Fruit scavenging – cherries

11 lbs of cherriesThis week, as I’ve been out walking the dog, I couldn’t help but notice a neighbor down the street with a tree full of cherries growing riper … and riper. I remembered my vow last year to ask for fruit that appeared to be going to waste, so I knocked on the door on Tuesday.

Nobody was home, so I left a note; and the next day on my walk, I saw the door was open, so I went and rang the bell. The home is a rental, and the tenant said I could take all the cherries I wanted. Hooray!

That night, we Cheaps paraded down the block with some tote bags and our stepstool. We picked for about 20 minutes and came home with 11 pounds of cherries.

We spent the rest of the evening in the back yard, with Little Cheap pulling off the stems and me pitting the fruit with our semi-broken cherry pitter, which I’d love to replace with a stainless steel version or something like this more automatic tool (the latter claims it would have saved me at least an hour of pitting).

I turned about 10 cups of the cherries into two pies.

We ate one for breakfast yesterday and today, and the other one I left on the neighbor’s porch with a thank-you note yesterday afternoon.

I thought about making preserves with the rest of the cherries, but they are a large, mostly sweet variety (I didn’t even know Bing-type cherries could be grown in Colorado — I’ve only ever seen local sour cherries previously), and I didn’t think the preserves would be the tastiest. Instead, we are turning the other 7 pounds of cherries into two types of cherry liqueur — cherry bounce (made with bourbon and lemon peel) and the Danish cherry liqueur recipe on this site, made with vodka and a dash of bourbon (the recipe calls for brandy, but Mr. Cheap was already buying more liquor than we buy in months, so we didn’t add brandy to the mix).

That’s the liqueur at the top, and the bounce at the bottom. Now we must store it in a cool dark place for two to three months. It’s making its home in the old mini-fridge that is still sitting, unplugged, in our laundry room until we decide what to do with it; a normal pantry shelf would work very well.

When it is finished, we’ll strain off the liquid and rebottle it, and hopefully have some delicious cordials to enjoy in the fall or give as gifts.

Finally, as a small bonus, I saved the stones, washed them and dried them in the sun – they’ll make good pie weights the next time I bake.

Friday wrap-up: Hacking Craigslist, ceiling fans, efficient cars, boob-powered iPods

Get Rich Slowly this week posted a terrific tip to subscribe to a search on Craigslist. Mwah ha ha, when the right Kromski Prelude spinning wheel comes along, I will be all over it!

It is ceiling fan season — and The Simple Dollar posted a simple list of ways to get your ceiling fan to work for you (and reduce energy use/costs in the meantime).

Going somewhere? Verda Vivo posted a list of the most fuel-efficient cars. She has calculated their efficiency in gallons per 100 miles, which makes their efficiency especially tempting.

And saving the best for last, scientists are reportedly working on technology — to be available in a few years — that would allow joggers’ bouncing bosoms to power their iPods. Yes! Now there is a way to multitask while exercising.

Composter giveaway; what to compost

Green Daily is giving away a $300-value composter package for those who comment with what they would compost by July 2. It’s a random drawing, so I am generously decreasing my own chances by letting all of you in on it! Good luck!

Also, our neighborhood newsletter arrived yesterday with a slightly wackadoodle article about composting. She had a good basic how-to, but she mentioned that she composts shrimp shells and fish waste (she must be quite a seafood aficionado in landlocked Denver). I wasn’t so sure about that, but here are two university references, one that says “fish-waste composting is a little trickier than the backyard variety,” and one that offers a whole publication about how to do it. As for the shrimp shells, this list includes them among 163 things that can be composted. Another site notes that the smell could attract animals … that’s what I would worry about with both of these items.

I’m not sure what the difference is between composting fish waste and composting meat, which composters (the individuals, not the bins) are generally cautioned against. This site says that because meat is high in fat, it will break down slowly and create odors. However, you could add it; just run it through the blender first. Good to know about the fish waste; if you cook a whole fish, it’s impossible not to have some waste, whereas we try extremely hard not to waste a bit of the meat we have (but we are not dealing with bones, etc.).

The article’s author went on to say that she doesn’t compost eggshells “because they contain calcium.” Now, never have I seen a caution against composting calcium, and in fact, it’s an important element for some parts of the garden, like tomatoes. (Blossom end rot, that nasty soft gray spot at one end of your tomatoes, is caused by a calcium deficiency.) You can even crush eggshells and toss them in the hole before you plant your tomatoes to help — and there’s certainly no reason to avoid composting eggshells and other stuff. Some people dry them first in the oven, and I’m honestly not sure why — mine aren’t usually soggy. Any drying devotees out there?

What other odd items have you learned you can compost? Or learned, through hard experience, that you cannot?

My life with the Diva Cup

Diva Cup rimNote: This one’s for the ladies! Men, you’ve been warned.


Too much information, indeed, about things very personal to womankind. Still in? OK then.

In April, I signed on for Crunchy Chicken’s Diva Cup challenge. She offered the chance to win a Diva Cup — an insertable, washable silicone cup that catches menstrual flow, eliminating the need for tampons, reusable cloth pads or disposable pads (well, supposedly — more on that later). In exchange for entering the giveaway, we gentle readers had to commit to use the Diva Cup for three months.

I didn’t win, but I’m a woman of my word, all for the sake of my readers … the things I do for you! 🙂

The Impact of Menstruation

The Pleasure Puss reusable menstrual pads company estimates the average woman uses 16,800 pads or tampons during her lifetime. The same site says that more than 12 million pads and 7 million tampons are used each year in the United States alone.

The cost of all that bleeding? According to their quick calculator, around $2,665 for me (I was guesstimating the cost of pads — I haven’t bought disposables since I started tracking last June).

The old way

I have quite a stockpile of disposables from my super-bargain-shopping days. But I’ve mostly been using my reusable cloth pads, especially when the weather is nice enough to hang them out to dry, which I think sanitizes them better.

The reusable pads are very comfortable. However, they require soaking and rinsing and washing (pretty high ick factor, especially if they are abandoned mid-soak, as I accidentally did once), and they are bulky to store.

The new way

The Diva Cup is a little cup (duh) with a stem. You fold it (using whatever folding method works for you), insert it, twirl it around (using the word “twirl” loosely), give it some kegel-squishes with the relevant pelvic muscles so it pops open, and leave it be for up to 12 hours. It’s supposed to be comfortable — to the point that you can’t feel it — with no leaks. You remove it, wash it, and reinsert. What could be simpler? (If, that is, you are acclimated to a little gross factor, either from your own disposables or associated body-yuck, like diapers.) And it comes with a lapel pin.

The ladies online rave about the Diva Cup. They LOVE it! The environmental impact is very low, and the cost is excellent (it is supposed to last something like 10 years). So I bought one from South Coast Shopping for about $21 including shipping. It arrived pronto. Just in time for …

My experience – Cycle 1

Day 1: Inserted it. More leaked out than went into the cup. Serious pain removing it. Tried again. Same deal. Gave up for the day.

Day 2: More success – first time worked great. Then it started leaking. Worried, I removed it (painfully). Went online for help and found the “folding” link above. Tried different folds. Cut the stem shorter. Leaking, leaking, leaking. Learned how to remove it more comfortably (Tip: Pull down, not out). Ladybits exhausted, I gave up.

Day 3: Tried the new fold. Got it in. Success! Removed it – it was full, which is an allowable cause of leaking. Tried again. Leaking, leaking. Exhausted. Thank God, cycle ended. Legit reason to quit.

Next couple of days – wondered if I had a yeast infection (haven’t had one in about 13 years). Fortunately, I didn’t. Very dubious about next cycle.

The family perspective – cycle 1

Little Cheap: “What’s a Diva Cup?”

Me: “Er … a thing for my period.”

Little Cheap: “Oh. Why does it have ‘Diva’ in it?”

Mr. Cheap: “So women will feel like they are fancy princesses, instead of hippie suckers.”

28 days pass and …

My experience – Cycle 2

Day 1: With some trepidation (see the phrase “yeast infection” in the previous cycle’s entry) I try again. I used the “punch-down” fold per the folding site. It worked! No leaking. But it was a little bit uncomfortable, so again taking advice from the Diva Cup forum at the link above, I cut off the stem almost completely.

Day 2: Removed and replaced it in the shower. It twirls! It fits! It doesn’t leak! I’m beginning to get the hang of this thing …

Day 3: I have never felt so … well … clean and fresh on my heaviest cycle days. The cup is easy to take out, dump, wash and replace. My garments and I are unbesmirched. I’ve caught Diva Cup fever!

Day 4: I feel like an old pro. The final night of my cycle, I left it out to take a break. The last day, I used a disposable pad to catch any remaining matter. And voila … I’m a Diva Cup user.

But I am so glad I kept notes from the first cycle to reassure you ladies – hang in there!!!

My next cycle is coming up, and it’s thrilling to know that while Aunt Flo has scheduled her visit — as always — to coincide with part of my vacation, I can take along the Diva Cup and a couple of small backup pads, rather than an arsenal of lady-goods.

Even at home, I can convert the pile of supplies at left into the single, sleek cloth-encased-silicone package at right:

The family perspective – cycle 2

Me: “It’s working! I LOVE my Diva Cup! I can’t believe I’ve got the hang of it.”

Mr. Cheap: “Don’t forget to tell Crunchy.”

What about you?

Have you used the Diva Cup or Moon Cup? Are you going to? Come on … what’s one month of discomfort compared to saving $2,000 or more, eliminating thousands of pads and tampons from the sewers/landfills?

How walkable is your neighborhood?

Recently I came across this cool tool to rate how walkable your neighborhood is (via The Simple Dollar).

You just type in your address and it calculates your “walk score” based on the proximity to grocery stores, parks, libraries, restaurants, bars, services, schools, churches, etc. It has its flaws — it lists Jamba Juice as a “bar” and in our neighborhood, it includes several retailers that have closed, so I’m unsure how often it is updated.

I would think it would be an especially great tool if you are thinking of relocating and walkability is one of your top priorities. Our neighborhood scored 80. The farm I was wishing to buy a few months back scored 0 (with basically NOTHING closer than 10 miles away).

If nothing else, it made me feel really guilty that I don’t bike more often … but I do walk to the grocery store, drugstore, park, etc.

How does your ‘hood rank?

Garden update: Cukes & growth

TomatoesIn the garden, we are entering the exciting Stage 2, where the plants are *visibly* growing.

Stage 1 is “everything is in the ground and it’s just sitting there!” Impatient people such as myself get very irritable with Stage 1 … even though we know, intellectually, that while the plant “just sits,” it is doing important work like Getting Used to the Sun and Growing Roots.

Now, many plants are really growing, like the tomato to the right, which is setting fruit and gaining scale relative to the welded-wire cage it will live in until October. Now the plant is around two feet tall. By October, of course, it will be six feet tall, god and hailstorms willing. It will have given us many more than the one or two little green tomatoes it’s currently bearing. But for now – it’s growing!

The butternut squash are really starting to take off, too. (Be afraid … be very afraid.)

butternut squash

At long last, the cukes have sprouted where I planted them:

And some are growing where they weren’t invited. I have this volunteer from last year, and two more volunteers springing up near the compost bin. The only question? Did I grow hybrid cucumbers last year? If so, they may turn out funky offspring. If not, I love a volunteer to save seeds from and grow bigger-and-better veggies, already acclimated to our harsh environment (dry air, clay soil, hot, hot sun).

You can see the friendly environment this volunteer chose:

We also have numerous tomato volunteers, but those are likely offspring of our despised yellow tomatoes last year, which were (a) mealy, (b) frighteningly prolific, and (c) a hybrid, so this year’s babies likely won’t be any good. That said, watch us let one grow and it’ll be our favorite this year.

Finally, even our basil has sprouted at last. We planted seeds weeks ago, but here it is:

Each of those little babies is perhaps an inch across.

Out front, we’ve taken the pumpkin out of the wall of water, and our cantaloupe is striving to thrive. Those are both in eked-out sections of lawn. In our barrels, our little roma tomatoes are growing beautifully. Mr. Cheap has replanted some scarlet runner bean seeds because ours stayed inside too long and are not happy in the hot sun.

What’s up in your gardens?

First CSA delivery

CSA1Thursday was an exciting day: Our first CSA delivery arrived.

We stopped by our lovely host’s home and picked up our giant box, in which a couple of the ballyhooed-by-e-mail crops (garlic scapes – 4; Vidalia onion – 1) looked particularly pitiful.

The contents of our small share (half-share) were:

  • One lovely head of Bibb/butter lettuce.
  • One head of red leaf lettuce.
  • One head of green leaf lettuce.
  • One giant bunch of spinach.
  • One very nice sized bunch of cilantro.
  • Four radishes (this is about right – we are not crazy about radishes; but Little Cheap likes them).
  • Three stalks of rhubarb.
  • One Vidalia onion (these are a trade with a Georgia grower).
  • A bunch of organic celery (not fit for market, but still usable; a “toss-in” from some other farm).
  • Garlic scapes — the tops of garlic, which have been praised wildly by a local food blogger and again via our CSA newsletter — we got four of these. Pretty slim pickin’s.

We have lettuce coming out our ears from our own garden, and we’re a little bit spinach-ed out, with tons of kale to come, so I will be sharing some lettuce and spinach with my sister.

The garlic scapes went into a stir-fry last night with some baby bok choy and delicious enoki mushrooms from HMart (thanks, Mr. Cheap!).

I’m going to come up with some kind of rhubarb goodness this weekend. And other than that, I am looking forward to lettuce season’s passing.

Friday wrap-up: Whole planet picnic, garden potty, and a solar theramin in a tin

GreenPa wants to start a tradition of a “whole planet picnic” – a waste-free free-for-all on the solstice. That would be today … or more loosely, this weekend. So if you don’t have plans, get those phones ringing! I wish I were on top of this this year … maybe next year.

Don’t forget, Saturday is the “golden showers garden party.” I notice that my post on this subject has a big “no comment” from y’all, but even if you choose to participate silently, think about it – and if you do it regularly, let us know if you have any amazing results.

And here is one crazy musical instrument for your enjoyment: a solar-powered theramin in an Altoids tin.

Coupons & savings on organic goodies and freezing milk

This showed up yesterday on The “Cent”sible Sawyer – coupons for organic goods. I would save it for Friday, but some of these things can expire quickly, so I’d advise jumping right on it.

Some of the services only send you coupons once, so bear that in mind, as well.

I had my own money-saving moment this week in the dairy section. First, I found that my Organic Valley organic, local milk, which has been selling for $5.29 a gallon for a year, has now gone up in price to $5.89 a gallon. YIKES! Horizon hasn’t yet followed, but I expect they will.

Fortunately, I turned around and saw a bunch of half-gallons of Organic Valley milk in the Manager’s Special area for $1.49 a half-gallon … with expiration dates of June 20 and June 22. So I bought four half-gallons (for $2.98 per gallon, a pretty good savings).

One is in the refrigerator. With the others, I poured off a few ounces into the open container of milk we had left in the fridge. Then I closed up the cartons and popped them in our chest freezer. Just take them out
a day or two before you need them and let them thaw in the refrigerator. I don’t notice a taste difference … or if there is one, it’s well worth saving $3 a gallon.

Usually, I buy milk by the gallon because at least the plastic jugs are recyclable … but desperate times lead to desperate measures.

What are you doing to save on organic goods? Are you still buying organic, or is cheap winning out?