LESLEY'S LIST: Seven (!) Marvelous Little Wonders Helping Me Keep To My Budget While Not Hating Life

Including a cold-brew how-to, better hipster ketchup, documentary madness, drugstore lipstick I love and nerdy art-making. AND SO MUCH MORE.
Publish date:
May 31, 2013
shoppables, video games, DIY, coffee, lipstick, documentaries, ketchup beefing

HEY GUYS, I’ve been doing pretty good with my new budget! Sort of! Except for buying some cheapdresses at Target. Which I did to make myself feel better because our washing machine just broke and the repairs would have cost more than the original price of the washer when it was new. Yeah OK so I’m not doing that good at all, in fact.

But it’s all right, because today is a new day! And I have a bunch of neat stuff to share with you this week, much of it on the cheap side. Let’s go!

Cold Brew Coffee, and Hipster Ketchup I Actually Like

In the age-old question of tea vs. coffee, I am a confirmed tea drinker. My tea obsession is legendary. I have two whole shelves in my kitchen dedicated to the stuff, both the tea itself and the accoutrements necessary to make it.

While I don’t actively dislike coffee, I’m not a regular consumer of it -- I tend to drink coffee when I need more caffeine more quickly than tea can easily deliver it, and I tend to use a Moka pot to make espresso when I do, because this is really just a stimulant delivery system.

Because I don’t chase coffee down everywhere I go, I hadn’t been introduced to cold brew coffee until recently. And dudes, this discovery has TIPPED THE BALANCE OF POWER in my own personal tea vs. coffee war so dramatically that I have no idea whose side I’m on anymore.

So yeah. Cold brew. It does what it says on the tin. Cold brew coffee is coffee brewed in cold (or room temperature, anyway) water. As a result it takes way longer than your average cup, and therefore requires a bit of advance planning, but the result is SO WORTH IT, especially if you enjoy and prefer iced coffee, as I do. The coffee you get at the end tastes notably different than coffee brewed with heat -- there is no bitterness, and less acid, which is good news for people with acid-sensitive stomachs.

ALSO, in reading about this I have learned that coffee does crazy good things for you. Evidence exists suggesting that regular coffee consumption may help reduce the risk of some kinds of cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and even depression. COFFEE IS THERE NOTHING YOU CAN’T DO?

OK, so how do you make it? It’s literally the easiest thing ever. Grab a jar (or a French press, if you’ve got one -- that will make the next step quicker) and dump 1 and ⅓ cups of coffee in it, plus about four cups of water. (Uh, be warned that as you add the water the coffee will puff up and float and if you’re not careful you may wind up with wet coffee grounds overflowing the jar and making a mess on your counter. So I’m told.) Put a lid on it and stick it on your kitchen counter and then walk away for at least 8 hours. Or as many as 24, if you forget about it.

After the brewing time has elapsed, line a sieve or colander or even a funnel with a coffee filter and pour the brewed coffee through it. The result is your coffee concentrate. Rinse out the jar you made it in and put it back minus the grounds. Replace the lid, chuck it in the fridge, and you’ve got readymade coffee good for a week, although if you’re me it won’t last that long.

You CAN drink the concentrate as-is, if you want to be twittering around like a hummingbird with a heart condition all day, but I recommend you dilute it. You can dilute it with cold water (or milk, or both) for iced coffee, or hot water for, uh, hot. I make mine iced, with one part coffee to one part milk. Other folks recommend a more forgiving one-part-coffee-to-two-parts-water solution. Whatever works for you. And then DRINK AND ENJOY! And then send me emails thanking me for bringing this awesomeness into your life.

In other culinary news, last month I mocked what I was affectionately calling “hipster ketchup,” which had come with a room-service burger when I was in New York. Hipster jokes aside, Sir Kensington’s didn’t really do much for me, being kind of sweet and... weirdly tomato-y? For ketchup. My palate is good with Heinz, honestly.

Anyway, my disappointment led to my hearing from another maker of “artisanal” ketchup, this one in Berkeley, CA, who wanted me to try THEIR ketchup. Which immediately led me to wonder if there’s some kind of east coast/west coast ketchup beefing going on, since Sir Kensington’s is based in New York.

C&B -- who have an Etsy shop here -- sent me a bottle of their Cracked Pepper Ketchup and I slopped it on a meatloaf I made this week and it is AMAZING, YOU GUYS. It’s got a vinegary bite and the pepper adds a bit of spice and I really really like it.

I also really really enjoy that suddenly companies are sending me shit for free just because they enjoy my ravings. FREE KETCHUP IS ME LIVING THE DREAM.

Ken Burns Documentaries on Netflix

It started with a boring Saturday afternoon, and a restlessly irritable mood. I didn’t want to watch something narrative and polished and shiny (Sup, "Titanic: Blood and Steel," which sounds like a documentary but is not). I wanted something that would make me feel smarter by the end of it. And after much scrolling, I ran across Ken Burns’ 1984 documentary “The Shakers,” which apparently was the second documentary the now-widely-known Burns ever made.

If you’re not familiar with The Shakers, they were a Protestant Christian sect that first popped up in numbers in the mid 1700s. The Shakers were different for a few reasons, the most well-known being their penchant for elaborate physical worship in the form of dancing (hence the term, “Shakers”), but also because they believed in absolute gender equality, with the group’s earliest leaders primarily being women. The Shakers also didn’t believe in marriage.

More to the point, they didn’t believe in sex? They were celibate, which is why there are only a handful of Shakers left now -- it’s remarkably difficult to spread a religious ideology when you have no kids to raise in it, turns out. Thus this movement of celibate love and hippie communism that once boasted tens of thousands of members living in their own communities in several states has dwindled to nearly none.

Although I’m not a religious person myself, the Shakers story -- and the documentary’s interviews with the few surviving Shakers living in Maine -- was INSANELY moving. As in, I CRIED at the end of it. At a documentary. Bananas, right?

There’s something weirdly reassuring about a Ken Burns documentary, with all the slow pans across static photographs and the different voices reading the public works and private correspondence of people who have been dead for a hundread years. I find them very soothing. Also educational, which I love, but without the stress of worrying about whether I’m going to be tested on this later. Because I’m a grownup now. Sort of.

I’m working my way through “The West” at present, and it’s outrageously long, but is also teaching me mad knowledge about the parts of Western history (namely those to do with Indians and Chinese folks) about which my primary school education was somewhat lacking.


I can be a real snot about drugstore makeup. Since I gave myself permission to buy high-end shit about a decade ago, the payoff has been that I find myself frowning at the brands that once served my purposes adequately. I am not proud of this. And I know many people believe that for stuff like mascara there is no appreciable difference save the price. I disagree, but hey, we’re all entitled to our opinions.

But then I found out about Maybelline Colorsational VIVIDS lipstick.

(As an aside, SEE THAT IS ONE OF THE THINGS THAT ANNOYS ME ABOUT DRUGSTORE BRANDS. What the fuck is “Colorsational”? Smashbox isn’t making up nonsense words to name its lipsticks.)

Tynan wrote about these lipsticks back in March, but as usual I only found out about this train after it had left the station and was deep into the rolling countryside so I just recently made my way to Ulta to give them a shot a couple weeks ago. And I am sold. Like totally sold.

The Vivids are pigmented like whoa and easily compete with some of my more expensive shit. More than that, the colors are incredible. I am not generally a bright-lipstick person -- at least I wasn’t until now -- with my enjoyment of a nice orange-toned red being the only exception. But now apparently I am a lady who wears BRIGHT FUCKING PINK lipstick and I cannot return to my former life. I am changed.

I’ve got the Vivids in Vivid Rose (i.e. ridiculous fuschia) and Brazen Berry (I guess this is named after a berry that comes up and punches you in the face but instead of being hurt you’re left with an impossible-to-categorize pinkish-purple lipcolor?) and aside from the beautiful colors and pleasant consistency the thing that is REALLY blowing my mind is the staying power. Like I’ve eaten ramen with this stuff on and had it barely disturbed by the time I reach the bottom of the bowl.

I consider the ramen test the definitive measure of a lipstick’s capacity for longterm wear.

I even fell asleep last night having forgotten to take it off (I TOOK OFF THE REST OF MY MAKEUP I JUST FORGOT MY LIPSTICK) and when I woke up IT WAS STILL THERE. And somehow it does this without feeling like you’ve caked your mouth with chemical-laced poison chalk. So it’s kind of perfect in every way and if I had it in me to do so right now I would buy every color.

A Bananas Photo-Effect App And DIY Interactive Fiction

Welcome to the technology portion of the list! First up is Percolator, available for the low low price of $1.99 in Apple’s app store (sorry, Android users, no percolation for you yet). Percolator offers a range of circle- and star-based effects, which can turn your photos into a sort of drunken car crash between 1960s popular illustration and, like pointillism. Or, at least, it’ll make shit look really cool.

In most cases I tend to download photo effect apps like this, use them once, and then ignore them forever, but for whatever reason Percolator has turned into a small obsession. Like I want to percolate EVERYTHING now. It doesn’t help that there are about a zillion different adjustments you can make to refine your image’s transformation from the abstract to the subtle.

NEXT: remember Choose Your Own Adventure books? SURE YOU DO. They were those YA novels, usually written in the second person, that would allow you to determine where the story would go. You’d enter a cave or something, and there would be a bear, and it would all be very frightening, and then you’d hit the bottom of the page and it would say something like, “You run out of the cave and climb a tree, turn to page 49” and “You stroll up to the bear and punch it in the face, turn to page 12” and then you’d turn to page 12 and read about your own disembowelment.

Or if you were a cheater like me and every kid I knew, you’d keep a finger on that original page so you could turn to see what happens on page 12, and then make the choice that DOESN’T bring the story to an abrupt end involving the public airing of your intenstines.

Choose Your Own Adventure has a philosophical offspring in the world of Interactive Fiction, which does the same thing but taking the form of a computer game instead of a book. Or maybe a philosophical sibling, as they’re both around the same age. Anyway, while CYOA books haven’t been published in many a year, Interactive Fiction is still a thing. And for nerdy writer types like me, it’ll come as EXCELLENT news that now there is a free and ridiculously easy way to write them yourself.

It’s called Twine. You can download it here. Genius gamemaking destroyer of worlds Auntie Pixelante has written the most accessible and straightforward tutorial ever to show you how to use it. You can use it even if you have ZERO COMPUTER NERD SKILLS WHATSOEVER. All you need is a webspace to stick the resulting html file on. Or even if you don’t, you can just email the file to your friends. That’s it. And if you HAVE nerd skills, you can tweak it to your heart’s content; check out TwineHub to see the outrageous and awesome stuff people are using this software to make.

Last weekend I made my own simple Twine game -- my first ever! -- in a couple of hours. It’s called Two Blocks, it’s based on a real experience I had a zillion years ago, and I welcome y’all to play it, although I warn you it’s depressing as hell so maybe don’t try it if you’re in a good mood right now.

Among Giants

Your video for this week is an atmospheric short documentary about a group of anti-logging activists in the midst of a tree-sit to protect an area of California Redwoods from being clearcut. At the time the documentary was filmed, they’d been living in the trees for three years.

Have a dreamy weekend, y’all.