Monday, June 23, 2014

Mid-Century Style: Three-bean Salad

Well-marinated
I loved my grandmother's Three-Bean Salad.  I got the recipe from her before I got married, and made it on occasion for potlucks and family gatherings.  Unfortunately, my husband and kids didn't share what is arguably an acquired taste.  I did look forward to my father-in-law's visits, as he was a fan.  After he died, I had few opportunities to make it and, unfortunately, misplaced the recipe.

Recently, I had a hankering for the salad.  Also, I thought it might be a good meal to have on hand for visiting vegan children (once I located vegan Worcestershire sauce).

I had one recipe in my files, but when I realized it contained no Angostura bitters or celery salt, I knew it wasn't Grandma's.  So I asked my mom if she had it.  Yes, she thought she had the recipe her mom had written out.  This struck me as a little odd, since Gert (as the family called her) really wasn't a recipe follower.  In fact, she had a healthy disrespect for all directions, discarding the user manual for every appliance she ever brought home as soon as she took it out of the box.

Original "recipe"
My mom took a picture of the recipe with her iPad (for which, I'm sure, she still has the user's manual) and e-mailed it to me.  It gave me a big laugh.  Clearly, only Gert or one of her female descendents could prepare a dish from this recipe!

Actually, I'm not entirely certain I interpreted Grandma's instructions correctly.  It didn't taste exactly as I remember, but that could be the lack of anchovies in the Worcestershire sauce.  After two potlucks and many lunches, we just finished the first batch, and will make another before the second batch of vegans visits.

Mom said Gert got this recipe at a cooking class at Lawry's California Center, a Los Angeles landmark for decades which closed in 1992 as a result of cost-cutting by the parent company.  In addition to restaurants, the center offered cooking classes featuring Lawry's products.

One more note: Angostura bitters are most often used for mixed drinks, so look for them in the liquor aisle of your grocery store.  When we first moved to Washington, I had to go to the State Liquor Store to find it.

Gert's Three-Bean Salad
1/2 cup each white and brown sugar
1 cup oil
2 cups vinegar
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
3 Tbsp. Angostura bitters
1 tsp. celery salt
1 Tbsp. seasoned salt
2 cans each green beans, waxed beans, garbanzo beans, and kidney beans
1 cup each (or to taste) chopped celery, green pepper and/or red onions

In one-gallon container, mix all ingredients except beans and vegetables.  Drain beans and add to bowl.  Add vegetables to taste.  Refrigerate at least 24 to 48 hours, stirring twice a day.  (Also can be made in plastic food storage bags for ease of turning to marinate.)

Salad only gets better with age and can keep for a couple weeks.

Salad looks like this when first mixed.  Not nearly marinated enough!


Thursday, June 12, 2014

The priceless gift that costs less than an hour

This blog is about things we can do that are fast, frugal and fit - like being able to save a life (or two or three) by giving less than an hour of my time.

Every two months, the bloodmobile pulls up at work.  It's usually the highlight of my week.  Alas, today I was turned away; my iron tested slightly below the limit.  I'll have to wait two months to give again.  (Unless, of course, I get a call that my blood is needed because a child is having surgery.)

Why do I love giving blood?

It saves lives.  Each donation can be used for several patients, some with life-threatening injuries and illnesses.  When I was a young adult, I was afraid to give blood.  Then I visited my grandmother in the hospital and saw the blood she was receiving from an anonymous donor. I knew I could do it - as long as I didn't look.

It's a privilege to be able to give blood.  It means I'm healthy.  My irreplaceable friend Cheryl was a regular blood donor until she was treated for cancer.  (Since then, the guidelines have been eased so that it's not an automatic disqualification.)  I pledged then, I would never miss an opportunity to give.

It provides an opportunity to socialize with people on different floors.  There are people I work with I only see on bloodmobile day.  Call it networking or socializing, you can learn a lot from someone when you're reclined with a tube coming out of your arm.

It helps the nurses in my life.  I have "baby blood," because I've not been exposed to a common virus which is OK when blood is transfused to adults, but not children.  My niece is a pediatric nurse; she says my blood is like gold.

A few years ago, we lost Cheryl over Thanksgiving weekend.  It was a bittersweet time, because we also learned we were to be grandparents for the first time.  The week before Christmas, the blood center called.  "We need your blood for a young boy who is having surgery.  Can you come in?"  As I was sitting at the center giving blood, I thought about the young boy who could have surgery because there was blood available, and realized I was giving his parents - and grandparents - the gift of hope.  It was the best Christmas gift I received that year.


The life you save could be someone in your family.  I have the same blood type as my son and at least one of my grandsons.  Of course I pray they never need blood, but it's comforting to know that if they did, they might get mine.

It's a reminder that I live a quiet (read, boring) life.  OK, no one likes the intrusive questions that have been in the screening for the past couple of years, but isn't it nice to report I haven't done anything dangerous in the past couple months?

The perks.  Every donation is an opportunity for juice, snacks and a cool-colored bandage on my arm (I always go for hot pink).  My blood center has an annual dinner to honor donors, with small gifts like lunch bags.  My husband goes to a different center (that conveniently visits the church up the street every two months); his center gives out cookbooks.  Now no one is going to give blood for dinner or a cookbook, but it's nice to hear "thanks."

Giving blood could have health benefits.  One study found blood donors are less likely to have heart problems.  The screening process also lets donors know if they have conditions like high blood pressure or, in my case, low iron levels.  It's also a great excuse to have steak for dinner, to replenish the iron in our bodies.

In short, giving blood not only saves lives, it makes donors feel better in body and spirit, and it doesn't cost a dime.

To find out more about blood donations, you can check out the FAQ of my blood center.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle - and Repair!

At one of my Toastmasters meetings, I heard a speech from about the three "R's," no, not the "reading, 'riting and 'rithmatic" from my youth, but "reduce, reuse and recycle," a way of cutting down on pollution, energy consumption and/or landfill waste.  The speaker mentioned a fourth "R," which I can't remember - and when I looked on line, I found variations of the extra "R," the most common being "recovery" and "reclaim."

There were some interesting points in the speech.  Through ads on Craig's list, he sells his empty beer and wine bottles (no screw tops) to home brewers and vintners. He doesn't make a lot of money, but it's a nice reward for recycling. 

Inspired to do my part, I started looking for a small sewing kit to repair some clothing, my choice for the 4th "R."  I started with items of clothing which, well in the interest of being delicate, wouldn't be seen by anyone besides my husband and the ladies at the gym.  I spent $1.25 on the sewing kit, and saved several times that with my first "repair" session.  Maybe my work will improve and I can graduate to sewing buttons on blouses and repairing hems on skirts.

None of us can save the Earth by ourselves, but we can all do little things:
Whatever your 4th "R" is, you can help save the Earth - and a little of that other kind of green, money.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Card crazy, getting organized

As I mentioned last month, the Hallmark Store is one of my happy places.  I buy special cards that say "mom," "dad," "husband," "son and wife," "grandson," etc. for birthdays, anniversaries, Fathers Day, Mothers Day, St. Patrick's Day, and other card occasions.  Every once in awhile, I'll go in and buy cards for the next two or three months (allowing time for cards to reach the kids who live overseas). 

Did I mention I have a lot of people to buy cards for? Two parents, a husband, 5 kids, 3 spouses, 2 (soon to be 3) grandsons....  Yes, life is full.  And February is our "tornado alley" for cards: 5 birthdays (not counting mine), 1 anniversary, 2 Vietnamese New Year and 8 Valentines (not counting mine). 

The system usually works pretty well, until this weekend when I tried to find the Fathers Day card I know I bought for my dad.  It wasn't in the Hallmark bag with college graduation cards for my son and daughter's boyfriends.  Surely I must have bought it when I was getting May (2 birthday, 1 anniversary, 2 Mothers Day) cards.  Why would I buy cards for graduations that took place on Fathers Day weekend, and not the Fathers Day cards.  I must have put them in a safe place, but where?

I finally just made a stop at the grocery store (Hallmark not yet open) on the way to work so I could get my dad's card in the mail today.  Yes, I can drive to his house in 24 hours, but sometimes it takes a week for the Postal Service to get it there. 

The time has come, I realized, to come up with a better system for keeping track of what cards have been purchased, and which ones I still need to shop for. 

I carry a small photo album (purchased from  Dollar Tree) with a few 4x6 photos of my kids and grandsons.  I use the pockets to keep things like: the list of who drew whose name in the Secret Santa Sibling exchange; the monthly Joann's coupons; and coupons from Hallmark which can get you 25% off or $2 off your total purchase.  So I decided to make a list to go into one of the pockets, next to the Hallmark coupons. 

In Word,  I did the following:
  1. Using "Page Layout," orient is landscape, and increase the bottom margin to 1 1/2 inch.
  2. Make four columns.
  3. Using bold ALL CAPS, type every month of the year.  
  4. Under each month, put bullets with the birthdays for that month, one per line.
  5. Add "Anniversaries," with bullets for the names.
  6. Do the same with card-giving occasions that apply to only certain people, like Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Halloween and Veterans Day.  Put bullets for those names.
  7. Now add in holidays where you'll get personalized cards for all/most people on your list: Valentines Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Bullet the names for each card recipient(s), then copy and paste for each occasion.
  8. Add spaces, if needed, so each month is in the same column.
  9. Print and cut into 4x6 sheets to go into the album pocket.  (I put them all in the same pocket and will just put the current sheet in back when all cards have been purchased.)
  10. Cross off the cards as you buy them.  It'll save a lot of searching through bags, desks and wondering if you're going crazy.
  11. SAVE the list for next year, to add new grandchildren, delete graduations, and if necessary move Easter to March.
For now, I keep the cards in the Hallmark bag.  If the family gets much bigger, I'll have to use one of the card organizers I've collected over the years.  But I found one blogger who made her own, if you'd like to try.

Now, I just have to see if I can find the cards I may or may not have bought for my husband and son before Sunday.....

Monday, June 9, 2014

Five life lessons from the thrift store

Antique pressure cooker - do not use!
I love to brag on our Goodwill Store.  I've been to more than a dozen in three states, and the one near my house always has real gems.  I like to go every month or so just to see what I can find; maybe a piece of my stoneware or china that was discontinued 35+ years ago, or some flatware to replace the lost forks and spoons from my set, or a great cookbook.

I usually start in housewares.  We always need Corningware casseroles and/or lids, then a careful look through dishes and flatware.  A quick trip through pots and pans to see what Revereware is there.  Then over to afghans to see if there are any worth rescuing.  Across from that is yarn, notions and pattern books. 

Unless I'm in the market for clothes or a new purse, I head over to books and get lost for awhile in the cookbook aisle.  I've gotten some fun ones for myself or my newlywed daughter.  On the way out, I'll look at movies.  My treasure hunt usually lasts about an hour and costs less than $20. 

This time, I came home with one book for my husband and a sewing kit for more purse - but also with five lessons learned.

Know what you're looking for.  With the help of my favorite vegans, I put together a list of desert-island vegan and vegetarian cookbooks.  I keep a copy of it in my purse.  This weekend, we looked at the library book sale and at Goodwill, and couldn't find any on the list.  In fact, there were very few vegetarian/vegan cookbooks at all.  (Unlike diet cookbooks, people don't donate these books; even if they go back to eating meat, everyone eats vegetables.)  So I didn't buy any cookbooks this trip.

Know what you can live with.  Last month, I made a great find at another thrift store, $40 worth of Homer Laughlin Fiesta dishes for $10.Yesterday, I found dinner dishes and soup bowls in the same color.  What a great find!  Unfortunately, the dishes were in poor condition, so I passed. 

Think before you give: What has lasting value?  The chotchke aisle is always good for a laugh.  You see vases, photo frames and other "collectables" that are very dated.  "Oh, this person got married in the '90s."  "Oh, I remember getting something like that as a wedding present in 1978."  None of these seemed to hold their value.  All those gifts, I'm sure, were given with the best of intentions.  All ended up at Goodwill (especially those that outlived the marriage).  Hence, we are careful what we give for wedding gifts.  Usually, we give a check (so we know it was received; thank-you notes are falling out of fashion) with a book and/or hand-made potholder. 

Finish what you start.  Several of the afghans I found on this trip were incomplete; squares needed sewing together, yarn ends left to be woven in.  It reminded me I have two baby afghans I need to complete - projects I lost interest in or put aside before moving on to a more-urgent project.  I need to finish them myself, before then end up on the rack at Goodwill for $5.99.

Recognize what is a bargain, and what isn't!  Need a pressure cooker?  Do not buy the antique one pictured above.  This is the kind your mother or grandmother used.  They've gotten much safer since then.  I  have bought small appliances at Goodwill.  The bread maker was a bust, but my husband found a $150 coffee maker for $10.  Research before you go, and also consider buying new at Big Lots, Wal-Mart or Amazon.  Same with other items.  Donated yarn was bagged up in odd lots, for a cost about what I could get at a craft store with a coupon (for colors and yarns I choose myself).  My daughter, on the other hand, got three sweaters and a shirt for $18.  (Yes, bargain shopping runs in the family.)

Got an hour and a few bucks to invest, visit your local thrift store.  You could walk away with a few life lessons.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Read the label, don't pay for the label

As I mention in my post, Help! My kid has gone vegan!, I love making big family meals even when dealing with complicated food preferences.  (Maybe even more, since I also enjoy a challenge.)  I have two recipes in mind to make for my son and his wife when they visit, my grandmother's Three-Bean Salad (recipe to come soon) and Ree Drummond's Burgundy Mushrooms.  Both call for Worcestershire Sauce, which surprisingly is not vegan, since most contain anchovies.

I took a look at Trader Joe's, and was surprised not to find it there.  My Facebook friends had helpful suggestions for stores that might carry it, as well as mail-order Worcestershire labeled as vegan.  Since Whole Foods and PCC have yet to open in my middle-class suburb, I hadn't made the trek yet to the wealthier neighborhoods.  But the mail-order bottles were way north of $5, with none of them on Amazon Prime.  

So I started checking our local stores, including Fred Meyer, a chain of grocery/department stores in the Pacific Northwest.   I scoured the organic/vegan/specialty aisle and found a few vegan items, some by the manufacturers recommended to me, but no Worcestershire sauce.  So I went to the Worcesterhire Sauce aisle.  Nothing was labeled "vegan."  However, I read the ingredients on the labels.  Two did not contain anything I recognized as animal products.

The Kroger (store brand) bottle was $1.59 for 10 ounces.  Another was labeled "Louisiana Worcestershire Sauce," but it was actually manufactured in Washington State by Cornet Bay.  The cost was $2.29 for 6 ounces.  I confirmed on a vegan Q&A board that the Kroger is vegan; the Cornet Bay has the same ingredients, but I have sent a message to the manufacturer to confirm.  

The moral of the story:  Don't pay for something labeled "vegan."  Just read the label.  You might save some money.

(Reviews and recipes for the "vegan" Worcestershire sauces to come.) 

$5 fashion refresh

I love wandering through my local Dollar Tree store.  I just never know what I'm going to find.

This spring I found some lovely scarves to add color to my wardrobe.  (A reminder that solid color tops and skirts are so practical!  They can be perked up with a bit of color.)

I grabbed the colors that appealed to me most, purple and coral because they're among my favorites, and bright green because it's a Seahawks color, duh.  I went back the next week to get a couple colors I passed on, including blue and gold.  Since my local store is small, they had sold out.  But this is Seattle, so I grabbed a couple light winter scarves because, hey, this is Seattle.  You never know what the weather will be like, even in spring.

I knew I had a winner with the scarves when my daughter looked through them, seeing which ones she wanted to borrow. 

And that's my $5 fashion refresh.