Friday, December 30, 2011

Green & Broke in 2012 - Looking Ahead!

A belated Merry Christmas to all readers, and a Happy New Year coming up!

The Christmas season is not a happy time of year for everyone, and I'd like to acknowledge that for anyone reading who had a less-than-ideal holiday season.

Looking ahead for 2012, I'd like to give a few peeks at posts I've been working on, and some that I'd like to do:

  1. The Vintage Shopping MEGA List! Yep, as soon as I get around to Main and Commercial's gems and snap shots of them, I'll be able to put together the ultimate list of recommended places to find the best consignment and vintage clothes for the best prices. And hopefully just in time for springtime shopping!
  2. The Pura Vida Kitsilano (A Visitor's Guide to Kits). I've been inspired by Erin Morris' great blog on Costa Rica (De La Pura Vida Costa Rica), and to assuage my feelings of envy I decided that I could also write a travel blog . . . provided I kept it to my own neighbourhood. So I'm reporting on what makes Kits "Kits", and including some top souvenirs to commemorate your trip to Kitsilano, too.
  3. A Man's Guide to Kits. I know that many of my posts are decidedly feminine (how many guys do you think get excited about consignment shoes?! Just a few, at best!). So to round out my readership, I've been picking my husband's brain to come up with tips on how to live cheaply and happily in this costly place. Warning: most of it has to do with electronics so far.
  4. What I'd like to do NEXT Christmas. This post will either have to wait or come fast on the heels of this Christmas - I'm beginning to become aware of my propensity for Christmas-related posts (mostly because if you want to have a handmade Christmas, you have to start in August/September!).
  5. Meltdowns: We all have them. Help Available in Vancouver. As I mentioned in my opener, Christmastime isn't peaceful and joyful for everyone. If you don't believe me, read the news - this year's lowlights included a family massacre in Texas. Well, regardless of the time of year that stress overload occurs, it's always good to know what resources are available (especially free resources!).
That's it for drafts-in-progress for now. As always, if there's a topic you'd like me cover, please comment! Otherwise, it's just more of me prattling on about what I want to talk about.

Buy a Hope in Shadows calendar from a street vendor for $20 and help someone make an honest income.

Happy New Year to everyone! May 2012 bring much optimism and change for the better for everyone . . . and hopefully not the end of the world as the Mayan's calendar suggests (I still think some poor person with very sore arms holding a hammer and a chisel just decided to stop at 2012 thinking that his boss wouldn't care or notice). Here's to a year of less stress for everyone - my resolution: Stress Less. I recommend it.

    Saturday, December 17, 2011

    Paper-Poor Christmas Decor

    You know how they say that your one-year wedding anniversary is your "paper anniversary"? Well, I can believe it. After surviving a wedding a year prior, funds likely will be quite tight.

    Don't think that matrimony is the only thing out there that will leave you short on cash! Grad school, single parenthood, having kids plus a mortgage, under-employment, disability - we're all in this together! So don't be disheartened when television craft shows give rather costly "inexpensive holiday-decor" ideas! You're not alone - I'm broke, too. (Maybe the writers of the TV shows assume that you're still paying for cable and are therefore rich! More on this in a future post!).

    Here are a few paper-crafts that have a big impact and a certain nostalgia to them that you can make out of wrapping paper scraps, construction paper or even recycling-bin copy paper (it's generally snow-white after all!).

    Finnish Star Decoration

    These are my favourites! Quick & easy!

    Relative Difficulty: 1 out of 5 (nearly 0 out of 5 if you have access to an office paper cutter!)

    Instructions can be found here:

    Materials: paper strips (or paper + cutting instrument +/- a ruler or straightedge) and white glue or a glue stick

    This is a quick and easy project, my favourite surprise of the year! It requires just 12 strips of paper (construction, copy paper, etc.) and some glue. Because so much of it is "space", this project provides the biggest bang-for-the-buck on purchased paper. The finished product looks much more complicated than it is - impress your friends! I love its Spirograph-esque style.

    I had read the instructions quickly online and then tried to put it together myself (without referring back). I made it all the way to the last step, when I connected the two halves backwards. I still thought it was kind of neat (more of a flower than a star), so I'm going to use it to top a gift. Here's what happens if you goof up the final step:

    The two halves glued "the wrong way" = flower!

    I think you will agree that the Finnish Star is one of the most efficient and pretty paper crafts - imagine an entire ceiling hung with these! Even when done in plain old copy paper, these look stunning (I made one at work in no time at all).

    Polish Star or "Urchin" Decoration

    I know - it's an ugly example. Hey, it's the first one I ever made!

    Relative Difficulty: 4 of 5 (mostly for "fiddley-ness" of rolling paper into points)

    Instructions can be found here:
    And here as well (static images):

    Materials: wrapping paper, scissors, a CD and a nickel (for tracing), a sharp pencil (the "long" tipped way, not the stubby option), a glue stick, 2 buttons or sequins, strong thread or embroidery floss or dental floss, darning needle.Optional extras include sparkle and hairspray.

    This may be one of the ugliest Polish Star decorations ever made (I didn't have a sharp pencil! And I should have rolled the points to be longer and skinnier), but I don't want to steal someone else's handiwork without permission (follow this link to see some gorgeous examples of the craft!).

    Apparently if you do them correctly (and tidily), these make wonderful Christmas heirlooms. I think I might pass this one on to a future pet for gleeful destruction.

    Danish Paper Heart

    Relative Difficulty: 2 out of 5 (hardest part is getting the proportions right at the outset - templates exist and can be printed out to alleviate you of this potential headache!)

    Instructions: on Green, Broke & Living in Kits and here:

    Materials: paper (wrapping paper works - shiny is especially nice!) and scissors; ribbon for hanging

    You may recognize this craft from a prior Valentine's post here on Green, Broke & Living in Kits. But in actual fact, this is a traditional Christmastime craft in Denmark!

    These can be filled with goodies (they remind me more of Easter baskets than Christmas stockings), or left flat. Traditionally, they were hung on the Christmas tree and filled with sweets.

    This is a great way to use up the ends of the wrapping paper roll. They also make great gift tags if you make them small enough. And if you don't have any glue - no worries! They don't require any (unless you wanted to glue on a ribbon for hanging).

    Polish 3-D Snowflake

    Relative difficulty: 3 out of 5 (easier than they may look, but takes a bit of construction at the end)


    Materials: paper (printer/copy paper works perfectly), scissors, double-sided tape (I used glue & patience!). Optional but recommended: ruler and pencil (unless you're good at eyeballing - it worked for me).

    I've admired these for years - I've seen them in the lab and at the church office. And every time I see them, I think, "I've really got to give those a try!"

    And this is my first attempt - and it turned out pretty well! I must say that this is all the more impressive when you think about how it's just made up of 6 sheets of run-of-the-mill (ha, literally!) printer paper. One of these can easily replace a traditional front door wreath.

    And that's about it! There's always the good ol' fashioned paper chains (linked paper) and cut-and-unfold snowflakes if you have a variety of small paper scraps to use up (or if you have young children - I would only recommend the previous decorations for keen grade 4 or 5 students and up).

    The Finnish Star is still my favourite - if you want to decorate a ceiling quickly for a Christmas or New Year's party, they're one of the quickest and most efficient. Do up a couple of the Polish Snowflakes for real impact in amongst the Finnish Stars, and voila! A truly amazing display on the cheap!

    See this post for how to make a paper tree, too!

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    Another Substitute Christmas Tree

    I have another variation on the "substitute Christmas tree" for 2011! (For previous years, see my earlier post here).

    I have to say that I didn't come up with this idea on my own - it's my own interpretation of a tree I saw featured on "Stephen & Chris" (incidentally one of my least favourite programmes on CBC, but on account of a viral infection I was laid up on the couch and formed a captive audience to whatever happened to be on channel 2 at that time!). For a truly hideous alternative Christmas tree, find the lampshade one featured on the same show here.

    I murdered a novel last year to make a secret-compartment book, and I've been using up the cut-out pages for various crafts ever since. If you'd like to make a Christmas tree out of pages of print, I have a few suggestions for you before you start hacking to death a great work of fiction:
    • Buy one of the 6 copies of "Breaking Dawn" on the shelf at the Kits Salvation Army. Clearly you won't be removing a rare or beloved book from circulation by chopping up one of these. There's a few others that are in surplus - I also saw multiple copies of a novel whose title I forgot (but it's turquoise, and features a person covered in candy beads)
    • Used copy paper in the recycling bin. Black and white is effective, but colour print-outs could be cool, too!
    • Find a book you really, really hated. It's cathartic to cut out pages, fold and hot glue them to a wrapping paper roll core.
     I folded the pages simply (photos hopefully give a good explanation on their own! Worth 1000 words, right?), and glued the tips (with a hot glue gun - speediest option) to a styrofoam base. I needed extra stability so I glued that to a styrofoam tray part-way through the process! Where did I get all these supplies? From my craft drawer - and if you don't have one already, the day after Christmas is the best day to start amassing contents! Keep that gift wrap, those labels and the packaging as it can certainly be reused (and if not, it might be recyclable - more thoughts on that general subject here!).

    As I added pages (started in rounds, but changed to a spiral pattern on the way), I started to change the "slope" of the glued on pages from gentle to steep, in order to (hopefully!) mimic the shape of a tall pine like a lodgepole pine or white spruce. If you use different sizes of pages (bigger on bottom) and keep the slope of the pages relatively constant, you can recreate the fuller-body of a blue spruce or other stumpier but traditional Christmas tree.

    I put on a reused bow decoration for a temporary star (there's some really neat tutorials out there for Polish and Finnish stars I'd like to try - maybe I'll do a separate post on those if I get to them!).

    Drawbacks to a printed page tree - it's not very tall (less than a metre), and it's a terrible thing to have around advent candles or a menorah! But on the upside, it's free (or very cheap!), it's unusual, it doesn't weigh anything at all, and it's mostly recyclable (and makes good reuse of landfill-bound styrofoam - read up on Green, Broke & Living in Kits plastic recycling in Vancouver here!).

    Monday, December 5, 2011

    An Advent Conspiracy - Clean Water, Good Gifts this Christmas!

    I just wanted to share this video with all my readers (thank you for visiting my blog!).

    Even if you're not a person of faith (Christian faith in particular, but faith of all kinds are valuable in my mind), please watch this short video - there's a very important message about Canadian spending during Christmastime in contrast with solving the world's safe water access issues.

    A quick post today, I'll just link to a few places that I think relate well to the message of The Advent Conspiracy video above.

    Please remember that even if you don't believe in anything, surely you believe in "humanity". Please give to help other humans this year - after all, even if you don't believe in Jesus, Christmas came for a very deliberate reason (to save the humans!).

    Clean water - World Vision Gift Catalogue 2011 (print edition)

    Remember also Santa Claus/Saint Nicholas/Sinterklaas/Father Christmas; he was a lovely old man who gave gifts TO THE POOR. Jesus aside, "Christmas" as we know it in modern times was still meant to bless the poor! And the marginalized; an excerpt from the Wikipedia article on Santa Claus:
    Nicholas was famous for his generous gifts to the poor, in particular presenting the three impoverished daughters of a pious Christian with dowries so that they would not have to become prostitutes.
    So give a charitable gift this year - to help the homeless and hungry of the DTES, youth escaping abusive homes who are forced to sleep on the streets, the women forced into the sex-trade by addiction and poverty, or look more broadly and contribute to foreign aid around the world.

    Some favourite related links of mine:
    I bought a goat - and Visa donated an extra $20 on top of that. Great deal!

    And some past blog posts related to ethical Christmas gifts:

    Saturday, December 3, 2011

    Spices on the Cheap, and Edible Christmas Gifts

    The Parthenon Supermarket on West Broadway is the cheapest place in Kits to buy spices, particularly those from the Mediterranean region. It's also a great place to go for unique foods to make up a Christmas hamper or box of edible goodies for foodies!

    Unfortunately, the Parthenon was closed for quite some time due a second suspicious fire (never a dull moment in what I like to call "Greeksilano" - I could relate stories from my year or two there that would perhaps come as a surprise to non-Greek Canadians everywhere! Whole lamb roasts right in the middle of our back alley, fights between Athenian Greeks and the others, etc.). I for one like the ethnic excitement and intrigue. I also like Olympia Pizza and the many delicious Greek bakeries there. And of course my landlady, who used to stuff us full of Greek sweets (including a very weird unripe tiny eggplant in sugar syrup delicacy, I think it was called glyko melitzanaki. . . I definitely prefer kourabiedes!). If you're not familiar with Greek culture and cuisine, an excellent educational (and culinary) experience is "Greek Day" in the summertime (June 24, 2012 is the next one!). And that goes double if you like to eat lamb! I personally stick to the sweets, partly because of vegetarianistic tendencies, but mostly because of the garlic and red onion. It's a tragic food intolerance - pity me!

    Israeli couscous is yummy!

    This time, I came across a spice called "Mahlepi". So I bought it! Yes, I may have hoarding tendencies when in comes to spices - I like to have absolutely everything at hand so I can try new recipes! There's nothing more frustrating than going with a list of ingredients to a grocery store, only to be unable to find that one crucial spice. This has happened to me so many times that I've developed some sort of psychological issue, and so I hoard spices as a result! And when I saw "Mahlepi", I knew it would fill a chink in the armour of my flavouring arsenal!

    Mahlepi, according to the internet, is also called "Mahlab" in Arabic. Here's the blurb from
    Mahlepi (Mahleb in Arabic) is an unusual Greek spice with a distinctive, fruity taste. The finely ground mahlepi powder is made from the inner kernels of fruit pits of a native Persian cherry tree. For many Greeks, the sweet smell of mahlepi always suggests the aroma of freshly-baked tsoureki, a traditional sweet bread with mahlepi baked for Greek Easter. Mahlepi is also used in holiday cakes and cookies.
    So perhaps it won't be quite as versatile as Sumac (also spelled "Sumaq"). Sumac is one of my all-time favourite spices - give it a try! (If you've used Za'atar seasoning, you've had sumac before). The description from Silk Road Spice Merchant:
    Sumac is the berry of a shrub that grows in the Mediterranean and parts of the Middle East. It is little known in Western cuisine, but it is an essential ingredient in Arab and especially Lebanese cooking. It has a tart, fruity flavour, and is used to add acidity to food in the same way that lemon is used in Canada and tamarind is used in Asian countries. Fresh sumac is occasionally called for in recipes, but outside of the regions where it is grown, sumac is generally only available dried and ground.
    One of the green and affordable gift options I like to suggest is a box or hamper of non-perishable specialty food items that suits the tastes of the intended recipient. The possibilities are truly endless - you can put in all the non-perishable ingredients for a certain recipe (or recipes for a multi-course meal). You could also just do a "theme".

    If you have deep pockets, buy a cookbook (I can recommend a few! The ReBar and Moosewood cookbooks are some of my favourites. And that Canadian Living Vegetarian (see 'recommend' link) one turned out to be awesome, by the way!), and then flip through to find out what spices you need (get them all!) and non-perishable but atypical pantry items. Wouldn't that make a perfect gift? Buy a few vegetables / meat for a recipe and know that you have everything else you need at home!

    For example:

    A hodge-podge of the recipient's favourite foods. I went for the unusual, hard-to-find or expensive versions of their usual fare. I can't say much more, 'cause this is meant to be a surprise!

    Indian foods - spices (O, the Spices!), dried lentils, rice, chai tea mixes - maybe throw in some incense or an Indian music CD). Recommended shops: Sabzi Mandi, any grocer in "Little India" (Main and 49th), even the ethnic section of Superstore will leave you in fairly good stead.

    Japanese - this one is easy! Sushi rice, rice vinegar, low-sodium soya sauce, bamboo sushi rolling mat and bamboo rice paddle, nori (seaweed), and if you want to get away from this sushi-theme, just shop around at any Fujiya location, or on Robson drop by Konbiniya (our favourite - better value than Fujiya).

    Thai - cans of coconut milk, red curry paste, yellow and green curry pastes, sambal oelek, laos (galangal powder), rice vermicelli noodles, kaffir lime leaves, sweet chili sauce, or go very simple and get a ready-made Pad Thai sauce. Don't forget some peanuts, too!

    A star-themed basket?! Know an astronomer?

    I could go on and on - more ideas:
    • African foods
    • Mediterranean foods
    • European (in general) or by country (France and Italy probably should involve a bottle of wine!)
    • Middle Eastern foods
    • Scandinavian fare (hit up Ikea for this one!)
    • Former USSR fare (this could be such a cool mix!)
    • Regions of China (Szechuan, Hunan, Hong Kong, even Taiwanese)
    • Around the World (a little bit of everything!)
    • Buddhist cuisine staples / Vegetarianism / Vegan
    • Star-themed (see image above) for the astronomer or thespian - stelline pasta, tre stelle parmigiano-reggiano (it doesn't need refrigeration), a can of Rockstar mixer, a wine a star on the label, a star-shaped ice cube tray, candy star sprinkles, and a star-shaped cookie cutter!
    • Kosher only (you can buy adorable dreidels at Solly's for $0.95!)
    95 cents for a dreidel at Solly's on W. Broadway

    Remember, though, that some of the spices, oils and hard-to-find imported items can really add up! Keep it affordable by including the staple carbohydrate sources (pasta, rice, lentils, pulses, beans, noodles, etc.). And  do shop around to price out your items - places like The Gourmet Warehouse have fabulous selection, but their prices can be steep (though in other cases, they can have some great deals). Be sure to do your homework! And do consider The Parthenon Supermarket if you're looking for Greek, Mediterranean or European items!

    If you want to really go the extra mile, fill a pot, pan, or serving platter (Ming Wo is the cheapest place I know of next to Ikea!) with your items. Ming Wo and Ikea both have great deals on scrubbies, dishcloths and tea towels to round out your foodie gift, to act as wadding, or to line the bottom of your platter, dish or pan to prevent a heavy item from scratching it during transport and delivery!

    Thursday, December 1, 2011

    The Dirty Apron Cooking School

    I am loathe to write another post and bump Stellar Seeds, Stellar People from the front page, but I thought you may benefit from my review of the 4 hour hands-on cooking classes at The Dirty Apron Cooking School and Delicatessen in 'Crosstown'.

    This "culinary playground" truly is a memorable, fun and delicious experience! We received gift certificates from friends (lovely friends!) as a wedding gift, and cashed them in this week for "Ocean Potion II" (or 'seafood 2' - there were no prerequisites, thankfully!).
    "Starting off the class you will be shown how to make fresh Dungeness Crab Cakes and Smoked Paprika Grilled Prawns with Lemon Citrus Yogurt. This is followed by Citrus Butter Crusted Salmon with a White Balsamic Butter Sauce, and polished-off with a luscious Pear Poundcake with a Vanilla Red wine Reduction for dessert." - 
    We had Takashi and Mallorie teaching the 4 hour long course, and it was so much more enjoyable than I had anticipated! I mean, you never know what you might face: snobby foodies; instructors that expect you have the skills of a sous chef to begin with; obnoxious attendees, etc.! I'm quite the vivid worrier, aren't I?

    But it was relaxed, VERY informative and highly instructive, and both Takashi and Mallorie, as well as the dining room and deli staff, were friendly, chatty and engaging. I absolutely loved it.

    I'm a note taker. My husband is not. His folder is now the nice one.

    This is not one of the cheaper recommendations that I will make on this blog, as classes start at $150 per person (you do get a multi-course meal with paired wine out of it, on top of first-rate instruction and premium-grade ingredients). But it is a green gift idea for someone special in your life! They even reuse the little plastic portion containers that your ingredients come in (did I mention that everything is pre-measured?! That's one of the best parts! Dump in and whisk! Or mix and coat!).

    Oh, these are mine. Theirs are nicer!

    It really was lovely. The knife set you get to use is better than any I'd handled before (it makes such a difference!), and I love cooking on gas ranges (also a novelty for me!). The food was amazing, despite the fact that I made it, and the instruction was wonderful - there are a couple rows of chairs facing the front demonstration counter, and mirrors affixed to the ceiling so that you can have both a direct and bird's eye view of the preparation. My favourite aspect of the course was the tips, tricks and "fixes" - how to thin out a butter sauce that's stiffened up (never put it back on the heat!), the cheapest and best places to buy crab (Granville Island, right off the boat), why you are much more likely to get a parasite from sashimi in Asia than in Canada, the fastest way to shell a tiger prawn, how to perfectly cook salmon, etc., etc. I learned so much! Even the best way to chop a shallot and to properly sliver garlic - two things I might NEVER use again (curse this wretched food intolerance of mine! BAH!).

    Actually, some of the most useful tips were in hosting a dinner party: what to do when, what can be done well in advance, how to time it right, easy and breathtaking garnishes, plating, etc.!

    Honestly, if you like to entertain at home, The Dirty Apron is the place to go!

    Nothing was forgotten - the 'servers' in the dining room (who also greet you at the door, take your coats and give you your recipe binder and apron) clear your plates, bring bread baskets, and offer you wine (or beer), and coffee and tea with dessert. They are friendly and talkative, and the dining room is beautiful with it's rough-hewn wooden slab tables and tidy but intimate ambiance. Their little deli is impressive too - not nearly the selection of The Gourmet Warehouse, but they do sell the ingredients used in the classes (which may seem obvious, but I've been places where this sort of oversight has happened!), and at first glance I'm fairly sure that the prices are reasonable, if not cheaper than their competition. Lovely!

    A Dirty Apron gift certificate is a highly, highly recommended Christmas gift if you can swing that $150 (best to go with a friend or partner as it's typically two to a station, though you get all your own knives, pots and ingredients - you make your own meal!).

    We had the leftover pear poundcake and red wine reduction for breakfast the following day.

    Thank you Ciara, Jordan & Wendy!!!