Monday, February 28, 2011

Now Swap it Out

The Topic: Scoring sweaters, skillets, and more at a swap party by VegNews Editorial Assistant Anna Peraino

The Dish: When money is so tight you can’t even afford regularly priced kale (and yes, I speak from personal experience), the last thing on your shopping list is an immersion blender or a new sweater. While the occasional Goodwill or eBay purchase can get you some things on the cheap, you still have to shell out dough. Enter: the swap party, where you can score FREE stuff sans dumpster diving (gross) or stealing (illegal). Hosting a swap party is easy, cheap, and fun to do—read on to find out how.

1. Find stuff to offer up. The classic swap party is for clothing. If that's the way you want to go, gather gently used clothes, shoes, and accessories you don’t want and put them in a bag. “But I love all my clothes, Anna!” No, you don’t. Stop lying to yourself, okay? You haven’t worn that high-waist black and white polka-dot pencil skirt in two years, so throw it in a bag. (But seriously, I’m looking for one. Let me know.) I challenge you to expand your swap-party horizons past your closet! DVDs, kitchen items, lamps, and old boyfriends work too.

2. Add friends. Involve others who have similar bags containing similar items by sending an invite to friends announcing your party. Possible cheap avenues include, but are not limited to: evites, emails, Facebook invites, carrier pigeons, smoke signals, and yelling.

3. Pick a swap site. Meet at a large location (say, your living room). Each swap participant should section off a part of the room to set up their goods, so that each of you can walk to the others' "store.” Set up a full-length mirror as well (if your party includes clothes), so that you and your friends can ogle at each other ("That looks so much better on you!”) Set up clothing lines or tables to display items; if you’re cramped for space, neat piles work too. Other organizational options include sorting by room, style, color, or type of thing.

4. Craft a swap strategy. Order, people. Without a solid swap strategy, you and your guests will end up brawling over blender attachments as pairs of jeans fly across the room. One possible strategy is to use tokens—one token for each item a guest brings. Another option is to take turns: draw straws to determine the order, and then let one person go at a time, limiting the number of items you can pick up per turn. The rest of you can nosh and sip while you wait. Speaking of which...

5. Provide cheap (and yummy!) snacks. What’s a party without food and bubbly, right? Serve small bites that friends can pop in their mouths while examining martini shakers. Why not serve White Bean Bruschetta, Cashew Coconut Date Cookies, Green Tea Cakes, or have your guests bring their favorite bites? And might I suggest some Champagne to go with that? I’m a sucker for bubbles. I’m an even bigger sucker for four-dollar bottles of bubbles. Plus, after a glass or two, everything will look great on you.

The Final Word: After an afternoon spent with friends, food, and fabulous finds, you will walk away with a slammin’ new cocktail dress or serving bowl, good memories, and a happy stomach. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is as true today as it was whenever that phrase was created (I’m picturing horse-drawn buggies), so plan, swap, and enjoy your new finds!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

City Living, On the Cheap

The Topic: City Living, On the Cheap by VegNews Associate Publisher Colleen Holland

The Dish: There's a big rumor going around that's time to debunk once and for all: Living in a city is impossibly expensive. Yes, places like San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Seattle have some of the highest rents in the world (hello, $2k matchbox, rat-infested studio in NYC), but once you're in, you're golden. That means that if you can make rent each month, there are myriad ways to live cheaply in today's most desirable metropolises. Here's how, without resorting to a diet of boiled beans and rice for the rest of your (urban) life.

1. Eat at Ethnic Eateries. In smaller towns, there is often one token Thai restaurant, one Mexican place, and maybe an Indian eatery. When there's no competition, prices go up, so you end up paying a lot more than you should for a veggie meal. But in the city, competition is fierce, keeping the prices down at some of our favorite veg destinations. Think
Vietnamese sandwiches for $4, veggie burritos and falafels for $5, and Thai lunch specials for $6. And given the ample portion sizes expected in the city, these dishes can easily be spread out over two meals. Lunch and dinner for just $2.50 a pop? I like that.

2. Free Entertainment is Everywhere. Having lived in a city for most of my adult life, I am often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of weekend activities that present themselves every Friday. We're talking multiple concerts, multiple walking tours, multiple lectures, plus hundreds of activities you never even hear about. Included in this lengthy list is lots of free activities. In San Francisco, I love summer concerts at Stern Grove, book signings at my local book shop, and roaming the aisles of our year-round farmers' markets. There are also plenty of museums that are either always free or offer free admission at least once a month.

3. No Need for Gyms. Besides the fact that I can't stand gyms, there really is no need to pay for a fancy gym membership in a large city. Urban parks provide miles of trails for walking, hiking, and bicycle riding; the local Y or high school offers cheap swimming passes; and free yoga classes exist in nearly every city, especially in the summer (don't miss Saturday morning yoga at Chicago's Millennium Park).

4. Huge Library Network. The bigger the city, the often better the library system—which provides absolutely free books and DVDs for your reading/viewing pleasure. Growing up, I loved my small-town library, but that hard-to-find book you just have to have will exist somewhere in the vast network of urban libraries. And with new state-of-the-art of lending systems, you can request and renew books online so to avoid those pesky late fees!

5. Living Car Free. Hands down, being able to ditch the car (and insurance and gasoline and parking and maintenance) is one of my favorite things about living in a city. This amounts to huge cost savings, even with a monthly bus or train pass along with the occasional cab fare and rental car charges. Because public transportation is often good in urban areas, there's just no need to have a car—and you'll get some free exercise while walking or biking to your favorite veg restaurant for that scrumptious lunch special.

The Final Word
: I admit: Rent doesn't come cheap in some of today's hottest veg-friendly cities. But if you're yearning to live
(or better manage your budget) in Seattle, Boston, or New York , and don't know how you're going to swing it, take it from me. It can be done, without sacrificing your quality of life.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Greens for Less (Green)

The Topic: Standout Salads by VegNews Managing Editor Elizabeth Castoria

The Dish: It's very clear—my love for salad is here to stay. I could (and often do) nosh a big pile of greens for two meals every day, and nothing makes me happier than seeing a big, beautiful kale salad as a part of any meal. But you know what I don't particularly love? Making salad. As a kid, my family cooked dinner together just about every night, and somehow the task of making salad almost always fell to me. Woe, the injustice! How I longed to sauté, to scramble, to, well, anything but make salad! Clearly, my burgeoning culinary talents were squandered. But, on the bright side, I now make a pretty decent salad, which can't always be said of my other kitchen experiments. Plus, buying restaurant salads (like the one pictured above from Herbivore) can be insanely expensive. So, how's a gal to eat gargantuan amounts of veggies every single day while saving money and not spending her entire life chopping broccoli? Simple. Here are my time-tested salad-making methods:

1. Buy in Bulk. Duh. I like to fill my cart once a week or so with a couple kinds of kale, pre-washed spinach (hint: buying the spinach with its stems means you have to spend time chopping, washing, and you usually pay by the pound, which means you're literally throwing money away!), red and green cabbages, and romaine. Is cabbage usually the cheapest of these? Yes. Does it also fill you up and add awesome crunchiness to your salads? Hell yes.

2. It Slices! It Dices! So, the greens are probably not what take you the most time, salad prep-wise. With a handy food processor equipped with a shredding disc, carrots and beautiful red and golden beets are done in no time.

3. Go Big. Find yourself a huge freaking bowl. Like, a really, really, really big one. Really. Big. I like a simple stainless steel bowl (check out your local restaurant supply store for super cheap options!) that's really wide, fairly flat, and ideally about the size of my torso. I'm on the short side, but who's counting? This enormosity is now your salad bowl. Put all your prepared veggies (in addition to those mentioned, I like green onions, hearts of palm, garbanzo beans, cucumbers, bell peppers, and sometimes cubed tofu) in said bowl. Now, the most crucial step...

4. Stay Naked! You know what dressing your whole salad does? Freaking ruins it, that's what! Leave your week's worth of salad in the huge bowl undressed, and it'll stay fresh through the week. Dress it the first night you make it, and you now have a huge pile of slimy pre-compost. Throughout the week, serve yourself a plateful, and just dress that. Voilà! Soggy spinach is a thing of the past.

The Final Word
: Here's hoping you find yourself with tons more time, a happily full stomach, and a slightly more full wallet. Just think, if you started a company that you only worked on in the time you saved by not having to make salad every night, someday you could be totally rich! Or, you could just
sauté something to go with your salad.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Budget Vegan Valentine's Day

The Topic: Celebrating Valentine's Day without breaking the bank by VegNews Associate Editor Jennifer Chen

The Dish: While there are fabulous Prix Fixe Valentine's Day dinners at restaurants like Millennium, $75 per person is a bit steep for me. Sometimes Valentine's Day can be more about dropping serious cash on candy, cards, fancy dinners, and flowers, and you forget that it's really about spending time with the person you like. So here are my tips for romancing your partner with special gifts that cost only one or two pretty pennies, not millions.

1. DIY Dinner. Instead of an expensive dinner out, my husband and I are cooking for each other. He's going to make me one of my favorite meals—he makes a mean seitan marsala—and I'm whipping up Candle Café's chocolate mousse pie for dessert. Add some candlesticks and a glass of Framboise and it's a way more personal meal than any five-star chef could create.

2. Love Letters. The art of handwriting a note or a letter means so much more now than the 10,000 emails we read every day. Pick up a simple notebook at your local art supply store and spend the week writing love letters to your significant other. Each day, write about how you fell in love with them, favorite dates, or even a love poem. For a little inspiration, Pablo Neruda's collection of 100 Love Sonnets is so wonderfully romantic. And how much did your own love sonnets cost you? $2.99.

3. Handmade cards. One of the best Valentine's Day cards I ever got from my husband is a drawing he did of our yellow lab and our tuxedo three-legged cat holding a heart in their paws. Ridiculously cute and I loved it more than any $5 puffy-heart-fancy-cursive-generic Valentine's Day card. Draw something that means something to the both of you. Handwrite the note. Get creative. It only costs a sheet of paper and your time.

4. Free flower delivery. Who doesn't enjoy getting flowers? It's sweet and it makes your office desk look pretty. But instead of paying someone $15-plus to drop off flowers to your sweetie, do it yourself. If it's possible, pick up a pretty bouquet from a corner market (red roses are so overpriced that day, so go for something like pink Gerber daisies, which last longer anyway) and hand-deliver them to your significant other's office. Bonus points for getting to see your sweetie mid-workday? Check. Are you a better surprise than some random delivery guy? Definitely.

5. Mixed CD. Maybe I'm old school, but a mixed CD with your partner's favorite songs or just great love songs (try Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, or Sade) is a great way to share music you love with the person you love. Draw a great cover, handwrite the songs that are on the CD, and hand it to them before your romantic DIY dinner.

The Final Word: Valentine's Day is about celebrating the person you love and not about how much money you spend on said person. Ultimately, putting some thought and care and a little bit of elbow grease into the day will be much more rewarding than a dinner that costs more than a quick weekend getaway (hint: take said getaway the weekend after V-Day, when the crowds have died down). Enjoy the day!