Friday, December 3, 2010

The Holiday season, or, cheaping out on your close friends and loved ones

The holidays always bring me to a strange impasse. I’m not religiously Christian, and neither are 80% of the people on my list (I’ve got Jews and Hindus and atheists, oh my!) but my love of gift-giving is such that I’ll embrace any excuse to shower my friends with pressies. Sadly and in ultimate proof that the beautiful and noble must always suffer, I’m not paid enough to give anyone a gift even half as cool as they are without coaxing my meager finances to stretch, twist, leap and perform amazing feats of agility. This is never easy. Out of curiosity I tried googling “inexpensive Christmas gifts” and the lists that popped up were horribly inadequate- stuff like “garden gloves and a packet of seeds” or “prepaid photo developing envelopes”, stuff that’s not even close to something I would ever want to give, or that anyone would be jazzed about receiving (except for my great friends from the Senior Center Book Club.) So here’s MY list of how-tos on cheaping out on your loved ones while not looking like a tactless bastard.
-Start early. Keep your eyes open all year for cool, unique gifts in stores or online. Oftentimes you’ll find a gorgeous enamel box, an old flask, or funky earrings for less at a garage sale or on sale for cheap at an otherwise expensive boutique. If it’s well-chosen and specific to their needs it doesn’t have to be expensive. One of the best gifts I ever got was three pairs of long, groovy cable-knit socks that can’t have cost more that $10 total. A year later, I saw socks almost exactly like them retailing at American Apparel.
-Got a skill like painting, drawing, or knitting? Use it. One year I crocheted hats and scarves for my friends, the next, I painted plain wooden picture frames with a design specific to each person and put a picture of the two of us in it. This works for the people at the top of your list too. One year I gave my then-boyfriend a picture I had drawn of us based on a cute photo. This approach takes a while so again, start early. Also, be realistic about your crafting abilities- don’t plan to sculpt everyone an art-deco ceramic vase if you know you’ll end up with blobby thumbprint pots.
- Hit up Goodwill, garage sales, or best yet, craft fairs. In fact there’s a craft fair going on today and tomorrow in the Southside- the I Made It! market. I’ll be there tonight looking for fabulous things for the last folks on my list- hope to see you there :)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

State of the GVE address

At almost the end of the GVE and since I bet you’re wondering how it went (whether because you are interested in veganism yourself, wanting to garner a little schadenfreude by seeing me fail, or you’re killing time reading piffy prose on the internet) and I aim to please.
Well, to be honest, I didn’t succeed completely with my goal of total veganism- two days in, and a lack of prepared-ness (plus drunk hunger) had me stopping by the gas station for a bag of really, really animal-o-licious chips. After that little boo-boo I figured out I needed to plan better. Being vegan means you have to eat more frequently than an omnivore, probably about every two hours or so. Protein is in scarce supply so nuts, beans, tofu, TVP, tempeh- all crucial to a happy, full vegan who has no gas-station centric cravings. Using my trusty Moosewood Cookbook, the Fat-Free Vegan blog, and the vast stores energy I should be pouring into my job, I planned out a week’s worth of food (21 meals plus snacks and desserts, to be exact). A sample day looks something like this:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with bananas and strawberries sliced up in it.
Lunch: Brussels sprouts and shiitake mushroom soup
Snack: Baba Ganoush (with cherry tomatoes and tortilla chips as dippers)
Dinner: Asparagus and chickpea casserole
Dessert: Dark chocolate vegan cake*
I devoted one night to making a big batch of soup, casserole, baba, and cake so I didn’t have to think much once the munchies took hold. With that plan I was actually able to stick to my veganism AND have a lot more time during the week what with all the premade meals, so I got some grad school application stuff done too. Yay!
Three lessons learned: Vegans have to eat more often, go to the grocery store more often (what with all the produce) and research a lot. Never ever ask why something isn’t vegan, since it’s always some horribly gross reason you probably don’t want to know… and finally, veganism is a commitment- a commitment to compassion, environmental friendliness, and good health. If you do it right, it makes you feel better to know that you’re being good to your body and the earth. Will I keep it up? TBA. I have enough produce and lesson plans to last me another week or so- so we’ll see! But not to worry, I’ll be writing about plenty of other stuff too.

*sorry, trade secret ;)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Well, I guess this is vegan, right?

So I know I was supposed to do an article about my Vegan experimentation, but I realized there is something amazing (and fall themed) here in our very own Lawrenceville that I couldn’t neglect to alert you to. Arsenal Cider House & Wine Cellar is a tiny venue that brews its own… you guessed it… cider and wine. The proprietors live right above the shop, make the beverages themselves, and aren’t shy with the samples. Plus, last time I was there I heard tell of them hosting a live music event soon. Check them out on Facebook for the latest happenings, or better yet, in person. I highly recommend the dry sherry.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The quiet and controversial storm

Inspired by a nasty dose of cheese poisoning, I’ve launched full-steam into a grand weeklong VEGAN EXPERIMENT. An accidentally well timed experiment, since November is World Vegan Month. As if my life isn’t complex enough, I just had to add a ban on animal products. I never could leave well enough alone.
I’ve started snooping to find what the glorious ‘burgh has to offer by way of cruelty-free dining goodness, and already I’ve turned up some dirt in the way of the Quiet Storm (no, not that movie). The Quiet Storm is a café-and-music-venue turned full-scale vegan and vegetarian restaurant on Penn Avenue. Since I was planning on dragging my friend E along with me on this culinary adventure I read a few reviews online to make sure I wasn’t leading him to a terrible meal that would turn him off of vegan dining forever. What I found was disconcerting. The reviews varied from five-star raves to zero-star slams- the Quiet Storm was broadly accused of being a hipster haven with cold food, terrible service, and a snotty attitude by some and the best vegan niche in Pittsburgh by others. Well, I could never resist a good debate, so here it is!
The Quiet Storm is kind of a parody of a hippyish vegan restaurant. The staff is laid-back, friendly, and exceedingly hands-off. Our groovy waitress didn’t know what day it was, but she handed us a hand-written specials menu that featured some of the tastiest vegan food I’ve had outside of my own kitchen. The selections are creative, delicious, and they steer well clear of the cardinal sin of vegan cooking- trying to make everything a soy-based imitation of meat and cheese. It’s odd to look at a menu and have no conception of what anything was supposed to be (the descriptions aren’t that good and the names of the dishes are more cryptic than guiding) but take a leap of faith and I promise, your meal will not disappoint. And yes, the food is hot.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A cure for cheese poisoning

Hello all,
Yes, it’s me- returned from hibernating in obscurity. What can I say- I’m sorry, ever so sorry, blogland, for my extended absence! I’ll make it up to you, I swear I will. Please take me back!
All right, enough of that. The actual point of this entry is to address a very real problem amongst vegetarians who have been socially obligated to eat a Thanksgiving meal prepared by our more omnivorous cousins (or grandparents, or friend’s grandparents). What happens is we get a hearty dose of whatever non-meat dishes around, which invariably are salad with bleu cheese dressing, broccoli and cheese, fried string beans with cheese, cheese-topped cornbread, and spinach and cheese quiche…. After basting our innards with gooey cow goodness galore, we end up with a nasty case of what I’ve not-so-fondly come to term ‘cheese poisoning’. For me, cheese poisoning results in an immediate onset sodium-drenched migraine, blotchy skin, bloated tummy, and week-long disgust of anything even in the same room as a block of Parmesian. As a measure of recovery, I usually temporarily turn to a diet rich in the veggies and whole grains I’m craving- Veganism. And since I figure there’s at least a few of you who are probably feeling the same way, I thought I would pass along a gem of a site that I’ve been relying on for the past few weeks. Yeah, you read right. I’m not a vegan, but the recipes on this blog are so quick, easy, versatile, creative, and healthy (adjective overload!) that they’ve become indispensible to me. Check it out- I hope you get just as inspired as I did.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Gallery Crawl

This little entry should be short and sweet, as the merits of this attraction speak for themselves. Gallery Crawl this Friday, October 1 in the Cultural District Downtown! Granted, the "Cultural District" of Pittsburgh stretches across about a street and a half, but it's chock-full of kickass museums which are FREE and open to the public on Gallery Crawl Night! Click the link to check it out. And don't be too bummed if you can't make it- there'll be another one the first Friday of next month, too :).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A taste of the Old Country

If you’re tired from partying all weekend (or sick of staying in) take a stroll down Main Street in Bloomfield and check out the Little Italy Days- running until 7pm tonight. Get serenaded on the street, buy cheap saint cards, and gorge on fresh Italian food that’s both inexpensive and delicious. I recommend the cannoli, and the fortune-reading booth. Great for a date, or a hangover :)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Slight blogging hiatus- Belvedere's

Hello hello, Blogland! I'm sorry for my recent flakiness about posting. I'll try extra hard to update regularly from now on- most likely, on a MWF schedule.
I'm devoting this post to an oldie but a goody- Belvedere's, on Butler St. For those unfamiliar, Belvie's is a total dive bar. Not only is it as lacking in natural light and air as Sarah Palin's bathroom, it is usually crammed with people thrash-dancing in the most alarming way. If I happen to be jogging past here during the 15 minutes a week they air it out, the stench of condensed cigarette smoke is enough to give me a nicotine buzz for a week.
With an intro like that, how could you resist?
But really, Belvie's has some redeeming qualities- in the form of 80's nights. 80's night is every Thursday, and features- you guessed it- 80's music. It's a good place to stop by if you're in the area, if only for the great DJ, the lounge-esque area, and the freedom to thrash dance as you please. It's a $4 cover, and drinks are relatively cheap, like most dive bars. Just be prepared to shower afterwards.

Monday, September 13, 2010

I'm gonna rock and roll all night.

Most of us who live fabulous lives (and if you are reading this blog, you are most likely committed to being fabulous) are under a lot of pressure. Between work, classes, personal pursuits, friendships, and partying, we end up cramming our days with enough twists and turns as to make Houdini turn in his card and quit. This can (and does) manifest itself oftentimes in troubled sleeping, which is quite a shame. At night, when we should be able to finally take a break, our poor little systems are so overwrought that we end up wide-eyed at four am… and unfortunately for us, instead of developing a charismatic cult leader alter ego that runs wild in all this spare time and develops a lucrative side business of soapmaking, we’re just tired and cranky. Luckily, I’ve come up with a few methods of circumventing this whole nasty business- and no, no need to sit here and read through a list of ridiculous, impractical tips like “Go to bed at the same time each night,” or “Meditate for two hours a day”. Personally, I have a life that doesn’t leave a whole mess of spare time that’s just begging to be spent on keeping dream journals or whatever. Try some of these workable tips, and see if they make a difference for you.
-Take a bath- I don’t mean an all-day soak, just ten to fifteen minutes in a tub full of hot water can work wonders on your muscles and stress levels. Especially if it’s in the evening. This alone has amped up the quality of my sleep. If you don’t have a bathtub, or you’re devoting every spare minute of your day to a project or paper, you can try a hot foot soak for the same amount of time. It works especially well if you add some sprigs of lavender to the hot water.
-Drink noncaffenated tea close to bedtime: This one is particularly easy, as it can be done while you’re doing other things in the evening. I don’t know why it works, but it just does. Herbal tea is supposed to be pretty healthy anyway, so choose any that you like. (I’m a fan of Trader Joe’s Bedtime Tea with a ton of lemon juice.)
-Don’t do work on your bed: You want to train yourself to associate your bed with sleeping, which is impossible if it’s covered with pens, pencils, and PB+J crumbs. Beds are awesome, and it’s fun to hang out in them, but really. Do your work on your desk, and leave your bed for snoozies.
-Exercise during the day: Or at least stretch out a little and take some deep breaths a few minute prior to bedtime. Exercise has been shown to deepen sleep, and stretching a little bit before bed helps clear the mind and wind you down.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The internet is amazing

As it gets chillier and chillier outside, more of us are giving in to our natural instinct to curl up and hibernate. Just when I thought I was as impressed as I possibly could be with the plethora of options for low-energy entertainment on the web, I came across this glorious site that meets my need for cutting-edge culture. It's the Daily Art Muse a site that brings you just-off-the-presses art news, along with tons of pretty pictures. The site tends to showcase items that straddle the divide between fine sculpture and folk art, and they are well worth looking at. If you are fortunate to live near any of the museums that host the oeuvres featured on the Daily Art Muse, you can use it to inspire you to make the trek and see the art in person. For the rest of us, the Daily Art Muse is like a little gallery in itself.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Little Flea

Everyone has a weakness. For me, it’s vegan baked goods. For my roommate, it’s collecting small tin boxes with crazy floral patterns on them (no judgment). Luckily for us, there is a magical place where our interests can merge- the Lawrenceville Little Flea, a community flea market that’s every Sunday from 9am-4pm. The past times I’ve gone, they’ve had live music, fresh veggies, homemade magnets, and plenty of crazy tin boxes. This Saturday they will be featuring wares from the Justseeds Artist Cooperative, a group of 26 artists devoted to making graphic art that focuses on current social and political issues, plus whatever other weird shit the residents/shopowners of Larrytown can drag out of their closets. Intrigued? Come on down. Keep in mind, “market season” ends at the end of October, so if you’re in the mood for cheap garden plants, fifty cent DVDs and books, and weird trash-turned-treasure, get your little butt down here quick.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Making sweet, sweet film together. Not like that.

From the nonprofit who brought you the Three Rivers Film Festival:
For all those who like movies that are off the beaten track, yet still enjoy a good cinematic experience (without being gouged by DVD rental rates) check out the Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ monthly screenings. They approach film with the reverence due to any fine art form, showing rarer, critically acclaimed films in “exhibitions” all over town- specifically, in their theaters in Edgewood, Downtown, and Oakland. Offerings change per month, so look on the website under “Exhibitions”. This month’s movies include To Kill a Mockingbird and Life During Wartime, a UK import that's generated quite the buzz. The latter rates as a 72% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, has the stepmom from Juno in it, AND Ally Sheedy (the emo girl from the Breakfast Club!) I’m pretty pumped.
The icing on this gorgeous filmic cake is that your admission is only $3 if you go to a local university. But remember, you’re not being cheap- you’re supporting the arts.
PS- I'm aware that almost everything in this entry kind of sounds like a weird euphemism for a porno, and I apologize. Especially because if you didn't think that before, you surely do now.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The War on Acne: State of the Nation Address

Since I lack other productive pursuits, I devoted the summer months to really trying to combat the latest surge of blemish terrorism all across my face. At the end of it all, I emerge with a few more pounds of misbegotten beauty products, cleaner faced, and more the wiser. Here’s a summary of what’s worked, what hasn’t, and what that means for you.
-Mix and match your product lines
If you ask most of the ladies that work at the Macy’s cosmetics counter, they’ll swear to you that products are most effective when used with other products of the same line. However those ladies work on commission from the sales of said products (while I, sadly, do this for free.) If you have intense adult acne, the “product line” rule doesn’t necessarily apply. For example, I found that using the entire Clinique Acne Solutions line would cause me to end up with a face that felt angry, inflamed, and stiff. But using just the Acne Solutions Cleansing Foam in the mornings (in conjunction with non-medicated toner and moisturizer) was perfect. While you don’t get the OCD satisfaction of seeing all your cosmetic bottles match, you might just reap the benefits of a cleaner face.
-Alternate products according to your skin’s current needs
A sales associate told me this once, and it was some of the most valuable advice I’ve gotten. Your skin’s needs change by the week. Some weeks you may need gentler, more moisturizing products for dryer skin, and some weeks you may need stronger cleansers and spot-treatments. This approach requires that you pay attention and learn from experience what works for you. Eventually you’ll be able to recognize that if you skin is suddenly oily in the middle of the day you need to switch to your stronger cleanser in the morning, or whatever. The worst part about this is that it’s not as easy as just slapping on some prefabricated product combination every day, but if you’re reading this, that probably means that the “easy” route isn’t doing much for you right now anyway. Don’t stress out and overhaul your whole routine in one step. Just start to take note of how your skin feels after each product that you use, and go from there.
-Don’t confine yourself to “acne” products
Zitty skin can benefit from gentle moisture, deep cleansing, mild exfoliation, and a whole bunch of other stuff that doesn’t come included in your standard acne-product package. Personally, I found that products marketed for aging/sensitive skin to be good additions to my system as they were often free from heavy oils, yet soothing. As you’re learning to alternate products according to your needs, be sure to swap in some other stuff you may not have thought of before.
Like that old philosopher dude said, know thyself. Like I say, know what works for you.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Decisions, decisions.

Have you heard any of that new theory that the talking heads* have been bandying about recently? It’s something like, “When consumers are offered a large number of options, they are often overwhelmed, and end up paralyzed in their decision-making.” (Behavioral economics, 101). Sound familiar? It certainly pertains to me.
I was planning on having a quiet evening tonight- getting some boring house shit done, possibly staying in and maybe seeing a friend or two in a low-key way. But out of idle curiosity, I started checking out what’s going on in some of my favorite places tonight. Let the panic begin.
Thunderbird Café: Featuring the Pawnbrokers at 9:30. I’ve wanted to see these guys in person for quite a while. Their music is the kind of blues to make you smile.
BrilloBox (Lawenceville): Featuring their amazing Pandemic World Beats dance party starting at 10. I’ve mentioned this before, but fyi- world music, expertly mixed and beat-matched by a DJ, incredibly dance-a-ble. It’s impossible to stay still for this.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: I’ve heard pretty good things about Michael Cera’s latest inventive comedy- Rotten Tomatoes even gives it an unusually high 81% rating. Besides, the movie theater is the only place I can think of where it’s encouraged to eat massive amounts of fresh, buttery popcorn and sit on your butt in air conditioning. I learned this fine distinction as a teenager- if you do this at home, you’re a loser, but if you do it in the South Side, you’re being “social”.
Andy Warhol Museum (Downtown): The Twisted Pair- Marcel Duchamp/Andy Warhol exhibit until September 12. The Warhol Museum is a Pittsburgh cultural staple that looks curiously like the inside of an Urban Outfitters. This exhibit is supposed to explore the intimate relationship between the work of two influential 20th century modern artists, Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp. Why is this a priority for this evening? Because Friday (“Fanfare Good Friday) it’s half-price admission. Hells yeah! Maybe I'll finally find out what's "surreal" about a urinal.

*Not these guys. These guys.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Some like it hot... Red Hot, that is.

I love the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Who doesn’t? I do not, however, generally enjoy RHCP covers or “tributes”, because, let’s face it, they are usually just plain bad. (To be fair, this says more about the greatness of the RHCP than the quality of the band trying to cover them.) This is a view that’s I’ve broadcast far and wide, even before I had a blog with which to make pointless statements on the internet. But earlier this summer, I was (happily) forced to eat my words.
Higher Ground is a RHCP tribute band that plays a lot of shows in Pittsburgh, especially the Oakland area. I saw them at Spice Café, on Atwood, which was a perfect, intimate venue because this band loves their audience interaction- which is great, because the crowd I was with loved to sing along. Their set was tight, and they made sure to focus on numbers that made for good dancing and mix it up with some Weezer, Sublime, and other awesome 90’s bands. Higher Ground knows how to put on a great show, so join their group “The Red Hot Chili Peppers Tribute Band” on Facebook for show invites, and try not to get them confused with these Swedish dudes. A plus- the lead singer, Sal Puccini Jr, owns Puccini’s Hair Design in Oakland and if you’re a regular there, he’ll most likely give you a personal greeting from stage. Don’t know about you, but I do love the attention.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Confessions of a college graduate

Employment was the worst thing that’s happened to me in a long time. Now that I’m no longer a starving student but a hungry college graduate, I’ve found that it’s become slightly harder to exercise self-control on some of the expenditures that I would have previously resisted in favor of… well, food. I figured if I blogged about this stuff, at least I would have the catharsis of publicly admitting my addictions to the world, Post Secret style (or at least I'd spread the virus to you guys. Misery loves company!)
Vera Cruz: (Oakland) This little gem flourishes in the midst of the franchise Mexican-food giants on Forbes, mainly due to its' student-friendly prices and delicious made-from-fresh offerings. I know a guy who ate at this place twice a day for his entire last semester of college… so don’t blame me for getting a little excessive with their Nacho Supremo.
Hot Haute Hot: A home boutique in the Strip District that features antique furniture, restorations, home furnishing and of course, gorgeous jewelry. The stuff is one-of-a-kind and absolutely beautiful. Let’s just say that this gave me a lot of motivation to study for grad school entrance exams and get a better job. The monsters.
Pennsylvania Macaroni Company: The Strip District. Delicious, delicious cheeses, gourmet extra-virgin olive oil and giant jars of Nutella. PenMac= Nirvana.
Verde Good Beans: Downtown. This place is, blessedly, super-close to my workplace. It offers luxury coffee-type drinks for half the price they are at Starbucks, plus fresh made paninis and even gelato shipped in from Mercurio’s Mulberry Creamery in Shadyside. If I’m feeling super sorry for myself on any given workday, I’ll treat myself to a decaf soy chai latte (yes, they have decaf chai! Oh, happy day) and some Honey Sunflower gelato.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Just kidding. But it got you to read, didn’t it? Exactly my point. Have you ever noticed how you can use a product for months or even years sans problem, then wake up one morning and read an article about how a preservative (coloring agent, emollient, whatever) in it is probably slowly poisoning you? It’s one of my pet peeves about health-based media. They latch onto a study or two and turn whatever ingredient it is into some kind of cosmetic “untouchable”, and next thing you know, your grandma is freaking out and throwing away all her perfume. (Or maybe that’s just me). Here, I’ll be talking about some of the current ingredients everybody’s gone phobic over. Guys, this applies to you too, as these alleged poisons are also lurking in your face wash/deodorant/toothpaste/whatever.
First, a note: Animals are very different from humans, which is one of the reasons that animal testing of ingredients has fallen under such scrutiny lately. I certainly don’t agree with it. That being said, if your mascara gave a rat a tumor, you might not want to keep it around your eyes.*
Diethanolamine (DEA) + Triethanolamine (TEA): This scary-sounding one has been shown to induce tumors in test mice and inhibit fetal development in mouse brains, and cause eye and nose irritation. It’s mainly used as a lubricant in cosmetic products.
Parabens- Parabens have shown to affect the reproductive health of test animals, and high concentrations of parabens have been found in human breast tumors. The study that has found said concentrations is a little iffy, from what I’ve heard, but never hurts to be safe.
Sodium Laurel/Laureth Sulfate- This one seems, to me, to be a true example of the health media getting crazaaay. Sodium Laurel/Laureth Sulfate is a foaming agent in many cleansers. If you google it, you’ll see about a thousand people saying, “Guess what, guys? It’s also in your FLOOR CLEANER!” To which I reply, “Know what else is in my floor cleaner? Orange extract. Guess I should stop eating oranges too, as they are obviously evil.” SLS is said to be too “harsh” and “stripping” but it’s not associated with any health issues besides eye irritation, so if you’re using it and not having any problem, go you.
Synthetic anything- Have you ever heard of the “naturalistic fallacy”? A fallacy is a deceptive, misleading, or false belief. The naturalistic fallacy goes something like this. “If it’s natural, it’s good for you. If it’s not natural, it’s bad for you.” Have you ever heard ladies with acrylic nails rejecting some food or beauty product because it’s got “synthetic ingredients”? Not only is this silly, it’s pretty dangerous too. For example, penicillin isn’t “natural” but it’s pretty helpful to us as a species. Likewise, talc exists as is in nature, but talc powder has linked with cancer in several studies. Lesson learned: take each ingredient on a case-by-case basis, and don’t grant products a blanket pass just because they’re marketed as “natural”. Synthetic ingredients, if they are safe, can actually be a godsend for people with allergies or sensitivities. Personally, it’s easy for me to get carried away with the whole natural products thing (because I love them) so I try to keep the above information in mind.

*Ironically, most of the ingredients that have been shown to be carcinogenic to test animals are still being used by the cosmetic companies that paid so much money to run the tests in the first place. This begs the question, why bother even testing the stuff for potential side effects if you’re just going to use it anyway? If you give a mouse a tumor… you’ll be lawsuit free?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Back to school: haircuts, hummus, and bulbonic plague- oh my!

You may have noticed I haven’t been blogging the past few days.*That’s because I’ve been devoting blood sweat and tears to studying for that evil monolith of standardized testing, the GRE. Honestly, you think having an entire undergraduate career would be indicative of your readiness for grad school, but NO- they can’t charge you an extra $160 for real-world academic experience. That’s why they need a standardized test. Bitterness aside, I made the trek out to the testing center this morning, which happens to be located in my dear Alma Mater, University of Pittsburgh, where today was the first day of classes. All that hustle and bustle, the neverending crowds… needless to say, it was like stepping into a Petri dish of plague. Awesome.
It never fails. My immune system has the uncanny ability to stave off sickness until literally 5 minutes after a test, when I feel the beginnings of a sore throat along with the wave of relief. Thanks, evolutionary responses! As such, my more boisterous plans for celebrating freedom will have to go on backburner as I nurse an illness the likes of which I haven't felt since my undergraduate career.**
Here’s MY lesson plan for the week. It’s what I’ll be doing/what I recommend you doing if you feel like taking a moment of personal time during this hectic first week of classes, or if you're an old-timer like me who wants to kick-it old school (no pun intended).
Seminar in Historical American Culture (HISTORY 001- 5 credits): Buffy the Vampire Slayer: They may not have the whole series, but they have the first few episodes. You owe it to yourself to check this out- not only does it have corny side effects, piffy late-nineties dialogue, and RIDICULOUS fashion, but it’s a total blast from the past for anyone who is a late 80’s baby like myself. Seriously, it’s of great cultural significance, especially the super-dark lipstick.
Preventative Health Science (BIOLOGY 0500- 3 credits): Here’s my recipe for the aptly named “Sick day Hummus”. Warning: it’s seriously garlicky, but it seriously works. It’s loaded with vitamin C to boost your germ resistance, plus tons of garlic, which has natural antiseptic properties. Use this to fortify your immune system for the long winter ahead. It also has the welcome side effect of warding off vampires- trust me, I haven’t seen one yet.
1 15-ounce can chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and diced
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice (add as needed)
A pinch of salt (to taste)
Rinse and strain the chickpeas. Toss them in your blender, add the diced garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and the salt, and puree. If the mixture isn’t getting as smooth as you would like, add a bit of water or more lemon juice (your choice) and keep blending. Pause once in a while to scrape the sides of the blender to mix the hummus, add more lemon juice or water, and keep blending till the mixture has the consistency of loose peanut butter. Eat it on a sandwich, with tortilla chips or pita, with a side salad or with rice… any way you want, this stuff is super versatile.
Home Economics (ECON 0020- 4 credits) A fashionable, yet affordable haircut at Salvatore Puccini’s Hair Design in Oakland. Puccini’s has a walk-in discount of $18-$32 if you drop by without a scheduled appointment, plus many other bonuses- check the link. The different hairstylists have different… well, styles, but if you are clear about what you want, you’ll generally walk away quite pleased. I’ve had comparable haircuts that cost me much more. Which leads me to:
How to get a happy haircut:
-Know what you want. Go in with specific ideas for styles. If you want the same style, that’s fine, just know that that’s what you want. It seems simple, but many don’t realize that just a little planning can make a routine haircut a much happier experience.
-Bring in a picture of what you want. If you have your heart set on looking like Sookie Stackhouse, you can tell them as such. But what if the stylist doesn’t have HBO? Print out a picture that shows exactly what you want- it spares you trying to explain and her trying to understand. For extra credit, say what it is about the style that you like ("I like that it frames the face.")If you can’t find a picture, proceed to step two.
- Get versed in hairstyling terminology. “Layering” is a hair technique that involves the hair being cut into variegated layers to create body. “Crisping” is when you have all your layers left the same, but trimmed for split ends. A “weave” is a hairpiece that is woven into the rest of your hair to create more volume. And on, and on, and on. The more specific you can be about what you want, the more likely it is that you’ll get out of there with your dignity intact. Check this website for a helpful hair terms list:
-Be specific. If you’re like me and you like long layers, say so. If you’re growing out your bangs or all your hair, tell them... preferably before they start cutting. You may feel like you’re being a bossy bitch (bastard?) but most of the stylists I’ve spoken to prefer direction and clear communication to a silent customer that later comes back demanding a refund.
So that’s it. School’s out!

*Or maybe you haven’t- if a tree falls in a forest with no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?
**A whole four months ago!

Friday, August 27, 2010

This little piggy goes to market

I’ll say it once, I’ll say it a thousand times. Buy local, and cook food from fresh ingredients. Seriously. It’s better for the environment, the economy, the farmers, and your upper arms (not to mention your overall health). That being said, I’m pretty happy with the number of people who have quit hiding behind paltry excuses (“I don’t have time because I’m taking 18 credits” or “I keep such crazy work hours and I don’t know how to cook!”) and have started to prioritize slow food as opposed to fast. For those who are hesitant to take the step, don’t worry. I may come off as a little harsh, but come on, this is a blog. In all reality, I would love to spread my love of food to all of you :).
This entry is due to popular demand. (I use the term loosely, as a unanimous request is easy when you have two whole blog readers). I’ve heard way too whining about the lack of farmers markets in this city. Whaaaat? Pittsburgh is stuffed with vegetable markets and amazing restaurants- the city is totally surrounded by farms, for God’s sake. In case you are also suffering under this apparently common misconception, here’s a little ditty intended to enlighten you. I’ve highlighted some of the better farmer’s markets and included some tips about how to make fresh meals on the cheap.
Good Apples-The interweb. Good Apples is an online produce shopping service which combines the ease of with the great prices and quality of a farmer’s market. You can order your items and pick them up at one of the pickup centers, or even get them delivered to your house. It really doesn’t get any easier. This service was a lifesaver when I was in college.
Market Square Farmer’s Market- Downtown. I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating- every Thursday during the summer, 10am-2pm, a bunch of local vendors drag their wares all the way to Market Square, just for all us busy office workers. There are also homemade pies, jellies, cheeses, wines, and pierogies so you can get lunch while you’re stocking your larder.
Farmers@Firehouse- Strip District. This one is my absolute favorite. You can check online each week to see what delicious offerings will be there on Saturday, then make the trek there to mingle with the crowds, talk to the vendors, and get fistfuls of lovely green, for minimal amount of yours. TIP: While you’re in the Strip, you can always pick up some great-priced spices at Pennsylvania Macaroni Company and live herb plants at Roxanne’s Dried Flowers for the ultimate DIY meal plan. Growing your own herbs is one way to really cut down on meal costs, since herbs are so expensive. One plant will usually run you $3-$7 for an everlasting supply till the plant dies, while one “portion” of fresh cut herbs at the supermarket will run you around $3. You do the math. Seeds are even cheaper, but it’s way harder.
TIP FOR OAKLANDITES: If you are a Pitt or CMU student marooned in the market-less wasteland of Oakland, try Bombay Mart on Center and Craig (Indian), Merante Groceria on Bates (Italian), Halal Meats on South Bouquet St (Halal/Middle Eastern), Ginza (Korean and Japanese) on Atwood, or Seoul Mart (Korean, duh) on Neville. All will offer prices comparable or better than that ghastly place on Forbes… unless, of course, you’re in the market for Kraft Mac and Cheese. Good Apples (see first entry on the list) has a drop-off point very close to Pitt, so check that out too.
TIP: Always check any ethnic markets close to you if you’re in a pinch. The produce may not be local, but it will definitely be cheaper than Giant Eagle. Did you know that when Giant Eagle introduced its “Fuel Perks” program, it raised all the prices of its in-store stock? So if you shop there to save money with Fuel Perks, you’re not really saving anything at all, except Giant Eagle’s stockholders.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Our Ladies of LoLa

Recently (as a matter of fact, yesterday) it was brought to my attention that the area I live in has a name… and no, it’s not “Lawrenceville”. It’s LoLa, or “Lower Lawrenceville” which denotes specifically the span of Butler Street between 34th and 40th Street. Now, I’m not necessarily averse to cutesy nicknames, but I wish someone had told be BEFORE I moved that I would be living in an area that sounds like a Disney character/porn star and is reminiscent of ‘hocho’ (hot chocolate) or ‘froyo’ (frozen yogurt). It’s moments like these that I fear that my descent into yuppiedom is accelerating.
To be fair, “LoLa” (ugh) is a pretty nice place to live- there’s always something new or groovy going down, and it usually involves alcohol. For example, August 26-August 28 (from 4-8 each day) is the Our Lady of the Angels Parish festival. I grew up in a mainly Roman Catholic area of NY, and I must say, I love a good feast day. This one’s got all the standard fare: funnel cake, raffles, inflatable bouncy castle, and rubber duck races. When I was there, I got a high five from a giant pierogie and heard a little bit of live music. It’s not the liveliest scene in the world, but it was worth it for the nostalgia factor- at least for me. If you’re a Larrytown resident, stop by and buy a $1 raffle ticket and make the little old ladies smile. It’s good for the soul- promise.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

RIP, Satoshi Kon

Hello all,
I had a different entry planned for today, but as usual, I got distracted. Unlike usual, this won’t really be a piffy or lighthearted entry. Sadly, it’s commemorating something that I couldn’t in good conscience let pass unnoticed.
As some of you may know, I was a French and Japanese major in college. While I’m not a huge anime* freak, I still enjoy some of the more skillful anime in an artistic sense. And I’m sad to spread the news that Satoshi Kon, one of the masters of the genre, has passed away.
For those of you who are not familiar, Satoshi Kon’s animated movies deal with human subject matter, so much so that he could have easily chosen live-action as a medium. But instead, he preferred the artistic freedom that was afforded by anime. Needless to say, he paid excruciating attention to the intricacy of his drawings. Unlike many animes where characters look like a bunch of identical blobs with different hairstyles and eye colors, Satoshi Kon’s figures were so realistic that watching his movies is like watching a living, moving portrait. He directed one of my favorite movies of all time, Millennium Actress (Sennen joyu in Japanese), a haunting love story that questions reality and the objectivity of perspective and memory.
If you have a free evening and you like foreign films or if you’ve been meaning to break out of your usual filmic monotony, rent Paprika, Tokyo Godfathers, or one of his many other fine films this week. Give a little kudos to a fine artist and innovator.

*Anime is a catch-all term for any animated movie that comes out of Japan. Much like non-animated western movies, an anime movie can be about anything from porn to the story of the life of the Buddha to a kid’s cartoon. Most of the people in the States who enjoy anime also enjoy video games, hanging out on online forums, having detailed debates about obscure Japan or video-game related topics, and hats with furry animal ears on them. (I know this because as a Japanese major I had to spend WAY too much time in the company of such people.) Because of this, anime gets an underserved bad rap. In Japan it’s a lot less stigmatized.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Book report

Remember back in elementary and middle school when you were assigned a list of summer reading books choices at the end of each school year? I do, probably because it was utterly traumatic. Dashing jubilantly out of your last test, ready to head home to a nice popsicle and some cartoons, only to be tapped rudely on the shoulder and handed a nasty yellowed sheet of paper with a billion book titles on it. I loved to read (still do) and probably would have read all summer anyway, but let’s just say my ideal reading list in fifth grade would not have included The Communist Manifesto. BUZZKILL.
It may seem unseasonable to write about summer reading right as the beach season ends, and I suppose it is. But I would much rather pass along to you a list of books I’ve read and loved than saddle you with some dry titles based on secondhand recommendations (do you think any of your English teachers would really have enjoyed sitting down with some tea and Night by Elie Wiesel? Come on, it’s not exactly an upper). Keep these in mind if you have a spare minute during the year. Pleasure reading is truly the best therapy.
P.S. You may notice that stuff on this reading list isn’t quite what you would see recommended in your monthly Glamour. While I like to make myself look good, doing so is unfortunately not the purpose of this list. For the record, I also dig the Gossip Girl novels and a good True Blood marathon.
Who Wrote the Bible by Richard Elliot Friedman- Nonfiction. This book is an academic examination of the various historical and cultural forces that influenced the writing of the Old Testament/Torah. I started reading this knowing nothing about ancient Israel or its government and culture, and I came out of it both informed and enlightened. It’s not your typical easy read, but totally worth it if you’re curious about the forces that shaped the bestselling book of all time.
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami- Fiction. Haruki Murakami does it again in yet another compilation of intriguing short stories. He places his characters in fantastical situations (or places fantastical characters in everyday situations) for stories that, at their core, are not just complex modern-day fairy tales, but moving portrayals of the human condition. Be warned, they can also be seriously weird.
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollon- Nonfiction. The author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Micheal Pollon wrote this “Eater’s Manifesto” in response to fan’s inquiries about what he deemed fit for consumption. The book is a detailed, yet easy-to-read history of the evolution of American cultural attitudes (and governmental policies) towards food. If you’ve been looking to overhaul your pantries, read this gem first.
The Best of Roald Dahl- Fiction. Yup, an adult can read Roald Dahl without having to be a parent, English teacher, or a pedophile. He’s best known for his children’s books, but he shows his satirical (or sometimes humorous, naughty, or scary) side in his short stories that are definitely for grown-ups.

Monday, August 23, 2010

For art geek eyes only

Today, I thought I give all of you a heads-up on a groovy artist who's currently living and working in the 'burgh. Christian Breitkreutz's art plays on cartoon/illustration type lines, with subject matter ranging from the comical to the fantastical to the haunting. It combines the ghastliness of a Grimm's fairy tale with the sinister air of a deck of cobwebby tarot cards. He's pretty skilled (and for the record, a damn nice guy). Check the Crazy Mocha in Bloomfield next month for a display of his original work, or if you ball hard (fiscally, that is) and you're craving a painting. I certainly can't afford to buy any of his stuff now, but hey, the website's an art geek's eye candy.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Sometimes we have to do slightly absurd things, like playing drinking games to television shows from the late nineties, or if you have a blog, blogging about another blog (and in your blog post, saying “blog” as many times as possible, because it’s a funny word). Today, I succumb. I’d like to give a shout-out and many thanks to Sofia at Doing Laundry in Heels for her kind mention of restock and the I LIKE YOUR BLOG award. Anyone who’s planning a trip to the NY area or who is lucky enough to live there already should check out Sofia’s insider coverage of the New York scene, and much much more. Anyone who’s in need of a little pick-me-up should check out her insightful coverage of the human comedy we call life.

Weekend therapy-et-adventure

Sometimes city life can get you down, even if you live in a badass city like Pittsburgh. Your job is stressful, your apartment is cramped, and not even a night out at a relaxing bar or a day spent in a gallery can cure you of your ennui. At times like these, most chose to hole up in their room with some “profound” self- help book and emerge a few weeks later as a vegan, Kabbalist, or poet*. But honestly, who thinks that STAYING IN will fix anything? The real answer, as always, is to get out- not into the city, but into the wilderness. OhioPyle State Park is about a two-hour drive from Pittsburgh, and it features outdoor activities for everyone from your grandmother to Mike Tyson. We went yesterday for my delightful roommate’s birthday. Just your typical celebration, you know, friends, food and…whitewater rafting.
There are two options for whitewater rafting trips at Ohiopyle Park. We went with the less expensive Ohiopyle Trading Post ($73/person without an in-boat guide) and the more pricey Wilderness Voyagers. As far as I could tell, there wasn’t any difference between the two companies- Trading Post was just as safe, helpful and enthusiastic.
Upon our (late) arrival, the wilderness experts suited us up with helmets, lifejackets, and paddles, packed us into a bus, and drove us down to the Youghiogheny River, where we were briefed on safety and set adrift in the absolutely breathtaking river chasm. Guides were with us at all times, signaling us on what routes to take through the obstacles and watching to make sure nobody fell out and drowned. At times, we got the chance to hop out of the boat and paddle around in the river, and even to take a dive off a giant rock. Five hours later, we were exhilarated, exhausted, and ready to head back to the ‘burgh.
Although I would like to leave you with the misconception that I’m a total badass, honesty must prevail. The whitewater rafting was made manageable by the expertise of the guides and my more knowledgeable friends. (It was made even nicer by the large quantities of buff, attractive people in the immediate vicinity. Seriously, they all looked like Abercrombie & Fitch models but less shiny.) This is a really good jumping-off point for those who want to more into more upper-level wilderness sports. It was dangerous and physically taxing, but if you’re athletic and bored, do your psyche a favor and get the hell out to Ohiopyle. Now I’m going to do myself a favor and soak these sore arm muscles in a lovely bath.

*Note- I’m not knocking veganism, Kabbalism, or poetry, only the people who take them up for 2 weeks in a burst of “enlightenment,” then drop them as soon as the NFL season draft begins.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Rules of thumb beauty tips

I’ve long since stopped reading women’s magazines. Odd, I know, considering I’m interested in basically everything girly. I devoured them avidly throughout my teenage years, and even cut out articles of interest and scrapbooked them into an ultimate reference guide (GEEK ATTACK!!). But as I got older, I realized that the “beauty guides” were repetitive marketing schemes, the “advice” was generic and hypocritical, the relationship quizzes were totally paranoia-inducing (Is he cheating on you? Evaluate the texts he sends you!) and as for the ‘sex advice’… don’t even go there*. Lessons learned- instead of thinking of your man, your friends, and your body as stereotypes, appreciate their complexity. And if you’re concerned about your relationships, for God’s sake, just ask the people involved.
Here are some rules of thumb for personal beauty. You can rest assured that this isn’t some twisted marketing scheme (do you really think anyone pays me to write this stuff?) but tips and tricks motivated solely by my desire to help a sistah (or brother) out.
-Mascara comes in both the dirt cheap and ludicrously expensive varieties. Contrary to popular belief, it’s usually the brush that causes the disparity, not the formula. If you have expensive mascara you love, look for cheaper stuff that has a similar brush. Likewise, you can make your inexpensive mascara look ten times better with a little wrist work. The first strokes go on the lashes on the outer edge of the eye, depositing the heaviest layer of product where the lashes are naturally the thickest. Be sure to start right at the roots of the lashes! The next strokes go on the lashes on the inner edge of the eye. Dip the brush once more and give the very tips of your lashes a few light strokes to add length- quickly, before the first coat dries. Finally, the leftover mascara on the brush goes on your bottom lashes, again, outside to inside. Sounds complex, but you’ll get the hang of it.
-When you pluck your eyebrows, don’t just pull out hairs at random. Take time and analyze your natural eyebrow shape and browline. They tell art students who are learning to draw portraits that eyebrows are proportionally thickest over your pupil and the highest point of their arch aligns with the outer edge of your iris. Only pluck stray hairs that are far out of the natural line, and never ever pluck on the top of the brow (that’ll totally screw up the shape). You should be making your brows look neater, not like cricket legs or pencil lines.
-The more curly your hair, the more intense moisture you need and the less often you should wash your hair. To give you an idea of the spectrum, straight-haired types can get away with just a cleansing shampoo once a day, while those with nappy hair will need to use intense oils and wash once every few weeks. If your hair is dried, frizzy or rough to the touch, you should change how often you wash and the type of moisture you’re using. Not washing your hair is really the best way to revitalize your locks and scalp.
As a final word, work to emphasize your natural hair texture, skin tone, and body type- they are what make you beautiful. It’s already hard enough to look utterly fabulous without working against what could be your greatest assets. Stop the self-sabotage! Put down the flat iron, bronzer, and padded bras and take the time to understand what you need. I know it’s hard to think this way, especially since the beauty industry takes lots of time to convince us there’s lots and lots wrong with how we naturally look. That way they can make lots and lots of money solving our ‘problems’. Instead of forcing yourself into a mold you don’t fit, learn to be the most radiant version of what you already are.
For example-
“My hair is oddly textured and ugly.” Old answer- flat ironing, ponytails
New answer- a better haircut + shampoo for your hair type= “My hair has so much natural volume!”
Ladies, I hope you find this helpful. Especially since I think I just finally killed off the last of my male readership.

*Peppermint tea has no place in the bedroom unless it’s next to a good novel or some ginger snaps, and testicles are not, nor were they ever, the “new male g-spot”.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Check out the Mixxer for tongue twisters (foreign tongues, that is)

In case any of you did not know, I hold the dubious honor of being a college graduate as of May 2010. Along with getting to wear the flattering billowy black wizard robe and walk around in front of an audience, I got a well-earned break from studying. But since foreign language skills are hard to acquire and easy to lose, I didn’t want to rest on my laurels for too long. On a recommendation from my darling roommate, I tried The Mixxer, a site designed to match up native speakers of different languages for linguistic and cultural exchange. You post your native language along with the languages you’re “seeking” and your Skype name. I know what you’re thinking, because I thought it too, but it actually is legitimate and not a veiled entry into virtual prostitution. Users can peruse different profiles and send chat invitations to those that pique their interest. Within 10 hours of posting my profile, I got a friendly e-mail message from Kevin, in Nantes, France. We met up on Skype the next day. We divide the time between English and French, correcting each other as we butcher French (me)/English (him). It’s an easy and pleasurable way for people’s people to keep up with their skills, and make adorable overseas friends. I don’t know if everyone on the site is as amicable as the people I’ve met, but if there’s even a chance, then you’d be well advised to try it too. For anyone who wants to quit being a foreign language student and start being a student of life.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The benefits of breast cream, or, how I spent my lunch break

Do you talk about cosmetics and bath supplies for hours with your friends? No? I’ve tried, but the only person I know who can keep up with my mania is my old friend RLL. Last time I was in New York, she pointed me towards Lush, an all-natural beauty line that has a marketing angle as appealing as its company ethics. It’s overwhelming. I don’t know whether to hug her or punch her in the throat, because now I know where my next paychecks are going.
Lush has stores all over the country, including our very own Downtown Pittsburgh. Lots of its products are vegan, and unlike most ‘ethical’ and ‘natural’ beauty lines, you actually get out of the bathroom looking like you’ve made an effective effort towards hygiene. Many of their cleansers and shampoos are solid and sold by weight (they chop bits off a giant bar and wrap them in paper, like a butcher shop) which eliminates both the waste that would be produced by packaging and the many preservatives that are inherent in liquid bath supplies- AND if you go to the store, they’ll cut off a chunk as big as you want to spend. This stuff is snazzy and feel-good. Like so many well-marketed beauty products, they fill needs you didn’t even know that you had. Such as breast cream.
No, it’s not the ‘enhancement’ cream you see in tabloid ads and on late-night TV, but it’s not a far cry from it either. Lovely Jubblies is formulated to tighten up any sagging that may be ‘bringing you down’ so to speak, and also to perfume your area with lovely floral scents. Sounds ridiculous… but…
I really, really wish I were not so susceptible to this kind of marketing. Intellectually, I know that breast cream is utterly ridiculous. But at the same time, what if I’m 50 years old and more droopy than a lactating baboon? Just you google ‘saggy boobs’ and try not to be terrified. (Actually, don’t. Please don’t. I could never forgive myself if I let you do that). The internet is sometimes not all it’s cracked up to be.*
Lush’s website has good guides for alternate uses of the products, but not all their stock is available online. The blurbs don’t give a clear description of what each product is meant to accomplish. As your responsible beauty blogger and an utter yuppie, it would have been reprehensible for me not to go the store in person on my lunch break and get acquainted with some of their less bizarre offerings.
As I expected, the friendly people at the store were able to help navigate me towards the Fresh Farmacy cleanser, the Tea Tree Water toner, Grease Lightning cleanser, and their Cupcake mask (only in store). The straight-talking sales associate smeared face mask on my wrists and spritzed me with lots of herbal-smelling mists. At the end of it all, I walked away with some purchases, arms that smelled like chocolate, and a ton of free samples. The cleanser and mask made my face feel soft, tingly, and totally deep-cleaned. Great customer service, great stuff, and prices that rival the crap at CVS? I’m in. Maybe just not for the breast cream.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Brillobox is where your heart is.

So I know this has been exposed to death, but I can’t help but give a little shout-out to my favorite bar in the Pittsburgh area- Brillobox, on Penn Avenue in Lawrenceville. Yes, it’s crowded, and yes, it’s lousy with hipsters, but it also has a consistent selection of exciting new beers, a delicious vegetarian-friendly menu, eclectic décor, and it features badass bands and DJs on a regular basis. Some notable performances of the past year that I’ve seen include their Pandemic World Beats night- a mashup of music from all around the world, Bear Cub (see End of an Era), Donora, and an independent hip-hop show featuring Superfuturisticthugsciencefiction. With the great variation of music and bands plus required the hipster-mocking*, you’ll never be bored. Brillobox always has something fresh to offer its patrons, whether it’s a new band or an $11 import beer. (Just kidding. More like $7).
Speaking of which, I’m ashamed to admit here to a new secret obsession. The implications of being in love with an expensive French Canadian imported beer are not lost on me (bad at money management? Maybe. Budding yuppie? Likely. Punk-ass pussy bitch? Definitely) but I can’t deny it any longer. I love Ephemere Apple. It comes in a giant bottle if you buy it at Brillobox, and its’ light, well-balanced hints of coriander and apple make it almost like juice. Scrumptious, alchoholic juice.

*There's some controversy as to whether I myself am a member of this unfortunate social movement. I would say no. My non-vegetarian friends who don't prize organic gardening, obscure French movies, and gallery-crawls say yes. Either way, I do like to mock hipsters, which would make me a hipster who mocks being a hipster. A metahipster? Urgh. Forget it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Fashion muses for the Fall season

On baking hot August days like today, the best survival tactic I’ve come up with is to imagine the cool, crisp autumn ahead. Being that I’m a one-dimensionally materialistic person, this includes pondering the twists and turns of the new season in fashion, which this year, center around a more streamlined and minimalist look. But don’t worry- since when do I take advice? I’ve listed items that appeal to the playful side of life, too.

Mal from Inception- minimalist elegnance
What struck me so much about this character? Maybe it’s that she’s French, or maybe it’s that she’s a figment of Leo DiCaprio’s imagination (what I would give to be a figment of Leo DiCaprio’s imagination)- whatever it is, Marion Cotillard’s wardrobe exemplified the simplicity that is so inspiring about this year’s fall trends. She wore hardly any jewelry, relying instead on the aesthetic strength of unusual beading or lines of a dress. In the same vein, her casual clothing included the classic structured shirts and jackets that have re-captured attention this autumn. This emphasis on a sole detail of an ensemble is a contrast to the ornate and accessory-ridden trends of the recent past (think Nancy’s layered necklaces in Weeds) and also decidedly European. You go, Jeffrey Kurland!

Lush solid perfume (Karma)- Hippy meets maturity
Seems like an oxymoron, right? But somehow patchouli, the flower-child favorite, is infused with a grown-up dose of heady orange and lemongrass essential oils for a classic and intoxicating aroma. It’s vegan and all natural, so perfect even for sensitive skin that’s been traumatized after a summer of harsh sun. The scent is a little retro, but maybe even more charming because of that (think Mrs. Robinson from the Graduate). To me, it reeks of the unadorned beauty of this fall’s fashion. Don’t worry, opposites attract.

Silly Bandz
Yup, total regression. I find these little mermaid- and unicorn-shaped rubber bands really appealing. Not only are they cheap, but one or two of them adds an adorable (and possible infantile) touch of color and whimsy to most ensembles. Check out the Fantasy pack. DISCLAIMER- don’t blame me if you suddenly have a craving for sugary breakfast cereal or Saturday morning cartoons.

It may seem like the muses listed here contradict each other in spirit. That’s because they do. Fashion is art, art is meant to inspire, and I usually find the confusing and eclectic to be the most inspiring of all.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ben l'oncle Soul, and how he took over my Sunday.

Hello, blogsphere. I had a different entry planned for today, but then, well, my earth was shattered and I regrettably had to deviate from plan. I was scrolling along my Facebook newsfeed and noticed a link from a cavalier gentleman with impeccable taste, L.L. Innocently, TRUSTINGLY, unaware of what was about to happen, I clicked on it… and was launched irrevocably into a dire obsession. Ben l’oncle Soul, a French musician inspired mainly by Motown (with a touch of Soul and the slightest hint of old-school Reggae) has quite the stock of Youtube videos posted by fans but damnably few songs available for download on iTunes. He used to go by ‘Oncle Ben’ (Uncle Ben) but had to switch to his current stage name because of copyright issues with the premade rice dinner people. His beats are smooth- almost as smooth as his voice- and his lyrics hearken back to the Motown classics and Edith Piaf. Below is a link to Ben l’oncle Soul’s remake of Pink Martini’s ‘Sympathique’. He infused the old-school lyrics with a tight undercurrent of Marvin Gaye-esque class. This stuff is catchy, and almost as addictive as Nutella. Be warned.
Do you dare?
Also, for those interested, here’s my translation of the lyrics. See what a four-year degree in French gets you?
Ma chambre a la forme d'une cage
My bedroom’s like a cage
Le soleil passe son bras par la fenêtre
The sun moves his arms by the window
Les chasseurs ma porte
The bellboys by my door
Comme les p'tits soldats
Like little soldiers
Qui veulent me prendre
Who want to drag me away

Je ne veux pas travailler
I don’t want to work
Je ne veux pas déjeuner
I don’t want to eat lunch
Je veux seulement l'oublier
I just want to forget
Et puis je fume
And so I smoke.

Déjà j'ai connu le parfum de l'amour
I’ve already known the scent of love
Un million de roses n'embaumerait pas autant
A million roses don’t smell as sweet
Maintenant une seule fleur dans mes entourages
But now the only flower in my entourage
Me rend malade
Is making me sick

Je ne veux pas travailler
I don’t want to work
Je ne veux pas déjeuner
I don’t want to eat lunch
Je veux seulement l'oublier
I just want to forget
Et puis je fume
And so I smoke.

Je ne suis pas fière de sa
I’m not proud of that
vie qui veut me tuer
life that wants to kill me
C'est magnifique être Sympathique
It’s great to be nice
Mais je ne le connais jamais
But I’d never know it.

Je ne veux pas travailler
I don’t want to work
Je ne veux pas déjeuner
I don’t want to eat lunch
Je veux seulement l'oublier
I just want to forget
Et puis je fume
And so I smoke.

Je ne suis pas fière de sa
I’m not proud of that
vie qui veut me tuer
life that wants to kill me
C'est magnifique être Sympathique
It’s great to be nice
Mais je ne le connais jamais
But I’d never know it.

Je ne veux pas travailler
I don’t want to work
Je ne veux pas déjeuner
I don’t want to eat lunch
Je veux seulement l'oublier
I just want to forget
Et puis je fume
And so I smoke.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Cool cats gather at the Doo-Wop Mansion

I love music. Seriously. I’ll try anything, from the stuff the play at the clubs in Station Square to the progressive-type bands I overhear practicing in the studio a few doors down from me. So when my old friend M came to town and offered to let me in on a little-known venue, I was pumped, to say the least. Here, I present to you, dear public*, one of the Mysteries of Pittsburgh (Sorry, Micheal Chabon. Couldn’t resist.)
The Doo-Wop Mansion is the home of the local band Ursa Major. Literally, their home. A bunch of the band members inhabit the space, grow some of their own food in the back yard, and play shows there for those willing to hear them. Nicest of all, they welcome other touring bands, letting them crash for a few days and give shows in the basement of the house. Shows at the Doo-Wop are given for donations, so it’s a great place to go if you’re looking to save some cash -the bands usually go on to give shows at bars and live music spots while they’re in town, so catch them here first for fiscal soundness and a relaxed atmosphere. It’s BYOB and performances start around 9, 10, or whenever enough people have showed up (aka, don't plan to go somewhere afterwards- you'll be late). The crowd consists of college students, the recently graduated and younger Pittsburgh locals. The music is whoever is there.
Apparently there are a number of these band houses in Pittsburgh, and across the US- it’s where startup bands crash when they’re touring. Keep your eyes peeled for news of these mysterious beasts, and spread the good word.
Check out Ursa Major on Facebook for updates on the Doo-Wop house’s happenings, and for its address. (Hint- it’s in the no-man’s land between Oakland and Bloomfield).

*Hi, Mom!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mission Statement (at long last).

So, grand and far-sweeping apologies for not posting in the past few days. I’ve taken a trip up to NY to visit the usual suspects (friends, family, boyfriend, dental surgery) so entries may be a bit sporadic till I get back to Pittsburgh. Never fear, nonexistent readership! You are never far from my thoughts.
One of the perks of getting your teeth yanked out of your head is the goody bag: free toothbrush, floss, gauze, creepy antibiotics, and of course, a hefty prescription for hydrocodone. If this entry seems a little weird…er… than usual, you know why.
Standing on the painkiller-induced threshold of revelation, I suddenly remembered that I had made a fatal blogging error. I never included a mission statement! How will my massive legion of devoted fans know why the hell they’re reading this dribble? (Actually, I’m fairly sure the only person who checks this is my mom. And she has to, because she’s my mom. But you get the idea). So here you go:
I’m a New York girl in a Pittsburgh world. I love this city! Much like life, Pittsburgh is filled with amazing opportunities for fun, adventure, style, and substance. But you have to know where to look. Let me help you. (Really, please do. If only so I can justify the massive about of money I spend on amusing myself).
-To enjoy life, you’ve got to go out and grasp it by the horns! But how do you know if the new bar down the street is less a rodeo and more a pigsty? That’s where I come in. I’ll be passing on my recommendations and reviews of restaurants, bars, stores, getaways, and galleries, plus any other cool shit I come across, so you can stay clued in to the scene without having to deal with the horror of an evening gone awry due to a bad venue.
-Sometimes, stuff is so unique and imaginative that before you knew about it, you never knew what you were missing. I’ll be posting links to any random, amazing things I come across that you just have to know about- volunteering, undercover music dens, outdoor sports, etc. Even websites.
- I love food. A lot. Plus, I’m a vegetarian, which gives me even more reason to be a foodie snob. Every once in a while, you’ll find some of my original recipes, plus tips and tricks for cooking, shopping, and gardening.
-Since I’m going to be spending way too much time and energy on trying beauty products and reading fashion magazines anyway, I’ll be justifying it by posting reviews and recommendations on here, too. Hellooo, validation.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Hi, my name’s Janine, and I’m an acnegenic 20-something.

No, not the delightfully relatable comic by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman. I’m talking the nasty facial parasites that crowd into your T-zone like factories on the mountains of China. I’ve dealt with these little bastards for about a third of my life so far, and recently, the conflict’s gotten pretty …ugly. Here I’ll pass on some information that I’ve found helpful in my war on pimples. Some of it may seem obvious and some of it esoteric, but since acne is a complex phenomenon that’s as varied as the individuals it attacks, you might as well have a quick refresher.
Note: I’ve coded these tips with ‘0’ for something that’s free, ‘$’ for something that’s cheap, and ‘$$’ for something that’s expensive for your convenience.
Wash your face twice a day with a good cleanser ($-$$)
Seemingly an obvious tip, I know, but there’s a nuance there that you may have missed: a GOOD cleanser. A good cleanser can be cheap or expensive, but it has to work for you. That means, if you dropped a ridiculous amount of bank on Origins, or Murad, or even Proactiv and it doesn’t work or has lost its effectiveness, cut your losses and move on. Yeah, you want to be frugal and make the most of the money you’ve spent, but if you keep up with a cleanser that’s just fertilizing your face, you’re going to look as porous as your bank account. Don’t be fooled by advertising. Once a cleanser, any cleanser, has stopped working, it won’t start again.
Use heat therapy (0)
Don’t worry, it’s not as complex as it sounds. Before you use your cleanser, hold your face over the steam from some hot water to open up your pores. This gives your cleanser an opportunity to be more effective, because it can penetrate your skin even deeper. When you’re done washing, rinse your face with cool water for about 10 seconds. This does double duty in closing your pores and making sure any traces of cleanser get rinsed off. (Thanks to my girl X for the recommendation.)
Try a baking soda face treatment (0-$)
Some find this treatment harsh and drying, some swear by it. I’ve done it a few times and noticed favorable results. Take two tablespoons of baking soda and mix with one tablespoon of water. It’ll form a cementlike paste. Lightly dab it all over your face with a cotton ball, until your face is coated. RUB AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE! Leave it on for 2-5 minutes, then rinse off thoroughly. You’ll probably notice your whiteheads will have been healed.
If this is too harsh for your face, don’t let that stop you from trying it on your back or chest. It may work better there.
Change and rotate your pillowcases every day (0)
Many people don’t realize this, but you spend 5-8 hours of your day with your face squashed up against your pillow. If you change your pillowcase every two months, that’s two month’s worth of face and scalp goo getting all over your fragile facial skin every night. Change your pillowcase every night. If that’s too much laundry for you, do it like this: Night one- fresh pillowcase. Night two- flip pillow over. Night three- turn case inside out. Night four- flip pillow over. And again from the top.
Drink tons of water (0)
8 glasses a day. More if you’re exercising. If you like a little variety, add a splash of lemon juice or some mint leaves. It’ll flush out your system and probably energize you. For some people, this is the make-or-break factor for clear skin.
Eat leaves and nuts. Mostly leaves. ($)
Leaves, aka, spinach, lettuce, arugula, bok choy, broccoli, kale, collard greens, etc. Nuts like almonds, cashews, walnuts, peanuts, etc. These foods are rich in vitamins that correspond with better overall health. They cleanse your system, and may address health imbalances that are manifesting in troubled skin. They’re also scrumptious.
Exercise (0)
Exercise increases circulation, which may help your acne. Also, you’ll be so psyched about your sexy new bod and hyped up on endorphins that your acne will probably bother you a lot less.
Wear foundation
Don’t listen to the bozos who’ll tell you that foundation is good for you skin. Those claims are just advertising generated by an industry that wants to sell you a product you would probably be better without. It doesn’t matter if it has salicylic acid or benzyl peroxide in it, or if it’s mineral powder- you’re still coating your face in crap that can only serve to suffocate it. Lose it. Your face may look worse for a little while, but in the long run it’ll be much better.
Touch or pick your face, or pop your zits
This one is really hard, but also important. Try to avoid learning you head on your hands, or picking at your skin. Picking or popping zits bursts them, and then spreads the bacteria in them all over the surrounding area. For every one zit you pick open, you’re planting three. You reap what you sow.
Let it ruin your life
After all this, I have to say- your friends, family, coworkers, and classmates don’t care about your zits. Really. They care about you. Most people barely notice acne on the face of someone they’re talking to, but they will notice a smile. Even though you may despair, don’t obsess over your acne. You’re still you.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Stuff to be psyched about this summer

Yeah, we know that summer is hot. But being a whiny shut-in is not. Get outside.
Cinema in the Park (all over):
Pittsburgh Citipark brings Pittsburgh residents a sampling of tried-and-true cinematic gems to parks all around the city, for that old-timey drive-in experience (minus the car). Check out the schedule and locations for your favorites near you.
Market Square Farmer’s Market (Downtown):
Buy local. Now you have no excuse.
For anyone who maintains a busy career, but doesn’t want to let their consumption ethics (or vegetable intake) fall by the wayside, this summer the farmer’s market comes to you. Every Thursday from 10 am to 2, local farmers bring their wares to Market Square Dowtown. Hit it up for piping hot pierogies, homemade pies, fresh flowers, and inexpensive produce on your way to work. Also convenient for those Point Park or Duquesne University types. I wouldn’t go out of my way to attend this one, however- many of the same vendors can be found week-round in the Strip district.
Groupon (the interweb):
Groupon (an amalgamation of ‘Group Coupon’) is a site that offers coupons for cool stuff in your area. Past offerings have included Franktuary, classes at Bikram Yoga in the Strip, and the Firehouse Lounge. The catch? A bunch of people have to place orders for the same coupon before the deal goes through. If the deal is unpopular, you don’t get charged, but you also don’t get the half-off to belly waxing or whatever discount you’re trying to snag. For the gambler in all of us.
Half-price (Oakland):
Surprisingly, half-price is a relatively unknown phenomena for non-Oaklandites. Several restaurants around the Oakland area cater to student life and budgets by offering half-price menu options after 11pm. Participating establishments include India Garden, Joe Mama’s, Fuel and Fuddle, and Mad Mex. While this actually occurs year-round, summer’s the time to go- when the students are in town, it can take an hour or more to be served. Note: They won't seat you for half-price until 11, but you can put your name in ahead of time.
Kayak Pittsburgh (Downtown, under the 6th Street Bridge):
Venture Outdoors brings us a pocket-sized adventure- $15 for an hour of kayaking on the river! Even beginners can paddle along for a beautiful view of Downtown and Mt Washington, and sometimes Yinzers with fishing rods and whistles. The best time to go is towards early evening, around 5:30. It’s less crowded, the sun isn’t direct, and you catch the beginnings of sunset. Everyone can do this- even me, and I was once diagnosed with ‘lower-than average upper-body strength’ by my third grade gym teacher (thanks for that lifelong validation, Mr. R).

Monday, August 2, 2010

End of an Era

Bear Cub, a local Pittsburgh band, has been painting the town (or specifically, the town’s grooviest night hotspots) blue with their beautifully simple, achy-breaky indie-folk ballads. Their recent self-titled CD is stacked with 13 tracks of pure catharsis for anyone who’s loved and lost, or loved at all (I cried. Seriously! Ask my roommate). But don’t be deceived- this band knows how to tear it down too, and they put on one a hell of a show, showcasing their more upbeat numbers for maximum dance-a-bility. The most heartbreaking thing of all about this fabulous quintet? My sources (aka Facebook- I’m not that cool) tell me that they are moving to Tennessee after one last show this Thursday, 8/13 at Thunderbird Café on Butler. TRAGEDY! I encourage anyone and everyone to head on out and give these boys a sendoff worthy of the ‘burgh.
Check out the band:
Thanks to my groovy ex-neighbor, S, for the recommendation.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Nekromantics (and the lessons I learned from them)

Tuesday of this past week, I went with some of my darling co-workers to a show at the Rex in Southside. It was a spur-of-the-moment choice (the decision went something like this:)
K: Hey, R is coming to pick me up in half an hour. We’re seeing the Nekromantics at the Rex. Want to come?
Me: What are the Nekromatics?
K: They’re a psychobilly band.
Me: What’s psychobilly?
K: You’ll know it when you see it.
Me: I’m in.
The show was amazing. All three band members were ridiculously skilled. The female drummer, Lux, was sporting a sky-high virulent pink hairdo that gave me Aqua Net envy along with her crazy rhythms. The vocalist/bassist NekromaN laid it on the line, playing the bass backwards, upside down, and with his tongue. What more could a girl ask for? However, the show had its’ sobering moments too, such as the song with the touching portrayal of necrophilia, or the tragic instant where every ounce of deodorant in the place seemingly evaporated into thin air, leaving the crowd smelling like a mass of drunk, thrashing hobos. There was one unfortunate creature that looked as if she had made her overalls out of a bedspread, and smelled as if she had slept in them for three days… under a tarp, at high noon. She reeked so bad that it gave me PTSD, which brings me to my next point.
I’ve been using Tom’s of Maine deodorant for about five years now. Not only does the company follow ethical labor and manufacturing practices, but all their products are cruelty-free and they eschew the use of aluminum oxide in their deodorants. Sadly, they also seem to eschew the practice of making working bath supplies. Yeah, I’m a lady, but I sweat like a pig- and after that mass of hippie armpits on Tuesday, I realized that when it comes to deodorant, sometimes cruelty-free is the cruelest of all. The next day, I made my way down to Macy’s and picked up some Origins Organics Totally Pure Deodorant. It’s just as toxin-free as Tom’s, and it isn’t tested on animals, but it also comes in a cute little spray bottle and lasts- gasp- ALL DAY. (It's only a deodorant, not an antiperspirant, fyi) It’s $15 for a 3 months supply, which, if you go through a stick of deodorant a month, breaks even with the price of Tom’s. My one complaint is that it smells a little more like a man’s deodorant or cologne, but hey, it’s better than raw armpit, right? I may be a dirty hippie at heart, but I would really rather not smell like one.
Lessons learned: Have friends with good taste. Go to great shows. Buy functional deodorant. And don’t make your own overalls. 
Check out the band:
Check out the hooch: