Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fed Up with the Fashion Industry

I found this on the FabOverFifty blog by Gerri, the web site's founder and owner. It's too good not to share for those of you who have not read it. It expresses the feelings, I think, that many of us have about the fashion industry. Find more, as well as the original blog post, at the FabOverFifty web page.

J. Crew should face facts and post signs on its stores that read: ” If your BMI (body mass index is above 18,) and you have a single curve on your body, don’t even think about entering.” J. Crew is obsessed with hipless, small-breasted young women who favor skinny pants, skimpy shirts and sweaters and barely there skirts. They’re today’s versions of Twiggy and they’re splashed over the pages of J. Crew’s newest catalog.

These women slouch down the street with their hands in their skinny pants pockets  (it’s got to be a struggle for them to squeeze their hands into the pockets in the first place), their shirts calculatingly tucked half in and out of their pants, their hair in that oh-so-cool, mussed- just -enough look and their oversized trendy glasses perched on their button noses.

Mind you, I love the look, but it’s one that 12 young women can pull off successfully in all the United States and it precludes probably 98 percent of the population of young American women. Of course, the people who run J. Crew have every right to create and cultivate whatever image they choose, but what I find disturbing is its striking indifference to real young women.

Fashion retailers and magazines have long believed they should use models other women aspire to look like. Hogwash! Why can’t young women aspire to be like women who are smart and successful? When Dove introduced its Real Beauty campaign in 2004, to critical acclaim, I thought it would mark the beginning of a new, intelligent culture in the advertising business. But even if a few companies here and there have subsequently made half-baked stabs at celebrating flesh and blood women–who may even have a little healthy fat on their frames–it hasn’t caught on with the likes of J. Crew, Ralph I-am-a-cowboy Lauren, The Gap and countless other “iconic” American brands.

I wonder if rugged Ralph allows women who wear size 12 into his circle of friends.  And what would he do if his son brought home a size 16 girlfriend? Send her galloping into the sunset?

When young gymnast, Gabby Douglas, excelled at the London Olympics a couple of weeks ago, her hair style got more attention than the style of her routine.  We have become Champions of Superficiality. Gold medals all around!

Do you have similar feelings about the fashion industry obsession with youth and starved-looking 14-year-old girls? I do, and I think it's time we start expressing our feelings to these retailers.

Little Things Mean A Lot

I’m wondering this morning how I can feel so over-the-top about something as simple as clean windows! Both inside and out, they got a thorough cleaning yesterday. Being off work for a few days, Claus has engaged himself in some major projects around the house. Two days ago was a much-needed pruning of shrubbery; yesterday it was pressure-washing the house, porch and windows.

Dining room window overlooking the front porch.

To look out from the inside and have a clear view is exhilarating. It’s amazing how spider webs, bug residue and plant mold can ruin the view. But today the sparkling windows give me a contended feeling. I must be weird, but clean is good!
A bedroom window with a view toward the lower field. (While pruning the Cherry Laurels outside this window, he managed to  inadvertently chop all the way to the ground my beautiful red Camellia bush, thinking it was part of the Cherry Laurel. Oh, I am so hopeful it will come back from the stump. It was actually pretty heartbreaking because it was already full of buds for the display it would have made in February. But I am not one to cry over spilled milk.)

It's funny, though, how getting one thing done seems to call for another. I know the blinds need taking down and scrubbing, but they have been in place for 18 years and really could stand to be replaced. Claus has agreed we should replace and said he would hang them. I have to move fast while he's still in the mood!

Today, he plans to replace a deteriorated wood facing and walk-through door in the car garage. This is another project that will make me happy indeed.

Hopefully, we will receive rain later today from Hurricane Issac as it moves north. Not having to grab the water hose and spray the pots today will be a nice respite.  How am I going to handle all this happiness?

What about you? What little things make you happy?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Alice Waters: Mother of American Food

Long before “organic” or “locally grown” became part of the vernacular, there was Alice Waters. Forty years ago she was at the forefront of the movement which now informs the decisions many of us make about what we eat.
Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in a house in Berkeley, Calif., in 1971. Credit: Wikipedia

Waters’ food awakening came while in college, when she left the University of California, Berkeley, for a semester to study abroad in Paris. She shopped for local produce and prepared fresh foods simply to enhance the experience of the table. She brought this style of food preparation back to Berkeley, where she popularized the concept of market-fresh cooking with the local products available to her in Northern California.

Alice Louise Waters (born in 1944) is the owner of Chez Panisse, a Berkeley, California, restaurant which she has owned and operated since 1971. It is famous for its organic, locally-grown ingredients and for pioneering California cuisine. It has consistently ranked among the World's 50 Best Restaurants.

Alice Waters today. Credit: Chez Panisse. (The thing that strikes me about this picture. She was born in 1944, making her 68 years old. She doesn't look a day over 40. Now if that's not a recommendation for healthy eating I don't know what is!)

Waters has been cited as one of the most influential figures in food in the past 50 years, and has been called the mother of American food. She is currently one of the most visible supporters of the organic food movement and a proponent of organics for over 40 years. Waters believes that eating organic foods, free from herbicides and pesticides, is essential for both taste and the health of the environment and local communities.

She maintains a culinary philosophy that cooking should be based on the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients that are produced sustainably and locally. She is a passionate advocate for a food economy that is “good, clean, and fair.” Over the course of nearly forty years, Chez Panisse has helped create a community of scores of local farmers and ranchers whose dedication to sustainable agriculture assures the restaurant a steady supply of fresh and pure ingredients.

In addition to her restaurant, Waters has authored several books on food and cooking, including Chez Panisse Cooking (with Paul Bertolli) and The Art of Simple Food. She is one of the most well-known food activists in the United States and around the world.

It was noted by Garrison Keller today during his “The Writer’s Almanac” broadcast on National Public Radio that a meal at Chez Panisse in 1971 cost $3.90; today a similar meal costs about $100.

Out of curiosity, I went to the Chez Panisse web page and found this week's menu. Oh my, these foods sound so delicious, but the prices! No one ever said organic was cheap.

Chez Panisse
Downstairs Dinner menus for the week of August 27-September 1, 2012

Monday, August 27 $65
Green bean and tomato salad with anchovies and fresh coriander seeds
Saumon au gros sel: King salmon baked in rock salt with salsa verde,
eggplant caponata, and fresh cranberry beans
Plum gelée with lemon verbena parfait

Tuesday, August 28 $250 Celebrating 41 Years of Chez Panisse
Benefit for the Edible Schoolyard Project featuring Kermit Lynch wines
Apéritif Alice
Salade de tomates à la niçoise
Niçoise style summer tomato salad with black olives
Soupe de poisons
Fish and shellfish soup with garlic and tomatoes with wild fennel
Les grillades de pigeons, gratin dauphinois, et salade de mesclun
Paine Farm squab over vine cuttings with potato gratin and mesclun
Trois glaces de fruits dété
White peach sherbet, plum sherbet, and mulberry ice cream
peach sherbet, plum sherbet, and mulberry ice cream

Wednesday, August 29 $85
Cucumber, green bean and pickled chanterelle salad with mint and crème fraîche
Petrale sole à la marinière
Spit-roasted Becker Lane pork loin with sage and tomato sauce, fresh shell beans,
 grilled peppers, and zucchini gratin
Summer berry meringue with Meyer lemon gelato

Thursday, August 30 $85
Summer squash tart with pancetta and wild rocket salad
Northern halibut bourride with chanterelles and thyme
Grilled Salmon Creek Ranch duck breast with red wine sauce, roasted figs,
and braised Caroselli cucumbers
Raspberry soufflé

Friday, August 31 $100
An apéritif
Grilled Monterey Bay squid and Rossa di Milano onions with Meyer lemon salsa
Friture of squash and squash blossoms with tomato coulis
Bolinas grass-fed beef tenderloin à la ficelle with sauce piquante,
Annabelles fresh flageolets, and wild mushrooms
Gâteau glacé with nectarine, raspberry,
 and Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise ice creams

Saturday, September 1 $100
An apéritif
Local albacore tuna and tomato salad with green olive salsa and aïoli
Fresh shell bean and shallot soup with chanterelle mushrooms and rosemary
Grilled Watson Ranch lamb with garlic and anchovy sauce, eggplant confit,
fingerling potatoes cooked in the coals, and mesclun
Black Mission fig feuilleté with anise ice cream

If I'm in Berkeley, perhaps I'll go by Chez Panisse. Lunch, maybe?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Golden Moments

It's been a while since I featured our dear dogs, Valerie and Kris.  We do not know their ages, since both are rescued dogs, but based on the veterinarian's estimate of their age when we got them, both are "around six years old."

They are a constant joy in our lives. Below are recent pictures of these members of the family.
Valerie, perhaps the sweetest dog we have ever owned. A real darling who loves to shake hands nuzzle you.

Valerie came to live with us on Valentine Day 2009, a rescue dog from the Tennessee Valley Golden Retriever Association.

Kris joined us Christmas 2009, another rescued Golden. Rescued dogs are the best!

Kris is very sweet as well. He is literally my shadow; takes each step I take. We thought at first that he would "get over it;" that he was afraid he was going to be abandoned again. But as time has passed and he still wants to be with me each second, I believe it's just part of the love he feels.

Our dogs get along so very well. One always wonders if the first dog will accept the second one introduced. That  was not a problem at all. They play and "rough-house" with each other constantly.

Val and Kris patiently waiting to see if any tidbits from the dinner table are forthcoming. Note the Kitty Sox in the background!

Aren't they cute?

Oh no, the meal is almost over. Are we out of luck?

Val licking her chops; a very good pork chop indeed!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Waning Days of Summer

Credit: mytouristbus

Change is on the way. I see it on some trees which have already begun to shed their leaves;  I feel it, as the temperatures have moderated since the dog days of summer; but most of all I sense it. There’s a feeling this time of year -- that one thing is ending and another beginning.

I rode to school each day on a bus that looked similar to this one. Credit:

I relate these feelings to earlier school days. Funny, how after so many years have passed, this sense of transition time is still with me. But I remember so well how it was this time of year. Ending were the carefree days of summer; about to begin were the structured days of school.

It was always fun planning for Back to School, especially decisions related to clothes and books. I looked forward to the plaid wool skirts, the sweater sets, the suede shoes. And the colors! I so loved the fall colors, and my wardrobe seemed always to consist of burnt orange, olive green and gold items.

It may be hard to believe, but when I was in high school we really dressed up for  football games. I chose this picture because I had a tan wool suit similar to this one, complete with a fur collar. I recall that I wore it to the Homecoming Football Game the year I was a senior. I also wore the leather gloves, but not a hat as pictured here. Oh yes, and our outfit was not complete without a large mum corsage in the seasonal color of orange. Wow, how times have changed. Credit: Wikipedia

After junior high, when the books were provided free by the state, high school brought the responsibility of purchasing our own textbooks. For me that was so much fun. I loved the smell and feel of a new textbook that was my very own and not a used one. I also loved shopping at Anderson’s Book Store for the paperback classics assigned for the year, the pens and pencils and the notebooks. In those days, book bags were unheard of so we just lugged those heavy textbooks around in our arms.

Credit: two images above,

And the weather! Oh, how I have always loved autumn weather: the crisp sound of leaves crunching under my feet, the smell of wood fires, the sound of hunters in the distance.  Weiner roasts down by the pond, muscadine hunting expeditions, football games, county fairs – these were the things to look forward to in autumn.

Muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia) is a member of the grape family. It is native to much of North America and grows wild in roadsides and forests. It has been extensively cultivated since the 16th century. Its natural range is the southern United States. Muscadines are well adapted to a warm and humid climate; they need fewer chilling hours than better known varieties and they thrive on summer heat. They are so sweet and good and have a unique taste, different from grapes. Muscadine jelly or jam is a real treat, but the best way to eat them is out-of-hand, straight from the vine.

Soon, fires will be started in the fireplace to knock out the chill of an autumn evening, darkness will descend at 6 p.m. and it’ll be time to pull out the warm socks and cozy blankets.

Claus has cut and stacked firewood to dry and season before winter. The wood is from trees, some of which were dead, in my father's old and for years neglected orchard.  This wood from once thriving apple, peach, pear and nectarine trees will not only warm us, but also bring back memories of that good fruit we once ate.
How about you? Are you beginning to feel the change of the seasons where you live? What are your memories of autumn?

Friday, August 24, 2012

100 Tips for a Happier Life

It's all about leading a minimalist lifestyle, people!

What a freeing feeling it has been for me to pare down, to clean out, to get things completely out of the house. And I'm not done yet!

I know from talking with (former) co-workers, friends and bloggers that many of us are looking to simplify our lives. We tend to be of the “older” group of women who spent our 20s and 30s yearning for things, buying things, accumulating “stuff.”

Now that we are on the “other side” of youth, however, we begin to wonder why those things were once so important to us. But it’s OK; when we were younger we had different lives, needs, aspirations. Now we need less, want less and realize that our possessions can in some cases cause us much "grief."

I think about the chore it would place on someone else to have to go through my things and make decisions about their disposition. I want to be in charge of that myself! Hopefully, that time is not any way near, but I am beginning the downsizing process.

This list is from miss minimalist and it's so good that I am sharing it in its entirety. If you find the topic interesting, you will have no problem reading through to the end. Perhaps you will not, or cannot, follow it completely, but there's something here for all of us who are looking to downsize. I am amazed at how many of these tips I already have adopted.

100 Ways to Simplify Your Life (and Make Yourself Happier)
By miss minimalist
I’ve been striving to simplify my life for many years now, and have recently (through my writing) been advising others how to do the same. In the process, I’ve learned that making little changes in our attitudes, habits, and environment can have a big impact. So today, I thought I’d compile a list of 100 ways to simplify your life – from the practical to the philosophical, and everything in between.

Of course, not every item on the list will work for every person reading it. However, I hope that you’ll find at least a little something that speaks to you, helps you save some time, space, and energy — and perhaps even increases your serenity and happiness!

I can see myself being perfectly content with this minimalist bedroom.

1. Ditch the TV (or at least turn if off). If you’re an average viewer, you’ll save over a hundred precious hours each month. An added bonus: less exposure to commercials means less desire to buy stuff, and more money in your pocket.
2. Cancel magazine subscriptions. Read the content online instead, and avoid accumulating a pile of reading material.
3. Read news online, instead of on paper. You’ll save plenty of time, and plenty of trees, by reading only the articles that interest you.
4. Get rid of excessive furniture, so there’s less to walk around, trip over, or move when you have to clean.
5. Opt for multi-functional furniture, so you can satisfy your needs with fewer pieces.
6. Get rid of excessive décor, so you’ll spend less time and effort cleaning around stuff.
7. Digitize your music. You’ll eliminate the clutter of CDs, and have easier access to your music library.
8. Download movies instead of renting DVDs. You’ll avoid the hassle of picking them up, dropping them off, or mailing them back.
9. Put items away immediately after use. It takes a lot less effort than cleaning up piles of stuff later on.
10. Have a place for everything. It makes it much easier to find things, and put them away.
11. Clean as you go. Wipe up spills, and take care of little messes before they become big ones.
12. Devise a cleaning routine. Streamline your chores into an ordered set of tasks for maximum efficiency.
13. Do laundry in large batches, instead of small ones. It’ll save you time, and reduce your energy (and water) consumption.
14. Buy enough socks and underwear to make it through a full laundry cycle, to avoid doing small “emergency” loads.
15. Wash towels less often. They don’t need laundering on a daily basis; you’re clean when you use them, after all!
16. Consolidate hobby items in designated containers. That way, all your supplies will be on hand when you need them.
17. If you start a new hobby, drop an out-of-favor one (along with its equipment and supplies).
18. Adopt the “one in, one out” rule: when you purchase something new, get rid of something old.
19. Don’t start collections. Avoid the clutter, and save your money, by channeling your energy and creativity into something more productive.
20. Get rid of one item every day. At the end of the year, you’ll have 365 less things to worry about!

A minimalist wardrobe cabinet to die for!

21. Hang up clothes, or put them in a hamper, as soon as you take them off. Avoid starting a “floordrobe” or piling them on a chair, and you’ll have less straightening up to do later.
22. Organize your clothes by category. For example, hang all your pants, skirts, or shirts together so you can quickly find what you need.
23. Use containers to corral accessories like jewelry, watches, or scarves, instead of scattering them about.
24. Choose versatile clothing. The more ways you can wear something, the fewer items you’ll need.
25. Don’t be a fashion victim. Chasing trends is a waste of time and money.
26. Know what flatters you. You’ll avoid accumulating a closet full of wardrobe “mistakes.”
27. Don’t buy “fantasy” clothes. In other words, if you’re not a social diva, skip the cocktail dresses – reserve your closet space for the stuff you’ll actually wear.
28. Get a simple, no-fuss haircut; it’ll save tons of time in the morning.
29. Embrace your natural hair. Don’t make it straight if it’s curly, curly if it’s straight, or brown if it’s gray.
30. Keep makeup as minimal as possible, or go without. Most of us don’t need to look like supermodels on a daily basis!
31. Use multi-purpose products (like a shampoo/body wash, or moisturizer plus sunscreen) to save time and eliminate bathroom clutter.
32. Standardize your grooming routine, so you can get ready each morning with a minimum amount of fuss.
33. Don’t buy hope in a bottle, and clutter your cabinets with half-used “miracle” lotions and potions.
34. Avoid unhealthy habits, like smoking, drugs, or drinking in excess. You’ll look better now, and avoid a boatload of health problems down the road.
35. Let your inner beauty shine. A pleasant countenance and radiant smile will make you more beautiful than any cosmetics.

I could be quite content with this kitchen. The counters are not completely clear but I need a certain  number of things on the counter in my dream kitchen.

36. Love those leftovers. Cook extra for dinner, and have it for lunch the next day.
37. Cook a week’s worth of meals at a time, and freeze for later (Google “batch cooking” for recipes and instructions).
38. Plan your meals in advance. You’ll spend less time staring into your refrigerator, wondering what to make.
39. Shop with a grocery list. You’ll avoid making extra trips for forgotten items.
40. Make one-pot meals, and drastically reduce your after-dinner cleanup.
41. Pare down your dishes, cups, and utensils to what you regularly use. It’ll limit the amount of dishwashing that piles up in the sink.
42. Purge unnecessary gadgets and seldom-used equipment. A large variety of meals can be made with basic pots and implements.
43. Eat healthy foods (like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables), and you’ll avoid a wide variety of medical problems.
44. Keep your countertops clutter-free. Cooking is so much easier when you’re not moving stuff out of the way to do it.
45. Develop a set of standard dishes (like a pasta, chicken, or tofu dish), and vary the sauces. That way, you won’t have to reinvent the wheel each night.

46. Stop as much incoming paperwork as possible. Get off mailing lists, cancel catalogs, and sign up for online billing and statements. The less physical mail you have to deal with, the better!
47. Print as little as possible. Don’t give yourself more stuff to file. Instead, print to a PDF file using free software like cutePDF or pdf995.
48. Digitize your paperwork. It’ll take up less space, and give you easier access to it.
49. Backup to the cloud. Use an online storage service, as an alternative to DVDs or an external hard drive.
50. Pay bills online. It takes much less time than writing and mailing a check, and you won’t need to buy envelopes and stamps.
51. Bank online. Transfer money without going to the bank, or standing in line waiting for a teller.
52. Automate recurring transactions. It’s a great way to pay your rent, mortgage, or insurance payments without lifting a finger.
53. Automate investments. Set up your brokerage account to buy a fixed dollar amount of a certain investment (like an index fund) on a regular schedule. It’ll smooth out the effects of market volatility on your portfolio, and keep you from making emotional decisions.
54. Stay out of debt. Life is much simpler when you don’t have to worry about interest charges and minimum payments.
55. Purchase bundled services. Buying telephone, tv, and internet services from the same company reduces your number of bills (and likely the amount you have to pay).
56. Telecommute. Arrange to work from home at least once or twice a week, to save time and commuting costs.
57. Don’t let junk mail enter your office. Keep a recycling bin by your front door, and dump junk mail and solicitations (without personal information) straight in.
58. Sort incoming paperwork immediately. Separate it into “file,” “act on,” and “dispose of” piles for efficient handling.
59. Organize your digital files. Develop a logical system of folders, so you won’t have to wade through hundreds of random files to find what you’re looking for.
60. Purge your bookmarks regularly. The stuff you found interesting last month, or last week, may be of no use to you today. Don’t waste time scrolling through irrelevant stuff.
61. Quit Facebook (or don’t join). It can be a huge digital commitment, and a major time sink. At the very least, limit the time you spend on it.
62. Limit the number of blogs you read. When you subscribe to a new one, drop an old one, so as not to increase your time commitment.
63. Reduce your Twitter time. Constant digital “chatter” can significantly reduce your productivity.
64. Check and answer email during defined periods. When you’re distracted by constant incoming messages, it takes longer to complete the task at hand.
65. Take digital sabbaticals. Disconnecting for a period of time – be it an hour, a day, or a weekend – can be quite liberating!

66. Learn to say no. It can be difficult, but will ensure you have enough time and energy for the stuff that really matters.
67. Delegate. Give up trying to do everything yourself; get employees to help with projects, and children to help with chores.
68. Limit your commitments. Don’t increase your number of obligations; drop old ones to make way for the new.
69. Right-size your expectations. When you expect too much of yourself and others, disappointment and stress are often the result.
70. Choose your battles. There are thousands of little things that just aren’t worth fighting for – let them go.
71. Go with the flow. Instead of trying to control things, let them happen as they may.
72. Be flexible. Adapt to the situation at hand, rather than insisting on doing things “your way.”
73. Forget about perfection. For the vast majority of tasks, good enough is good enough.
74. Fix little problems before they become big ones. A little effort now can save a lot of headaches later.
75. Consolidate your tasks. It’s more efficient to do your ironing, pay your bills, and answer your emails in one sitting than in bits and pieces.
76. Consolidate your errands. Plan your visits to the grocery store, dry cleaners, post office, etc., so you can take care of all of it in one trip.
77. Declutter your To Do list. Purge any unimportant, unnecessary, or unfulfilling activities.
78. Ask for help or advice. Reaching out to someone with more expertise can often save you hours (or days) of muddling through on your own.
79. Share your expertise with others. An open exchange of information makes things easier for everyone.
80. Make it a goal to do less, not more. Increase your productivity to free up your schedule, rather than jam more stuff into it.

81. Keep an open mind. Life is infinitely more interesting and pleasant when you’re willing to consider opinions and viewpoints that differ from your own.
82. Accept others for who they are. Live and let live, and you’ll have much less to worry about.
83. Live in the present. Don’t spend excessive hours pining for the past, or fretting about the future. Be here now.
84. Don’t meddle in other people’s business. Concentrate on keeping your own life in order, and don’t worry about everyone else’s.
85. Forget about the Joneses. Conspicuous consumption benefits nobody but the companies selling the goods. We’d be happier, more relaxed, and more satisfied if we disengaged from it entirely.
86. March to your own drummer. Don’t feel obligated to follow the crowd, or live according to others’ expectations.
87. Think before you act. We can often save ourselves a lot of trouble if we think about the consequences before acting on impulse.
88. Think before you speak. Once you let some ill-considered words out of your mouth, you can’t get them back. Better to hold your tongue than have to deal with the fallout.
89. Don’t be overly sensitive. Sometimes others don’t think before they speak. Let careless remarks roll off your back, not ruin your day.
90. Don’t hold grudges. Forgiveness eases your stress and tension, and frees up your time and energy for more positive pursuits.
91. Don’t be a drama queen. Making mountains out of molehills unduly complicates life.
92. Have an attitude of gratitude. Be grateful for what you do have, instead of stressing over what you don’t.
93. Realize that you’re not living in the spotlight. Most people are too wrapped up in their own lives to care (or notice) what you own, what you’re wearing, or how you look.
94. Embrace the concept of enough. Once our needs are met, there’s usually little utility (or happiness) in acquiring more – by contrast, it often leads to cluttered homes and empty bank accounts.
95. Enjoy without owning. Admire the objects in a shop window, the art in a gallery, the plants in a garden, without acquiring them for yourself. You’ll often get more pleasure from things when you don’t have the responsibility of ownership.

96. Downsize your digs. A smaller home means less to maintain, less to clean, and less to pay in mortgage, utilities, and rent.
97. Go car-free. If you can walk, bike, or take public transit where you need to go, consider ditching your car. If you’re in a multi-car household, consider whether you can get by with one less car.
98. Avoid advertising like the plague. When you don’t know an item exists, you won’t stress over desiring, acquiring, or paying for it.
99. Don’t shop unless you need something. In other words, don’t browse stores, catalogs, or websites looking for something to need.
100. Make your own definition of “success.” Raising a happy family or excelling at your job are better measures of success than status symbols and material accumulation.

Is this list helpful to you? Do you want to, or have you already begun living in a minimalist manner? I would love to hear your view on this subject.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

When I'm Hungry I Think of MFK Fisher

Some people tell me I cook too much; that I think of food too often. But I cook primarily for two reasons: One because I don’t eat pre-prepared and processed foods which are laden with salt, fat and who-knows-what-else, which means I rarely eat in restaurants and two, because I am hungry!

These reasons cause me to cook from scratch, and I always find the time to do so, even if that means letting go of something else.

I also consider eating good food to be one of the highest arts of mankind and womankind. Perhaps I have read too much Mary Francis Kennedy (MFK) Fisher!

This preeminent American food writer wrote some 27 books, including a translation of The Physiology of Taste by Brillat-Savarin. Two volumes of her journals and correspondence came out shortly before her death. Her first book, Serve it Forth, was published in 1937.

Her books are an amalgam of food literature, travel and memoir. Fisher believed that eating well was just one of the "arts of life" and explored this in her writing. W. H. Auden once remarked: "I do not know of anyone in the United States who writes better prose.”

I happen to agree. Her writings are worth reading, even if you don’t give a hoot about cooking. We all like to eat.

Fisher had an interesting life. Born in Michigan, the family moved to California when she was young.  After her marriage, she lived in France for a while and in Holland. In her book, The Gastronomical Me, she describes one meal she prepared while living in France:

“There in Dijon, the cauliflowers were very small and succulent, grown in that ancient soil. I separated the flowerlets and dropped them in boiling water for just a few minutes. Then I drained them and put them in a wide shallow casserole, and covered them with heavy cream, and a thick sprinkling of freshly grated Gruyere, the nice rubbery kind that didn’t come from Switzerland at all, but from the Jura. It was called rape in the market, and was grated while you watched, in a soft cloudy pile, onto your piece of paper.

Fisher home in Aix en Provence, France

A few more quotes:

“Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg until it is broken.”

“Family dinners are more often than not an ordeal of nervous indigestion, preceded by hidden resentment and ennui and accompanied by psychosomatic jitters.”

“Wine and cheese are ageless companions, like aspirin and aches, or June and moon, or good people and noble ventures . . .”

“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.”
The Art of Eating

MFK Fisher home in St. Helena, Calif.

Below is a listed of all her published books (from Wikipedia). I have not read nearly all of her work, but enough to know that she was a master with words and in the kitchen. The Gastronomical Me is a good book to begin with; The Art of Eating is also very good. Do yourself a favor and check them out:

Serve It Forth (1937)
Touch and Go (with Dillwyn Parrish under the pseudonym Victoria Berne)
Consider the Oyster (1941)
How to Cook a Wolf (1942)
The Gastronomical Me (1943)
Here Let Us Feast, A Book of Banquets (1946)
Not Now but Now (1947)
An Alphabet for Gourmets (1949)
The Physiology of Taste [translator] (1949)
The Art of Eating (1954)
A Cordial Water: A Garland of Odd & Old Receipts to Assuage the Ills of Man    or Beast (1961) The Story of Wine in California (1962)
Map of Another Town: A Memoir of Provence (1964)
Recipes: The Cooking of Provincial France (Time-Life Books 1968) [reprinted in 1969 as The Cooking of Provincial France]
With Bold Knife and Fork (1969)
Among Friends (1971)
A Considerable Town (1978)
Not a Station but a Place (1979)
As They Were  (1982)
Spirits of the Valley (1985)
Fine Preserving: M.F.K. Fisher's Annotated Edition of Catherine Plagemann's Cookbook (1986)
Dubious Honors (1988)
The Boss Dog: A Story of Provence (1990)
Long Ago in France: The Years in Dijon (1991)
To Begin Again: Stories and Memoirs 1908-1929 (1992)
Stay Me, Oh Comfort Me: Journals and Stories 1933-1941 (1993)
Last House: Reflections, Dreams and Observations 1943-1991 (1995)
Aphorisms of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin from His Work, The Physiology of Taste (1998)
A Life in Letters (1998)
From the Journals of M.F.K. Fisher (1999)
Two Kitchens in Provence (1999)
Home Cooking: An Excerpt from a Letter to Eleanor Friede, December, 1970 (2000)

You can watch a wonderful three minute You Tube video of MFK Fisher sharing her wisdom and the benefits of making bread at this link:

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The French Haircut

Today was my appointment for the highlights I have applied to my hair about every three months. I really like the way this stylist does my color, and she does what I ask, not as she wants, as others I’ve visited have been prone to do.

A trim is all I need in the way of a haircut, as I wear my hair in a longish bob with bangs, and have worn it in this style for years. On hot days, or when I’m working in the garden, I can pull it back and secure it with a band so it stays away from my face.

On the trip home, I stopped in an Aveda salon to purchase the shampoo and conditioner I like that is specially formulated for colored hair. As I was entering the salon, I noticed a large banner in the window advertising “French Hair Cuts.” As the saleslady was ringing up my purchase, I asked her what exactly is a French Hair Cut, as I had never heard the term.

She explained the hair is cut on an angle, so that it falls more attractively around the face. Her medium-length hairstyle was very pretty and I asked if that was the cut she had. She said it was. When I returned home, I wanted to know more, so with a Google search I found out a bit more than I was told in the shop. Here’s what I found:

“French haircutting is a revolutionary technique that uses the hair to frame a face taking into account the shape of the head. French haircutting uses the hair to accentuate features rather than cover them up. The results are a soft, feminine and commercial looks, much like celebrities on the cover of magazines. The French trained stylist stands the client up during the haircut in order to look directly at that which he or she cuts, just as a painter would look directly at a canvas. The style is built from the top down and is made to fall perfectly into place like shingles on a roof. Our French haircuts result in wash and wear hair containing several different looks in each style.”

Below are two photos I found of a French Hair Cut. 

Now perhaps this is just some new advertising trick, that the results won't look much different than an ordinary cut. I did not ask if the price for a French Hair Cut is more than the usual. Maybe it's just the cynic in me that thinks advertisers are always trying to take advantage of a woman's desire for products that make her look good, that this is just another "trick."

Have you ever heard of the French Hair Cut?

Maybe the next time I need a haircut I will try it out at the Aveda salon. Sometimes I think a different twist on my old style would be good for me.

Here are two view of my new color and trim. The color appears a bit more golden in the photos than it really is. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Old Piano Books

I was inspired by a post of fellow-blogger Mette, on her brilliant Metscan blog, to write about an item I can’t bear to part with. Due to my inherited quality of being a “pack-rat, ” I have quite a few things I’ve held onto for years. One of them is my old piano instruction books.

I started piano lessons when I was seven years old. I was an enthusiastic student and continued lessons until I was about 15. Over the years I had several different piano teachers. Miss Ruby Stone was the first and I’d have to say she was my favorite. 

Each teacher who came along had her own preference of the course of study to be followed. One liked John W. Schaum, another John Thompson, yet another Leila Fletcher. So I have quite a collection.

As I recall, the piano teachers were allowed to come to the junior high school, where there was a small music room, to instruct her students. There were the spring recitals, which meant we got a new fancy dress and a corsage for the occasion. The Christmas recitals called for a red dress, usually in velveteen.

If we came to our lesson knowing the pieces we had been assigned the previous week, the teacher pasted a gold star on that page; stars were withheld and reassigned until we mastered the piece, although I think we may have been given a red, or maybe silver star, is we almost, but not quite, perfected the piece. We also were assigned theory lessons and scales and chords practice, which I never liked.

I shared the duties with another girl as pianist for a school operetta once. I think I was 14, 8th grade at the time.

Somewhere along the way, I developed the ability to "play by ear," meaning I can listen to songs and create them on the keyboard (nothing elaborate, mind you; not able to replicate every nuance of a written piece, but just the "tune.") I believe this is the reason I decided to finally abandon my lessons, because I found the music books mundane and uninteresting. I wanted to play popular music and did!

Nevertheless, I find it comforting to hang onto all my old piano lesson books. They are battered and torn, but they are pretty old! Take a look at the price on one of them:  85 cents.

I went for years without access to a piano, after I no longer lived at my parents' home. I didn't touch a keyboard for 20 years, and then in 1991, my husband gave me a very nice Yamaha piano as a Christmas present. I was amazed that I could still read the music and remember how to play. I stayed with it for several years, but alas, I have slipped back into not touching my piano, except to dust it.

But I have new plans! Now that I am retired I shall have more time for such indulgences. Will I rediscover Bach? Hmmm. I looked through the book and some of the pieces look fairly difficult. So perhaps it's a good thing I kept my elementary-level piano books. I may have to begin at the beginning this time. 

Or maybe I'll just play whatever I like -- whatever song is swimming around in my head on any given day!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

For the Love of Basil

Ah Basil! That herb of summer! It is an important culinary herb known to send cooks into poetic rapture with its warm, spicy flavor. It, along with rosemary, are my favorite herbs, both to grow and to use in the kitchen.

I seem to keep a fresh crop coming along at all times, even in the winter. All summer long I take cuttings, root in water and start new pots. I actually grow more than I could ever possibly use, but I grow basil for the sheer pleasure of looking at it, smelling it and watching it grow.

Today I took fresh cuttings and with luck, they'll have good strong roots in about a week or 10 days and be ready to pot up. These will be the plants I'll overwinter in the sun room that will provide fresh leaves for cooking throughout the cold months. The pots in the sun room don't necessarily "thrive," just "pull through," as basil needs really warm weather to flourish.

Fresh clippings make a pretty arrangement up until the time they develop roots and are ready for potting. 

Note the strong, fat roots on the basil in the glass jar. These are more than ready for the dirt. 

Basil "starts" that were potted up several weeks ago.

These are strong and healthy plants and should do fine during winter months, so long as I don't over water them.

Can you ever grow too much basil?

I like to brush against the plants as I pass by them to enjoy the aromatic fragrance released when disturbed!

Proof that the gardening books aren't always correct.  Basil isn't supposed to thrive in full sun the entire day (not in the hot southern U.S., at least) but here's a plant in my potager garden and each year I plant at least one plant there to prove the experts wrong! You'll note, however, that the plant is going to seed, which means the leaves are a bit past their prime for the warm, pungent flavor basil is so famous for.

Below is my favorite of several books in my library about herbs. I enjoy learning about the folklore surrounding herbs and the following is a bit of that information from this book:

"A native of Africa and Asia, basil is held in reverence as a plant imbued with divine essence, and therefore the Indians chose this herb upon which to swear their oaths in court. Basil was found growing around Christ's tomb after the Resurrection, so some Greek Orthodox churches use it to prepare the holy water, and pots of basil are set below church altars." Now if the folklore is true, who knows? But it makes for interesting reading.

There are many varieties of basil, many of which I have grown both as plants from the nursery and started from seed. But my favorite far and away is the Genovese basil, the most commonly found variety and the one growing in my pictures.

The Complete Book of Herbs by Lesley Bremness

A few hints on growing and using basil (from the book):

---Basil leaves may be preserved by painting both sides with olive oil and freezing, or you can dry them. They retain their color with freezing but not with drying; the flavor is unaffected, however.

---Tear basil with fingers rather chopping to avoid discoloration.

---Place pots on window sills to deter flies (I have not tried this, so don't know if it works).

--Infuse as a tea to aid digestion.

--Put a drop of basil essential oil on a sleeve and inhale to allay mental fatigue.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to use basil in the kitchen: 

Torn and strewn over fresh sliced tomatoes with salt, pepper and a splash of olive oil. Adding fresh mozzarella cheese takes it to a new level!

Added to the top of a pizza fresh from the oven (the heat of the pizza will cause the basil to darken, but never mind, it tastes so good.)

I add it to any tomato-based sauce, i.e., spaghetti, vegetable soup, ratatouille.

I usually try to make at least one batch of pesto for the freezer during the summer growing season.

So there's my take on basil. Do you have a favorite herb?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...