Sunday, October 02, 2016

Survival Cooking with Sable: Super Easy Hummus

Hey people!

For a while now I've been meaning to start a "Survival Cooking" series of sorts geared towards students living away from home who need a little help with kitchen things. I had big plans once, I wanted to cover everything from technique to shopping to recipes... As it stands, those things aren't going to happen any time soon.

BUT! I'm going to start sharing my easy recipes as a jumping-off point for more involved blogs (and maybe even videos) in the future! So here we go!

Survival Cooking with Sable: Entry 1 - Super Easy Hummus

Hummus has been a thing that's been around in my life for as long as I can remember. Ironically I don't think it had much to do with my slightly Greek ancestry. For those of you not familiar with it (somehow): hummus (or "hummous", or one of many variant spellings, not "humus" with one M because that's a kind of soil) is a fresh dip made from a base of blended chickpeas with lemon juice, tahini (sesame paste), and a lot of olive oil. Hummus can be seasoned with a lot of different, things, depending on where the recipe originates from. The recipe I've written up is close to a Greek-style hummus, seasoned primarily with lemon and oregano.

Ingredients

Base ingredients: just five! (garlic not pictured, oops)
Our base ingredients are:

  • 1 can Chickpeas (540 mL/19 oz can)
  • 2-3 cloves of Garlic (minced)
  • 1 tbsp Tahini
  • 1/3 - 1/2 cup Olive Oil
  • 1-2 tbsp Lemon Juice

Additional ingredients: spices!
Additional ingredients:

  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • Oregano (to taste)
  • Paprika and/or Cumin (optional, to taste)
You'll notice some ranges in this ingredient list; adjust according to your own taste! If you like garlicky hummus, 3 cloves is probably the way you want to go. I tend to do lemon juice to taste, but the end result is usually about 2 tbsp. Olive oil is a little trickier; 1/3 cup is probably the minimum you want, for a smoother texture and easier time blending it, err on the side of more.

Directions

Drain and rinse chickpeas in a strainer. Mince garlic. Add chickpeas, garlic, tahini, olive oil and lemon juice to a bowl. Mix slightly to dissolve tahini and distribute garlic. (You can add salt/pepper/spices now, or after blending if you want to measure by taste.) Blend using stand-up blender or immersion blender. This may take a few minutes because chickpeas are stubborn. If your blender is struggling, try adding a bit more olive oil and/or using a lower speed setting. Season to taste with salt, pepper and, for this recipe, a liberal amount of oregano. Enjoy!

Not the prettiest but man it's tasty

Variations

As I mentioned before, hummus recipes vary across regions, and you'll find different tastes spanning across the Mediterranean and into the Middle East. Greek style hummus focuses on the lighter flavours of lemon and oregano. You can make a spicier, smokier hummus by using paprika and cumin instead. You could include blended beets, which makes a sweet pink hummus. You could also use roasted garlic instead of fresh garlic, for a sweeter, earthy taste. If for some reason you only have lime juice, use a bit less than what this recipe calls for, as limes have a sharper flavour. If chickpeas aren't your thing, I did once make hummus using pinto beans instead. The result was a light but meaty dip closer to re-fried beans.

Goes With...

Pita bread, of course! Or any other bread, really. I prefer the taste and texture of naan bread to store-bought pitas. Toast lightly to warm boring store-bought breads and give them a nice crunch. Fresh veggies like carrots, celery, or bell peppers go well with hummus. If you want, you can use it as a spread in a pita wrap or on a sandwich.

Today's lunch
Alright, so that's how you make my Super Easy Hummus, and I've suggested what to have with it, but what else is important here? Well, since Survival Cooking is going to be geared towards college student types, we need to know how much these ingredients cost and how well the recipe keeps.

Budget: $35 - <$2

Some of these ingredients are a bit costly, but you'll only need to buy them every once in a while. Tahini, lemon juice, olive oil and the spices may rack up the cost a bit but will last for months once you get them. They're also versatile, so it's not like you're buying them just for hummus (with the possible exception of tahini, but even a small jar at about $6 will last you months)
Buying from 0 pre-owned ingredients, this recipe will probably come close to $35.
Assuming you have olive oil, tahini, lemon juice and spices from making a previous batch, your cost comes out to <$2 for only a can of chickpeas, closer to $6 if you buy pitas and veggies as well.

Leftover Rating: 4 - 4.5 / 5

I love hummus, and I think it makes great leftovers. I can get about two weeks worth of lunches from a batch this size. Keep it refrigerated. Hummus keeps its flavour and texture when fridged and has a pretty long shelf-life if kept cold. You'll probably find it gets a bit firm or dry in the fridge, just add a little olive oil to the portion you take out to loosen it up. 

Conclusions

  • Vegetarian and Vegan friendly
  • Quick recipe (10-20 mins covers assembly, blending, and cleanup)
  • Easy prep requires only basic knife skills or a garlic press
  • No need for stove-top or oven (toaster optional for breads)
  • Some investment required for initial ingredients, successive batches are super cheap
  • *Specialty ingredient: Tahini (sesame paste) may take some searching, try ethnic or alternative foods aisles, usually grouped with legumes or nut butters
And that's it! Give it a try, feedback is much appreciated. (Find me on DeviantArt, on Twitter @SableGear0 or just comment here on my blog!)

Until next time!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

How Magic the Gathering is Teaching me to Adult, Part 2

Last time in Part 1 of “How Magic the Gathering is Teaching me to Adult”, I discussed how some of MTG’s game mechanics can be extrapolated into making the most of your personal skills in real life; be it for job hunting or solving the weird random problems that pop up in everyday life.

This time I’m going to talk a little about how what I’ve learned about the secondary market/trade culture and gaming culture of MTG can be applied to actual real-life adult problems. No, really!

THE CULTURE


Invest in Your Staples
MTG has been around for a very long time, and a few of its game formats take full advantage of MTG’s long, strange and oft-mechanically-busted history. These “Eternal Formats” allow players to build decks from almost all Magic cards in existence (given set restrictions and ban-lists depending on whether we’re taking Modern or Legacy). Inevitably, this means that a ridiculously extensive secondary market has cropped up for Magic cards, and where there’s a market, there’s an economy to learn and navigate in addition to the game’s own mechanics.

Bear with me, minor tangent while I flesh out this concept: Within the past year or so (since writing in early 2016) I’ve gotten more seriously into MTG, flirting with the small-scale competitive scene and the Modern format. Previously I was an exclusively casual player. Now this may not shock a lot of you, but it’s important to know: the pool of cards that competitive players pull from is where all the money in MTG’s secondary market is. Before I developed an understanding for competitive decks, it seemed weird to me that a card like Sphinx Sovereign is around a dollar, while a card like Path to Exile is topping out around $12 (at time of writing) (Update: at time of posting, Paths have gone up to $14-16.)

Being a casual player and looking at the Sovereign, it seemed to me that a card that was mana-expensive should also be money-expensive. She’s a strong creature that has a powerful effect and a Mythic rarity, so why is it so inexpensive to buy copies of this card? Compared to Path to Exile, a one-mana removal spell with an apparent downside, that’s going for over $10! nearly $15!

Then I came to understand the Modern format.

See, in Modern, Sphinx Sovereign is like gorgeous sports car. Nice to look at, but prohibitively expensive mana-wise and not that useful mechanically. Compare: how many people willing to shell out for a Porsche will actually race it? Realistically it’s no more useful than a regular car, just flashier. Modern is the stripped-down, drag-racing chop-shop of MTG. Decks have to be fast and efficient, that’s where they get their power from. Most decks can’t run an 8-cost creature across 3 colours because it’s simply not efficient.

But Path to Exile is. Path removes almost any creature from the game completely, and that apparent downside? Most strategies in Modern don’t care if their opponent gets ahead by a land, so it’s not really a downside at all. That’s why Paths are expensive, but Sovereign is not.

So how does this apply to real life?

Well for one, frugality and efficiency. But that’s not the whole reason a full set of Path to Exile is going to put a bit of a hole in your wallet. Path is a staple. Any deck in Modern that plays White will probably want to run some number of Path to Exile. Probably a full 4 because it’s an objectively good card. It fits just about anywhere, and for some people that versatility is worth almost $50 $60 for a set.

The lesson I learned from Path to Exile is: Invest in your staples.

If something is useful and versatile, you can justify spending the extra money to make sure you get a good one. Because you want it to last. If you’re moving out of your parents’ house and going to live on your own, you don’t need a full set of pots, pans and utensils. You need a small handful of good pots, pans and utensils. Cover your basics and make sure they’ll last, because you are going to use and abuse them for your first few years on your own while you learn how to make a living.

The same goes for tools. Don’t be fooled by some crazy 8-in-one something-or-other, chances are good the designers had to sacrifice some quality to cram more features in to it. A set of a solid cordless drill with some bits, a hammer, a large and a small set of pliers and a good utility knife will get you far and be less likely to break. Same for appliances. (Get a rice cooker, for the love of all things sensible! Rice is incredibly versatile and incredibly cheap, and can go in just about every meal. It’s the Path to Exile of carbs; every student or youth that can eat it should be fully stocked!)

Prospecting and Risk-Taking
Within the secondary market of MTG, prices fluctuate like the actual stock market, which can make buying/selling/trading a bit challenging at times. When new sets are spoiled, new sets are released, before and around major tournaments, before and after official bans are made for tournament play, etc. But individuals or small groups of people can also influence it; buying up all the cards of a particular type in a particular area to drive the price up, just like an actual stock market; or investing in many copies of a card they believe is an up-and-coming staple.

While I kind of think these people are jerks because they tend to cost me money, I also have a certain respect for the “prospectors” who invest in a bunch of one card because they think it will be worth something later.

The lesson here isn’t to play the stock market. Don’t do that. The lesson is that sometimes you have to take a risk in another context if you want to be rewarded.

For example: a friend of mine took a risk in applying to a job two cities over. Not only did he have to spend the time and money to drive all the way out there for an interview, but he actually got the job so now he has to commute. But it’s a good position that’s paying him well, so the profits there were worth the risk. (Update: he’s moving to be closer to his job, more risk vs reward juggling.)

Apply to your own job hunt: take a risk in applying for something you’re not sure you’ll get hired on for. If you’re confident enough, not only will you make it, but you’ll probably fit in too. (That’s the employer respecting your risk and taking one of their own.)

(Ok this section’s a little weak. Whatever.)

Etiquette
Don’t be a jerk.

I don’t care if it’s fun. If it’s really the only way you can have fun, go seek help or make concessions to normal people every once and a while.

Don’t be a jerk. Everyone will like you more.

It’s really that simple.

Next section.

Trade Value
The secondary market for MTG isn’t just made up of people buying and selling cards, but also of people trading them. Now, trade value is subject to the silly stock market property of the secondary market, but my example here is the principle of the thing. A trade economy.

If you’re a student or a young person living on your own, I’m going to guess your bank account is a little sparse. Welcome to the economy of favours. It’s going to be your friend for a little while.

If you’re living with room-mates, take turns cooking or buying groceries. If you’re taking classes, organize to share a textbook between a few people and split up the cost. And/or you can sell or trade your textbooks at the end of the semester. You might not make much back but it’s money or other value back in your pocket. (Preferentially sell/trade with other students, school book stores will not give you much for used books.)

Trade favours with friends, too. Drive them places or pay them back for rides with other favours or actual money. It’s cheaper than a cab. Do a good friend a solid and they’ll pay you back in time. If you can’t find a job, don’t be afraid to volunteer. There’s a good chance volunteering may lead to a paid position and if it doesn’t, hey, it looks great on a resume.

The point here: karma economy. You don’t always have to spend money for services or goods if you can organize among people you know.

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Alright, that’s it for Part 2. I’m at the end of my ideas and I’m getting hungry.

See you all next blog!


Monday, March 28, 2016

How Magic the Gathering is Teaching me to Adult, Part 1

Alright, like The Dark Souls Confidence Revelation this may seem like a stretch, but bear with me, I'm going somewhere with this weird relating of a game's mechanics and culture to the real world.

So, Magic the Gathering is helping me to "Adult." First of all, what is "Adulting"? I'll tell you. "Adulting" is the dumb term Millennials (also a dumb term, seriously stop using this term for people in their 20s) use for making their way out into the world and becoming independent adults. (I've got a lot of opinions on this whole situation, I'm going to do my best to keep them to myself. Me being snippy isn't the point of this entry.)

Anyway, back on track from the angry digression. MTG (which is the acronym I'm going to use from now on) is a game with fairly simple basic rules and a lot of inherent complexity. Kind of like real life, from that incredibly general description. But it gets better, and as I'm about to show you, the parallels get closer. As I've come to learn how to play MTG, mainly by watching other people play and learning by osmosis, I've discovered a lot of the logic for the game's strategies and culture hold true to the rest of real life, and these lessons can be applied therein.

So, how is MTG helping me "Adult"? I'm going to break it down across two blogs this time; between the Game (Part 1) and its Culture (Part 2), and some of their features.

THE GAME

Flexible Strategies and Favoured Mechanics

MTG's general mechanic is that the cards are broken down across their five iconic colours. Each colour has a particular flavour/attitude/affinity and tends to stay fairly close within it. Different combinations of colours create decks with different feels and approaches even though they may share many mechanics. (Here's some extensive technical reading if you really want more detail about the "Colour Pie".) A lot of the basic strategies of MTG are tied pretty closely to the colours that have the strongest showing of the mechanics the strategy uses. (Eg. "Control" decks almost invariably have a Blue component, "Aggro" decks usually have a Red component.)

However, that doesn't mean that decks of certain colours only do certain things. Here's the bit about flexible strategies that I want to address. My education makes me somewhat of a generalist (Bachelor's in Biology and English, yo) so in MTG terms I'm probably some kind of multi-colour deck. Within the several colours of my makeup (let's say I'm a 3-colour deck just because) there are at least 3 different approaches I can take, plus the approaches made up of the different combinations of my colours.

Say I'm an Esper-colour deck, that's Blue, Black and White, so:

3 individual colours
+ (Blue and Black)
+ (Blue and White)
+ (Black and White)
+ ("Esper" a unique mechanical combination of all 3)  
= 7 possible approaches any given problem

Now the important part: let's relate this to my own personal skills: I can draw on my education, my personal hobbies and my previous job experience, AND put those three all together into 7 different approaches to real-life problems!

What I'm saying in this section is don't think you're limited by ONLY ONE of those things.

Apply your book knowledge, but also apply your trivia and hobby knowledge, and skills you picked up at other jobs or learned from other people. Especially when you're looking for a job. Don't limit yourself to what you know how to do or what you like to do, try to branch out and find a way to work in what you can do from any stream you're familiar with.

Like some colours being better at some things than others, not all approaches will work for you, but think of yourself like a tree. You have your niche that you're growing in, but you also have all these branches you can use to move a little outside your comfort zone. Which brings me to my next section:

Preference VS Knack

Within the different colours, there are different strategies, some fit together better than others, and how you personally like to play the game tends to manifest itself in what combinations of colours and strategies you tend to favour when you're building decks. 

Personally, I like to build within my comfort zone of some combination of the previously-mentioned Esper colours (Blue, Black, White). These are the colours whose flavours/approaches I'm most familiar with, so keeping one or two of them and adding in one I don't usually play (Red or Green) is a good way to build a deck for me. Additionally, I like to play slow, top-heavy "Midrange" strategies that rely on being able to make my way up to mana-intensive spells and large creatures.

However sometimes when I'm building a deck, I can't always stay within my comfort zone. Sometimes its just not feasible either because of restricted resources (Limited, Draft) or the speed of the format (Modern). This is where I discovered I had a knack for building low-mana-cost "Aggro" decks. I like being able to play big fat Midrange decks, but I'm actually quite good at building lean, fast Aggro decks.

The takeaway: Harness your knacks if you can't get your preferences

Have something you're actually pretty good at? Exploit it! I'm not a huge fan of working Retail jobs, but I have a knack for building extensive product knowledge and people find me approachable, so I'm actually pretty good at retail. I'd prefer a work-from-home writing or editing job, but I have a knack for small-scale retail.

Going back to the tree analogy, you grow best in your niche, but you can reach outside your comfort zone and still be attached to yourself. Trees prefer to stay put, but they're good at branching out.

Sideboarding and Corner-Cases

(Hey look at that segue about branching out! Aren't I the essayist?) In MTG, the "Sideboard" is a pool of 15 cards included with but not in your final deck of 60. Between games, players may "side out" cards from their deck and replace them with ("side in") cards from their s]Sideboard to improve their chances of winning against their opponent in the following game (best of 3 games in a normal match, best of 5 for a final match). A lot of Sideboard cards are included to cover a deck's weak points, or to address corner-case problems that may arise in a match-up.

(Eg. Siding in specific spells to remove a particular kind of card from the battlefield; a Control player may not always run removal for Enchantments in their main deck, but you bet your basic lands they'll have some Enchantment removal in their Sideboard for when that comes up.)

Essentially, keeping a Sideboard allows a deck to branch out from its main focus and cover all/most of its bases or deal with unusual problems should the need arise. So what's the real-life equivalent of a Sideboard? I've thought of two: Your hobbies/odd skills, and your friends.

I'm assuming most people have hobbies that have nothing to do with their jobs, because otherwise they'd probably go crazy. I've studied Biology and English and have worked in retail, but my hobbies include drawing, writing and knitting. Now there's obviously some overlap between the English studies and writing, but I write different things in different contexts. The drawing and knitting, however, have nothing to do with my technical areas of expertise. I also have some basic construction skills from helping my dad with all the renovations to our house over the years.

These are my sideboard cards.

If a weird problem comes up that my mental "Maindeck" (training/education) can't solve, I side in my other skills and use those to address it. For example: I'm not a trained contractor, but I know how to put up, mud, and sand drywall. Skills Sideboard.

Alternatively, call in the troops. Your friends count as your sideboard as well, because chances are they have skills or resources you don't, and they'll let you avail yourself of those skills/resources on occasion but not all the time. They're Sideboard, not Maindeck. (For MTG nerd readers: Think of calling your friends like siding in Planeswalkers; they'll help you out, but if you overwork them they're probably going to bugger off. Hopefully not to an IRL Graveyard, though.)

So don't discount your odd skills you think you'll never use. Make your hobbies or dabbling work for you, not the other way around.

Maybe they're not employable skills, but there's a chance they'll come in handy trying to solve other weird corner-case adult problems. Like when your jerk room-mates punch holes in your walls. (For the record this has never actually happened to me.)

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Join me next blog when I take on "How Magic the Gathering is Teaching me to Adult" Part 2 and talk about how the Culture of Magic extends beyond the game table!

Until next time, nerds!