Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Hey blogosphere! So my New Years resolution was to get a job. Yeah, I know I just posted about how I do construction, but I needed a more consistent income. So… a few weeks ago I requested prayer at church for a job. The next day, my wife noticed a post from my favorite coffee shop that they were still hiring for one more full-time position. I immediately sent in my resume, and then went in the next day just to stock up on beans because I was getting perilously low. The owner just happened to be behind the bar and  told me he got my resume and said we would have an interview after the holidays. Last Friday we had our interview and I was hired on the spot to start Monday! YES!  I’ll be learning to be a Barista and also putting my construction skills to good use in renovating the cafe. I just finished my first day and am pumped to be a part of such a great and successful team of people.

As part of my training at the hands of a bona-fide national champion, I pulled my first shot of espresso today and made my very first latte (see below.) It was fun, learning the particulars of the process, from tamping the grounds, to pouring the art on top. Judging from my first day, I think I’ll like the coffee business just fine.

http://www.cafekubal.com/

So you want to be snobby about something but aren’t sure how? I’ll tell you in these three easy steps.

1. Pick something to either swear off altogether, or get way into. This should be something the majority of the world doesn’t really spend too much time thinking about. For example: coffee, shaving, or shopping at Walmart.

2. Cultivate your knowledge and taste for what you choose. Ex. Know that the best coffee is made from Arabica beans and that cheap coffee is made with Robusta beans that have twice as much caffeine but are known for their poor taste, compared with Arabica beans. Or that shaving with a DE razor gives a much smoother and more comfortable shave that any of the modern five-bladed monstrosities.

3. Proclaim your opinions to others when they use the inferior product or activity. “Oh no thanks, I only drink locally roasted Arabica coffee.”  or ” I just can’t support a corporation that victimizes its employees and negatively affects the US trade imbalance so much.”

That’s it! Now you can be a snob too! The best part is, you can be snobby about almost anything. Yogurt, pens, books, farmer’s markets, diapers, sushi, mutual funds,  shampoo, etc…

My family has recently started to make more conscious decisions about what we eat, and where it comes from. This is the second year that we’ve had a vegetable garden in the backyard, and let me tell you. there is a simple satisfaction in just nipping out to the back for all the ingredients for a great salad.

But this year we also joined a CSA. That’s : Community Supported Agriculture. We found a local farm that drops off produce to a local store every week. In the beginning of the season, we bought a share of the farm. We got a half-working share, which means that we get a smaller portion (feeds 1-2 people /wk) of veggies than someone with a full share (3-4/wk). We also got a working share, which means that we will go out to the farm and work in the fields for 12 hours this summer, and in exchange, we get a good amount of money off. so that’s how it works, but anyway…

The farm hosted a potluck dinner for the members, and it was awesome. We took a tour of the farm and got to see each crop tucked neatly away in their respective furrows. Even if you buy your greens at the farmer’s market, this goes a step beyond that, in my view. I LOVED actually seeing exactly where my food comes from. Meeting the man who will pick it. Knowing his name. That’s something you just don’t find too often nowadays. Where does your food come from? Argentina? New Zealand? That’s like 15,000 miles away for fresh grapes/ apples/ etc. How much fossil fuel was spent getting that food to you? Buy local. Buy seasonal. Even buy organic if you can, but I would choose local over organic.

I do not usually condone beer…or lobsters, but this makes me laugh every time I look at it.

After several conversations with my siblings, I decided to write this post to give them the sum total of all my financial advice I’ve learned as an under-thirty year-old. So this is for you guys, and whoever else feels like they could get a better grip on their money, and live to accomplish their dreams on their own terms.

Bank accounts: Some of the best advice I ever got was from my two older cousins Tim and Kevin. They said I should always have at least $5,000 in the bank. This was a hard feat for a fifteen year old, but once it was in the bank, I vowed never to dip below that mark. So far, I have succeeded. Everyone says that you should have between 3 months and 6 months living expenses saved up for an emergency. So if you lost your job tomorrow, you could survive in your current lifestyle for half a year. I say, why stop at six months? At one point, we had 19 months livings expenses saved, so when my wife took 15 months off to care for our first son, we were living on my smaller, non masters-degree-having job. A few months after that, I got cut to part time. So we went from two full-time incomes to one part-time income. That chunk of savings saved our lives, and our house. We were able to keep up with all payments, only because of our emergency fund. You need one, so start saving today.

It almost goes without saying, but I may as well spell it out. You need a checking account. And, you need a savings account. These cannot be the same account. After putting up with ridiculous fees from M&T, I switched to HSBC and have been pretty happy with them. The main reason I switched was because I was looking for a better savings rate. I checked on Bankrate.com and saw that HSBC offered an online savings account with 5.05% APR. This was a heck of a lot better than the 0.25% rate M&T was giving me. When I switched, (which takes a bit of work, verifying micro transactions, etc.) my monthly interest payment jumped from $1.25 to $52.25. Pretty awesome. I made $500 in interest the first year.

If you have any kind of regular employment, get direct deposit. Figure out generally what you think you’ll need each pay period, and have that amount put into your checking account. Anything left over goes into the saving account, automatically. For example, I had $400 go into checking and whatever was left, say $150 go into savings. You must think of Savings as being untouchable. If you want to save for a specific trip, a new car, etc. set up a third saving account and put $25 or $50 into that each paycheck, but your main savings should remain untouched. Not that it can’t be used. Just not regularly. We used a third account as a wedding fund for the year before we were married and it worked quite well. I also paid off my car using my savings to pay $2,000 chunks down when I could, while keeping up with the regular payments.

Retirement: Even though you’re 21, 25… you need to start thinking about this now. Time affects the amount you end up with much more than how much you put in. This is the beauty of compound interest. A 25 year-old putting in $5,000 a year for 10 years would end up with close to a million dollars, whereas a 55 year-old putting in the same amount over the same time frame would only have just under $80,000!

If you can manage it, contribute money to your employer’s plan as soon as they let you. Most employers will have a matching contribution, but the really good ones will contribute based on a percentage of your salary, even if you put in nothing. After a period of time, typically 3-5 years, you become vested and get to keep all the money that they put in too. An optimum goal for contributions should be 10% of your  salary. It took me several years to build up to this level, so don’t push it if you can’t afford it now. The best part is, my employer matched 7.5% so I was really putting in 17.5%!

The thing about the stock market is…you have to be in it for the long haul. Even if the market is tanking, keep contributing. This is when you can buy up lots of stocks for cheap, so when the market finally rebounds (even if it takes several decades) you’re in the position to make some serious chop. Just think, long term. Not day trading, or even decade trading. If you start when you’re young, the market will surly have grown over four decades, and you can retire wealthy.

Loans or mortgages: First, don’t get one if you can help it. Shakespeare said, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”  The Bible says that the borrower is a slave to the lender. But if you really must get a loan, which most people will end up doing at least a few times in their lives (car, school, house), be smart about it. If you have a good credit score (from paying bills on time, etc.) you can qualify for a good (low) interest rate. Make sure you get one that has no pre-payment penalty on it. That way, you can pay extra principal on it if you want to, with no worries.

Once you reach 21% equity in your house, you can drop the PMI (private mortgage insurance) that you have been paying every month. This will get you an extra (for us) $35 a month that you can add to your Principal payment.

Always pay the minimum payments on all of your loans. Then, pay as much as you can afford on the one with the smallest amount in it. For example: you have three loans, $2000 ($50 payment), $8,000 ($150 payment), and $35,000 ($400 payment). Pay the $2000 loan off first. Then, when you are finished with that one, add the $50 to your next smallest loan so that you can put down $200 towards the $8,000 loan. When that’s done, you can add the $200 to the $400 for a $600 payment. If you do it this way, you will see progress much sooner than if you just focus on the loan with the highest interest rate. Dave Ramsey calls this the Snowball method because it grows as it gathers momentum. Using rough estimates, I figure we can pay off our $64,000 of debt in 6 years. This is not including chunks that we plan to slap down from our previously mentioned savings account.

Credit Cards: No. That’s it. No. They are off limits. If there’s an emergency and you need cash…well that’s what your six month emergency savings account is for.

Insurance: A higher deductible will mean lower monthly fees.

For homeowners/ renters insurance, walk around and take picture of all your most expensive things. Also keep a list with all their serial numbers and purchase price. This will help if there’s ever a burglary of fire.

Taxes: Use free software to do your taxes yourself. A local news channel did an experiment and found that people who paid a tax professional $90 got the same refund when they spent a couple hours online doing it themselves for free. (One person got an extra dollar, but they spent ninety to get it). Speaking of refunds, you should try not to get one. Adjust your exemptions on your W-4 form at your job so that you break even at the end of the year. This way, you get to use more of your own money throughout the year and don’t give the government an interest-free loan with your money.

Life: Simply put: live below your means. If the most you can afford is a $300,000 house, do NOT buy a $300,000 house. buy a $50,000 house. Otherwise, if something goes wrong (like a job layoff), you are already at your threshold and can’t afford the payments. Hello foreclosure.

If you can deal with only having one car to share between two people, do it. If you can live without internet at home because you get it free from your job or school, do it. Get movies from the library for free, don’t rent them at $5 a pop. If you live close to where you work, ride a bike instead of drive. That way you save on gas money and get in shape too. (No gym fees either.) If you have a yard, grow your own food. This is rewarding on many levels, one of which is that your grocery bill goes down. Just try to really distinguish between needs, and wants.

Recommended reading:

“The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey  Great book. Takes you through seven “baby steps” to become debt free and ultimately wealthy. The author has a no nonsense style and admits that the plan is easy but the execution is hard. I will be following this plan for the next six years at least, maybe my whole life. READ IT.

“The Automatic Millionaire” by David Bach is all about setting up your accounts and things so that you accumulate wealth…automatically! Basically set up a 401k early and contribute at least 10 % of your income for as long as you can. Second, buy a house, don’t rent. You will never get rich renting. Also don’t use credit cards. That’s about it.

“The Millionaire Nextdoor” This book goes through how real millionaires live. No, not rap stars and movie stars, real people. The roofer who owns his own business. They wear $30 Timex watches, not $500 Rolex. etc. Interesting book.

“Good debt, Bad debt” by Jon Hanson. Very good book about money management. He wrote it when he was on his death-bed. Basically, don’t go into debt unless it will pay off for you later. Ex. Debt for a school loan which will allow you to get an $80,000 a year job. Good debt. Country club membership and a brand new Mercedes AMG. Bad debt.

Some other posts I’ve written about money:

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Inspired-to-build-wealth

Just had a quick thought a few days ago. Listening and watching all the relief efforts in Haiti, one has to wonder: Do all those reporters bring their own food and water? Or are they taxing an already desperate situation? Are they sleeping in the streets? Or taking up some of the last hotel rooms still standing?

In a time when most fast food chains are offering healthier options on their menus, Burger King sends a different message. “Stay Fat America.”

I was out doing errands today. My wife has our only car so I was on my bike. It was lunchtime and I was mightily hungry from riding five miles to the bank, post office, etc. So I thought I would grab a quick Whopper Jr. from the drive through. Or as they so charmingly call it, the drive-thru. The car ahead of me pulled ahead so I pulled up and waited. A squawky intercom voice told me to hang on. Then they told me to move to the second window. “But I  haven’t ordered yet.” I replied. “Move up to the second window.” They repeated. Once there, a helpful cashier leaned out and yelled that they can’t serve people on bikes. I would have to come inside to order. “Why?” I asked, my money flapping in the wind, just waiting to be given away. “BK policy” she yelled. At this point, fearing I might do something stupid, I just said “Fine” and rode off in a huff.

When I spoke with the manager of this particular “restaurant” later that day over the phone, he said that the only reason they can’t serve bikes is because of insurance. I asked about serving drivers whose cars aren’t insured. He said that was between them and the state. When I asked him about people who just walk through the drive through, his response was, “coupons.” Clearly the type of manager I would want to have serving me food. I’m glad I ended up not eating there.

Corporate Headquarters assured me that bikes can’t be used in the drive through because of safety concerns but said nothing of insurance. I asked if there had been any previous accidents where a car had hit a cyclist and she denied any such occurrences. If I was on a motorcycle though, it would have been fine. So a machine that goes 200 mph and kills 5,154 people every year is much safer than a bicycle that can get up to 30 mph in the city and kills 698 people a year. Hmm. Especially the high-speed lane of the Burger King Drive-Thru. Gosh, I think I got up to 4 mph going around that corner. I’m such a daredevil.

Apparently Burger King is fine promoting riding bikes in video games though, but not real life. God forbid people should want to get in shape. Stay off that bike America. Stay in your car instead.

So I’m asking you to boycott Burger King and take your money elsewhere. Will you join me? What do you think?

I found these Napa Valley wine crates at the Rescue Mission Thrifty Shopper for $3.00 each. Then I got some thin oak and made wider shelves so our spices could fit. I just had to cut the oak to length, drill some holes, and cut in from the edges so that the shelves can twist in between the dowels. They’re just held in by tension, but it seems to work well so far.

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Ahhhhhhh.

Posted: August 29, 2009 in baby, Family, Food, Parenting
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Time for a cute baby update. A few mornings ago, I was drinking my coffee as usual. Andrew had his sippy cup. I took a long swig and when I put the mug down, went “Ahhhhhh” in satisfaction. Andrew promptly picked up his sippy cup, drank some milk, put it down, and went “Ahhhhh.”

Now every time he takes a drink from his cup, he says, “Ahhhh.” I rate it a 9 on the cuteness scale.

My love of ice cream was shaken tonight.

Posted: August 21, 2009 in Food
Tags:

I questioned my belief in my love of ice cream tonight. I ordered a medium, banana flavored, hard ice cream on a cone from Arctic Island. What I got was enormous. Now here’s the thing. I should have been excited that the girl gave me SO much more than what any rational human being would consider a “medium” amount. But because it was still close to 90 degrees, it started dripping as soon as she handed it to me. Add to that a wriggly 14 month old, and I had a problem. Until I could eat and lick my way down to a manageable size, it was going to be a messy, and more repugnantly, gluttonous few minutes for me.

We rode our bikes down to the café/ ice cream place for something to do on a hot evening. We ordered scrumptious sandwiches from the Broadway Café. I even tried something different than the same thing I always get (a toasted Italian sandwich packed with goodness) and a cranberry/ grapefruit Vitamin Water. I was looking forward to the banana ice cream because they make all of their flavors in-house. The other local ice cream joint, Gannon’s, is also good but doesn’t carry banana. I ordered the cone because that has become the “green” thing to do. No Styrofoam cup and plastic spoon in the trashcan for me.

So there I am with a pint of banana ice cream about to topple off my cone. Why did the girl at the counter subject me to this forced speed binge? And why aren’t I enjoying it more? Am I at a point in my life now where I don’t love pigging out on ice cream? I guess so. Pity.

So I suppose my future solution is this, go with the less eco-friendly option, and not speed my way through some delecious home-made ice cream that should really be enjoyed slowly.

That is the question.

I have been straightedge for 13 years. That is: No drugs, alcohol, or promiscuous sex. But now I am questioning my beliefs. Did I even have any?

I am Christian and so you may think, “Oh, well you don’t drink because of your religious beliefs, like many other christians I know.” But I would say no. Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine, so he obviously supports drinking alcohol. Now, don’t misunderstand me, the bible says not to over-indulge, but it also doesn’t say no wine at all.

I was also heavily involved with the Hardcore Music scene of the late 90’s in Syracuse which was predominantly straightedge and vegan. I subscribed to those values easily and have since seen many of my friends “lose their edge” and drink. I was never vegan though, I just love meat too much. Mmmm steak.

So why now? I was having dinner with my wife and she wanted some wine that my godmother had given us as a housewarming gift. She seemed to enjoy it and asked if I wanted any. I (of course) said no, but I thought it was odd of her to ask. She’s known me for years, and that is one fact about me that has not changed. I just don’t drink alcohol. We even have a funny story from when we were in Germany. We were visiting some of Opa’s friends and they asked if I would like some wine. I said, “Nien danke, Ich bin anti-alcohol.” They just couldn’t comprehend that someone wouldn’t drink since that is a big part of the culture over there. So the wife said, “OK, I’ll just pour a little bit then.” It’s like that scene in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” with that aunt who is astounded that the guy doesn’t eat meat. “OK, I make lamb instead!” But it got me to thinking, why not. I’m grown up. I’m not going to get plastered. Hmmmm.

So why do I not drink? Back in high school, I chose not to, to avoid binge drinking at parties and the casual sex that could result from said drinking. The Hardcore scene supported my choice and provided a strong sense of unity and belonging. “We are strong because we choose not to pollute our bodies and minds.” But part of me wonders that the real reason I don’t is that I have a semi-addictive personality and I’m scared I might turn out to be an alcoholic. Are you surprised? Have you seen me in one of my phases? Like the straight razors, or pirates, or martial arts, or…

I also think that, Well, I’ve been drug free all these years, it would be a shame to throw that away. Plus alcohol is just another thing for me to spend money on when we go out. Water is always cheaper than beer. (from the sips I had when I was 14, I remember not liking beer, or scotch, which is blasphemy from someone who identifies himself as Scottish)

Why do I WANT to drink? I suppose that I associate it with being grown up, having a glass of wine with supper. My cousin also brews his own beer and I always feel like I’m insulting him by not trying his creations, even though he knows that I don’t drink. There is also a huge amount of medical evidence that red wine is good for you, but on the other hand, I could just take Resveratrol supplements and get the same benifits. I also feel that I am somehow missing out on the pleasure of well made drinks. I certainly enjoy drinking a great many things. Coffee, tea, juice, fruit smoothies, etc. Conversly, there are so many styles of coffee and tea that I could be happy for years drinking the different varieties that just those two beverages have to offer.

So what should I do? I guess for now, I will continue in my sobriety until something changes. I don’t have a strong urge to drink and now that I started taking resveratrol, I don’t have anything to gain from the benefits of wine. One pill equals the amount of reveratrol in 200 glasses of wine, without the damage to your liver.

What do you think?

So here’s a quick update:

I had my first glass of wine at Easter dinner this year (2011.) (I bought the bottle for my wife for Valentines Day and kinda forgot she was pregnant so we had to wait to share a glass) It was ok, not great. I didn’t get drunk. I didn’t feel a magical bubble pop in my psyche. I didn’t feel my cells rejoice about their shot of resveratrol. A few weeks a ago I attended a wedding at a vineyard. I had 2 &1/2 glasses and may have felt a tiny buzz, but that may have been a headache from the sulphites. I also had a beer at a family BBQ and experienced the same “meh” feeling. I could not imagine myself drinking 5 or 6 of them in a row.

So that’s it. I do drink now, but I’ve still never been drunk and don’t really plan to be.

Why did I start now? Well, I’m 30 now so I guess I qualify as “grown up.” I feel like I should be able to have a glass of wine if I want to. An old friend and I were talking about this topic a few weeks after I had my first sip and he said, “Don’t let labels define you. You have enough of them that other people place on you as it is.” Being “straightedge” isn’t as vital to me now as it was. I’m not suddenly going to start doing black tar heroine or anything, but I feel like I shouldn’t feel bad about trying my cousin’s homemade ale, or sharing in a champagne toast at a wedding.

What do you think?

So this is our backyard, inner-city garden. From Grass to greens. First we watched where the sun hit our yard so we could pick the best spot. We decided that 10×10 was big enough. My wife is cutting the border while baby watches. Cutting the sod was tough work. Wear gloves to avoid blisters. Shake out the chunks so you preserve as much soil as you can. You also save the worms this way and keep them in the garden. Making the fence was the hardest part. Even deciding on a design. Because we have a crawling/ walking baby, we needed something stronger than just wire. So we got cedar rails for their natural weatherproof-ness so when the baby teethes on them, he doesn’t get a mouthful of paint or varnish. Coating the bottoms of the posts in roof pitch was nasty. We also have groundhogs around, so the rabbit fence is good for keeping him out too. We buried it 4 inches below grade for that reason. We started the cold weather veggies early and used a roe-cover for them so that when May rolled around, we already had salads ready to eat. Now we have : lettuce, chives, carrots, beets, radishes, basil, tomatoes, strawberries, bell peppers, cayenne peppers, peas, cucumbers, and spinach.

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IMG_2456This is a question I ask myself sometimes, lying awake at night. Where would I get clean drinking water? What about food? Would the government intervene? How effective would they be? We all saw the response to Katrina and that was a localized incident. What if there was a nationwide, or even worse…worldwide crisis? Could you protect your family? What happens when my car runs out of gas and all the stations are run by armed gangs who demand $1,000 a gallon? Do you have a plan in place?

I have camping gear, and books on survival, but would they really be useful? If things really started falling apart, would I want to move out to the woods? Probably not. I would protect my home. But I don’t own a gun. Don’t misunderstand that I’m not armed (potential robbers reading this) I have several swords, knives, and a hunting bow. But a gun trumps a knife almost every time. People sometimes comment on how uncivilized third-world countries are, but if you took away grocery stores, indoor plumbing, and most importantly, a visible police force, watch how fast our “civilized” society descends into chaos.

We have our own vegetable garden, but it’s not enough to live off of. We have a pond behind our house, out in the park, but that is run by city pumps, not a free flowing stream. There is a stream a few blocks away, but would a Brita filter be enough for us? If we had to live in the woods, I’m sure we could do it, left to our own devices. But another factor is a bigger issue. Human nature can be ugly, greedy, and cruel. I’m more worried about the roving gangs of opportunists who take what they want by force. Against them, my family would fall. Unless we banded together with other neighbors and became similar to what we were protecting against.

Castle in Baden Wieler

An interesting take on this situation is a book by Larry Niven titled “Lucifer’s Hammer.” In it, an asteroid strikes the Earth, thrusting humanity, and California in particular, into chaos. Gunman control decaying supermarkets, military leaders go AWOL and from their own mini armies, roving the counrtyside taking what they want, and good people just trying to survive get caught in the middle, constantly heading for higher ground and a safe place that only exists in their dreams.

I ask these questions, because in todays’ uncertain economy, they bear thinking about. You may call me an alarmist, but so far, I haven’t stockpiled any freeze-dried foods, grain, water, gas, or guns. Hmmm… I wonder when the local Army/ Navy store closes?

banana-nut-cheeriosWhat’s the difference between real banana flavor and natural banana flavor?

My wife loves to entertain but one of her rules about food is that you have to make it pretty. So I thought I would show some of her prettier (and tastier) displays.

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