Monday, September 26, 2011

Week of Food, day 1: France and Savannah

This week I am going to talk about food, cooking, eating and drinking.

One of the groups I follow on Yahoo has been talking about all things French, and one of the constant points of conversation is the difference between the American and French notion of food. This is a great topic, and a very rich one, but the focus of the online discussion always veers into weight, overweight, overeating, and the idea that the French and Americans eat so very differently. American women mourning their bodies, sadly.

I agree that the French and Americans view food differently, but the focus on weight and diets in this discussion is too often on some magical idea about French cuisine and doesn't recognise some basic facts about French habits of eating or the fact that not every French woman is thin.

First, portions. The French (and nearly everyone else in the world) simply eat smaller portions of everything. In France you cannot buy a Big Gulp or a Venti or a SuperSize or Buckets of whatever. There are no all-you-can-eat buffets and endless helpings. They do not think of dining out as a Value Meal. They do not have fast food--or not in the sense we mean.

Instead, they eat less. Servings come in 4 or 6 ounces, not Big as Your Head. This is especially true for meat: in grocery stores and restaurant, a 4-ounce serving of meat is ample. Side dishes come in at about the same size. Salads are big, but if ordered in a cafe, they constitute a meal. My favorite salad is the warm goat's-cheese salad, which usually comes with four toasted rounds of goat cheese on half slices of bread, plus greens. Puh-lenty of food, and never leaves one groggy and overwhelmed post-dining.

Great meals, like in the restaurant Le Grand Vefour, come in courses, allowing ample opportunity for conversation, enjoying the food, and leaving something on the plate.

Second, no multi-tasking at meals. You don't drive through, or watch tv, or work. You might read, or listen to music, but primary attention must be paid to the food on your plate, whether home or in a restaurant. Yes, the French are constantly on their phones, but not during a meal. And you sit: you don't get something to go and walkabout with it, eating on the street.

Third, a light hand with sugar and frying. The French cuisine is not based on covering everything with batter and deep-frying it. Ergo, fewer calories. It is similarly not based on infusing everything with sugar, corn syrup, and sweeteners. Seriously, if you want to be alarmed, start reading labels not for fat or calories, but for sugar content. All American processed foods, including yogurt and juice, contain some form of sugar, and diet items contain those nasty faux-sugar substitutes.

Fourth, simply great ingredients. French cooks--home or restaurant--do not skimp on quality in produce, meat, and in fact everything. They expect and buy fresh materials, keeping ingredients only 1-3 days before cooking them. Again, this requires more time spent on preparation, but results in the most delightful product.

That said, the meal I had at the Olde Pink House in Savannah on Friday night last was not controlled. Oh my goodness, I set out to have a spectacular meal, and I did: a four-course feast of Low Country cooking, dressed up in a sparkly purple gown.

My starter was a plate of Blackened Oysters, six of them, wearing three different relishes: watermelon relish, pear & apricot chutney, and green tomato chow chow. The last one was the best, to die for. The other two weren't sad, however. My waiter gave me a taste of the Riesling with this, just a mouthful, that he recommended.

Then I had the BLT salad: fried green tomatoes and sweet bacon with black pepper thyme buttermilk dressing, which came in a little tower or sandwich. I knocked it over and ate it all. With this I had a small glass of champagne.

For my main course I had an off-the-menu item, Jumbo Shrimp and Grits. Recipe? Here it is. I ate about half of this, as it came with a delicious mess of collard greens. With this I had a glass of California chardonnay.

For dessert, I had key lime pie... real, authentic key lime pie. And coffee.

It was all great. It took me close to three hours to enjoy it all, from starter to coffee, and then I walked back to the hotel--about a quarter mile. I should say that I had a martini before dinner, one of the best I've had in a while.  Delightfully full--not groggy, not swollen--after. Beautiful presentation, excellent waiter.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Off on an adventure!

Sorry to be so spotty about entries lately. I am off today to Savannah, Georgia, to a conference and have been writing and prepping my presentation over the last week. It is al-most ready to go, which is good, although I am not up until tomorrow at 4 pm.

Very excited about going to Savannah, which is a place I have never been before. I plan to visit the home of Juliette Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts, as well as do a walking tour of the historical sites on Saturday. And eat good Low Country cooking and barbecue.

My presentation is on William Gillette, the American actor who created the persona of Sherlock Holmes for the stage, which then made its way into film and television. I am talking about the enduring legacy of Gillette, even in the newest batch of Holmes films and programming.

William Gillette, about the turn of the century

Gillette as Holmes on stage

Gillette was an inventor and playwright as well as actor, and left his "castle" in Connecticut, which one can still visit. He was a friend and protege of Mark Twain.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Cooking, Food Shopping, and my Pantry Challenge

Life has been so very busy that I haven't been cooking as much as I like. I am focusing on quick salads and easily prepared main dishes--and after all, I only have to feed and please myself.

Here's what I have always hated about making salads: constant cutting, dicing, washing, spinning of the different elements. Solution: I've started buying really good, high quality organic lettuce in plastic packs. A mix of "super greens" and bags of romaine hearts as the basis for twice-a-day salads. My initial concern was the higher cost--seems ridiculous, on the face of it, right? just wash the damn lettuce! I tell myself... but I don't. The outcome, however, is that it is so easy to grab a handful of clean greens, chopped romaine hearts and dump them into a big bowl, add cherry/grape tomatoes, snap peas, chopped celery, crumbled feta, and either a half-can of tuna or a sliced hard-boiled egg. And whatever else is in the fridge.

How stupid was I?

Ok, I am all over that. The outcome is a great lunch for me at school twice weekly, plus at home ease.

Once cooler weather comes I want to start playing with slow-cooker soups again. Mostly beans, chicken, and beef, plus vegetables, using homemade stock or organic boxed broth.

This week I cooked:
  • Black bean soup, with organic pork sausage, onion, garlic, and thyme
  • Chicken breasts rolled around roasted red pepper strips and goat cheese
  • Salmon with Old Bay and lemon
Because of my low-carb diet, I am not cooking breads, cakes, or anything like that. In other words, my flour, sugar, and various cooking supplies are going begging. One pantry shelf is completely full of these supplies, while I waffle about what to do with them. My constant notion: cook cupcakes or cookies for my students. Love the process, give away the results...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Another week in my closet

For the first time since classes started--requiring four days (or more) weekly when I dress for teaching and meetings out of my house--I feel as if everything has fallen into place gracefully.

This week, for instance, I made a two-week list of possible outfits, including accessories and shoes, and posted it inside my closet. Every morning, I am ready to go... although there have been tweaks.

What a relief! Outside of ironing something every day since almost every piece is linen or cotton, this has made my life so much easier.

To be honest, I have managed to make it easier by:
  • consistently wearing one of three pairs of shoes: black ballerines, black sandals, brown sandals
  • almost consistently wearing one of two pairs of earrings: my amber-silver drops or gold hoops
  • carrying the same orange-pink tote/purse daily
  • going with simple blouse/tunic/t-shirt + skirt combinations and dressing them up
But this week I didn't feel as if I was simply grabbing something from my closet. The time put in to make a list (for two weeks!) and post it has definitely been worth it. Not only am I sure what I plan to wear is clean and pressed, but I have accessories selected.

Which in turn means that I am making it a point to include all my summer scarves, necklaces, and bracelets as I move toward--you guessed it!--weeding them out. I have already added several necklaces, several pairs of summer shoes, and another summer scarf to the donation bin building for the next big end-of-month donation run. I also made a point to turn my hangers backwards and am keeping track of which pieces of clothing don't get into regular rotation: again, end purpose is donation of those same items.

It is not as if I didn't take these actions before: weeding out closets, donating or discarding items, finding new ways to include less-used items. I always did, but without really connecting these actions or putting them in a bigger picture, especially economically. Now, by doing all this consciously, I have a closet full of clothes and accessories I love and wear, I don't feel guilty about the unused items (they're gone or going!), and I don't impulse shop. Sigh of pleasure....

I really cannot wait to do this soon with my autumn clothes, but the other part of this is the big, open closet in which I keep my in-season clothes, compared with the smaller, cramped out-of-season closet. When I can see my clothes hanging in an organized, not cramped manner, it is so much easier to realize what has to go, what I love, and what I love that needs to be worn--or donated.

And pick out those 20 items that will form the basis of that checkout experiment challenge.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

September goal

Yes, on top of the "7 in 7" I am adding a September goal... in part because my month has gotten hijacked by teaching, thanks for inspiration from Unclutterer.

Why am I surprised that the 14 hours I spend weekly in the classroom, plus the 14-20 hours spent weekly preparing the classtime has hijacked my house, my cooking, my friendships, and my personal work? It is, after all, familiar territory. I spend 1-2 hours outside class for every hour I spend teaching... plus meetings with students, emailing students, in meetings with faculty peers, and planning projects (two on burner now).

This is, however, why I set the resolution about both Community and Creative Work for 2011: so that my day-to-day teaching would not overshadow these necessary elements of my life.

Completing the organization and decluttering of my study is a necessary step in both these areas, since the study includes not only my at-home writing/research space, but an area for sitting down with friends.

What needs to be done, now? Completing the organization of my study. Started it, got well into the task... and then stopped. I need a new shredder (killed mine!), need to file paperwork, need to hang bulletin boards and framed art, need to clean off flat surfaces.

October 1 is the new deadline for this project being DONE.
  1. Buy new shredder
  2. Shred sensitive documents
  3. File all retained documents in filing bins
  4. Hang bulletin board
  5. Hang framed sampler
  6. De-clutter flat surfaces and study floor
  7. Get rid of cartons, boxes, extra bins in recycling and Goodwill
 Good luck to me!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"7 in 7," Day 4

So far I am a leetle behind... the last two weeks have been so busy! And more to come on the countdown to Savannah, next week.

But here I am:
  1. return two pairs of shoes ordered online to the intown outlet
  2. return Amazon items via mail
  3. return Talbot's cardigan to store and order correct size
  4. donate/drop off two printers plus materials to the Salvation Army
  5. contact Buffalo Exchange about their autumn donations
  6. list two items on eBay for sale
  7. meet with The Tax Man and complete my 2010 taxes for refund

 Today is going to be a light day--no dropping off, in other words.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

New "7 in 7" Challenge

This week, I am challenging myself to a new "7 in 7" challenge, all concerning tasks I have been putting off.

They are, in no particular order:
  1. return two pairs of shoes ordered online to the intown outlet 
  2. return Amazon items via mail
  3. return Talbot's cardigan to store and order correct size
  4. donate/drop off two printers plus materials to the Salvation Army
  5. contact Buffalo Exchange about their autumn donation "needs"
  6. complete donations, business & medical expenses for 2010 tax forms
  7. meet with The Tax Man and complete my 2010 taxes for refund
By next Friday, these should all be done...

Oh, and going through my closet last weekend, I found not four but six items to donate, including a two-piece suit I haven't worn in at least two decades. It was lurking deep in the back.

Does that mean I can buy two new wardrobe pieces?????

Friday, September 9, 2011

And... we're off!

Three full weeks into the semester and it feels like the sprinting part is over. Now for the marathon!

So far, my semester has been wonderful. I teach one class of sophomores, one of juniors, one of seniors (all these are undergraduates), and one class for night-school graduate students getting their Master of Liberal Studies degrees. Quite the variety of experiential knowledge and individual behavior. out of the gate, the juniors (closely followed by the night-school group) are the best students: energetic, vibrant, joyful, and curious.

We've also had one week of break from the dense heat of north central Texas--and while I am mindful of my fellow Americans being hammered by Irene and other storms, brush fires and droughts, the fact is that it is a blessing to have days where one can go outside during the day and not simply feel ill from the heat and pollution. My parents lost power for four days during Irene, but had little else happened except a basement flood. My sister lost some shingles and got her house soaked, of course, but also very little real damage.

Because I spent the week not only in classes (14 hours weekly in class, about double that in preparation!) but student and committee meetings, I am behind in my own housework. I must putter today, cleaning out email boxes as well as real boxes, bins, sinks, and showers.

I hope you are all well.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

My closet and the experiment

Last year I waded in to the Express Checkout Experiment, and found that I could certainly dress myself well with only a portion of what was in my closet... and have no regrets about not wearing the rest. I ended with 20 pieces (adding 5 onto the original 15) and was very happy and surprised at the result.

It also kickstarted my 2010 donation spree, wherein I gave away a good portion of my clothing because I wasn't wearing it.

What did I learn from this? Plan ahead.

Having faced the fall-winter future of my wardrobe, I did in fact do the bold thing and bought four very significant pieces in one week's swoop:
  • the gray merino long cardigan
  • the gray merino sheath dress
  • the dark red ponte dress
  • the black merino long cardigan (second pass)
This is unusual and quite a big leap for me, but it wouldn't have happened without my previous stalking of fall styles I could afford, followed by a surprisingly fun couple hours of trying things on. Everything I bought I consider investment clothing, that I will wear for ten years at least on the job and to slightly dressy events. I imagine the two cardigans will also be worked in combination with jeans, trousers, casual sweaters, and tees, making them even more useful.

Bonus: these clothes and colors are right up my style alley, which will make me feel good as well. Good about the price, good about the quality, good about the overall look. Yay, me!

This weekend, given the extra day off from teaching (thank you, Gods of Labor!), I plan two things. First, a swoop through my fall-winter clothes to find the four things I must now give to Goodwill. "Item in, item out" is the new rule in my house. Second, an overall scope of same wardrobe with an eye to what beyond that needs to be discarded, mended, given away, or thrown out; out of that will come a list of what else I need (not just want) to buy.

I already know one of those need-to-buy will be a classic pair of charcoal or chocolate flannel trousers.

Beyond that, however, the list is empty. And before I can buy anything more--in any case--I have several items to take to my tailor for alteration. Another switch: using the tailor for more than turning up hems. For instance, I have a lovely maxi-length straight skirt in a paisley pattern of light and bold turquoise, light and bold cocoa, and lavender; it is too long and straight for me to wear as it is, but I love the overall fit and the colors. The tailor is going to turn it into a nice knee-length pencil skirt, and Voila! I have 5 or 6 sweaters and blouses that will match. Never wore it, going to wear it. Happiness.

And just for fun, here is what I am considering next: a new scent: Jo Malone's Wild Bluebell.

Yes, the picture is not what does it for me--kind of scary, actually--but the scent. It is very fresh and clean, without being sweet. I think it might be an interesting alternative to the Vintage Gardenia I already use, also from Jo Malone.

It is hard for me to discover a new scent I want to wear regularly. How about you?