Book Review: The Joy of Cooking

Here at Urban Clever, we think cookbooks are great. And I am going to tell you about some of my faves over the course of the next few weeks/months. And they’d all make great presents.

Hang on, you say. If you need a recipe, you can get it on the interweb a million times over. And also you can get videos walking you showing you different procedures, and so forth.

That’s true, but computers and hot, steamy kitchens don’t mix. Until they do, I figure cookbooks are going to be around for a while.

So. Cookbooks. See, It’s very easy for me to pick which ones to tell you about: they all survived the big clearout. I think the collection I have now is about a quarter of what I started out with.

So here’s my very top one, the one I would choose to save if my house were burning down and for some inexplicable reason I couldn’t buy another copy: The Joy of Cooking.

Reason: if you’re ever stuck on how to deal with an unfamiliar ingredient, not quite sure how to look after your cast iron pans, flummoxed on how to squeeze a dinner out of a packet of cornmeal and an onion, Joy will help. When you’re in the midst of stir-frying onions, watching the red peppers roasting in the oven, and need a reminder on how to prepare a bain marie, Joy has the answer.

I honestly don’t understand how a household can function without this book.

But also-and here is a reason why cookbooks that have been around for a while are better than magazines and the Internet-the recipes are all tested. Lots. And some of the recipes in Joy have been around since it was first published in 1931. Dream Bars, I’m looking at you. So in other words, it’s really hard to screw up. Also, the writing style is super friendly and chatty, and it gives you menu ideas.

I bet you know this book already. Its author, Irma Rombauer, was a character in the film Julie & Julia, which you may recall was inspired by a blog written by a woman who had as her goal making every single recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering The Art Of French Cooking in the space of a year. In the film, Julia Child (played by Meryl Streep) is in Paris and she and her co-authors of French Cooking meet Rombauer, who shares her experiences about producing a cookbook. When I saw this scene for the first time (this is one of those movies I’ve seen several times, because it is food porn), during a flight to New York, I said out loud “Oh my God! No way!” which was disturbing to everyone sitting near me on the plane. And it made my stupid airplane meal doubly depressing.

I have the 1997 edition of Joy, which substiantially updated the previous edition (1975) and generally reflected the huge shifts in the way we eat (less cream, more fresh veg and ingredients/recipies from all over the world). But I see there is a 75th anniversary edition that updates things still futher. I don’t really know anything about it, but evidently, it reinstates the cocktail section. So I’m sure it’s fabulous.

One thing, if you’re in Britain, you’ll have to get U.S. measuring cups and spoons in order to use the recipes, because Americans tend to cook by volume, not by weight. But you can get these on Amazon or I suppose in John Lewis or if you ask nicely I bet a friend who’s travelling to the states will bring you back some.

Tech 22: Use Boomerang to Schedule E-Mails

This is my first post for Tech 22, which I am hoping will be a monthly feature that will tell you something cool and useful I’ve discovered that’s tech-y. Urban Clever is not a computer geek or expert by any stretch of the imagination, gets irritated by the sight of too many wires sticking out of things, and generally gets bored by talk of processing speeds. But I do a LOT of research before I buy anything remotely computer-y or technical for myself, and I’m always stumbling across stuff that’s cool. I figure if I share this all, it will save my friends and my readers and humanity in general a lot of wasted effort.

So my first post on this subject is somewhat modest – it’s a Firefox plugin, after all – but it is totally, totally brilliant and will save you heaps of time and minimize stress. It’s called Boomerang, and it lets you schedule emails in Gmail to send at a future date and time.

How do you get this, you ask? Go to the Boomerang website and follow the directions. It is super-easy. It puts a button at the top of your Gmail page, and if you want to send a timed message, you write the email as usual, click on the button to set the sending date and time, and then click OK. That’s it.

You can send yourself a reminder to print your boarding pass for your flight that will land in your inbox exactly 24 hours before your flight, and the reminder can include a link to the website. You can nag your husband four days ahead of time that he needs to take the kids to the doctor later that afternoon. See? Genius.

Big Stress Reducer: Plan All Your Outfits on Sunday

Feel like you have nothing to wear? Tired of scrambling around every morning figuring out your outfit? Try planning it all on Sunday, AND setting the clothes aside, and your life will be a million times better.

That’s crazy, you say. Well, a friend who is a stylist got me on to this, and it is awesome. Eliminating all that stress in the morning completely changed my day.

You basically act like you’re going on a business trip, and set aside everything you’ll need for each outfit. This includes jewellery, shoes, handbag, everything.

After you’ve decided what you want to wear each day, hang the entire outfit on a hanger in your closet. Stockings and underwear, too. Put the jewellery in a mini shopping bag and include that on the hanger.

Here are the advantages:
1. You will see in advance if anything needs ironing, if you have enough clean underwear, if you have clean stockings with no ladders/runs. Major stress reducer.
2. You will completely eliminate the need to think or decide as you dress. This is why you put the jewellery in a little bag, so you can just grab it without having to hunt.
3. You can make up new outfits, which hugely expands the usefulness of your wardrobe and reduces the need to buy more clothes/accessories. You will stop always wearing the same cardigan with the same slacks, for instance.
4. Further to the previous point. This process helps make sure you use ALL your wardrobe and accessories. You will actually have time to pick am outfit that matches the cute red handbag you love but never use because you feel like it never looks good with your outfit.

I’ve done this a few times, and every time I do it I think it’s the best thing ever. Try it!

Book Review: The Thrift Book

Welcome to Urban Clever’s first book review. I am so excited to tell you about this book because it is absolutely the best and I refer to it lots. The Thrift Book: Live Well and Spend Less, by India Knight, is the result of one woman’s effort to seriously cut back her spending and save money, without sacrificing style. Which, quite frankly, is what I aspire to.

For those of you in the U.S., Knight is a columnist and author in the U.K. who writes about a range of subjects, and some of her recent books covered shopping and dieting. The Thrift Book opens with her story about the difficulties she’s had over the course of her life with managing her money properly, the debts she’s incurred and the trauma of dealing with them, and how unbelievably stressful it all is. We can all relate.

The rest of the book is absolutely stuffed with ideas, projects, websites and other resources that she’s discovered to substitute for all the habits and practices that caused her so much money trouble in the first place. There are chapters on clothes, crafts, beauty and other things. I am positive that you will find at least one thing that you think is absolutely genius and saves you the cost of the book.

Here, for example, are some of her ideas:

  • Make your own body scrub using sugar, coffee, or whatever. I have done this, it is super-easy, saves you a fortune and I will never buy body scrub again. When you see how good it is you will be slightly nauseous at the mark-up you have been paying to buy your own.
  • Don’t buy cheap clothes, i.e. dresses that retail for new at 10 pounds. She explains why, and how to spend your clothing money wisely.
  • Cooking Indian food is brilliant to save money because it is (a) cheap insofar as there are lots of vegetarian options (b) endlessly adaptable, helping you save more by sticking to produce that’s in season (she gives you a list). And if you want to eat meat, she tells you what the cheap cuts are and directs you to guides on how to cook them.

Obviously, others have written about these subjects before, but in The Thrift Book, it’s all in one place, presented very nicely, and her writing style is a pleasure. It’s aimed at a British audience, but I would say that makes no difference, you can always find the American equivalent. Give it a try!

Jack Donaghy/Henry David Thoreau Smackdown

Spot the difference:
“Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes. If you have any enterprise before you, try it in your old clothes.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden

“Don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want to have.” – Jack Donaghy, 30 Rock (and a great many others besides)

These pieces of advice conflict, and they both sound good to me. Suppose you’re trying to change something important in your life. Who should you listen to?

The case for Jack:
1. In the crazy madcap modern world we live in, people use your clothes to assess where you fit in the grand scheme of things. As a rule: back office professionals look neat, but not flashy; salespeople dress the same as, or better than, their clients, executives tend to wear ties if they’re men and expensive shoes/handbags if they’re women. Sort of.

2. If you want to change your job, or for that matter, your social circle, you’re better off dressing like they do. It raises your chances that the club you want to join thinks you’re already a member, an they’ll be more likely to accept you. I make no assessment of whether this is good or bad. It is a fact. Think I’m wrong? Say so in the comments.

The case for Henry:
1. You are fine as you are. The most important thing is that you are a good person, and this is how people should judge you, not on your appearance.
2. Any job where you can’t succeed unless you dress like everyone else isn’t a job worth having, and your would-be coworkers aren’t worth impressing because their value system is royally screwed up.

This being a blog for people living the urban dream, it’s very easy to say Jack is right. If you take a quick look around your office or group of friends there are probably very few Henrys, I bet you. Jacks are the path of least resistance in a world where you don’t get to decide what the rules are of the club you want to join.

I would like to say that we should all want to live an authentic life and we should all try to get in touch with our inner Henries, and dress however the hell we want. But honestly, I don’t know enough people who do that to give you an informed assessment that it’s worth it.

This whole discussion is a non-starter for those of you who dress how you like already and have no plans to make big changes in what you do or how you live.

However, it’s something that bears thinking about for anyone looking to switch careers, move to a new town, join a new circle of friends, or basically do anything different.

The question is: how much of who you are is wrapped up in what you look like? If you want to change something important in your life, should you think about changing your appearance?

Other Clever: Two Money Blogs I Really Like

Happy Sunday!  One of they key points of my minimalism/downsizing project is to save money, and that means two things:

1. I have to figure out what to do with the money I’m saving.

2. I need moral support when I am wavering and want to spend a lot of money on something stupid or that doesn’t fit with my overall project.

So, here are two blogs that I like that have helped a lot with both of these, and maybe you will like them, too!

If there are finance blogs that YOU like, let us know in the comments. Thanks!

Genius Travel Tip: Google Maps

This is something I figured out on my last vacation/holiday and it is super-great for saving time, hassle, money and generally being cool.

So you’re planning a big trip somewhere, and you have loads of recommendations for restaurants, sights, etc from friends/acquaintances/websites/etc. Lucky you!

You need to organise all these tips before you go, however, otherwise you will spend your entire first day rifling through all these tips, figuring out where to go and what to do.

This, in my opinion, is not so good.

Obviously, the first problem is that you are wasting your precious holiday time doing what is basically holiday admin instead of actual holiday.

Second, if you want to actually take advantage of all these tips, you need to know where everything is IN RELATION TO EACH OTHER. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that this top restaurant is actually next door to that cool urban garden, so after seeing the garden you can have a nice lunch?

You need Google maps. Here’s what you do:

1. Go into MAPS at the top of your Google homepage, then go into My Places to create a new map. Label it something like “Brussels Holiday.”

2. The next time someone gives you a recommendation for a restaurant or whatever, type its name and address into Google so you get a map with a pin showing the location.

3. Now, click on the pin, and at the bottom of the white box click on Save To Map to add it to your Brussels map, which will drop a pin onto your map.

4. Click on your new pin. You can put in opening times, directions, what food your friend says you should order, etc.

5. If you are feeling ambitious, you can colour-code the pins for sights, hotels, etc.

6. This is the most important bit, if you are travelling abroad: PRINT OUT THE MAP BEFORE YOU GO. It will save you a fortune in roaming fees.

Do you know what is total genius about all this? If someone ever asks YOU for a recommendation, just send them your map!

If you know how to do this in Bing or any other mapping function, please let me know in the comments!