Wednesday, November 27, 2013

This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism, Vol. 3

It’s that time of the week, dear readers!  And what better week to think about thoughtful consumerism than that of our American Thanksgiving and its insane sidekick, Black Friday?  Paul tells me that we’ll be heading out at 10 PM on Thursday to get in line for Black Friday.

(Or maybe not.  Maybe we’ll just be hanging out with friends, fat and happy after a Thanksgiving feast.)

This week’s set of links will be a mix of old and new.  I didn’t find a ton of new stuff to share here, but I have many old favorites that deserve to be mentioned in this series.  We’ll just dip into them as we go.  I also want to mention that none of this content has been sponsored.  I am open to sponsors (as you can see on my sidebar), and one of the companies below has sponsored this blog in the past, but my fondness for them goes way beyond a sponsorship.  Like many people who publish content on the internet, I’m feeling my way through the process.  I hope that’s okay with you.

Okay, enough yammering.  Onto the links!

* Over at the newly renamed Art of Simple, Tsh has published an Ethical Shopping Guide.  Be warned: it’s HUGE!  I’m hoping to publish a much smaller list myself—I figure we can use all the information about this topic that we can get.

* One on-line shop that isn’t on Tsh’s list is Five Bamboo, maker of excellent bamboo clothing.  I’ve written about them before, and they are still a favorite company of mine.  I think their ballerina dress would make an awesome fall/winter little black dress.  (I’ve been on the market for a cold-weather LBD for a long time.  But since I live in Texas, it’s too easy to ignore the cold-weather wishlist, until this week when it’s suddenly 40-something degrees and COLD!)   

* Do you support employee-owned companies?  I think it’s a pretty awesome model for “working for yourself” but together with others.  A large scale version of working for yourself!  One employee-owned company that always comes to mind for me is King Arthur Flour.  I buy their flours whenever I can.  Let the holiday baking commence! 

* Let’s keep the podcast love going from last week.  Angelo Coppola has been knocking it out of the park on his podcast, Latest in Paleo.  Now, I know it can sound shocking for a vegetarian to recommend a paleo-themed podcast, but Angelo’s show is about real food and basic human health.  I find that I have a lot in common with his perspective on life.  And quite frankly, nobody reports health and nutrition news with as much humor and panache as Angelo.  Recently, the American Heart Association changed its recommendations for who should be taking statin drugs.  On the last few episodes, Angelo has been taking the AHA to task for their negligence and blatant corporate sponsorship from companies like Coca-Cola, makers of heart-healthy high-sugar beverages.  (Wait, that’s not right…)  I enjoy Latest in Paleo so, so much—Angelo’s messages about marketing and consumerism will make you think.

To my American readers, happy Thanksgiving and as always, thank you for reading.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism, Vol. 2

Hey, hey!  It’s another volume of This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism.  This week: links about time, health, money, and oh yeah, a whirlwind wedding.  (No, not mine.)

For the first volume in the series, click on over to this post. 

* I love posts that remind us of simple truths about how we spend our time.  I need those reminders this month.  Don’t know where to start when you’re staring at a mountain of work?  How about doing the thing in front of you?  Or you could just wash your bowl.  That works too.

* I am about to be an Obamacare customer.  Before the end of the year, I will be laid off from my current position because someone made an accounting error that will cost me my job.  Right now, the idea of having health insurance that is both affordable and not tied to a particular job is very, very appealing to me.  Paul shared this article on his Facebook feed, and it made me cry.  I’ll share an excerpt here with you:

There’s a popular myth that the uninsured—in Texas, that’s 25 percent of us—can always get medical care through emergency rooms. Ted Cruz has argued that it is “much cheaper to provide emergency care than it is to expand Medicaid,” and Rick Perry has claimed that Texans prefer the ER system. The myth is based on a 1986 federal law called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), which states that hospitals with emergency rooms have to accept and stabilize patients who are in labor or who have an acute medical condition that threatens life or limb. That word “stabilize” is key: Hospital ERs don’t have to treat you. They just have to patch you up to the point where you’re not actively dying. Also, hospitals charge for ER care, and usually send patients to collections when they cannot pay.

It breaks my heart.  But we can and we are doing something about it.  That’s why I am a liberal, perhaps even a socialist.  (Gasp!)  (That didn’t actually surprise you now, did it?)

* I’m becoming a bit of an entrepreneur by tiptoeing into the world of private tutoring.  So far, I have two clients, and it’s been great.  I’ve been listening to a podcast, The Suitcase Entrepreneur, that lets me dream big dreams about being my own boss.  (Episode 58 was exactly what I needed to hear when I first hung out my shingle for tutoring.  Recommended listening.  The podcast has its own page here.)  Recently, Kate Northrup was a guest on the podcast.  Her book’s title, Money, A Love Story, kinda turned me off at first because it sounds so blatantly materialistic or like she has equated money with value (they are not the same—a house that no one will buy can still provide shelter to a person in need).  But the more I listened to Kate’s interview, the more intrigued I was by her perspective.  So I might add the book to my wish list.

* For more on that money/value thing, you must read Saved by Ben Hewitt.  More about that book soon.  (Talk about things that have been languishing on my to-do list—I’ve been meaning to say more about Saved since August.  August!  Gah!)

* Let’s end on a more lighthearted note.  Check out this comparison of prices between a traditional wedding and a whirlwind wedding.  I think I know which kind I might want to plan!  Infographic is courtesy of Simply Bridal.  Hop on over to check them out!  They have pretty jewelry.  (FYI: this post was not sponsored by them.  I just like the inforgraphic.)



Saturday, November 16, 2013

Chocolate and Defiance

A Birthday Cake for Paul

If there is one thing you should learn from this post, it’s that a good peanut butter frosting can hide a multitude of sins.

A few weeks ago, we celebrated Paul’s 30th birthday, and it was terrific.  Five of us went out for sushi at one of our favorite restaurants (Kamei Sushi & Grill), where we drank sake and ate sushi and sukiyaki.  Afterward, we headed back to Paul’s house to eat cake and play Scrabble.  I hear that after I went to bed (such an old lady I am!), there was Scotch-drinking, a fun game of 4D Connect Four, and a pizza-sized cookie.  And the next morning, Paul made his signature vegan migas for breakfast, we watched China, IL (so funny, but definitely an adults-only cartoon!), and Paul had a slice of cake for breakfast dessert.

After the birthday weekend, Paul and I stayed at his sister’s house for a night, where there was plenty of Halloween candy left for the taking.  Every time he would eat a piece, he would sort of stare at me with this funny look on his face.  It was inscrutable to me at first, the way he would catch my eye and hold it, like we were playing a game of chicken and he was daring me to look away.  Suddenly, the name for his expression popped into my head: defiance.  He was looking at me defiantly, and why was that?  “You’re judging me,” he said, only half joking.  “You’re judging me for eating junk food.”  Then he stuffed another piece of candy in his mouth.

To which I replied with laughter, “No, I’m not!  I’m the one who baked you a birthday cake, remember?”

As a couple, Paul and I have a very happy relationship with food.  We both love to eat.  For the first time ever, I’m dating someone who prefers to eat vegetarian food, and I have to say, it is awesome.  I love being able to try everything we order when we eat out, and I love that Paul is open to eating just about anything I cook at home.  We eat a lot of Asian and Middle Eastern food; we like exotic tastes and interesting textures.  The main difference between us?  One of us lost 100 pounds and would like to keep his newly remodeled body in good shape.

Paul lost those 100 pounds before he and I ever met, so I have only known him in his sleeker form.  As his new girlfriend, I didn’t know what to expect.  Did he adhere to a strict diet?  Was he nervous about keeping the weight off?  Would the constant parade of cookies dancing out of my oven bother him?  Would my fast metabolism make him envious?

Would he expect me to change my cooking and eating habits for him?

My worries, it turned out, were just worries.  While Paul pays attention to how his clothes fit, he is hardly fanatical about his diet.  I like to cook healthfully because it’s my preference.  That means when we eat together, our meals are filled with vegetables and spices and protein.  We eat very well.  And occasionally, we eat cake together.  Early on, when I was still feeling cautious about food with him, I told Paul that I couldn’t and wouldn’t be the food police in our relationship.  If he wanted to eat sweets or shall we say, less nutritious food, it was his choice.  I was not in charge of his eating habits.  And along with that, I don’t judge him based on his food choices.  Which is why his defiant candy consumption was so funny, so very Paul.  Realistically, some of the weight he lost might come back.  I hope it doesn’t, for practical reasons like the tuxedo that he had custom-made for his ballroom dance competitions.

Tails Make Paul Want to Twirl{Tails make Paul want to twirl!}

It’s always the tuxedo that makes him nervous about weight gain.  But me?  I am trying not to be nervous about change in general.  There is a lot I’m anxious about these days, but Paul’s weight is not one of them.

So with chocolate and love I baked Paul a cake for his birthday.  It gave me a great excuse to dust off an old recipe that I’d loved once before, but this time we tried something new: a handful of chocolate chips tossed into the batter before baking.  It seemed like a great idea.  My Bundt pan disagreed: I had to pry my lovely cake out of the pan.  The chocolate chips had sunk to the bottom of the pan and glued themselves to it.  Normally, it’s easy to slip this cake out of its pan, but because the batter is thin, the chocolate chips didn’t stay suspended in batter.  They became little chocolate pebbles in a sea of cake batter, sinking to the bottom of the seafloor.

I was so sad to see my ugly deformed cake.  On top of that, I felt a little panicky about presenting it to other people.  That’s when I had the brilliant idea to just use the peanut butter glaze to hide the destruction.  I had already planned to glaze the cake, but now it felt essential.  After the cake cooled, I whipped up a simple peanut butter glaze and spooned it generously over the top, like winter snow drifting over mountainsides.  It was quite lovely, if I do say so myself.  

From the Top      

And to top it all off, I sprinkled some more chocolate chips.  Festive and a bit rustic, that cake was.  And despite the mishaps, it was delicious and appreciated.  Even the bits that stuck to the pan were devoured by me.  Cook’s treat!  As my mom always says, the broken cookies don’t have any calories.  That’s also true for the bits of cake that stick to the pan.

Happy baking, friends.

PS  A good-looking Bundt cake, fresh out of its pan.

Black Mocha Cake with Peanut Butter Glaze or Paul’s Birthday Cake

Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts and Nigella Express

Serves a small crowd (12-16, according to the book authors)

Be not alarmed by my mishap above.  Like I said, the first time I made this cake, everything went beautifully.  The only suggestion I would make is that if you bake it as a Bundt cake, it takes closer to 45-55 minutes, not the 30-35 minutes that the authors suggest.  Testing this cake for doneness with a butter knife is a reliable method here.

For the cake:

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 cups sugar

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1/2 cup peanut oil

1 cup fresh strong coffee at room temperature

1 cup soymilk (or buttermilk or yogurt)

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1)  Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F.  Grease a Bundt pan thoroughly.

2)  In a large mixing bowl, stir together the cocoa powder, sugar, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  In another mixing bowl, beat together the oil, coffee, soymilk, eggs, and vanilla.

3)  Add half of the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until smooth.  Repeat with the remaining half.

4)  Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  (The batter will be thin here.)  Bake for 45-55 minutes or until a butter knife inserted into the cake comes out clean.

5)  Let the cake cool in its pan on a wire rack, then place a plate on top of the pan, invert the pan, and gently shake the cake out of its pan.  If it won’t come out, run a butter knife around the edges to loosen it and try to shake it out onto a plate.  It should slide out pretty easily.

For the peanut butter glaze:

1/2 cup soymilk

1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (natural brands are fine here)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

A handful of chocolate chips

1)  In a small saucepan, heat the soymilk, peanut butter, and sugar over low heat.  Stir frequently.  Don’t be alarmed when the mixture looks grainy; the glaze will come together with time.

2)  Stir until the glaze has a smooth, creamy texture.  Take it off the heat, add the vanilla, and spoon it over the cooled cake.  Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the glaze to decorate the cake.  A quick word about the chocolate chips: mine bloomed (turned unevenly beige-ish) after they were on the cake, probably from the heat of the glaze.  If you want, you can wait for the glaze to cool and then sprinkle on the chips to avoid chocolate bloom.  Blooming doesn’t affect the taste, but it does look a bit less attractive.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism, Vol. 1

Welcome to the first volume of This Week in Thoughtful Consumerism!  I’m hoping to make this a weekly (or close-to-weekly) feature on the blog.  I’ll gather a handful of links to pieces about consumerism that made me think.  And sometimes, like today, I’ll also tell a story or two about my recent adventures in thoughtful consumerism.

The links will be a mix of old and newer stuff.  Just because something is a little older doesn’t make it less valuable or insightful!  Oldies are goodies, I say.

Onto the links!

Newer stuff:

* At Already Pretty, Sally started a discussion about how social media influence our shopping and dressing habits.  I found the comments fascinating!

* What do you think about Lululemon’s clothing quality?  And why does Chip Wilson look like he just ate a lemon in every photo?

Older stuff:

* I’m not sure if I’m heading into “austerity measures!” territory, but this post of Chrissy’s is a classic in my book. 

* There’s been a flurry of closet inventory posts around the style blogworld.  I don’t know about you, but I’m fascinated by people’s shopping and closet habits.  Here’s one from AJ and another one from Kimmie.  Style bloggers on the whole are not minimalists, but I do admire their courage to confront (and document!) their consumerism head-on.

And now, two stories from me!

* First, nothing beats hand-me-downs from your stylish sister.  I love these wedges she gave me!

November 4 2013 Rice Competition 025

Cute and comfortable!  I used to dislike the look of wedges, but now I’m quite fond of them.  When we were looking through the items that Theresa was going to purge, she cautioned me, “Now, don’t take anything that you’re not going to wear.”  I think she’d be pleased to know that I’ve worn these wedges at least half a dozen times in the last few weeks.

* And a story about not-so-thoughtful consumerism.  As you may know, Paul and I are vegetarians, and this applies to eating out as well as cooking at home.  After his dance competition in Houston, we went to the cutest cafĂ© called Ruggles Green.  We were trying to sneak our dinner order into the kitchen before they closed at 10 PM, so we rushed through our plan without a close reading of the menu.  They serve an appetizer called hempanadas, and we figured that with a name like that, they must be vegetarian!  WRONG.  The hempanadas are made with a beefy filling.  (I would like to point out, though, that beef is the final ingredient listed for the filling.  In hindsight, I’m not terribly surprised that we missed it.)  Anyway, so the hempanadas arrived and Paul discovered they were made with beef, and I was terribly embarrassed.  I don’t usually make that kind of rookie mistake when it comes to eating out, but there I was.  There we were.  And you know what?  We ate them.  Because the mistake was on us, and I had to own that fact.  Paul kept offering to eat them so I wouldn’t have to, but we ended up splitting them.  Saving grace: the two sauces that came with them were awesome.  We used them as dipping sauces for the nut burger Paul ordered, and the combination was delicious.

I told that story to some friends, and one of them asked, “Well, were they worth it?  Were they delicious?”  I think what she was really trying to ask is whether beef tastes great to me, since it’s a forbidden delicacy.  And the truth is that beef is not a very exciting meat to me.  I loved the sauces that came with our hempanadas, but I was too embarrassed by our mistake to enjoy the hempanadas themselves.  Truly, I prefer beans or tofu or vegetables to beef.

Have you read any good stories lately that fall into the thoughtful consumerism category?  Feel free to share them in the links!

PS  I have not forgotten about that chocolate cake recipe I owe you.  This weekend, I promise, I will share.  So busy all the time…

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Snark Fail

Have you ever written a blog post only to have it fall flat on its face?

Yeah, I think that’s what happened with my last post.

I’m a lot snarkier in real life than I am in writer form.  Being funny, in my experience, is not an easy task to pull off in written form.  Or maybe I’m just a tough customer, because a lot of things that other people say are “so funny” don’t make me laugh out loud.  Paul would probably tell you that I think I’m funnier than I really am; he often accuses me of making “Mom jokes.”  Guilty as charged!

Anyway, so back to the subject of that last post: spending all my free time with Paul.  The truth is that I am feeling a mix of emotions about our time together, but the prevailing feeling is one of happiness.  I feel a bit guilty about our time together, as I have so many other things that I probably should be doing, including job applications, blogging, and catching up around my apartment.  My should list is long, but being with him feels so good and so right that I kinda push those shoulds to the side so that we can be together.

To be fair, we have been out of town a lot: at least two weekends a month for the last three months, including this one.  I can be a lot more productive and spend time with Paul if our travel schedule slows down, which it might (perhaps?) in December or January.  It’s really the travel that is sucking up all my time.  The irony is that we are both self-professed homebodies!  We love cooking together and staying in to watch our shows.  I love slowing down with him.

Paul and I are coming up on nine months together this week.  I get kinda teary-eyed when I think about it.  Meeting him was the single best thing that happened to me this year, and I can’t really imagine my life without him now.  Have you ever heard someone say, “When you know, you know?”  Meaning that when the time and the relationship are right, you don’t need to spend your time hemming and hawing over whether you’ve found a life companion.  You just know.  That is how I feel about Paul, and as much as I am a skeptic about everything, I don’t feel skeptical about us.  I just feel right.

I may be snarky about my unfinished to-do list, but my gratitude for love runs deep.  Outwardly pragmatic but secretly romantic, I am a very lucky lady.

Found Heart

Monday, November 4, 2013

Gone Boyfriending

Nice Glasses!

I have officially turned into that person I never wanted to be: the girl who spends all her free time with her boyfriend.

I’m not exactly the stereotype of dependent, clingy, no-life girlfriend.  It’s just that most of my weekends have been spent elsewhere with Paul, and all this travel and boyfriending is cutting into my blogging time!  To top it off, when I think about what I want to write, it’s all about my adventures…with my boyfriend.

Oh boy.

But I have good news.  The first is that yesterday I went to a wedding shower by myself, and it was great.  I ate cake, drank sangria, caught up with old friends, and chatted with new people.  I rode my bike there and enjoyed the time alone on two wheels.  The second is that I have no travel on the calendar until Thanksgiving, when we (yes, “we” again!) go to Houston for a kick-ass, completely non-traditional Tex-Mex feast that my friend Courtney is making.

And there’s more good news: I’m about halfway done with my post about Paul’s birthday cake, and there will even be a recipe.  A recipe!  From me!  The retired food blogger!

Until then, happy November, friends!

PS  Cheers to Paul’s best friend Tim, who coined the word “girlfriending” to describe how he has been spending his time.  It’s adorable.