See that skirt? I call this "Goal Skirt #1". It's a kicky, pleated little number I used to wear, oh, about fifteen years ago. But fifteen years and ten+ pounds later, it has joined the pants I used to wear in the dark recesses of my closet, whispering to me that I really ought to make it official and just donate it to charity. But I could not bring myself to give up on the goal of losing those 10 or so pounds of pudge that have slowly accrued around my belly and hips over the years.
To lose the pudge, I tried exercising, mostly. Fortunately I love to exercise, especially with kettlebells and going for walks and sprints with my husband down by the river. But still, no matter what I did, the Pudge remained and the scale did not budge. I chalked it up to age and junk food sins of the past and present.
Then I discovered the Paleo Solution diet, and I was intrigued. My diet isn't so bad, but it could be better.... could it help me lose that stubborn pudge and protect me from disease? So this became "Goal Skirt #1", meaning my hope that if I stick with the Paleo Diet for a minimum of three months, (until, say, around my birthday on April 24), maybe, just maybe I could get into that skirt again.
About four weeks ago I suddenly got serious about eating "Paleo", meaning a diet rich in animal protein and healthy fats, plenty of non-starchy vegetables, some fruit, and in my case some dairy in the form of full fat yogurt.
I even allow myself the following daily "cheats": three teaspoons of sugar in my three cups of morning coffee, a glass of wine with dinner, and a square of dark bittersweet chocolate after dinner.
There have been a *few* lapses. In the last four weeks I have eaten two pieces of Naan bread with some Indian food, and a large slice of regular pizza a different day. Maybe there have been others I can't recall at the moment, but in general I have been pretty regular about avoiding grains and desserts.
It has been EASY. I feel great. Rarely hungry, in fact I can go longer without even thinking about food.
The weird thing is, the weight scale has barely budged. Maybe it shows the loss of one pound, but it is hard to tell since it is an old scale and not super legible. After four weeks or so, I could feel that my pants were fitting looser than usual, and since I was increasing my workouts with the kettlebells, I thought "I must be gaining muscle and losing fat" because I simply could not understand the scales staying the same when I had made such a significant change in my diet. Was my body composition really changing? Or was I kidding myself? Would I have to be satisfied with "merely" feeling better, but learn to live with the pudge? It seemed to be shrinking, but maybe it was an illusion.
So this morning I thought, I could use a little motivation. I decided to try on the pants that I have not been wearing because they had grown uncomfortably tight and UNflattering on me.
Well zippety do dah day, they fit like a charm, slid nice and comfortable up over the hips, and I am wearing them now!
Then I pulled out Goal Skirt #1, the one I hoped would fit me in another two months. While I would still not wear it in public, the shocking fact is, I was able to zip it up when only three or four weeks ago, no way that was going to happen.
WOW! Now I have proof positive that despite the scales not seeming to budge, the Pudge has definitely been reducing, about three times faster than I had anticipated!
Then I pulled out Goal Skirt #2:
I bought this skirt at a thrift store without trying it on, since the size on the label was one that should fit me. It had such pretty floral embroidery on it, I couldn't resist. What a disappointment it was to get it home and discover that it didn't fit my (pudgier) body.
Until today, I have never worn this skirt. Four weeks of eating about 90 percent Paleo style, and it fits! Needless to say, eating Paleo is a lifestyle for me, not a temporary diet. I plan to post again around my birthday in April to see what I expect will be more improvements in "how I look, feel and perform."
At this point, I don't care what the scale says. I have "skirted" the issue, and the results tell me that eating Paleo is changing my body composition for the better. Weight loss really is 80 percent diet and 20 percent exercise. Guess I will be donating clothes after all-- just not the ones I had expected!
PS: I waited over night before posting this. I wondered, Is this too personal? Then this morning I stood on the scales and it registered three less pounds than the last time I looked at it, a day or two ago. Damn the torpedoes, I am going to post this in case someone else out there in cyberland needs to know-- forget the scales, don't count calories, just avoid grains and eat healthy natural foods. It works.
As anyone who has followed my blog over the years knows, I have all but stopped food blogging. I won't go into the reasons here. However recently I have been learning about and experimenting with the "Paleo" style of diet, and frankly it has rocked my culinary world. So much so, that I am inspired to write about food again and share what I am discovering.
What is a "Paleo" style diet? The word comes from "paleolithic", meaning the kind of diet that humans ate, as hunter-gatherers, before large scale agriculture became the norm in the neolithic era. See the sidebar for links to some of my favorite Paleo Diet related web sites-- a great place to start learning about it.
The Paleo diet consists of meat, fish and poultry, vegetables, fruit, and some nuts and seeds. It does NOT include grains or sugar or processed foods, nor does it include legumes such as beans, peanuts, or lentils.
Of course going Gluten free has been the ticket to health for many people. (Gluten being present in wheat and other grains, causing illness for those with celiac disease). What I have been discovering is that the vast majority of people are actually gluten "sensitive" and that grain foods are a highly inflammatory food, causing systemic reactions and auto-immune disorders in those affected. Grains also create blood sugar and insulin spikes, contributing to metabolic disorders.
I used to pity those who had celiac disease, because I could not imagine not being able to eat a food as ubiquitous as grains. No bread? Impossible! I do not have any serious health complications, thank goodness. But the less grain I eat, the better I feel, and I invite you to explore this for yourself. I am also motivated by the improvements in blood sugar control experienced by my husband, who is type one diabetic. That gets my attention.
I will be writing more on this, providing links and sharing what I am learning. I am not yet sure how it will affect my blog because this perspective on food represents a big change for me. Many things I used to make, bake, and eat I now see as more of a poison than a food! Will I remove those recipes from my site? I don't know. But things will be rearranged a bit while I figure it out.
I also don't claim to be 100 percent "Paleo" in my diet, although that would be the ideal. However I eat far less grain foods than I used to, and my sensitivity to both grains and sugar is increasing as my desire for them is decreasing. That alone surprises me. I like this trend.
The Paleo style of eating is simple, and delicious. It suits my already simple style of cooking and eating with my family. In fact it is so simple and basic, I doubt I will have much "new" to contribute in terms of recipes. But if you like "rookie cookery" and want to follow along, you are welcome. See you in the kitchen!
One of my favorite healthy snacks is a handful of berries. Yet these juicy little gems are notorious for spoiling quickly after having been purchased and brought home from the store. Here's a little trick I learned recently that will prolong the freshness and edibility of not only berries but all your produce.
Make your own produce wash with two ingredients:
1. clean filtered water
2. distilled white (or any other) vinegar
The ratio is one part vinegar to ten parts water. Simply mix up the vinegar and water in a bowl and give your fruit a bath. I like to make enough to barely cover the fruit. Let it sit for about a minute before removing the fruit. At that point you can give it another rinse with water, but often I don't bother. Then let the fruit dry on a clean cloth or paper towel.
You can do this in a bowl, but I like to use my salad spinner, so I can easily lift out and rinse the berries after they have had their bath. Please do be careful with very tender fruits such as raspberries. Handle them very gently. You will be rewarded with a much longer shelf (or refrigerator) life for your produce... if they don't all get eaten immediately!
I love the ritual of making New Year's Resolutions. No matter how many times I fail (and sometimes succeed) in achieving my goals, I love the process of clarifying my vision for how life could be, fulfilling my aspirations to be a better person in all ways. In recent years I have used the "Getting Things Done" process as taught by David Allen, a highly useful tool. This being the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, I have the added (and not typical) luxury of being on vacation. Perfect for pulling out the paper and writing my lists and goals. Yet as perfect as conditions are, I can't seem to pull it off. The truth is, I am exhausted. Specifically, I am exhausted on a spiritual level. There are good reasons for this exhaustion. Because it involves another person, I won't go into details. Suffice it to say, during the last two months I have had the opportunity to be of service while God saved the life of someone I love. This is the answer to prayers over many years-- my own, and others, for this person in need. Finally, after years in the Pit, he was able to let go and say Yes to help, and by the grace of God and perfect timing, I was able to respond and help line up resources for this person. I would do it again in a heartbeat, but I confess the whole process was made much more difficult by my own fear, anxiety, and worry. Despite my willingness to be of service, I can't say there was no static on the line between me and God during all this drama. People, it all came together. And it was a series of miracles that left me bowled over with the knowledge of God's love and Grace in our lives, if we would only trust. So once again in God's economy I see how in being of service I am also being blessed and healed. Grace upon Grace, that's all. So anyway, I have been reading (providentially) Thomas Moore's new book "A Life At Work: The Joy Of Discovering What You Were Born To Do", in which he shares his insights on the life of the Soul and Spirit as it relates to doing our life Work. He talks about job and career through the lens of finding meaning for a life well lived. The terms "Soul" and "Spirit" are often used interchangeably, yet Moore shows us that these are two aspects of self with very different impulses and purpose. It is our Soul that connects us to depth of feeling, meaning, personal history, family and community. Soul work is intimate and slow and evolves over time. Soul does not care so much for the Ego concerns of success and failure as defined by society. In the world of work or career, a Soulful job makes us feel nourished by the work, whereas a job without soul makes us feel empty or dead inside. It is Spirit within us that is aspirational, where we cultivate a vision for the future and how things could be. Spirit brings energy and vitality, creativity and spark to what we do, either at the job or at home. A Spirit that is satisfied by work has something to contribute. A spirit crushing job is one where creativity is unwelcome, where one feels like a "cog in the machine"--interchangeable and bored. As I anticipate the New Year, contemplating this duality of Soul and Spirit brings a welcome perspective to the usual ritual of making "resolutions". Instead of being frustrated that I cannot charge ahead with my Ego, writing up a laundry list of Things To Do and Be, I see the gift in being just plain too tired. I see that the last two months have been deeply tiring to my Spirit, not because it came from my Ego, but because my Ego did not quite trust enough. In other words, while my Spirit was working, my Ego was also trying and interfering and making it Hard. Now that the crisis is over, I see how my Spirit needed to learn this lesson. Does that make sense? In these days of Christmas and after, I find myself reflexively doing Soul feeding work, while my Spirit takes a rest. I rest in the bosom of my family. I revel in the presence of my husband and grown sons. I gaze in joy at the nine month old face of Joshua, my nephew's new son. I hold him and feel him push his tiny feet into my abdomen, getting ready to stand and walk someday very soon. I bake gingerbread cookies and let their sweet aroma of cinnamon, ginger, and cloves transport me to Christmas both past and present. I look at the lights and familiar ornaments. I hum the carols. I sweep and mop the floors. It is all so very good. This year, when my Spirit revives (and it will), there will be new resolutions and a new vision for the Work God has in store for me. I intend to face it with courage and discipline, (virtues I confess I have often lacked). But this time, as I follow the promptings of Spirit, (and writing this essay is one such prompting), I won't leave the slow, grounded and humbling work of Soul behind. There's been a bit too much Heroics for that, and it simply has not worked for me. The yearnings of my Spirit must be answered if I am to have a full Life. However attending to the balance of Soul and Spirit in my life may make it a little less likely that my Ego will assert itself and hijack the horse I am riding into the sunset. That's my prayer, anyway. We'll see. Have a Spirit filled, Soulful New Year everyone!
My Mom, Aletha Scutt Meek, was an artist. She would have denied the fact, vehemently. The lovely bit of lace under the blue vase pictured above is an example of her crochet work. I think it's gorgeous. Here's another view:
Whenever I admired her needlework, Mom said that "Anyone could do that," simply becuse she followed a pattern. I don't think she realized how much skill, concentration, planning and a love of beauty came together in her handiwork.
This past Saturday (Sept. 17) marked the first annivesary of Mom's death. I miss her. I wanted to celebrate her life by sharing some of her artistic creations. She was very prolific, so there will be a lot to share, not all at once but a every once in a while, over time.
CABINET OF WONDERS: SEPT. 2011, Aletha's Embroidery
You may remember that I like to fill my dining room "Cabinet of Wonders" with a rotating display of seasonal or spontaneous collections of objects-- kind of a collage of curiosities. This month it holds samples of my Mom's embroidery.
The two pieces on the left (the green design on white and the red and black on yellow fabric) are called "Swedish Weaving", or "Huck" Weaving. To create this intricate effect, Mom painstakingly picked through the weave of the background cloth with her needle and green thread, carefully counting the correct number of threads in the weave to get the design placed just right.
Here's another hand towel Mom decorated, this time in a blue design on yellow:
For this towel she also added a tatted edging which she created:
(This particular item is being displayed on top of a sideboard, not in the Cabinet of Wonders. )
The other items on the top shelf are not tapestry. The pink floral motif (also currently shown on the blog masthead) is embroidery, and I believe the white butterfly and floral motif on peach colored cloth is a technique called Trapunto, or "stuffed work", which creates a raised design with the thread.
Shelf number 2 (above) shows a little more Huck weaving on the left, and a collection of colorful embroidered flowers.
Shelf 3 (above) features cross stitch figural and floral designs.
And finally, there is a charming "black work" (black thread embroidered) palm tree design, and some appliqued flowers on blue cloths.
My Mom was a modest person, and kept these beauties hidden away in a drawer (along with other treasures in needlework which I hope to share with you). And although I have been adamant about using and enjoying fragile items like china dishes, I am much less likely to use these hand towels for their intended purpose, only because I want to keep them in good condition and avoid the stains anad tears that come with use. But I will find ways to display and safely enjoy them, no doubt. This Cabinet of Wonders is their glorious debut! I love to look at them and think of Mom.
For Valentine's Day, I wanted to bake some cookies that I could also pack and mail to our son Evan. I made a simple sugar cookie, and needed an icing that would set to a glossy flat surface that would stand up to shipping. This recipe works very well indeed. It is sweet, can be colored any shade of the rainbow, and I found it easy to apply by adding a teaspoon to the cookie and gently pushing it to cover the surface with the back of the spoon. Make sure you give it enough time to dry, (you may have to eat a few to make sure-- heh heh) and don't add the icing until the cookies are completely cooled from the oven. If the icing is too runny, add a little more confectioner's sugar or a tiny bit of corn syrup. It will harden as it dries.
To pack the cookies for mailing, line the tin or box with bubble wrap or crushed paper. Place layers of parchment paper or flattened coffee filters between each layer of cookies. Add another layer of paper or bubble wrap to buffer the top. You want to pack the cookies lightly yet firmly enough so that they won't move too much during shipping.
Ironically, Evan surprised us with a home visit the night I made these cookies, so these were not shipped after all. That was a nice Valentine's Day gift!
ICING SUGAR RECIPE
1 cup confectioner's (powdered) sugar, sifted
2 teasoons milk (may add one or two more depending on desired consistency)
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
optional: a drop or two of food coloring (I used red to make two shades of pink)
Notes: You can use small squirt bottles to apply the icing if you wish to outline or make other designs on the cookies. I doubled this recipe to cover about 50 cookies. A drop of food coloring goes a LONG way so add it one drop at a time and blend well before using to make sure you acheive the look you are going for.
I have written before about How To Have A Burn's Night Supper, but in previous years we have attended Burn's Night events hosted by someone else. This year, we hosted our own dinner at home (last night, although Burn's birthday is actually this Tuesday the 25th) and invited our good friends John, Julia and Devin to join us. These friends, like my family, share a Scottish heritage, and arrived wearing traditional tartan and kilt finery. It was fabulous. I didn't wear my tartan skirt, because I had kitchen duties that could get messy.
Here was our menu:
Neeps and Tatties
Glenmorangie Scotch (10 year)
I was a little nervous about how I was going to pull off this menu in terms of timing, but these are the tricks I used to make it easy: First, I made the Cock-a-leekie soup early in the day in the crock pot. It was done well before our guests arrived. For the salmon, I made a court bouillon (a poaching liquid featuring water, white wine, onions, herbs and spices) and cooked the fish in an electric pan that also kept it warm. I baked the shortbread and made the cranachan earlier in the day. When it came time for dinner, all that remained was to cook and mash the potatoes and turnips, and heat the peas and haggis.
Dessert was quick to assemble and the haggis was (say it loud and proud) a canned version from Caledonian Kitchen that I bought at the local Corti Brothers grocery store.
Initially I was resistant to serve haggis from a can. I wanted to preserve my authentic food cred and it rankled me to take a short cut. But the fact is, haggis is made with tripe, lamb liver, lungs, heart etc. and I just didn't have it in me to track down the ingredients and make it happen. So I found an acceptable alternative in a can. It was strictly a heat and serve item, created for more common taste buds. Yes, everybody tried the haggis! The verdict? Not bad! Not bad at all.
Then we drank a wee dram of Scotch and I mangled my way through a reading of Burn's Address to a Haggis. The scotch helped.
How much is a dram, I hear you ask? A dram is an eighth of an ounce. So technically we had a tiny bit more than a dram. But you get the point.
A highlight of the meal for me (other than the hilarity at the table with our friends) was the very traditional Scottish dessert called Cranachan. It was so simple and delicious to make. Here's how:
Whip a cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form
Add a tablespoon of Scotch whiskey
Add a tablespoon or more of heather honey, mix again, and taste until it has the desired sweetness
In a dry pan, Toast about a quarter cup of pin head oats until fragrant.
After the oats cool, gently fold them and mix thoroughly into the whipped cream.
In a serving bowl, dollop the whipped cream mixture in layers with fresh raspberries.
Serve with a generous piece of fresh shortbread.
The moral of the story is-- don't be afraid to have your own Burn's Night Supper at home. You can do it. All it takes is a little planning and a lot of love for all things Scottish! That's me.
Christmas is over-- and it is time to pack and store your decorations until next year. When do you pack it all away? Do you do it the very next day (Boxing Day)? Or procrastinate for some long, indefinite period until you get quizzical expressions from your mail carrier who is delivering Valentine's Day cards?
I prefer to choose a date, because I am always a little sad to see the decorations go. We do it on January 6th, which is Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Night, celebrated with the famed "Twelve Days of Christmas" carol. We have no partridges in a pear tree or ten drummers drumming, but there is plenty else to deal with.
Probably my favorite part of decorating for the holidays is setting up the Christmas tree and adorning it with ornaments our family has collected over many years. I want to protect and preserve those fragile treasures so they will last until my own kids inherit them.
Our ornaments are made of many different materials-- glass, plastic, wood, fabric, metal-- and are many different shapes, from snowflakes and stars to animals and birds. Among them are the traditional round balls.
I don't usually buy fresh fruit in plastic "clam shell" containers, but one year I realized such a container would provide a sturdy home for our sphere shaped ornaments. It worked perfectly-- with the added bonus of being clear, so I can see the ornaments at a glance. There was even a flat place where I could tape on my own label. The cost is free except for the cost of the fruit, unless you are able to glean one from a friend. For more recyled Christmas packaging ideas, read on.
Did someone at the office Christmas party bring in a giant tub of flavored popcorn? I bought these two large tins at a thrift store for about 45 cents each. I especially love that they are already decorated with Christmas images, but any large tin will do. Make sure it's clean and dry. I use these to store our house lights, gently coiled, and other large garlands. Use masking tape and a marker pen to label the contents.
Here's another set of recycled plastic jars, holding garlands. I love being able to display them while they are in storage. Makes it easy to find them on the shelf or garage next year. Label these too so you can remember what went in there when you re-pack them.
Sometimes, a specially manufactured and purchased storage option is the best. I used to store our very large Christmas wreath in the box it came in-- stuffed inside a black plastic yard waste bag. NOT attractive, and we had to tear apart the bag which we had taped shut every year.
This wreath bag is the bomb: It zips open and closed, there is an interior hook for the wreath to hang from, and in turn there is an external hook so it can be hung in the garage or a closet-- wherever you have room. The festive red color and label made this a no-brainer. You can buy your own at Amazon.
Finally-- what to do with all the other fragile, hand-made-by-your kids, or glass blown ornaments that have made their way into your life?
You can wrap them anad stash them in a beat up old box with a wish and a prayer that they make it to next year-- or--you can get one of these:
This is another specialty made product I advocate: An ornament storage box with dividers inside. I bought mine a couple of years ago and I love it. There are two tiers of trays that have cord-stye handles, so you can lift them out gently. I add little buffers of paper toweling or tissue paper to cushion the ornaments, although a purist would look for acid free paper or even bubble wrap for their fragile or heirloom pieces.
A clever person could probably build their own nesting, divided boxes for storage. This is not rocket science. There are large plastic bins available for the job, although I prefer cardboard, because I think it is softer, not prone to split with age the way plastic is, and sturdy enough for the minimal handling I give it. This size is good for us, but I there is a pricey-but highly reviewed, fabric lined three tiered box available on Amazon that looks mighty tempting. Maybe next year.