ETHICAL EXPLOITS: Holiday Therapy

by contributor, Matt Lara

Tips and ideas for a truly caring season.

Hark the herald angels shop…

I am packed in a department store dodging the usual giant shopping backs full to the brim, and eagerly browsing customers searching for the perfect deal. Normally I would panic seeing as I thoroughly loath any store during the holidays. This year is different, however, as I have risen and shipped out early on the final day of Divine Design—the annual charity shopping event created by Project Angel Food. The group truly is divine, as they provide food and care to those unable to provide for themselves due to HIV/AIDS, and other life-threatening diseases. So, today’s shopping spree is more of a joy. How nice to actually shop in Beverly Hills without having to incur serious debt. You see, the deals are fantastic with each item marked down 50% off on the first day, then down another 10% for each succeeding shopping day. And this isn’t discount crap either — the merchandise consists of brand new packaged goods donated by retailers and most are quite a steal. Today, I’m wandering through apparel, shoes, a large selection of Barbies (I don’t know), and spend most of my time plucking home goodies and gifts for my family. I walk away with happy to have supported such an amazing organization.

With every Christmas card I trash…

I must admit that I am in the spirit, although I’m just as likely to be a big Scrooge among the hassle, traffic, and cost of it all. I pull out my Christmas box full of old holiday cards wondering if I should keep them. I have card conflict—someone took a moment and spent a few dollars on that little piece of plastic-coated card stock. (Are these even recyclable?) I decide not to throw them away, but turn on yet another one of my very manly talents: crafting. You just watch out for my glue gun…

Every crafter knows where to look… let’s just call her Mother Martha. She’s one of the most successful, and more notorious, craft queens ever. And her website has the perfect craft for that stack of cards as thick as a two-by-four. My new family heirloom:

Handsome, right? Basically, you’re going to need to cut about 20 circles out of holiday cards, and be really savvy with the scissors and glue. It’seasier than it looks. By the way, I buckled and purchased a box of simple greetings from Quotable

Cards. Each one is made from recycled paper, soy-based ink, and manufactured using wind power. I think an elf must have guided me to these smart little cards. Another holiday tradition I have conflicts with: wrapping paper. It’s so sleek, and I love a well-wrapped gift, but I can only imagine a landfill piled high with that lawnbag-full of discarded paper city after city has thrown out (not to mention the mountains of cardboard and plastic packaging). This year, I’m turning to my late Grandfather—a cowboy, veteran, and rough-and-tumble S.O.B. when he needed to be—for inspiration. He was notorious for wrapping gifts in newspaper. Too tacky? Fine, pop a sticky-bow on there if you want. I’m not going to lie and say I haven’t. I got some good ideas here and here.

Magazine pages work well too. If you really, really want those snowmen and candy canes all over your gifts, use holiday catalogs. Remember how much our junk mail is wreaking havoc on the environment? Take it from a Brute who loves to wrap gifts—reuse!

Oh Christmas beans, oh Christmas beans…

I feel like I’m in holiday therapy, what with me spouting off my conflicts and solutions and so on. I have yet one more to chew over. Holiday meals conjure visions of some old school cooking—can green beans drowned in canned mushroom sauce and crispy onions. How in the world did we come up with this dish with it’s odd, crunchy, salty comfort? (this is how, according to Wikipedia) This year, my family and I are perfecting our attempt at deconstructing Green Bean Casserole as inspired by VeganYumYum (where are you Lolo? We want you to update the blog!). We’ve since abandoned the deconstructed part, but let’s just say we are never going back to the canned crap. I never say never but…never. Another conflict solved! Make a holiday classic from scratch, and see just how good it gets.

Silent night, scandalous light…

I’m signing off until next year, but not after I tell you about some last minute shopping. If you’re in Los Angeles and surrounding areas, you have to check out Spork Foods. I went up to their Holiday Bazaar this year and ran into good friends Ari and Mikko from A Scent of Scandal and browsed the array of naughty aromatic candles. I want to be a good boy for Santa therefore I cannot say the names of scents without having to wash my mouth out with soap. All I can say is, there’s Scandal wafting through my holiday…

Have a happy and conscious holiday. We face a new year of both challenges and triumphs. I believe if you’re here reading this, you’re making an effort to do good in the world, and that is the greatest gift one could hope for this holiday.

-Matt Lara

Ethical Exploits Volume 6: Your Weekend Cooking Project

whiteteeBy contributor Matt Lara

The Cooking Bug

When people tell me it’s too hard to cook, or they don’t have time, I tend to shoot them a perplexed look. If I can do it, you can do it. Contrary to popular belief, cooking at home can be easy and a helluva’ lot cheaper than ordering or eating out. I’m a far cry from a classically-trained chef, yet I do it every day and enjoy it. I’ve had the cooking bug for quite a while now, but with inspiration from my fellow writers, and maybe just a little bit of competitiveness (Chef Matteo, somehow I don’t think I’ll ever catch up to you!), I’ve decided to share some of my more recent meals. I had to think a little outside my own culinary breadbox, but I’ll let you decide if it was simply my pride that I swallowed, or something delicious.

Pan Handling

Confession of a Carb-King: I love pancakes. I don’t have time to sort out mystery ingredients in those pancake mixes. I can do far better, and use fewer ingredients, with these two recipes:

From The Joy of Vegan Baking (by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau). It’s is a staple in my kitchen. These babies came out thick but light, and buttery. Plus, my maple syrup days are over now that I’m topping pancakes with Silk Soy Yogurt and wild blueberries. How long have I been missing out on that?

Vegan Yum Yum has a great recipe for Easy Weekend Pancakes. You can make the batter ahead of time in the blender, pop it in the fridge, and have it ready for your sunrise. These are made with spelt flower, and pour into beautifully thin silver dollars. Perfect for nursing a hangover, or impressing a hot date.

Tip: A dash of cinnamon in the pancake batter makes the world just a little bit yummier.

Gardein of Earthly Delights

I just realized now that the name gardein is a contraction of “garden” and “protein” . . . anyhow, these products, the hero of Tal Ronnen’s world, were on sale recently at my local supermarket. The best thing about them is the ease in which you can prepare them—stove-top, oven, or that cube thing you zap food in (not in my house). Much of the guesswork is taken out of flavoring, although I did add more seasonings from my own cupboard. They’re great if you’re still stumped by a plain block of Tofu. I prepared the Tuscan Breasts and the Santa Fe Good Stuff with items like rice medley, beans, baby spinach, and sprinkling of nutritional yeast on top.

Santa Fe Good Stuff was quite nice. The center of the meaty outside is stuffed with a corn and black bean compote, and works really well on top of the leftover rice medley from above. Having visited Santa Fe, I expected a little bit more of a kick. You might want to put on a touch of the hot sauce for these ones. Still, it made for a lovely and satisfying portion for two, which was eaten by one—moi.

Which Sandwich?

Admittedly, I have been avoiding the cliché of eating Tofurky for the longest time, so I decided to try out these Tofurky Deli Slices in a sandwich. I started with Trader Joe’s flourless wheat berry bread, and spread one slice with grainy Dijon mustard and the other with roasted red pepper hummus (made from scratch). Along with the slices of Tofurky, I added avocado and fresh baby spinach. The result? The sandwich was light and full-bodied with all the wonderful whole ingredients I craved. I also got a zing from the Dijon, which was a surprise. It was a random assortment of ingredients, but I just might have to go for this sandwich again soon.

Elvis-adilla?

My greatest downfall is that pesky sweet tooth, and I’ve recently felt particularly inspired by Elvis’ favorite sandwich. According to legend, The King used to eat 12-15 of these in one sitting. Of course, I opted to leave out the life-ending options (the bacon, dairy butter, and animal fat) along with the hefty quantity. I know it’s not necessarily health food, but it makes for a mindful midday dessert. It’s also fun and messy.

This is What You Need:

  • • Two whole-wheat tortillas
  • • One banana sliced
  • • 1-2 TBSP organic creamy peanut butter
  • • 1 TBSP Earth Balance Buttery Spread
  • • A sprinkling of brown sugar

Now Do This!

Melt the Earth Balance in a frying pan. Spread the peanut butter on one tortilla and place in the pan, non-peanut http://www.virginmedia.com/images/elvis430x300.jpgbutter side down. Space out the banana slices evenly on top of the layer of peanut butter and sprinkle the brown sugar. This should be heating up quickly so place the other tortilla on top and flip over carefully. As the other side heats up the bananas should caramelize a bit and the peanut butter will get a little gooier. Remove from heat and cut into quarters. Work quickly on this one. If the tortillas are slightly burnt, it gives the whole sandwich a smoky note, which isn’t bad.

Uh, thank you…thank you very much.

Smoothy Operator

http://karatetraining.org/weblog/wp-content/uploads/2008/01/green_smoothie.jpgI basically stole this smoothie idea from a certain NYC restaurant that shall remain nameless, but I’ll just say it’s less a felony and more of a misdemeanor because I don’t know any of the exact ingredients or their amounts. I’m always adding different things to it. I like it because it helps me get a good full serving of fresh greens halfway through the day. So here’s my best attempt at the green smoothie that is homage to a make-believe restaurant that I’ll just call “Gobo in the West Village“:

  • • 1 handful of baby spinach
  • • 1 banana
  • • 1-2 cups of Vanilla flavored Almond milk (or other non-dairy milk)
  • • 1 tsp of Agave syrup
  • • One half of a small avocado, peeled and sliced (learn how here)
  • • ½ cup ice

Blend in a blender until smooth and green. I like to double-check that all my greens have been thoroughly blended. You can add a tablespoon or so of nutritional yeast, as well as some ground flax seeds although it may affect the flavor and/or the consistency. Some frozen wild blueberries also boost up the antioxidants, but they will change the pretty green color to something nameless.

If you’re not yet used to the goodness of one green drink per day, this is a sweeter place to start.

Stir Crazy

Okay, this one is a winner in my house, but you have to work with me people. This is technically a dump-and-stir-and-bake. And – don’t run— this is not a vegan recipe, but it’s a great lesson in veganizing non-veg recipes! Just switch out that dairy stuff for something wonderful that melts, like Follow Your Heart or Daiya. This is a casserole-style take on a traditional Mexican dish known as Chilaquiles. I have served this one to my non-vegan parents and they have requested it again several times. It’s packed with a variety of whole foods like roasted corn, zucchini, black beans, and corn tortillas. The preparation is super easy, so give Chilaquiles Casserole a try, and make sure to top with avocado or guacamole.

That’s plenty to eat for now. But believe me, my cooking bug is still going strong! I’d love to hear from you if you try any of these or have any suggestions or questions!

- Matt

Ethical Exploits, Vol.5

by featured contributor Matt Lara

whitetee

Celebrity Roast

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It’s been making it’s debut all season. Everyone is talking about it. And if this month is one long headache to you, I can assure you that the Celebration Roast from Field Roast Grain Meat is something wonderful to look forward to. I happen to love the holidays, even though I haven’t been able to avoid sharing the table with dead birds this year. But those who tried my Celebration Roast loved it, and I would be happy to have it on my holiday table anytime. Luckily we still have time this year to impress with this deliciousness.

Caught in the Neti

There’s crappiness and cold in the air. If you’re in a big urban jungle there is smog and pollutants swirling all around you. If you’re like me you’re surrounded my nasty looking air as well all sorts of pollen, dander, and allergens. Add that to winter weather and you have sinus hell. Not Sexy. Rather than jack myself up on meds, I prefer a gentler approach—Neti Pot. I know it sounds gross to rinse out your sinuses, but it has always helped me out a lot. Our pals at Crazy Sexy Life have some really great info on all things Neti.

Stir Crazy

Go ahead, call me a food snob. I freely admit to being one – I care a lot about what I eat. Sorry my fashionisto friends, but I spend more money on quality food than I do on looking dapper at the disco. And when I’m done eating one (or more) of these sandwiches—messy face and all—I reserve the right not wipe my food snob mouth. I just love this dump-and-stir: Snobby Joes. This is from a favorite cookbook I use several times a week, The Veganomicon.

http://www.fithoney.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/buckwheat.jpgA Natural In Bed

I share my bed with a partner who is supportive but soft, warm but not over-heated, and a natural in bed—my buckwheat pillow from Beans72. Our relationship wasn’t always perfect and took some getting used to. I do opt for the softness of a regular pillow at times, but I find these ones great for a number of reasons. A mainstay Asian countries, they are made for comforting support throughout the night. The pillows from this site are made of quality all-natural materials, and are recommended for those with allergies to synthetic pillow fillers. They also don’t get warm like other pillows stuffed with synthetics. I find them to be perfect for when you are reading in bed or watching TV. We don’t necessarily promote rampant consumption of gifts here, but this is one useful gift I have used for years now. (Don’t forget to order the matching cotton pillow case for the Japanese size.)

Gifting To-Go

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While we’re on the topic of gift giving, I can’t think of a simpler gift than this set of bamboo to-go ware from Taraluna. As you may know, bamboo is a highly sustainable crop and very durable. It comes with a knife, fork, spoon, and set of chopsticks in a rolling cloth carrier. I keep them with me all the time for meals out. Taraluna is a great resource for products all made from fair-trade workers. Check out their variety of products.

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Out of Closet Experience

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I needed some last minute do-dads. Being on a tight budget, I decided to hit up the big pink LA thrift shop chain known as Out Of The Closet. Now, I actually like the “charm” of your average thrift store—the laudromat odor, the linoleum floors, the collage of wracks and hangers, the screaming children, etc.. However, this location was a nice change of pace. There was an actual selection of items and not an insurmountable mish-mash of crap. The staff was pleasant, helpful, and conversational. It was one of the few places I have shopped in LA where I felt a sense of community. Perhaps that is because Out of the Closet is owned and operated by Aids Healthcare Foundation with a mission to generate income to fund it’s services. Many locations offer free HIV testing as well.

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Sap Anyone?http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/science/gfx/maple-sap.jpg

As we pass from holiday to holiday, I have to say thanks to anyone reading this little grouping of words.  I hope some of it catches your eye. If it does, I truly cherish that there are honest gentlemen (and ladies) out there who are taking action to live as responsible humans. As I count my blessings this holiday season, I’m counting you all in. Merry wassailling!

Ethical Explolits Vol.3

The ups and downs day-to-day ethical living.
By Featured Contributor, Matt Lara

Normally I’m all peace, love, and Veggie Booty, but I’ve been a little stressed out this summer. The money has been tight, and not much has been happening with my projects. So I decided to reinvest in regrouping. To help counteract these trying times I’m going to go Maria Von Trap on you and embrace my inner self-help guru. These are a few of my favorite things:

Sasquatch JournalSasquatch Spotting
Since I’m feeling a little stuck creatively, I decided to reread on of my favorite books: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s a 12-week program aimed at unblocking creativity and it involves quite a bit of writing which is perfect for these Sasquatch notebooks made by CarolinaPad. They are named after the elusive creature leaves only a rare footprint behind, and these products are made with mostly recycled materials. The comp books I’ve been using are made from no less than 100% recycled paper. I’m onto you sasquatch…

The Happy Company Down To Earth Eye PillowLay Down to Earth
Yes, I am a man with an eye pillow. I received this Down To Earth Eye Pillow from The Happy Company. It’s made from 100% Organic Cotton, and comes minimally-packaged in recycled paper printed with soy-based inks. I used to be the last person in the world who would have an eye pillow. Now I can’t wait to cool this baby down in the freezer and lay back with its light and easy aroma of eucalyptus.

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Wanna Walk?
When was the last time you went for a walk? To me, walking for its own sake is de-stressing at its simplest. If you’re already a walker, I recommend a visit to a walking labyrinth found via the World Wide Labyrinth Locator. I’m getting a little hippy-dippy here, but I promise there’s nothing spooky about it. You may even find David Bowie in there. They are meant for meditation without the sitting still. Your concern about where you’re going becomes secondary as you let your mind relax and go with its natural rythms. Definitely something to try.

https://www.amoeba.com/dynamic-images/blog/Brad/labyrinth3.jpg

Meditate
While we’re at it, the sitting still kind of meditation is wonderful in 10 minute intervals. You would be amazed at how it can turn around a busy day. Try this Meditation 101 from Yoga Journal. Yoga Journal: yoga poses, yoga video, yoga articles, yoga studios and teachers

Since Ethical Explloits explores the triumphs and disappointments of ethical living, I have to acknowledge that it can get very difficult out there. Why do the worlds of fashion, food, and pop culture have such mixed up values? It stupefies me. But fear not! By becoming Discerning Brutes, we can choose to embody poise and style as our weapons rather than stress and anger. We worry enough as it is, and just don’t need the health detriments that anxiety brings. I say invest in de-stressing. Schedule it, do it, hold to it, and be at your optimum.

-Matt Lara

MattLara

Matt is an actor, singer, closet poet, dancer, avid reader, guitar picker, waiter, home cook, nosey coffee shop guy, animal lover…he basically has to know how to do everything. He lives in New York and Los Angeles.

Ethical Exploits Vol. 2

The ups, downs, ins, outs, disappointments, and triumphs of a day-to-day ethical living.
By Featured Contributor, Matt Lara

There are a hundred-and-one reasons for guys to take care of their skin and hair, but so many of the products on the market are toxic, full of animal ingredients, or still perform horrible and needless tests on animals that it makes us want to give up grooming and be crust-punks!

Realizing that dreadlocks and gamy odors were not for me, I decided to do some overhaul in the grooming department. Bathroom shelf, meet your new cruelty-free, earth-conscious friends:

Triple RazorThe first to go was that turbo-thingy razor that came free in my mailbox after high school graduation. Instead of shoveling out big bucks for more tiny replacement cartridges that are made by a company burning the eyes and skin of rabbits, I happily spent my money on a new Preserve Triple Razor. The shave is just as good, and there are some other great things to consider about Preserve Products besides smooth cheeks. I also switched to lavender and shea Moisture Shave from Kiss My Face. Now everyone wants to kiss my face. Now if they’d only make something so everyone would kiss my ass…

Also, if you’re a manly-man like me and use manly-man things like toner, consider my other big switch in the grooming department: organic cotton balls. If you are not using a spray-toner, these are great! Are they cost-effective? With cotton being one of the most highly-sprayed crops, and the price the environment pays for our single-use puffs, yes they are worth the extra dollar or two. Plus, the quality is actually better, and you’ll like that for your hunky mug.

Organic Essentials Cotton Balls Triple Size

Revitalizing Eye Cream from Avalon Organics is one of my new staples. Say what you want, I’m conscious of my smile lines! I can still feel this stuff moisturizing and firming even at the end of my most tired days. I’m also a sucker for the Soothing Lip Balm for some smooth smackers without the girlie, glossy look.

I can think of so many uses for tea trea oil, and with Trader Joe’s putting it in shampoo, I am so there. Tea Tree Tingle is quite an experience with every wash. For styling, I find David Babaii for Wildaid to be wonderful. Their motto is “It’s beautiful to be good,” and I couldn’t agree more. 10% of their profits are donated to Wildaid to help with wildlife conservation. I use their Bohemian Beach Spray and the Fibers Molding Paste.

Fibers Molding Pastehttp://www.db4wildaid.com/images/products/lg_bohemian_beach_spray.jpg

There are several product lines like Organic Grooming by Herban Cowboy, and JASON which Joshua covered in THIS POST that make men’s grooming products, so check them out too!

Finally, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau has an excellent podcast episode dedicated to the compassionate bathroom. And hey, I didn’t buy all this stuff at once. Purchasing just one of these products is helping make for a more compassionate world.

Happy grooming!

-Matt Lara

MattLara

Matt is an actor, singer, closet poet, dancer, avid reader, guitar picker, waiter, home cook, nosey coffee shop guy, animal lover…he basically has to know how to do everything. He lives in New York and Los Angeles.