Friday, December 31, 2010

Recycle & 'Regift' the Christmas Detritus!

I really like the city council at the moment. I'm rather enjoying the new bike lanes and how they are landscaped, I love being a part of the GreenStreets program, and I like the chickens-in-your-backyard legislation.

I particularly approve of Metro Vancouver's amusing ad campaigns on reducing holiday waste (pre-Christmas) and their inventive initiatives post-Christmas, like this: Metro Vancouver Recycles. Yes, it's a mother-lode of a resource for finding where you can dispose of this, that and the other, but also where you can donate the unwanted items that found their way into your apartment over the holidays! Metro Vancouver Recycles links to Thrift Stores, recycling depots, and, joy of joys, here I have *finally* found a place to get rid of used batteries, including the rechargeable ones from a rather useless battery-powered toothbrush (another ghost of Christmas past, I should note!).

If you live in Belcarra, Anmore, Pitt Meadows, Tsawwassen, even Lions Bay and Bowen Island, and every larger district inbetween, check out Metro Vancouver Recycles and let your friends and neighbours know about this fantastic resource! Well done, Gregor Robertson et al!

And if you're not from this neck of the woods, I have a few generic suggestions for you:

I can't recall if it was Rich or Wendy or neither of them, but a coworker of mine came up with the terrific idea of advertising "regifting" of unwanted items at work, particularly unopened bottles of alcohol not enjoyed by the original recipient (i.e. a cheap red if you only drink white; tequila when the very sight of it makes your stomach turn, etc.). Regifted items can then be auctioned or raffled off, the proceeds of which going to charity (your local Food Bank will appreciate this, as will other organizations). A small collection of various wines is sure to pull in a fair bit of moula for your worthy cause.

Using up Christmas leftovers is also a great way to curb waste (that's a rather silly saying, isn't it? Because we want to avoid waste on the curbside! Ah well). Here's a few links on what one can do with leftover turkey:

Of the using-up-leftovers sites, I am impressed by this one - Love Food, Hate Waste. Link to their Christmas dinner leftover uses here: 

A very Happy New Year's to all! Bring in 2011 the right way - recycle well and reuse everything! No need to mention 'reduce' - I'm sure the post-Christmas credit crunch will nicely curb our shopping & spending habits for a time.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Avalon Organics Shampoo & Conditioner (on sale!)

On sale at Capers (4th and Vine) until January 1st, Avalon Organics Lavender Shampoo and Conditioner two-pack is retailing for $8.99 - half off!

A company recommended by The David Suzuki Foundation's "Dirty Dozen" (new: pocket guide link here) as frequently having products that are free of the 'dirty dozen' ingredients, Avalon Organics has shampoo and conditioners in several different scents (Lemon, Rosemary, Peppermint to name a few). I nearly bought the Rosemary, but then saw the sale and went for the Lavender two-pack.

To read more about the 'Dirty Dozen' lists, see my earlier post - David's Dirty Dozen.

Relax, Honey - It's the Holidays

One of the most popular gifts in our family this year was Meeru Dhalwala & Vikram Vij's latest cookbook, "VIJ'S AT HOME - RELAX, HONEY The warmth & ease of Indian cooking".

A truly fantastic cookbook!
It was so popular that I both gave and received a copy of the cookbook this Christmas (which is fantastic, because I was really tempted to test out some of the recipes before wrapping but abstained). I even had the opportunity to meet and chat with Vij himself when I had a copy of the book signed for my parents.

I tried out three of the recipes tonight for dinner, which was a bit of a mistake - we ended up stuffing ourselves worse tonight than at either of the two family Christmas dinners this year! All three dishes were absolutely amazing! And I made them, me. That's a great cookbook.

Rice Pilaf with Cashews, Cranberries and Saffron was so, so tasty (and easy - the directions were complete and unambiguous).

I also made Sauteed Spinach and Tomatoes (a quick version of Saag Paneer), which would have been perfect had I not attempted to substitute bocconcini cheese for paneer . . . it melted. But apart from the stringy cheese, it was delicious. And the best part of all is that you can make it with canned diced tomatoes and frozen spinach, which gives me a great option on nights when I would usually resort to the frozen pizza.

Prawns in Pomegranate Curry was the main course and although I made enough for dinner tomorrow, it was consumed by my dear fiancee who described it as "Awesome - really, REALLY good!". I liked how the recipe included this:

If you have any leftover juice, add shots of vodka and ice to it and drink as an aperitif to set a festive mood for dinner.

Thank you Meeru & Vij! It's honestly the first time in my life that I've been able to cook restaurant-tasty Indian food at home (I butcher Aloo Gobi. I try, but I always end up with soggy, ill-cooked cauliflowers and inconsistently cooked potatoes in a bizarre melange of various spices). I highly recommend this cookbook to anyone who loves Indian food even half as much as I do - good way to spend a gift certificate.

Update: February 14th (Valentine's Day)

Having a lovely dinner cooked for you at home with wine and candlelight is one of the best things going (and certainly a romantic Valentine's gesture).

Recipes taste better when made for you with love. These don't need 'love'!

Mix Vij in, and *WOW* - I had to blog about it!

"Green Beans, Potatoes & Spinach" (pg. 86). There were seconds, but he ate them!
Sablefish (which is on the Green list of most sustainable seafood lists here on the West Coast of North America) is delicious, right up there with Arctic Char in my favourite fish list!

Steamed-to-perfection spiced Sablefish (pg. 139). Awesome!!!
I learned my lesson from last time and took photos before devouring dinner! It was just awesome. I put on some Ravi Shankar (playing ragas) and lit some candles . . . absolute perfection.

I also received a Canadian Living "tested 'til perfect" Vegetarian cookbook - stay tuned for an upcoming review!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Last-Minute Gifts: Christmas Gift Summary from Green, Broke & Living in Kits


Are you ready? Like, REALLY ready? The holiday season is in full swing already, and between all of the Christmas parties (work, your partner's work, your friends, your family, your neighbours, your church or team or book club) you're going to find time to get 'er done?

I think it might be time to reassess!

Scroll all the way to the bottom for the "Christmas Dinner in a Box" joke gift!

So here we go, the "It's the last minute and I'm scrambling - HELP!" list!

From the post "Handmade Christmas? Start planning NOW!":
  • Home Baked Goodies: pound cake in a loaf tin, cookies in a pretty glass jar
  • Secret Family Recipe Cards/Books and a copy of your favourite go-to recipe book (new or used, but you might be up against it if you're wanting to buy online) 
From the posts  "Christmas Gifts that Actually Matter (from $1 to $50)" and "Intangible Charity Gifts - More Choices":
  • Virtually ANY of these you still have time for! If they can't guarantee delivery of a card to pass on to your recipient, many of these organizations offer e-cards. If that's not going to cut it for you, try the whole "right-click" over the image, "copy" and then "paste" into a Powerpoint slide. You can resize and move the image around, add text and clip art (or more "right-clicked & copied" images from the website or elsewhere) and make your own flyer or card to present to your loved one. The added bonus here is that you have unlimited creative control in terms of design and text!
  • Please, please look through these catalogues: I can guarantee that there's a 'gift' out there that is just perfect for someone on your list!

  • Good last minute ideas are: any of the local charity gifts, homemade hot chocolate/hot chai kit, herb seeds and a pot with soil to grow them in, raw materials for learning to knit, crochet or for sketching (needles, hooks and yarn or sketchbook and pencils/pencil crayons), Aquabus tickets, and you could always visit the Ten Thousand Villages store.
  • Food, coffee and wine. Edibles are where it's at! Buy the good stuff or the unusual stuff for a real treat. Make your own little hampers or baskets with the favourite foods of your recipient. Need more instruction than this? How about these small combinations to start you off:
A Christmas Dinner to go! Perfect for your goofy friend who cannot or will not cook, or for friends in rez (residence on campus) who can't make it home to enjoy a proper feast with the family. If it's for an undergrad, better include some beer.
If all else fails, pick up a wreath or a HUGE bunch of flowers or buy a poinsettia or amarylis plant and a bottle of wine. You can never go wrong with flowers and wine.

Late to press: I just found the most interesting foodstuff for a Vegetarian Christmas food hamper at T&T supermarkets - "Taisun Vegetarian Mushroom Jerky"! The link is to the weekly flyer, so apologies if it's changed by the time you read this ($2.39 instead of $3.59). I've also just discovered the existence of "Tofurky Jurky". . . . sick. I might be vegetarian, but I draw the line at jerky. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Holiday Workouts You Can Do at Home for Free

What a way to wake up in the morning - gazing lovingly at my gleaming substitute Christmas tree while sipping a cup of tea (which I didn't make, which makes it all the nicer!) and watching the news....

Only the news has to do with EXERCISE during the holidays, something that even I feel is a little off the mark. It's important to keep up with regular workouts, but mixing something in specifically for Christmastime - 'tisn't the season for that if you ask me!
from - Libby's shiny white Saucony's and a purple washcloth

But I have been inspired! Libby Norris was doing a spot on CTV* news this morning (*I listen to CBC news, then I turn on the TV - you can't get the real news off other channels!). She's a fitness guru ('master trainer') with a very inspiring website, particularly an article on "Fitness Under $20", which I think could better be named, "Free Fitness, Provided you have Access to Brooms, Washcloths, Paper Plates and Other Household Items". Her title is punchier, obviously. Other "Frugal Fitness Tips" from Libby on CTV's website, here.

Practically all the exercise equipment you need, according to

Watching her do lunges and push-ups with washcloths on a wood floor did actually encourage me - they're many of the same ab and core exercises I get at my local YMCA's Kick and Abs class (please note: the Robert Lee YMCA website appears to be having troubles this morning!).

I'd like to encourage you to try some of the exercises Libby describes while doing your holiday baking or at the end of a day of shopping; they only take a few minutes and can really help your poor old body keep up in the holiday season.

And if you're like me (i.e. you require a little encouragement to actually DO the exercises), consider signing up NOW at your local rec centre for a fitness pass or classes (and make sure you book a usually free weight room consult with a trainer! It's so helpful to receive recommended exercises). During the stress of the holidays, nevermind the baked goods, it would honestly do you wonders to struggle through and survive a challenging cardio class. There's really nothing like grunting and sweating your way through a tiring, loathsome aerobics or strength training class (or even a spin class or pilates or yoga) to help bust day-to-day stress.

Go forth and sweat! It's good for your complexion (and a million more important things, but who doesn't like clear, glowing skin looking back at you in the mirror?).

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Substitute Christmas Trees

There are many reasons why a broke, apartment dweller would skip the whole Christmas tree thing altogether - travel plans, fire insurance, building or city by-laws prohibiting trees, cost, and so on. Some will argue that a 'lovely plastic' tree (yuck) will pack up neatly into a box for storage, but I ask you - have you really got excess storage space? And do you want to commit to unpacking the same old tree for decades (which you should if you buy it - it's not like it'll decompose in the dump)? No, I don't think so either.

For two years in a row, I've gone without a tree at Christmas. My ideal tree is a living one, rootball and all, that can be gifted to the birds in the backyard adorned with then-stale cookies and popcorn strings. Alas, no backyard and several of the above restrictions apply.

First few stars and masking tape frame
Meet 2010's version of the Christmas tree in the Green, Broke & Living in Kits apartment! Inspired by today's sermon at Tenth Church, this 2-dimensional tree is made up of stars (some good, some bad) all leading to the big star at the top. I must admit that only a few of the stars represent people and experiences, but if you were to build your own, you might consider writing on each star the name of a loved one (friends and family) that you remember at Christmastime.

Mostly done... note the masking tape frame being eaten away

Last year's was a little less 2-dimensional and was accomplished by fluting sheets of green construction paper and pinning them to the wall. It also left a lot of holes in the wall.

Last year's tree, sans ornaments. Fluted construction paper and thumb tacks. Not the best place to put it, in retrospect. Avoid those baseboard heaters and radiators!

But this year, the tree is made of recycled/reused/repurposed materials: last year's Christmas cards, well-reused gift bags in need of retirement, scraps of construction paper, the interesting patten on the inside of envelopes meant to deliver cheques, wrapping paper scraps, book pages (leftovers from a past craft), origami paper, and even the box that stored last year's cards was used.

The tree, effectively, was free. The price is right!

Want to do it yourself? It's easy!

- papers, card stock, tags, bags, paper scraps of all sorts (postcards and foils from candy wrappers work, too!)
- masking tape
- a cookie cutter (mine was a star-shape)
- pencil
- scissors
- glue and glitter (optional - good to utilize if you have only flat, non-reflective papers)

How to do it:
Make an acute angle (i.e. the outline of a tree) with two long strips of masking tape. Stick gently to the wall when you've got the shape you like.
Trace and cut-out your stars.
Fold a loop of masking tape to affix the stars to the wall (top-down is how I did it). Make sure you've shuffled the cut stars well, and when you stick them to the wall, attempt to achieve balance in your design - keep the same coloured stars scattered evenly across the the tree shape. It's easy to move the stars in most cases if you're gentle and get your finger under the tape before lifting the star.
As you fill in the tree, make sure that the stars along the side align right against the masking tape 'frame'. As the stars are placed along this edge, you can peel back the masking tape that forms the frame from the areas where the stars have been placed. Use this tape to make loops for the backs of other stars!
If you're going to write names on the stars (or use glitter and glue) make sure you do this after cutting out the shape but before applying the loop of tape to the backside.

Placement of your tree:
A bare wall is an ideal place, but make sure it's not above a heater where it could pose a fire hazard!
Another great place is a door - your front door, the bathroom door, any flat door that isn't exposed to the outdoors (the dampness will not suit this activity).

That's it! Hope this inspires you to make your own non-traditional Christmas tree in your apartment.