Friday, November 28, 2008

Ban Black Friday

Black Friday is my least favorite day of the year. When consumerism and excessive crowd sizes converge, you get things like this, where people are TRAMPLED TO DEATH because some idiot consumer thinks they need a fourth flat screen TV. That event is really such a metaphor for the way the general economy and politics of Black Friday operate through the drive to fulfill consumer impulses at any non-monetary expense. Never mind that it is the crowd's own fault for being outraged at standing in line all night when they start the line 12 hours before the store is supposed to open. Never mind that the stores thought it was okay to encourage this kind of behavior without having the proper amount of security to control the crowds.

I am outraged and saddened by the state of a consumer culture in which an employee gets trampled to death by throngs of customers who break through the doors of a store, yells out that he has been hurt, and people just tell him to shut up because they were waiting in line since 9 p.m. the night before. Everyone who was in that crowd that day is a murderer and a participant in a culture that promotes consumption above the lives of people upon whose backs the system itself functions.

I'm not saying that if you went shopping today you are a murderer, but you should seriously still think about why you got up at 6 a.m. to get in a line for stuff that you don't need, just because you wanted to beat everyone else out in getting it. Why is it that all stores have to do to get people running out of their houses to accumulate as much as possible is to put up a sign that says SALE? Why do people feel like their life depends on spending the least amount of money possible?

Screw that, man. I blame the winter holidays, the corporations that sustain them, and the consumers that participate in them.

This year, make your own presents. Write someone a nice letter. Bake something. Knit a hat. Buy hand-made. Or at the very least, don't act like an effing idiot by showing up at the mall hours before it opens just to get $80 off of that overpriced bag you don't need. And if you participate in Black Friday next year, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Duck's Cosmic Kitchen, Decatur

Duck's Cosmic Kitchen on East College seriously has the best bread I've ever tasted on a sandwich. I think it had olives or something in it, but it was just the right thickness and density without being too hard to bite into. I have an underbite so ease of bitage is important to me when choosing breads. My friend had these mini-Calzones and also commented that the bread part was especially delicious.

After lunch, I had a red velvet cupcake and she had a mini-lemon ginger cheesecake on a graham cracker crust. Predictably, both were amazing. What a cute place.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Mercantile, Candler Park

I hit up The Mercantile yesterday with my friend, Christy. The new gourmet food store, located on Dekalb Ave next to San Francisco Coffee, is dedicated to sustainable produce and local foods. They have a deli counter, a sandwich menu, hot soups, various cheeses, and gourmet foods throughout the store. A refrigerator section houses four of the mother sauces, several varieties of humus, and Amish yogurt.

I bought a baguette, a tube of tomato paste (seriously, SO good if you haven't tried it already), and some wild blueberry preserves. The bread was fantastic-it is still soft on the inside and crusty on the outside after a day, unlike other breads that just get hard.

One cool item we sampled was a soda called Ionade, brewed in Germany. It is non-alcoholic, but derives all of its sugars from fruit juice fermentation. It tasted mildly of kombucha, but without the acidity.

I suspect the store will fill up a bit over time. It still has a really beautiful retail space and I'll definitely be back again to check it out.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

No Knead Dutch Oven Bread

The aesthetic qualities of Le Creuset lead many to believe that owning a Dutch oven is somehow essential for any kitchen. I bought mine from Lodge, because they are supposed to be more durable, even if they are just recently doing the whole enameled thing. Until baking this bread, I had only ever used it to make some curry, a task that could easily have been reproduced in a normal pot of any kind.

Upon learning, however, that I could make perfect, crusty bread all by myself without even having to bust out the dough hook on my Kitchenaid mixer, I was pretty glad to own my Dutch oven. Its heaviness, ability to seal tightly, and distribute heat evenly are all apparently perfect conditions for making this kind of bread. I used a recipe from Mother Earth News, which you can find here, sans my additions.

No Knead, Dutch Oven Bread

1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
3 cups flour. I used an equally portioned mixture of oat, wheat, and all purpose white flours.
1 1/2 tsp salt
4-5 Tbs. chopped fresh herbs. I used basil, thyme, and rosemary from my garden.

1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Add the flour and salt, stirring until blended. The dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at least 8 hours, preferably 12 to 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
2. The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it. Sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest for about 15 minutes.
3. Add the herbs to the dough. Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface or to your fingers, gently shape it into a ball. Generously coat a clean dish towel with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal. Put the seam side of the dough down on the towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another towel and let rise for about 1 to 2 hours. When it’s ready, the dough will have doubled in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
4. At least 20 minutes before the dough is ready, heat oven to 475 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in the oven as it heats. When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven and lift off the lid. Slide your hand under the towel and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up. The dough will lose its shape a bit in the process, but that’s OK. Give the pan a firm shake or two to help distribute the dough evenly, but don’t worry if it’s not perfect; it will straighten out as it bakes.
5. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake another 15 to 20 minutes, until the loaf is beautifully browned. Remove the bread from the Dutch oven and let it cool on a rack for at least 1 hour before slicing.

A few modifications I made:
My oven doesn't heat at the right temperature, so I just had to keep an eye on the bread to prevent burning. After I took it out, I poured a bit of water into the pan and put the lid back on to let it steam. This made the outside super crusty.

You have no idea how good this bread is. Make sure to follow the directions as best as you can. A second time, I made it and decided to add some sugar to activate the yeast. Bad idea--it rose high but didn't have the bubbles that the first one had that made it soft inside.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Just found at Ikea: Varme teapot

I picked up the Varme today (in black) on my gajillionth visit to Ikea in the last few weeks. How I did not ever notice it before is unbeknownst to me, because this teapot is HOT. The slant in the design also aids in pouring, which makes me like it even more.

$9.99 at Ikea.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Are you Green or just Greener?

I am obviously all for taking steps to 'green' my life by substituting ecological questionable for better ones. But in an era in which appeals to 'greenness' have become another marketing strategy for corporations whose practices are less than stellar, I can't help but wonder if any of these new patterns of consumption, which are still consumption after all, are making a difference.

A few observations:
1. The new 'green consumption' is more often than not a way to make the consumer feel better, trendier, and more sophisticated/socially conscious about their choices. It is only truly "green" if it is a practice that you already do or a product you already consume. If you don't use dryer sheets now, using "green" dryer sheets because they are "green" (i.e. not AS BAD) for the environment, probably contributes to the destruction of the planet via increased consumption of resources and additional waste. This means we have to make smart choices about what to consume, and eliminate other products entirely from our consumption. Shifting from paper towels to reusable towels, or swiffer sheets to a reusable, rewashable mop, is probably much more important than buying an (extra) set of organic bamboo sheets.

2. Unintended consequences: I'm no Heiddegarian, but I am persuaded that attempts at environmentalism often have unintended consequences, sometimes in pretty serious ways. Take, for example, the automobile, which was intended to offset the environmental impact of horse manure, which accumulated as a result of horse-drawn carriages and threatened environmental and public health. Decades later, the consequences of driving cars far outweighs the impact of the manure. What unintended consequences might our new actions have? Corn plastic and ethanol production are already impacting things like global food prices.

3. Marketing strategy or the real deal? This is the ever-present problem of the new trendiness of environmental consciousness. Even Clorox has a line of supposedly 'Green' products, and furniture companies appeal to this sensibility by designing products with 5% organic materials and calling them 'Green."

My best advice to do as much yourself as you can. Buying a simple castille soap and using it in a lot of your cleaning endeavors cuts down on waste at multiple points in the consumption chain. Re-purposing materials is also great, because we all know we have too much stuff that we don't use anyway.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Convertible Desk, revisted

I posted last week about the Crate and Barrel Convertible Compact Desk.

Since then, I've noticed similar designs at a few other places, though none as practical and useful as the original.

Notably, though, the new Ikea catalogue features the Gustav desk. Available only in black-brown (hopefully just for now), the Gustav is a simple wooden desk with a pull-out option, much like the Convertible Compact Desk from C&B.

A few things about the desk are striking:

First, the "pull-out" desk addition has been around forever, or at least as long as desks were specially made with those keyboard things that rolled out that no one really uses for keyboards anymore. Adding it to the side, however, enables the addition of a drawer that pulls out to the front. The drawer resides in the negative space of the desk pullout, making the design both functional and chic.

Second, despite appearances, the total work area provided by this desk is enormous (about 50 inches).

Third, both the desk itself and the "pull-out work surface" have cable outlets--meaning you could put a printer on one of the surfaces, or even share it with a friend.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Mad Men

I've been meaning to write about the AMC original series, Mad Men for a few weeks. If you haven't seen it, it is a period piece about an advertising agency in the late '50's/early '60's that highlights how different life in the U.S. was not so long ago. Mad Men is probably the smartest show I've seen in awhile (which is saying a lot given how much television I watch).

There is a lot of buzz about the show's mid-century aesthetic in the blogosphere. While that particular style of furniture is still very much present in modern homes and offices, finding sofas in the proper colors, countertops with the retro metal siding (like mine, in my 1950's kitchen), and other various room details must have been quite an endeavor. The show demonstrates the tension and transition between an era of more classical, even Baroque design (especially in shots of upper east side Manhattan apartments) and a new mid-century modernism based on cleaner lines and geometric shapes. The clothing is also genius, but that is a discussion for another day.

Most of what I'd otherwise like to say in the way of synopsis or social analysis has already been said, and I'd recommend Alex Carnavale and Molly Lambert's analyses at This Recording. I will say a few things, though. While the social cues are subtle, the characters' behavior toward women and minorities is stark. Women seem to balance the opposing drives of absolute submission to their husbands and being on the cusp of resistance. As Lambert puts it, the show demonstrates "why the fifties were an era that begged to be rebelled against later on in the sixties." Attitudes toward race were also much more complex than many of our generation can even begin to understand. In a time in which Jewish or Italian Americans were considered non-White, the world of White privileged society was exclusive in ways that are very foreign to us now. Most people do not know that there was a long period of struggle and assimilation that led White Americans to socially think of Jewish and Italian immigrants as members of "their race." I won't get into the history of that now, but it is worth mentioning that the show captures this dynamic perfectly, especially in Don Draeper's affair with Rachel Menken.

In season two, we learn that Paul Kinsey, one of the advertising execs, has an African American girlfriend. He is accused by an ex-girlfriend of using her to demonstrate that he is "cultured" and "interesting." The girlfriend's character (I wish I remembered her name--they barely mention it) is significantly one of few African Americans present on the show. Of these few, most are men who work in the office building as elevator controllers or janitors. The only other African American women on the show are hired domestic workers (referred to as "the girl" by Draeper) and friends of characters with "fringe" behavior, such as Kinsey and Draeper's mistress, Midge. The show attempts to demonstrate the careful relations between White Americans who relate to racial minorities in unorthodox ways (for the time) and does it quite brilliantly, with each interaction causing the slight discomfort of some of the characters and causing cognitive dissonance.

I was really afraid that the show would focus too much on the valorization of the period (Pleasantville, anyone?), but it is, instead, like a careful eye watching the mundane actions of privileged people, watching them flinch as the times are changing. It is incredibly successful in its silent observation, allowing the stark difference of the era to speak for itself. There are a lot of other things that I could say, and probably will write about as the second season unfolds, but for now, if you have not seen it, rent it immediately.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bo Concept Sleeper Ottoman

The Bo Concept Sleeper Ottoman, in a stylish black and white print pattern, featured today on Apartment Therapy, is THE small space solution for anyone who regularly has guests from out of town often, or even for someone who wants to fold up their bed during the day and hide it away in a corner.

On the one hand, this thing costs as much as my large blue sofa, but on the other hand, it is 100x more intelligent than my sofa, so it is totally okay. If only it came with other covers...

Veg*n Brunch: Saba Pasta

I cannot believe that I've never written about the veg*n brunch at Saba. Let me say right off the bat that I don't like the actual food that Saba serves Monday-Friday. I've never really had anything there that struck me as terribly successful, and I still miss Burrito Art, which is what occupied the Village location before Saba. Generally, when I want to go to this kind of pasta place, I go to Figo.

That said, they have amazing brunch. I happened to have it when they took us there for a grad school interview weekend, and I've been back nearly every Sunday since then. The menu has a lot of options--omelettes, French toast (including a vegan version), biscuits (vegan and non), and a bunch of other things. What I usually get is the Scrambled Tofu plate. For $5.95, you basically get a very large amount of protein: a big serving of scrambled tofu, 2 soysage patties, a biscuit, and grits. The scrambled tofu is cubes of fried tofu (not that mushy stuff they serve at Crescent Moon), in tamari sauce with roasted red peppers and broccoli. It alone is the reason I eat brunch at Saba. The biscuits are also very good (vegan and non, I've tried both). Saba is the only place that gets me to actually eat grits. I find them very creamy and filling there.

The way the "plates" work is that you choose 1, 2, or 3 eggs however you like them OR the tofu scramble, and you get your choice of: wheat toast OR biscuit, grits OR potatoes, and bacon, sausage OR soysage. A very large amount of food for under $6.

Service: Saba is one of those places, so popular now in the city, where you order at the window but get tableside service for the rest of your meal. I've found that the service was better at the Village location than the Decatur square location, where I went yesterday for the first time. Decatur seemed to not get a lot of brunch guests, as I was the only person in the restaurant for the first half of my meal. It makes sense though, because the square has so many other brunch places that no one would think to go eat at the new brunch place.

The food tasted exactly the same as the other location. The only complaint I had was that it took forever for my grits to come out, and I almost didn't think they were going to because the waitress never mentioned it. In fact, I had finished my whole meal before they came out, but I didn't mind so much because it meant that I ate less of them and that I had a really nice end to my meal. I attributed the lateness of the grits to the fact that they had to make a portion just for me, since no one else was there.

I actually very much prefer the decor in the Decatur location, now that I have seen it. They seem to have ordered these large red wooden chairs en masse, and used them not only at the tables, but to decorate the restaurant by hanging a few from a wall. This works very well with the brick wall on one side, that the restaurant shares with Birdi's, and the other rustic art that adorns the space. The tables are large and spacious, and there is even a very large "family style" table in the middle of the restaurant, perfect for large groups. I'd be willing to give the real food there a try sometime just because I think the place looks nice, so that says something.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Nature's Path Organic Instant Hot Oatmeal

I don't even like oatmeal usually. It makes me so hungry after like 30 minutes, unless I eat a heavy protein right before it. Recently, though, I was making a care package for a friend and decided to include a few packets of Nature's Path Organic Instant Hot Oatmeal. I kept a few packets for myself and ate them for breakfast. Eventually, when I ran out of it, I got so grumpy that I drove to a far away store just to buy it, even though I'd recently been grocery shopping.

It is amazingly satisfying and delicious. The oatmeal, which only takes about a minute to cook in the microwave, is topped with cinnamon, soy nuts, flax seeds, and dried blueberries. It is barely sweet, but smooth and creamy, especially with a bit of added soy milk. It is also vegan and fully organic. It could use some more protein, but the overall carb content is relatively low considering that it is oatmeal.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Add the new feed!

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Green eggplant tofu curry with ginger quinoa

This dish was inspired by my visit to Amaryn last week. I have never used Chinese eggplant in a dish other than Chinese garlic eggplant, so it was a lot of fun to cook. The recipe makes a lot and will probably feed about 8 people. It is bright, summery, creamy, sweet, and spicy comfort food.

Green eggplant tofu curry

2 cups fresh basil
2 Serrano chillies, seeded
1 can coconut milk (use lite if you prefer)
2 Tbsp sweet chili sauce
1 tsp coriander, ground
1 tsp cumin, ground
2 Tbsp minced garlic
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 Chinese eggplants
1 Tsp oil
1 lb tofu, drained and sliced however you like it
1/2 cup bean sprouts (I use mung bean)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Wash and slice the eggplant into rounds. Place in a colander on a plate, sprinkle with salt, and leave in sunlight for about 20 minutes. The salt draws the bitterness out of the eggplant and helps it cook. There should be darkish liquid in the plate as a result. Wash the eggplant when it is done and let drain.
2. Heat oven to 250F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange eggplant slices on baking sheet, drizzle with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast eggplant until ready, about 30 minutes.
3. To make the curry paste: combine chillies and basil in a blender or food processer (I used my immersion blender's milkshake cup attachment). Pulse until roughly chopped. Add a bit of coconut milk and blend until well-combined. Add cumin, coriander, and chilli sauce. Blend again, adding a bit of coconut milk if it helps. Place this mixture and the remaining coconut milk in the refrigerator.
4. Saute the chopped bell pepper and garlic over medium heat with a bit of oil. Deglaze the pan with the unused coconut milk. Add the curry mixture and stir.
5. In a hot man, sear the tofu on all sides. When finished, place in the curry mixture.
6. Remove eggplant from oven. Place slices in curry mixture to cook on low heat while you cook the quinoa.
7. Garnish with some lime, bean sprouts, and basil.

Ginger quinoa
1 cup quinoa, uncooked
1 cup vegetarian chicken-style stock
2 Tbsp ground ginger
salt and pepper to taste

1. Clean quinoa by soaking and removing junk pieces.
2. Bring the stock and ginger to a boil and add quinoa, stirring frequently.
3. Cook until fluffy. Season as you like. Serve with the curry.

Small space solution: C&B Convertible Compact Desk

The Crate and Barrel Convertible Compact Desk is the most logically intelligent piece of furniture that I've seen all year. In one form, it is simply a nice wood file cabinet, and in another, it features a pullout desk and storage area on the left for supplies and a laptop. This is the perfect small space solution for anyone who uses their living or dining room for both entertainment and work. It isn't a bad price either, at $499, for what you get. Made of a mix of solid and engineered woods, it has a pretty nice finish and even space for cords!

Base jumping off of wind turbines

Wind is my favorite kind of alternative energy. I also like to watch extreme sports, and this is the coolest combination of the two ever.

From the Huffington Post.

Once, a fellow airplane passenger told me about his engineering job, which is to design giant kites that pull oil tankers across the ocean. Apparently, fueling oil tankers takes quite a bit of energy, so the purpose of the kites is to make the process of transport more fuel efficient. The same guy told me that he does all of these extreme sports involving kites connected to road bikes and various things, which at certain speeds lift the vehicle off of the ground into the air. So awesome.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Water crisis

As many of you may know, Atlanta has been in a pretty severe drought for over a year. My county has all sorts of rules for the outdoor use of water, and a lot of people I know have started to adapt their water usage habits to conserve water. This is a really good example of resource scarcity forcing ingenuity and a shift to other lifestyles (one that I hope will also result from the high gas prices, but we will see).

One really interesting exemption from outdoor water usage is for reclaimed wastewater. This can mean a lot of things, but the most common are:
  • Placing a bucket in the shower to collect water from washing your hair, etc. and using it to water your lawn or plants.
  • Placing a bucket under the sink, with the pipe opening into it, to catch wastewater and use it as toilet water (that one is a little hardcore, admittedly)
  • Catching rainwater in a barrel that then waters the lawn or your flower beds
These things all take a bit of adjustment, so in the meantime you may just install a more efficient showerhead, a dual-flush toilet, or use laundry detergents that allow you to decrease the amount of water you use.

What do you do to save water?

Another thing that I've had to deal with recently is that one of the water processing plants for my area lost power yesterday, and now we cannot bathe, cook with, or drink any tap water unless it is boiled first. I don't like using bottled water at all, especially now that I've switched to a Brita filter, but having to use it for washing veggies is just sort of ridiculous. Hopefully the water will get clean soon. I will say though--I really appreciate the convenience that water sanitation brings to my life.

Clocks from Uncommon Goods and bonus DIY tutorial

I am very aesthetically drawn to clocks, especially large ones with things
like pendulums or brightly colored hands. In practice, though, many of the more conventional ones, such as the CB2 Metropolis Wall Clock, remind me of those schoolroom clocks that I hated so much.

Fortunately, Uncommon Goods has an amazing selection of interesting clocks made from recycled and re-purposed materials.

The Tin Man clock is one of many metal-object creations that, despite their monochromatic color palette, would really stand out in both very colorful and black-and-white rooms.

The Infinity Clock is designed with large amounts of negative space in mind. Though the clock portion only takes up roughly 1 square foot, the hands extend beyond the base, and at certain times of day, break up the negative space that is the rest of the wall.

The most interesting and eye-catching clocks, though are these three, made of re-purposed cameras:

They are, in order, the Vintage Box camera clock, the Vintage Viewfinder clock, and the Vintage Flash Camera clock.

These got me thinking that a clock can be made out of any old item that you feel is worthy of being mounted on a wall or displayed on a table. This simple tutorial from the DIY Network shows you how to make your own clock using a simple kit from a craft store.

There are a lot of cool objects that I can think of that would be good for this purpose. I am thinking of painting a clock background onto a canvas and installing the clock in the middle of it.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

DIY home decor

I am on a pretty small decorating budget, and given that I don't like most of the decorative items that I see in catalogues (or cannot afford the ones I love), I made some of my own.

One wall art idea that I had was to take pretty tissue paper from a recent purchase at Anthropologie and frame it with large Ikea Clips frames. The pattern is bleached white leaves and branches on blue paper, and it goes really well with my red sideboard, which you can see in some of the other pictures. Because tissue paper is cheap and thin, it is VERY easy to frame.

Another project I may undertake soon is to use the Ikea canvas framing kit to frame some pretty fabric. I can't find it on the website right now but I definitely saw it in the store yesterday.

The other major project I've worked on is finding and making decorative pillows for my bright, cornflower blue couch. All of the pillows that I found were either too expensive (who pays $50-100 for a pillow!?!?!) or not of the right color palette. Yesterday, out of desperation, I went to a fabric store to see if it would be less expensive to make my own. It was so much less expensive, in fact, that the cost of my supplies was less than one pillow that I was going to buy on Etsy for $22. Not only that, but I have an extra yard or so of fabric left over to make other things for around the house (or a cool skirt maybe?).

Here is the evolution of my decorative pillows. First, I sewed the covers. I don't have a sewing machine so this is all by hand. The fabric is canary yellow twill (kind of like the material that khaki pants are made of) and the filling is a down alternative because I'm allergic to down.

Here you can kind of see the brightness of my primary colored-living room, heightened by the addition of this pillow:

I decided to sew on some buttons before finishing up.

The finished product:

Now, if only I could find something for the wall behind that couch.

Amaryn Thai Noodle Bowl, Decatur

Amaryn Thai Noodle Bowl is sort of like Doc Chey's, except that they have the best coconut curry that I have ever tasted. It is perfectly spiced and perfectly sweet, with a generous helping of noodles, and very very good tofu. There was probably 3/4 lb. of tofu in my dish, the Spicy Eggplant curry.

I also had this beautiful Thai ice tea, which the picture really doesn't do justice. The tea was a gorgeous amber color, and the milk, when mixed in, made it so creamy and delicious. As always, it had that great floral essence that I love about this drink.

Overall, a good go-to place when you don't feel like cooking.

Taqueria del Sol, Decatur

Taqueria del Sol is a local favorite, with several locations around the city. My favorite one is just down the street--it is bright and airy, and utilizes my favorite color palette: white, yellow, and blue. Despite being housed in an old gas station, the restaurant makes great use of space. The seating area is in the "garage," but has been opened up on both sides, so that there is only a ceiling and two walls. The other walls are open to the outside air, and overhead ceilings keep the breeze moving. One of my favorite things to do is sit in Taqueria on a warm afternoon and listen to the sound of the wind going through the restaurant.

The food is excellent (cheap, fancy tacos, very good side dishes, enchilladas), but you should get there early to avoid having to stand in line outside.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

New from West Elm

This fall, West Elm is changing my mind about two room accessories I usually hate: pleated lampshades and mass-produced art.

The Pleated Shade Table Lamp is a great balance of the modern and antiquated. In fact, I never thought that I would like anything with pleates quite this much, but the lines on this lamp are thick and superb. Also available as a floor lamp.

Wall Art inserts are also the last thing I would usually ever consider putting in my apartment (see Walter Benjamin). These are NOT your typical cookie-cutter hotel room wall hangings. They are fresh, cute, and most importantly, affordable. You could easily decorate for about $40. Thanks, West Elm!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Carbon Offsets

Carbon Offsets are essentially eco-friendly services you can buy from various companies to offset the amount of greenhouse gases and other environmentally unfriendly waste you produce each year. Most, if not all, of these qualify as charitable contributions that you can deduct from your taxes.

I'd like to start buying offsets this year, but I have a few concerns:

-Am I getting ripped off? How transparent can any company actually be about how much they are doing based on your contribution. I guess all those rip-off charities have made a bad name for the good ones, but one cannot help but wonder.

-Is it going to be an excuse for me to not do more on my end to consume less energy? This is a valid concern because, while it is nice to be able to pay someone to take the CO2 I produce out of the air, maybe if I am producing so much I should suffer the consequences and just turn on the AC less. I'm not one of those people, though, who thinks we should abandon capitalism and live off the grid. A little smart capitalism like carbon offsets is better than no offsets at all, right? And it isn't as if I can go out and build a wind turbine or plant a grove of trees all by myself.

-What unintended environmental consequences may result from offsets? Anyone who has done any research on renewable energy development knows the politics and controversy surrounding the efficacy of these methods.

Do any of you buy carbon offsets? If so, what companies or organizations do you use and why?

Intelligent design: Joseph Joseph

Joseph Joseph is a British design company focusing on kitchenwares with intelligent uses and storage.

Their folding colander has made a number of web appearances. It flattens to store easily with the rest of your cutting boards and things.

Speaking of cutting boards, the Dual boards are incredibly space saving and useful. One side (wood) for dry things, the other side (plastic) for wet. They could be a little bit less expensive, but they sure are pretty.

The best item in the catalogue is actually still being developed. Nest is a collection of mixing bowls, measuring cups, a colander, and a juicer that stack perfectly together. They are so fun and colorful that they make me want to abandon all of these things presently existing in my kitchen in favor of one of these sets. Talk about intelligent design.

Check out the details at Dwell Magazine.

Heliotrope, Decatur

This is the first of a series of green design posts. I have a few articles in the works, but I'm waiting for my custom-made coffee table to come in and my apartment to be photo-ready before I finish them.

Today, I want to talk about one of my favorite stores, Heliotrope. Its kind of like a toy store for adults, where you can find cool housewares, furniture, and quirky fun things. They have a good selection of earth-friendly goods, including picture frames made of sustainable wood, soy candles, and re-usable shopping bags.

Here are a few things I found today:

The Artala Can is a biodegradable trash can. The sticker on the inside says that it completely degrades in a landfill. I kind of think that if these weren't so planet-happy, they'd still be really hot. Also available in Red and Ocean.

The Ada Occasional Chair is perfectly proportioned, modern in design, and comes in a really pretty blue-on-grey fabric. I'm going back next Friday, when they have their big sale, to buy one, because it would be the perfect addition to my (modern-in-form and vintage-in-color-palette) living room.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

DIY Room deoderizer sachets/bug repellants

I've been trying to bug-proof my apartment lately in the greenest way possible. With all of the spiders that I try to repel or kill, constantly inhaling Raid will probably eventually kill me. Instead, I developed the following sachets, which also keep my rooms smelling fresh and floral.

What you need:

Unbleached tea bags*
Baking soda
Dried lavender**

How to assemble them:
1. Open tea bag.
2. Using a spoon, put about 1-2 Tbsp of baking soda inside tea bag.
3. Put another 1-2 Tbsp of dried lavender inside tea bag, as well.
4. Hold the open end closed and shake up to mix
5. Fold the top of the teabag over and insert the other end to lock. Alternatively, you can sew these up or twist and tie with a ribbon.

I put these in various corners around the apartment, but you can also put them in a decorative dish, under the sink, above the stove (to catch cooking odors), or even in the refrigerator.

*The empty kind that you fill with your own loose tea--I get mine at the local farmer's market. I'm sure Whole Foods and similar stores have them, as well. Use the kind made of paper, not cheese cloth-type material because you don't want the flowers and baking soda to fall through.
**You can experiment with different flowers. I buy these in bulk and they are known to repel spiders, so I chose to go with them.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

French toast with nutter butter and blueberry compote

I'm allergic to peanuts, so I missed out on years of gooey, sticky-mouthed goodness until I discovered soynut butter. To me, because I don't know any better, it is just like the real thing, but most people think it is good in its own right.

As I was planning my meals for today, I realized that I was only left with 3 slices of bread. I'd been planning on having French toast with blueberry compote (see previous post) for breakfast, and a soynut butter and blueberry compote sandwich later in the day. Instead, I combined them all into one meal. The recipe is easily veganized if you use the French toast recipe in Vegan with a Vengeance instead of mine.

French toast with nut butter and blueberry compote
Serves: 1

For the French toast:
3 slices of multigrain bread
2 whole large eggs
Vanilla extract
Oil for frying

1 Tbsp nut butter of your choice (I used no sugar added soynut butter)

For the blueberry compote:
1.5 cups fresh blueberries
2 tsp arrowroot
2 tsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp sugar

1. Beat eggs in a bowl. Add a dash of vanilla extract.
2. Place bread in bowl and allow to soak.
3. Heat frying pan on medium-high heat with oil. Place bread slices in frying pan and fry until done on both sides.
4. Spread each slice of French toast with nut butter.

To prepare the blueberry compote:
1. Combine all of the ingredients over medium heat.
2. Crush blueberries and stir mixture until it simmers for several minutes. It will begin to thicken. Take off of heat and drizzle over French toast.


Blueberry Lemon Creme Cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World!

I have been eyeing these cupcakes since I got the book. The Lemon-Blueberry combination is one of my favorites, especially because I like very tart flavors. This cupcake really delivered, and is perfect for summer--not very sweet at all (the entire recipe used a grand total of 2 cups of sugar, I think, which, while it is diabetes waiting to happen, is much less than the other recipes).

The best part of this recipe was making the blueberry compote, which I have many plans for the remainder of. This morning, I had some in my yogurt with fresh blueberries--it added just the right touch of sweetness, and the cooked blueberries just burst in your mouth. The recipe uses arrowroot, which made me pretty happy because I've had some for a long time and never really had a chance to use it.

The recipe uses the basic yellow cupcake, and adds lemon zest, juice, and extract. The cupcakes are a beautiful golden color, and very porous. I used a pastry bag to puncture and fill them with the buttercreme directly, rather than removing the middle, filling it, and putting the top back on, as the recipe suggested. Too much buttercreme on this cupcake would overpower the delicacy of the cake itself, in my opinion. The whole concept is about subtle flavors--even though the end result looks pretty bold.

Mind you, by the time it got to assembling these things, we just wanted to eat them, so they are not the prettiest, but they sure were delicious. Next time, I will avoid the extra dallop of buttercreme on top, and simply drizzle on the compote.

Here's a cupcake sliced open.

And, after we devoured them, the plate looked like this:

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Blueberries and Fiddlehead Ferns

It has been quite a while since my last post. That kitchenette in my old place was not so conducive to food preparation, but I have a real kitchen (hooray!) now, so here are my latest food shenanigans.

Whole Foods had giant flats of blueberries on sale, so I bought some to enjoy with some plain yogurt. Somehow, I have managed to have about a cup of blueberries every day for a week without running out.

This morning, I tried some in my French toast (recipe below). The blueberries were warm and delicious, without being syrupy.

I also found some darling fiddlehead ferns at Whole Foods. They were fairly expensive ($12/lb, though they are fairly lightweight). I used to think these looked sort of freaky (like green snails), and so this was my first time trying them.

A couple of things about the fiddleheads. You can't just blanch these things. You have to cook them in 2 changes of water, because they can otherwise make you sick. You should also clean them well. The fiddleheads

They have an odd flavor--its kind of creamy, if a green vegetable can be described that way. I was a little bit ambivalent about biting in, given what they look like, but they are pretty delicious. I thought the best way to serve them would be as bright green color accents in a pasta salad.

So, some recipes:

Blueberry French Toast
Serves: 1

2 slices of bread (I used a thick-cut multigrain, though challah would work well, too)
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup fresh blueberries, washed and dried

1. Soak the bread in the beaten eggs, making sure to be fully absorbed on both sides.
2. Heat a frying pan on high heat. Place bread in frying pan. Reserve some of the egg.
3. With a butter knife, make x's in the bread. Place one blueberry in each x. Pour the rest of the egg over the top of the bread.
4. Fry on both sides, being careful that the blueberries don't come out while flipping.
5. Serve with maple syrup or powdered sugar.

Fiddlehead Fern pasta salad
Serves: 8

2 cups whole wheat fusilli (or another pasta)
1/2 cup fiddlehead ferns
1 cup of mix and match veggies from your store's olive bar. I got marinated, pitted olives (chopped), marinated sweet read peppers, baby pickles, and marinated mushrooms from Whole foods.
4 Tbs rosemary grapeseed oil (see recipe below)
1 Tbs vinegar (I used rice vinegar)
1/2 cup crumbled feta
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook the pasta al dente, drain, and store in a big glass bowl in the refrigerator.
2. Clean and cook the fiddlehead ferns in boiling water. Drain, and cook again in a fresh pot of water. This should take about 10 minutes. Drain and let cool in the refrigerator.
3. Slice the olive bar veggies and feta into small pieces. Toss them, with the liquid, into the pasta bowl.
4. Toss in the grapeseed oil and vinegar with the pasta, and season to taste.
5. Add in fiddlehead ferns last.

Rosemary grapeseed oil

I used grapeseed oil because it has a very light flavor.

Take 1 bunch of fresh rosemary (washed) and put it in a saucepan with 1/2 cup grapeseed oil. Turn the heat to medium and allow the rosemary flavor to infuse the oil. When it starts popping or frying, turn the heat to low and let it continue to heat until your kitchen smells like rosemary.

When finished, remove rosemary pieces (or transfer them into a bottle with the extra oil for storage--the flavor will continue to deepen over time).