 100% compostable was easier on customers and with better results (ie not losing out on contaminated recycling). Taco Time NW has now been a leader with compostable serviceware for several years. If you'd like to learn more about their process to get there, read this

While I've noticed the compostable serviceware for some years now, this new sign caught my eye on my last visit.Taco Time NW has 2 new sustainability initiatives: 1) Match their electrical consumption with investments in renewable energy, and 2) Make their restaurants carbon neutral through partnerships with forest projects. To learn more and not read this tiny picture, visit their page here.

So next time you are craving a fast-food taco, consider visiting one of the 79 restaurants in the PNW. You can eat guilt-free with a sustainability leader in the industry. Maybe just a bit of guilt though for asking for an extra side of ranch!