When to Use Aluminum Foil or Plastic Wrap for Wrapping Food

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plastic wrap or aluminum foil when wrapping food

Overtime, I’ve learned to heavily rely on plastic wrap, especially, and sometimes aluminum foil, for wrapping food. I stopped using both plastic baggies and plastic containers quite a few years ago. Using solely glass containers, plastic wrap, and aluminum foil – I eat leftovers all the time, never throw food out, and feel much less wasteful

Years ago I abandoned plastic baggies and no longer buy them. This was a conscious decision after spending one evening rinsing them out to re-use again. I felt so ridiculous that I quickly realized plastic baggies are wasteful, whether you re-use them or not. They can’t do anything that plastic wrap or aluminum foil can’t do. With one exception, plastic baggies are useful for item storage (not food storage) like puzzle pieces, board game cards, etc. But for food, don’t bother.

Not too long after that, I also gave up on plastic containers. Since I lived with roommates, I would always use their leftover chinese takeout plastic containers. But it’s such a hassle. You have a cupboard overflowing with containers and lids, few of them matching. Sometimes the plastic will melt in the microwave. Or the plastic will stain. Or start to smell funny. And there’s nothing like eating out of a plastic container to remind yourself that you’re eating yesterday’s leftovers.

However, it took me some time to figure out exactly what food is best wrapped in plastic wrap and which is best wrapped in aluminum foil. Plus, there’s some other really good uses for both other than food. Also, wrapping food tightly in wrap or foil takes up far less space in your fridge or freezer than all those plastic containers.

Plastic Wrap

Sealing Containers for Leftovers or Liquids
Honestly, I use plastic wrap a lot. I can get by without aluminum foil, but not plastic wrap. For leftovers, I do have a nice set of glass bowls & lids that I use a lot. But sometimes I want to use a plate or a serving bowl for leftovers. And plastic wrap is perfect for this. Although it may not stick very well to plastic containers, it works great on glass/ceramics; like actual serving plates, bowls, and glasses.

I trust the plastic wrap enough to wrap it over a bowl with pasta + sauce, then tip the bowl sideways and put it in my bag everyday to go to work. It has yet to fail me. And I don’t mean the fancy ‘press n seal’ kind. Just the every day original kind. Besides, even when I’m just eating lunch at my desk at work, I still prefer eating out leftovers out of a real bowl with a real fork. It makes it feel like I’m eating an actual meal, not just reheating something in plastic.

Freezing Foods
I’ve previously mentioned that a key to making perfect chocolate chip cookies, is refrigerating the cookie dough for at least 24-hours before baking; or freezing beforehand. During this process, the best thing to use to wrap up the dough is plastic wrap. It makes a tight seal to prevent the dough from drying out or absorbing other odors in the fridge. I just directly wrap up the whole ball of dough with wrap and set it in the fridge.

I also use this same method when freezing food. Either cookie dough or meats, especially chicken. I just wrap it all up in plastic wrap and store it in the freezer. I have never had any problems with this. Though, if you’d prefer, you can then wrap that up in foil, if you’re worried about freezer burn. Just be sure to use plastic wrap first.

I tend to buy the family pack of chicken breasts when it goes on sale, then I come home and immediately slice them up into single servings for me. I’ll wrap up a few pieces in plastic wrap and put them in the freezer. This way no food goes to waste and I don’t have to make 10 chicken breasts all at once. When I want the chicken, I just take out one of the bundles from the freezer and put it in the fridge; with a plate under it because it will leak chicken juices. Plastic wrap works very well for freezing up smaller sized portions in the fridge.

Storing Foods
Plastic wrap is great for providing a tight steal to really keep foods fresh. I use this method for cheese all the time. Whenever I open a block of cheese, I take it out of it’s original packaging then wrap it up tightly in plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge. As long as the plastic wrap is tightly sealed, the cheese will last a really long time that way. I would’t know though, I eat those things so quickly.

This is also a useful method for sauces and dips when you don’t want them to get a film on top. For guacamole, hummus, or any other sauce, just lay the plastic wrap directly on top of the dip then push it against the sides to create a tight seal along the bowl or plate. Make sure all the dip is sealed tightly in the plastic without air. This also prevents avocados from browning.

When To Use Aluminum Foil

Reheating Leftovers
Now that I no longer have a microwave, I use the oven for everything including heating up leftovers. For awkward leftovers like pasta or mashed potatoes, aluminum foil really comes in handy for re-heating. I’ll usually just put the leftover food directly on a rectangle of aluminum foil, wrap it up into a sealed packet, then place it directly on the rack in the oven. I’ll put the temperature to warm and wait a bit. Of course the oven takes longer to reheat than zapping food in the microwave. But it all comes out at an even temperature and the foil packet helps keep pasta moist.

Liner/Separator For Baking
Because aluminum foil is oven-friendly, it is very useful in baking. You can either use it as a separator when cooking multiple food in the same pan. Or also when baking multiple cakes. For example, I’ve made separator’s out of foil when baking different color cakes in the same pan. The foil is sturdy enough to separate the batter and can withstand the heat of the oven; without tainting the taste of your food. You can also line a pan with foil to help with clean-up.

Oddly enough, wrap and foil are two products where the generic version just does not hold up. Store-brand plastic wrap just sticks together or is so thin it rips apart before you can even use it. You’ll end up throwing away the whole thing without barely using it. Splurge on the name-brand larger size of both foil and plastic wrap.

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Disturbing & Scary Books That are Great

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I love scary books and movies even though I tend to really get scared easily. Scary movies I can’t watch alone. But books are great because you can read them in a public space, yet still feel creeped out. I’ve never really been scared by a Stephen King book, so none of those make this list. And there is a big difference between scary & disturbing.

american psycho book by bret easton ellis

Disturbing: American Psycho

The satirical aspect of American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis doesn’t make it any less disturbing. I get that it’s supposed to be repulsive. It’s supposed to make you want to feel sick. And uncomfortable. And uneasy. It’s supposed to be over the top – and it is! It certainly grossed me out several times but the writing never strays from it’s point and overall I’d consider it a great read.

This is one of the few books I remember feeling truly uncomfortable reading in a public place. It was specifically during the second sex scene and it involves…. an animal. And I’m squirming in my seat right now just thinking about it! But reading the details of this insane sexual act plus the gruesome murder following it, I truly felt uncomfortable reading this on the subway.

Here I was sitting next to people on the train, they’re like la la la going to work and I’m next to them reading about a man trapping a rat in a woman’s vagina.

But that kind of awkwardness is, in a way, reassuring. I’d question myself if I just shrugged at it. Plus, it’s pretty amazing to know an author’s words are powerful enough to make me feel such strong emotion. To describe acts so vulgar and disgusting that can still gross me out in this jaded day and age. American Psycho was written in 1991 (though it’s set in the 1980’s). And it’s disturbing factor still holds up over 20 years later. You can’t say that for too many stories (novels, movies, etc).

charles burns graphic novel black hole

Disturbing: Black Hole

Charles Burns illustrations are beautiful and fantastic and creepy as hell. The world he creates in graphic novel Black Hole is incredibly dark. His drawing style, mostly made up of blackness, only adds to that. Burns really brings out emotions in the characters, even if the story isn’t completely straight-forward. The world is confusing, just as some of the characters are emotionally confused. And it works so well.

The illustrations are never quite repulsive but they can be disturbing, which works so well for the plot. This is definitely a story that could only work as a graphic novel. And really, only by Burns.

nos4a2 by joe hill

Scary/Creepy: NOS4A2

At this point, it’s safe to say that I am in love with Joe Hill. I loved his previous novel Horns. And I really loved this one. Parts of this are a little disturbing because it has to do with a serial killer kidnapping children and his assistant doing gruesome things to women. But really the whole thing is creepy and borderline scary in some parts.

This is another book that I felt slightly odd reading on the subway but for a different reason than American Psycho. Although unfortunately both books do involve raping/killing/maiming women. Hill never gets nearly as gruesome in his descriptions and knows exactly when to end it. There was one scene in particular that was so scary/gruesome I found myself wishing I could read it through my fingers – like I do when watching scary movies. Unfortunately reading while half-covering my eyes didn’t work too well. But Hill knows his audience and just a sentence after I started getting too squeamish, the scene concluded smoothly.

What saves NOS4A2 from being disturbing is that part of it takes place in magical areas – or innerscapes as they’re described in the book. There is a supernatural aspect to the book which makes it a bit more creepy than disturbing. Plus, the atmosphere is spooky.

The book is revolved around the serial killer’s home innerscape of Christmasland. If you think about it, Christmas is really creepy! Christmas music, the lights, Santa Claus… if you take it out of context, it’s all creepy. Like, if someone were to seriously listen to Christmas music outside of the month of December, it’d be a little weird.

This atmosphere, especially of turning a holiday that is supposed to be of cheer into this entire world of fear, is just spooky the whole way through. Sure, some scenes are scary in themselves, but there is a lingering creepy tone to all of this, which just really made it a fun read.

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Reading A Book Trilogy as a Really Long Novel

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lord of the rings as one book

Series have always been difficult to keep my attention. Outside of The Boxcar Children or Babysitter’s Club, I couldn’t keep up with long story arcs and a rotating cast of characters. This also happens with television series. A long-winded plot just means filler episodes, disposable characters, and an often disappointing ending.

Trilogies, for books or movies, seem to be all the rage right now. And I get it. As the reader, you become attached to a character and want to learn more about them. As the publisher, you see $$$ knowing that even if the third book is poorly written it will still sell because now the audience is invested. Brilliant really.

Lord of the Rings “Trilogy”

I prefer to skip all that and stick to stand-alone books. I don’t need to continue a world or a character. One adventure is enough for me. With that said, I have read all of Lord of the Rings. Though it’s easy to see why I enjoyed those three books when I wouldn’t normally read a trilogy – LoTR is one long book.

For economic reasons, The Lord of the Rings was published in three volumes over the course of a year from 29 July 1954 to 20 October 1955. This was due largely to post-war paper shortages, as well as being a way to keep down the price of the book. – Wikipedia

Lord of the Rings is actually a novel, not a trilogy. It was all written at once, as part of the same story, and released with little time between each volume. As such, you really cannot read each book standalone. There are starts and ends to pieces of the adventure throughout the story, but the books were not meant to be read fragmented. There are no definitive conclusions at the end of each book. Because they were not meant to be separate books at all.

In this sense, reading these three books in a row as the novel they were meant to be wasn’t difficult. I enjoy adventure stories so it definitely kept my attention. And in parts where the politics grew a bit weary, it was quickly balanced out by learning about the amazing world Tolkien created. Like the ents, talking slowly, always in search of their lost entwives.

Reading LoTR as a novel also made the story very clear and kept me connected to the characters. After struggling with other series (The Dark Tower) and not being able to finish. I’ve realized that reading trilogies straight-through is best way for me to keep a connection to the story. So this was how I decided to read The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman.

Magicians Trilogy

The Magicians

Knowing my difficulty reading series, I generally avoid them. So I was a little worried when I saw “read a trilogy” as one of the Reading Challenges that I’m currently participating in. However, the entire reason I wanted to join the challenge was to read outside my comfort zone. And I knew this would certainly be one of those times.

After hearing about the third book when it came out last year, I decided to read The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman for the reading challenge. The entire series was already written and published, so I wouldn’t have to wait around between books. Now, each part is a novel unto itself. But it is also a trilogy so they are all connected and there is an overarching plot.

I knew that the only way I could actually finish all three books would be to read them in order. I actually read these digitally on my second-hand Nook just so I would have them all queued up. As soon as I finished one, I could immediately start reading the other. Almost tricking myself that I hadn’t actually finished a book at all.

Reading an actual trilogy is different because each novel does have it’s own plot – a definitive introduction and conclusion. Sure, jumping into book two or three may be confusing as you’re not familiar with the world or previous character development, but you could still read it as a novel and feel complete.

Grossman actually did a really good job tying in past events and briefly explaining them for new readers or refreshing the memories of those who were not reading them back to back. These quick rehashes never took me out of the book and would have been just enough to bring a new reader up to speed.

If it were not for the book challenge, I wouldn’t have read any of The Magicians books simply because they are a trilogy. So the challenge is doing exactly what I wanted it to. And I am really glad I read the books because I definitely enjoyed the story. I liked it as one long story, reading the books back-to-back, with three separate smaller plot lines along the way.

Southern Reach Trilogy

But then some trilogies are written as separate books but don’t have any individual story arcs. They really are simply drawn-out versions of what could be a more concise novel. This is what Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy reminded me of. Take this all with a grain of salt because I only read the first one, Annihilation. That short 198-page novel was quite difficult to get through and I have no interest in reading the other two.

The books were all released in 2014, so clearly they were all written at the same time. Annihilation didn’t have any sort of plot or conclusion. It was almost like a periodical in that way, the beginning of a series that you need to continue to get to the conclusion. Not a novel unto it’s own.

The book’s 200-pages merely introduced the world, though vaguely, and the main character. I liked the unreliable narrator aspect. But there was no set conclusion, although the book really wasn’t long enough to justify ending so early. I probably would have read continued reading if it were a long novel because I am curious as to what happens. But… not enough to read two other books.

There is just something about breaking up the reading that seems like such a turn off to me. I’d rather it all be one connected story than fragmented out. With my positive experience of reading The Magicians I thought I had another trilogy in me, but I think I’ll stick to my single novels for now. Besides, after hearing my friend’s frustration with the Wheel of Time series when the author died while writing the final book, I think I will stay wary of uncompleted series for a while as well.

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Weekly Updates: Improv and Books and Basketball

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improv stage empty theater

Life: My Friends Are Funny And You Are Not

Taking advantage of this public platform, here’s a shout out to my friends Nikki DeSautelle and Sarah Braun (the Big Damn TV Geek)! I saw them individually perform in improv shows earlier this week and it was great fun. These ladies are hilarious and everyone else is terrible.

If you’re ever looking for something to do on a Thursday at 7:30p, go watch Nikki and her improv group 2 Chinz perform at Queens Secret Theater in LIC (in the little theater).

Life: Wings + Basketball

march madness bracket
There are so many decent sports bars (and just bars to watch sports) around here. One of the near me, Rock Shop, has a pretty decent deal on Monday nights. All domestic bottles are $3 and wings are half-price. These are bar wings, so not the best in brooklyn, but good enough for a cheap meal. Plus, the upstairs bar is pretty decent for watching sports. I’ve come here with friends and by myself and never had any issues.

Tomorrow, Sunday, is Selection Sunday! That’s related to college basketball (not sportsball). This marks the beginning of March Madness and I can’t wait! It’s a relief this year that MSU hasn’t had the best season because that means I can actually enjoy the tournament. I can’t imagine being a Kentucky fan at the moment. They currently stand undefeated for the season and every game would just stress me out. Watching sports is so much fun and absolutely terrible at the same time. Yet, I continue to do it. And the next few weeks will be full of lots of college basketball watching. This is your warning!

Books: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

This book was so good! I will write a full detailed post about it because I loved it so much. But I wanted to mention it here because, really, go read it. Hill’s writing is so perfectly balanced between creepy, weird, scary, and gruesome. He never lets the story go too far in one direction and even wrapped everything up perfectly. None of the characters are too good or too bad. The story itself wasn’t too predictable (a pet peeve of mine). It was a quick read and just really kept me on my toes. If you like creepy, weird, or supernatural stories, definitely read this one.

Books: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

It took me 3 days to read this 198 page book, so that should tell you something right there. This is part one of a trilogy though I’m not sure why it wasn’t just all one full length book. This book, on it’s own, has no character development, no story arc, no actual plot to follow. The narrator is unreliable, which I liked. But nothing is solved, or even introduced really. The writing was literary and atmospheric but… nothing happened. I have no interest in reading the rest of the books because this book did nothing to make me care about any of the characters.

Best Of Internet

College Basketball
2015 Bracket + Tournament Challenge – ESPN (3/2015)

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Web Strategy
Link Building Skyscraper Technique – Backlinko (1/3/2015)

LB Time Machine

2014: Pinata Birthday Cake
2013: Rubik’s Cube Cake
The other years were boring

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Running A Half Marathon with Depression

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nyc half marathon in times square

The NYC Half Marathon is this weekend – good luck to all the runners. I ran this race in 2012 and it is still one of my most memorable races. I was in the midst of a debilitating severe depression when I ran it. This isn’t going to be a motivational “If I can do it, so can you” message. This is a message of just how fucked up Depression is and how we can never ever trust our brains.

First, let’s talk about my running schedule leading up to the Half. Here are all my runs from summer 2011-March 2012:
Jul ’11: 10-Mile run up Bedford Ave
Sep ’11: Newport Liberty Half Marathon (my first Half)
Jan ’12: 3-Mile run along the Hudson River
Mar ’12: NYC Half Marathon

And that’s it.

This is one of those weird things where, “normally”, I wouldn’t even consider running a half so unprepared but since Depression is all about sabotaging yourself, both races seemed like a great idea. Starting the spring of 2011, I moved into Manhattan and became severely depressed to the point where I wasn’t functional. I woke up every morning crying, could barely eat or sleep, and often times called in to work just because I couldn’t get myself out of bed.

Some days, moving from the bed to the couch was an accomplishment. Going for a run was out of the question.

Besides, I knew it wouldn’t make me feel better. Nothing made me feel better when I was deep in that rut. Looking at the schedule above, I remember that January run. It was New Year’s Day and I had a brief moment of hope in the midst of crying on the couch. I decided to start the year off right with a run, especially since I was already signed up for the upcoming race in March. So I got ready for the run, still crying, then pulled myself together enough to leave the apartment. I ran 3-miles along the Hudson River. Then as soon as I got back to the apartment, I started crying again and sat back on the couch as though I had never left. I didn’t feel any different. No adrenaline, no accomplishment, nothing. I couldn’t bring myself to go for another run after that.

Pros and Cons of Running the NYC Half While Depressed

There were two reasons why I wanted to run this Half Marathon at all: 1) I really wanted to run through Times Square, as it is closed to traffic for the race, and 2) I won the registration lottery and wasn’t sure I would even have another opportunity to run the race at all. That was my entire “Pro” list as I was arguing with myself at 4a the morning of the race.

The entire “Con” list was: I have to get out of bed.

I don’t remember the night before the race but you can bet your buttons I didn’t carb load, or hydrate until my pee ran clear, or get a good night’s sleep.

In the end, the rational part of my brain made a compromise with my Depression. I would run the course through Times Square and across 42nd st to the West Side Highway. At that point in time, I would assess how I’m feeling. If I wanted to stop running, I would just quit right there and not feel guilty about it and go back home to bed. But, if I felt fine, then I would finish the race and then go back home to bed. So I started the race with the ultimate goal of just making it through Times Square. I didn’t even care about finishing and certainly didn’t care about my time.

Running A Half Marathon with Depression

Running the race felt weird. Well, having Depression feels weird. So the combination of feeling emotionally numb with this repetitive muscle-numbing activity is strange.

Part of it was, I enjoyed feeling the physical pain because it meant I could actually feel something.

For me, Depression feels like walking in a fog, or never really waking up, or living in a smoke screen, or like a robot/zombie/emotionless. Things happen around me but I’m not fully aware of what’s going on. I just go through the motions and don’t have any feelings about anything. For the most part, everything is horrible and hopeless. After a while, I just stop feeling altogether.

That was the state of my life when I ran this race. My life felt hopeless. I didn’t care about anything. I was worried and scared about everything so also worried and scared about nothing. I didn’t care about the race or anything in my life other than staying in bed all day. Everything else was just a hassle. Running this race was just this annoying thing I had to do before I could climb back into bed for the day.

And that was how it felt running it. I don’t remember any thoughts going through my head other than “why did I get out of bed for this?”. But I never felt tired or hurt or bad, nor did I ever feel good or excited or proud. I didn’t feel anything.

I just went through the motions without any emotion.

I ran straight through, not taking any walking breaks. I just didn’t think about it. My brain was so numb that most of the physical pain I felt didn’t even register while I was running. The runners next to me and the crowd just looked like the normal fog I was used to living my life in. I knew that I wasn’t going to feel better after this race. I would still go home and be depressed. I would still wake up tomorrow crying. So might as well just put one foot in front of the other, run through Times Square, then get this over with so I can get back in bed.

That’s what I did. I ran zombie-like through Times Square, trying to squeeze out some sense of elatement but couldn’t really. I turned west until I saw the Hudson then I did a check-in with myself. At this point, I had just passed the 9-mile mark. So I had a brief conversation with myself that I wasn’t in physical pain and might as well just finish this thing. I didn’t feel any sense of accomplishment or pride that I was going to finish the race. I just continued to put one foot in front of the other.

Then I ran through the finish line and phew, glad that is over with, now where’s the subway I want to get home and lay back in bed and cry the rest of the day because my life is hopeless and I can’t do anything and will I always feel so empty and I’m completely pathetic.

As soon as I finished the race, it was over mentally for me. Done. I felt zero positive emotion, no relief, nothing. I still felt emotionally empty. But now I was starting to feel some of the pain in my legs. I continued going through the motions to get home. Being in a fog on the train, the walk home, until finally I could lay down in my apartment and dwell on how hopeless my life was. The race did absolutely nothing for me at all. I wasn’t glad I ran it nor did I regret it. Nothing.

I wasn’t even glad to be back in bed because, truthfully, I didn’t want to be alive anywhere at all.

Our Brains Hate Us

Now, this is where things got weird.

After the race, I was considerably physically sore as expected. My leg muscles burned going down stairs, sitting down, and standing up. My brain could not deny that I was in pain. However, Depression could deny where that pain came from.

During those days, when I thought about the race, Depression immediately said, “Are you kidding? You can’t run 13-miles! You can’t even run one mile. You can’t do anything.” And I would believe it for a moment. Then, the tiny Rational part of my brain would say, “But you just ran 13-miles, that’s why your legs are sore.” Oh yeah.

However, my legs were only sore for a few days. At the end of the week, Depression had a pretty strong argument. Of course I could never run 13-miles, that’s ridiculous. And I truly believed that, not only could I never run 13-miles, but that I had never ran 13-miles. That idea was so absurd and I was completely pathetic for even thinking that.

At one point, I started carrying a cutout photo around of myself running in the NYC Half Marathon just to prove to my brain that I did, in fact, run that race. I was starting to think I was really going crazy and had made up that I ran the race at all. My brain was going in so many different directions and the conflict between the two sides (Rational v Depression) was really scary.

Over time, I grew to finally believe that I had in fact ran that distance but Depression still never let me treat it as an accomplishment. To this day that race, the one where I was barely functioning like a human being, was my best race and is still my Half PR. But I would never ever want to experience that type of emotional emptiness again.

Depression is a serious illness that cannot be cured by running a race, getting a new job, moving to a new city, starting a new relationship or any of those things because Depression doesn’t care.

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Birthday Fun with Funfetti Cupcakes

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Funfetti Vanilla Cupcake

It has become a tradition that I make my friend Allison’s birthday cakes for her every March. Previously I made her an Inside Out Rubik’s Cube Cake and a Pinata Cake. This year I toned down the birthday cake project by making simple but still fun Funfetti Cupcakes.

Both the cake and frosting recipes are straight out of How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. If you don’t have the book, download the iOS app ($4) for access to all the recipes. (Not sponsored, just trying to help)

I used the Golden Layer Cake recipe from the book above. My only modification was adding 1/2 Cup of Rainbow Sprinkles for the “funfetti” part. This is my favorite yellow cake mix. The Almond Extract makes the flavor so don’t skip out on that. Then I made the Vanilla Buttercream Frosting recipe as it was. The recipe calls for 4 Cup of powdered sugar but it took me about 6 Cups to get a stiff enough consistency to decorate.

The recipe directions in the book are only for a layer cake, not cupcakes. So, I ended up with 20 cupakes in total instead of the desired 24. The cooking time for the cupcakes was still accurate to the 25-minutes given for the cake. I baked one tin at a time for 10-minutes, turned it around in the oven, then baked for another 5-minutes. Then let it cool on a rack for 5-minutes before taking the cupcakes out to cool on a separate rack. As always, wait until the cupcakes have completely cooled before frosting.

I’ve never been all that good at cake decorating so I used assistance to help jazz up these cupcakes. With a vanilla cake and vanilla frosting, I used sprinkles and cupcake wrappers to add color. Each cupcake had different types of sprinkles on it and was in a different color wrapper. It’s tedious but the best way to add sprinkles is one-at-a-time placed by hand. The variety of colors was subtle but really added to the presentation. Everything was finished off with happy birthday candles and a song.

I have several friends with birthdays this week so Happy Birthday to all of you!

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Weekly Updates: Travel Feelings + Cat Surgery + The Magicians

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Feelings: LA + Cantalina Island

There’s a full post about this but I wanted to write about some emotions I experienced on the trip. This was the first trip I went on since flying out to Wyoming last summer when my dad passed away. I was glad that this trip involved celebrating life and a friendships. That it was a trip I was excited about, not dreading.

My dad loved to travel! So whenever I traveled, I got into the habit of doing this little thing. I would always call my dad once I got to the destination and say, “Hey dad, guess where I am?” “I don’t know, where?!” “In LA!” “Wow! Have fun!”. Every time I traveled, regardless of how far, I always called him from the place and had a little chat. I hadn’t realized how important such a trivial little thing like that was.

When we first got to the Island I had the thought that I should call my dad. Of course this triggered the whole range of emotions. First, the sadness of “oh yeah, I can’t” and the associated emptiness that comes out of that. It did feel like an ‘emptiness’ that needed to be filled with this phone call that was impossible to make. I kept thinking about it. Now, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t sad the entire time. And I definitely enjoyed my vacation and laughed and felt good. But that isn’t to say I didn’t also have some sadness permeating in the background. A few times it would pop up in my thoughts, that I wished I could tell dad about this.

But I tried to use all the mental tools I have to really analyze a situation. I talked it out with my friend. And I realized something. This didn’t need to be sad. I kept thinking about my dad, which is a good thing. He will always be with me – I don’t need to worry about forgetting him. Whenever I travel, he will always be with me. Sure, I can’t just call him on the phone. But those memories make me smile. It seems like such a small thing that I hadn’t quite realized had become such a tradition. But I am so happy that we had that. And, hopefully, next time I will try to let that only bring me happiness of positive memories.

I’m still in the first year of his passing and it’s so surprising to me all of these little things that come up. It comes unexpected and kind of hits me emotionally. But next time I travel, I can be ready for that feeling. The next thing I’m dreading is Father’s day, then the anniversary of his death. If I can get past them the first time, hopefully it’ll get a teeny bit better after.

Scarface's shaved belly after surgery

Scarface’s shaved belly after surgery

Cats: Feline Bladder Stone Removal Surgery

Scarface had his Cystotomy last Monday and is slowly recovering. He has been quite lethargic but overall in good spirits. He immediately hated the cone and learned quickly to just stop licking. The plastic cone is to prevent him form licking the stitched area because he can either remove the stitches or his saliva can cause the area to be infected.

This was a day surgery, I dropped him off in the morning then picked him up after work. He was quite drowsy and stumbled around the apartment half falling over. Which was sad and adorable. Also, as you see in the picture above they had to shave most of his belly. Also adorable. I had to give him liquid pain medication for the first three days after surgery. This is day 5 and he seems pretty fine now. His check-up appointment is on Monday so hopefully the vet will say all looks good.

The total cost of the surgery, including prior appointment, was $848. He will now need to eat prescription cat food for several months as well. This is about $40/case of 24. Thankfully both cats can eat it. But this does dramatically increase my cat expenses as I was previously spending $10/case. It’s not a huge expense but I do have to keep it in mind. However, much cheaper than dealing with another surgery. I hope I never have to deal with that again for both of our sake’s.

Lev Grossman author of The Magicians Trilogy

Lev Grossman author of The Magicians Trilogy

Books: Magician’s Trilogy

As part of the reading challenge, I read The Magician’s Trilogy. I will likely write a full post on this soon because I have many feelings about trilogies. Well, serial’s in general. Namely, that I don’t quite have the attention span to read them. Unfortunately, it means that I miss out on a lot of good stories because book series are a publisher’s dream.

The Magicians is one of those stories I am glad that I did not miss out on. In order to keep my attention, I thought of it as a single thousand page book, instead of three individual books. This worked out well because I didn’t really get hooked on the story until book three (or, you could say, 600 pages in). And I loved the ending.

I don’t see myself running out to read any more trilogies. But the book challenge is doing exactly what I want it to do. It is getting me out of my box when it comes to books. And it’s great reading new types of stories.

Best Of Internet

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Understanding the Impact of Dwell Time – Search Engine Journal (6/11/2014)

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Minnesota Starvation Experiment
This was a clinical study performed at the University of Minnesota between November 19, 1944 and December 20, 1945. The investigation was designed to determine the physiological and psychological effects of severe and prolonged dietary restriction and the effectiveness of dietary rehabilitation strategies.

Time Machine

Since I’ve been writing on this site for six years, here’s what I’ve been doing the first week of March each year:

2014: Weekly Updates: Half-Marathon Training Week 5 + Quesadilla Quiche (3/8/2014)
2013: Sunday Listen: There’s A Tear In My Beer by Hank Williams Sr (3/10/13)
2012: Too depressed to write
2011: Netflix Picks: The Shining, Iron Giant, Short Circuit (3/11/11)
2010: My Quest to Bake Home-Made Bread (3/4/10)

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36 Hours in LA + Cantalina Island

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Green hills of Avalon on Cantalina Island look like something out of Jurassic Park but did not see any dinos

Green hills of Avalon on Cantalina Island look like something out of Jurassic Park but we did not see any dinos

On a whim, I decided to take an overnight trip to LA & Cantalina Island to spend my friend’s 30th birthday with her. I haven’t taken a whirlwind trip to that extent before and was concerned it might be too exhausting. It wasn’t. I had a blast and would do it again in a second.

This was my first trip to LA so I really had no idea what to expect. As we spent most of the time on Catalina Island, I didn’t get a real feel for what LA is like. Some of my initial impressions were that it has all the advantages of city (good food, culture) and also has a lot of space. Of course the beaches, mountains, and weather are perfect. The traffic was as I was warned but after spending 6 years in NJ, it wasn’t a bother. In fact, LA reminded me a lot of New Jersey. Plant some palm trees on the Garden State Parkway and you’ve got the 405. Seriously, you have beaches in New Jersey. Also “the” Parkway and “the” Turnpike. It’s not a far stretch.

I flew out of JFK at 6:30a Thursday morning, arriving in LA around 9:30a – it was a 6-hour flight. I slept about 4 hours of that. My return flight was the next evening, Friday at 10:55p – a 4-hour redeye flight. I slept all 4 hours.

Wading in the Ocean at Santa Monica beach California

Wading in the Ocean at Santa Monica beach

Santa Monica Beach

My friend, Lauryn, picked me up from LAX and we immediately went off to find breakfast tacos. I mean, if I’m spending 36-hours in LA I am definitely going to be eating some tacos. From there, we visited Santa Monica, solely because I loved the Everclear song as a teenager. Yep. This part was great because I looove the ocean. It was a bit cooler, I wore jeans but rolled them up to put my feet in the chilly Pacific water. We wandered around the beach, then walked across the highway up this giant hill for better views. We could see the Pier from where we were but we did not go to it. Instead we just stayed on the beach then did the long walk. Remember, this was February and also a Thursday morning. So the place was fairly sparse for us. It was pretty relaxing.

From Santa Monica, we drove along Mulholland Drive then ate lunch at Pink’s – a hotdog joint. It was great. I love hotdog places. We both had chili dogs and onion rings. I’d show you the picture but just imagine a plate of brown. Delicious, though. Then we headed for Long Beach.

Pacific Ocean & Beach at Santa Monica California

Pacific Ocean & Beach at Santa Monica

Santa Monica California

Santa Monica Beach, walk up for a view

On our walk, a view of Santa Monica Beach California

On our walk, a view of Santa Monica Beach

A Sprawling Tree in Santa Monica Beach California

A Sprawling Tree

Avalon on Cantalina Island California

Avalon on Cantalina Island

Cantalina Island – Avalon, CA

After lots of driving on the 405 and all those other “the” highways, we made our way to Long Beach. This was our port of departure for our ferry to Catalina Island. The ferry left at 5:45p so we were able to see a beautiful sunset. Unfortunately, we weren’t informed that by the time we got to the island around 7p, almost every dining place would be closed. Thankfully two places were still open because we were starving.

The ferry itself was nice. I was warned it could be rough so I took some dramamine ahead of time and didn’t have any problems on the boat. It was fairly chilly though. The Catalina Express costs $75 roundtrip. Or, if it’s your birthday, it’s free.

Our hotel was up a steep hill about 10-minutes from town, which was great exercise. The whole island is really beautiful. I really enjoyed our stay even though it was just overnight and would definitely consider going back. The next morning we enjoyed a lovely outdoor breakfast while staring at the ocean and palm trees. Then Lauryn made the best decision to rent a golf cart for three hours.

See, there are a limited amount of cars allowed on the island and right now there is a waiting list. So golf carts are used as an alternative and valid mode of transportation around the island. I found this hilarious. When visiting Catalina Island, I definitely recommend renting a golf cart and taking yourself on a diy tour. You get to see some amazingly beautiful views of the ocean and Avalon. It was my favorite part of the whole trip.

We made a pit-stop on our golf cart adventure and had a drink at the Descanso Beach Club. In the 1920’s, a herd of buffalo were brought to the island for a silent film and left there. They are now part of the island’s ecosystem and are protected by the conservancy. In honor of the roaming buffalo, there is an island-only alcoholic drink named Buffalo Milk. And it is delicious (despite the name). So we enjoyed our Buffalo Milk drinks while staring out at the Pacific at the beach club. Relaxing and perfect.

Me and Lauryn on our golf cart adventure cantalina islandn avalon california

Me and Lauryn on our golf cart adventure

Ferry from Long Beach to Cantalina Island - Avalon, CA Catalina Express

Ferry from Long Beach to Cantalina Island – Avalon, CA

Relaxing at Descanso Beach Club on Catalina Island Avalon CA

Relaxing at Descanso Beach Club on Catalina Island

Drinking Buffalo Milk on Catalina Island Descanso Beach Club

Drinking Buffalo Milk on Catalina Island (creme de banana, creme de cocoa, kahlua, vodka, milk; whipped cream + nutmeg)

View from eating breakfast outside in Avalon on Catalina Island

View from eating breakfast outside in Avalon

Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island

Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island

A friendly pelican on catalina island

A friendly pelican

Redando & Manhattan Beaches + Chinese Theater/etc

Our ferry ride back was also uneventful. I took more dramamine and promptly fell asleep the entire hour of the boat ride. We arrived back on the mainland around 3p and had several hours to spend in LA before my red-eye flight that evening. We cruised around looking at high end boutiques in, I think, West Hollywood. This reminded me of SoHo except every store was huge and no one was really walking on the sidewalk. At this point we’re essentially just driving around. So we stopped at an In-N-Out, obligatory, then headed to Redando Beach. Except it was kind of freezing. Then we kept driving North along the beach and stopped at Manhattan Beach.

Watching the sunset at Manhattan Beach was beautiful. This felt very “California” to me. Lots of people walking on the pier, lots of restaurants and things around, even surfers in the ocean. It was straight out of a movie. We stopped and had a drink at a place near-by to watch sunset from there. Perfect. Although we didn’t go to too many stores/restaurants in LA, I was still able to notice the size difference. In NYC, everything is tiny, there is no space, and people are crammed in everywhere. But in LA, places were large like the suburbs but still had lots of good food & drink options like a city. Not a bad combination.

From here, we drove to the Walk of Fame and the Chinese Theater. I didn’t have any desire to do either but it was fun to do while we were already in the area. The names in cement outside the Theater was actually really neat to look at. The sidewalk stars was alright. There was a little memorial to Leonard Nimroy set-up on his star – he had passed away that morning. This area was super touristy, definitely like Times Square. But, we were both used to it, and weaved through the crowds and ignored the buskers with ease.

Afterward, we hopped back on a “the” highway and headed to the airport. I caught my red-eye and preceded to sleep the entire time. It actually was the perfect amount of time! I felt like I saw a lot of things and never felt too exhausted. I would like to stay longer, next time, but no regrets. The trip was definitely worth it. And Lauryn had a fantastic 30th birthday!

Watching the sunset on Manhattan Beach Los Angeles California

Watching the sunset on Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach Pier los angeles california

Manhattan Beach Pier

Cost Breakdown

Just to finish this up, here are the costs:

  • Food: $95
  • Booze: $36
  • Flight: $297
  • Hotel (share): $50
  • Ferry to Catalina Island: $75
  • Car Service to/from JFK: $100

Total: $650

Half of that was the direct flight from JFK to LAX so not too bad. It helped that LA costs are identical to NYC costs so nothing came unexpected.

I hope to visit LA again soon to get a better feel for the city and explore some of the near-by canyons.

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February Spending 2015

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2015 February spending budgets in nyc

February Budget Spending in NYC

Income: Taxes

I received my taxes this month and they are being distributed between my cat’s upcoming surgery, my recent 36 hour trip to LA, and my savings account. I’m not particularly looking for steady side income but would like to maintain earning extra money at least once per quarter this year. I’m available for cat sitting in nyc. Or web analytics/seo optimization projects. Also, merit increases will be coming up at work soon so I’m being hopeful for that. Especially because my rent just increased in February (however, it will not increase again for two years).

hedwig on broadway john cameron mitchell

Spending: Going Out

I continued my hedonistic streak of going out with friends this month. It felt great to be social again. Although it seemed like I was fairly busy all month long, it turns out my booze and eating out spending were both less than $150 each. That actually works for me and is sustainable. It was great seeing friends so much and I would like to keep that up. Sometimes I get into hibernation mode and it’s not always a good thing.

I also spent some time this month getting out of the apartment but being alone. I saw two Broadway musicals and one major movie alone. It was quite nice. I didn’t want to be couped up in the apartment but also wanted the freedom to just spend the day how I wanted to. My entertainment spending was $150 this month, though most of that was for Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which I paid full price for.

Santa Monica Beach California

Santa Monica Beach

Vacation: 36 Hours in LA

There will be a full post on my overnight vacation to LA but here are the spending breakdowns:

  • Food: $95
  • Booze: $36
  • Flight: $297
  • Hotel (share): $50
  • Ferry to Catalina Island: $75
  • Car Service to/from JFK: $100

Total: $650

Sure, I could have saved a hundred bucks by taking the A train 2+ hours to JFK instead of a car service but, honestly, there was no way I was doing that to catch my 6a flight. I didn’t make any purchases at all on the trip; no souvenirs or gifts. The short trip helped in that way, we didn’t really have time to shop.

Scarface Cat

Scarface Cat

Looking Ahead

Well, I’ve seen every Broadway play I had a major interest in so I won’t be doing that spree again soon. I will begin limiting my social activities but only to find a balance between going out and not feeling guilty about going out. Or really focusing on only happy hours to wane that guilty feeling I get when it comes to spending money on myself, sometimes. I’m hopeful that I will get some sort of a raise this year and am not sure what I will do with that yet. Either increase my 401K percentage or increase the amount of my monthly automatic savings deposit. Although, realistically, I will have to start feeding my cats prescription cat food for a little while and at $40/case, that is another expense I need to budget for.

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Confronting, Not Attacking, Gossip

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Why Gossiping is so Toxic

Never Believe Second-Hand Information like Gossip First

After being hurt by gossip in high school, I make sure to avoid it as much as possible as an adult. Whenever I hear someone say He said that she said or Someone told me this, I immediately stop listening. Heresay doesn’t hold up in court. Why should it hold up in your life? We all know the game of telephone. Word, motives, and ideas all get lost in translation. Gossip is not a sustainable form of communication. Things will get mixed up along the way.

Gossip, in general, is not a productive habit. One of my favorite sayings is: Small minds discuss people, Average minds discuss events, Great minds discuss ideas.

If you spend your energy talking about other people, your mind will never grow.

Unfortunately, even if we never partake in gossip, others may still gossip about us. There are assertive but not aggressive ways to handle this situation. Most importantly, do not assume the gossip is actually true. Don’t attack someone or defend yourself solely based on gossip. You can simply frame a question in a non-threatening way to confront gossip directly without too many feelings getting hurt.

How To Confront Gossip And Avoid Drama

I’ve been friends with Vicky for several years. More recently she began declining my invitations then avoiding me altogether. One of our mutual friends said that Vicky was mad at me but didn’t give a reason. I feel hurt and confused because I lost a friend and don’t know why.

Don’t Say:
“Why are you mad at me?”
“So and so said you are mad at me, why?”
“Why aren’t we friends anymore?”
“I haven’t heard from you, did I do something wrong?”
“I know you’re mad at me but I didn’t do anything wrong.”

These questions and phrases all have the intent of either attacking your friend or being defensive. Either way, you’re assuming that the gossip you heard is true. Don’t do that.

Instead Say:
“I haven’t heard from you in a while and wanted to make sure you’re feeling okay. Is there anything going on that I can help with?”
“I miss spending time with you and your friendship is important to me. If you would like to talk, please let me know.”
“I hope you’re feeling okay. If you need anything, please remember that I’m here for you.”

You don’t actually know if she’s mad at you. You heard she was. But that is not a direct source. You don’t need to defend yourself. You also don’t need to attack your friend. Ask open ended questions for the person to be able to explain themselves and not feel threatened. Remember, even though you heard the rumor first, you need to believe the direct source and not the rumor. You really have no idea what is going on. Many times these are misunderstandings.

The same goes for the opposite, if you heard someone said something mean about you. Don’t sak, “Why did you say that? Why are you so mean?” Instead, bring it right to their attention. “I heard some things about you recently that were pretty hurtful. You are a good friend and if something is bothering you, I want us to talk about it.”

You can only control your reaction and your response. Sometimes, if the other person believes gossip about you, there just isn’t anything you can do.

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