Kitchen: Asparagus Omelette with Comté and Fresh Herbs

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Part of the challenge of cooking for one (or two) is creating new delicious meals you can finish in one sitting. Of course I am also a fan of stocking the fridge with great homemade dishes I can heat up at mealtime– tomato sauce bolognese, chicken curry or pork carnitas– but every once in a while we prefer to feast on something fresh off the stove.

Here is the recipe for the omelette we made this morning for the two of us. I think omelettes are a great way to start off the day, and just like quiche, you can fill it with anything you’d like! Enjoy!

Asparagus Omelette with Comté and Fresh Herbes

Ingredients (for 2):

  • 4 eggs, beaten.
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley.
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh chives.
  • 1/2 cup chopped skinny asparagus.
  • 1/2-1 cup shredded Comté, or other semi-hard cheese of your choice.
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

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In a nonstick pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Saute the chopped asparagus with some salt and pepper until soft, 3-5 minutes. Remove the asparagus from the pan.

Add some oil if necessary to the pan and raise the heat to medium-high. Pour in the eggs and allow the mixture to fill the pan and begin to cook. Using a spatula, gently lift up the edges of the egg as it hardens so that it will be easier to fold.

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Once the egg has cooked half-way and there is still some raw egg in the center, lower the heat. Add in the cooked asparagus to one half of the egg. Sprinkle the cheese evenly on top of the asparagus. Gently lift the other side of the egg with the spatula and fold it over. 

Allow the omelette to cook a few seconds more before flipping the entire omelette once to finish cooking the egg. Remove the omelette from the heat and sprinkle with fresh herbs. Bon appétit!

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Wardrobe: Outfit #2 and Defining “Chic” for Yourself

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Outfit #2: Ann Taylor shirt+BCBG shorts+ivory flower necklace

I’m continuing my attempt at Courtney Carver‘s challenge for minimalist fashion– Project 333— by showing you the outfits I create out of the eleven pieces I selected. As you know, I have been downsizing my wardrobe this summer in order to move into a small apartment in SoCal. I must admit that it has been tempting to pair outfits in advance to see how many combos I can pull together, but my first advice from this project is: construct your outfits one day at a time!

My previous post on Project 333 explains that I will be wearing 11 items in 1 month (with a few exceptions such as shoes, my bag and sunglasses) to demonstrate how easy it is to maximize the potential of a small wardrobe. The end result is to purchase only what we need or absolutely love, and allow our budget for each item to rise a bit. That way, we can purchase beautiful pieces to wear for years.

The eleven pieces!

The eleven pieces!

I love what Courtney Carver herself has to say about a simple wardrobe: “Simplicity in the closet lends itself to personal style. Instead of chasing trends, you can finally wear clothing that fits your body and your lifestyle. It may take some time to figure out how you want to dress, but soon you’ll feel more comfortable, receive more compliments, and be better dressed with less.”

Instead of chasing trends, you can finally wear clothing that fits your body and your lifestyle. This is fantastic news– how great is it to actually develop your signature look? I can tell you that the compliments will start flowing in no time!

 

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Why I chose these pieces: A loose silk top goes perfectly with almost anything. It tucks into shorts for a “romper” look; it pairs well with high-waisted skirts for a more polished ensemble; and it goes with your favorite pair of pants.

On top of that, these shirts are super flattering and comfortable!

I was also lucky enough to find a top and shorts that are pretty close in color. This outfit would look great with monochromatic pieces. The easiest pairings are, of course, white on white or black on black. Très chic!

Where to find these pieces: As I mentioned in my first Project 333 post, the sale rack is a great place to look for silk tops and flattering shorts. You’ll be surprised to discover how versatile a plain dressy shirt can be! My top is from Ann Taylor (similar here) and shorts from BCBG. (Psst! Banana Republic is having a 40%-off everything sale RIGHT NOW)

Pull the look together: With a funky necklace, cat-eye sunglasses and a natural red lipstick. My sunnies are from Anthropologie (similar here); necklace from my mom in the 80s, and lipstick from Cle de Peau Beaute in 103S (absolutely LOVE this line).

 

Journal: Instagram and Other Fake Lives

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I recently read an op-ed in the New York Times that encourages us to look closely at the lives we portray on social media– and question whether it deprives us of true happiness. Envy, the author says, often drives or proceeds from our portrayals of perfection in cyberspace; not only do we desire to imitate others, we also desire to outdo others. And in the meantime, we are missing out on real life.

I don’t think that these new cyberspace platforms can be properly assessed as absolutely good or bad. With a positive spin, social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and yes, blogging) is a brilliant way to share your story and ideas with others. It helps us put our best selves out there and inspire each other to grow and change.

But with a negative spin, these media are all about constructing an image of ourselves that only represents the highlights that we are proud of. Even our public confessions can take on a constructed, perfectionist pretense that fools others into believing that all our thoughts are coherent and presentable. The human experience is most certainly not so.

So, how is a blogger to take this in stride? Well, we can begin by remembering that we are not our blogs. Our blogs only represent a part of us– a coherent, carefully selected facet that is designed to be useful to others. And this is a good thing! In addition to my Journal category, I like to keep a real paper journal, the contents of which I can decide whether or not to publish. These blog posts are constructed to be encouraging and useful, rather than a word vomit of everything that has crossed my mind today.

Finally, there is life beyond social media, beyond personal blogs. There is life outside of what is simply trendy or popular, or what can be found in department store windows or lifestyle magazines. Simplicity Relished is, in part, about how to build that life.

Want to read more about simplifying your life? Check out these great suggestions from Joshua Becker’s suggestions for the weekend!

Travel: Japanese Coast and Countryside in Hokkaido

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Hokkaido is the northern-most island of Japan, known both for its cherry blossoms and ice sculptures. We were there this summer for five days and we absolutely loved the landscape, culture and people. Here are a few highlights from the trip!

  • Tasting sea urchin right out of the shell at the Japanese market– we are HUGE uni fans!
  • Enjoying raw milk products such as cheesecake, ice cream and custard.
  • Hiking along the coast over clear blue waters.
  • Feeding an alpaca and getting to hug it!
  • Walking through the Sapporo shopping center alongside local businesspeople.
  • Relaxing in fields of flowers and fragrant lavender.
  • Gorgeous calm on a quiet rocky beach.

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Wardrobe: Project 333 and the Challenge of Minimalist Fashion

Fashionable Minimalism: Can I make it through a month wearing only these?

Fashionable Minimalism: Can I make it through a month wearing only these?

There is nothing like packing and moving once every six to eight months to make us realize how much stuff we’ve accumulated. And yet, though I’ve packed, moved and stored every half year since 2010, I still have tons of possessions, and admittedly find myself eyeing more things. What is happening?!

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My list isn’t quite the same as Phil’s, but sometimes this is me at the mall or Williams-Sonoma.

Here’s my diagnosis of the situation: it’s not entirely my fault, but it’s still my fault. We live in a generation of excess; in fact, we’ve celebrated it for quite a while. Despite recent claims that the “happiest income” is $50-$75k, not many people in my immediate communities seem even to be trying to live on less. Ever since World War II, we Americans have proudly led the international economy, and we built gigantic home refrigerators to prove it. So it’s not entirely my (or your) fault that we are stuck with lots of things.

But, I still have to own up to why, every so often, I discover clothing in my closet that I did not even know that I had. Moreover, it’s often relatively high-quality clothing that I purchased within the past 8 years, thinking that it was totally my style. With regards to fashion, we allow our tastes to change too much; I myself vacillated between Yoko and Blair Waldorf within a seven-year window. Trying to determine my own sense of style was costly, and I’m still assessing the damages.

Now that I am married and will be sharing a closet with someone, it’s time to downsize— permanently. In addition to discovering fellow bloggers who share my passion (and far exceed my determination) for simplicity, I’ve decided to take some of their advice to simplify my own life before it gets too complicated. And I’m starting with my closet!

Enter Project 333…

Project 333, created by Courtney Carver just a few years ago, is a challenge for everyone to live on less by keeping fewer clothes in the closet. Her goal? Wear only 33 items over the course of 3 months (details here). Wow! I’m inspired already.

Since I’m currently moving, most of my belongings are in boxes ready for pickup, so I don’t actually have 33 items on hand. So instead of 33 over 3, I will make it my goal to show you it’s possible to get by on as few as 11 items in 1 month. The challenge here is not so much about getting rid of things, but determining which 11 items should make the cut– namely, the fashion staples. If we are to downsize our wardrobes, then we’ll need some gorgeous, high-quality pieces that are versatile and long-lasting: pieces that we will be proud to wear everyday, and worthy of the extra care or dry-cleaning.

A quick disclaimer: Because I’ve shrunk the numbers so much, I will be making a few exceptions to the number 11. I’ll be excluding shoes (for foot health), my only handbag, my driving sunglasses, and earrings (which don’t take up space). Hopefully it won’t look like I’m cheating!

My Eleven Items

  1. My favorite Ann Taylor jeans.
  2. Vintage Missoni knit.
  3. Pink Ann Taylor mid-thigh skirt.
  4. C Wonder chambre button-down.
  5. Beige silk scarf.
  6. Olive BCBG shorts.
  7. Olive silk shirt.
  8. Long gold and pearl necklace.
  9. Vintage ivory flower necklace.
  10. Vintage Escada shirt.
  11. Yellow cotton dress.
The eleven.

The eleven– yikes!

In the following days, I will be showing you different combinations of these 11 pieces and explaining my reasoning behind selecting them. I hope you find my outfits inspiring and encouraging; ultimately, I hope we’ll all feel less inclined to jump on the next fashion trend or run to the mall on a bad day. Thanks in advance for your support!

OUTFIT #1: Missoni shirt + jeans + gold pearl necklace

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Dress up your favorite jeans with a fancy top and a glam long necklace.

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I love pairing gold and pearl elements with practically anything– such an elegant combo.

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A topknot, Breakfast-at-Tiffany’s style sunnies, and a pink lip make this look clean and polished.

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Let down your hair and take off the heavy jewelry for an off-duty look.

Let down your hair and take off the heavy jewelry for an off-duty look.

How to put together your take on this look:

  • Find a pair of jeans you feel great in– one that’s ok for the office.
  • Select a bright, bold shirt that you think is beautiful. It doesn’t have to be designer, but it should be high-quality. If you’re shopping for one, try the sale racks at high-end department stores, vintage consignment shops, BCBG, Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, C Wonder, J Crew, Anthropologie, or another favorite.
  • Select a long, versatile, neutral-colored necklace that you love.
  • Pull the look together with polished hair and makeup. I almost always wear lipstick!

Journal: The Purpose of Blogging

Oasis in Yellowstone National Park

Oasis in Yellowstone National Park

Here is a story I am unafraid to tell. I started this blog, Simplicity Relished, in the middle of a panic. It was late winter in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I had a senior honors thesis to complete. This was a project that had been not only selectively funded but also eagerly anticipated by some excellent scholars who were deeply invested in my education. Furthermore, I was told that the senior thesis would be the “crowning jewel” of my college academic career– and that unless I was to pursue a Ph.D., it could also be my final foray into pure academic research. With the thesis due in mid-March, I was feeling some pressure.

 

I mention the senior thesis because to a college senior, it was a really big deal. (Outside of the undergraduate History department, however, perhaps not.) At least for us, whether or not we wrote a thesis would come to define our senior year– namely, whether we would work hard or play hard. But somewhere in my tired intellect and diminishing confidence was a desire to step outside. The howling winds and snow-turned-ice were hardly a welcoming environment, but neither was the drafty library in which I found myself holed up, day after day. I daydreamed of a simpler life (though, arguably, reading and writing all the time is pretty simple), where there would be an oasis to which I could escape from the pressures of my narrow research niche, which felt a bit more like a burrow at that point. Perhaps a getaway was just beyond my reach, and if I tried hard enough I could go there without leaving my desk.

 

So I created Simplicity Relished that very moment. I had no idea what it would become, but I allowed myself not to plan anything. I wrote my first post, Desperation and Creativity, within the 10-minute break I gave myself.

 

The release was magical and immediate. It gave me momentum to find my nonacademic voice alive and well. And it seemed I could write about American intellectual history again. Just knowing I had a space that was just my own, without creative expectations or the burden of a due date, I felt better about my “real” work. 

 

Now that I’ve graduated from college and am transitioning into a new stage, Simplicity Relished has become more than just an escape from intellectual turmoil. I write to encourage, to remember, to confess, to comfort and to reflect– with close friends and fellow bloggers alike. I have already begun to look back at older posts and appreciate the moments I captured in words and photographs. SR also reminds me that despite all the senseless noise in this day and age, someone is always saying something soulful, and we should listen.

 

Perhaps my blogging story is a bit dramatic, and you wonder why anyone else should start a blog, or why I should keep mine going. To encourage us all, I would like to share Joshua Becker’s reflections on why we should blog. His listed reasons have given voice to my new desires, now that I have long recovered from my thesis. 

 

So why do you blog, and what do you look for in a blog? I would love to know!

Kitchen: The (im)Perfect Quiche

Homemade quiche with bacon, arugula and shallots.

Homemade quiche with bacon, arugula and shallots.

I know I’ve posted about quiche already on this blog, so why do it again? Partly because after my recent trip to Paris, my obsession with this iconic bistro dish has only grown; also because I promised to offer solutions to making weekday meals for one or two people on a budget. A good quiche satisfies the francophilic foodie in me, being the absolute perfect French comfort food. I also hope to convince you that it’s a great option for the busy or frugal person, and it’s relatively easy to make. With a healthy dose of flexibility, you can bake a very delicious first quiche– and without any fancy kitchen tools!

 

But before I get ahead of myself I should quote Thomas Keller, who believes that Americans have killed the quiche since it arrived on our shores in the 1970s. In his words, we “trashed it without ever knowing what it was. And now it’s all but gone. I think it’s a mechanical problem, not having the right tool– a ring mold about two inches high. … Instead, a pie pan was commonly substituted for the two-inch ring mold. And then came the premade pie shell. Who would want to eat quiche made in that?” (Bouchon). 

 

Well, some of us would still deign to eat a quiche with a premade crust baked in a pie pan: those of us who do not have hours to perfect Keller’s arduous quiche crust recipe, available in his book. While our homemade quiches might not demonstrate the same lascivious “quiver” when poked with a fork, or the heavenly crunch and subsequent crumble of the crust, it will do well enough for nourishing our busy lives and our semi-sophisticated appetites. Sorry in advance, Tom Keller, for our imperfect quiches. 

 

Now that we’re free from the shackles of culinary perfection, we can fill a quiche with nearly anything our hearts desire. In the following recipe I use bacon, arugula and shallots, but you should feel free to experiment. Mushrooms, spinach, ham, and onions are common ingredients, as well as bleu cheese or tomatoes. My favorite quiche in Paris was made with haricots verts— delicate, slender, scrumptious French green beans (below).

At the Rose Bakery, in the Bon Marche.

At the Rose Bakery, in the Bon Marche in Paris.

The best part? For less than $10, you can create a delicious quiche and keep it in the refrigerator for quite a few days. If you’re crunched for time at breakfast, lunch or dinner– or if you find yourself entertaining– a slice of quiche is always a good thing to heat up!

 

Bacon, Arugula and Shallot Quiche

Ingredients:

  • Pie crust, defrosted. (Or, make your own dough.)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup whipping cream or whole milk
  • 2 shallots, diced.
  • 6 slabs of bacon, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces.
  • 2 cups arugula, coarsely chopped.
  • 1.5 cups shredded Comte (or semi-hard cheese of your choice)
  • 1 tsp Herbes de Provence

 

Preheat the oven to 350F. Saute the bacon over medium heat, until the fat renders. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and place over a paper towel. In the same pan with remaining bacon grease, saute the diced shallots over low heat along with the Herbes de Provence. Cook until the shallots begin to smell sweet and turn translucent. Drain the shallots and keep the leftover grease. 

 

Prepare the pie crust by placing the dough into a 9-inch pan or ramekin. Layer the bacon and shallots at the bottom, and cover with chopped arugula. Whisk together the eggs, cream/milk, and a splash of the bacon grease until well blended. Slowly pour the mixture into the pie crust. Allow the liquid to settle between the arugula and bacon before sprinkling the cheese evenly over the top.

 

Bake the quiche for approximately 1/2 hour, checking on it periodically. The quiche is done when the top begins to brown just slightly and appears solid. Let the quiche stand for at least 10 minutes before serving. 

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Travel: Flânerie in the City of Light

flâ·neur, n. an idler or lounger.

flâ·neur, n. an idler or lounger.

Everyone has their Paris list. Whether we’ve had the opportunity to travel there or not, the City of Light possesses an iconic quality unmatched by any other metropolitan space. Constantly, a myriad of individuals– from tour guides to anthropologists to fashion designers– await the unsuspecting non-expert to ask them what exactly makes Paris, Paris; and then, you better get comfortable, because their odes to the city could hardly get any longer.

 

Having had the pleasure to visit three times now, I could write an ode to Paris too. But to be quite honest, I’m a bit too timid to join the ranks of individuals who have found in Paris a muse, a home, or a lover. From Hemingway to Stein to Fitzgerald, the Lost Generation on its own is intimidating enough. Throw in the most influential designers of the past few centuries, some exceptional culinary geniuses and the unapologetically gorgeous architecture, and I’m barely a leaf in the pond. I can hardly express to Paris what I owe to it, but I can show you a few of my favorite corners. If you have a chance to visit, here are some unconventional experiences (and tips!) that are not to be missed.

 

Even the flowers are more fragrant in France... no wonder it's the fragrance capital of the West!

Even the flowers are more fragrant in France… no wonder it’s the fragrance capital of the West!

Staying in an apartment instead of a hotel. We stayed in a lovely one-bedroom in the 6th arrondisement, which turned out to be a perfect location. Looking for lodging? Check out Air BnB, or our favorite: Haven in Paris. (Haven in Paris also has a phenomenal blog celebrating the city).

The 6th arrondisement has both wide intersections and little alleys; the perfect place to explore.

The 6th arrondisement has both wide intersections and little alleys; the perfect place to explore.

Window shopping– but not just at des Galeries Lafayette. Wander around the 6th arrondisement, starting from the Boulevard St. Germain. Take some advice from Chic Shopping Paris, and find boutiques and craft shops that are off the beaten path. My favorite shopping past-time was meandering through Marche d’Aligre. From fresh produce to cured meats and cheeses to vintage trinkets, this must be where the savvy non-elite like to barter and bargain.

Approaching the Marche Aligre-- fresh produce ready to sell.

Approaching the Marche Aligre– fresh produce ready to sell.

Marche Aligre

Marche Aligre

Boucherie-- a butcher's job is to be taken very, very seriously in Paris.

Boucherie– a butcher’s job is to be taken very, very seriously in Paris.

A great home design shop in the 4th!

A great home design shop in the 4th!

Snacking on eclairs, cakes, and chocolates. The word dessert has French roots for a reason. Not sure where to start? Book a tour with Paris By Mouth— and check out their amazing website. I say, whatever you do, don’t miss Carl Marletti; he’s an eclair genius. 

Carl Marletti's patisserie in the Quartier Latin.

Carl Marletti’s patisserie in the Quartier Latin.

About to sink my teeth into a Carl Marletti chocolate eclair-- for the second time.

About to sink my teeth into a Carl Marletti chocolate eclair– for the second time.

Chocolate in France means perfection, subtlety, and creativity. You'll never buy Hershey's (or Godiva, for that matter) again!

Chocolate in France means perfection, subtlety, and creativity. You’ll never buy Hershey’s (or Godiva, for that matter) again!

Relaxing outdoors. We are partial to the Jardin Luxembourg, but Paris is full of gorgeous parks complete with tailored gardens, running children and bubbling fountains. If you’re in the mood for an adventure, take the metro out of the city to Bois de Boulogne, where savvy Parisians exercise in style. It’s the perfect place for an all-day stroll, picnic, or rowing on the lake.

Bois de Boulogne

Bois de Boulogne

Chocolate cake at the Luxembourg Gardens-- a must-do.

Chocolate cake at the Luxembourg Gardens– a must-do.

Dining like a local. This is one of the best things about traveling on your own: no group tour meals (which we all know are sub-par). Still, this means you’ll have to do your own research. In recent years it has become more and more common for chefs at high-end restaurants (read: several-hundred-euro dinners) to open up their own atelier. One of our favorites was Terroir Parisien by Yannick Alleno. At these more affordable prices, the ambiance might be compromised but the food never is. Be sure to make some reservations where you can!

Selecting some cheeses during our Paris by Mouth food tour.

Selecting some cheeses during our Paris by Mouth food tour.

Some charcuterie and a baguette are never a bad choice for lunch.

Some charcuterie and a baguette are never a bad choice for lunch.

Enjoying charcuterie and cornichons at Terroir Parisien. The French like to start dinner with a plate full of meat. I say, pourquoi-pas?

Enjoying charcuterie and cornichons at Terroir Parisien. The French like to start dinner with a plate full of meat. I say, pourquoi-pas?

Going slow. Select a few classic sites and enjoy them fully. The problem with a city like Paris is that you can visit for two weeks, be busy from dawn to midnight, and still never see everything. Our advice? Don’t even try. Take a hint from Alastair Sawday and the go-slow movement, and choose between the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, and between the Musée d’Orsay and the Louvre (I’m partial to the d’Orsay). Instead of running through the streets of Paris like maniacal tourists, we chose to sit by the Seine and watch the day go by, à la France

Ste-Chapelle-- stained-glass windows with images from books of the Bible. Fascinating!

Ste-Chapelle– stained-glass windows with images from books of the Bible. Fascinating!

Montmartre.

Montmartre.

Houseboats on the Seine. La vie est belle!

Houseboats on the Seine. La vie est belle!

Have you been to Paris? What are your travel tips and resources? And, if Paris is still on your bucket list, don’t worry; it won’t be going away anytime soon. Even Hitler could not destroy Europe’s most iconic city, so be patient– your time will come. 

 

And now, it is time for me to sit around and wonder whether another jaunt to Paris is in the books for the next several years. Good thing I’m taking Thomas Keller’s advice on how to bring French comfort food to our home kitchen! Au revoir!

Home: Guide to Getting Rid of Clothes (and other things)

Gently-used clothes that need a new home

Gently-used clothes that need a new home!

If you’re like me, you care about the things you throw away and where they’re going. Recently, I began to actually clean out my closet at the home where I grew up, and I discovered dozens of clothes I rotated in and out of my college closet and items I no longer needed. I also found some toys and trinkets I had held onto out of sentiment and really needed to pass them on.

 

When I was growing up, my family often gave gently-used items to our friends in need, hoping they would help us distribute our unwanted possessions to others in need. It’s not a bad idea, but it puts the onus on someone else to “steward” your old things. Sometimes, they’ll know just the person to give it to; other times, it probably sits in their garage for months or years, collecting dust and taking up space, because we did not put in the extra effort. This “free” middle-man strategy to giving, I believe, can’t be the best possible way.

 

After researching some alternatives, I present to you my Guide to Getting Rid of Clothes. It requires some extra effort, but knowing that these items will be put to good use helps me 1) clean more ruthlessly and practically; and 2) know that the money spent on those items did not go completely to waste. Are you in the middle of cleaning or moving? Here are some steps you can take:

1) Start by asking yourself the right question.

  • The question is not: “Do I still want this?” Instead, the question is: “If someone else needs this, or could use this well, do I want to keep it to myself?”
  • You may have the opportunity to get some spending money out of your clothes if you feel you want some new things– keep reading!

2) Divide unwanted items by quality and value.

  • You can create 4 major categories: Consignment/Resale, Charity (new), Charity (used), and Trash. I’ll explain these categories in a second, and what organizations are appropriate for them.

3) Bag appropriate items for mail, delivery, or reselling.

  • Commit to actually mailing, delivering, or reselling these things. Don’t just move them from your closet to your car! Schedule a time to run these errands and go.

4) If any items are turned away, try Plan B.

  • Sometimes charities and resale/consignment stores will turn away your things. Accept their decision and move those items to a different category.

 

Consignment and buy-sell-trade stores are always looking for designer items.

Consignment and buy-sell-trade stores are always looking for classic- and new-designer items.

The Categories Explained

  • Consignment/Resale. Ever heard of Crossroads Trading Company or Second Time Around? These types of stores are located all over the country and are a great option for getting rid of designer or high-quality, barely-used clothing, shoes and accessories. Why should you consider this option rather than just sending your stuff to Goodwill? Because if you desire to give to those in need, they will probably prefer a gift card purchased with the money you earn rather than your designer items. Furthermore, if you have your eye on something you can’t quite afford, selling your things can get you there. Visit your local store’s website for details on selling or consigning your items.
  • Charity (new). There are things consignment and resale stores will not take, which you will discover once you try. They might take only one of your items! So, this category is for good, quality items that might not be in perfect condition or designer-brand. Do you have office-appropriate clothing and accessories such as blazers, bags, or shoes? Try giving them to Dress For Success, a nonprofit that helps underprivileged women navigate the job-application process. Do you have bras in good condition? Mail them to Free The Girls, a nonprofit that offers women ex-slaves around the world the option of selling bras in their local clothing market. Want to get rid of formal and semiformal gowns and evening-wear that still look great? Consider sending them to The Princess Project, where they will be distributed or sold at low prices to girls in need of a special outfit for prom. Finally, do you have toys, little trinkets, stuffed animals or children’s books in good condition? Put them in a shoe box and send them to Operation Christmas Child, to give Christmas gifts to children around the world. (With all these drives, read and follow their instructions carefully!)
  • Charity (used). These are the items that would not sell, are not appropriate for specific clothing drives, but are still in decent condition. These items can go to your local homeless shelter (contact them first to see what items they are accepting), Goodwill, an American Cancer Society Discovery Shop, or Salvation Army.
  • Trash. If something is clearly damaged and ripped beyond repair, it goes to the dumpster. This would include very old t-shirts, undergarments, smelly shoes, and used items. Something you would be embarrassed giving to someone you know.

 

Why should we care?

Yes, I know this is a lot of work. It’s harder than dumping stuff on a friend. It’s harder than dumping stuff at the door of Goodwill. Can’t someone else do the work of getting these items to people who need them most?

No, they can’t. Ever wondered where the profit of Goodwill goes? I have, but I can’t seem to find a definitive answer. Ever wondered where unwanted stock at Goodwill goes? It gets sold to overseas clothing markets, often back to the countries where they were manufactured after being purchased, used and thrown away by us. Americans throw away tons and tons (literally) of clothes every year. According to Elizabeth Cline, author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, the result of our disposable-clothing habit is pollution, exploitation, and waste. Read an excerpt here

Ok, enough ranting! I hope this provides a helpful new way of evaluating your belongings– especially those items you could do without on most days. So make some space in your closet to fill some space in someone else’s! And when you shop again, look for beautiful, versatile pieces that will last you longer than the items you just gave away.

Kitchen: How to Cook for One (or Two)

Lunch at home, party of one. Tri-color rotini with reheated bolognese sauce!

Lunch at home, party of one. Tri-color rotini with reheated bolognese sauce!

I’m writing this post not because I’m an expert on the subject, but rather because I’ve become acutely aware of how difficult this is. Before my husband and I got married, we (I) rarely cooked for just the two of us over a long period of time. Most often, we were cooking for and with friends, family members, or, in my case, for 70-100 people in a ministry the year after high school. But now that we’ve moved into our apartment, gone are the days when we get to share most of our home-cooked meals with others. For now, it’s time for us to plan simple, healthy, budget-conscious meals for the busy weeks ahead.

Our new tableware screaming "fill me!!!"

Our new tableware screaming “fill me!!!” Actually love this stuff from Heath Ceramics.

I’m writing this also because I know we are not alone in this plight– many young (and sometimes not-so-young) singles or couples have to figure out how to eat well within a tight schedule and budget. And, if you care at all about the taste or source of your food (which we do), it adds an additional challenge. Sure, there are plenty of blogs out there about how to entertain with food and drink, how to buy grass-fed beef in bulk for your large family, and how to expand your culinary repertoire when your budget and time are unlimited. I love these blogs too and they are a great source of inspiration, but when it comes down to Monday night dinner, I can hardly order a frozen half-cow or settle for some olives and a Manhattan. Furthermore, if you are at all familiar with the perils of industrial farming and processed food– read anything by Michael Pollan if interested– you have grown extra wary of cheap meats, frozen meals and Wonderbread. We need some real, ethical, affordable, foodie-approved options.

Just the basics! These four things will take you a long way.

Just the basics! These four things will take you a long way. And we are obviously Whole Foods patrons.

So, what do I have to offer on the subject? Well, I’m working on it almost everyday. As I stumble upon easy, delicious, and healthy homemade recipes or strategies that work at a small scale and budget, I’ll be posting them on this blog. In the meantime, here are some principles to consider:

1. Don’t let others cook for you. By “others,” I mean corporations (frozen meals, instant meals, bottled dressings, etc.), and restaurants. Pre-packaged meals are EXPENSIVE at around $5+ each, for which price you can make a day’s worth of food on your own. And restaurants happily charge you for tossing some lettuce together, often with an unhealthy dose of sodium and high-fructose corn syrup. So learn to cook.

2. Get the basic tools. Just as you can’t go running without shoes, you also can’t cook without some basics in your arsenal. Most beginner cooks enjoy using a non-stick fry pan; a small stock or soup pot; colanders; rubber spatulas, ladles, wooden spoons, slotted spoons; a sharp knife and appropriate cutting board. Purchase high-quality tupperware to store your raw ingredients, weekly meals and leftovers. You can build your arsenal from here as needed.

3. Consider investing in some fixed costs. I know there are people out there who can cook a delicious, large amount of brown rice on the stove blindfolded, but most of us can’t! However, brown rice is versatile, healthy, and keeps well in the refrigerator for 5 days; we own a rice cooker that cooks everything from beans to oatmeal to quinoa at the push of a button. Need some leafy greens in your life but don’t feel like having salad everyday? Consider purchasing a good blender, and throw in some frozen fruit with your kale for a quick green juice. Good blenders can also make things like pesto, peanut butter, tomato sauce and blended soups. Another really wonderful tool is the slow-cooker. Ahh… brewing everything from soups and stews to sauces and broths, the slow-cooker integrates flavors and softens ingredients while you’re busy all day. Slow-cooked meals also keep wonderfully in the fridge, ready to be heated and served over rice or pasta throughout the week. There’s nothing more wonderful to come home to than a slow-cooked meal (except, perhaps, your spouse).

4. Let the meal planning begin! This is the fun part, and also perhaps the most difficult part. What should you cook and eat? How much time and money should you spend each week? How much of each raw ingredient should you buy at once? Is it even possible to eat a variety of foods when cooking for one or two?

All good questions, which I hope to answer in a few months’ time. Here are some suggestions to begin with:

  • Prioritize your nutrition. Michael Pollan (who is clearly my current hero) says, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Over the course of a month, assuming you’ve already acquired the short-term fixed-cost ingredients (e.g., salt, pepper, your favorite spices, cooking oils), your budget for ingredients might look like this: 50% fruits and vegetables; 50% carbs and proteins. Play with these numbers as you shop, but expect to pay as much for fresh or frozen fruits and veggies as you do for pretty much everything else. This will put prices into perspective.
  • Start with the ingredients, then look for recipes. Some people daunt themselves with following recipes exactly, making every meal a certifiable dish from a recognizable cuisine. This often blows up their costs, and they end up purchasing things like saffron, caraway seeds, almond flour, Hungarian smoked paprika, or expensive out-of-season produce. Start with what’s in season and available to you, then integrate it into a recipe that calls for things you already have. Trial and error will help you determine the ingredients you can afford to skip. At the beginning, you can usually get away with just salt, fresh-ground pepper, garlic, and perhaps one or two of your favorite spices.
  • Use your refrigerator and your microwave. Most people have more time on the weekends and less time during the week. So you may want to cook 2 or 3 dishes of vegetables and protein to store in the fridge, along with a pot of rice and a pot of pasta. For example: make a tupperware of bolognese sauce, a tupperware of chili verde, and a black bean stew. Each will go well with reheated brown rice or over some pasta. Add some sliced fruit or vegetables as sides to each meal, and you’ve got yourself covered for the week.
  • Choose cheap, healthy proteins. Say goodbye to steak and Chilean seabass, unless your budget can take it (and even then, be cautious). Instead, buy high-quality protein that’s priced within your means. This could include: beans, eggs, lentils, organic/free-range chicken, non-GMO tofu, sustainable canned fish (these sardines are great), ethically raised ground beef or pork, quinoa, organic peanut butter, milk, healthy yogurt.
  • Snack frugally. That five-dollar bag of chips or granola bars may seem like a drop in the bucket, but if your budget is really tight, it could mean a wasted meal or two. Five dollars can get you lots of rice, two cans of fish, nearly a pound of ethically-raised ground meat, a carton of eggs, or sometimes even two bunches of organic kale. As you learn to cook to your needs, you can figure out what kinds of homemade snacks you want to have on hand (e.g., hard-boiled eggs, bananas, homemade hummus, whole-wheat cookies).
Find healthy, high-quality carbs that will keep well and go with any sauces or stews you make!

Find healthy, high-quality carbs that will keep well and go with any sauces or stews you make!

Whew! The bottom line is, this quest for healthy, affordable, delicious home-cooked meals is not easy, especially in portions for one or two. But I believe it’s totally possible! I’m looking forward to figuring this out and sharing my secrets with you.