Weekend Camping Menu For Two

Pop-Up Camping

This weekend was absolutely perfect! The hubby and I packed up our three dogs and our pop-up camper and headed out of town for a quick Friday night through Sunday afternoon trip. We went to one of our favorite places, called Collins Lake. It’s one of our favorites for a few reasons – one, it’s relatively close being only an hour or so away, two, we’ve been going for several years so we are familiar with the campground layout and where our favorite fishing/swimming spots are, and three, we are always able to get lakefront campsites. Lakefront camping is awesome because you have less neighbors and you’re right next to the water when it’s time to go swimming or fishing. Also, being able to sit with a cup of coffee right outside the camper and see the sun rising over the water in the mornings is divine. These short trips are the perfect getaway that don’t take too much planning or effort while still making it so we can come home refreshed and ready to start the week (well, sort of).

Menus for weekend camping trips can be tricky. A couple years ago I would always make the mistake of bringing way too much food usually meaning much of it went to waste. More recently I’ve figured out a pretty perfect combination of items to bring so that there is plenty to eat without any waste. This camping menu is for two adults, who eat a mostly vegan/vegetarian diet. You could sub out the meat-substitute items for meat items if you prefer, but if haven’t tried vegan hot dogs or burgers yet I highly recommend checking them out. This menu utilizes things like hamburger buns for breakfast, so make sure you don’t skimp on the quality of the bread. We like to buy the artisan rolls and use them for burgers and then use them for toast the next morning with avocado. The only thing we had left at the end of our trip was hot dog buns and hummus, which we ended up not even opening, so all in all I’d say this menu was a success.

Weekend Camping Menu for Two (meals below)

1 package of Beyond Meat burgers (includes 2 patties)

1 package of Lightlife Jumbo Smart Dogs (includes 5 links)

1 package of artesan hamburger buns (includes 6 buns)

1 package of hot dog buns (includes 8 buns)

1 package of brown rice cakes

Peanut butter

Jelly

2 ears of corn

1 summer squash

1 can of vegetarian baked beans

3 avocados

1 tomato

1 melon or melon platter

Condiments

Vegan butter

Salt and Pepper

Meals

Dinner 1 (Friday night):

  • Smart Dogs + condiments
  • Squash skewers
  • Baked beans (store leftovers for Saturday’s dinner)

Breakfast for both days:

  • Toast hamburger buns, top with avocado and salt and pepper
  • Melon

Lunches for both days:

  • Rice cakes topped with peanut butter and jelly

Dinner 2 (Saturday night):

  • Beyond burgers with avocado + condiments
  • Corn on the cob with vegan butter
  • Baked beans

How to Arrange Market Style Flowers

Ramble On

I absolutely love having fresh flowers in the house. Something about them makes everything feel brighter. The last few years, I’ve started buying the market style bunches of flowers and greenery instead of buying prearranged bouquets. This may seem like a daunting task, but once you get the hang of arranging your own flowers it’s actually cheaper and more fun to do it yourself. For example, my grocery store sells bouquets for around $15. These are the smaller bouquets with a few different kinds of flowers but not in a large quantity. Or I can get three larger bunches of flowers, which I get to pick, for only $12. This makes for a much larger bouquet made out of whatever flowers I choose. Once you start creating your own bouquets, you’ll realize how easy it is and you’ll never go back!

When buying fresh market bunches of flowers make sure to get at least one greenery bunch and a variety of sizes of flowers. In this bouquet, I only purchased three bunches – ferns, daisies and large yellow mums – but it still made for quite a full bouquet. Having a variety of sizes will make it so that the bouquet is balanced. To begin, fill a vase with water and pour in the flower food that comes with the flowers. If you don’t have flower food, you can also take some aspirin and grind it up in the water.

Start with the largest flowers first and place them in the vase. Make sure to remove all leaves that may reach the water line so that they don’t dirty the water. To figure out how much stem to cut off, I like to set my vase on the edge of the counter, then hold the flower next to the vase allowing the stem to go below the counter if necessary. Once the height of the flower has been determined, you can cut the stem to length. Place the largest flowers in the center. You can vary the heights of the stems slightly so that they aren’t all leaning up against each other. Next, prepare the smaller flowers. The smaller flowers can be arranged around the larger ones, again varying the height of the stems so that the bouquet is balanced but rounded, placing the the shorter cuts on the outside near the edge and the taller cuts closer to the center. If you have more than one variety of small flowers, you can treat these the same way. Use the smaller flowers like fillers to work around the larger flowers and fill in any gaps. You still want the largest flowers to be the focal point so make sure not to overpower them with smaller bunches of flowers (like I did in the photo below LOL).

Lastly, add the greenery. I usually like to add these in a triangular pattern. I had 5 fern stalks in my bunch this time so I put two stalks at 4 o’clock, two at 8 o’clock and one at noon. I made sure the largest flowers were still the most prominent and in the front. Take a step back and look at the bouquet fully. At this point, you can always pull stems out and rearrange if you’re not happy with the way things look. I think it’s always prettier when bouquets look a little bit more on the wild side, but to each their own 🙂 In the photos below you can see I broke my own rule on the left by adding too many of the smaller flowers to the center. This ruined the appearance of the larger flowers making them look squished into the bottom edge of the vase. The photo on the right is after I rearranged the larger flowers into the middle. I think it gives it a much more professional look and makes the mums look fuller and brighter.

So that’s pretty much it! I love how this bouquet turned out and also love that making my own arrangements means I can have flowers in the house more often. It really is the best way to brighten a room or a mood and for only $12 and about 15 minutes it’s totally worth the extra work!

Until next time,

MelissaRose

Best Meal Kits for a Vegetarian

Ramble On

Within the last few years, it seems like new meal kit subscriptions have been popping up all over the place. Each one offering full sets of ingredients delivered to your door with planned out recipes – making it easier than ever to cook your meals at home. They boast convenience and ease, eliminating the need for grocery store trips, menu planning and overall inspiration. All in all, they are a great concept. I personally enjoy trying them when I feel less inspired to cook or when I feel I’ve hit a wall with new recipes to try. I mean, let’s be real, you can only pin so many pins on Pinterest before you start to just feel like it’s hopeless. As a vegetarian (or in my case occasionally pescatarian), it can be difficult to figure out which meal kit might be best for you. This post walks you through my experience with several of the different meal kit subscriptions as a vegetarian. We’ll discuss the menu options, pricing, portion sizing and more. So if you’re vegetarian and have been thinking about trying out one of these subscriptions for yourself, then keep on reading.

Blue Apron

Blue Apron was one of the first subscription boxes I tried. I believe when I set up my account the whole meal kit thing was still a relatively new idea, and so there weren’t many other companies out there doing it. Blue Apron worked for my house because they offered vegetarian meals as well as meals with a meat focus. Recently, I received an email from them stating that they were even now offering Beyond Meat products as substitutes for certain menus. This makes Blue Apron a great choice for anyone looking to try out vegetarian options or someone already eating this way. Unfortunately, my biggest issue with Blue Apron ended up being that the meals all started to taste the same. This is likely due to the fact that many of the same spices and ingredients were used in their vegetarian options (ie. repetitive pasta dishes with oregano and red chili pepper). This isn’t to say that the meals weren’t tasty, just that the flavors began to feel a bit monotonous as time went on. This may have been fine if this wasn’t exactly why I was trying out meal kits in the first place. Pricing for Blue Apron was extremely reasonable as a new subscriber with coupon codes. My first two orders (which were 3 meals of 2 servings each) were only $35.00 per box. Later on however, the price almost doubled and the boxes were right around $60 each. This still might be a great deal to someone not wanting to go to the grocery store or menu plan, but for me it didn’t seem justifiable with the meals and ingredients I was being given (ie. all vegetarian, no fish or meat of any kind). If you’re looking to try out meal kits, I’d definitely give them a try using the introductory offer if only for the costs savings.

Every Plate

Every Plate was sort of an accidental try-out for me. A friend had sent me a referral link for basically a free box for my first order – which is awesome! However, I didn’t realize that when I signed up to view their menu that I was automatically subscribing to their meal kits. I was unable to view their menu before signing up which put me in a bit of a pickle since I soon realized that they did not offer vegetarian options. Once I realized a box had shipped out to me, I contacted customer service through their chat function on their website. Every Plate’s customer service was amazing. They refunded the $1 I paid when I signed up and still let me have the box for free. Now granted, I could not eat much of what was inside the meal kit, or use the recipes that went with it, but all of the ingredients were basically sent to me for free. If you’re a meat-eater, I would definitely check them out as their prices are reasonable and you can’t beat great service. They do have a sister-site that is vegetarian called GreenChef.com. I have not tried that service yet, but may have to at some point in the future.

Hello Fresh

Hello Fresh was the second meal kit I tried (after the Every Plate snafu) and I was actually pretty impressed with their options. Although they don’t regularly offer vegan options, I was able to make their options work in our vegetarian/pescaratian household. The ingredients arrived super fresh which is always a bonus. My favorite part about Hello Fresh was, again, the introductory pricing. I paid only $21 for my first box which included 3 meals with 2 servings each. The portions were super generous as well which is always nice since I like to be able to pack leftovers as lunches when possible. The leftovers didn’t happen with every meal, but there were a couple that were incredibly filling and worked out that way. The second box was just over $30 which is still a great deal for the amount of food and the quality of ingredients. I also appreciated the variety in their menu. I was able to try a few things that I had never even heard of before such as grilling cheese and even eating raw dressed squash on top of a delicious farro salad. The flavors of each recipe varied greatly too which I love because, again, I’m usually using these meal kits to try and get out of a cooking slump. All in all, I would definitely recommend Hello Fresh, and may even use them again in the future to get more kitchen inspiration.

Sun Basket

Sun Basket is one of the first subscriptions I tried that boasted having vegetarian and vegan options. However, I had expected to see many more options than what was offered. Basically if you’re doing 3 meals a week you were stuck with the three vegetarian option in that weeks menu, and vegan options were even less available. This isn’t to say that the food wasn’t good, because it was, but I feel that if a company is going to boast a specific offering it should be more in focus than it was. The pricing for Sun Basket was reasonable at first (again, as a first time customer with an introductory offer), but once the coupon was used up the price skyrocketed. To sign up for a “vegetarian” plan for 3 meals, 2 servings, it’s $72. I believe the main reason for this is that you pay $7 for shipping when many of the other meal kits will offer free shipping if you’re doing a large enough plan. My only other complaint with them would also be the serving size. Typically with vegetarian and vegan food I find myself needing a little larger portion size than usual. I found Sun Baskets servings to be somewhat small, and even had to make disproportionate servings for my husband and I so that he would feel satisfied after dinner. The menu items were tasty though, I just wish there would have been a little bit more food especially for the price.

Home Chef

Home Chef has been my most recent subscription and possibly my favorite so far. The first thing I love about Home Chef is their range of menu options. Granted, they don’t offer vegan so if you’re looking for that it won’t work, but they do offer at least 3 vegetarian options per week as well as plenty of seafood options. I also love the additional smoothies that you can purchase. They make a great and convenient breakfast or snack and have healthy ingredients such as coconut milk or greek yogurt and, of course, fruit. They offer a wide range of flavors as well. My most recent menu included a sun dried tomato pasta, a sweet-chili shrimp bowl, as well as a panko crusted salmon. I also added their peanut butter banana smoothie, which was amazing! I think that Home Chef was the best for me because of the inspirational menus. It really got my wheels turning about cooking and mixing ingredients in new ways, and gave me several great recipes that I will definitely make on my own in the future. These boxes were a little bit pricier – the first two were right around $50 – however, I feel that if I’m receiving a box with seafood items that $50 really isn’t that much (at least compared to $50 with all vegetables and grains). This is their introductory offer and I believe the boxes are right around $70 after the first three. This includes 3 meals, 2 servings each (with decently sized portions, sometimes with leftovers) and one smoothie recipe of 2 servings. So overall, yes, a little pricey, but decent if you eat seafood.

Overall, meal subscription kits are a fun way to get out of a cooking cycle of using the same recipes over and over and over. They are also a convenient way to avoid eating out and maybe even learn some new techniques along the way. Unfortunately, I think they are a bit pricey for someone looking for a strictly vegetarian menu. When you aren’t adding meat or seafood to a meal it shouldn’t cost the same as if you were. There are a couple other meal kits I haven’t tried yet that claim to be more veg-life focused, such as Green Chef and Purple Carrot. I may try those on my next round of inspiration searching, but until then I’m happy to take the recipes I’ve gotten so far and try some new things (here’s looking at you shrimp tostadas!). Let me know in the comments below if you’ve ever tried a meal kit subscription or if you would. If you have, let me know what your favorites are and if there are any not mentioned above that I should try.

Until next time,

MelissaRose

Plastic Free July: 5 Ways to Reduce Plastic Waste

Sustainability

July is Plastic Free Month so I thought it would be a great idea to share some ideas on how to easily reduce how much plastic we’re using. It can be difficult in this day and age to avoid plastic. It seems that everywhere I turn everything is wrapped in plastic – even vegetables! Sometimes using plastic is unavoidable because of this but there are some easy ways that you can reduce your plastic usage that we can all do not only for Plastic Free July but every month of the year.

Swap Your Plastic Utensils

This is probably one of the easiest swaps you can make – instead of using the plastic utensils at work for your lunch (or anywhere when you’re eating out) carry your own reusable utensils. This can mean you have an extra set at work that you use, wash and reuse, or maybe you have a set you keep in your purse. Whatever method you prefer, this is a quick and easy way to reduce your use of plastic every day. And really, who really likes using plastic utensils anyway. You can find loads of silverware and utensils at your local thrift store, or if you’re looking for something new I suggest checking out Etsy for some of the cutest reusable sets you’ve ever seen. Both options are inexpensive and a great way to reduce your plastic usage all year long.

Reusable Bags

This is a no-brainer in California, since our free plastic bags are no longer allowed, but in other areas it may be an important switch you can make to reduce your plastic waste. Reusable bags can be anything from grocery bags, produce bags, zip-up bags to lunch bags. Whether you’re reusing your stockpile of plastic bags or purchasing washable replacements this can be a quick and easy way to lessen your plastic footprint. There are loads of options that can be purchased at local grocery stores for fairly cheap and of course Etsy always has cute and unique options that you can have shipped to you. Stock up on grocery bags, mesh produce bags and even reusable snack bags for lunches. Also, did you know you can wash zip-up bags and reuse them? I’ve been doing this for months now and have even been putting them in the dishwasher. Simply flip the bags inside out and place on the top rack of your dishwasher. Wedge them between a few cups to keep them in place and before you know it your zipper bags will be good as new!

Plastic-Free Produce

This tip can be a bit more difficult to follow depending on where you shop, but it’s also important to let our grocery stores know that we’re tired of all of our food being wrapped in plastic for no reason. I like to try and do my best to purchase only those produce items that come without any added plastic. For example, often times there are english cucumbers wrapped in plastic wrap at my local grocery store, instead of purchasing those, I’ll buy the regular cucumbers that are plastic free. Same goes for bagged salads, herbs, and things like broccoli, carrots or green beans. The easiest way to avoid plastic produce? Shopping at the farmers markets! This is also a great way to get organic produce locally while supporting your local farmers and community. Avoiding plastic wrapped produce can have a big impact per trip depending on what you normally buy and can be also be a great way to encourage us to support our local agricultural businesses.

Buy in Bulk

Buying in bulk means that you can use reusable containers or bags to purchase things like rice, pasta, flour, nuts and other dry items. This greatly reduces waste and is usually cheaper too! Most grocery stores have a bulk area and if you’re lucky you might even have a dedicated bulk store in your area. Simply weight the container or bag you are using before you fill it up and subtract that from the total weight of your purchase before you buy. Sometimes this can be tougher to figure out depending on where you shop, but if you speak to your local grocer they should be able to help. I’ve seen people use everything from cloth bags to mason jars to purchase items in bulk. Not only is it easy but they look better sitting in your pantry too!

Quit Single Use Water Bottles

This tip is probably the easiest and most impactful of all – purchase a reusable water bottle to refill instead of using single use plastic water bottles. This tip is huge because it can reduce a crazy amount of plastic being thrown into landfills. It’s inexpensive to purchase a nice water bottle, whether you like stainless, glass or another plastic option. Most airports, gyms, public events etc. now offer water refill stations for your reusable bottle so it’s easier than ever. Don’t like the water from your tap? That’s easy. You can either buy a filtered pitcher or sink attachment, OR purchase your water in larger amounts to fill up your reusable bottle. There are over 50 billion water bottles purchased each day that end up in the garbage. Purchasing a reusable bottle can make a difference and help greatly reduce our plastic footprint.

So there you have it! 5 Tips to reducing your plastic footprint for Plastic Free July. All of these tips are so easy and don’t cost much if anything to implement. I hope you’ll be inspired to make small changes to help our environment not just for July but for every month of the year!

Las Vegas, NV

places

Traveling for work can be a blessing and a curse. On one hand your trip is pretty much paid for but on the other you do actually have to work for part if not most of it. This is how all except two of my trips to Las Vegas, Nevada have been. All in all I’ve been about 7 or 8 times. Basically, I’ve been to alot of different places in Las Vegas – some expensive (like that I could not afford and work was paying) and some not-so-expensive. In this post, I want to tell you about some of my favorite places and some of the best places for your money if you decide to visit Sin City.

Favorite Places to Stay

I’ve definitely been spoiled in the hotel department when it comes to staying in Las Vegas. Because most of my trips have been for work I’ve had the pleasure of staying in the hotel attached to the convention center on the strip – The Venetian. The Venetian is one of the pricier albeit nicest hotel on the strip. It’s connected to the convention center as well as the Palazzo which houses a wide variety of shopping and restaurants (some of which will come up in this post). The Venetian is styled after Venice Italy. It features large marble columns, ornately painted ceilings and a full on replica of the canals in Italy. It is one the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever seen which makes paying for it worth it in the end. The casino is huge and is one of the only casinos I’ve seen in Las Vegas that offers a non-smoking area. The pool area is beautiful as well with water features and a full bar that will serve you poolside. They also have two full size spas outdoors that have waterfalls and also poolside service. All of their guest rooms are suites that boast full size bathrooms with jetted tubs as well as showers and full living room areas to relax in. This is not your basic hotel and will run you anywhere from $169 to $610 for their more “basic” suites. If you have the money to splurge it’s definitely worth it.

Another great place to stay that is a bit more budget friendly, while still being beautiful, is Paris Las Vegas Hotel. Now don’t get me wrong, Paris can still be expensive depending on the time you go and what room you choose. But for our particular trip, which was a week before Thanksgiving, we found this to be the nicest and least pricey option. The hotel is styled after Paris, France and even features a large replica of the Eiffel Tower out front. You can even take an elevator ride up to the top of the tower for a bird’s eye view of the city, or enjoy a fancy dinner at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant. The casino is adorable with an outdoor feel. The ceilings are painted as blue skies and the bars are set up as if they are outdoor cafes. Even the waitresses wear Paris-style outfits as they serve cocktails on the casino floor. Paris’ hotel rooms are nice and will be even nicer once they complete renovations. They aren’t all suites like the Venetian but are still a decent size with a larger bathroom than your average hotel. I’ve also had their room service for breakfast which was super speedy and delicious. I would absolutely stay here again if given the chance.

Favorite Places to Play

Gambling is a huge part of the entertainment in Vegas. Pretty much every hotel features a casino and everywhere you go you can hear the bells and whistles of the slot machines. I’m not a huge fan of gambling, but sometimes it’s fun to play some of the slot machines and get free drinks while you’re doing it. The best places to play the slot machines are in the Venetian and Palazzo because, in my experience, they still bring you free drinks while you play. I’ve noticed many of the other casinos don’t have cocktail waitresses come around as often which makes it much less fun to lose money while gambling. Another fun place to play slot machines is in what they call Old Las Vegas. This Las Vegas is off the strip on Fremont Street. It is lined with neon signs and some rather different sites than what you will see on the new strip. Fremont Street is home to a giant zip-line ride where you can sail above the entire boulevard of lights, and at night is home to a variety of live music playing up and down the street. The slot machines are fun because the drinks are cheaper, the games are older, and you get much of the feel of what Las Vegas must have been like back in the old days. Visiting Old Las Vegas is like being thrown back in time. Someday, I’d like to stay here as well to get a different feel of the other side of Vegas.

For fun that doesn’t include gambling I usually like to go watch the fountain show at the Bellagio. It’s an engineering marvel of water and lights with fountains set to different music depending on when you’re able to watch it. My favorite song to see is Andre Bocelli’s time to say goodbye. The fountain show is spectacular and definitely something you won’t want to miss if you visit Vegas. The best part? It’s absolutely free. Another fun thing to do in Vegas is to check out all the other design and work put into the other ritzy hotels and casinos. A couple worth checking out are the Bellagio and Caesar’s Palace. Both feature amazing design features such as Bellagio’s glass flower ceiling and Caesar’s Romanesque interior. Bellagio also features a conservatory and botanical garden which is redesigned each season. The work that goes into the garden is breathtaking. It’s free to walk around and check out the hotels and their different attractions. You could also stop for a drink at Bellagio’s piano bar near the lobby or play a few slots in either casino. Another fun bar to check out is the dueling piano bar inside of Paris. You could also watch from outside the bar through the large windows if you don’t feel like paying for a drink. Picture two large grand pianos playing tunes requested by the audience. I couldn’t believe the talent of the guys playing and the engagement of the crowd is fun to watch while also being fairly inexpensive.

Favorite Places to Eat

Visiting new restaurants is hands down my favorite part about travelling. I love experiencing new food and trying new places and Las Vegas is one of the best places for that. They have so many different restaurants ranging from run-of-the-mill to Michelin star rated. Whether you’re looking for Italian food, a good burger or something exotic you’re sure to find it there.

For breakfast I love HEXX kitchen + bar located inside of Paris. Their interior is super modern and hip and I loved the variety in their menu. One of my favorite items was their fresh fruit plate, which I know, sounds basic, but is so over the top. It came with a bunch of mini banana muffins and a coconut whipped cream that was out of this world. Also, it’s huge! I’ve never seen a bigger fruit plate in my life! It went perfectly with my bottomless mimosas. I’ve recently learned that my favorite lunch spot in Las Vegas is no longer there after 6 years (super sad face!). So, the next time I go, I will try to update this post with a new lunch spot.

One of the best dinners I’ve ever had was my 30th birthday dinner at Sushi Samba inside of the Palazzo. Sushi Samba is one of my favorite restaurants in Las Vegas and I try to visit every time I am there. Their menu features items that are in a Japanese-South American fusion style. My favorite part is that they also offer an entire vegan menu which can be difficult to find in fine dining. The atmosphere inside is amazing as well with street-style art on the walls, crazy sculptures you walk through to get to your seat, and giant paper lanterns hanging from the walls. If vegan isn’t your thing, have no fear, because they offer a wide variety of meats and sushi items to suit everyone’s taste. Seriously, I went with my dad who is a hardcore meat eater and my friend who is a hardcore vegan and no one left disappointed. They also offer gluten-free items as well as a brunch and a kids menu which I have never tried but I’m sure is out of this world. Next on my list for them is to try their some of the Japanese Whiskey from their extensive drink list. It can get a little pricey to eat here for sure, but the food you are getting is second to none and is an unforgettable experience in and of itself.

Las Vegas can be a super fun place to visit without costing too much money if you plan it out properly. I’d say the most expensive and most dangerous part of the city is the casinos with their many slot machines, the trick is to learn when to walk away. This isn’t to say that you can’t win, though. My husband and I paid for almost our entire trip with winnings off of a single slot machine alone, so definitely don’t knock it til you’ve tried it. Overall, it’s a great city to visit for relaxing as well. There are endless things to do and see, but the hotels can also be so nice that you might not want to leave. I’ve been many times, like I said before, but I think I would go again for sure. It seems like there is always something new to experience in Sin City even if it’s not a show or another casino. If you get the chance to check it out I totally recommend checking out the places I’ve mentioned above.

Until next time,

MelissaRose

5 Things We’ve Learned About Pop-Up Camping

Pop-Up Camping

Last weekend was our first trip in our new (to us) pop-up camper. We were so excited to try it out and see what the differences would be from camping in a small contained trailer. We learned a few things along the way that I thought I would share here. Some things were trial and error and others were just giant realizations as to how this new way of camping would differ from what we’d done in previous years. We had a great time in our new trailer and we are so happy that we decided to take the plunge.

Leave Time for Setup and Tear Down

This may seem like a no-brainer, but when you go from camping in a fully contained trailer to a pop-up trailer you may not necessarily think about the time it will take to set everything up or take everything down. For us, it was our first time setting it up by ourselves so we really had no idea what to expect. We left for our trip on Friday after work. We didn’t leave work early, which we probably should have to give ourselves a little more time, but ended up making it to our campsite around 7:30pm. This didn’t end up being too late really, it was summer solstice so the longest day of the year, but it did make us feel a bit rushed to set up so that we could get some dinner (and drinks) started. I think the part that took the longest was learning how to level out the pop-up. We’d leveled out the contained trailer we had used before, but knew that our new trailer had to be completely level otherwise the pop-up functionality may not work properly. The other trailer we used previously could be slightly unlevel if we were feeling lazy or if the site just didn’t want to cooperate. This did lead us to consider purchasing some extra supplies for our pop-up such as some leveler blocks, but maybe I’ll do a separate post on that. All in all, we got it done with enough time to get the beds made and dinner in our bellies, but had it been later in the year, it may have been too dark to comfortably set everything up. The same thing goes for tear down as far as time management. We had to check out of our site at noon, so being up earlier was imperative to making sure we had time to tear down. This wasn’t as difficult since the previous owner had walked us through how to do it, but again took more time than getting the contained trailer ready. Overall, my take-away was to make sure we leave enough time for set up and tear down. Making sure this 45 minutes or so of work is factored into the time of arriving and departing will make things easier and less stressful. We do hope that as we continue to take more trips that we get faster at being able to do it as well.

Make Sure Everything is Packed Before Tear Down

Again, this may seem like an obvious tip, but as a new pop-up owner, I didn’t think it would be such a huge deal! Everything inside of the pop-up must be completely and entirely flat before you can start pushing in the beds. This may mean rearranging cushions in a weird way or stashing stoves under tables on special racks. In our camper, just one of the pillows that goes with the dinette actually moves into a different area entirely so that the kitchenette portion can fold down and sit on a piece of wood, instead of on top of the cushions. We didn’t know this at first. We thought we had everything folded down and went to push the larger of the two beds in and it wouldn’t budge. Of course, my husband, being the man that he is, thought it was a matter of pressure – push harder and it will go in. Suddenly a heard a faint cracking sort of noise. I rushed into the trailer and realized what was happening. Luckily, nothing was broken but it was a decent lesson learned to be sure. I removed the cushion and folded the kitchenette all the way down. We pushed the bed again and voila! It was all good to go. The other big lesson we learned about packing up was in regards to our water storage tanks. We did not have hook-ups at this particular site, so we filled up one of the 5 gallon water storage jugs inside the trailer. This was great for using water, but again was not something we were used to with the contained trailer. We got the trailer packed up and hit the road when all of the sudden, I remembered that we hadn’t removed the jug from inside of the trailer. It was still connected to the sink and sloshing around inside of its compartment under some of the seats. We knew this wouldn’t be good for the interior, however if we popped the trailer up just enough when we got home to remove the jug and dry out the area it might be okay. So we got home, did just that, and were so glad that we remembered it was in there as there was some spillage under the seats. This was a big lesson, but thankfully I don’t think we’ll forget it again. In the end, this is something that is a great lesson to learn and is really just part of us learning how our new camper works.

Makeovers Aren’t Always Necessary

We are so fortunate to have found a camper that is in as good of condition as ours is. It’s clean with no smells or tears and has all the curtains, mattresses and amenities in tact. Looking at Pinterest and Facebook groups for pop-up owners can make it tempting to want to rehab the inside of our trailer. But since using ours we realized it’s not at all necessary for us. Eventually it may be fun to make things a little more stylish, but in the end we are using it for camping. It’s going to get a little dirty, it’s going to see some wear and honestly, I think it might hurt more if I spent days renovating only to see it covered in gunk. This isn’t to say that I might not make new cushion covers and curtains and paint eventually, but right now it’s just not a necessity. I realize that not all of us are so lucky. Sometimes pop-up campers need the rehabbing and the deep cleaning to make them feel livable. Fortunately, for ours we can take our time and not stress about doing it right away even if it means dealing with the 90’s style fabrics for a little while.

Don’t Overload the Trailer for Travel

This lesson was something we actually learned with our contained trailer but also applies here. Having the extra space in a trailer is great for camping. You have extra room to store and pack items for travel without overloading the car and potentially opens up more seating. However, it’s important not to overload the trailer as well. If you’re going to pack items in the trailer, it’s important to pack things in a balanced way. This means loading the same amount of weight towards the front and the back of the trailer. You don’t want to put all the weight on one side as it may cause problems for towing. When packing, make sure you’re keeping track of which items are moving to the front, which are going to the back and what items can be packed into the middle for optimal balancing. I typically try to pack the lightest items I can in the trailer. Things like bedding, chairs, towels, fishing gear, etc. The heavier items, like ice chests, pop-up day tents and tubs of food can go in the back of the SUV. If you’re going to load heavier items in your trailer, just make sure that the weight is balanced back to front. This will save you trouble with towing along the way and will even help your trailer to be more aerodynamic which will save on gas during your travels. I think it can be tempting to over pack a pop-up trailer since there seems to be so many nooks and crannies once you fold everything down, but if you can pack things in your vehicle too, I would recommend that. Plus, it makes it easier for when it’s time to set up your camper since you aren’t having to remove a bunch of items beforehand.

Storage, Storage, and More Storage

When my husband and I were looking at pop-up trailers we realized that we would have to either downsize our camping supplies or figure out new storage solutions. The previous trailer we were using had a full on closet, several overhead cabinets plus all the lower cabinets and kitchen cabinets you’d expect to find in a fully contained trailer. Pop-ups don’t have as many cabinets (at least the ones we looked at). It seems that the newer models did take this into account when coming out with new floor plans, but the older models really only have a handful of cabinets to store your things. Ours has exactly 3 cabinets and one large drawer. The drawer and one of the cabinets is fairly large, but it doesn’t leave alot of room for just tossing things to be put away. What I ended up doing for our first trip was using a plastic set of three drawers that I purchased at Goodwill for around $3. I set it up on a counter and used it to hold all of the items that would eventually need replenishing – trash bags, soap, toilet paper, foil, etc. This way, before camping trips, instead of popping up the trailer all we have to do is remove the set of drawers and replace whatever is inside. This works out perfectly because the drawers can still be stored inside of the trailer on the floor and be ready to go when we decide to go on a trip. If you have more supplies than what can fit in your trailer, you could also use this method with other tubs or sets of drawers and have a quick and easy place to access everything you need. The tubs can then be placed outside or in the back of your vehicle so they are out of the way when you’re using your camper. I still need to figure out more storage solutions that will be helpful while we’re actually camping, but that lesson won’t be learned until we are able to take more trips (which will hopefully be soon!).

These lessons are just the start of what we will learn in our pop-up camping adventures. I hope they are helpful to anyone else who may be considering turning to pop-up camping. I love it because I think it really is the closest you can get to tent camping without actually having to sleep on the ground. The set up and tear down is definitely more work than a contained trailer, but sometimes I think that’s half the fun. Let me know if you’re looking into getting a pop-up camper, or if you already have one, and if you’ve learned any lessons along the way!

Until next time,

MelissaRose

Tips for Using Reusable Bags

Sustainability

The plastic bag ban took place in California in 2014. California was the first state to pass legislature prohibiting stores from offering single use plastic bags. This was a huge step because other states have started to follow suit either by presenting their own versions of this legislation or by trying to get similar laws passed by their local governments. Actually, as of today, New York has become the second U.S. state to implement the same plastic bag ban. There are several other states still trying to get similar bills passed. It’s a big step towards becoming more environmentally friendly, but there are other points that should be considered when making the switch to reusable bags.

Plastic Bags for Purchase

There are still plastic bags available for purchase at most stores in California. These thicker plastic bags are more sturdy than their previous counterparts, however they are still made of plastic. For those of us that forgot our bags every time we went to the store in the beginning (we tried, we really did!), we ended up purchasing the newer thicker plastic bags offered by grocery stores at $.10 a pop. This is not to say that the thinner plastic bags are better, but the thicker plastic bags seem to be even worse because of the material. In order to make the newer, thicker plastic bags worth the switch, you must reuse them. I’ve seen statistics online that say you must use them at least 4 times to make the switch worth it, but I know for a fact that these guys will last for several more trips. Be sure to use these plastic bags as many times as possible to make sure they aren’t being disposed of as quickly as the thinner plastic bags. The thicker material makes them less susceptible to holes and also makes it easy to wipe them out if they get a little dirty. It’s not necessary to throw these out right away to opt for canvas or fabric bags. Create less waste in the beginning by using up what you currently have before giving them up entirely.

Plastic Produce Bags

While the plastic bag ban is great, for whatever reason the plastic produce bags are not banned. It’s easy to pile up in the produce department, using separate plastic bags for each variety of fruit and vegetable you’re purchasing. I’ve tried not using them in grocery stores and sometimes get irritated looks from the cashier when they realize all of my produce is floating around inside of my reusable bags. My tip for this, again, is to reuse the bags you already have before buying reusable produce bags. Bring them with you in your grocery tote and use them instead of pulling new ones in the produce department. Once they are no longer usable, you can purchase the netted, mesh or other fabric reusable produce bags (or make your own!). Want to make the switch right away? You can still reuse the produce bags you already have. They work great as dog poop bags, bathroom trash bags (or any other smaller trash cans), and I’ve even used them during travel to hold body wash or other liquids that may leak into my suitcase.

Reusable Tote Bags

The tote bag is a great swap for plastic bags. They can be used time and time again and can even sometimes become a cute accessory for those mundane grocery trips. Unfortunately, like every other fabric item, these things also take resources to make and to eventually dispose of. Again, make sure you are reusing your bags (plastic, canvas, fabric or otherwise) as many times as possible. This eliminates unnecessary waste and ensures that you’re not buying bags just because. Try not to overbuy these reusable bags simply for a cute pattern or because you get bored of your old ones. It can be easy to overload your pantry with reusable bags, but it’s really not doing any more good than the plastic bags if resources are being wasted to create and dispose of what’s taking their place. Try to use your existing bags as many times as possible before throwing them out or purchasing new ones to replace them.

It’s also important to remember to wash your reusable bags to keep you and your food safe from bacteria. This will also help with unsightly marks and stains that may deter your from using the bags as many times as possible. If you’re using the thicker plastic bags you can wipe them out with cleaner and if you’re using fabric or canvas you can throw them in the wash (hang dry them for an additional electricity savings). Also try to separate your tote bags by function. Save a few bags for groceries, a few for outings or other shopping trips and a couple for things that aren’t food related. Overall, you want to keep the bags separate to avoid any cross contamination. You wouldn’t want to keep a pair of dirty shoes in a bag you might later put tomatoes in.

Lastly, if you have to get new totes, try to buy bags that are made from recyclable or biodegradable materials. Several companies now offer totes made from eco-friendly materials such as recycled canvas or biodegradable hemp. You can often find tote bags at the thrift store as well. Overall, you want to be as environmentally conscious when purchasing the bags as you are when using them. Another useful sustainable tip is to upcycle old items such as t-shirts, pillow cases, old fabric, etc. into your new grocery bags. This method cuts down on waste but also saves money on buying new bags. I will try to do a separate post later this season on a few different projects you can easily do at home to make your own tote bags.

Overall the plastic bag ban is a great move for the planet. Reducing our plastic waste makes environmental sense as long as we’re doing it the right way. Always remember to use up what you own before hastily switching to something new. This can be the first and most important step in reducing waste in your own home.

Do your local stores still offer plastic bags? And if they do, do you use them or do you bring your own reusable bags? Let me know in the comments below!

Until next time,

MelissaRose

Hardening Off Seedlings

Sustainability

This year, I decided to start my vegetable garden from seeds. I wanted to save some money versus buying plants from the store, but I also wanted the experience of growing my own food from start to finish. There were a couple of steps I didn’t know about until doing further research – how to harden off my seedlings was one of those steps. Hardening off seedlings is basically preparing your seedlings for life outside. It makes perfect sense when you think about it. They have been growing and living in a stable and controlled environment inside where there is no real exposure to the elements. Hardening them off gives them a transition period to get acclimated to some of the new things they’ll experience without just throwing them out to fend for themselves. In this post, I’ll explain how I’ve been doing this with my own seedlings and also provide some further in depth information you can check out on your own from people who are far more experienced than I am.

The first and probably most important thing to consider when getting ready to harden off your seedlings is the weather outside. You don’t want the conditions to be so extreme that the seedlings become shocked or die because they’ve been exposed too quickly. For my first day of this process, I waited for a day that was slightly cloudy, not too windy, and definitely not raining. I placed the seedlings under my covered patio, away from direct sunlight, and let them sit outside for about an hour. Afterwards, I brought them back inside, and made sure nobody got too tousled by the wind. We did have some light winds that day, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You want your seedlings to grow strong roots to be able to withstand wind since they will likely be exposed to it outside at some point. The early exposure to the light wind helps trigger their roots to grow nice and strong so they can keep themselves upright even with a breeze. Luckily, everything went smoothly the first day.

The second day, the weather was about the same as before. This time, I placed them outside in the same spot, but left them out for two hours instead of just one. You want to gradually increase the exposure. On the third day, I placed them outside in the same spot for several hours. The several hours was a bit more by accident on my part than intentionally, but no seedlings were damaged. I sighed a breath of relief and was proud of the little seedlings for seeming to transition so quickly. If you’re looking for a more structured set of instructions, check out the Homestead and Chill blog post about hardening off seedlings. She gives great day by day instructions. I am more winging it and learning by my own experience, but did use this blog as somewhat of a guide. So far, my less than perfect process has worked for me, but I live in a fairly forgiving climate in California. If you live in a more extreme weather zone I’d definitely recommend checking out their post.

Yesterday was my fourth day of hardening off my seedlings. I left them out almost all day. The first half of the day they were under my covered patio, but then we had some people over and needed the table, so they went out into the direct sun. I was a little nervous about this at first with it being the warmest part of the day but the seedlings did great! I was outside all day as well (it was like 72 degrees outside!) so I was able to keep an eye on them and make sure they didn’t start drooping, burning or doing anything that looked bad. I’m happy to say that they did great, and I think with a few more days of transition, they’ll be ready to be planted outside! I can’t wait!

Once the seedlings are ready to be planted outside I’m also going to install my new soaker hose irrigation system. I will be sure to document it so that I can create a post here. I’m excited to have a system set up as I’ve always watered my plants myself and it wasn’t always the best outcome. I think having an irrigation system will help me save time, money and hopefully keep my plants more luscious and alive longer too! Are you working on a garden this year? Are you to the point of hardening off seedlings yet or just getting ready to seed?

Until next time!

MelissaRose

Fast Food Options for Vegetarians

Ramble On

Fast food isn’t ever a great life choice. It’s generally unhealthy, creates a ton of waste and usually doesn’t taste too great either (compared to home-cooked meals). But sometimes ish happens. Sometimes you need a quick meal for cheap. Sometimes you have to ignore your better instincts and simply put some food in your belly. In this post, I hope to be able to give you some options for when you’re stuck in a fast food pinch. It’s exciting to see more and more options becoming available for vegetarians (technically I’m a pescatarian but would NEVER EVER eat fish from a fast food restaurant). Here are some of my favorites for when I find myself needing a little sustenance without alot of time or money.

Taco Bell

This option may not seem very surprising considering the variety of menu options at Taco Bell. But let me tell you something you may not have known before – you can substitute the beef in other items for beans. For example, that Crunch Wrap you used to love so much? Substitute the beef for extra refried beans. My personal favorite is to order the crunchy tacos and substitute the beef for black beans. This gives you a taco with a similar consistency without all the, ya know, meat. Taco Bell is also great because of all the items they offer that have beans in them. Beans are a great source of protein and are a major staple in a healthy vegetarian or vegan diet. They also offer a complete vegetarian menu on their website and are probably one of the more healthy (and cheap!) fast food options out there.

Carls Jr. Beyond Famous Star

Starting in 2019, Carl’s Jr. began offering their Beyond Famous Star with the Beyond Meat patty. I used to like their Famous Star burgers so I was incredibly excited when I learned that they are now offering a meat-free version. I’ve loved all of the Beyond Meat products I’ve tried so far, and this patty (also available in grocery stores to cook at home) is no exception. The texture is very similar to a traditional meat patty, and it doesn’t have any of the dryness or blandness sometimes found in other “veggie patties”. Not a fan of the Famous Star? You can substitute the Beyond Meat patty into any burger on their menu. You can also order their Beyond Burger without cheese and mayo for a vegan option (or so I’m told).

In N Out

In N Out is an exclusively west coast (and maybe Texas and Utah?) fast food chain that prides itself on the quality of their ingredients and the freshness of their made to order menu items. But, their main menu item is a hamburger. They don’t offer a veggie option (yet?), but you can order off of their not-so-secret menu to get your meat-free fix. Order a grilled cheese with grilled onions – seriously it’s so good. It comes with all the same fixings as a cheeseburger just without the meat patty. Another great option are their addicting animal style fries – french fries topped with melted cheese, grilled onions and their famous In N Out spread. If you don’t have an In N Out near you, my sincerest apologies. If you ever get a chance to make it to the west coast, be sure to try their cheesy meat-free options and their delectable milkshakes.

Burger King

Before Carl’s Jr. came on the scene with their Beyond Burger, the only other veggie burger I could find from a fast food place was the MorningStar Veggie burger from Burger King. In my opinion, it’s not as delicious as the Beyond Burger, but I think the difference is in the veggie patty. I’m not as big of a fan of the MorningStar patties, even when I purchase them separately from the grocery store. In any case, it’s a cheaper alternative to the Carl’s burger and is a good simple burger for when you need one in a pinch. Order it with a side of fries, and you have a classic fast food burger meal that’s meat-free.

Del Taco

Carl’s Jr. isn’t the only fast food joint to hop on the Beyond Meat train. Del Taco is testing the success of using the Beyond Meat crumbles in their tacos as well. Unfortunately, this option is only currently available in certain locations in Southern California and Oklahoma (does anyone else think that’s random?). I hope they are successful in this new offering and decide to expand it to all of their locations. If you are in the area that serves them, be sure to go get one and tell me what you think.

Chipotle

Some people may not consider Chipotle fast food, but I thought I’d include their options anyway since it is in fact a fast and relatively inexpensive place to get a quick bite. I used to love their chicken burrito bowls with a bag of chips. Once I stopped eating meat, I tried their Sofritas (which is their staple vegetarian/vegan soy-based option), but wasn’t really a fan of the flavors. Instead, I now substitute the chicken for guacamole. This is great because without meat they don’t charge you the extra fee for the guac. Make your bowl or burrito with brown rice and black beans (I also love their corn salsa) and you have a mostly nutritious meal with a protein punch. They also offer fajita veggies if you’re looking to add more substance to your veggie bowl. I’d imagine you could probably order their tacos this way as well.

Overall, it’s encouraging to see how many fast food restaurants are embracing change and trying to offer items that coincide with their customers values. I hope this list is helpful to you when you have to settle for fast food. Hopefully more places continue to follow suit by offering more meat-free options. Let me know in the comments below if you know of any other fast food menu items that are being offered for vegetarian customers.

I should also note that not all options are available at all locations. Check with your local restaurants to see what’s available in your area. All images used above are the property of the respective restaurants and were taken from their websites.

Until next time!

MelissaRose

5 Tips for Sustainable Gardening

Sustainability

Gardening is sustainable. You are growing your own food, thus eliminating the use of plastic or other packaging that is often used in the grocery store, the fuel that is used to transport said food to the grocery store, as well as all the pesticides and other chemicals used to grow that food commercially. But have you ever thought about how you might save other items while boasting a home garden? I’m going to give you 5 ideas for making your garden and your process more sustainable, and in many cases, cheaper too!

1. Reusable Containers

This is by far the easiest way and cheapest way to be more sustainable when starting your garden from seeds. I’ve mentioned this in a couple of my more gardening process centric posts if you want to check those out. Basically, this step is reusing items that otherwise may be thrown out as garden containers. This can mean using them for seeds, seedlings, small plants (or I guess big plants if you have large containers) or storage. The first reusable container I used for my garden was egg cartons. I used old egg cartons to start my seeds in. This was extremely cost effective and reduced my waste. Other items you can use are old plastic containers, such as for yogurt, spread, cheeses, old solo cups, or even plastic containers from previous plant projects. I’ve seen posts online using old roasted chicken containers as greenhouses, which looked and seemed like a good idea, but since we don’t eat chicken we don’t have those containers. There are also ways to make origami cups out of old newspapers to start seedlings in. For all of these versions, just make sure that when you water your plants, that there will be adequate drainage otherwise you could kill your plants.

2. Secondhand Supplies

 

I am a huge believer in buying secondhand. Most of the items I own are pre-owned and purchased from a thrift store. The same can be said for many of plant pots. I have several terra cotta pots, a few larger plastic pots and other clay pots that were all purchased at the thrift store at a fraction of the cost of my local hardware store. The big breakable pots are usually an especially good deal in comparison, so be sure to always look for those! This not only saves you loads of money but keeps these beautiful and non-biodegradable items out of our landfills. Another tip if you’re using planters that are less than gorgeous is to place the plastic planter inside of a cool basket. This hides the boring plastic container and can also be purchased for super cheap at the thrift store.

I’ve already mentioned buying pots from the thrift store, but have you ever thought about buying other larger supplies secondhand? Believe it or not, some thrift stores have outdoor areas where you can buy other gardening supplies. You could also visit your local flea market where you can sometimes find used tools such as shovels, wheelbarrows and other useful supplies. This cuts way down on cost and you can save these items from making it into our landfills. Other items to consider are reclaimed wood for planter boxes, leftover bricks and pavers for paths and borders, I’ve even seen old trellis and support pieces that you could pick up for cheap. Another great place to look is garage/yard sales. I think many people would rather be able to make a buck off of an old rake they no longer use than to dump it in the trash. You may even find old potting shelves or storage options for your stored seeds and other supplies. 

 

3. Composting

Composting is a more complicated way to be more sustainable with your gardening process. It allows you to discard your plant based kitchen waste into containers to compost for use in your garden. There are several different methods you can use depending on the size of your yard, the time you have available and the effort you want to put into it. The Farmer’s Almanac online has great info on composting if you want to learn more and start implementing this process in your own garden. The EPA also has a site that outlines the benefits versus letting your scraps go to the landfill.

4. Seed Sustainability

Swapping seeds with friends, family or neighbors is a great way to save money and be more sustainable. Check your local online sites for local gatherings of like-minded plant lovers – usually Facebook or NextDoor has groups with these interests. I’ve even seen these take place online – maybe someone who lives in the same zone, but a different area would be fun! You could send the seeds through the mail without too much trouble. You could also speak to people you work with or go to school with to find out if they share the same hobbies of planting and growing their own food. Luckily for me, many of my friends and family like to garden so I’m able to swap with them. Swapping seeds not only saves money and time wasted on going to the store, but helps to eliminate waste caused by over-buying seeds. This includes the packaging that the seeds come in, the transportation, the trip to the store, etc. I also like to save my seeds from year to year. Seeds don’t really go bad, unless stored improperly. I am storing my leftover seeds from this year to try and sprout for my garden next year as well. This will also give me the ability to log what seeds were successful, which ones were the tastiest and which ones I wouldn’t mind swapping next season. In the end, I’m saving money and finding like-minded individuals that share the same passion for growing their own food.

agriculture-crop-cultivation-95215.jpg

 

5. Water Conservation

The last sustainable tip I have for you is something that has become a huge issue here in California – water conservation. It may not seem like a big change, but adding a drip irrigation system to your garden or something similar can save big when it comes to water and your water bill. Watering the conventional way with a hose or a watering can can actually waste water. Instead of the water being concentrated in the right areas, like you can with a drip system, the entire bed gets watered when it really doesn’t need to be. An irrigation system can also be set on a time to ensure you water at the right times, whether you’re available or not and make it so that your water is being used in the best way. Installing a system may require an upfront investment, especially if you have someone else install it for you. But the investment is worth the cost when you think about the time, effort and precious resource it saves in the long run.

Those are all the tips I have for you today. Let me know if you have any additional tips for a more sustainable garden or if you are using any of these practices currently.

Until next time! 

MelissaRose