Category Archives: Internet Roundup

The Best Things In Life Are Free

Some of the best things in life are free. Some of the best things also cost money.

This morning, Ali and I were hashing out some details about our upcoming road trip to GALESBURG(!) Ali said she’d pick up a 24-pack of bottled water to bring along.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I said. “Back up, moneybags! I’ll use my Nalgene.”

“Don’t even!” Ali replied. “The 24-pack is $2.49.

To which I responded, “$2.49? I spend that much each time I blink!” Then we LOLd for a bit about the thought of money shooting out of my eyes: how I could just quit my job and blink myself toward financial solvency. O, to generate eye money!

Taken on my last trip to Galesburg, which was, believe it or not, in January of ’08. #blasphemy

This conversation got me thinking: about road trippin’, for sure, but also about the issue of food costs relative to geography. Where I live, a single bottle of water can (easily) cost $2.49. (Sidenote: An ex and I once accidentally paid $10 for a bottle of Pellegrino: NOT EVEN JOKING. The watery Manhattan I ordered subsequently did little to alleviate the sticker-shock sting.) Where Sis lives, you can get a week’s worth of water for the same cost.

I’ve lived in the Bay Area for almost three years, and every time I  visit the Midwest, I’m surprised anew at the outlandishly low food costs there. Yes, the general cost of living is lower there; I just focus on the food. “Five dollars for a hamburger AND fries?” I find myself shrieking. “I’ll eat ALL THE HAMBURGERS!”

MIDWESTERN DINNER! Gotta love it.

I love my Adopted Homeland and can’t envision moving anywhere else, really, but the cost of living here has required me to get serious about savvy shopping. Where before I might let a pint of raspberries sprout fuzz, I now find ways to eat all the berries within a day or two of purchasing them. I use odds & ends of veggies as stir-fry fodder; I don’t eat much meat, except at restaurants. I purposely generate leftovers.

And I do still buy frivolous and expensive and unnecessary foods — just not as often as I hypothetically could. True, I do not need salt & vinegar chips, Pop-Tarts, or beer, but I enjoy these things and like to have them on hand.

Annnnnnnnnnyway, that backstory was a real roundabout way for me to introduce the newest addition to my blogroll: Frugal Feeding. I stumbled upon this blog today, dove in, and loved it. It has all my favorite attributes of a blog: gorgeous, simple photos; a modicum of snark; and recipes featuring peas. (Holla atcha, English peas!) Check it out!

I enjoy shopping — so much so that sometimes I have portraits made in fitting rooms.

As I see it, shopping and cooking frugally* aren’t about deprivation: they’re about using one’s resources wisely. It’s gross to think about, but I used to waste a hell of a lot of food, and why? Well, I didn’t plan meals; I’d let myself be lured in by bright endcaps and pseudosales; and I just like shopping, period. I’m not out of the woods yet, either — just yesterday, I tossed half a package of green beans that were growing shriveled and dark. I’m making progress, though, and taking pleasure in my craftiness.

I’m also taking pleasure in saving money for other things: traveling, records, crazy hair procedures!, all the red lipsticks, etc. etc. amen!

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*And being Just Generally Frugal.

You Better Shop Around

Earlier, I came upon this post on NPR’s The Salt. It oh-so-briefly discusses the grocery shopping habits of Boomers versus Millennials, concluding that the latter group’s habits 1) are kinda random; and 2) don’t bode well for traditional grocery stores.

Why do I post this link when you could easily access it via NPR? Because I want to make a few comments, of course! As a Millennial,* I can confirm the post’s central argument. I, like many kids I know, am hella disloyal to grocery stores. I frequent Safeway because it’s the closest grocer to my house, but if I had a choice I’d avoid it altogether. (Safeway, take note: your look-and-feel is awful.) Often, I buy produce from Casa Lucas, a small, independently run grocery store, and I pick up candy and other sundries from package stores. On the rare occasion that I make it to Target, I’m sure to stock up on dry goods: pastas, canned beans, and CHIPS(!)

Alright, then: I’ve provided enough examples to verify my scattershot shopping habits.

More interesting, perhaps, is a consideration of why my [our?] habits are as they are. Why do I venture to four different stores when I could do a week’s shopping in one fell swoop of a trip? My answer: it’s a blend of cheapness and convenience.

First up: cheapness! I’m always looking to save a buck (when possible) so said buck can be spent on something shiny & exciting. MAC lipsticks: shiny & exciting. Garbanzos: not so much. If I had my way, I’d shop at Whole Foods all the time, tossing triple-creme brie and figs and prosciutto into my basket, all willy-nilly like, but were I to do that I’d go broke in approximately five days.

See this? Shiny & exciting.

Because I am not a lady of fortune, I shop at Whole-Foods alternatives: Trader Joe’s and Safeway. I’m not claiming these stores are on par with WF; they are simply alternatives.

In seeming contraction to my frugality, I also value convenience w/r/t grocery shopping. If I’m tired after work — and, let’s face it: I almost always am — and I need summer squash, there’s no way in hell I’m traveling to Trader Joe’s. I’ll swing by the Safeway at 16th because it’s already on my way home. If I’m craving a candy bar late in the evening, ain’t no way I’m going to schlep to a proper grocer — I’m going to the corner store.

And this is where I get all the candy bars.

Bottom line: I’m not brand loyal. My friends, if I may speak for them, are not brand loyal, at least when it comes to food shoppes. Frequenting one grocery store seems odd and antiquated, but maybe that’s just my Millennial brain/values system at work?  Maybe it’s the product of my geography? Regardless, here are some truths: I’m easily lured by cheese sales, I’m drawn in by grocery stores as near as possible to mine home, and someday — mark my words — I’ll do all my grocery shopping at Whole Foods.

Image sources: [1], [2], [3]

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*At least according to Wikipedia, be-all/end-all source of knowledge.

In the News…

It’s been a good while since I shared some links, but this morning I read two articles (err, one article, one blog post) that captivated my oh-so-fleeting interest. And, in the interest of spreading the wealth, I’mma share these pieces with you!

Over at XOJane, Rebecca Kelley details how she fed her family for a month on a skimpy budget of $129.99(!) Honoring the whims of my inner grad student, I love (love, love) reading about cooking on a budget. Kelley’s account of her Hunger-Games-esque challenge is lighthearted and funny. It’s also a solid reminder that, yes, eating well on a shoestring requires extra effort and planning, but it can be done — and it isn’t as painful as one might think.

Rebecca Kelley: forager extraordinaire! (Photo taken from XOJane.com)

The second piece, written by Andrew Weil for HuffPo, considers the concept of Intermittent Fasting, which is, in effect, just as it sounds. Weil denounces Americans’ tendency to eat small, frequent meals — a practice, he maintains, that encourages constant eating — advocating instead for three squares a day punctuated by the occasional fast.

Full disclosure: I’ve never fasted, but I’m intrigued by the process. Some months ago, I attended an Ayurvedic cleanse workshop, though I’ve yet to, uh, actually go through with the cleanse. Weil’s piece reignited my interest in the topic; I’m gonna scan my Ayurvedic cookbook tonight! Stay tuned for updates on Ayurvedic cleansing: Garky Edition.

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Photo source: [1]

Semi-Homemade: Thoughts on Convenience

This morning, I came upon Emily Matchar’s Hairpin article The First Sandra Lee: Poppy Cannon and Her Can-Opener Cuisine, and my brain perked up. I thought I was in for a real treat — the rhetorical equivalent of a triple-layer chocolate cake, cemented with layers of buttercream and lovingly scattered with flakes of chocolate. And I was in for a treat, though one by no means as decadent as the one I imagined — more of an intellectual sponge cake, soaked in low-rent rum and sprinkled with the zest of a shriveling orange.

Matchar begins with an introduction to Poppy Cannon: food editor, cookbook author, and lady about town. Cannon was no dolt; she knew good cuisine when she saw it, yet she elected to write about can-opener cooking. Such a decision brought criticism upon Cannon, who didn’t care — after all, she was makin’ money and livin’ the dream. (All together now: money talks and bullshit walks.)

Further into her post, Matchar compares Cannon to modern-day frozen-foods whiz Sandra Lee, who, like her predecessor, has come under heat for her “recipes.” Superficially, at least, the women are similar: both faced adversity as children and longed to get the hell out of Dodge; both profited enormously from their advocacy of quik-n-easy foodstuffs. But there the similarities end. Where Cannon was an innovator, Lee is merely upcycling a decades-old concept, repackaging it in a millennial-friendly manner.

At the time Cannon was writing, convenience foods were a relatively new concept. Canned foods had been around for a while, but TV dinners were viewed (so I’m told) as a miracle product — a way for housewives to provide their husbands with a warm, nourishing meal without spending hours in the kitchen.

Today, of course, heat-and-eat foods aren’t viewed with the same impunity. Reviled as junk and made the target of class-focused arguments, frozen meals and components are the red-headed stepchildren of the food world. Not as nutritionally void as Pringles, Twizzlers, and Pizza Rolls, frozen and canned foods are almost worse off; by asserting themselves as nutritive, they draw more contempt and cynical evaluation than they would otherwise.

But I’m not here to hate on canned foods; I’m here to examine the critical difference between Poppy Cannon and Sandra Lee. Matchar draws comparisons between the women to illustrate her point about convenience-food haters. She quotes chef Michael Ruhlman, who claims that cooking with other people and eating homemade food is “part of what makes us human.” Retorts Matchar, “unlike Ruhlman, both Sandra Lee and Poppy Cannon understood that some full-blooded human beings actually find cooking a giant pain in the ass.”

Which is true — some people do find cooking a major pain in the ass. I’m not one of those people. What Matchar fails to acknowledge is that Sandra Lee doesn’t cater to people who truly find cooking a pain in the ass. Those individuals have available to them a glorious array of fully prepared, fairly nutritious meals; every supermarket has a frozen section filled with fully prepared meals, and more and more markets have salad or hot bars with entrees ready to be eaten. People who actually hate cooking rely on these options. Or they eat at restaurants. Or they wait for others to cook for them.

On the contrary, Lee targets people who like the idea of cooking, who view the process as something valuable, but for whatever reason don’t want to engage in the process from start to finish. If Lee’s target demo didn’t care for cooking at all, they’d open a can of Dinty Moore and call it a day. Even the title of Lee’s show (Semi-Homemade) acknowledges the value of a homemade meal. Matchar miscategorizes Lee’s audience and, as a result, weakens her argument.

Cannon, who aimed her book at “working girls,” was writing at a time when women had recently gained the option to enter the workforce. The necessity of balancing work life and domestic tasks was a new one for many women. Not so for Lee’s audience. That is to say, many women (and men) still struggle to balance their work and home lives, but the struggle itself is nothing new.

Lee’s purpose isn’t to alleviate the struggle; it’s to stoke the self-esteem of people who want to make homemade meals but are too lazy. Her recipes occupy a strange doldrummy space: hideously unappetizing, they require a decent — but not an overwhelming — amount of prep. They yield products that are pointillistically “homemade;” get closer to the table and you’ll recognize that that gorgeous pie is really just graham-cracker crumbs topped with cherry sludge and Reddi-Whip. Failing on the levels of nutrition and taste, Lee’s recipes are little more than window dressing.

Maybe Cannon’s are, too, but they’re the window dressing of an earlier era, a time during which such a classification held different cultural associations. Food snobbery has always existed, but its targets were different in 1951 than currently. Matchar’s primary oversight is her failure to acknowledge the very different cultures in which Cannon and Lee worked.

Matchar is right: there are people for whom cooking is a giant pain in the ass. There are also people for whom cooking is a semi pain in the ass, and those people are the followers of Lee.

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Image sources: [1], [2], [3], [4]

Confession: Your Post Makes You Sound Like a Douchelaser

It’s true: I’ve spent my last few posts bitching and moaning about Annoying Things I Have Read, and this is the last such tirade (for now). BUT, when I stumbled on this SFist post, titled Confessions Of A San Francisco Parent: Babies In Restaurants Aren’t A Problem, I couldn’t resist. I am, after all, only human.

I’ll say this up front, lest I sound like a crazy, kid-hating bitch: I don’t hate children. I like children! They wear adorable, baby-sized Ray Bans and sometimes say funny things! Human life! Perpetuation of the species & c!

You know what I hate? Smug parents. Smug people in general, but smug parents in particular. I also have megaqualms with misleading article titles, several of which SS and I have encountered on this very day.

The title of the article post in question led me to believe that the author would defend parents who bring their yawling tots to nice restaurants. “Fucking A,” I thought, “another of those folks,” by which I mean folks who consider their own needs above everyone else’s.* But no: the post falls into another category altogether — that of the ill-formed line of argumentation, the absent thesis, the plague of blah-ness.

Rather than positing that, No, babies in restaurants are not annoying and here’s why, the author admits that babies in restaurants can be annoying:

To our dismay and frustration, at the next table was a little girl. She wasn’t crying or screaming. She was watching Dora the Explorer on full blast on her personal DVD player …We were livid.

The author understands (abstractly, at least) that yes, a crying child can wreck other patrons’ dining experiences. She goes so far as to say, “I understand how disruptive a child in a restaurant can be, especially when you’re paying big bucks…” One point for insight! That the author identifies the problem undermines the other half of her argument: because the crying child isn’t mine, it isn’t a problem.Whoa, whoa, whoa: back up. You’re saying that because you can block out the shrieks of kids (or that you can pretend said shrieks aren’t annoying), those shrieks aren’t a problem? I love this logic! Let’s apply it to other so-called problems:

“You know, I’ve never experienced genocide, so it’s NOT A PROBLEM.”

“My parents were killed when their car was struck by a meth-head driving a conversion van. BUT, because it’s not happening to me in the current moment, it’s NOT A PROBLEM.”

To review: the author admits that, yes, loud children can indeed disrupt a dining experience. She also claims that, unless the loud-ass kids are her own, they aren’t a problem because SHE doesn’t have to deal (“deal”) with them. Never mind those other diners who have to, uh, listen to the kids. D. Hanousek’s post could have been reduced to a single line: “The world revolves around meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

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*And, let’s be honest: parents who bring colicky-ass babies to restaurants are doing exactly that. Whatever the cause — inability or unwillingness to find a babysitter, obsession with one’s offspring, desire to tote one’s kids to All Public Places — the result is the same: other diners’ needs are infringed upon.

Image sources: [1], [2]

How Is This News?

Fully aware that I’ve been on the kvetchwagon for some time, I’d like to bring a(nother) annoying text to your attention, Dear Intertron Readers! The offending text was published today in the Washington Post; I don’t regularly read the WP, but I do receive their weekly health-related newsletter (a subscription I began years ago during my “Get Fit Now” phase).

This morning, Katherine Tallmadge published a list of “5 so-called health foods you should avoid.” The title — perfect for SEO — piqued my curiosity, but only because I was saving the choicest morsels of my G-reader for later this afternoon. What would I find on this list? I wondered. Almond milk? Chia seeds? Or — god help me — KALE?

Answer: none of the above! Nope, this list contained nothing so revolutionary. Instead, Tallmadge calls out reduced-fat peanut butter, enhanced water, energy bars, multigrain foods, and non-fried chips/crackers as junk in sheep’s clothing. Her claims are valid, sort of; peanut butter and crackers aren’t the healthiest choices (though they are delicious). Even still, I have the following BEEF with this article:

1) The foods listed don’t really claim to be health foods. With the exception of multigrain items, the foods Tallmadge lists don’t purport to be health foods. The huge majority of packaged foods tout their healthier attributes (case in point: candy bars that boast about reduced fat content; cereals that advertise increased vitamin levels), but this advertising doesn’t mean those foods are promoting themselves as health foods. I’ve seen peanut butter advertised as part ofa healthy breakfast/lunch, but I’ve never seen a Jif commercial claiming its product = the fountain of youth.

Oh, it has "grain" in the name? Let me eat THE WHOLE BAG!

2) Eaten in reasonable amounts, these five foods can be healthy. I’m sure you all have heard about people who have lost weight by eating nothing but vending-machine fare. I’m not equating lower weight to increased health (because this can be a false premise); I am stating that, as part of a balanced diet, even peanut butter has a place. Tallmadge also fails to mention the emotional/social benefits of foods, which aspects contribute to a food’s overall value.

(Aside: Carr’s crackers, made with the whitest of the white flours, aren’t HEALTH FOOD, but they figure prominently into childhood memories. I still eat them from time to time and revel in the nostalgiathon, which promotes my emotional well-being. Which, come on!, is a part of overall health.)

These crackers are healthy for my soul.

3) The article assumes reader ignorance. If there’s one thing I hate (and lord knows there’s not just one!), it’s articles that presume the readers to be idiots. This article assumes the worst about readers. Writes Tallmadge, “…make a habit of reading the ingredients list, not just the Nutrition Facts panel.” Why, you don’t say! Read about the ingredients of the food I’m eating? I’ll be damned.

Annnnnnnnnnd that concludes today’s heckling! Beyond disappointment, annoyance, mild irritation, &c, this article left me confused. Not about the foods mentioned, but about the article itself: WHY DOES IT EVEN EXIST?

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Image sources: [1], [2]

 

Forever Home

HELLO THERE, INTERNET! NICE TO SEE YOU AGAIN.

Just kidding! I mean, I’m kidding about not having seen the internet, because God, what do I do all day besides cruise the Information Superhighway in my sick, imaginary PT Cruiser? As you all have noticed — or maybe not noticed — this corner of the internet has lain dormant. Not quite gone to seed, it’s nonetheless grown over with dandelions and brambles and tiny maple saplings and other flora that might not coexist IRL.Abandonment metaphors aside, take a look at the rad dinner Alex and I prepared last night: Moroccan chicken and olives, served over couscous (top) and an arugula salad with vinaigrette (bottom).

The chicken was a freestyle based on a Food52 recipe I found. My criteria for yesterday’s dinner were as follows: 1) it can’t be boring; 2) it can’t be too difficult to make; 3) it can’t require tons of equipment, because I have exactly one (dullish) knife. Lo & behold, this dinner fit the bill on all accounts!

Would you like to replicate this gorgeous dinner? Yeeeeeeees? Here’s what you’ll need to do.

Moroccan Chicken and Olives (adapted from Food52.com)

Ingredients

  • Vegetable oil (several tablespoons’ worth)
  • One pound boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of most visible fat
  • One small onion, finely chopped
  • Three cloves garlic, minced
  • One-inch hunk of ginger, skinned and diced
  • About three cups organic chicken stock
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Zest of one lemon
  • Three carrots, cut into coins
  • Two bay leaves
  • Several strands of saffron
  • One teaspoon smoked paprika
  • A DASH of curry powder
  • Approx. 1.5 teaspoons of fennel seeds
  • Dash of red pepper flakes
  • Hearty dash of cumin
  • 1/2 cup olives, rinsed and drained
  • Chopped cilantro (about 1/4 to 1/3 cup)

Method

  1. Begin by drying, salting, and peppering your chicken thighs. Heat several tablespoons of veggie oil in a skillet. Place batches of the thighs in the skillet & brown them. Remove chix from skillet and set aside.
  2. In that same skillet, cook your onion until it’s translucent. Midway through the onion-cooking process, add your garlic and ginger to the pan.
  3. Once the onion is cooked, return the chicken to the skillet. Add just enough stock to cover the chicken. Add your lemon juice, lemon zest, carrots, and spices, and simmer until chicken and carrots are cooked through.
  4. At the very very end of the cooking process, add the olives and cilantro to the mix. Allow the olives to become warm, and then remove the skillet from heat.
  5. Serve chicken over couscous (or rice, if that’s your thing). You’ll have plenty of leftovers, and this will make you very happy.

In case any of you were wondering about the title of this post, I have news: I’ve moved! Again! Srsly, though, this is the last time, and trust me when I say this. (Trust: I signed a yearlong lease, so I won’t be schlepping across town anytime soon.)

I’m living with my pal Sarah, queen of snark and killer vegan cupcakes, and together we will furnish our Forever Home with the best craigslist has to offer. We’re already loving the new place, which was completely renovated prior to our move-in. That’s right: we’ve got new bamboo floors, a landscaped backyard, stainless appliances (incl. a DISHWASHER), and — best of all — a six-burner stove. Have I died and gone to heaven? Is heaven a 2BR railroad-style apartment? Don’t answer that. Instead, stop by and say hello! I’ll offer you a teacup of wine and whatever baked good I have available.