Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Building a better shovel, part 2: The slick shovel test

The much-vaunted Blizzard of 2015 turned out to be a bit of a tempest in a teapot. Rather than a record-breaking storm that left everyone snowed in for days, it was just a garden-variety winter storm that left behind about six inches of snow, tops. However, we still had to clear it all off our walks and driveway, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to test a tip I'd seen in several places around the Web: spraying your snow shovel with cooking spray.

I'd already learned, a few years ago, that you could buy that Teflon or silicone sprays to help the snow slide off your shovel blade more easily. However, sites such as TipHero and Dollar Stretcher kept reporting that you could get similar results with regular cooking spray. We just happened to have a can of canola-oil cooking spray we'd picked up at Aldi and then hadn't used, because I found that the propellant in the can gave the oil a funny taste. So I figured I might as well put it to good use by trying it out on my shovel to see if it helped. I sprayed the oil all over the blade of the shovel, getting it into all the nooks and crannies as best I could, and then went out to scoop snow with it.

At first, it actually looked like the spray might be helping. My first shovelful of snow seemed to slide out of the scoop more easily than usual, leaving only a little bit clinging to the blade. However, with my second shovelful, the snow started sticking again with a vengeance. It was hard to tell for sure, since it was a new shovel that I hadn't used before, but it almost seemed as if the oil was somehow made the shovel retain more snow than usual. I certainly ended up with quite a lot of it stuck to the blade, even though it was a fairly light and powdery snow.

Wondering if I'd done something wrong, I tried looking at the comments on one of the articles that recommended cooking spray to see whether it had worked better for other people. I didn't find many comments talking about the cooking spray itself, but several people said they'd had success with other coatings, including WD-40, silicone spray, furniture wax, car wax, graphite spray, petroleum jelly, and even "an old candle" rubbed onto the shovel. I did a little scouting to see which of these we had on hand and unearthed a small container of petroleum jelly, as well as several candles. So I figured I'd try the petroleum jelly first, and if that didn't work, I'd go for the wax.

So the next time I went out to shovel, I smeared a thick coating of Vaseline on the shovel blade first. The initial results were disappointing: it didn't actually appear to be making the snow stick any more than before, but it didn't seem to make it stick any less, either. However, when we went out later in the day to clean up the last of the snowfall, I wiped the blade down first, and suddenly, I found that it seemed to be noticeably less sticky. Snow came off it more easily as I shoveled along, and when I brought it in at the end, it had quite a bit less show sticking to it than the shovel Brian had been using.

So, based on the tests I've done so far, it looks like a thin, even coating of lubricant may be the key here. Both the the cooking oil (which went on in a heavy spray of droplets) and my initial thick coating of Vaseline seemed to be so heavy that the snow just clung to the goop instead of sliding off it. But the thin sheen of petroleum jelly that was left clinging to the shovel after my wipe-down was apparently just enough to make it slick without making it damp and clingy. This gives me hope that I may actually be able to put that cooking spray to a useful purpose after all; if I simply wipe it over the shovel after spraying it on, it may give me a thin enough coating to do some good. More snow is expected this weekend (sigh), so I shouldn't have to wait long before putting it to the test.

Now if I could just come up with some equally easy DIY method for getting rid of all the obstructions in our yard, this winter chore might not be too burdensome.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Soup of the Month: Hearty Vegetable

As December rolled over into January this year, I started thinking about New Year's resolutions. In addition to forming new resolutions (like my decluttering one, which I'll update you on some time soon), I considered whether I wanted to keep up my old resolution from last year about trying a new fruit or vegetable recipe each month. As resolutions go, you'd have to say it was a success: I did, in fact, try a new recipe each month—sometimes more than one—and it gave me plenty of good material for this blog. Moreover, several of the recipes we tried as part of this challenge, such as September's Skillet Kugel and March's Roasted Brussels Sprouts, had gone on to become regular staples of our dinner table. So if my goal was to incorporate more vegetable dishes into our diet, I'd done what I set out to do.

Still, thinking back over it, I wasn't really sure how far this resolution had helped me toward my ultimate goal of eating a healthier diet overall. Yes, we were eating more of certain specific vegetables, like Brussels sprouts—but we were eating them in place of, not in addition to, other green veggies. Roasted Brussels sprouts may taste a lot better than steamed broccoli, but they aren't necessarily any better for you, and because Brussels sprouts are a lot pricier than broccoli, you can't really eat more of them, even if you'd like to. And the skillet kugel, while very tasty, probably isn't the most healthful thing you could make with those same ingredients. It's not unhealthy, exactly, but it's still mostly a big slab of starch with a fair bit of oil and only a little smattering of leek. I don't think eating it every night of the week would make me slimmer or healthier overall.

So how, I mused, could I tweak this resolution to boost its benefits? Should I make it a rule that the Recipe of the Month has to meet certain specific health standards, like being low in fat or having veggies as the main ingredient? Or would that be too limiting? After thinking about it for a bit, I decided that maybe the best way to improve on the Recipe of the Month resolution would be to focus on specific types of recipes, ones that are usually low-calorie and nutrient-dense. Salads were one obvious choice, and thanks to my Volumetrics book, I knew that soups were at least as good. So I decided that this year, the Recipe of the Month would be confined to soups and salads only. Probably I'll focus on soups during the chilly months, and move on to light, cool salads as the weather warms up and the garden fills with fresh produce. But no matter which we choose in any given month, it will definitely be something that's genuinely healthful. Even if it's not a great success, just eating it for one meal will be good for us, and if we like it enough to make it a regular part of our diet, the benefits will last throughout the year.

For our first Soup of the Month, I was originally thinking about going with a curried soup that Brian dreamed up one evening. He started with a quart container of chick peas that was sitting in the freezer and just started adding stuff to it: onion, garlic, a package of chicken legs cut up into small nuggets, a nearly-full can of coconut milk, and some coriander, cumin, turmeric, and garam masala. This made a very hearty soup, almost more of a stew, so he served it with rice on the side to make a full meal. It was pretty good, good enough that he intends to make it again, but I wondered whether it was really healthful enough to qualify for the Soup of the Month position. True, it has a lot going for it just by virtue of being a soup, since a soup will satisfy your hunger more readily with fewer calories than the same ingredients with less water—but my Recipes of the Month were supposed to be veggie- or fruit-based, and this one didn't really have any veggies in it aside from the chick peas, which are pretty heavy as vegetables go. I figured I could use it if I didn't come up with anything better, but I was still hoping for a chance to kick off my Soup of the Month posts with a true vegetable soup.

Fortunately, an opportunity fell into my hands when I happened on a copy of the Raritan Valley Review in a local store. This little magazine is mostly ads, typically for local businesses that cater to a Jewish clientele, but it has a couple of articles thrown in to fill it out, and one of its regular features is a recipe page. The January issue featured three soups: cabbage soup, potato-leek, and "hearty vegetable." The cabbage soup didn't look all that interesting, and the potato-leek one was basically the same as a recipe we've made many times before, but the hearty vegetable had potential. It had all the usual veggies that any soup starts with—carrots, celery, onions—but it added red lentils and barley, which looked like it would make for a soup substantial enough to be a meal all by itself.

The only discordant note in the recipe, to my mind, was that it called for three zucchini. I've never seen the point of adding zucchini to any soup: they're mostly water anyway, so they don't add anything significant in terms of flavor, and as for texture, boiling them just turns them into an unappetizing mush. I was all for just leaving them out, but Brian, perhaps inspired by the cabbage soup recipe right next to it, decided to add cabbage to make up the veggie volume left out by the missing zucchini. The recipe also called for an optional garnish of fresh dill and parsley, but since we don't generally have these on hand in the winter, we decided to leave them out and work with what we had. We also made just a half batch of the recipe, since it was just for the two of us. The Raritan Valley Review doesn't have the January issue up on its website yet, so I hope they won't mind my copying out our version of the recipe for you:
  • 1 1/2 onions, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 carrots, sliced
  • 1/2 cabbage, shredded
  • 5 c. water
  • 1/2 c. barley (the original recipe called for only half this much, but Brian forgot to halve this ingredient with the rest of the recipe, and it seemed to come out okay)
  • 1/2 c. red lentils
  • 1 bay leaf (Brian added this on his own, saying he "couldn't resist") 
  • About 1 Tbsp. salt (the original recipe calls for 1 1/2 Tbsp. kosher salt, which is coarser, so I adjusted it down) 
Sauté onions and garlic until onions are translucent (about 8 minutes). Add remaining veggies and sauté until tender (about 30 minutes). Add water and bring to a boil. Stir in barley, red lentils, and salt. Cook for 30 minutes.
The resulting soup was...not bad. It was definitely hearty and filling, but it seemed to lack a little something. Maybe that fresh dill and parsley would have made a big difference, or maybe it could have used more garlic, or maybe we would have been better off starting with our favorite Penzey's vegetable soup base instead of plain water. I'm holding on to the recipe for now, and we may tinker with it a bit in future. Still, I'd say it makes a good start to my Soup of the Month resolution. It's nutritious and filling, so it sets a good precedent there, but as far as taste, it's setting the bar low enough that we should be able to clear it easily in upcoming months.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Thrift Week 2015, Day 7: Pandemic: The Cure

Remember how, on my birthday, I brought vegan cupcakes to my Saturday night RPG session for the benefit of a fellow player who's a vegan? Well, apparently, if you cast your cupcakes upon the waters, they shall return to you in unexpected ways. Our vegan cohort surprised us at that game session with a gift: a brand-new copy of the board game Pandemic: The Cure. We're big fans of the original Pandemic game, which we've played with our RPG group and various others, so I guess he knew it was something we would like. Awww!

Pandemic: The Cure is not an expansion to the original Pandemic game, but rather a stand-alone game based on the original. The basic premise is the same: the players are a team of scientists trying to combat four different diseases (represented on the board by cubes of different colors) that are threatening to become pandemics. The way the game plays is also similar in many ways to the original Pandemic. Most of the Roles (special abilities that individual players can take) are the same as in the original game—the Medic, the Scientist, and so on—though there are a couple of new ones added. And some of the game mechanics work the same as well, such as the way you treat diseases (removing one cube at a time until a cure is found, after which you can remove them all at once) and the way outbreaks occur (having more than three disease cubes in a location causes the disease to spread to neighboring regions). So anyone who has played Pandemic will probably find it very easy to learn this new variant.

However, this version is different from original Pandemic in three major ways:
  • First, the game "board" is much simpler: instead of a map of the world with different cities on it, there are just six major regions, each represented by a cardboard circle, in which infections can occur.
  • Second, there's an additional element of chance: each player has a set of dice to roll on every turn. That roll determines which moves the player is allowed to make on that turn (although they can be made in any order). It also determines how fast new infections occur: for each die that turns up with an "Infection" result, you have to add more disease cubes to the board. If you don't like the results of your die roll, you can try rerolling some or all of them, but each time you do you run the risk of getting more Infection results.
  • Third, the infection cubes themselves are also dice, which can be used as "samples" to help the players find a cure. On your turn, if one of your player dice turns up a "collect samples" result, you can us that die to pull a cube from the board and add it to your personal collection. At the end of your turn, you can roll the dice for all the samples you've gathered, and if the roll is high enough, you've found a cure. That means that the more samples you gather, the better your chances of curing the disease. The downside is that collecting samples ties up your player dice, so you can't use them for other actions. So deciding how many of your dice to use for this purpose is a key element of the game, one that doesn't appear in the original Pandemic.
So far, Brian and I have played just one game of Pandemic: The Cure, but that was enough to sell us on it. It's a much shorter game than original Pandemic, which means it could be a good filler game for when you have just an extra hour to spare before or after a longer game session. It also takes less time to set up and take down after play. Since we've only played once, we can't say how much variation there will be between games, but I'm guessing there will be a lot more than in original Pandemic on account of the extra element of chance added by the dice. That could be a good thing for those who like less predictable games, or a bad thing for those who prefer a game that's all strategy and no luck. But it will definitely keep the game from growing old too quickly.

I'm not prepared to say that I actually like Pandemic: The Cure better than original Pandemic. They're both very enjoyable, and I think original Pandemic, despite its complicated setup, may be a more elegant game to play. But since they fill different niches in terms of how long they take and how many players they require, I think there's no need to choose one over the other. They're both well worthy of a place on our game shelf.

So, that brings my thrifty birthday bash to its conclusion (though I still have my free Starbucks drink to cash in at my leisure). I hope it's been enjoyable and instructive for you as well. Next week, back to the regular routine.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thrift Week 2015, Day 6: Birthday freebies

Some of the birthday goodies I got this year weren't from family or friends; they were from companies I do business with. There are lots of businesses—mostly eateries—that will give you a little something extra on your birthday for no extra cost, like a free slice of birthday cake with your meal, or a special buy-one-get-one-free deal. (You can see a list of many such deals at Hey! It's Free!) But there are a few that actually offer birthday freebies that are completely free, with no strings attached, and I happen to belong to three of them:
  1. Baskin-Robbins will give you a free mini cone on your birthday, plus a discount on an ice cream cake. All you have to do is sign up for their Birthday Club. They send you an e-mail during the week before your birthday with a link to a coupon you can print out (or display on your phone, if you actually live in the 21st century and aren't a dinosaur like me). There's no age requirement to join, but I once met with resistance from the server at our local Baskin-Robbins, who turned away my coupon on the grounds that "This is for kids." So I ended up going to the one at the New Brunswick train station for my cone that year. The following year, I came prepared with a printout of the FAQ from the Baskin-Robbins site, which specifically says the Birthday Club is not just for kids but for "everyone who loves ice cream." Since then, I've never had any trouble getting them to honor the coupon. The only catch is that there's a fairly narrow window to collect your freebie. They used to give you a full week before or after your birthday, but it's now dropped to 5 days, as Brian discovered when his birthday coupon expired before he had a chance to use it. So to make it up to him, I split my free cone—vanilla with Snickers—with him on Sunday. Granted, a 2.5-ounce scoop doesn't go far split between two people, but it's practically guilt free that way.
  2. DD Perks, the rewards program at Dunkin Donuts, includes a free drink of any size as a birthday bonus. Like Baskin-Robbins, they give you your freebie by sending you an e-mail with a printable coupon. However, this one is a bit more liberal as to when you can redeem it; when I printed mine out, it said it was good until March 9. However, since I already had one other Dunkin freebie in my wallet with the same expiration date, I decided to go ahead and cash this one in on Monday. Once again, I opted for something I could split with Brian—in this case, a large mint hot chocolate, which turned out to be REALLY large. I checked the website and found that a large drink at Dunkin is 20 ounces, the same as a Starbucks Venti. It was plenty for Brian and me together, and we were agog at the idea that one person could polish it off singlehandedly before it got cold.
  3. Speaking of Starbucks, their My Starbucks Rewards program also includes a free birthday drink. It's actually less complicated than the other two; instead of sending you a coupon to print out, they just automatically credit your account for a freebie, so all you have to do is hand over your Starbucks card and request your free drink. (They still send you an e-mail the week before your birthday to remind you about it.) The redemption period is pretty loose, too; according to my e-mail, the offer is good until February 10, so I don't have to go out of my way to get to a Starbucks before my credit expires. And it means I'll still have one birthday present left to enjoy when Thrift Week is over and done with.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Thrift Week 2015, Day 5: SmartWool socks

In addition to the birthday presents I got from friends and family this year, I bought one little present for myself. As I noted in last Thursday's entry, I'd used a Visa prepaid card that I'd gotten with survey points to treat myself to two new pairs of SmartWool socks. The two pairs of socks, with shipping, used up most of the $25 card, but my previous experiences with SmartWool convinced me that it would be money well spent. During the coldest days of the winter, my SmartWool socks are pretty much the only ones I wear. Even though they're machine washable, I've taken to washing them by hand and drying them on a rack so that I can get them back into circulation faster, rather than having to wait for laundry day. And even with this gambit, I sometimes run through the three pairs I have before they have time to dry. So I decided a couple pairs more, even at $12 each, would be a good investment.

When the socks arrived, I started to question that view, because they looked a lot thinner than the heavy hiking socks I was used to. Would they really be warm enough? I figured the only way to test that question was with a side-by-side comparison. So I put one of the new SmartWool socks on my left foot and one of my old wool-blend socks (not the SmartWool ones, but the lighter-weight ones I wear for milder days) on my right. Since I knew there was a possibility I'd want to return the new socks, I put on a "footie" underneath it—a sock made of thin, pantyhose fabric that covers only the foot. I made sure to put one on the right foot too, so the matchup would be on even ground.

It took less than half an hour of walking around with these mismatched socks to demonstrate that the new SmartWool ones were decidedly warmer than the light wool-blend ones. That was enough to convince me they were worth keeping, but I still didn't know how they would compare in warmth to my old SmartWool hiking socks. So I switched to one of those on my right foot (again, with the footie underneath) and walked around for another half hour.

I was guessing that the new socks would prove to be a good in-between weight—not as warm as the SmartWool hiking socks, but warmer than the blended ones. But to my surprise, I found the new, thinner SmartWool socks were every bit as warm as the heavy ones. They were also a lot less bulky and smoother-fitting (the heavy ones are a bit big and tend to slide around on my foot). So these new socks can take their place in the rotation alongside my three warmest pairs, and with their help, I should be able to make it through the whole winter in comfort.

The test was also helpful in one other way; it showed me just how much difference it made to wear those lightweight footies underneath my socks. The light sock with a thin footie underneath provided noticeably more warmth than I'm used to from the heavy socks worn by themselves. So I now have a secret weapon for the very coldest days; with a footie on under my SmartWool socks, old or new, I should be able to keep my feet warm no matter how frigid the weather. This will be helpful for walking around outdoors, of course, but also for lounging around the house in my stocking feet. I don't like to put my feet up on the couch with shoes on, but I often find they get too cold with just socks—so this added layer may be just the ticket.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Thrift Week 2015, Day 4: Hell Rail

I'm a bit under the weather today, so this Thrift Week post is going to be just a quickie to tell you about the birthday gift I got from my friend Tim. He offered to take me to The Fallout Shelter, our local comic and game shop, and buy me literally anything I wanted. That's kind of a risky offer to make, because board games can cost upwards of $60, but luckily for him the two I liked best were much more reasonable. Candidate #1 was Long Live the King, which is kind of a cross between a traditional tabletop game and a role-playing game. It looked intriguing, but I was put off by the fact that it had a required minimum of 5 players (it can take up to 10, and users say the more the better). I seldom have a really big group to game with, so I thought if I picked this game, it might be months before I got to try it.

So instead, I settled on Hell Rail. This is, on its face, a lot like other rail-based board games in which your job is to deliver loads to various locations, except in this case the loads are damned souls and you have to transport them to their appropriate circle of Hell. It requires a group of 3 or 4 players, so Brian and I can't test it out right away, but it looked intriguing enough on its face to be worth a try—and cheap enough, at its marked-down price, that I wouldn't feel bad about asking for it if I didn't end up liking it all that much. I think what really sold me on it was the fact that it was labeled "third perdition."

I haven't had a chance to play my new game yet, but I've had a look at the rules, and they're—a bit complicated. (I guess the author thinks a fundamental component of Hell is bureaucracy.) Based on the reviews at Board Game Geek, I suspect the first game of this will be a bit of a shambles, and after that it will become clearer. So now all I have to do is talk my Tuesday night group into trying it more than once.

This gift is ecofrugal for two reasons:
  1. It's a form of entertainment that we can enjoy at home with no additional cash and no electricity, and there's no limit to the number of times we can play it. This means its cost per hour of entertainment could potentially be mere pennies, especially at the sale price.
  2. It came from a local business, which I'm always happy to support. Buying local helps keep our local economy thriving, which not only makes it easier to shop without getting in the car, but just generally makes our town a more pleasant place to live.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Thrift Week 2015, Day 3: Primo Flavorstation (the frugal fizz machine)

Last Wednesday, when I popped outside to take in the mail, I discovered a mysterious package on my doorstep. It was a great big box labeled "26-inch pedestal fan," which confused me completely, because I knew I hadn't ordered anything like that. Getting the box inside and opening it unraveled part of the mystery, as I found a smaller box inside labeled "Primo Flavorstation"—one of the items that's been on my Amazon Wish List for a while. I wrote last summer about how I'd been thinking about getting one of these, but I hadn't taken the plunge because I wasn't sure whether it would last long enough to be cost-effective (since the product, and all its replacement parts, are no longer on the market). Now, it appeared, someone had thrown my cap over the wall for me.

So that explained why I'd received the package, but it still didn't tell me where it had come from. There was no clue in the box—no gift message, no receipt, no packing slip—and the return address on the package was a store I didn't recognize. My first guess was that my mom might be responsible, since I'd steered her to my Wish List when she asked me what I wanted for my birthday, but she disclaimed all knowledge about it. So I sent some inquiries around by e-mail to everyone else I could remember telling about my list, and I managed to trace the gift back to my sister.

That unraveled the mystery of where the present came from, leaving only the puzzle of how to assemble the thing and get it working. Fortunately, the instruction manual was pretty easy to follow. There were several pieces in the box: the machine itself, the CO2 canister (called a "sparkler"), the water bottle with its cap, three separate pumps for dispensing flavor syrups, one spoon for measuring out flavor by hand, and four colorful rubber bands for keeping track of whose water bottle is whose if you have more than one. (I'm not sure whey they bothered with the pumps and the rubber ID bands, since the machine came with only one bottle and no flavor syrups, but perhaps the point was to encourage you to buy more accessories.)

The first step in assembly was to screw the CO2 canister into place on back of the machine. The hardest part was getting the translucent cover off, but once we managed that, it was pretty simple to attach the sparkler. The instructions said to turn the machine upside down to do this, though I'm not sure why—maybe just to keep the heavy canister from slipping loose and falling on your toe before you've got it into place. Once it's in, the cover goes back on.

Next, you fill the bottle with water up to, but not beyond, the fill line (overfilling it can result in too much pressure, which can get a bit hazardous) and screw it into its place on the front of the machine.

Then you just press the button to carbonate. There are actually two buttons on top of the machine that you need to use. The button at the front, with a fingerprint on it, is the one you press to add CO2; you're supposed to hold it down until you hear "three loud buzzing sounds in a row." Then, before removing the bottle, you press the red button on the back to release excess CO2 before unscrewing the bottle.

The first time we attempted this, we never heard the buzzing sounds, and when we released the pressure and tasted the water, it had barely any fizz. The second time, we tried screwing the bottle in a little more snugly, and this time the fizz just foamed right in, producing the "buzzing" noise—something like a foghorn blast—in just a few seconds. It was so startling, in fact, that we completely forgot to press the red button before unscrewing the bottle, and we ended up getting a vivid demonstration of just why it's important to do so. The bottle came loose with a loud pop, like a champagne bottle being uncorked in an echo chamber, and the pressure blew the plastic bottom section right off the machine.

Fortunately, this doesn't seem to be an essential piece, either for function or for safety. It probably adds a little to the stability of the machine, but it works just fine without it for now, and Brian figures he can eventually reattach the piece with a little epoxy glue.

Once we managed to work out all the details, this little fizz machine performed admirably. Its home-carbonated seltzer was indistinguishable from the store-bought stuff, but with four distinct advantages:
  1. It's in a little half-liter bottle, so it probably won't go flat before I use it up. And even if it does, no big deal; I can just screw the bottle back onto the machine and add a little more CO2.
  2. It's a lot cheaper to make. Since our municipal water bill is on a tier system rather than a flat fee per gallon, the cost of the water itself is negligible unless I use enough of it to bump us up to a higher tier of usage (not very likely). As for the cost of the CO2, the big advantage of the FlavorStation over the more popular SodaStream is that it takes a standard 20-ounce canister, like the ones used for paintball. That means we can get it refilled at a sporting-goods store like Dick's Sporting Goods ($4 per refill) or Sports Authority ($3.50). Reviewers on Amazon estimate that a full canister can carbonate over 200 liters of water, which works out to less than 2 cents a liter. So if I'm currently going through 80 liters a year at an average of 40 cents per liter, this little device can save me about $32 a year just on seltzer. (If I were a soda drinker, I imagine it would save me a lot more.)
  3. I only need one bottle. I can just keep refilling it over and over (though not indefinitely, as I discuss below) instead of filling up my recycling bin with empty soda bottles and cans. I suspect just introducing this machine to our lives will, all by itself, cut the rate at which we fill our recycling barrel from once every 2 weeks to once every 3, at least in summertime. Plus we won't have to clutter up the fridge with multiple bottles or cans of seltzer anymore.
  4. I won't run out of seltzer again for months, if not years. I used to keep running out of the fizzy stuff and having to dash to the store for more every week or so. Now I can just keep refilling and recharging my little half-liter bottle until the sparkler runs out.
Unfortunately, the FlavorStation isn't perfect. It's better, way better, than buying seltzer at the store, but it has a few drawbacks:
  1. When the sparkler finally runs out of CO2, I can't just run out to the grocery store for more. I'll have to take it to the sporting goods store for a refill, which will probably mean waiting for the weekend to make a special trip. But I can always just go to the grocery store and buy a few liters of fizz to tide me over until I get the canister recharged, so that's not a big problem.
  2. The machine is a bit large. Right now, we've got it sitting out on the kitchen counter, taking up our very limited food prep space. It's not exactly ugly to look at, but it doesn't really enhance the look of the kitchen, either, and it's definitely somewhat in the way. Unfortunately, it's too tall to fit into most of our cabinets; the only place we've found where it could fit is on the top shelf of the pantry, which isn't a terribly convenient spot for something I'm going to be using often. (With the full CO2 charger in there, it's pretty heavy to be transferring to the counter and back on a regular basis.) So we may need to do a little rearranging of our cabinets to find a good place to store it.
  3. The little sport bottle will eventually expire. According to Primo, it shouldn't be used for more than 2 years, because the PETE plastic it's made from will eventually deteriorate until it can't stand up to high pressure anymore. Keep using the bottle after that point, and eventually, BOOM! Water and fragments of plastic all over the place (and possible damage to the machine as well). So I may need to pick up an extra bottle or two on Amazon while they're still available. Or maybe try to rig up some sort of adapter to thread a standard sports bottle onto the FlavorStation.
  4. The bottle is not the only part that may soon be irreplaceable. Because the Flavorstation is now discontinued, the only way to get replacement parts for it is to buy another machine secondhand and cannibalize it. It shouldn't matter for the sparklers, since the canister is a standard size, but if anything else breaks, it may be tricky to fix. Then again, a reviewer on Amazon says the machine is "relatively easy to repair" because it has so few moving parts and notes, "I've already had to repair a broken tube internally and it works flawlessly again." So maybe the bottle is the only discontinued part I actually need to worry about.
Still, even with its flaws, this machine is WAY more ecofrugal than buying seltzer at the store. It saves me time (no more seltzer runs), reduces waste (no more plastic bottles), and even if I have to drop $20 on a backup bottle for it, the savings on seltzer will pay for that within a year.