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Monday, April 19

Radically Organic

Yes, I know I've been slacking recently with the updates, but not with the action. Life, it seems, just gets too distracting to remember to actually document it.

Last month, I reluctantly watched the movie Food, Inc. and proceeded to be absolutely disgusted by the food industry. Be forewarned, once you see horror of such magnitude, it can never be unseen. After watching this movie, there's no going back to haphazardly eating just any food available. I had already been a staunch consumer of organic milk, and a frequenter of organic meats. This month, however, I decided to test practical implications of an all (ok, mostly) organic diet.

This is neither cheap, nor simple, but the increased price of organic groceries is all but cancelled out by eating out (and ordering in) dramatically less. Thus far this month I've spent about $500 at FreshDirect.com, and about $50 at the Union Square Farmer's Market (quite possibly the most amazing one I've ever seen). I would guestimate that at least 90% of what I've eaten this month has been certified organic, and that 90% of that I've made myself.

I'd have to say that, historically, I've found cooking to be such a chore. That is, though, only because I've known that paying a premium to have a restaurant to cook my food for me is always an option. Now that it's not (or not as much), I've discovered a real satisfaction in cooking my own meals using fresh, wholesome, and often local ingredients, some of which we've grown right in the window sills of my Brooklyn apartment, which is currently host to tomatoes, basil, dill, and chives. We even scored an incredibly scarce plot in one of the incredibly scarce NYC urban community gardens, and have grand designs on doing grand things in that 4'x4' piece of soil. Cucumbers? Bok choy? Green beans? We'll see this week.

I do, however, live in New York City, and eating out is just a way of life here. To date, I've managed to find few purely organic restaurants (lots of restaurants have organic this or that, but not entirely organic dishes).

I first tried Egg, a Williamsburg restaurant, last month, and I'd have to say it's absolutely worth the hour and a half wait and suffering the scene of walking through the heart of the known universe's Hipster stronghold. High-top sneakers, colorful oversized sunglasses, and stockings with intentional precision runs abound. To be honest, I can't be too sure exactly how organic the menu is at Egg. I remember reading something about it somewhere, but can't seem to find it online anywhere anymore. The food, which is as local as they can get (they even have their own farm) completely and profoundly rocked my world. Honestly, We got on the ridiculous wait list for breakfast, and one Eggs Rothko (see the menu), a "hashbrown ball," bacon AND (for the sake of experiencing such a thing) candied bacon, and three mimosas (each) later, I was about to slip into the food coma to make all other food comas look like cat naps. Egg was as closed to food bliss as I have ever been.

Gust Organics is, apparently, the first USDA certified organic bar. They are 100% organic, and even have a focus on sustainability. All of their water is UV-sanitized, filtered NYC tap. So far, I've tried their selection of uncommon empanadas (caramelized onions and mozzarella?), their "Risotto Buenas Aires," and their baked mozzarella and tomato appetizer. All were rather underwhelming. Perhaps they never heard of organic spices? A big let-down was their paltry offering of organic beers, which consisted totally of the three varieties brewed by Peak Organics, none of which I particularly care for (not that they aren't good beers, but they just aren't styles of beer--Pale Ale, Nut Brown, and Amber--that I care most for).

Counter is also all organic, though they don't claim any certification of such. Nonetheless, a quick look at their bar will show absolutely no brands of which you or I have ever heard, all labeled "organic." I must be honest, I didn't even know organic liquor existed before I went there. As an unapologetic, carnivorous-leaning omnivore, I was noticeably disappointed when I realized Counter was strictly vegetarian. Then, I tried their Farmhouse Panini a couple weekends ago, and became absolutely crackhead-hooked (I've been back twice for it already). Their "Chickpea Popcorn" was bland as bland can be, but having had deep-fried chickpeas at a few other places before and being equally unimpressed, I didn't expect much from them and would wager that fried chickpeas just suck in general. I find french fries to be rather black and white: either they're good or they're bad, and their "Pommes Frites" were good. However, the harissa mayo they came with was fully delicious. Most importantly, as an avid beer drinker, I was blown away by their selection of organic brews, and appreciated washing down my grub with an ever-perfect Samuel Smith Organic Lager.

I am now a full convert. I can't go back. The idea of eating not just fast food, but what we would normally consider to be good food while turning out to be just a prettier poison, makes me feel as dirty as a street hooker and a little sick. Even my 15-year old daughter, who has single-handedly kept the fast food french fry industry in business for years, is espousing organic eating and has become a huge fan of Jamie Oliver's show, Food Revolution. She even wants to start a movement in her school to get teens to demand more nutritious, wholesome, and responsible choices from school lunch, and maybe even refusing to accept things link this monstrosity as viable diet options.
Wednesday, March 24

Reset, Reduce, Reclaim: Status Update

The Google Nexus One continues to rock my effin' socks off. It's smaller than an iPhone and a workhorse. Not to mention the 5 megapixel camera with LED flash, which enabled me to rid myself of my 5 megapixel Sony Webbie, sans flash.

The new Alienware M11X laptop is working out fantastically. After using the Dell Mini 9, it is the perfect size, giving me just enough more room to not feel like the screen and keyboard are cramped, yet still conveniently small, light, and most of all, powerful (the Dell Mini is a netbook and has NO power, but it was never meant to). It can effortlessly handle the most processing-intensive tasks. I've even played a game or two :)) My Dell Mini and my old Dell Inspiron 6000 sold on eBay for $350 combined, which wasn't great (I really expected more for the Mini), but it was money for unneeded stuff.

Mint.com is so much better than any bank's website ever. Just being able to see all of my accounts in one place is brilliant. And the ability to create a budget, and then have it automatically match up items from the "debit" column of my bank account to individual budget items is priceless. The only draw back is not being able to itemize cash withdrawals from my accounts.

Completed since last update:
  1. In the effort to eliminate excess material clutter and to consolidate as much media as possible, I purchased and downloaded DVD Ripping Software by Pavtube (to "rip" a DVD means make a digital copy that can be played on a computer without the actual disc). After ripping my DVDs, I'll organize them into lots based on genre and sell the lots on eBay (rather than the excruciating task of selling them one at a time).
  2. I've purchased the Iomega Prestige 2 TB USB 2.0 Desktop External Hard Drive 34484, in preparation for ripping all of my DVDs.
  3. I've purchased software for my Google Nexus One that allows me to catalog my book library by scanning their barcodes. I've scanned the entire lot in preparation to sell them via Amazon.com (I'm still researching the best way to sell used books). I've carefully analyzed the collection and researched which ones I'd like to (and could be) replaced with digital versions (either Adobe PDF, Adobe eBook, or other Nook-compatible format).
  4. I've automated the payments for my utilities, rent, and Dell credit card (my only credit card). I still need to get direct deposit setup so that child support is paid directly, from my paycheck, to my youngest daughter's mom.
To do:

  1. Using the software mentioned above, I need to "rip," one by one (painful), each of my DVDs into a high definition format and store the files on my shiny new Iomega drive.
  2. Create eBay auctions for my lots of DVDs.
  3. Figure out a better solution for selling my used books than one-by-one on Amazon.com. Cash4Books.net? An eBay store?
  4. Find a reliable house cleaner or house-cleaning service to use bi-weekly to deep clean, and maybe once per week to do floors and surfaces.
  5. Research prices for laundry pickup service.
  6. Create a shopping list of staples on FreshDirect and have it automatically submitted once or twice a month.
  7. I send my father a couple hundred dollars every month. I'd might as well treat that as a bill and automate that as well.
Monday, March 8

Reset, Reduce, Reclaim

Radicalism is, in itself, radical commitment, and those not used to such an endeavor can easily "fall off" and get back to their usual mundane ways. I'm no exception. The trials and trappings of life are mind numbingly distracting.

Here I sit, a little over a month after my one month/15 lb victory, having regained 5 lbs. A four day professional summit last week--in which we were continually pumped with gourmet eats and cold booze--all of which was free--was partially the culprit, but I've been less-than-radical since January ended.

And for F's sake, please no one blame losing weight too fast or any of the usual bull. It was simply laziness. That's right... laziness. For most of us, it's an addiction, and like an addict we have a bajillion ways to justify, rationalize, and otherwise validate it.

So I restart this experiment with 3 months of Radical Fitness (a little more, actually) and recommit to my goal of achieving washboard abs by the first day of Summer. And accordingly, I'll safeguard my future efforts by adding to that a theme for the month of March: Radical Streamlining.

It's hard to stay focused when we're hit with so much distraction, both from others and by our own design. So my objectives for March will be efficiency through:
  1. minimalization - removing what is unnecessary.
  2. consolidation - combining what is redundant.
  3. batching - doing a lot of the same task at one time.
  4. automation - setting applicable tasks to be done automatically.
  5. outsourcing - having others complete certain tasks (usually menial and/or time consuming).
I hated to admit this for a long time, but an excellent primer for the last three of those is The 4-Hour Workweek, Expanded and Updated, by Tim Ferriss.

Imagine if you applied these to your life the amount of time you might reclaim.

Here are some steps I've already taken thus far this month:
  • I sold my phone and camera on eBay to mitigate the cost of consolidating them into one device that's better at both tasks (technically, I did this toward the end of last month).
  • I'm in the process of putting all of my books on Amazon.com and am replacing my library with a Barnes and Noble Nook.
  • I'm cataloging my DVD collection to prepare for selling them on Amazon.com or eBay after "ripping" them to a digital format and using Media Library Management software such as Boxee.
  • I've replaced my development laptop and my netbook with the Alienware M11x, which is powerful enough to develop software and web applications on, while being netbook-level portable (not to mention I can play some hardware intensive games on it). I've created eBay auctions for both: Dell Inspiron 6000 NO RESERVE! and Dell Mini 9 Netbook - BLACK - Perfect Condition, to offset the cost.
  • I signed up for Mint.com to centrally manage all of my income accounts (Chase, Paypal, etc) and manage my overall budget.
Other plans for the month involve automating ALL of my monthly bill payments, outsourcing all of my time wasting tasks (for instance, hiring a housekeeper once a week to do the "deep" cleaning), and selling, donating, or recycling all possessions that I don't regularly use, except for the most sentimental of items (like cute, crafty necklaces made by my kids).

If you have any suggestions concerning what else I might do to streamline my life, I'd love to read them.