See ya!

I am off to a friend’s wedding in New York and then traveling all over New England next week. When I get back I should have lots to share with you, including a pattern for the gorgeous crocheted blanket I just finished (it’s one present I’d love to keep!) and a first look at my homemade candles. Hopefully there is an Etsy shop in my future?

Testing: Tom’s of Maine deodorant

A few months ago I wrote an article about eco-friendly beauty products. The gist of it is that there are a lot of controversial ingredients in shampoo, makeup, face wash, etc. that are cool with the FDA, but not with a lot of consumers. Either because they’re harmful to the environment after they swish down your drain or harmful to us because they contain carcinogens and various other yuckiness.

I’m not thrilled about the idea of smearing carcinogens into my skin, so I figured I would try to stop buying a lot of products that have 50 ingredients on the back I can’t pronounce. I’m also trying to buy bar soap instead of body wash in plastic bottles to save packaging.

Anyway, I was a little dubious about switching deodorants as I am a super sweater (strangely both when I’m really hot and really cold), and Degree has always worked for me. But most regular deodorants contain aluminum and other weird stuff, so I decided to try Tom’s of Maine. The apricot smell is absolutely delightful. If it wasn’t creepy I could sit around smelling it all day. The price is about twice as much as I’m used to paying for a deodorant stick, about $6.

So how does it work? It’s labeled long-lasting, and I did find that it was still smelling fresh at the end of the day most days. But when I got really hot (like when I was cleaning out the car) the funk returned. I definitely had to reapply, something I rarely do with Degree. I still think I will keep using it, though.

I also switched salons to an Aveda location that I can walk to downtown. I was really impressed with their multiple, multiple efforts to be eco-friendly in packaging, saving water, using more natural ingredients, offering refillable tubes and on and on. Prices are pretty high, but it’s nice that Aveda salons are all over so the stuff is easier to find.

If you have greened your beauty regimen, please share!

I got my mind set on you

I’m definitely one of those people that when I decide I want something, I will do everything in my power to get it or make it happen. My OCD kicks in, and trying to change my mind is pretty much a lost cause. Such was the case with the Toyota Yaris. I saw those little hatchbacks driving down the street and I just fell in love.

So I made it part of the plan. Sell the big car, get a small one, save $15 on every tank of gas. Makes sense to me!

I have to admit, the day before I went to trade in my old car I got to thinking about everything that had happened in my life since I bought that car and it made me a little weepy.

The CR-V was a bit of an impulse buy. I took my Civic to get an oil change, and while I was waiting I wandered over to the showroom to peek at new cars. I’d been thinking I needed to upgrade to a bigger car after all the trouble I’d had navigating my car through Iowa winters. The truth is that all I needed was front wheel drive and a few lessons on snow driving, but that was only part of why I wanted the car. I’d never had a new car before. I’d never walked into a dealership and stood on my own two feet through the oh-so-fun process of wheeling and dealing. I’d just moved into my first apartment I could call my own. This was the next big step.

So I did it, and I was pretty proud of myself. I talked the saleswoman down twice until I got a price I could handle. And then I drove my baby home. It snowed less than a week later. And as my parents like to recall, I told them it was “not an issue.”

I packed that car to the ceiling when I found out I was moving to Colorado. I drove it to Iowa and back several times in 2005. And I packed it to the ceiling when I found out I was both losing my dream job and yet finally getting to live with Mike. Then together we drove it all the way to South Carolina and back in 2006.

I don’t know. After all that, the car just meant a lot to me. In some ways it was my companion. I couldn’t let it go without a thorough vacuum and scrub.

But it was also part of the reason I’ve struggled so much financially the past few years. Sometimes getting what you want means getting what you shouldn’t. And that car just wasn’t a good match for someone who spends 90 percent of her time driving alone. Reggie sure loved to hang her head out the window and let her tongue dangle in the breeze. Now she’ll have to compromise in the back seat of the purple car. I don’t think she’ll mind too much. As long as she’s going somewhere with us.

I hope the Yaris is the next step in truly living what we believe. It’s rated at 36 mpg on the highway (which means it can get even more), so it should significantly lower my gas bills. It probably won’t be the right car for us forever, but it’s great for now. And let’s face it, it’s cute as hell.

Finally, she blooms

I can’t tell you how excited I am to see this gerbera bloom.

She made me wait all summer, but finally appeared last week. I have never seen a plant grow so many leaves before blooming — it was torture!

I actually did not even know this plant was there when I dug up the garden and planted new flowers in the spring. I think I accidentally pulled out a red one that had been there last summer. But at some point these leaves started sprouting and I recognized them right away as a gerbera plant. As this is my favorite flower (and in my experience they are quite finnicky) I did everything I could to encourage it to keep on growin’.

I’m also really glad I bought these red-orange-y flowers. The mix of colors is great.

I’m off to embarrass myself in a state fair competition with my co-workers. It involves a goat, a corn dog and bicycling. Awesome.

Reggie says…

Yeah, yeah. Another gold medal for Michael Phelps. I could totally outrun that guy.

The cookie to end all cookies

After letting the dough sit overnight I finally got to bake my super famous hoity toity New York Times chocolate chip cookies.

I made just a couple of adjustments. To avoid another trip to the store I used all-purpose flour and skipped the sea salt topping. I found the cookies to be even saltier than most so I’m not sure why it needs more. I also used Nestle dark chocolate chips from the grocery store, which were fancier than usual, but nothing boutique-y.

The dough was a thing of beauty. After I whipped it in the mixer for several minutes it was light and fluffy (and of course I had to have a taste, too).

I had a heck of a time finding an appropriately sized cookie scoop. Martha, of course, came through with her version at Kmart. But it failed pretty much instantly and really only helped me shape the dough into balls. I had to dig most of them out of the scoop with my fingers. I guess some items require you to spend more to get a better product.

Anyway, the cookies turned out beautifully. Because of their size, I think, I didn’t worry so much about taking them out at the exact minute they were supposed to be done. When I felt like it had been close to 20 minutes, I checked on them, and they were usually ready to come out. I highly recommend a glass of cold milk with these bad boys, as they are extra large and fairly dense.

Mike said they were about as perfect as a chocolate chip cookie can get. I agree in terms of appearance. But I have to admit it would be tough to break my allegiance with the Nestle Tollhouse recipe I grew up with. It’s like that damn green bean casserole — it’s just something I can’t explain.

I say tomato – take some, please!

The vines groweth over in our tomato garden. I would call it just a regular garden, but all it has is tomatoes right now and boy does it ever have tomatoes. I love the yellow pear ones as you can just pop them in your mouth or toss them into a salad with a little garlic, oil and vinegar. But there are just so many of them! As soon as you pick 20 or 30 there are 20 or 30 more. So I think my office will be getting this bundle.

Tonight, I think Mike’s making a sauce out of the Amish paste variety. And I’m thinking about tackling that New York Times chocolate chip cookie recipe that Orangette and others have attempted. Although given my gluttony at the Iowa State Fair over the weekend, I’m not sure I should be allowed to eat anything but tomatoes and zucchini for a long time.

Oh, and I almost forgot. I had to run to the store this morning for eggs and I decided to get a canteloupe, too. I was about to put this dinky one from California in my basket when I turned around and saw basketball-size melons from Muscatine on the other side. So I ditched the small one and was glad I did. The Iowa melon was super juicy and had a more delicate flavor than most summer melons I’ve had. Can’t wait to have a wedge for breakfast tomorrow.

Loving: polka dot shoes

I’d been wanting a pair of Converse for a while but couldn’t quite find the ones I had to have. I finally decided I probably didn’t need yet another pair of casual shoes when I spotted these on clearance at Target. My whole goal of shopping that day was to buy things with little orange stickers (within a list of sort-of needs). I cleaned house with a basketful of items. But I think these might be my favorite buy. $40 shoes for around $8. And so cute!

Almost-all local ratatouille

Ratatouille is one of those dishes that is so incredibly simple it doesn’t seem possible for it to be good, but it’s that simplicity that makes it even better than most dishes. And what I think makes it even better is using ingredients that have been pulled from the ground just hours before.

We bought quite a bit at the farmers market this week: green beans, red potatoes, blueberries, peppers, eggplant, carrots… So it just seemed like together with the tomatoes from our garden we had the makings of a fresh all-vegetable dish. In fact, the only vegetable ingredient that was not local was the garlic. I mixed red and orange tomatoes from our garden and got to use two of my favorite kitchen items: the cutting board with a drain and the soft peeler. Nice!

I used this recipe for “Simple Ratatouille” that I cut out of a newspaper. It says it’s adapted from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” I’ve used it before, and I think it’s just about perfect.

You need:

1/2 pound zucchini, sliced into 1/8-inch slices
1/2 pound eggplant, sliced into 3/8-inch slices
3 T. olive oil
1/2 pound thinly sliced yellow onions
1 sliced green bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and juiced
3 T. fresh parsley or basil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. First of all, salt your eggplant slices, let them sit for an hour and then rinse them off. It really helps with the bitterness.
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and lay out the eggplant and zucchini slices (you may need 2 but I squished ’em all on one). Brush lightly with olive oil and bake until slightly brown on each side.
3. In a skillet, cook onions and peppers in 2 T. olive oil for about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic and season to taste.

Slice tomato pulp into 3/8-inch strips. Place tomato slices over onions and peppers.

4. Cover the skillet and cook over low for 5 minutes. Uncover, baste with the tomato juices, raise the heat and boil for several minutes, until most of the juice has evaporated.
5. Put 1/3 of tomato mixture in bottom of a small casserole dish. Sprinkle with 1 T. herbs. Arrange half of the eggplant and zucchini on top, more tomatoes and herbs, then the rest of the zucchini/eggplant and finally the rest of the tomatoes. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes.

We ate it with a brown rice mixture and thought it was delicious and incredibly healthy. And local, of course.

Childhood photo project

I have been wanting to finish this project for a while now, and it is so nice to finally have it done. And I’m happy to say I did not have to buy a single thing. I already had photo paper and a printer, and the frames from a previous project I had done. They were just sitting empty in a Rubbermaid tub.

The photos were all taken between 1980 and about 1988. I went through albums both at my house and at Mike’s house and picked out the ones that we (and our moms) liked the most, either for photo quality or good memories.

There is some seriously cute stuff here.

I guess I’ve just been really into the idea of showcasing great photos instead of keeping them stuffed in an album lately.

This is what I did:

-Scanned in the photos at 300 dpi (this allows you to blow them up if you want them bigger).
-Imported them into iPhoto. This is where you can make any adjustments to the size and color.
-Printed them on photo paper. I was able to select what size I wanted, so I went with mostly 5x7s and 4x6s. Some 3x5s, too. (Many times I order prints from Snapfish. I think the quality is great, and shipping is usually only 99 cents.)
-Then I just arranged them, sort of like a collage over the 6 frames. I trimmed some so they would fit better. I hung them on the wall in a random pattern.

The frames aren’t high quality by any means, but I can always put the photo collages in better frames if I get them someday. For now, I love having those photos out for all to see.