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On 20-somethings and Cooking

January 20, 2011 20 comments

I saw something when I was out grocery shopping this weekend that I can’t stop thinking about.  There were three young 20-somethings in front of me in the self-check-out.  They  had a very full cart.  I’m assuming they were roommates shopping for the household.  In any case, I had a bit of a wait, so I started to look at what they’d bought.  I’m always intrigued to see what groceries other people buy.  Anyway.  Their food consisted entirely of prepackaged meals, almost all of them Hungry Man frozen dinners.   We’re talking enough frozen dinners to feed all three of them for around a month.  It took all of my self-control to not let my jaw drop open.  There was not a single piece of fruit, vegetable, or even, heck, a box of pasta in the mix!  Not even some canned applesauce!  Every single item was a frozen dinner.

This rather dramatically demonstrates a trend I’m seeing among my generation that frankly worries me.  I’m not one to rant in a pretentious way about what you should eat, but what the hell happened to the art of cooking?!  Why are people reaching their young 20s with absolutely zero knowledge about how to make dinner from scratch?  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who are my age who know next to nothing about cooking.  One of my meals that never fails to impress these friends who can’t cook I call Poor Man’s Pasta.  I take some fresh veggies, chop them up, stir fry them for a bit with herbs, water down some marinara sauce, add it to the pan, and cook it until it simmers down.  I toss pasta in with this, and we have a meal stuffed with fresh veggies and herbs and far more health than a frozen meal that god only knows where the food came from, how long its been frozen, or how much sodium is in it.  It’s basically frankenfood, and it disturbs me that people my age don’t know how to make anything better.

Cooking is one of those things we need to know how to do as human beings.  We should know how to make ourselves food! This seems obvious, but it apparently is not.  Why are parents letting their kids grow up without knowing how to cook?  Isn’t this a basic human need that should not be ignored?  It reminds me of the kids in my undergrad who arrived at college with no clue as to how to do their own laundry.

So, I call out to my fellow 20-somethings.  If you don’t know how to cook, please learn.  It is cheaper.  It isn’t that time-consuming to make a freshly-made meal.  Ask a friend who knows how to cook.  Take a lesson at a local adult learning facility.  This is a basic skill you should at the very least know how to do.  Even if you only cook your dinner yourself once or twice a week, it’ll still be better for your health.  Not to mention, then you can pass the ability of cooking on to your kids, if you decide to have them.  Don’t let the future be a world where only professional chefs know how to cook a meal.

My Tentative Journey With eBooks

August 26, 2010 8 comments

A while back, I told you guys that I’m continuing my tentative steps into eBooks, but it hadn’t been very successful yet.  I admit this is partly because I’m a broke-ass graduate student, and so I don’t exactly have the cash to shell out for what I see as an extravagance.  Why get an eReader when I can get used books for under $5 a pop?  (For why I don’t have time to use the local library, see this post).  I’ve tried downloading eBooks that are available as pdf’s onto my computer, but I always made it only about as far through as a blog’s archives before losing focus.  Or I’d have to leave it and come back the next day and be incapable of finding where I left off.  I just can’t read a book on a computer.  Nuh-uh.  A computer is for article-length pieces.  I just can’t get past the part where I’m looking at a computer to get lost in the story.

When I got my iTouch, I decided to venture in yet again.  But I repeat that I’m a cheapskate, so I downloaded a couple of the various apps available for 99 cents that provide huge selections of out of copyright classics to read.  Although I was able to focus on the screen, it reminded me a lot of my speed-reading classes in middle school, because the screen automatically fades at a certain point (I’m not sure how long), so I’d either have to keep tapping the screen to keep it from doing that or read insanely fast.  The speed might not have been an issue if I wasn’t attempting to read classics, but I always read classics kind of slowly.  I get wrapped up in the language and the world-building.  Classics are about slow reading versus the fast reading of genre fiction for me.  I got about 3 chapters into two different classics before giving up and stopping.

Well then people started talking about the iBook app, and since I love everything Mac, I decided to download it, but upon trying I found out that my iTouch is too old to support it, at which point I started browsing the eReader section of the app store and saw the Kindle app.  For some reason, it had previously escaped my attention that the Kindle even had an app for Mac products.  I vaguely remembered some book blogs mentioning that you can get some books for free in the Kindle store, and the app was free, and….do I really need to repeat what a cheapskate I am?  Lol.

So I figured where am I most likely to read on my iTouch?  That’s easy.  On the bus when I can’t sit, need to hold on with one hand, and getting a book out of my bag is difficult.  What would I like to read on the bus but am embarrassed to?  Romance novels.  So I found a free romance novel and downloaded it.  The nice thing about the Kindle app, the main thing that made me start to relax into reading with it, is that the backlighting never fades.  I’m not so caught up in beating the fading light that I’m incapable of getting lost in the story.  So that was going fairly well, although I was still choosing to read my print book over the eBook whenever it was possible.

Then a certain book was released.  A book in a trilogy that is honestly a guilty pleasure for me.  (I’ll leave the reasonings for that for when I review the book next week).  I had decided I wasn’t going to buy the book; I’d just read spoilers and be happy with that.  But then the day of the release, I was getting frustrated at the complete lack of spoilers on the internet and while watching tv browsed to the Amazon store on my iTouch, and before I knew it, I’d bought the book.  I didn’t feel bad about the price, because it was less than the price of a movie ticket, and I view guilty pleasure reads a lot like going to the movies.  It’s brief entertainment, and I don’t need to hold onto it.  Let it entertain me for a bit, and in most cases, I won’t ever come back to it (my dvd collection is very, very small).

I was still skeptical about my desire to read on the small electronic screen of my iTouch, but I figured worst case scenario I’d skim for the spoilers and read it in print when the hoopla settles down.  I started reading it when standing on the bus in the morning, got a seat, and found myself wanting to keep reading on my iTouch over my print book.  And then on lunch break I decided I’d rather see what happened in that story than in the one I’m reading in print and discovered how much easier it is to eat and read when you can just set the book down and the pages don’t close on you.  Whoa.  Then I found myself sitting on my couch reading the iTouch.  Then last night in bed I suddenly realized I could turn out all the lights and still see to read because my book was lighting itself up. Whoa.

You guys….I have to admit….I like it.  Now that’s not to say I don’t have my issues with it.  For instance, nice as it is to read in the dark, sunny locations fade the screen so much that it’s sometimes nearly impossible to read.  I also don’t like the thought of the battery maybe running out.  (I may have obsessively recharged my iTouch yesterday.  *looks askance*)  I also don’t like how very small the iTouch screen is.  I also would never ever want an electronic device just for reading.  Part of the convenience on transit is having my music, videogames, and book all in one item.  Having something like a Kindle or a Nook seems rather pointless to me.  It’s one more device to carry.  So what has a larger screen but does all that?  The iPad.  I think the iPad still has issues.  Like I personally think it’s too big and too thick, (that’s what she said) but I think the next generation is going to solve those problems.  So…yeah, I see myself doing some electronic reading in the future.  But never on a device meant just for reading.  I also only see the value in it for guilty pleasure reads.  It works for me because of the way I read guilty pleasures.  I read quickly, sometimes skimming, because the story is all about the excitement or the hilarity.  It’s not about the deep thought.  I can’t see me reading a book that changes my life on an electronic device.  That just rings false to me.  But reading a story that’s about consuming it once kind of like buying movie popcorn for the pure pleasure of chowing down the greasy, salty deliciousness?  That makes sense to me.  So that’s the role I see eBooks taking in my life.  The reading equivalent of movie popcorn, and who doesn’t like movie popcorn every once in a while?

DBT and Me

April 21, 2010 6 comments

When I tell people my current career track is librarianship, they often answer, “Oh, that is so you,” and they’re right.  It is so me.  Unfortunately, some of the things that make me a good librarian don’t always mesh up with the type of person I want to be.

I am a perfectionist, which works really well when organizing, cataloging, and hunting down the proper information.  It doesn’t work so well in cooking dinner, hanging out with people, getting dressed in the morning, etc…

I tend to see things in black and white.  This is good when you’re researching a topic, and there is such a thing as wrong information.  It’s not the best when discussing life topics with friends or just getting along with the populace in general.

Of course I know the wise adage–Everything in Moderation.  I can be a good librarian who is attentive to details and carefully checks the facts without being a black-and-white seeing perfectionist.  So, I am working on it.  Those character traits above are just some of the things I’m working on in my Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

DBT is a therapy technique that helps people with, let’s call them “personality flaws,” rewire their brains so that their personality moves toward a healthier place.  The thing is, DBT is all about small steps that take time, and sometimes I really just wish I was re-wired now instead of having to wait on the baby steps.

I want to be calm, loving, completely attuned to and in control of my emotions now.  But it doesn’t work that way.  So, it can get tiring and frustrating.  It’s hard to do small things every day and have to wait a long time to see the big picture results.  Sometimes, I neglect to notice the small ways that I am changing for the better.

Like how in undergrad, I would cry if I didn’t get an A. (We’re talking an A minus would make me cry).  Now I don’t care about my grades as much as I care about making sure I’ve learned something from class.  So I got an A- on that presentation.  Big deal.  I learned a place my presentation techniques can improve.

Or how a couple of years ago a toddler asking me “why” repeatedly would make me frustrated, and now I enjoy doing my best to answer as many “why” questions as I possibly can.

Sometimes people ask me why I’m even trying to change myself.  Aren’t we supposed to accept ourselves for who we are?  Well, I say who I am is who I want to be.  I’m not the personality quirks that I landed with as a result of genetics, brain wiring, and my childhood.  My inner self tells me who I truly am, if I can just get fix the wiring.  So DBT is about accepting myself for who I am.

So, yes, I’m not where I want to be yet, but I am better now than I was then, and if I keep plugging away, someday I’ll be fully realized as the person I want to be looking back and saying, “All those small steps and struggling and work was the real me trying to get out, and here I am, and I’m just as proud of me then as I am of me now.”

In the meantime, I will do or say some things that don’t match up with who I am inside, but taking baby steps means that it won’t happen overnight.  There is no magic pill.  Beating myself up over it is just making it worse.  Mistakes are part of the process.  At least I know there’s less of them now than there used to be, and I will keep progressing until I truly just am who I am.

The “Eating Healthy Is Expensive” Myth

January 6, 2010 9 comments

There is this huge misconception in American culture that eating healthy is more expensive than eating junk food.  That’s the case if you don’t want to put effort into your meals and you want to buy gourmet food, but with a bit of effort it is simply not true.  I know about the dollar study where a guy went into a grocery store to see what he could buy for a dollar, and the worst foods had the most calories, aka “bang for the buck.”  However, I’m speaking from personal experience here.

Three years ago, I went vegetarian, and everyone told me how much more expensive my grocery bills would be.  You know what?  They aren’t.  On average, I spend about $50 every two weeks on groceries, and my groceries usually wind up feeding more than one person for around 5 nights a week.  That works out to approximately $100 a month, minus eating out, which happens about once a week.

For healthy eating, you need fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and other pantry needs necessary for cooking.  Whole grains are key, because they help your body feel full on fewer calories, and they are super-healthy for you too!  Let’s look at the facts on these food groups.

Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh fruits and vegetables can be a bit expensive, it’s true, but you just need to be a smart shopper when it comes to this.  Buy only what you will eat before it goes bad.  For me, this means I need to grab veggies once a week.  Also, store them properly, or they will go bad before their time.  If you really want to save money, buy fruits and veggies that are in season.  Produce that are in season are cheaper, because the stores can acquire them from closer sources.  I used this technique last night, and I found out that *all* of the produce I wanted was actually on sale, most of them for under $1 a pound.  A great resource for knowing what’s in season is eattheseasons.com, which also has an option for UK for my British readers.  For nights that you’re in more of a hurry, buy frozen fruits and veggies.  If you have more of a budget crunch, buy store brand ones.  These are cheap, and you usually can get two meals per bag.

Whole Grains
A box of whole grain pasta costs $1.29 at my local market.  That’s it, and I get at least 5 or 6 meals a box.  Whole grain rice appears expensive, but remember that a bag of it lasts a long-ass time, because it grows when it cooks.  Also invest in whole wheat flour and regular flour (you need that so it doesn’t get too heavy for some recipes).  A bag of either is around $2 in my market, and lasts months.  Any other whole grains you want are similarly priced.  It appears a lot to people, because they’re used to buying single-serving foods in the grocery store, but that $6 or $7 you’re spending on the bag of rice will make many many meals.

Protein
The most expensive proteins are the most highly processed.  This means that fake meats like tofurkey are the most expensive.  One box of tofurkey slices for sandwiches costs around $4.27 at my market.  You know what though?  It’s highly processed, and isn’t that healthy for you (though, healthier than meat).  A box of tofu, on the other hand, is usually somewhere between $1 and $2, and one box makes 4 meals.  Tempeh is similarly priced.  Beans, which you need to diversify from soy anyway, cost under $1 a can, and one can make around three meals.  If you want to go uber-healthy, you can buy bags of dry beans and cook them yourself, which is even cheaper than buying canned beans.

Other Pantry Needs
Since I’m not vegan, I do need to buy eggs, cheese, and butter, and these are usually the most expensive purchases I make.  However, one dozen eggs last me around 1.5 months.  Another purchase that, similar to the bags of rice, seems prohibitively expensive because of a single serving meal mindset is cooking oils.  Olive oil is one of the healthiest oils for you, and the bottle I bought last night cost $12 and some change.  However, one bottle lasts me at least 4 months.  Again, buy store brand.  The fact of the matter with all the pantry needs is their price can seem a bit high, but you use a little bit at a time in cooking–like with soy sauce for instance–so really per meal the cost is a few cents.

There you go. That’s my real-life shopping for healthy groceries experience.  Yes, you need to actually cook your meals instead of buying frozen and sticking it in the microwave, but trust me, it is not so hard to learn to stir-fry, sautee, and bake.  Stir-frying and pastas especially just require you to be able to stir things around in a pot.  Plus, you get the added benefit of burning some calories while making your food instead of just sitting on your butt on the couch watching tv waiting for it to heat up in the microwave.  It takes a bit of up-front cost to get your pantry equipped with the long-term use items like rice, but once you’ve done this, you’re down to buying a few quite cheap items a week, with the periodic need to replace the long-term items that never run out at the same time.  It is not too expensive to eat healthily if you know how to do it.

The Joy of Doing Less During the Holidays

December 22, 2009 Leave a comment

No doubt about it, the holidays are a busy time of year.  There’s presents to buy and wrap, parties to go to, people to see, travelling to do, baked goods to make, decorating to do, and more.  If you’re at all like me, it can all add up to stress.

Looking back on last week, I see that I did a lot of things that should have been fun, but I was so stressed out that the stress over-shadowed the parts I should have been enjoying.  I was constantly plotting to make it to everything (not to mention to stay awake) instead of just enjoying the moment.  I realized this yesterday, and worked to make my week this week less stressful, but thinking about it this morning, I remembered a blog post from one of my favorite zen blogs, Zen Habits, entitled The Lazy Manifesto: Do Less. Then, Do Even Less.

The jist of it is that minimalism isn’t just about what stuff you own.  Minimalism is also about doing less and enjoying it more.  I think the benefits of this are easy to see if you just think about the last time you were distracted doing one activity out of a worry to get to the next one on-time.  Now imagine if the first activity was the only one you were doing that day.  See how that works?

If you live in the moment and enjoy it to the fullest, you don’t need to hyper-schedule yourself.  Instead of going to every single holiday party, choose two for the month to go to and really go all-out at them.  Don’t be afraid to tell friends or family no, you can’t come, you don’t have time, even if you don’t have time just because you want to spend that evening at home baking cookies and watching Christmas specials.

I really like this idea of doing less, but doing it to your fullest.  I think as Americans we have the tendency to overschedule ourselves for god only knows what reason.  Maybe some lingering Puritan philosophy about idle hands being the devil’s plaything.  Regardless, there is such a thing as doing too much during the holidays, so don’t be afraid to say no and limit just how many festivities you partake in.  Partake in fewer to a more full extent.  I think you might wind up surprised at how truly festive you’ll feel.

On Perfectionism

November 9, 2009 4 comments

Human beings are naturally fallible.  It’s one of the things that makes us humans and not a weird race of perfect angels running around the planet.  I accept this in others.  I expect them to make mistakes, and as long as they aren’t evil or huge, it’s no big deal.  But me?  Well, I expect myself to be perfect and when I inevitably fail, I beat myself up over it for hours. (This is a huge improvement over the old time-period of days).  I’m not talking huge mistakes that I should rightfully feel guilty about.  I’m talking about “oh I misunderstood what you were trying to say” or “oh this applesauce doesn’t quite taste perfect.”

Why do I do this unhealthy thing to myself?  With the insane amount of psychology/psychiatry reading I do in the course of my job, I have a theory.  Basically psychiatry believes people are born with a certain personality and every personality has weaknesses.  It’s the parents’ job to adpat their parenting technique to suit the child.  To uphold the strong parts of the personality and improve the weak parts.  This means there’s no one parenting technique that fits all.  Ok, I’m digressing a bit.

Essentially, I think that I was born with a natural tendency to be Type A.  You all know what that means.  Over-achieving. OCD. Etc…  Instead of telling me that I’m only human and can’t possibly be perfect though, I wound up with parents who were following one of the many versions of the Evangelical Christian faith.  I was told that since I was saved and had the Holy Spirit within me, not only should I naturally make fewer mistakes than those god-foresaken heathens out there, but also that I should strive every day to not sin.  Yes, mistakes were termed “sin.”

Sin just drips with this extra layer of connotation that’s not on a mistake.  A mistake is innocent.  Regrettable, but innocent.  Sin is letting demons into your life.  Sin is dripping with darkness and evil and everything that isn’t good in the world.  Sin is Satan breathing down your neck.  Sin makes God cry.

Ok, so a good little Christian girl isn’t supposed to sin as much as the heathens, and she should progressively sin less, but she *sigh* inevitably will.  So she should keep track of all her sins throughout the day and confess them individually in her evening prayers and beg for forgiveness.  But it’s not a real apology if you plan to ever do those things again, so if you ever commit that sin again, well that wasn’t a real apology was it?

Take one naturally Type A little girl, add these tenets, stir, and you get an adult Amanda who must constantly fight anxiety over not being perfect.

Yes, I know I left the religion that added to the Type A tendencies, so I should be doing much better than I am at not being so anxious about being perfect, but even when I let go of the Christian mores I was taught, my mistakes still carry that extra connotation.  My mistakes might not make god cry, but they could hurt people I care about.  My mistakes might not be dripping with demons and darkness, but they could put a damper on the evening.  And what if my mistakes build up so that they do cause problems in my life for me?  (Can you hear the panic attack starting in my head?)

Yes, I know it’s unrealistic and unhealthy to expect myself to be perfect.  And I know that I love the people in my life not only in spite of their faults, but because of them.  It just isn’t always easy to break the thought processes not only born into you but instilled in you.

So why am I blogging about this?  Because I doubt I’m the only person out there who holds herself to too high expectations, and I want those other perfectionists out there who might be reading this to know:  It’s not your fault you are a perfectionist.  Probably a lot of things had to combine to make you that way.  You don’t have to stay a perfectionist, and you also don’t have to be perfect.  People will love you just the way you are, so you should too.

Environmentalism’s Impact on Books

Environmentalists have their good points and bad points, just like any activist group.  I agree with some of their points and disagree with others.  However, there seems to be the stirrings of a new target for environmentalists–new books.  A blog example is this post detailing how you should only buy used books whenever possible as studies show they are better for the environment.  Then there’s the new Netflix-style business called BookSwim, which claims that it’s more environmentally friendly to have their stock of “rentable” books shipped to you in recycled packing materials than it is to buy new books.

What these people seem to be missing is that if people stop buying new books, at some point there won’t be any more new books being published.  It is important that avid readers support the publishing of new books by currently writing authors, as well as the classics.  If the publishing industry encounters a distinct lack in demand for their product, they aren’t going to make it anymore!  Environmentalists need to grasp the fact that we’re talking about books here.  Literacy.  Education.  Possessing an educated public.  That’s a bit more important than a few trees in the rainforest.  They really need to set their sights on something else.  I’m all behind finding alternative energy sources, but we need books to keep being published.

Another point that ye olde BookSwim seems to miss is the low environmental impact of borrowing books from your local public library.  I know in rural areas people have to drive there, but it is often possible to bike or walk.  No books are being shipped, plus you get the chance to meet and encounter people from your neighborhood at the library.  Not to mention the fact that the library is free.  What BookSwim cites as its most popular plan costs $29.97 a month.  They heavily push the idea of no late fees and no due date, but let’s consider this for a moment.  The most popular plan is 7 books at a time, send back 3 and hold 4.  A book is not a movie.  A movie may generally be watched in 1 1/2 to 2 hours, which leads to a rapid turnover.  This is part of what makes Netflix worth the money.  Even the most avid reader generally takes more than 2 hours to finish reading a book.  My friends who read the most avidly finish around 10 books a month.  That means they would have paid $3 a book.  Most libraries charge 10 cents a day for a late book, and allow you to have it for anywhere from a month to two months.  You would have to keep the book an extra 30 days in order for the late fees to equate the cost of the book from BookSwim.  Anybody with half a brain can see that BookSwim isn’t worth the money.  One of the major selling points of BookSwim is the ability to take as long as you want to read a book, but if you do that then you won’t be getting your money’s worth.

Come on, people.  Use your heads.  Utilize your local public library for older books or books you know you will only want to read once, and buy new books from your local independent bookstore to support the future of the book industry.  It is really not that complicated.  Environmentalists should stick to their solar panels.