Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valerie Times Day Blog Number 1

I once had a goal to write a blog about myself every Valentine's Day. I "started" this tradition in 2015 and then failed to keep it for the next two years, which means I've never actually kept it at all. But in the interest of infusing some life into my languishing personal blog, I hereby make the effort to write about Valerie for Valentine's Day 2018.

The question is, what? I could write about what I wore for Valentine's Day, but that's already been done. Instead, I'll write about my Mardi Gras.

I've never done much for Mardi Gras. Never celebrated or dressed in its traditional colors or eaten paczki, even back when I lived in Toledo and everyone knew what they were. But this year, the feast fell the day before Valentine's Day, so I was already in the partying spirit when my boyfriend discovered a Mardi Gras celebration was being held down at the Wharf in DC.

He found out about it on Monday, which didn't give me much time to prepare. And in my book, a party's only worth attending if I can make some extravagant outfit to wear to it, so as soon as I got home from work, I set about making Mardi Gras mask. I used the white masquerade mask last seen at my friend's black and white party, and decorated it with green, gold, and purple glitter, topping it off with some gold plastic gemstones I salvaged from an old purse. I dyed the ostrich feather purple, but unfortunately that seemed to permanently alter its composition, so it ended up a little scraggly. Sorry, ostrich feather!

Still, I'd managed to make a pretty kick-ass mask with only a few hours to spare (I delayed my bedtime until a whopping eleven o'clock in order to finish the project!), but timing was still an issue, since the event started at 6 and ended at 8. With my boyfriend not being able to get out of the office until 5, that left us precious little leeway to navigate the treacherous traffic of DC and make it to Mardi Gras on time.

Unsurprisingly, we got off to a late start. At the last minute, we decided to bring the dogs with us, which necessitated hunting around for leashes and harnesses. I had to make a (very brief, but still it counts) stop at the Post Office blue box to drop off a package (I will refrain from ranting about how the mail carrier never picks up my scheduled package pickups, but that's what happened). Then, naturally, we had to stop for gas. No point filling up the tank when you actually have some time to do it...oh, no, we always have to wait until we're in a hurry to get somewhere.

By the time we got on the road, it was already 10 minutes to 6, and we had a 30-minute drive ahead of us.

At this point, I removed the Mardi Gras parade from my plans for the evening, as it was supposed to end at 6:30, but we should still be able to make it for the dance party on the pier and fireworks. Local eating establishments were also supposed to have festive drink and food specials, so we could get some dinner.

The next wrench in our plans came when my boyfriend missed the exit to the Wharf. In other places, when you miss your exit, you just turn around at the next one. In DC when you miss your exit, you end up in another state and have to turn in a giant loop to get back in the right direction. Next, he missed another turn, adding a total of 20 minutes to our trip. And that was before we hit the traffic jam around the wharf!

We were lucky enough to get a decent parking spot only a 10-minute walk from the Wharf. Unfortunately, we'd burned most of those ten minutes by the time he realized his phone was in the car. We turned back around to get the phone, spent a few minutes digging around in the car for the phone, then finally set back towards our destination. It was now 7:30. I scratched the dance party off my mental list as well. Basically all that was left for us was to maybe hit the tail end of the concert and then grab some dinner. We left the dogs in the car, since most eating establishments don't take kindly to their sort.

Fortunately, things started looking up from there. We did indeed get to hear a few songs on the pier, and watched a surprisingly impressive display of fireworks. It was unbelievable how many fireworks kept coming out of one tiny little boat! I got to wear my mask, and we even got dinner (though not anywhere near the Wharf. I don't know why we always forget that these events on the waterfront inevitably draw more people than the restaurants nearby can conceivably support).

So my first Mardi Gras celebration came and went, just in time for Valerie Times Day!


Friday, February 9, 2018

Pista-chia pudding

Have you heard of chia pudding? I hadn't, until sometime early last year when I read a diary online, in which the vegetarian (or mostly) author ate chia pudding every day for breakfast. By the third day, I was like, "What the heck is chia pudding?"

Chia seeds, I knew. Chia seeds are the magic behind Chia Pets, which were something of a fad when I was very young. Later on in my life, when the populace got bored of making tacky home decor out of chia seeds, they started using them for eating. Chia seeds experienced a big boom in popularity while I was working at the organic market, so I became somewhat familiar with their properties.  They are oft touted as a superfood fit to provide every kind of health benefit under the sun, but I never really saw enough worthy qualities to make an effort to work them into my diet.

Until I learned about chia pudding, that is. Once I realized that chia seeds can form the basis for a satisfying vegetarian breakfast, I was intrigued. A quick search yielded hundreds of recipes. It was overwhelming, but I quickly learned that the basis of a chia pudding is nothing more than chia seeds and non-dairy milk. You mean, chia pudding will help me get rid of the multitude of expired soy milk cartons in the back of my pantry? Sign me up!

And so, I hopped on the chia train. Over the past year, I have played around with various chia pudding recipes, and it's time to share my findings with the world! Although there are many ways to make chia pudding, the best way is always an  Adventure in Cooking! with a clever portmanteau for a title! Come join me!

You will need:

  • 2 Tbsp chia seeds
    Of course, there must be a story behind your chia seeds. The story behind yours is that your original supply of chia was a small bag from the bulk department at the organic market. Then, after trying chia pudding one time, your boyfriend became obsessed with it and used up the remaining chia seeds in no time flat. When it came time to replenish the supply, you cautioned him that a little chia goes a long way, but because your boyfriend is your boyfriend, he insisted on buying the 2-pound bag from Costco, and then promptly lost interest in ever making chia pudding again. You now have a whole ton of chia seeds to use up, so I really hope you like this recipe!
  • 1 c. non-dairy milk
    You can use any kind of non-dairy milk for this purpose, but I recommend acquiring a a 24-pack of single serve soymilk cartons as a gift and then only drinking two of them over the course of a year. By this point, you will have a 22-pack of soymilks that are already expired, which should give you ample motivation to perfect the art of chia-pudding-making. Bonus if you can manage to string out the learning process over the course of another year, ensuring you will still have some dubiously safe soymilks remaining to use for demonstration when you finally share your recipes.
  • 1 packet instant pistachio pudding
    The story behind your pudding is thus: One day, you go to the grocery store to get a few items that you need...but there's a twist: You're hungry. That pistachio pudding is definitely not on your list, but it looks so yummy...and it's only 80 cents! You buy it. Once home and well fed, you remember that instant pudding is actually kind of gross, and you fail to do anything with the pudding mix for several months. Then you get the idea to use it as flavoring for your world-famous chia pudding, and suddenly all is right with the world again!

How to make it

  1. Pour half of the soymilk into a sealable container. A good choice of container is the little 1-pint clear plastic tubs that Chinese restaurants use for carry-out soup.
  2. Scoop the chia seeds into the container.
  3. Pour the remaining soymilk over the chia seeds. Normally this finicky half-of-this-then-half-of-that-then-the-other-half-of-this nonsense is something that a good Adventurous Cook would just skip, opting instead to dump everything in all at the same time. But for chia pudding, this division of steps is actually important, because the chia seeds are so sticky. If you put them in first, they will clump together at the bottom of the carton and fail to gel. If you put them in last, they will clump at the top, to much the same effect. For best results, you must get most of them wet before they make contact with the edge of the container.
  4. Carefully measure out something that looks like it might be one third of the pudding packet, and dump it into the container. This is a total shot in the dark, because you have no idea how much pistachio pudding mix will flavor a one-cup plus-two-tablespoons chia pudding, but since one packet of pudding is supposed to mix with 2 cups of milk, a little under one-half the packet sounds good enough.
  5. Now for the fun part. Put the lid on your Chinese takeout container and shake vigorously. This becomes especially fun when the Chinese restaurant kindly decided to vent the container by poking a pinhole into the lid. Hello, soymilk fountain!
  6. When the chia pudding is thoroughly mixed, put it in the fridge to soak and set. You should leave it for at least six hours.When that time is up, your pudding will be ready to eat!

Mmmmm....appetizing!

How did it turn out? Well, my pista-chia pudding might look like alien excrement, but it's actually pretty tasty! I worried that chia plus regular pudding might make the mixture too thick, but it came out an excellent consistency. I am never sure how much to sweeten my chia puddings. My soymilk is pre-sweetened, but the addition of the chia seeds can make it a little too bland, so I often add a sweetener. In this case, the pistachio pudding was the sweetener! It might border on a little too sweet, in fact, for a healthy breakfast. So whenever I finally run out of soymilk cartons (I'm down to 3!) I will try it with an unsweetened milk.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Val's Less-Than-Galorious Galaxy

I haven't been blogging a whole lot lately. I've been blogging so little that people are noticing.

Since my decline in post frequency was pointed out to me in December, I've been thinking about the reasons why I haven't been writing.

It's not because I don't love writing. Every time I start to tell a story, words start to gush like a fountain, digressions sprout like weeds, and I struggle to keep what I say down to an internet-approved length. But that's for my fashion blog. I can see that more of my writing energy has been directed there every year, rather than this blog. In fact, for those of you who like statistics (isn't that everybody!?), I'll quantify it for you.

Two line graphs showing the decline in posts every year at Val's Galorious Galaxy, and the stability of posts at The Unfashionista

Barring the first year of The Unfashionista, when I was first getting on my feet, I've posted a pretty steady average of around 86 fashion posts a year. Meanwhile, over at Val's Galorious Galaxy, the number has been gradually decreasing from 97 posts in 2012 to just 23 last year. Why did this happen!?

I've been keeping a steady pace on my fashion blog because I have a steady stream of things to write about. I wear a different outfit every day, and as long as there's something about it that I deem even marginally interesting, I churn out a few words and slap up a picture. My personal blog, which should, in theory, provide much more for me to write about, because it encompasses everything but fashion, is, meanwhile, languishing. Is this because I don't have anything to write about? What do I write about, anyway?

In the early days of my blog, it was basically a diary, in which I summarized the details of what was going on in my life: "Last week I took a vacation to California." "I spent a lot of money recently." "Someone used my stock photography on their website!" I also used it as a megaphone to share every thought that flitted through my empty head. "Should I get a new alarm clock?" (I still use that clock, but no longer to wake me up in the morning!) "Wow, the streets in DC are actually named according to a pattern!" "Here are seven things I was thinking about today."

Over time, I have discovered other media that work just as well for sharing my inane thoughts, chief among them: Twitter. Yes, when I can dash off three words (e.g. "Seagulls are great!") I no longer need to write an entire essay about the subject. Facebook is another platform that has supplanted my blog: Instead of writing long multi-part tales about my travels, I now just content myself to post a photo album on Facebook and caption it liberally. I also find, these days, that I spend less time writing about the banal details of my life and more time telling them to my friends, usually over Google chat, Snapchat, and the various other messaging apps I use from time to time...but still in the form of a conversation, not a monologue.

A lot of my older posts were what might be described as "whining." This type of post received so much attention in my blog that I made an entire category for self pity. This is not to say that I don't write about these kinds of things now—there will always be a place for complaining—but I increasingly prefer to keep my most personal issues personal, rather than broadcasting them WWW-wide. To illustrate my point, a few weeks ago, I sold my car. I'm now in the process of searching for a new one. I probably will blog about my decision and purchase when it happens, but what I won't blog about is the snit I got into last week about all the stupid red tape surrounding buying and selling vehicles, and how annoying it is that I have to keep paying for my insurance even though I don't have a car. For that, instead of ranting in my blog as I might have once, I ranted to my boyfriend (lucky guy!). Since I now have a close personal network, I no longer have to write about things like social failings and love and the lack thereof; I can use real people to help me sort through my emotions, and don't find it as necessary to air my grievances before the largely-unsympathetic internet.

In spite of my declining interest in using my blog as a personal therapist, in more recent years, I still resorted to writing for the biggest issues in my life: getting dogs, getting a house, dealing with said house once gotten. But after a few years, my existence has calmed down into a fairly predictable pattern: I go to work, I go home, I do fashion, and I do it all over again the next day. In short, I just don't have that much in my life that's exciting enough to blog about.

Now that's not to say that I have nothing to blog about, period. While I've deliberately retired two of my former biggest topics, Giant Cookie Reviews and MacaroniQuest, there will always be language and Adventures in Cooking. But if you've noticed that my blogging has decreased in frequency, you should know it's not something to be sad about. After conducting this scientific analysis of how Val's Galorious Galaxy has evolved over the years, I feel confident that my fewer posts are a good thing.

While this post started off as a way to help fill the void left by my infrequent blogging, and was inspired largely by guilt, it turned out to reveal a truth I actually feel pretty good about:

I'm blogging less because my life is better!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

These are a few of my favorite things

[Editor's note: I wrote this post on December 7 and thought I posted it on the same. However, it has come to my attention 2 weeks later that I did nothing of the sort. I apologize to all my readers who were left hanging, but mostly I apologize to myself, because I am ashamed that I could have been so stupid!!]

For whatever reason, a completely seasonally unrelated song from The Sound of Music has become linked with Christmas in our culture. Every year around this time, I begin hearing "My Favorite Things" playing on all the holiday radio stations. (On a very tangentially related side note, I seem to have lost my personal collection of Christmas music, and it's weighing heavily on my heart—how can it be the season to be jolly when I don't have my Jingle Cats meowing the soundtrack to my life!?) But, back to "My Favorite Things." What is it about this song that screams Christmas? Is it the brief mention of brown paper packages, to tie in with a season of gifting? Is it all the talk of silver white winters and sleigh bells and warm woolen mittens, evoking the weather of the holiday season if not the holiday itself? Whatever it is, the song creates a timely motif for one of my signature "things I like" blog posts!

Ahead, here are a few of...

My favorite things!

  • Putting dishes in the dishwasher

    You might not think that a mundane domestic chore would rank very highly on a list of things I love, but there's something immensely gratifying about clearing away the clutter of eating and whisking it into a hidden chamber, to later emerge sparkling clean with little to no additional effort. It also might be the fact that, since I am part of a two-person household that doesn't do a lot of cooking, it takes quite a while for the dishwasher to become full (sometimes up to a week!). While we're waiting for that magical wash-day to come, the dishwasher itself is meanwhile getting quite unsightly with the accumulated spills of several days' worth of food and drink. So every dish that I add to the rack means I'm one dish closer to having all the dishes be clean again! I must add, of course, that unloading the dishwasher is one of my least favorite chores, thanks to the loud clattering that is impossible to avoid, and the fact that it involves wet things—a peeve of mine that may have to wait for another post to be fully explained.
  • Microwave cooking

    I may as well call this post "Ode to kitchen appliances," since my microwave is now getting in on the action. Where would I be without a microwave? Probably a lot skinnier, certainly much less content with my lot in life. As I'm very fond of saying, I do not cook, but when I do, it is mostly to pop a prepared dish in the toaster oven or leftovers in the microwave. The microwave is an ingenious invention that uses both less energy and less space than traditional cooking methods like ovens and stoves, but cooks your food in a fraction of the time! Sometimes you pay for these environmental savings in the form of soggier food, but often, a microwave-cooked dish is just as good as one cooked over a flame.
  • Mayonnaise and cheese

    While we're on the topic of cooking, let's talk about a couple of my favorite ingredients. Cheese is my lifeblood. Since I became a vegetarian, it has become probably my largest source of protein (save for the protein bars I eat almost every day for breakfast). There is some debate out there about whether cheese really is or is not just as addicting as cocaine, but I can say, as a proud cheese addict, that a day without cheese puts me in a pretty bad mood. Another food I love, that doesn't get the credit it deserves, is mayonnaise. Mayonnaise is usually an afterthought, relegated to condiment-status and considered optional, but really, I can't think of very many dishes that aren't made more delicious by the addition of mayonnaise. At least, not the ones that already contain cheese!
  • Words

    It probably goes without saying, but a person who loves words can't help but say it—I love words! How many hours a week do I fritter away on writing? I blog for an audience of four (or so) and receive no rewards for my hard work, other than the satisfaction of using words! I could go on forever with examples of how language has enriched my life, but instead, I'll perversely keep my words to a minimum on this topic!
  • Themed everything!

    I am having trouble finding a way to introduce this topic except by saying that everything that's fun in life is more fun if it has a theme. While in Japan, one of my top destinations was a themed restaurant (that was the Kawaii Monster Cafe, in case you would like to pay it a visit). When I host parties, I always give them a theme (usually revolving around animals and encouraging the wearing of costumes). When I create an outfit, I'm frequently proudest if it has a thematic overload! I don't spend a lot of effort decorating my home, but I make an exception for major holidays, when I go all-out (at least, as all-out as one can go on a stringent budget) to meet the theme of the season. Heck, even this blog post has a "My Favorite Things" theme!

"Dog bites" and "bee stings" (i.e. things that make me feel sad)

  • Me

    What kind of fool writes a blog post and then forgets to post it for half the month!? The same kind of person who now realizes that in all the recent conversations where I thought I was making a subtle reference back to this post, I was really not because no one could have possibly read it. That makes my witty comments feel a lot less witty now.
  • The futility of trying to change others

    People are annoying. People do things that annoy me and things that I think would show basic human decency to not do. Two weeks ago when I wrote this post, I put here a very long-winded rant about one particular thing that sometimes people do that I find incredibly rude. But with age comes wisdom, and in the two weeks I have aged since writing the rant, I've realized that the people who engage in such behavior are unlikely to read this post; and even if they do, they are unlikely to recognize themselves in my story; and even if they do, they are unlikely to be inspired to change their behavior. So basically, all I would accomplish by complaining is to look like a whiner and possibly alienate more people. So, alas, I replace my original accusatory tirade with a much sadder, much more resigned lament that some things will never change. For example, next week, I'll probably go right back to griping about people.
  • Snow

    You might have noticed that I pretty consistently complain about some aspect of winter or another—by now it's basically a tradition! This time I'm going to dump on the stuff that always gets dumped on us this time of year. I know mine is an unpopular opinion, as almost everyone seems to have some kind of romantic infatuation with precipitation that comes in flake form, but I, for one, have lost all interest in the dandruff of the sky. It's cold. It might not be wet when it lands on your nose and eyelashes, but it will be when it stays there long enough—just wait! White Christmas? Nah, I'll take one that's 80 degrees and sunny. Some people like snow because it's pretty (OK, it is, slightly). Some people like snow because it gives them days off (Yes, that is a perk). But for me, snow is mostly just a very visible reminder of how miserably cold I'm going to be, should I choose to go outside.
  • Buffets

    I don't have any inherent objection to a buffet meal—in fact, being able to select exactly what you want from a wide array of choices is basically a picky eater's dream! What I object to is getting charged a large fee for a volume of food that I have no hope of eating. Not only am I a picky eater, but I'm also a small (but frequent!) eater. A meal for me is typically only an appetizer for most of the people I associate with. At restaurants, I have come to expect that I'll pay a lot for my meal, but be able to make at least one more meal out of the leftovers. Not so at a buffet! At a buffet, I pay marginally less than I would for a full-size dinner, but I only get one meal, and I'm still limited by my appetite to only a few bites of food, and I can't take home my leftovers! Whenever someone I know suggests we eat at a buffet-style place for lunch, I groan inside, knowing that I will be overstuffed at the restaurant and still hungry a few hours later!
  • Visible "no-show" socks

    A foot in a shoe with no socks showing, labeled 'right', and another foot in a shoe with the edges of a sock showing, labeled 'wrong'
    I scoured the internet for pictures of this phenomenon, but apparently no one
    wants to advertise their wardrobe malfunctions, so I created an example just for you!
    It's a little thing, hardly significant in the vast world of fashion, but it still counts! It's socks showing around the edges of one's shoes when they should be hidden! I try not to judge people for their fashion choices, but when I see someone with just part of their socks peeking out, it makes me cringe inside.  It is my opinion that if you are going to wear shoes that are clearly not meant for socks, then either 1) don't wear socks, or 2) wear full-sized socks and wear them loud and proud. Don't wear those supposedly "no-show" socks that always do show! It's akin to letting your underwear hang out the top of your pants! Gross! The end!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Bean Pucks and Nearly Nachos

I do not like to cook. While I do enjoy baking up desserts for special occasions, I find the preparation of daily meals to be a drag (and, on the rare occasion I do it, usually an Adventure in Cooking). Not liking to cook is not really a handicap in this modern age, but something else is: being stingy. I am, and this basically means that I can't just indulge my laziness by ordering from Seamless like all the other Millennials. I have to be prepared, at all times, with a stockpile of frozen dinners and leftovers from the last time I dined out.

Sadly, though, two weeks ago, my refrigerator went kaput, defrosting all of my frozen ravioli, mozzarella sticks, vegetarian burgers, and the other usual staples of my heat-and-eat diet. Fortunately, I was able to keep the large bag of shredded cheddar, because I figured that would get moldy if it were going to go bad, and I didn't see any mold on it yet! But one can't live on cheddar alone. Being out of practice in the art of food shopping (I mainly rely on my boyfriend's Costco membership to supply me with all my daily needs), all I could think to do was pick up a can of refried beans when I happened to be at Wegman's the day after the disaster. I also picked up some corn nuts, because that was a really exciting thing I found in the bulk bins!

Last week, since those refried beans were fresh in my mind and since I basically didn't have anything else to eat at home, they became the basis of my meal in very short order. Now, I have to say, the dish that I'm about to share with you is one that I've been making in some variation or other for years, so it is no longer an Adventure in Cooking! when I prepare it. But since it is a recipe of sorts, I'll categorize it as such, since I don't have a blog tag for "Recipes I'm actually pretty good at making."

How to prepare Nearly Nachos

  1. Start with a can of refried beans. Scoop about 1/3 cup of them into a microwave-safe bowl.
  2. Top the beans with a solid handful of shredded cheddar cheese. If your cheese, like mine, has been frozen, fully thawed, then popped back into the freezer, it's probably going to be more of a brick of cheese than anything, so bang the bag on the counter a few times before commencing with the sprinkling. Make sure the cheese covers the beans completely, because the beans will explode everywhere without a protective coating of cheese.
  3. Microwave the beans and cheese for 77 seconds. Time is always of the essence, and by choosing a time that you can enter with just two presses of the same button, you can save at least a few milliseconds!
  4. In my goal to make my Nearly Nachos as close to the real thing (that is, something that I can find in a perhaps-not-too-authentic Mexican restaurant) as possible, I like to eat them with a bit of lettuce. This means ripping a few leaves off a head of romaine, and eating them as a side dish.

    Now comes the fun part—the toppings!
  5. Get out a packet of Taco Bell mild sauce. You should always have a few of those around—grab one every time you visit a Taco Bell, and you will never lack for seasonings for your Nearly Nachos. Squeeze that sauce over the top of your beans & cheese.
  6. If the beans aren't salty enough, you might want to add a dash of seasoned salt. I like to use the "Kartöflukrydd" seasoning that we picked up in Iceland. Nothing says "Mexican food" like an Icelandic seasoned salt! If you're smart and have sampled the beans before coating them with cheese, you might actually mix the seasoning in as a first step, rather than sprinkling it on top of the already salty cheese.
  7. Next, if you have them, drop in a few black olives! Black olives aren't a regular fixture in Mexican food, but when I do find them, they make my day, and I always have a can of them at the ready.
  8. As a condiment, you may want to add a dollop of plain yogurt. This is a cheaper and healthier alternative to sour cream. I usually put the yogurt on a side plate, say, next to my leaves of lettuce, for dipping into, so it doesn't curdle next to the hot foods.

    An alternative way of preparing all of these ingredients is to actually pile them onto tortilla chips and toast them in the toaster oven, in which case you'd have real nachos. But pay close attention to this next step—it's what turns this bowl of ordinary bean dip into Nearly Nachos!
  9. Since I frequently do not have tortilla chips, I usually make do with what I have—which is either a bag of tortilla-chip crumbs that my boyfriend left behind after eating all the chips and subsequently forgetting about it, or a bag of pretzels (which I usually got from an airplane, because I never buy pretzels but do accept them when they are given to me for free). You'd be surprised at how well pretzels can substitute for tortilla chips!

    In this example, I'll be using pretzels, because I happen to have a bag of snack mix with pretzels in it. Ordinarily I'd just throw away the pretzels, but waste not, want not! If I can find an application for pretzels that does not require eating them plain, I'll be happy to keep them around! We're at the bottom of this snack bag by now, so finding a whole unbroken pretzel is a bit of a challenge. But that's actually perfect for Nearly Nachos, because you can just sprinkle the pretzel pieces onto the top of the whole shebang. Go ahead! Do it!
  10. Now you're finished! This whole process takes approximately two minutes, perfect for anyone who hates wasting time in the kitchen. Grab a spoon and commence eating! Don't forget to dip each spoonful into the yogurt, and top off each with a bite of lettuce! Yum!
A bowl of Nearly Nachos

Sorry, folks. I lied. You're not actually finished. 

After you have eaten your delicious dinner for one, you will undoubtedly have some refried beans left over. If you're anything like me, you can't work your way through a can of refried beans before it starts growing mold. The solution is bean pucks! Basically, these are single-serving portions of refried beans that you stash in the freezer until you're ready to eat them.

This is how I make them.

How to prepare Bean Pucks

  1. Take a small muffin tin (one can of beans will probably yield no more than 5 bean pucks) and spray the inside of each cup with cooking spray.
  2. Then fill the cups to the top with refried beans. Simple!
  3. Place the muffin tin in the freezer, and a few hours later, you will have a tin full of bean pucks.
If you let them thaw just slightly, they should fall easily out of the muffin tin. My tin is so flimsy, I can actually squeeze them out from the bottom, but that's leaving dents in it, so I don't recommend that method to those who respect their kitchen equipment. Return your now-liberated bean pucks to the freezer in a container of your choosing.

still-frozen bean puck in a bowl

The next time you're hungry for Mexican food, just grab a bean puck from the freezer, thaw it by microwaving it for around 44 seconds, then spread it out in the bowl and fix yourself some Nearly Nachos!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Worst Dog / Best Dog


Bubalou is the worst dog. In addition to the puking, peeing, and noisy separation anxiety that he unleashed on us as soon as we got him, we have discovered quite a few new annoying habits over the last few years.

He's an escape artist, able to leap tall chain-link fences in a single bound. I thought having a house with a fenced yard would be an improvement over an apartment, because I could let the dogs run around in the yard unsupervised. But no, you have to keep your eye on Bubalou every moment he's outside, because when he gets in the mood for a stroll in someone else's yard, he's gone in an instant.

He also loves to eat dirty clothes. The way we discovered this was a mystery story. Early on in our ownership of him, we once found a puddle of vomit with what appeared to be a striped cloth in it. Where that had come from, we had no idea. Until a week or so later when, folding laundry, I found one of my boyfriend's shirts, made of striped fabric, with a great gaping hole in it. We figured this was some weird manifestation of Bubalou's separation anxiety—when one's favorite human is absent, one must eat his clothing out of desperation? But apparently, it was not just limited to Al's shirts. When we moved to the new house, I started finding my underwear ripped to shreds in the wash. I thought they were snagging on something in the machine, until one day I found a similarly destroyed pair of panties sitting on the couch, next to a telltale pile of chewed-up food wrappers (stolen from the recycling bin, of course). Apparently, Bubalou's clothing-munchies go not just beyond Al's shirts, but beyond a separation-anxiety thing, too. Leave him unsupervised in a room with a laundry hamper, even if you're just down the hall, and you can return to find him gnawing on his latest sartorial snack.

Shortly after we got him, I mentioned how much Bubalou was costing my boyfriend. Well, the expenses certainly haven't decreased. Between the training, emergency vet bills, and medications for him, not to mention all the property we've lost to his clothes-eating habit, Al calls him the "11,000 dollar dog." While I don't know how accurate that figure is, I can say for certain that I myself dropped $4,300 to help him survive a cardiac condition in July, so I'm sure it's pretty close. This special-needs beastie makes my ex-rabbit's vet bills look like pocket change!

So yeah. If I had to give out a prize for the worst dog, I would give it to Bubalou. But if I were to give out a prize for my favorite dog, guess who I'd give it to. Bubalou! In spite of his innumerable negative traits, he has somehow managed to charm his way into my heart with proportionately more endearing ones.

Yeah, I'll admit that some of his appeal is due to nothing more than his cuteness. I've told him many a time (though I get the feeling he's not listening!) that he hit the genetic jackpot when it comes to his looks. With his cloud of ginger fur, his expressive face, warm dark eyes, and perennial smile, he just looks like the physical embodiment of happiness!
 

But I'd like to think that I'm not so superficial that I only like him because of his baby face. At least some of it can be attributed to his adorable personality.

Bubalou is, among the many names I've given him, Cuddle Dog.* He is thusly dubbed because, more than any other dog I've known, he seems to be most comfortable on or immediately next to a human lap. When I come home from work and sit down on the couch, it is usually not long before I have a Cuddle Dog jumping up to join me. He loves cuddling at any time, but it's especially pronounced when he's nervous. Kneel or sit down when there is a crowd, thunderstorm, or groomer in the vicinity, and you will have a lapful of fur before you can say lickety-split!


Bubalou also likes to cuddle when you're mad at him, which I assume is nature's way of keeping you from killing him. No matter what he does wrong, it only seems to make him cuter. Unlike Jack Jack, who has actually become much more manageable since Bubalou joined the family but irritates me with his cowardly reactions when he does mess up, Bubalou seems to think that the best way to atone for his errors is to shower you with more love! Either that or he's too stupid to realize that he's erred at all (I would not put that past him). But regardless of the reason, it's hard to be mad at him when his reaction to your anger is to rush towards you with a giant smile on his face and his entire hindquarters wiggling. The worse you feel, the closer he tries to be—it seems he was born to be a therapy dog.

Bubalou seems to always want to please you. Even if he's too dumb to figure out how, and even if he works himself into a fit of anxiety trying to do it right, he's ultimately trying. I appreciate him for that honest attempt, even if it always ends in failure.

Obviously, my intention from the beginning was to distance myself from him as much as possible, since he was an unsanctioned addition to my household. But even more obviously, that resolution didn't stick. I've given up on calling him Al's dog and now just call him our dog. I am pretty much an unabashed Dog Mom on Facebook, posting nothing but pictures of my baby doing those silly things that no one loves quite as much as the person who posts them.

As I was just trying to wrap up the writing of this post, the ever-restless Bubalou wandered up to my desk to stare at me with his usual happy face. I gave him a little head-pat before turning away to finish typing when, without warning, he upchucked on my floor.

And this is how I know I love him. The dog is disgusting, but I'm not even mad. I just resignedly wiped up the vomit and gave him another head-pat. Sometimes you have to take the bad dog with the good dog.

Since there is no such thing as too many cute dog pictures, here are some more shots of Bubalou that I never got around to oversharing on Facebook.

Jack Jack is jealous there isn't room for two.
Making it really difficult for me to do yoga.
I give up.
Taking a walk during the solar eclipse.
Notice the crescent shapes in the leaf shadows!

*Since I didn't have Bubalou when I wrote my Pet Names post, you never learned his other nicknames, which include: Cuddles, Bubbles, Buba-roo (for his kangaroo-like jumping), Bubba, Bubby, Bubs, Bub, Li'l Bub (stolen from the Internet cat), Happyface Dog, Anxiedog (as in "anxiety"), Yapper (shared with Jack Jack), Puffball, Puffboy, Puffer, Bubble Puff, and Puff Puff.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Half Empty or Half Full?

Is the glass half empty or half full? I get asked this question a lot (probably because of my penchant for personality tests!), and every time, it annoys me. It's a stupid way of obliquely asking whether I'm an optimist or a pessimist. Pessimist, obviously, from my reaction! But I'd tell you that without having to dance my way around an old, tired, confusing metaphor that (metaphorically, and ironically) doesn't hold water!

From the first time I heard about "the glass" being "half empty" or "half full" as a measure of one's baseline level of negativity, I found it confusing. I'm guessing I was a pre-teen at the time, so I was still firmly into concrete thinking, and here's what I thought:

Why did it have to be one or the other? Halfway is halfway—it's exactly in the middle. It is both half-empty and half-full at the same time. You could use either term and still be correct! Is this some kind of Zen koan? (No, I did not think that thought at my pre-teen age, but I do now.) Why are you trying to make me decide!?

It had to be explained to me (I assume, after I'd gotten over my indignation at being asked a question with no right answer), that the goal of the question wasn't to produce a correct answer as much as an insight into whether the current state of the glass is more good or bad—and, by association, the state of mind of the person answering the question.

At this point, I'm pretty sure there was no further discourse on the nature of the half-empty/half-full question, but, like any good Zen koan, it lingered in my mind, for me to mull and puzzle over every time I heard it asked again.

We have all come to accept that "half full" reads as "good," and is therefore associated with an optimistic outlook. I guess this is because the phrasing focuses on the amount of liquid that is there, thus emphasizing abundance, which is generally associated with good. Whereas "half-empty" focuses on how much liquid is gone, thus emphasizing depletion, which is generally seen as bad. But in real life, there are plenty of circumstances in which having less of something would be preferable—for example, if the glass contains repulsive cough medicine that you just want to get down as quickly as possible. In this case, calling the glass "half-empty" would indicate an optimistic viewpoint!

It seemed to me that this was less a question about how you impose your emotions on the world and more simply a question of context. If I were, for example, in the middle of filling the glass, I'd probably call it half full. But if I were in the midst of draining it, I'd call it half empty. The circumstances under which the glass arrived at its current state have everything to do with what words are used to describe it. The inherent goodness or badness of the situation do not come into play.

Even in a situation where a value judgment could be made on the relative fullness of the glass, how the words are used could completely change their interpretation. If I were, for example, a bartender filling the glass, and a server were trying to whisk it out of my hands, I would stop them by exclaiming, "It's only half full!" In this context, even though I used the words "half full," I'm still conveying the negative aspects of the situation.

In the end, the question is less about what's in the glass and more about what's going on around it.

The glass itself is still just a glass. The liquid in it is still just liquid. It has no inherent virtue. It's time we stopped using it as a symbol for every person's outlook on life! It's time we dumped this glass (metaphorically) once and for all!