CK Links--Friday January 23, 2014

Links from around the internet. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

PS: Follow me on Twitter!

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Why I quit being a vegan. By the author of the excellent cookbook Almost Meatless. (The Kitchn)

Related: Here's CK's review of Almost Meatless. Conclusion? I loved it.

Can haggis solve obesity? A humorous, helpful exercise in logic fallacies. (The Mirror, via Addicted to Canning)

Mark Bittman on the "state of food." Interesting to see Bittman anoint himself qualified to comment on economics now too. (New York Times)

What happened when the police and CPS investigated a family for letting their kids walk one mile home, alone? (Slate)

If you want to outsmart people who are smarter than you, temperament and life-long learning are far more important than IQ. (Farnam Street)

Optimistic time vs. Honest time. (Seth's Blog)

The difference between exposure and risk and why it matters. (Behavior Gap)

Useful stuff here: How to make impossible and emotionally charged conversations work. (Barking Up the Wrong Tree, via 50by25)

The subtle art of not giving a f*ck. (Mark Manson) Trigger warning: This article, duh, contains the F-word.


Got an interesting article or recipe to share? Want some extra traffic at your blog? Send me an email!


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

What Recipes Are In Your Heavy Rotation?

A comment from reader Sarah S:

I'd love to read a post, or an ongoing series on what is currently in your heavy rotation.

Thanks for the idea! First, a quick explanation for newer readers on what "heavy rotation" actually means. From my post Seven Ways to Get Faster at Cooking, where I first used the phrase:

Heavy Rotation:
Build a short list of your cooking "hits"--recipes that are both popular with your family and that you can make quickly and easily. Then regularly rotate one or more of these hit recipes into your weekly menu. The key here: if you make the dish regularly you'll get faster and more efficient at making it until you can practically do it blindfolded.

I've found that if you have a short list of five or six truly easy-to-make "hits" and rotate one of them into your menu each week, you can use this system indefinitely without getting sick of any of the hit recipes. Believe me, that's a far cry from a typical radio station that plays the same song every three hours! Moreover, you will find that you get quicker and quicker in finding the ingredients in the store, keeping them handy at home, and preparing and scaling up the meal itself. If you double the batch size of your heavy rotation recipes, you can efficiently take care of 1/3 or more of your meals this way, depending on the size and appetite of your family.

If I might channel my inner Michael Pollan, we could boil this down to: Find easy recipes. Make them. Not too often.

Now, to answer Sarah's question. Right now, the recipes we've got on heavy rotation are:

1) Easy Lentil Soup (the last few times I've made this I've included four cups of homemade rich chicken stock, and this soup has turned out better than ever).
2) Hilariously Easy Slow Cooker Bean Stew
3) Black Beans and Rice
4) Homemade Burritos

What grabbed me about Sarah's comment was this: it made me realize that here at Casual Kitchen we have our own rotation of heavy rotation recipes. How meta! And there are specific commonalities to these heavy rotation collections beyond just their being easy-to-make recipes.

For example, usually our heavy rotation recipes include at least one highly scalable soup or stew (often vegetarian) that leaves us plenty of leftovers. We do this for a couple of reasons: First, when our key meal of the week is vegetarian, this often translates into big savings on our food costs--a central advantage of part-time vegetarianism. This simple tactic of building a heavy rotation around a double (or triple!) batch of vegetarian soup or stew probably saves us more time and money than anything else we do in the kitchen.

Second, we eat the leftovers of this scaled-up meal on alternate days with another recipe. Why alternate days? Well, while it's true that there's no easier way to get dinner on the table than reheating something you've already made, it's also true that eating the same thing for multiple days in a row gets... tiresome. Alternating leftovers solves this problem.

Another thought: we often have a crockpot recipe in our heavy rotation. This might be something like our Chipotle Crockpot Chile, Crockpot Beef Stew, or Easy Slow Cooker Beef and Barley Stew. All of these recipes are delicious, simple, and make a ton of extra food.

Finally, Black Beans and Rice tends to show up regularly in our heavy rotation just because it's hilariously easy and we never seem to get sick of it, ever.

So, readers, now it's your turn! Share a few of your family’s favorite, easiest recipes in the comments below, and feel free to include links back to your site. Let's help each other put delicious, easy home-cooked meals on our tables!

What recipes are in your heavy rotation?


Read Next: Fair Trade: Using Poverty To Sell... More



How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

Money Sundays: Lessons from the Stock Market Crash

Readers, this is a post I wrote way back in late 2008 for a now-defunct website called Helium.com. Ironically (and not due to any brilliance on my part), the lessons and insights here are probably more valuable now than they were when I wrote it. I hope you find it useful.

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With most global stock markets down 30-50% year to date, and many individual investment accounts down even more than that, now is a particularly good time to see if there are any lessons we can learn from a period that, quite frankly, has been an awful experience for almost all investors. Here are seven lessons to take away from the recent stock market crash:

1) Always be liquid

No matter how good things may seem in the market, and no matter how confident you are in your future, always keep a healthy amount of liquid assets available at all times. These assets can be in the form of cash, short-term CDs or money market funds. Ideally, this money should be in addition to a fully funded 6-12 month emergency fund. You never know when you might need extra capital for an attractive investment opportunity, to fund a large unplanned liability, or to support your family during an unexpected period of unemployment. And most importantly, you never want to be in a position where you are forced to sell your long-term investment assets during a severe market correction.

How much liquidity is the right amount? A good rule of thumb is to keep 20-30% of your investment capital in risk-free, shorter-term interest bearing investments. I also suggest people keep up to two years of expenses in readily available, liquid form.

2) Avoid catastrophic losses at all costs

If you happen to suffer losses of 50% in a mutual fund or in your retirement account (something not uncommon to many investors in 2008), a curious thing happens: in order to get back to even, you will need to double your money. And assuming an average annual return of 7% (which is looking more and more like an optimistic assumption for stock market returns going forward), doubling your money will take you roughly ten years of compounding time.

Recognize that it can take many years to claw back to break even after heavy losses. When you decide what percent of your investment dollars to allocate to stocks, particularly when you are nearing retirement age, keep this concept in the very front of your mind. During certain periods of an investor's life, stocks can be far riskier than you might think.

3) Any stock can go to zero (or close)

Before the crisis, it would have seemed laughable that a company like AIG, trading at above $70 a share with all of its enormous competitive and economic advantages, could have close brush with annihilation and have its stock nearly wiped out. And yet that is exactly what happened: the stock is down 97% from its all time high and the company's prospects are permanently impaired.

Unfortunately, this isn't as unusual an occurrence as it may seem, especially during severe bear markets. So far in 2008 alone, several airlines, a number of retailers (including Circuit City and Linens'N' Things) and more than 20 financial companies (including major names like Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and WaMu Bank) fell into bankruptcy. And in each of these cases, stockholders were left either with nothing or very close to nothing. As a stockholder, you are the first to be wiped out if a serious event occurs to a company in which you hold stock. Respect this fundamental risk inherent in owning stocks.

4) However, don’t let this scare you away from stocks

Are you wondering how I can talk about stocks going to zero in one breath and then encourage you to own them in the next? The reason is that you will never earn large investment gains over the long term by investing in bonds or bank CDs. Just be sure to recognize the risks involved in stock investing, especially during severe bear markets, and allocate your money to this asset class accordingly. And always remember one of the most important and ironic truths of investing: asset classes that are hated by investors now typically outperform in future periods. [Edit: note also the converse of this statement: asset classes loved by investors now typically underperform in future periods.]

5) Don’t limit yourself to “long only”

Most people invest in the stock market by owning mutual funds or holding shares in individual stocks. There's a fundamental problem with this: "long-only" investment vehicles like these only enrich investors during rising markets. I encourage you to add other investing tools to your investment toolbox so you can profit during all kinds of markets. Read up and learn how to short stocks. Learn how stock options work. Start small and gradually develop experience with these other types of investments, and you will become an all-weather investor.

6) Stay humble. Respect the unpredictable nature of the market

The sectors, markets and companies that may seem like great investment opportunities today quite often end up being grave disappointments to investors who follow the herd. Remember tech stocks in 1999? Or real estate in 2006? [Edit: Or oil stocks in 2013?] They seemed like great sectors at the time.

Markets can be highly counterintuitive, and risks are often only visible after the fact. Try to avoid consensus investment thinking, and don't fixate on the risks that are obvious to investors today. Instead, train yourself to anticipate what risks investors are likely to think about in the future.

7) Save more

I apologize for closing this essay with such an unpalatable final piece of advice, but the easiest way to make up for investment losses is to increase your personal savings. Most investors will need a combination of investment returns and aggressive savings to reach their financial goals, whether those goals are early retirement, a certain level of net worth, or a college fund for a young child. When your investment returns have been below your expectations, you can make up the difference by spending less of your income and allocating the extra savings to these longer-term goals.

We may live in a society that collectively saves and invests very little of its discretionary money, but if you save aggressively, take prudent risks, and remain mindful of the various strengths and weaknesses of stocks as an asset class, you will achieve your financial goals. Good luck!


Read Next: How To Get Balanced, Consistently Useful Expert Advice


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

CK Links--Friday January 16, 2014

Readers! Before we get to the links this week, I want to share with you a radio interview I did with BreakThru Radio yesterday. It was a wide-ranging and really interesting conversation with DJ Jess Goulart about many of the themes we talk about here at CK: how to cook healthy food for less, how to be a savvy and empowered consumer, and much, much more. Plus some great music too. Enjoy!

Now, onto the articles! As always, I welcome your thoughts.

PS: Follow me on Twitter!

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Things you cannot say to a fat person. (The David Blahg)

Do organic (and "Humane Certified") egg producers get a free pass when they mistreat chickens? (Daily Pitchfork)

Wait, what? "From a health perspective, the annual physical exam is basically worthless." (New York Times)

Voracious readers offer advice on how to feed your need to read. (Fast Company)

Related: Have your own 30 day voracious reading trial.

"I would suggest that modern life works best if you design in at least a 50% safety margin." (Mr. Money Mustache)

Seven signs your fitness transformation will fail. (Bodybuilding.com)

It is amazing our country has the ability to innovate and grow despite the best efforts of Congress. (Malice For All)

The passive investing revolution will not be televised. (Monevator)

An introvert's guide to becoming more social. (The Change Blog)

Don't just focus on physical "stuff" when simplifying and decluttering. (Life Your Way)

From technologist to philosopher. (Chronicle of Higher Education)

Soren Kierkegaard schools us on why haters hate. (Brain Pickings)


Got an interesting article or recipe to share? Want some extra traffic at your blog? Send me an email!


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

“I Don’t Want to Spend All This Time Thinking About Food.”

I don't want to spend all this time thinking about food. I just want to get dinner on the table.

This is a comment you'll often see online (and hear in real life) whenever the subject of food and frugality comes up. It's a fascinating comment because in one fell swoop it both over-complicates and misses the entire point of everything.

To see what I mean, I'll share with you a recent trip I made to the grocery store, at a time when I really didn't want to spend any time thinking or cooking. And I didn't want to spend a lot of money either. So, I bought:

1 pound of generic white beans,
1 pound of generic lentils,
Carrots and celery,
Onions,
2 cans whole peeled tomatoes and 1 can diced tomatoes.

These items enabled me to make a hug pot of Lentil Soup and another big pot of hilariously easy White Bean Stew. Voila: Dinner and lunches for several days at a total cost of maybe ten bucks, and done literally without thought.

There's a catch, however. I can do this without thought because at one time in the past I spent some time thinking about exactly what makes a given recipe cheap, easy, healthy and good. Then, I spent time looking for (and in some cases creating) many such easy and cheap recipes.

And yet our hypothetical person making the statement above doesn't have to worry about this catch: He doesn't have to spend any time thinking about this at all. He doesn't have to figure out what qualities make for easy and cheap recipes, much less does he have to come up with them. Those recipes and those ideas are already here, waiting for him!

In other words, the high-level thinking only has to occur once. Just once. Better yet, the thinking doesn't even have to happen in his head--it has to happen in mine, so I can render the ideas here, in writing, for you.

You then get to use the concepts, the ideas and all of the recipes to make your own hilariously easy and cheap meals whenever you want to.

The notion of "spending all this time thinking about food" is a canard. It's just pushback. The solutions have already been figured out, and they're waiting for you. If you're willing to see them.

Read Next: The Top Lame-Ass Excuses Between You and Better Health


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.