So I read a lot of articles about how to have an online presence. Judging by the long periods I go without posting……. well, I’m not learning much yet it would seem. Part of that is because I’ve been trying to figure out this whole “branding” thing. I keep seeing article after article after article about how important it is for you to brand yourself properly.  If you mess this up, then you’re basically doomed for all eternity online.

So you can see why I’d be focusing on learning more about that, right?

The thing is, none of it was making sense to me. Register a domain name, have an email signature, pick the right avatar……… but how? And why? And what does it all mean?  No one was coming right out and saying, “Here is how you figure out what your brand is”. All they ever did was give you tips for how to work with your brand. But what if you don’t know what your brand is?

So yesterday, I headed out to the mall. Well, I headed out there twice actually. I just got my new phone in the mail (the new LG 5G!!) and had to head over to Koodo to get the stuff from my old phone transferred to my new phone. I caught the bus, made most of the almost 1 hour trip out there….. and realized I left the phone at home. So I had to come home, grab the phone, waste some time until the next bus came, and head out yet again. By the time I got there, I needed cheap mall sushi and discount clothes to calm me down.

So I sat down with my new phone, shoving cheap sushi in my gluttonous face hole, trying to decide which stores to check out. Different stores have their different styles, and there are certain stores I gravitate to more than others. Despite my age, I still hit up Forever 21 pretty regularly ($2.99 tank tops to wear under my uniform? How can I go wrong?). While checking out their clearance racks, I overheard two girls talking.

“I know it’s a great price, but it doesn’t go with anything you own. It’s so outside your style it’s crazy to even look at it.”

“But it’s a $12 coat! I’m sure I could make it fit in somehow.”

“Name me three things in your closet right now that would go with this coat. And then look at this $16 coat and try to do the same thing.”

I stood there listening, and finally asked the girl which one she was going to chose. As someone who loves a good deal, a $12 coat sounds amazing. But $16 is damn good too, especially if it goes with everything you already own. After a few minutes, the girl was still undecided. So her friend asked her what her style was.

Now, I’m the first to say that I have no style. I can’t take some look off the pages of a magazine and work it. I’ll take odd items, mix them together, and make a look from that. I’m a bit of a mish-mash of things, and apparently this girl was too.

So we made a list of the things that really spoke to us in the store. For me it was denim jackets, ripped jeans, combat boots, dark sun glasses, blazers, vests, tank tops, and lots of dark patterns. Throw in the random jewellery I liked (a range from hippie love beads to spiked rings to 90’s style chokers), and they determined my style.

“You’re like a Corporate Goth Punk Hippie,” they decided.

And suddenly it all made sense.

My closet is like my brand. It’s all the things that are me to the outside world. Not everyone will have the absolute pleasure of talking to me, and getting to know me, but they can see me. I have a look, a style, a brand.

It’s the same thing online. What am I doing here? What am I writing? What am I posting? That’s my brand. That’s what I need to develop; the essence of me that you all can see.

So, Sunshine, now that I have that figured out a bit more, hopefully I can put it out of my head for a bit and get back to writing more. Hopefully you’ll hear from me again very soon!

Groceries: What The Hell Do You Even Need?

We’re in the process of re-teaching a co-worker how to shop for groceries after years of bringing fast food to work every day. So I thought this would be a good time to make up a grocery list for myself. I do this semi-regularly. It’s not like I shop entirely from a list, or have one of those pre-printed lists on the fridge that lets me check things off as we run out of them. And I’ll never be one of those people who always seems to have the well-stocked pantry, with all the ingredients for a three course meal ready at the drop of a hat. Truth be told, I’m trying to chose between semi-stale granola and toast made from bread the Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend’s parents bought for us to go with my coffee this morning. I don’t think I could handle the responsibility of having one of those Insta-worthy pantries.

Still, I like to have a nicely stocked cupboard and fridge. There are some things I just need to keep in stock, like milk for coffee, or bread and cheese slices for emergency sandwiches. For some reason the other night, though, while making a grocery list so I don’t forget cat food and bacon, I thought “Gee, I wonder if there’s other things I should be stocking, to really up my cooking game”. So, off to the Googles!

A quick search for “Grocery List Essentials” pulled up article  after  article  of   pre-made  grocery  lists.  There was everything from slide shows of sleek-looking produce, clean eating walkthroughs, and  how to live on an extremely tight budget while still enjoying pancakes and pineapple. While the lists were a great ready (although sometimes overwhelming and huge), and each one was unique, they all had one thing in common: they were full of crap I don’t want or need.

Neither AAB or I are big on fruit. I keep some bananas and berries in the freezer for smoothies on Sunday morning, and he buys the occasional apples for his lunch. So why would we need to stock apples, oranges, bananas, strawberries, and pomegranates in our kitchen? All that’s going to do turn into some mighty expensive compost. Things like yogurt and feta cheese would just go bad in the fridge, since we hardly ever use either one. And there is no way in hell I would EVER keep avocados  stocked in my kitchen. As the video says, those things can kill a damn horse!

You’re probably think, “Well shit Sunshine, how the hell will I know how to stock my damn kitchen if all these lists are full of crap I don’t even need?”

Well, sit your ass down and look at what you actually like to eat. Then, imagine eating it. Sounds crazy, right? Hear me out though: I love eggs. I love spinach. I love grains and carbs of all kinds. And I love salads. Before I make a grocery list, I have to figure out which of these things I need, and what I can do with them. One of my favourite things to pack for a quick lunch at work is quinoa, boiled spinach, and a poached egg. So if I know I’ll be getting shifts with lunch breaks this week, I’ll make sure I have those three things on my list. I never eat that at home, though, so I won’t keep all that in stock as much if I’m on evenings and nights. Also when I’m on nights and evenings, I need simple things to make for dinner since AAB doesn’t cook a whole hell of a lot. So, I’ll throw a few frozen pizzas and some crock pot friendly foods on my list.

Another great way to make a kick-ass grocery list is to look at recipes and store flyers. I like to look through Flipp on my phone and see what proteins are on sale at the two grocery stores near my work. Then, I’ll look up a few quick recipes for those: one in the oven, one crockpot, and one more complicated one for nights I’m not working. Then I’ll go through the recipes and make my list based on that, with a few changes. Depending on what is on sale, I’ll substitute a few ingredients here and there (why shell out for organic kale to sautee when you can get a bag of spinach on sale for $1?). This is great because now I have meals planned out in my head, and can shop for other things accordingly. Making spicy chicken on Monday night? Grab some peppers and onions, bust out the tortillas, and the leftovers become fajitas on Tuesday. Want to get that bag of discount spinach but only have it down in one recipe for the week? Boil or sautee some a bunch to add to omelettes, throw in with a bit of pasta, or eat as a side dish with breakfasts and lunches. Bunches of tomatoes are on sale, and you want them for pizza one night, but hate them in your salad? Make some salsa, bruschetta, or pico de gallo to snack on for the week with the leftovers.

So Sunshine, don’t think that you need to follow some sort of pre-made list to stock your kitchen right. I don’t care of Oprah or Gwyneth or Dr. Oz makes the damn list: if it doesn’t work with you, your tastes, and your lifestyle, then don’t bother with it. That’s not to say you can’t take inspiration from them. Check out the spice section of their lists, see if there’s anything there you could use but constantly overlook when shopping. Use things like lists as suggestions, not as can-never-stray-from-guides. You do you Sunshine, whether it’s in the kitchen or the boardroom. Stay golden!

Stocking Your Kitchen, Dollar Store Style

It was a joke in my house that I would finally be ready to move out once I had a good cheese grater. I tend to put cheese on  pretty much everything I can. So I figured that once I had that grater, I was good to go. I mean, of course there are other things that are important in a kitchen (like stuff to cook with or eat off of), but I was going to be sharing a house with other people. I’d probably never need to buy any of that stuff!

Oh, how very very wrong I was. While yes, I did have my trusty cheese grater,  I don’t own plates (long story there). I do have wine and Martini glasses, and some Batman cups, but no real drinking glasses. And sometimes, my roommates would be in the same boat as me. Many times in the last 7 years, my roommates and I ended up at the mall, standing in a kitchenware store. Now, this is one of my favourite store today (it has these cocktail shakers with drink recipes right on there, so I can pretend to be fancy and make a Martini), but it was terrifying back then. $25 cutting boards? $150 knife sets? $125 for an ugly dish set?!?! How the hell is a person supposed to afford to actually use their damn kitchen?

Dollar stores, that’s how!
Now, not everything you need for the kitchen can be found there. I mean, you’re not going to find a giant stand-up mixer and food processor there (that’s what kijiji and Facebook buy-sell groups are for). But there are a tonne of things I never thought to go looking for there, that are actually quite awesome, especially for those of us on very tight budgets.

Diningware

Plates, bowls, cutlery, things to drink out of……….. these things are pretty much essential to every kitchen. Most good dollar stores will have plates either for a dollar, or two for a dollar. Same goes for drinkware. Some places I’ve been to have had sets of cutlery for a dollar, meaning you can possibly get four of one thing (forks, knives, spoons) or one of each for that price. Getting a “dining set” (bowls, plates, cutlery, drinking glasses, all X4) can cost more than $100 in some stores. At a dollar store, you can get all of this for as little as $10.

And don’t forget those little extras. Many stores sell cheap steak knives, wine glasses, Martini glasses, fancy looking drinkware, and anything you can take on a picnic or use outdoors (ie, stuff that won’t break if you drop it, which is essential to have if you have random people using your stuff all the time). As a connoiseur of cheap and boxed wines, have a few wine glasses in the cupboard is an essential to me. I also like to have two martini glasses, for the odd martini or Cosmopolitan (there are some great pre-mixed virgin versions out there. Sometimes, while writing, I like to pour one and pretend I’m some fancy, pretentious writer whose penning what they believe is the next On The Road).

And yes, that non-breakable stuff IS essential. Do you ever plan on having friends over? Throw a small dinner party or BBQ? Don’t want to serve everything on paper plates? I keep about 10 blue plastic plates in the cupboard, for when we have guests here. They all match (so it looks like a real set), they’re sturdy, and if someone drops something there is no sharp glass or ceramic to clean up. These are also great when you have the one friend who is a spilly drunk (we all have one), and they insist on pre-gaming with you, or watching the Oscars with you, or helping you through a bad break-up. These are not the times when you need to be worrying about digging glass out of the soles of peoples’ feet. Having a non-breakable option that you can both use (as not to single them out or make them feel weird) is perfect for these times.

Cooking Basics

Why the hell anyone would ever spend $25 on a measuring cup is beyond me. I mean, it’s a cup that measures things. You can get measuring cups in all sizes at dollar stores. Same goes for measuring spoons. There are basic ones, some with pretty designs, and even some that are part of a larger set of kitchenware. For the last few years, I’ve been helping my parents collect the Betty Crocker collection from Dollarama (they have a thing for red appliances and utensils). They have every size and shape of spatula, mixing spoon, ladle, and those weird slotted spoon things with tines on the side that you use to serve spaghetti.

Need a can opener? Dollar store! Vegetable peeler? Dollar store! One of those screens you put over a pan so you can cook bacon without grease flying everywhere? Dollar store! Just in the last year I’ve bought strainers, knives, canisters, large serving bowls, mixing bowls, and tupperware there. Like to bake? They have baking accessories too!

And for those of you who like to make holiday-specific foods, this place is amazing for that. For Valentines Day, they bust out the heart shape baking pans and cupcake pans. Christmas time is great for cookie cutters and cake pans. And every single holiday somehow has cupcake wrappers and little toothpick things to decorate them with. Why spend a small fortune at some craft store getting baking supplies when you can get them for a fraction of the price at the dollar store. This is also a huge help to anyone who ever gets roped in to doing the obligatory bake sale fundraisers in your school’s student centres.

Groceries

I have a thing for rice crackers. No clue why, they’re just amazing to me. But they’re like $3.50 a package at the nearest grocery store. They’re only $1 at the dollar store next to my work though. And it’s not just snack foods they have there. I’ll pick up canned goods, boxed meals (like off-brand tuna helper or hamburger helper), macaroni and cheese, and even Rice-a-Roni. A can of peas, can of corn, some boxed tuna casserole, a can of tuna……. less than $5 gets you the basics for a meal (just add milk to make the boxed meal). It may not always be the healthiest meals you can make, but you can feed yourself on dollar store groceries.

You don’t have to feed yourself entirely on dollar store foods, but their groceries can seriously help stretch you budget. There are three dollar stores within a short walk of my house (well, discount stores, but most things are around $1. Hell, even Dollarama doesn’t sell everything for $1 these days!). At one, I can load up on cheap spices, boxed meals, and rice crackers. Another has a great canned good section, and cheap candy (I like to keep emergency chocolate bars in the freezer). And the little family owned place near campus is great for a very diverse selection of boxed foods and spices. The owners are from Bangladesh, and like to keep affordable Asian foods on their shelves for students. I can get tandoori spice, powdered chow mein mix, canned hummus, and a whole line of Indian-inspired boxed rice and noodle mixes.

Of course, you should always compare prices before settling on dollar store foods. While the stores near me can’t be beat when it comes to mac’n’cheese and canned mushrooms, bread and noodle mixed (like Sidekicks) are sometimes cheaper at the grocery store just down the plaza.

In The End

Are there things you can’t get at the dollar store that you will need for a kitchen. Definitely. Most of them can be found at discount stores, liquidation stores, or online (try sites like Kijiji, or search for buy and sell groups in your area on Facebook).  Toasters, coffee pots, microwaves, toaster ovens, and any other small appliances can always be bought on sale somewhere. But for the bulk of your kitchen, you can get what you need for very little money.

Now, at times you may need to get a little creative in your buying and usages. You may wind up with mismatched place settings, or a set of serving bowls all in neon orange plastic. But, you can also get creative with your cooking. You can take regular recipes and switch out ingredients for cheaper ones sometimes. And expensive looking chicken dish could actually be made with clearance and discount products. I do this quite regularly, and hope to teach you some of my favourite swaps. Also, while I try things out, I may take you along on my culinary experiments to see how things work out for me. (Warning: it doesn’t always work out well. That’s why they’re just experiments and not masterpieces.)