Monthly Archives: July 2014

Forgetfulness is Costly

I re-learned an expensive lesson last week.

Regularly reviewing credit card statements and other financial accounts is a good habit to develop. If I followed my own advice, I would not be out $70.

I sold my home in June, but forgot to cancel the home warranty until July. Had I been reviewing my statements, I would have thought about the automatic debit sooner and canceled the home warranty on time.

I first learned this lesson right out of college when a restaurant double charged me for dinner. It was a simple fix, but if I had not been reviewing my debit card transactions, I would have never noticed the error.

What financial lesson have you re-learned?

Wrapping Up, both Figuratively and Literally


July is almost over, and for me that will end my internship experience with the VCE of Alexandria city. The season brought new experiences in dealing with scores of summer camp kids, as well as honing my container garden skills and knowledge. The kids learned how to plant, water, and tend their container gardens, along with identifying new plants and of course getting their hands dirty!

The pizza garden idea was very admirable; however, the amount of kids and lack of a bountiful harvest proved otherwise. At home base in the Nannie Lee Center, I experimented in harvesting the loads of basil that grew with three different methods: The first was air drying several leaves at a time by hanging them from the stems inside a perforated paper bag. The microwave also proved successful in drying the herb; and the final method was simply freezing the leaves (which hasn’t been tested yet).

At the Arlington-Alexandria Coalition for the Homeless leadership academy, the kids have been slowly coming alive as we traveled to the Natural History Museum last week, and are making welcome baskets for the carpenter shelter this week. The B2i summer program will also finish up this next week, before joining the other members once school starts

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Summer Vegetables Are Finally Here

Summer Vegetables Are Finally Here

I’ve been waiting for this time of year since the winter, you go to the farmers’ market or you planted vegetable plants and have been waiting for them to ripen so you can eat from all those fresh seasonal vegetables.  While almost all vegetables are available year round now, there’s something special about eating them so fresh.  The idea of a fresh picked tomato or sweet corn; who needs to do much to them to satisfy your taste buds?  I can have them constantly all summer long and never tire of them.  Some vegetables, however, need a little more preparation for their best flavors to appear, but the variety of vegetables available now gives me an opportunity to mix them up and get just great flavors, and such healthy nutrients to boost.

I only have room to plant a few things in my tiny garden, and for some reason, I always choose eggplant and tomatoes, as well as pots of herbs.  Although I never get many tomatoes, and I’m always fighting with the squirrels for my share, I just can’t give up trying to grow them.  As for eggplant, well I do love them, and they don’t take much room, so they’re a good choice.  The problem is, once the eggplant plants begin to produce, you never get just one.  And they keep coming!  Unlike tomatoes and sweet corn, I need to vary my eggplant recipes to keep me interested in eating them.  The grill comes in handy, because I’m not big on turning on my oven when the temperature reaches 90.  I love grilled eggplant in a sandwich, and there’s so much else you can do with it.

To grill an eggplant, I usually slice it lengthwise in about half-inch slices.  I use a pastry brush to coat both sides of the slices with olive oil, because the eggplant absorbs the oil quickly.  Then I just sprinkle them with salt and pepper and put on the grill at medium heat.  The slices need to be watched carefully, because they can burn easily.  Once they are soft, they are done.

I love to use the grilled eggplant slices in sandwiches.  Often, I grill zucchini or yellow squash in the same way at the same time, and add them to a sandwich as well.  I find crusty breads best for these sandwiches, a slice of grilled eggplant, a slice of grilled squash, sliced mozzarella, and sliced tomato.  Great summer sandwich!  If I have any around, I also smear some hummus on the bread, adds more flavor and an added shot of nutrients.

Another favorite recipe of mine is a variation on caponata, an Italian eggplant dish.  This dish uses many of the summer vegetables and can be varied to your own taste.  Here’s a simple way to make it.

Olive oil

1 medium eggplant, sliced lengthwise in ½ inch strips

1 zucchini, sliced lengthwise in ½ inch strips

1 yellow squash, sliced lengthwise in ½ inch strips

1 green or red pepper, seeded and quartered

1 medium onion, sliced into ½ inch rounds

1 or 2 tomatoes, depending on size, sliced into ½ inch rounds

6 or 7 black olives, chopped (optional)

1 TB capers (optional)

1 TB tomato paste

2 TB red wine vinegar

1 clove garlic chopped

1 TB chopped parsley, basil or both

Salt and pepper

With a brush, lightly coat the eggplant, squash, pepper, onion, and tomato slices with olive oil and salt and pepper.

Heat the grill to medium.  Lightly oil the grates on the grill so the vegetables won’t stick.  Place the eggplant and squashes on the grill.  Put the pepper, onion, and tomato slices on a lightly oiled piece of aluminum foil and then onto the grill.  Cook for about 3 to 5 minutes per side.  Once the slices are soft, they are ready to be removed from the grill.

If you don’t have a grill, all of this can be done in an oven set to 4000F and all the vegetables spread in 2 large baking pans lined with parchment paper or lightly sprayed with cooking oil.  Cook for about 20 minutes or until soft.

While the vegetables are cooling, in a small pan, warm the tomato paste and vinegar at medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook for about a minute until you can smell the aroma of the garlic.

Once the vegetables have cooled to the touch, chopped them all up into about one inch chunks.  Put them all in a big bowl, add the capers and chopped olives if using.  Pour the tomato paste, vinegar, and garlic over, add chopped parsley and or basil, salt and pepper and mix.  Let the caponata sit for a bit, so the flavor can meld.

The caponata is great to eat as a side for a main meal, with cracker or on toasted bread slices as an appetizer, with feta or another cheese as a light meal, or mixed with pasta.


–Susan Pollack, Master Food Volunteer

Volunteer Spotlight: Desiree Kaul

Each month Extension’s financial education program is profiling an outstanding volunteer. To nominate someone, please email Megan Kuhn at

Name: Desiree Kaul

Lives: Annandale

Works: part-time merchandizer, full-time mom

Master Financial Education Volunteer Desiree Kaul

Master Financial Education Volunteer Desiree Kaul

Desiree Kaul has volunteered as a Master Financial Education Volunteer since April 2014. She and Donna Brazier recently provided training for social workers. The training provided case workers with information and materials to use with their clients as they help them to resolve their financial problems.

Q. What do you do to relax?

A. I like to read.

Q. What’s on your summer reading list?

A. Mysteries and children’s finance books.

Q. What’s your favorite thing to save for?

A. I’m saving for retirement. It would be nice to have the option to retire earlier.

Q. What’s your favorite splurge?

A. I don’t splurge for myself, but I’m willing to spend more on an item that will last a long time, like a nice pair of jeans. If I do splurge, it’s probably on my kid.

Q. How did you become interested in financial literacy?

A. I got into trouble when I was in college. I was one of those people who only made minimum payments, and I had 10 credit cards. I bought things for other people. Half the things I owed money on I didn’t own anymore. I was using credit cards to pay for other credit card bills.

When I got married, my husband and I looked at our credit reports. He said, “What’s going on?” and I went to a financial counselor. I enrolled in Power Pay to pay off my credit card debt.

[Editor’s note: Power Pay is a free, self-directed debt elimination plan from Utah State University Extension. It is an especially helpful tool for clients with multiple credit cards because the client can enter information about multiple debts in one place, and the system will generate a payment schedule in order of highest interest rate.]

I’m one of those people who like to set goals. Power Pay made it easier to see how fast I was paying things off because it was more of a visual tool.

Q. What advice would you give to a client who is in a similar situation to when you were a newlywed? 

A. If you’re willing to put in the time to repair your credit, it will benefit you greatly. If you spend the year or two to get things in order, it is amazing what you can do later. I was debt-free in two years. I was lucky that my husband paid for housing so I could pay my debt.



It’s July—But Wait, You Can Still Plant From Seeds—How About Your Own Baby Lettuces!!

By Susan Pollack, Master Food Volunteer

The heat of the summer is setting in and it may be a little late to get your vegetable garden started from scratch, but wait, you can still plant lettuces from seed and harvest the leaves and create your own “spring lettuce mix.”  And it couldn’t be simpler.  All you need is a sunny location—inside or out, a windowsill, a table by a sunny window, a patio.  Don’t fret about having a flower pot, any container will do.  If you don’t have a flowerpot, cut a milk carton or gallon container to four or five inches from the bottom.  The only things you’ll need to purchase are soil and some lettuce seeds.  Don’t be afraid to experiment with the seeds, now is a great time to try the mixes and you can find out what you really like, try arugula, mache, any of the lettuces.

Fill the container to an inch from the top.  Scatter the seeds over the soil (don’t worry about thinning—that will be your baby lettuces!).  Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil, just to cover, not too thick or the seeds may not germinate.  Then, using a spray bottle or something similar, spray water over the soil, making sure the top half inch or so is moist.  That’s it, just keep spraying the soil every day to keep it moist and wait for the seeds to germinate.  It’s important to keep the soil moist, not saturated.  As the leaves begin to appear, just cut them when they get to about an inch and a half, two inches tall, rinse them and they are ready to eat.  You have your own salad mix and for a fraction of the cost.  Continue to reseed the soil throughout the summer and early fall and enjoy.


What about the salad?

While you’re waiting for your salad greens to grow, don’t forget to check your farmers’ markets for lettuces or get some from the grocery store.  A salad is a great accompaniment to any meal or a great meal in itself.  Don’t just stick to your standard salad of tomatoes and cucumbers; try fruit and other vegetables in your salad.  Try some of the wonderful stone fruits that are appearing now in the market: peaches, nectarines, plums, and apricots.  Slice the fruit into slivers and add to your greens.  Add some slivered nuts, seeds such as chia, sesame, flax if you’d like, and dress.

Wait, don’t use that bottled dressing—way too many calories, and your own dressing can be so refreshing.  The idea to a dressing is one part acid, such as any kind of vinegar—try red wine, white wine, balsamic, apple—or use fresh lemon or lime, to two parts oil.  Again, try different oils.  Olive oil is very popular in a salad dressing, but if you’d like a milder oil, try canola, grapeseed, or safflower.  Then add a few shakes from the salt shaker and the same with black pepper.

To make a side salad for two people, in a bowl add:

  • Two handfuls of lettuce (baby lettuces or tear up full leaves).
  • Cut up a peach, nectarine, or plum into small wedges, or whatever you prefer,
  • One tablespoon of slivered almonds or any other chopped nuts
  • One teaspoon of seeds

Directly to the bowl, add one teaspoon of flavored vinegar or squeeze a quarter of a lemon or lime (careful of the fruit seeds), two teaspoons of oil, salt and pepper and mix all together.

If you want to make your salad into a meal, add some protein, such as cheese, a hardboiled egg, some canned beans that have been rinsed, or left over chicken or turkey.  The great thing about a salad is there are unlimited variations so they never need to be boring.