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.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Yoga for Everyone

The Topic: Take a Chill Pill

The Dish
: Sometimes (all the time), I really just need to relax. Elizabeth, our managing editor, often reminds me to take deep breaths, which is helpful since I'm most often very caffeinated. At the end of a long day in the office, I'm ready to hit the sofa and stay there for good—or until it's time to go to work again. Sure, vegging out with my dog Boo and an embarrassingly bad comedy is a good stress reliever, but not a cure-all. Naturally, I'd love to hit the spa and get a deep-tissue massage once a week, but that's most certainly not in my budget.

Instead, I turn to yoga. How vegan of me! But seriously, everyone and their mother is into it these days, and I'm not complaining. Popularity equals accessibility, and we all benefit. While San Francisco is home to some great studios, they're either too far away to attend regularly or too expensive. Why pay $20 for a class when there are more affordable ways?

First of all, it's called Google! Just kidding—sort of. There are more sources than you probably want to sort through, but if you've been trying to maintain a yoga practice on your own, countless sites exist with new routines to try. If you're like me and prefer a little more guidance, check out YogaGlo. Right now, you can sign up for a free 15-day trial and access more than 500 yoga classes online.

The sessions, which are meticulously cataloged from running time (5 to 120 minutes) to style (hatha, kundalini, Jivamukti, and more!) to experience level, are filmed at YogaGlo's Santa Monica studio, providing a live-class experience without leaving home. If you're nowhere near a yoga studio or can't swing the cost, this is pretty awesome. At the end of the trial period, you can either cancel, hassle-free, online, or sign up month-to-month for $18. If you enjoy the format and make use of your membership, $18 a month is a fraction of what you'd pay in a studio.

Practicing at-home saves me money—and excuses—but sometimes I wonder, "Am I doing this right? Should that hurt? Ow? OW!" Et cetera. Enter: awesome, affordable community classes. A nearby Bikram studio slashes its prices from $20 a 90-minute session to $5 once a week, and many studios in hipper neighborhoods do the same. Even better, the Glide Methodist downtown offers two free community yoga classes per week, providing mats and instruction to anyone interested.

The Final Word
: Community or discounted classes may be offered at limited times, but finding one that works with your schedule, even a couple times a month, will help your at-home practice. They're also a great way to try out different styles, and see if this whole yoga thing is right for you. Personally, I'm down(ward dog). Oh, I kill myself!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Cutting Corners: Simple Pancakes

The Topic: Sneaky Substitutions

The Dish: Right after I used up all of my corn meal and it seemed like hot water cornbread would have to take a vacation (since I had sworn off the store for as long as possible), I was left with nothing to eat on a leisurely Saturday morning. Well, not nothing. There was an old box of matzoh ball soup, a pound of dried beans, some quinoa, and tomato paste. Certainly not breakfast foods. And then—kablam! I remembered the secret stash of expired pancake mix.

I came into quite a bit of slightly out-of-date buckwheat pancake mixes last December and stuck them in a sad cabinet to be forgotten—until now, that is. I started getting super pumped that I could eat a proper weekend breakfast, when I realized I had no almond milk, and my roommate's applesauce I thought I'd use for egg replacer had a nice layer of mold growing on it. Did I give up? Um, no. There were pancakes at stake.

I learned something miraculous that morning: Water works just fine instead of non-dairy milk. I was really skeptical, but substituting water instead of throwing down $3 took care of that hurdle, and I miraculously discovered a canister of ground flax hidden in the back of the fridge and realized I could whip up an "egg" with that. In no time, my buckwheat flapjacks were hot off the skillet, and I was chowing down. I was fortunate to have just a teeny bit of maple syrup left from my cornbread streak!

I know having the ground flax was a lucky shot though, so I did what I do when I have a problem to solve: I ran it by Mom. In case you're ever out of the obvious choices and need to whip up a baking binder, stat, she passed along her favorite, easy, egg-replacer recipe to share with you. Thanks, Mom!

Mom's Radical Egg Replacer

Replaces 1 egg

What You Need:
1-1/2 teaspoons oil
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons flour

What You Do:
In a small bowl, add oil and water and whisk thoroughly. Sift in baking powder and flour, and whisk for 2 minutes, until light and frothy.

The Final Word: The next time you're dying to have a dish but are missing a few of the ingredients, just try substituting what you have on hand, and see what happens! Sure, it could be a total mess (in which case, just cover it in ketchup and have at it), but you could also pick up some savvy new cooking skills of your own. You better believe that the rest of the pancake mix isn't going to last long at my apartment. Do you have a favorite sneaky substitution? Don't keep it a secret any longer!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Save Money, Use Less

The Topic: Saving Cents with Common Sense

The Dish: I'm about to blow your mind with a super simple and effective money-saving tip. Ready? Use less. This dead-simple solution hit me in the face this week when I came across something food-related—well, sort of.

Maybe the people in charge are just bored, or maybe they like to see how far the American public will go when it comes to consuming fast, junky foods, but the whole trend of Frankenfoods disturbs me on more than one level. Yes, the Double Down is gross-looking, full of animal products, and lacks any nutritional value, but it bothers me for another reason: It's like eating three meals at once! And no, this isn't about calories for me—it's just the principle of the thing. Split up those meat-free chicken patties and fake bacon (I'm talking the vegan version now, obviously) and you could easily craft two or three meals from one unbalanced "sandwich," with the addition of a few other cheap ingredients.

This week, I discovered that another chain has released a similar sandwich monstrosity, featuring a hamburger patty stuck snugly between two grilled-cheese sandwiches. Again, switching to a veganized version (does your brain automatically do that, too?), that is three meals at once! Eat however many calories you like, friends, but if you're trying to save money and are an average Abby like me, sitting on your butt for many hours each day, eating three sandwiches at lunch seems unnecessary. Naturally, if you're running 10 miles every morning or tearing it up with your local roller derby (envious!), then you probably should eat more food on average. But there are more budget-friendly ways, I promise.

The Final Word
: These examples are on the impractical side of "using less," but the imagery stuck with me and I had to share. I'll be thinking about that freaking burger when I go to make dinner tonight. Cutting back just a little bit of the more expensive items I use—I can really power through avocados—will help stretch them over more meals, while still adding some fresh flavor to inexpensive dishes (hi, brown rice!).

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Cheap Eats: Hot Water Cornbread

The Topic: Cheap Ingredients with Creative Potential

The Dish: Recently, I've become enthralled with corn meal. It might not seem like the first dry good to grab, but this versatile base has become my new go-to. I discovered my love for it thanks to a tip from Robin Robertson, suggesting postponing grocery shopping as long as possible, saving money and encouraging you to get creative in the kitchen. Guess what? I made it two weeks past my initial, "I need some freakin' food in these cabinets," declaration, and it yielded some tasty dishes.

There it was: a box of corn meal, all alone in the cabinet. It was early, I was exhausted, and I wanted food immediately. Lo and behold, I remembered a book I had read a few years past, mentioning hot water cornbread—literally hot water added to corn meal, all fried up in the skillet. Not only did it sound fast, but I saw the potential for spice-y add-ins and sweet and savory toppings. Room for customizing? You know I was all over that.

The first batch I made used about 1/2 cup corn meal with sea salt, dehydrated garlic (I scored a bunch for super cheap—hot water rehydrates it and saves me time chopping up fresh cloves), and a crazy mix of on-hand spices thrown in. Hot water from my electric kettle was added next, stirring in a little at a time until a nice thick paste formed. After frying up small, flattened cakes, I topped half with some cheap tomato sauce (50 cents a can! Forget the dressed-up spaghetti stuff, this is just as good), and the other half with a little maple syrup that was hiding in the fridge. The result? Crunchy on the outside, delicious on the inside, with the perfect balance of savory and sweet I need in the morning. That continued for about five days until the corn meal ran out, and now I can't wait to buy 20 pounds in bulk.

The Final Word: Like a lot of improv cooking, my version changes each time I make it, and this dish is really about "cooking by ear," as my mom says. But if that's not your style and you want a delicious hot water cornbread recipe, I'll share a little secret: There might just be an amazing one in our upcoming 10th anniversary issue. In the meantime, if you're brave enough to give this a go, tell me your favorite combinations!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Lavender-Rosemary Scrub

The Topic: DIY Body Scrub-a-dub-dub

The Dish: Um, how is it June already? Seriously. While I don't have the answer to how almost half the year is gone, I do know one thing: My skin is not exactly ready to make its summertime debut. Back home, I'd always know that warm weather had arrived when Mom would show up with a freshly made jar of fragrant body scrub, complete with homegrown herbs and this look on her face that said, "Honey, it's cute that you think you're ready to wear shorts but you need this."

Now that she's a few thousand miles away, it's time to do the grown-up thing and make my own. Guess what? You can too! It's easy, cheaper than buying those insane $45 magical scrubs, and, of course, totally customizable. (While this recipe calls for a nice rosemary-lavender-lemon combo, follow your nose with any herbs and essential oils you prefer.)

This basic body scrub will do wonders for dry, dull, depressed skin. If you're already on the bandwagon of growing your own herbs at home (or on a fire escape—check out our upcoming anniversary issue for more details, hint hint), then it'll save you even more money. If not, don't fret: This recipe yields about 3 cups of scrub, and it lasts—a little goes a long way. In fact, you could probably share some of your bounty and earn points with friends and family, too.

Mom's Ultimate Lavender-Rosemary Scrub

Makes 3 cups

What You Need:
1 cup sea salt
1 cup raw sugar
1/3 cup fresh lavender, washed and destemmed
1/3 cup fresh rosemary, washed and destemmed
20 drops lavender essential oil
10 drops rosemary essential oil
5 drops lemon essential oil
Grapeseed oil (see instructions)
4 airtight glass jars

What You Do:
  1. In a food processor, place salt and sugar, and process until well-blended, about 15 seconds. Add lavender and rosemary and process again until well-blended. Add lavender, rosemary, and lemon essential oils and process.
  2. In an airtight jar, place mixture and allow to set in a dark place for 2 to 3 days to allow the herbs and essential oils to integrate with the scrub.
  3. In a separate airtight jar, place 1 cup of mixture and slowly pour in grapeseed oil until just covered. Stir thoroughly, adding more oil if necessary to reach a thick, pourable consistency, with no oil sitting on top. Repeat with 2 remaining jars.
The Final Word: For best results, use on dry (or slightly damp, if you have very sensitive skin) skin before showering, rinse with warm water, and pat dry. Summertime skin success!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Vegan Dessert Giveaway!

The Topic: The biggest, most delicious toothache ever—for free

The Dish: Before I get to today's awesome freebie, I can't forget to say thank you to everyone who entered Thursday's giveaway! The lucky winner of Robin Robertson's Vegan on the Cheap is Virgi, whose top money-saving tip is making homemade salsa instead of buying it, saving cash and cutting out the extra salt, refined sugar, and preservatives. Virgi, email me your full name and mailing address and I'll get your copy in the mail, stat! Oh, and sharing that salsa recipe would be pretty cool, too.

On to the big news! By now, you may have heard word of the 1st annual VegNews Great Vegan Dessert Giveaway. If you haven't, then let me break it down for you: We're having a massive vegan dessert giveaway! Three fantastic vegan bakeries are giving their goods away, including Allison's Gourmet, Babycakes NYC, and Sticky Fingers Bakery. Fudge, creme-filled sandwich cookies, and chocolate cakes can be yours with minimal effort.

What do you have to do to score this sweet deal? Just visit our Facebook page, "like" us, and leave a comment telling us what your favorite vegan dessert is. Ta da!

The Final Word: Don't be mad, but you only have a few hours left to enter. We'll pick the lucky winner at 1pm PST, so go! Comment away!