Saturday, February 28, 2009

It's the economy, stupid

I have to admit that all this bad economic news is getting to me. Ricardo & I had our own "economic summit" a few weekends ago to go over our finances, and surprise-surprise, the conclusion was that we need to cut costs where we can.

I do most of the grocery shopping, and I think I'm a pretty good home economist, but I wanted to see for myself how much I spend per meal on a critical ingredient: meat.

Another thing I have to admit, is that I'm really choosy about my meat. Basically at this point I buy almost all of it at Whole Foods or at an occasional shopping spree at the local farmers market. Not to get all lecture-y or preach-y, but gone are the days when I can buy Purdue chicken or random ground beef from Safeway. Anyway, here's my recent bulk haul from Whole Foods: boneless chicken breasts, spicy pork Italian sausage, ground beef, and some pork.

How much does all of this cost per meal? Is one cheaper than the other? I have no idea, so let's find out. Follow me as I prepare the food for the freezer...

First, I started with the ground beef. I put aside some for tonight's taco dinner (avocados are in season and only cost a buck a piece), and I decide to make the rest into hamburgers. I pulled out one of my Weber cookbooks, and found a simple recipe for hamburgers (thanks to my dried herbs from my garden).

Okay, in a few minutes I have 6 hamburgers (3 meals) ready.

Here they are, packaged for the freezer. It may not be grilling weather just yet, but I want to be ready on the first warm day.

Next up, boneless chicken breasts. Ricardo used to give me a hard time about buying chicken from Whole Foods, but compared to Safeway's organic brand, it's much cheaper and way better tasting. Ricardo and I can only eat a half breast between the two of us, so I cut them up and trim off the yucky parts.

Then, the trouble starts. Samantha smells chicken.

Samantha loves any kind of bird. But raw chicken is her favorite.

When I take too long to fill up her treat bowl with the scraps, she climbs up as high as she can, giving out a loud, demanding meow.

Okay, Samantha's head is now deep in her bowl, allowing me to finish cutting up the chicken, and sealing them up in individual bags, and then packing four servings together in another bag, for an added layer of protection.

And here's the spicy Italian pork sausage, each one wrapped in parchment so they won't stick together, then put in a big zip lock. I don't usually buy 8 at a time, but they were on sale, and Ricardo loves sausage on his pizza. (I like to peel the label off the package and stick it in the bag.)

Here's everything, ready for the freezer. If you decide to do this, make sure you label the packages with the date. I used to think I'd remember what's what, but it's all too easy to get confused. (I use freezer tape, and I love it -- it stays on but is also easy to peel off with no residue.) Also, I've been re-using my ziplock bags in another attempt to save money -- it's kinda a pain in the neck to wash them, but I figure it's worth the extra effort.

And here's everything put away in my giant freezer (along with a lot of other stuff like my homemade raviolis, chicken broth, tomato sauce and pesto).

I broke out the calculator, and was pretty pleased with the results.

Cost for a dinner for two:
boneless chicken breasts: $2.75
ground beef: $2.85
sausage: $1.08 (but there's also the cost of cheese to consider)
pork cutlets: $2.71

Not bad!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Linen closet makeover

Our house is over 70 years old, and the linen closet was definitely showing its age. I've been putting off this project for a while now, but a long weekend in February seemed like the perfect time to get started. Like all home projects, it took about 3 times longer than I anticipated, and required an extra trip to the hardware store (Strosniders, what would I do without you?).

Here's the before shot of the closet. Try not to be too judgmental -- I know it's pathetic. We'd been using the closet for anything but linens, because it was just too yucky inside.
Once I took everything out, it looked even worse. I had originally planned on re-papering the side shelves, but when I saw how shabbily they had been installed (not sure why I never noticed this before), I knew they had to go.

So I ripped out the side shelves and started spackling.

Then I realized I better remove all the shelves so I don't miss any spots, so out came the hammer again. (And the cats did not appreciate this.)

I put on two coats of paint, and installed the shelves I picked up at Strosniders (they really do have everything in that store) -- and look, it's like brand new!

But the job still wasn't done -- I had to wash all of our sheets, towels and blankets that had been stuffed in boxes for almost a year and a half. Folding was the worst part -- I just don't have patience for it. The stuff that was old and didn't fit got added to the thrift store pile.

My favorite part is the handy little hooks I installed -- how cute is that? (I think I've spent way too many hours working in the closet -- I've clearly lost it.)

Now I just need Ricardo to finish refinishing the closet door, but in the meantime I'll enjoy the view of our organized closet.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Introducing my “lifetime project”

My lifetime project is a postage stamp quilt. I call it my lifetime project because the scraps of fabric that will make up the quilt have been collected during my lifetime. My Mom made a patchwork scrap quilt when I was little, and I always loved being able to point to a fabric and remember where it came from. (Luckily my Mom saved some of these old fabrics, and they'll be incorporated into my own quilt.)

I first came up with this idea in 1991, when I purchased this book and fell in love with this scrap quilt from 1935 which is comprised of over 5,000 1 inch pieces. (That's my first test 9-patch on the pattern page.)

The first step in making a quilt is cutting the clean, pressed fabric. I've been collecting Ricardo's old shirts for a while now -- it was time to slice them up for the quilt.

I recently bought this fancy ruler thingy with cutting slots that makes the job much easier.

After I cut each piece of fabric I pile up all the little squares...

...and stack them into neat little piles.

Unfortunately the piles tend to get messed up -- I've never come up with a good organizational system.

This box of squares cut up years and years ago is completely out of control.

Next up: hand piecing

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's day

This week I walked down to one of my favorite spots on the Mall, Constitution Gardens. I love it there because it's so serene, and not too many people seem to visit there. This week the lake was full of all sorts of water fowl. But what I found most interesting is that all the mallards were paired up. I'm not sure if it's mating season, or if they always hang out in pairs, but I thought it was kinda romantic, so here you go... the 4 couples that let me photograph them (some flew away):

Love is in the air! Happy Valentine's day!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy 200th, Abe!

Today is Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday, so I decided to visit to my favorite memorial. I love this memorial for it's size, beauty, grandeur, and let's face it -- without Lincoln who knows what would have become of the USA?

It's a beautiful day here in the District -- the perfect day for a lunchtime walk. (The memorial is only a 15 minute walk from my office.)

There was a wreath-laying ceremony this morning, with about 30 wreaths surrounding his statue. The interior of the memorial was pretty full of people, including a Park Ranger giving a very passionate presentation. Mingling around the crowd, I could hear many languages being spoken -- it's great to know that people from all over the world appreciate our memorials.

Someone had left this mini birthday cake on the steps in front of the statue.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Spring has sprung!

Today's weather was just what the doctor ordered -- a few digits shy of 70 degrees. It sure felt warm! We spent some time hanging out on our back steps, wearing shorts. I did some weeding, while Ricardo had a beer or two... just a fantastic way to end the weekend.

I was amazed to see how many of my spring bulbs are starting to pop out of the ground.

Johnny joined us in the sunshine, and declared winter to be over.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Georgia Ave Thift Store

There's something for everyone but eventually, it all winds up in a place like this.

In today's economy, thrift stores make a lot of sense, and in the middle of all of the random bits of other people's lives, there are often some real steals and surprising treasures. It's usually hit or miss in here, so your best bet is to go as often as possible because you never know what might have been dropped off yesterday, today, or in the last hour.

You can find clothes, electronics, furniture, what appear to be old wedding gifts still in their in original boxes and apparently stored in someone's basement for 10 (or 20 or 30) years, and things that may actually make you go hmm?

Books are a bargain at $1 each and on any given day, among the self-help titles from the 70's, there are plenty of current hardcovers and paperbacks and pleasant finds like classic cookbooks (food never goes out of style), or maybe the old Time-Life fix-it series (the economy's bad, time to learn to do it yourself).

Their kitchen accessories are my personal favorite -- I really love the spice rack I picked up there for a few bucks a while back that goes perfectly in our (unintentionally) retro kitchen.

When it comes time to get your life streamlined, just clean out your closets and put your old stuff in the bin located just inside the door. Items like furniture and electronics have go through an inspection (we once had a couch rejected because of a small rip!), but they'll take just about anything that works and is in decent shape.

You don't get paid for what you bring in, but you can do what our neighbor does and use the store as kind of a home furnishing/clothing recycling center that lets you keep your house and wardrobe updated for cheap, without piling up more clutter.
If you're trying to save a few bucks, or maybe just want to find something different than what's available in the chain stores, make sure to put the Georgia Avenue Thrift store on your list of regular places to check out.
It's fun to just browse -- you never know what you'll find at this funky little shop on the 'Nue.
6101 Georgia Ave. NW
Monday-Saturday 9am-9pm, Sunday 11-7