Thursday, October 29, 2009

Me Vs. The Mail

My pile of mail upon returning from my two week vacation. Not bad at all!

A while back, I blogged on ways to reduce your mail. So much of it is a waste of trees, of resources (even if it's recycled paper, its production is still having an impact), of money, and of our time.

Credit card offers received in the mail? Zero. After dialing an opt-out number: 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688) that I found on New American Dream, I have not received a single solicitation. I have all the credit cards I need, and besides, I pay cash as much as possible.

Animal rights literature: minimal. I've taken a pro-active stand to e-mail the groups I contribute to and ask them to not share my address and when desired, ask they only contact me once a year for membership renewal. For new unwanted solicitations, I e-mail them to not share my name and remove me from their list. It's wonderful there are so many worthwhile groups to give to, but I cannot give to them all, and I don't want to waste their resources or my time.

Donating this holiday season to an animal rights or other charitable organization? This is one of my favorite gift ideas, but don't give your recipient the gift of junk mail. When you contribute, ask that they not share the address of the person you are contributing on behalf of. Once a person's information is out there, it takes a lot of effort to reclaim one's privacy.

Bills? Go online. Save postage, even though minimal, around $5 a year per each monthly bill, but just as important: save time not having to deal with all those paper statements.

Catalogs: zero. I long ago called companies I was receiving catalogues from to remove me from their list.

Magazines: I get one, VegNews. After my subscription runs out, I'm not renewing it. I think purchasing a subscription for a local library is a better option. Libraries are a fun and frugal source for most of your magazine and newspaper needs.

Arrived: the Yellowbook. I saw multiple copies go straight to the recycling bin. To be removed from delivery, click here.

Tired of all those 20% off Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons turning up? Me too. Remove yourself from their list here.

With a little effort, my war on my incoming mail is succeeding. While I'll never be at zero percent, I feel a ting of satisfaction when I arrive home and see no mail. Incidentally, I have little use for all those address labels I've received in the past from charitable organizations. I have enough labels to last until I'm 90.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Quality Time (and Food) at P.F. Chang's

A few years ago, I asked my close friends if would be okay if we stopped exchanging Christmas presents, and instead of birthday gifts, just going out for dinner (as we usually would do anyway) instead.

What a relief they all embraced this idea. After years of friendship, what can one continue to buy just for the sake of giving something? There's no stress on the table of spending money for a gift who knows if we'll like. Just good food, good conversation and quality time. What more could one ask for, really?

When a dear friend's birthday celebration dinner rolled around, she choose P.F. Chang's, a chain with a location in the Riverside Square Mall in Hackensack, NJ.

As a beverage, I often just order tap water with a slice of lemon. It's healthy, and cutting out a beverage cost does save some money (it all adds up!) When I told the waitress I didn't need a straw for my water, she asked, "Did you have dental work done recently?" That was a first! When I told her I'm just trying to reduce waste, she said, "That's cool. I can respect the green." Why thank you.

An appetizer to share: vegetarian lettuce wraps with tofu. Four iceberg lettuce leaves arrive with a platter, and you build your own, $7.95.

My entree: mixed veggies, crispy tofu and peanuts in a coconut curry sauce, with a side of brown rice, $7.95.

Good thing I brought a reusable container with me. I took half of this with me and had a second meal for lunch the next day. According to their nutritional menu, a serving is 8 ounces, and out of this you get three servings!

The waitress felt so bad there weren't any vegan dessert options, she offered to make up a little fruit platter. No charge. That was nice of her. (Maybe because it was my friend's birthday). She suggested contacting the corporate site to suggest vegan dessert offerings, which I did.

Financially stressed about the upcoming holidays? Consider a 'no gift' pact with some of your friends or family, or just do a 'one gift' rule with your direct family or sweetheart. No one's blood pressure should rise thinking about their January credit card statement.

The season of giving should be more for the children and to give to the less fortunate, in my opinion. Last year, my company collected donations for the Pajama Program, which provides warm pajamas and new books to underprivileged children in the United States. What a great cause, and what the true spirit of the holidays is for me. I donated pj's with ducks (too bad they didn't make a pair in my size!) and the book? I couldn't resist...on farm animals.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Finding My Inner Molly

What does jewel tones, gold, leather, biker jackets, and the color red have in common? They are among the latest "must haves" for fall, according to various news clips I've seen. Even in hard economic times, women are still being told to keep spending hard-earned money on unneeded items. The fashion reporters will even say you don't have to spend a lot, only $100 (a lot in my book), since this will be "out" next year. To this, I'll borrow a line from Alicia Silverstone's Cher in Clueless: "as if!"

I've never bought into this bewildering notion of being "on trend." Why would you want to look like everyone else? I say embrace your sense of style and own it.

I'm a child of the 80s, and I even remember being baffled in school by everyone wearing Wigwam socks (remember those?) in rainbow colors, Keds and their jeans rolled up. How dull to be a carbon copy. My style icon of that decade: Molly Ringwald's Andie in Pretty in Pink, who looked completely amazing on a dime. She even rocked an eco-friendly prom dress, reinventing her friend's old dress into an entirely new look. I've almost forgiven her for not picking Duckie at the end. Almost. I still have a crush on Jon Cryer. But I digress.

Molly's Andie can still inspire us to look fabulous without spending a lot of (or any) money. Thrift store shopping and clothing swaps are great for this, and are my main source of "new" clothes.

At our latest swap, my two co-workers and I provided a few light refreshments, including Trader Joe's spiced cider (tasty cold or served heated), and maple cookies.

Perfumes, bags and accessories are good to include, so all sizes can find something. The giver of the Victoria's Secret perfume set received it last Christmas and had barely touched it. The recipient, my co-worker who was giving it to her teenage daughter, was thrilled to get it.

Some clothes still had tags on them, and two pairs of shoes were never worn.

So many clothes! I donated a dress (not pictured) I spent $100 on at a high-end consignment shop, which my co-worker was happy to receive. No more fashion 'splurges' for me. I've also saved a small fortune cutting out manicures/pedicures, going back to my natural hair color instead of dying it, cancelling my gym membership and going from $55 cuts at a fancy salon to $15 cuts at Supercuts.

Our leftovers went to the Salvation Army in Chelsea and the C.A.T.S. Resale Shop in Westwood, NJ. As you change your closet over to your fall/winter items, remember to keep season in mind if you donate them. If you're not shopping for tank tops and flip-flops at your local Salvation Army or other thrift shop, chances are someone else isn't either. Keep it in storage until the appropriate season arrives.

Andie, you are still an inspiration! And Duckie, you are still dreamy. I would have picked you! Blaine does sound like an appliance.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What Do I Want for My Birthday This Year?

A turkey from Farm Sanctuary, what else would you have guessed?

One of the beauties I met when visiting their Watkins Glen, New York sanctuary. Flashback.

With my November birthday coming up, I asked my family to adopt a turkey in my name again this year. I still have Serendipity's cheerful face on my fridge from last year.

For a one-time adoption fee of $25, you too can sponsor a turkey for yourself or your loved ones as part of their annual Adopt-A-Turkey program. Learn more. This is a wonderful way to raise not only critical funds for the turkeys that live at their two sanctuaries, but also awareness about the 45 million turkeys that are needlessly slaughtered for Thanksgiving each year in the U.S.

Start a humane tradition of your own by cooking compassionate food for yourself and others. Corn soup, wine-glazed root vegetables, apple crisp, vegan pumpkin pie and more. Yes please! Find the cruelty-free recipes here.

Friends don't let friends eat turkeys at Thanksgiving!" declares Bubbles, a resident at Watkins Glen. Well-said, Bubbles!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What Does a Vegan Get on an Airline Nowadays?

Sub-standard food, just like all the other passengers on Continental Airlines. But at least no animal had to suffer for a meal most have to suffer to eat. I'm endlessly intrigued by what vegans get served compared to everyone else.

Team carnivore: chicken or mystery meatballs, a salad, a roll and a Pepperidge Farm Milano cookie. Team vegan: Some mystery Indian dish, really bad tabouleh salad, a roll, Smart Balance, Mrs. Dash, and a vegan health chocolate chip cookie that tasted like, well, a vegan health chocolate chip cookie.

The other passengers? A small croissant with fresh fruit cup. Vegans: a bagel, tropical fruit cup, Smart Balance and...Mrs. Dash again?

Another perk to veganism? We get our meals served first! Yet one more reason to be on team veggie!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Best for Last: Rome

How I loved Rome, the Eternal City. A piazza, dreamy fountain, and traces from the past are everywhere you turn.

The Colosseum.

Being inside was eerie when pondering the human and animal life that perished inside its wall. During just the inauguration games alone in 81AD, some 9,000 wild animals were slaughtered over 100 days. Learn more.

The Forum. Consider how little we use our voice for a better world. Become an activist for what matters to you: animals, the environment, human rights. Anything.

With my Rick Steves guidebook in hand, I took an informative tour of the Forum, and later, a simply magical one of the city by night. The famed Trevi fountain. None of my pictures do it justice. Check out The New York Times' "Rome Illuminated."

The Swiss Guard at the Vatican. This is the one place I did a guided tour because it was so immense. My tour guide left me hungering to learn more about Michelangelo.

After a visit to the Catacombs, I stumbled upon this unexpected group.

The Trastevere section of Rome. Note the laundry peaceably co-existing.

Even the statues seem stylish!

Breakfast at the Alice in Wonderland Bed & Breakfast. A double room (shared bath) with breakfast was just 60 euros. A roll with jam, peach tea, and blood orange juice from Sicily (so good!)

Do take a few moments each morning to eat at a nicely set table. It does wonders for the soul.

A half a liter of red wine: 3.50 euros, at La Scuderia, a few minutes from the hotel. I don't drink much wine at home and it often gives me a headache, but here it never did.

Very few places give you tap water, so I stopped asking for it. Given my loathing of bottled water, I didn't drink it at all. For a Coca-Cola, expect to pay 2.50 to up to 4 euros.

Mushroom risotto, 8.50 euros. Almost no English spoken here, and no tourists.

An espresso at the coffee bar next to Alice in Wonderland, just 0.70 euro. Money saving tip: drinking at the bar, instead of having a seat at a table, is almost always cheaper in Italy.

There was a huge line outside of Pizzeria Baffetto, but it was worth the wait.

A zucchini-topped marina pizza.

At last!!! I got to partake in the gelato enjoyment at Gelato Passione. I tried both the chocolate and cappuccino flavors. A small serving is 2 euros.

Dining in an alleyway at La Zucca Gialla.

My half of an artichoke bruschettta appetizer, 2.50 euros.

Perfect for a fall night: pumpkin risotto, 8.50 euros. No cover charges were at any of the places I went to in Rome.

Snack time! I loved the little fruit and vegetable markets around the city.

"It is the time of the olives and the wine," Luigi's son at Casa Mazzola said.

"Drink wine. This is life eternal. This is all that youth will give you. It is the season for wine, roses and drunken friends. Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life." — Omar Khayyám (Rubaiyat)

Pizza can be found by the gram all over Rome. Who knew potatoes and pizza were such a heavenly combination? Just thinly sliced potatoes, rosemary, olive oil and salt. Pizza Bianca next to it. The cost? Around 2 euros.

I did try one vegetarian place, The Beehive Cafe, which is part of the Beehive Hotel. The cafe has "suggested" prices on its menu, and you leave what you think is fair in a bowl on the counter.

Organic plum juice, suggested price 2.50 euros.

Vegan leek and fennel soup, with crusty bread drizzled with agave syrup, 6-7 euros suggested.

Unfortunately, the Beehive Cafe has few vegan options. You can find amazing vegan food everywhere, so I would skip it. If you stay at the hotel, which is mentioned in both Fodor's and Rick Steve's guidebooks so is quite popular, breakfast is not included.

The food was so good at La Scuderia, I went back for my last meal.

Lost in translation: I tried to order a spinach calzone with no cheese, which the waitress said wasn't possible, so I asked for penne arrabbiata instead. I ended up with this!

A side of spinach, 3 euro. No complaints! Sauteed in oil and just the right amount of garlic.

Penne arrabbiata, 6.5 euro. A perfect last meal!

Loved the smaller portions. No need for your reusable take-out containers here. The Italians, like many of their neighboring countries, simply eat less, eat better (less processed food) and walk and bicycle more. No magical diet secret.

I stayed within my budget. This is my major purchase of the year. In relationships, I don't do big gifts for birthdays, Christmas or Valentine's Day. Diamonds are not my best friend: thrift store finds and hand-me-downs from my grandmother are. If I want something, I can buy it myself. My friends and I don't even exchange gifts anymore for birthdays. We just go out for a meal and spend what's most important: time.

Chef Max Bugnard once told Julia Child about a great meal that even after you eat it, "it stays with you - always." This can also be said of traveling. "Wind at my hair, I feel part of everywhere," Eddie Vedder reflects in "Guaranteed." Every place I've visited, the people and animals I've met, and food I've eaten are now a part of what Tori Amos would call my "body map."

Check out for Italian-inspired fare, including Gnocchi With Garlic Tomato Sauce, Tempeh Bolognese, Tiramisu, and much more.

One last time Eros!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Postcards from Amalfi

Sorrento was the perfect base to explore the Amalfi Coast, day trip to the island of Capri, and visit Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius before heading to Rome.

I adore staying in reasonably priced bed & breakfasts. Casa Mazzola and its cheerful owner Luigi (an artist who once lived in Garfield, NJ, of all places!) couldn't have been more charming. He gave great tips on where to go, and provided rides as his location was a bit out of the way without a car.

The view from my balcony.

Enjoyed on the patio surrounded by olive trees, vegan breakfast of champions: crusty bread with jam, Earl Grey tea, juice and fresh melon and local grapes.

Italian cool. Everyone from businessmen, students, and even a few carry-on dogs zip around on Vespas.

Can you imagine this traveling down Fifth Avenue in New York City?

Dinner was outside at a pizza place a short drive down the hill.

Even though no obvious vegan choices were on the menu, they were happy to accommodate me with this delicious pizza, for just a couple of euros.

Amazing vegan food can show up at the most unlikely places. This display for "local bread" hanging outside of Emporio Ravello caught my eye...

...led to a meat counter, which I would have never thought to approach for a vegan sandwich. For about 4 euro, I got this beauty. One of the best grilled vegetable sandwiches I've ever eaten.

I don't need a fancy hotel with a pool, especially when I can swim for free. Bring your shoes for their rocky, not sandy, beach.

Paying too much for spaghetti, 10 euros, plus a cover charge of 2 euros (cover charges are common), but the view was worth it! I also had a peach bellini (champagne and peach juice), for a reasonable 4 euro.

Need I say more?

Curious locals were everywhere.

Outside a ceramic shop. I didn't buy a single souvenir on this trip. I'm trying to declutter and live with less.

Onto Capri...

...famous for its lemons and Limoncello. I don't care much for the liqueur, but refreshing lemon sorbet, 2.50 euro, hit the spot.

Watering an organic vegetable garden which supplied the restaurant next door.

Time for a dip!

This is my kind of commute! Taking a lift to the top of Capri.

From the top.

A visual feast everywhere you looked.

Nuts are a great, natural protein source for vegans, and perfect to snack on for energy while traveling.

I visited the city of Pompeii, but was terribly troubled by the high number of street dogs everywhere, many of who had clear marks from fighting. I had flashbacks to Mexico.

One last stop. After about a 30 minute hike up, I reached the top of Mt. Vesuvius.

"Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows." Helen Keller