Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Taking a bite out of food fanatics

Tom and I had an wonderful dinner at Mashiko last night. Hajime Sato, the chef/owner, has transitioned the restaurant to completely sustainable fish, and the sushi has not suffered in the least.

I suspect you would not be able to guess the identity of the fish in the photo; it's rarely used in sushi.

I didn't think to snap a picture of the other beautiful dishes Hajime was presenting to us — and was lucky I got the picture of this one before the last bit vanished. So I enjoyed a blog post by Jonathan Bender about Christopher Borrelli's request that foodies stop fetishizing what's on their plates and putting it on their blogs. Like Borrelli, I rather hope I'm not part of the problem.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

San Jose

Spent the weekend in San Jose and was amazed at the difference it makes to be in a 60-degree climate. Lunchtime came and I just sailed out the door of the hotel and went for a three-mile walk. Quite a difference from trying to force myself out the door in the cold, wind, and rain in Seattle.

We had some lovely food on the trip, from breakfast at Il Fornaio (the hotel restaurant) to lunch at Yankee Pier on Santana Row (fresh local oysters, Dungeness crab, and braised chard with shallots). Tonight I re-created the chard at home, and it was fabulous.

And then there was the sushi boat that Seth and Sharon ordered:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Discovering Mis Papelicos

Many thanks to Advanced Style for tipping me to this inspirational and informative style blog: Mis Papelicos.

It's beautifully illustrated, with both historical photos and the author's own snapshots (I particularly like the ones of her boots). And I was charmed to see in the sidebar a link to my favorite tea: Yorkshire Gold.

Frivolous fashion

There's been a distinct lack of frivolous fashion in the blog recently, but I can do something about that. My trip to Florida included several visits to high-end malls. One mall, Coconut Point, is a combination mall and apartment/condo complex. You live (or vacation) at the mall. What an idea.

I'm back, with a couple of cheap hoodies (from a beach store), a beautiful gray belted sweater and a long denim shirt (from Chico's), and two princess-seamed long-sleeve t-shirts (from Coldwater Creek, my mom's favorite store). I'd wanted to include a link to the sweater, but can't find it on the Chico's website. I tried on their Elizabeth dress, a classic "little black dress" with 3/4 sleeves, but unfortunately I was right between their medium and large sizes.

We also visited the Fossil store, which continues to have the best collection of bags around. They're beautiful, the colors are stylish without being garish, and they're affordable. I suspect that last reason is why you rarely find them on sale. But that standard pricing worked against them because, when I found two bags I liked (Sasha Large Top-Zip), I had no motivation to make a decision on the spot — I can see the same bags at the same price at Macy's or at eBags and figure it out later. Note to Fossil: Use a colored lining, rather than black, on your black bags and you'll have my undying loyalty. At the moment, I'm trying to figure out if your beautiful black Sasha bag is worth it if I'll have to root around in the darkness to find whatever I put inside it.

I've added a new blog to the Food, Fitness, Fashion blogroll: No More Frump. The writer is a fellow fan of Kut from the Kloth jeans.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Have you ever heard of Yummy Mummy cookies?

Apparently they are a Halloween tradition. Very cute.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Let's get demonic: Going to the mat over yoga

It would be tempting to dismiss the "Yoga 'Demonic'?" story on the front of the Metro section in today's Seattle Times as idiotic, but in truth, there is something demonic going on.

To recap: The influential pastor at the head of Seattle's church for hip young born-agains, Mars Hill, said flat-out that yoga is demonic. He was giving local support to an essay by the president of a Baptist seminar that warned that yoga is contradictory to Christianity.

Jaws dropped.

Not mine. I'd been prepared for his argument, though I thought at the time the preparation was overkill.

Turns out that Susan (my yoga teacher, Susan Powter) was right.

She believes firmly that men do everything possible, at a political, cultural, societal, and family level, to prevent women from being healthy and fit. They load them down with kids, work, responsibilities, guilt — and then outright discourage them from eating right and taking care of their bodies.

"Oh, Susan," I used to think, as she lectured on this topic while we lay on the floor doing yoga stretches and crunches, or did wind sprints and lifted weights, "isn't this just a bit paranoid?"

Turns out, not if you're a gal in the Mars Hill congregation. Can you imagine trying to get healthy and fit by taking two hours a week to get to a yoga class ("HOW DARE YOU!")— and now your pastor is blasting you from the pulpit for engaging in demonic activity?

I'm particularly incensed because yoga is a great activity for women who have been utterly out of shape and want to get back into it. You can start with gentle stretching and core strengthening and later build yourself to aerobic fitness with Ashtanga or Vinyasa workouts. It's low impact, it's cheap — all it takes is a mat and you can do it in your living room.

And now it's demonic, too! Does this mean I can skip my usual witch costume for Halloween and just go in my yoga outfit?

All I can say to the pastor of Mars Hill Church is "thank you!"

If I ever need motivation to stay strong and fit, and get to my yoga workout on a regular basis, I'll just think about you and your ilk. Praise the Lord!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Jeans that look and feel great: Kut from the Kloth

Eddie Bauer changed the cut of their jeans a year or so ago, as did the Gap, and I haven't been able to find cute, comfortable jeans to wear. The new Eddie Bauer jeans look awful on me and the Gap jeans look great in the dressing room but when I get home they are just too low-cut to be comfortable or practical to sit down in.

I'd just about given up when I stopped in at Buffalo Exchange (a thrift shop chain focused on clothes for 30-somethings) on the way back from the Ballard Sunday Market. I spotted two pair of jeans, tried them on, and loved them both. The best pair was called Kut from the Kloth. The saleswoman raved about them but said the were no longer in production. I bought them — for $19.

Fortunately, the saleswoman was wrong. They're still going strong, and Macy's carries them in Better Denim (remember "Better Dresses"? Now it's "Better Denim."), and you can find them on eBay.

Turns out I'm not the only person who thinks Kut from the Kloth is the gods' gift to the short, curvy woman.

Check out these reviews from The Demoiselles and Cleveland's Shopaholic blog.

The one caution about Kut jeans? Watch out for the ones with the flaps on the back pockets. Ugh.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Unboxing adventures

The new trend for online merchants seems to be including little gifts with your shipments. My order of Mediterranean pine nuts from Nuts Online came with a gift of pistachios and my order of coffee stirrers (long story) came with a gift of oatmeal-raisin cookies.

Well, yum!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Beware of (Chinese) pine nuts

Fresh basil from the garden, local garlic, some genuine parmesan cheese — and some awful pine nuts from China.

This is close to the recipe for pesto, but that last ingredient renders it a recipe for "pine mouth" — a hideously bitter taste that kicks in about 24 hours after you eat the pine nuts and then recurs every time you eat anything for up to a week or two.


No one knows why this problem — which doesn't affect everyone who eats the pine nuts — is associated with Chinese pine nuts, not European or American ones. But it is.

Unhappy anecdotal accounts abound; check out this one from the Cincinnati Enquirer's food writer, who was felled by a homemade salad with pine nuts. She'd gotten them at Trader Joe's, which said the nuts were from Korea, Russian, or Vietnam. She was so traumatized by two weeks of having everything turn to bitter ashes in her mouth that she vowed never to eat another pine nut, no matter where it comes from.

Not me.

I'm now shopping for safe pine nuts for my next batch of pesto. It seems that the American pine nut industry has been pretty much driven out of business (it's too labor-intensive to compete with cheap imports). However, I bought some lovely pine nuts in Arizona last year from a road-side truck in Flagstaff and have come across a homey online purveyor from the Southwest:

• Goods from the Woods — their fresh raw shelled American pine nuts are currently being harvested and will be available soon. $38 a pound.

For the traditional European pine nut:

• Nuts Online — Mediterranean pine nuts at $34 a pound.

Nuts Online ordering system gives the option of sending a message with the gift. It was tempting to check "Get Well Soon" for my pine nut order!

Monday, August 30, 2010

A short history of sugar on our shores

The Culinary Curator offers a primer on sugar in the American kitchen.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Good news for cooks in Ballard

I confess: I'm one of those supposedly gourmet cooks who doesn't sharpen her knives often enough.

My excuse: I used to subscribe to a mobile knife-sharpening service that came every six months and did my knives, scissors, and garden tools. When that guy retired, I was at a loss. Those grocery store programs where, one day a month you can bring in three knives, just didn't, well cut it for me. Boxing up my knives and sending them through the mail to a sharpening service made me feel like a serial killer.

So today, as we were walking back from a quick shopping trip in downtown Ballard, I was delighted to see a leather-clad character standing in the door of a small shop at 2419 NW Market St. The new store is called Vulcan Knife, and it's open weekdays 10-6. I predict the place will be crazy busy even if all they do is service the proliferation of new restaurants within a 10-block radius. But they also do garden tools, axes, hatchets, and swords — many of which were on intimidating display on the premises.

Anyway, there's no more excuse for hacking or sawing away at the cutting board. Take the knives over to Vulcan.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

This isn't gelato

Suddenly Seattle is overrun with cloying, semi-frozen butterfat that calls itself "gelato." Folks, this is high-fat premium ice cream stored at slightly warmer temperatures.

I was starting to wonder if my memories of gelato from Italy — delicious frozen fresh milk — were flawed. Fortunately, there are at least two places in Seattle making authentic gelato (Royal Grinders in Fremont, next to the statue of Lenin and D'Ambrosio Gelateria Artigianale in Ballard). While D'Ambrosio provides an authentic Italian gelateria experience (you can have multiple flavors in one scoop) I prefer Royal Grinder's stracciatella (chocolate chip) by a wide margin. (Stracciatella is the benchmark I use for evaluating gelato; another good one to use is pistacchio.)

There are some folks in California who share my concern about preserving the identity and reputation of real, delicious, low-fat gelato. They're petitioning the state food authorities to set standards for products calling themselves "gelato."

Meanwhile, I'm going to have to avoid reading Yelp, where people are trashing the authentic gelaterias for selling gelato that isn't rich and creamy enough. Folks, if you want ice cream, go to Molly Moon's.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Exercise can't counter the effects of sitting at your desk

The New York Times reports that a recent study correlated long hours spend sitting down—at a desk, in a car, and on the couch—with the increased risk of heart disease in men.
Men who spent more than 23 hours a week watching TV and sitting in their cars (as passengers or as drivers) had a 64 percent greater chance of dying from heart disease than those who sat for 11 hours a week or less. 
Hey, no big surprise.

But what was truly disturbing was that some of the men who spent long hours sitting also engaged in a regular exercise program. But it didn't reduce their risk of heart disease.

The problem, researchers suspect, may be our bodies are built to spent our days engaged in light exercise—strolling around, doing household chores, even standing up and walking around in the course of sales work. It appears that we weren't built to sit, and sit, and sit.

At a biological level, the problem seems to be that lack of muscle contractions causes our bodies to become insulin resistant and to accumulate higher levels of fatty acids.

"Your muscles, unused for hours at a time, change in subtle fashion, and as a result, your risk for heart disease, diabetes and other diseases can rise," the study concludes.

I'd be curious to see these data parsed by factors like BMI, muscle/fat ratios, cholesterol levels, etc. Were the regular exercisers healthier by those criteria and still equally likely to have heart disease?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Now we're cooking

 A year or so ago I decided I wanted to make a Southern-style coconut cake, like the one my friend Roger's aunt made when we visited Norfolk many years ago.
I discovered that the ultimate recipe for coconut cake is in a book called Cookwise, which was not particularly easy to obtain at the time. I eventually got the book, looked up the recipe, and nearly went into shock when I read the recipe. It is not a low-calorie, or even moderate-calorie, cake.

The book is about making food wonderful, from selecting the right ingredients to using the right techniques. I used it this week to make ice cream and learned several things that elevated a decent ice cream recipe to an amazing ice cream recipe, including:

• Why you heat milk or half-and-half for ice cream (but not the cream itself).

• Why all ice cream recipes need a little bit of salt.

• Why your ice cream mix needs to cure in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours before you put it into the ice cream maker.

Cookwise was written by Shirley O. Corriher, an expert on the chemistry of cooking. I'm now using it on a regular basis. I think there are several types of cooks it would appeal to, among them beginners who are curious about why things work and experienced, confident cooks who want to tackle trickier dishes that rely on technique.

This is not a book to choose for the recipes (many of them are high-calorie). And it's not a good cookbook for someone who wants to blindly follow detailed, step-by-step instructions. It's more advice on which to base your cooking decisions.

Cookwise is a marvelous antidote to the dumbed-down, "anybody can cook this!" cookbooks that direct you to over cook meats (so you won't under cook them) and omit interesting ingredients and flavorings because they might be intimidating.

Not-so-hot yoga

I just spent four weeks taking the introductory series of classes at a yoga studio that does semi-hot (88 degree) yoga. I liked the yoga routines, but I didn't like the heat.

How hot was it? The room was not just hot, it was humid. Sweat poured off me and formed puddles around my mat. You have to put a special thin towel ($90) on your mat to keep from sliding around like a tobogganing penguin. (Fortunately, I found one of the towels at a yard sale.)

I'm used to leaving a Vinyasa or Ashtanga workout feeling energized. Leaving these classes I felt wrung out and dazed. By the time I'd gotten home and pealed off my sodden clothing and taken a bath, I didn't have energy for anything -- except crawling into bed. (By the way, I was careful to get myself well hydrated before going to the classes.)

This is all is too bad, because I liked the people, the studio is near my house, and the early evening class times worked well for me. I suspect there isn't anything wrong with hot yoga for most folks, but it just wasn't a good match for me.

Oh well. There are mid-day yoga classes at the Ballard Health club — not as good a fit with my schedule, but the best choice for this summer.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Uneven Italian food

Two or three years ago a large destination restaurant appeared in our neighborhood. Well, it didn't just apppear: It replace some of those quaint quirky little shops you get in an old Seattle neighborhood — the ones that you always mean to go into but never quite get around to investigating. They included a lawnmower sharpening place, a piano store that never seemed to be open, and a pottery studio and classroom that all the local moms and kids adored.

Now it's a handsome Italian ristorante (not a trattoria) with a cafe so authentic that whenever I step in there I swear I'm back in Italy.

Back in Italy? Yes, this is going to be one of those blog posts by someone who lived in a foreign country for a year and now thinks she knows what authentic regional food is like. I'm prepared to take that stance and defend it. Read on.

The Scholarly Gentleman and I hadn't rushed over to try out Picolino because we were afraid of being lynched by our neighbors. Picolino not only eradicated the pottery studio and gobbled up a half-block of storefronts that a local landowner had left as "reasonable rent" properties in her will, it created a lot of noise and traffic. Picolino's enormous outdoor summer dining area is about 15 feet from the windows of the house next door. It has no dedicated parking. To say that the residential neighbors (who fought the place at every stage in construction) are unhappy would be to vastly understate the situation. They hold a grudge that is virtually Sicilian.

We were on our way into downtown Ballard for pizza when the Scholarly Gentleman suggested that we try Picolino. It was mid-week, and just 6 p.m., so it wasn't crowded. Here are our observations:

• The service is good; not just good, but intelligent. The server quickly adjusted his suggestions and recommendations when he realized I was familiar with Italian food. He gets huge points for setting the grated cheese next to the serving of pasta carbonara, at a distance from my serving of pasta Puttanesca. A Puttanesca has anchovies, and Italians don't put cheese on dishes that have fish.

• The focaccia is the best I've had since leaving Genoa. Genoa is where focaccia originated, so that's saying a lot. Not only does Picolino have a great focaccia recipe, they are using a buttery olive oil that is just the way Genovese olive oils taste.

• The appetizer we selected, fritto misto, was tasty but odd in a few ways: The first was that since it was completely calamari, there was nothing misto (mixed) about it. (Fritto misto is a coastal Italian dish of tiny squid, tiny fish, and tiny shell-on shrimp.) The squid was fresh and tender and the batter used for the frying was delicious. But it was also a heavy batter with a lot of oil attached. And the portion was enormous. And did I mention that the aioli was not a delicate mayonnaise with garlic, but was a pinkish glob heavily flavored with smokey chipotle? All these were warning signals for what happened with our pasta dishes.

• The SG's spaghetti carbonara was like nothing I ever tasted in Italy. It had large, postage-stamp-shaped pieces of pancetta (ham) rather than the tiny chunks of pancetta I'd expected. There was little evidence of the eggs that are usually scrambled directly into the hot pasta. Instead, there was a thick, unbelievably rich cheese sauce. The first few tastes were delicious, but quickly became cloyingly. We took half the (again, enormous) serving home in a box; heated up the next day, it exuded about four tablespoons of oil. Scary.

• My Puttanesca was a disappointment. I use Puttanescas (and Arrabiatas) as a measure of the quality of an Italian restaurant. They are quickly assembled, and depend almost entirely on the quality of the ingredients and, for the Puttanesca, on the balance between the ingredients (capers, kalamata-type olives, anchovies, garlic, hot pepper flavoring, and tomatoes). One taste of the dish told me that the anchovies were either missing or negligible. The olives, on the other hand, were big and bitter, and barely chopped up. The capers, which are often chopped, were whole, meaning that they didn't lend much character to the sauce unless you bit down on one. Overall, this was a tomato sauce with bitter olives in it. It was also odd to find such a bold sauce paired with a thin spaghetti — that type of pasta is usually reserved for children's food or delicate sauces.

I'm willing to try Picolino again, with a larger group, to see if they do other dishes better. It's possible we just made some unfortunate choices. And I've got to have more of that focaccia.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Boo, hiss, Eddie Bauer

I'm frittering away my weekend returning t-shirts to Eddie Bauer. The "petite" versions of two of their t-shirts reveal not just too much cleavage — they reveal my bra, all the way down to the band at the bottom.

No, these aren't "layering" shirts, cut low for a tank top underneath. They look fine on the models in the catalog. The problem seems to be that Eddie Bauer thinks "petite" means shorter length at the bottom, not shorter proportions throughout. Bleh.

Fortunately, the Gap — not known for their modest cuts of clothing — has V-neck t-shirt in petites that don't have this problem. I don't find Gap clothes to be as durable as Eddie Bauer items, but at least I can wear them in public!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The freedom of routine

My usual yoga group took a break for the month of April, so I got to try out some yoga classes at the Ballard Health club. I found an early morning class that was interesting, but too slow-moving for my taste, and some great late-morning classes that really challenged me.

Susan's yoga classes resumed tonight (at a new studio) and I was delighted it. It was a fabulous workout.

I realized that a lot of what made it great for me was knowing Susan's routines and thus being free to work to my capabilities within them. When I was trying to learn new routines at the health club, I didn't want to get too far into a pose because we'd move quickly to some new, unknown pose (or series of poses) and I didn't want to be off balance and slow to make the transition. As a result, it was difficult to get to the point where I could break a sweat. Though I did learn some wonderful new standing poses, including reverse warrior. How had I ever missed reverse warrior?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The difference between indecent and charming

80 years, apparently.

According to costume historian James Laver, there is a timeline of fashion. It dictates, among other things, that something considered "indecent" is usually 10 years before its time, while something "charming" is 70 years after its time (having passed through smart, dowdy, hideous, ridiculous, amusing, and quaint to get there).

I'd argue that the timeline is becoming accelerated. Fashions of the 1960s were back in for most of the first decade of the 21st century, having made it from "daring" and "smart" to "charming" in a mere 40 years.

Late-Victorian/Steampunk, however is right on schedule at about 120 years.

Thanks to Teresa at Making Light for pointing me to Laver's timeline at

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Just don't do them all at once

Here's list of 80 exercises you can do during the workday.

The article title promises "80 Effective Exercises You Can Do At Your Desk," but the tips include cubicle exercises and lunch or break-time stair climbs.

Worth checking out, if not for fitness results, at least for preventing injury from sitting hunched up over a keyboard all day long.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Paris fashion finds steampunk

The article in this weekend's Wall Street Journal is titled "Paris Finds Its Comfort Zone," but just take a look at the pictures and you'll see that what it's found is...steampunk.

Duster coats that wouldn't look out of place on Sherlock Holmes; Alice in Wonderland "Mat Hatter" top hats in brown and burgundy; and lace blouses right out of a Goth girl's closet?

You tell me.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A great warmup

Snowboardered Gretchen Bleiler's warm up routine is completely do-able. It made me want to get on the trampoline (which she does later). But not on the snowboard.

This is part of a series the New York Times has done on athletes' gym routines.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The knees have it

No, this isn't a post about fitness and knees. It's a post about women's fashion — specifically, pants.
I was standing in my walk-in closet this morning trying to figure out why a pair of Eddie Bauer corduroy pants I bought two years ago look great, and why a pair I bought four years ago (same corduroy, same size) look dorky.
They have the same fit at the waist and hips, and the hems are the same width. But the newer pair looks hip and trendy and the older pair -- they're not quite "mom jeans," but definitely dumpy.
Finally I figured it out. It's the knees.
Current fashion includes both skinny jeans (tight everywhere, including the ankles) and flared jeans (wide at the ankles). But both styles are slim at the knees. Older pants, which were straight from thigh down to ankle, now look like something you'd see on a gardener or someone cleaning out their basement.
Weird, but enlightening.
I packed the older pair away. The style will be back in two or three years and, somehow, they'll look just right. And I'm not just being snarky: Last week I had people raving about a pair of flat black leather riding boots I was wearing with an A-line skirt. Where did I get them? Well, 10 years ago, the last time flat boots were in style, I bought them from Santana of Canada. I nearly took them to a consignment shop five years ago when pointy toed boots were the rage, and two years ago when strange-looking heels and rounded toes were the thing. Fortunately, I held on to them. My fashion secret is a large closet and two attics.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Now we're smokin'

If you are foodie, one of the best Seattle hangouts is the Fremont Sunday Market. There are several great food booths, including The Cookie Lady, a steampunk tea place, the Falafel King, and a friend of ours who does scrumptious bruschettas and soup.

Last week I actually made it down to the far end of the market and met Dan, the salmon guy. It was the end of the day and he was selling steelhead fillets for $10 a slab. "If I don't sell them, I have to take them home and smoke them," he told us.

We took a slab and went home and smoked it. While the fish, and some cedar planks, were soaking in an apple cider brine Tom devised, I read up on smoking and decided that — in spite of thousand-dollar smokers and special chips and planks — there is no right or wrong way to do it as long as you use plenty of salt, brine for a couple of hours, and finish the fish to an internal temperature of 150 degrees. (You can read some rather repetitive and stern information on all aspects of smoking safety here, but check out the contradictory advice, favoring cedar planks and chips, in this article.)

Some smoke-cooking procedures took a couple of hours. Some took days. Some employed tightly covered smokers, some involved open-air grills. I decided there was a huge voodoo factor.

Growing up in Northern Virginia, we'd had a next-door neighbor, Noyce Griffin, who smoked herring over an open charcoal fire for two or three days. Emboldened by having actually witnessed smoking, I proceeded to improvise a cold smoke procedure on the gas grill that went on for about 12 hours and ended by cranking up the heat to finish the fish for 30 minutes.

It was hilarious. The flames died out, I started it again, the (thin) cedar planks caught fire, I threw water on the flaming planks and billows of great smoke went up (I then lowered the lid of the gas grill to capture the smoke), and all this repeated itself a few times during the night, as I stood on the patio in the mist in my nightgown and the feral cat watched me in amazement. I felt like a cave person being watched by a sabre-tooth tiger.

Late the next the morning I finished the fish on a higher heat for 30 minutes, and brought it in. It not only was great (with crispy skin), it got better over the next 24 hours as the flavor mellowed. Tonight I compared it with a smoked salmon from a well-known local smokehouse. While their texture was a little moister, the commercially smoked salmon was extremely salty. Our thinner fillet was much smoother, going from smokey to tangy and sweet.

This is way too much fun. I now want to try slow smoking oysters, clams, and, of course, smelt and herring.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Time for exercise

The Life and Style section of the Wall Street Journal has several articles on exercise today, this being the start of the annual post-holiday fitness season.

The lead article is about Dr. Paul Williams, whose studies of recreational runners reveal that the more people exercise, the greater the health benefits. The Journal reports that Williams is shunned by all the public health guidelines committees because they are afraid that his data will upset people so much that they'll get discouraged and stay seated on the couch, stuffing themselves with Twinkies.

Yet it's been shown, time and time again, that the "start with just a little bit of exercise" approach fails because a little bit of exercise yields little or no results, and the person gives up.

Reading the article on Williams, I realized what the problem with the gradual approach is. It's time.

Johnson's critics are insisting that he wants everyone to start off spending lots of time doing aggressive exercise, and I think that's a straw man. I think he wants people to spend lots of time exercising, but that it needn't be aggressive.

The problem with the "little bit of exercise" approach is that it offers the delusion that you can get results with very little time invested — popping into the gym once a week, or doing a 15 minute walk three times a week, or playing soccer every Sunday. And of course, none of those approaches will have much of a fitness effect (and it's very likely the weekend warrior's soccer game will lead to an injury). The pitfall is that this approach fails miserably when it comes to getting people in the habit of scheduling time for fitness — which is often far more difficult than the actual fitness activities themselves.

What if the little bit of exercise were very gentle, easy exercise (walking or beginning yoga) but the person committed to doing it three or four hours a week? There would certainly be some aerobic, balance, or flexibility effect right away. And by increasing speed, or intensity, or adding something like swimming or belly dancing or a weights workout, the four-hour-a-week exerciser would soon be get some of the profound health effects Williams is touting.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Fashion: What worked, and what didn't

Some random notes on the most puzzling women's fashion trends of the past few seasons:

It's summer. No? Well then, why are all the dresses in the stores sleeveless, all the models bare-legged, and all the sweaters and shirts in bright, tropical colors? It's January. You tell me.

Elvish lives.
A belated inspiration from Lord of the Rings? What else could explain this year's proliferation of flat-soled, square-toed, rough-out suede or rustic leather boots with little suede laces and button fasteners? But, hey, far be it from me to complain about footwear you can actually walk a few blocks in without spraining an ankle. I bought a pair of elf boots by Teva — cute, comfy, lightweight (with cork soles). But not warm or waterproof. Perhaps we now have summer boots? (See above.)

What's that in your hair? At last, scrunchies are on their way out. You know what they are, though you may not have known what they're called: Scrunchies are those pony-tail elastics that are covered in cotton, so they look like someone tied her hair back using a pair of pastel cotton panties. Try not to think about it.

Doggie bags. Not for food, but for itty bitty doggies. I'm seeing fewer little dogs being carried around in big expensive purses these days. I wonder why that went out of style?

Something's fuzzy about cashmere. There's label-says-"cashmere," and then there's cashmere. In the past couple of years, the buyers at the mall department stores have figured out how to put the barest minimum and the lowest quality of cashmere into clothing and still be able to label it "cashmere." I compared a cashmere hoodie I bought at Macy's four years ago with one I bought last year: The four-year-old one is thick, soft, luxurious and drapes nicely, even after several dry cleanings. The year-old-one is flimsy and covered with pilling. Cashmere tip: Consignment shops in upscale neighborhoods have some real cashmere items.

Cardigans. Cardigan sweaters are de rigeur, and not just because Michelle Obama wears them. You need them so you don't freeze in the sleeveless dress with the bare legs.

Friday, January 1, 2010

End-of-year kitchen rituals

In the far distant past when there used to be a week of vacation between Christmas and New Year's, part of my year-end ritual involved cleaning the kitchen cabinets. This year I've taken only two days off, and Christmas Day was filled with Christmas activities. So today I staged two short cleaning raids on two jam-packed areas: a shelf (with baking ingredients) and the freezer.

I tossed six or seven bags of flour and baking mixes that were years past their pull dates. Now I can actually find various types of sugar and the few remaining bags of fresh flour and corn meal.

The exploration of the freezer revealed some fascinating ingredients and frozen soups, along with way too many overripe bananas. I thawed a package of smoked salmon and some of it made a delicious omelette with the fresh eggs from Jim and Sharon's farm.

I also found, and am thawing, a small container of venison bigos (Polish hunter's stew) I made last year.

Yesterday I took took odds and ends of chicken and beef broth and used them to cook root vegetables with a bit of rosemary and cinnamon. The end result got pureed and then reheated with some half-and-half. (The recipe, more of a template, is from James Beard.)

The rest of the root vegetables are scheduled to become casseroles this week, garnished with things like proscuitto and fontina cheese.

Meanwhile, Hank went to the website McMaster-Carr and found a replacement for the tiny metal piece that had rusted out on my Waring Ice Cream Parlor. He also found a stop-gap replacement (for four cents) at Tacoma Screw. Between the two, the ice cream maker should last another 30 years. (A scary thought, if you know how old I am.)

Tom made fresh ginger and Meyer lemon sorbet for Christmas dinner, and it was outrageously delicious and healthy. I want to make more of that, and some mango ice cream as a thank you for Hank.

A cat is now sitting in front of the computer screen and staring at me. I think she, too, is interested in food. But not the kind I'm writing about.