Monday, July 30, 2012

Fruit Bowl - Recipe Monday

This really is a no brainer. Fruit is good for you and how much you should eat depends on your age, sex, and level of physical activity. Fruit and veggies contain important vitamins and minerals and we all know that we should eat more fruits and veggies. But why exactly if you can pop a multivitamin in the morning? Well, a multivitamin does not provide you with fiber, does it? Nor will it make you feel full or satisfied, or does it? Do you really want to be munching on a highly processed fiber (and calorie) loaded granola bar? Not only do fruits and veggies add their nutritional value, but fruit (and certain veggies) can help relieve your sweet tooth and that's basically what we have been trying to do: We have been trying to replace servings of ice cream with a bowl of fruit.
I understand that for some people eating an apple as is seems kind of boring, I usually throw together a number of different fruits to keep it interesting.

My favorite fruit bowl at the moment uses the following and it really only takes 5 minutes to throw together (serves 2):
  • 1 medium apple (with skin), cored and diced
  • 1 mango, skinned and pitted, diced
  • 1 peach, pitted and diced
  • some walnuts/pecans/hazelnuts/almonds for decoration and extra crunch
I throw them all together and mix them up. If fruit alone is not sweet enough for you, drizzle over some maple syrup (the real stuff) or honey. It makes a great dessert, a wonderful snack, and it makes any breakfast look so much better.

Add whatever fruit you like. Maybe you don't like apples, but love pears. Try different combinations such as mango, banana, strawberry or grapes, oranges, pears. Try different kinds of melon with a few raspberries thrown into the mix. Make it colorful and make it your own.

You might say, fruit is too expensive. And yes, some fruits are very expensive. I have a tip for you: Buy fruit that is in season. I don't buy strawberries in winter because they are ridiculously expensive. There are so many types of apples, some more expensive than others. I really like Red Delicious and they are often on sale at my grocery store. Bananas are usually fairly cheap and they make a great addition to any fruit bowl...


If you want to find out more about why fruit/veggies are important check out the CDC's website on fruits and veggies. They also provide a fruit and veggie calculator to help you determine how many servings of fruits and veggies would be ideal for you. For me they recommended 1.5 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables a day (based on a 1800 calorie diet), while the husband should get 2 cups fruit and 3 cups veggies a day (based on a 2400 calorie diet). They also provide a great guide as to what constitutes a cup of fruit/veggies.

Friday, July 27, 2012

How to clean your dishwasher

How to eco-clean your dishwasher….

  1. You will want to start with an empty dishwasher. This will include removing the utensil holder and racks and individually clean them with vinegar (or soap if you are careful to rinse thoroughly). You can clean with vinegar by half filling your sink with water and add about 1 or 2 cups of vinegar to the water.
  2. Carefully wipe down the arm (you can remove it if you are comfortable with it) and use Q-tips (or a toothpick but be sure not to break the toothpick off inside) to clean out the holes of the arm.
  3. Wipe down the bottom and the sides of the washer, clean the grate and filter with a vinegar soaked rag. (Our grate had food, hair and even paper I think stuck to it, how hair and paper got there, I have not the slightest idea.)
  4. If your dishwasher comes with a garbage disposal system, you will want to try to clean that out now as well. This can be done with some ice cubes.
  5. If you did disassemble anything, now is the time to reassemble it and place the racks back inside of the machine.
  6. Next, add 2 cups of white vinegar to the bottom of the dishwasher, close the dishwasher and turn it on to rinse. Stop it midway (do not open the door) and let the vinegar set on the bottom for 20 minutes and really work cleaning it all. Then turn it back on to finish the cycle. If you think it is really dirty, you can let it set overnight and turn it on when you wake up.
  7. Once done, wipe out the inside with dry paper towels or dry rag and don’t forget to wipe down the outside and edges while you are at it.
  8. Lastly, it is a good time to wipe and clean the front of the dishwasher to have a wonderful final shine.

Note: If you suffer from mold in your dishwasher, you can place 1 Tbsp of bleach in your dishwasher, however, it is very important that you do NOT mix bleach with vinegar as it creates a toxic chlorine gas.  You will want to do a quick rinse with bleach then once done, begin cleaning with vinegar.

Also, some people have used a packet of Orange Tang Drink Mix to clean as well. The citric acid in the mix is similar to the vinegar and will remove any build-up however, I have not used this method though.

For extra cleaning and help with removing a little bit of grime, you can try placing 1/4 cup of baking soda in the open tray of the soap dispenser and that will help clean the dishwasher very nicely.

And now a word of caution: NEVER use ordinary dish soap for cleaning the dishwasher. Even small amounts will create mountains of thick bubbles and it is no fun to clean up that mess. (I had to learn it the hard way...) You have been warned!

Enjoy the clean dishwasher everyone!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Homemade Chocolate Pudding - Recipe Monday

I love pudding. And when I say love, I really mean LOVE. But I hate pudding mixes with artificial flavors, colors, or worse gelatin. For some time I found myself searching the internet for chocolate pudding recipes and as you can probably guess there are tons and tons of recipes out there. Some use eggs (I found recipes using up to 6 eggs), avocado (as a secret ingredient), others use silken tofu. I don't like eggs. Everything about them grosses me out. I did not have avocados at hand, and well I was doubtful. Silken tofu is hard to come by in a place that will give you ten different kind of tortillas and twenty types of beans, but only one type of Matzos (the cardboard kind). So,well, I gave up until the Vegan Zombie posted a vegan pudding recipe. I modified the amount of sugar used in the recipe quite a bit because I like to eat a bowl of pudding and not just a spoonful. But trust me, the pudding is still plenty sweet...

Here is what you will need:
  • 3 cups of soy milk (plain)
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt
  And here is what you need to do:
  1. Add milk to a saucepan and turn the heat to medium. Whisk in cocoa powder and cornstarch until well combined. Then whisk in the sugar until dissolved.
  2. Keep stirring over medium heat until the mixture thickens.
  3. After it thickens, bring it to a boil and keep stirring for another minute or two.
  4. Remove from heat, pour pudding into ramekins or bowls. Let cool (or eat it when it is still warm if you prefer your pudding warm).
Hope you give it a try and let me know what you think. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Amazon Experiment

The last "major" purchase I did on Amazon was my electric toothbrush (which I love by the way) I purchased it solely with gift cards I received either as birthday presents or side-gigs (primarily surveys). I thought that this was a very interesting experiment since doing so allowed me to not get excited about the next newest and fanciest toothbrush, but allowed me to see all of the features, really look at the reviews, and evaluate what I wanted from it and what it was capable of.

Now I'm doing it again. I am currently saving up Amazon gift cards to purchase a garage door opener. The garage door opener I am looking at is approximately $200 to $250 and I have already saved up to $80 in the past 2 months going about this slow route. Approximately $60 was from credit card cash-back and $20 was from surveys. I imagine that my credit card cash back feature will end up being the main contributor to my goal. While I know the cash back isn't necessarily free money, in fact, I have to spend a lot of money to earn that money, it is money I would have otherwise spent and was returned back to me, so for this purpose I'll consider it "free.” I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Saving Energy with Energy Guard

Several months ago, I signed up to a program called CPS Energy Savers Home Manager (Previously, Energy Guard), with my local energy company, CPS. This program is very nice in that they give you a very nice (and expensive) programmable thermostat that you are capable of programming, and check/change the temperature remotely from the Internet or at home. They also give you access to turn off your water heater remotely and inform you of how much energy your home as a whole is using and when (down to 15 minute intervals).

One additional 'feature' to the program is that during peak energy hours when the grid is in danger of browning out, I give permission to CPS to override my programming and possibly turn off my water heater if necessary and bump up my thermostat. Initially I was very concerned about them just randomly changing my settings and the house feeling very unco
mfortable. However, recently in sunny (and very hot) San Antonio, we were having some record heat and I was able to see exactly how they override the settings, how the house responds, and how our energy bill responds as well.

When this happened outside it was 104F and San Antonio was in danger of browning out. As such, they did bump the 'cooling' up to 85F, which is the recommendation from Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) during times where black/brown outs are likely to help reduce the load on the grid. While this is not the most comfortable temperature, the temperature was still set to 85 until 6PM when it started to cool again because we were coming home. So while I did come home to a warmer house, it was still cooler than outside. Also, an important note is that AC's also tend to be the most efficient when the differential is 20 degree's or less, which setting it to 85F kept it just at that 20 degree mark. Keeping within that 20 degree range allows the compressor to get the necessary breaks to prevent the overheating and properly cycle on and off saving us costly AC repairs down the line.

In the end, we had to deal with a slightly warmer house for a couple of hours, but to be honest, with the fans going, it wasn't too bad. But I consider the fact that CPS is saving energy, they are also in a way saving my compressor/AC unit because I probably wouldn't have risen the temperature (due to ignorance and laziness), which in the end saved us a few bucks as well. If you live in the CPS energy region and have a well insulated home, like I do, then I think that this program might be one of interest to you, especially if you aren't home during the regular business hours.

P.S. If you have someone who needs the temperature to be lower, the option of overriding it is always there. :-)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Thank you Willis Carrier

Today in 1902, the first 'modern' air conditioning unit was designed for use in a Brooklyn printing plant that set the standard for the following AC units.

Previously, of course, there were the use of iceboxes to try to help cool an area down but for the most part, there was little to do when it became too hot, too cold, or too humid. The first cooling unit was created by Alfred Wolff in 1902 to help cool down the NY stock exchange however, this device had no control over humidity, filters to clean the air, or temperature control. Within the span of a few years, the concept rapidly developed creating zones and eventually led Willis Carrier who patented his "Apparatus for Treating Air" being:

1. Control temperature
2. Control humidity
3. Control Air Circulation and ventilation
4. Clean the air

With this patent, Willis took the title of the creator of the modern AC. Later he created several tables that all HVAC technicians are aware of, for example the law of constant dew-point depression.

So, I would like to say, thank you Willis Carrier for 110 years of keeping us cool.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Vegan Strawberry Cupcakes - Recipe Monday

Today we are trying something new: A recipe! Because, well the wife took over :) We will see whether it will become a thing or not. So let's get started.

Here is what you will need to make these super delicious vegan summer cupcakes:
Makes 12 cupcakes:
  • 4 tbsp (vegan) butter or margarine at room temperature
  • 2/3cup sugar
  • 2tbsp vanilla extract
  • 2 egg replacement (I used 2 tbsp flax seed meal and 6 tbsp water, but if you are not vegan feel free to use 2 eggs)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup milk (such as plain soy milk)
  • 7 oz strawberries (about 8 strawberries), pureed (try raspberries or maybe even peach)
  1. Preheat your oven to 325F and lightly grease a muffin pan.
  2. In a bowl, cream together the butter/margarine, sugar and vanilla extract until light and fluffy.
  3. Mix in the egg replacement, then add in the flour and baking powder and stir until well combined.
  4. Lastly add in the pureed strawberries. The batter will look nice and pink.
  5. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.
What is great about these cupcakes is that they are easy to make and don't require any weird ingredients... and they are a lot cheaper than anything you can buy at the store. (We buy flour, soy milk and vanilla extract from Costco.)
And if you are worried that these might taste funky, I assure you they taste wonderful. I never use milk or eggs in my baking and no one has ever noticed a difference. I halved the recipe yesterday and made 6 cupcakes, and what can I say... they were gone by bedtime. In addition, they don't need fancy frosting. They are wonderful with just a dusting of powdered sugar or a drizzle of melted chocolate.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Meet the cat

Last month was "Adopt a Shelter Cat Month" at our local Humane Society. We adopted our precious fur ball in March 2010 and we both agree that it was the best decision. It was an expense, of course, but an expense that we are glad we made.

Although she is an indoor cat (always has and always will be, but she loves sleeping on the windowsill when the window is open), we still use Frontline to prevent ticks and flees. Of course there are tons of flee/tick prevention products out there, just as many ways to purchase them. We used to buy 3 months worth of Frontline at Costco, which had the best price compared to other local stores. Now we order 6 months worth of it online through PetCareRX ( They often have coupons and/or free shipping and you can sign up for them and earn reward points for your purchases. And they send reminder emails so we don't run out, which is nice. So far we have only positive things to report. Shipping is fast, the product arrives in excellent condition, and the price is good. I will admit that I was at first hesitant to order her Frontline online, but I am happy we did. Now we don't have to worry about Costco being out of stock, which they frequently were.

Have you made any experiences with online retailers targeted at your ball of fur?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Net Debt - July 2013

Student loans: -$78,707.91
Car loan: $0
Revolving Credit card debt: $0.
Mortgage: -$136,028.01
Total Debt: -$214,735.92

It has been forever since I have last blogged, however, since then I've paid off my car loan debt and now I'm only left with student loan and mortgage. Currently I am paying about $100/mo to pay down the interest and hopefully that will increase in the future! It would be amazing to have my student loans down to 75k before the year is over. I guess we'll see if that's possible and depends a lot on certain things on our side.