Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Big City Bliss: Chicago

So friends, I returned Sunday from a 3 day hiatus to the great city of Chicago. It was my first time in the windy city, and it was most certainly a fantastic time. I ate tons of great food, drank tons of great martinis, and did a whole lot of shopping and walking around. During my travels, I saw many tall buildings, discovered that the Sears Tower is no longer named the Sears Tower (Willis Tower, who would have thought?), and saw things that I realized that I’ve never seen in even the bigger cities of NEO. I expect to see really off the wall stuff in NYC, but didn’t realize how much commotion goes on throughout Chicago streets! Saxophonists, men shouting about the plight of the world from church doorsteps… it’s all so fascinating coming from my small(ish) city of Akron. I mean, we certainly get our fair share of people walking around downtown, but nothing like the immense business of navigating crowds, incessant honking from the taxis, and the incredible nightlife (who knew that some of the bars in Chicago close at 5 a.m.? Yes, you read that right). Here are a few things that I saw that I really enjoyed, and some observations I've made about this fantastic city:

[This is actually a traveling puppet show that is attached to a bicycle.]

[Some sort of local legend, this large sculpture is lovingly called "The Bean." I had a lot of fun playing in my reflection and getting tons of great photos.]

[In fact, this is a real live person, and I believe it was his music blasting from a speaker not far from his feet. I saw him move, I swear I did.]

Here are my few observations from staying in the city for two nights:
  1. Driving downtown is to be avoided at all costs.
  2. You have to make a million dollars to afford just about anything that doesn't come from Forever 21.
  3. There is no Lois Griffin-esque lounge singer at the Grape Street Piano Bar, but it's a cute little place and I would definitely go back.
  4. If it's a bar in a hotel, and it's not the Drake, it probably sucks.
  5. Any hotel that lets you drink wine on the couches in the elevator is great in my book.
I'm certainly to be happy home, away from the rushed, overwhelming crowds... but I'm definitely looking forward to a future return trip to Chicago.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Thinking About Eco-Friendly Wardrobe Choices

It’s time for spring cleaning, and you know what that means: a nice wrestle with your closet. Everyone is pulling out their “summer clothes” as the whopping 50-degree temperatures make us NEOhioans feel like we’re in a tropical paradise. We’re purging our closets of cardigans that have hung untouched on the hanger for months, tee shirts that we’re not 100% sure about the origins of, and (in my case) eliminating anything from my wardrobe that looks like a 14 year old would be comfortable wearing.

I realized last week, when a close friend offered to let me go through her two enormous garbage bags before dropping them off at Goodwill, that this purging is incredibly good for the environment. I mean, someone (in this case me) gets clothes for free and Goodwill benefits from whatever isn’t taken—no clothing in the landfills is fantastic. When we start getting the itch to replace those pieces with something new, however, many will run to the mall and get whatever trendy thing is hanging on the racks.

I admit, I took a (fantastic) trip to Columbus this week to do some shopping with the girls, and hit stores like Forever 21 and H&M. It’s pretty ridiculous to assume that we’re going to stop frequenting the stores we love. There are ways, however, that we can make choices concerning where and how we shop that can make our wardrobes much better for the environment. Here are a few:

Think Thrifty

Goodwill (and in our area the Village Discount Outlet) is not just for dropping clothes off. I’ve been surprised on a number of occasions that I’ve found quality, name-brand clothes at a really great price at the thrift store. Further, great clothes don’t necessarily need a known brand. You can find incredibly unique items that can work into your wardrobe flawlessly—you just have to look.

Consignment Shops

These are my personal favorites. I live literally two minutes from Plato’s Closet, and just found an adorable pair of Candie’s flip flops for $5. I’ve purchased a number of items in there at amazing prices—a BCBG Max Ariza dress for $18, tops from Old Navy, Wet Seal, and Express between $2-6. Another great consignment shop is located in Green (south of Akron), and is called Jerry’s Closet. Jerry is a wonderful person, and so very helpful! I’ve purchased American Eagle jeans for $12. Talk about a steal.

[I got both of these pairs of shoes at Plato's Closet for under $5.]

Clothing Swaps

Though I’ve never organized one of these, I’m pretty certain I’m going to have to really soon. This time of year is perfect for it. In essence, a party is hosted that involves everyone cleaning their closet and bringing their “unwanted” articles of clothing. This way everyone has a chance to swap, and it can be done very cleverly—setting the party up like a boutique. I personally think it would just be fun to try on all of the clothes together, serve martinis, and use it as an excuse to get dressed up before heading out for the night!


If you’ve got an old piece of clothing that you’ve held onto forever despite the fact that you never wear it, maybe it just needs to be repurposed. Perhaps the fabric is incredibly comfortable, or you love the print. If you’re crafty with a sewing machine, that fabric could find new life in a different article of clothing. Recently, I cut the sleeves from a shirt of mine, sewed it to a skirt I bought at Goodwill, and added a belt for a cute summer dress. Similar projects can be done—both with clothing you own, and great finds at the thrift store.

[The shirt (top left) had sat unworn in my closet for over a year, and the skirt (top right) was a $3 buy at Goodwill. I lopped off the sleeves of the shirt and made it into a tank, and now am in the process of attaching it to the skirt (you can see the pins in the photo still). The belt will be added to complete the look, and was also purchased at Goodwill-- for only $1!]

Only Buy What You Really Love

One rule that I’ve come to live by recently is to only buy what you really, really love. If you purchase thinking you may wear it, it’s likely that piece of clothing may only be worn once, if at all. Fall in love with your clothing. The more use it gets, the less wasteful the purchase is. Sure, you may donate that unworn piece of clothing—but your demand for that product increases the number of them that are produced to begin with! The economics of retail is a funny thing, but certainly is important when it comes to the amount of energy, water, and materials that are put into making clothing. Further, purchasing a handful of really great, quality pieces is much more eco-friendly than purchasing a closet full of clothes that will sit never worn.

Rethink Your Jean

Speaking of water used in production, our jeans consume a ton of it! Though those of us in NEO see fresh water as an abundant resource (thank you, Great Lakes), the reality is that it is quite scarce in many parts of the country and the world. One of these days, it will be even more so. There are a few companies these days that are producing jeans that use less water in the production process. This includes Levi's new Water Less Jeans. However, the greenest way to buy jeans is to purchase ones that have already been worn. Consignment shops are a great way to go.

Recycled and Fair Trade Clothing

There are plenty of companies out there that design and produce clothing made from recycled materials. Everything from shoes to tops can be found recycled from pieces or fabric from used pieces of clothing, plastic, or other materials. Another important factor to take into consideration is quality of work environment and value world-wide. Fair Trade products are created under fair working conditions, and purchased at a fair rate. Supporting these companies is a great way to increase the demand and value of these eco-friendly practices and pressure the larger companies to take a look at their own practices. If you're in or near Akron, check out The Market Path for adorable Fair Trade goodies and accessories.

There are obviously countless ways you can make your wardrobe a bit more eco-friendly, but the first step is just being conscious of the fact that what you wear does make a difference. Whatever you do, live and look fabulous!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bites: The Ultimate Sriracha Burger

It seems Sriracha is popping up everywhere. Originally only found in the corners of Asian Grocery Stores and specialty grocers, it's appearing in places like our local Marc's-- and even on the internet via the Oatmeal (who so aptly dubbed it "hot cock sauce"). This Thai hot sauce is revered by many, and for good reason. It's an incredibly flavorful hot sauce, and it's pretty much great on everything.

My boyfriend puts Sriracha on everything from eggs to ice-cream (okay, maybe not ice-cream), so it wasn't a shock when one day he surprised me with an entire cookbook dedicated to the stuff. After seeing it sit with the rest of my neglected cookbooks for a month or two, we finally decided this week to give one of the recipes a shot: the Ultimate Sriracha Burger. Who doesn’t like a bunch of dead cow piled high with bacon, onions sautéed in bacon grease, and a delectable bleu-cheese-Sriracha sauce? Perhaps vegetarians may not, but this girl sure does!

Ultimate Sriracha Burger

  • 3 pounds ground beef (preferably chuck, 80/20)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 10 tablespoons Sriracha
  • 4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon
  • 2 large sweet onions
  • 3/4 cup blue cheese dressing
  • 8 sesame seed buns
  • 8 thick slices Swiss cheese
  • 1 large beefsteak tomato, sliced
  • Arugula or romaine lettuce
  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground beef, soy sauce, 5 tablespoons of the Sriracha, and the pepper. Do not overmix. Form the mixture into 8 patties, and set aside, on a parchment-lined baking sheet, covered, in the refrigerator.
  2. Preheat a charcoal or gas grill to medium high heat
  3. In a medium frying pan over medium-low heat, cook the bacon, turning as necessary. While the bacon is cooking, peel and quarter the onions. Cut each section into 1/4-inch slices. Once the bacon is cooked through and slightly crispy, remove the slices from the pan, cut each in half crosswise, and drain onto paper towels, reserving the remaining bacon fat in the pan. Cook the sliced onions in the bacon fat over medium-low heat until they caramelize, 20 to 25 minutes.
  4. Grill the burgers, turning once, 4 to 41/2 minutes on each side or until a meat thermometer registers 130° to 135°F for medium-rare.
  5. While the burgers are cooking, in a small bowl, combine the blue cheese dressing with the remaining 5 tablespoons Sriracha. Lightly toast the buns on the grill during the last minute of cooking time.
  6. To assemble, spread the blue cheese mixture on both halves of each hamburger bun. Stack a burger patty, Swiss cheese slice, bacon, caramelized onions, tomato slice, and a small handful of arugula between each hamburger bun.

This is certainly not a low-fat meal by any means, but I will say that using the Foreman Grill definitely kicked some of the fat out of the burgers. We used spinach instead of the arugula (because we always have it on hand), and provolone instead of Swiss cheese. Regardless, these burgers were absolutely to die for—and in actuality I thought I may have a heart attack just looking at it.

Fatty or not, I would highly recommend trying this recipe—and running out for some Sriracha sauce ASAP. To close, here's a little humiliation of Adam for the road:


Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Calm and the Fury

Any of us know that sunshine is a rare and sacred commodity in NEO during springtime. After months of snow, three days of straight rain, then another day of snow, we finally saw the sun. I was actually able to throw my spring jacket on with my shades and enjoy a warm, pleasant afternoon. I headed to Mr. Zubs for lunch with a friend and the boy, then we headed back to Cuyahoga Falls to rummage the library's music collection and take a little stroll downtown.

Downtown Cuyahoga Falls is one of my favorite places in the area, and I think it's a really fabulous little space. It encompasses the idea of small-town feel and walkability. Unfortunately, it seems to not be as successful as one might think-- and many of its storefronts sit empty. Nonetheless, it is still a fantastic experience to just go down and enjoy the river. Today, however, the usual walkways that wrap around the businesses along the river were closed off-- the river overflowing wildly above them.

Though a bit crazy, it came nowhere close to the insanity being experienced in other parts of the world-- namely, Japan and other countries in the pacific that are being hit with massive earthquakes and tsunamis. My heart goes out to them. If you haven't caught up on the news or have seen the videos, I would recommend you do. Three inches of snow in March will seem far less traumatic.

It's amazing to sit and reflect about how important water is to culture, civilization, and development. Historically, water was a lifeblood, available access to trade and commerce. Water gives us the ability to grow. The rain comes to wash away the dirt and salt from our cars, our roads. Water is also a powerful force to be reckoned with as well, though, and I think this is one of these factors that don't really get attention until a crisis like this arises-- or you live in an area consistently faced with these and similar problems.

I guess the moral of the story is respect nature, and be prepared for uncertainty. I hope you Ohioans enjoyed the sunshine, but still kept the wounded and displaced in your thoughts and prayers (if you're into that). You never know, something could one day happen to you.