Saturday, 29 July 2017

Summer Minimalism and Blueberry Cake

When I walk down the street in my smallish town, it strikes me that more people than not are employing a form of style minimalism.  This may or may not be deliberate and it is arguable that some people do it more stylishly though also arguable that many people aren't concerned much with being stylish.

Personal style minimalism can be summed up with the advice to wear simple clothing, only one or two accessories, wear what suits you and what you like.  You can't please everyone so there will always be someone who thinks you don't look good.  So what.  I would suggest that most people also don't care what you look like so suit yourself.

As I settle more and more into a return to a minimalist personal style it isn't any sort of calculated thing.  It's comfort in my own skin, knowing what suits my lifestyle and personality and understanding that I like many things that don't work for me.  Finding what works and appeals has been the process and inspiration can come from admiring others but it can also obscure and impede that process.  Perhaps it is a necessary delay while discovering one's true self.

I don't believe that we invent ourselves, I believe we discover who we are.  There can be different aspects to discover at various times in our lives, certain traits that are more or less significant or ways we wish to modify who we are and how we live.  But all of that is already within us.  Inventing ourselves would imply that nothing previously existed except raw materials.  From the moment we are born with a set of genetic tendencies we begin to experience life, developing ideas, strategies, understandings, habits, responses, all of the things that shape who we are.  We spend life becoming ourselves. 

When I wore multiple layers, accessories, creative outfits, I was still being myself.  I was being the explorer version of myself.  I was still trying things that appealed, that spoke in some way of who I am.  

In the process of that experimenting I discovered that part of who I am, a very significant part, is also someone who is physically comfortable in less, who feels movement and ease inhibited easily.  I also discovered that part of who I am at the moment is someone who has limited access to the styles I wanted to try.  Trying to find appropriate layering pieces and accumulate a wardrobe of creative layers became too all consuming and exhausting.  Who I am is not someone who wants to make that a hobby or passion.   Multiple accessories get physically in the way of my reading, writing and painting efforts so they accumulated on my dresser and were rarely worn.  All of this trying, exploring, learning and concluding IS part of who I am.

The result at this point is that it has lead me back to the style I had before I ever began searching, and before I got a bit mired in my work uniform.  For most of my life I have been told that I look great, that I am stylish or always look put together.  It's a nice compliment and I have a tendency to dismiss compliments as insincere even though I understand logically that they aren't all insincere.  So if other people saw me as looking like I had a distinct style and that it was appealing, then I must have been doing something effective before the period of great experimentation.  I thought that because it came easily to me that it couldn't be all that special.  I didn't know that being able to effectively combine colours, to know how to wear something that 'goes with' rather than something that matches was a skill.  I didn't know that French women were lauded for wearing a scarf with everything.  I have always worn scarves.

I was wearing what I liked, relatively minimal outfits but with a finished and deliberate look.

I was not overthinking outfits which is surprising considering that I overthink most things.  

I was doing some things wrong, in that I was usually wearing colours that didn't flatter me, but I have always been drawn to earth tones, muted warm colours and those strange, dirty yellow-greens that most people run from.  I just believed that when I wore those I was sort of cheating or getting away with something.  It's funny how well an erroneous belief can stick.

Fast forward to now, when I know my best colours and I am sure about what I want to wear, there is still a challenge in finding these things.....

getting good quality and good fit at a price I can afford
finding a good selection in a small town
and not being very comfortable with online shopping for clothing.

But now that I have realised I am content to have a small wardrobe, to wear the same things over and over, and that while my personal style may help define me my individual clothing pieces don't, limited selection is less of a problem.

In summer, I become even more minimal than in Winter, as hot sweaty days, allergies and the need to wear sunscreen all inhibit my use of makeup.  A motorcycle helmet means simple hair is best and I must accept some damage to whatever bouncy effect I achieved upon first washing and drying it.  Accessories get in the way of reading, writing, painting or just look a bit silly with my motorcycle jacket, so all summer I've been wearing two gold studs in each ear.  I am usually barefoot or in the same pair of cognac coloured sandals unless I am wearing my motorcycle boots. 

And yet I still dabble in lipstick.  The concept of wearing no other makeup other than lipstick seems like something a bit old fashioned, from the days of a powdered nose and some lipstick being required to look presentable, perhaps also gloves and a hat.   My grandmother wore no makeup other than to sometimes powder her nose on going out in public and my great aunt wore her signature bright red lipstick year round.  It seemed natural and normal that they did these things. Every generation has the additions they consider indispensable or the small touches they would rarely go without and I might be mistaken but if I had to guess I would have said that for my generation it is eye makeup.  The advice is often to use just a flick of mascara if nothing else.  Once I might have followed that advice.  I think I did in the eighties.

A flattering colour on my lips seems to wake up my face, bring out some colour, make my eyes sparkle, and because I don't do a dramatic makeup application I can achieve a stained effect that suits the minimalist makeup approach.

I have mentioned before that I am particular about lipstick scent and taste.  Everyone is different but for me the Revlon Super Lustrous bullets are scent and flavour free.  They are available in drug stores for a reasonable price and I can find good colours for my True Autumn palette.  Applied and blotted twice, I get a minimal and subtle look and the colour lasts well, only sometimes needing reapplying after eating or drinking.

                                                       Revlon Peach Me

                                                 Revlon Rich Girl Red

I am wearing two particular colours this summer, Rich Girl Red which is a sheer coral red, somewhat like a tinted lip balm, and Peach Me  which is a more neutral, soft, my lips but better sort of look.  I was initially hesitant as Peach Me is a pearl format but either pearl works for me or it is a very subtle pearl.  It isn't sparkly or chalky as I worried it might be. In these photos I have just swiped it on straight from the tube once.

Rather embarrassingly, I own four nail polishes that are all very similar.  I make my excuse that they look a bit different in the bottle, but when painted on my nails L'Oreal Julianne's Nude is indistinguishable from Sally Hansen Mudslide.  L'Oreal Bare it All and Au Naturale are the same colour but Bare It All is slightly thicker and more opaque.

Very short nails, rough cuticles and sloppy application aside, here is what they look like on my nails, first Julianne's, then Mudslide, Bare it All then Au Naturale on my pinky.

I favour last year's purchases, Julianne's Nude and Bare It All.  This year's mistakes will go to a thrift shop.

If you were drinking coffee or tea while you read all of that then you should have had a slice of this Blueberry Cake!

It's a bit like a coffee cake, very moist, and bakes up well in a loaf pan.  Because this cake is low carb and moderate-high in protein and healthy fats, I don't hesitate to eat it for breakfast.  It is easily part of a low-carb/keto eating plan.


2 1/8 cup almond flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup coconut flour
1 cup dry sweetener ( I use Splenda )
1/2 tsp salt
5 eggs
1/4 cup coconut oil or non trans fat shortening, melted
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup water
2 cups blueberries-fresh or frozen though frozen tends to turn the whole loaf purple

 Preheat oven to 300 degrees F

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Stir in the liquids, mixing well.  Fold in the blueberries last.  Line a loaf pan with parchment paper or grease it well.  A square pan also works, but watch baking time.

 Bake 50-60 minutes, checking that it is neither raw in the middle nor over baked.  My cake in a loaf pan does best at 55-60 minutes.  Some foil placed loosely over top for the last ten minutes can help.

Cool and remove from pan.  Slice and enjoy!  Can probably be frozen but mine always gets eaten quickly.

Monday, 24 July 2017

It Feels Like Starting Over

In my mind, in my private dialogues where I amuse and entertain myself, I am calling this sharing a life thing 'weeness'.  (Jim, yes my partner is now getting a name publicly, being from Scotland would have an entirely different interpretation of this word 'weeness'.)  This weeness is mostly a pleasant thing, the sharing of both the mundane and the delightful, but it is still something I notice because I have been accustomed to solitary functioning for so long.

Often he asks me, 'What are we doing today?'  I understand it's an attempt to gather information about his upcoming day.  Apparently I am in charge and I might not have any complaints about that.  Or perhaps he wishes to give me the illusion of control.  Quite likely he is asking as a form of consideration for me, not wishing to impose anything on me because he knows I will have some sort of plan or rough idea of how the day should unfold.  I have noticed that he likes to ask me what I want before stating what he wants.

When asked "What are we doing today?"  My thoughts begin like this....

1. I don't know what you are doing but I would like to write/read/paint/waste time on Pinterest or Facebook and drink coffee.

2.  Awww it's so amazing to be half of a 'we'

3.  OMG I am never alone anymore; how strange.  Even stranger...I don't mind.

4.  Wait a minute...I am alone sometimes.  Phew. Now, let's do something together.

Thought number one sounds a bit bitchy but it isn't meant to be.  It's mainly that unless my plans include some cooking or laundry, my plans for every day are always that I am intending to do some reading/writing/painting and I will probably also waste time on the internet. 

While I love and enjoy the company of other people, or at least some people some of the time, I will inevitably retreat to my lair to be alone again after a bit of social interaction and stay there with much relief.  I don't have social anxiety and am quite capable of going out and doing the shopping or going for a walk and encountering people with whom I will make friendly small talk but it's tiring.  Exhausting sometimes. I like being alone in crowds and not talking to anyone, just observing.  I like doing things my way, on my own time, in my own space, and I've had that for several years.  Now I am choosing to give it up.

Or am I?  Not fully.  Not really.  I chose a partner who is similar to me.  He likes to be alone, he likes to stay home, he likes to experience brief social encounters and then retreat.  He has solitary hobbies.  We are like toddlers in that we happily engage in parallel play.  At this moment we are each sitting at the table a few feet across from each other.  I am writing, he is uploading photos, making a slide show, uploading music for a playlist to use on our next road trip.  We make tea or coffee for each other periodically.   One of the greatest compliments we can give each other is to say 'being with you is as good as being alone.'

Of course there are exceptions, moments when the togetherness is too much for both of us.  Recently I was informed that my hovering was impeding his ability to enjoy shopping at Canadian Tire in the gadgets department.  I scarpered off to the bookstore.   Today we ventured out into the land of shops again and this time the plan was that he would happily wait in the car while I went to the second hand book shop and then I would wait in the next door cafe while he poked around in Home Depot.  It was a morning of popping into different shops and then meeting up in the car again.  There was a torrential downpour which we sat through, wondering if we needed to alter our plans and then realising that we have plenty of time, that we could sit and enjoy each other's company and wait it out.  So we did.  I got some books, Jim got his tools and electrical bits, we picked up some groceries and did a bit of banking, then happily returned home to our nest, the one we each share with another who is just as good as being alone.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Chocolate Cravings

 I am trying to lose a few pounds, and definitely to maintain a healthy weight and my partner is trying to lose a significant amount.  Low carbohydrate eating works for both of us but like anyone we don't want to feel deprived of treats and delicious food as this only leads to binging or going astray from the healthy eating plan.  Making rich and creamy food is quite easy since cream and butter are low carb staples, but baked treats take a little more experimentation.  I have been working on perfecting a low carb chocolate cake but it's really the icing (or frosting for my American friends) that is the tricky part.  It wouldn't be so tricky if my partner and I could eat powdered erythritol, which functions exactly like regular powdered sugar, but as I explain below, we don't tolerate sugar alcohols well so I have to make do with other options.

I find recipes online but often I adapt, modify and re-create them so this chocolate cake is my own creation now.  Since I'm not a dedicated low carb blogger and I don't actually count carbs, I just keep an intuitive sense of what I've eating, I don't have carb counts for this cake because I don't actively count carbs.  I have a pretty good idea of the carb count of most foods and know when I am in the range I want to be in.

Even when a treat is low-carb I still consider it a treat and not a license to binge. I would estimate the cake alone has roughly 10g carbs per serving but that's just an estimate.

Chocolate Cake-one layer in a square pan but can be sliced in half to make a two-layer cake.  I've been working to make this recipe more moist and although I've improved on the original recipe that I found online I think it still needs work.  My partner says I am terribly self-critical and that the cake is delicious.  I think of it as a work in progress so next time I might reduce the coconut flour by one tablespoon.

3/4 cup cocoa                    6 eggs, 2 egg whites
1/2 cup coconut flour         1/2 cup olive oil
2 1/2 tsp baking powder    1/2 cup greek yogurt
pinch salt                           1 tsp vanilla
2 cups Splenda

 Preheat oven to 325F
Combine the dry ingredients and the liquids separately and then whisk the liquids into the dry.  Spread batter in a parchment lined 8x8 inch pan and bake at 325F for 45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

To ice the cake I improvised by melting chocolate and cream together, adding Splenda to taste and later stirring in some cocoa powder.  I beat it all in my mixer aiming to get it as smooth as I could, dribbling in a little bit of boiled water.

I am not a food photographer and made no effort to beautify this, as you can see.   It generally looks and tastes like real cake though so if you are eating low carb or feeding a diabetic, you could do worse than to try my cake.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Fudge-gooey and best kept frozen.

1 cup heavy cream
4 squares unsweetened chocolate
1 cup Splenda
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 oz cream cheese

Melt the cream, chocolate and Splenda in a suacepan over low heat, stirring to incorporate the sugar well.  Add vanilla.  Pour the chocolate mixture into a mixing bowl with the cream cheese and beat on high until the mixture is smooth-about 5 minutes.  Spread the mixture in a parchment paper lined pan, using a larger pan for thin pieces of fudge or a smaller pan for thick fudge.  I used a 9x11 pan and made thin fudge.   Refrigerate an hour or more until firm and then lift out the parchment paper and cut the fudge into squares while still on the paper.  Place the fudge squares on fresh paper on the original pan and put in the freezer for an hour or two.  The fudge keeps best in the fridge or freezer and I store mine in plastic containers.  Once the cut up fudge is frozen it is less likely the pieces will stick together or at least they will separate from each other fairly easily.  

 Some Ramblings About Low Carb and Particularly Sweeteners

My partner and I both love carbohydrates.  If I had to pick a favourite food group it would be the breads/cereals group followed by dairy.  I've struggled over the years with health and weight issues and before being diagnosed as celiac ate far too many bready things.  They never seemed to satiate or satisfy and one piece of bread lead to several pieces, and so it went with anything made with wheat flour, sweet or savoury.  I was vegan for several years and I had the same non-satiation problem with the grains and vegetables and beans I lived on.  In order to feel full I ate large quantities and I gained weight.  I was eating the plant based, low fat, whole grain diet so often recommended for health but I couldn't manage my hunger or my weight.  A celiac diagnosis muddied the picture but for a time I experimented with using any non-gluten whole grain and although this addressed the celiac issue it didn't address my weight or my hunger.

Diet can be a very emotionally fraught thing.  People feel strongly about the ethics or the health beliefs associated with various diets and although I was once one of those obnoxious vegans who thought anyone eating animal products was misguided about both ethics and health, I am no longer that person.

I have done much research but the field of nutrition is a difficult one.  There is much misinformation, confusing information, experts promoting opposite ideals and not much money is put into nutrition research.  Big agriculture, the makers of processed foods and sellers of health and fitness products all have something to gain by funding research, publishing the results of limited studies and blocking the publishing of results that don't favour them.  I have done my own reading, come to my own conclusions and eat a diet that works for me based on how my body responds and what I believe to be the best information available, the most scientific studies and as usual in life, I also make compromises.

With all of that in mind I eat a low carb diet that is high in saturated fat, moderately high in animal products, and low in carbohydrate with most of my carbohydrates coming from vegetables.  I eat grain free both because it is more comfortable for my digestive system and because it is low carbohydrate.  My daily food consists of meat, cheese, eggs and vegetables with a small amount of berries and yogurt.

When I bake I use almond or coconut flours.  When I need to use a sugar substitute I use Splenda or imitators.  People with nut allergies won't be able to use almond flour and may not be able to use coconut flour.  Low carb/gluten free baking tends to use more eggs than regular baking so it's not good for those with egg issues either.  When it comes to sugar substitutes my ow conclusion is that there is no real evidence (thought plenty of scare tactics and misinformation on the internet) about any of them being unhealthy and it is an error to believe that 'real' sugar is a healthier choice.  You may be able to include real sugar in your diet in small amounts with no problems.  If you need to lose weight or keep it off you may not.  Sugar substitutes vary in their qualities and sugar alcohols give the best results in baking but I am among those who don't tolerate them.  They act as a laxative for me and for my partner so I don't use them.  We both tolerate Splenda well.  The drawback to Splenda is that it does not reproduce the texture that real sugar does.  It sweetens but it is terrible for that crispy-chewy texture you want in cookies or brownies.  It doesn't powder well either so isn't good for frostings and icings.

Splenda, or sucralose, in powder form is combined with maltodextrin which is an actual sugar, complete with calories and blood sugar spiking abilities.  However, it is combined with such a small amount per serving that it is mainly negligible unless you eat a batch of fudge daily.

Most Stevia powders are a mixture of Stevia with xylitol or erythritol, which are the sugar alcohols I mentioned that I don't tolerate.  Some brands use inulin, which is a water soluble plant fibre.  For me, Stevia tends to have an aftertaste.

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol with that laxative effect being possible.  It also has a mouth cooling feel, sort of a minty taste and thus it is often used in toothpaste and sugarless gum.  It is toxic to dogs.

Erythritol is popular with most low carb bloggers and recipe developers.  It is expensive but functions the most like real sugar in baking.  It has the laxative effect for me and for my partner.

Some people are very anti-sweetener and nothing I can write or link to would change their minds.  I am not going to even attempt to do so, but am just trying to outline my own choice and the reasons for anyone who is curious.  You can find articles to back up any perspective you wish to take.  The validity of those articles will vary but we all believe what we want to believe. 

Splenda and Maltodextrin

Splenda Safety

STOP THE PRESSES!!!  I tried this recipe today and it's the best I've tried so far.  It will be my go-to chocolate cake recipe.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Recipe for Marital Bliss (and Pancakes)

Even people who love each other can have communication problems.  The most helpful thing is being able to laugh at communication breakdowns which is the method my partner and I are using with success.  I can only hope that lasts. 

It seems a certain thing to me that one of the significant factors in a partnership failing is that the diminished love and care one feels for one's partner is not conducive to making any attempt to understand just how communication failed or to sharing in the blame for that failure.  Both my partner and I are very fond of logic but human beings are not terribly logical, even when they aim to be.  It's quite easy to assume that one's own logic is the supreme version of logic, that just because one way of thinking makes sense to me it is thus the most logical.  It is quite easy to assume. 

Assumptions cause problems.

Two people of middle age, with many years of habits and customs behind them and a slight variation in cultural norms will encounter some difficulty and we expect it.  We expect to need to spell out for each other what we are doing and why at times, or to ask the other which method would be preferred.  Such negotiations always seem to take place in the kitchen and centre around what food will be eaten and how, what utensils are needed, does this food item go in a bowl or on a plate, what condiments does it require, should it be cooked this way or that, should it be sliced, diced or mashed.  It might all be straightforward if the need to ask these questions right from the beginning is understood but it isn't always.

Assumptions are always made.

Eventually, the time will come when we settle into some sort of way of doing things that fits us as a couple or at least an automatic awareness of how the other one prefers things.  At six weeks in of living together and never having spent time in each other's physical presence during the seven years we've known each other, it's a bit early to expect that and thus I can only conclude we are doing quite well. 

By the time we sat down at the table with food for breakfast this morning we were debating whose thoughts and statements were more logical and insisting that the other person just wasn't getting it, but soon we were laughing.  Ironically, much confusion comes from my partner wanting to be helpful in the kitchen and my not being used to having help.  I don't know how to respond when something isn't done the way I expected it to be.  Intellectually and after the fact of course I know how to respond, but in the moment I tend to say things like "No, that's not how it's supposed to be." 

It's difficult not to conclude that I am just a bossy kitchen jerk but my partner always meets me halfway and rarely allows anything to be all my fault.  We agreed that we had each made assumptions, each favoured our own 'logic' and gotten quite entangled in a very silly situation involving breakfast food.

I made scrambled eggs with green onion, sausage crumbles and grated cheese.  I also made pancakes with whipped cream and cherry sauce.  Both of these items were requested for breakfast, or so I had thought but already there were assumptions involved.

My partner had asked for the pancakes and eggs for breakfast.

My assumptions followed:
I have so far only ever given him pancakes with whipped cream and fruit sauce and I only ever eat pancakes with sweet accompaniment.  I never eat pancakes in place of toast with the savoury food, the eggs and sausage.  It did not occur to me that was what he had meant. 

My solution to this breakfast mix was that I would serve it on two different plates, in order to keep the sweet apart from the savoury.  Then I decided, at the moment just prior to dishing up food, that the scrambled eggs could go in a small bowl.  My partner wanted to help.  He arrived in the kitchen willing and able to dish up food and I indicated where I had placed a plate and bowl for him and a plate and bowl for me on the counter.  He began to dish up the food in a manner I had not anticipated.  My immediate reaction was to say, 'No, no.  That's not right.'

Upon later reflection we discovered that not only had he not realised I was serving whipped cream and cherries with the pancakes, but that there is no logic involved in deciding whether or not the bowls should hold the eggs or the pancakes but I had a vision, I had made a decision about how it would work and his logic lead him to a different conclusion. 

Suddenly we have two sensitive, stubborn people defending their version of what goes in plates and what goes in bowls and why.  Two people determined to find logic in their own preferences and choices. 

As I write this my partner is fixing the fridge door.  He is putting the contents of the fridge door back and I think he is doing so with some trepidation.  He called out to me that he might do it wrong.  I have asserted that anywhere the items fit in the door is fine.  Now I have to follow through with that. 

Low Carb Pancake Recipe: Gluten Free ( Not egg, dairy or nut free )

1/4 cup cream cheese, softened
2 eggs
1/4 cup almond flour
2 tsp coconut flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp sweetener of choice

Mix the cream cheese and eggs with a whisk until well combined.  Whisk in remaining ingredients.  Mixture will thicken slightly after sitting a few minutes due to the coconut flour.  Drop tablespoonfuls of batter onto a hot griddle with melted butter.  Cook until the edges  lose their gloss and bubbles break on the surface of the pancakes. 

Makes about 8 cakes and recipe can easily be doubled.

I find recipes on Pinterest, Blogs and in cookbooks.  I don't know where this recipe came from but there are many similar ones to be found.  I've tried several and this one is consistently the best.  The pancakes freeze successfully so a larger batch can be made and stored.