All Aboard the Spooky Caravan!

Aboard the spooky hayride

Note: My heart goes out to all who have suffered due to Hurricane Sandy. New Jersey was one of the hardest hit and I am wishing everyone there, and everywhere, a speedy recovery.

I love tradition, friends, and adventures close to home. Every fall I look forward to getting an email from my friend Andi inviting me along on the “Spooky Caravan” – a day long adventure through New Jersey or Long Island that properly celebrates the fall season, samples local produce and products, and ends with a haunted house or hay ride.

The pumpkin patch at Stony Hilly Gardens

This year Andi and our friend Stephen went all out. They rented a 15 passenger van, Andi handed out trick or treat bags full of candy, and they plotted a perfectly timed route that took us through rolling farm land into rural New Jersey, which is the kind of pastoral landscape I had no idea existed in that oft-maligned state and less than an hour from New York City.

Foraging for Butternut squash

We were victorious in the corn maze!

The day began with a pick-your-own adventure at Stony Hill Gardens. We took a hayride out into a huge field, oddly situated under high-tension wires, and picked apples, pumpkins, and vegetables. We also conquered that favorite of farm fall traditions: the corn maze.

Corn maze navigation. Photo by Stephen Musgrave

A beautiful horse friend at the Valley Shepherd

After I picked half my weight in apples and we filled up on hot cider and doughnuts we loaded ourselves back into the van and headed to the next stop: The Valley Shepherd Creamery in Long Valley, New Jersey. It was the perfect place for lunch on a sunny mid-October Saturday. The farm features a shop where you can buy beautiful cheeses right from the source, and also bread, sausage and other picnic essentials. As we ate our local bounty we sat at a picnic table and watched sheep, llamas and a beautiful draft horse wander around in the pasture in front of us. Did someone say pastoral?

Artisan cheeses and sausage at the source!

Horse and sheet at the Valley Shepherd

We followed up lunch with a quick stop at the Long Valley Pub and Brewery for a tasting flight of their local brews. While it wasn’t on our original itinerary it was right around the corner from the creamery and seemed too perfect to resist sitting out on their large stone patio to take in the waning afternoon.

Tasting flight at Long Valley Pub and Brewery

As the sun began to sink we pressed on through small towns, forests and more rolling farmland to the Beneduce Vinyards. I had no idea New Jersey even had wineries, much less decent ones. Beneduce is a friendly, welcoming affair. We hadn’t been there five minutes when I was invited to stir some vats of freshly made wine. I’ve never had the chance to get hands on with the wine making process at any other vineyard I’ve been to and I really loved it.

Stirring the new wine at Beneduce Vineyards

For the wine tasting we got to sit in our own private green house and sampled 5 of the vineyard’s wines, all for $5. It felt really special and convivial and I hope to go back and take a tour of the vines themselves.

Me and spooky tour organizer Andi at Stony Hill Gardens. Thanks Stephen Musgrave for the photo!

The day concluded with us sitting around a bonfire at a “haunted” farm, roasting marshmallows, looking at the stars through the woodsmoke, and marveling at all the bounty that was so close to home.

Spooky caravan! By Stephen Musgrave

Weighty Issues: Learning to lose it and like the process

Fall Colors

Me, now. Blouse: Brooklyn Industries, Skirt: bought from Beacon's Closet, Tights: Urban Outfitters, Shoes: Etienne Aigner (vintage, from Mom)

I feel a sense of excitement and trepidation as I write this entry. I thought that something as personal as weight was a subject for me alone to think about and that this blog, which is so personal and yet takes a measured distance from my personal life, would not be the forum to discuss it. But then my wonderfully smart and brave friend Laura wrote about her relationship to food and eating on her blog. And even my favorite fashion blogging star, Garance Dore, wrote about her experience with gaining (and loosing) weight when she moved to NYC in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2. If they can do it, I thought, so can I.

I never thought I would be someone who would want, or need, to lose weight. I was always thin, and curvy, yes, but thin. Until I wasn’t. Around the time I hit 25 and started spending more time working at a desk things started to change. I gradually noticed I couldn’t fit into pants I had worn in college. My beloved vintage dresses didn’t button any more. Quietly, I gave these things away, figuring they didn’t match my style anymore anyways. Besides, I told myself, I was active. I biked to work several days a week and swam laps regularly, took dance classes, did yoga and pilates and, being a New Yorker, walked far and often. While I was raised not to weigh myself and still don’t own a scale I noticed that even when I was swimming four days a week the scale at the gym was stubbornly stuck at 155. It says I weigh 130 on my drivers license.

Grey, black, red

Me, February 2011, 156 pounds. Dress: Brooklyn Industries dress and Ellips shoes.

“Oh, well,” I thought, “This is how things are, you get older and that’s it.” I noticed that I had to buy larger sized clothes and kept that fact to myself. I felt powerless. No one around me, not my friends, partner or family, ever said anything about my changing size and shape. I credit them with being supportive of me no matter how I look. However, I felt long from the person I wanted to be, or knew that I could be. I didn’t fully recognize myself in pictures and felt uncomfortable about shoving myself into my jeans that were progressively harder to button.

Fall back on chic black

Me, now, 136 pounds. Dress: American Apparel, tights: Hue, Shoes: Dolce Vita

Last winter I started to reflect on the fact I would be turning 30 in May. I wanted to change many of the things that I was unhappy with in my life and set its course for the direction I wanted it to go as I began my next decade. I decided writing and being happy with my employment were two of my main goals. In the back of my head I also decided I wanted to loose weight. Two of my friends from my old job had gone on Weight Watchers to amazing results. They loved the program and sang its praises. I looked at the website, almost signed up, and decided, no, I could lose weight on my own.

As soon as I decided I wanted to lose weight I started to invent excuses why I couldn’t. Some were fairly logical, such as: I work full time and am in graduate school, do I really need to put the extra pressure of weight loss on top of everything else I need to accomplish?  Other excuses were a little more ridiculous: I’m too European to worry about weight (excuse me, Eleanor, for all your airs you were born and raised in the USA), to “I’m too much of a feminist to go on a diet.”

Remember, I grew up with Riot Grrrl and “Riots, Not Diets!” was a popular slogan. And to this day I do believe that the way women are made to feel about their bodies by mainstream society is ridiculous and unhealthy. Everyone should decide what health means to them, and how they want to feel comfortable in their own skin.

One of my favorite songs as a teenager was by a beloved-by-me  Scottish Indie pop band Bis. The song was called Monstarr and the lines that stick out to me are “I cannot be normal because I’m not a size 10? Should I be embarrassed, is it such a crime? Funny how your life depends upon your waistline!”  The singer, Manda Rin, also wrote about being a feminist and loosing weight in her zine, and how she could feel positive about her body and health decisions while supporting other girls in theirs.

It was going on a lovely holiday to the Caribbean with SMH and seeing pictures of myself in a bathing suit that pushed me beyond the excuses. I looked at those photos, horrified. “That cannot be me,” I told myself. It wasn’t that I looked so overweight, it’s that I didn’t look like myself. Something had to change.

I borrowed French Women Don’t Get Fat from a supportive co-worker (the title of which I know will make many of my French friends laugh) and found it surprisingly well written and full of sensible advice about eating less and enjoying life. I also found it difficult to muster the willpower to follow the advise. In despair I found myself eating a butter croissant almost every morning, and a huge lunch, followed by a snack before class and then a snack and dinner after. I was panicking about being hungry, especially on days I had school until late. I could not leave the house without taking piles of food with me. This was not a recipe for success.

Finally, while Corita was mixing our record, I shared my feelings with Marisha, one of my beloved bandmates and a lifetime Weight Watchers member. I tried the “I’m too feminist,” excuse on her and she set me straight right away. “I’m a feminist, I’m a lifetime member, sign up,” she told me. I did, right there in the recording studio. Marisha also told me about Bitch Cakes, a super stylish, feminist, femmey lady who rides a pink bike in high heels and is also a member of WW. Sweet.

I was really nervous about my first Weight Watchers meeting. Who would be there? Would they be nice? Would it be awkward? Would I have to share? I went to a meeting near my work on my lunch break. I weighed in, signed up with the sweet receptionists, and picked up the weekly circular, which is full of good advice and recipes. I looked around. The group was mostly women, for sure, but women of all ages and some men too. Super diverse, a range of ages. Immediately I felt comfortable. This could be fun. This could be possible.

I began to look forward to the weekly meetings. They are so focused on being proactive and taking control of your life and your health, managing your expectations and being kind to yourself, as well as daring you to try new things that they really felt like cheap therapy. I could see that it wasn’t just marketing hype: Weight Watchers teaches healthy habits and takes a holistic approach.

The first time I stepped on the scale and found out I lost weight I was amazed. I never thought I could do it. When I lost my first five pounds Mel, my meeting leader, told me to go to the grocery store and pick up a 5 pound bag of carrots – that’s how much weight I had gotten rid of.  Next time I was at the co-op I gave it a try. 5 pounds is a lot to carry around!

Enjoying fall color block and dots!

Me, now, 136 pounds, in a new pair of pants, size 28! First time ever! Brooklyn Industries blouse, Urban Outfitters slim jeans, Swedish Hasbeens shoes

I’ll admit it, the first month or two was really tough. I felt resentful that things I loved, such as croissants, bagels, cheese and pasta, had to take a back seat in my life. I had to watch how much I drank on the weekends and switched my morning low-fat yogurt to non-fat yogurt. I looked at other women who seemed so much skinnier than me and yet chowed down on sandwiches for lunch and felt resentful. I had momentary freak outs looking at restaurant menus. But I stuck with it. I remembered a piece of advice I read somewhere in the WW materials, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”

While I had to adjust my eating habits (and as you know, I love food) I feel lucky I didn’t have to learn how to cook and eat healthily. I was raised eating salads, lean protein and whole grains. I share a kitchen with an amazing and sensitive cook. I was already active and I made a point of sticking to my activities. But WW also pushed me to try things I never would have otherwise. I learned how to run (and like it) from my amazing friend Emily Kramer as part of her Spirit Boxing workshop (I never thought I would ever run for exercise, much less sprint up the hill in Prospect Park with a bunch of other awesome feminists and queers!). I pushed myself to workout when I was traveling for work. And I learned to be satisfied with less food. “Why do I want to eat this?” I would ask myself, “Am I tired, bored, or really hungry? Could I eat a piece of fruit instead?”

It worked. I set my first goal as to loose 10 pounds – from 156 to 146 (which was also the top of my healthy weight range for my height). When I dropped below 150 I couldn’t believe it – the first time in how many years? I reflected on what I looked like and how I felt and thought, let’s try for an even 20 pounds. Then I’d be well within my healthy weight range and also I thought keep enough meat on my bones to look healthy on my broad shouldered/broad hipped frame.

Here’s where I admit to something else: I took my time with the plan. I started at the end of March and now, in the middle of October, I’ve met my goal. But, as they say, slow and steady (and gaining a few weeks and then eating well and exercising with renewed motivation the following weeks) wins the race. My muffin top disappeared.  I recently had to buy new pants because my old ones were too baggy. My dresses fit me better than they ever have. I feel lighter, freer, more comfortable with myself. Most importantly, I did this my way with the help of a structure that encourages health and balance and self-knowledge. You read this blog, you know me. I love regional food specialties and a good cocktail or pastry, but I also know to keep it more in proportion. I also know: no more excuses. If I can meet this goal while I work full time and go to university, what else can I accomplish? How about that lifetime goal of being a writer?

“Dumpster Diving, Tofu + Zines” in Remedy Quarterly

Remedy Quarterly Issue 6 from Kelly Carambula

I am so pleased to announce that a story about my young days as a punk rock zinester back in Portland, Oregon has been published in the wonderful journal Remedy Quarterly. Run by Kelly Carambula of the fantastic food (and lovely cocktail) blog Eat Make Read, the publication features “Stories of food, recipes for feeling good.” Each issue is put together around a theme and the newly released issue number six has “Stealing” as its binding idea. As with anything theme driven it’s really fun to see how each author interpreted that theme. My piece takes on the late 1990’s punk community’s views on stealing and how we used that to our advantage to help feed hungry zinesters at the first Portland Zine Symposium in 2001. It also features a recipe for my potluck standby, peanut tofu noodles.

Not only is Remedy Quarterly a pleasure to read, but it is beautifully designed. It even features original fonts by Aaron Carambula, among others. In this digital age it’s nice to find a beautiful magazine you can hold in your hand, so the article is only available in the paper journal. Treat yourself! And why not subscribe and support independent publishing and cooking?

Yay! My piece (& recipe) on stealing tofu in the new issue of @remedyquarterly

And yes, I totally cross posted this to my food blog, 2 Cooks in the Kitchen.

A Block of the Flatiron on a Snowy Day

While I love the Flatiron building for its iconic New Yorkness I’ve never though much about the neighborhood. Working near there for a year now I’ve been meaning to write about my discovery of the square block of West 18th and 19th streets between 5th and 6th avenues. The places on the avenues I could do without, but once you step off of them there’s a wealth of interesting and surprising places to behold. I’ve been meaning to write about this little block for quite sometime, but now that I’ll be leaving my job in Chelsea next week to go back to working in Brooklyn I decided to take a walk on a snowy lunch and enjoy these places one more time.

City Bakery Pretzel Croissants: Worth the Price.

Nearly every Friday morning (and other mornings too) around 11 my stomach starts to rumble and often I give in to the temptation to reward myself with a crispy, yet chewy, salty and delicately buttery Pretzel Croissant from City Bakery. Home to unique, delicious, heavy on the butter and also on the wallet backed goods, City Bakery is famous, but somehow I had never really paid attention to it until I started working in the area. They are known for their hot chocolate, but I will warn you: it’s a meal in itself. Choose wisely: pretzel croissant OR hot chocolate. And I just got word today they have started to make chocolate croissants again after four years of not. It looks like I might be leaving the neighborhood just in time!

Paper Presentation is located just a few steps closer to 6th avenue from City Bakery. It runs the length of the block between 18th and 19th streets, so it’s also great to wander through and avoid elbowing through the crowds on 5th or 6th avenues. All kinds of great things: stickers, paper plates, cards, envelopes, handmade folders and portfolios, supplies for crafting and scrapbooking… I could look in here all day.

Note card dispaly at Paper Presentation

Seals at Paper Presentation

If you’ve crossed through Paper Presentation to West 19th street you can easily find my two favorite stores, almost facing each other. On the south side of the street is a store on the second floor with big, wide windows: Idlewild Books. I was delighted to discover this cozy, welcoming bookstore devoted to travel books, foreign books in translation, and books in French, Spanish and Italian. They also offer language classes and will order you any books they don’t carry (and possibly offer you a discount on it!). I would go here and browse the shelves when I was feeling particularly homesick for Paris. Granted, you might pay a bit of a mark up for a Livre de Poche, but that price is worth it for a little bit of escapism.

Idlewild Books, where I buy more books in French than I can ever possibly read.

Speaking of escapism of another kind, on the north side of West 19th street is Bottlerocket Wine and Spirit. They have an excellent selection of wines organized by region, cooking taste, price and other themes. The staff will never look down their nose at you. The best part is that even if you choose the lowliest $9 bottle of red wine they cheerfully print out tasting notes for you. I feel like I enjoy everything I buy there more because it’s just such a pleasant experience!

Even Bottlerocket Wine and Spirit's facade is inviting

There’s many other delights tucked into these streets, most notably the Japanese answer to Ikea, Muji, and the chidren’s book emporium Books of Wonder and the Cupcake Cafe, but I will leave you to discover them. However, if Paper Presentation didn’t provide what you were looking for there is also A.I. Friedman for office supplies, framing, art supplies, and office furniture.

Pantone color storage boxes at A.I. Friedman

A collection of stylish desk lamps

Finally, though it takes you a little off the block, for that perfect accessory you are looking for, cross 6th avenue, walk down to 17th street and pop into Pippin Vintage Jewelry. They also have a tiny house behind their store full of vintage home goods. You will feel like you’ve stepped into a fairytale cottage in the middle of Chelsea.

Pippin Vintage is tempting and very reasonably priced!

And what to wear for a walk around the block in the snow? A girl detective outfit, legwarmers and high heel boots, of course.

Snowy day girl detective

Community Cooking Club: Delicious Daytime Lunch Specials

Community Cooking Club

Cooking at the Community Cooking Club!

I recently led a workshop on making food that was easy to bring for lunch at work or school at the Community Cooking Club‘s 5th incarnation at Etsy labs. I wrote all about it and shared the recipes on 2 Cooks in the Kitchen, posted photos on flickr, and even a video on YouTube! Check it out and happy cooking!

New Food Blog, 2 Cooks in the Kicthen!

The Spread (labled)
Originally uploaded by killerfemme

I’ve decided to spread the blogging love and have started a collaborative food blog with my favorite chef SMH. We started our blog, 2 Cooks in the Kitchen, to be a collective project to share our love of cooking, eating and outer borough culinary exploration with our friends in New York City and the rest of the world. We hope to be the blog to visit if you are looking for the perfect market in Brooklyn, an ideal summertime vegan desert, are looking for the perfect thing to do with that strange vegetable you got from your farm share, or just enjoy reading about cooking and eating. We’re just getting started and welcome your feedback, ideas, and comments.

In addition, we’ll be serving sandwiches at the Desk Set’s Biblioball on Friday, December 11th. It’s a fundraiser for Literacy for Incarcerated Teens and also promises to be a lot of fun. Read the entry about it for details!

Hope you’ll join me on WordPress and continue to follow me on blogger!

Flat White, Soho, London

Fueling my need for coffee, this was my first stop in London. The staff were super nice and they were even playing My Bloody Valentine when I walked in. Keight had recommended it and I was thankful for a good, independent coffee shop to visit in Starbucks land (I think there’s even more Starbucks in London than in NYC!). In case you were wondering what a Flat White is, Keight looked it up:

“i had to look it up…

a flat white and a latte is almost exactly the same thing, generally same 1/3 espresso to 2/3 milk ratio, but a flat white doesn’t include much of the foamy milk at the top (either it’s held back or mixed in with the rest of the milk, descriptions conflict on this detail). hence the “flat.”

as some dude stated on the coffeesnob forum:

“So if a flat white is a latte without 10mm of ‘more aerated’ textured milk in it, what it a long black with a dash of milk?

Lets face it, most cafes would not produce a discernably different product if you asked for both, other that being served in a glass and a cup.

… it’s a subtle distinction.”
Thanks Keight!

Punks at Pure Food and Wine

Punks at Pure Food and Wine
Originally uploaded by killerfemme

The blow of all these departures was softened by a visit from the Maine punks Dugan (now living in Cincinnati and studying to be Portland’s furture planner) and Matt. We celebrated by going to Pure Food and Wine, where our friend Neal is the head chef. We got desserts, including the peach parfait and tiramisu. All vegan and raw… wow.