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Archive for June, 2007

Drinks, Part II

June 25th, 2007 at 08:21 am

Ok, so I talked about cold-brewed coffee in an earlier post and decided to test my recipe.

To start, I took a quantity of grounds (not coarse, as I just didn't have that handy) and added double the volume of water. I put this into my coffee pot (using the idea that I'd use the coffee maker's filtering basket to drain out the grounds) and let the mix sit for about 2 days.

Here's the result.

First, it was damn near impossible to filter out all of those grounds. I realized (too late) that to use the coffee machine's filtering system, I needed to have the actual pot in the machine. My particular model has a little plunger on the filter basket and a little bump on the coffeepot lid. The bump depresses the plunger, which releases the liquid in the basket. So I should have used a different container to keep the coffeeground and water mix. That would have made things a lot easier.

The second thing, which is really the first thing is that coffee grounds steeped in water make a slurry. Actually, "mud" would be a more precise description. The mixture was so thick, there was hardly any liquid left. I think that the use of fine grounds was the culprit here -- all that particulate matter, acting like little sponges absorbed all my caffeinated goodness.

In any case, when I had finished filtering, I was left with an inky, stinky substance that tasted like pond scum.

Needless to say, I was pretty bummed at this point. But then I remembered that I was actually brewing a concentrated product (the "toddy"), and the final beverage would need to be diluted.

Luckily, I scored some flavored syrup from the Souk. I wanted to buy a bottle of it, and they let me take home a little bit to try. So, I added water to the toddy (in a 1:1) ratio, poured in my syrup (tasty almond) and added a nice splash of cream.

This left me with a carmel-colored, sweetly scented brew that made me think of blue summer skies, handsome men playing frisbee, and a potential savings of $3.00 for not having to visit Starbucks that day. In a word: yummy.

What I would do over? Use coarse grounds instead of fine, plus making a bigger batch altogether. I had just enough for two cups of coffee (diluted) but if I'd wanted to add ice (I just used cold water, plus the toddy was already cold) I'd have had to make it stronger.

I'm not sure if there's an overall savings with the cold brew vs. the hot brew. I think cold brew takes more grounds, but I'll need to do a few more batches to make sure.

I will admit, the flavor is smoother, less acidic. I like a strong dark roast, and I 'm ok with a little bite. But the diluted toddy is a lot easier on the tongue than the same coffee does when hot brewed. And the home-made kind tastes exactly like the store bought kind (I think my syrup helped though.)

I will definitely make this again!

Salad Math

June 21st, 2007 at 12:46 pm

Lately, I've been buying lunch at the Forum's cantina. This is partially because I am a lazy oversleeper who always forgets to pack something the night before, and also because the Cantina has an amazing salad bar.

Typically, I get the same thing: mixed greens, fruit, chicken, cheese and dressing. This may not be the most healthful combination, but I really enjoy it. It prices at about 0.38/oz, and my salads clock in at roughly 3.50.

So today, I figured that I'd just buy salad fixings and bring my own. And then, while enjoying my (slightly less) tasty salad, I decided to see how much $$ I'd saved.

Mixed Salad Greens: 4.99/lb
Berries = 8/lb
Chicken = 5/lb
Salad dressing = 3/lb
Cheese = 4/lb
Carrots = 1.50/lb

A careful reader will determine that I'm pretty lazy. The chicken is chicken breast (organic) and the carrots are prebagged, baby-cut.

Now, the chicken at the Forum isn't organic, but they do have the carrots I like (matchstick). And I feel silly even typing that.

Ok, so buying my salad daily costs .10 more per ounce than it does to make it at home. And an average salad weight of 1/2 pound, I save roughly 3.50/week by packing .

Clearly my cost would go down even further if I had used a different kind of fruit, say apples or grapes, rather than berries. But I had bought berries this week and that's how the math goes. Also, I know I could do better with buying a whole chicken, but I know I won't eat it, and getting on the bone breast still kind of grosses me out.

At first I was worried that the 0.10/oz savings was kind of piddly, but doing the math reinforces my decision to do this at home.

Oh, and it makes me want to grow salad greens!

Drinking Problems

June 21st, 2007 at 08:06 am

I love coffee. Love it, love it. Coffee makes the fog clear, the sky blue, the sun rise in the morning. Coffee transforms my brain from a sluggish clod of dirt into a sleek, high-speed performance machine. Or maybe it just helps me string a sentence together at 9 am.

So I have a dedicated mid-morning cuppa, just as insurance towards a happy life. But this heat...it's so intolerable that I'm nearly off my food. And the thought of drinking anything hot makes me sweat a little.

So, this weekend I started drinking iced coffee. I was so desperate for a fix, I actually bought this at a Corporate House O'Doom.

The obivous conclusions can be made here: the coffee was delicious, more $$ than what I want to pay on a daily basis, and so I've been doing a little homework to crack the code.

Here's what I found, pass it on!

Cold-brewing iced coffee:

* Start with a coarse-ground dark roast. You can get this in bulk at a grocery store.

* Put a quantity of coffee in a clean container, and add double the volume of water as you did coffee (so, say 2 cups of water for 1 cup of grounds.) Not boiling water, just plain water.

* Let this concoction steep for about 10 hours.

* Filter the coffee water mix. The resulting liquid (coffee concentrate) is called "toddy". You'll want to dilute it with some water, and because it's already so strong, it should keep a nice flavor even when you add icecubes.

From what I've read about cold brewing, it's got a smoother flavor and less acid than the regular hot brewing method.

And how to sugar it now that it's cold? Martha Stewart has a simple sugar syrup recipe and you can flavor that to taste to duplicate all the fancy schmancy syrups you find in the Corporate Houses O'Doom.

Of course, you can always make hot coffee, add sugar, put in fridge, go to bed and drink it later. But try the different way and see what you think!

Learning more

June 15th, 2007 at 07:07 am

Ok, so I've done a bit more homework, and have concluded that, in spite of major advances in computing, finding a hardiness map that shows my precise location is really difficult. I can see my state, but I'm at the border between two zones and when I search for average yearly temps, I get values that don't jive with what I remember from last year.

So here's the rundown on my climate here:

long winters, with frost as late as April and as early as October. Typically a heavy snowfall, with low temps (including windchill) around -5. In the summer, highs in the 90's. The area is very fertile and green, so I think I'm in zone 5b.

Also, my mom tells me to stop using the little peat pots -- she says that it's not a renewable resource, and I should consider it like oil: once gone, not replaced. So I'm getting some vegetable compost (not quite on board with the manure just yet)and topsoil and starting seed in little newspaper pots.

I actually have some biodegradable coffee bags (when you buy it by the pound) so I used a few to put my basil seedlings in there. I also used some carry-out containers for the smaller seedlings.

To justify the cost, I'm not allowed to eat out (after today, as I forgot a lunch) as a substitute for cooking at home. If I'm meeting friends, that's ok, but for a day to day basis, I'm not going to spend the $$. This eases my mind a little about the cost of the dirt.

It's been a lot of fun reading about the different gardens. Here's some of the sites I really like:

You Grow Girl I love this site.
Victory Seeds (I got some seeds from them, but haven't tried them yet)
Seed Savers (haven't bought, but like the site)


June 14th, 2007 at 10:05 am

Wow! Thanks for all the great advice! I knew I came to the right group for questions.

I started doing a little homework, both online (from the resources you all gave and yay wikipedia!) and old-school (yay library!)

So I'm feeling a little more confident, and here is my grand plan to convert a 3x3 patch of sunlight into some healthful food.

1. Raised beds. I'm not sure exactly how I'm going to retain the beds just yet, but I figure I can buy myself at least a week or two of time if I box the beds in...well, cardboard boxes. I've got a ton of these handy, courtesy of the Souk.

So the dirt and plants go in the boxes, and that gets them outside while I figure out how to build a frame around them.

2. The dirt. Evidently, a local park gives out free mulch in the spring! I did not know this. So I'm checking to see if I can find some of this stuff. If not, I'll buy it this year and pay attention to the news next year. I also tried to get a few neighbors together so we could have it delivered, but I don't know if that will fly. My mom says: 1 part each of dirt, humus or mulch, sand.

3. The "crops": lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, herbs, pepper, beans (of the drying type) and then for next spring (to overwinter) broccoli, garlic.

I figure, I can't kill all of this! And although not all is from seed (the tomatoes and herbs weren't) the plants averaged about $1.50 per each, and seed packets about the same. I've read that I can save the unused seed for another year, and I'll do that.

So now, I'm pricing out whatever materials will be used to hold the beds together (I'm guessing wood is cheapest, plus easy enough for me to lift and transport).

So I'm adding another category, and will continue to post on the topic. Thanks again for all the help!


June 13th, 2007 at 09:01 am

If the motto is "You are what you eat", then I am officially cheap, fast and easy.

But I'm not getting any younger (and my butt isn't getting any smaller), and I'm finding that I feel like lead. Sticky-fingered, powdered-sugar lead.

Also, a lot of my friends are vegetarians of the thrift/DIY movement/recycle movements. Although they never really talk about their food choices out polites towards my unapologetic carnivorousness, I'm starting to rethink my own food choices (something about being influenced by the company you keep.)

So I've been trying to shop more locally, and organically, and also in bulk to reduce packaging waste. But it occurs to me that maybe I could grow some stuff on my own? I live in a fertile area of the country: we don't have a long growing season (long winter), but we get a fair amount of rain and moderate summers.

But where to begin? I've started on lettuces in peat pellets and some herbs but that's it. I thought I was going to be moving (changed the mind) so I didn't start as early as maybe I should have?

In any case, I have a small sunny patch (maybe 3feet square) to work with. I know I need to buy some dirt (the dirt back there is pure clay), and I've priced that out in bulk as well. The dirt mix alone is about $30 for me. My mom says, make a raised bed.

Does anyone here garden, and is it worth the initial $$? I don't want to spend a lot of $$ and find that it was cheaper overall to just buy from the store. I was thinking I could do carrots, lettuce, beans, tomatoes (I have the plants for those already).


June 6th, 2007 at 03:51 pm

I am not going out to eat tonight. So I'm saving $10.00.

That's all!

June '07 and June '08

June 5th, 2007 at 12:23 pm

One of my long term goals is to be able to live off of no more than 60% of my income. Since I'm the sole breadwinner, I don't make a lot of $$, and I have a nice chunk of debt, it's a little challenging.

Currently, my debt expenses should run me about 45% of my take home income. One of these debts is a loan from the Guild and since it isn't due for about a year, so my total out of pocket debt is about 30%. My current living expenses are about 69%.

My short term goal is to eliminate enough of my current debt so when the Guild comes looking for their money, I won't go over the 30% debt load. This will make it far easier to pay off the debt and ideally, convert that 30% to savings.

I don't really want to have to work at the Souk to accomplish this: the time to payoff ratio is pretty low right now. But I'm going to need to stick very close to my budget to achieve my plans.

By my calculations, I should be able to put away for the following:

1. $500 emergency fund,
2 Freedom accounts:
a. car maintenance/service
b. Christmas
c. family trip (my mom lives far away).
d clothes (mainly shoes and a coat)

There's only a narrow margin for clothes (I'm loving the thrift store) and really no space for a few householdy things that I'd like to buy.

So what I've done is make another line item in the budget called Objects of desire. which will be bought with extra $$ I earn at the Souk. Because they're not necessary, but just desired, it's ok if it takes a bit of time to raise the $$.

This is what I'm saving for this month (calculated by hours mucking stalls):

1. Helmet & protective gear = 5 hours
2. Table = 36 hours

I like this plan because it places the entire operating budget on my day job, which is really more appropriate than having to depend on 2 jobs to get the bills paid.

I just need to be really careful and not waste money.

Thanks to the Webmasters!

June 1st, 2007 at 10:20 am

I really like the new features of the blogs. It's so cool to be able to adjust colors. So thanks, webgurus!

Your Money or Your Life?

June 1st, 2007 at 09:08 am

I almost quit the Souk last night. I've been on an abbreviated schedule with them for the past few months, so I feel culture-shock each time I walk in the door.

I guess I'm just not there long enough to keep that mental barrier between myself and the customers. Typically, it's not too much of an issue: I'm a "pleaser" in terms of my temperment -- I really want people to be happy with what they're buying. Plus, the customers at the Souk tend to be well-behaved, so it's generally easy to stay friendly and upbeat,

But there is a real barrier between their role and mine, and we are both aware of it in very different ways. My job is to sell as much product as I can. Part of that is by actually getting you what you want. So if a person comes in looking for a dromedary, she needs to leave with the dromedary. And if I'm doing the other part of my job, she'll also leave with a new bridle, some feed and a new riding habit to complete the ensemble.

That direct relationsip between the customer and the employee help create the initial sales. But the ability to generate future sales comes from the buyer's desire to return to the store. Customer loyalty is a key aspect of a business's success, and both the store and the customer know it.

Most customers intuitively know this, but they tend to just want an easy shopping experience. They want to know that llamas are in Aisle 3, but phosphorus-doped semiconductors are sold in Aisle 4, right next to jumper cables. They want clean shopping carts and 40% off coupons, and extra TP in the men's room. This, I can handle.

But some people see a socio-economic chasm between themselves and the employees. Understandably, wenching isn't exactly a great career choice: it's low pay, no part-time benefits and high turnover. But it's a steady paycheck and it's not going to haunt me if I ever run for president. And there are quite a few wenches that have paid for college working at the Souk, so I get a little annoyed when people treat me like I'm stealing televisons for crack money when I'm only mucking camel stalls.

Generally, they show this attitude in small ways, but these little discourtesies, those minute displays of bad manners are wearing me down. It's the petty things, typically from customers with control issues that feel they need something to prove. So when I say, "llamas are in Aisle 3, but you'll have to go to Aisle 4 for wombats," they look straight at me and say, "Don't tell me I have to go anywhere!"

But yesterday I had a customer really treat me like a wench. I got the blow-off, the curt tone, a little stonewalling and the thing I hate most in life: sending me off to get the item for him instead of coming with me to get the item himself. The Souk is laid out like a souk: all the merchandise out for people to see. I like to escort the customer to the stall, so he can see all of our wares, not just the item he came for. But it's not in the job description, so when he sent me off like some 17th century scullerymaid, I had to really stop myself from walking right out of the door.

And it made me realize: I just don't want to have to work this hard. I really don't. I don't want a lifestyle that requires me to earn a second income to keep it up. I know: every job has a required amount of kowtowing, but I want to feel like I'm doing it for a real purpose, not because I want a new bright shiny toy.

I have to reflect: how can my consumption better reflect my values and goals? I had a crap shift, and thought about quitting all night. But I'd gone out to eat several times last week, and bought a few presents for myself and I needed the cash. So I swallowed some choice words, and I stayed.

But it's a funny thing: I don't even remember what I ate last week. But don't think I'll soon forget that feeling of being embarrassed, and frustrated and really -- just trapped. Plus the negativity I had for the rest of the evening because of it.

The job at the Souk has been a real blessing. But I have to remind myself to be aware of why I'm doing it. What is the money really for, and what am I sacrificing to get it? Is it worth it? For last night, no. I could have eaten sandwiches instead of pizza and tacos and then I could have stayed home last night instead of working.

I don't want to keep making those mistakes. The next shift at the Souk should be for debt-busting, or business capital, or for more quills and scrolls for my next appointment with the Guild. Not for thoughtless activities that don't bring me any satisfaction.