Friday, February 12, 2010

Eco-friendly Wine Wrapping

Sometimes I get these little crafty ideas. Just a tickle in the back of my mind that goes and goes until I stop and think it through. And believe it or not, I'm not always in the kitchen. OK, this project basically took place in the kitchen, but it's not food related. OK, it is a little food related.

I'd gotten some unique champagne to give as a Christmas gift. Sure, you could just strap some ribbon around the bottle's neck, wrap it with real paper, or actually buy a gift bag. But this champagne came from that skin-crawling pit of despair, Trader Joe's. Double bagged in their stupid, weak paper bags. If they didn't have those slightly odd things that I sometimes need/want, it would have absolutely no redeeming qualities at all.

As the bottles sat in their bags, I kept thinking about how I was going to wrap them using the bags. I don't even remember consciously coming up with this plan; it was just, all of a sudden, how I was going to wrap these bottles.

It looks cute. Here's how you do it.

Step 1:

Gently pull the handles off. It's not hard, because they're crap anyway.

Step 2:

Cut down the seam of the bag, and then start cutting around the bottom. You'll stop cutting around the bottom when you reach the last short side. In other words, only one short side and half of the long side will still be attached to the top part of the bag, like so:

Step 3:

Put the bottle down in that little corner pocket, and fold the loose corner of the bag's bottom up. Here's where you "artfully" scrunch around the bottom and wrap the tall part of the bag around the bottle. It should be in a nice, long flap.

Step 4:

Tape where the wrapping ends to hold it in place. Then scrunch around the lower neck of the bottle, and either tape or tie a ribbon around it.

Step 5:

Cut about 1" thick strips around the top, down toward the bottle, stopping where the neck is taped/tied. It'll rip a little, and the strips will get soft and flappy because these bags are seriously worthless. I stopped cutting when there was just one layer of paper around the neck of the bottle, to kind of keep it concealed.

Final product:

Your environmentally-friendly friends will think that you've finally seen their way, and find you awesome. Your regular friends will think it's cute but will care more about the wine and why you're so cheap and lazy that you can't buy regular bags.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Resolution #1: Purge! Or letting go.

Yup, I made a boring one. Clean up and get organized.

Now, storage really hasn't become a problem yet. You tend to live pretty efficiently when you're continuously planning your next move, packing up, and moving to a new apartment (notorious for limited storage space). But over years, you tend to accumulate ... stuff. And it all seems pretty important.

First, I have boxes of books from school. I'll bet you do too. Oh Amazon textbook trade-in, where were you years ago when I needed you? I did alright in undergrad with the book exchange, but that was only around my last year or so and didn't really help me on the other side of the country.

It turns out that trading in your textbooks isn't worth it, if you can sell them in the marketplace! For example: I had a pristine finance textbook that they'd take as a trade in for $10. I sold it in the marketplace for $57. I can price my books low, because I'm really just trying to get rid of them. And I'd like to tell myself that I'm helping someone out who would otherwise struggle to afford a book that, new, costs three times as much. And it's fascinating to see the names and addresses where they've all been going. Between that, and media mail rates at the USPS on the way home from work, this is turning into a fairly successful operation!

Then there's the stacks of boxes in the closet, of which you have to open every single one until you find what you're looking for. These are all now labeled, and if I can get rid of more of these books, I can condense the boxes even more. But I'm stuck on what to do with the specially printed readers - suggestions? I have a full box.

Then there's the clothes. I only buy and keep clothes that I love, but you can see how this might get overwhelming over the years. (Yes, I still have clothes from high school ... and maybe some from junior high school ...) Some just don't fit any more. Some are so old and worn, that I should really stop wearing them to work, as wearing worn out clothes doesn't actually motivate anyone to pay you more.

Among deciding what stays and what goes is deciding what to fix and what to let go. Favorite black pants with the missing hook? Fixed. And worn liberally since. Although now I have an entire box of what look like extremely large bra hooks, and I don't intend on making my own bras thank you. Shoes with the loose button are almost fixed. Pilly, shrunken sweaters that are too warm for California? Out.

So, I've made a little progress. There's a lot to go - organizing paperwork, craft supplies, cards. And moving boxes I haven't even unpacked yet. Here's to a neatly organized home in 2010!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookies

One day I was extolling the virtues of peanut butter and chocolate with a very good friend of mine. You can imagine how deep this conversation might have been.

Doesn't a peanut butter cookie sound good? You see why this is an important conversation.

And then I was lamenting the fact that we had all this chocolate left over from Christmas. Don't get me wrong, I love chocolate. But melted down chocolate chips aren't exactly the finest way to enjoy it. So what if ...

What if you mixed melted chocolate in to peanut butter cookies?

There are obviously a few different ways this could work out. The chocolate could make the batter runny in the oven, and they might not ever come together. Or the chocolate could harden more like candy than cookie. And I was leaning toward it being an incredible runny mess. I like to stick to established, tested recipes. This is a pretty big deviation.

I started by making regular peanut butter cookies. The particular recipe I was looking at even suggested adding chocolate chips at the end, so once the cookie batter was together I added the great experiment: melted chocolate. I'd estimate I had about a cup to use.

It looked a lot like ice cream. The consistency in the mixer was a lot like ice cream. But it was obviously warm. I stopped mixing when there were still discernible swirls in the batter; any more and I think it would have blended together all the way. For future reference.

No special cooking here. Just the same as what the recipe called for (although you can see my bff parchment paper underneath the cookies).

These couldn't have come out better. The chocolate didn't harden into big chunks when the cookies cooled, and didn't ooze all over the oven. It was sort of like eating a peanut butter cup with a little cookie layer. Sure, sometimes there was more of one flavor than the other, but who is really going to complain about that?

They're especially neat because they didn't really require anything unusual. A little less mixing would make bigger swirls, and that might look cool. Or a little more, and no one would suspect they were peanut butter!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pepperpot Beef

Once upon a time, I had a beautiful wedding and an absolutely perfect honeymoon. But you probably already knew that. Or now you're thinking, "great, another girl who's going to relive her wedding for the next 20 years." Not so.

But, it happened, and we had some amazing food while touring the Caribbean. One of which was a dish that I could only tell you was called "pepperpot beef" on the menu, and was amazing. It was essentially a dish of beef in a spicy sauce, served with sweet potatoes. Maybe not immediately the most appetizing-sounding combination, but believe me on this one.

Since then I've been snooping around for a recipe that sounds like it might get the same results. The beef was super tender, so anything I found would get cooked in the slow cooker. But as for the spices, I was at a loss.

Apparently, websites featuring recipes from the Caribbean are few and far between. For instance, everywhere we went there was this incredible yellow hot sauce. From what we heard, most people make it themselves, but you can also buy it. Yeah, if you want to pay three times the price of the bottle in shipping. As good as it was, around $50 for a bottle of hot sauce is a little beyond me.

I found this BBC recipe which happened to have the same name, and since it's been about nine months of looking, I was really ready for trying.

Now, this might be a good recipe. You might really like it. It didn't look very appetizing, but that's just how some slow cooker recipes look. And it was dark when I had it originally, so it might not have looked good either. But, it wasn't my Ti Kaye pepperpot beef.

I'm open to suggestions! If you figure it out, I'll make it for you!

Monday, February 8, 2010

February Resolutions

I don't believe in new year's resolutions. The whole thing seems silly, because can't you resolve to do or not do something any time? Why not a Tuesday resolution, or a February 1st resolution?

And then, everyone seems to make one of a handful of the same resolutions: lose weight, save money, get organized, stop some bad habit. We're a creative bunch, aren't we?

Let's look at 2009 for a minute:

  • Graduated from school. Yes, I technically graduated in 2008, but all the celebrations were in May 2009, and my parents came to see me (!), and it's a really freaking big deal, so I can count it in two years.
  • Bought my first new car. What an experience.
  • Planned a wedding with all the fun before and after. Yes, I had help planning, and did do some before 2009, but the bulk of it happened those four months before.
  • Participated in a duathlon. That was a crazy experience. And the half marathon. Oh, and somehow trained for both.
  • Went to a cake decorating class. Mad skills acquired.
  • My newly minted little brother moved out to LA. Hi neighbor!
  • Rotated in to my last rotational position at work, and then got placed. That's three jobs in 2009. And yes, that's abnormal. Especially since one job was at a different site.
  • Bought a house, moved, and had our first married Christmas in our new home.
So, when I said I was tired and hoped 2010 was a big bore, I was completely serious.

But January 2010 was a terrible month. Lots of bad goings-on. And I realized that some of these things wouldn't have bothered me so much last year, because I had so many other things to divert my attention.

Don't worry, though: I'm going to give 2010 a chance to redeem itself. This year I'm going to do things that I wanted to do before, but didn't have time. Some things I've started, some I'm just starting, and some I don't even know where to begin! So I'll let you know if I get any bright ideas.