31 January 2011

Back on the Horse.

Well, well, well.

After a long hiatus, I am committing myself to blogging. Once a day... Well, except weekends. If even if no one ever reads this thing, I need to write in it. Because I'm a writer, and that is how I stay sane, communicating with myself and others. In this day in age, this is how it happens. And so, I blog on.

I write to you this day from the comforts of my amazingly cozy bed, complete with four blankets. Thanks to Ms. Valeria Silva and the St. Paul Public Schools, I do not have to work today. So, at 9:40 a.m. I am still in bed with my slippers on and coffee cup in hand. It is a good morning.

After a raucous weekend with old friends and acquaintances from home, I am left with feelings of just how blessed I am. The weekend with filled with embarrassing stories, rowdy dance parties in the kitchen and many fits of tear-inducing laughter. As we reminisced on 'the good ol' days' and caught up on our current endeavors, I couldn't ignore just how bittersweet life post-college is.

On on hand, we are all chasing and fulfilling our dreams and goals. We are independent, strong young adults who are striving to make ends meet and enjoy ourselves along the way. Fresh from the comforts and classrooms of our universities, we have set out with our ideals to change the world as we know it. This is an invigorating thing.

On the other, this new life is exhausting. Gone are the dorm room days where all our best friends are a 10-foot walk away. Gone are the 2 a.m. take-out orders as we al cram for tomorrow's big exam. Gone is that sense of ever-present community that seems to lift you up through all your failed exams and messy breakups. I might be getting a little melodramatic here, so I think you get the picture.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that life is bittersweet. I had an awesome weekend, but all weekends come to an end. We all must go back to reality.

At least for today, reality is a day off... And thank God for that.

09 December 2009

not your typical dessert.

To me, a dessert without chocolate is like the Beatles without Ringo. It just doesn't come out right.

So when this article popped up on my Twitter feed, I was appalled and perplexed… furious even. What right does bacon have tainting my favorite part of every meal, injecting its obnoxious self into all my dessert favorites?

I couldn’t let the deplorable bacon win. Almost out of spite, I tried this recipe:

Chocolate-Bacon-Peanut Bark

8 strips cooked, chopped bacon

2 cups semisweet chocolate

1 cup unsalted peanuts

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Add chocolate to a large pan, melt over medium/low heat. Using a spatula, stir continuously, until smooth and creamy.

Stir in the bacon and peanuts. Pour onto the prepared baking sheet and spread to 3/8-inch thickness. Refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour. The bark should be hard and chilled.

Place bark on a cutting board and cut into pieces — any size or shape you'd like. Serve at about room temperature.

The nerve. How could bacon do such a thing?

Chocolate and peanuts, sure. They’ve been pleasing taste palettes in trail mix and candy bars since who knows when. But could this dependable duo withstand when bacon crashes the party?

I just had to know.

I’ve got to give the recipe points for easiness. With only three ingredients—chocolate, peanuts, bacon—and three steps—melt, mix, spread—it was ready in a snap. For this college student swimming in a sea of assignments and tests, this recipe was a quick and convenient way to test the waters of pig-infested desserts.

I’ll admit, I winced a little bit when dropping handfuls of bacon into the bowl of creamy, rich chocolate and crunchy peanuts. Peanuts and chocolate are such a natural combination, why ruin it? And with something as outlandish as bacon?

Oh, the insanity. Why?

Because salty-sweet just works, that’s why.

At first bite, I sat there for a minute. Huh. You know, it’s not that bad.

As much as I wanted to hate this recipe, as much as I wanted the bacon to fail, it was actually really good.

The bacon in this tasty trifecta adds a different sort of crunch, a different sort of salty that the peanuts just can’t offer. The bacon is crisp, yet chewy. Combined with peanuts and the smooth, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate, the texture of the bacon is a nice contrast and adds a savory, smoky flavor to the sweet mix.

Everyone freaks out when walking by the chocolate-covered bacon kiosk at the fair. And yet, it’s there, year after year. They must be doing something right.

Okay, bacon. I’ve got to give it to you. You bring out some interesting flavors in chocolate and peanuts that are oddly satisfying.

Still, don’t think I’m going to go slapping a piece of bacon on all my Reese’s cups. That’s just ridiculous.

03 December 2009

Thriftiness... At What Cost?

Thrift stores. They’re grimy, musty, old and they smell like your grandmother’s basement. But underneath the filmy layers of dust lie unique trinkets and garments that you’ll never find in the Gap or at Pier 1.

Packed with more junk than your packrat uncle’s annual garage sale, thrift stores can often be a source of intense frustration. To really find an item of value like a vintage skirt not covered in blue 1980s sequins, come prepared to spend some serious time at the store. When thrifting, patience (and hand sanitizer) is crucial.

To see if digging through endless piles of second-hand scraps is really worthwhile, I spent 20 minutes in each of three prominent thrift shops down 41st Street, and here’s what I found:

Goodwill.

No thrift store adventure should go without Goodwill, my first stop on my Thrift Fest 2009. Only at Goodwill will you find such gems as a rack of ceramic, painted coffee mugs next to ‘the ladies bin’ of women’s lingerie. While the store is a bit cluttered, not to mention completely taken over by hundreds of pairs of high-waisted tapered-leg mom jeans, Goodwill touts some quality items with a seriously low price tag.

With the current Christmas season upon us, the store was brimming with Santa candleholders, reindeer table runners and plenty of fake Christmas trees (with prices ranging from $9 to $20).

Goodwill’s pricing system is its strongpoint. Rather than having to scour the garment for its hidden price tag, each item (regardless of size, quality or brand) is priced by its nature—shirts for $3.50, shoes for $4 and kitchen utensils a steal at $1.

Once I got past the bins of $2 stained pillows and $3 creepy dolls that resemble the Bride of Chucky, I found a sweet little brown, glazed ceramic 20-piece dish set for $8. Amidst all the aforementioned mom jeans (all organized by size, thankfully), I managed to spot a pair of DKNY skinny jeans in just my size. Priced at $4 a pop, I thought it practically a sin to pass this pair up.

(★★★ of four)

Y’s Buys.

Those weight-lifting, word-savvy mavericks at the YMCA came up with a catchy pun of a name for a stuffy, less-than-thrilling thrift shop.

Each item is individually, and arguably inconsistently, priced (I pity whoever must sit there and go through it all), with the seemingly higher quality, name brand items having a higher price—which seems like a rip-off at a ‘thrift’ store. A Wilson’s leather jacket was $40 while an off-brand one was only $10.

The store was packed literally to the ceiling with occasionally unrecognizable objects, like a box labeled “outdoor d├ęcor garland?” priced at $8, a high price for an object no one knows how to use.

Past the giant wall lined with framed Precious Moments poems, there were plastic bags galore containing various objects such as silverware, toy cars, hair dryers and dress up dolls. While I appreciated that someone took the time to assure that the set would stay together, I would have appreciated it even more had they made an effort to organize them… Well, it is a thrift store.

With a $100 couch, $60 lamp and an $800 ‘high quality’ dining table constituting the better part of the furniture section, this pricier thrift shop left me significantly underwhelmed and empty handed.

(★★ of four)

Savers.

Another longstanding staple in the thrift store scene, Savers wins the prize in organization. Here, t-shirts are sorted by size and color, and house wares are placed neatly on a shelf rather than tossed in a bin, making my 20-minute browsing session a breeze.

As if that wasn’t enough, Savers color-codes each price tag and holds a different promotion everyday featuring a certain color. The day I stopped by, anything (no matter the starting price) with a green tag with 99¢. After a shady pricing system like that of Y’s Buys, I appreciated the deal.

I found the jewelry in the display case to be a little pretentious and unnecessary, especially considering most of the necklaces inside I could have made in 4th grade. The prices were right, and I did score a green-tagged chunky blue beaded necklace for 99¢.

But, Savers’ bread and butter is really their extensive collection of clothes. From an “I’m with stupid” t-shirt to a pearly white wedding dress, the store offers a truly eccentric array of clothes and footwear. While wearing someone else’s pre-worn inevitably stinky shoes gives me athlete’s foot just thinking about it, the clothing section does feature some quality items for a reasonable price.

In addition to the pre-worn duds, Savers also sells an eclectic variety of new items, ranging from fur-lined knock-off brand Crocs (because you really need to wear your garden clogs in the winter), zebra print knock-off Uggs and men’s and women’s underwear (no one should buy used skivvies).

Flaunting a red, fur-lined fleece jacket for your puppy and a “Power Putty Slime” kit each for under $8, Savers lives up to its namesake, saving customers time and money by featuring some truly unique gadgets organized neatly on the shelves.

(★★★ of four)

Overall, my own personal Thrift Fest 2009 was a success. From gross, moldy mattresses to stylish vintage tweed blazers, I found some pretty interesting things.

So, is it worth it to come home coated with the dirt of people’s winter coats and knick-knacks? Does the low thrift store price of that tweed bomber jacket justify spending hours of your precious time rummaging through racks upon racks of frumpy 1962 power suits that only your great aunt would wear?

Yes and yes. To find unique, classic clothes and trinkets that your friends will admire, all it takes is 20 minutes and a bottle of hand sanitizer.

23 November 2009

Why give a tweet?

What’s happening?

It’s a question we answer countless times a day. Why not publish these daily happenings, however minute or groundbreaking, to the whole world?

For those of you living under a rock, Twitter is an online social network that lets you do just that. From professional corporate representatives to the biggest celebrities to Miley-crazed teenyboppers, Twitter has won the hearts of millions by asking this simple question.

In 140 characters or less, users can share ideas, ask questions, and link to blog posts, news stories or Web sites--or say literally anything they deem worthy of tweeting.

Claiming to solve the information overload of the Internet, Twitter allows users see updates only from other tweeters they choose to follow.

While Twitter is perfect for on-the-go news updates (I follow the NY Times, CNN and NPR), many use Twitter as just another excuse to talk about themselves. But does anyone really want to know how 'totally cute' your butt looks in your new jeans? Does anyone really care if you're having a bad hair day? No. They don’t.

I'll sum it up Twitter-style:

While Twitter is still in the experimental stages, it is dang trendy, simple, informative and entertaining. I can't wait to see what's next.

(Yes, that was exactly 140 characters.)

19 November 2009

That age old lesson...

Hey, you. Yeah—you.

I saw you drop that Snickers wrapper on the ground as you walked to class.

I saw you toss your empty Mountain Dew bottle out the window as you sped down the highway.

I saw you look the other way while Fido did his business in the neighbor’s lawn.

Don’t you know that littering is one of the leading causes of carbon emissions? Ninety-four percent of people cite littering as one of the top environmental concerns. And yet, littering persists.

There is nothing more frustrating, disrespectful and just plain ugly than litter on the ground. What’s worse is that it is easily preventable. The solution: don’t do it.

When you litter, it’s like you’re dumping waste in your own bed. But I would never dump waste in my own bed, Megan. That’s gross.

But it’s true. When you litter, you’re jeopardizing the lives of plants and animals and ruining the planet. The earth is our home and it should be treated as such. If your roommate tried to throw trash on the couch, I'm sure that you’d have a few choice words to say.

Monday morning, on my daily five-minute walk from home to campus, I came across four pieces of garbage. At nearly one piece of trash per minute, I found the amount of crap littering the campus to be appalling. The central green was speckled with discarded, half-eaten ice cream cones, candy wrappers and even a forbidden beer can.

I picked up these droppings as I went along, and I soon realized the definite lack of garbage cans on campus. Outside each building stand only ashtrays. I was forced to carry these bacteria-filled, stench-carrying pieces of trash in the building with me, where I promptly hightailed it to the nearest waste bin and subsequently the nearest restroom so I could wash my hands.

In truth, Augustana should really have more garbage cans around campus. Garbage bins might not be the most picturesque of things, but what’s worse: ugly garbage cans next to the door or nasty, rotting bits of garbage scattered all over campus? I am hard-pressed to find anyone who would choose the latter.

The solution to littering, however, requires more than just a few more garbage cans. It requires a bit of work on our part, the willingness to put that sticky, now empty Snickers wrapper in our pocket or backpack until we can get to trash can.

You have a choice. You can be lazy, take the easy way out and drop your garbage wherever you so desire, in doing so harming our environment and spoiling the habitats of practically every living thing. Or, you can proactive and figuratively kill two birds with one stone by picking up your trash and tossing it in a garbage can, thus preserving the environment and our lives and keeping our surroundings just a little bit prettier.

Come on, people. Let’s do what we all know is right. Keep garbage off the ground.

17 November 2009

Things to come...

Hello blogosphere,

I'll be getting a new post up tomorrow or Thursday... It's editorial time.

I'm currently brainstorming ideas for my next review. The idea list so far:

--gas stations
--social media networks
--thrift stores
--photo developing services (wait, those still exist?)

What would you like to see reviewed?

11 November 2009

Bored? Try a board game.

Friday night is finally here.

Two large pepperoni pizzas: check.

Refrigerator stocked with beverage of choice: check.

Four to six friends ready for a board game night: check.

Board games: oh crap!

For a truly successful game night, you’ve got to have the right board game.

Feeling nostalgic? Go with something classic like Clue or Sorry. Feeling like taking the stage? Guesstures or good ol’ charades never fail to bring in the fun. Feeling rather verbose? Scrabble, Taboo or Scattergories is sure to tickle the funny bone of any word-savvy game enthusiast.

Don’t know what you’re feeling? Go with Catch Phrase. This game is my go-to guy, tried and true. Electronic or not (it is so last millennium to manually change the reel), Catch Phrase always manages to turn a humdrum Friday night into a genuine, laugh your socks off party.


For the newbies, the game is simple. Seated in a circle with alternating team members, the first player starts to describe the word given on the handheld unit once the timer has started. He passes the unit once his teammates guess the particular word or phrase. If the buzzer goes off while it's your turn, the other team scores a point. That’s it.

The great thing about Catch Phrase is its versatility. If you don’t have even teams, just play with everyone guessing. Add extra challenges by taking away an arm or a leg or certain words from the person describing. For some hilarious charades escapades, act out the given phrase. Or, if competition really strikes your fancy, go head-to-head with one person from each team acting or describing at the same time. However you play, be creative! The game is only as fun as you make it.

With everything in check for your next game night, have fun!