Delightful Discoveries

March 8, 2012 § 2 Comments

I’ve stumbled upon a few things over the past few weeks that have just thrilled me to no end, and I’d like to offer them up to you…

Sandwich Solution: The kids make their lunches every morning and this usually consists of some kind of sandwich or wrap. Since we don’t use Ziploc bags at all, I’ve been stressing over the best way to contain these things for clean transport within their lunch boxes. They’ve been using wax paper (fairly acceptable, but I’m not sure if it’s recyclable), aluminum foil (totally wasteful, expensive and ridiculous and it drives me absolutely bonkers when I catch them doing it), re-usable sandwich bags (never, ever big enough and then the kids lose them anyway – another thing that sends me over the edge), and plastic wrap (I hate this option. Every time I look at plastic wrap I can only envision some poor, furry sea animal being choked to death).

So you can see why this was an issue. Apparently I have some sort of sandwich wrap mania.

It occurred to me while just sitting around one day that the kids can wrap their lunches in one of our cloth napkins, use the napkin instead of the paper ones at school and then bring the napkin home to be washed. Problem solved.

I can’t believe it took me this long to think of it.

Cereal Solution: If it wasn’t for the kids I would never, ever buy boxed cereal. It’s expensive, marginally nutritious (even the “healthy” ones are suspect) and the packaging is ever so wasteful. In fact, I don’t usually buy the cereal, their dad does, and I bite my tongue every time he walks into the house with nine boxes of pandapoop puffs or whatever it is that was on sale.

I decided to combat this cereal menace head on, and I found these two marvelous recipes:

Vegan Skinny Bitch Granola: A bit time consuming to make, but it is SO delicious. I have been quadrupling the recipe (takes the same amount of time, really) and there’s usually enough to last for about a week and a half. They eat less because it is so much more dense and filled with goodies than their cereal and I don’t have to toss out five cardboard boxes a week – which makes me happy.

Vegan Overnight Oats: This takes three minutes to whip up and the kids nearly lost their minds over how good this dish is. Big score. Just make a batch before you go to bed, stick it in the fridge and voila! Breakfast.

So we still have some cereal in the house, but we’ve cut waaaay back, and I am feeling all the more relieved for it.

Bread Machine: I had a United mileage plus credit card with a bunch of miles on it. It cost me $60 a year for the privilege of earning miles that are in no way useful for air travel, so I decided to shut it down.  But before I did, I spent the balance of my miles on a Cuisinart Bread Machine and it’s the best thing ever.

The kids, with their crazy sandwich needs, were going through at least two bags of bread per week. We never had enough bread, were always on the verge of running out of bread, buying bread, thinking about bread, needing bread… Enough! Now that I have the bread machine I spend about 5 minutes every other day baking a fresh loaf of whole grain bread and we always have bread! I haven’t really crunched the numbers to determine the total cost savings we’ve enjoyed, but we sure love not having to run out to buy bread all the time. Plus, it’s just a few less plastic baggies out there murdering otters, or whatever other mayhem plastic baggies seem to cause.

My Yoga Online: I love me some yoga. I love yoga classes, yoga clothes, pretty pictures of yoga, yoga, yoga, yoga! But since we’ve been on lockdown to pay off the mortgage, I haven’t wanted to spend the $15 per yoga session at my favorite local studio.

In January, I signed up for at a special “New Year” rate. Now I have access to hundreds of yoga classes, yoga tips, wellness articles and more for about $5.80 per month. Admittedly it’s not quite the same as being in a room full of people with an instructor, but I can do as much or as little yoga as I want on my schedule. It’s been a wonderful experience to be able to come home from a hike and pop in a 20 minute cool down, or to spend a free hour brushing up on my raven – whenever I feel like it.

That’s the news that’s fit to print from Type A Minimalist! I’d love to hear about the delighful things you’ve recently discovered.


October 26, 2011 § 8 Comments

I wholeheartedly support the Occupy Wall Street protesters, and I share their outrage.
It was, in fact, the recent crashes and bailouts that fanned the flames of my anger to the point where I decided to take serious action to reduce my involvement in corruption, greed, warmongering, abuse and arrogance of every kind.
Further compounding my desire to find my way out of this system is how the company I work for has reacted to the recession. In a knee-jerk move after the last crash, my employer cut our employee discounts, doubled employee contributions to health care and stopped matching our 401(k) contributions. And at that point no one at our company had received a raise in two years. We all just shrugged it off and felt grateful to still be working.
Flash forward to now, and the company is having a boom. We are, quite literally, enjoying profits never before seen in our company’s 53-year history.
The CEO now drives one of these:

This is a $95,000 car.

I have not received a raise, nor have any of my counterparts. They have not re-instated matching funds for 401(k) benefits. Our health care costs are still higher. Our workload has tripled (gotta make those numbers!) as our headcount has decreased.
And yet, at the end of the day, I find myself breathing a sigh of relief that I am still employed.
I can’t quit my job yet. But I’m diligently working my way out of the system so that I can stop contributing to these ills, and so I am no longer a victim of them.
I’m occupying my life. And here’s how you can, too:
Know where your food comes from. Stop contributing to the oil-churning machine that is our national food system. Big companies are making huge profits off of inhumane, unhealthy practices at the expense of your well-being and your wallet. Much of what your grocery store is selling you is from China, Australia, South America and Mexico. Read labels before you buy. Do you really want your kid drinking apple juice from China? I don’t.
Eliminate your debt. Do whatever it takes. Sell whatever you can. Don’t let the banks have any power over you.
Stop shopping.  Buying the latest thing is not going to give you the life you want. Stay away from the mall and spend some time thinking about what your soul wants for this life. Whatever it is, it’s probably not right next to the Cinnabon.
When you do shop, buy quality-made products from companies that promote ethical treatment toward the environment, their employees and their customers. Research companies at or do your own research.
Support local, family-owned businesses. Keep dollars flowing through your own community where it will do the most good. Say no to Wal-Mart!
Do not buy fast food. It’s not cheaper in the long run when you consider the cost to your health and the environment. Plus, the business practices of fast food companies are notoriously unethical.
Drive less. Gas isn’t getting any cheaper, and Big Oil is subsidized by the government. My guess is that you aren’t. Walk more, take public transportation – just do whatever you can to get out of your car. Besides, walking is a very pleasant form of transport.
Move your banking to a credit union or local bank. Credit Unions are non-profit. Local banks employ your neighbors and, frankly, have better customer service. I just re-financed through my local bank and the experience was pleasant and I got a great rate.
Take care of the things you do own so that you replace them less frequently – or never. Mend those holes, fill those scratches. Extend the lives of the items you own so you spend less.
Refuse to bring things into your home that you don’t know how to responsibly dispose of. This is tough, but if you think about the entire life cycle of an item, you may think twice about bringing it home. If you know it’s just going to end up in a landfill, perhaps you could reconsider…
Proactively take care of your health in order to stay out of the health care system as much as possible. I have nightmares about insurance companies. I can’t promise that I will be free of disease or injury all my life, but I have eliminated some bad habits and embraced more healthy habits in the hopes that I can maintain my health and vigor without pills or costly procedures.
Invest only in companies that share your values. Why would you want your dollars supporting practices that you wouldn’t be involved in? Learn about the companies you give your money to, and decide if their ethics align with the things that are important to you.
Live simply.
Want less.
Give more.
All of these things will help you to build a life of self-reliance — a life where you’re not subjected to the vagaries of the market or others’ greed. These actions have helped me save enough money to have a healthy emergency fund, plus pay down my mortgage enough so that I can refinance to save $1500 a month in payments. These actions have slashed my food costs and helped me find creative ways to ensure wellness for my family and myself. These actions have helped me help my own community.
As I buy my way out of mortgage debt, as I create mindfulness about what types of behaviors my money supports, as I learn to do for myself what I used to pay others to do, I’m getting closer to occupying a life of freedom.
I am proud of the members of the 99% who are occupying Wall Street and Main Street. I would love to join them but, if I am to be perfectly frank, if my employer found out about it I would lose the job I need to keep paying the big banks for my house. And that’s how we live today.
How can you occupy your life?

Confessions of a Type A Minimalist

October 4, 2011 § 2 Comments

My little family has done a spectacular job of joining me on this quest toward minimalism.  We’ve all gotten more organized, more streamlined and more frugal. We’ve set our sights on paying off our last remaining debt – the mortgage – and are marching toward that end with crazy resolve.
In fact, things are going so well that when our oldest has to linger a little longer at school because our one car is off running errands, he doesn’t complain. When George tackled his closet clutter he reduced his wardrobe to something like 20 items, and the kids have so few clothes they’re down to one load of laundry per week. Having one cell phone for both adults has turned out to be a problem exactly zero times. And everyone is enjoying our nightly mealtime adventure — so much so that many of the new vegan items I’ve introduced are now on heavy rotation.
But I have a few confessions to make about my own lapses. Although I present myself as a beacon of simple living, I actually have some clutter in my own figurative closet. Brace yourself for my confessions…

In the last six months I have lost TWO different credit cards. What makes it worse is that I still haven’t found them. I have no idea where they might be. I’ve stopped looking.

I do not have a reasonable way of organizing the addresses and phone numbers of friends or family. The last time I purchased an address book was about 15 years ago and all of that contact info is out of date. If I do have your physical address it’s because you sent me a letter with your return address on it and I stuffed it in a drawer. But I probably won’t be able to find it when I need it. If you’re not on Facebook, I might as well not even know you.

Speaking of Facebook, we should discuss my raging internet addiction. It feels like most of the free time I’ve gained by simplifying is spent on stumbleupon, lifehacker, treehugger and earlyretirementextreme. I should stop, but I don’t know how!

I also still can’t stop myself from buying SOMETHING every single time I’m in the bookstore. And I can’t stop myself from going in the bookstore either

On my quest for a more deliberate life, I should be partaking in activities that elevate my spirit and enrich my mind. I will start doing that right after this episode of Teen Mom. Oh yeah, you read that right. I watch Teen Mom. And Intervention. And Jersey Shore, bitches. I don’t watch any Real Housewives, but I would if I knew what time they were on. My reality show freak flag flies high.

I just took another freelance gig that will probably have me doing double time for the next year. It’s a sickness. People dangle work in front of me and I can’t find a good reason to say no, even if I know that it will impact all of the free and unfettered time I’ve worked so hard to create.

So if you’re like me and trying to simplify, de-clutter and live more frugally, but you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry. It’s progress — not perfection — we’re after. So just sit back and relax. Look for your lost credit card later. Send that thank you note another time. I hear this episode of Teen Mom is a doozy.

Consider the Wage Slave

September 1, 2011 § 6 Comments

I am completely dependent on my job. I have no significant outside source of income, and I have a mortgage debt that, if my bank would have it their way, won’t get paid off for 27 more years.

I am fortunate that I don’t have the consumer and student debt that a few of my peers do, but it doesn’t change the fact that we are all basically in the same debt-filled boat. I have a mortgage debt that I am required to pay every single month. I signed up for it. And if it takes me the full 30 years to pay it off, I will have paid twice what my house was worth when I “bought” it three years ago.

Unless I make some significant changes I will be working full time for the rest of my life.

I am a wage slave.

This was not what I envisioned for my life.

So here’s my plan.

First, through conscious minimizing I have significantly reduced the amount of money that leaves my hands every month. This process includes:

  • insourcing as much home care as possible, including making my own cleaning supplies and de-cluttering to the point that my home is easy to clean
  • managing our energy and water use meticulously
  • growing some of our food in a community garden
  • creating plant-based meal plans that use every aspect of the items I purchase, and only purchasing exactly what we need
  • stopping recreational shopping
  • seeking out free or very inexpensive sources of entertainment
  • owning one car (for a family of four) and driving only when necessary
  • ridding myself of extraneous expenses like a cell phone
  • generally saying “no” to lots of activities and other things (but saying “yes” to long walks, birding hikes, bike rides and lounging around reading)

George calls this “lock down.”

What the last 12 months of lock down has allowed us to do is live off of George’s salary and put all of mine into savings, along with all of the extra income I’ve made freelancing this year. The goal is to get enough into savings to pay our mortgage off entirely within five years.

Why not send extra payments each month and start paying that bad boy off now?

Here’s why: Both George and I work in specialized jobs that would be incredibly difficult to replace if we were to lose them. While we don’t think that a layoff is imminent, we realized that if we don’t have a significant emergency fund, as wage slaves, we would be totally screwed if we were let go.

The point is that we can send the extra money each month, but if one of us loses our job our mortgage payment is exactly the same. So what if we’ve bought down $50k of the principle? If we can’t make our monthly payment we could still get foreclosed. (And you don’t even want to know what a Type A homelessness nightmare looks like…)

So what we’re doing is stockpiling cash to pay off the mortgage in a couple of lump sums while keeping a healthy emergency fund in case something goes wrong or that thing called “life” happens while we’re making other plans.

Phase two of this plan is to generate more outside income. I am going to actively work to find more freelance work, and so is George. He is also really beginning to hustle to sell his artwork and independent animated films. All of that money will go into the emergency fund since our spending is pretty well fixed at this point.

Ultimately, after five or so years, we’ll have saved enough, thwarted any unexpected financial disasters along the way, and paid off our mortgage. At that point if our jobs are still going strong then our salaries will pour into savings and investments (and long term care insurance). But I’ll no longer be a wage slave; my wages will work for me. (And maybe then I can relax a bit…?)

What are your tips and tricks for financial freedom?


You Are Where You Eat

August 24, 2011 § 2 Comments

For reasons of health and economy I cook a lot of meals. Every week I create a maniacally detailed meal plan that incorporates ingredients I already have in the house with seasonal vegetables, and I make every effort  to use each part of whatever it is that ends up in my basket. Omnivores call this “nose to tail” dining. For veggies, I’ve coined the term “top to root”.
When my diet recently (cow) tipped dangerously into a state we’ll call “dairy-ed out” I started dabbling in vegan cooking to discover whether or not this way of eating made sense for my family.
The experiment, so far, has been a resounding success. Not only have I seen my grocery bill drop from an average of $250 per week to an average of $175 per week, but I feel better, have more energy and have discovered a whole cadre of recipes that I can quickly and easily incorporate into our regular eating. The kids have enjoyed learning about new foods; George has enjoyed losing a few pounds. God bless pistachio paste.
The problem I’ve been having, however, is that many of the ingredients required for well-rounded vegan cooking are processed, made in factories far away from where I live, and are in plastic, cardboard and even – gasp – Styrofoam packaging. (This last one is NOT allowed in my house.) For example, the Earth Balance butter used in many of the recipes comes in a plastic tub and is shipped from Colorado – as opposed to the big hunk of butter wrapped in compostable paper I buy from the gal at the farmer’s market who milks a herd of ecstatic* cows. The Rice Dream that has replaced my Straus milk comes in aseptic packaging that I’m not sure is recyclable. It  is shipped from Melville, NY. My Straus milk comes in a glass bottle  that I return to the store each week, and is farmed 25 miles from my house. I can practically hear the mooing from my patio.
*I hyperbolized here – I cannot say for certain that these cows are ecstatic. 
I haven’t eaten meat in a queen’s age, but this experiment left me wondering: Is it really better for the earth to eat seitan, (which comes in a vacuum-packed bag AND a cardboard box and is shipped from I-don’t-know-where), or is it better for me to buy happily-farmed lamb from the nice lady down the street who names them, loves them and relies on her farming income to survive?
While I obviously have a deep love of animals and a respect for their right to exist without threat of their bodies or products being shoved down my gullet, I am now at a crossroads wondering:  What decision is really better for the whole? Even though I’ve seen a slight decrease in my food budget, I’ve also seen a significant increase in my garbage haul. And I don’t even know how to begin calculating the carbon footprint for all the extra traveling my food has had to do.
My always-grumbling gut is telling me that, no matter what my food choices are, it’s best to keep my focus on the local. That way, I can meet the people who grow and farm my food. I can work from recipes that honor seasonality without relying on ingredients that can only be grown in another hemisphere. And I can return or compost my packaging. Plus, the food I’m eating has been plucked from the earth quite recently and has probably only had to travel a few short miles to get to my plate.
I’m glad I broke the dairy spell, and I’m very happy to have discovered things like vegan avocado smoothies, and a drool-worthy vegan Caesar dressing. But rather than focusing my Type A diet on what I consume, I think my heart lies in committing to focusing on where I consume. By staying local, insisting on fresh and seasonal ingredients and refusing unnecessary packaging, I feel I’ll best be able to contribute to the health of my community and the planet. (Here I come, Cowgirl Creamery! Oh, but the local meat animals are probably still safe from me…)
What food choices make your heart happy?

A Few Simple Pleasures

August 22, 2011 § 1 Comment

Americans are at a distinct disadvantage when trying to break our addiction to consumerism. Our belief that our usefulness to society extends only as far as our ability to purchase things is so deeply held that our own government refers to us as “consumers” not “citizens.” (Or worse, “employees.” But without being an employee, you’ll never be an acceptable consumer, so basically those are two connected thoughts.)

I’ve made a conscious effort to re-program my belief that owning certain things will make me happy. Even so, I still get a bit giddy when I think about getting those new barstools I’ve been ogling for over a year now. But I have made serious strides over the past few years to learn about the simple things in life that make me happy without spending money on stuff.

Here’s just a brief sampling of some of the things I’ve discovered:

  • The public library is the greatest place on the planet
  • Picnics at my local botanical garden, Quarryhill
  • Hiking the trails at our local state and regional parks
  • Birding
  • Yoga DVDs
  • Kettlebell workouts
  • Riding my bike with no particular destination
  • Walking anywhere
  • Cooking meals from scratch
  • Meal planning to ensure that none of the ingredients I buy are wasted
  • Re-reading my favorite books
  • De-cluttering my closets
  • Growing my own vegetables in our local community garden (my Anaheim Chiles are amazing!)
  • Free concerts on the town green
By focusing my attention on simpler things, I’ve found ways to fill my soul without emptying my wallet.  (I’ve watched my savings grow as well!) I’m happier, healthier and I don’t have closets full of junk I’ll never use or wear. I’ve become so much more than just a consumer, and my world has become a much happier place.
What simple things do you enjoy?


August 18, 2011 § Leave a Comment

I’ve been thinking a lot about wastefulness. In the government, something is defined as wasteful when it’s something your opponent wants. In the home, wastefulness can be defined as throwing perfectly good food away (or letting it rot rather than making a meal plan for it). It can also mean leaving the lights on when you’re not in the room, letting the water run while you’re brushing your teeth, or taking 30-minute showers. At school and work, wastefulness not only applies to money and resources, but also time. And in a consumer society, wastefulness could mean that you’re buying more stuff than you could possibly ever need or use.

When we shift our attention to creating a minimal lifestyle, it’s natural that we begin to take stock in our wasteful behaviors and patterns, and then begin to correct them.

The problem I’m having with this approach is that my Type A personality creates a tendency to punish myself when I don’t live up to my goals of eliminating wastefulness in every area of my life.

Recent example: Yesterday George volunteered to do the weekly shopping for me. I wrote the list and the meal plan for him, and one of the items we needed was a handful of Kalamata olives. When I do the shopping myself, I always take my own glass jar specifically for olives so that I don’t have to take the store’s plastic tub. I forgot to pack the jar for George, he came home with a plastic tub, and I nearly had an aneurysm. I felt like a failure. Seriously.

I realized that by creating a goal of “eliminating wastefulness” I have locked myself into a pattern of thinking that is deeply negative. “Eliminating” has a particularly menacing connotation. And “wastefulness” is just loaded with baggage, in my opinion.

I propose that we move away from this double whammy of negativity. Heretofore I will no longer “eliminate wastefulness.” From this moment forward, I “embrace wastelessness.”

“Wastelessness” is an idea that’s long overdue. Rather than chastising myself for a wasteful purchase after the fact (or beating myself up for wanting the wasteful item in the first place), I will instead ask myself if the item is wasteless before I purchase.  Or — even better — try to envision all of the creative uses for every aspect of the item, even the parts that are considered throw-aways.  I can make these decisions creatively, feeling empowered rather than punished. By discovering if a thing or activity is wasteless before we buy, use or participate, we immediately snap our thoughts to the often limitless creative uses for things (or time) and can make a more enlightened decision.

A wasteless way to view a bunch of carrots, for example, would be to see that you can make a delicious soup from the orange part, and a tasty pesto from the greens. Not a bit of the carrot is wasted (and it’s all in my belly.) A wasteless way to view a bulk-sized plastic bottle of vinegar is to use the vinegar to clean your home, then cut the bottle in half. Use the top part as a funnel. Use the bottom part as a scoop for the dog food. (These are both recent examples from my own home, although I must give credit to George for thinking up the funnel. I’ve used it, like, 100 times since he made it.)

Wasteless spending. Wasteless time management. Wasteless energy usage. Wasteless meal planning…. In what areas of your life can you embrace wastelessness?

Some Updates. Plus, Clutter Corner!

August 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

Going to do a little blog housekeeping today, and update you on some of the insourcing and other projects that have been part of my Type A minimalist takeover.
I recently blogged about some projects that fall under the banner of “insourcing.” The upshot is that there are probably several things we each pay someone else to do, make or provide that are well within our capabilities to provide for ourselves. To prove a point (and save a little money) I recently made my own laundry detergent and toothpaste.
The laundry detergent project is working out incredibly well. Our clothes are clean and fresh, they smell great, my HE washer seems to do fine with it, and I have enough from my first batch to probably get me through the next six months. Highly Recommended.
My toothpaste was made out of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, peppermint oil and a hearty dose of stevia (recipe below). It was very easy to make, and the ingredients cost about $15 total. I made about a cup of it at first, and my guess is I have enough ingredients to make toothpaste for the next several decades.
In the plus column, my teeth have never been whiter. Seriously. Ditch those Crest Whitestrips and do this for a week – but stay away from blacklights. I’m not kidding when I say my teeth are WHITE. In the minus column, the taste is just ok. Not awful. Not great. I do find that I don’t look forward to brushing my teeth as much, and using the concoction is a little drippy and messy. But overall it’s been good, and my mouth feels squeaky clean. Recommended.
I’ve been insourcing my own dog treats for a while now, too. Here’s the batch I cooked up yesterdy for my dog Dobby. He’s crazy about these homemade treats.

Dog treats made with leftover oatmeal, wheat flour and peanut butter.

I also have talked about my love of solid shampoos and the search for a solid conditioner.
I found a product made by Lush Cosmetics called Jungle. I love the way it smells, but as my hair gets longer, the solid conditioner just isn’t really working for me. I think if I had a short haircut it would be fine (would  I need conditioner at all, though, if it was really short?).  So I’m giving up on that for now, and instead opting for refilling my conditioner bottle with liquid conditioner in the bulk section at Whole Foods. Solid shampoo: Highly recommended. Solid conditioner: Not Recommended. Whole Foods bulk personal care products: Highly recommended.
In addition to my hair care project, I am still growing out my hair to its natural color. It feels a little drab, to be perfectly honest, but I’m ok with it. The ends are still a little blond, and I’m looking forward to the day when it’s all just the real me.
And lastly, I mentioned a book I’m reading that I couldn’t wait to blog about. And then I didn’t blog about it. It’s called Early Retirement Extreme by Jacob Lund Fisker. I will get to this, but I’m still a little blown away by it, and trying to piece together the best parts to share. One of the reasons I started on this minimalist path was because I wanted to create more free space in my life by working less and needing less. This book has everything (including equations and charts!) the minimalist needs to find a way to quit working so much. So in the meantime, please check it out.
And for the grand finale… Here’s a shot of my latest Goodwill batch. I had way too many socks…

Isn't it funny how you don't realize just how ugly all your crap is until it's in a pile headead to Goodwill?

And now here’s this:
Toothpaste recipe:
½ c baking soda
¼ c 3% hydrogen peroxide
Peppermint oil to taste
Stevia extract to taste
Mix it all together and store it in a jar. Give it a good shake before using.
What have you been up to lately?

Viva la Vegan

July 28, 2011 § Leave a Comment

When I stopped eating meat, I started eating cheese. LOTS of cheese. And milk. And I put super high doses of half-n-half in my coffee. And let’s not forget the ice cream. I became a full-blown dairy addict.

It’s hyperbolic to put it that way, but it’s really not so far from the truth. Dairy products are full of a protein called “casein.” It’s the same protein found in human breast milk (the one that makes babies feel all woozy and bonded), and it reacts with opiate receptors in the brain in the same way morphine and heroin do. (I know, right? Shocking.)

Plus, this recent study by the Environmental Working Group put cheese at #3 on the top five worst climate destroyers. I live in Sonoma County, California, which is well within 50 miles of some of the country’s best and most responsible dairies, from which I purchase milk and cheese almost exclusively. I have long been an advocate of buying local whenever possible, but I admit that sometimes that last-minute lasagna results in a trip to the store to buy mass-produced cheese from god-knows-what poor cow that traveled here on who-knows-what truck.

You wouldn’t see me staggering down the street begging for spare change so I could lose my mind on Gruyere, but when six of the eight things I was eating in a day contained dairy or were centered around dairy, I realized it was time to face the creamy-centered truth: I needed to get better-versed in all things vegan.

Given the enormity of my dairy dependence, I knew I had to create some classic Type-A plans. When I transitioned from meat to veg-only I was constantly hungry (Enter: Cheese!). I wanted to avoid that as much as possible this time around. I checked out some vegan cookbooks from the library, including a brilliant one by Alicia Silverstone, “The Kind Diet.” I also like the recipes found at Post Punk Kitchen.

Recipes in hand, I created a serious meal plan that included breakfast, snacks, lunches and dinners. During the summer, we’ve been eating our main meal in the middle of the day because I need my energy when I’m in the thick of things, not when I’m winding down, and that’s reflected in the plan.

Here’s an example of what my vegan meal plan looked like for a couple of days:

Day 1


Jasmine green tea

Raw avocado

Bowl of fiber cereal with rice milk


Pecan-crusted seitan* and marinade over whole wheat spaghetti (from “The Kind Diet)

*I had never worked with seitan before and was happily surprised. The flavor and texture pretty chicken-y, and this recipe was really delicious. Special occasion delicious.

Vegan Caesar salad (from “The Kind Diet”)

Fresh beets (I just boil, slice and serve!)

Sourdough bread


Kale Chips (A household favorite. Just slice the leaves off the stem then chop. Toss with some olive oil and salt and bake at 375 degrees until crispy. My kids love this.)


Cheese-free polenta topped with sautéed crimini mushrooms

Small green salad with tomatoes, pine nuts, cucumber

Whole wheat crackers with homemade hummus (my recipe below)


Day 2


Cure-All Tea (from “The Kind Diet”)

Oatmeal with maple syrup


Cheese-free risotto made with vegetable broth

Roasted Brussels sprouts

Grape, Almond and Blueberry salad tossed with soy vanilla yogurt



Roasted almonds (my recipe below)


Avocado, spinach and tomato paninis on whole wheat ciabatta rolls

Carrot soup (my recipe below)

…And this has been going on for a couple of weeks now. It’s a ridiculous amount of work, but I’m hoping the reason for that is because it’s so new to me. With a little time, effort and practice, I believe that whipping up a balanced vegan meal will become as easy as it is for me to do it veggie-style.

My journey here has been a long one. Five years ago I was an unabashed carnivore, devouring any carne asada, lamb chop or pork product that dared cross my path. At some point, I became interested in the local foods movement and began buying my meats, cheeses and veggies from the farmers market and community-supported agriculture programs (CSAs). Then, meatless Mondays hit the radar, and I saw the benefit to my health, to the planet and to my wallet. I learned more vegetarian recipes and they were so much fun our family just sort of naturally transitioned out all the meat and fish. (The kids occasionally have sushi or order meat dishes when we’re out.) And now here I am, learning about vegan cooking and ingredients.

I can’t promise I’ll always be vegan, but I am certainly open to the idea that I don’t need SO MUCH cheese and dairy. I’ve learned that I don’t really need so much of anything, after all…


Roasted Almonds:

I buy these for cheap in the bulk section and keep them on hand for quick snacks.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the bulk almonds in a bowl. Blanch them by covering them with boiling water and let them sit for about 15 minutes (they may get mushy if they’re in there longer.) Peel the skins off by squeezing the almonds between your thumb and forefinger. If they’re hard to remove, put them back in some boiling water. They should slip off so easily that you’re in danger of shooting them across the room.

Dry them off a bit. Spread them onto a lightly oiled baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Pop them in the oven until they’re golden, and let them cool down a bit before eating. Store in a sealed container. Should last several weeks, but they probably won’t because you’ll eat them. I put them in salads.

Homemade Hummus:

Pick your favorite beans from the bulk section. I like navy beans or cannellini beans for hummus, but garbanzo beans, black beans, kidney beans or even black-eyed peas will work (but your hummus with be grey with the BEP). I just recently bought adzuki beans and they are soaking as I write this…

Cover the beans with water in a saucepan and soak for about 8 hours. Then, bring them to a boil. Lower the heat to simmer and simmer covered until they’re mushy. Could be anywhere from 15-45 minutes depending on the bean.

In the meantime, gather your fixin’s. (I do all of this to taste, so feel free to do the same.)

I add in chopped fresh basil, cilantro, salt, sesame or olive oil, tahini, cumin, garlic (sometimes I roast it beforehand), green onions, cayenne pepper or anything else that suits my fancy. But tahini and cumin are must-haves.

Place the beans in a food processor and pulse to blend with your chosen ingredients. If the beans get a little sticky, just add a few tablespoons of hot water and blend again.

It’s the easiest thing in the world and impossible to screw up if you add in the things you love…

Serve on whole wheat crackers or bread, celery sticks, carrot sticks, your finger…

Carrot Soup:

1 lb carrots

One small potato, peeled

1 small red onion

2 cloves garlic

1 tbsp peeled, chopped fresh ginger

3 tbsp olive oil

4 cups vegetable broth (I make mine from Better Than Boullion)

Salt to taste


Chop vegetables. It doesn’t really matter how big or small as long as the pieces are uniform so they cook evenly. Heat the oil over medium heat in a sauté pan with tall sides. When the oil is shimmering, put the onions in and cook until they soften just a bit. Toss in the garlic and cook a few minutes, until the fragrance is released. Be careful not to burn it.


Add the carrots, potato and ginger and sauté for about ten minutes or until softened. Add about 3 cups of the broth, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes or until all of the vegetables are soft enough to be blended. Taste for saltiness – if you need to add salt, add it now.


Remove from heat and let the mixture cool down a bit until it can be blended.


Blend in your blender or food processor until the mixture is totally creamy and smooth – no lumps. Add more broth to smooth it out if you need to.

Serve hot or chilled.

I’ve also made a variation with zucchini, and I’m guessing broccoli, cauliflower or squash would work just as well as the main ingredient… I might leave out the ginger and replace with tarragon, basil or thyme.



July 21, 2011 § 12 Comments

We’ve become a nation of outsourcers. Not only are we sending our jobs and manufacturing overseas (a company in my backyard just shuttered its doors and sent its manufacturing to China, laying off 40 people in the process), but in our own lives we are beholden to a cadre of “experts” to help us manage the smallest details.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, in no small part to the excellent e-book by Jacob Lund Fisker, “Early Retirement Extreme.” He proposes that we should become “Renaissance [Wo]men” rather than “Wage Slaves” in order to take back control of our lives so that we can ultimately be free.

What he means by “Renaissance [Wo]man” is a person who not only can generate income from a variety of useful sources, but also someone who can manage the little disturbances that come up in daily life without having to call in an expert. A Renaissance [Wo]man knows how to fix the plumbing, repair the bike, change the oil, mend a hole-y sweater…  Renaissance [Wo]men have a diverse array of talents.

A “Wage Slave,” according to Fisker, is someone who is completely dependent on job income for everything. They specialize in one area of expertise, their career, and leave the rest to others. The garden is weeded by a gardener. The roof is repaired by a contractor. The clothes aren’t even mended, rather replaced at the boutique down the street. You get the picture.

I’ve fallen somewhere in the middle. I’ve always had a job, and it has gotten even more specialized over the years. Right now I actually just do ONE thing for the company I work for, and absolutely nothing else. However, in my personal life I have, for many years, been slowly discovering the things I can rely on myself for – and the list increases every week. My job may be specialized, but my life skills are varied and ever-changing.

Things I currently insource:


I’m a vegetarian and a foodie. This is a tough combo. Even though I live in an area where people are pretty enlightened when it comes to food, many restaurants still have very limited vegetarian selections. I’ve realized that if I want to eat in the decadent manner to which I had become accustomed when I was a carnivore, I have to take matters into my own hands. I’ve read, studied, practiced and learned everything I can about vegetarian cooking, unique ingredients, unusual spices… I’ve made my own granola (it’s so good and so much cheaper than store bought), soups, sauces, salads, hummus… Some have been complete failures, but for the most part I eat like a queen because I was willing to learn how to do it myself. (I’m converting to vegan at this point and it is a LOT of work – I’ll post on that later…) Next, I’ll be making my own tahini. I also just signed up for our community garden – no more outsourced, garlic, potatoes, beets, herbs or onions for me. I’ll be growing my own.


I had a team (a team!) of housekeepers for years, but now I clean my own house. I keep it manageable by eliminating clutter wherever possible. I just made my own laundry detergent (click here for a really solid post on this at exconsumer, which was inspired by this one at thesimpledollar). I make my own cleaning products using baking soda and vinegar. I don’t buy plastic bags to store things. Instead, I re-use jars that had things in them that I have already used. I never purchase plastic utensils or paper napkins – I just take my silverware and wash it when we get home. I recently made my own toothpaste, giving me one more way to save money and eliminate unnecessary packaging. (George is SO not on board with this one…)


I gave up organized entertainment long ago, and I was recently reminded why. After paying $60 for two of us to get into an aquarium we were unable to even see anything because of the crowds. That’s just one example. I haven’t set foot in a mall in years because I don’t outsource my amusement to retail outlets. Aquariums, zoos, amusement parks, putt-putt places – all of these are out. For fun, we hike, bike, play Killer Bunnies, read, cook, identify birds, spend time with friends, nap and listen to music. We attend free concerts. One exception I’ll always make: Art museums. I love me some art.


I understand the need for joining a gym or hiring a trainer if you A) live in a region where you’re snowed in for several months and you like to have a warm place to work out or B) you have a particularly dicey weight, health or medical issue that requires some assistance by a pro. I’m lucky in that I live in a region where I can be outside pretty much every day and I can walk. Walking regularly combined with biking, hiking, kayaking and all those other things I naturally love to do, have helped me remain fit while I kept the money I would have spent on a gym in my wallet instead. I even do yoga workouts at home with a pretty decent library of DVDs (you can also check these out from the public library.) Basically, I’ve always insourced my exercise – and you can, too!


I reject the notion that I NEED a car.  Cars are dangerous, expensive and dirty. Car culture is making us fat and unhealthy, and it is destroying the environment. The only reason I still have a car at all is so that I can get to the coast for hiking and to get to the corporate office when I need to. I’d be more than happy to rent a car every time I need to go a long distance, but I’m not on my own so I must compromise. But we CAN reduce our use even more. At this point, the kids can either walk or bike to school, and there’s no single destination in my hometown that can’t be reached by foot or bike. I avoid the car whenever possible, thereby insourcing my ability to move around.


I never hire painters. George and I do most of our home repairs and updates including tiling, appliance hookups and small plumbing jobs (George installed our cork floors himself, saving us thousands of dollars.)

Things that I could – and maybe should — insource, but haven’t yet:


I need my feet to look sweet in the summer because I’m always in flip-flops. But why can’t I do it myself? I bet I can.


Although George already cuts the kids’ hair, I can’t seem to talk him into learning to cut mine. This will probably never happen (and probably shouldn’t).

Auto repairs:

I don’t know anything about my car or how to fix it. Right now the shocks need to be fixed and the quote was nearly $500. I don’t even know where to begin to learn how to fix a car.

Bike Repairs:

Ditto above. Fortunately we haven’t needed to do too much, but there’s a bike shop a block away so it’s hard not to just pop in.


I don’t know how to make my own clothes. But I do know how to mend things, so that’s a start at least.

Products we use:

I don’t churn my own butter or make my own mustard. I don’t know how to make hairspray or dryer sheets. I don’t know how to make miso or vinegar or press my own olives for oil. Are these things I can learn, or should I learn to live without?

By learning to insource, you not only take back control from marketers who have made you believe that you need their products in order to be happy, but you also save gobs of money.

One small example: We used to buy delicious hummus every week from “The Hummus Guy” at our farmer’s market. It cost $7 and came in a plastic tub. I now make my own with bulk beans and herbs and it costs us about 75 cents for the same amount. It takes more time, but it’s fresher and cheaper. And what better way could I be spending my time, really?

What products/services could you insource?

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