Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New ingredient: Quinoa

Last month's Wegman's magazine (which, like Everyday Food, arrives for free at our house) encouraged me to try some quinoa, so because I am easily susceptible to persuasion by grocery stores, I decided to give it a try. (Actually, Matt did the menu planning and grocery shopping on his own this week, so I guess the real credit goes to him, though I clipped the recipe, added it to the recipe notebook, and said we should give it a try.)

Quinoa is thought to be a "superfood," and that's a good enough reason for me to try it in a recipe, in this case Red Quinoa-Avocado Salad. I know quinoa contains a lot of protein and iron, but I didn't know much about its taste before yesterday; in fact, I didn't really know how to pronounce it until last month. Now that Matt and I have tried it, we agree that it tastes like -- nothing, really. At least not in this recipe. But maybe that's a good thing, seeing as I like all the ingredients of this salad and didn't need any other flavors mucking it up.

Red Quinoa-Avocado Salad
from Wegman's magazine
*The original recipe served 10, so Matt and I halved the ingredients so we could have some leftovers, but not too many.
1/2 box quinoa (approximately 3.5 oz.)
1/2 bag frozen, thawed corn (approximately 6 oz.)
1/2 cup freshly chopped cilantro
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/2 cup diced plum tomatoes
1 avocado, cut into small cubes
1/4 lemon juice and vinegar mixture
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook quinoa. (In case you're new to this as we are, cooking quinoa is quite simple. As the package explains: 1) Rinse quinoa in water using a fine sieve. Bring water and quinoa package to boil in a medium saucepan; stir and reduce heat. 2) Simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes for water to absorb and grains to become tender. 3) Fluff with fork.)

2. Mix together cooked quinoa, corn, cilantro, green onions and tomatoes.

3. Fold in avocados and dressing. Season with salt and pepper.

Refreshing and good for you! Enjoy!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fave new product: Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage

Last spring as I was winding down my spring cleaning, I shared with you some of my favorite products in my Spring Clean Yourself posts. Looking back on the past year, not much has changed in my beauty routine (besides more time spent in front of the mirror yanking the occasional gray hair that creeps up). I did, though, discover Laura Mercier's Secret Camouflage concealer this winter, and I'm quite happy with it.

Unlike the Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer that I love so much that comes in a variety of shades (and I, of course, need to extremely white shade labeled "porcelain") this Secret Camouflage product is labeled by numbers. I still need shade number 1, which is made for the palest of the pale, but there is greater variation within an given shade because the palette comes in two parts that allows users to customize the shade to perfectly conceal imperfections based on skin tone.

The Secret Camouflage instructions recommend applying the concealer in light feather strokes, and this helpful hint has given me great success in blending the concealer into my skin. Ever since we got home from Mexico last month I've had a healthy enough glow to my skin that most days I've skipped the tinted moisturizer and just applied the Secret Camouflage. I always feel more confident when I've got a slight tan, so I hope I can keep a little color as the temperatures warm up, but I like having the Secret Camouflage to fall back on as a reliable blemish concealer. My zits will probably never completely go away, but at least I can deal with them better than I could before!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Hacked email

If you're in my email contacts, you no doubt woke up this morning to a poorly worded email from me. If you know me, you know it's clearly not from me. Yup, for the first time in my life, my email got hacked. So, rather than sending a mass email to everyone who has received an email from me in the past five years, I thought it would be easier to post on here that I'm aware of what happened, I hope I fixed it, and I'm sorry.

This is especially ironic, seeing as nearly two weeks ago I officially gave up Facebook (not for Lent, for life!). You'd think without a Facebook account I would be more secure than the average internet user, but apparently not.

In memory of my beloved email account, please take this opportunity to change your email password. Bad people suck.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

An organized purse

I am still in love with my New Year's new purse. For a while now I've been thinking about telling you about how I've organized it, but I've been waiting to decide if my organizational plan works. Two and a half months into using the purse, I can say that the organizational system I decided upon on the first day I used the bag has stuck!

The secret weapon of my purse -- and probably any well-organized purse -- is the system I like to think of as a purse-within-a-purse. Ladies, you know that if you aren't careful, your everyday purse can become a bottomless pit for all kinds of small items. When you carry around a big enough purse like I do, it's necessary to corral all these items in a small container. (This system also makes it easier for you to switch out purses by grabbing the essentials.)

For my purse-within-a-purse, I use a simple plastic make-up bag. Today I took stock of its contents.
My purse-within-a-purse stores my:
  • Clean and Clear Oil Absorbing sheets
  • Tide To Go stick (you knew I had that one, right?)
  • Nail file
  • Work ID badge with two flash drives attached
  • Orbit gum
  • A small pill box
  • A toothpick packet (my dentist tells me I have really deep pits in my teeth, and whenever I go out to eat I feel like I have food stuck in my back teeth)
  • Kleenex packet
  • Two gel pens
  • Nivea lip balm
  • Two types of lip gloss (Nars Orgasm and Loreal Coral Sands)
  • Three extra hair ties
  • A small mirror
  • A bottle-opened key chain my friend bought me for my 21st birthday that has become a holder for all those key fobs from stores
If you don't have a system like this already for your purse, I highly suggest it. I started using this system a couple years ago, and it has made searching for small items so much easier.

The rest of my purse organization is pretty basic, but I thought I'd take a moment to show off my purse's awesome storage capabilities.
Over here on the left you can see my two sets of keys (work and everything else), phone, purse-within-a-purse and my sunglasses.

On the other side of the purse I store my coupon file and my umbrella. (Like an insurance salesman, I always have my umbrella with me.)
The middle zippered section is where I keep my wallet, checkbook, a small notebook and (as of yesterday) my gloves. I figure if someone wants to pick my pocket this is one more hoop he'd have to jump through.
There are two small zippered pockets -- one on the outside and one inside the right side --  that contain absolutely nothing at this moment. I love the way this purse offers so many compartments, yet it all closes up so compactly.
I am still so in love.

How about you? Do you have any amazing purse-organization secrets?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sisterhood of the Traveling Gloves

So, for a while I thought of naming this post "Tip 70: Check your pockets" because this week I got foiled not once -- but count them, people -- twice involving items in my pockets while doing laundry. The first stupid move was having a (thankfully unused) tissue in the pocket of my hooded sweatshirt when I washed a load of whites this weekend. As I folded laundry I kept discovering tiny bits of tissue everywhere. My second and more painfully stupid mistake this week was leaving a pair of gloves in the pockets of my black wool coat when I took it to the dry cleaners.

Moral of the story: check all pockets before doing laundry or taking clothes to the dry cleaners. I know this, yet in a weekend rush I failed this test on two occasions.

The good news: I got my gloves back! The bad news: I had to fight to get them.

Here's the story:
Over the summer while in Venice I bought a pair of cute red leather gloves, one of my main souvenirs from our entire European vacation. Up until this weekend, I had been keeping these gloves in my coat pockets. Matt took a round of dry cleaning in on Saturday. Upon waking up Monday at 5 a.m. I leaped out of bed and my first thought was, "My gloves!" I can thank my Type-A personality that this is the first thing I thought at the start of the work week. I knew they were last in my coat pocket, and I knew that coat was at the dry cleaners.

In a mad fury, I got to the cleaners as quickly as I could, convinced that I would somehow get my gloves back. This attempt became more difficult thanks to a major language barrier. The elderly store owner was speaking to me in a mix of Korean and English, and then she went toward the back of the store to communicate with her Spanish-speaking employees. After about 10 minutes of explaining my very stupid mistake to the owner, she finally understood my dilemma.

The story, as it was communicated to me first, was that they went through my coat pockets and found nothing. I stood there and kept saying, "No, my gloves are in there. I am absolutely certain. They are expensive and I want them back." The owner insisted they found nothing, and I kept asking if I could just get my coat back. She kept telling me it wasn't clean yet -- of this I was well aware -- but I kept telling her I wanted to check for my gloves. Finally, she took a phone call, and I just stood in the entryway, waiting.

Then, a miracle happened. A miracle marred by deceit, but a miracle nonetheless. A lady from the back went over to her personal belongings in the corner of the store. A couple minutes later, she emerged with my red leather gloves in her hands. She said, "We found these in the trash." I said "thank you," took my gloves and walked out.

Amazed that I am reunited with my gloves, at the same time I am fuming. No, you did not find them in the trash. You found them in my coat pockets where I told you I'd (stupidly) left them. You lied about it and tried to keep them for yourself after changing your story. If you found nothing in my pockets as you originally said, how do you explain the miraculous appearance of my gloves (especially given the fact that I never in our botched conversation explained to anyone that I was looking for red leather gloves, so how did you know these were the gloves in question)?

I am elated to have my gloves back, seeing as their sentimental value trumps any monetary value associated with them. Looks like it's time, though, to find a new dry cleaners, and to always remember to check my pockets.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

In search of guidance: carpet cleaners and sewing machines

As a creature of habit, this morning I woke up feeling the urge to clean. In particular, I've been tired of our dirty garage which has been covered in all the dirt of winter and road chemicals in particular. This, of course, means that today I did what I did almost exactly one year ago when I got started with some spring cleaning.

With the cleaning kick now in full swing, I'll be ready soon to clean windows, purge closets, and plan out our spring annual plantings. For now, though, I have two other items on my mind, and I would love your input.

1) I am considering investing in a carpet cleaner. Our dogs and the general traffic in our house have a tendency to make our light-colored carpet get rather nasty. We rent carpet cleaners from the grocery store every now and then, but I'm betting that with the cost of renting one many times over the years it probably makes sense for us to own one, provided we can find one that's both affordable and effective. So, dear readers: do you own a carpet cleaner you would recommend (or, equally helpful, one you would not recommend)?

2) I have said it for years, and it's finally time I made good on my promise to myself: I need to learn how to sew. I want to sew several curtains, pillow covers and even a cushion cover. Do you have a recommendation for a reasonably priced sewing machine this novice sewer could grow into? Right now I don't see myself doing anything too fancy. I don't think I want the world's most basic sewing machine, though, because I'm relatively crafty and might want to leave my sewing-improvement options open for the future.

I would love your advice, and I thought it was time to harness the powers of the interweb! Thanks!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tip 69: Check engine light, step 1

Last week, as my car hit about 200 miles shy of 100,000 miles, the check engine light lit up in the middle of my morning commute. After my husband arranged to have my car inspected that afternoon and we established a car-borrowing plan, I fortunately arrived at a quick fix. So, don't be like me, and follow this advice...

Tip 69: If your check engine light comes on, check your gas cap first. If your gas cap isn't on tight enough, it could cause the light to come on, and a quick tightening might be all that's needed to get that light to turn off!

This, of course, makes me feel like a pathetic weakling, knowing that I could have avoided an embarrassing trip to the mechanic if I had just put a little more muscle into securing my car's gas cap. But, the good news is that I didn't lose any money thanks to this dumb mistake. Yesterday when I filled up my gas tank, I made sure to turn my gas cap until it wouldn't turn anymore.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Tip 68: HVAC servicing

Today's tip actually comes to us from Matt's parents, who initially recommended we investigate this service after we moved into our home.

Tip 68: If you're a homeowner, sign up for a heating and air conditioning service agreement with a local company. It will give you frequent inspections and peace of mind as a type of insurance policy for your HVAC unit.

The reason I knew we had been using the incorrect air filter size is thanks to our HVAC servicer who told us so when he visited for his winter inspection last Tuesday. About two and a half years ago we finally signed up for this service. It took us over two years of living in our home before we got around to it, but I'm still glad we did it late rather than never.

What are the benefits of this service agreement?
Under our agreement we get a winter and a summer service visit, where the representative performs a thorough inspection and cleaning of our HVAC unit. I know it's thorough because the rep always stays longer than I think he should (which I take as a good sign) and we get the most thorough notes we've ever received from a maintenance person at the end of each visit.

Perhaps more importantly, though, we pay a flat rate each year for not only the two scheduled maintenance visits, but also, as the contract points out, "Emergency service will be available during weekends and holidays at an additional cost of $0 per hour." Our house and HVAC unit are only about nine years old, so we haven't needed to take them up on this offer yet, but it's good to know we can and we've already paid for it.

Additionally, our net sum payment also covers the cost of replacement parts. There is a catch here -- replacing the entire expensive HVAC system does not count as a "replacement part," but at this stage in our home's history one would hope we wouldn't need to replace the entire system anyway.

Perhaps most importantly, should we get to the point that we have to replace big-ticket items not covered under the "replacement parts" category, we would receive them at a discounted rate thanks to our contract and good faith effort in keeping our HVAC in working order. (Part of this agreement, of course, involves changing our air filter frequently!)

The company we use here in Northern Virginia is A Advantage, and we are locked into a yearly fee of $279.95 for this service agreement. If we use them for life and never break our contract, we'll pay this fee every year until we go to the grave. I appreciate the nod to customer loyalty. We have been totally satisfied with A Advantage.

Do you have an HVAC service agreement or another home maintenance service you'd recommend?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Air filter day!

It's the one year anniversary of the first time I encouraged you to change your air filter. How's that for a moment to commemorate?

Well, in commemoration, I will not be changing our air filter, and it's not because I don't want to. Instead, I found out this week that we have been using the wrong size air filter the entire time we've been living in our house. That's four plus years of breathing poorly filtered air. How's that for an anniversary?

Tomorrow I'll run by Costco and see if they carry the filters we actually need, and I'll also fill (ha!) you in on how we came to this little discovery.

But for now I need to speed read my way through the rest of Superfreakonomics, a book I have on 14-day loan with no renewal option from the library. The book I began leisurely reading on the beach in Mexico is good enough that I want to finish reading it in time to meet this deadline!