Monday, January 27, 2014

Fast, Easy, Cheap: Pick 2 (re: Eats)

While looking over fashion forums (laugh it up, chuckles. You wear clothes every day, it's worth doing some research) I found a great rule for acquiring clothing: Fast, Easy, Cheap and you can only pick two. Breaking down my basic philosophies in life can be summed up with the previous rule, the kissing rule and 'the dude abides.' While I've seen a lot of 'life hacks' and 'tips for the new year' recently, I thought I'd shed some light on the exceedingly affordable, if not overly simple way that I eat. (We'll address fashion and various other aspects that these rules can be applied to at later dates. Today we're just focusing on food.) Did I mention my total food cost for an overly nutritious diet is $35 a week? It does require a small bit of planning, so I qualify it as cheap and easy but do you really want the word fast associated with your food? I think not. [that's including eating 3+ times a week at the bar I work at, mind you that's half off. If it was simplified to non-discounted restaurant meals, you could still be eating out once a week and keep this cost at $20 in groceries and an outside meal.]

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Fridge and pantry. You can't make this shit up.
The kissing rule: keep it simple, stupid. I don't know who first told me this but it's something I have ran with in every facet of my life. In my last post I eluded to my '89 Volkswagen Cabrio and how I bought it because I am cheap and it is simple. When it comes to food, I've found the best success in identifying a food plan stems from this as well. Find meals that work for you and stick with them. One could argue that it is 'boring' to eat the same things over and over again but variations in spice and slight dressings can solve this. For me, the basic lay-out consists of beans, green vegetable and protein.

First, the beans. These serve as my basic carbohydrates. They provide the energy in the food and are dirt cheap. I usually stick with lentils (unlike their legume brethren, they don't require soaking). Lentils cost about $1.50 per pound and cook up in 15 minutes. A one pound batch will last me 5 days or so. 

Second, the greens. I buy two 2lb bags of frozen broccoli each week and usually only need to pick up one bag every other week (I also buy groceries assuming I'll be too lazy to get them the next week). To keep things interesting, I alternate kale, spinach and fresh broccoli to supplement the monotony of the frozen regime. Frozen broccoli can be steamed (microwave in a minute and a half or steam them stove top if you're wearing an aluminum hat and fear the microwave) for quick preparation and added to whatever you eat.

Third, the protein. Sadly, meat is expensive. Luckily, eggs are almost as cheap as lentils. I eat 3 eggs (only 2 yolks) for breakfast each day and will frequently stir fry them for use as a dinner food. The other protein I buy is canned fish. Either tuna or (if you're an old man like me) sardines. These can again be added to a stirfry for dinner or used to create my pseudo tuna salad.

Lastly, you've got seasonings and dressings. Now, when I say dressings I don't mean ranch (as a server, ranch is my arch enemy). I mean things that jazz up the base ingredients listed above in slight ways that keep it interesting. If I finally grow tired of my lentil, kale, and eggs breakfast, I'll pick up some salsa. A teaspoon of salsa with your eggs can be a game changer. While salsa tends to be a bit expensive for my likes, garlic and onion are not. Both of these can be used in the breakfast, lunch and dinner meals I've referenced above.

And that's it! Using these basic building blocks, I craft most of my meals. I'm human (last I checked) and still like the occasional chinese or pizza binge. Sticking to my basic meal plans though allow me to eat a lot, in a nutritious manner and dirt cheap.

Here are the meal idea's simplified for those lacking imagination:
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Black beans and tomato variation.
Hash Fried Beans
1 cup beans (this works well varying with black beans or pintos)
1 cup greens (lately it's been kale, but when that runs out it's back to broccoli)
3 Eggs (only 2 yolks, I'm an advocate for fat but not a nut-job)
In an oil coated pan, start with the beans. They're pre-cooked so 2-3 minutes just to warm them up is all you need. Add the greens, again they just need some warm up time. Once everything is brought to temperature I drop the 2 eggs and 1 white on top of it all. Cover to steam the eggs to a nice over-easy texture and you're done! Adding a dash of water before covering will speed up the process but might overcook your eggs. I usually season this with onions (added with the beans), garlic and a ton of black pepper. Salsa or hot sauce like to join the party pretty often as well. 

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Fresh chive and tomato variation.
Pseudo Tuna Salad:
1 cup lentils
1 cup broccoli (steamed or fresh)
1 can tuna/sardines
1/4 cup chopped onion
enough garlic to kill a man (in this case, usually 2-3 cloves)
more black pepper than you think is reasonable (starting to see a trend?)
Mustard to taste
Mix it all up and eat it! You can substitute mayo for the mustard if that's more your thing.

Stir Fry:
It's self explanatory, seriously- the theory is in it's name.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Own a Classic Car; the Philosophy, not the How-To

tl:dr Owning a classic car was about being cheap and ended up teaching me lots.

Putting the money where your mouth is, I own a 1989 Volkswagen Cabrio. It's a silly little car that is modeled after the iconic first generation hatch backs from VW but with a convertible top. Volkswagen and convertible love aside, it's the age that matters. This year, the car will be 25 years old and will qualify for two money saving requirements of owning a car, the tags (or registration) and the insurance. Where as a standard car might set you back $140+ just to put a license on it, a classic plate will set you back about ten bucks a year. The insurance on a newer car will set you back $150 a month, if your credit is decent and you've got a good driving record (my life long accolades include neither of these). The insurance on a classic car, with full coverage, will be a fraction of that. My might Volkswagen will set me back $500 a year (with the credit of a true delinquent and the driving record to match).

As a former car salesman who now drives an 89 VW
Obviously, I'm a cheap skate. After selling cars for a year and a half, my greatest disbelief from the experience was how much of someone's income they were willing to give away each month, seemingly to get from point A to point B. The matter of fact is they weren't really paying for the convenience of free-will travel, I accomplished that with my cheap-o ($1000) classic car. They were paying for security.

When you've got a newer car you are buying a security blanket. The value in buying the classic car doesn't lie in it's ability to save you a bunch of money (that's just a beautiful side effect). There is something to be said about the trust you're putting in yourself that everything wont be alright. We are a society that chases convenience and comfort more than anything else and it's ruining our sense of adventure. We're not willing to do a great number of things because we wont step outside of our comfort zone and possibly get dirty.

Everyone has great potential, but it takes a great push to realize it. Often we are paralyzed by our fear of the unknown. This was described to me once as 'change only occurs when our anxiety for the current situation outweighs our anxiety for the change.' It holds true for me as it does for just about everyone else. Making the decision to do something risky get's easier and easier each time you get through the turbulence caused by the risk and you're still alive. Don't throw common sense out the window, but don't be scared either.

But what if I get stranded!?

I did, time and time again. I've seen real kindness in people as I ask random strangers for a jump, or a push. I've seen humility in asking for help from people you don't really know that well. People may surprise you, and it's endearing when someone asks you for your help.

What if I can't afford to fix it!? I'm not a mechanic!

I am, and I still can't afford to fix it. My car has been off the road since the end of Fall. I live in Michigan and there is little to no public transit anywhere. I live 120 miles from my family and am fortunate enough to have a train line between here and there. Plus, your family just might want to see you bad enough to come to you, or transport you cross state if necessary. This winter has been a testament to how tough a human can be. I've walked the majority of the time and asked for rides when it happens to line up. So far it has been a great adventure. Something I highly recommend to anyone who feels like they've been lacking something in their lives (and you probably are, trust me on this one.)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Scott Pilgrim and Love, or lack thereof

(spoiler alert: this post talks about 500 Days of Summer and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in vague detail. Both movies are nearly 5 years old but don't say I never did anything for you.)

The idea of 'the one' is something that is as equally coveted as it is overrated. That's not to say the idea of meeting someone and having things 'just click' doesn't exist, it's just that far too many people are chasing an idealistic view of love that they've been force fed by the movies. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of the silly love story and indulge in them quite often (it's kind of a requirement if you enjoy musicals at all). As enjoyable as it may be to watch as two characters lock eyes from across the room and instantly know that they are destined to be together, that isn't what anyone should expect from real life. That feeling is called infatuation and I don't suggest making any serious decisions while intoxicated, both booze and love-drunk can lead to a dangerous states of mind. The similarities between a crush and alcoholism don't stop there, they both plague my generation.

Don't learn about love from movies
I still watch this movie at a level that probably isn't considered healthy
This is what is wrong with most emotionally high minded, moderately well cultured, mid-twenty individuals (or my peers, at a glance). As I was picking a new background for the laptop (a still frame from the movie 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World') a co-worker walked up, noticed the scene and commented, "Typical hipster" in jest. All rebuttals aside, he's right. For the sake of my sanity, however, we're still going to refer to hipsters as 'them' in this article (lest we forget: the first rule of being a hipster is we don't talk about being a hipster). This group of people also make up the majority of people I would consider dating. Dating among hipsters has a different set of courtship rules; conventional dating is dead. The androgyny that is often applied to gender roles spills into our process of acquiring mates as well. We cannot simply express our interest in someone, for that would be too forward. Instead, in lines with keeping things light and open, we might get into a habit of spending time with someone. That someone might just share a physical attraction with you and, if you're ready for that level of seriousness, you might consider them 'someone you're seeing' (heaven forbid conventional labels should apply).  With rare exception these rules are broken and often it's in the presence of feeling that someone is special, different, or 'the one'.

Ah-ha! Gotcha there! Didn't you start by saying 'the one' didn't exist!?

Exactly, infatuation is often mistaken for the mindset that 'the one' does exist. We have movies like Scott Piligrim where our protagonist has to physically fight his way through all odds to be with the woman of his dreams. People are still waiting for a feeling like that before they're willing to put themselves out there and risk the emotional disappointment that might come from stepping out of the gray area we've establish for dating. Close on the heels of Scott Pilgrim is the mis-interpreted '500 Days of Summer.' A movie in which the main character chases a girl (Summer) and has his heart crushed, only to end with his interest sparked in another girl who could be 'the one.' Often this movie leaves people crying 'but Summer is a bitch!' despite an introduction that directly adresses the main character's skewed vision of love and a dialogue between his younger sister and himself which calls him out on it.

I'm not a cynic when it comes to dating. Despite the sweeping bitter overtones here, I do believe in finding a partner and spending a long, happy time with them. I know a number of very happy couples, a fact that facebook loves to remind me of, who have found success with a mate. These people who have been with someone for a long time rarely describe their stories as finding 'the one.' In fact, they will probably tell you that long term partnerships require a lot of hard work and dedication and there are times you might not even like your partner. I just wish this wasn't something that I had to learn overtime and it's something I wish my peers would wake up to sooner than later.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Importance of an Office; Theory of the Stable Datum

From a young age my father has stressed the importance of having an office. A place where you can work and organize your thoughts. This, in a constant effort to motivate me to cleanliness and organization, was frequently preached with the 'Theory of the Stable Datum.' A theory he described to me as having one stable place where you could work outward from (normally in reference to cleaning and organizing) but applicable to most things in life. These points were not lost on me, but my style has always been more of an 'organized enough to be functional, messy enough to be happy' sort of way.

[side bar: a quick google of 'theory of the stable datum' returns that it was apparently apart of a lecture series from L. Ron Hubbard (where it is referenced as the axiom of the stable datum). Although my father has never expressed an interest in Scientology, he did have a period where he read quite a bit of motivational text. I don't doubt that he read a bit of LRH during this phase. Whenever he would reference the 'Theory of the Stable Datum' he would say he didn't remember where he had heard it originally. This side bar is to quell any paranoia about myself or my father being Scientology. We're both crazy, don't get me wrong, just not THAT flavor of crazy. End side bar]

Even now, in the very messy three-boy house that I live in, when I sit down to write I set up an office. In this case it is clearing a spot on the cluttered dining room table, turning on my laptop and connecting an old dell key board (the Macbook 'L' key sticks and I've always been a fan of the more audible and textile feel of a clack-y keyboard). I put on a record (the record player is in the dining room) and let my ideas flow naturally.

For those lacking imagination
For those lacking imagination.
I lack what most writers would consider 'formal training' and it's evident in my sentence structure and formatting. My style influence comes from Geoffry Gitomer, an author I had devoured in my own motivational text phase (inevitable for anyone of high energy who lacks direction and gets sucked into a sales job). His opinion of writing was to let it pour out, don't edit it immediately and return to it after 24 hours or so. I'm too self obsessed to let it sit that long before publishing but the blog format allows messy liberties (my blog, my style, deal with it).

That being said, I've got some things that wont serve this style (or vice versa). I want to compile a book. A great many extraordinary things have happened to me since my move to Kalamazoo last March. The experiences are entertaining, and may come out in a collection of short stories or possibly one autobiographical novel. The desire to write and share these experiences is something that has been looming over me for months. Nearly as soon as I moved to Kalamazoo I've had a sense of 'is this really happening?'

That 'larger than life' feel about it all is what kept me paralyzed for months (nearly a year). It prevented me from tackling the project of sharing it all. I've started to break it down though, piece by piece. I just find it odd that amidst all the chaos (of this house, my life and the people around me), I still feel the urge to set up an office.