Lightly Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Hello!

Today we’re tackling a relatively simple soup with a relatively long name.

squash_soup

Lightly Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Lots of words, lots of flavour

You’ll find Lightly Curried Butternut Squash Soup on page 39 of the PDF version of “Good and Cheap” (a free download at leannebrown.com) and page 25 of the print version.

Ingredient Notes
This soup takes:

  • butternut squash
  • onions
  • green bell pepper
  • garlic
  • coconut milk
  • spices

I mostly stuck to the recipe, but a relative who over-bought for Easter dinner plunked a pair of free yams in my lap, which I thought I could safely substitute them for the butternut squash. And I had a red bell pepper to use up, so that took the place of the green one. 

How Did it Taste?
This is a really nice soup that would be great in the early fall. The one thing I’d change is to take out the cayenne pepper that the recipe calls for. I cut it in half and still ended up with a medium level of heat that overpowered the curry flavour.

I need to experiment a little more, but I really do think this soup can stand on its own without additional spiciness.

Time and Money
Instead of peeling and cubing the yams, I baked them. This added an extra step but made them super-soft and easy to work with. (See page 57 of the PDF version of “Good and Cheap”, or page 64 of the print version, for instructions.) Altogether, it took about 45 minutes to make up the soup.

I made a half-recipe and the total cost was $5.19, or $2.60 per generous serving. (I costed the yams at the current price in Save-On Foods.)

A Little Experiment
Awhile back, we took a look at a jalapeño & cheddar scone recipe. I loved these and pondered an alternate version that used asiago cheese and lemon zest.

I finally tried it out this week and I’m pleased to say that this was a highly successful experiment. I used the same quantity of cheese, but grated it, and zested a small-ish lemon. (Asiago is a drier, more crumbly cheese than cheddar and it doesn’t lend itself well to being cubed.) I also added about a tablespoon of flax seeds that have been hanging around in our pantry.

The lemon flavour is quite subtle and the saltiness of the asiago cheese makes for a nice savoury scone. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.

That’s it for today. Next up is a 1960’s classic — tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Join us for this retro double header!signature

Saving Face When You’re Lazy

I really wanted to title this post “It Rubs the Lotion On Its Skin”. Fortunately, my grown-up side prevailed.

This week, we’re working with a beauty book, something I have generally pooh-poohed. I consider myself too smart to get sucked into the vortex created by the yearly avalanche of books that North Americans are subjected to on how to be younger, thinner, more beautiful … and blah, blah, blah.

And Yet …
And yet, Dr. Harold Lancer’s book “Younger” intrigued me enough to make me open it up, and then check it out of my home library. Contrary to my pompous stereotyping, this is a thoughtful, intelligent how-to manual for taking good care of your own skin, written by a man who has spent his entire professional career taking care of other people’s skin. He starts the book by explaining the biology — how skin works and what happens when we start to age. From there, he moves on to a technique he calls the Lancer Method.

Here’s What You Do
The Lancer Method is composed of two simple three-step regimens:

In the morning, you:

  1. Cleanse
  2. Moisturize
  3. Protect

In the evening, you:

  1. Exfoliate
  2. Cleanse
  3. Moisturize

The Method applies to all types and ethnicities of skin, and there are some variants for those with acne, rosacea and sensitive skin. There’s also instructions on technique and product recommendations in three economic categories: luxury, moderate and affordable. In short, the Lancer Method is one of those concepts that is so well-designed and flexible that it makes my geeky little heart sing.

Dashing Off to the Cosmetics Counter
I was excited to start using the Lancer Method, so I went out to buy products before I’d even finished reading the book. Here’s where I ran into my first hitch. Beauty products change and evolve rapidly, and even though “Younger” was published in 2014, I couldn’t find the L’Oreal exfoliator and cleanser that Dr. Lancer recommended. I made some educated guesses and got to work.

As I read further, I came to the section on sensitive skin. In the lists of recommendations, I discovered some Aveeno products that were much easier to find and relatively inexpensive. Here’s what I’m currently using:

Aveeno Positively Radiant Skin Brightening
Daily Scrub
$8.89 inc tax
Aveeno Ultra-Calming Foaming Cleanser $8.89 inc tax
Aveeno Ultra-Calming Daily Moisturizer
Broad Spectrum SPF 15
$20.97 inc tax
TOTAL $38.75

It takes about 10 minutes at night, and less in the morning. I should also mention that the Lancer Method subscribes to the European definition of “face”, which means that your face extends from your hairline to just above your bra line.

Meet my comrades in the War on Wrinkles

Meet my comrades in the War on Wrinkles


Does it Work?
I’m going to give you a cautious “yes”. To my amazement, I think it does work. It took about three weeks, but I noticed a difference first on my chest.

There’s a triangular patch of skin that extends from the collarbone to just above the cleavage, and since this area gets a ton of sun exposure, it also gets a little leathery when we age. This was just starting to happen on my own chest. But about three weeks in, I took a look in the mirror one morning and thought “Hey! Wait a minute. I’m smooth again!” With the Terrible Triangle taken care of, I’ve now focused my attention on my neck.

I started this experiment with a pretty mixed bag of genetic and lifestyle factors. I’m blessed to come from a family who tend to look younger than the years listed on their passports, and my oily skin takes longer to age. Since I’m of Anglo Saxon descent, however, I’m very fair and have had crows feet under my eyes since my 30’s. And my sloppy approach to skin care eventually tipped the scales in the wrong direction. The Lancer Method seems to have worked well for me so far, and I think it will most likely work for other people.

Two Small Wrinkles
The Aveeno moisturizer is — oddly — pretty heavily scented. It’s really irritating to use anywhere near my eyes. Aveeno also makes an SPF 30 version of this product, which I’ll test-drive when the SPF 15 runs out, and see if it’s any less smelly.

The other concern I have is the environmental impact of the microbeads found in the exfoliating product. Governments in Europe are moving to ban microbeads, and the Canadian government isn’t far behind. If you’re willing to spend some time creating your own exfoliating products, there’s a natural alternative available, which is made from 100% biodegradable jojoba oil.

Resources
Here’s the skinny on Dr. Lancer’s book:

Younger 
Written by Harold Lancer, MD
Published by Grand Central Life & Style
Released Feb 4 2014
ISBN 1455548901

Show Me the Money
My total investment in Aveeno products came to $38.75, and my best estimate is they will last an average of three months. That works out to $12.92 per month, which I see as a very reasonable price to pay for skin care that appears to be effective.

The book “Younger” works out to an average of $22.49, which is money I saved by taking it out of the library. (Almost enough for two months of Aveeno products!)

That’s a Wrap
Tune in next time, when we investigate “One Drawing A Day”, a six-week course in creativity, all contained within 128 pages of a book. Until then, thank you — as always — for reading this post and happy exfoliating!
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Mrs. Potato Head

Hello!

After a lengthy series of random essays, I’m heading into the blog’s roots and bringing back the life hacking posts. And on the topic of roots, we’re headed into gardening territory this week!

Where Are My Overalls?
I have long fantasized about being an urban farmer. (I blame this on genetics. I’m descended from grandparents who farmed.) Last spring, I stumbled onto a gardening book called “Grow Great Grub” by a Canadian author named Gayla Trail. I loved this book. It combined nifty urban gardening experiments with straightforward, easy-to-read instructions. When spring 2015 rolled around, I borrowed the book again and got all excited, thinking about what kind of crops I might grow.

Enter a little dose of reality. I’m currently living in a 111-yr-old heritage house, perched at the top of Edmonton’s river valley. We have a beautiful back yard, which is also very large. What that means is that the upkeep of said back yard consumes a fair amount of time in the summer. My roommates warned me not to get carried away with my crops, as there would be plenty o’ chores available.

When planting time came, I decided I wanted to undertake two experiments:

  1. Growing potatoes in a trash can, with Gayla Trail’s instructions
  2. Growing Early Girl tomatoes, so that I could try out Karen Solomon’s recipe for oven-dried tomatoes

I also planned to grow some herbs that I actually use: basil, rosemary, and garlic chives.

I think that this is the real trick with gardening — to grow stuff that you like and will actually use. And to do it in small quantities.

Trash Into Treasure
Growing potatoes in a trash can is pretty straightforward. First, buy a trash can, dirt and seed potatoes. Next, drill holes in the trash can for drainage, add some dirt, and plant your seed potatoes. Ta dah! You need to be a little bit patient for the next part. I hovered around the trash can every day, looking for sprouts, but it took a good two weeks before those lazy little suckers poked their heads out of the soil. (I even went in and uncovered one to see if it was actually sprouting.) But once they’d come up, my little potato plants grew like crazy.

Skip the Supermarket
Seed potatoes cost $4.99 at Canadian Tire and I only ended up using two of the twenty-odd that were in the bag. This seemed wasteful to me, and I wondered if I could simply have bought some organic Yukon Golds at a supermarket, chopped them up and planted them.

As it turns out, this is not a good idea. In her book, “The Resilient Gardener”, Carol Deppe says not to plant supermarket potatoes. They’re treated with sprout inhibitors and often won’t grow at all. She recommends that you buy certified seed potatoes from a reputable seed supplier.

So, how do you get around the wastage? Well, you could get together with a group of fellow potato farmers and share a bag. You could also give your extra seed potatoes away. Or … if all else fails, they do make an excellent addition to a compost pile. And once you’ve harvested a first crop, you can keep seed potatoes for next year — Carol Deppe will tell you how to do it in Chapter 8 of “The Resilient Gardener”.

Time Marches On
It’s now September 1 and the potatoes are doing great. The tomatoes, however, had a rough start. We have ant hills in our yard and thought that we might do away with the hills by plunking containers of plants on top of them.

Pretty, pretty. My trash can potato plants.

Pretty, pretty.
My trash can potato plants.

Wrong. The ants crawled up the drainage holes and very nearly did away with my fledgling crops. I ended up pulling the tomatoes out of their containers and re-planting them in fresh pots with fresh soil. It was touch-and-go for a few weeks, but the tomatoes survived and are now thriving. The ants DID manage to kill my basil and rosemary but steered clear of the garlic chives (garden folklore says that ants hate garlic).

I expect to be able to harvest in a few weeks, and we’ll do a check-back on the final poundage of potatoes my trash can yields. We’ll also talk about how those oven-dried tomatoes turned out.

Great Grub Indeed
Did I mention that I love “Grow Great Grub”? It’s well-written and beautifully illustrated. It’s smart and funny. And it’s creative. This book gives you basic instructions on how to grow a given vegetable, fruit or flower, but then adds some suggestions about unusual variants on traditional crops. Thanks to Gayla’s inspiration, we’re growing wildly cool chioggia (striped) beets in the communal garden at my house.

Dollars and Cents
When we check back later this fall, I’ll talk about what my crops cost me. But in the meantime, I’ll tell you that you can save yourself an average of $19.23 by taking “Grow Great Grub” out of the library. Here are the details on this wonderful book:

Grow Great Grub:
Organic Food from Small Spaces
Written by Gayla Trail
Published by Clarkson Potter
Released Feb 2 2010
ISBN 0307452018

And… We’re Done
That’s it for this week. Tune in next time, when we look at DIY expert skin care with the help of Dr. Harold Lancer, Dermatologist-to-the-Stars. Until then, have a great week, and feel free to share your garden hacking stories!
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A Look Back At 2013

Hello!

Before we get too far along in this brand new year, I thought it was a good idea to wrap up what we did in 2013.

The initial goal of Library Life Hack was to determine the dollars-and-cents value of a library card in the life of a (more or less) ordinary person. At the close of 2013, the life hacks I had tried out had saved $3971.86.

As well as life hacking, I borrowed entertainment resources that would have cost me $424.26 to buy, and I also borrowed $124.32 worth of books and DVDs for my academic pursuits. That’s a grand total of $4520.44.

My library card weighs 3 grams, so pound for pound, that makes the card much more valuable than platinum.

A library card is worth more than $4500. Who would have thought?

And … what did I learn?
Quite a lot. My favourites:

All these little enrichments added up to a life that felt very much enriched by the end of the year. I also got exposed to a lot of terrific, insightful and inventive authors and filmmakers. I felt like my brain expanded into all kinds of new territory, and there were several nights I would lay awake, too excited by all these unexplored frontiers to go off to sleep.

I learned a few other things along the way. To my surprise, a rolling pin is nothing to be afraid of. And not so much to my surprise, food that you make yourself tastes way better than anything you buy in a typical grocery store.

And I had so much fun
Oh my gosh, I had fun. I loved doing the experiments and I loved writing the goofy stories about the results. I still play my Butter-Making Dance Mix when I’m cooking and cleaning, and laugh as I’m shaking my 50-something derriere to Katrina and The Waves.

Thank you, Thank You, Thank You
We’re now two weeks into 2014, so let’s close off 2013 with a few words of thanks.

  • First to Chris Guillebeau, who provided $100 and the instructions that inspired Library Life Hack. (You can read the whole story here.)
  • Second, to the brilliant staff of Strathcona County Library, who offered help and suggestions at every turn. (This is a gorgeous library. If you’re ever in Sherwood Park, stop in for a visit. You won’t be sorry.)
  • Third, to everyone single person who has ever sat down and read through the posts, offered their comments and even trusted me far enough to subscribe. You’re a giant part of what makes this blog so much fun and so worthwhile. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And now … it’s 2014. Let’s go!
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Happy New Year!

Hello and Happy New Year!

Exactly one year ago today, I released the first post on this blog, full of the enthusiasm and optimism that accompanies new ventures. And exactly two months and three days ago, I released the most recent post.

For this, I apologize. My intention, on January 1st of 2013, was that this be a weekly blog.

“Life is what happens” said the great John Lennon, “when you’re busy making other plans.”

In my life, the happenstance is that I work full-time and go to school part-time. At least until this past September. I decided to try taking three courses per semester, which meant that — legally, anyways — I was now a full-time student. Juggling a three-course load with a demanding full-time job was … well … a little hairy. And Library Life Hack became a casualty of my academic pursuits.

I survived. I even got good marks. And I signed up to start three more courses on January 8. Having tackled it once, I’m gambling that I could manage a little better on Round Two.

Library Life Hack’s domain registration came up for renewal four days ago. And I had a decision to make. Do I continue? Can I do it? Do I want to do it?

The answer to the last question is easy. Of course I do. Library Life Hack was one of the brightest spots of my 2013. Despite my embarrassment at falling off the wagon for two months, I’m quietly proud of my blogging adventures. I’ve even gotten to speak live about it to other library folks.

And there are still things — lots of things — I want to try. So, I’m back for another year of kooky life experiments, engineered with library materials. I don’t know exactly how I’m going to do it. It would be foolish for me to promise weekly posts because that’s unlikely to happen. But I will tell you that I’m taking a page from “The 4-Hour Workweek” and looking at the possibility of outsourcing.

There are fresh adventures yet to come. And I’m really glad you’re here.

Happy New Year.

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It’s all Spanish to me — language learning with guest blogger Stephanie Medford

Happy Thanksgiving to you Canadian readers! Everyone else, I hope you had a great weekend. Today, I’m delighted to be bringing you a guest post with Stephanie Medford. She’s going to be talking all about learning another language with library resources.

Stephanie is an artist and blogger and has been in love with Edmonton for as long as she can remember. Check out her hand-printed postcards and read about her adventures in Edmonton at iheartedmonton.ca.

Take it away, Stephanie!

StephanieHello! I’m super excited to be a guest on Library Life Hack.

I’m the type of person who never pays for something she can get for free. When I decided to learn Spanish before traveling to South America, it never crossed my mind to pay for a class. I’m an independent learner and I knew the Edmonton public library had all the resources I needed. Having been in French Immersion as a child, it’s possible that my bilingual brain already had a leg up on language learning but I think that anyone who’s willing to put in the time can teach themselves a new language.

I knew that I would need a mix of resources to learn the different components of the language: speaking, listening, and reading/writing. While learning to understand and speak was my main priority, I was committed to getting a good grasp on the grammar as well, partly because I’m not one to do things halfway, and partly because I find that an understanding of small details makes the whole that much stronger. While there’s plenty of material out there, many of the resources I found were not terribly useful. Finally I stumbled on three items and used them almost exclusively during the 7 months of my self-instruction,, borrowing items for the longest period allowed, then returning them and putting them on hold again if I needed to.

The Pimsleur Language Program by Recorded Books received high reviews on the library site. It consists of a series of sequential CDs that immerse you in the language right from the start. I got the Latin American version, which was really helpful since the language is quite different in Spain (I soon learned that it varies quite a bit from country to country as well!). I listened to it in my car almost every day. The lessons repeat material over and over again, without it ever feeling redundant, so you don’t have to work to memorize anything. It’s designed so that you really know the material before it introduces anything new, and you are constantly reviewing old material. This was probably the most effective resource that I tried.

Ultimate Spanish by Living Language uses a great combination of listening, reading, and grammar and is a comprehensive introduction to the language. Lessons advanced very quickly and I found that I needed a firm grasp of the material before moving to each new chapter, which required a lot of extra study after each lesson. I liked how thorough it was but I struggled to remember things from one lesson to the next.

Complete Spanish Grammar by Gilda Nissenberg is a good guide to grammar, with plenty of exercises to practice the concepts. Because there are grammatical structures and variations in Spanish that we don’t have in English, I slowly worked through the exercises to get a handle on how the language is put together. Once I started trying to communicate I was really glad I had put in the extra time to learn the complicated verb tenses: trying to tell stories in only the present tense was no fun at all.

The final part of my self education project involved watching stacks of movies. I found an organization that has released independent movies from many Latin American countries – just search Film Movement in the library catalogue. It also pays to look through the Spanish section of the DVDs in any branch. All these helped me practice my listening skills, gave me a good understanding of how the accents vary from country to country. I watched Maria Full of Grace without subtitles and while I missed a lot of details and nuance, I was pleased that I was able to follow the story.

As obsessed as I was with learning the language, I didn’t work very hard. Outside of driving I put in maybe 3 hours a week. When I arrived in Peru I felt completely lost at first, but because I had built a solid foundation, my comprehension increased dramatically after only a couple weeks. 3 weeks in, I was already translating for others. The only thing missing from this self-study program was the opportunity for conversations. But listening to endless CDs meant I understood pronunciation and basic sentence structure, and once I was immersed in the language my speaking skills grew quite quickly!

Language learning is expensive. A 2-month “Spanish for Travellers” class costs $229 at Metro College. Rosetta Stone level One costs $199. I couldn’t find the exact Pimsleur program on Amazon but a similar Pimsleur course levels 1-4 costs from $210 – $305. Ultimate Spanish can set you back between $80 and $200 and Complete Spanish Grammar goes for around $13. Needless to say, teaching myself using library materials was definitely the cheapest option.

Thanks again for having me, and good luck in any language-learning adventures!

Here Comes the Sun(screen) — a mini-post

The finished product

The finished product


Hello! And welcome to my first mini-post.

Saying No to Chemicals
If you’ve been reading for awhile, you’ll know that I spent some of the summer experimenting with homemade cosmetics. A reader named Goldie wrote in and asked if I had any recipes for sunscreens, particularly ones that were baby-friendly, as the chemicals in commercial sunscreens are not necessarily what you want to be slathering all over little people. (I totally agree.)

And Here’s a Recipe
Goldie pointed me in the direction of Wellness Mama’s blog. My own resources had a recipe for sunscreen, but nothing that sounded as effective (or safe) as what Wellness Mama had whipped up, which has a natural SPF factor of about 20. Of course, I had to give it a try. The recipe had ingredients I was already familiar with, plus non-nano zinc oxide. (“Non-nano” simply means that the particles aren’t so finely ground up that they might be absorbed into your system through your skin.)

It knocked together very quickly — about 35 minutes start to finish. Using essential oils, I gave it a very light scent of lavender, reasoning that this would probably be baby-safe. Half of Wellness Mama’s recipe nicely filled three 1 oz. jars, which were out the door that same afternoon. I gave two to testers and tried one out on myself.

How Dedicated am I to Research?
Now, given that I burn easily, I have to admit that I had some concerns about experimenting on myself (or anyone else) with sunscreen. I mean, if a cake recipe doesn’t work, there’s some ingredients wasted and a few dishes to do. But if the sunscreen didn’t work, I was in for some skin damage and a few days of annoyance. I applied a healthy dose and re-applied often.

My other misgiving was that the zinc oxide would turn white on my skin. I was willing to sit in the privacy of my backyard looking like a ghost, but not in public. Happily, that was not the case. The sunscreen seems to sink in and leave only a slight sheen.

But It Works!
And … I can say with relative confidence that this sunscreen works. Several tests on late-summer hot days were positive. No sunburn and nice soft skin to boot.

There’s More
Now that summer is well past us, the sunscreen doubles as a very effective moisturizing body cream. Since this particular recipe has a shelf life of about six months, you can simply segue out of suncare and get a jump on the dry skin that happens in the fall and winter. I LOVE it when a product is this useful. No waste at all.

Dollars and Cents
As to the dollars and cents, it works out to $1.61 for a 1 oz. jar. By my reckoning, I would use up two or three jars in an active summer. Sunscreens come in a  very wide range of formulations and prices, so it’s difficult to do a comparison, but I’d say that an annual cost of $4.83 is quite a bit less than what I’ve paid for sunscreen for many years.

And that’s it! Thank you to Goldie for her question and see you again soon!

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