Friday, March 30, 2012

Can I or Can't I?

Since starting the year, I've tried to draw a clear and defined line of what's new or used. It hasn't been easy and I keep coming across new items that cause internal fights of "can I or can't I buy this?"

Originally, buying used was meant to be a challenge for myself because it would force me to get creative and really research what I need and don't need. Secretly, it was also way to save money. I'm like a chubby teenager saying she's cutting out French fries for Lent but she's Lutheran.

For the last couple months, I've been doing a lot of baking. I have found some great vegan recipes online including zucchini bread, banana bread, dump cakes and cookies. It led to a dilemma just this week over a pie crust. Here is my situation: I wanted to make a pecan pie but didn't have a pie tin so I went to Out of the Closet. I had seen one there a few weeks back when I had my dirty shoe freak out. I bought this great, glass pie dish for $1.00 and it worked perfectly for my first pie. Two weeks later I wanted to make a sublime lime pie but it called for a graham cracker crust. Most people buy the pre-made, pre-packaged crusts at grocery stores since they're convenient and the tins are disposable. So when I went to Whole Foods to pick up ingredients for my sublime lime pie, I stood in the baking aisle for at least 30 minutes. This was my thought process-if I had to buy a secondhand pie dish for my pecan pie, I can't buy a tin for this new pie. Sure I'm buying the tin for the crust but if I can make the crust then I shouldn't have to buy the tin. Does that make sense? It did to me. So then I stood in front of the graham crackers for another ten minutes deciding on which would work best. I haven't made the pie yet because now I feel the whole process is going to be too much work!!!

  I ended up getting them at Trader Joe's!

My dad's birthday was this week and my brother and I bought him this really great book on tattoos. We knew he would like it but I couldn't help but think I should've gotten him something secondhand. I'm sure my dad would've appreciated a used gift but not everyone would. Again, the challenge applies to this as well. If I look hard enough, I'm sure I could find a special, used gift for anyone in mind. It just requires more time, energy and sometimes more money. But if it isn't for me, the gift should be something the person would appreciate and not everyone wants something that was someone else's already.

Other things on my list are toiletries, make-up and tattoos. If I run out of foundation, can I not buy more? Should I ask for used soaps and lotions from hotels? I've gotten two tattoos since the beginning of the year and was told "but thats new!" several times. Should I get tattooed with used ink? That's not going to happen. Or gear that can't come used like tire replacement for my road bike and repair kits. I bought a kit on eBay recently before asking the seller if it was pre-owned. He said it was dead stock which means I shouldn't have bought it. I'll have to resell it now.

Of course this is all self induced but I'm trying to hold up to my challenge. I'm not sure if I'm taking it too seriously or not enough. My friend Kristin reminded me after I vented to her that it's all up to me since I decided to take this challenge on. I know that's true but it helps to get more opinions, suggestions and another options. Thanks in advance useroos.

4.02 Update:
I made the pie over the weekend. The crust wasn't as difficult as I expected it to be and the pie turned out great!! Here are pics of my latest baking successes.

Banana Bread

Oatmeal Pecan Cookies and Pecan Pie

Ginger Bread

I would be happy to give anyone recipies if you are interested. Everything I bake and cook is vegan unless noted.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Kinda Canning

My friend Olivia is from the Amish country of Pennsylvania. She now lives in Baltimore or Balt as we say but her parents still live in her childhood home and across the street is a horse and buggy family. Although Olivia was not raised Amish, they enjoy a lot of the old world charms and simplicities of their neighbors. I have gone out there to visit with her and her family twice now. I love the area because it is like a time warp and reminds me of how simple life can be. One thing that fascinated me about her family is their craftiness: from furniture to homemade clothing and the food they eat. Below is my beautiful friend in the wedding dress her talented mother made!

In PA, I was introduced to the great concept of canning. Some of the family favorites were beets and pickles but meats, fruits and vegetables can all be canned. Luckily most recipes for fruits and vegetables are vegan, which allowed me to chow down and give lots of compliments to Olivia's mother! In their basement, I saw shelves of mason jars filled with colorful cans waiting to be taken upstairs. It is such a simple way to make and preserve food and there are zillions of recipes so I came home telling myself I would give it a try. The last time I was out there was this past October and I'm just now experimenting so it's taken me a while but here I am.

Since the beginning of the year, I started keeping some glass jars from items I'd bought while grocery shopping. Trader Joe's makes marinated Greek style white beans (and they are SO good). The jars are also a great size for food storage and decided to reuse them since I can't buy plastic containers. I decided to use these jars since I don't have any masons but the latter is really recommended. To get the wrapping off, I submerged the jars in water for 15 minutes. Paper labels come off really easily if you use your thumb to push it off. Plastic labels or hard glue may be more difficult to remove but the scrubbing side of a sponge or razor blade should remove it.

After finding several recipes for canning, I realized that most contain a lot of sugar. I try to stay away from sweeteners but it's part of the process. If you don't want to try canning because of the sugar, you can try pickling. The processes are very different and both should be researched before you get started. If not prepped, sealed or stored correctly you can get sick. Visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation to learn more before you start either: Canning & Pickling My first attempt was really pickling, not canning because I decided to work with cucumbers. I'm not going to give you my recipe because I did not do my research before getting started so I don't know if I'll be sick tomorrow....! I looked up several recipes online and found some that I thought I'd enjoy but in the end created my own. There are only a few ingredients:

Thinly sliced cucumbers
Chopped white onion
Rice vinegar

Once in the jars, I let it sit for 4 days in my pantry. The result was somewhere between a really strong Japanese cucumber salad and pickles. I think it came out just as I expected. The process is much simpler than caning because the food does not have to be cooked on a stovetop first. I've decided pickling is like the lazy version of canning! Pickled or canned items could be enjoyed with any meal, added to salads, burgers, and sandwiches, taken camping or passed around a large family dinner. Plus, the ingredients are minimal so there are recipes suitable for vegetarians, vegans, gluten-frees as well as meat eaters. Once I try more recipes, I will give another update. If you find a great recipe, please send it my way!

Since I filled two separate jars, I added crushed red peppers to one!

I just tried some with dinner and they were great!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tips for useroos like me

I came across this article today on Yahoo about 8 Things You Should Never Buy Used. They are all helpful, if not logical but I paid most attention to the shoes. The argument wasn't that strong advising people not to get secondhand shoes but it added to my growing discomfort of wearing strangers' gear. I just bought a new used pair of heels for work today and even before reading this, I was kind of grossed out. The shoes are perfect for work, what I was looking for, tacky and only $12 from Out of the Closet. Unfortunately, the gold lining inside is flaking and turning to powder on my black, opaque tights. The dust is more an annoyance than anything else because it looks like I dipped my toes in buckets of saw dust. On the up side, they are well made, have leather soles and are extremely comfortable. Once I wear them in, I'm sure it will be fine but I really want to tear them off of my feet and throw them right now!

Buying used shoes has been a challenge for me since January. I like the idea but I can't help but feel the need to wash my feet after sliding a covered or worse bare foot into someone else's shoes. I don't know these people. I don't know where they have been or how clean they were. Plus, the shoes are normally formed to someone else's foot which can be initially uncomfortable. For the last 10+ years, I haven't walked around barefoot in my home, at the pool or anywhere else because I find it unsanitary and get creeped out. These shoes take my neuroses to extremes. I still love this challenge and feel like I have become very creative with my purchases but it also reminds me that I am really pushing my comfort levels. Its been fun finding dishes, paintings, cabinets and lamps but shoes are tough. Luckily I have enough underwear and socks to get me thru this year...because I won't do either of those secondhand!

Note-I was going to post some gross pictures of what I imagine the previous owners' feet look like but I was so disgusted with the images I saw, I didn't want to scare off my small number of readers! Instead, I thought these were fun:

Update-now I'm off work and took a picture. Ewwwwww!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Tough Love

My amazing, older brother Brennan was in town from Afghanistan for two weeks last month and I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with him. Last October, he had called me up while overseas to ask if I wanted to run a race with him when he came to town in February. I said sure, asked which one and was told he was thinking of signing us up for a Tough Mudder. I had learned about this race over a year ago and told how horrible it was and that some obsticles included electric shock, barbed wire and mountains....yeah, that about sums it up! A Mudder is a 12 mile race filled with obsticles, mud, water, hills and difficult terrain to push your physical strength and endurance. It promotes teamwork and supports a great cause, the Wounded Warrior Project. Races aren't new to me, I have completed a number of 5K's, 10K's, a half marathon, mud runs, triathlons and road bike events over the last 10 years but this is in a league of its own. It was exhausting, painful, extremely difficult and tons of fun. Brennan made the whole thing look easy and was such a big support for me. I thought I was going to tap out before completing the first mile because I was so tight from not being able to warm up. After mile three, we were a well-oiled machine climbing over walls, diving into ice filled water, crawling thru tunnels, swimming in a lake and getting zapped by electric wires. Our finishing time was roughly 3 hours and 15 minutes, which felt more like 2 hours because we had such a fun time. I'm so glad we were able to do this together and he knows me so well-it was one of the best birthday presents I've gotten. Thank you broski!!!!

Unfortunately, we didn't take many pictures before or after the race but the two below crack me up! Pre-race, we look excited with our numbers on our necks and not sure what to expect. Post race, I was shivering, soaked to the core, scraped up and tired. I look horrible and he looks the same but I know we both felt accomplished. Here is a video from our race, unfortunately I didn't see either of us in it. 2/25 SoCal Mudder



Since Brennan was in town for two weeks, we were able to do a lot including:

Celebrating his birthday (horrible picture)

Dinner at my house with him, Arin and the kids.
Breakfast for dinner or BforD as bro calls it.

Spread Dinda's ashes

Family dinner at Roscoe's, not sure what they're doing...

Brennan's combo
(fried chicken on top of a waffle with butter then covered in syrup)

The time went by so quickly but we were able to pack a lot in. I miss him already and looking forward to his safe return in August. The weekend after the Mudder, I went to a REI garage sale which was a perfect way to follow up the previous weekend-with a focus on fitness and the outdoors. I am a huge fan of all kinds of workout and sports clothes, gear, tools, etc. I am always searching for new running clothes, snowboarding pants and cycling gadgets. This was the second sale I have been a part of since I got my membership last year and I think they are so much fun! I had been calling the store since January to get a date for the first one of the year and was told they do the sale once a quarter. Last time, I didn't get to the store to until 9AM which is really too late to try to get first dibs on the best gear. This time, I was one of those crazy people that got in line at 7:30AM and waited until 10AM for the store to open. I found out the first guy in line started camping out at 2:30 in the morning! I love the store and I love deals but I was not going to sleep on concrete outside of a store for half off a tent!

My setup for the morning next to the trash can.

The sale is on the loading dock behind the store and only returned (used), damaged or dead stock gear is available. Since I can't get anything from my regular websites this year, this REI sale was a perfect opportunity for me to grab some new things I need like running shoes and snowboarding gloves. It is a mad house when you first get out there. People just start grabbing things and pick thru it after. I did the same and only held on to two of the items I initially grabbed.

I paid outside with another mobile app to avoid the line. Green tags meant 50% off the written price and blue was 75%. Each tag included information about why items were returned so you can check the gear to see if it is really damaged or worth the buy. I scored some pretty good deals and ended up spending just under $125 but saved at least $200! My buys are all good quality, relatively unused and all great deals. I have already planned go to the next sale after Q2.

This is my mother modeling the Patagonia sweater...I guess it's hers now.