Sunday, March 4, 2012

Brussels Sprouts Are Tasty!

I was forced to eat many gross-tasting “healthy things” as a child, but Brussels sprouts apparently isn’t in the Chinese diet, so I don’t remember ever eating them until I was much older. So I don’t have all the “blech” reaction that some people seem to have when I think of them. It’s hard to say, maybe I wouldn’t have hated them as a kid, since I didn’t hate eggplant or broccoli, and really, what’s to hate? They’re sweet little gems in the sad, bitter world of winter vegetables.

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After eating out for two weeks in China and eating out most of the days since I’ve been back, I felt like it was time to start cooking today. I cooked for a few hours, hopefully making enough to get me through most of the week. After having a great Brussels sprouts and turnip dish at Tavern Law, I knew I wanted to make some. It was convenient to toss them into the pot when I was making 40 Cloves and a Chicken, but this time I felt like something not as garlic-centric. I asked the internet, and it turned up this recipe that spoke to me. It’s probably the title that did it; who can say no to “Oven-Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Autumn Fruits”? I modified it a little to remove the pears (I wanted less fruit in proportion to the sprouts), remove the onion (it’s on my list to avoid), and use dried herbs (that’s what I had on hand). Martha Stewart also has a version of this that replaces a lot of the seasoning with red wine vinegar. I don’t think I’d do that, but I do like the instructions to cook the bacon separately.

Verdict: the recipe is a winner! The sweetness of the apple really works with the Brussels sprouts. Next time, I’d probably try cooking the bacon separately before adding it to the mix and halving the recipe so it could fit in one pan. I don’t need that much just for one person… or do I? I have a feeling these aren’t going to last too long in the fridge.

Oven-Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Autumn Fruits, Modified (Original)

Ingredients
2 lbs Brussels sprouts
2 medium apples (I used either Gala or Pink Lady, I forget)
3 slices bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbsp dried sage
5 gloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 tsp hot red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp brown sugar
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 450F.
2. Put 1-2 pans in the oven to warm up. You need enough surface area to form a single layer with all ingredients. I used 2.
3. In a big bowl, combine all ingredients. Season well with salt and pepper.
4. Pull out pan(s) and put ingredients in them, forming a single layer.
5. Bake until everything is browned and sprouts are tender, about 30-40 minutes, turning ingredients every 10 minutes.

~N

Friday, December 9, 2011

Anthro sweaters and my new jacket

I now remember why I avoid the mall like no other during the holiday season. No parking. Not even on a weekday lunch. :(

I debated whether or not to post these pictures since I seem to be kind of oddly evil cross-eyed in some of them, but oh well. Here we go! It'll be short and sweet!


I missed the memo that said they were starting the sale at midnight eastern. :( Sad. I think I probably would have tried to get one of those last remaining mediums if they were still there. The one in the picture is a large and it looks more like a horse blanket than a horse coat. It is surprisingly soft and comfy, but it really needs a closure of some kind. Zippers, buttons, belt ... anything! All my open cardis keep getting blown back by the wind and since I always wear thin layers inside heavier cardis, obviously I start freezing. So maybe it was a blessing in disguise that they're all sold out of the smaller sizes (in store too!). But .... it has horses on it. I like horses. :(




This is a tad big on me - my store only had mediums and bigger, and I probably would have tried on a small if they had one. I thought it worked well enough anyways. I liked the comfy retro look, and for a sweater, it was very non-itchy and soft. I bought this. (This is taken on a different day from other two - thus the uh, non cross eyes. What was wrong with me that day?!?)


Okay, here's a departure from the usual Anthro clothes. I bought this recently and decided to snap a picture of it while I was doing the other two in the dressing room as well. I've been searching for a winter jacket for a long time. I came across this jacket from In Pursuit of Pretty Things and instantly fell in love. I have an 8. I initially ordered a four, and found it insanely tight in the shoulders. (Which is odd. I don't really think I have large shoulders, and nobody on Nordstrom's site is complaining about shoulders in the reviews. Maybe it's just me.) I took it back to the store and tried a six. Still too big in the shoulders. Size 8 - shoulders are finally perfect, the rest of the coat is now too big. Thankfully, the drawstring waist fixes most of the problems, and Nordstrom shortened the sleeves for me. It's a very well made jacket and it'll keep me comfy and warm for most of winter. I don't think it'll hold up to negative temps, but nothing really does unless I go looking for the patented windproof subthermal ski jackets, I think. I'm pretty happy with this purchase. (And once again, I assure you this jacket really looks a lot better when I am not cross-eyed.)

Speaking of the mall and holiday shopping, Tmobile posted a holiday flash mob/music video that was filmed at my home mall of Woodfield Mall, outside of Chicago. It's a bit heavy on the sappy side, but I'm too amused by just seeing my mall on here.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Frugal Reader’s Guide to Cheap Books

I like to read. And I love buying books. I do buy some books at full price, but there are only so many books that I’ll shell out $16 to read. And so I’ve found other cheaper ways to get my book fix.

1. The Library

Yes, the library is the most obvious way to read books for free. But not everyone takes advantage of all the features a library offers. Here are a few that my library system offers:

  • Holds – This is the #1 feature I use at my library. It’s extremely rare that a book I want to read is on the shelf at my branch. When I think of something I want to read, I can go to the website at any time of day and place a hold on the item, and it will be delivered to the branch of my choice when it’s available.
  • E-books and other formats – There are ways to read books other than physical copies. I’ve been enjoying the newly available Kindle library lending. It’s also nice to have audio books on CD for a long road trip.
  • Featured shelf – My library has a shelf of featured books. A lot of them are recent best sellers that would otherwise have a long hold line, but you can pick it right off of the featured shelf. I’ve found a lot of good books through this.

2. Used Books

This is my favorite way of getting cheap books because I get a book to keep, and I like the concept of reuse. Some good ways of getting used books:

  • Online sellers
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    There are many places online to buy and sell used books. Probably two of the most popular are Half.com and Amazon. I’ve bought a lot of books through Half.com. There’s a lot available for 75 cents. Shipping costs another $3.49 for paperbacks, but if you buy multiple books from one seller, it costs less for each additional book.
  • Swapping
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    With all the cheap books you’ll be buying, you’ll probably find that you don’t need to keep all of them once you’ve finished reading them. So… swap them! Swap your books for credits that can be used to get books on BookMooch or allow the automated system to find you items you want in exchange for items that you have on Swap.com. I really like the Swap.com system because it’s constantly looking for possible swaps for you, and you don’t have to look for them on your own. It also provides easy print-at-home mailing labels (it’s around $3.25) if you prefer not to go to the post office.
  • Used book stores
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    The stores are different everywhere, but there’s a good chance you’ll have at least one used book store in your area. In general, I’ve found prices at these stores to be a little better than buying new on Amazon, but it’s probably still going to run about $8 for a paperback. But even bargain bookstores have a bargain section, and I’ve managed to get books that were on my wishlist for only $1.

    I also have to give a special mention to my favorite bookstore in the world, Powell’s Books in Portland. If you’re ever there, it’s worth a stop. It takes up an entire city block! I’ve never stepped into Powell’s without buying something. It’s that good.
  • Thrift shops
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    My area’s thrift stores have a surprisingly good selection of fiction books. You may not find a specific book you’re looking for, but it’s always possible to find something good to read. Value Village’s most expensive books cost $2.99. They also do promotions. Today, I dropped off a donation and got a $3 coupon, and there was also a “buy 4 get 1 free” deal on books. So I got 5 books for less than $10!
  • Periodic sales
    Okay, I must admit, I am generally too lazy to do this sort of thing. Garage sales fall into this category. Half Price Books, my local used bookstore chain, does a huge warehouse sale every so often. Seattle Public Library does occasional book sales, too. Lots of books for a buck or two.

3. Giveaways

It took me quite awhile to find out about this source of books. And it’s incredibly awesome. Books for free? Free books even before they’re released to the public? And no catch?!

Okay, I guess there is a little bit of a catch. You have to enter for each giveaway, and chances are, you won’t win. You increase your chance at winning books by entering more giveaways (which takes time). You can always increase your odds of winning by being active on the site doing the giveaways and writing reviews.

Here are the giveaway sites I’ve found so far:

  • GoodReads
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    My fave so far! I’m already active on this site because this is where I keep track of books I’ve read and books I want to read. There are a lot of reasons to use this site. Virtual book clubs and book challenges, good reviews (I find the ratings much more useful than Amazon ratings), and author Q&A sessions. New giveaways start each day. You have a better chance of winning books if you’re active on the site and review the books you’ve received. I’ve been getting a few books per month through these giveaways. Examples of authors who have advanced reader copies (ARC) given away on this site: Kristen Hannah, Philippa Gregory, and Gregory Maguire.
  • LibraryThing
    This site is a lot like GoodReads, but I could never get into the interface. There are also limits on how many books you can add to your bookshelf unless you pay a subscription fee. They do a big batch of giveaways once a month. The books are probably similar to the ones on GoodReads. I never won anything, but I also didn’t try very hard or for very long.
  • NetGalley
    I just found out about this one. Advanced reader copies… but e-books! You fill out your profile, then you browse the available selection and request the ones you want. The publisher decides whether to accept or reject your request. This site is strongly oriented towards book reviewers. It isn’t mandatory to review the books, but some of the publishers won’t even consider you unless you have a book review blog with frequent updates and a number of followers. Not all have those requirements, though.


Hope this is helpful for someone out there! Enjoy the cheap/free books (but save some for me =P)!

~N

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Girls and a Goat

One last very overdue post about our trip to Chicago back in October! When trying to decide where to eat other than Alinea, I took a look at suggestions from my workplace’s Food & Wine mailing list. Moto was an option, but they weren’t open on Sunday nights. Another restaurant that got a lot of recommendations, if you could get a reservation, was Girl and the Goat. I saw that they had Opentable reservations (a big plus in my book!) so I did a search for Sunday night and saw one spot available at 9pm. So I took it. You know how perceived scarcity increases perceived value? Well, when I saw that there were no other weekend reservations available for many weeks out, I wanted to eat at the restaurant even more.

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Really, I didn’t know that much about the restaurant beforehand other than the good reviews. Sandy did, though. Girl and the Goat is the restaurant of Stephanie Izard, the winner of the fourth season of Top Chef. I don’t have television service and I’ve never watched Top Chef, but Sandy watched that season and the chef impressed her enough to give her quite a bit of interest in the restaurant.

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Sandy in the Take Action Dress and Bouquet of Roses Heels

The ambiance at the restaurant was decidedly different from Alinea. Things seemed more dark, earthy, and casual, reflected both in the d├ęcor and the food. But there were plenty of people who were dressed up as well. Sandy was channeling Anthro spirit with her Take Action Dress and gorgeous, hard-won Bouquet of Roses Heels.

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left: chickpeas fritters . eggplant-tomatillo caponata . crave brother's mozzarella
right: steamed mussels . goat sausage croutons . cilantro . caesar

The best way to experience the menu at Girl at the Goat is to share as many of the small plates of food as you can fit in your stomach. We tried seven and were completely full at the end. One of the first dishes to arrive was the chickpea fritters. It definitely didn’t match what I had pictured as a chickpea fritter, but the dish was delicious, one we all agreed was probably the best of the night. The mussels themselves were just okay (I’m spoiled with Washington mussels), but their accompaniments were good.

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left: sauteed green beans . fish sauce vinaigrette . cashews
right: roasted cauliflower . pickled peppers . pine nuts . mint

Both the green beans and the cauliflower came highly recommended by online reviews and our waitress. We loved the cauliflower, but the green beans weren’t as tasty as the typical garlic preparation we were used to from Chinese restaurants. I did like the cashews and the acidity of the vinaigrette as a nice change from the typical, but I’d still go with the garlic preparation if I had to choose.

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left: confit goat belly . bourbon butter . lobster n' crab . fennel
right: grilled pork ribs . tomatillo-mushroom slaw . grilled scallion vinaigrette

They say to come to Girl and the Goat with an open mind. Makes sense. After all, the restaurant has “goat” in the name, pictures of a cartoon goat all over the restaurant, and a good half dozen dishes that contain goat, a meat that isn’t that standard in American cuisine. We took a “goat lite” approach, getting little tastes of it through the goat sausage with the mussels and a small portion of goat belly. It won’t say the experience elevated my love of the meat to duck and pork level, but it was still good to eat. The pork ribs smelled delicious and came easily off the bone.

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wood oven roasted pig face . sunny side egg . tamarind . cilantro . potato stix

Remember the open mind thing? All over reviews on Yelp, people universally exclaimed, “Get the pig face!” Of course, we had to get the pig face. We aren’t extremely squeamish eaters, but once you hear “pig face,” it’s hard to get the image of a pig’s head staring at you out of your head. Of course, that’s not what the dish actually is. It’s just a piece of meat from the face (hidden under the egg in the picture) – a rich, sweet cut of meat. The idea behind the dish is “breakfast for dinner,” and I definitely agree that it’s a must try dish at Girl and the Goat.

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Great dining experience, very reasonable total bill, and the good thing about the late reservation was that we got free parking! They really ARE very full. Make weekend reservations months in advance or walk in and eat at the bar. Stephanie Izard wasn’t there when we went (she actually made a stop in Seattle not long after I got back), but you can probably see her in the open kitchen if you pick a day she’s there.

~N

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Waffle Dress

Okay, it’s National Novel Writing Month, so I can’t be using too many words on blogging, but a package came for me in the mail today that I thought was worth writing about.

I tried on the Noon and Night dress in Chicago last month (Jenni’s review post here). I’ve been waffling on it ever since. I really liked it, and it would be a good basic piece in my wardrobe. But was it worth $158?

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Noon and Night Dress – $158

Earlier in the year, there was the Embossed Basket Dress, just like the Noon and Night dress, but in navy with sleeves. I missed seeing it until it had sold out of my size, and to this day, it hasn’t made it to sale. I liked the idea of sleeves because I could always wear it without a cardigan. I have enough sleeveless dresses in my wardrobe.

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Embossed Basket Dress – $168

One random day, Jenni linked me to a copycat dress of Noon and Night by a different brand. I started picking out the differences that I didn’t like, and then it struck me. I never bothered searching to see if the dress was available anywhere else. Turns out, there IS something.

ASOS had a Waffle Skater Dress by Ganni (the same brand as the Anthropologie version) in black. And it was in my size. And it was on sale. And there was free shipping and free returns. And no sales tax. Too good to be true! I snagged it right away. It was cheaper than the sleeveless version at Anthro!

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Ganni Waffle Skater Dress – $145.56 (formerly $242.60)

I still have to think about whether I want the Noon and Night, but now I’ll sit back and wait for sale. If I already have one version, I don’t need the other one so bad that I’d pay full price.

~N

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Meeting Sasha

PUPPIES!!!!

Okay, I am definitely more of a cat person. I can’t seem to convince Jenni and Sandy to get cats, so I guess Sandy’s new puppy is the next best thing. We’d been oohing and aahing at all the cute puppy pics and were eager to meet Sasha in person.

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We’d grabbed some White Castle (none on the West Coast =/) before heading over to Sandy’s, and she warned us that we should finish our food before Sasha came out. As you can see from the photo above, hungry Sasha was ready to eat anything! Including wood chips! Or a Frisbee!

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Sasha reluctantly agreed not to eat us (see fake instagram hipster photo above). Instead, she settled for playfully running around the yard, stopping every once in awhile to jump up and say hi to each one of us. Sandy’s family says Sasha reminds them of a deer, and we totally saw that. Very light, graceful, and sweet.

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One of the traits I’ll grudgingly give to dogs over cats is loyalty. My cat might like me a little better than other people because I feed him and he sees me all the time, but it’s not the same as doggie loyalty. Sandy went in the house to get something, and Jenni snapped some photos of Sasha in the meantime. Sasha had been playful and attentive to all of us while Sandy was there, but once she left, Sasha stood by the door, waiting for her owner to come back. In the second picture above, you can see the reaction when Sandy came back – head and tail eagerly pointed upwards. And when we left, we could see Sasha’s face in Sandy’s bedroom window, watching sadly as her owner went away.

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Sasha’s still in doggie school for obedience or whatever they teach them, but she’s starting to learn some voice commands, which Sandy demonstrated for us. Sit, down, stay, etc. In the middle of this, Sasha gave Sandy a high-five. We’ll pretend she does that on command because it’s just so cool. =)

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In the end, I’m still very firmly a cat person. But I’m glad I have a cute, friendly puppy I can visit in Chicago!

~N (pictures from all three of our cameras)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Anthropologie Reviews: BFF Chicago Remix

As Sandy was the originator of our Anthropologie infatuation, visiting her wouldn't be without stopping by the local area stores to try on the new clothes for the fall 2011 season.  (Hello. =) And I know this post was long overdue.)

Nina first selected an elegant, classic dress by Ganni in gold, named the Noon & Night Dress in the Anthropologie catalog.  It fit her supremely well in size M, creating definition in her waist and hit a bit above the top of her knee.  This looked to be a keeper on her, being versatile for both casual and formal events. 


Shortly after Nina finished trying on her dress, Sandy hopped in Nina's dressing room with the Dark Grey (--it was actually more of a dove gray) Veiled Alder Dress by Yoana Baraschi in size S.


Though we all loved the intricate lace detailing, and there was nothing wrong with the fit on her, there was something that vaguely made all of us feel as if the dress made Sandy look more matronly and conservative.  We were probably more used to her wearing a bit of more 'youthful' style...not to say the dress couldn't be accessorized better to be made younger, but personal-style-wise, it seemed a bit off.

For fun, Sandy and Nina then tried on the Alary Shirtdress together (Nina in size 6 and Sandy in size 4).


Though both of them were generally fans of shirtdresses, they decided to pass on this one since the color wasn't the most flattering for both pale and darker Asian skin tones.

Then they forced me to participate in the silly fun of trying to match up lines on this ... interesting Layered Column Dress.  (Obviously, not the most flattering for those who aren't super thin or tall.)  The effect was a nice pattern in sporting matching tire treads running all over us...


The Unconditional Osier Dress in Brown Motif and size M gave Nina a silhouette similar to the Noon & Night Dress.  The fit looked perfect, but it was too bad the navy wasn't available at the store, since we were curious about comparing the two colors.  The unique, olive leaf-lace was so flattering on her, that later, I decided to try the same dress as well.  (Random disclaimer:  In the history of our friendship, none of us have had issues with having or wearing the same garments -- although we do tend to not wear it on the same day.)


On my own, I tried the Navy version of the Dog Rose Pullover in size XS.  I loved the ornate stitching and embroidery in the shoulders of this sweater, but the bell-sleeves bothered me a bit.  For a short person, it could add more volume to a smaller torso than would be preferred.  Yet I've tried the Ivory-colored version of the sweater before, and that one might balance out the thicker volume.


Copying the Unconditional Osier Dress in Brown Motif and size XS from Nina, the dress was a bit fussy to put on/take off (careful not to damage the lace) with an attached black slip on the inside.  Though it didn't seem badly constructed, the price of the dress seemed a bit much for a construction of cotton, nylon, rayon, and spandex slip that could tear easily.  Though it was flattering and fit me well, it seemed like something I could pick up from Forever 21.  I may consider picking this up if it hits sale.


Lastly, the Zenobia Tee was something Nina convinced me to try on a whim.  At first I was disinclined, since the material looked too thin and easily damaged, but I decided to try it to kill time.  The result was better than I expected, but the rayon was definitely super-see-through.  (Bra shadow is very visible underneath.)  Although I fancied the intricately-laced shoulders, I would worry about how it would survive even in a hand-wash.  It vaguely reminded me of the Hints of Mesh Tee, which I bought from Anthropologie last year, but lost its shape in the shoulders by simply becoming stretched while being on a hanger.


Anthropologie clothing styles have been running more large and shapeless, so it has been difficult for me to find enough clothes to review in my petite size. But though there are some promising items appearing for the fall and winter, I miss the more vintage styles running in their catalogues 1-2 years ago.