Wednesday, December 7, 2016

13 things men can darn well wear if they want to

I was a little bit outraged when I read this article, "13 things men should stop wearing." I'm almost certain (at least I'd like to hope) it was written as a backlash against patronizing articles (some even written by a man!) describing things women shouldn't wear, which have been making the rounds among my fashion/women's publications for as long as I've been reading them.

But really!? If the overwhelming consensus (as it seems to be, according to what I've read) is "Forget the rules! Women can wear whatever we want to wear and we need to stop letting society tell us we're ugly!", then how does turning the tables on men help the cause? Haven't we had enough with the negativity?

I have a different cause—absolute fashion freedom for everyone—and a blog post to go with it. Inspired by the original snarky article, here is a slightly different list...of things I think men should try wearing as soon as they can! Please read, enjoy, and pass it on to a man in your life (along with the shiniest shirt you can get your hands on)!

1. Deep V-Neck T-Shirts
Nothing wrong with that! If women are allowed to wear shirts that look like this, I don't see why men can't either.

2. Cute Graphic T-Shirts
If the only T-shirts it's socially acceptable for a man to wear are the ones that are emblazoned with macho imagery and sarcastic messages, that leaves very little room for self-expression. Let's expand the offerings so that men can wear pretty florals and kitty cats, and then there will be no need for them to settle for fake CBGB shirts.

3. Colorful Suits
Are you bored with black, brown, charcoal, and black? I am! I was looking through some catalog images from the 1970's, and was awed by the colors on the men's suits! We should have more of that!

4. Button-Down Vests...over nothing else
One of the sexist policies that really gets me going is the one that says women are allowed to show up to a nice establishment wearing short dresses and sleeveless tops, but men have to be fully covered in pants and sleeves. Not only does this perpetuate the belief that women are objects to be looked at; it's also needlessly restrictive to men. Men are the ones with the higher baseline body temperatures; they should totally be allowed to wear comfortable. breathable clothes, and show some skin at restaurants. Maybe the way to make this point is to wear dress vests as shirts. Maybe it's not, but I still think it's a fun idea.

5. Shiny Dress Shirts
 These were also derided by the original article. Once upon a time, I too, opposed shiny dress shirts for men. Mainly because they were associated with "those guys at the club who women warn each other about in the bathroom." Then I realized, if more upstanding gentlemen were to sport this style, it wouldn't have such a douchey reputation. There's nothing inherently wrong with shiny fabric; it's just the people that have always tended to wear it. Let's buck this trend! Sirs, go ahead and shine on the outside the same way you shine on the inside!

6. Vintage Shoes
Women's shoes are designed to last a year and then have to be replaced. Men's shoes are made to last for decades. If the square-toed dress shoes you bought when you graduated high school are still working for you today, don't be ashamed they're no longer trendy, be proud that you've saved countless cheap vinyl imitations from the landfill! But also, don't be afraid to wear pointed toes or even round ones if that floats your boat.

7. Baggy, High-Water Jeans...with cargo pockets!
There was a time when "mom jeans" for women were an extreme faux pas. And then, voila! All of a sudden mom jeans became the coolest thing in women's fashion. So men, if gender equality is real, then you are completely entitled to wear baggy jeans with high hemlines. Maybe you'll start a new trend! Or you can just go back to an old one and bring back cargo pants. If your pants mean you'll stop trying to cram your entire livelihood into my purse every time we go out, I'm 100% in favor.

8. Skinny Jeans
 The very opinionated writers of the original article seem to think you're not allowed to wear baggy jeans, and you're not allowed to wear skinny jeans. What's left? You might as well just walk around naked. Men, please don't walk around naked. I think skinny jeans are a very acceptable alternative.

9. White Jeans
Oh, and you're not allowed to wear white jeans either...says the snarkicle. But I say if that's the case, you might as well just give up on life and wear your bed sheets around town...or just never get out of bed at all. Honestly! With so many rules, no wonder men's fashion is boring! I don't have a problem with white jeans. Just make sure you can't see your boxers through the fabric. I hear this is a problem.

10. Jean Shorts
And why the heck not? ... The crickets are saying, "That's what I thought."

11. Purses
So cargo shorts aren't your style? I strongly suggest you give handbags a try. If you think purses are "too feminine," stuff the largest one you can find with things like samurai swords and electronic gadgets, and you can show off your strength by hefting your "manbag" around town. You'll be a purse convert before you know it!

12. Sandals that aren't flip flops
I can't remember any time when men were encouraged to wear any kind of sandal at all other than shower shoes. Go ahead and live a little! Let your feet air out, and flaunt those Berkenstocks!

13. Fitted Jerseys
 Sure, there are definitely better things you can wear than a sports jersey. More flattering. Less polyester. Less likely to get you beat up in the wrong city. Less...related to sports. My catty counterpart would have you believe that sports jerseys are unacceptable garb. But my realistic self recognizes that nothing can stand between a male and his wholehearted expression of his irrational love for his team. However, if you must wear a sports jersey, you can at least make an effort to look good in it. They make "girly" sports jerseys with a tailored fit for female fans, maybe it's time to start making similarly well fitting jerseys for male fans. Then you could flaunt your team spirit without sacrificing those good looks that I know are hiding just underneath!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Ginger Molasses Cookie from Amaretti Desserts

Over Thanksgiving, I took a trip to Jacksonville, Florida, and promptly developed a cold (of course!) I waited until my congestion cleared (temporarily, by virtue of lots of drugs, no thanks to my sluggish immune system) to try this cookie, and it was worth the wait.

I could taste the ginger! It was so gingery! The flavor, plus the sweetness, mixed in with no scanty amount of salt, made for a taste explosion!

The cookie was maybe just a tad too chewy, but I'll take that over crunchy any day. Bonus sugar crystals on top rounded out the texture.

I'm not certain of the price, as I bought several things from amaretti desserts, and the receipt I received was not itemized, but the three items I bought (a bar, a whoopie pie, and this Giant Cookie) totaled 10$. Since a cookie is usually cheaper than the other items, I'll round its price down to 3$. Not a perfect price for 115g, but quite a bit above average. I guess we can't win 'em all.

The Bottom Line

Taste: 4 out of 5 stars
Texture: 4 out of 5 stars
Price: 2 out of 5 stars

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Valerie's Adventures in Cooking: Zucchini Quiche

When faced with a lot of vegetables and nothing to do with them, some sort of baked concoction with lots of cheese is usually my answer. I may not like cooking, but I do like my quiche! My last Adventure in Quiching turned out solidly on the awful side, so let's see if I've learned any lessons.

For this recipe, you will need:
  • 1 zucchini, aged to perfection
  • 1 package of Pillsbury croissant dough
  • 1 package of refrigerated egg whites
  • 1 bag of shredded mozzarella.
  • 1 boyfriend
The boyfriend is necessary because he is the reason you have a whole zucchini, despite your not liking zucchini. He is also the reason you have a giant bag of mozzarella cheese that you still haven't used up almost 2 years after you bought it at Costco, 3 packages of Pillsbury croissant dough that have been sitting around for almost a year after you strongly advised him not to buy so much croissant dough at Costco, and the six cartons of refrigerated egg whites that he just recently bought at Costco.

But why, you are asking, is he the reason you have a single lonesome zucchini, which is surely not the kind of thing you pick up at Costco? The answer for that is his new Vitamix blender, with which he decided to make pureed soup. The original soup recipe called for zucchini, and you dutifully bought him a zucchini before he changed his mind and decided to go with a zucchini-free recipe. He said he'd find a use for the zucchini, but 3 weeks later, it is still relaxing in the fridge, so it is time for action!

Cut the zucchini into slices. Discard any parts that are too "relaxed."

Dump some mozzarella cheese into a bowl. The mozzarella should be frozen mostly solid, because naturally when you keep it around for years on end, you can't keep it in the refrigerator or it will go bad. Remove the mozzarella cheese from the bowl and hack at it with a knife until it has broken up into manageable clumps. Return the manageable clumps to the bowl.

Find the one container of egg whites that is already opened, and dump it over the cheese. This will hopefully be enough egg whites to make a quiche, because it seems wasteful to open a second carton. Mix until the clumps of cheese have mostly separated and are distributed uniformly.

Now it's time for putting the quiche into a crust! A serious cook would make a crust from scratch. A lazy cook would use a pre-made pie crust. But an adventurous cook would try to get rid of another thing that's been sitting in the fridge too long, and make her crust out of refrigerated croissant dough!

Open the package of croissant dough and separate it into its pre-formed little triangles. Arrange the triangles in the bottom of an 8-inch pie pan. They will not cover the pan neatly, so rip them to pieces as necessary until the pan is covered.

Then lay about half of the slices of zucchini in a layer on top of the crust.

Top the zucchini with half the cheese/egg mixture.

Lay the remaining zucchini slices in another layer, and top with the remaining cheese/eggs.

Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.

At the end of 30 minutes, realize your crust is browning to a crisp, but the middle of the quiche doesn't look quite solid yet. No worries! You have aluminum pie crust protectors! Too bad you didn't think to use them at the beginning of the baking, but then again, they don't really fit over the handles on your ergonomic pie tin, so they probably wouldn't do much protecting in this precarious position anyway. Still no worries! Ornamental pie crust protectors are better than no pie crust protectors, and at least they will have the satisfaction of being used for the first time as they hover over the edges of your quiche for the last 10 minutes of baking!

(Bake for 10 minutes, or until the center looks solid and the edges are strikingly overdone.)

The verdict: Zucchini is not quite so unpalatable when buried in lots of browned cheese, but neither does croissant dough make an excellent crust. It got a little soggy, especially near that tricky middle. In any case, it's edible, but there sure is a lot of it! It's a good thing I have a little leftover boyfriend to help me finish it.

Friday, October 21, 2016

It's Whine O'clock!

When I last posted about my likes and dislikes in June, all I had was a list of likes. This time I'll turn the tables and round things out with some more dislikes.

1. Biking into a cloud of gnats

This item is at the top of my list right now, because, 'tis the season for clouds of bugs...apparently. Every year when it starts to turn cool out, I suddenly find my commute home beset by inordinately large numbers of fruit flies. Where's the fruit? I don't know, but its absence doesn't seem to be stopping them any! I don't begrudge these creatures their right to congregate, but if they could do it somewhere out of the path of my lungs, I'd be much obliged.

2. Foldover waistbands

It seems simple enough...almost irrelevant...among the many things fashion gives us, but I have several pairs of pants with a foldover waist (yoga pants are an especially common culprit, but a foldover waist has also "graced" my bikini bottoms) and every time I wear them, all they bring me is grief. Just try to keep the folded part folded in the right spot! It will invariably unfold itself and bulk up your midsection, or merely start to bunch up in an annoyingly asymmetrical way. The aesthetic benefit of having a band of fabric wrapped around your butt is surely outweighed by the annoyance of having to adjust it every two minutes.

3. Slideshow websites

The web developer in me must needs gripe about something website-related, and this time, it's those sites in which all their information is presented in the form of a slideshow. If you ever click on sponsored posts on Facebook (I've fallen victim to this trick more times than I can count!), you know what I'm talking about. Unfortunately (actually, probably fortunately), I can't find a specific example right now, but I can describe it for you. You view the first slide, and it has something informative about the subject you came to read about. If you're lucky, it has a whole sentence, but sometimes, the answer inexplicably drags out...

...Click the "Next" Button... the next slide!

As if having to click 2 or three times to complete every sentence isn't bad enough, now imagine that every portion of the sentence you want to read contains a large image (usually only vaguely related to the topic) and is supported by approximately 3,026 ads. The agonizing slowness with which these fragments of information load is enough to make anyone go crazy.

4. People buying limited-edition things for the sole purpose of reselling them at a profit

This is one of those unfortunate and pretty-much-inevitable downsides to a free market economy. Anyone who can afford to buy something at any price is allowed to...and equally allowed to sell it at any price, even if that price is hundreds of times the actual value. But just because you can do something, that doesn't mean you should! This is a classic case of the haves (those with the resources and position to acquire something extremely rare) profiting from the have nots (the ones who only have the means to buy something on the overinflated secondary market. Perhaps I'm naive (and perhaps I'm still bitter about the house-flippers who made getting a new home at an affordable price way more difficult than it should have been), but I believe in kindness and sharing and making an honest living.

5. Weighted doors

After that "weighty" subject, let's go on to something weighty in a different way—doors that shut themselves. I'm not a fan. This kind of door has afflicted me too many times, mostly resulting in me getting locked out of a place because I stepped out briefly without a key and found it had swung shut behind me. That's the worst-case scenario, but weighted doors also give meaning to the saying, "Don't let the door hit you on the way out!" When you're trying to pass an overzealous door with an armful of stuff and don't have the momentum or the foresight to swing it wide open before you pass through, the door hitting you on the way out is exactly what will happen.

6. Cleaning up other people's hair

Whether you live with roommates, significant others, or random strangers who pay to stay in your home for a few days, you can be sure of one thing: at some point, you will be forced to clean up their hair. People seem to love to shed their hair everywhere, but especially in the bathroom. They shave and leave the cuttings all over the sink. They shower and deposit what seems like the entire contents of their head in the drain. Cleaning up these messes is disgusting beyond measure, and frequently, not even necessary. For those of you who don't know it, I'm going to share a little trick: Brush your hair before you shower. That way all the loose hairs will end up in your brush, not snaking down into the drain for someone else to pick up. Oh, and also, when you shave, it's not acceptable to leave your cuttings where they fell. I don't understand why it's still necessary to explain this to people, but apparently I'm one of only a few people in the world who doesn't enjoy all their surfaces studded with hair.

7. Tipping

Last gripe, and again it's a financial one: I hate being obligated to tip all the people who perform a service. I spent several years of my life working for 2 dollars an hour as a tipped employee, so I understand that not tipping is an unacceptable behavior in our current system, but I am angry that tipping ever got ingrained in the system in the first place. The vast majority of people who work for tips are paid by their employers. They shouldn't also be paid by their customers who are also paying their employers. For any industry, forcing your employees to live off the kindness of strangers is a scoundrelly practice, and forcing your customers to have to choose what's an appropriate payment for your employees is scoundrelly as well. Life would be so much simpler (and there would be so much less ill will between restaurant servers and customers, just as an example) if the cash only flowed one way.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Schmackary's Cookies: Red Velvet

In my second review of Schmackary's cookies, I admit I got a little lazy. (In my third review, I didn't actually bother to review them at all!) Because, to be honest, it was, as I wrote in my notes while chowing down, "nothing special."

That's not to say I didn't enjoy it or I didn't eat all of it, but I didn't detect any notes of anything beyond the usual.

The cookie was a bit too dry around the edges, crumbling a bit too much for my taste, but the middle was soft as I like it.

The best part was the cream cheese icing, because, of course, cream cheese makes everything better!

And the white chocolate chunks imparted a fun texture that – maybe, just maybe, took it beyond the usual after all.

The Bottom Line

3 out of 5 stars
Texture: 4 out of 5 stars
Price: 2 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Schmackary's Cookies: Classic Chocolate Chip and Candied Yam

While on a brief one-day trip to New York City, I was encouraged to visit a cookie shop called Schmackary's. As a Giant Cookie reviewer, I couldn't say no, and, though I intended to only try one or two of its wares, my boyfriend and I ended up bringing home 5 varieties of Giant Cookie, plus two bags of macaroons. Schmackary's was selling all its cookies for the price of $2.75 each or 2 for 5$; they also had a box of day-old cookies that were advertised at a dollar each. From this box, I picked up a plastic-wrapped bundle of two "candied yam" cookies and a 2-pack of "red velvet" cookies. From the main case, I asked for the obligatory plain chocolate chip cookie, and my boyfriend rounded off the purchase with two more flavors.

The first one I tried, the day after I returned home, was the candied yam cookie.

Since there will be several reviews about Schmackary's I'll try to be brief, but I have a lot to say about the candied yam cookies! 

Schmackary's Candied Yam Cookies 

As soon as I began peeling away the plastic wrap, I realized that these were almost certainly the messiest cookies I ever opened. They were topped by marshmallow fluff, which adhered to everything around it like glue. But the mess was worth it, because I really enjoyed eating the cookies! I did it with a fork, and would not recommend anyone try these cookies without a proper utensil at the ready.

The marshmallow cream added a layer of flavor to what was already a quite tasty cookie. The sweet potato essence was strange for a cookie, but strange in a good way! I definitely wouldn't mind eating more cookies that taste like sweet potatoes.

As for the texture, well, it was gluten free. If you're not familiar with gluten-free baked goods, a lot of them tend to have a sort of powdery texture, and this one was no exception. The signature gluten-free-feel might not be for everyone, but I actually enjoy it. Beyond the powderiness, the overall consistency of the cookie was satisfyingly chewy. There were crumbs of nuts dispersed throughout to add a little crunch, and also bits of what I assume were the yams themselves. Of all the aspects of this cookie, I liked the yams the least, being just a bit too tough to really enjoy.
I'll be rating all of Schmackary's cookies on the 2-for-five price, which puts a single cookie (102 grams, based on the ones I weighed) at 2.45¢ per gram. It's a fairly high price, but what else do you expect for greatness?

The Bottom Line

Taste: 5 out of 5 stars
Texture: 4 out of 5 stars
Price: 2 out of 5 stars

Schmackary's chocolate chip cookie

I can visit no cookie shop without trying a basic chocolate chip cookie, but Schmackary's did theirs just a little differently (I can see that being different is a big part of their business model).

The first bite was pretty unremarkable, but it was followed immediately by a blast of salt. I'm guessing that they must have used coarse sea salt granules, judging from its sporadic, but powerful, appearance.

The chocolate chunks were everything you could expect from chocolate chunks, flavorful and firm.

I wasn't crazy about the flavor of the batter, but the chocolate chunks and the salt mostly made up for its lackluster cookie base

When I subjected the cookie to my crumble test, it snapped rather than bent (meaning it may be just a tad too hard for my liking), but held together and didn't drop a lot of crumbs, so overall it gets a positive vote, especially towards the center, which was thick and chewy.

The Bottom Line

Taste: 4 out of 5 stars
Texture: 4 out of 5 stars
Price: 2 out of 5 stars

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Pest Nest

Of all the problems that I've had with my new house, the worst thing one of many worst things about it is the cockroaches.

Cockroaches! I didn't see that coming. When I first visited the place in May, it was unoccupied and clean as a whistle (or so my selective vision told me). I saw no sign of a roach and didn't even stop to consider that pests might be an issue. When I moved in a month later, I did spy one cockroach, which gave me palpitations, but only mild ones—I'd seen a roach the day I moved into my last apartment, and nothing had come of that. Fast-forward to late July. It was a month after we'd moved in, and suddenly cockroaches were quite literally coming out of the woodwork! (Is that where this phrase comes from?)

This brings me to my moral dilemma. How does a vegetarian who cares for all creatures, great and small, deal with disgusting insects that are invading her home?

Well, every vegetarian has to draw the line somewhere. You can love all living things, but if they don't respect boundaries and they are a legitimate threat to your way of life, then your only recourse is to kill them. I've had to go through the same thing with bedbugs (no one can really blame you for trying to eradicate a pest that feeds on your own body) and ants.

The ants decided my desk at work was the best place for an ongoing party! After trying numerous times to dissuade them with various strongly scented oils, I finally had to resort to extermination. I am not a fan of using baits or poison. They seem underhanded ("Come here little buggy-buggy, I have a treat for's death!") and sadistic (having suffered food poisoning before, I would never wish that kind of fate on anyone!). And the kind of sticky trap that causes animals to rip their own legs off in an attempt to escape is just cruel. Another option I might have mentioned before is diatomaceous earth, a long-established insect killer that works by creating micro-punctures in the animal's exoskeleton, causing it to lose too much liquid to the surrounding environment. I'm not sure death by desiccation is really much better than many others, but at least with a DE barrier, the bugs won't come to any harm if they just stay clear of it and out of my space! So I dusted diatomaceous earth around all the cracks in my window, and soon the ants were gone. Though I was sad about my murderous ways, I could not function at work with ants crawling all over me.

This summer, our house for some reason developed an infestation of flies. I was trying to ignore them, but I was so fed up by the time I went to the Fulton County Fair, I actually picked up a free promotional flyswatter so I could end the constant buzzing around my head. I never needed to put the flyswatter to use, as the flies had pretty much all disappeared by the time I brought it home, and I was relieved to not have to play executioner to countless insects just trying to live their short lives.

Roaches, however, are a whole different story.

This isn't my first brush with cockroaches—when I moved into an apartment for the first time in 2006, I not only met my first cockroach; I met thousands of them. Every night, the roaches swarmed out from the kitchen in droves. They nested in everything. They loved my roommate's laptop so much that they clogged its fan and made it chronically overheat. There were so many cockroaches in that apartment, you could smell them—it is true; they do have a smell. And it wasn't pleasant. It didn't take me long to learn to hate roaches with every fiber of my being—and to show cockroaches no mercy. If I were the type of person to invent mottoes, one of them would be "Thou shalt not suffer a roach to live." 

Since I was seeing roaches with more and more frequency as August drew to a close, I unwrapped a package of cockroach baits. With other insects, I think of baits as a dishonest way to trick a poor unsuspecting animal...but with roaches, I think baits are the only way to get rid of them before they've taken over your whole house. However, the baits aren't working. Not only did one of our stupid dogs find and eat one, causing a brief terror (later we learned that the roach poison is essentially harmless to humans and pets), but they didn't seem to do anything to rid us of roaches. If anything, their population has ballooned! 

In June, I started by seeing a nymph here or there, creeping around the bathroom or the kitchen sink...then it escalated to a nymph or two, maybe every other day...then I started seeing adults scuttling about. Now (especially at night) I find multiple roaches almost every time I enter the kitchen. One horrifying morning, I found three roaches of various ages, just chilling out in the bottom of a saucepan in the drying rack!

I've had to pull out all the stops for this tenacious population. No method of extermination is too gruesome—though I still prefer a good, honest, and quick demise like squashing them to death. That flyswatter has finally come to use after all; I now pick it up every time I enter the kitchen and prepare to do battle. Last night, I took all the contents out of the two cabinets that seem to be harboring the most roaches, and sprinkled diatomaceous earth along all the edges. And if that doesn't slow down the little vermin, my next step will be a combo treatment with borax.

After that? Well, my sincere hope is that it will be nothing. I hope I'll be able to get rid of the roaches and never see one again. Twice now, I've lived in a house where a new resident brought her own little cockroach collection from an infested apartment (one of those times I was that resident - yikes!), but I've never actually faced down an already-established colony of cockroaches. I can only hope that this isn't going to be a multi-month war like the one against the bedbugs.