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.