Whee for E!

If you’ve never seen the above gel capsules before, they are vitamin E. This post has nothing to do with E as in Ecstasy (not that I know a freaking thing about Ecstasy) and everything to do with the SUPPLEMENT and virtuous fatty acid vitamin E. Hope that clears things up.

I wanted to chat about E today because of my own recent experience with needing to use it as a topical solution. So in advance: you’re welcome!

Vitamin E is great because it works both internally and topically. In wintertime, when we are most dealing with colds (read: constant runny noses) and have chapped dry skin, take a needle or pin and prick a vitamin E gel capsule to release the gooey stuff inside. Smear a little around your red, chapped nose or on a patch of painful, dry skin (elbows, lips, knees, legs, etc). You will be amazed at how soothing it is and how quickly it works to get the skin back up to snuff.

Because it is so thick, you’ll want the patch of skin you use it on to remain bare while it is absorbed. When I was a kid, my mom burned her forearm on the oven door. She had a huge brown patch of skin where the oven door touched her and it scabbed over. She smeared a couple of vitamin E capsules on her arm once or twice a day while it healed and she had no scar from it.

I don’t know how vitamin E fares on preventing stretchmarks for pregnant women, but I would surmise it definitely helps.

E is literally “the most effective naturally occurring beauty product.” I took that from the premiere source on this vitamin, which is a well laid out and helpful read on all its fabulousness. And, if you’re in a reading mood, check out this article on fundamental skincare basics, which includes incorporating antioxidants in your diet and your skin creams.

Internally, E kicks ass and takes names. Your cells are like, totally BFF 4 Life with vitamin E. Keeping cells healthy means you’re helping yourself preventing certain cancers, heart disease, and even acne. Truly!

So get your E on. Zoe Says do it, as does Dave Starsky played by Ben Stiller. Do it. Do it. C’mon, do it.

For Serious Hot Chocolate Lovers

Hello friends and countrymen! I’ve been watching and becoming obsessed with Downton Abbey lately so I’m even more keen to write formally these days.

My apologies for my small absence away from the blog. Life has been nutso since the calendar turned to 2012. I’m hoping to be able to set aside more time for blogging very soon. I just gotta get taxes and other Adult Responsibilities taken care of in the meantime.

Today, I am sharing with you my homemade hot chocolate recipe. It’s something I’ve tweaked over the years and it’s one of those recipes that can be tailored to just about anyone’s taste, be it more or less chocolate, more or less sweet, more or less creamy–you get the idea.

In college, I made this a lot since it’s relatively easy and when we were feeling a little risqué, we would turn it into Adult Hot Chocolate, which is just adding Bailey’s, Kahlua, or even whiskey, if that is your desire.

I will preface my hot chocolate story by saying that this cocoa will not resemble anything remotely close to the likes of Swiss Miss or anything “instant,” nor does this recipe use a microwave. If that is your idea of what cocoa is supposed to taste like, you’re in for a shock and a treat. This stuff means srs bsns.

Hot chocolate is meant to be made with unsweetened cocoa, milk and/or cream, and your choice of sugar/sweetener. And that is IT. Really! I can’t tell you how many times I go into a restaurant or even coffee shop to find that nobody does it like this – it’s all instant or made with syrups. This is high fructose corn syrup free, people.

All right, let’s do this.

Get yourself some unsweetened cocoa. I used Hershey’s but Nestle and Ghiardelli are also fantastic.

For a single serving, you’ll want to put 2 T. of cocoa powder in a sauce pan. If you’re a cocoa junkie like me, use 3 T. I like mine very rich and chocolatey. For two servings, use 4-5 T. of cocoa powder. For each tablespoon of cocoa powder you put in the pot, put in 1 T. of water.

Now for the sweet stuff. For a single serving, add 2-3 T. of sugar or Splenda. If you like your cocoa REALLY sweet, you can add more. For two servings of hot chocolate, put in 4-6 T. of sugar or sweetener. I would start off with the lesser amount and add more to taste later. You can’t unsweeten it!

Turn your burner on medium or medium/low. This is very important. You can easily burn the chocolate mixture or scald the milk if you have the heat on too high.

Using a wooden or metal spoon, begin stirring the ingredients together. If it seems too dry or thick, add another tablespoon or so of water. The mixture should melt together into creamy, melted chocolate.

The key here is to stir constantly. The chocolate can burn easily or stick to the bottom of the pot. But since you have your heat on medium to medium low, you’ll be just fine. When the chocolate is clearly melted and getting very hot, time to grab your cream/milk!

Because I like my hot chocolate thick and creamy, I use 1/2 C. of cream or half ‘n half and another 1/4 to 1/2 C. milk. You can certainly use 100% milk. If you’re using skim milk, I don’t quite see the point since you may as well be using water, but to each his own. A full cup of 2% milk does quite nicely. For two servings, you may only want to use 1.5 C of cream/milk, but if you want it thinner, use 2 C. of milk.

If you use the cream/milk method, add the cream first, stirring constantly and making sure the chocolate blends in nicely. When that becomes dark and chocolatey, slowly add the milk. Keep up that stirring!

If you use all milk, pour it in slowly, no more than half a cup at one time, stirring and stirring away.

After all the milk/cream has been incorporated and it’s heating up, do a quick taste test. If it’s too bitter, add a a little more sugar or sweetener. If you like it slightly bittersweet, as I do, get it to a nice hot temperature and pour it into your favorite mug.

Optional toppings are marshmallows or whipped cream. If you make your cocoa slightly bittersweet, marshmallows are such a nice option because you’ll get a little burst of sweetness melting in your mouth with the creamy cocoa. But sometimes a naked cup of hot chocolatey goodness really does the trick.

I’d love to hear if you try this out and if you love it as much as I do! This is definitely filed under Zoe Recommends: Homemade Hot Chocolate! Bon appetit!

Hot Chocolate

Photo courtesy of Louish Pixel on Flickr.

Driver’s Ed 101

Now that I’ve been back in the driving world for over a year, I have started to add up some observations on common driving mistakes. I don’t believe that these are inherent to just the drivers in my city but there is one in particular which I’ve noticed that really shouldn’t be a problem if you are an experienced driver.

Let’s talk about backing out of parking spaces, shall we? Take this woman, for instance:


I can’t believe that the person waiting for the woman to figure out how to park waited as long as he did. I do admire him for finally asking if he could park the woman’s car for her. I DON’T believe this woman should be a licensed driver.

What I don’t appreciate is that there seems to be this misapprehension that women are terrible drivers. There are plenty of horrible male drivers in this world, as well. For some people, driving is instinctual – you just GET it. I am one of those people. My best friend has never learned how to drive and isn’t interested at all. She placed herself in a city where she has reliable public transportation. Kudos to her!

I yearned to learn how to drive at a very early age and by the time I turned nine, I started counting the years until I turned sixteen and I would finally get my license. I’m not even kidding. The day I got my driver’s license was one of the happiest in my entire life. I remember it fondly. My mom was nervous about me “tooling around” on my own but quickly realized what a boon it was to have a daughter more than willing to run errands, just so she could drive the car all by herself.

Now that I have been a licensed driver for over half of my existence, I can safely say that it is one of the best gifts a person can have. I thought about how fortunate I am to be able to own and drive my own car the other day as I was on my way to work. I still get a kick out of driving each and every day. And I think road trips are as fun as they are therapeutic.

While there were plenty of times I liked riding the subway when I lived in New York, I have an even fuller appreciation for being able to drive to work now. It doesn’t hurt that my commute isn’t a one-hour, clogged traffic jam everyday, either. Still, until you’ve sacrificed your personal space on a crowded rush-hour train in New York City, you can’t know how freeing it feels to be able to throw your things in the passenger seat, blast heat or air conditioning as you see fit, be able to sit the whole time, and listen to music as loudly as you want (or not). It’s a serious sigh of relief.

However, I do believe that having a license is something that most people take for granted; there might be many fewer accidents otherwise. I still maintain my position on minivans, by the way, as just this morning the light turned green but we all waited for the minivan flying at 50mph to plow through the intersection on a red light. (And it was a man driving.) Driving is as much about courtesy to others as it is a convenience for us to get ourselves around.

Backing into and out of parking spaces is a necessity of a driver’s life and yet, so many people can not seem to figure this out. There is a very simple rule that has served me well since I was 15 years of age and in Driver’s Ed. The coach told us it’s a 75/25 rule: back out straight three-quarters of the way before you begin turning your wheels. You will not scrape the cars on either side of you if you stick to this rule of thumb. And it really works! I frequently see people in my office parking lot turn their wheels the moment they’ve hit reverse and I’m amazed more cars aren’t stripped lengthwise of their paint. I cringe every single time.

I could probably go on for longer than most people would prefer with driving safety tips so I’m going to leave you with the one tip for today and hope it changes your life or someone else’s you may know.

Because if you are anything like this other woman below (who requires the help of yet another woman guiding her), you need to re-evaluate whether you should be driving, stat:

The Netflix “Crisis”

Until I saw this video from Funny or Die this morning, I hadn’t really put into perspective just how tragic people find the recent Netflix price hike to be, nor how shallow it is in comparison to actual problems. And it’s not like I haven’t been dealing with my own share of issues. The Netflix price increase was, for me at least, kind of the icing on the cake to what I have dubbed the “Summer Blues.”

In any case, to paraphrase, the video makes a great point about an issue that is affecting millions of white people across America, deadpanned by the great Jason Alexander.

What’s interesting, however, is that my boyfriend and I have discussed this issue at length, with the most recent stint occurring last night before dinner; in this way, we definitely lived up to the stereotype that it’s all “anybody” can talk about – for days at a time. I sat at my computer, reading Netflix’s Facebook Page Wall (that’s a mouthful) and combing through the thousands of messages people have been leaving for them, while Kevin looked through various news articles on his laptop. We sat there comparing notes and tsking and figuratively shaking our fists in the air at this nonsense.

The bottom line is, people are outraged that Netflix is jacking up the price by 60% without discussing it with their millions of loyal customers first. I’m a little torn because I can see both the company’s perspective and the one of being the huffy consumer. (Aside: one woman wrote a scathing comment on the Netflix FB Page and several people proceeded to jump on her, making her out to be a screeching, mindless woman who had no right to be upset. It was pretty brutal.) Quite frankly, I just don’t want to have to choose between the discs or streaming. I want to have both! But I am unwilling to pay $15.99 a month for the privilege. It used to be that that price would get you three movies at a time, something which I never had the luxury of affording. I’m a one-at-a-time gal.

I do think it would have been nice to have some kind of survey or something sent out, or even a price hike in the range of say, $3.00, to continue enjoying new movies on DVD and streaming older (sometimes crappy) movies and lots of television shows. We don’t stream on more than one device at a time but many have left since Netflix has begun enforcing its streaming policy. Apparently Netflix only wants to allow you to stream on the same basis of how many discs you take out at a time, which really negates “Unlimited” streaming but also, what happens when you go to the all streaming plan?

I was thinking about how electronic subscriptions differ from say, magazine subscriptions. Netflix caught on to the fact that people were sharing their log-on information with family/friends and so to keep people from “stealing,” they are cracking down on multiple device streaming. Granted, I don’t own or run a billion dollar company, but if I have a subscription to Vogue and I give all my copies to a friend to read when I’m done, how is this different? Is that person “stealing,” too? Is this really a problem for Netflix when they have ousted a lot of its competition (namely, physical DVD rental places) and they are highly profitable?

The only other troublesome thing is that I think many people would have stayed on if Netflix had newer releases available to stream, at least, instead of the B movies of yesteryear. Granted, I have loved catching up on some older television shows, but when I want to watch something new that came out that I was unable to see in the movie theater, I believe I should be able to do that if I am paying a monthly subscription fee.

RedBox has gone through the roof with new customers. Blockbuster immediately set up a plan to soothe the wounded from Netflix. They offer hard disc rentals, streaming, games, and even Blu-Ray discs at no extra charge and are offering a 30-day free trial to the scorned. Check out all the details here. I don’t want to like Blockbuster. They used to charge $4.99 to rent a DVD for two nights. I can’t even say how much money my parents and myself spent in the 90s and early 2000s renting movies and games from them. Netflix was the solution! But this latest blow does give me cause to reconsider my options. While I believe I will probably try out the streaming-only plan come September, I can’t guarantee I won’t jump ship.

It’s hard not to think that Netflix only cares about the bottom dollar and now that they have eleven years in to this business, no longer care about Joe American Movie Watcher.

I’m on the fence. What will you do?

The obligatory courtesy smile

Humans are such funny creatures. We have all these social niceties and some of the “rules” in place are rather odd.

Something I wish didn’t need to exist is that weird smile – sometimes an accompanying nod – that you give to people (namely, acquaintances or office mates) where you flatten your lips and smile tightly as you pass each other by. It looks like this:

Thanks to Kevin for his gracious demonstration.

Humorous to look at it, especially out of context, but also awkward and kind of annoying. It’s like the only way you can acknowledge someone’s presence and also let that person know, “I don’t want to stop and chat so I’ll make this weird face.” It doesn’t matter how well you know someone, if you are passing by that person and you don’t want or have time to talk, you will make one of these grimaces. I suppose it’s better than in olden times when ladies and gents would bow, curtsy or tip hats to each other, no matter the time, no matter how hurried they were. Kind of quaint, if you think about it.

Some anti-socials are really adept at avoiding eye contact and stampeding right by you, social niceties and familiarity be damned. I have worked with several of these types and it’s always kind of fun to take the initiative to chirp out, “Good morning!” or some other common greeting, forcing that person to either be a dick and not reply, or gruffly respond. It’s the little things. I feel like if I have to participate in this ritual, everyone else should, too.

There really isn’t much more to this fluff piece than that. Just an observation, something I thought I could share with you fine readers. If you can think of other social rituals we participate in, by all means, please share! Enjoy your day/evening – hopefully socially awkward free.

Literally, the most misused word

Literally, the most misused word – The Boston Globe.

I literally want to hug this author for writing this piece.

This.

This.

This.

A prayer to the movie gods

A humble request to the lords who control those who enter the same movie theater as me when I am dying to see a movie like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II:

I beg of you to grant my wish that my movie karma kicks in this time around and I get to watch this movie in peace.

Please allow only those into the theater who are interested in WATCHING the movie and are not there to analyze the movie for film class, narrate along to tell the rest of us what’s going on, or worse yet, have every single reaction to the film out loud. Those who can not be separated from their cell phones for 2.5 hours need not come at all. What’s the point?

I ask that those who can not sit still without fidgeting constantly (i.e., kicking the back of my seat) sit in the front row or wait for the movie to come out on Blu-Ray.

If everyone could be in their seats waiting for the movie to begin on time, that would also immensely help. I’d love to not have to stand up to let someone through because they don’t know how to show up even twenty minutes prior to the start of a blockbuster movie on opening weekend.

Lastly, if you could put all those with weak bladders in one theater or maybe dissuade them from coming on opening weekend, that would also help me enjoy my movie-going experience.

Remember Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I?  Yeah. That was not cool when four people decided to walk in for the last ten minutes and begin talking loudly and telling everyone else to shutup when they were shushed. Pretty much the last scene with Lord Voldemort went unheard and my boyfriend was cursed out for having the cojones to tell these guys how rude their behavior was.

Usually I stay away from the theaters until I am sure the coast is clear from the chatty Cathys, people who insist on bringing their infants and toddlers to adult movies, and other inconsiderate freaks (see above). Please, please, please, let me enjoy tonight’s movie.

Your faithful, considerate, quiet, timely movie watcher,
Zoe

May: the month of a gazillion birthdays

Compleanno
Well, we’re officially in one of my two favorite months of the year and so far, the first three days have been a doozy. Am I right or am I right or am I right?

I am getting close to knowing someone with a birthday on each and every day of this wonderful month. I don’t have children but if I ever get to that phase of my life, I’m going to wonder what is so special about the 9 months prior to May because it is baby and birthday explosion come May 1. I got my Facebook notification on Sunday night that told me I know six people on Facebook alone with birthdays in the first week.

My special day is 5-5, a very symmetrical birthday. I’m all about symmetry. Heck, this blog began on 8-8-08, incidentally. I have a cousin with my same birthday and I have met probably ten others who also share the May 5 birthday. Today is my dear friend Meg’s birthday and I know at least twelve more people with birthdays this month. I even know people with birthdays on the 6th, 7th, and 8th. It’s crazy!

Have I said the word  birthday enough?

May is the month of Taurus and Gemini. That’s right, I went there. I also am completely discounting the “new” astrology system because the 13th sign sounds ridiculous. I know it doesn’t change my sign because of the year but I still find it lame (as at least half the population does about astrology in general). I have a soft spot for astrology. I like figuring out which signs are supposed to be compatible with which and I have this book called The Secret Language of Birthdays which is a really cool personality profile based on everyone’s actual birth-day. Just saying, if you’re into this, this is a must-have book.

Aside from May being Birthday Month Extravaganza, it is also the month with Memorial Day and kicks off travel season. I am visiting a dear friend in Seattle for over five days at the end of the month and I am completely through and through stoked about it. I’ve only been to the Pacific Northwest once for vacation when I was a teenager and I was in Vancouver ten years ago but I have never explored the fine metropolis of Seattle. So Original Starbucks here I come!

I may not have mentioned my passion for coffee mugs, though I know I’ve talked about my being a coffee snob. I have an array of Starbucks mugs from various cities I’ve visited and I’m actually kind of excited to add to the collection. I had a fabulous mug from Paris from 2004 when I was there and it survived the trip back, and even many moves within New York City, but it was no match for Kevin, who accidentally broke it in my last New York apartment. I went to find a replacement and they were selling on eBay for like, $90 or something. C’est ridicule, ca! So yeah, that’s long gone. I’ll have to stick with Stateside mugs.* C’est la vie.

Any travel plans (or anything particularly exciting) this month? How many people do you know celebrating a May b-day?

*Edit: I received a replacement Paris mug that was, in fact, purchased for an obscene amount of money, and it happily sits in my kitchen cabinet with all of the other mugs I have amassed.