Condo Blues




Sunday, May 30, 2010

Skinny Swedish Meatballs

Our friend Rick is in a concert band that marches in a few summer parades. When he found out that I twirled flag and rifle an eon ago in high school he asked me to twirl in their flag unit. Practices start less than an hour after Husband gets home from work. If I want to avoid a fast food meal on the nights I have color guard practice, I need a quick meal for dinner, like 30 minutes or less kind of dinner. Semi-homemade is one way to go because we eat most of our leftovers for lunch.

Enter Farm Rich. I checked the Farm Rich website and found that their food is free from trans fats, hydrogenated oils, and high fructose corn syrup – things I don’t want in my food. Their meatballs are made from a combination of pork and beef, which made me think of Swedish Meatballs.

Every Scandinavian has their own version of how to make meatballs. Yes, even us Danes. My favorite meatball recipes are the Swedish ones that use both pork and beef (hold the veal thank you) in the meatballs and calorie laden heavy cream and butter.

Hm… I wonder if I can use the Farm Rich Meatballs and tweak a Swedish meatball recipe to make it a little less on the calories for a quick meal?

Lisa’s Skinny Swedish Meatballs

The picture isn't out of focus. That's steam raising from the meatballs.
Food photography is tough I tell you! (Seriously.)

Farm Rich Meatballs (or make your own from scratch) There are approximately 64 meatballs in a bag (when I finished it I used the empty plastic bag for doggie duty.) I was able to get two meals out of a bag.

Whole wheat pasta

1 cup of skim milk
½ cup of plain yogurt
2 Tablespoons margarine
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
¼-Teaspoon salt
¼-Teaspoon pepper
¼-Teaspoon ginger
¼-Teaspoon ground cloves
¼-Teaspoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
Meatball juices (optional)

1. Prepare the meatballs per the cooking instructions on the bag. I choose to bake mine for 30 minutes because it gave the meatballs a nice crispy texture. 

2. Combine skim milk, yogurt, margarine, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, ginger, and cinnamon over medium heat.

3. Stir in the cornstarch to thicken the sauce.

4. When the meatballs are fully cooked through, stir in combine the meatballs and meatball juices into the sauce (as desired) and heat through.

5. Serve over a bed of whole wheat pasta

It was delicious! The Skinny Swedish Meatball recipe is worth keeping. What about the Farm Rich Meatballs?

Pros

1. Farm Rich does not contain transfats, hydrogenated oils, or high fructose corn syrup in the meatballs or in any other Farm Rich product for that matter. Yay!

2. Farm Rich Meatballs can be prepared in the slow cooker, stove top, microwave oven, or conventional oven. I preferred the oven because it made the meatballs a little crispy and I could easily drain the juices if I choose.

3. These meatballs are probably going to be a better choice if you live in a small town or rural area like my parents and in-laws. They don’t have ready access to fancy schmancy gourmet groceries or as many choices to grocery shop at as I do in a large city. That's why I choose to review some less than perfectly green products like this, so you have options if you need them. As always, your mileage may vary.

Cons

1. Farm Rich Meatballs are a prepared food and I know some of you don’t like that. Sometimes our activities leave us in a time crunch for dinner and semi homemade is a better option because we refuse to eat in shifts. Family dinners are important to us even when the family consists of two people.

2. The meatballs are a bit high on the sodium scale but hey, it is a prepared food and that is not uncommon with prepared food including the organic stuff. Since I try to watch the sodium, it is better for me to eat Farm Rich Meatballs on occasion.

I’m not sure how to call this one. If I were a staunch person (and I am about some things), I’d pan them immediately just for that fact that Farm Rich Meatballs  are a prepared food in a resalable plastic bag. I reused the plastic bag for doggie duty because I have to bag it so again, I'm OK with the plastic bag while some of you may have issue with it. However, my life isn’t always so black and white and because that would be boring and unrealistic.

Farm Rich Meatballs taste good. They are something that allows me to do a quick meal that doesn’t have transfats, hydrogenated oils, and high fructose corn syrup in the ingredients, which I am staunch about avoiding as much as possible. However, the sodium is high and while we don’t have heart or blood pressure issues, we try to follow a low sodium heart healthy diet so those problems won’t crop up early. You’re welcome insurance company.

Nevertheless, we do make allowances along the lines of The Conscious Shopper’s 80/20 Rule because since Husband and I are so healthy, we can eat less than perfect food on occasion. Am I using the 80/20 Rule as a trick arrow for my quiver or as a cop-out? I will leave it up to you. What do you think?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ditch the Disposables: Try Reusable Produce Bags

One thing we haven’t switched over to is reusable produce bags. Husband is convinced that food stays fresher longer in a disposable plastic produce bag in our refrigerator. (Anyone? True? False? Any tips?) When I’ve attempted to not use a produce bag for something big like an eggplant at the store, Husband sticks it in a plastic disposable produce bag when I’m not looking. In the interest of martial harmony, I go along with it. I figure I can always use the empty produce bag for doggie duty.

Given the current empty produce bag population at our house, Blitzkrieg better get a lot more roughage in his diet. We buy fresh produce as much as possible and he has a lot of empty produce bags to fill. Just sayin’

Fortunately ChicoBag came to my rescue. ChicoBag has developed a line of reusable produce bags, called The Produce Stand Collection. The Produce Stand Collection is made up of three reusable produce bags that fold up into a little apple pouch. There is a Hemp-Cotton bag is for leafy greens or grains, a Mesh rePETe bag is for fruit, and a solid rePETe bag is for squash, carrots, etc.

ChicoBag offered to send me a set for review. I thought that if this product worked well enough to pass Mr. Skeptical’s test not only would I have one less thing cluttering up my house (and ultimately the landfill), but it must be a better than good product. While Husband doesn’t like waste or products with harmful ingredients that could poison our dog, he isn’t always gung ho just for greenness sake. The product has to be green AND work as well or better than its more conventional equivalent. I love this because he keeps me real.

My first test was kind of a cheat. I used the Produce Stand Collection at Trader Joe’s. I didn’t have a problem with using the reusable produce bags there or at the farm market. Oh, and the produce bags were the just the right size when Mother in Law gifted me with some rhubarb from her garden.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Five-Step Plan for Saving Money and Paying Off Debt That Works!

Debit. It's all the rage these days. I know this subject well. I was responsible for putting myself through college. I graduated with a lot of debt. I racked up more because it took awhile to get a very entry-level job in my field thanks to the economy (which looks ducky compared to the economy today) which made for some lean times.

I paid off most of my pre-marriage debt. With the exception of our mortgage, that is the only debt Husband and I have.

I’m so successful at living a big life on a little budget and paying off bills that I developed a very popular course on saving money and reducing debt when I worked at an e-Learning company.




My Five Step Plan for Saving Money and Paying Off Debt

Sunday, May 23, 2010

How to Make a Compost Bin Out of a Plastic Storage Tub

My Home Owners Association (HOA)  lawn service killed the compost bin I made from a garbage can with a lawn mower last summer.

A moment of silence please.

During the winter I researched and pseudo-shopped for a replacement. A Bokashi Bin like this one looked interesting but higher maintenance than my old college boyfriend. (Disclosure: I am including affiliate links for your convenience.)

A worm compost bin (learn more about it here) would freeze in my garage. I didn’t want to be known as a Stewart of the Earth and Mass Worm Murderer. A tumbling compost would work best for us, and if it was smaller than the garbage can model that would be perfect.

I had my heart set on an electric composter similar to these because I liked that it did all of the mixing and tumbling for me and you got a batch of compost every few weeks instead of my year long wait till it rots method.

But before I make the spendy investment I vowed that if I can get the green to brown ratio right, don’t have slime mold or maggots, and get at least one batch of compost out of a new homemade compost bin then I will consider buying the electric composter. Don’t judge me Internet. I know I’m a little more than pathetic because I dream of compost bins instead something important like world peace.

 
Pin this tutorial for reference!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

I Dream of New Kitchens

When Husband and I went house shopping his main requirement was a kitchen in which he could take a step because that wasn't happening in our rental's one butt galley kitchen. Not to mention that sad excuse for a kitchen was stuck smack in the middle of 1976. Ew.

The kitchen in our condo is the largest room in the house.


It's your basic boring builder's kitchen but at least it's ours!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

7 Areas for Easy Kitchen Spring Cleaning and Clutter Busting

Today’s spring cleaning topic is clutter. Who doesn’t have some of that? Hands up? Anyone?

Good to know I’m not alone.

Once upon a time I had a roommate who though my decorating style was sparse. I thought her style was cluttered. Who’s right? I don’t know. How do you know when you have too much clutter, not enough, or if everything’s just right?

For me it came down to one thing – kitchen towels.

One day I grabbed a fresh kitchen towel out of the drawer and lamented how worn and faded it was. The rest of the towels in the drawer looked just as pathetic. I decided right then and there to purge the worn kitchen towels as an incentive to replace them with new ones.

Guess what? I found that I had more than enough newer kitchen towels I deemed them “too pretty to use” (Help me - I’m turning into my mother!) and in the bottom of the kitchen drawer. I also found that I had enough to keep the towel rotation short so they wouldn't be so faded and worn in the long term.
After my kitchen towel clean out, it felt like I had more items not less, because I could find the nice towels easily and use the pretty ones every day.

Of course me being me, I cut the old towels in half and stashed them under the sink to use instead of paper towels. Save a tree, save some money, creative reuse, and all that stuff - high fives all the way around.

But finding new stuff in my old stuff gave me the incentive to purge each area in my kitchen. Fly Lady suggests setting a timer and doing this in 15 minutes increments so you won’t get overwhelmed. That works too. Although I find that when I’m in a mood, cleaning and organizing snaps me out of it. I like the metaphor of cleaning and organizing my outside surroundings to help me clean and organize what’s going on inside my head. As always, your mileage may vary.

I purged the excess and kept only the best of the following:

1. Reusable travel coffee mugs. We had several freebies that leaked and went into the recycling bin. By keeping 2 travel mugs per person we no longer have dribble drinking problems. It also keeps the kitchen sink from being cluttered up with dirty travel coffee mugs waiting for a hand wash.

2. Reusable water bottles. Same deal with the coffee mugs. The stainless steel bottles stayed. The plastic bottles that didn’t have a recycling number 2, 4, or 5 (the BPA free plastics) went into the recycling bin. I realize that those bottles are still usable but I feel like a hypocrite giving someone else a BPA plastic water bottle just because I don’t want my family using it.

3. Pens and pencils. Most of the pens and pencils were again, freebies from events and many were out of ink. I threw away the empty single use disposable pens. I replaced the empty ink cartridge on the refillable pens instead of chucking the pen back into the drawer and using another one (I’m sure you never do that – right?) I put the rest into a bag and sold the lot at a yard sale.

4. Storage containers. To keep Husband the Head Cook happy, we have some small plastic storage containers. Well, here’s a clutter busting tip: if you try to pull one container or lid from the cupboard and the rest of them routinely fall out of the cupboard and on to your head it’s time to purge! This purge was actually the easiest but most time consuming because apparently I never throw anything usable away. :)

  • First I matched the lids to the containers. The orphans went into the recycling bin.
  • Next, any container that wasn’t glass or didn’t have a recycling number 2, 4, or 5 (the BPA free plastics) went into the recycling bin. 
  • Finally any nicked, stained, or containers with cracked lids went into the recycling bin. I don’t microwave in plastic but red sauce and turmeric still stains my plastic containers.
5. Potholders. I purged the burn ones and washed the rest. Then I felt stupid for not realizing until that moment that my potholders are made of cloth and I could have washed them before they were so stained and burnt that I didn’t care what happened to them – idiot.


Amelia Sprout made and gave me this potholder at BlogHer last year. I should use it more often even though it's (say it with me), "too pretty to use!"

6. Chipped coffee mugs and orphan silverware – Most of these were around since our college days. I sold them at a yard sale two crafters took them. One makes wind chimes from old silverware the other makes mosaics from smashed mugs. Of course I could have repurposed my items doing the same crafts but I know me. I didn’t have a need for wind chimes or coffee mug mosaics. That stuff would have cluttered up my craft room instead of my kitchen because I’d never get around to doing those projects. It’s best to give them to someone who will use them right away. If I ever get the hankering to do these crafts, I can easily get the materials for cheap at a thrift store or Freecycle.

To keep everything in check, I started being a bit more selective about what useful freebie items I take when I’m offered them at street fairs, the mall, etc. because that’s where the majority of the not so great coffee mugs, water bottles, and pens and pencils came from. I’m also selective about product packaging when it comes to buying food items. I try to find something reusable/compostable/recyclable as much as possible.

What are your kitchen spring cleaning and purging tips? Have you found that you have a very large number of  items you only thought you had one or two of, like chip clips?

This post is part of the Get the Junk Out! Carnival where the topic is clutter hosted by Mandi at Organizing Your Way.

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