Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jamie Oliver - and what he stands for

Ok, so this is not a "what" but "who" I love, and I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that Jamie Oliver ranks high on my list of inspirational people along with my favorite grad school professor (who's teaching changed my life), and Oprah Winfrey. He continues his quest to make a difference becoming the sole winner of the prestigious 2010 TED Prize, and winning an Emmy for best reality series in the same year.

But it's not his acolades that draw me to him. From the first time I saw his very first series, The Naked Chef, I fell in love with his personality and character. He wasn't a camera teacher. He was simply a friend sharing a passion and enjoying the company. He is a chef, a musician, a dad, and a man with a mission. Simply put, he's fresh and real.

And that's what makes his inspiration so captivating for me. Because it isn't his recipes that have caught my attention. It is what he has brought his life to stand for -- the health of our children. My serious endorsement of Jamie Oliver came when I watched his show, Back To School Dinners, his initial reality series located in the UK about bringing reform to the food fed to children in school cafeterias. On the heels of that series, Jamie launched a campaign with the founding of Feed Me Better that called for signatures to petition the British government. His efforts resulted in a 450 million dollar grant from the government to improve school cafeteria food. When I saw him take the same mission to the US, even to the huge city of Los Angeles with his show, Jamie's Food Revolution, I saw it was just an extension of what came before, but in a much bigger way.

Now with the establishment of the Jamie Oliver Foundation, Jamie consistently launches similar initatives. His latest initiative, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, is a similar petition to his UK initiative to endorse the reform of school cafeteria food in America to conform to the standard nutrition needed to help children think and learn better in school.

Research shows that our diets are a vital part of learning. What we feed our bodies directly affects our mood, our ability to concentrate, and our ability to deal with stress. Along with exericise, diet can make a dramatic difference in our ability to recall information that we have learned and absorb new information accurately and meaningfully. In the formative years of children, proper nutrition and exercise can save their lives.

But it's not just about petitioning governments and school dinners that Jamie wants to see. It's the simple desire he has for everyone to take ownership and teach their children about food from the earliest age. His 2010 Jamie's Family Christmas Special gave me a small glimpse into his heart as a dad to ensure his children not only understand what they eat, but involve them in the cooking in the kitchen with "dad" and learn the basics of raw ingredients. It's just endearing and ever so inspiring.

Bravo, Jamie!

(for a local reform of school food in New Westminster, Canada, read the news article here.)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Jazz Insights from iTunesU

I stumbled across this "course" in iTunesU called Jazz Insights from Georgia State University, narrated by Dr. Gordon Vernick. Now this is not your typical iTunesU course.

The majority of courses in iTunes there are raw recordings of class lectures, where there is an assumed audience, and often writing on the whiteboard which you can't see.

However Dr. Vernick recorded these 15 minute clips specifically for the ipod listener to teach you about the grassroots of almost every aspect of jazz that you can probably think of. The quality of the recording is crystal clear, and he intersperses his comments with examples of music to demonstrate styles and techniques. Vernick's voice manner has the wonderful laid back "jazzy" quality to it that gets you in the mood. mmmmmm!

However, be forewarned that these are lectures recorded intentionally for the ipod. There's no really dumbing down of the terms used. But the language is accessible enough for anyone to understand, so don't worry. If you are a good student, and listen intently, I guarantee, you will KNOW JAZZ!

My favorites so far is the early years of Bill Evans, and his 4 part discussion on Oscar Peterson -- my all-time favorite jazz pianist. After all, I'm a pianist too! Thanks to Dr. Vernick for efforts in sharing his wealth of knowledge! I'm a fan!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Internet Shopping - Why I Only Use Cooking.com for my Kitchen Needs

I am an internet shopper. Even when I walk around the mall, 90% of the time I end up deciding not to buy what I see there. I just get ideas for what I want to research and shop for online when I get home.

My kitchen needs are, at the moment, almost exclusively from Cooking.com. The best pieces that I own in the kitchen all come from this one online store.

For the past... let's see... at least 10 years now, I have been buying all of my kitchen items online. I have tried many different stores online. I've looked at "the best deals" and tried to get the lowest price possible on the specific items that I want to purchase. For kitchen items, I am pretty much strickly a Cooking.com shopper. They have a well-established customer base with enough reviews to do the kind of research you need. Their packaging and shipping is absolutely stellar, and they are customer-accessible when it comes to contacting them. They are an A+ store.

My decision to exclusively use Cooking.com didn't come easy. My experience with other online deals have led me to stick with stores that have a proven track record. What I have learned is this:

1. Just because a store sells online, doesn't mean they are an internet store.
The biggest problem with getting the absolutely lowest price on the item you want to purchase is the risk you take in the quality of the item you receive. If you are ordering online from a company that is not exclusively established as an online store, or go to the "Marketplace" section on Amazon for a lower price, you risk the chances of getting a re-packaged item or the worst looking box on the shelf. This is how they get rid of their "ugly stuff" as long as they assume the item inside works fine. This is because they know that an internet shopper is less likely to go through the hassle of returning an item as long as it works ok. But think about it. "Repackaged" means someone had their hands on it before you got it -- or worse, actually used it. Or a ratty looking package could contain a brand new item, but you have to ask yourself why the packaging has been worn down. Was it handled badly? Has it been on the shelf for over a year or two with small parts deteriorating from age and environmental factors (temperature and humidity).

2. Exclusive Online stores have established packaging and shipping practices.
My number one pet-peeve with face-to-face shops that try to be online shops is how they skimp on packaging and shipping. These companies do things that are HUGE no-no's. First, when it comes to packaging, they do not use the regulation size box where you need at least a certain amount of space between the item and the shipping box. Second, they generally do not use the adequate filler (packaging balloons or foam packing peanuts to ensure minimal shifting during the shipping process. Or worse, not using a shipping box at all, and just sending it as is in its packaging. These companies don't stock adequate packaging items like large boxes and packing peanuts. (Target is probably the worst of all of the companies I've had to deal with.) Time and time again, I've looked at the trend of items received. Items ruined during the shipping process. Boxes that fall apart upon delivery because somewhere along the way, they were exposed to too much rain or moisture. Items that are packaged inside without the standard plastic or foam covering you expect from a newly packaged product. There is a marked difference between exclusive online companies, and those who try to add an online component to their business.

3. Shipping and Handling Prices
So, this sort of follows from #2 above. Stores who try to add an online shopping component will generally always over charge on the shipping and handling. For this reason, they do their best to reduce the size of the shipping box (to reduce the shipping cost) and minimize packing materials to save costs. They are doing what they can to save on shipping because they do not have enough online business to qualify for larger shipping contracts with shipping companies like UPS or FedEx. Chances are, if you are responsible for the return shipping costs, you are likely getting a product from a company who is not well accustommed to the online shopping business. Covering the cost of return shipping is a standard for online shopping. Get a company willing to back their product.

Cooking.com is a great example of an online store that does it right. Amazon is another one, though packaging and mailing books has a lot less chance of damage, and getting used books is totally acceptable, and not the same as getting a used toaster. (You think I'm kidding? Believe me, I'm not)

Now please, don't take this ramble as me saying not to give small businesses your consideration. There are countless things that you do not want to buy from a huge name-brand distributor. In fact, I do internet shopping at smaller stores all the time. But I do it with the understanding that the chances are higher that I may have to return it, and accept the hassle associated with it when I press the "check-out" button. I even have items that are broken during shipping that I resolved not to return because the return shipping costed higher than the item itself. C'est la vie.

Shop smart. And enjoy yourself! And change your passwords regularly!!!

Have an online store with a great reputation? Love to hear about it! :)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Hive Hair Spa

I am not one to spend a lot of money on clothes or make-up, but for some reason I have a habit of spending $80 on a simple cut and style. After all, my friend who traditionally cut my hair was an hair artist par excellence so you had to pay to get it done well.

But I finally came to my senses and started searching around for a new hair salon where my pocketbook wouldn't hurt as much. And I stumbled upon Hive Hair Spa. I took my first trip there a few years back and now make it my regular stop for my hair needs. Surprisingly, when they first started, they received some coaching on running their own salon from my friend who used to cut my hair. Good reference already!

The things I love about this place:

Price Point
Paying $35-40 for professional Japanese cut and style was a very welcome change to the typical $75-80 that I was accustomed to paying. The quality of cut is definintely comparable to what I used to get. So there are zero complaints from my end. The hairdressers will work closely with you to get the cut you want, and even advise you if your not sure what works, or just want something different. It's everything that I used to get with half the cost. Woot!

No Nonsense Work Ethic
I'm not the kind of person who likes a lot of chatter, and feel pressured to have to tell my hair stylist all the elements of my personal resume. I really just want to go to in and get my hair done. They really don't chatter it up with you unless you are clearly in the mood to chat. And for me, that's a good thing.

Asian Hair Specialists
The majority (maybe all?) of the hair dressers are Japanese. This is good news for me since getting a cut to suit my asian black hair can be a challenge if you don't want to pay the high price for it.So they are used to thicker black long hair, and, from what I can tell, are up to speed with the latest trends.

The Massages!
Oh baby, yes! You get the full head and neck massage with your hair wash. Just close your eyes and enjoy!

The Bonuses
You will get a discount off your first trip there. If you "like" their facebook page, you are graced with a permanent 20% off (looking forward to figuring out how they know I've done that on my next trip). You are also provided with your choice of drinks and some pocky to munch on! (I think they used to offer some champagne, but maybe not... I can't recall now). I usually get hot green tea. And you can't beat free parking!

Hive Hair Spa
8257 Oak Street (at 67th Ave), Vancouver BC (map)
Open M, W-F, 10am-7pm; Sat-Sun, 10am-6pm

Have you tried this place? What are your thoughts?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Authentic Fettuccini Alfredo (fast and easy)

Fettuccini Alfredo is one of life's most smooth and delicious comfort food in my opinion. It's hard to believe that fettuccini alfredo could be so easy. But I stumbled across a recipe in a Food & Wine pasta book and bought it. I just added the chicken.

Now I never order fettuccini alfredo in a restaurant anymore. There's no need. hehe.

Just one warning. This is not a "healthed-up" version. These are authentic ingredients. I've tried at times to replace ingredients to lower the calories, using yogurt & skim milk instead of cream, trying to reduce the butter, etc. But you gotta try it the authentic way and treat yourself on a saturday after a week of being good with your diet and workouts.

1 lb of asparagus
3/4 lb of dried fettuccini
4 tablespoons of butter, cut into smaller pieces
1 cup heavy cream (i just use whipping cream)
pinch of nutmeg (do NOT skip this spice)
3/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (use the real stuff, not the cheap Kraft container stuff)

Boil the water for the fettuccini. Meanwhile, break off the woody part of the asparagus, and then cut it into 1/2" pieces. leave the heads longer and intact.

When the water is boiling. Add pasta and set the timer for about 9 minutes. While you are waiting, get your butter, cream, parmesan cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper ready.

At 9 minutes, add the asparagus pieces and then boil for 3 more minutes.

Once it's done, drain, and then return it to the pot right away. Don't run it under cold water. Keep it hot. yum yum!

Add the butter, cream, cheese, nutmet, salt and pepper, and stir it around until the cream is all combined. Add a pinch of flour to thicken the sauce to your liking. Usually needs a couple of pinches.

Serve right away.

If you want to add chicken like in the picture, you can do it while the water is boiling and/or the pasta is cooking.

1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp garlic salt
1/8 cup olive oil
2 skinless chicken breast

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and then add the chicken and coat thoroughtly.Fry in pan covered for about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken over, add about 1/8 cup of water, and then cover. The steam will help cook the chicken through faster so you dont have to over fry the outside of the chicken. Rest on a plate for about 2 minutes before you start slicing it.

Serves 4.

Other options are to flash fry shrimp, or top with skewered roasted veggies if you don't want meat. Honestly, you can just eat it as is without anything added. It's so delicious, i promise! :)

Cheap Shopping Online

Okay, so I'm a real sucker for great deals online. And while I'm perfectly willing to pay the price for a good quality item (my kitchen trash can costed me $80 and I paid $770 for my vacuum cleaner), not everything in your house has to be high priced to get what you need.

One of my favorite online stores is DealExtreme.com. Shipped directly from Hong Kong, it doesn't matter where you live. Shipping is free of charge! That's really good news for the non-US resident who is always struggling with raised shipping charges. And the items are ultra cheap! You can find little gadget goodies from iphone accessories and covers, jewelry and apparel, and little gadgets under $2 (yes, even that is free shipping).

My favorite purchases there? Let me share! hehe.

These little suckers come on a variety of sizes and are super strong and super flat. They are great for posting up your photos on your kitchen fridge without taking away from the photo.

The only thing is... they can break in half easily if they are dropped on a hard floor or snap too violently to another magnet.

If you love doing crafts, this is a great little piece to hide under that little trinket that you want to turn into a fridge magnet. A glue gun and some careful hands should do the trick.

So who said you can't have a little fun for under 2 bucks. Ricky, I know you want to get it. Just give in already!!!

What can I say. I'm anal. I want my screen protector and cover for all my gadgets. I mean, I even wrap my remote controls in saran wrap.

For all you dust-free freaks like me, paying $1.18 for a screen protector and getting a nice case for your iphone is a no-brainer.

There are lots to choose from. This flip top comes in other colors as well (even pink for the girly-girl). They also have ones that flip from the side and wrap around. The iPhone gadget options are pages and pages long. Don't go too crazy! haha.

Okay, so stop judging me! I had to include this one.

A little star wars gadget to add to your collection and establish the star wars geek in you. It comes in red too, so you can have mini-duels in your star wars circles. For $2, cmon, you know you want it!

(And it's great for when you drop your keys in the car in the dark and need to find it under your brake pedal.)

Remember, it's all FREE SHIPPING!!!

Did you find something that you totally love? Tell me what it is!

Friday, January 20, 2012

iTunes U App

Apple released the iTunes U app today, an app I have been waiting for since it was announced. I've been a big fan of iTunes U since it was first launched a few years ago. The number of educational institutions participating is just phenomenal, and the opportunities for self-education and discovery leave no excuses for anyone with a computer.

You can listen or even view full semester courses like biology, languages, literature, business, fine art, history -- any subject that you can think of. These come from reputable institutions such as Yale, Harvard, USC, Stanford, to name a few, and even some Canadian and international institutions.

So far, my focus has to be on the few NYU Open Education courses, which are videos with high quality teaching which include Calculus I, Introduction to Sociology, and Statistics (which I'm doing as a refresher to help me in my job).

I've also found a full biblical Hebrew and Greek course from Concordia Seminary that is highly effective for any theologian who feels their languages are rusty and need a refresher. Brand new learners may probably need to go slower and get the textbook to keep up.

But there is a lot more than university courses available in iTunes U. There are numerous current issues lectures and presentations, along with inspirational commencement speeches by notable speakers and celebrities. If you have not checked out the Steve Jobs commencement speech in 2005 at Stanford University, well, you're just letting the best pass you by.

I'm a huge fan of iTunes U. I used to waste hours of time educating myself on the tens of thousands of hours of information. I took a break for a while (personal life issues), but the release of this app may pull me back in.

What is your favorite course in iTunes U? Share it! I'd love to know!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Metronome App for iPhone

I got an iPhone for Christmas and I admit I'm a little behind on the times when I say that this is my first time experiencing the iPhone. But the addiction has definintely set in.

One of my must haves for the iPhone is this metronome for practicing my music. Easy to set, beautiful to look at, and absolutely essential for the practicing musician.

Note that you can tap your beat to get the metronome to set itself to the tempo that you need. After all, everyone doesn't play Mozart at the exact same speed.

The only problem now is... I need my piano. Renting a practice piano can only last for so long. But it's also great to do sit ups to just to keep my pace up.

The Steinway Metronome is a free app. Go get it.

Mom's Power Breakfast

My ultra-healthy Mom swears by this power breakfast with oatmeal as its foundation.

The trick is to have all the ingredients ready in bulk so you can just throw it together in the morning. The following is one serving.

1/4 cup steel cut oats
1 cup water
pinch of raw sea salt (or regular salt ok too)

Bring to a boil. Then immediately lower heat to a slow simmer and set your timer to 20-25 minutes. You might want to just check the consistency the first time with what works with your stove.

When it's thoroughly cooked, it will initially look like there's still liquid on the top. Just stir it and it will look like typical oatmeal. It will continue to cook and thicken even after you remove it from the heat.

Put in a bowl and top it with the following:
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
2-3 table spoons of maple syrup
2/3 cup of frozen blueberries
1/2 cup skim milk
1 fistful of nuts. Mine has (all unsalted):

  • roasted pumpkin seeds
  • roasted almond slices
  • roasted cashews
  • dried figs
  • raw walnuts

I've modified mom's power oatmeal and used steel cut oats instead of rolled oats (she uses a combination of both), organic maple syrup instead of brown sugar, and added the dried figs for some extra fruit. Oh, and I cook it in an earthenware bowl straight on the stove. My new favorite thing.

I love to grocery shop in the bulk food section. I browse and look at what kind of nuts I want in my morning breakfast. I stay away from high calorie nuts like pistachios, but a very small amount once in a while doesn't hurt anyone, right? *giggle*

Did you try this recipe? Send me a photo of your version of this power breakfast with your modifications and I'll post the best ones here!