Monthly Archives: January 2012

Shop responsibly.

So remember last week when I hated death-related social media updates and complained about it on the Interwebs?

I guess I just hadn’t experienced true loss.

The Keg of Evanston is closing.

The Keg of Evanston is closing.

If you have to ask, you will never understand. But since you did,

it’s kind of like that.

Keg Monday is a Northwestern institution, much like nine weeks of midterms or the phrase “I seriously never thought I would go Greek!” A sticky, sweaty haven for the scantily clad, scantily birthday-ed, and socially repressed. I obviously didn’t partake in such shenanigans, because underage drinking is deplorable and I have never in my life owned a fake ID…but if I had, I would have also owned a pair of “Keg shoes” bought for the express purpose of soaking up $4 Big Cup overflow and enough “Keg tops” to dress half of my sorority house (I seriously never thought I would go Greek!).

Remember when we bought clothes solely to destroy them? When we scrambled to take “sexy” dorm room photos before our Forever 21 poly blend had been doused in Natty Light and our artfully teased hair succumbed to Bar Code Bangs Syndrome? For recent grads (and smug fifth-years like myself), The Keg’s closing marks a tangible end to some of the best times we’ll never remember. But it also marks the end of a shopping era—one in which quantity always won out over quality, and avoiding the travesty of being tagged in the same party top two weeks in a row was infinitely more important than investing in clothes we loved.

The tendency toward excess is one of the most frequently cited arguments for a lower drinking age. The forbidden is rarely appealing in moderation, and that’s why so many former nerds go apeshit when they get to college and Europe does everything better. The concept is logical enough. The evidence speaks for itself. We did it to our livers—but did we do it to our closets, too?

After spending years at the mercy of fascist dress codes and mommy’s discretion, we left for school and found ourselves in possession of unchecked sartorial freedom. We could wear whatever we wanted. We could buy as much as we wanted (provided we had enough left over for $4 Big Cups). Cleavage buffet lace corset top covered in rainbow zippers? Hell yeah! I’ll take four. Urban Outfitters doesn’t have a sale section every day!

I treasured the ritual of the Monday afternoon shopping scramble. The adrenaline rush when the stakes of rifling through a friend’s closet for something, anything new to wear seemed unbearably high. But I look at my wardrobe now, devoid of Payless pumps and generic, slinky tank tops, and I couldn’t be happier to own clothes I want to wear to my new rotation of big girl bars over and over again. Clothes I want to hang up properly when I stumble in (legally) drunk. Clothes that are a little more eccentric. A little more well-made. A little more me. I treasure mulling over a purchase for longer than it takes to do a lap around the Keg.

The truth is, both shopping and drinking are vices best enjoyed in moderation. Vices we had to grow into to really appreciate. Cheap thrills and cheap shots have their time and place, but rather than be sad to hang up our pleather spike heels, let’s learn to love the grown-up ones we’re trading them in for. One whiskey in Wang in can be just as satisfying as eight in Express. So can eight whiskeys in Wang. Or so I hear.

So here’s to The Keg of Evanston. Always in our hearts, no longer in our closets. I’ll raise my Big Cup to that.

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An all times food.

Celebrity deaths are a social media nightmare. Case in point: the events of the past week. I’m all for honoring the deceased, but do complete strangers for whose vital stats you’ve never before demonstrated a concern warrant stormy tweets about how you’re “whoa. really? just feeling really real right now………” or some similarly dramatic display? It’s a gesture of respect, I guess (#eh). I don’t typically engage, but whatever (#passiveaggression). Whatever, okay? (#whitegirlproblems) (#whateverrrrr)

There is, however, a celebrity whose passing went disturbingly unmourned by the masses. Whose spiritual, if not physical, death throws the collective childhood memory of an entire generation into disarray.

That is Cookie Monster.

Guys. Can we talk about this, please? I know it’s old news, but I’m still so torn. I’m a big believer in educating children about nutrition, and I think having a broader understanding of healthy eating could have helped me avoid the wretched cycle of yo-yo dieting I was trapped in for many years. I want to tread delicately here, because I grew up in a relatively healthy household, and my parents imparted their limited knowledge of nutrition as best they could. We ate home-cooked meals every night and only bought cereals with less than five grams of sugar per serving. But there was always an underlying implication that healthy eating requires tangible sacrifice – that it means having yogurt and baby carrots for lunch every day, or settling for reduced-fat Cheez-Its (gag. Why do these even exist?) – rather than seeking out the naturally nutritious foods you love and learning to prepare them in ways that are palatable to you. A black and white mentality about what constitutes healthy eating breeds guilt and obsession rather than celebration and curiosity. Not the best side dishes for any cuisine.

In that sense, there’s something incredibly sad about the fact that Cookie Monster got thrown under the bus. Because for all Sesame Street‘s effort to promote diversity in its programming, what the show fails to acknowledge is that not all cookies are created equal. Not all cookies are “sometimes” foods. Some cookies can be eaten for breakfast (or lunch) (or dinner). Let’s teach children to strip away labels and look at ingredients. A  less rigid but more wholesome lifestyle is a heck of a lot easier to swallow.

I’m not typically one to make a healthy cookie and call it dessert. I’d rather go all out less often. I will happily, however, make a healthy cookie and call it breakfast.

I think we all know where this is headed.

Alldai Errdai Cookies

I have a mild case of Overactive Pantry Syndrome, so this surprise hit recipe was an attempt to use up half-eaten boxes of cereal and a monstrous bag of ground flaxseed (got a little overstimulated at the bulk bins) (#whitegirlproblems). The ingredient list is lengthy, but feel free to substitute whatever you have on hand. These cookies are very adaptable and were, in fact, very adapted from Yes, I Want Cake.

1/2 cup coconut oil
1 banana, mashed (or 1/2 cup pumpkin puree, or 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup (honey or agave would also work)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup Grape-Nuts (everything from here down could absolutely be substituted or omitted)
1/4 cup wheat bran
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut
1 cup chopped nuts or dried fruit of choice

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (do this. Don’t grease. This is a very sticky cookie dough).

2. Combine the oil, banana, sugar, and maple syrup in a large bowl. Mix until combined, using a big wooden spoon, all old-fashioned like.

3. Add egg and vanilla. Mix until combined.

4. Add oats, flour, baking soda and salt. Mix until just combined. Just.

5. Throw in whatever the hell else on that ingredient list tickles your fancy. Drop 1/4 cup scoops onto a lined baking sheet. Press down to flatten. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until edges are golden. Makes 18 cookies.

In case you needed another incentive, these cookies are a fiber bonanza. A cookie with a happy ending! PBS would definitely approve.

Because everyone needs a little TLC.

If you’ve spent time in Evanston, Illinois (or if you haven’t), you may know (or you may not know) that there’s an unassuming (just like me!) café on Noyes Street called Fraîche. Despite my refusal to speak the restaurant’s name aloud – I feel like a dweeb attempting the French pronunciation, but neither will I be the tacky redneck calling it “Fraysh” – it’s one of my favorite places to eat in the Chicago area. The food is rustic yet vaguely gourmet, and the menu rotates frequently to incorporate seasonal ingredients. I’ve had any number of noteworthy meals there – an oozing brie, pear and arugula panini springs to mind, as does a pretzel croissant (!) topped with a runny egg, roasted red peppers and tarragon aioli – but true as my teeth are sweet, what keeps me coming back like a repressed gay cowboy is the pastry case.

Specifically, the carrot cake. Three moist, mildly spiced layers, each groaning beneath roughly an inch of tangy cream cheese frosting. (Should you be in the neighborhood, the chocolate toffee scone, the pumpkin whoopie pie or Fraîche’s homemade take on the Twix bar probably won’t ruin your life, either. Wait, is this a Yelp review? Love me some Fraysh.)

Though cupcakes may have served as an effective gateway drug in my days as an amateur eater – I like to think of myself as at least a green belt these days – I’ve deduced over time that the layer cake possesses the most flawless ratio known to confectionery. It’s cake as nature intended it: happily wedded to frosting, but with enough of each element that the individual personalities still shine through. There’s no clear imbalance of power, like TomKat. It’s not inseparably fused, like Brangelina. Just mutually kickass. Like Will and Jada.

Please adopt me, Smith family. I just want to be part of your world.

There’s a problem with my layer cake habit: it ain’t cheap. At $5 a slice, springing for bakery goods on a regular basis is hardly cost-effective, particularly given that I typically have the ingredients on hand to make my own. But there’s a problem with making my own: I can’t eat an entire layer cake. And while I regularly pawn off cookies and brownies on unsuspecting friends, lovers, co-workers and strangers (you’d be amazed how many people demand samples on public transportation. Where did these fools go to kindergarten?), there’s something about the heft and fussiness of a straight up cake that’s not as easily shared in the absence of a celebratory event.

Here’s an event that I think demands celebrating: it’s Thursday.

Enter my new obsession. The TLC (Tiny Layer Cake). If you thought this post was on a fast train toward a recipe for carrot cake, feel free to deboard now (though I will direct you to one here, perfectly scaled to TLC proportions). This isn’t a recipe so much as a method for making your life and your cake ratios more consistently satisfactory. Because I’m a caring person. And I never want you to choke down a dry, underfrosted cupcake again.

The TLC’s secret weapon? The four-ounce ramekin. You can use a muffin pan, but your TLC will come out slightly conical. Maybe you’re into that. I don’t judge. But lest you think I’d bully you into buying a specialty dish only suitable for one purpose (yep, this is what bullying feels like), stop it. I’ll post another ramekin-ready recipe that’s more suitable for everyday use next week.

So here’s your agenda for today. Buy, beg, borrow or steal your way to two four-ounce ramekins. Lurk it on the site linked above, or just whip up a quarter-batch of your favorite cupcake recipe (you know you can beat an egg and then only use part of it, right? Save the rest for when your next TLC craving hits). When your cakelets emerge from the oven in all their jumbo muffin-esque glory, let them cool completely before lopping off the tops to create even layers. Immediately consume said tops to ensure you didn’t, you know, double the baking soda or something otherwise unforgivable (I call this “having your cake and eating your muffin tops, too!”).

Assemble. Frost. Decorate. Devour. Unfortunately, this TLC doesn’t subscribe to Left Eye’s “No Scrubs” philosophy, so you’ll probably want to do your dishes as well.

Voila! Layer cake. Don’t fork over your cash to put a fork in it.

TLC, I wish I knew how to quit you.

A peacock in ostrich.

So first thing’s first: what in Gaga’s name am I wearing in this header of mine?

Articulating my personal style is tricky. I tend to become obsessed with channeling a certain vibe, commit to it fully for several months, then undergo an epic overnight transformation out of boredom (it’s the enemy, have you heard?). Last summer, I woke up one morning and declared I would only be wearing black, white, gray, navy and eggplant. That lasted about as long as Kim Kardashian’s marriage. To this day, I believe the most spot-on fashion diagnosis I’ve ever received was a cautiously proffered description of “tastefully…gaudy…?”

Say hello to the name of my future memoir. Tastefully Gaudy: The Emma Aubry Roberts Story: Sequins and Sailor Stripes or, Loafers and Leopard Print or, The Girl in the Little Black Ostrich Feather Dress or, Hey, Who Cut A Kaleidoscope Pattern in the Back of My Burberry Trench Coat?! I’ll let you decide whether that last one is based on a true story. So James Frey right now.

Jokes aside, “tastefully gaudy” is a remarkably accurate summary. I’m a sucker for sparkle and never met a mesh inset I didn’t like, but my ostentatiousness operates within the realm of simple silhouettes and luxury fabrics. I will always choose a crewneck over a deep V, or pair my skinny leather moto pants with mild-mannered ballet flats. No matter the end game, my foundations are undeniably classic. Hence the peacock as my spirit animal: flashy, but stately.

In that sense, this outfit is standard peacocking. You’ve got your glitter bomb top, but in the shape of a modest t-shirt; your rainbow-hued ostrich feather mini, worn with neutrals to bring it back down to earth. The watch is an everyday staple, lending a touch of pragmatic masculinity to the ensemble, and the undone hair and minimal makeup keep the whole thing from feeling too fussy.

Cuh-lear-ly getting my groove on. I was so into my one man dance party that the shoes almost went undocumented, save for this unposed and extremely natural-looking gem:

Another peacock balancing act, in more ways than one. Stripper heels over opaque tights. Works when the heels are made of leather and suede; latex, maybe not so much.

And now I have to cop to doing this silly thing to my nails:

If you liked it then you shoulda put four coats of glittery silver ethyl acetate on it. BAM! Catchy, right? Don’t worry, Blue Ivy, I’ll sell you the rights.

[J.Crew shirt, Cynthia Rowley skirt, Wolford tights, Zara shoes, Michael Kors watch.]

Boredom is the enemy.

I started La Vie en Ginger in 2007, my senior year of high school. My hard drive had become a graveyard for “outfit inspiration” I never gave a second glance (the ol’ right-click tic, nawmsayin’?), and I was seeking an outlet to assert my presence as Teen Fashion Guru. La Vie began as a public shopping list of sorts—my picks from the latest Urban Outfitters catalog, my wisdom on selecting a winter coat (in short, refuse to wear one. You can find me in faux furs and wool blazers through February to this day), my shoe crush of the moment. My trademark sassy commentary was always present, but it wasn’t until halfway through college that I began to put significant time and effort into the quality of my writing, crafting my posts around original content and photographs rather than reblogs and product reviews. Over time, the blog’s scope widened to include experiments in the kitchen, anecdotes from my “day job” as a magazine intern, and musings on body image and the big picture of personal style. It truly became la vie en ginger.

Then I quit being a ginger. So that was awkward. Then I went through a period of serious personal turmoil and tried to pretend like nothing had changed. Then I stopped blogging altogether while I rebuilt myself from the penny loafers up.

There’s a dangerous trap you can fall into when you decide to make your life public, and that is deciding that your public life is the only one that matters. You start doing things so you can blog about them later. You stop caring about the things no one will see. You ignore or suffocate the things you’d rather no one see, sometimes at the expense of your own well-being. It’s very easy to become more of a persona than a person, and in retrospect, blogging became toxic to me for a while. Those days are over. There’s a veneer of perfection and glamour that no longer interests me. I mean, I read those blogs. I enjoy those blogs. But I’m not that girl. It’s okay if you know that I’m not that girl.

BITE is more than just a catchy anagram. It’s an approach to living life. Boredom is the enemy. The moment you cease to marvel at your own existence is the moment you get stuck in your head, the moment life ceases to be cause for celebration in and of itself.

It applies to fashion. In the past year alone, my style has evolved from edgy urbanite to vintage queen to man repeller to prepster dandy to quasi-gothic minimalist to I don’t even know what (and I think we can all attest to my ever-changing hair). Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to find my “signature look,” but for now, I find that the joy of fashion lies in experimentation. So what if I want to wear a mod minidress one day and a bow tie and oxfords the next? I take note of how at home I feel in each ensemble, how the world responds, the degree to which I care how the world responds or find a spring in my step despite the sideways glances. I hold tight to the pieces that feel like me and I ruthlessly dispose of the ones that don’t. I’m not afraid to look foolish. I just don’t want to be bored.

It applies to food. After struggling with my size for as long as I can remember, then losing over a third of my body weight only to find myself in eating disorder treatment for bulimia (not how I lost the weight, but a byproduct of the resulting obsession and a restrictive diet’s lack of sustainability), I’ve finally found my own euphoric – if fledgling – balance of eating and living well. It doesn’t include flavorless diet “food.” It doesn’t include a guilty rollercoaster of feeling alternately starved and stuffed. It does include a great deal of delicious fuel—much of it healthy, some of it not, but all of it savored with intention. I’ve found mindfulness and variety to be the keys to maintaining both my weight and my sanity, to deriving maximum pleasure from food (a genuine hobby of mine) while still feeling energized and at ease. I’m not afraid of calories. I just don’t want to be bored.

It applies to life. Your job, your hobbies, the people with whom you surround yourself. I don’t advise that you quit the moment the going gets gristly, and there have certainly been times when I may have been too quick to cut my losses and move on. But life is not about misery. Life is not about “should.” If you feel backed into a corner in your career, or like one of your relationships has gone sour, or like reality television or Facebook or running ten miles a day is ruining your life, stop it. Bored people are boring. You’ll find a more satisfying way to fill your time, I swear. It may not happen instantly, but it will happen. I’m not afraid of change. I just don’t want to be bored.

I’m a work in progress. We all are. Take what I have to say with a grain of Himalayan pink salt. This new blog will cover all the same topics as La Vie en Ginger – pretty stuff, yummy stuff, working through tough stuff. Wiping every last crumb of boredom from of life’s proverbial table. Who knows what the next course will bring? The only thing I’m ordering is joie de vivre.

Take a bite?