Friday, January 29, 2010

Ten Favorites of 2009: GoPicnic aka, what happens when awesome healthy noms are stuffed into a box.

Another favorite discovery of mine last year was GoPicnic -- a company that specializes in boxed lunches that are perfect for a meal on the run, brown-bagging-it, or even to have on hand to be prepared for emergencies. No refrigeration is required, and they have none of the unpleasant concoctions commonly found in meals with a shelf-life (the novelty of 'space ice cream' aside, I'll pass on the freeze-dried thank you!). Their "Mighty Munch" line is even targeted to be appealing to kids for an easy school-day fix.

They qualify for my Ten Favorites of 2009 list because their components are all-natural and even organic frequently... they also have gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, and kosher meals, to fit any dietary needs. There's a great selection of brands in each one (such as Mary's Gone Crackers, Food Should Taste Good, Late July organics, Lara Bars, Stacy's Pita Chips, The Immaculate Baking Company, and lots of others) and it's awesome to have something different that I can just grab on my way to work on a busy day. The fiance even likes them -- he's a big fan of the Anywhere Break meal that's pictured on the home page right now, but also applauds the Go Deli. I haven't found one I actually dislike (though the Wild Garden hummus featured in a couple of them is a bit too garlicky for me), but my favorites are probably the Go Delight and the Sunny Break.

They have some great stuff on salethis weekend (including the aforementioned Go Deli and Go Delight meals), which is why I'm mentioning them now -- they're normally kind of pricey, but the sale items range from $1.99 to 3.99 through Sunday. Also shipping is mildly painful, so you'll definitely want to sign up for their mailing list... you'll get a code for 10% right away, and they send even better codes out periodically as well. I also just found some potentially exciting discount codes for them on retailmenot, so those would be worth trying too! (And if you're in Chicago, then lucky you, 'cuz you can just swing by and pick up your order from the GoPicnic headquarters, and skip shipping all together.)

Do note that the "Go" meals are the smaller versions -- marketed more as a snack. However Andrew and I both use them as lunches normally, we just add in a yogurt, carrots, apple, whatever, just to fill in the gaps a bit, and then are good to go.

If you try them, or have tried them in the past, I'd love to know what you think!

GoPicnic is not one of my affiliates, I just love their stuff. ;)

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Painfully Honest Green Goals Review 2009, aka, can't we just skip to the new goals??


Way back on January 21st 2009, I took a environmental awareness inventory of my lifestyle, and decided that my shade of green need considerable darkening. I set myself 5 goals that I wanted to attain but that seemed way too daunting (not to mention expensive) to do all at once, and broke those goals down into smaller chunks every couple months to tackle things little by little. And really, by and large it worked! My shade of green has darkened hugely over the past year. Let's take a look:

Green Goals, 2009 Edition

Go organic on the all the majors, as listed here by the Environmental Working Group. Hurrah, mission accomplished!! I personalized the Dirty Dozen to eliminate the fruits and vegetables that you would never find me eating anyhow (celery, nectarines, and pears) and bumped up 13th, 14th, and 15th ranked-worst to replace them. Buying these twelve items only when I can do so organically is pretty much second-nature to me now:

Sarah Eliza's Personalized Dirty Dozen
Peaches
Apples
Bell peppers
Strawberries
Cherries
Kale
Lettuce
Grapes
Carrots
Spinach
Potatoes
Green Beans

Plan and execute a small kitchen garden Also successfully completed! My then-boyfriend-now-fiance and I kind of made up the whole gardening thing as we went along, and as a result all our squash and zucchini died tragic powdery-mold deaths. However we had much better results with our peppers, and learned a great deal that we're looking forward to putting to use again in a month or two.


Use only recycled paper products and natural cleaning products. This is almost true... I need half of a check-mark here. I still use my swiffer, and recently documented my fervent love for the Woolite Rug Stick... but all paper products coming through my door are 100% recycled (and we've drastically reduced our paper towel consumption as well), and I use only natural cleaning products for everything BUT the floor. If you're horrified at me, keep reading and I'll try to make amends!!

Consistently use alternative transportation and walk to destination whenever possible. Ok, when I lived two blocks from the shuttle-stop that took me to work, I really worked hard at this one and I did decently well. According to the Georgia Clean Air campaign site, I logged 112 alternative-commute trips, and saved myself 300 miles of vehicle travel. By doing so, I personally kept .15 tons of pollution out of the air. But then the Atlanta summer rolled around, and it was HOT... and then I moved three miles further away from work, and with the two things together I gave up the alternative transportation just due to the fact that I was going to end up arriving at work really late and disheveled each day. If I changed the word "possible" to "feasible" then I could give myself a check-mark for the efforts I made, but as it stands unfortunately not.

Always use canvas grocery bags, unless deliberately "restocking" plastic bags to use as wastebasket liners. This goal was a hard one for me since I'm notoriously forgetful, but I worked hard at it and made a lot of process. Also I recently indulged in an $8 investment in this goal that I think is going to pay off in spades... check it out! It's a great reusable tote from Origins that folds into a built-in pouch that clips onto your bag or belt with a handy little carabiner. As I bought it I vaguely worried that stuffing it into the pouch would be sort of like rolling a sleeping bag, only tiny, but its actually remarkably easy to get it back in there. Very fun and useful!

Now for new goals!

Darkening My Shade of Green, 2010 edition


1. Continue to buy only organic for my own personalized Dirty Dozen list. Get in the habit of buying locally when produce is in season via farmers markets, including trying to avoid imported goods at the International Farmers Market as well.

2. Plant a container garden and make it thrive. Sprout my plants from seeds rather than buying seedlings, and use the potato bins I purchased last year.

3. Buy reusable swiffer pads via Etsy, and consider buying floor-mats for high-traffic and spill-prone areas in my apartment to avoid using non-natural carpet cleaners. Buy reusable sandwich-bags to phase out ziplocs in that role, and switch to cloth napkins.

4. Limit driving whenever possible. Walk or carpool if the option is available, and get in the habit of mapping out my destinations PRIOR to leaving, so that I avoid backtracking and going the long-route out of distraction.

5. Always remember to bring reusable grocery bags. Buy another Origins bag for Andrew to have on hand, and eliminate using plastic bags to carry lunches.

6. Switch entirely to organic meat.

7. Blog to report my progress every two months. Accountability really helps!

8. Find a new use each month for something that otherwise would have been discarded.

*Whew* that all seems like a lot now again, but those are my goals for the year so I'll be tackling them gradually again -- I'll post with specific Jan/Feb goals in a day or two. Do you have any green goals for the new year, or something environmentally-friendly you've just been meaning to try? I'd love to hear about it! Keep me posted, and I'll do the same. Green is gorgeous my friends... save the world with me, one day at a time!

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Woolite Rug Stick rocks my world! aka, random is great, and so is clean carpet!

Ok, this one is uber random but I just got done with a carpet-cleaning kick today, and I'm so relieved at the results that I just had to add this to my list of favorite things. The Woolite Rug Stick is A-MAZ-ING. The green part of me winces a little bit at writing that because I've mostly switched over to natural cleaning products (i.e., vinegar, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and the like), but let's be honest, stained carpet can be a nasty, stubborn thing. The Rug Stick is the carpet-equivalent of bringing out the big guns.

So this is how it works: The rug-scrubber snaps together like a swiffer, and then you pop the foam can in place. The foam is non-caustic, and contains no bleach or CFCs. You shake it up and dispense by pressing one side of the scrubber against the carpet, then rub vigorously with the brush side. The stain will disappear. If it doesn't right away, you scrub some more, changing directions as you attack. You let it dry, and vacuum to remove the crystals-formerly-known-as-foam (you can't see them, but I was curious how it worked so I checked the company website and found out about them there). You sit back and enjoy your clean carpet.

Seriously, its worked right away on 5 of the stains I used it on (I'm clumsy, and part of my kitchen is carpeted... plus, I have cats. Enough said.) and the 6th succumbed after a second treatment. I suddenly have hope for my security deposit again, and without spending a fortune! My Rug Stick is my new BFF. I think I need to go buy it a margarita or something.

* I received no compensation for this post, I just got really really excited about cleaning my carpet and wanted to share it with the whole wide world. And now that I've put it that way, it's a little awkward. ;P

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Menu Plan Monday, aka, Sarah and Andrew Go Vegetarian

So I know that title is a bit of a shocker, but it's really not quite as dramatic as I made it sound... after considering how much our fresh produce consumption has recently peaked, Andrew and I figured we'd try going vegetarian on our main dishes (dinner) this week and see how it went. It's an experiment for health and money reasons mostly, and because we like cooking and trying new things. And we ended up saying "vegetarian for main dishes" because Andrew nearly always has turkey or tuna when we brown-bag lunch, and we weren't sure what we would replace that with.

Monday: We started out strong on the vegetarian wagon today with a four-bean curry meal we crock-potted... it consisted of kidney beans, chickpeas, black beans, and lentils, all cooked to a delicious kind of mush and flavored with garlic, masala garam, and hot curry. We ate it with couscous and were impressed with how good it tasted, since we had just sort of threw it all in there and hoped for the best. It was good enough (and DEFINITELY easy enough/cheap enough/healthy enough) so that next time I'm posting the "recipe" and pictures.
Tuesday: Four-bean curry and couscous round 2
Wednesday: Spinach and four-bean curry quesadillas (yeah um, the crock-pot was pretty full if you can't tell lol)
Thursday: Vegetable fried-rice, that we had planned on making last week but ended up skipping in favor of using the vegetables for other things.
Friday: Out with friends
Saturday: Vegetable fried-rice round 2

For lunches we'll have turkey and tuna, GoPicnic meals, and Lean Cuisine/Healthy Choice meals. For snacks and sides we've got yogurt, applesauce, carrots and hummus, salsa and chips, Alexia crunch snacks, and Kettle chips. I try to keep our lunch-expenditures to $2 or under per lunch, and that should be quite do-able this week. With eating vegetarian and buying most of our fresh produce from the International Farmers Market (hands-down the cheapest place I've found for organics), it should be a pretty economical week! And since I just finished buying a bunch of books for my classes, that's definitely a good thing. ;P

Here's wishing you an organized, healthy, and wallet-pain-free week of eating! :)

This post is part of Menu Plan Monday over at I'm an Organizing Junkie. Check out more great meal-plan ideas there!

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ten Favorites of 2009! aka, Groupon Makes Fun Indulgences Affordable Again!!

I have to say, 2009 was a good year. A lot of awesome things happened during those 365 days... I started a blog, cemented my already raging addiction to the phenomenon known as Lost, got serious about going more green and being smart with my money, adopted two lovable sci-fi themed cats, got accepted to grad school, and something else I can't think of right now... what was it? Ugh this is going to drive me crazy... oh RIGHT! I got engaged!! ;P

To kick-start the decade (and my lagging writing skilz), I figure I'll stir things up a bit by highlighting a rather random selection of some of my favorite components of the past year. Since I've been meaning to write about Groupon for a while now, and it does indeed happen to be one of my new favorite things, it seems like a great place to start!

"Groupon
" was coined from the combination of the words "group" and "coupon," and it is pretty much brilliance all around... every day there's a new deal organized by city, in which a business sells their services at a discount of at least 50%. These businesses range from tea houses, to fine dining, to indie art galleries, to spas, to bellydancing lessons... and that's only to mention the ones I've actually purchased myself! A typical deal might be to pay $30 for $90 worth of spa services, or $10 for a $25 gift certificate for a restaurant. There are also no stipulations for the total amount you have to spend at the restaurant or business (such as you might find using restaurants.com), so providing that you stay within budget a groupon certificate can cover the full cost of your meal or outing.

Groupon offers daily deals for 40+ cities, from Atlanta (OBVI!), to Chicago, to Phoenix, to Washington DC. Check it out!! Today's deals for Atlanta are on half-price museum admission or $20 for a horseback riding lesson, and New York's deals are on a wine and cheese tasting or half off at chocolate.com. Hmm, you probably don't have to live in New York to cash in on that last one! Sweeeeet! What will your deal be? Even if you don't love today's you'll probably be really excited about tomorrow's, so sign up for the daily email updates and something amazing will turn up soon enough. With more than 1,272,019 groupons sold and more than $63,143,960 saved... it's pretty much guaranteed! And that works for me. :)

This post is part of Works for Me Wednesday, over at We're THAT Family, and Thrifty Thursday over at Coupon Teacher. Be sure to head over there each week for lots of great tips and ideas!

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Free-and-Legal Soundtrack for the New Year! Sia, Beethoven, Thrice, Phillip Glass & More!

Ok, are y'all as music-starved as I am?? I thought so. No more of this talking, let's get to downloading.

Since I'm starting the whole classes/grad school thing this week, I'm currently on the hunt for nice interesting instrumental pieces that I can listen to while studying without being toooo distracted, so we're going to head over to Amazon for some of that right now. There's a whole CD of classical music cleverly entitled I love the 80s (that's 1880s to YOU, sonny), another CD of lush pieces by famed movie composer Phillip Glass, and then several of what HAVE to be some of Beethoven's most recognizable pieces, including Moonlight Sonata and Fur Elise. Nice, huh? Ok, on we go.

Now let's snag a nice eclectic jumble: the Sia MP3 "You've Changed" over at Paste Magazine, some live recordings from Sondre Lerche and Thrice from Daytrotter, and two downloads from the new-to-me group Lovebirds.

Then, over to iTunes for a few things worth grabbing, you'll find a smattering of random reality TV shows, as well as a free episode of cult classic Degrassi High and the original pilot episode of Lost. (!!) I'm not crazy about any of the free music this week though -- the only freebie I see worth downloading is the Discovery Download from Ian Axel.

Wait, what? Y'all want country music? Again, seriously? Ok ok fine... here, have twelve tracks from People magazine. Will that hold you for a while? I didn't even listen to them, so if I'm missing out on anything particularly good be sure to let me know and I'll go back and snag it.

Lastly... For some Christian contemporary downloads, you can also stop by and snag the "Yule-Rock" Sampler over at Total Axxess. Don't be fooled by the "Christmasy" name -- it's regular music from artists like Jars of Clay and Pillar that you can play all year long. ;P (thanks Mom by Heart!)

I imagine your ipod is fairly set now for the moment, so I'll leave you with that. Until next time!

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Menu-Planning...a feeble (picture a butter knife here) first stab

Hellooooooooo 2010! Today on NPR I heard someone refer to the past decade as "the ohs" and it kind of made me laugh, but I like it! I want it to be my vocab of the week, but I can't figure out how I would write it... to follow the estimable example of those wise decades the '80s and the '90s, it probably will look like this: '00s. Unfortunately that kind of looks like a squeal to me. Plus I'm pretty sure anybody hearing me say "the ohs" in conversation would do a double-take without the benefit of the "they're on NPR, it must be the cool thing to say" effect, so I'm not so sure how much actual exercise my new vocab will receive.

Anyway, back in the '00s I was rather disorganized, and never really managed to make an actual "meal-guide" despite propounding its merits with great solemnity and purpose. I believed every word I wrote, and still do, but my meal-guides just never really ended up quite as fleshed out as I wished they would. However, now that it's the '10s ('teens? post-'00s?) I am resolved to actually try to be more disciplined with it, and see where it takes me. Which is to say, Sunday my fiance and I talked through our meal plan for the week and then actually went shopping in an orderly organized kind of manner, and now I'm taking credit for the whole thing. ;P I will also take full credit for any resulting improvements in health, money-savings, and decreased dinner-time stress in the coming week as well. (Sorry love! Having a blog just has perks ya know)

Here's our meal plan for the first week of my graduate school career:

Sunday & Monday: Fascinating Chicken Pot-Pie
Tuesday: Twice Baked Potatoes stuffed with BBQ Chicken, Corn on the Cob
Wednesday: Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup in bread bowls
Thursday (vegetarian night): Homemade Vegetable Fried Rice
Friday: Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Soup
Saturday: night out

Lunches: Turkey and tuna sandwiches, lean cuisines.

In case you picked up on the trend, we came up with this meal plan after grabbing a rotisserie chicken at Kroger. It's a nice meal-simplifier when heading into a busy week, and a great way to ease back into doing more actual cooking after all the laziness and hustle-bustle (killer combo there) of the holidays. We'll see how it goes!

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