An Ode to Flip Phones

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Dear Nameless Phone,

It is with a heavy heart that I must tell you that you have served your purpose long enough and it is time for you to take your retirement. This was not an easy decision as you will be sorely missed. From the first time that you fell on the ground and had to stay in a sock for two years; well, at least you still looked young. Snapping closed on pocket-less pants tops for convenient traveling. Throwing you across the room when I was angry and getting completely soaked in Bebe Lake but still surviving. When you got lost in a front yard six hours away and you managed to find your way back unscathed. Despite your apparent lack of technology, the fact that you could still send tweets and twitpics. The instant connection with other flip phone owners. You do have an excellent alarm sound that will be well missed in your replacement. Your low maintenance, non-case-requiring, no frills attitude. And the way you fit so perfectly in my hand.

However, it is because of your inability to keep up with new technology that we are going to have to let you go. The fact that you receive Group MMS’s as picture messages, and your inability to respond to multiple senders makes it difficult to hold a conversation. Your contact list is forever outdated, including names such as “Car Guy” and “Bebe Lake Tix.” And what kind of last name is “AEM,” “Balch,” “Econ,” or “CUET” anyway? I mean you stopped needing to do that after Orientation Week! You constantly miss out on family snapchats. T-9 texting: none of my co-pilots could respond to texts for me while I was driving. Speaking of driving, I had to print out the directions beforehand—well, at least I didn’t get dependent on a GPS. Your text message inbox fills up at 100 and I can’t receive new ones until you delete the old ones. The many times I walked into a classroom because my professor emailed me while I was in another class and you couldn’t tell me. Speaking of which, the many times I had to text someone for information that I could just as easily have checked online or in my email. Oh, so many confused responses.

I hope you enjoy your retirement. Your service these last 6 years has been invaluable.

~Your Boss

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Minecraft Rice Crispy Treats

2014-06-02 21.14.50Today was my little brother’s birthday. Instead of baking a traditional cake, I decided to do something that would reflect him and what he likes. I knew he likes video games, so I searched for ideas that might spark my imagination. I saw a few different things from Minecraft, including cakes, different rice crispy treats ideas, and cookies. I decided to go with this one as it would be on the simpler side as I didn’t have much time to make them between when he left for his after school program and when he got back. This was a perfect, simple idea that would fit my budget and make him happy at the same time. These are modeled after the grass block from Minecraft. So, without further ado, here’s the recipe:

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Minecraft Rice Crispy Treats

Ingredients:

  • 3 Tbsps unsalted butter
  • 10 oz marshmallows (mini ones melt faster)
  • 2/3 cup Nutella
  • 5 cups rice crispy cereal
  • green frosting

Directions:

Melt the butter in a large sauce pan on medium-low heat. Add the marshmallows and stir until they are smooth. Turn off the heat. Add the Nutella to the mixture. Stir until it’s all melted and combined. Combine with the cereal until it’s evenly coated. You may find it easier to transfer it to a large bowl before mixing with the cereal. Once the cereal is evenly coated, transfer the mix into a 9-inch square pan. Cover with a piece of wax paper so you can press the treats down into the pan evenly. Put the pan in the fridge for 30 mins to let it cool. Afterwards, cut the treats into squares. Because my pan didn’t have hard, straight edges, I cut off the edges to make a cleaner look. Use a piping bag and jagged tooth tip to create grass. Yum!

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Seeded Wheat Bread

IMG_1563The smell of fresh baked bread is one of my favorite things. I don’t make bread often enough, but when I do, I can’t help but love the aromas that fill the kitchen and my stairwell. This recipe is a little bit more complicated, but I’ve adapted it from “The Bread Bible” by Rose Beranbaum so that it’s vegan and a lot easier to make. It’s a soft bread ideal for sandwiches.

 

Seeded Wheat Bread

Starter sponge:

  • 1/2 cup bread flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour,
  • 3/4 tsp instant yeast
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup water

Flour mixture:

  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp yeast

Finishing:

  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 tsp poppy seeds
  • 1/2 cup wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 3/4 tsp salt

 

Mix the starter sponge ingredients together in a bowl. Whisk to get as much air in the mixture as possible. In a separate bowl, mix the Flour Mixture, then pour over sponge and let sit for 1-4 hours or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. If the starter has been in the fridge, take it out to warm up for up to an hour before moving on to the next step.

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After the starter has had a chance to sit, mix together the sunflower seeds, poppy seeds, wheat flower, water, oil and salt under “finishing” in a separate bowl. Add the finishing to the starter. Mix together with a spoon as much as you can, then turn out onto a floured surface and knead until all the ingredients have been incorporated, about 10-15 minutes.

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Place it into an oiled bowl and let it rise in a warm place for 1 to 1.5 hours with an oiled plastic wrap cover loosely over the bowl. After it has doubled in size, knead the dough again for another 3-5 minutes. Shape it into a rectangular shape and place into a loaf pan. Cover it with oiled plastic wrap and let rise in warm place for another 45 minutes to 1.5 hours. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit when you let the loaf set in the loaf pan. Brush the top of the bread with salt water (1 tsp salt to 2 tbsp water), and then slash the top with a sharp knife. Bake in the oven for 45-55 minutes, or until the crust is golden and toothpick inserted to center comes out clean. Remove the bread from the loaf pan and set on a wire rack, top side up, to cool completely before enjoying.

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Vegan Truffle Brownies

IMG_1460I had to work on these brownies a lot. The first batch I used a vinegar-based egg substitute, but they came out very cake-like and a little too fluffy. I then went to the store to buy silken tofu, which would bring the recipe down to a richer texture, though they are still cake-like and light as opposed to rich, fudgey brownies. I like the way the tofu blends with the flavors of the chocolate without overpowering it like bananas would, or adding unusual texture as applesauce or flax seed would. I find that the truffle topping was a unique way to incorporate a richer, fudge-ier texture without adding too much sweetness or heaviness of frosting. The topping compliments the light texture of the brownie with a fluffy truffle or a molten drizzle. I found that to go from drizzle to truffle, all you need is to let it refrigerate for a couple of hours and it will stiffen up into a nice fluffy frosting that you can spread across the brownies (unfortunately I wasn’t able to snap any pictures of the truffle spread).

Without further ado, I present to you, the recipe:

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Vegan Truffle Brownies

Brownies

  • 4 TBSP vegetable oil
  • 4 oz bittersweet baker’s chocolate
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup silken tofu
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Truffle Drizzle

  • 1/2 cups silken tofu
  • 1/2 cups vegan chocolate chips
  • 3 TBSP powdered sugar

Make the truffle beforehand and refrigerate overnight or for a couple of hours if you want it to be more like a frosting, or make it as the brownies are baking for a molten drizzle (as shown in the picture). To make the truffle drizzle, melt chocolate chips in the microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring between, until melted. If you don’t like using the microwave, you can double boil it by placing it in a metal bowl inside a pot of boiling water. Blend the tofu in a food processor or blender until smooth and there are no chunks left. Add the melted chocolate and powdered sugar and blend again. Set aside or refrigerate.

To make the brownies, preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (162 Celsius). Oil a 9-inch square pan.

Melt the chocolate in microwave with the oil in 30 second intervals, stirring between, until melted. Let cool slightly. Blend tofu in blender or food processor until smooth and there are no chunks. Mix tofu with sugar, milk and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and salt) and set aside. At this point, chocolate should be cool enough to add to the tofu and sugar mixture. Mix well. Add dry ingredients and blend until ingredients are just incorporated. Pour into pan and pop it in the oven. Bake for 27-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with crumbs but is not wet. Let cool. Serve alone or with truffle drizzle.

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Tossed Pecan Kale Salad

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This is one of my personal favorites for a take along lunch meal. Because the kale is raw, it takes a little bit of time for the salad dressing to break down the fibers to make it more digestible. This makes it ideal as a meal you make in the morning before heading off to work or school, as the vinegar can work its magic all day. Also, make sure you’re using a vinegar-based salad dressing, such as a vinaigrette, as a creamy salad dressing won’t work as good and usually adds extra fat calories. Sometimes I even add extra balsamic vinegar to the dressing if I’m using a store-bought one, partly because I like the taste, and also to add a little more acidity to the dressing. Being a kale salad, I find the hearty leaves to be filling by itself for a light lunch.

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Tossed Pecan Kale Salad

  • 1/2 cup chopped kale, hard stems removed
  • 1/4 red pepper, cubed
  • 1/8 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/8 cup pecans
  • Vinegar-based salad dressing
  • Parmesan cheese for sprinkling (can omit if vegan)

Toss all the ingredients in a bowl or Tupperware container. Make sure the dressing coats all of the kale leaves. Enjoy!

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Vegan Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

A little while ago, I needed to bake something for a friend but I had run out of eggs. Luckily, I have lived with vegans for the past three years, and know a thing or two about vegan baking. I scoured the vegan cook books that line our kitchen counter to look for advice on cookies and maybe some recipes.

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What I found were a lot of recipes that required strange ingredients that I didn’t stock normally in my pantry, like egg replacement, flax seed, apple sauce, vegan yogurt, tofu, and many others. So I set out to make my own recipe with what I did have. In terms of vegan things, that included almond milk, smart balance, and vegan chocolate chips. It was time to get creative.

IMG_1393 I know the basics for making cookies, as I have been making chocolate chip cookies for a long time. So I started with the basics, made a dough that resembled the consistency I was familiar with, and popped it in the oven. What I found with these cookies is that they are different in that they don’t spread as much as non-vegan cookies do, so you can put them closer together. They also didn’t cook all the way through in the first batch, but that was because I set the temp at 350, which is standard for a lot of baking, so I bumped up the temperature, and found them to be that much more thoroughly baked without being too crispy on the outside. I have also made them by rolling the dough instead of dropping them, but I like the rustic look better as it assures others that you didn’t buy them from a store. Plus, they just have that extra little charm. You can also make these cookies with creamy peanut butter, as my vegan housemate prefers – she has made these cookies so many times since I came up with them, and can’t stop raving about how much she loves them. She also doesn’t like things to be too sweet, so she reduces the sugar by a little bit. I like the chunky peanut butter better because it gives the cookies a little extra crunch without having to add nuts, and also assuring your audience that, yes, there is peanut butter in there, in case they don’t have too sensitive taste buds.

Without further ado, I shall present to you the recipe:

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 Emancipeia’s Vegan Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1/2 cup vegan butter (margarine or smart balance)
  • 3/4 cup chunky peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (soy is fine too)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup vegan chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line cookie trays with foil. Cream both butters with sugar until creamy and blended through. Add almond milk and vanilla and mix. In a separate bowl, stir flour, salt, and baking soda together. Then gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Fold in the chocolate chips. Drop teaspoonfuls (or roll into a ball for smoother looking cookies) onto cookie trays 1 inch apart (they don’t spread that much so you can cram them in a little more than regular cookies). Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden. Let cool on the sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack. Enjoy.

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The “How Are You?”

I hate the question. Everything about it. People say it in passing, in sincere questioning, but mostly just to establish that you have acknowledged each other’s existence. “How are you?” they’ll ask after a casual “Hey,” when in passing on the street. “How are you?” they’ll ask when you enter the office in the morning. “How are you?” they’ll ask constantly over and over again until you wish they would just say “Hi,” or “Hello,” or “The weather looks nice today,” because that’s what they’re really saying when they ask how you are.

You’re forced to put all the things in your life into a single word, because it’s protocol that your answer doesn’t exceed a syllable. “Oh, my dog died, had to put him down because he got cancer, no he wasn’t that old, only eight, but in other news my sister just signed for a job, finally growing up, getting paid to do the things she studied in college, gonna graduate soon, my brother’s about to be a father, him and his wife, yeah, and I think I’m going to have to put my parents in a home because they’re getting old.” That’s what you really want to say when they ask you how you are, but you have to put all of those emotions and squeeze them until they can’t get squeezed any more into that one tiny syllable: “Good,” you’ll reply. For if you said anything else, they would give you that face, the one that says that you’ve said enough, to stop talking, all they wanted was to communicate to you that they noticed you, they don’t have time to sit through all your drama, to try to empathize with you, they’ve got their appointment for their hair, their car needs to get an oil change, they haven’t finished their homework, or they’re on their way to their brother’s house to finally meet their little nephew only two days old. Weather you’re elated or depressed, you’re not allowed to answer with the truth, and as an introvert who’s bad at lying, how can I replace everything that’s going on in my life with “good” when things aren’t good? What if they’re fantastic, wonderful, terrible, sad, or too long for a single word?

Moreover, when things aren’t doing well, and someone asks you, you are then obligated to respond quickly so that they don’t suspect anything. But then you hesitate because you just had a huge fight with your significant other, and you have to stop and think, are things ok with us? But by that point you’ve already hesitated long enough to create suspicion, so you’re obligated to come up with something without revealing what’s really going on. And then you blame it on your dog, how he got into the trash last night and you had to spend an hour cleaning it up. You leave the conversation feeling weird. How did something like that even come out of you? You don’t even have a dog. You have to wait and hope they don’t notice but if he asks, you have quickly come up with an entire story of how you got him at the SPCA over the weekend and are thinking of calling him Stinky because he always gets into the trash, sometimes three times a day. They don’t ask though, so you’re fine. Then you think, “fine” that would have sufficed as an answer to begin with.

Then why ask the stupid question? If you don’t have time to empathize, if you’re not really interested in how someone actually is, then don’t even bother. I’d rather you ask about the weather.

Privilege

This idea about privilege came to me when I reflected back on the types of stories I had been writing recently. I always thought of myself as a forward thinker or someone who writes from out of the box, but the truth is, recently I had taken a turn for the high school drama all over again. I wrote several short stories over the course of the year that took place in high school or for kids that age. One of the themes that kept coming up (especially in the most recent one) was the disparity of rich and poor. I have several characters who are underprivileged in that they have poor parents, and they’re somehow jealous of their friends’ rich parents. This led to my poor characters developing a snarky, I-look-down-my-nose-at-rich-people attitude.

From this attitude, two specific stories stand out: one about a girl who works at a barn to pay for her dream to ride horses and another of a girl who learns to parkour with her rich friend. Neither of these two girls have names, incidentally.

In the first story, the character is leasing a horse from a rich owner and she knows she’s doing everything right, from mucking out the stall to riding correctly, and throughout the story, makes snide remarks about the owner and how just ’cause she got the money don’t make her right. In the end, the MC had made a terrible mistake that led to almost permanent injury to the horse. The moral: stay humble or you might miss things in your arrogance.

The second story is still in the works and very under developed. But the general idea of the story is that a poor girl is asked to be a wingman for her rich friend as they learn to parkour, and it’s about an internal dialogue of deteriorating friendship due to increasing jealousy on the part of the main character. In the end, it was all based on a misunderstanding on the poor girl’s part and the rich girl actually thought they were best friends the whole time.

The thing that got me to thinking was the fact that both of these stories featured a poor girl who thought they were better than the rich person, possibly because they were jealous of the other’s privilege or because they actually had to work to get to where they were. But the point about privilege is that just because someone inherited some kind of privilege doesn’t make them bad or a target for discrimination or hate.

My point about all of this is that just because you had to work for something doesn’t make you better than everyone else. By being arrogant about how much you had to work to get somewhere, you miss out on things, on friendships you could have had if you put your differences aside, on saving a horse’s quality of life. And I know I’m prone to this as I wouldn’t have written stories about it otherwise, even if it was a sub-conscious idea.

 

Edit: Here’s a great post I found to illustrate what I mean:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/katienotopoulos/cats-who-need-to-check-their-privilege

The Traffic Circle (or Roundabout)

Behold, the traffic circle:

traffic circle

There is something to be said about traffic circles. They are beautiful, functional, and energy efficient.

You just can’t convince me they’re bad. I recently traveled to England over winter break and found them all over the south-west tip. The whole time I was in Cornwall, I think I saw perhaps 3 traffic lights. The rest of the intersections were either controlled by stop sign or by roundabouts. I thought at first that they were so inefficient and that there would be so much traffic because people would be waiting to enter the roundabout, or that there would be more accidents, but perhaps because people were used to driving with them, they became really efficient.

What’s nice about traffic circles is that you don’t have to come to a stop all the time, especially at night when there are no cars going around. The worst is when you’re on your way home late at night and you’re tired, and you have to wait at a traffic light when there’s not a car to be seen, but because you know it’s the law, you have to sit there and fume and get frustrated that you’re wasting gas idling and the city is wasting electricity on a light that doesn’t do anything.

All in all, traffic circles, at least in low traffic areas, are more efficient. Sure they take up a little bit more space, but they don’t require all cars to come to a stop, which then reduces the efficiency of gas. It also doesn’t waste the city/county/town’s money on electricity and keeping the light on. That money can then be used for better purposes, like helping the homeless or investing in education.

Another thing that most people don’t think about, is that they are a perfect platform for city beautification, especially in the spring time when flowers bloom. It can be a community project, where you get the neighborhood gardeners together as a volunteer community to plant flowers in the traffic circles so that they’re pretty and add rather than detract from the neighborhood beauty. This could also be a great way to have neighborhood bonding among the gardeners and other volunteers.

All in all, I love traffic circles (or roundabouts, whichever you prefer).

 http://bikecalgary.org/node/3959