Lifestyle

6 Shopping Tips to Look Good for Less

A couple of years ago, I quit my job at a large law firm in midtown Manhattan in order to attend a conservatory of theatre arts full-time. I showed up for my first ballet class with a leotard that was extremely high-cut and bright red underwear that was extremely not –let’s just say that I looked more like a baboon than a ballerina. I remember sticking my head out of the sweaty dance studio during that embarrassing first class and seeing the bustling high-rises across town where I used to have my own office and administrative assistant… an entirely different life!

Financially-speaking, breaking free of the “golden handcuffs” also had its own set of ramifications — some fun, others, less so. But I am happy to report that although “less money, less problems” isn’t exactly the corollary of “‘mo money, ‘mo problems,” I have been able to make do with less in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Predictably, I stopped taking cabs and bought a monthly subway pass, I learned to cook and ate out less, I drank more beer and less martinis, I said good-bye to my nail salon and hello to Sally Hansen. As someone who loves clothes, and living in a city like New York where there is a constant barrage of women wearing the latest designs, I realized that I had to figure out some innovative ways to keep my wardrobe budget in line without giving up on my style horse hobby.

1. Heighten your standards.

It may sound counterintuitive, but when I was making more any money, I had lower standards for purchasing clothes and accessories. If I looked good in two out of three angled mirrors in the changing room, I’d probably buy it. If the arch of the shoes didn’t perfectly follow my natural arch, but was otherwise what I had been searching for, I’d get it. As a result, I ended up with a lot of mediocre pieces in my closet, and a never completely satisfied shopping list. Now, I am much more firm about my “standards to buy”, and I’ve finally accepted that scouting for the perfect black leather handbag can take a very long time. I regularly reject items for not fitting perfectly, for having an unruly fabric, for not having all the features that I was looking for. This has cut down on a lot of unnecessary purchases.

2. Reduce your online shopping.

Visiting sites such as Gilt, Yoox, Rue La La, and the myriad shoe sites out there were a daily indulgence for me, and I didn’t really scrutinize my purchases because I often felt the adrenaline of these “flash sale” sites where, if you hesitate on an item for even an extra second, it will get sold out from under you. In order to resist the temptation of online shopping, I removed myself from daily email lists from these sites, and when possible, subscribed to their weekly mailings. This way, I naturally forgot about checking on these sites, and now might go on them on a monthly, instead of daily, basis. Online shopping is fun and you can often score really amazing deals –but at my current budget, it is too expensive to maintain as a habit. On the rare occasions when I do make an online purchase, it is a much more deliberate process.

3. Recognize quality over labels.

After ditching the online shopping habit, I reacquainted myself with brick and mortar stores such as Uniqlo and H&M. Some might argue that these stores skew a little younger, but there’s such high turnover, and so many different pieces, that I have not been reduced to dressing like a teenager. I have also been able to find great summer tops at Target and well-made underwear at Marshall’s and Century 21. The main cost here is probably time, and you do kind of feel like you’re helping a hoarder sort her clutter, looking for hidden treasure. In terms of quality, although I don’t quite understand the economics of it, I have been able to find a lot of durable, well-fitting, well-made pieces at H&M that are on par with, or even better than the fancier labels I was courting as a lawyer.

4. Transcend trends.

I used to be a sucker for trends. Studs? I’ll try ‘em. Platforms? Give me five pair! But being on a student budget, I no longer respond to every craving for the latest garb. Just like how you’re suppose to wait twenty minutes before you can tell if you’re full or not, I make myself sit back and evaluate whether I even like this trend or not.

5. DIY.

If I like really like a new trend, I try to see if I have anything that I can do to follow it. For example, last fall all the stores and fashionable people were beginning to wear those 1990s Elaine-ish peg leg pants –wide on top, cinched by the ankle. I saw them at Zara and really wanted to get a pair, but then I realized that I could easily convert my existing pants to give them this “new” silhouette. If I can’t DIY a trend, I tell myself to wait a few months. If I still like the trend at that time, then maybe I’ll buy it.

6. Approximation.

Even if you decide to buy something on trend, there is no reason you need to buy it from the most expensive store carrying that trend! For instance, I really liked the loose satin tank tops that I saw girls wearing in the city. Instead of buying them at JCrew or Club Monaco, I found them at Target for under $20 each. With trial and error, I’ve learned that there are certain things that you can spend less on and still look great, such as jeans, t-shirts, willowy drapey tops, shorts, and summer dresses.

This article was first published on Corporette.

FILED UNDER: 6 Shopping Tips to Look Good for Less, Style & Beauty | Permalink

A Meal Worth Flying For

I love my mom’s cooking, and sometimes I will lie awake at night driving myself crazy reminiscing about some of her dishes. It’s not about how talented of a chef my mom is –she is pretty great– rather, it’s about how some people have the ability to impart their own signature touch on everything they make, so that everything they cook tastes distinctly like they made it. It won’t do just to follow their recipes because no one can replicate the original chef’s signature imprint.

Or maybe I’m just lazy.

In any case, this was one of the meals my mom made on my recent visit home:

Let’s break it down!

Pork Belly 2 Ways:


I was brought up eating a traditional diet in which we ate as much of the animal as possible, not just the white meat. All over the world, you will find cultures that eat animal organs, skins, cartilage, and so forth. But for some reason it’s considered “gross” or, incredulously, unhealthy, to like those things nowadays and the most “risqué” a mainstream restaurant will get is chopped liver. But boy do I miss all those strange, unpopular animal parts, including the collagen rich pig skin you see above. The sliced pork belly was steamed in a soy-based sauce, and the chunkier pieces of pork belly were braised in a similar stew.

Cucumber and Egg Stir-Fry with Black Fungus:

Dang, no wonder I wasn’t popular in grade school life.  When the teacher asked everyone what their favorite foods were, how could I raise my hand and say “Black Fungus” while everyone around me was all pizzas and hamburgers and shit?  Anyway, this is delicious.  I have no idea how to cook or even find black fungus.  I once got something that I thought was black fungus, but… it wasn’t.  Despite being very tough and hard to chew, it wasn’t until after I had grimly ingested all of it did the thought occur to me that maybe IT WASN’T EVEN FOOD.

Eggplant in Fish Sauce:

I love eggplant.  It’s like a meat to me.

Silken Tofu Casserole:

When I was a toddler, grown-ups would touch my face and exclaim: “Your face is as soft as silken tofu!”  As a result, silken tofu dishes tend to have a cannibalistic quality for me.  Here, with shrimp, lima beans, and bamboo shoots, it’s a great, light-tasting contrast to the richer dishes like the eggplant and pork belly.

Cauliflower Stir-fry:

Nice and crunchy little albino broccoli.

Sliced Dragonfruit:

My parents always have a novel and exotic fruit at home.  Like an evil twin locked away in the attic, they always keep the exotic fruit tucked away in a corner of the basement, away from the prying eyes of curious neighbors.  This time it was the dragonfruit.  It always makes me feel dainty and ladylike when I end a meal with sliced fruit.

And there you have it, a meal worth taking six modes* of transportation to get to!

*The six modes being: subway, train, air train, airplane, ferry, and automobile.

 

FILED UNDER: A Meal Worth Flying For, Food & Drink | Permalink

Nutrition Showdown: Pinkberry vs. Red Mango

A couple of years ago, the frozen yogurt world was rocked by scandal. Pinkberry was sued in a class-action for falsely describing its product as a frozen yogurt and for falsely calling itself “all natural.” The company settled, changed its ways, and put up its ingredient list for the public to see.  But ever since then, I’ve always been a little wary of Pinkberry and wondered if maybe I should switch to another provider for my froyo addiction.

The obvious replacement for Pinkberry is Red Mango.  Indeed, their rivalry spans across the country, from LA to NYC.  I decided to take a look at the ingredient lists for each company’s original flavored frozen yogurt to see which one is the healthier choice.  Here are my findings.

Pinkberry Original Flavor:

Nonfat milk, sugar, nonfat yogurt (pasteurized nonfat milk, live and active cultures), nonfat yogurt powder (nonfat milk, culture), fructose, dextrose, natural flavors, citric acid, guar gum. (Ed. Click on the link above to see slight variation for Pinkberry sold in California and Connecticut.)

Red Mango Original Flavor:

Nonfat Yogurt (Skim Milk, Natural Flavor, Guar Gum, Live & Active Cultures), Filtered Water, Pure Cane Sugar, and less than 1% of Sodium Citrate and Potassium Citrate (natural buffering agents).

Compare and Contrast

  • Dairy. The only dairy ingredient in Red Mango is frozen yogurt, but Pinkberry also has nonfat milk and nonfat “yogurt powder” in addition to plain ol’ frozen yogurt.  Another difference is that Pinkberry says that its milk (but not its yogurt or yogurt powder) is made from hormone-free milk.  Did you know that the U.S. and Brazil are the only countries that allow dairy farmers to use synthetic growth hormones? On the other hand, the FDA ruled in 1993 that there is no significant different between milk with and without synthetic growth hormone.  But on the other, other hand, the Sixth Circuit overruled the FDA in 2010 by concluding that there were significant differences between the two, including more um, pus, in milk with synthetic hormones.  Anyway, let’s talk about something else…
  • Sweeteners. The sweetening agent in Red Mango is cane sugar (sucrose), but the sweetening agents in Pinkberry are sugar, fructose and dextrose (a/k/a glucose). Recent studies suggest that fructose encourages fat storage more than sucrose does and might cause diabetes (here’s one). Even more significantly, sugar is the second ingredient in Pinkberry, placing it ahead of all ingredients except milk —that means there is more sugar in Pinkberry than there is frozen yogurt!  In contrast, sugar is one of the last ingredients in Red Mango, after frozen yogurt and water.
  • “Citr”-stuff. Pinkberry has citric acid, which adds a tart flavor and acts as a natural preservative. Sodium citrate and potassium citrate control the acidity of Red Mango’s frozen yogurt. All three substances are considered safe, non-controversial food additives.
  • Flavor. Red Mango relies on its yogurt for flavor, and does not add any flavoring agents. But Pinkberry has “natural flavors” which, under the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, can be pretty much anything (“the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis”) that has the flavor of, pretty much, anything (“spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or any other edible portions of a plant, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof”). The Centre for Science in the Public Interest’s guide to food additives classifies natural flavors with a yellow caution label, meaning that some natural flavors may pose a risk and require further testing.

The Healthier Choice

A really, really, really, close call.

After weighing the pros and cons of each product, I dug deep into my foodie soul and realized that the winning product must be one that “Is what it says it is.”  There is something disingenuous and even potentially dangerous about a product that is artificially made to walk like a duck, quack like a duck, and legally qualify as a duck –but in reality is barely a duck.  Pinkberry might look and taste similar to frozen yogurt, but its main ingredients are milk and sugar, it uses food additives for flavor, and it contains weird ingredients like yogurt powder.  On the other hand, Red Mango’s main ingredients are frozen yogurt and water and has no taste additives.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that Pinkberry uses synthetic growth hormone-free milk, and I wish Red Mango would release a statement on what kind of milk it uses (60% of milk in the USA is hormone-free whether labeled or not), but on the whole it is clear to me that the superior product is:

Daniel Kim, CEO of Red Mango

Red Mango!!!

FILED UNDER: Food & Drink, Nutrition Showdown: Pinkberry vs. Red Mango | Permalink

Ultimate Beer Taste Test

1. Buy a bunch of single beers –at the local bodega, I found Tsingtao, Corona, Red Stripe, Bass, Stella Artois, Negra Modelo, Singha, Boddingtons, Dos Equis.  Put them in the biggest pot you have. Fill with water and ice.

 

 

2.  Put it on the floor.

 

3.  Don’t forget that you need something to cleanse your palate between the different beers.  I used a pizza.

4.  Set-up a laptop nearby and make a chart (I hope you label it better than I did) and start drinking.  Record your results.  Here are mine:

5.  Announce the winner.

 

THE WINNER IS NEGRA MODELO!!!

FILED UNDER: Food & Drink, Ultimate Beer Taste Test | Permalink

The Theory of Evolution of Boots

2000-2004  Bootcut Jeans

 

 

Bootcut jeans were all the rage in the early 2000s.


 

Around 2000, bootcut and slightly flared jeans became super popular because the wideness at the bottom of the pant leg created a nice hourglass figure, balancing out the hips.  It flattered both women who already had curves, and those who were trying to get some.

2003  Enter the Ugg

Uggs were first worn in America by west coast surfers.

In December 2003, NPR reported that the “must-have accessory” of the season was “a pair of Uggs… cloddish sheepskin boots from Australia first popular with surfers in the 1970s.  Now all of Hollywood seems to be wearing them.  And it’s not just a Southern California trend, either.  Retailers are selling out as far away as Toronto.”  NPR further suggests that Uggs, with their “flat soles and … shapeless, retro look” were a rebellious response to the pointy stilettos that were so popular in the early 2000s.  Indeed.  The appeal of any major fashion trend is that it is the anti-thesis of the prior trend.  Fashion is Freudian.

Now, look at the picture of the Uggs above.  Do you see how wide the calf section is?  Do you think it’s possible to wear your jeans over those boots?  Hell no.  You have to tuck your jeans into them.  And instead of relying on your bootcut jeans to create a curve, you use the width of the Ugg boot’s shaft to create the same bootcut jean’d effect, balancing out the hips and accentuating bodily concavities.

But, is it comfortable and fun to roll up that giant wad of thick jean fabric by your ankle and stuff it in a boot? Not on your life, missy.  In fact, the term “bootcut” refers to the fact that the calfs of the jeans are wide enough to fit over, not under, a boot shank (sure that’s a word).

2004-Present  Death of the Bootcut by Way of Skinny Jeans and Leggings

Skinny, rather than bootcut jeans, work best with Uggs.

It follows then that the rise of Uggs and Ugg-like boots makes the bootcut jean redundant, and skinny jeans and leggings become a more practical option for those who like to stick their pants into their Uggs.

2005-Present  Das Boot Era

One of the writer's favorite boots, with "ice-skate" lacing and a sturdy, "machinist" feel.

Immediately following this development, beginning on the East Coast and spreading westward across the United States, the Ugg backlash comes on fast and furious, and soon on-trend women everywhere are opting for more sophisticated, less oppressively warm, everyday boots.

And so began the world’s love affair with boots in general, beyond the world of Uggs.  Boots that, as of today, we are still tucking our jeans into, which is rather awkward now that flared (but not bootcut) jeans are tentatively making their way back into the closets of fashion’s vanguard –for fashion trendology is both a series of reactions against prior trends and yet, mindlessly repetitive.

Of course, within the Das Boot Era, there have been shifts from one favored style of boot to another, which I will outline for you below:

2005-2007 Boots that go up to below the knee with pointed toes and stiletto heels.

Classic boot of the mid-2000s -pointed toe, stiletto heel.

2007-2008 Ankle boots

Ankle boots --for those occasions when you want your boots at half-mast.

2009 Over the knee boots.

Never could catch on because fake leather looks so bad and real leather is so expensive the price points were too high for shoppers of the New Economy to embrace.

Over-the-knee boots were marketed as "the sexy boot" --what do you think?

2009-2010 Booties (a most disdainful term) which go below the ankle, but otherwise still resemble a boot.

The writer's incredibly lightweight and comfortable booties purchased from Target online.

The author's Aldo oxford style booties, which were harder to incorporate into her wardrobe than she'd imagined.

2010 Open toe boots.

Let us shed no more tears on this woeful blip in boot history.

Open-toe boots. For when you want to lick the earth with your toes.

2011-present Practical Boots

Death to the incredible platforms of the earlier Boot Era.  Death to the stiletto heels of 2005. Death to height! Now it is all about sensible stacked heels no more than 1.5″ in height and, for decoration, a couple of straps and buckles to adorn the calf area uselessly.

The author’s favorite boots, which used to turn heads in 2006 but now, in the midst of the buckle trend, seem all too common.

And so, Das Boot Era marches onward boldly into 2012!

Will its reign over Footlandia ever end?  My guess is yes, and moreover I would wager that its assassin will be none other than what first gave birth to it… the bootcut and flare styles of jeans.  Namely, as bootcut and flared jeans make a return into the mainstream fashion circuit, it will become impractical to wear bulky boots underneath these pants, so people will return to shaftless footwear, AKA shoes, once again.  Dun dun dun!!!

 

 

FILED UNDER: Style & Beauty, The Theory of Evolution of Boots | Permalink

The Perfect Lunch (for a Communist)

Aside from cannibalism, I think I’ve pretty much tried every “philosophy” of eating under the sun. I’ve tried juices, smoothies, raw foods, veganism, salads, and all of that new-age stuff. I’ve tried old-school options from Italian sandwiches, to the stews of South America, Eastern Europe, and Korea. I’ve had Oscar Meyer bologna white bread sandwiches, Olive Garden pasta, and Ruby Tuesday burgers. I’ve fallen asleep at my desk with a stomach full of foie gras.

And while I am always game to try something new or to revisit an old favorite, what sits best with me for lunch, what I would love to have five days out of seven, is just a simple bowl of WHITE rice, Chinese greens, and a warm, translucent, poached egg perched atop it all, with a trickle of soy sauce running down its silky cheek.

This is the food I grew up with, the food I learned to feed myself with, the food that I was embarrassed by as a teenager, and the food that I abandoned when I sought wisdom from self-proclaimed nutrition gods of the Atkins, Raw Foods, and other modern tribes.

This is the food I return to.

FILED UNDER: Food & Drink, The Perfect Lunch (for a Communist) | Permalink

Eat Wings Without the Mess (video)

After watching this video, you too will know the SECRET TRICK to eating wings with impeccable grace and cleanliness.

Impress your family, impress your friends!
Impress the strangers on the fence!

Never again will you suffer the indignities of being caught mid-gnaw at the bars, or feeling the sting of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce in your tender bodily crevices.

Let this trick banish forever the Wingter of your discontent, my friends!

FILED UNDER: Eat Wings Without the Mess (video), Food & Drink | Permalink