Monday, January 26, 2015

Completed: Plaid bias cut A-line skirt

It took longer than I expected to finish my skirt.  First, there was a snafu with the online fabric shop.  I ordered a dark gray acetate lining and they sent me stretchy turquoise polyester.  Their customer service department rectified the mistake, but it took so long for the correct lining to arrive that I got impatient and went to Les Fabriques, downtown, and found a $6 remnant that would work as a lining.  The correct lining finally arrived and I have decided to save it for a future project.  They let me keep the stretchy turquoise polyester, and I'm going to use it for practice sewing with knits.

Anyway,  issues with the lining aside, I also had serious problems with the zipper.  After I got all the seams sewn and the zipper in, I tried on the skirt and there was a weird bulge along the zipper.

The picture above doesn't do justice to the, ahem, manliness of the zipper bulge.  The Flight of the Conchords' song, "Sugarlumps" comes to mind. You can't walk around in public looking like you're wearing a codpiece on your backside.  Luckily, I discovered that this is a common problem with zippers in bias seams.  The solution is to rip out the zipper, steam the seam back into shape, stabilize the fabric with interfacing and put the zipper again.  After following these steps, there is still a suggestion of a bump, but at least it isn't obscene.

Plaid matching at the side seam
Plaid matching FAIL on this side
So, two out of three matching seams is not bad for a novice, I guess.  As I said in my previous post about this skirt, it was somehow impossible to get all three seams to match.  Oh well, I always carry my bag on that side.

My next project is a knitted wrap to wear in my freezing office.  As long as I'm in my cube, I'm wrapped into a ratty old afghan, winter and summer, but it is way too sloppy and unprofessional to wear to the conference room, which is even colder than my cube.  I'm hoping that a nice wrap will be appropriate.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday Reading Assignment: Cranford

It's going to be hard for me to discuss Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford without also discussing the movie, one of those glorious BBC costume dramas starring insuperable actresses such as Judi Dench, Imelda Staunton, and Eileen Atkins.  (If you haven't seen it, you really must.)

Reading Cranford satisfies the fifty classics project and it also fulfills my long desire to read it ever since seeing the movie.  What I read is actually The Cranford Chronicles, three novels in one volume: Dr. Harrison's Confessions, Cranford, and My Lady Ludlow.  The movie skillfully combines the plots of all three and sets them in the village of Cranford, but of the novels, only Cranford takes place in Cranford.

Dr. Harrison's Confessions is an amusing novella about a new young doctor who comes to town and sets the village ladies' hearts a flutter.  The fake valentine prank, the hilariously simpering Caroline Tompkins, and Sophie the vicar's daughter from the movie are all present here.

Cranford, the meat of this volume, is about the tiny village of Cranford whose population is mostly genteel middle-aged spinsters and widows.  Matilda and Deborah Jenkyns are at the center of the group, along with their gossiping friend Miss Pole, kindly Mrs. Forrester, and B-class aristocrat, Mrs. Jamieson. Great plumes of drama erupt from tiny village incidents:  the rumor of a thief in the neighborhood, a visiting magician, a genuine "lady" who arrives and then behaves abominably common.

My Lady Ludlow, the last novel in this volume, is set further in the past (very early 1800's) than the other novels and is narrated by a young girl who has been invited to live with the aristocratic Lady Ludlow, who makes a hobby of adopting young gentlewomen from poor families.  In the Cranford movie, Lady Ludlow is an imperious person who won't tolerate education for the lower classes.  In one scene, she refuses to hire a girl as a servant because the girl can read.  The Lady Ludlow in the book is a more sympathetic character.  She's still opposed to education for the lower classes, but uses the horrors of the French Revolution to justify her stance.  Her reasoning isn't sound, but you take a more sympathetic view after hearing her story.  The 1790's must have been terrifying for any aristocrat, even those observing France from afar.  Anyway, the book Lady Ludlow is kindly and not as unyielding as the movie Lady Ludlow.  A liberal young clergyman who comes to the neighborhood has the courage to stand up for his convictions and Lady Ludlow has the strength and integrity to be able to change her own convictions.

The Cranford Chronicles is a comic and intelligent look at the social ways of the mid-19th century.  Highly recommended.

Monday, January 19, 2015

News from the diet industry

A few years ago, I decided to read as many diet books as I could get through and distill their wisdom into one blog post.  Lately I have felt the urge to do it again.  Last time, I included some old school diet books.  This time, the oldest book I read was published in 2006 and the others, no earlier than 2011.  Let's see what the latest research into weight loss has brought us.  I have to confess, it took me a year to read all these books and write this post.

Ultrametabolism: The Simple Plan for Automatic Weight Loss by Mark Hyman, M.D. (2006)

Concept: Refined starches, high fructose corn syrup, and hydrogenated oils cause inflammation, interfere with the liver's ability to detoxify the body, cause our cells to "rust" and our mitochondria to shrivel, all of which makes us sick and fat.

The Diet: Phase one (detox) lasts three weeks, in which you may not have dairy, eggs, sugar, flour, alcohol, caffeine or gluten.  You're encouraged to drink "Dr. Hyman's Detox Broth," (vegetables cooked in water) which he insists is a "wonderful, filling snack."  In phase two (maintenance), eggs and dairy are reintroduced and you can have alcohol again.  Sugar is still forbidden, but you can have honey and agave nectar.  You get one week's worth of menus for each phase. Exercise is encouraged, mainly in the form of interval training and he gives instructions for beginner and advanced-level interval workouts. I tried the detox phase for one week and didn't lose any weight.  The recipes are OK--the apple-walnut amaranth isn't likely to appear on any brunch menus, but you can eat it without gagging.  Bonus upper arm workout for scrubbing the burned amaranth out of the bottom of the pan. A lot of edible but boring chicken-on-greens, beans-on-greens, etc.

Analysis:  Note that this diet does not ban carbs or grains, just flour.  Fruit, whole grains, and starches like amaranth, quinoa, brown rice, and dried beans are allowed, even in phase one.  I know you can get quick results by eliminating all carbs except for vegetables, but I think it would be difficult to stick to a no-grain diet for the long term. I do think it's unrealistic to expect people never to eat anything with flour.  You are allowed bread made from "sprouted grain" (i.e. Ezekiel Bread). Hyman is one of those tiresome people who wants you to give up caffeine, and while I think his diet is fairly sensible, he discredits himself by making outrageous claims about all the people whose health problems--even conditions like rheumatoid arthritis-- magically disappeared after they started his diet.

Hyman is also a bit condescending.  Right from the start he tells us that he has never had to struggle with his weight.  To illustrate the body's "fight or flight" nervous response, he tells the story of the time he was charged by a rhinoceros while on safari in Africa.  Way to be relatable, asshole. And, typical of someone who is unaware of his privilege, he wants you to eat very expensive food.  Amaranth and wild-caught salmon and ground flax seed and organic chicken are not cheap.

I did try the detox phase of this diet for one week, but I can tell this is not for me.  If you are really overweight and currently eat a diet of mostly processed foods, and you have enough disposable income to eat all organic, you would probably do well on this diet, but if, like me, you already eat a mostly whole food diet and you're not overweight and just want to look better in clothes, it's not going to do much for you.

Takeaway: Fear flour, not grains.

The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life (2013) by Rick Warren D. Min, Daniel Amen, MD, Mark Hyman, MD.

Concept: Improve your health and lose weight with a holistic focus on the spiritual, social, and physical aspects of your life.

The Diet: 10 day "detox" + another 10 days worth of menus for the "core plan."  Typical diet meals: whole grains, vegetables, protein powder.  Too much stevia for my taste.  Small amounts of dark chocolate allowed. I did not try this diet, but some of the recipes look like they might be good, particularly the no-bake power bites and the crunchy chick peas.  Exercise is referred to as PLAY, you know, skiing, snowboarding, gymnastics--all the things a habitual couch potato has been dying to try.

Analysis: Assumes you literally have been living on cheez doodles and hamburger helper your entire life, and that preparing real food for yourself is a revolutionary concept.  Strong emphasis on community and spirituality-- protestant Christian spirituality, specifically. I'm on board with the holistic concept, but the tone of this book is a little grating.  On their list of events that cause stress is "having a bestselling book."

I'll take your best-selling book and you can sit in my death cube.

Takeaway: Have emergency food packs (salmon or turkey jerky, nut butter, dates) in your pantry, car, and office for those times you didn't have time to prepare a healthy meal.  Also, some good tidbits about the health dangers of being sedentary for more than three hours at a time.

Jumpstart to Skinny: The Simple 3-Week Plan for Supercharged Weight Loss (2013) by Bob Harper.

Concept:  This is a boot camp, not a long term solution. You are expected to switch to the more relaxed "skinny rules" (see below) at the end of the three weeks.  Let's overlook the fact that "jumpstart" is actually two words.

The Diet:  800 calories a day; grains allowed only at breakfast; lean protein + vegetables in mind-boggling quantities. (SEVEN cups of greens in a single-serving salad.)  NO sugar or alcohol and no fruit during week three.  Coffee, specifically espresso, is encouraged. Daily low-intensity aerobics is required, plus five days a week of strength training. 

Analysis:  People will squawk at 800 calories a day. (Harper says, "Don't worry Grandma!")  For three weeks, I think it's fine.  Harper says he's a "self-proclaimed fashion expert" and what the actual fuck does that even mean and how is it relevant?  The strength training routines are HARD.  "Burpee"= torture, and the "band of death" routine looks oh-so easy in the photographs, but it nearly killed me. I actually tried this diet and lost five pounds in the first week, but had difficulty sticking to the plan after that.  The lunches and dinners had such huge volumes of vegetables that sometimes I stopped eating before the meal was finished because I was tired of chewing.  You become obsessed with food, especially breakfast, because you get to eat 1/2 a slice of Ezekiel bread or 1/3 cup of quinoa.

Takeaway: Following this meal plan helps you to learn how to create the correct proportions of carbs, fats, and protein in a meal.  All this time, I thought one boneless chicken breast was a "serving."  Actually, it's half that.

The Skinny Rules: The Simple, Non-negotioable Principles for getting to THIN (2012) by Bob Harper.

Concept: Follow these twenty basic rules to lose weight and stay thin.

The Diet: I probably can't copy the rules for you without violating the copywrite, but you can find them easily on Pinterest.  The core concept is to avoid carbs in the evening and to make dinner your smallest meal of the day.  (Rule #18: "Go to bed hungry.")

Analysis: I spotted these rules on Pinterest and they attracted me because back when I was really thin, I was more or less living by these rules.  (Especially the go to bed hungry rule.)  I think it is sound practice to eat very little in the evenings, but many of the rules are common to all diets (avoid fried foods, drink water, eat vegetables) and others seem arbitrary (eat an apple every. single. day.)  I tried to follow all the skinny rules at the beginning of 2013, to get rid of the Christmas bloat, and I lost about eight pounds, but then we went to Lisbon, where it's no fun to be on a diet.

Takeaway:  Make it your practice to eat a hearty lunch and a light dinner.

The Dukan Diet: The Real Reason the French Stay Thin (2011) by Pierre Dukan

Concept: Carbophobia

The Diet: Four phases: A short (3-5 day) "attack phase" in which you eat ONLY protein.  The "cruise phase" in which you eat ONLY protein every other day, alternating with days on which vegetables and protein are allowed. You stay in this phase until you have reached your goal weight.  The "consolidation phase" is supposed to prevent rebound weight gain.  In this phase, small amounts of fruit, cheese, grains, and starch are re-introduced.  Last is the "permanent stabilization" phase.  I don't think anyone ever reaches this stage.  You must eat two tablespoons of oat bran every day during the attack and cruise phases, presumably to prevent ileus.  Some of the recipes are ridiculous: a "beef stew" that contains only beef (but you can add AN ENTIRE LEEK if you are in the consolidation phase), Dukan's famous "Oat Bran Galette"--a sort of pancake made of oat bran and egg whites.

Analysis: This diet got a lot of attention because the Middletons were rumored to have followed it before the royal wedding.  I bought this book that very summer at the Dulles airport in a shame spasm after eating a Five Guys burger and fries. I followed the diet for about three months and lost eight pounds (never got out of the cruise phase) but I became so bored with protein and vegetables and oat bran stirred into unsweetened siggi's yogurt.  I think that any diet that eliminates entire food groups is not a good idea.  Carbs are all around us and if you want to have a normal life you will need to figure out how to deal with them.  Also, I do NOT believe that this is how the French stay thin.  According to our friend who lives in Paris, French women are thin because they smoke cigarettes and snack on a single almond at a time.

Takeaway: 1930 called.  They want their beriberi back.

The Fast Diet: Lose Weight, Stay Healthy, and Live Longer with the Simple Secret of Intermittent Fasting (2013) by Dr. Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer

Concept: Intermittent fasting is the key to health and weight loss

The Diet:  Pick two days each week on which you will eat only 500 calories.  You should stick to low-glycemic foods on your fast days. The rest of the week, eat what you want.

Analysis: Why buy the book, when it can be summarized in two sentences?  The authors go into a lot of detail about how fasting will lengthen your life, prevent illness, and stave off dementia.  Most of the evidence for this is either anecdotal or has only been studied in animals, but it is interesting.  I tried this diet last spring and I did lose weight, but oh-so slowly--about six pounds in two months. My fast days were Monday and Wednesday and these soon loomed over me terribly on every Sunday and Tuesday. Your weight tends to fluctuate a lot on this diet between fasting and non-fasting days, although the authors say this is normal.  I like this diet because no foods are banned, and it is refreshingly free of tedious phases or stages.  You don't need to buy any special expensive foods and you don't feel deprived.

Takeaway: Limit food, not food groups.

Your Personal Paleo Code: The 3-Step Plan to Lose Weight, Reverse Disease, and Stay Fit and Healthy for Life (2013) by Chris Kresser.

Concept: Agriculture bad. Wild foods good.

The Diet: To eat like a cave man means to eschew the sorts of foods that are produced in a typical agricultural society (grains) and instead eat foods that hunter-gatherers would have eaten: meat, seasonal and locally available fruits, vegetables, and tubers.  Like so many other diets, this one starts out with a thirty-day "reset" in which you may not eat any dairy, grains, legumes, sweeteners, chocolate, alcohol, or processed foods.  Once you've survived the reset, you may slowly re-introduce certain "gray area" foods like dairy, caffeine, and alcohol. The reset diet is gluten-free, and while you may add gluten back after the reset, you're encouraged to limit gluten consumption indefinitely.

Analysis:  How is this different from a low carb diet?  Starchy plants such as sweet potatoes, squash, even white potatoes, are encouraged.  It seems to me that the Paleo diet is pretty healthy.  I do think that allowing starchy plants like sweet potatoes might help control cravings for grain-based carbs and sugar. I have incorporated some Paleo principles into my own diet, but I could never do this full-time because I love baking and eating bread too much.  I would really like to know how Kresser, a "licensed clinician" is so sure that people who lived over a million years ago did not have high blood pressure or cancer.

There's a really good chapter on the sedentary life, why it's bad for you, and how to combat it if you work at a desk all day.  Kresser encourages a standing desk or a treadmill desk, but he offers alternatives, such as sitting on a fitness disk or yoga ball, or setting an alarm to remind yourself to stand up throughout the day.  Last year, I made a ghetto standing desk by boosting my monitors, keyboard, and mousepad onto piles of phone books.  I could not get the mouse adjusted to a height that didn't cause pain to my wrist and within a few hours, I wanted to simultaneously burst into tears and punch someone in the face.  After three days, I took it all down.

Takeaway:  Satisfy yourself with sweet potatoes.

The End of Dieting: How to Live for Life (2014) by Joel Fuhrman, MD.

Concept: This is not a diet, it's "nutritional excellence."

The Diet:  Mainly vegan-- tiny portions of meat allowed if you insist.  Low fat, although nuts, seeds, and avocado are allowed.  Sugar and white flour are not allowed, ever.  You know what else isn't allowed? Joy.  A typical day on this diet starts with oatmeal, fruit, and chia seeds.  You are supposed to eat a "huge salad" every day. A typical dinner is a bean burger with more vegetables.

Recipes include tempting offers like "apple surprise"--a mix of raisins, apples, walnuts, ground flaxseed and cinnamon.  WHICH ONE IS THE SURPRISE?  Also, "vanilla coconut nice cream" and "fudgy black bean brownies" made from canned black beans, dates, and cocoa.

Analysis:  Fuhrman starts out fighting, attacking the "SAD" (standard American diet) by saying that if you eat the SAD and you're NOT overweight, you have cancer, only you don't know it yet.  NICE. The SAD is so bad, it's literally impossible to be healthy and eat it and not be overweight.  But then he never really defines the SAD, other than to say it is based on flour, sugar, and dairy.  He describes a typical SAD lunch as two fast food cheeseburgers.

Fuhrman uses considerable ink analyzing and attacking some of today's popular diets.  He insists that the Paleo diet is all about stuffing yourself with as much meat as possible, which is disingenuous to say the least.  The Mediterranean diet is dangerous because it deludes you into thinking you can guzzle olive oil and eat tons of pasta.  Low fat diets are bad because they don't allow nuts or seeds, which are healthy fats.  He seems to think his diet is the only one that includes enough plant foods, but with the exception of Dukan, I have never encountered a diet book that didn't encourage you to eat lots of vegetables.

Takeaway: Don't believe the title, this is the most restrictive diet of all.

There are more diet books coming.  My sister has been talking about The Adrenal Diet, which she is keen to read and I saw the brand new Swift Diet on the library shelf, but I had to stop.  Every diet author out there says essentially the same thing:  "Hey Fatty, want to know why you're so fat?  Because you're following someone else's diet when you should be following MY diet."  And taking into account minor variations, all of these diets are essentially the same: eat fruits and vegetables and limit sugar and flour.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday Reading Assignment: The Green Knight

I have been slowly reading my way through Iris Murdoch.  It has taken me eight years and I have now read almost all of her novels.  The only one outstanding is Jackson's Dilemma. Understanding that Iris Murdoch was a literary powerhouse, one expects her novels to be very serious and difficult, but they are surprisingly sensual.  Her characters are usually well-off, well-educated Londoners who live in exquisite houses, which Murdoch describes in tantalizing detail.  If I could pick any house in literature to live in, it would probably be one from an Iris Murdoch novel and a top contender would be Louise's house in The Green Knight.  She also describes the clothes that her characters wear, which are always unique and stylish.

Other common elements to an Iris Murdoch novel:  a charismatic male character who has an almost messianic influence on the others in the novel, a weaker character who serves as an acolyte, a middle-aged, still attractive motherly figure, a young girl or two, and a dog.  There is always a dog.  Iris Murdoch must have been a great dog lover and she gives the dogs in her novels as much personality as some of the humans, and reading about her dogs is always a great pleasure.

The Green Knight has all of these elements.  On a dark night in a deserted area, Lucas kills a man who accosts him.  His brother Clement is the only witness, and he is so drunk he can hardly remember the circumstances.  Meanwhile, their widowed friend Louise, who lives with her three lovely young daughters, notices a man with a green umbrella lurking outside their house every night. The dog in this story is Anax, a heartbroken creature who has been sent to live with Louise and her daughters because his owner wants to be a monk.  There's a wonderful scene, told from Anax's perspective, when he runs away in search of his old owner.  And so you are sucked into an absorbing story that touches on fantasy, but holds back enough to be believable.

The Green Knight is witty and intelligent and suspenseful at times, with a strong plot that holds your interest.

Any other Iris Murdoch fans out there?

Monday, January 12, 2015

In Progress: bias cut plaid A-line skirt

I used to own a wool bias plaid skirt, but I lost weight and it no longer fit so I donated it to the Salvation Army.  A few weeks later, I saw a girl wearing my skirt with a tank top and combat boots. Frankly, it looked way better on her than it ever did on me, but I instantly regretted having given it away.

I decided to adapt my Amy Butler Barcelona skirt pattern but I became paralyzed with anxiety about matching the plaid at the seams.  I own two comprehensive sewing books: The Sewing Book by Alison Smith and The Complete Book of Sewing (1943) by Constance Talbot, plus I read several online tutorials, of which my favorite is Ladybird's Matching Plaids Like a Boss, but these focus on matching plaids cut straight on the grain, which is difficult enough.  The bias (diagonal) cut adds a level of complexity that is beyond my feeble skill.

An A-line skirt is one of the easiest things to sew, but as much effort has gone into the execution of this skirt as went into Neuschwanstein Castle, with similar tragicomic results.  I made a practice skirt, out of a set of plaid flannel pillowcases that I bought at the Salvation Army.

Pillowcase skirt--avert your eyes from that hem!

When the real fabric arrived, I spent at least a day just staring at it.  The more I folded and manipulated and studied the fabric, the more I realized I was in over my head.  I considered giving up and cutting it on the straight grain, but then it would have looked like my grammar school uniform, which, no.  I began to make contingency plans for hiding the seams, like carrying a large bag or holding my arms down at my sides at all times in the manner of a toy soldier.  Or I could just never take my coat off.  It's a winter skirt after all.  Finally, I had to just tell myself to calm the fuck down and cut the fabric and be willing to live with the consequences.

The tutorials all caution against cutting plaid fabric on the fold, so I traced my pattern so it could be cut on flat fabric.  I used Jon's carpenter's square to ensure I had the true bias.

Could NOT get it perfect, not matter how much
I micro-manipulated it.

Per Ladybird's tutorial, I then cut one side of the back, flipped it over and manipulated the piece until it was overlaying identically on the fabric, and cut the other half of the back.  It was here that I realized something was horribly wrong.  First of all, I had been unable to determine which was the right side of the fabric so I picked a side to be "right" and committed to it.  But when I flipped the first back piece to cut the second one, I could not get it to match until I flipped the whole piece of fabric over.  It was baffling.  In other words, the only way I could get the plaid to match was to have one half of the back be wrong side out.  Right and wrong appear identical on this fabric, but I have a sinking feeling that the finished skirt will look "off."  Furthermore, this means that the front piece will also be inside out, compared to one of the back pieces.  I bought extra fabric, so I can cut a new front piece, or one new back piece, if necessary.

Incredible as it may seem after my struggles with this skirt, but people used to PAY me to sew smocked dresses for their granddaughters. Now I'm reduced to watching you tube tutorials just to figure out which is the right side of my fabric.  Sewing, apparently, is not like riding a bicycle.

Plaid dress I made for Grace's first day of kindergarten.
Smocking and a dropped yoke means not having to match the plaid.

Stay tuned...

Friday, January 09, 2015

Friday Reading Assignment: High Rising

Another lovely Angela Thirkell novel!  High Rising (1933) is her second novel, and the first in her famed Barsetshire series.  I enjoyed it much more than I did Ankle Deep.  Most of the action centers around two small English villages, High Rising and Low Rising.  The main character, Laura Morland, is a widow, who has gained financial independence by writing fluff novels.  She serves as the central point around which the drama of her friends in the village revolves.  There's the squire: widowed, but still marriageable, who hires a grasping secretary, who is clearly out to marry him.  There's the squire's hapless daughter; the spinster who is caring for her tiresome mother who won't die, and the doctor.

It's a great example of the comforting novels I love so much.  The dramas are on a small scale and many problems can be alleviated with a cup of tea.  There are also the fun cultural gaps between the 1930's and today, such as their cavalier attitude to drunk driving. "Oh, you flipped our car because you were driving drunk?  Never mind, let's walk home and have a nice cup of tea."   There is, however, a certain snobbishness about Angela Thirkell.  I noticed it first in Wild Strawberries, and it's here in High Rising as well, mainly with the snide descriptions of the secretary, who is clearly mentally unstable, but Thirkell implies that part of what's wrong with her is that she's Irish, which raised my hackles.  That said, there's still a certain deliciousness in the scenes with the secretary.  What crazy, inappropriate thing will she do this time?  Thirkell at least has enough compassion to give the secretary a slightly better ending than she might have deserved, while the other characters end up comfortably paired off.  I'm looking forward to reading the rest of Thirkell's novels.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Patience's Test Kitchen: Kale Salad Bowls

Browsing for recipes online, (especially on Pinterest) is risky. I make a lot of food from recipes I've found on Pinterest, and most of the dishes land somewhere on the meh-to-fabulous scale.  (Crafts are a different story.)

I thought it would be fun to write a review whenever I try one of these recipes.  This is intended to be an honest assessment, not a snarkfest.  So, without further ado, I give you the Kale Salad Bowl from the blog I Will Not Eat Oysters.  I am not familiar with this blog, but the recipe appeared in my pinterest feed and it has all the hallmarks of trendy food of the twenty-teens: quinoa, sweet potatoes, KALE.

Ordinarily a main dish salad is something I would serve in the summer, but I found this recipe while I was suffering from post-Christmas guilt and decided to give it a try, and anyway, kale and sweet potatoes are wintry ingredients.  You start by roasting some sweet potatoes, which you've cubed and seasoned with salt and pepper.  I planned to make this dinner during the week, but I roasted the sweet potatoes and cooked the quinoa over the weekend to save time.

The meal came together easily, but it did dirty a lot of bowls: one bowl for the tahini dressing, another for the lemon dressing, a separate container for the roasted sweet potatoes (plus the pan they were roasted in) and another for the chick peas and yet two more for the kale and the quinoa. I served the feta in the container it came in. I hate having lots of bowls to wash, but keeping all the ingredients separate prevents the dreaded "leftover salad."  Anyway, you dress the kale and the chick peas each separately with the lemon dressing, and then you let each member of the family assemble his or her own bowl with all of the ingredients and drizzle with the tahini dressing.

My own very poorly lighted picture of this dish.  Phoebe destroyed my crappy point and shoot, so all I have is my tablet, which takes execrable pictures.

These turned out to be really good. Kale and sweet potato complement each other nicely and tahini and lemon also are nice with kale and quinoa and the feta cheese is the treat ingredient.  The kids and Jon approved.  I was worried that salad for dinner might leave us feeling hungry, but I was satisfied and nobody complained about not getting enough to eat.

I made half the amount of the lemon dressing, which turned out to be a good move, because the half recipe was perfectly adequate.  If I were to make this again, I would also halve the tahini dressing, because we ended up having a lot left over.

Overall, I think I will make this again.  It gets major virtue points and is also tasty.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Cleaned Bathroom is Clean

I believe it is customary in most households for the bathrooms to be cleaned weekly. Certainly, that was the routine when I was growing up, but as an adult I fell out of the habit. Instead, we would wait until either the bathroom was so gross we couldn't stand it anymore, or there were guests coming, and then do a massive clean.  Then I read UFYH's "Beginner's guide to cleaning the bathroom" and have made it my Sunday morning routine to follow her process.  Any you know what?  My bathroom is so much cleaner!

I KNOW, Captain Obvious, but I guess what I didn't realize is that this is way preferable than exhausting, stressful, massive bathroom unfuckings.

Also related to bathroom cleaning:  I am a big fan of the old toothbrush as a tool for cleaning grout and hard-to-reach places.  There never seems to be a toothbrush available when I need one; they get thrown away; they're unsuitable for some reason, etc. Then yesterday, as I scrubbed the shower grout, it hit me: WHY NOT JUST BUY ONE SPECIFICALLY FOR CLEANING?

Seriously, I have been cleaning bathrooms since I was about eight years old and this simple solution did not occur to me until January 4th, 2015.  I have literally spent the last twenty three years fretting about the dearth of cleaning toothbrushes that are available to me.

I wonder what lessons the rest of 2015 has in store for me.  And you?  Have you ever been thunderstruck by the obvious?

Friday, January 02, 2015

Friday Reading Assignment: 2014 Recap

Here's a list of what I read in 2014.  There may be a book or two missing, as I wasn't always diligent about keeping up the list, but it's mostly complete.  I've linked back to my original post for any book I wrote about.  For those with no post, I've included a brief summary.

Slipstream by Elizabeth Jane Howard: This "reading assignment" got the most page views for 2014, probably because I wrote it shortly after EJH died.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline:  Why cheap fashion is bad.  Inspired me to start sewing my clothes and to be more mindful of clothing purchases.
What was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn.
Americanah by Chimananda Ngozi Adishie: That time I attempted to read the NY Times list of best books of 2013 and only got through one.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Murder by the Book by Rex Stout:  Murder mystery starring the great Nero Wolfe
The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner
The House that is our Own by O. Douglas
The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald:  Somewhat tiresome novel about a boy raised as the "practice baby" in a domestic science college program.  For some reason, I thought this was the book version of The Talented Mr. Ripley, so I was sorely disappointed.
Dead Souls by Gogol
Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson:  I have since watched three seasons of the BBC TV series based on this book.  It's maudlin and silly but so strangely addicting that I have bumped season four to the top of my queue. Tom the postman needs to calm the fuck down, three seasons of Linda Bassett as "Queenie" is two and a half too many and I want to smack the smug smirk off of Laura's face.  But I do like Dorcas Lane and Minnie, and Brendan Coyle is way hotter as Robert Timmins than he is as John Bates of Downton Abbey.

Moving on...

The Sea Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard
The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
Thirteen Gun Salute by Patrick O'Brian
Nutmeg of Consolation by Patrick O'Brian
The Truelove by Patrick O'Brian  These three Patrick O'Brian books are all part of his excellent Captain James Audrey and James Maturin.
Getting it Right by Elizabeth Jane Howard:  I hope to write a future post on this one.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Prisoner's Base by Rex Stout  More Nero Wolf.  This one is of slightly higher caliber than his usual.
The Green Knight by Iris Murdoch  Future post coming.
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken  Fantastic children's book about the adventures of two girls who are turned out of their cushy life by an evil governess.
August Folly by Angela Thirkell: The middle class aristocracy of a British village attempts to put on a production of Hippolytus.
Ankle Deep by Angela Thirkell
High Rising by Angela Thirkell  Post coming.
Mary Russell Mitford and her Surroundings by Constance Hill
The Message to the Planet by Iris Murdoch  Eccentric intellectual becomes a Christ like cult figure.
The Book and the Brotherhood by Iris Murdoch  Group of friends come to terms with a man who has a strong influence on them.
Curtains for Three by Rex Stout  More Nero Wolfe.  I think this one was short stories.
Something in Disguise by Elizabeth Jane Howard
The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold:  I dragged this all the way to Cape Town and it was ghastly, so I didn't actually finish it.  It's a novel about Charles Dickens' wife.
Old Man Goriot by Honore de Balzac
Servants by Lucy Lethbridge
After Julius by Elizabeth Jane Howard