Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Enough Already!

So, as I tooled around on the internet, looking at Web sites about living simply and within your means, I stumbled upon Alex Martin's project, Little Brown Dress. One women made the decision to wear the same dress for one year. It was her own way of combating the culture that tells people what to wear constantly, feeding off their insecurities and driving them to consume, consume, consume!

Well, I loved this idea. While I'm not ready to only wear one dress for the year (though doing so in Texas would be a lot easier,weather-wise, than in Alex Martin's home, Seattle), I am tired of worrying about how I look, what I'm wearing, and if I'm cool enough. I already know the answers: I look fine, I'm wearing clothes that aren't tattered or torn and therefore generally presentable, and I'm never going to be "cool" enough for some.

Upon reflection, most people don't look that "cool," and most people are more worried about something in their own lives to notice that I'm not hip. Or maybe not, but that's what I tell myself.

But here's what I've learned in my 22 years... In Ghana, I had one week's worth of clothing, half of it home-made, that I wore for 4 months. The same A-line skirt pattern with a variety of breezy cotton fabrics, cotton t-shirts, and one pair of cotton pants were rotated in order to make my wardrobe work each week. For a while, I washed them by hand. And I learned that I didn't miss the rest of my clothes. When packing for trips, I tend to select the items that can be worn on several occasions with various pieces. When I went to Egypt for 10 days, I wanted more room for souvenirs, not clothes. So I wore my jacket on the plane, and packed a few tops, some slacks and a few skirts. My only regret would be packing clothes that were more tailored to my body. (I operated under the assumption that I needed to dress VERY modestly in Cairo. Most women were well covered, but their clothes were closer-fitting than mine. But hey, at least I wasn't asked to wear a robe in the mosques, like some tourists were.)

The point still stands, though, that I don't really NEED all the clothes I have. I already cleaned out my closet recently, and am looking forward to pulling out my sweaters from last fall/winter. It will be like shopping from my own closet! And I'm going to try to look at Goodwill first, for all my clothing needs.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Common Cents

After reading this article on MSN, I realized that most of my suspicions about American culture were true: we like keeping up with the Joneses (even if that means debt), we harbor feelings of inadequacy if we aren't rich, and we're constantly comparing ourselves.

I felt compelled to check out my spending habits. Lucky for me, my bank categorizes my expenses (I don't have a credit card, so all my money is there.) I got to take a gander of how much I spent in July and August on things, and an average of the two. Some things I was happy to see, others, not so much.

My retail expenses tallied up higher than I would have liked. My goal is to cut that down by $50 or $75 dollars. Also, my monthly average of charitable giving is $1. A DOLLAR! I'd like to up this number, even to $15 a month. There are a lot of organizations I support, so maybe I'll pick a new one each month and give them a little contribution.

The good news is that I'm saving and investing well above what I thought I was. I hope to up the average by about $50 as well. So less retail now, more fun stuff in the future!

The other good news is that since I've stopped eating out so much, I've dropped my expenses in restaurants from $100 to $20 over the course of one month. This is something I'm happy with. I feel like I've been eating well at home, and the few extra bucks put toward better ingredients has really paid off!

As a person who earns less than $30,000 a year, I used to cringe when I found out I qualified for a lot of low-income housing. I always insist that I live very comfortably. And I do. I still get buy myself a special coffee or new pair of shoes. I eat salmon and drink wine on a weekly basis. I live on a lake. But I've also learned to take pleasure in life's little (and often free) pleasures. For example, Kendall and I took his parent's dog for a walk Saturday evening, and explored the beautiful new public park that just opened. The night was lovely, and the walk was romantic, not to mention healthier than sitting in a movie theater for 2 hours.

So that's my little spending report. Happy Saving!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

I'm Beggin' for No Bacon

I've heard of bacon-wrapped scallops, and a few years ago, at a Christmas party, I had two. They were delicious; the large, clean, muscle-y scallops, almost two inches in diameter, gingerly wrapped in a thin slice of bacon. But recently, it seems like the best gift to give yourself and your guests comes wrapped in a strip of salty pork.

As I peruse the Web sites of Gourmet, Food & Wine and Bon Appetit for good appetizer recipes, I find myself coming up short on new ideas. Mainly because it seems like everything these days needs to be wrapped in bacon to be good.

Take a peek; any seafood that can be grilled can also be wrapped in bacon as the summer melts into fall. I do not like this new trend. I cannot understand it. From scallops, it has progressed on, surrounding shrimp, a whole trout, and, as reported by a co-worker, an entire burger patty. Is anyone else confused by this madness? Is this necessary? And, more important to foodies, is this even good?

Bacon, by nature, is flavorful, salty, and distinct. Added to any dish, it's presence is immediately identifiable. But wrapping something in raw bacon and cooking it only infuses the strong flavor into the food. It seems as if it could be almost overwhelming, making said trout to taste like a flaky, light-textured... piece of bacon. And I'm including prosciutto in this too. Sorry, but for all the delicacy of prosciutto, it's similar enough to bacon. No matter how much you're trying to class a dish up, you're still doing so by encasing it in a salty strip of a pig.

Admittedly, I don't eat bacon and I don't eat pork. So maybe I'm being unfair. But I also don't eat red meat, like that burger I mentioned, yet I'm disturbed by ruining beef's own flavor in an effort to try an make a staple more upscale.

It's a staple for a reason, just like good trout and grilled shrimp in the summer. When we think of these classic foods, it's because you can do so much or just a little to them, and they're still good. Thread some shrimp on a skewer, fire them up plain, and I'll bet they'll still be delicious. Marinades and rubs are meant to enhance the flavor of these dishes, not mask it.

And to me, that is precisely what wrapping food in bacon does. It takes the true flavor of the food and covers it up with another. If you ask me, that's just not fair.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Slate is Spot On

When it comes to enjoying wine in the summer, Kendall and I chill everything. No red is too good to stick in the fridge. Luckily, someone agrees with us:

Red Wine, Cold?

Bottoms up, and dive in!

High Marks for Hai Ky

Okay, so I broke my vow. I wasn't going to eat out anymore ever again. But on Saturday, my pal needed to use my sewing machine, and we were headed to FlugTag at 5:30. That meant no time to repair the holes in his jeans, cook, eat, clean and get to the festival on time. So we went out.

And I was impressed. I've been getting snottier and snottier with what I think is food good enough for the money. Hai Ky, a Vietnamese restaurant, served up a good deal of food (enough for two meals) at a reasonable price.

The pad thai with chicken arrived with carrots and cucumbers on the side, boasting crumbled peanuts on top. The chicken was plump and luscious especially with that savory and velvety sauce. Not only was the dish satisfying, it was also comforting. Something about tucking into a plate of warm noodles always brings me to a happy place inside.

I also sampled parts of a vermicelli bowl with chicken. The Nước chấm, the expected brothy sauce on the side, was sweet and light, as it should be, and the bowl was filled with all sorts of appropriate goodies, rounding out the meal with veggies, protein and starch.

The unassuming restaurant takes up its residency in a strip mall, which may make it seem seedy. But step inside, and you will find walls painted hip colors, artsy photos hung on the wall, often featuring Austin hot spots and landmarks, and simple tables. There are no utensils here, or at least, none that I noticed. The caddy on the table houses all your basic needs for the meal: sauces, salt, pepper, sweetner and chopsticks.

Would I recommend Hai Ky? Absolutely. But what's more, I'd go back again myself.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Will Write for Food... when I Don't Forget

Admittedly, I'm not as steady of a blogger as I set out to be. Back in the day, I wrote consistently. Now, every few weeks, I have to kick start myself again. But my passion for good food and a nice wine have not wavered. After being asked to write more here by my co-worker J, I started thinking about my own "food story."

I think it all started as I grew up with a mom who was always in the kitchen. If we weren't making breakfast, lunch or dinner, we might be baking. She also sewed. It was her do-it-yourself attitude that has instilled in me a similar work ethic. Even now, my family members often gather around a table and talk about how the meal we just enjoyed could not be found in any restaurant, and if it could, it would no doubt be noisy there and the dish would be served by some rude kid.

My real adventure with food came when I studied abroad. In my adolescence, I was a very picky eater. I had started to grow out of that in college. When I went to Ghana, I was forced to eat something new, to try different things. After my first week there, I was willing to eat whatever was placed before me, from a delicious street food that's only served after sundown, kelewele to a kebab, with what I'm still convinced was goat meat.

My motto became, "You don't have to like everything, but you do have to try everything." After all, a semester in Ghana was a once in a lifetime experience. This motto was solidified as I traveled to Egypt. Our hosts, the Korra family, treated us like hungry savages. The moment we arrived, it felt like food was all around. Every meal was a spread of similar size of a Thanksgiving feast. From sit-down dinners at the family table to street food like fried ricotta, we ate and ate and ate. I put on about 5 pounds in 10 days. But I also learned an important food lesson: the love for food is as universal as the language of music.

People everywhere like eating. I would wager that every culture has known what it means to go hungry; some cultures are still experiencing that in jarring numbers. So I learned not to refuse food when offered. Hey, if someone has the warmth to open their home to me and offer a little of their bounty, who am I to say no?

When I returned from Ghana, I had dreams of cooking in my head. I moved out of dorms and into an apartment. But sharing space with others meant that I didn't get my dream kitchen. I also didn't cook for anyone but me. Now that I have my own place and another belly to feed, I find cooking to be a relaxing and favorite activity.

Nourishing others means a lot to me. Cooking dinner goes beyond putting some food on a table so people's tummies will quit rumbling. It's about giving them a more sensory experience, and it's about opening my home and offering them something from my own bounty. It's about sharing.

What I love about food is that it doesn't have to be complicated. Some of the best and most-loved meals happen over a bowl of soup and a chunk of bread. Pour a glass of red wine, any red will do. Add some good conversation, some laughter. Suddenly, you're engaging in an act of community.

So that's where I'm at. I'm still learning about food and cooking. And through writing, I'm trying to share the experience even more, by reaching out and telling people about this amazing cab I had the other day, or this incredible yet simple recipe I tried last weekend. Maybe I'm trying to engage in community, be it through words or wine glasses.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Behind the Curve

I've been a Texan for, what, 22 years now. So there is absolutely no excuse for my ignorance when it comes to chipotle chiles packed in adobo sauce. Why did it take me so long to buy a can? Chipotles are in no way foreign to my diet. If something is flavored with them, then I'm ordering that dish. I love their smoky flavor, their spiciness.

When I finally picked up some chipotles at my grocery store, I was pleased to find that I love the adobo sauce equally. It has the dark, woody smokiness and sweetness that I love in other flavors like dark chocolate and mole. Now I throw adobo in everything; I stirred it with lime juice and olive oil and served it over pasta last night.

So, let this be a lesson, friends: Don't just try chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, but try anything that looks interesting, or simpler still, something you know you like.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Be Bold

After years of eating Texan and Southern fare, I finally tried my hand at my own chipotle mayo. The recipe is actually quite simple. I served it with grilled salmon and a side of pineapple salsa. The salsa wasn't terrific, but the mayo was! Never one to shy away from spice, I used more chipotle than called for and added a little more adobo sauce for good measure. The extra spice meant that I ate less mayo, and delivered a wallop of flavor.

The condiment earned me the compliment, "Hyde Park's got nothing on you, babe." If you live in Austin and have tried the heavenly sauce with their famous fries, you know what a statement that is!

Chipotle Mayo
1/4 cup mayo
1 1/4 teaspoon chopped chipotle chiles in adobo sauce

(I added a splash of lime juice for a bit of balance)

Stir well and serve.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Ste. G does it again!

Call me a sucker for local goods... whether it's work by local artists or artisans, veggies from Texas farmers, or wine produced in neighboring towns, I just can't get enough of the local delights.

Which might be why I am cheering for Ste. Genevieve's Pinot Noir. Sure, it might $8 for a cask, but I find it to be a surprisingly good wine. It's smooth, punchy, and yet still dark. If you're in Texas, I recommend you pick up a bottle, chill it if it's summer, and enjoy!

Picnic in the Park

Sad to say, but summer's about to start fading. The summer here in Texas has been a surprise. Lots of rain, instead of our usual drought, thereby bringing cooler temperatures and fewer sunny days. It's August, and we haven't hit 100 degrees yet.

Yesterday was one of those sunny, albeit humid, Saturdays. We took the recommendation from this month's Austin Monthly, and headed to the capitol grounds. The carpet grass was thick and lush, and the grounds are peppered with huge shade trees. We grabbed a spot and took out our spread.

The thought of sandwiches on a picnic is classic, but I wanted something else. Our basket was packed with a baguette, Camembert, crackers, spinach dip, a Greek salad and grapes. The cool dip, salad and grapes was perfect for the muggy afternoon, and we enjoyed a lovely lunch in the shade without breaking too much of a sweat.

I don't buy pre-made spinach dip at the grocery store. It's usually high in fat and calories. Instead, I buy a seasoning packet (it's next to the salad dressing in store I frequent) and I mix it with low-fat plain yogurt, instead of the sour cream it calls for. You still get the sour taste, but you also get a lighter spread that's refreshing, not heavy.

My Greek salad take a nod from some of the Greek salad staples: tomatoes, cucumbers and olives. I throw in some herbs, like basil or herbs de Provence, and red wine vinegar. Yesterday I also added mozzerella for a little extra protein, because Kendall doesn't like the more traditional feta. So maybe it wasn't really Greek, more French? Not totally sure, but it was delicious.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

No Reservations

I know I'm late in the game with this, but hey, I don't have cable. But as a foodie with Internet access and a love for travel, I can't ignore the TV perfect match for people like me: No Reservations. Follow chef Anthony Bourdain around the world as he gets into such interesting situations like arm wrestling Viking descendants and dancing over poles in Vietnam. And then there's the food.

Bourdain is a man after my own heart. His zest for travel is exhibited through his willingness to try anything once, a travel rule I believe in. Sure, you might not be thrilled try the local delicacy, barbecued spiders, but there are several good reasons to do so. For one, it's a once in a lifetime experience, and food tells a story about the culture you're in. Also, it's just downright polite. I was raised not to turn my nose up at a meal that anyone else has prepared for me. And it makes a great story. Who else in your circle of friends can say they've slurped on porcupine?

The other reason to check out this series if you haven't already, beside seeing the scenery and life of another place, is that it's funny. Bourdain has the sort of sarcastic, self-deprecating humor I have when I travel. I also look like a total idiot as I try to fit into new places too! 'Oh, look at you dancing the flamenco, so gracefully... whereas I look like I have ants down my pants and I've elected to stomp them out.' Similar episodes occur with Bourdain, as he gruffly chuckles and pokes fun at himself.

So if you're wondering what to flip on, I highly recommend No Reservations. And you don't have to wait too long. The new season is just around the corner.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Goal Setter

Financially planning... sounds as fun as a root canal without pain killers. I know, I know. But listen, I really advocate for these next few tips:

  1. Make a list. Jot it down, ladies! I know it sounds elementary, but putting down your goals can help you stayed focus. Think about your long term goals (saving for retirement, paying down credit card debt, buying a new car) and your short term ones (holiday shopping, a flight to Mexico in a few months, new clothes for the season). Having them down will help you identify what you are putting your money toward. And that will help you...
  2. Pay yourself. Change your attitude about savings. It's not that locking money is getting rid of it. It just means you can't swipe your debit card and pay for those shoes that are sale for only $168. It does mean that you are putting money away so that you can live a better life in the future. Sipping 'ritas in Cozumel, not worrying about that debt that's hanging over your head sounds dreamy, doesn't it?
  3. What's $5? Start thinking about each dollar as a unit that can go toward your goal. Maybe $8 for lunch at that cute bistro doesn't sound like a lot now, but if applied to your travel fund, it can add up soon. If you're saving for the holidays, think about what that $8 can buy you during holiday sales (a nice sweater, a spa gift set, maybe even 3 or 4 DVDs!). Assign your dollar amount to a goal. For a week, apply that thinking: "Sure that latte is $3, but I could use that money toward those heels," or "I'd rather put that $8 toward this Christmas," and "I know that top looks cute now, but for $22, I bet I'd rather have that money go toward my trip next summer." Add it up; that's already $33! You'll see a difference soon.
  4. Have fun. Don't strap yourself so tight that you don't feel like you can have a good time. It's okay to go out to dinner or buy some new make-up. But keep it to a minimum. You're more likely to save if you feel like you can still let loose and you aren't just putting away until you die.

Food for Thought

Behold, my new addition: a widget from Tastespotting. I was turned onto Tastespotting via a reecent entry about gloriously photographed food on Epicurious' blog. While I'm still a bit too bashful to throw the street term around for this new fad, I find the general idea quite delicious. The great thing about great food is that it appeals to so many senses, not just taste. Think of all those times that your dining mate gets their order and you marvel, "That looks good!" Our eyes and nose assess our food first, and so it's no wonder that we enjoy looking at food, even if we aren't going to eat it. Enjoy the view!

Done with Dining Out?

After much debate, I'm seriously reconsidering dining out. What used to be a pleasant outing and a chance to sample good cuisine in a nice atmosphere has turned into a stressful experience that robs my pocketbook and my schedule. Often, the food isn't that tasty and is way overpriced. Finding a decent meal in a nice place with nice service is also a challenge. Maybe this city is too hip for me, but whatever happened to the helpful server?

My friend Bethany visited this weekend for her birthday. Because of time, we went out for lunch at a Pan-Asian chain (Fine, I'll name it: Pei Wei). While my lunch of Dan Dan Noodles, something I'd never had, was good, it was essentially soy sauce, spice and cornstarch with noodles and chicken. Hardly revolutionary, and for the price ($7), hardly worth it. Then for dinner, we went out for Mexican food, at local chain Baby A's. It too was sub-par. My plate of enchiladas suizas were NOTHING to write home about. The rice and beans were mediochre, there were no tortillas of any kind, and the margarita was strong, but lacked the punch of lime I crave. We opted to sit on the patio because inside it was dim and had suspiciously wet floors and smelled of cigarettes. Outside, the music was blaring, and smoke wafted everywhere. I'd also like to add that our server was cocky and not at all helpful.

Why pay for that sort of thing? I find much more delight in cooking these meals myself, and I feel my loved ones would appreciate it more. Am I too harsh? Or is the restaurant business really lacking lately?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Money Makes the World Go 'Round

Once again, I've taken a hiatus. As a working girl, I've been caught up with setting up my apartment, paying bills and enjoying my free time. But as a woman out in the world, trying to earn a buck, I've become more and more interested in making my money work for me.

After a few searches for Web sites or internet communities for women and finances, yielding biased results (No, thanks, Wachovia) or sorta insulting articles ("9 Women Who Turned Their Creative Passions into Paychecks" boasting photos of women with fabric swatches behind them), I decided to share what I learn as I go on this blog.

Even though statistically women take care of the budget, the world of investments and finance is still male-dominated. But what I learn is not gender-specific. When it comes to making your dollar dance your way, everybody wins.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cork Crisis

Fellow wine lovers, join me as I lament a very serious problem. For the past few months, I've been experiencing a cork crisis. Dry corks, corks with rot, corks that split in half and fall into chunks... I've seen 'em all.

Now, I must clarify. The wines I buy at specialty stores and gourmet shops don't have this problem. But my regular, just-running-in-for-a-Cab, corner grocery store has been selling me bottles that have cork problems.

The reason for this is perhaps too simple: storage. How you store and display a wine really impacts the corks. It's pretty easy, but I'll go slow. If you stand the bottle up, the wine isn't touching the cork, and so it dries out. If you lay it on its side, the wine does touch the cork. In fact, it marinades it, bathes it, saddles up next to it. This keeps the cork more moist. I know it's hard to wrap your head around; keeping something in contact with a liquid means moisture.

So my advice is store your wine horizontally as soon as possible. Maybe let it sit there for a week like that. Or, if you must uncork, keep a coffee filter around and strain the wine through that to catch any stray cork debris. Maybe buy bottles without real cork, using plastic instead or a screw top. Or don't buy your wine at a place that keeps it standing up.


Don't Try This Wine!

Usually, I don't like to post about things I don't enjoy. Like mother always said, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all!" But I couldn't help myself with this version of Try This Wine: DON'T Try This Wine.

Citra wine, any variety, is just not good. While it's low price might allure you, as it did me, forget it. What you will uncork is a tawny, flat wine that is sure to disappoint. This is the sort of wine that your Aunt Gretchen might serve at a dinner party proudly because, as she'll point out time and time again, "it's Italian." And she's right; it is Italian, but that doesn't make it good.

I tried pairing their Montepulciano d'Abruzzo with a baguette and some brie, and even the smoky, pungent rind of the cheese was not enough to lessen the gross taste. As Kendall put it: "You know how I say that some wines taste like spoilt grape juice? Well, this is one of them."

Just don't.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Sip Cooler

It's getting warmer! Before it gets to be swelteringly hot, I suggest keeping hydrated. But skip the disposable plastic water bottles from the case or cooler. Do your wallet and the planet a favor and pick up one of these reuseable water bottles.

Here, we have what I sip from, the Rubbermaid Chug Bottle. Find it in your local grocery or discount store for about $3.50. So instead of buy flats of water bottles every week for the same price, make the investment once, and refill it. It's dishwasher safe, and can hold from 20-32 oz.

I like the high volume. Here in Texas, those puny 16 oz. bottles don't cut it. If I'm really hot or thirsty, I finish one in a few gulps and am unsatisfied. This gives me more than I can chug in one go. And if I finish it off, I just have to refill it at the nearest tap.

Try This Wine: Delicato Shiraz 2005

Good news for wine-lovers on a budget! If you are looking for a big bang for a few bucks, this wine is for you. You can pick up a magnum bottle (that's right, the big one) in your local grocery store for less than $10.

Okay, so it's cheap. But is it good?

You betcha. I was surprised when I sipped this Shiraz. All the elements of a good shiraz are there: fruity flavor, full body, smooth finish. It's so delightfully tangy, that I found myself leaving it in my mouth for a bit before swallowing. And just in time for warm weather, this red te can be sipped at room temp, or chilled, for a refreshing sip in the evenings.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Try This Wine: Septima Red 2005

After reading rave reviews of the Malbec region of Argentina, I rushed out to get one. What I found was a great red table wine from Mendoza, Argentina. While the vintage isn't great, it was good enough to let the tannins settle out a little and gave this wine a smooth taste.

Actually, this wine caused a bit of a debate between Kendall and I. While I thought it was very dry, he didn't think it was at all. However, the medium body was there.

In fact, the body was rather luscious and juicy. However, it was a little too sour and so the dry ending didn't counter too well.

All in all, a very enjoyable wine, and one I recommend for trying wines from this region. I look forward to what the Malbec region has to offer.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Bag It like You're Green!

Today, as I hauled a hefty pile of newspapers, old school papers, plastic bottles and a few unwashed cans (gross and totally inappropriate, roommates) to the recycle bin, I started to think about those plastic bags you use as you get your fresh veggies and fruits in the produce department. Now, some advocate for buying special cloth bags for this, but I'm a poor student, about to graduate, and currently unemployed. Certainly, I thought, there MUST be a way to reuse those things!

Then, an epiphany. Sure, you can use them to wrap up your flip flops at the beach or to pack small shoes, slippers or sandals in your luggage. But what about reusing them at their original purpose? I mean, we have to wash the produce anyway, so why not just reuse these bags? My ratty, old tote bag has a pocket that's perfect for smushing those clear produce bags into a small compartment. Even if the worst happens, and say you forget your broccoli and it starts to mold and rot, you can always get another one. The point is that you aren't getting NEW ones each time and filling our landscape with garbage.

Happy shopping!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Go Green!

It feels like the oh-so-popular thing to be writing about these days, especially after Oprah's Earth Day special. America has been pummeled with more and more about going green, conserving our resources and saving our planet. From An Inconvenient Truth to the Green Room at the Oscars, we've gotten our fair share of tips to help out.

And with good reason. Have you seen those statistics? It's scary! I was jolted awake when I finally saw An Inconvenient Truth. I stared at my bottle of water on the table and felt horrible guilt. So this post is dedicated to going green and what I'm doing to help out!

1. Bag it.
I have about 1,000 plastic bags from the grocery store. Now, my boyfriend protests that he uses his as lunch sacks and garbage bags. Good for him. I think this is permissible, as long as you haven't stock-piled them like I have. I've vowed to throw my old, ratty and ugly tote bags in my trunk so that I'm always prepared for the grocery store. Sure, on occasion, you'll forget them, and the plastic ones you get that visit can be reused. Wrap up shoes you're packing for vacation, take them with Fido on your next walk, sack your lunch, or line your bathroom wastebasket with them.

2. Forget the Hype: No More Bottles!
I love carrying around water like the rest of you hydration-focused folks. But think of all the plastic we're using up. In fact, to make 1 liter of bottled water, it actually takes 5 liters of water. That's nuts! Also startling: the plastic used to make the bottles is usually grade 1, which means it can leech harmful chemicals into your water, or, at the least, make your agua taste like plastic. No thanks. Instead, buy a reusable bottle. I love my Rubbermaid 32 oz. bottle. It cost about $3, and has lasted many months now. It's made from grade 5 plastic, which is better for us. No more plastic bottles EVER!

3. Cut down on paper, don't cut down trees.
Love firs? Think pines are divine? Then stop using so much paper! You know when your printer spits out a whole page with a line or two of insignificant info, like a web address or time and date? Turn it over and pop it back in your printer! Recycle your newspapers and everything else you don't need.

4. Switch off the light.
Sounds simple. Because it is simple. Open your windows and enjoy natural light during the day. Only use lights when you need them.

5. Shut off during shaving.
Ladies, think about it. Do you really need the water running from the shower when you're shaving? I usually find myself in this strange hunch-back position, trying to guard the water away from legs so it doesn't wash off all my shaving lotion. So instead, try shutting off the water. Turn on the faucet for a second to rinse your razor. Then go back to work. You know that wonderful feeling of stepping into a warm shower? This way, you'll get that feeling twice. You might get a little chilly during shaving, but it's saving lots of water and possibly speeding up the time-consuming task.

So that's what this green gal is implementing in her life to help out and keep our Earth keepin' on! Happy, healthy living!

Jacob's Creek 2005 Shiraz-Cabernet

Again, I'm late. But this week's Try This Wine is here!

When my boyfriend brought home the Jacob's Creek 2005 Shiraz-Cabernet mix, I was skeptical. I like a good shiraz, and I like a good cab, but I generally shy away from blends. But this one was good.

It's got all the punchiness and body of a shiraz. It's fruity and brooding, and really smooth. As it fades, the body and fruit is melded with the dry acidity of the cab. It doesn't taper well, but there's enough good in this one to come out on the positive side.

As with most reds, this would be great with red meat or anything dark. But maybe even lighter fare with a touch of the sensuality, like cinnamon or raisins.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Crinkle Cut Cuties

I love Bolthouse Farms Carrot Chips. Their bite-size shape makes them perfect for snacking, as the bag denotes, or in soups and meals. These are crinkle cut, so if you sautee them in a pan, the ridges brown and they look grilled. Plus, it causes a slight carmelization, making these sweet little things even more sweet!

Thai Drumsticks

If you're looking for an easy Thai marinade, trust this novice: this one works. If you want something spicy, this will be right up your alley. I used drumsticks, which resulted in a disaster of uncooked portions of meat, crying and drinking some cabernet (see this week's Try This Wine), vowing "I'll never cook chicken on the bone again!". But you can use this recipe with any cut of chicken and savor the delicious flavors our Thai friends have brought us.

Thai Drumsticks
3 T red curry paste
1 cup coconut milk
2 T lime juice
4 T coriander, chopped
12 chicken drumsticks, scored
2 bunches of baby bok choy
2 T soy sauce
1 T oil

Mix curry paste, coconut milk, lime juice and coriander. Marinade chicken in mixture for 2 hours in the fridge. Cook chicken (grill, broil). Trim bok choy and combine with soy sauce and oil. Cook on grill or in wok for 3-4 minutes, or until leaves are wilted. Serve chicken on a bed of bok choy.

If you're want to cut down on some calories, use light coconut milk. I did, and the result was good. I served this with some steamed carrots in a dressing of soy sauce and oil.

The Perfect Summer Pizza

It's getting hotter every day here in Texas and the seafood and produce sections are enjoying some fresh sprucing up. The bright pinks of salmons and soft, ripe avocados make this the perfect choice for a new sophisticated, summery spin on a classic fun food.

Salmon and Avocado Pizza

5 oz. fresh salmon

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 pizza crust

1 T olive oil

14 oz. can chopped tomatoes

1 cup mozzerella cheese

1 avocado, diced

2 t lemon juice

2 T sour cream

3 oz. smoked salmon

1 T capers

2 T chives

pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425. While oven is warming, place salmon in a pan, add wine and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil. When salmon is cooked, removed from heat and cool. Flake salmon with a fork. Brush crust with olive oil. Sprinkle with flaked salmon, tomatoes and cheese. Bake for 10 minutes. Dot with sour cream. Arrange smoked salmon, avocado and capers. Sprinkle or squeeze lemon juice around pizza. Bake for additional 5-10 minutes. Add chives. Serve.

I didn't use the capers or chives. My boyfriend loved this pizza because it features his favorite foods. It's tangy from the tomatoes and salty from the smoked salmon. You'll fill up fast, so pace yourself. This is also a great alternative for people who don't eat meat but do eat fish and find themselves needing some protein that a regular cheese pizza lacks.

Try This Wine: Xplorador Concho y Toro 2005 Cabernet

For my inaugural run at this new feature, I am late. Mea culpa, mea culpa. We went out for margaritas and then had a not-so-good wine. So here it is... My first Try This Wine!

Sorry for the fuzzy pic!

Recently, our local grocery store put this one on sale, and I suggest that those in Texas snap up a few bottles at this less-than-$10 price. The Chileans once again impress, cementing a new area of the world to get Cabs from. I buy my Shiraz's from Australia, and now I think I'll buy my Cabs from Chile.

So about Xplorador 2005 Cabernet Savignon. Medium-bodied and fruity, this cab has an almost surly presence. It tastes like it's from the earth. Not too dry, it's got a smooth finish. The tannins haven't totally mellowed, but it's still okay for sipping alone. I recommend this with a good pasta with a dark twist, like portabella mushrooms.

For your money (and not much of it) this is a phenomenal wine and one I hope you all will enjoy.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


I've noticed that as much as I love a good glass of wine, I love raving about it just as much. I feel like I'm constantly rattling off good wines to friends. In light of this, I'm announcing a new feature to my blog. Friday evenings or Saturdays, I'll post to a new topic: Try This Wine!

This gives me an excuse to expand my wine catalog, document each new wine and share my thoughts with all. Looking forward!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Sun Bird delivers

If you're like me, you often find yourself craving Chinese food, but wanting to cook it at home. Instead of the dim lighting and poor ambience of many Chinese restaurants, I'd much prefer the quiet light at my own dinner table. Plus, I get to stay in sweats!

Here's my suggestion: Pick up the season and sauce packets from Sun Bird. In my grocery store, they're lumped together with other Asian ingredients like rice noodles, soy sauce and coconut milk, in some sort of politically uncorrect mish-mash that takes up only half an aisle. Check the back of the packet to see what ingredients they recommend you add, some necessary and others optional.

I was particularly impressed with their seasoning for fried rice. I was able to throw together a delicous pan of rice that satisfied even my picky, Asian-food-snob boyfriend. The result was a nicely balanced, not too salty side of rice that one could throw a variety of vegetables or meat in.

Recently, I used their stir fry packet to whip up dinner for a friend and myself. It was slightly sweet and also not too salty. The sauce reduced quickly, leaving us with a thicky, translucent sauce coating our vegetables and mixing nicely with the rice.

So if you're ever in the mood for some Chinese, be it rice, beef and broccoli or soup, stroll down the aisles of your grocery store and pick up some of Sun Birds products.

Friday, April 6, 2007

El Flaco Worth the Wait

Walk into El Flaco on S. Congress, and you may notice the news clips about the healthier alternative to Mexican food. True enough, the menu is scattered with healthy options, demarkated by a tomato.

But this diner did not opt for a healthy option. I went in for one of my favorite dishes from Mexico: mole. I love the dark sauce and El Flaco does an impressive job. Served over soft, floppy corn tortillas wrapped around shredded chicken, rolled into an enchilada, it is smooth, almost creamy, sweet and sensual. I've had good and bad moles; this one is very good. Good enough that I had to share, but, of course, I would only share a little bit. The rice is good and the beans are a bit smoky and delicious.

The food took a while to be delivered, but a sign notes that this is due to dishes being cooked by the order. Reasonably priced and in a cozy, homey restaurant, El Flaco is worth the wait.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Organize a Wine Tasting

As seniors who have gotten busy with life, my friend and I decided that we should invite the "old gang" back together one more time, for good times. We used to watch movies and get giddy; now we're older and more mature. So a wine tasting was a perfect idea. But how do you organize one?

When gathering friends from different wine backgrounds (from "I could write a dictionary of terms" to an indescriminent "They all taste good to me!") one should evaluate the logistics first. Decide where to host the event, how you will set it up, and who you're inviting. If you want people to mix and mingle, put together a few tables. If you want a cloth on top, make sure you don't mind if it gets stained; there will be drips. Also, find enough glasses for your guests!

Then make a list of wines and compare it to your guest list. Are there more guests than wines? If so, ask half to bring a wine, and the other half to bring a cash donation to give to a wine donor. This will even out the cost. If your lists are about even, then assign everyone a wine, so they can swap the left overs before they go home. Assigning wines is a good idea; this will prevent duplicate bottles.

Let people know that it's a TASTING, not a DRINKING. No glass should ever really be filled, but rather have a few sips so each guest can move on to the next one. Put out a notepad and a few pens for guests to write down wines that they particularly enjoyed.

I caution against cheese and crackers, unless you want to do a pairing. Food can compliment wine, but it will also change your palette and make each sip taste a little different.

At the end of the tasting, guests can swap the remaining wine bottles. If one person brings something they hate, but another loves, they can trade and enjoy the leftovers.

The wine tasting we held was a such a hit that another friend held a similar event the next week. Wine tastings are great ways to gather people for good times and nice conversation. Guests also get to enjoy learning about different wines without spending money on a bottle that they end up hating.

Photo Credit: Jill Hokanson, 2007

This is a photo our lovely friend and roommate Jill took at our wine tasting. I taught Gina to open a bottle of wine... success! Here we are after the opening. Incidentally, I recommend the wine she's holding: Liberty School 2004 Cabernet Savignon

Monday, March 19, 2007

Sushi that heals the Seoul

Seoul Restaurant & D.K.'s Sushi Bar delivers quite a punch for your dollar. Don't let the exterior fool you. When you pull up the the strip mall on South First Street, you see no real sign, just letters on a window advertising sushi. Once you step inside, you are met with a quiet and immaculate restaurant.

Once seated, peruse the menu. The restaurant offers a nice mix of Japanese and Korean dishes, including the classic tempura and kim-chee. If you like sushi, get it here. The lunch of tuna or California rolls will fill you; you will also get a salad and bowl of miso soup. All of it is delicious. The tuna rolls are fresh and come with a variety of tunas. For the first time in my life, I didn't gag on seaweed. The fish melts in your mouth, melding nicely with the sticky rice.

It's also an Austin hotspot, revered by locals. At night, it's rumored to turn into a wild karaoke bar, as evidenced by the disco ball hanging silently and the television sets mounted on the walls. The staff is sweet and accomodating, and the food is reasonably priced ($8-15 for a lunch plate) for the quality.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Leggings... Over it.

Last fall, short skirts were given a new life in the cooler climate when the fashion world OK'd wearing tights under them. Paired with flats or heels, these leggings gave a hip edgy feel to sweet skirts from the spring and summer.

But now the spring is beginning and it's time to shelve the leggings. And while you're at it, keep them shelved. Edgy, straight lines are out. Look through the pages of any spring issue fashion mag and you'll find flowy garments in floral, feminine fabrics. The whole season seems to scream, "Let loose!"

Bright colors and wedges do not mix well with leggings, so don't even try it. Instead, show off your gams! Flirty sandals, earthy details and weightless fabrics seem to float on bodies.

Final verdict: Leggings=Over it!

Wine Review: Chilean Cab's a New Fave?

If you’re looking for a surprising red wine for less than $10, look no further. Santa Rita’s 120 Cabernet Savignon is a winner. It is a wine that haunted my memory for weeks until I tasted it again. Medium-bodied, not too dry with an almost spicy edge, it’s sure to please.

Now is a decent time to pick up this Chilean beauty. Made in 2005, the wine has a little time to settle out the tannins and become a smoother, fuller wine. The finish is excellent and leaves you wanting more.

Pair it with tomato-based sauces, dark meat or sharp white cheeses. You could even chill it for a refreshing sip. I know this is a faux-pas, but if you don’t finish the bottle, put it in the fridge and enjoy it the next day.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Drink coffee. Save the world.

In a town like Austin where so many local coffee shops make giants like Starbucks and Seattle’s Best seem like they chant “Big Brother is Watching You” (though, strangely, they’re still frequented), opening a new corner café is a risky move. There has to be something interesting and new to draw in a crowd. South Austin’s new spot has just that and good coffee to boot.

Dominican Joe’s doesn’t blend into the corner strip mall it belongs to. Sharing a parking lot with Wells Fargo and Freebird’s, Dominican Joe’s commands attentions from all sides. There’s a terrace for outdoor seating, a brightly chalked sandwich board out front, and a large sign screaming, “Drink Coffee. Change the World.” on the back.

Inside, it’s got the relaxed, hip vibe of several coffee shops. The door opens into wood floors with tables and chairs and a few stairs that lead down to the bar. The menu is vast, with fun new creations like a flan latte, and all prices displayed include tax. And the prices are reasonable. A bottomless 12 ounce house coffee is only $1.50, and lattes linger around the $2.50 range. Stained concrete floors, a hodge-podge of tables, chairs, trunks, couches and armchairs make this place feel comfy. But patrons are often drawn to large prints of adorable kids and lush landscapes on the walls, or collections of bamboo poles. The kids are helped by the school that Dominican Joe’s supports. That’s where the “change the world” part comes in.

The café not only pays fair prices to coffee farmers in the Dominican Republic, but they also help the local community of the farmers. So the kids aren’t just nameless cuties, they’re growing and learning children being helped by your pocket change.

And the coffee is just plain good. Whether you sip a black coffee or something fancier, their house blend is a smooth, earthy blend that isn’t too bitter. Maybe it’s the justice, maybe it’s the roasting process or the beans themselves… Whatever it is, it smells great and tastes delicious!

Thursday, March 8, 2007


The wonders of pasta have delighted the world for a while now. It's the thing most people miss when dieting, and now shoppers are seeing new and improved varieties of the dried staple on the shelves. Whole wheat, organic, protein-fortified... Pasta has undergone a transformation. What was once a carb to be shunned by Adkins' dieters everywhere, it is quickly becoming a health food.

One of the advantages of pasta is its ability to be used in several ways. A package of dried spaghetti can be covered in a traditional tomato sauce or used in lo-mein dishes. It can be served hot with meat and cheese, boiled or baked. It can be served cold in fresh salads with oil or dressing.

Aside from the long cylindrical noodles, America has had a long-standing love affair with spaghetti's shorter, chubbier and tubular cousin, elbow macaroni. Macaroni and cheese has gone through a transformation of its own. What was once a convenient dish in a box, accompanied with a packet of dehydrated cheese, it is now reaching a new status on gourmet menus. Out with the cheese mix, and in with the gruyere, mozzerella and other fine cheeses, taking comfort food to a whole new level.

Now popularized by casserole dishes, pasta is once again enjoying the limelight as a filler to hearty meals. As the colder months start to fade, many will abandon the casserole recipes in search for lighter, fresher fare. The possibilities for a nice spring or summer meal are endless, so don't hesitate to use your imagination. The fresh new crop of vegetables are sneaking into produce sections everywhere, so start experimenting. Artichokes, peas, carrots, tomatoes, spinach, colorful bell peppers and even berries give pasta a lighter, fresher feel. Incorporate fish with a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, and you're ready to enjoy a lovely meal.

Tomato and Basil Pasta

1 pkg. pasta of your choosing (penne or bowtie recommended)
1 can of Italian style diced tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce, Italian if you can find it.
fresh basil leaves
1 clove garlic, crushed

Boil your pasta according to package directions. In a pan, saute the crushed garlic until just golden. Add the can of diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. Allow to simmer. Drain the pasta; set aside. Add the fresh basil at the last moment, in order to keep its color and taste. You may chop it roughly in advance if you desire more of the flavor. Serve sauce over a bed of pasta. Top with cheese, if you wish.

You can also find more recipes here.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Something to Celebrate

Yesterday marked the 50th year of Ghana's independence. It truly is a cause for celebration; Ghana was the first sub-saharan nation to gain independence and have had a stable country since. There have been a few coups, however, none of them have been violent. And now, Ghana is stimulating the growth of its economy with and increase of international trade.

For me, it's a point of pride. During my semester there, I learned so much about the history and culture of the country, and I am happy for their progress. But I can't say I'm surprised; Ghana's people are some of the most hard-working, industrious and optimistic I've ever met.

You can read more about the celebration and look at photos from the days events.

Secret's Out

"The Secret History" by Donna Tartt proves to be a fascinating novel that is perfect for summer reading.

Tartt craftily follows the story of Richard, a college kid from California who finds himself at a private university in Vermont. There, he befriends the exclusive, scholarly Greek majors. A group of five, Bunny, Francis, Charles, Camilla and Henry they are all eccentric and elegant. Their lifestyle is a lavish one, including trips to the countryside, lunch at fancy restaurants and nights of card playing and drinks.

As Richard befriends them and changes his major to Greek, he sucked into their world of the esoteric, of money, alcohol and betrayal. Unexplained silences between the five, trips to Italy all lead to suspicion. Soon Richard finds out that an ancient Grecian ritual lead to tragedy, and the students have to lay low. As the drinking escalates, so does horrid plot to kill one of their own. Friendships unravel, exposing the reader to sick, twisted world of out-of-touch youngsters.

Tartt does an excellent job of description and writing in painstaking detail. The result is a tightly wound story that readers are dying to unfold. With breath-taking imagery and realistic dialog, Tartt's story is one that captivates any reader.

It's a story that's too sad to tell but too good to put down. Just like any good Greek tragedy.

Monday, March 5, 2007

The Taste of Texas

They say everything's bigger in Texas. But just because its title has "Texas" in it, doesn't mean it's going to be good. I enjoy sampling the fine wines our state's 54-and-growing wineries has to offer, espeically those from the Hill Country. Ste. Genevieve is quickly becoming a favorite, due to their good selection, incredibly affordable prices and the "bigger in Texas" magnums readily available at your local grocery store.

Ste. Genevieve's Cabernet Savignon is my grandfather's favorite. He pours it into a small decanter before his lunch and dinner. I used to find huge supplies of it in his study closet, stockpiled to last him for weeks. In some ways, you could say it's a family tradition. My parents have always their Blushes, Zinandels and yes, Cabs in their wine rack.

Ste. Genevieve is one of Texas' largest wineries, located in Fort Stockton. One of the Lone Star State's older wineries, their grapes have had more time to develop an unique flavor. Their Texas Red is an interesting blend with a dry edge, but still, a bit bitter and a bumpy finish. I prefer their Red, a polite and tasty table wine. No Texas. Just red. Another blend, this one's less sour, has a better body and a smoother finish. While you may find the Texas Red hard to drink on its own, you'll probably have litte trouble drinking a glass of the Red by itself.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Etiquette Lessons... How rude!

What started out as a well-intentioned lesson on table etiquette soon became quite a disaster. The university brought in an etiquette expert to offer valuable advice at a dinner set up to allow soon-to-be-graduated students a chance to mix, mingle and network. However, it resulted in a dinner that was hard to enjoy. What sort of etiquette is that?

The seniors sat there, decked out in business attire, upright in their chairs, and unfolded their starched white napkins. Easy enough. As the speaker proceeded, they learned how to pass the rolls and what fork to use with the salad. No salad knife? Don't use one. Oh, and sit in your chair from the left. It's a little late for that, don't you think? What about putting sugar in your tea? Half the glasses had already been sweetened and stirred. So when they were told what to do with the empty paper packets, there was a nervous laughter and scuffle to discreetly correct their mistake. Did she also offer advice on how to become unembarrassed in front of your adult mentor who was supposed to be offering you tips on your career?

It's one thing to give etiquette lessons to seniors; in fact, it's a good idea. But to do it with mentors there risks embarrassing the students as well as the adults who have also violated the etiquette rules. It made the room self-conscious, which is definitely not polite etiquette. It also lasted too long; after 20 minutes, the meal could finally be enjoyed in peace and the networking actually began (though that was cut off by yet another speaker).