Archive for the ‘Rachael’ Category

Sassy Stitches

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

Obsession. There’s really no other way to say it. I have an obsession with sassy cross stitch. It started innocently enough. A small cross stitch that said “Cubicle Sweet Cubicle” would make a fun addition to my desk. On a mission to find a bit of inspiration and just the right pattern, I browsed Etsy and Pinterest and my eyes were opened to the fascinating world of non-traditional cross stitch.

For many years knitting has been my craft of choice, but cross stitch holds a special place in my heart. Together with chewing gum and a lot of crying, cross stitch helped me weather the storm of smoking cessation. (The sordid tale of my life as a smoker is another story for another time.) The orderly uniformity of cross stitch is so satisfying. The methodical process, the slow coming together of images as colors are layered in and the way the backstitching and “garnish” ties it all together are so pleasing to me. I love the texture of a finished piece and the way the stitches stand off the taut cloth in a simple wooden hoop. There’s an old fashioned beauty to something handmade that is so obvious a time investment. I suspect that this perspective on the medium is why sassy cross stitch tickles my funny bone. I appreciate the tongue-in-cheek humor of hip-hop lyrics, pop culture icons or even naughty words captured in such a traditional format. There’s a classic humor thriving in the juxtaposition of old fashioned and new-fangled.

Recently I’ve created a few fun and sassy stitches to share. Some of my stitches are freebie patterns I pulled from the internet. The Grumpy Cat and Carpe Diem stitches are based on patterns I purchased from Etsy and modified. Some of my favorites are culled together from bits I doodled in my sketchbook and particularly well-done things I’ve admired from other stitchers. I’m amassing quite the collection of potential projects on my Sassy Stitches Pinterest board. Here are some of my favorite projects:

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So what do you think of the sassy cross stitch? Hilarious modern day folk art or a little too silly for your taste? Do you have a favorite? Maybe something you’ve created yourself? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Rachael Reads: I am Princess X

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

I Am Princess X, is another of my treasures from Phoenix Comicon 2015. The author, Cherie Priest was a guest of the convention and appeared on several panels. Regrettably my schedule did not allow me the opportunity to meet her, but that’s where I first learned about her work.

 

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Title: I Am Princess X

Author: Cherie Priest

ISBN: 978-0-545-62085-7

My Rating: FINAL_RR_Reads_GenV_060915_2 (4/5 stars)

Fate brings together Libby and May when they’re sidelined from 5th grade gym class. In order to pass the time the two girls collaborate on a comic book character they name Princess X and in their shared creation they become best friends. A few years later Libby disappears in an apparent auto accident and is presumed dead. All of the Princess X drawings are lost and May never expects to see Libby or their Princess ever again. But then one day May does see Princess X – in printed stickers and street graffiti. Nobody else knows about Princess X, so May wonders who might be behind her reappearance. Could there be more to Libby’s disappearance than she knows? Can May piece together clues to find out what really happened on the night Libby was lost?

The art and format of this graphic novel/prose hybrid roused my interest first and the dust jacket synopsis ensured my purchase. The snippets of comic art imbedded in chapters throughout the novel are brilliantly executed. These panels heighten visual interest and support the story by building suspense and intrigue for the reader. The transitions from text to drawings and back encourage organic pauses to study clues and weave together threads of the mystery. Sometimes I stopped to ponder the art and the subtext and other times I greedily attacked the words following a comic panel to find the answer to a clue spelled out right away.

There is so much to adore about I Am Princess X, beginning with the nature of the girls’ friendship. Libby and May forged a friendship build on creativity, collaboration, and respect without competition or frenemy drama. They never gossiped behind each other’s back or fought over a boy, and even as kids they seemed to realize the preciousness of their friendship. While I would love to peek in on their early birthday celebrations, sleepovers, and summer fun, I agree with the author’s decision to maintain a pace that builds momentum and keeps the story engaging for her target audience of young adults.

The characters in I Am Princess X are not as complex as you might find in a longer, more developed book. Once the players are established and the action begins, the story unfolds over a matter of days. Characters are developed enough to invoke our compassion, but there’s no time for more given how quickly the plot moves. I love that important ethnically diverse and LGBT characters exist in this book and the author doesn’t make a big deal about it. Libby is bi-racial and even though that fact is important to the story it is not lingered upon. Jackdaw is gay but this isn’t the story of his romantic life so it doesn’t come to the forefront. Characters have unique traits that inform their personalities but don’t define them. The author’s respect for diversity extends to gender roles as well. I love that girls and women in this book unflinchingly do what has been labeled masculine in the past. The Director of IT for Trick’s school district is a woman. May and Libby love comics and they create Princess X for its own sake – nobody is “into comics” because they’re trying to impress a boy with how cool they are. Priest lets the characters be who they are and celebrates their differences with finesse.

This is a quick, fun read. I started this book on a Friday afternoon and reluctantly put it down because I had plans for Friday night. Saturday morning I picked it up again and polished it off before Noon. There are parts where the story is linear and I figured out the mystery before it was revealed, but I’m alright with that. This is a novel to enjoy for what it is: the celebration of love between best friends and a page-turner mystery. Go out and buy this book because it is good fun and because we need more like this in our reading lives.

Before I finish this review, I have a confession. I nearly missed out on this fun, unique graphic/novel hybrid because I bear an anti-steampunk prejudice. Cherie Priest is known for her Clockwork Century series of steampunk adventure stories and for that reason I might easily have bypassed her work. After all, I have a pretty epic to be read (TBR) list and, frankly, steampunk is not my jam. I don’t understand it and that’s probably why I don’t appreciate it. (I suppose that is true of most of our prejudicial feelings.) Sometimes I think maybe I should be into steampunk. Browsing online photos posted by former Goth kids with whom I rubbed fishnet-clad elbows in the mid-1990’s, I see corsets and clockworks in abundance. The genre doesn’t resonate with me at all though. It feels forced and I’m put off by the drab-colored Victorian fashions, obligatory brass monocles, and cog-and-gear embellishments on absolutely everything. Probably my least favorite steampunk components are the innumerable leather helmet/stylized aviator goggle combos; some say iconic, I say cliché. I do not take this position to offend aficionados or to blow the steam from their contraptions, but rather to illustrate that when we allow preconceptions about genre to influence what we are willing to read, we risk missing exceptionally good books. Books like I Am Princess X, for example.

Have you read I Am Princess X? Maybe you love some of Cherie Priest’s other work? Maybe you have a sweet piece of steampunk fiction that might turn it all around for me.  If so, sound off of the comments below or connect with me on goodreads. I’d love the chance to talk books with you

Happy Reading!

Rachael Reads: Generation V

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading lately and wanted to share some of my favorites with you. I would love for this to be a semi-regular feature where we can discuss what’s good in the world of books and reading. If you like what you see here, I’m active on goodreads and would love to be “friends” there too. Maybe you have a favorite book you would like to recommend? Let me know in the comments and you may see it in a future Rachael Reads.

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Title: Generation V

Author: ML Brennan

ISBN: 978-0-451-41840-1

My Rating: FINAL_RR_Reads_GenV_060915_2 (4/5 stars)

Fortitude Scott isn’t Count Dracula, Edward Cullen or Eric Northman. In fact, he’s more like me and you because he is still mostly human. In Generation V, ML Brennan creates a unique take on vampire mythology and the reader has to throw away old notions of coffins, capes, and wooden stakes to see the Scott family as they are, but this story is so well-told that it is easy to set aside those old tales.

Fort is fighting to maintain independence and humanity in spite of his vampire heritage. He’s struggling with the troubles of a recent college grad with bills to pay and no serious job prospects. His day job sucks, his bank account is empty, his roommate is a slouch, his girlfriend is cheating on him and he’s more than a little bit Emo about his situation. When a strange vampire visits his mother’s territory and starts to prey on little girls, Fort becomes the unlikely hero to defend the lost girls. Unfortunately Fort has more moral strength than physical strength and he needs the help of Suzume, a shape-shifting body guard hired by his mother to protect him from unfriendly vamps. The relationship between them is tense from the start. Is Suzume is in it for the cash alone? Will she split when the stakes get too high? Fort is driven to do what’s right even if he has to do it alone and even if it kills him.

Anyone who’s ever had a bad job or suffered parental disapproval will like Fort from page one. The relationship between Fort and Suzume has all the right pieces – tenuous trust, a shared goal, and romantic tension. While the main character is male, it is refreshing to see well-rounded and well written female characters in vampire fiction. There are no one-note caricatures of women or buxom bimbos waiting to be swept away by dark, brooding vampire lovers in this book. The women in Brennan’s novel are capable and confident. They are self-aware and self-confident instead of self-conscious and unsure. Brennan’s female characters know their value and they hold the majority of the power in their world. Generation V is a fun, quick read with both lovable and detestable characters, a unique take on vampire mythology, and a page-turning plot. I’m looking forward to the next in the series, Iron Night.

Desk Refresh

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Things have been tough at the old “day job” this year. I work for a large company that I really love, but there have been a lot of changes these past few months and not all of them were positive. For several weeks, I worried that I might be laid off and…well, to be honest, that was genuinely awful. I had six years’ worth of files and desk clutter plus some nervous energy to burn so one day I started to tidy up my desk. That led to purging emails, and that lead to cleaning out cabinets, which led to purging paper files and when I was done, I had an extremely empty desk. I slashed my stash of work documents down to the bare minimum and shuttled my personal items home to sit in a sad heap on my desk.

A few more weeks passed and I was not laid off (although some really amazing people I love were and that was unbearable). In the aftermath, I had to try to find some semblance of normal, but my desk was clinically sterile, morale was at an all time low and all of my creativity was sapped. That’s when I came across a bit of inspiration online entitled 54 Ways To Make Your Cubicle Suck Less. I felt like it was meant for me and I greedily devoured the ideas. Next I hit up Pinterest and compiled a page of inspired office spaces in black, gold and neutrals.

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I chose the color scheme because I liked it and because many of my desk accessories were already black from a prior attempt at improving the space. In addition, I’ve seen a lot of gold in decorating lately and I really like it. I figured with a little gold spray paint I could create some fun pieces to complete the look I was going for.

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First, I built the twine and clothespins photo holder featured in the article that inspired my desk revamp. For this project I simply picked up decorated clothespins and strung them on twine. This allows me to display photos and change them out easily. I have more pins if I want to add more photos and it lets me keep things fresh. One thing I noticed while shopping is that there are a finite number of choices in pre-decorated clothespins. If you find there aren’t any you like you can use washi tape over undecorated clothespins to customize your look.

The moment I saw the gold Nate Berkus stapler was love at first sight. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. My old stapler was a red Swingline and I loved it as well, but this new one was just so shiny. I couldn’t resist. While I was at Target I scored some gold and white washi tape. I used the tape on a great free printable by Nicole Joelle that I framed and then accessorized my pencil cup and tape dispenser with the same tape to tie the elements together.

I may have shared before that I’m a plant slayer. I can’t keep a green thing alive to save my own life…until I met the succulent on my desk. This little guy’s tenacity has earned him a permanent space and I promise to water him once in a while and try really hard to keep him alive. In order to make my hardy little plant fit in with the theme of my desk, I added a few gold touches. For this project, I used a small terra cotta pot (available for less than $1 at Home Depot) and taped off the rim. Terra cotta isn’t easy to paint because it tends to flake so I used three coats of Krylon gold spray paint and Krylon crystal clear as a clear coat sealant. So far, the paint is staying put and it looks fantastic.

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I am fortunate to work in an office that allows pets. Often people will come to visit my desk with their furry little business partners in tow and I like to have something to welcome them properly. To make this cute little treat jar I simply super-glued a miniature dog to a metal jar lid and spray painted over it. In fact, when I first made this a few months ago I used turquoise paint. To update and make the piece sync with my desk refresh, the turquoise paint served as a primer coat for the gold I sprayed over it. It turns out my favorite part of this desk makeover was actually another makeover. If you decide to make yourself a treat jar – think dinosaurs, race cars or other small toys for people treats – be sure to get a spray paint that works well with plastic and metal so that the paint on your figurine doesn’t stay sticky to the touch.

All in all, I spent less than 2 hours and $50 on the projects shown here. The result is a desk that I’m proud to call home for 40 hours a week. It’s clean, functional, and comfortable. Most of all, it has a few special touches that make it all mine. Do you have some favorite items that make your workspace feel a little more like home? We love to hear from you, so please weigh in below in the comments.

I Pinned It, I Did It: Microwave Fudge

Monday, April 14th, 2014

My Mom is pretty famous in our family for her fudges. She makes a chocolate fudge with marshmallows and walnuts that is always a hit at parties and people can’t seem to get enough of her peanut butter fudge. At Christmas time she creates an assembly line and sends bricks of homemade fudge in those small Priority Mail flat rate boxes from the post office. The truth is, she doesn’t really enjoy making the fudge. It’s quite a chore for her with all of the cooking and stirring over a hot stove and watching to be sure you don’t scorch the chocolate or overcook the peanut butter to a dry, crumbly mess. In fact, watching her make fudge over the years made me not want to try it for myself because it seemed like way too much hassle. That is, until the day I read about Dark Chocolate Almond Fudge.

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Photo credit: Mary Younkin, barefeetinthekitchen.com

I’ve known food blogger Mary Younkin of Barefeet in the Kitchen for several years and I have always admired her work. Her recipes are delicious and well-tested. She offers a wide variety and includes lots of gluten free options if your family needs them. She also has the perfect recipe for Dark Chocolate Almond Fudge and — get this — it only takes 90 seconds in the microwave!

I figured 90 seconds was within my candy-making skill set and it met my threshold for prep time so I had to try it. It was a hit. Everyone loved it and when I shared how quick and easy the recipe is, my tasters were astonished. This got me thinking about Mom’s peanut butter fudge. What if that could be accomplished in 90 seconds as well? If I used the basic recipe from Barefeet in the Kitchen what other concoctions could I create?

Using Mary’s ratios and method, I created a few more varieties of quick microwave fudge. Check out her blog for the exact recipe and technique.

Dark Chocolate Orange Fudge
This one was a fan favorite among my taste-testers. The consensus was that this reminded them of the chocolate oranges that are popular at Christmas time. The texture was soft and the orange flavor was just right.

You can make this variety by substituting the following ingredients: 1 bag (12 oz) of dark chocolate chips, 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, 1/2 stick of butter, and 1 teaspoon of orange extract

Peanut Butter Fudge
Taste testers really liked this variety, but the consistency was really sticky. I ended up using a chef’s knife to cut this into small squares but I had to run the knife under hot water between each cut. I then loosely wrapped it in parchment and stored it in the fridge. Once cut, the squares dried a bit and became firmer. I think letting this one hang out in the fridge for an extra day exponentially improves the texture.

You can make this variety by substituting the following ingredients: 1 bag (12 oz) of peanut butter chips, 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, 1/2 stick of butter, and 1 teaspoon of Mexican vanilla extract

Mint Chocolate Chip Fudge
This one was a whim and I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out, but I wanted to re-create the essence of mint chocolate chip ice cream. It worked and everyone loved it. Of all of my experimental batches, this had the firmest texture and cut most easily. While it doesn’t necessarily beat a chocolate craving because mint is the predominant flavor, it is a nice sweet bite after a meal.

You can make this variety by substituting the following ingredients: 1 bag (12 oz) of white chocolate chips, 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, 1/2 stick of butter, 1 teaspoon of peppermint extract, and 3-4 drops of green food coloring. I garnished this with a handful of miniature semi-sweet chips I picked up in the bulk food section to complete the mint chocolate chip ice cream look.

The ease and popularity of these varieties has inspired me to try more. I have plans to try layering flavors to create Dreamsicle and root beer float fudges. Christmastime recipes are dancing in my head and they include dried cranberries and crystallized ginger. The possibilities are endless!

Are you a recipe modifier or do you go by the book? What variations might you try on this tasty recipe? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Bus Adventure

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

When was the last time you rode the bus? For me, it was just a few weeks ago at the invitation of my daughter, Betty. My Mom doesn’t drive because she is visually impaired so she and my daughter ride the bus together all the time. No matter how mundane the destination, Betty has christened these little trips “bus adventures” because, when you really think about it, everything is an adventure to a two-and-a-half-year old.

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On the day of our bus adventure, Betty invited me to join her and G-ma for a trip to the playground at the mall. Usually when the three of us go anywhere together it is by car, so this “Three Generations” bus trip was a first. Since she never knew me as a broke twenty-something, Betty thought I never rode a bus before and she wanted to show me how it’s done. She told me all about how we hold hands at the bus stop, how we put our dollars in the machine by the driver and where to find the best seats. When we got close to the mall, she told me all about pulling the cord to make the bus stop and reminded me to say “Thank You” to the bus driver on the way out.

Parenting my daughter teaches me new things all the time, but this was the first time she actually realized she was teaching me something. Of course, I asked a lot of questions, being a first time rider and all. She was so confident. I could see it in her body language, her strong little shoulders and her head held high as she looked me in the eye and explained each step of the process. Later, as we rode home from the mall after playing hard in the kids’ zone, grabbing a slice of pizza in the food court and making an impromptu stop at The Disney Store, I watched her as she quietly looked out the window at the neighborhoods going by. She was sleepy but satisfied; proud of herself. I thanked her for taking me on a bus adventure and told her what a good job she did teaching me how to ride the bus. She snuggled into me and sighed, “I love you, Mommy.” It was a pretty good day.

I <3 PHX: Bodega 420

Friday, March 21st, 2014

A couple weeks before Christmas I wanted to get a few jars of Peanut Butter Americano to give as gifts, but I missed the public market that weekend. Fortunately, the PB Americano website pointed me to Bodega 420 as one of the places I can get a PB fix any day of the week. One visit and I knew this was my kind of place.

Bodega 420 sits at the corner of Fifth Street and Roosevelt, in an old house right in the middle of an active community full of artists, students and young professionals. In 2012, owners Adrian & Mona Fontes and John Sagasta recognized the neighbors needed groceries and other basics but lacked easy access to those everyday essentials. They opened Bodega 420 with a small assortment of products and decided to see how it would go. The sign outside touts hardware, smokes and snacks but this little store offers something better than all of that – connection with the community.

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The shop is eclectic with a wide variety of merchandise in a pretty small space. In the first room, there is the counter where you can buy basic convenience store things like cigarettes, candy, headache or upset stomach medicine, allergy remedies and condoms. Above the old fireplace behind the counter hangs a pegboard full of hardware and art supplies. When I asked Adrian about it he told me, “It’s back there so [customers] need help with it, which makes an interaction happen. It’s not just grab it, pay for it, and leave and keep your head down and don’t talk. You have to actually interact to get to that stuff, and that’s by design.” Customers can also ask for bulk grains, beans and pastas. Local musicians count on Bodgea 420 for a little stash of everyday music essentials like strings and drumsticks and can even special order instruments and supplies.

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¿Wachoo Want?
On day one the owners painted a chalkboard on the front wall and christened it “The ¿Wachoo Want? Board.” Customers add products to this communal wish list and their neighbors come along and add a checkmark if they agree. When an item gets enough checkmarks it is added to the product assortment in the store. This is also how they’ve grown from a few shelves of hardware and household basics to include an expanded selection of grocery items, an impressive variety of fresh produce, music and art supplies, bulk foods and local specialties. Their newest endeavors include a weekly farmer’s market and new cold-pressed juices.

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Fresh Produce in the Food Desert
Before Bodega 420 the neighborhood was a complete food desert which means there was no place to buy fresh, affordable, healthy food for miles in each direction. Now, local produce from Crooked Sky Farm on 16th St & Buckeye shares space with hyper-local fare that is grown on-site.

The garden is in its second year and going strong. Carrots, bok choy, spinach, arugula, lettuce, kale, parsley, fennel, sweet peas, beets, basil, heirloom tomatoes and sunflowers grow in the rich earth that master gardener Tim has coaxed and composted from desert tan to rich brown. The kale plants are so prolific that they look untouched the day after Mona and Adrian harvest them for juicing. Their parsley patch can’t be stopped. I can only hope the heirloom tomato starter I bought will do as well under my care as they’re doing in the bodega garden.

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Local Favorites
One of the many things I love about Bodega 420 is the focus on local. The community needs a reliable source for Spaghetti-Os and ramen noodles and you’ll find those items on the bodega shelves. You’ll also find Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap right next to the Irish Spring because there is a demand for both products. Sometimes people are surprised that a place that carries so many fresh foods and local products would also carry Hunts ketchup or Fancy Feast cat food, but that’s what the community wants and needs so that’s what is on the shelves.

Still, there are many local treasures to be found. All of the ice cream, butter, farmer’s cheese and Greek yogurt they sell is from Udder Delights in Gilbert. The eggs come from Hickman’s Farm. I already mentioned the PB Americano – they carry all the flavors and the new almond butter, too. The peppers, pickles and relish are by Mrs. Klien’s and made over on 43rd avenue. They carry coffee beans from Jobot coffee just across the street. The Olive Leaf Tea Company just opened their first brick and mortar store but Bodega 420 was the first place to give them shelf space to sell their product. If you need seasonings you can find the locally mixed Slavo Salt or the most perfect chile powder and condiments ever from Santa Cruz Chile and Spice Company. When the demand for e-cigarettes increased, they found a local supplier who produces lab-grade product in a safe environment, so they rolled out a line of e-cigs and accessories just in time for First Friday this month.

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Art and All the Rest
As if all of this wasn’t enough, Bodega 420 is a gallery. Adrian says, “Every month we put a new artist up. [This month’s artist is] a photographer and you can see her work all through the store…so that’s how we do our art shows. And it is really a function of sticking with the roots of the place. We’re in an arts community, so we want to have art on the walls.” In addition to the artists they nurture, Bodega 420 is something of a business incubator. There’s a jeweler who sells her work in the shop. The soap guy makes his product just a few blocks away and sells it at the market. Local artists were asking for more types of paint but it wouldn’t work well at the shop so Adrian urged a neighbor to create a paint shop on his property. A small children’s clothing shop called The Squid and The Monkey got its start at Bodega 420.

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Tonight is Third Friday. If you’re in the ‘burbs like me, consider a trip downtown tonight and be sure to stop by the store. Grab yourself an old-fashioned Faygo Root Beer, sit down on the porch and chat with a new friend. Listen to live music. Watch the people go by. Be part of a community and appreciate all that Bodega 420 has to offer. I hope to see you there!

Eat More Veggies: Smart Shopping

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Earlier this week, I wrote a post highlighting the amount of food – especially produce – that we waste, despite both good intentions and the fact that we are healthier when we eat more plant-based foods. In Monday’s post, Eat More Veggies: Waste Not Want Not, I shared my top tips for reducing waste: First In First Out, Don’t Throw Away Good Stuff and Shop Smart. Today is all about how to put the Shop Smart part into action.

Shopping Smart means looking beyond the traditional grocery store for ways to buy fresh, healthy food. The grocery store is not a bad option and you can score good deals if you shop the sales, but it is important to have some alternatives. More Choices = More Savings. My favorite ways to save on produce are farmer’s markets, food rescue and co-op buying. To learn more about the treasures you might find at the farmer’s market, check out my post, The Downtown Phoenix Farmer’s Market.

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Food Rescue: Market on the Move
There are groups in some communities that rescue surplus produce that would otherwise get wasted and provide that produce at a low cost to families. In Phoenix and Tucson, Market on the Move is a weekly event where surplus produce from farming communities is trucked into the city. Generally there are 8-12 varieties of produce and with a $10 donation participants can take all the food they want. That’s right – there’s no limit. Some families fill reusable shopping bags and others come with wagons or rolling coolers. The idea is that you take what you can use and a little extra to share with friends and neighbors because the food would have otherwise been wasted.

The first time I participated in Market on the Move, I was a little weirded out. I wasn’t sure if the program was more like a food bank than a co-op and I didn’t want to take food that was meant for people with fewer resources than I have. On top of that, I wasn’t sure about “rescued” food. Sounds kind of dubious, right? Was it going to be all rotten or go bad in a day? Was it going to be oddball stuff nobody would want?

I decided to see for myself and I was pleasantly surprised. One Saturday morning I showed up at a church near my home to find a huge line of (really friendly) people. I was pretty far back so I had about 40 minutes to wait and used the time to get to know my “line neighbors.” There were people from all walks of life and they had various reasons for participating. Some of the folks I chatted with were looking to add healthy veggies to their diets, some were participating because it stretched their food budget, and others were excited to participate in a program that prevents waste. My concern that I was taking food from others who might need it more was unfounded because there is more than enough to go around and the process only works if there are enough participants contributing. Another important thing is to note is that Market on the Move is not year-round. The service is suspended during the hottest months of summer so it’s always a good idea to double check the website before you head out.

So, what do you get? Most of the food is conventionally grown, but I have seen a few organics mixed it. The selection varies every week and you never know until you arrive and read the whiteboard, but last time I went there were eggplants, red bell peppers, tomatoes, four varieties of squash, green beans and cucumbers. I took some of everything except eggplant (yuck!). I used some food right away because grilled squash is a big hit at my house. I made a few loaves of zucchini quickbread which were devoured in a flash. Homemade tomato sauce? You can bet your baked ziti I made a batch! Cucumber sandwich with dill and cream cheese? Don’t mind if I do. After the first wave of my cooking frenzy quieted, I sliced and shredded portions for the freezer so I have quick side dishes for future dinners and ingredients ready for more quickbread. My daughter’s day care provider was thrilled to have a bounty of grape tomatoes for the kiddos and my coworkers were not shy about taking the rest. Not a single veg was wasted and many, many mouths were fed with a single $10 bill. Granted, I had to put in some effort and it’s not something I have time for every weekend, but it made a big difference and it was well worth my investment.

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Food Co-Op: Bountiful Baskets
I remember back in 2008 when a colleague at work told me about her friend who got a big laundry basket full of fresh produce from Bountiful Baskets for only fifteen dollars. I remember thinking she was probably messing with me or there had to be some kind of a catch. We gathered around the website reading every detail and trying to figure out how to do it and whether there were strings attached. It sounded too good to be true. In the end we decided to gamble the fifteen bucks and give it a try. Fortunately for us it was NOT a scam and I was so pleasantly surprised that I began participating every other week. For a while, I even volunteered and helped to establish a new pick-up site in a local park. Now, I’m very fortunate to work for a company that participates in Bountiful Baskets Corporate Sites so my veggies and fruits get delivered right to work every other Thursday.

Bountiful Baskets is a food co-op, which means that people from all over the community contribute money online to the bulk-purchase of hundreds of pallets of food direct from the distributor. The organizers work with the produce house to get the best deals possible and arrange for trucks to deliver the produce to local parks, churches or other pre-designated meeting places. From there, neighborhood volunteers work together to distribute the produce into equal shares. Volunteer Site Coordinators then check participants off of the list as they come to pick up their shares of the bulk purchase. Over the years, the process has become much smoother. In the past, food always had to be distributed into baskets onsite but now some sites enjoy pre-packed boxes. The organization has grown significantly, too. There used to only be sites in Maricopa County, AZ but now several states have Bountiful Baskets.

The online contribution form has the choice of conventionally grown produce for $15 or a slightly smaller box of organically grown fruits and vegetables for $25. Participants can add extras like breads, tortillas, granola, cookies or specialty packs of extra veggies for a small additional fee.

My experience with Bountiful Baskets has always been more good than bad. I’ve found mixed reviews online and generally those fall into two groups: people who don’t like not being able to pick out their own veggies and concerns about the quality of the food. I see not being able to choose my own veggies as an adventure and I like that it pushes me to try new stuff or share something I don’t want with others (for example, eggplant lovers) who will use it. Occasionally I’ll get a box that’s kind of boring to me, but I feel like more often than not I get a good variety. For Arizonans, the things you find in your basket usually correspond pretty closely to what’s on the front of the Sprouts sale flyer. As for the quality complaints, sometimes I get a few items that are over or underripe but I just use them in the order they’re going to ripen and I chalk it up to being a natural part of the co-operative buying thing.

What’s your experience with alternative food buying? Have you ever participated in a co-op or food rescue operation? Do you think you might like to try it? Continue the conversation in the comments below. We always love to hear what you think!

Eat More Veggies: Waste Not, Want Not

Monday, March 10th, 2014

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Most people know there are health benefits to be gained from eating more fruits and veggies, but sometimes life gets in the way – we don’t feel like shopping, we’re too tired to cook after work or, for millions of Americans, tight household budgets mean a struggle to afford healthy food. How we feel, how we look, and most importantly, how well our bodies work depends on the kind of fuel we consume. Even though we know we should eat more plant-based food, there are a great many factors that go into the decisions we make about food each day. Sometimes we have noble intentions but lack follow-through. It happens to everyone – you stock up on Sunday for a week of healthy eating but you decide to have leftovers Monday night, the kids beg for pizza Tuesday night, Wednesday you work late and eat Cheerios for dinner, so by Thursday the crisper drawer is still chock-full. Except now there’s nothing “crisp” about the contents. The drawer in your fridge has become the place where produce goes to die.

The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans threw more than 36 million tons of food into landfills in 2011. In fact, food waste has increased dramatically over the last three decades and that disturbing trend isn’t slowing. Meanwhile, food prices continue to rise and we can expect another 2.5% – 3.5% price increase in 2014 according to the US Department of Agriculture.

We have tremendous power to improve the way we eat, reduce the amount of food we waste, and save a significant portion of our grocery budget with a small investment of time and energy. These are my top tips for making the most of the food you buy:

FIFO – First In, First Out
When you bring home groceries, be sure to put them away so that you see the oldest stuff first. This way you rotate your stock and perfectly good food doesn’t language on your pantry shelf or in your crisper drawer. For many families it helps to put ripe or close-dated food at the front and center of the fridge so it’s easy to grab and doesn’t get wasted.

Don’t Throw Away Good Stuff
Sometimes I don’t follow my own FIFO advice and I’ll find a bit of something that’s been hanging around beyond its “Sell By” date. I used to automatically hit the trash can with that food, but now I take a moment and sniff then taste first. Dates on products can mean lots of things: “sell by”, “use by”, “expires”, “freshness guaranteed by”, or even “we have to put a date on this package but it doesn’t mean anything but here’s our best guess”. Much of the food we buy is safe beyond the package date. Of course, I am not advocating eating rotten food, but am saying to use common sense and trust yourself. If the food smells OK, looks OK and you’re comfortable doing so, give it a taste and you may be pleasantly surprised. When in doubt, throw it out.

Shop Smart
There are several smart ways to get more fresh, high-quality food at affordable prices if you search a bit. I started with a Google search “find cheap veggies in Phoenix” and sure enough, most of my favorite spots were listed in the results. You can tailor the search to your community and find similar results. Nationwide there are some good leads on LocalHarvest.org, but they’re not always the most up-to-date so you’ll want to do some additional recon before heading out to a market listed there. Fellow Arizonans, be sure to check out FillYourPlate.org, and ArizonaFarmersMarkets.com for even more options.

Later this week I will share some ways to shop smart to get more high-quality fruits and veggies without blowing your food budget. I look forward to hearing your ideas, too. Do you have any clever tips for reducing food waste? Ideas for what to do with leftover veggies? Delectable veggie recipes or suggestions for meatless meals? Keep the conversation going by commenting below!

Women Who Rock: Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, a day for honoring the achievements and highlighting the struggles of women around the world, so it’s a perfect time for another installment the Women Who Rock series. This month we selected Mother Teresa of Calcutta because of the kindness and love she poured into the people she served.

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Photo: Túrelio (via Wikimedia-Commons); CC-BY-SA

Name: Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997), born Gonxha Agnes Bojaxhiu

Why She Rocks: Mother Teresa was a Roman Catholic nun who founded the Missionaries of Charities in 1950 to serve those who suffered sickness and poverty in Calcutta, India. Eventually chapters of the order she founded were opened on every continent to continue her mission of loving and caring. Mother Teresa cared for orphans, the sick, the poor, and the dying as though they were her own and she loved those whom everyone else forgot. She also broke down barriers for those with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) and provided medical care and basic necessities. Mother Teresa rocks because she cared deeply for those who were forgotten by many on Earth but were loved by God.

Famous Quote: Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.

Additional Information: In researching this blog post, I found valuable information at Vatican.va, Wikipedia.com, MotherTeresa.org and Nobelprize.org. All of these are great resources for more information and I was really fascinated by the page on MotherTeresa.org that calls out quotes that are often falsely attributed to her.

Did you learn something new? Is there a woman who inspires you? Maybe you would like to learn more about another Woman Who Rocks. Let us know in the comments below – we love to hear from you!