Saturday, August 5, 2017

How Germany has changed

Please excuse any weird formatting issues. Blogger doesn't care much for this Keyboard.
QWERTY, I miss you!


If one reads the News (and please excuse the German Keyboard, it wants to capitalize some of the nouns) as much as I do, one would think Germany has changed so much it wouldn't be recognizable. Stories of overflowing refugee camps, knife-wielding madmen running rampant in the streets and other Headlines made me wonder how different I would find this place after an Eleven year Absence.

When we come to Germany, we are usually based around the cities of Frankfurt, Mainz, Bremen and a very Little town North of Bremen called Garlstedt. We've been in other larger cities in the past, but didn't visit them this time. Like I said, it's been 11 years. We've been here in 1993, 1996 and maybe three other times, I've lost track. I love it here, because it's cool and green, clean and orderly, well-run and efficient, and very safe. All those qualities make my heart sing, so I was bracing for the worst.  

So, after one week, what have I found? Here is my take on Germany in 2017:

  • People still smoke a lot. They throw their cigarette Butts in the street.
  • There is very Little litter, hardly any. If there were no cigarette Butts, there would be no trash in the streets to speak of, especially compared to where I live in Sacramento, California.
  • It is hotter, but it started off so cool that it's still refreshing.
  • If there is an obesity epidemic here, I'm not seeing it.
  • The buses run on time, as always. If you're late for the bus and you scream and yell and Pound on the doors of the bus as it's pulling away, the bus Driver will not stop. And that's why the buses run on time. You really must get to the stop on time.
  • From time to time you see Immigrant women in headscarfs, but I see more in our Sacramento neighborhood.
  • There are huge windmills and solar Panels everywhere.
  • The German People didn't go anywhere, they are still here. Just with some refugees added in.
  • Most everyone still speaks German.
Some other Things that haven't changed:

You'll see some socks with sandals, but less 
than in the past.

All the Buildings are still Standing.

You still don't have to share your covers.

Tomatoes and cucumbers for breakfast are still 
a Thing. 

Beer, still the national drink.

Lots of Little German cars,
but more SUV's too.

The Food is still awesome!

Yes it is, and it is everywhere. And so is the best gluten-free bread I've ever had. Gluten-free bread that doesn't taste like reconstituted cardboard. It is so good, it Toasts up like real normal bread, and Looks to be whole-grain, which I can't confirm because of Course it's all in German.

Soy Curls! In the Drugstore!

Happy German cows who love Soy Curls.

Alles gutes!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

James Harriot meets Jane Austen

It takes a village
Leaving for an extended vacation is never easy, especially where there is a family pet involved. There are supplies to be purchased, yards to de-poop, toys to be handed out last minute to lessen the guilt, glares to be endured as the suitcases come out. 

So finding a good pet sitter is essential, one who cares about your pet deeply, one who is willing to put up with the unexpected. Finding one who writes you a hilarious mini novel to read when you get back? Priceless. This time we didn't have to wait for our return to read the novella, we received it via email. An email that was read with dread and side splitting laughter. Here it is, written by our friend, neighbor and pet sitter Melene:

Well, Miss Molly has/had been her sweet self.  We had two studies cancel this week so I have been home more and with the heat I've kept her in more.  So I thought that her 'emotional' needs were being met well.  Then yesterday afternoon I walked back into the living room and there was Molly, soulfully sitting in the middle of the rug with most of her stuffed animals pulled out of the basket and artfully arranged around her.  Did I not immediately feel that it was some sort of of message.  Signaling some lack she was feeling in my stewardship of her?  What could I do?  What do drama queens appreciate most?  Paparazzi attention.  So I took a picture of her.  Which I will send.  When I figure out how to do it.

But evidently her indoor friends were not meeting all her emotional needs either, because she felt the need to reach out for some outdoor companionship - wild and odiferous.  I think she has been feeling the heat.  Even in the house she moves from place to place.  After she has warmed up one spot she will move to another.  So Tuesday night when she woke during the early morning hours and wanted out, I didn't worry when she didn't want to come back in.  'Enjoy the cool while you can.'  In the morning she came right in and all was fine.  (Until, of course, the incident yesterday of the indoor animal friends spread out on the floor.). So last night when she wanted to stay out again, no problem.  She didn't seem to be barking.  Until about 5:30 this morning.  Her barking woke me up.  I stumbled over to the sliding door, opened it and the screen door,  and was assaulted with (what is inelegantly known as) a  'snootful of skunk stench'.  "Oh, no!  Skunk alert! Get into the house as quick as you can!"  But  it was rapidly apparent that it was too late.  The smell came in with her.  And back out she went.  And back to bed I went.  To rest up for and research what I needed to do.  

I got the ''de-skunk" recipe from the internet.  You have all the ingredients- thank you thank you!  (I had visions of trying to slink down to my house wearing my pj's to gather what I needed and then to slink back hoping no one would see me. I was still very tired when I was envisioning this.  Although, with the current fashion mode, I probably wouldn't have gotten a second look from anyone seeing me.). 

I didn't know what you usually mix it in.  But I remembered seeing an empty plastic ice cream container in the recycle.  (So I did slink out to the garbage can to dig it out.  With Jessica's robe covering the pj's.). I mixed the solution and took it and Molly into the pool yard.  With the gates shut.  She let me pour it over her and work it in.  But when it was time to rinse it off, I couldn't get her to come close to the hose I had which was running nice warm water.  So I got her tennis ball and threw it into the pool a couple of times.  That had to do for her rinse.  

She keeps hanging around the back door obviously ready to come inside.  So I had to have a little talk with her about consequences of one's actions.  (When one is wet and residually stinky, especially as a direct result of one's own risky behavior, one cannot expect all the rights and privileges one usually enjoys.).  Her head was in the attentive position, but her eyes kept sliding from side to side. So I am not counting on her rehabilitative retention of either the experience or the chat.  But she can be sure that there will be no allowance of any late-night carousing tonight.  No way, Missy.

 What could we possibly bring home from our European vacation to make up for this? All the beer in Germany? All the plum brandy in Romania? We may need to get a bigger suitcase.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Jammin at the California State Fair

It was that wonderful feeling that can only come when you think your plum jam was disqualified from the California State Fair Canning Competition, and then you find out it actually was put in the First Place category. 

Whew, what a relief. After that all the smells, sights, sounds, more smells, stickiness and sweatiness were that much sweeter. While we don't eat the vast majority of fair food, a nice cold frozen juice and some hot off the grill corn on the cob, along with the food they let us smuggle in, kept us going as we walked to see our favorite spots. 

The standouts this year? An adorable animal show for kids with a goat and a pig and a donkey and a llama and a miniature horse. Hokey and cute, we enjoyed it immensely as we sat on hay bales eating sliced watermelon. The fair at its best, as the little kids (and adults) giggled with delight. 

The other new feature we loved was making quilt blocks for kids in the hospital. In the building with the crafts and quilts, the Sacramento Quilters Guild had a stall set up with volunteers and sewing machines. There were piles of fabric squares on a table, and they were asking people to make up coordinating sets of nine squares. Of course I over-thought the whole process, and wasn't that pleased with my result, while my color blind, ahem, challenged husband put together two amazing patterns. Hey, who's the quilt expert in this family?

Fairly relieved.

Go plum jelly, go!

Fairly disappointed,

Hiding in the back with the other 3rd placers.
At least not the dreaded disqualified.
Next year, there is always next year.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

My marmalade is in a jam

It's that time of year again! The California State Fair 2017 began to a blistering heat wave this weekend. Our trip there tomorrow is supposed to be "only" in the high 90's, which will feel positively cool compared to what's going on outside at this moment.

Most loyal fair attenders have their favorite venues that must be checked out. The past three years I've entered jelly and marmalade into the canning competition, and now I almost race from the front gates to the "jam building" to see how my entries did. The hard working folks in the Jam and Jelly Competition promise to get the rankings online 48 hours after the results are known. It doesn't happen, I need human eyes to check in person to see how my entries did.

The only thing you can really win in this competition is to get the Best in Division, or Best in Category. All the other jams that didn't get disqualified (my worst nightmare!) are put in classes called 1st Place, 2nd Place, and 3rd Place. Multiple people can share one ranking.

Two years ago my only entry got a red 2nd Place ribbon and I was THA-RILLLLLED! Last year I put in four entries and got blue 1st Place ribbons for all of them. More dances of joy at the fair. So this year I had nowhere to go but up! Or down.

A friend sent me a photo of my sad little Orange Marmalade with its white 3rd Place ribbon. A fruit crushing blow, as I felt it was the best marmalade I'd made to date. No word on the plum jelly, Meghan might not have known to look for my other entry. 

So, the race from the front gates to the Jam Building will be a bit slower this year, because seeing only my Orange Marmalade with it's white 3rd Place ribbon will mean that my plum jelly got the dreaded disqualified. And that would be the pits.

We live at 30' elevation.
The fair people want to know.
This information makes me feel extra short.

The mess only marmalade can make.

Hmm, bubbles are not a good sign.

I gave them their required 10 minute water bath.

If they get disqualified, I'm blaming El Nino.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Year of the Watermelon

Did you know that July is National Watermelon month?
And that August 3rd is National Watermelon Day?
OK, that makes no sense whatsoever, so let's just make 2017 The Year of the Watermelon.

This is a tasty year for the fruit that was made for summer. Or was summer made for watermelon? It's cheap, it's easy, most everyone likes it, you don't have to cook it, or hardly give it one little thought when it's so hot outside that thinking is a luxury.

Recently I was at a catered event. There were ribs, there were salads, both green and potato, there were beans, both bacon flavored and vegan, and there was corn. And then there were those plastic tubs of prechopped fruit. You know the ones - one compartment has under-ripe, tasteless and crunchy honeydew melon, the other has under-ripe, tasteless and crunchy cantaloupe, there's a compartment for mushy watermelon and the middle has a cluster of grapes that comes up in one big batch that makes you look like a fruit hog in the food line.

Why the bad melon when we're having one of the best watermelon years in living memory? The melons of 2017 are juicy and crunchy and sweet and it seems hard to pick a bad one. Here are some tips from the National Watermelon Association on how to look like an expert as you stand in front of the giant vats of watermelon in the produce aisle.

It's as easy as 1, 2, 3.
  1. Look the watermelon over.
    You are looking for a firm, symmetrical watermelon that is free from bruises, cuts or dents.
  2. Lift it up.
    The watermelon should be heavy for its size. Watermelon is 92% water, most of the weight is water.
  3. Turn it over.
    The underside of the watermelon should have a creamy yellow spot from where it sat on the ground and ripened in the sun.
Imagine that, no thumping or tapping or thwonking that poor melon to find a good one, we just have to pick it up and look at its little melon bottom. Of course, if it makes you feel better and you're frustrated at how your summer's going so far, it won't hurt one bit to give it a good kerplunk with an open palm. If you do it with enough confidence and say "Here's a good one" to no one in particular, fellow shoppers will pick up your thwonking technique as if you're some kind of watermelon guru. 

Some more fun watermelon facts:

The US is 5th in world watermelon production. 
The biggest watermelon ever grown weighed 350 pounds.
Seedless watermelon is not a GMO product, it's a natural hybrid.
They have more lycopene than tomatoes.
They need to be washed.
Watermelons need four things: sun, bees, water and 60 days to grow.

Let's ditch the precut up mushy stuff and buy the melons that come in their own compostable covers. They can sit around for a few weeks unrefrigerated, if they last that long. There are some cute ways to cut them and serve them to a crowd, but typically not much skill is involved. No one ever left a picnic or bar-b-que and said "Wow, that watermelon was cut very badly." 

We're planning on eating as much as we can, because when you have a great watermelon year, it must be celebrated!

It's Lycopene Palooza season.

Fruit with its own handles.

Pickled Watermelon Rinds!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Pool House Rules

When I was a little kid, my siblings and I would beg my Dad to "just put in a pool." Please?
When I was a middle size kid, the begging continued. Pretty please?
When I was a teenager, the argument became for "just an above ground pool." Come on!

We never got our pool, which in the end probably saved my skin from being even more wrinkled than it is, plus it made my Mom's house a bit easier to sell.

My Dad's reasoning, which often fell on plugged ears with an occasional "Na Na Na, I can't hear you" drowning him out, was that pools are too much hassle, too expensive and take too much time to maintain. Besides, he said, we had lots of Neighbors With Pools.

My hats go off to our Neighbors With Pools. They were the salt of the earth, or in this case the chlorine. They sat for hours, watching a bunch of gangly kids jump in and out of the water, run when running was strictly forbidden, play Marco Polo for hours, and screech and yell loud enough to be heard four streets away. This was before smart phones, wifi or even cordless phones. What did those moms do to not completely lose their minds? How did all that kid yelling not cause their brains to start oozing out of their ears?

The moms and dads of my old neighborhood took their lifeguarding duties seriously. We knew the rules too, we were absolutely not allowed in any way, shape or form to go swimming without an adult to watch us. In the case of my friend Kim's pool, the fact that her mom worked really put a wrench in our swim-all-day, swim-every-day plans. 

So we got around the rules with this bit of reasoning: If we climbed up on the roof, got a running start so as to clear the cement area around the pool, we could jump in the pool. Jumping is not swimming. Jumping is jumping. Her mom didn't say we couldn't jump unless she was there, she said we couldn't swim unless she was there. Semantics, they are so crucial.

Of course if you find yourself in the middle of a pool for some odd reason, say maybe because you took a running jump off the roof, you sort of had to swim to the side. It wasn't swimming, it was jumping and then taking the necessary steps to exit the pool. A neighbor who saw the whole thing and didn't think much of our plan told Kim's mother, who then had to make some really stupid rule about us really really not being allowed in the pool in any way, shape or form. Nosy neighbor!

Now that we are the people with the pool, I can see why those moms and dads let all us kids use their pool for hours on end, every weekend, every summer night, and as long into the fall as we could bear until our lips turned blue and we shivered all the way home to our house without the pool. It's fun to be the house with the pool. It's fun to hear kids screaming and screeching and yelling until your brains almost ooze out your ears. It would be stupid to let all that chlorine be wasted on quiet adults who merely paddle around trying to not get "too wet."

This sign came with our yard.
This wooden sign, a bit tattered and sun faded, used to have three rules hanging from the bottom. If I recall correctly they were:

Rule #1  No running! Or skipping! Or walking super fast!
Rule #2  Don't do anything in the pool that you would do in your toilet!
Rule #3  No swimming without adult supervision! Or jumping off the roof! Don't look at the water without an adult within 3 feet! Don't even think about swimming without written consent!

(It might have been a bit more succinct, but speaking from experience, kids need rules to be a bit more fleshed out. Semantics, they are so crucial.)

Truthfully, I don't mind the running around the pool part of childhood. Kids run around pools, they just do. It's the falling and cracking the head open part that no one wants to see, so the pesky no running rule will always top the list. But in the end just swim, be safe, and have fun. Screaming is a given.

Rule #4 Don't pop my Gummy Bear Floatie!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Plant-based Eating at WinCo for $5.25 a Day!

What was the result of our plan to eat plant-based foods from WinCo, and only from WinCo, the whole month of May? Did we survive only eating from one store? Did we save money?

While I'll always be a fan of smaller stores, I learned my way around our local WinCo and I got to be quite the efficient shopper. I always hit the produce section first and was pleased to find so many organic choices. Then it was on to the amazing bulk foods area. Did you know you can get bulk Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, yes bulk, at WinCo? I didn't, but wow, just the fact that I could made my day. Week. Year.

My bulk purchases were down at the other end, far from the vats of chocolate treats. Oatmeal, raisins, brown rice, dried beans, you know, the ho hum foods. But ho hum also means cheap cheap, and many times I stared in amazement at the cash register as it tallied up my food buys. Really, that cheap?

We ate well, we ate healthy, and we ate cheap. The plan wasn't really to save money, though. It was to compare it against our usual food costs. While WinCo didn't beat out the 99 Cent Store, not by a long shot, it did save us $75 this month on food costs. 

Things I'll go back for? How much can I rave about their bulk section? They have the best mayacoba beans I've ever tasted. They practically give away their oatmeal. And I got bulk turmeric so cheap I tried not to laugh while at the register.

We came out of this experiment loaded up with fruits and veggies and salads and soups and stews and smoothies and the best veggie tacos I have ever made. Thanks WinCo, it was a Win Win!

While I wouldn't sell my birthright for it, this lentil stew was quite yummy!

Did we eat lots of salads? Kale, yes.

Love me a spicy curry dish with garbanzo beans.

Brown rice salad anyone? Those pepper were on sale. 

Fresh corn and black bean salad with tomatoes and olives.
And more kale salad in the background.

The Best Vegan Tacos on the Planet, with Grilled Peach Salsa.
I made them.
They had tempeh in them.
Yes, WinCo has tempeh!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Growing tomatoes, not tomato plants

I thought I knew tomatoes.
I've been such a sucker.

When it comes to my vegetable garden, I don't have terribly high expectations. My goals are simple:

I don't think that's asking too much. I'm not some kind of urban prepper who is trying to live off the land, avoiding the grocery store as if it were an evil empire. I have no desire to "put up" vegetables, sweating over a canning stove set up in the garage, hoping to line my pantry with gloriously colored jars of goods.

No, I just want to grow a few vegetables, mostly tomatoes. This should be easy, it really should. I know how to do this, I live in Sacra-Tomato for beet's sake. Speaking of winter gardens, I'm not that interested in kale, and collards and massive cabbages. Just give me some nice fat and juicy red tomatoes. Please!

I think this is the year. I don't want to set myself up for too much disappointment, but I think I'm on to something. First, we got rain, and we got lots of it. It rained so much our front yard started to flood one evening, and that is a physically impossible phenomenon. But there I was, staring out the window from our bedroom, yelling at my husband, "The front yard is FLOODING!" Amazing year, that it was. So I'll have no guilt giving my tomatoes the one thing they really love, lots of water, twice a week.

It's now finally warming up, and tomatoes love that too. They don't like it too cold, but they won't "set fruit" when it's ghastly hot either, so we are good on that front. This has been one of the loveliest Springs I ever remember in the Sacramento region. It's halfway through May, and I have not once felt the least bit hot and bothered. It's truly been glorious.

And now, on top of all that water and perfect temperatures, I think I've finally discovered what has been alluding me in my quest to grow tomatoes. 

I've been growing tomato plants, not tomatoes.

Yes, that has been the sad fact for many years now, and I discovered this by typing "How to grow tomatoes in the Sacramento Valley" into YouTube. Trying to work past the many odd people who post badly filmed and blurry tomato videos on the Internet, I came across something amazing and profound about tomatoes.

You have to pick the suckers off them. Tomato plants grow suckers, which to the untrained eye (that would be my eye) look just like they belong. They don't belong, they must go, the sooner the better. Now these suckers are not some random occurrence which comes up once in a blue moon, Oh, no no no. Suckers come up between every single horizontal stem coming off the vertical stalk. They shoot up like the cutest little thing, usually at a 45 degree angle. They used to make me so happy, I thought I was doing everything right as my tomato plants grew to amazing proportions, with these big offshoots growing from the main stalk at 45 degree angles. My what a good urban farmer I am, I would think, as the plants grew and grew, giving me hardly any tomatoes. 

Never again, I'm all over those suckers this year, I'm tearing them off like mad. Take a look again at the photo up top. See the sucker? This one isn't exactly at a 45 degree angle, but no matter, it was a sucker and it is now gone. Once you tear off a sucker, that's not the end of it, it will want to come back, but just keep at it.

My tomato plants don't look as big and full as they usually do by now, with all this hacking away on my part. But another thing the tomato people on YouTube say is that tomato plants need air circulation, and suckers suck air along with water and energy. My plants are putting out the blossoms, and have the cutest little green tomatoes already. This is the year. The Year of the Tomato, not the plant.

Monday, May 1, 2017

SpringCo into Winco!

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,
To give the poor dog a bone;
When she came there,
The cupboard was bare,
And so the poor dog had none.

We've been going heavy on the Mother Hubbard cupboards lately, making sure of course that our poor dog has her bones, and her treats and her kibble.

No, it hasn't been the dog's food we've been running completely out of, it has been our food. But it was on purpose, all part of a long delayed plan. In September of 2016 we did a little food experiment. We bought food exclusively from the 99 Cent Store to see what it would be like to eat a whole food plant based diet, if regular stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and Raley's were not available to us. We live on the edge of a food desert, but we of course have the luxury of food shopping in a variety of different places.

Our "99 Centember" went very well, I was surprised how much produce they carry. The grand total came to $3.33 a day for each of us. The next month we were ready to go straight into Winco October but my Mom's illness took me back east, and the rest of the year was just foggy and sad.

Spring is now in full swing here in Sacramento after a very long and wet and windy winter. The flowers are blooming, the lizards are leaping and we have frogs croaking in our backyard for the first time in four years. Rain, it's a lovely thing!

April was the month to really start cleaning out the cupboards in preparation for this SpringCo WinCo ThingCo. What's my advice for clearing out your freezer, refrigerator and pantry? Just stop grocery shopping. Period. Don't go. If you think you need to go buy more food, look again, there is still food hiding in your house. Now it may not be that favorite thing you love to have for dinner, there is a reason it's sitting uneaten in your home after all. But try to not imagine it as a box of sadly tasteless quinoa. Think of it as a box of money, the money you spent when you bought it. A can of money here, a box of coins, a carton of dollar bills, our cupboards and freezers are just brimming with cash. The Bank of Bad Food Choices right there, ready for withdrawals if you can stand a few menu withdrawals.

After we'd used up every single possible bit of food we had left, I would find more. There was a box way up high in the cupboard that I assumed was a box of party utensils. It wasn't, it was some of those really fast-to-cook see-through noodles, also known as Box-o-Bills. I found that box and I knew there was a meal in there somewhere. I took a can of coconut milk, a can of tomato paste, some curry powder, a squeeze of ginger in a tube and a spoonful of basil in a jar. I mixed that all up and tossed it with the clear, slightly jellyfish-like noodles and sure enough, it was really good. Like make again good.

Another benefit of going through all the food you have is finally using up those odd bits of condiments you might have lingering in the refrigerator. Because when you're desperate to find things to eat, those little jars of dibs and dabs of this and that suddenly become flavor jewels. Squeezable ginger and basil in a jar? Priceless!

But there did come a time when even I said enough was enough. We were down to garlic, rice, tomato paste, quinoa, mustard and pickled beets. And of course the ginger and the basil, but still. It was time to hit the stores, or shall I say store, the same store for the whole month of May.

Perhaps a squeeze of potato on your lemon?

Is it technically even a veggie bin if it has no veggies?

The Last Mango in Paris?

Mustard! We have mustard!

The really good rice noodle stuff I would have never discovered. 
It's May 1st, 2017 and I finally went shopping again. I grabbed some grocery money and headed over to our local WinCo Foods to load up on whole food plant based vegan foods. It isn't hard at all. They have a great produce section, although I wish their organic selection was much bigger. The bulk section is amazing, they have the best looking mayacoba beans I've ever seen. They have Dave's Killer Bread and the only no salt black beans in a can I've ever seen. 

I tried to buy about one week's worth of food, but it was hard to judge because I was starting from almost zero. The rules of the game are we eat exclusively from WinCo for the whole month of May. We'll tally up the results at the end of the month and see if we go over or under the $3.33 a day we averaged at the 99 Cent Store. I'll keep you posted!

Our shopping bags were brimming with wholesome goodness

We are back in business with some produce.

The veggie bins are veggie bins again.

The mango sorbet has some new dance partners.
What have I learned going from incredible abundance food-wise to next to nothing in our house to eat? Nothing, really. Because at any time I could have hopped in my car and drove down to Trader Joe's and stocked up on all my favorite foods - all washed and chopped and diced and packaged up just like us busy people like them. This was a fun experiment, and one that saved us tons of money by using up those weird bits and bites instead of just tossing them out. But it's not deprivation when it's self-deprivation. The one thing I have learned? Keep tomato paste on hand at all times. It can stretch food like nothing else. That little can of tomato concentrate is worth its weight in gold.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

My One Hundred Item Wardrobe

Imagine walking around a room quietly, watching people take a test. Walk. Watch. Walk. Watch. Look awake, but don't bother anyone, they're taking a test. Walk. Watch. It's called proctoring and I used to do it for extra money. I do it now for regular money. And since I enjoy people watching, it's quite an interesting job for me. It gives me lots of time to think of very deep, soul-searching topics that I can meditate on while moving quietly about the room. Thoughts such as:

"If I got home and all my clothes had been somehow destroyed in a small and highly contained natural disaster in my closet, how much would it cost to replace them? All of them."

I came up with the figure of $1000, because let's face it, proctoring pays OK but it's not like performing brain surgery. With that wad of money, I would step into my favorite thrift store, flash my thousand dollars around and ask to see every single Talbots, Jones of New York and Ann Taylor item in the place. I may shop at thrift stores, but that doesn't mean I can't be a brand snob.

"If I had $1000 to spend, I wonder how many clothes that would buy?"

Assuming (thrift store prices here) jackets are $12, dresses $10, suits $20, coats $15, tops $8 etc., I came up with the number. 100 items of clothing.

"Forget the money, forget the closet disaster, can I whittle my clothes down to just 100 items?" 

So after proctoring a 12 hour day, I came home and took everything out of my closet and sorted it according to categories. I had a burst of energy that lasted all the way thru the skirts. While I hate summer, it became apparent that I love summer skirts, because I had quite a few. Mostly Talbots. But instead of following the rule from The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up of Does it spark joy? I decided on another brilliant criterion.

Does it fit?
Does it look good on me? 
If I took off the Talbots label would I still like it?

I eventually tried on every single item in my wardrobe. And then I stood in front of the mirror, because really, that's a big part of the trying-on process. I got another mirror and did the Does it still spark joy from behind? test also. Lots of clothes went bye-bye.

I got my wardrobe down to 96 items, including the pants I like to refer to as loungewear rather than yoga pants, jeans and other things I would wear in public if need be. I was so jazzed, there was room for four more summer skirts! Then my husband started riffling through my discard pile and pulled out 3 tossed tiems that were making his lower lip stick out with sadness, not joy. I relented and took them back into the fold, because I was still under the Life Changing Number of One Hundred. Then I remembered my four coats in the hall closet. Drats! I was at 103 items in my wardrobe. There is positively nothing magical about the number 103. It has no flow, no style. But that's where I'm at, 103.

The Spring/Summer Keeps!

I was ruthless last Fall with footwear, so shoes were easy.

The Blue Bags of Shame, off to be donated.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Windy City Eats

We don't eat out much. Between our strict plant-based diet, our strict budget and the fact that I enjoy cooking (most nights), we probably eat home-cooked meals 95% of the time, if not more.

We try our best to eat on the cheap and healthy when away from home too, and that creates some challenges. Let's see, what are our options?

Chipotle has vegan beans, yippee! Some Mexican food places can deal with our tweaks, which means hold the cheese, the meat, the sour cream and hey, do you have any whole wheat tortillas by any chance? Another option is Thai, most restaurants can accommodate my husband's need to keep his food from being drenched in oil. So that puts us where? Bean and bean burritos with a side of beans, and some Thai dishes served with brown rice, but please hold the salt. It sure isn't easy, and travel adds a bit more baggage to the question of What's for dinner? 

At the beginning of the month we were off to Chicago for another work weekend at the McCormick Center. This was the sixth time for me, the fourth time for my husband. I don't count the time he flew there with me to enjoy the hotel room, the city and the sights, while I limped around proctoring for days on end. No, I don't count that time. 

Working the job we have there has its advantages. There's the fact we get paid, and the hours do add up. We get to stay in a great hotel, work with some super people and see more and more of Chicago each time. There's just one minor detail that makes it hard. It's those horrid wake-up times for the days we work. I didn't get the rooster gene, so any alarm set before 5:30 AM seems positively barbaric. 

Gulp! That's 1:45 AM Sacramento time.

But I get through it. The food helps. It really helps.

Even though we live in the Farm to Fork Capital, Chicago has it all over Sacramento when it comes to vegan food options. A regular Mexican restaurant that has an entire section of the menu devoted to vegan food? Chicago has it. None of this, "Can I have some extra beans on my nachos to make up for the fact I'm not having cheese and sour cream?" La Cantina Grill has a menu that makes us swoon. While Ernst is making his more serious dietary issues known to the server, I'm just going hog wild ordering off the plant-based menu.

Oh. My. Word.
Chili rellenos stuffed with vegan cheese. It made that 3:45AM wake up call all better.

"Meat" tacos.
It didn't taste like meat. That's not the point. It just tasted wonderful.

We were in Chicago for four nights. We went to the Cantina Grill twice. One night we ordered three entrees between us. Let's see - two people, two visits, five entrees. Yep, we love this place!

Our friend Lorena also did her homework for us, and brought us to some great places. One was The Chicago Diner - Meat Free Since '83. This place didn't just have one page of choices, the whole menu was plant-based. Well, maybe that's a stretch, I'm sure some of the entrees had stuff that we would never eat at home. But when in Rome and all that.

My yummy sweet potato burger.

Ernst had the "meat loaf".
He was a happy boy.

I kept myself to only one entree.
But I did order the "milk" shake.
I was a happy girl.

The highlight of our resturant adventures in Chicago was definitely a visit to Revolution Brewing. We planned on just stopping in briefly for a tasting and a brewery tour and then we were headed with Lorena to a vegan-friendly Costa Rican place she'd found. While Ernst and Lorena were going to look for parking, they dropped me off street side. "Beware of the man in the red cape" our hostess warned me as I exited the vehicle. And sure enough, a very interesting man in a red cape was walking down the street. When he entered the brewery ahead of me, I had no idea what was in store inside.

I walked into a brewery full of people in red capes! We had come to the place on a pre-Comicon Kickoff Night, and it was full of interesting characters. It was hilarious fun! There were people in all kinds of costumes, there was a drawing for prizes, and best of all, there was a buffet! A free buffet, or at least we think it was free. And they had vegan burgers in this seemingly free buffet. We never made it to the Costa Rican place.

Beware of the man in the red cape!

Lorena, Hop Head Woman, Ernst and me.
Chicago, we will be back.
We still need to try the Costa Rican place.