Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Clothing Pledge

I started this year off with a pledge to only buy used clothing items. Before you get your panties in a bunch you should know that panties were not included in the pledge. In fact anything that is sweated in, slept in or covers the parts that make a PG13 movie an R rated movie were not included. As well as socks, but I really don’t wear socks so they are moot. The idea bloomed from last year’s goal of starting a budget for the first time. After tracking my expenses for a year I realized I was spending an embarrassing amount of money on clothes and still felt like I had nothing to wear. I then tried on EVERYTHING in my closet and chucked anything that was too small. While I can alter clothes, making them bigger is well beyond the skill set of pretty much anyone. So off the goodwill they went.

In the nearly six months that have gone by since I started this goal I have learned a few things about myself, and a lot of things about the clothing industry. I have learned that I like pretty boring clothes. While I like to look at fashion magazine and drool over all the pretty people, when I wear trendy clothes I feel like a total goon. Not only is the cut of my clothing pretty boring so is the color. I like neutrals. Blacks, grays, whites, creams, and blues with occasional green or teal thrown in. I also like poka-dots, stripes and plaids. That’s about it.  

I also learned the used clothing stores in wealthy areas of town are chalk-a-block full of really amazing stuff. Like hundred dollar sweaters and dresses for just a couple bucks. Mrs.Snobs might chuck her Diane Von Furstenberg sweater for being pilly but I am not too good to get out the old razor blade and take those pesky little woolen balls off a garment.  Why am I after used clothing from high end name brand stores? I don’t truly care about labels on clothes, but I do care about good quality products that are going to last. And really, expensive labels are generally cut from a better cloth.

Not only did I learn how to use a razor blade to clean up a sweater I also learned how to mend holes, reset hems, short sleeves, adjust collars and take in the sides of dresses and shirts. Pants are still a little beyond me. And beyond most clothing companies as well. Which bring me to my first major slip up. New jeans. Shopping for jeans is the worst. Truly. I would rather take a tour of the seventh circle of hell than spend my afternoon contorting myself into and out of hundreds of pairs of jeans. Completely by accident I found a fit at an expensive department store, bought two pairs, had them hemmed and called it good. Unless the bottom literally falls out of them I do not intent on buying more jeans. But until that time I have been re-dying my older pairs of jeans to extend their life.

This all sounds like an awful lot of work does it? It can be, certainly. But after a good friend took me to the Goodwill outlet store (lovingly called the bins) I have changed my outlook on consumerism a bit. Items that go to a Goodwill, if not bought, only spend a certain number of days on the rack before they get packed up and sent to the outlet store. Which I will generously describe as a post apocalyptic waste land. But I do love a challenge and am not very squeamish so I really don’t mind going there to brose bin after bin of landfill destined items. Yes, after the outlet store your un-bought donations go to a landfill. Millions of pounds of clothing, home goods, glass wear, sports equipment and toys get dumped each year, in this our disposable consumerist society.  I personally would very much like to contribute as little as possible to this growing number of items tossed out each year. So instead I mend, and hem and alter and repurpose. And I am actually much happier for it. I certainly spend less hours of my life whimpering in my closet convinced I have nothing to wear.

And why should you care about all this? You don’t have to. But before you dismiss the idea of buying less and saving more check out Elizabeth Cline’s new book “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheep Fashion”. Her arguments are much more convincing and enlightening than my own little journey. But then again we can’t all write books and save the world. Never the less my decisions make me feel better, so I journey onward.  

may 13th through june 26th

burbon street in the am - so humid my lense fogged up

mothers day jazz brunch with our waiter

poppies and peonies

organic strawberries which later tried to kill me

home made sandels from dollar shoes

farm fresh eggs - truly the best


wild white roses

fluffy toes

freshly aired out blankets


ilsa hiding under my drawing table

best dessert ever

awesome post cards

ilsa in the rain

Monday, May 21, 2012

Marionberry Custard Pie

If you know me at all you know that when I bake I start out with every intention of following the recipe. Then I get two ingredients in, assume I know better and wind up with something totally different in the end. Case in point, the above pie. This pie was supposed to be a Berry Gallette. But the recipe wanted me to use white pastry flour (hogwash), a whole package of cream cheese (but then what will I do for breakfast?!) and separate a egg to brush the pastry with (B*ch please!). Needless to say none of these things happened. But it turned out okay (believe me this isn’t always the case) in fact, I think it turned out better. Give it a try, you won’t regret it. And if you manage to morph this into you own little Frankenstein let me know how it turns out and what alterations you made.

For the crust
-1 C whole wheat flour
-3 TBL shortening
-1 to 3 TBL water

Cut shortening into whole wheat flour, add water one tablespoon at a time until dough forms a ball. Press into a 6 inch cast iron skillet. No need to be dainty or careful about it, I never am.

For the pie
-1/2 C cream cheese
-1/2 C greek yogurt
-1 whole egg
-1/2 C powdered sugar
-2 C berries

Mix cream cheese, yogurt, egg and powdered sugar. Pour into pastry. Evenly pour berries on top of pie. Bake until only slightly barely giggly in center (my oven is about 70 years old so my bake time likely won’t work on a newer non-gas oven). Refrigerate until pie is set. Then eat it all up!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Fat vs. Sugar

I was watching Seinfeld this morning, courtesy of my friendly neighborhood library. The particular episode involved “fat-free” frozen yogurt, Rudy Giuliani, an election and everyone in New York City experiencing mysterious weight gain. As it turns out the frozen yogurt wasn’t actually fat free. But in real life would that have truly mattered?

There have been some excellent articles lately written about yogurt (not the frozen sort). When I was a kid the food was sort of a hippy-dippy choice. These days it has become an ever popular health food choice for meal replacers and dessert substitutes. Like any food trend, it doesn’t take long for large companies to capitalize the product with different flavors, and low fat options. Yogurt naturally isn’t low in fat; it’s a dairy product how could it be. But since when did fat in your food become such a faux-pas.

A living being needs energy to function. To be specific a long carbon chain which when broken down on the cellular level results in a release of energy. So where do our carbon chains come from? Short ones come from sugar, slightly longer ones come from breads, the longest from fats. This means a person is going to get the most energy from foods with fats in them and the least amount of energy from sugars. Sugars are broken down and absorbed primarily through saliva and immediately taken to the blood stream, this causes that warm rush of energy you get from eating a candy bar. But not all that energy is needed at a given time. Any excess sugars in your system are then stored as fat in your thighs or belly or where ever else genetics granted you as your “problem area”. If fats and sugars are eaten together, needed sugars are used; excess sugars and fats are stored. However, if fats are ingested, especially with fiber, a slow release of energy occurs. This leaves a person feeling full for longer and reduces the amount of energy storage.  That’s not to say you should go siphoning the bacon drippings from your frying pan. I would hope the world has a tad more sense than that. But sugars need to be watched for.

The old-fashioned type non-fat yogurt I grew up with no longer exists. Because it tastes gross and thus doesn’t sell. So to appeal to the masses and still provide a tasty product companies have started dumping sugar into non-fat products. Have you ever looked at a nutrition label for non-fat yogurt, the sugar content is astronomical. So while you are waltzing down the dairy isle thinking you have made a fabulous life choice by reducing your fat intake, don’t forget your own biological priorities for energy. If the only choice is fat or sugar, opt for the fat. Your blood sugar will thank you later.  

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Homemade Cheese

A lot of people give me grief about my obsession with making things that are available at the grocery store. And they do have a point. Why bother taking the time to make cheese when you can go to the store and have it instantly. Well there are reasons. Very good reasons in fact. But the bottom line, as with everything I write about, is because it is healthier.

To make cheese one has to start with a whole milk with low pasteurization. Pasteurization is the process of heating and cooling dairy products with the intent of killing bacteria that is harmful to humans. The idea was first suggested by Franz von Soxhelt in 1886, but first successfully processed by the processes namesake French microbiologist Louis Pasteur. The process not only eliminates many risks to human consumption (including bovine tuberculosis, which was a common cause of death at the time), but it also greatly extends the shelf life of milk allowing transportation across continents to occur safely.  On one hand pasteurization is a great process, but on the other it allows companies and stores to stock milk products from all over the world for much longer than nature intended. Local organic milks tend to be lower pasteurized because they don’t have to travel as far to reach their destination (still slightly pasteurized for safety mind you). The point, if you are going to make cheese find yourself some good local milk (the cheese will not only taste better but might not work if too much bacteria is killed off).

The number one reason (at least for myself) is that homemade cheese is actually less of an irritant to the system. A person can control the amount of whey that is removed from the cheese (whey being the sugar in milk that most people are allergic to). And also any cheese you make at home will be preservative free.

On Sunday my friend Julia and I set out to make some mozzarella (the easiest and as a first timer it’s the safest bet). We used the recipe from Barbra Kingsolver’s book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” bought our three ingredients and set to work. Yes it only takes three.

(sorry its blurry)

1 gallon whole low pasteurized milk (anything but ultra will work)
1.5 teaspoons citric acid dissolved in 1/4th cup cool water
1 teaspoon liquid rennet dissolved in 1/4th cup cool water

1 large stainless steel pot
1 slatted spoon
1 large glass bowl
1 good thermometer

Pour the milk into the pot and slowly heat to 55 degrees, at which point add the citric acid. Continue to stir and heat gently until temp reaches 88 degrees. Then add rennet and stir. The milk should start to curdle and separate from the whey (which admittedly looks pretty disgusting). Once the temp reaches 100 degrees start transferring curds to the glass bowl. Use the slatted spoon or hands (careful its hot) to squeeze as much water out as possible. Microwave for one minute. Kneed the cheese to remove more water. Microwave 30 seconds, kneed, microwave 30 seconds, kneed. At this point the cheese should start to get stretchy like taffy.  Ours did not, we blamed it on a faulty thermometer. Salt to taste and you are done.

(if I look a little manic its because the cheese was HOT)

Despite our cheese looking like a head of cauliflower it was quite delicious. We made some capreese salads for dinner and then watched a movie and snacked on the left over cheese.


(dinner with cheese)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


There are two types of fiber. Soluble and insoluble, but neither have much to do with your stomach. Fiber as a whole is plant parts, no more no less. Plants are made of long carbon chains, which our human bodies cannot break down into food parts.  Though many other animals can break down fiber into usable energy, but that is because they have the proper stomach bugs.  Animals like cows (because of the ruminant bacteria in their stomachs) and termites (also thanks to the bacteria in their gut) can make food out of fiber, but that’s a whole other conversation. Today we are sticking with people.

Soluble fiber changes is a spongy like substance in our stomachs and holds onto food parts which are then passed into our intestines. While the fiber absorbs water it mixed with food and creates a jelly like substance that slowly moves through the intestines. Our intestinal walls are made up of small finger like protrusions called intestinal villus. These little projections increase the surface area of our intestines and allow for more food to be absorbed and well as helping to move food and fiber (and dead bacteria) through to our colon. As the villi (plural of villus) move all this stuff through they are finding food bits to absorb for energy creating a slow release of metabolic energy which helps keep your blood sugar and energy levels even. Quite brilliant right?!

So while soluble fiber is sponging up food bits and helping to control your metabolic energy, insoluble fiber is acting like a broom. When a person eats things like fat and sugars and various processed foods spider web like blockages can begin to form in the intestines over time. Insoluble fiber can absorb many times its own weight in water. Which creates a large flexible mass that passes through your intestines and colon picking up any bits of left over junk clogging up the path. It literally sweeps the path clean as it goes.

How do you get this incredible cleaner-outer?! Eat plants of course. Lots of them. Plants have a funny way of being pretty complete sources of nutrition and bodily needs. Fruits like plums and prunes have a thick skin covering a juicy pulp. The skin is insoluble fiber (broom) and the pulp is the soluble fiber (sponge). Other plants like legumes and whole grains are both fiber and protein, which creates a super packed slow release energy meal that helps protect your blood sugar levels. Nuts and seeds are both soluble and insoluble fiber as well as protein source. And veggies such as broccoli, carrots, green beans, celery, leafy greens, etc are packed with both types of fiber, as well as a whole host of important vitamins and minerals. Fruits too, don’t forget the fruits.

The importance of all of this is riding your body of toxins. Dead bacteria, fats, and processed foods  that cannot be digested properly or cause allergic reactions  are all toxic and create irritation to your villi. When they get fried you no longer absorb nutrients, which means lower energy and missing nutrition that could otherwise properly power your bodily functions.  The longer these irritants sit in your system the more build up is created and sooner or later you may be staring colon cancer in the face.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Knowing Your Family and Their Medical History

If you ever feel like you have symptoms of a larger health problem the first person/people you should be taking to are the members of your family (genetic members). You are a member of a vast gene pool. And chances are if you feel like something is going on with you, they too have probably experienced like symptoms. Most health problems, with the exception of those gained from exposure to extreme conditions (radiation, mercury or other heavy metal poisoning as examples), are due to the expression of genes that are you born with and inherited from your family. I realize this sounds really obvious, but I was recently not smart enough to follow my own sage advice and had myself pretty freaked out for a good few months.

Starting around early May I was getting really bad dizzy spells. Right away I started tracking what I was eating, doing, and exposing myself to. I then took the information I collected from observing myself and did some research on what the heck could be causing these new found and incredibly annoying/debilitating dizzies. With the help of WebMd and some other medical websites I had in four months time convinced myself I was diabetic, had cancer, a brain tumor, low blood pressure, a major ear infection, Menieres disease, vestibular neritus, delayed head trauma from a car accident 2 years ago and possibly pregnant.  

The worst part of all of this (other than being dizzy all the d*mn time), was I kept going back to my maternal medical history. My mom bless her, is nearly genetically perfect. No family history of any of these medical problems I had since convinced myself I was suffering from. In fact she is tall, thin, beautiful, has perfect teeth, eyes, no allergies and rarely gets ill. I on the other hand in no way take after her. I look like my dad and his father more than anyone I am related to and much like them, I have terrible eyes, had braces twice, chronic ear infections as a child and am allergic to nearly everything. Yet, even while being fully aware of all of these things, I still did not think for a second my dad and my grandfather might hold the key to my new found vertigo. Instead, it must be a tumor.

It wasn’t. After a surprise visit from my dad a few days ago and a long discussion about how his parents/my grandparents were doing, he mentioned that my grandfathers dizzy spells were getting worse (say what now?!). At which point I had perhaps the world’s biggest “oh-duh” moment. The discussion continued and the prognosis is such: the combination of my genetically defective ears and being allergic to most everything means when I and my grandfather and my father had a severe allergic reaction to something, our inner ears get a tad swollen, which puts pressure on the equilibrium mechanism, which causes seemingly out of the blue vertigo.  The real kicker in all this was, all spring and summer I kept commenting on how I wasn’t having my normal seasonal allergies. I had actually be unknowingly suffering from allergies, but because I have been working so hard to eliminate the things I am allergic to from my life instead of feeling like the flu had stomped on my will to live, my allergies were less sever and more centralized to my inner ear. I was just missing that small little bit about family history that could have helped me figure out the problem sooner.  

So while it took me all spring and summer to pin point was what going on with my head, I did finally get my answers. And I managed to avoid a lot of unnecessary medical exams and expenses, all of which probably would have given me the usual “I don’t know what is wrong, here take this”. My own personal cure of dizzy spells works just fine, one allergy pill and one Ibprophen and a whole lot of water. No more dizzy, no more tumors or diabetes or head trauma. Just a minor bruise in my pride and intelligence and a whole lot of relief.

The moral of the story, if you are feeling symptomatic talk your family. It is also a good idea to keep a medical journal of your tests, levels, ailments, medication, reactions etc. Many times this information can come down to the difference between life and death. The more you know about yourself and your genetic history the better equipped you will be  to lead a long a healthy life.