Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Year, Next Steps

The New Pornographers are one of my top 5 favorite bands so it's probably only fitting that I'm inspired to bring in the new year with their heartfelt "Go Places" from the 2007 album Challengers.

Come hell or full circle
Our arms fill with miracles
Play hearts, kid, they work well
Like classics play aces
Stay with me, go places
Once more for the ages.

Looking ahead, I know I will be geared for the adventuring to come. I hope I'm also filled with hope. Aside from literally going to new places, I want to discover more about myself and grow as a person. (Raises finger to mouth in an uck gesture.) Perhaps this will also mean that I become less cynical and don't feel ridiculous for talking about the whole self/new discovery thing.

A lot of people say they come to the city to take advantage of its myriad opportunities. There's so much alive and happening here. And while this drives me, it's also important that I pull myself out of my comfort zone. While I can easily do this when trying a new recipe or restaurant or traipsing through a new neighborhood, I don't always do this socially (at least not with ease). My goal in the coming year is to be more social and also to not worry so much about what other people think. And as arbitrary dates/markers seem silly to me, this doesn't have to start with Jan. 1. It's something I want to consciously work on from now on.

In ways, I feel like this blog is helping me with that. No longer second guessing if my opinions are valid or worth hearing, I'm just putting them out there, sharing my passion with folks who may be interested in similar things. And it feels good to write in my own voice without someone else telling me it isn't good enough.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Tackling a terrific taco salad

Eating Mexican or Tex-Mex out can get calorically dicey. That's one of the reasons I decided to start making my own taco salads at home--I can put more veggies and veggie items on it and control how much cheese I want on top. All these things mean it's healthier and fresh. Choosing to make your own taco salad can also spruce up a boring lunch or dinner routine.

Following is my recipe for a scrumptious taco salad. What you'll need and what to do:

  1. Tortilla chips--round, triangular, whatever floats your boat. Maybe if you're feeling frisky, try something like blue corn chips.
  2. Something leafy--the greener the better. I typically use baby arugula, baby spinach or a blend thereof, but most recently I bought Fresh Express Leafy Green Romaine and it was sooo tasty.
  3. Vegetarian refried beans--Yum! Veggies don't have to miss out for fear that those refried beans have been tainted with pork. Veggie refried beans are quite flavorful.
  4. Roma, cherry, grape, or beefsteak tomatoes--Whichever you choose, cut into slightly thick chunks.
  5. For more protein, I traditionally heat and crumble Gardenburger or Boca Burger on the stove and then add it to the salad. I've recently discovered using Morningstar Meal Starters Grillers Recipe Crumbles is also quite tasty and takes less time to heat on the stove.
  6. Top off this colorful creation with cheese. I recommend Trader Joe's fancy shredded lite mexican blend (only 80 cal per serving).
  7. Pop this bad boy in the microwave or oven. In my oven, which heats up pretty fast, I usually put  the salad in for 5-7 minutes at 350 degrees. Oven/microwave times may vary. Basically you want the cheese to melt but don't want to completely wilt your leafy green.
  8. Enjoy now! Or, add Sriracha/your fave hot sauce to top it off (optional). To add a bit of tang in a healthier fashion, I recommend using a dollop of Plain Greek yogurt in lieu of sour cream. Plain non-Greek yogurt works too.
The order of the steps above is typically the order in which I put the ingredients on the chips, but do what feels right for you.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Handmade & inexpensive gifting options

Every year I'm less into the holiday season. The magic and wonder of possibility felt in childhood is gone; the emptiness left by people who used to be in your life  and the pressure to be so damn happy often weigh too heavily.

I don't care too much what I do around the holidays and I'm not a fan of holiday music. I usually do give gifts, however, because I like picking out things I think my friends and family would like. It's even more fun when I decide I'm going to handcraft them. In the past, I've made everything from home-made puzzles to personalized calendars to handbags made out of posterboard and magazine cutouts. With so much crafting in my past, I've run out of ideas. I must admit that I've stopped brainstorming.

This doesn't mean that I've given up completely, forever. For one, I really like the craft ideas Ruche (one of my fave clothing sites) came up with this year. I also recommend the Brooklyn Based article on Dollar Store Diamonds. As a refined connoisseur of dollar store finds since scouting the DMV area with my best friend in our high school days, I really appreciate their tips on finding inexpensive and quirky gifts that'll surely make your friends crack a smile. Scoutmob's Nifty Gifty Indie Guide also provides some nice inspiration for gifts under $50. Even if you don't want to/can't shell out that much, the pictures may spark your creative juices.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The gift of noodles/soup

Sadly not many folks are getting gifts from me this year. Part lack of inspiration, part not expecting to actually be able to afford anything, I just didn't plan. And I'd rather wait 'til I think of gifts that are good and fitting than try to scramble and come up with presents just to say that I gave presents.

I do feel in a giving mood however, so I'll share with you my recipe for my go-to meal. I'm not sure when I started making this--high school? College? It's just something I've found that works and that I never get tired of. When I tell people this is my go-to meal, they say it seems pretty involved, but it's really simple to just throw things into a pot and the use of ramen (at least in the noodle recipe) means it can be done in 5 minutes or so.

If you're making noodles, you'll need these basics:

  • A pot of water to boil
  • A packet of Ramen noodles (toss away the flavor packet). I've tried various noodle types from vermicelli to pad thai sticks, but Ramen works best for texture and portion size. 
  • Extra firm tofu (block or pre-cubed. I personally prefer buying it by the block because I may want to make other things with tofu later on--not all involve cubes). 
  • Something green. I've done this recipe with spinach, scallions and/or cilantro, depending on what's in my kitchen at the time. I've also tried substituting broccoli, but I find it doesn't work as well. If you don't know what to get, I recommend spinach. It's tasty and you don't have to worry about it losing its texture. 
  • Soy sauce. I really like Trader's Joe's reduced-sodium soy sauce but Kikkoman reduced-sodium is good too. Or you could go wild and get the regular sodium soy sauce of your choice. 
  • Chili-based hot sauce. Sriracha is my no. 1 choice. Chili in soya bean oil is a close second. I recommend using this second option sparingly unless you have a tongue that is trained to withstand heat.  
    These other ingredients can enhance this dish but you can take 'em or leave 'em: shiitake or button mushrooms, a little dash of teriyaki sauce, fried egg.

    If going for the soup variety, the ingredients are pretty much the same (though I've never included egg). Of course you'll want to add a vegetable broth or add veggie bouillon to a pot of water for the base. I also recommend adding a dash of hot sesame oil to the water/broth for an extra kick. A squeeze of lime adds a bit of fun too. And if you're like me, a big squeeze of lime (especially if you're fighting off a cold) is heaven sent. If you're not using mushroom with the noodle variety, it works well in soup form.
    And that's it. My recipe/variants on my recipe. Noodles take 3-5 minutes to make and soup time is up to you really. My sis for instance likes to let her soup steep on a low boil for longer. I can do a longer soup heating at a lower seating or a shorter time at a medium setting--it really depends on how hungry I am.


    Saturday, December 10, 2011

    my new (old) thing

    Ok folks, the following proves I can be passionate about other topics than food.
    I've long been a bit skeptical about paying much money for clothing. Forever 21, Charlotte Russe and H&M--sometimes you can find cute (sometimes professional) stuff that isn't slutty (though maybe Charlotte Russe is more of a gamble on this), but as I get older, I'm starting to realize that I want higher quality clothing. But I still don't want to pay that much.

    Now that I'm in New York, my new (old thing) is to shop mostly (if not exclusively) at nicer thrift stores. Sure, their prices range from the usual $3-4 Salvation Army fare to the pricier vintage, but even the more pricey thrift stores are worth it. My range of paying more means a shirt will cost me $11 rather than $3. I have not yet shelled out serious $$$ for truly vintage pieces. Still, I've found a lot of nice, interesting things to add to my wardrobe.

    Some Yelp reviews I've read complain of thrift stores such as Crossroads in Williamsburg that just sell used J. Crew and H&M clothing, but I have no qualms about such selections. I don't need vintage to fill up my closet. I can get a gently used J. Crew sweater for less than $20. And this is probably the only scenario where I would given J. Crew's prices. And since H&M's prices have gone up since I started shopping there in high school, it works for me.

    On my first trip to Crossroads, I walked away with a cute orange dress, a black and cream striped shift dress, and a pair of long red knit gloves with the amount received from the clothes I brought in to sell.

    On my second trip, I would've liked walk away with more but because of better self-restraint and slightly too-small options in the dresses I liked most, I just purchased one blue patterned Joy Joy flowy skirt--perfect for the extended fall we've been having.

    Next on the hits list is the Goodwill in Greenwich Village on W8th St. I bought two pair of pants (one Banana Republic, the other Gap), a pink and purple scarf, and a blue plastic bangle all for $33.22. This Goodwill seems to be a good stop for work-y clothes, especially pants, which I'm reluctant to buy at full price until/if I lose weight from all this projected exercising. If I can find it again, I will definitely go back. I get easily confused around Washington Square Park.

    Doggy's Clothing (N 6th St bet. Havemeyer St & Meeker Ave) in Williamsburg is awesome for finer purchases. It seems the men's clothing here is overpriced but ladies, you can find unique skirts and dresses for $25-40ish. Not bad for some styles. Weeks ago I bought a beige full skirt that seems to be made partly out of twine? It's so fun and I'm not sure I would've found anything like it if not in a thrift store.

    My trip to the Salvation Army in Downtown Brooklyn wasn't as fruitful. Here the prices were lower but so was the quality. I did snag a nice blue handbag for $10--so not a complete loss but I'm not too inspired to come back anytime soon. I found the Salvation Army in Clinton Hill to be a bigger hit.

    Housing Works in Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights hold some nice items too and they aren't as expensive as I assumed from the outside. The danger here isn't just in clothes but housewares, glassware, records and books. I'm tempted to go back to the Park Slope location for a set of brown tea cups and a 25 cent "Learn Basic French Phrases" record.

    Last but not least on this thrifting journey is Urban Jungle in Bushwick, right off the Morgan Ave. L stop. I actually came here before moving and loved sifting through all the retro dresses, skirts and blazers. There's so much to look through, but I think the broader selection means you're bound to walk away with something. The prices are also a happy balance between Salvation Army and Doggy's Clothing fare. It's also a short walk from the ever-so-cute and cozy Brooklyn Yarn Cafe.

    In future paychecks (that's right folks, I'm now gainfully employed!), I will expand my journey in thrifting. Next on my agenda is the Goodwill in Chelsea and Beacon's Closet in Park Slope and Williamsburg.

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    Heaven in your mouth

    Boulevard. In Bushwick. Located right off the Montrose Ave stop on the L.

    This cute little cafe located on the same block as Bushwick Pita Palace (whose best fare is actually their burritos, but we'll save that for a future post) has such tasty sandwiches. I've been there 3 or 4 times now and I always order the hummus sandwich: 1.) because there are few vegetarian sandwiches on the list (though you can also find salads here) and 2.) it's so gosh darn good.

    When I stopped in today to order my usual, they were out of it. Instead of panicking, I asked for the roasted vegetable sandwich. I had been, after all, wanting to try it but the hummus one comes with avocado and how can you say no to avocado? I love it so much and it's not something I have every day so when there's an opportunity, I strike! Because of this hankering, I asked the lady running the cash register if she could add avocado to the roasted veggie and voila! The results were scrumptious--goat cheese, squash, zuccini, and avocado on a toasted baguette. It's like heaven in your mouth.

    I'm fairly certain the roasted veggie sandwich could stand just as well without the avocado, but now I have 2 go-to sandwiches that make me happy inside--along with the possibility that I can combine my fave elements of each into a super sandwich! I like the idea of super food. And this is something I can explore in my own kitchen. Much like the inspiration from Cocoa Bar in my last post. Life is short so why not have the best sandwich ever? Treat yo self.