Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Insanity is Stopping

Lean Cuisine is ending its Delicious Rewards loyalty program.  Thank God!

I had been an early adopter of this program.  The rewards program started just when I thought I'd try another diet, and if you ate 20 of these frozen meals in 3 months, you got a free lunch bag.  It was also at the same time that I was obsessed with free mail-in offers.  With 5 meals a week at work, I managed rater easily to collect two free lunch bags, and instead of going from brand to brand to brand, I stuck by lean cuisines, leading to some epic skills in microwaving cardboard pizzas and faux paninis.  In the darkest days, when the husband was out of country, I would seriously eat 3 per day, rationalizing this as being more efficient than cooking for myself.

But, sometime in grad school, I realized that this was probably not the healthiest way to feed myself.  Mainly, these are not full meals, and being starving immediately afterwards led to more snacking than if I just would have made myself a real lunch.  But, you know... points.

Being addicted to the points, I kept buying these meals.  Even after the price increase that made it impossible to find the actual tasty ones on sale for $2 each, I still bought the unsatisfyingly bland and meager "simple favorites" collection ones that were comprised of 4 bites of paste-y pasta.  And, it wasn't as if the rewards catalog had anything in it that was worth redeeming these points for.

So, I'm buying food I don't like to accumulate points that I didn't redeem for anything.  On occasion, they actually would have the Amazon gift card in stock (which did help buy some textbooks in grad school), but poor quality ugly kitchen ware should not be driving my behavior.  But, somehow it did.

Looking forward to the end of this program in order to restore some sanity to my lunch experience.  Now, to remember how to make a sandwich again.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Sadness of Lean Cuisine Mac & Cheese

I do love me the Lean Cuisines.  For $2.50, I can microwave a semi-satisfying hot lunch which is only slightly less good than the overpriced food court in the basement of the train station across the street that's teeming with 14-year-olds on class trips to Washington.  It's a function of convenience, and inability to afford (both economically and calorie-wise) to eat at Chipotle every day.

I find the Lean Cuisine meals to be manageable, much in the same way that arranged marriages are manageable.  Sure, you'd love to be in love with the meal/spouse, but you have no belief going into the event that this is the perfect meal/spouse, and life will be fulfilled afterwards with all of your cares swept away.  Contentment comes from lowered expectations.

I don't expect a Lean Cuisine Mac & Cheese to be amazing.  I expect it to be palatable food.  Yet, somehow I am disappointed.  The sauce is both watery and chalky, and manages to leave a film over your tongue.  The noodles are devoid of taste, and have some strange texture that makes me wonder if I'm really eating shredded kitchen sponges.  It's just not good, and it makes me sad.  When all you want is some approximation of comfort food, it should at least be comforting.  If the answer is that you can't make a low-calorie frozen mac & cheese that tastes good, then the answer is to not make these at all and give poor homesick office workers the hope that this is edible.

Excuse me... I think I need to run out for a burrito bowl now.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

We Can Pickle That Tote Bag

Quick and easy craft project that will make you the envy of your local farmers' market.  What you will need:

  • One "We Can Pickle That" cross stitch pattern from Subversive Cross Stitch  
  • Knowledge of the show Portlandia on IFC.
  • Embroidery floss: Dark Green, Light Green, Light Pink, Dark Pink, Black, Silver, Yellow
  • Epic sewing skills.  Nah... you just need a Charles Craft ready to stitch tote bag which is available at some craft stores nationwide (also available at Subversive Cross Stitch)
  • About 3-4 hours
Instructions:
  • Watch season 2, episode 1 of Portlandia
  • Learn how to cross-stitch if you don't already know how.
  • Find the center of the cross stitch panel of the tote.  Find the center of you pattern.  These should be the same spot.  Or... Try to put the center jar in the center of the panel.


  • Working color by color, stitch the center of the pattern.
  • For the border, figure out if you have enough floss in one color to finish the border area.
Whoops... no more of that color green left...
Finally, you want to take a look at the tote bag's care instructions.  You'll want to wash and dry this carefully before anyone wants to use this, mainly because it will minimize the shrinking that will happen later when someone inevitably decides to throw this through the washing machine and dryer.  

A quick pressing job, and here's the final product:

Perfect for taking to the farmers market, independent feminist bookstore, or just to have with you when you are waiting in line for brunch.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Bad Reality TV: The Engagement of Jessa Duggar

Damn, I'm hooked.  The 19 Kids and Counting fascination continues with Jessa's Engagement episode.  The whole thing is terrible, in that the way the family runs is based not so much on what I'd consider Christian values, but rather Male Dominance and the infantilization of teenagers and young adults.

So, I was surprised at the beginning of the episode when Ben, age 19, was getting ready to ask Jim Bob about asking Jessa to marry him.  I seriously thought there was a moment when Jim Bob might say no.  For good reason.  JB starts talking about God (like always... which as a Lutheran, always makes me uncomfortable), and ventures into practical matters (which as a German-American, is totes in my comfort zone).  Jessa and Ben talk about marriage as fun!  And they get to have sex!  And they seem to be physically attracted to each other, and the only approved outlet for this is sex within marriage, or at least hand holding in an engagement.  JB walks around the elephant in the room that the husband is supposed to provide financially for his wife and take care of her.  Which, as a glorified handyman who is bad with tools, it's a major concern about Ben marrying his daughter.  And, why you know that this guy is too immature for marriage... like most 19-year-olds.

Jim Bob is right.  In this lifestyle, men need to care for their womenfolk.  Since his daughters were all going to marry and have dozens of kids, they are not prepared to work for wages outside the house.  Jana and Jill did find work as midwives (external mothering, so preparing them for their future roles), but Jessa did not seem to have any job to speak of.  Derick, Jill's husband, is an accountant for my least favorite retail chain, so he can support a reasonably-sized family, as long as JB gave them a place to live.  Josh supports Anna as the executive director of a Hate Group's PAC... but at least the kids are fed and Anna doesn't have to venture outside the house.  Ben seems to be trained for nothing, has no work experience, and unless he has some kind of sweetheart deal with Jim Bob, I'm sure the going rate for the work he's doing is about $6/hour in rural Arkansas.  Can you raise a family on $12,000 per year even with housing in the Duggar Guest House? I'm thinking no.  Google search shows that he's taking online classes, so it's highly unlikely that he'll see the type of wage premium that comes with a college degree.  I'm sure he'll end up running some kind of small business eventually, but most likely it'll be because of the Duggar show that he'll have the opportunity.  Without the show and the spotlight, he'd probably end up as a truck driver.

So here's a guy, with no real education, job, skills, or any way to earn money to support himself, let alone a family.  So at 19, listening to this guy talk about what marriage is, and what a husband needs to do, it kind of makes me want to punch someone.  (Jessa during her scavenger hunt also appears to be a few crayons short of a box).  What the hell do you know about the real world, and why would you think yourself able to give advice to anyone living in the real world?

Seriously, Jim Bob should have said no to Ben when he asked to marry Jessa.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Finding the Veterans in your Family

I love and hate Ancestry.com.  I love that they have made genealogy research online so easy.  I hate that the information entered on the site is sometimes suspect.  It's not a bad place to start, but it's not the be-all, end-all source they pretend to be.

With Veterans Day here, they are offering free military records on their site as a way to induce more people to get into genealogy.  However, my favorite site for this type of curious searching is the WWII Memorial site.  I knew my grandfather had served in the Navy in WWII, and a quick search on the WWII Registry shows his rank, the ships he served on, and the medals he earned.  If you do a search on just last names and states (if your last name isn't too common), then you can easily find the records of his brother and cousins who also served.

And, it's free.


Monday, November 10, 2014

I Can Pickle That!

Year round farmers' markets have a distinct upside: year-round fresh produce.  Without a hard freeze yet, there's still late summer veggies available.  Sure, tomatoes seem to be limited to the grape and cherry kinds, but still... this is November.  The glut of the large peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers from August and September sometimes makes you overlook the steady production of the hot peppers, cherry tomatoes, and pickling cukes that seem to keep right on producing their tiny versions up until the first frost.

Kind of felt like a pickling day yesterday, so I made a batch of bread and butter pickles.  Seriously, though, how much longer will you find cucumbers in DC?


Just waiting for these bad boys to fully cure!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Introverting

Having a day when I plan on just hanging out at home by myself, doing things I want to do, and not be around other people.  It feels anti-social, but I like to think of it as introverting - taking a day to just be comfortable being by myself.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

When life hands you tomatoes...

Last month, the husband had decided to pick 20 pounds of tomatoes at a local u-pick-em farm.  When we got home, he asked me what I planned to do with them.

After getting over my offense at 1950s gender stereotypes, I made a batch of salsa... but what to do with the last 5 pounds?  And what to do with the other odds and ends of vegetables that he picked?  A giant batch of pasta sauce to stock the fridge appeared to fit the bill.

First - I decided not to can this.  While tomato products are some of the easiest things to can, you have to watch the acidity carefully to make sure that you can use the water bath canner (i.e. the big pot that you already own) instead of a pressure canner (extra equipment that I don't own).  Besides, at this point we were down to 5 pounds of tomatoes, so we'd only be canning 3 or 4 jars.  Timed this to use some sauce for dinner that day, made plans to make a lasagne for the freezer in a few days, and resigned myself to having pasta every other day for the next week, and the entire small batch could live in the fridge.

Ingredients:
  • 5 pounds of tomatoes.
  • 2 onions in a small dice.  As small as you can while still cutting in onion in less than 60 seconds so that you can run out of the room crying and flushing out your eyes with water in the other room due to the pain, but not having to go back and resume cutting that onion.  Yes, you could cut the onion under water, but I have not figured out how to do that without cutting yourself as well.  Suck it up, cut the onion in half, and try to keep the cut sides facing the cutting board or another cut side of the onion, and you can get through it.
  • 3-4 sweet peppers.  I like colorful bell peppers, but whatever you have in the house works.  Don't splurge on the red ones... remember that the base of the sauce is red, so the color will be lost, and they taste the same as the cheaper green ones.
  • Garlic.  Double whatever you think is reasonable.
  • Herbs.  I have basil and oregano plants on my balcony, so I just grabbed a couple leaves from each, minced.
  • 1 bottle of Chianti.  Cheap Chianti.
End result
Instructions:
  • Pour yourself a glass of Chianti.
  • Prep your tomatoes.  You can peel them if you like, but I'm lazy.  Not optional, you need to wash them, core them, and remove the seeds and the plasma that encases the seeds.  You're controlling the water content of the final product.  Dice. I throw them through a mini-chopper food processor when I'm doing a bunch.
  • Core and seed the peppers.  You want these in a fine dice.
  • Sip some wine.  
  • Rummage through your fridge for anything else that you may want to add.  A couple mushrooms?  Quarter of a package of spinach?  Do baby carrots go with pasta sauce?  Contemplate the answers to these questions, and top off your glass of wine.
  • Mince the garlic and dice the onions.  Recompose yourself.  Sip wine.  
  • At the bottom of a stock pot, coat the bottom in a thin layer of olive oil.  Thin.  No one likes oily sauce, but no one likes burnt onions.  Put the heat on medium / medium-low, and add the onions and garlic.  These guys need to sweat for a while.
  • When these look translucent, add the peppers and the odds and ends from the fridge.  Give it a couple minutes.
  • Pour the pot a glass of wine.  4 to 8 oz. should do it... You want to cover the onions, but not drown them.  Let this come up to a boil.
  • Sip your own wine.
  • Add the tomatoes.  Bring this to a boil, then simmer on low for an hour.  Or two.  Whatever.  Take your wine to the other room and watch an episode of Scandal. 
  • When the sauce has reduced a bit, add the minced herbs (yeah, you can just sprinkle some dried crap into the sauce if you have no potted herb plants, but why would you do this to yourself?).  Stir, and let it simmer for 5 more minutes.
  • You're done!  Use some for dinner now, put the rest in the fridge after it has cooled down a bit.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

My Time Watching the Duggars

Since I'm now working 8 hours a day instead of 14 (and 5, not 7 days a week), I'm finding myself with a lot of downtime, and On-Demand cable.  For some reason, I developed a fascination with 19 Kids and Counting, the reality TV show about a family in Arkansas with 19 kids.  The innocuous way that it is described is behind the fascination, and also why I can't not watch this show.

The way that TLC packages the show, it's a family with strong Christian values, but other than that, they're just like you!  But more of them!  But as harmless as this sounds, the lives of these children, and increasingly, young adults, is absolutely nothing like the way that the average American family lives, including those who subscribe to a version of fundamentalist Christianity.  Granted, I married into a large family practicing a version of fundamentalism (kind of Mennonite-lite), where aunts with 9 or 10 children is not uncommon.  To make this work, there appears to be two options- either the dad has the type of job that allows for 6-figure income to pay for this size family, or there is poverty.  In the first case, the kids are told that they will have to be self-sufficient, leading to early preparation for careers.  In the second, God will provide, but not with an education that will allow these kids to escape the precarious position they had been in, and causing the cycle to continue.  The Duggars have the income of the first, but the mentality of the second.  It's a dangerous mix, and undermines the premise of the show.  There are no struggles, at least no economic struggles, because TLC is paying them money to be on the show, and the show allows the whole family to have the type of Reality TV Star jobs that somehow make money - speaking engagements, writing inane books, and selling more episodes to TLC.  Plus, Jim Bob was lucky to have real estate investments in place in NW Arkansas right when Wal-Mart expanded. 

But, that's not really the story.  I was actually pretty horrified to watch Jill's Wedding special the other day.  200 volunteers made the day possible.

Volunteers?

Um... 

TLC no doubt had paid money to the Duggars for the rights to film the wedding.  I'm sure there was a production meeting at some point where a discussion of how Jill and Derick would be compensated for their roles in this televised special.  The wedding was a TV production.  Profit was made.  So why wasn't that profit distributed to the 200 people who made the profit possible?  

My major problem with the Duggars is that they impose externalities on those around them.  The full cost of the wedding was not part of the amount that Jim Bob "paid", nor was it part of what he was paid by TLC. This seems to be a recurring theme in episode after episode.  The Duggars not only want to save money by not paying for anything, but they also expect to receive services in return for free.  Those services appear to be returned only because 1) they have as many children as they do, 2) because the have this reality TV show (and therefore are paid to live this volunteer-dependent lifestyle), and 3) they are related to these guys.  If the Duggars *only* had 10 kids, you probably wouldn't see this volunteering and TV money that allows them to have this type of lifestyle.  It's the TV money that makes this possible, and it's possible because of the TV money.

Which leads me to ask again... why weren't the volunteers at Jill's wedding paid for their work.  And with Jessa marrying yesterday under similar circumstances, was her wedding made possible as well by unpaid labor?  Sure, there's a lot to analyze and criticize... mainly that this is one set of Christian values, that other Christians may find abhorrent... but can we talk about why the Duggars devalue work performed by anyone who isn't a Duggar?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Truthiness Tote Bag

Given the state of my finances from living on student loans and graduate stipends for the past two years, I've decided that if I'm going to give out Christmas presents this year, I'm going to have to make them myself.  Or, use the credit on Amazon that I have from selling back my employment law casebook (woot!).

Since I spend all day in front of my computer, I'm trying to find ways to not be in front of my computer all night too.  As part of this, I've resurrected my old cross-stitching skills that were honed over many summers sitting quietly at my grandmother's house, where I could not go outside else I catch chiggers or polio.  But while these childhood projects were limited to making Christmas ornaments (in July, of course...), that doesn't seem to be exciting or interesting, and I totally did that for my husband's family last year.

My favorite site for patterns has to be Subversive Cross Stitch. A friend let me know about the book a few years ago, and it's been in the back of my mind that I should track down a copy for some time.  Which I did.  And you should too.  And while I want to stitch all of the patterns, there's only so much need I have in my life for samplers, which is why making gifts works with my new lifestyle.

My brother recently moved to his first apartment.  I figured he could use some of those reusable tote bags for going grocery shopping and what-not, so the first project was defined.
Pattern, Supplies, Blank Tote
 I decided my brother needed a Colbert-inspired message to cart his groceries to and from the store in his Red State.  Once the pattern was downloaded (although, these are sometimes hard to read if your color printer isn't the greatest and you can't tell the difference between similar shades), I got out the embroidery floss, and found a very basic tote bag from A.C. Moore that has an Aida cloth panel embedded that's ready to be stitched.  With a half-off coupon, I bought the tote for $6.50.  Sadly, I then found out that Joann's Fabrics carries the same for $8.99, so their Columbus Day 50% off any one item coupon dropped the price to $4.50.  Total project cost (assuming you have a decent supply of floss on hand) - about $10.

Ta-Da!
I'm pretty happy with the final result.  I'm trying to think of a good second theme for another tote (which I purchased for $3.60 by using a friend's employee discount at Joann's... in exchange for being on the tote bag recipient list).  Total time - one lazy Saturday afternoon of watching college football.