Thursday, December 16, 2010

Top 3 Cheap Gifts

The Topic: Gift giving—cheapskate-style, by guest blogger Elizabeth Castoria

The Dish: This time of year, money is like a cute puppy you see on the street, there one minute and gone the next. Saving a couple bucks here and there always adds up, and around the holidays it's especially important to add to—not just subtract from—your bank account. There are only a few things that bring out my childlike joy like seeing a towering pile of presents on Christmas morning, but having a checking account that's in the black is definitely one of them. (Especially since the "child" part of that childlike joy was oh so long ago!) Here are a few great gifts that are cheap, easy to find, and fitting for anyone on your list.

1. Books. But wait, you think. Books are definitely expensive, especially if you're buying more than one! That might be true if you happen to be buying the newest hardcover coffee table book, but instead of heading to the bookstore, stay home. That's right—books you already own can easily be gifts! Maybe there's a cookbook in your collection that doesn't get used as often as the others. Gift it to your newly vegan neighbor! Blammo. One recipient down, and your total cost is a big fat $0. If you want to get flashy, hit up your local used bookstore for reduced-price finds.

2. Magazine subscriptions! OK, it's possible that my totally biased love for magazines is showing through here, but lists fantastic subscription deals to big titles. Plus, with magazines, whomever you give them to gets an issue every month (or so) for the rest of the year, which basically means that you've given them a dozen presents in one. Great ROI? Check. And, you know, certain magazines (cough, cough, like VegNews!) offer subscription discounts during the holidays.

3. Accessories. The perfect scarf, necklace, enormous cuff, or dashing hat can really take an outfit from blah to brilliant. Stocking up on chic little items at your favorite discount store, or hitting up Savvy Abby's fave, Forever 21, means getting bulk for your buck. And really, who doesn't want to add a little shine to the lives of their giftees? As our super-shiny January+February cover gal Kris Carr says, "Dress your personality and for god's sake, accessorize. A life without trinkets is tragic."

The Final Word: If you want to go even cheaper than these goodies, check out Colleen Holland's highly excellent DIY gift ideas. Remember: shopping in your own home never hurt anyone, magazines keep giving all year long, and smart little accessories add instant shine without costing a mint. If anyone needs me between now and Christmas, I'll be wrapping boxes containing individual earrings (more boxes for the big pile! Same price!) in pages torn out of magazines (instant wrapping paper!). Happy holidays!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Top 5 DIY Vegan Holiday Gifts

The Topic: DIY holiday gifts, by guest blogger Colleen Holland

The Dish: In my family, there's no question as to who inherited the crafty gene. For as long as I can remember, my gift-giving style has always been more Martha then Macy's—that is, my sister is much more likely to receive a set of handmade note cards than a brand-new handbag (although for the super crafty, this can be made, too). My mom loves to tell the story of me at five years old on Valentine's Day. I had made heart-shaped cards for the entire neighborhood and then set off down the street to give them out. When I returned, my basket was filled with wads of cash; I had sold the cards instead of giving them away. That phase has thankfully passed, but I still love nothing more than turning my kitchen and dining room into an around-the-clock workshop this time of year. Need some inspiration for your own homemade gifts? Read on for my top 5 favorites:

1. Boxes of Vegan Cookies
Okay, so this isn't totally original, but it tops my list every year. I pick up a few dozen colorful Chinese take-out containers, line with tissue paper, and fill with fudge, Mexican wedding cookies, and peppermint bark. I then give them out to fellow VN staffers, my hair dresser, my yoga instructor, my postal gal, my neighbors (free of charge), and whoever else has touched my life this year. Cookies also look great in metal tins or white boxes tied with brightly colored ribbon.

2. Note Card Sets
I could spend hours in paper and art stores, especially when I am on a mission. I always keep my eye open for really interesting wrapping paper that I can use in my signature note cards. I can't tell you how many friends have received these over the years! I start with a heavy stock of paper (corrugated or flat) and cut into note card size (I prefer smaller note cards at 5.5 x 4, folded). Using some spray adhesive, I affix a cut-out of wrapping paper (say an old French luggage tag) against a slightly larger cut-out of heavier, colored paper, and then affix the entire piece to the front of the note card. Purchase some recycled envelopes to go with the cards, tie a ribbon around the entire batch, and voila! Gifts for all.

3. Note Pads
Back when Kinko's first hit the scene, I was in absolute heaven. Not only did they have loads of crafting supplies all available in one handy spot, they had oversized work tables and binding/mounting services that opened up a world of possibility for homemade gifts. As long as I made a few copies here and there, I felt comfortable staying all night long. So I would rent their computers (didn't have my own back then) and create a 4.25 x 11 template in Pagemaker (this was pre-Quark and InDesign) using really cool fonts and clip art. I would then make copies on quality paper and have Kinko's bind the top of the note pad so it looked like the real deal. One year, my dad got a note pad with his name in block letters at the bottom and an old-fashioned type writer at the top. Looking back, I have no idea why I chose the type writer, but I liked it at the time.

4. Bath Salts & Sugar Scrubs
I am no expert in either of these crafts, but tubs of sweet-smelling bath salts and sugar scrubs make wonderful gifts. Last year, I made Savvy Abby's family recipe for lavender-rosemary scrub, purchased a few glass jars, and designed my own custom labels. Place in a pretty bag or tie with a bow, and you have gifts for all the spa-treatment lovers in your life.

5. Fresh Herb Bouquets
Are you a gardener, or have access to some overgrown rosemary or thyme? A bundle of fresh herbs makes a lovely gift for neighbors or the host of a party you're attending. Simply cut long stems of your favorite herbs, wrap in parchment or kraft paper, and tie with a pretty bow. I always like to include a gift tag that lists the herbs I'm giving, and you could even write a vegan recipe on the back that uses one of the herbs.

The Final Word: Do-it-yourself holiday gifts is not only way more fun than navigating insane malls and crowded parking lots, but you'll also save a small fortune. Plus, I like to think that people appreciate the thoughtfulness that goes along with anything made from scratch, especially during this age of mad consumption. Have more ideas for DIY vegan gifts? We want to know! Happy holidays to all.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Staying in for Brunch

The Topic: Sunday brunch, by guest blogger Brooke Still

The Dish: I hate to say it, but I am without a doubt someone who lives for the weekends. And one of my absolute favorite things to do on my favorite days of the week is go out for brunch. There's nothing quite like sitting at a table, whether it be at a crowded diner or at a sidewalk café, and feasting on delicious tofu scrambles or amazing French toast as a server endlessly fills my coffee cup. Heaven. But, living in the city, what once was a simple Sunday morning treat can easily become an entire weekend's budget. And so when my boyfriend visited this past week, it seemed like the responsible thing to do was to eat brunch at home.

At first, eating brunch at home broke my heart just a little bit. Some of our best memories take place in our college town at a little hole-in-the-wall diner, nursing our headaches from too much, um, studying the night before. But with Savvy Abby's biscuit recipe and Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Vegan Brunch as my ammunition, I was determined to make our stay-in breakfasts just as amazing. Spoiler alert: They were. I won't give you a run-down of every single meal I prepared during my bf's stay, just the highlights. Of course, Savvy Abby's biscuits were amazing, especially mixed with chopped parsley and eaten with hot coffee right before we headed out to a San Francisco 49ers game. I also made some pumpkin mini-muffins from VegWeb that took about 30 seconds, and were absolutely delicious. But what rose to the top above any other brunch dish was Isa Chandra Moskowitz's A-MAZING East Coast Coffee Cake. This stuff literally melts in your mouth and I could not get enough. It really doesn't get any better than the buttery, crumbly, sweet coffee cake. We made ours with organic blueberries, though Isa has about 80 variations of the recipe. Isa was kind enough to share the East Coast Coffee Cake with us. Make it and you will not be sorry!

What You Need:
For the topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup canola oil, plus up to 2 tablespoons more if needed

For the cake:
3/4 cup nondairy milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

What You Do:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease an 8-inch round springform pan or 8-inch square pan (I used the square). In a small bowl, add milk for the cake and vinegar; set aside to curdle.
2. Make the topping: In a small mixing bowl, mix together flour, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Drizzle in canola oil by the tablespoonful. Use your fingers to swish around the mixture until crumbs form. Alternate swishing and adding canola oil until all the oil is used and large crumbs have formed.
3. To make the cake: In a large mixing bowl, mix together milk mixture, sugar, canola oil, and vanilla. Sift in flour, baking powder, and salt and mix until smooth.
4. Pour the cake batter into prepared pan. Evenly sprinkle on the topping and pat it down just a bit. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted through the center comes out clean. Let cool for at least an hour before slicing and serving.

The Final Word: I can't tell you the exact amount of money we saved not eating brunch at restaurants all week, but at meals between $20 and $25 for the two of us, it was easily more than $100. Plus, because I love to bake, I already had most of the ingredients on hand! But the best part of it all was the quality time we spent every morning, slowly sipping coffee and eating delicious, homemade vegan treats. It really doesn't get better than that!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cheap Eats: Fried Rice!

The Topic: Leftover Love

The Dish: At my house, brown rice can be a healthy, inexpensive meal on its own (buy in bulk!)—a little Braggs Liquid Aminos and gomashio sprinkled on top and I'm a happy girl. Another benefit to whipping up a batch in the trusty rice cooker is guaranteed leftovers, which is really just code for "fried rice." It's hard to say no to a dish that combines salty and spicy flavors with whole grains and vegetables. Follow a recipe one time, and for the rest of your fried rice-eating days you can improvise, turning the most random veggie combinations into takeout-worthy dinners. While the restaurant version often gets its kicks by throwing in a ton of oil and a very un-vegan dose of egg, this at-home version is animal-friendly and makes the most of whatever you have on hand. And since you're running the show, you can give or take the oil to your liking.

Get started with this easy recipe, courtesy of VegWeb. This version calls for a bag of frozen veggies, which is super simple if you have one in the freezer, just waiting to be used. If not, may I recommend seeing what frozen wonders are on sale at your local supermarket? A peas-and-carrots medley works great here, or go with a classic cauliflower-broccoli combo. If you have odds-and-ends veggies hiding in your crisper, be resourceful and chop them all. Everything tastes great in fried rice. As for the hot sauce, I'd probably go with Sriracha, but I put that stuff on everything.

Serves 2

What You Need:
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
1 14-ounce bag frozen vegetables, thawed slightly
2 cups cooked rice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon hot sauce
Salt to taste

What You Do:
  1. In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat oil. Add garlic and onion, and stir for one minute. Add vegetables and continue to stir for two minutes. Add soy sauce and hot sauce, and continue to stir, cooking continuously for 5 minutes.
  2. Make a hole in the middle of vegetables, and drop in cooked rice. Stir and cook for 1 to 2 minutes until heated, and add salt to taste. Serve immediately.

The Final Word: Oh, and speaking of VegWeb, you're signed up for the newsletter, right? It's a free way to stay updated on what's happening on the largest veg recipe website, as well as get awesome seasonal meal ideas from everyone's favorite webmistress, Laura Hooper Beck. It doesn't hurt that her commentary is hilarious and will brighten up any day.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Free Friday

The Topic: Fancy Free

The Dish: After managing a Saturday in the Mission District for less than $25, I felt pretty good about my budgeting skills—if I could remember to actually budget once I was out. Sometimes it's easy to get carried away, and before I know it $25 looks more like $50, and the instant gratification of spending is replaced with regret. This past Friday, I decided to see if I could go the entire day on an even stricter budget: $0 from my pocket. Not to spoil the ending, but it was completely possible. Sure, I had a few lucky breaks, but those might not be luck as much as seeing new opportunities. I fall victim to a few money sucks, including vanity, food, and caffeine—here's how I satisfied all my needs for nothing.

Forget the Gym.
I'm constantly tempted to join a gym in the city. There's a huge range to choose from, price- and ammenities-wise, but when it comes down to it, they all cost money. Well, after I've checked them out with a free trial, that is. If a gym membership is at the top of your list of must-haves, then by all means, enjoy! For this girl, I have other uses for that $40 per month. Instead, I take the old-fashioned route of hitting the streets for a run. If you already have a pair of running shoes (and I do), then it costs nothing to just get moving. I don't need to pay someone to let me sweat.

In addition to getting a run in, there are all of the free yoga opportunities I've mentioned in the past. Since then, I've discovered two more free weekly community classes, meaning I could practice alongside fellow San Franciscans four days a week if I wanted.

On the House.
When you don't have cash to spend, barter is the next best (or even better) thing. A few exchanges on Twitter with my neighborhood deli, Morty's, lead to a promise of a free sandwich in return for a song on the ukulele (one of my hobbies). I popped in Friday to introduce myself, and was given an advance on my payment in the form of some seriously delicious farmers' market-fresh vegan gumbo. While the deli isn't entirely vegan, they're big on vegan options and are always open to requests. And they gave me free gumbo! Consider me in the songwriting process, as well as a loyal customer.

Another money suck for me is caffeine. After realizing I was completely out of coffee at home, I thought I'd settle for some Earl Grey tea and tough it out. Post-lunch gumbo, I was hit with a serious case of the naps and had to retaliate. My beacon of hope? The mail. Sure, it's a lucky break, but my amazing Nona sends me a letter every week, and sometimes there's a $5 bill tucked inside. Friday was letter day! Do you know how many awesome things you can buy for $5, including an incredibly strong espresso drink?

Stay In.
Okay so maybe nightlife doesn't fall into the "food" category, but it might be the worst of making my money disappear like magic. This Friday, I decided to take it easy with—you guessed it—Netflix and my dog Boo. I only spend $10 a month on Netflix, so I'm counting it as free for this night. For a break, I called and caught up with friends and family, who often get pushed to the back burner on busy days. Hey, everyone—call your family!

The Final Word: It takes a little maneuvering, but if you really need to tighten the pursestrings, you can do it. Steer clear of places too tempting to resist. For me, that includes bookstores and anything involving food. Find more creative ways to satisfy your needs, and you'll be amazed at what you can accomplish. Now, I have a song to write and a free sandwich to collect!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Walgreens Wonders

Topic: Mainstream Snacking

The Dish: I've written about my favorite veg-friendly grocery stores before—Trader Joe's, Aldi, hidden-gem discount shops—and I'm still happily surprised at all of the new great products and deals they offer. But sometimes, I'm not within walking distance of one of these veg havens when hunger strikes, be it when I'm out in the city, in Missouri visiting family, or driving through a random town on a road trip. In those cases, I find a Walgreens.

In San Francisco, there's a Walgreens on pretty much every corner. I'm certain its numbers compete with Starbucks. At first glance, all of the edibles seem frustratingly not vegan, especially when I'm in dire need of a pick-me-up and bags after bags of "cheese"-flavored chips are staring me in the face. After careful perusal of the shelves, I've come up with my favorite snacks under $5. Are these healthy? Um, no. But they're for special occasions! Like, you know, when I'm hungry.

  1. Deerfield Farms Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies. ($3.49) Holy crap. This delightful off-brand replicates the chewy version of Chips Ahoy!, but leaves out the milk products. The result is a package of accidentally vegan cookies that must be hidden in a cabinet to prevent total annihilation upon opening. If you're not into chewy, the regular, crunchy variety is vegan, too.
  2. Walgreens Peanut Butter Bars. ($0.99) These old-fashioned candies are little wrapped bites of happiness. They sort of remind me of the inside of a Butterfinger, but far less gross because they're just peanut butter and sugar. At less than a dollar a package, it's the perfect sweet purchase when you know friends are going to be mooching off of you.
  3. Blue Diamond Wasabi and Soy Sauce Almonds. ($1.49) A single-serving of these roasted almonds will completely cure any savory craving you have, thanks to a generous dusting of wasabi powder and a little soy sauce flavoring. And of course almonds are good for you with all of their protein and good fats, et cetera et cetera. More importantly, they're delicious.
  4. Original Chex Mix. ($2.49) I'm sorry, didn't Chex Mix used to have whey in it?! I recently discovered that the original party snack either removed the animal products, or I have been mistaken all along. Whatever happened, it's made it possible for me to revel in this childhood favorite.
  5. Lindt Excellence 85 percent Cocoa Dark Chocolate. ($2.99) It's dark chocolate. What else can I say? Lindt makes a decent bar, and it's more affordable than a lot of frou-frou brands who ruin a perfectly good chocolate bar with some funky non-vegan filling. It's perfect for my daily 3pm, "Where is the chocolate?" moment.

The Final Word: If junk food isn't your forte, the big W also stocks some healthier veg standbys, such as Odwalla juices, Probars (I'll take a dozen), vegan Clif-brand bars, and fresh, nearly free fruit. Of course besides the snacking, it also has the necessities in life, including BioBag's biodegradable doggie bags, L'Oreal EverPure vegan hair care, and tons of products from the cruelty-free Yes to Carrots line. Keep an eye out for sales, do the vegan label-check, and you'll be good to go.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mint & Money Management

The Topic: Spending and Saving

The Dish: I like to think that all of the little things I do, whether it's making coffee at home, thrifting, or dining out less, have a positive impact on my bank account. A lot of my daily choices are more affordable than they could be, but is it really helping me save? Or am I just spending the extra dollars on frivolous purchases? A few weeks ago, I couldn't tell you for sure (although I have a sneaking suspicion that I was). Now, I'm singing the praises of Mint and changing my ways.

To prevent myself from overindulging, I signed up for the free, web-based, money-management software Mint. It's been all over my radar lately, from friends becoming dedicated users to blogs and newsletters featuring rave reviews. "Why not?" I thought. Once I felt comfortable with its security precautions (I mean, entering all of my bank information did feel a little risky), I gave it a try. First revelation: Over the course of eight months, taking out money for San Francisco's notorious cash-only restaurants and bars has cost me $50 in fees. FIFTY DOLLARS? Just because I'm too lazy to plan a trip to my bank ATM ahead of time? Ouch. I mean, vegan Thai fried rice is good, but not that good.

In addition to pointing out nasty hidden fees and late charges, Mint provides a helpful breakdown of my spending, tracking transactions into categories. I can also set goals—pay off that debt, take a veg vacation—and come up with a real strategy for reaching them. Mint also sends weekly email updates to warn me of upcoming bills, low account balances, and all sorts of other sobering grown-up information that I may not want, but certainly need to know.

The Final Word: There are tons of features to help control spending, build up savings, and stay financially afloat. It may not be for everyone, but when it comes to balancing my penchant for on-the-fly spending and weak justifications ("Well, I didn't buy Starbucks this morning so I'll get a happy-hour special"), it's just what I need.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fun Fundraising

The Topic: Make a Little Money

The Dish: When money is tight, exercising your inner do-gooder can be difficult. Sure, you'd love to donate to the local animal shelter or sanctuary, but sometimes cutting your budget isn't an option. Of course, money isn't the only thing that non-profits need—volunteering is a huge help. But if there's a particular cause in need of funding, there is hope. The solution? Get creative.

Of course, there's the tried-and-true bake sale. Who doesn't love cookies and cupcakes? VN columnist Laura Beck helps organize San Francisco's insanely successful vegan bake sale series (raising and donating more than $18,000 to date), and she's shared plenty of sage wisdom on how to parlay your skills into a successful sugar-filled fundraiser. If baking isn't your forte, don't fret.

Recently, Laura's rescued pit bull, Hazel, had to undergo major surgery. The bill reached into the thousands, and worst of all, a second surgery may be necessary. Being her genius self, she decided to take action. This past Sunday, seven shameless friends (myself and Laura included), most lacking actual musical talent, got on stage at a local bar and played a benefit concert for Hazel. Our band, Dino Bike, practiced a mere three times before performing. We publicized the event like crazy and put on a ridiculous spectacle only to be cheered because it was a benefit. I mean ridiculous—ribbon dancing, Lady Gaga covers, and a Top Gun medley. There were even vegan cupcakes for sale, which of course sold out. The result? Dino Bike raised more than $500 for Hazel, simply by sacrificing a little dignity and having a great time doing it.

The Final Word: Whether you decide to bake cupcakes, start a band, host a yard sale, or sell lemonade, there are so many ways you can help animals. Gathering as many friends and volunteers as possible helps lessen the load, and the end result is guaranteed to make your efforts totally worth it.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Herbed Sandwich Spread

The Topic: Carb Counterpart

The Dish: My favorite food would probably have to be carbs. Okay, I realize that's not exactly one food, but seriously, what's better than fresh-baked rolls, tortillas, crackers, bagels—I could go on forever. Forget low-carb nonsense—give me my bread. Not only do I love them because they're delicious, but also because they serve as the perfect medium for my second favorite food group: condiments. While my fridge is full of favorite standbys (including at least three kinds of hot sauce), sometimes I crave a fancy upgrade. The perfect catch-all condiment? This awesome herbed spread crafted by my favorite chef—Mom, of course. It comes together in no time, uses simple ingredients, and is much cheaper than buying pre-made varieties.

Herbed Sandwich Spread

What You Need:
1/2 box silken tofu
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon herb of choice (parsley and chive work great)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon minced onion
1/2 cup shredded vegan cheese (optional)

What You Do:
In a food processor, add tofu, garlic, oil, lemon juice, herb of choice, pepper, and salt. Process until smooth, and transfer to a small bowl. Add onion and cheese (if using), mix well, and cover. For best results, refrigerate overnight to let the flavors combine.

The Final Word: Use this spread to spruce up a veggie burger or as the perfect dip for sesame crackers—I'll pretty much eat it on anything. Like all recipes, it's super versatile, too. Try adding basil and walnuts for a pesto-style dip. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a sandwich to make.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Vegan Lunching

The Topic: Back-to-School Spirit

The Dish: Despite the fact that it has very little to do with me, I still get insanely nostalgic and excited during the back-to-school rush. Sure, I know lots of students might not agree with my happy attitude, but who can resist fresh notebooks and pens? On top of that, I loved taking my lunch—better food for less money, and I was nerdy enough to get a thrill from picking out an awesome lunch box. Today, there's an even wider range of sweet lunch carriers (including this one by PlanetBox up for grabs as this week's giveaway) that are long-lasting, eco-friendly, and, most importantly, pretty cute.

I was prompted to dig out my own while grabbing lunch to-go at a nearby café. One freaking bagel with hummus set me back almost $5—talk about a rude awakening. To think, I had just felt guilty for spending $3 on a bag of five bagels at the corner store. I don't even need to do the math for you, do I? Adding insult to injury, I'll be real with you: One bagel isn't going to fill me up. Packing my lunch means I can have a more balanced meal, and one that's actually filling.

The Final Word: Spending extra time at the store and in the kitchen will save you a major headache when blood sugar is low and you need a food fix before you Hulk out and start stealing your coworker's snacks. Need ideas? This week's VegWeb newsletter is full of them. Oh, and if heating up a vegan grilled cheese every day sounds likes heaven, don't forget to vote in the Veggie Awards—you'll be automatically entered to win a year's supply of Daiya.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cheap Drinks: Iced Coffee

The Topic: Cheap Caffeine

The Dish: Coffee beans have always been a food group in my family, which has certainly carried over into my adult life. While I love going out and ordering an Americano or perhaps a fancy latte, nothing depletes my bank account in such a sneaky way as coffee houses. And while I have some friends who see no problem dropping $4 on foam-topped espresso twice a day—you know who you are—I can't swing that. Obviously the solution lies at home, but what's the best way to get great coffee without wasting your money?

I have a small, inexpensive coffee maker that generally does its job well, and with San Francisco's cold summers, it's been nice to have a hot cup of coffee in the AM. But for some reason (my constant tardiness, perhaps) I never have time to finish it before I'm out the door, and then down the drain it goes. I tried to save and reheat it, but couldn't stomach it. I hated pouring money down the drain, and wanted something delicious that wouldn't cost me as much as three batches of biscuits.

Yesterday I ventured outside without a heavy coat for the first time in weeks. Added to my boredom with black coffee, the sunshine reminded me of a forgotten but much-loved alternative: Toddy. Toddy, also known as cold-brew coffee, is a delicious, liquid-gold coffee concentrate you can brew at home (with just a little time commitment). It also lasts up to two weeks in the refrigerator, eliminating the waste factor. Cold-brewing lowers the acidity of the coffee, too, making for a really freaking delicious iced coffee. In a tall glass with ice, add 1 part toddy, 3 parts cold water, and a splash of nondairy milk if you like. Mix well, sip it, and enjoy the best drink ever.

Making toddy at home is easy, and doesn't require the special Toddy machine, taking up counter space and stealing your dollars. If you already have a coffee maker, then you're all set. Here's how I do it.

True-Love Toddy

What You Need:
Coffee carafe
1 cup ground coffee
2 cups cold water
Filter basket
Tall glass or jar

What You Do:
  1. In the carafe, add coffee, then slowly pour in water and stir thoroughly. Now the hard part: Let the mixture set for 12–24 hours.
  2. Place filter basket with filter over a glass or jar it can sit on comfortably, and slowly pour mixture into it. The liquid will drain through into the jar, leaving just the grounds behind. Let it take its time, and add a little pressure with another filter on top if needed. Store Toddy covered in the refrigerator, and enjoy anytime!
The Final Word: A French press will also work for separating the grounds and concentrate, if that gadget is already in your kitchen. And of course, if your coffee maker has a reusable filter, then you get eco-friendly bonus points. Still craving something fancier? Invest in your favorite flavored syrup and go crazy. I'll take a shot of hazelnut in my cup, thanks.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cheap Eats: Oatmeal!

The Topic: The Cheapest Breakfast Around

The Dish: Sitting down and tallying up how much I actually spend on eating eating out (hello, sandwiches and Thai food), it seems overwhelming to think of cutting my food budget to an actual budget. I have friends attempting to spend only $21 a day who report struggling; I can't begin to imagine eating on a dollar a day. But there are plenty of versatile staples that cost pennies, and my co-worker Liz recently reminded me of a tried-and-true favorite: oatmeal. Skip the boxed variety with its excess packaging and budget-breaking sticker price. An 18-ounce canister of quick oats goes for $4.09 at my local Safeway. Grab a bag and fill up at the bulk bins—you can take home a pound for only 99 cents, which is about 11 servings. At less than 10 cents per serving, that's hard to argue with, especially considering oats have magical staying power to get me through midmorning snack time.

If you're a plain oats type of person, that's one cheap meal. Even if you like to jazz things up, throwing in what you have handy or investing in a few add-ins from neighboring bulk bins won't raise your cost too much. Personally, I'm a peanut butter and raisins fan. Liz's signature bowl takes things to the savory side, which I had never through of before (surprising, considering my love of savory breakfast dishes). A touch of salt, pepper, and 1/4-cup nutritional yeast is all you need for a filling breakfast.

A final tip for the best oats ever? Skip the microwave. I'm not here to lecture you on its potential dangers or domination of counter space. In my opinion, I just dig oats made on the stovetop more. Start with this simple base for the best breakfast ever.

The Best Stovetop Oats
This water-to-oats ratio makes for a more porridge-like base, so feel free to adjust the liquid to your liking.

Serves 1

What You Need:
1 cup water
1/2 cup rolled oats
Salt, to taste

What You Do:
In a small pot, bring water to a boil. Add oats and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a pinch of salt, sugar, or any other add-ins, and enjoy!

The Final Word: Oats are also great for bulking up morning smoothies to keep you full longer if that's more your morning routine. Any way you have them, they're a cheap, healthy way to start the day.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Amazing Aldi

The Topic: Less Frills, More Food

The Dish: There are quite a few things I'm nostalgic for when it comes to my hometown. Absence does make the heart grow fonder, especially for a Missouri native who is used to 100-degree summers, family cookouts, and discount groceries. Surprised food made it onto my list? You shouldn't be! A big piece of the Midwest puzzle that I miss is Aldi. While I love the deals at Trader Joe's, Aldi has a special place in my heart with its quarter-operated carts, five-cent shopping bags, and warehouse-like stacks of cheap, awesome, vegan-friendly staples.

While those unaccustomed might be thrown off by the locked-up carts (don't worry, you get your quarter back) and minimalist interior, it only takes one trip to get hooked on its inexpensive goods. Beyond what you'd expect to find at a typical mainstream grocer—fresh produce, canned goods, cereals, and so on—Aldi stocks veg essentials such as soymilk, vegan margarine, convenience foods, and even Boca burgers from time to time, all at really low prices. Most items I buy don't cost more than a couple bucks. Between the frozen fruit, off-brand granola bars, and dark chocolate, I'm pretty much set. I can easily fill a cart with an embarrassing amount of food and pay a fraction of what I would at one of the big stores. Oh, and don't forget to check out their skincare and beauty line, which isn't tested on animals.

As an added bonus, having to pay for paper bags is a pretty good incentive to remember and bring those reusable totes, don't you think?

Aldi also runs weekly specials on featured items, including kitchen appliances and housewares. Keep an eye on the ads, and grab a rice cooker if you get a chance (I also scored a small slow cooker for $10 once).

The Final Word: According to its website, they have more than 1,000 stores from Kansas to the East Coast. Check Aldi's store locator and see if you can count yourself among the lucky. In the meantime, I'll be writing a strongly worded letter in hopes of bringing one of my favorite chains to California.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Veggie Awards!

The Topic: VN's Annual Awards and Amazing Prizes

The Dish: Shameless self-promotion time! In case you've somehow missed the announcement, VN's 2010 Veggie Awards voting is in full-swing. Our annual awards honor the best veg people, places, and products of the year, and we couldn't do it without you. Voting for readers' picks has opened, and you have until August 31 to make your voice heard. Whether it's vegan cheese, cookbooks, or blogs you're passionate about, you have a chance to show your support by voting. The competition is already heating up, so rally your friends and get your favorites a Veggie Award!

So what does this have to do with being savvy? How about the seriously amazing prizes we're giving away just for voting? Believe me, if I could enter to win, I would've done it days ago. Just make sure you fill out at least 50 percent of the survey, as well as your contact info (we've had potential winners in the past who didn't even put their name or email—devastating), and you could take home one of these prize packages:
  • Grand Prize: Global Getaway. Join VN for a free VegNews Vacation of your choosing! We're headed to India in February, and will announce new tours soon. Take me with you, okay?
  • First Prize: Year Supply of Daiya Cheese. Think of all the pizza you can make. And quesadillas. And lasagna. I'll stop now.
  • Second Prize: Vegan Marshmallow Smorgasboard. Sweet & Sara make some amazing gourmet marshmallows, and this package has not only all of the flavors in mass quantity, but also other delicious marshmallow-y treats.
  • Third Prize: Veg Cookbook Collection. I love Robin Robertson, and this set of five cookbooks authored by the former Veggie Award winner is a must-have for anyone.
  • Weekly Giveaways: TofuXpress. Don't laugh—this kitchen gadget will change your life. And by life, I mean the quality of your next stir-fry, which is essentially the same thing.
The Final Word: Again, voting closes on August 31, so do it now before you forget! If the prizes aren't enough of a reason, do it for me. As a friendly reminder, if you win the supply of Daiya, I expect some sort of cut.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cheap Eats: Popcorn!

The Topic: Snack Attack Savvy

The Dish: For me, three square meals a day do not suffice. I need my snacks, but bags of potato chips and Newman O's aren't the healthiest things in the world, nor are they the cheapest. One of my favorite evening snacks growing up was popcorn, but the prepackaged variety is inexplicably overpriced—not to mention, often laced with animal products and mysterious chemicals (my hypochondriac side will never forget the report of toxic chemicals and microwave popcorn). I've ditched the microwave and made a truly amazing (and penny-pinching) discovery—I can pop that stuff on the stove.

With a little bit of oil—whatever I have handy—a touch of heat, and some vigorous shaking, in no time I have an embarrassingly large serving of this movie-time favorite, ready to be covered in Tapatio. Since I'm the queen of condiments, it's easy to vary up the flavor—sea salt, kelp flakes (don't knock it 'til you try it), cinnamon sugar, and homemade fake parmesan rank high on my list. The only combination I'm not willing to try is something equivalent to "popcorn cereal" I discovered on VegWeb, but hey. Never say never.

If you're concerned about using oil, air poppers are an affordable solution at about $10–20 each, although how often you snack on the stuff might determine if it's a necessary purchase (probably not). You already have all the tools you need, so ditch the microwave, grab a pot, and get popping.

Dirt Cheap Popcorn

Serves 1 Abby

What You Need:
1–2 tablespoons oil
1/4 cup popcorn kernels
Hot sauce
Nutritional yeast

What You Do:
  1. In a large, heavy pot, heat oil over medium heat. Place a few kernels in pot and cover. Once all kernels have popped, dump in remaining kernels, cover, and begin to lightly shake pot over the burner. Once popping has slowed down to around 5 seconds between pops, remove from heat.
  2. Add a generous sprinkling of hot sauce and nutritional yeast, mix, and serve. Enjoy!
The Final Word: An overwhelming trend in my life has become "DIY over store-bought." Seriously, just put in a tiny bit of effort and you'll get so much more for your money. What's your favorite popcorn topper?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Twitter Deals

The Topic: Tech Tips

The Dish: When you're on a tight budget, saving money can feel like a full-time job. Frugal living shouldn't be a constant worry, and I'm working on making my methods habit rather than chore (Yes, even I succumb to convenience-store snacking and weeknight events more than I should.) Thanks to fancy modern technology, finding a network of like-minded people is easier than ever. If you're a Twitter fan, like millions of other people, near-constant updates on hot deals and useful coupons has never been easier. I've briefly mentioned the benefits of Twitter before, but now I have to share a few great sources.

In addition to keeping up with the dribble of your favorite celebs and, more importantly, the latest news in veganism (from VN's lovely tweets to your favorite veg companies), there are a number of accounts devoted to tweeting savvy steals. Vegancoupons is a great place to start, doing the dirty work of weeding out the irrelevant, non-veg updates. Mambosprouts isn't exclusively veg, but for natural food products, it's a great resource. Ever seen those little coupon books at your local health food store? That's Mambo Sprouts, and they put out some great discounts on delicious veg products. HealthyLifeDeal also focuses on whole foods, including Trader Joe's tips, free Rice Dream, and more. Sign me up.

The Final Word: Frugal tweets are many on Twitter, on everything from travel deals to grocery steals. A little digging can help you find lots of amazing resources, and a quick "follow" guarantees reliable updates. Just remember to check it daily! And by daily, I mean every five minutes, because it's crazy addictive. Are you a twitter fiend? Who are your favorite tweeters?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Guest Post: Cheap Traveling with Laura Beck

The Topic: Tight-Budget Traveling

The Dish: Today's special guest post is brought to you by everyone's favorite—and VN columnist—Laura Beck. To be honest, I go to her with the majority of life's tough questions, including where in San Francisco to get the best deals. She mysteriously knows all (which explains her gig as VN's prized advice-giver in "Ask Laura"), and is ready to share a bit of her travel savvy with you.

I’ve made it a habit of living beyond my means for as long as anyone can remember. My mom says I came out of the womb waving a platinum Am-Ex, and I haven’t looked back since (because ew, gross!). However, having chosen a career in non-profits that doesn’t exactly leave me living la vida Scrooge McDuck, I’ve had to curb my spendy ways. It sucks. The only place where I refuse to compromise is traveling for vegan food. If I can’t have road trips to Portland or weekends in New York City, I’ll seriously go Firestarter on everyone’s asses. I’ve found the best way to eat tons of food in exotic (to me) locales is travel on the hella cheap. The more you save on travel and accommodations, the more you can spend on Seitan Chimichurri at Candle 79, you feel me!?

Here are some ideas in list form because I am very helpful.

  1. Sign up for TravelZoo’s weekly Top 20. You’ll get a weekly email with all the steal and deals for getting pretty much anywhere in the world. I’ve seen $600 Round Trip flights from SF to Tokyo and $100 4-star hotel rooms in Chicago on this thing. Seriously, the deals are ridiculous.
  2. Kayak is a search engine that scours hundreds of travel sites at once. No more going to Orbitz and then Priceline and then Expedia, ad infinitum. Kayak takes care of them all in one click of the button. I love technology.
  3. A great site that’s specifically for plane flights is AirfareWatchdog. It keeps you up-to-date on the lowest cost flights everywhere. Bonus: sign up for the newsletter, which gives you the latest info on cheapy flights leaving from your closest airport. Right now there’s a round trip flight from Portland to Maui for about $300. Let’s go!
  4. The freaking coolest thing on the planet right now is Airbnb, an online marketplace allowing private residents to rent their homes (or lofts! Or apartments!). So cool. You can find deals that are way cheaper than most hotels and you’re staying in someone’s adorable home. To lessen the sketch factor, people can leave reviews of their stays. That way, you won’t be tricked into a staying in a shit box with the Manson family! You can search by price, space, and location to find your perfect home away from home. Looking for a loft in LA? Or a bungalow in Oahu? Airbnb will make it happen! Hotels are so 2009.
  5. To go super cheap on accommodations, there’s always couch surfing! CouchSurfing is a pretty rad service that hooks you up with folks in other cities who are willing to let you crash on their couch (or floor, extra bed, etc.) for free. You can also pay it forward by offering up your couch too. The best part is, you can search by specifics, so you can even find fellow vegans to stay with! It’s even been known to breed love—the couple behind Cinnaholic met through CouchSurfing! True story.

The Final Word: Now, go forward and conquer the vast world out there, fellow vegans! Spread your message on compassion throughout the world (or just eat all the delicious vegan food! Whatever, I’m not judging you!). Just don’t forget to bring me back some vegan doughnuts from Ronald’s in Las Vegas (eclairs, preferably).

Thursday, July 29, 2010

DIY Veg-Friendly Clothing

The Topic: Repair and Wear

The Dish: In addition to seeking deals on veg-friendly clothing, I'm an avid second-hand shopper, from thrift stores to trendier resale shops. They're gold mines for finding stylish, animal-friendly pieces (fashion is cyclical, after all). The major downfall? You get what you pay for, and that can mean missing buttons, broken zippers, and funky seams. In the case of affordable retailers such as Forever 21, the life of clothes can be unfairly cut short when you indulge in a new dress, wear it to work, and the strap button pops off mid-commute (ahem). Instead of giving up on it—or any of the potential finds at Thrift Town (one of my favorite San Francisco shops), I'm getting a lesson in DIY clothing repair from VN Associate Editor Liz Miller.

Surprisingly, this whole sewing-on-a-button thing isn't rocket science like I thought it was. Learning a few mending tricks can be huge in keeping your wardrobe from looking ragged, and helpful when you find the perfect cotton vintage dress that needs just a little help. For the novice like me who isn't ready to invest in a sewing machine and learn advanced seamstress skills (some day), a well-stocked sewing kit at Walgreens will only set me back $5. That's about the price of my favorite vegan Frappuccino combo!

As for learning the ropes, I plan on taking a few lessons from Liz and hitting up this beautiful new thing called the internet. I'm currently loving What the Craft—there are lots of free tutorials, not to mention a place for requests if you're really stuck. There are countless sites, so get searching!

The Final Word: Once you're confident in your sewing know-how, the possibilities are endless for expanding your wardrobe with minimal investment. Shirts become skirts, conservative dresses turn into perfect Vegan Drinks attire, and the things you can do with old t-shirts are endless. Are there any crafty vegans out there? Share your favorite tips and projects with me! I'd love the inspiration.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Easy Peach Pie

The Topic: Saving Seasonal Fruit

The Dish: You know what are super delicious and starting to pop up everywhere? Peaches. While these babies are perfect just the way they are—or with a little sugar sprinkled on top—there's something to be said for an amazing peach pie, topped with vanilla coconut ice cream. The downside? Baking in the summer heat sucks. The solution? Make friends with the freezer.

While it's a tried and true trick to toss excess seasonal fruits and veggies in the freezer to use later, my Nona recently shared her new favorite method of freezing summer fruit, which guarantees a quick, delicious dessert anytime you want it. Since peaches are the ticket right now, she's decided to save up a few pie's worth for later. Here's her method:
  1. Lightly grease a pie plate, and fill with sliced peaches, about 1 inch above the top of the dish. Sprinkle with sugar and 1/2 cup of flour. Stir until well combined.
  2. Gently press peaches into dish until evenly distributed, wrap in foil, and freeze. Once completely frozen, remove fruit from pan (in one piece) and place in a freezer bag. Depending on how many pre-made pie fillings you make, they'll stack neatly on top of each other, ready to go at a moment's notice.
Ta da! You have instant pie filling, without pouring anything from a can. Buying in-season fruit is certainly healthier and cheaper than that gelatinous canned stuff.

The Final Word: To prepare a perfect peach pie, use your favorite vegan crust recipe (or store-bought pastry). Line a pie pan with dough, drop in your filling, top with another layer of crust, and bake. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Veg Freebies

The Topic: Fantastic Freebies

The Dish: Finding a great deal is a daily pursuit of mine, but sometimes I want more. I want free. While my luck generally doesn't lead me to winning many contests, giveaways, or raffles, someone has to win. Why not me? Better yet, why not you? With the ever-growing presence of veganism online, there's always a site or blog willing to gift great prizes (including our weekly VegNews giveaway). My newest discovery is Ecobunga, a site which bills itself as "your guide to green deals and giveaways." While not exclusively vegan, many of the featured deals are veg-friendly, and marked as such. Right now, potential freebies include everything from kamut pasta to a fancy bicycle to vegan chocolates. Oh, and there's a $50 Whole Foods gift card I wouldn't mind winning.

As for other current giveaways, here's a few I've come across:
  • Dreaming of owning your own fancy Matt & Nat handbag? Ecouterre is giving away one! If you don't care about cruelty-free fashion, feel free to win it and send it to me.
  • Vegan Backpacker, a blog dedicated to traveling the world and exploring vegan food, is ready to gift some pretty cute Secret Society of Vegan tees.
  • Vegan Etsy, the one-stop online source for handcrafted vegan goods, has compiled an awesome grab bag of Etsy goodies for one lucky winner.
  • Here at VN, we have a huge hemp goodie basket ready to go, full of everything from the most delicious granola bars to comfy clothing.
The Final Word: Twitter is another great resource for keeping tabs on veg giveaways, as most bloggers and sites will publicize their promos in their tweets. Even if you have no interest in tweeting your own personal thoughts, it's worth it to keep up with what's happening in veganism—and for scoring free stuff.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Veg at Trader Joe's

The Topic: Veg Bargains at the Beloved TJ's

The Dish: Hailing from a land where Trader Joe's was an hours-long road-trip destination, I still get giddy every time I walk into a San Francisco location. They're so bright and full of wonderful, delicious things, and people are everywhere! Okay, so the people-being-everywhere bit is kind of a hassle, but the selection of affordable veg products more than makes up for it.

For those of you who haven't had a chance to visit a TJ's, for your sake, do it. Some day soon. Here are a few of my favorite TJ things that I'm pretty much guaranteed to buy. Each costs less than $5, but I'll admit that they're purely convenience purchases—great for when I'm on a budget and want to treat myself (which is, um, all the time).

Abby's Trader Joe's Must-Haves
  1. Dark Chocolate-covered Almonds with Sea Salt & Turbinado Sugar ($3.99). I barely have words to describe these. They're pretty much the most amazing snack ever, and are incredibly addictive. Sweet plus salt equals heaven, especially when it's wrapped up in dark chocolate. I try to conserve a container as long as possible, but I advise against sharing in order to make that a reality.
  2. Wheat-Free Toaster Waffles ($1.89). I don't intentionally eat a wheat-free diet (if you couldn't tell that from my white flour-filled posts), but this fluffy toaster variety is vegan, and after devouring my first box many summers ago, I've been hooked ever since.
  3. Better n' Peanut Butter ($2.99). Don't judge me, but holy crap, I'm in love with this stuff. It's certainly not the most natural of products, and many healthy eaters may not touch it, but it's liquid gold. While sporting a schtick that it's lower in calories and fat than regular peanut butter (not my concern!), it also functions as dessert in a jar. Very sweet-tasting (yet somehow low in sugar), very delicious, and perfect for spreading on a wheat-free waffle for breakfast.
  4. TJ's Mediterranean Hummus ($3.99). Hummus, you are a spectacular creation. This huge container of smooth, delicious dip is way cheaper than its similarly priced counterparts at major grocers. It still doesn't last long in my house, but it's certainly more economical than the pricier name brands—and just as amazing.
  5. Simpler Times ($2.99). It's summertime, folks, which to me seems like the perfect excuse to sit around with friends and enjoy an ice-cold beer at only 50 cents per can. If you're not a beer snob—er, aficionado—then grab a six-pack and unwind. Consider my fridge stocked.
The Final Word: Of course there are dozens of veg products I didn't get to mention. I love them all! Don't forget to grab some TJ-brand Goddess salad dressing, affordable cleaning supplies, a bottle of famous $2 Charles Shaw wine, some fresh bread—I'll stop now. Are you a TJ's fan? What's your favorite bargain?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Vegan Happy Hour

The Topic: Happy Hour Specials

The Dish: Every budget-conscious consumer knows that staying in for dinner and drinks is a surefire way to save money. The cost of an at-home meal or affordable bottle of wine is disturbingly cheaper than their restaurant counterparts. But sometimes, you just need to get out of the house, revel in good service, and enjoy a drink with friends. Enter: fantastic summer happy hours.

Veg eateries across the country are holding amazing happy hours, and for the 9-to-5 group, the timing is just right. San Francisco favorite Millennium offers buy-one-get-one cocktails Monday through Thursday, and to sweeten the deal, they're throwing in a free appetizer. If you're in the Bay Area and haven't been to Millennium, you should probably go, but not until 5:30pm—when the discount kicks in. May I suggest the Fiery Grapefruit-Basil Margarita?

Philadelphia's Horizons runs an outdoor-seating happy hour from 5pm to 6pm Monday through Friday, and Portland, Ore.'s Papa G's offers not only food and drink specials every weekday, but free live music Wednesday through Friday. While you're in Portland, head to the all-vegan Bye and Bye for $1 off well drinks and dinner entrees, $2 chips and salsa, and $6 mason jar drafts. There is nothing I love more than drinking out of a mason jar—seriously.

The Final Word: This is just a small sample of what's available. Do you have a favorite local eatery or bar that's offering great summer specials? If you still would rather stay in than head out, Vegan Happy Hour has plenty of delicious-looking recipes to whip up for an evening in. Pair that with the Happy Hour How-To feature in our July+August issue (Flotastic, I love you), and you're all set.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Vegan Shoes

My prized Betseyville vegan pumps

The Topic
: Cruelty-Free Footwear

The Dish: Shopping stresses me out. While I love the idea of spending a day downtown, about 20 minutes into looking at clothes and I'm done. Fitting rooms? It's all too much work. However, the one exception to my retail-fearing nature might be shoes. I own, well, more pairs of shoes than I'd like to admit. Keeping my collection up to date doesn't have to be expensive, and I have a secret weapon: Ross.

Ross, a discount retailer, carries everything from housewares to clothing to accessories, to the most random stuff you'd never expect to find—or need—for 20 to 60 percent off retail prices. Its shoe selection is freaking awesome, and I never have trouble finding cute vegan styles for my giant feet. Believe me, it can be difficult to find age-appropriate shoes in a size 10.

For the summer, there's plenty of fashionable sandals to choose from, and I grabbed a few pairs at only $12 each. I will warn you, however, that these man-made material beauties aren't the best for major city walking—R.I.P., my favorite white gladiators. By far my biggest score has been the most adorable, faux-leather pair of Betseyville black pumps for only $15. Designer shoes for less than one Andrew Jackson? I'll take it. The style wasn't even on sale online yet, meaning that not all of the discounted garb is completely out-of-season, making it even more gratifying to stock my closet.

The Final Word: Similar discount retailers exist across the country, including Marshalls and T.J. Maxx. While these big, open-space, and often unorganized stores may seem daunting, if this shopping-phobe can handle the stress and snag sweet deals, so can you.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cheap Eats: Fried Green Tomatoes

The Topic: Summertime Specialties

The Dish:
If there's one thing I miss about living in Missouri, it's my parents' summer garden crop. Those two have been exercising their green thumbs for as long as I can remember, and I never really appreciated it. Gardening wasn't my thing, but the endless supply of tomatoes it yielded? I could get behind that. I know a surprising amount of people who don't fawn over the total deliciousness of a ripe tomato, which I will never understand. Sliced up with some garlic-pepper salt? That might be the best snack ever.

And of course, I can't mention my love of this fruit without touching on a childhood favorite—fried green tomatoes. When you grow your own, it's easy to have dozens of green lovelies, ready for pan-frying at a moment's notice. The batter is super simple to whip up, without any costly ingredients. If you can get your hands on some unripe tomatoes, this is a total treat. While it's a bit harder to hunt them down in San Francisco, I'm determined to enjoy these bad boys this season. Or, I might just have to take a trip home before Missouri's hot weather—and our crop—disappears.

Freakin' Delicious Fried Green Tomatoes

What You Need:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup corn meal
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic-pepper salt
Dash paprika
4 green tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 cup nondairy milk, unsweetened
1 teaspoon salt
Olive oil, for frying

What You Do:
  1. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, corn meal, pepper, garlic-pepper salt, and paprika. In a separate bowl, pour nondairy milk.
  2. In a medium skillet over medium heat, add salt. Wait 15 seconds, then cover pan in olive oil. Dip tomato slice in milk, then dry mix, and add to skillet. Repeat until skillet is full, and cook tomatoes 2 to 4 minutes, until brown. Flip, cook an additional 2 to 4 minutes, and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and cook. Repeat, eat, and enjoy!
The Final Word: One dip in the batter will provide a light, crispy coating. If you want to go heavy on the crunch, double dipping is allowed—just quickly go back to the milk, then dry mix, once you've completed the first round of coating. Feel free to add whatever spices you like to it, as well. For the finished product, I love these with hot sauce, vegan sour cream, ketchup—pretty much any condiment will do.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Money-Saving Appliances

The Topic: Fast and Easy Eats

The Dish: Buying in bulk is one of the best money-savers, and I'm all for stocking up on cheap, healthy grains to serve as meal mains. I've been on a quinoa kick lately, but am transitioning back to my undying love for brown rice. While quinoa takes no time on the stove, cooking up the perfect pot of rice can take closer to an hour, which is still worth the investment if I'm planning for the week ahead.

Honestly though, I'm a creature of convenience more than I'd like to admit. Despite having approximately one square foot of counter space in my apartment, I decided to bite the bullet and invest in a rice cooker. Verdict? Best decision ever. I scored a small, 6-cup cooker for a reasonable $15 at the local Target, which is perfect for one person. It even came with a handy steamer basket, so heating up veggies is easy and keeps it to a delightful one-pot meal. I know to the uninitiated it may seem silly to buy an appliance strictly for cooking grains (yes, any grain is fair game), but it makes even the laziest person (me) capable of having a healthy meal with very little effort. Add rice and water, and push a button—ta da! It's really, really hard to mess it up, and at around 22 cents per cup of rice, the price can't be beat. With a little seasoning, steamed veggies, and a few dashes of Tapatio—my favorite hot sauce—I have the perfect meal.

The Final Word: Water to grain ratio varies depending on your rice cooker, as well as the grain used, so make sure and consult the manual for your machine. If you're jonesing for some amaranth and it doesn't mention it, then Google is your friend. I've also heard of people using their cookers for all sorts of culinary adventures, including soups and sauces. Are you a rice cooker devotee? What's your favorite use for it?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Homemade Dog Treats

The one and only Boo Bear

The Topic:
Cheap Canine Treats

The Dish
: I adopted my dog Boo this past December, and he's pretty much the best ever. While I grew up surrounded by animals, he's the first that has been solely my responsibility, and I'll tell you the biggest lesson I've learned: Dogs are expensive. Totally worth it? Yes. Could I stand to spend a bit less on toys, treats, and every other ridiculous canine-themed thing I see? Oh yeah.

There are plenty of healthy, store-bought treats that he likes, but just like with my own food, it can be much cheaper—and satisfying—to whip up a batch of dog chow or small bites in your kitchen. I mentioned It's A Vegan Dog's Life last week, and it's definitely worth a read. On top of all the great advice on raising a healthy dog (vegan or otherwise), it has more than 50 recipes, such as Apple Cinnamon Muffins and Peanut Butter Cake, to keep the Boo in your life happy.

In the meantime, whip up a batch of these peanut butter treats, courtesy of member VeganRun.

Oliver's Favorite Doggy Treats

What You Need
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 cup water
1-1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/4 cup flax seeds
1-1/4 cups rolled oats
1-3/4 cup brown rice flour

What You Do:
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a medium mixing bowl, combine peanut butter and water and microwave for 1 minute. Stir to combine and add canola oil.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine nutritional yeast, flax seeds, oats, and flour. Add to wet mixture and mix well.
  3. On a piece of parchment paper, roll mixture out to 1/4-inch thickness. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate one hour.
  4. Remove plastic wrap and with a knife, score the dough, making whatever size pieces you wish. If you want to get fancy, feel free to use cookie cutters.
  5. Cook the scored dough until crispy and no longer soft in the middle, about 1 hour 45 minutes for small treats. Halfway through, remove the dough and carefully break apart pieces. When they're crisp, take out of the oven and let cool.
The Final Word: Once you start cooking for your canine, you can go off-book and design your own recipes featuring his or her favorite foods. Just be sure to stay away from poisonous ingredients, including chocolate, raisins, garlic, and walnuts. With a little research and some time in the kitchen, you'll have one happy pup on your hands.

Bonus: In other huge news, today is the official 10th anniversary of VegNews! Celebrate with us and enter to win one of our brand-new tote bags. We're giving away 10 at 11am, 2pm, and 5pm PST. Good luck, and thanks for making this milestone possible!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Cheap Cleaning Solutions

The Topic: Cheap, Clean, and Green

The Dish: Truth time, my dear readers: I'm a total slob. I could try to lie and say, "I'm just a bit messy. I like my space to feel lived in!" but that is called blatant denial. It seems like every year I have to face my dirt demons, due to my inability to stay in one place for very long. I'm in the middle of a cross-city move at the moment, and after days of cleaning, I just keep telling myself that next time, I'll do better. The silver lining to this moving mayhem is discovering some awesome cleaning products that not only can kick the ass of my apartment filth, but also don't cost an excessive amount of money or use harmful, harsh ingredients.

1. Baking Soda. Tried and true, baking soda is king at killing odors, and helped remedy the horror that was my food explosion-filled fridge. Sprinkled over a damp surface, it made pulling up stuck-on grime a cinch, and took away the awful smell of days(weeks?)-old sweet-and-sour sauce (I will stand by that that was a guest's doing, not mine). Mixed with hot water, it also deodorized the produce bins, as well as my household trash cans. The uses for it are endless, and it's delightfully cheap.

2. White Vinegar. Another classic standby, it's amazing what vinegar can do. Diluted with water, it's a great counter cleaner once I'd removed the heavy grime with baking soda. It also made an impressive window wash and removed all the mineral build-up in my electric kettle (for this, I let it soak overnight). I also keep reading about how baking soda and vinegar make not only a great 6th grade science experiment, but also a dandy drain cleaner, though I have yet to try it. Another favorite use is soaking pesky adhesives with a vinegar solution—think stickers on the fridge, furniture, and bathroom decals—making them much easier to remove.

3. Bon Ami. How this company has been around since 1886 and I just discovered their powder cleanser a few weeks ago, I'll never know. Baking soda is great, but for the real heavy grime—think stained stove burners, shower grout, impossible tile floors—a healthy sprinkle of Bon Ami, a little water, and some determined scrubbing make everything good as new. Non-toxic, biodegradable, and hypoallergenic, it also comes in a recycled paper container which can be recycled again, and costs less than $2. And of course, no animals were harmed in its making. If you're not ready to go the au naturel route, get some Bon Ami.

The Final Word: I know this is just scratching the surface of cheap at-home cleaning, but it's a start! Feel free to share your favorite DIY solutions, as well as any other products you've discovered and love. I could use the advice, and make a promise right now: This time next year, I won't be in the same, slobby situation.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Shopping for Sea Shepherd

The Topic: Money Well Spent

The Dish: When I'm in the mood for shopping and low on cash, you know I'm a fan of buying (or swapping) second-hand. Which means when I found out about SOS Thrift, I was pretty ecstatic. An online thrift store you can both buy from and "sell" to, SOS is ran by four Etsy members set on raising funds for the horrific Gulf oil spill. All profits go to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, who are planning to send one of their ships to the Gulf and assist in rescuing marine life, which is a huge, challenging, and expensive job.

As far as the online selection, it's a mix of gently used items donated by shoppers (who in turn receive 25 percent off their next purchase) and new items that run a bit more price-wise, like this adorable handmade "respect, protect" turtle necklace. If you have a dog in your family, there's currently It's A Vegan Dog's Life for sale, which is a great resource, whether or not your dog is completely veg—including lots of great, easy recipes. New items are always being added, but there's already some great finds available. Oh, and a great steal? This never-used, certified-vegan Arbonne face masque for only $2—it retails for $18.

The Final Word: If you don't feel like acquiring more stuff but still want to help, you can still make a donation to Sea Shepherd, if you're able. But if there's anything on SOS you've been looking for, it's a win-win for everyone.

Bonus: Heads up—Matt & Nat will be on discount site Rue La La tomorrow, which I'm hoping means deep discounts on fancy bags! If you've been looking to splurge but still want to save money, check it out.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cheap Cookbooks

The Topic: Veg Bargain Books

The Dish: I may have mentioned before that I'm a bit of a bibliophile. It's a problem, really, when you live in a small city apartment and the majority of your square footage is taken up by books. That's what all that vertical space is for, right? Regardless, I can't help myself, especially when it comes to vegan cookbooks. It's hard to say no to a reasonably priced (read: cheap) page-turner that could potentially hold my new favorite recipe.

Sure, there's always used bookstores, thrift shops, and even mainstream chains' used collections. But they can be a bit of a grab bag, which I'll admit is half the fun. The other alternative is heading online, where Amazon has made it possible to find almost any veg cookbook at a bargain price, both new and used. New to veg cooking? One of my first cookbooks was How it All Vegan! by Sarah Kramer and Tanya Barnard, and you can grab a copy for only $3.99 used. If you still haven't jumped on the vegan brunch bandwagon (what do you do with your Sunday mornings?), then Isa Chandra Moskowitz's stellar Vegan Brunch can be yours for $4.99.

A great seller on Amazon is HalfPrice VeggieBooks.While all books are not vegan, there's a great selection of veg and health-related books. Narrowing down the crapshoot that is used-book shopping, it still has a wide enough selection to make the search fun. From cookbooks to animal rights to green living, there's something for everyone.

Wanting a title but out of storage space, like me? Check out Swaptree, which allows you to make a trade list (your offerings) and a wish list. Peruse the books other swappers have to offer, and trade up! There's more than 150 veg books listed right now, which of course can change daily. It's free, minus shipping charges, which will run you about $2.20 when sent using the media mail option at the post office.

The Final Word: I rarely feel regret when buying books. They're a worthy investment, especially when they're cookbooks that can lead to more eating in, less dining out— of of my favorite money savers. Oh, and as a bonus, I have to share that KitchenAid appliances are on Rue La La (a discount shopping site with free sign-up) today! Score a sweet stand mixer on sale (a very worthy investment, says Mom) and put those cookbooks to good use. The sale ends in two days, so shop while all of the great colors are still in stock. If anyone wants to send me the fancy yellow mixer, I promise to bake you cookies for at least a year.