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Archive for October, 2006

About Cooking

October 31st, 2006 at 06:02 am

I sometimes get brain farts and can't think of what else to write. So I'll write about cooking and some tips I've discovered:

-Use garlic. In everything. Even when cooking veggies.
-The microwave can be used to steam fish. My mom taught me to rub fish down with some salt, cover it with scallions, ginger, and gaaaaaaaarlic, cover with saran wrap and then nuke it. Yummy! (and healthy)
-The rice cooker doubles as a steamer; sometimes there will be an insert pan that sits on top, Other times, just improvise by putting a plate on top of an overturned bowl
-That big pile of veggies you cut up, esp. spinach or cabbage, will end up shriveling up and reducing in size by about half once you cook it. So don't be afraid to "over estimate" veggies
-A quick sauce for veggies that my family used for veggie dishes was simply some cornstarch dissolved in water with salt. It forms that viscous, clear sauce that you see in some Chinese dishes

Whoops

October 29th, 2006 at 03:22 pm

A "big" spending weekend; always hard to plan how much cash I should carry when I go into the city. I try to charge whatever I can (train tickets, meals) and save the cash for cover charges, drinks and tips. My friends and I usually try to plan our night out by going to restaurants and clubs that are within close proximity to each other, saving on subway or cab fare; not to mention, one of them is always smart to check the club's schedule and find out when clubs are having no cover and/or drink specials). I ended up staying overnight at my friend's dorm. Checking my wallet, I was pleased to see "total damage" was only about $50 give or take (plus the $18 train ticket charged to credit card). I returned back to NJ by train, only to discover my car had gotten ticketed for being left overnight in the train station parking lot. Grrr. Now, I shouldn't have gotten ticketed; there ARE certain parking lots (the commuter ones) that have signs up prohibiting 24hr parking (then again, you could argue and ask them how they know it was 24 hrs and not just 12 hours/overnight). But the place I parked was the remote, overflow lot, where there are no such signs posted; I've even parked here in the past and left it overnight (even two days once when I had to go on a trip). So this ticket makes me upset. Most likely I'll get it revoked, but after long phone calls and tons of waiting on the line for a real voice to speak to.

One Year Ago....

October 27th, 2006 at 06:44 am

I was finishing writing up my thesis; my professor had accepted a new position and was playing politics and "reorganizing" (meaning kicking us out) the lab. I was stressing because I still had one paper "submitted" but not yet published, and I would've liked to have it published so I'd have some additional support for when my committee convenes to decide if I can graduate on time. In the midst of this stress, my relationship with my boyfriend was falling apart. Basically, he moved, I stayed. End of story, though we did try the long distance thing.

Financially, I wasn't even really thinking about the future. I received a stipend as a graduate student, and I'm happy to say saved a good chunk of it by making automatic deposits into savings. I had no student loans to pay off, my car was all paid for. So I really haven't faced any sorts of hardships.

Fast forward to teh present. Still renting, still have a significant chunk of cash in savings that I don't feel like touching. Don't need to, since I'm bringing in a regular paycheck. Am enrolled automatically in the company 401K/pension plan. Basically....I still don't feel any financial hardship. I suppose that's why I'm challenging myself to save up for a house or townhouse next year....the next step is to tackle mortgage jargon and that sort of thing.

*Sigh* It's tough transitioning to "adulthood" =)

Useful Kitchen Gadgets

October 26th, 2006 at 06:42 am

I used to scoff at the aisle in the Asian grocery store that sold the cheap-looking household/kitchen stuff (who wants a waving Lucky Cat statue?), but recently, after my electric thermos died, I found myself skulking down that very aisle, glancing with envy at the Tiger, Tatung, and assorted Japanese versions that were out of my desired price range. I also discovered that, aesthetics aside, the aisle actually contains some rather useful kitchen gadgets and tools at very reasonable prices. They may be pink or covered with Sanrio (hello kitty!) cartoons, but they do the same job and cost less than those glistening versions at Bed Bath and Beyond.

Some useful/cool finds:
-splatter guard- a big round screen with a handle that you use to cover your pan when cooking to prevent grease from spitting out and ruining your nice shirts (my poor blue blouse when I was making pork chops)
-long handle wire basket "dippers"- I don't know what they are, but we use them for hot pot, to fish yummy bits of meat and veggies from a boiling broth. The bigger sizes are useful for fishing boiled dumplings out of the cooking water.
-I don't even know WHAT to call this thing, but it has expandable "claw" that you can use to grab the edges of a plate and lift it. My family used to steam things in the rice cooker, so we'd use it to lift the plate out rather than burning our fingers (more on improvised steamers in a future entry).

Coffee Ice

October 25th, 2006 at 05:50 am

This is one of the best tips I've ever heard: Pour leftover coffee into ice cube trays and freeze. Use them in iced coffee (when they melt, they won't dilute the flavour)!

Save me....

October 24th, 2006 at 04:46 pm

Goal next year around this time: buy a townhouse or a house!

So now I'm going to concentrate on some safe short term investments for now. That means I'm taking money out of my brokerage, TDAmeritrade and putting it temporarily into the eloans savings to earn the 5.5% interest; my money in Ing will probably will go into a 1yr CD with Ing or elsewhere; and finally, will open a new Bank of America account and earn the $100 bonus- it has to be done anyway, since I have to transfer my North Carolina account to NJ.

Eloan or -----?

October 23rd, 2006 at 07:05 am

Eloan has jumped to the forefront of internet savings rates, now offering 5.5% with a minimal balance of $5000. I have had my savings sitting in IngDirect for the past 5 years and now am sad to see how far behind they're lagging (only earning about 4.3%). I'm tempted to open this new savings account....but I'm hesitant because what if this starts the vicious cycle where I am constantly opening a new savings account as new banks start competing to raise their interest rates? Would I be better off putting money into a CD- something that offers a definite future deadline to decide where to allocate my savings, taking into consideration my changing financial needs?

Help! I also don't want to become some crazy person, worrying too much about the "best" place for my money and keeping a frantic eagle eye on interest rates...

A Sorta Savings Weekend

October 22nd, 2006 at 03:41 pm

Ok, so I found my mom a cashmere sweater for Christmas- online, though, so there's always inherent risk of it being a shoddy product. Also, after speaking with her, it seems I may have jumped the gun a bit; she was telling me how she liked purple or teal blue colors for the fall. I had bought her a black sweater. Err. Well, it's still early enough to return and search for other gifts.

I know I vowed to hold off on "me" spending, and I've been good, not having lusty dreams (haha) about a certain handbag. But this weekend I dropped by one of the great thrift stores in Trenton, NJ, and came away with two pairs of boots and two awesome (if I do say so myself) plaid wool skirts for $20 total! The skirts were definitely a good find- I noticed a couple of women "stalking" me as I was holding onto the skirts. An aisle later, one of the women came to talk with me- very nicely, I might add- asking if I was really going to purchase the skirts. I almost felt like giving one to her! But...oh....I admit, I was a grinch. In the thrift shopping world, it really is finders keepers.

Otherwise, spent money on gas (lucky car) and was going to finally buy a spare tire for my car, but my dad told me he had an extra tire! All I had to do was come get it. So smart, dad, a way to get me to come visit =)

It's beginning to feel a lot like....

October 19th, 2006 at 04:50 pm

I've decided pretty much against buying the aforementioned "lust item" $600 handbag. Mainly because it is getting close to the holiday season and I would feel a lot of guilt and anguish knowing that, on top of the gift-spending, I blew a huge chunk of money on a totally non-essential item.

Anyway, my goal this year is to be one of those people who finish their Christmas shopping early...or at least start early enough so I can keep my eye out for some good, early online deals. At least then I'll have time to cmpare prices for things.

Handbag Lust

October 18th, 2006 at 07:00 am

I'm actually very surprised at myself, this has never happened before, but I'm actually finding myself drooling over a dumb handbag. It is a nice burgundy/purple color, which is something I've been looking for, it is large enough to be a work bag. It is a Celine bag that retails at $1150 or thereabouts, but I have the opportunity to buy it for about $550 (consignment). I love discounts but damn! this is $550 we're talking about. Money that could be spent on so many other things, such as the following list:

-Plane ticket to wedding that I must attend + travel expenses that will inevitably pop up
-Bridesmaid gown for aforesaid wedding
-Shoes and all that crap bride insists her bridesmaids wear so we all look alike
-Bridal shower stuff for the bridal shower that I have no idea how to coordinate and throw
-And in non-wedding related stuff, the inevitable Christmas holiday gift season is upon us...and I have too many brandname-happy family members to consider =(

Sigh. Sometimes I just want to be able to spend on ME...

I Want Candy

October 16th, 2006 at 08:13 pm

Halloween is coming and there are all sorts of "sales" for candy, though we all know (or should know) that the day after Halloween, that's when candy gets marked down 50%.

Funny, while shopping at Target the other day, I saw a bunch of York Peppermint Patties (my favorites!) and select Hershey's kisses on sale, primarily because their packaging looked suspiciously like Valentine's Day (pink and red wrappers). I bought a couple of bags figuring I could always freeze them and melt them later for baking or for decorating, but couldn't resist a taste test. And they all tasted fine =)

Conclusion: As with clothing, try to buy candy that's "off season." Your candy may not be "dressed" for the correct holidays, but it all tastes the same in the end.

Weekly Roundup of Savings (and Mishaps)

October 15th, 2006 at 08:30 am

Yeah yeah yeah, the week isn't exactly over (if you're weird like me and consider Monday as the "start" day) but it's been a milestone week. It was my first week at the new job as a medical writer! Lots of science/brainwork (data analysis, science talk with clients) and also lots of time where I just....sat around and "read." First weeks are never truly exciting, it's more like, "Oh yippee! You want me to help you edit this table of contents? Awesome!" But compared to my last job (marketing consultant) this job is better pace, less stressful, and much much more secure. (and it's funny how it just sort of fell into my lap. Yay, networking really works!)

Anyway, what does this have to do with savings? Well one humongous benefit to the new job is my commute is approximately 10 minutes. That's right, total mileage is only 5 miles one-way. If I take small roads, it is actually 4.6 miles according to Mapquest. This had made me seriously consider attempting to run to work. Have not ironed out the details...it's not so much the thought I can't shower at work as it is the condition of the roads. There are very clear paths and sidewalks for about half the distance, but the remainder is horribly narrow roads with no shoulders. No lawns, either, just rock or gutters/long weedy (and most likely tick infested) grass. One potential shortcut is marked "Private" so I don't want someone shooting me for trespassing. Grr...must be some way to work things out.

Many people celebrate their first week (and first paycheck) in some way. I am only human, I met with friends for drinks. What I did NOT do was go on a shopping spree, though I was this close to buying more clothes online. What stopped me was the shipping fee; I had narrowed my choices down to about $25 for two sweaters, but the shipping was $5.95. That's 25% of the total price. Insane. If I was really desperate, I could run to that store in the mall and buy things, for ZERO sales tax (thanks, NJ). To avoid further temptation, I deleted the tempting email containing the sale and coupon. Unseen and out of mind. Besides, the money was put towards my little night out celebration =)

Lastly, my poor electric thermos/hot water dispenser died. I feel it was due to the fact I unplugged it everytime I left the house, and shoud've just left it plugged in. So, no more instant hot water, and what horrible timing with the cold weather approaching. I can't get it fixed since my parents brought it for me from Taiwan. So it's either $100 for a so-so one from the local Asian market, or $20-30 for a thermos (the kind coffee shops use) from Bed Bath and Beyond. Probably will go with the thermos since I still wonder how much electricity those dispensers use up to maintain the temperature of the water inside....

Happy New Week to All!

Morning Routine

October 13th, 2006 at 06:55 am

As hard as it is to get going in the mornings, here are some "shortcuts" that help me get out the door more on less on time:

-After my morning run, I always put them back out on the patio, a)cuz they stink b)this reminds me to open some blinds and let in some natural light, which is usually enough to light most of my teeny tiny apartment, and c)on nice days, helps air out the house

-This may sound weird, but as I putter around post-run, I line up the shoes that I'll be wearing near the door. The reason for this is because I own many black and dark brown heels/loafers that look suspiciously alike to my foggy morning brain, and there have been too many instances where I've gone out the door in mismatched shoes. While that was ok to look like a doof in the lab, I can't exactly show up at work anymore with circus-like attire. So, this small act saves me a day of embarssment.

-I also put the keys right next to the door...they tend to get lost when I am in a rush.

-Once a week, before I hop in the shower, I take ye olde Toilet Duck (or your favorite toilet bowl cleaner) and squirt it into the toilet. I figure the length of time it takes me to shower is about long enough for le Duck to work its magic on any stains. Works for me and keeps my toilet decent looking.

-After the shower, I put a pot of water on to boil for my morning tea. The timing just so works out that I'm dressed right when the water is ready.

-I brush my teeth BEFORE I get dressed; oh the agony of toothpaste on nice outfits...

-I actually don't have a very organized closet, but I do tend to hang clothes more or less in the order in which they were worn. So not only do I avoid repeating outfits, but clothes that match are within close proximity of each other.

-I keep makeup at the office and tend to put most of it on when I get to work. Just because many times in the car I'll rub my nose or itch my eye and mess stuff up. I'm not one of those types who apply makeup in the car, that's just plain dangerous.

And, well, that's it. Hope these tips make some sense; and let me know if any of you have simple timesavers to speed up the morning routine.

Designer Fashion at Walmart?

October 12th, 2006 at 05:00 pm

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/12/business/12retail.html?hp&...

This interesting article from the NYTimes covers the phenomenom of budget couture- high end fashion designers making clothing for discount chains. Kmart really started it all with Martha Stewart but Target drove the message home with it's hit Mossimo and Issac Mizrahi (or however you spell it) lines. Walmart has followed suit, but in a rather shocking turn, wedding gown goddess Vera Wang is slated to work her magic on Kohls. Considering the cheapest Vera Wang dress I've seen on Bluefly was still within the $200-$300 range, I can't imagine her Kohl's line of clothing to be anything less than $50, which in my book is not cheap.

I'm on the fence about designers making discount fashion. Not because I'm a snob, but because they still end up inflating the price of what amounts to a piece of cloth with a popular person's name attached to it. Haven't personally checked out the quality of any of the clothing items at Issac what's his name at Target but hopefully he doesn't skimp just because it's "discount."

BAD Ebay

October 10th, 2006 at 07:11 pm

I recently rediscovered Ebay as a wonderful source of cheap clothing. However, I've also had not just one, but two back-to-back horrible experiences with something that has become closely associated with Ebay- scams.

About two months back, I bid for and won an incredible lot of mixed vintage jewelry. All was well until I received an email, presumably from another ebay member, warning me about his/her recent transaction problems with the seller of the jewelry. Worried, I stupidly clicked on the link and signed into Ebay, then checked my mail, but there was no message from that "ebay user." Even more surprising was in the transaction history of the seller, there was no negative comment from an unsatisfied buyer, nor was there anyone with that "ebay user's" name. I didn't know what to think.

fast forward to just a few weeks ago. Upon signing onto my ebay account, I was shocked to see, listed underneath my Items I'm selling, an unauthorized listing for a Honda snowmobile!! Not only was it selling for an exhorbitant price (luckily, no one had bid for it) but the ad had all the works- colors, extra large picture, bells and whistles- resulting in an enormous listing fee. I panicked and not only filed a complaint with ebay but also hopped on their Live Support thing that, after about an hour of waiting, finally put me through to a customer service agent. By the way, during the wait as I filed my written complaint, I noticed how extensive and descriptive that process was, meaning Ebay must be well-acquainted with this sort of false/unauthorized user complaints. How sad.

To my surprise (but also my relief) the situation was resolved quickly. A few q&a with the customer service rep, verifying my email addrsses and stuff, and then the charge was removed from my account. They also rather heavily advocated I download their Ebay toolbar, which I politely declined. The fast resolution was good, but part of me is still disturbed by the speed. Were several other ebay users hit by this same scammer at once? Or even more maliciously, is this some plot by Ebay to get users to download their toolbar, full of god knows what adware/spyware?

This story does not end here. Now quite wary of ebay, I've since backed off on my buying (I've never sold anything on there). Recently, though, I did risk buying some more shoes, and paid through Paypal. The next thing I know, another email, this one from "Paypal" appears, asking whether I wanted to authorize a $700 payment to Dell.

Not only was I a wiser person, but there were many things about that email that rang as False. For one thing, the salutation was to "member"- no mention of my username or full name, plus the "m" was not capitalized, an attribute (weird lower case letters) seen in many spam mail. Second, though Dell brand name was all over the email, there was no mention to the actual item- laptop, computer, whatever- nor was there a picture. Also, the numbers did not add up; there was about $10 or so of "taxes" and another $10 or so of "shipping" (yup, more suspicious lower cases) but then the grand total was $700. The final catch was, when I checked the "link" I noticed it was not taking me directly to Paypal but to some other, strange URL.

This time, I forwarded this email to spoof@paypal.com, as per instructions at the official Paypal website. Within hours, Paypal wrote back and confirmed this was indeed a fake email, then listed extensive instructions about how I should change my passwords, emails, etc, AND of course, download the ebay toolbar.

So what are the chances that I'd fall victim to two spamming efforts in this short time frame? Are ebay and Paypal becoming inundated with these sorts of spammers? Is it a bad sign that ebay was so used to these sorts of situations? I don't know about you, but I'm really hesitant about using Ebay now more than every before.

Got Rice?

October 8th, 2006 at 04:05 pm

After going out to Thai food with coworkers Friday, I noticed that, while everyone bagged up their leftover food, none of them wanted the rice. Those beautiful mounds of untouched rice, still hot and sweating inside the takeout containers....how can anyone resist? I asked them for it and got it. Then coworkers fired questions at me: "What are you going to do with it?" "How are you going to eat all that?"

Two words- fried rice.

Fried rice has long been the "black sheep" of Asian Cuisine- or so people may think! In fact, at any lunch shop in Taiwan at least, there are dozens of varieties of fried rice to choose from. Fried rice is certainly not laughed at by Asians. It is a most versatile dish- nearly anything goes in it. Add shrimp, add egg, add leftover cut up steak, add frozen (or fresh) vegetables. Even add hot dog or bacon for some nice saltiness.

And my personal recommendation is actually to use leftover restaurant rice, since they use short grain "Uncle Ben"-type of rice that is drier than typical Asian longgrain rice.

So next time you order Chinese or some sort of Asian take out, don't be afraid to ask....got rice?

A "Sale" is not always a Sale

October 5th, 2006 at 02:43 pm

Just because an item is "on sale" does not mean you should automatically buy it. In most cases, it is simply a lower price from it's original outrageously inflated retail price, which means it is now at "regular" price- not much of a deal, is it?

Another scheme by stores is to hang up signs that scream, "Up to 70% off!!!" but when you go inside, you find most things are only discounted a couple of bucks. If you search hard, you'll find that one damaged/irregular open-boxed item that is the sole 70% off item in the "sale." See, the stores weren't lying....but you still get tricked into shopping.