Monday, December 31, 2007

Your workout begins

OK, Susan has finally started putting yoga workouts online.

For the past 15 months I've had the immense privilege of working out with one of the world's greatest fitness instructors, Susan Powter.

Susan faces (for the umpteenth time in her colorful career) the challenge of figuring out how to replicate the astonishing classroom experiences she gives us so that they are accessible to everyone.

She's been playing around with some ideas via video, via MySpace, and via blogging, in the past several months. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don't.

Now she's got Susan Powter Online going. This site does not provide the polished, organized exercise information we're used to from all those videos and DVDs we've all purchased (and not used) in the past few decades. This site is about how Susan, who turned 50 two weeks ago, lives a fit, healthy life in her modest, artsy home in Seattle (which she shares with her young son). Here's some yoga in her little Seattle studio; it's cold—that's why Susan starts out in fluffy slippers!

Our workout with her Sunday was in the hallway of the school where we rent space. Temperature? 55 degrees. And we were sweating when we finished.

Here you go:

Friday, December 28, 2007

Twixt Christmas and New Year's

I came across a clever quotation today for which I'm seeking attribution. It was:

"People are so worried about what they eat between Christmas and the New Year, but they really should be worried about what they eat between the New Year and Christmas."
— Author Unknown

This amused me because I don't worry particularly about what I eat at holiday parties, but I do get rather disgusted by all the sugary stuff and high-fat dips that end up hanging around after Christmas. So today was "throw out the sugar" day, and I tossed all sorts of candies and cookies (having already cleverly eaten the chocolate-covered cherries!). It wasn't nearly as easy as it sounds, because many of the items were once-a-year treats, and a few were homemade. But I did eventually manage to toss everything — except for 10 of my mother's spritz cookies.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Fashion: Best of 2007

I've put together a list of some brands I thought were particularly impressive this year. Note that many of the links go to a retailer's site rather than the manufacturer's; that's because most of the manufacturers have pretentious "branding" websites with vacuous Flash intros and lousy navigation. The retailers, by contrast, want to sell things so they have sites that actually work.

Corso Como. American-designed, Brazilian-made, these leather boots and shoes have a high-fashion look but quite a bit of comfort. High-quality materials put the prices in the $100 to $260 range. Look for them online at,,, and Zappos. In Seattle, you'll find them at local boutiques such as Nuovo Modo in downtown Seattle and the new Lambs Ear Shoes in Fremont. Note: You may want to size up a half size for these. And be sure to check for online sales.
Runners-up: Born (for comfort and quirky good looks) and Sofft (for a comfortable high heel; but be aware, you want to be sure to try on a pair half a size the larger size, feet can tend to slide forward into the roomy toe box, leaving a gap at the heel).

Mandarina Duck. This Italian company's patented fabrics are striking and unusual, with bags featuring a mix of leather and nylon-type materials. Even leather bags are likely to feature a mix of sueded and finished leathers, plus plenty of pockets, sturdy construction, and models that magically expand via snaps and zippers. All this styling comes at a price ($200 - $400). Do beware of the synthetic fabric bags which, while resembling backpacks, are neither waterproof nor stain-resistant.
Runners-up: Matt & Nat vegan bags (at Shoefly and Sole Food in Seattle) and Libaire (online) for sturdy bags in rich-looking pebble leather.

Wacoal. "Sure they fit great, but they're so expensive," you say. That's no longer the case. You can find most styles of these $60 bras for $20-$25 (new with tags) on eBay—so try them on at Nordstrom, buy one, and get the rest online. (If you are someone who has long avoided underwires as being uncomfortable, a Wacoal can probably get you to reconsider.) To see Wacoal's vastly expanded catalog of styles, for all styles and shapes, visit the major online lingerie sites like Bare Necessities and Fig Leaves, which have a better selection than Nordstrom. Fig Leaves has one fancy Wacoal model selling for just $15 this week.

Now that sheer pantyhose have been declared hopelessly out of style, grownups can enjoy wearing opaque tights. Unfortunately, my top picks are devilishly hard to find: The synthetic-blend tights from Hot Sox. Nordstrom carries only the metallic version, so check out local shoe boutiques (where I just ordered two pair).

This is all about nightgowns and loungers, like the gorgeous lightweight cotton knits at Soma. Look for the long, slim V-neck loungers, sometimes with matching robes. These are not big, baggy t-shirts. (Do, however, watch out for the Soma sleepware that isn't machine washable; who wants to hand wash a bulky bathrobe?)

I tried quite a few styles and brands of jeans this year, and didn't come up with any winners. I can, however, recommend Eddie Bauer's Classic Fit bootcut corduroys (the plain ones, not the fussy-looking embroidered ones). Eddie Bauer offers several fits in tall, regular and petite, including the contemporary Classic Fit with has a modern (slightly low) waistband. For those of you hunting for jeans, it's always worth checking out the style advice (based on your measurements and preferences) at

No nominees in this category, I'm afraid. I didn't like the styling of The Territory Ahead three-button cashmere (too boxy). Macy's Charter Club house brand cashmere seemed narrow and tube-like and bunched up on the shoulders (but better than nothing—I bought one). Eddie Bauer didn't have a single Merino wool sweater for women (it had winter sweaters made of cotton, a real mountaineering faux pas!). I thought the Sundance Catalog and Garnet Hill cashmere sweaters were a bit overpriced (and the Garnet Hill v-neck had one of those low, low necklines). The styling on the L. L. Bean cashmeres made them look like sweatshirts. J. Jill had novelty rather than classic sweaters (mostly cotton, some in wools). So, I have to confess, I got all my sweaters this year on eBay and at consignment shops. I did, however, order a Red Moon brand gray cashmere jersey at the sale this week, so will report that later. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Clam chowder and rommegrot

Signs of the season: My blogs are turning up in searches for "clam chowder" and "rommegrot." Now I already knew that rommegrot is a traditional Christmas dish in Scandinavian households. But, sure enough, there is a Christmas-chowder connection in New England. Sounds absolutely delicious, too.

I'm also seeing hits for "turducken" and "virginia eggnog" and "bundt pan." And one query for "Waring Ice Cream Parlor troubleshooting." Oops.

But the query that's really got me worried is the one from someone in Riverhead, New York, for "chowder raccoon."

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Only in Seattle

Ron at is bemoaning the lunancies of the latest crop of Zagat reader-powered restaurant reviews of Seattle. To create the reviews, Zagat editors play a strange word game, stringing together very short phrases from reader reviews to create restaurant profiles, or, as Ron puts it:

"the 'capsule reviews' take isolated 'nouns and adjectives' from 'reader comments' and string them together to make 'nonsensical' and 'often inaccurate' profiles.

One of the gems Ron cites as he shakes his head about the "Yelpification" of restaurant reviewing is the reader who indignantly complains (on the online Zagat) that Salumi, Seattle's renowned cured-meat emporium, is not vegetarian-friendly. Mio dio!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cookie joy

Having lost the detailed instructions from last year's Sur la Table cookie-decorating class, I was forced to start from scratch this year. This caused a lot of anxiety because I felt as though I didn't have any spare time to test new recipes — and cookies are particularly nerve wracking because they not only have to taste good, they have to be sturdy enough to withstand decorating. Fortunately, I came across a great book, Cookie Craft, by Valerie Peterson & Janice Fryer, that solved most of my problems.

The two recipes I tested today were gingerbread from Great Gingerbread by Sara Perry and a basic sugar cookie from Cookie Craft. The cookie the picture, in which the gingerbread is baked on top of the sugar cookie, is a good example of the ideas in Cookie Craft — very easy to do, but unusual and attractive.

The gingerbread cookie recipe turns out to be absolutely stunning — a "grownups' cookie" with loads of ginger and other spices, dark brown sugar, and heady molasses flavor. I'm less excited about the sugar cookie — the rich, buttery sugary taste is almost like a shortbread and I'm concerned that once I start applying royal icing in the decorating stage it will be overwhelmingly rich.

I whipped up the gingerbread dough yesterday and the sugar cookie dough today, and was freaking out a bit because the gingerbread dough was very sticky, while the sugar cookie was stiff and rather dry, making it a challenge to roll out. That's where the Cookie Craft advice came in handy. They favor rolling everything out on parchment paper to prevent sticking. You can even peel the extra dough away and transfer the entire sheet of cookies on parchment directly to the cookie pan, so you don't damage the tender cookies moving them around with a spatula. I modified this by simply trimming the parchment with the cut cookie on it, using a kitchen scissors and putting each cookie (they are large ones) on the baking sheet on its own little scrap of parchment. This kept the cookie sheets clean and easy to use, and it was very easy to just peel the parchment off the back of the baked cookie when you set it on the wire rack to dry.

After the cookies cooled, I stored them in layers, separated by parchment, in clear plastic salad containers I'd been saving up.

I'l be back later in the week with the full report on decorating the 100 or so cookies. Wait'll you see the moose!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Rich and thin

Venture capitalist Heidi Rozen, 49, threw herself into an exercise regime, lost 30 pounds, and has now written an album of pop tunes (recorded, thankfully, by professional recording artists) about the experience called Skinny Songs. Check out "I'm a Hottie Now."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Something nice

After being beaten over the head by advertisers and marketers for the past month, I thought this, from United, was a pleasantly understated surprise.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Hidden gems in Fremont

After the Noodle Group lunch in Fremont today I did some underground shopping.

It involved finding the alley just east of the statue of Lenin, and following signs for Stickman coffee into a large lobby. Start with a rich, creamy espresso at Stickman (owned by the fellow who is the current North American champion barista), then walk down the hall to two windowless boutiques. The first one on your right is a brand new shoe store; it doesn't have a sign yet, but it does have Corso Como shoes, reasonably priced high fashion shoes that are astonishingly comfortable. Just beyond the shoe store is the amusingly named Impulse boutique, where dresses cost $250 - $500, and high-end materials and elegant European styling justify the prices.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

More bags I can't resist

Last weekend at the Ballard arts fair Seattle Sampling I saw amazing fabric bags by the Woodway artist Constance Lee. They are far sturdier than most designer handbags, though just a little bit too fancy to be everyday bags. I guess the best way to describe them is to say that they make you wish you lived the kind of life in which one of them could be your everyday bag. Lee had also created a few very elegant smaller bags for holiday parties, one of which you see pictured here.

She doesn't have a website, but I did find websites that mention her work and have contact information.