Thursday, June 25, 2009

Going Paperless at Home

Paper, paper, everywhere! Currently, I have four stacks (STACKS!) of paper that need to be dealt with or filed away. This doesn't include hubby's stacks of the bills and such that he takes care of. TOO MUCH!

Fortunately, my current office (and the last one) are "paperless" environments. We each have two computer screens at our desks, and with the exception of mailing things to clients, I may touch less than a dozen sheets of paper in one day. Everything happens via e-mail, the web, and specialized client management software. I even have a direct digital fax that goes straight into my work e-mail. I love it! So why not carry on this practice in my own home?

At work, our main document type is PDF. I played around with a few different programs at home this week, to try to find a cost-effective and storage-friendly piece of software that will scan directly to PDF. Of the few that I tried, Scan To PDF seems to be the best fit. This is from a UK-based company, and is super easy to install and use. While the other PDF makers were slow, grainy, and made rather large files (about 400 kb each), Scan To PDF was quick, sharp, and made files 10% that size. If I'm going to PDF every sheet of paper that comes in this house, I do not want them to be a half a meg each! 40KB I can live with :) Scan To PDF is fully functional from its initial download, and is available to register for $20. That's a bargain. Without registration, each PDF generated has a faint watermark across the page that says "Produced with ScanToPDF". It's not obtrusive at all, and for my archival purposes, I can certainly live with that (although I really do love this program, and will eventually pay to register it). Unlike Scan To PDF, some of the competitors' unregistered versions had very obtrusive things like giant red stripes on their generated PDFs. Scan To PDF is the way to go for our family's scanning needs.

Do you do this too? Get e-bills, pay them online, only to print a receipt on a piece of paper? No more. Anytime I have something I want to print for future reference, I use CutePDF. This is a great, free tool, that is also very easy to install and use. I tried Primo PDF before, but it was much too slow, and required too much clicking around. CutePDF makes it easy. Download and install the software, and CutePDF sets itself up like an additional printer on your computer. Instead of choosing to print a receipt off my regular desktop printer, I select the CutePDF "printer" instead. In a flash, CutePDF prompts you with a box to type the name of your new PDF file, and allows you to save it anywhere you like on your computer. Fast, easy, free, and saves trees. Green plus!

Now that everything's going to be scanned and saved in PDF, we need to talk backup. For a few months now, we've been using an online remote backup service from Mozy.com. Their software is so quick and easy to use. I highly recommend it to everyone. Even those of us on a tight budget can take advantage of the free 2-gigabyte accounts, offered by Mozy. Click though my link here, and get an extra 10% free! Then refer your friends, and you each get more space, too!

The software itself is very self-explanatory, and makes logical sense (which is more than I can say for 80% of the software out there). You can set Mozy to run quietly in the background, schedule it for a specific time/day, and customize the folders you want backed up with a simple click of the mouse. The initial backup takes some time, but after that, Mozy knows what has changed since your last backup, and only deals with those items. My most recent backups have taken anywhere from one- to six minutes, and run automatically, when my computer is sitting idle. Very handy tool.

If 2 GB isn't enough (and for us, it won't be), Mozy offers unlimited storage, for about $5 a month. Pay for a full year or more in advance, and it's cheaper. As a special incentive, Mozy is offering a special to mom bloggers: sign up for the unlimited account, blog about Mozy, and get a free t-shirt. There are some adorable baby shirts and onesies there. I particularly like the shirt that says "Working On Mommy's Next Blog Entry". Too cute :)

Scan, shred, and auto remote backup. Sounds like a plan to me ;)




Mozy t-shirts for Moms image courtesy of Mozy.com

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Silk Soy Milk is No Longer Organic

Justify FullAs a Chinese girl, I've been a devoted soy milk drinker since I was young. I grew up in a predominantly white city, with the closest metropolitan Asian markets a good 45 minutes away in Toronto. Still, our family would make regular weekend trips to stock up on Asian products, including tetra-packs of Vitasoy soy milk for my lunch boxes. My parents would also buy dried soy beans, and make their own soy milk at home.

Fast-forward to today, soy milk is readily available in most major chain grocery stores. Having mainly enjoyed the homemade version that my parents so carefully blended and strained and boiled in our kitchen, I was really turned off by the chalky, mineral-infused, pasty concoctions, that were gaining popularity. It took a while, but eventually I came upon Silk by White Wave. From the first sip, I could tell this was different. It was smooth, creamy, and tasted like pure soy milk. I highly attribute that to White Wave's use of organic soy beans.

Alas, nothing lasts forever. I just recently purchased my very last carton of Silk soy milk a couple months ago. I remember exactly what happened. We were doing our regular weekly grocery run, and arrived in the dairy aisle. As usual, I reached in the dairy case for my usual two half-gallons of Silk. Just before I put the first carton in the cart, I stopped. Something caught my eye. What's different here? I looked at the front of the carton. There it was, smack dab in the middle. The small letters below the logo, that usually spell out "O R G A N I C" were very subtly changed to "N A T U R A L". Same font, same type. How clever. Most people probably wouldn't have even noticed. I quickly flipped the carton around to see the ingredients. It was true. No more organic soy beans in the ingredient list. I then glanced at the price ticket on the dairy case. Same price. Victim of the economic crisis, I figured. How bad could it be?

I decided then to just buy one carton and see for myself, just in case. I'm glad I did. Once we were home, I poured myself a glass of this new "natural" soy milk, and I was utterly disgusted. Did the people at White Wave really believe they could pass off this switch so easily? That it wouldn't go unnoticed? WRONG! I'm not sure just how many pennies they figure they're saving, but they just lost themselves a long-time, devoted customer; willing to shell out $7 a week, every week, for their product.

Down here in Florida, we're very happy to have the Publix chain of grocery stores. Great stores with great products, and it's nice seeing the same staff every time we go in. They must treat their employees well. Publix also offers their own house brand of organic products, called "Greenwise". We've tried many things from the Greenwise line, including now their soy milk. Theirs is still made with organic soy beans, and I gladly made the switch to this trusted brand. I'm very pleased, and very thankful that another great-tasting, organic alternative was readily available. Thank you, Publix! :)




"Silk NOT Organic" image courtesy of http://chetroy.com/healthyvegan.
Greenwise Vanilla Soy Milk image courtesy of Publix.com

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Slow Cooker Chicken Soup Base

The little one had a very exciting past week. We officially started preschool!! WOOHOO :D

There were some tears and clinging, but I survived OK. J/K. I did most of my crying at home, the Sunday evening before the first day. The little school-goer did cry and had trouble letting mommy leave for work. She also had a short bout of refusing to eat or drink that first day, but every evening, she told me how much she just loved school, and wanted to go back the next day. We're very happy to have found such a great school, with such a lovely group of teachers who truly care about the kids.

Unfortunately, school also means bringing home icky bugs. We already caught our first one. This also came with the unfortunate timing of our very first ballet recital this past weekend. The little ballerina was NOT in the mood to sit through a whole recital (even though it was very well done, and moved along quickly). She then wandered out on stage behind her class, tears streaming down her face, and promptly sat down on the stage floor and sobbed. Lots of "Aww"s from the audience. Thank goodness they were all parents too, and many "Been there, done that"s were what they were thinking. That's okay. The little one really enjoyed her ballet class, loved her teacher, and we do have at least one good dress rehearsal on video for Grandma and Grandpa's enjoyment. LOL ;)

Anyway, ballet is over, and I think we're going to follow suit with a couple of the other moms in the class, and take a break until August. Time to nurse that cold today. Thankfully, I decided to make chicken soup this weekend. Ever since putting together that super easy
Fall-Off-The-Bone-Roast-Chicken recipe, we've been regularly roasting those (even hubby did one the other day! Yay hubby!). We usually eat up the dark meat the evening we roast it, and the next day, the white meat goes into chicken pie, or my apple-raisin-chicken salad (will post that recipe sometime). But we're not done there. The leftover carcasses (ribs, back, wings, with a bit of meat left on the bones) have been going in the freezer. I now had three, and I was ready to make soup. This is how I made a delicious, super easy stock in the slow cooker:

3 frozen chicken carcasses
1 small carrot
1 rib celery
1 parsnip
1 small onion, quartered
2 cloves garlic
salt & pepper to taste


Arrange the frozen chicken carcasses and vegetables in a 6-quart slow cooker. Add enough water to cover. Cook overnight (8 hours) on low, covered.

When complete, strain the stock, discarding all the solids, and season with salt & pepper to taste. Cool to room temperature before refrigerating.
To easily skim excess fat, refrigerate the cooled stock and the fat will rise to the surface and solidify, making it easy to lift out and discard. The remaining soup will have a jelly-like consistency when cold, due to all the collagen released from the bones and meat. This is what provides the body to soups.

This stock can also be frozen in ice cube trays, and later transferred to zip-top bags. Take a couple cubes from the freezer and toss them in the pan while making a sauce.

We had the most gigantic leeks from our organic buying club this week. I tend to use the dark greens, too, when I cook. I diced the leeks, gave them at least three good washes in cold water, to remove all the grit, and simmered those in this homemade chicken stock for about 20 minutes. That leek soup tastes even better the next day.

Enjoy! :)





Chicken in stock pot image courtesy of clipartof.com

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