Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Storing and Prepping Produce For Maximum Deliciousness

As part of my strategy for meal plans, I process incoming produce about twice a week to make meals and snacking easier for the next few days.

When I bring home my farm share, or when I bring home produce from the grocery store, I divide it into "store" and "prep." I will usually prep about half of something and store the rest. I do this with all incoming produce so that I always have a variety of fruit and veg ready for meals and snacks - it's only the prep and storage method that varies from item to item. For instance, when my farm share gives me four bell peppers, I wash and slice two of them immediately and put the slices in snapware. I wipe off the other two bell peppers and put them in a plastic bag with a paper towel to soak up excess moisture to await their fate for a few days.

This picture shows before and after prep for carrots, green beans, cucumber, bell peppers, melon and grape tomatoes.* Notice that in the before picture, the green beans and cucumber have been stored in plastic bags with paper towels for a while already. Now they are getting prepped along with some of the incoming produce from the farm share and the grocery store. Here's how:

Bell peppers: wash, dry, slice. Store in airtight container for up to 4 days.

Carrots: peel, chop off ends, submerge in water. Return to fridge. Good for at least 5 days. Replace water if it begins to be opaque.

Cucumber: peel, chop, store in airtight container in fridge for up to 3 days.

Grape tomatoes: Wash, allow to air dry on towel. Store in open bowl in fridge up to 4 days.

Green beans: wash, snap off ends, allow to air dry. Store in airtight-ish container in fridge for up to 3 days.

Melon: Cube. Store in airtight container in fridge for  up to 3 or 4 days., depending on how ripe it was when you cubed it.

Note: I only use clear or open storage because otherwise I forget what I have. Having clear storage also allows me to see condensation build up in produce storage. Sometimes I open up a snapware container, shake the top over the sink and just put it back on. This helps keep the veg inside from getting mushy after it's prepped but before I want to use it.

*Discerning readers will be able to deduce that this picture is from a while ago since I was buying tomatoes from a store. Now it is tomato season and my farmshare is overflowing with them.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

On Hosting Swaps and Exchanges

I host an annual book swap where people bring books they do not want and leave with books they do. I also host an annual Holiday Craft exchange, where the we make as many items as there are attendees and then we all leave with a passel of tiny homemade gifts. I also sometimes host (but more often attend) clothing swaps, and an awesome couple I know has recently begun hosting an annual media swap.
This year's book swap: Detail of a photo by Lisa Aurigemma.
So what I'm saying here is that I like swaps and exchanges, I seek them out, and I have been doing so for almost a decade. Hosting a swap or craft exchange is not quite the same thing as having a party. Here are some guidelines that I have found useful in hosting these kinds of events:

1. Invite early. People will need time to plan for a swap or craft exchange. I suggest inviting people at least a few months ahead so they can (not only save the date but also) begin to cull their wardrobe, or their bookshelves, or their CD and DVD rack ahead of time. For a craft event, people may need to gather materials or they might even want to research or acquire a new skill. Then send out a reminder to rsvp about a week before the event.
The haul from last year's Holiday Craft exchange included
baked goods, candy, embroidery, hand-stamped gift tags,
laminated paper art and Perler bead art.
2. Be clear on the parameters of the event. If it is a clothing swap, do you want people to bring shoes too? What about toiletries? Is the book swap also a potluck? Is the invite list open? How do you feel about strangers attending? If it is a clothing swap, will there be gender-segregated places to try on clothes? If it is a book swap, can people bring old textbooks? How about out-of-date training manuals? How about small children? How about booze? How about dogs? Decide what you are cool with ahead of time and be specific in the invitation.

3. Include the aftermath in your event plan. Swaps generate a lot of leftovers. It helps to know what you plan to do with those leftovers and when you plan to do it. We also make a large-party dinner reservation at a nearby restaurant for the evening of the swap. I set an alarm to go off a half hour before the event endtime. When the alarm goes off, I know it is time to announce that we will soon be packing up all the books and get an official count for who's coming with us to dinner. This makes sure we stay on schedule, and generally means we get help packing up all the leftovers.

My boyfriend and I save cardboard boxes for weeks before the book swap. Even before the swap itself, we mark on the calendar the day we will donate all the leftovers to Housing Works.

If you host swaps or exchanges, I'd love to hear how you go about it, too!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Google Image Searches for the Discouraged or Faint of Heart

Ladies and Gentlemen, this blogging thing is fabulous. I loved reading the comments about how people handle to-do lists in a variety of ways, and for a variety of purposes, and some of you even messaged or texted me your to-do lists! At the risk of sounding creepy, I'd like for that to happen all the time.

Sometimes, even with a well-crafted to-do list, however, time and energy can get away from you. You slump there, on the sofa, wondering whether your dog secretly hates you* and whether you should just curl up and eat brown sugar out of the box.** That is when it is time to do an image search on Google of something that will lift your spirits. Here is a list of phrases that I have found to give consistently heartening results when typed into a Google Images search box:

1. goat sweater (this is my all-time favorite)
2. dogs sitting like people
3. adorable vegetables
4. implausible shoes
5. hugs (this one is really cheesy. I am just warning you.)
6. book house

EDIT: I recently googled "kittens in hats" and found this!

As far as I am concerned, the only thing wrong with this list is how short it is. What image searches do YOU find to be excellent?

* He does not.
** You should not. You will feel sick after. Trust me.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Using a Two-Column To-Do List.

Last week I wrote about a bunch of different kinds of lists. This week, I am going to explain my To-Do List System.

[A caveat, though - please do not feel that I am in any way implying that you should be doing what I do. That would be weird. Different people are different. I find, however,  that this system works for me, and I love systems so I am going to write about it here as is my blog-given right. I would love to hear about the To-Do list systems you all use too!]

I have a number of To-Do lists around my home, my office, and my various internet accounts. I have project specific lists on binder paper in folders for those projects. I have lines piled up in the "all day" section of my google calendar. I have a post-it with prep activities for the night before a work day next to my coffeemaker. I have a list of goals for the year above my desk. I have a list of goals for the Summer nearby. All of these, however, feed into the daily To-Do list that I carry with me.

Mostly fictitious example of how I handle To-Do lists.

How I handle this daily list is based partly on:

1. my deep-seated love for physically crossing things off of lists. This means I carry an actual physical paper and pencil list because that allows me to <3 cross things off of it <3 even though it is, in some ways, less convenient than a digital/virtual list would be. An added benefit is that I find the act of writing the things down with a pencil helps reinforce my memory that you know, they should actually get done. Because I'm kind of embarrassed to admit this, but unfortunately

2. I will forget to do things if they are not on lists. I put "wash hair" on my to do list. I will literally forget when I washed my hair last if I do not see it crossed off on an earlier day's list.

So, those possibly shameful facts admitted, here's how I do it.

Twice a week, Wednesday evening and Sunday evening, generally, I sit down with my calendar up on my computer screen, my lists of projects and goals next to me, a picture or list of my farm share foods, and I create my plan for the next few days.

I use a lot of exclamation points.

I use a two-column stenographer's notebook (like this one, but not actually this one because I buy in bulk) that I divide into a "work" column and a "home" column for each weekday. I have a long commute, so I include what I want to get done on the train in my "work" column. As per my earlier post regarding meal planning, I write down what I plan to eat for dinner, and what I want to pack for the next day's lunch.

Weekends (theoretically) involve no separation of work and home life, so I use one column for each day.

When list items need to happen at a specific time, I put a star next to them. I like stars. I also work out travel time ahead. If I am meeting friends for a movie downtown, I use Hopstop or Google Maps to figure out how long it will take me to get there and then put my leaving time on the To-Do list. I program my phone alarms to remind me to be where I need to be when I need to be there.

Some notes:
1. I pair congenial tasks. That is, I don't just write "wash hair," but rather "wash hair and dishes" because I need to wash my hair about as often as I need to do dishes, so why not do them at the same time?
2. I don't like calculating percentages of how much of a given project is done. That's just math pretending to be efficiency. I instead make each To-Do list item something that can be completed. SO I might have an entry such as "sort 101 essays into batches of 10" and then a few entries that each read "Mark a batch of 101 essays."
3. I'm lying about some stuff for clarity. I NEVER write "sort 101 essays into batches of 10" or "Mark a batch of 101 essays." I write things like "SORT 101" and "MARK BATCH 101." Full disclosure; etc.

EDIT: A wonderful two-part to-do list has been recently posted on UfYH - the listmaker uses one list to set a schedule of tasks to be accomplished chronologically and then and makes another list of rewards for completing tasks! This means the listmakes GETS TO CROSS OFF TWICE AS MANY THINGS.

SO! What do YOU do to keep track of things? Or are you pleasantly superior because you don't need to keep track of things at all?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

List of Lists

As you may have guessed from the blog title "Listing to the Side," I like lists. Here is a list of lists I like:

1. A list of things that have bearing, and a list of things that have no bearing, on whether you are not a grown-up for realsies. On the frequently adorable blog, Adulting.

2. A list of four good daily habits to help keep clutter at bay. On the frequently inspiring blog, Unclutterer.

3. A To Do list that reminds me of many To Do lists I have myself made. On the frequently baffling and hilariously obscene webcomic, Three Word Phrase.

4. A list of eleven fashion upgrades recommended for adult men. I agree with nine out of eleven of these! You are welcome to guess which I think are incorrect. On the frequently useful site, Primer Magazine.

5. A visual list* of Impressive Bedhead I Have Experienced:
Fun fact: In one of these pictures, there is actually a Pomeranian on my head!
6. Not enough for ya? Huh? Huh? Need some more lists? How about a LIST OF LISTS OF LISTS? On the frequently amazing Wikipedia, naturally.

* Disclaimer: Number five may actually be more of a group than a list.