You can’t take grits for granted if you live in Seattle

I grew up in the South and acquired a taste for grits. I generally make the “quick cooking kind.” If I can, I eat them with the traditional slice of salt-cured ham and some red-eye gravy. But mostly it’s just grits, with butter and pepper.

bowl of grits

Grits with butter and pepper

Until a few months ago. I made some grits and they were just awful, which I attributed to the grits being stale. We bought a new box, cooked those up, and — yecch! The problem, I decided, is that not enough people in Seattle eat grits, so just about any box you buy is already too old. Way too old.

Obviously, I needed to buy my grits from a store where the turnover is high: that would be in the South. I went online and discovered that the authoritative traditional grits company is McEwen & Sons in Alabama, grinding corn for many of the top chefs in the South. They essentially reinvented grits, using organic corn and going back to the stone-grinding methods of the past. They sell to the better supermarkets and sell their products online.

I ordered two small, sealed bags of organic white grits. Success! Cooked for 20 minutes, they taste like — real corn grits. The rough, varied texture is delightful. I’m confident that I’m now eating grits as good or better as those you’ll get in most restaurants in the South.

But — it turns I could have gone deeper in my search for serious grits. I could have gone to Anson Mills in South Carolina. Their website has a long, long read about the owner, a California entrepreneur and chef who married into a Southern family. He started Anson Mills to preserve Carolina Gold rice, an heirloom rice. The mills expanded to other grains, including corn, wheat, rye, oats, buckwheat, and farro. Their retail corn products include Antebellum Grits, Colonial Coarse Pencil Cob Grits, Native Coarse Blue Corn Grits, and Henry Moore Yellow Hominy Corn. They also sell cornmeal and polenta (including a polenta made from heirloom red trentino flint corn, long used in Italy).

But ordering from Anson Mills is not a transaction; it’s a relationship. The products are shipped at -10 F and must be refrigerated or frozen when they arrive. The company has a minimum order of four 12-oz. bags of grain or one 10-lb. box. And, the website cautions, you can’t use these grains with your regular recipes; they come with their own.

Well, I discovered I’m not really that much of a foodie. I just wanted my grits! And, thanks to McEwen & Sons, I’ve got them.

What about ham, you ask? Perhaps you remember the year I ordered an entire uncooked salt-cured country ham, had a Seattle butcher slice half of it into biscuit slices for me, and cooked the rest (removing the rind halfway through) in maple syrup? Ah, those were the days! Have you seen the price of a salt-cured ham recently? It would be cheaper to fly to Charleston and go out for breakfast.


Why I wear black clothing

A Facebook friend astonished me last week by complaining about other women wearing black clothing.

“Are we all Italian grandmother widows?” she asked. “No! Then why do people dress that way?”

Here is my very simple answer: It saves time. It makes it easier to put together outfits and get dressed in the morning. All my jewelry coordinates with my black-and-denim wardrobe. It makes it easy to pack for travel. Black doesn’t show the dirt, so less there’s cleaning and no panic attacks about coffee or spaghetti “ruining” a white blouse.

But, most of all, wearing black clothing saves me time because I don’t have to respond to the questions I get when I wear colors (especially those “cheery” pastels). Questions like:

“You look so tired honey, are you getting enough sleep?”

“Have you put on weight?” Followed by “Hey, I know this great gluten-free, lactose-free, flavor-free diet you should try!”

“You don’t look well. Is there, er, something I should know?”

I look good in black. This is not a crime! And for some inexplicable reason, I prefer hearing comments like “Nice dress!” “Are you going out some where?” and “Wow, elegant.” Which are the comments I get when I wear black, dark greys, and dark blues. The black clothing looks great with expensive jewelry, and also great with casual denim jeans. So I’m set, wherever I’m going.

And, no, I don’t dress like an Italian grandmother. In the words of columnist Kathy Pollitt, the correct term for this look is “Hot Sicilian Widow.” So much nicer.




Zumba, three ways

I just returned from Naples, Florida, where I took Zumba classes taught by Casta Melendez. Casta is a ballroom dancer from Venezuela, and I continue to think that her Zumba classes are the most fun you can have while working out. She had several new routines, and the usual exuberant classroom. If you like salsa, cumbia, tango, etc., these are the classes to take.

In January, I finally broke down and joined a fancy gym in Seattle so I could take Zumba from one of the city’s master teachers, Daniel Nery Dos Santos Filho. Daniel is a capoeira (Brazilian martial arts) instructor, and his class can get extremely athletic (although you can modify to any level of workout). His choices of music include Afro-pop and Latin beats, and the classes are fluid and highly entertaining. I burn about 600 calories in one of Daniel’s classes, and was surprised to see that I  burned only 400 at Casta’s session. Both Daniel and Casta teach classes with participants of all ages and ethnicities.

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 11.22.21 AM

Cesar Molina

When I’m on the road, or can’t get to my Seattle class for some reason, I do Zumba using the You Tube videos put up by Cesar Molina, who teaches in Chile. It’s my dream to travel to Chile to study with Cesar for a week. His classes are highly dance-oriented, closer to Casta’s approach, and more youth-oriented, with some hip-hop routines as well as lots of easy-going bachata routines. I love an older video Cesar put up some years ago that uses Prince Royce’s version of “Stand By Me.” If you aren’t familiar with Zumba, this is a good routine to start with.

By the way, the hottest tune on the Zumba circuit at the moment is “Vacaciones” by Wisin (the link is to Cesar’s video; the actual music video is…unappealing). All three of my teachers are using “Vacaciones” — each with different choreography, which is scrambling my brain. I have to say, Daniel’s choreography is the best!

Chinese Wand Exercise

While visiting my mother at her retirement community in Naples, Florida, I attended some exercise classes. One of them was a class called Chinese Wand Exercise, which I absolutely loved. These are slow stretching and strength exercises; they reminded me of yoga and also of the 5 Tibetans exercises Steven Barnes teaches. The “wands” are 5′ bamboo poles.

So I asked the instructor where she’d learned them. She went into her office and brought out an old hardcover book called Chinese Wand Exercise, by Bruce Johnson. She said it had been given to her by a resident at the retirement community. She’d read it, been impressed, and had taught herself how to teach the routine (which she teaches to a soundtrack of New Age, vaguely Asian music).

(Note: I expect there are readers who will take offense at the apparent scenario of white people appropriating Asian exercises. So I’ll mention that the instructor is black — and that she is not in any way commercializing the routine. She is teaching it at the request of a member of the senior community who wants to share the benefits they have received from it with seniors; I don’t know the ethnic background of the person who suggested the exercises to her.)

I did some very brief research online and discovered that Johnson’s book is out of print (but available). A more recent book, by UK author Michael Davies, does not appear to have the quality of graphics that Johnson’s book has. However, Davies has a wand exercise blog. There is also a book about Qui Gong exercise done with a wand, and those look similar. I also found YouTube videos of Chinese Wand Exercise, which the Naples instructor said she had consulted in developing her version of the routine.

Apparently wand workouts have been used for both martial and healing arts, and Johnson’s book has fans in the martial arts community, including this blog.

Wikipedia calls the routine “obscure,” and notes: “The exercises were derived from studying animals at play, hence some of the names of the forms: “Springing of the Tiger,” “Raising of the Bird’s Wing,” “Panda Rolls,” to name a few.”

I continue to believe that the best exercise is the one you enjoy doing, and this is certainly an enjoyable routine. Once again, a fitness activity I’ve discovered in Florida that I can’t find in Seattle.



If you like Wacoal, try Bali’s Lilyettes

For a few years, the only bra I’ve found that looks good while being truly comfortable is Wacoal’s 85185 Bodysuede Underwire. But it’s still a lot of bra, and particularly warm in the summer months.

Attractive young girl with historical armor shot in studioAttempting to find alternatives in my largish cup size, I’ve ordered bras by Fantasie, Glamorize, and a few other brands. A bit overconstucted? When I tried them on and checked in the mirror, I looked like I was waiting to take the stage as Brunhilde in The Ring Cycle.

I sent them back. Someday, I told myself, someday someone will make a lightweight, comfortable bra that fits me.

Well, now Bali has. The sub-brand is called “Lilyette.” Three styles of Lilyette bras arrived today and they’re all comfortable:

  • 0434 – Enchantment Minimizer aka Enchantment Lace Minimizer (which isn’t all that minimizing, but it looks fine and feels featherweight)
  • 0456 – Side Support Minimizer aka Embellished Keyhole Minimizer (which has very attractive use of lace and fabric)
  • 0904 – Dreamwire Minimizer aka Plunge into Comfort Keyhole Minimizer (a t-shirt bra in a choice of jacquard or smooth satin fabric)

All three bras make use of fabrics that are slightly stretchy (similar to the Wacoal 85185) so you don’t feel “sewn in.” The back closure has three hooks to a column (not quite as secure as the Wacoal’s four, but the back doesn’t ride up).

This page on the Bali (Hanes) site describes “the Lily fit:”

  • Open neckline, accommodates lower and wider necklines on clothes
  • Less projection, but cups are shaped rather than flattening
  • Natural support, with wider-set straps and an “open underwire”

There are 14 Lilyette bras, 10 of which are available in my cup size. As you might note in the list of styles above, the company doesn’t seem to have settled on names for the bras — website names did not agree with the names on the tags. However, the model numbers I listed are reliable.

Zumba notes: I want to move to Chile

Those of you who are tired of hearing me bitch about (yet another) crappy Zumba class  may be relieved to learn that I’ve finally found a great online program.

f04e348c40880afda0df98ba85c5a4d5_400x400It’s on YouTube. The teacher, Cesar Molina, is everything that Casta Melendez and Gustavo Gutierrez-Bernal have inspired me to seek out.

Like Casta and Gustavo, Cesar has a deep, strong, background in dance. He moves with grace, playfulness and joy. Yes, it’s exercise — but that’s not the point of Zumba. At least it shouldn’t be.

I’ve so had it with the faux-Zumba instructors exhorting me to grind the cartilage out of my knees with hip-hop moves. And I’ve really had it with aerobics instructors who get Zumba certification and then proceed to bore me to death with their peppy grins, corny exhortations, bouncy 1980s dance moves, and playlists of inane pop hits. And I am exasperated with the local gyms who hire these people.

If you’ve been burned by bad Zumba, take a restorative look at Cesar’s videos. At least half of the songs he uses are romantic bachata or lighter Latin — for instance, Plakito. As you dance, you work on balance, strength, muscle control and flexibility. It’s not about flailing frantically in an effort to burn calories.

I wish I could travel to Chile to study with Cesar, but for the moment I’m perfectly happy to work out to his YouTube videos.

Another 10 years of fitness

Was it really 10 years ago that I found myself in a power yoga class?

The teacher, Susan Powter, called it Trailer Park Yoga because it didn’t require a special studio or any equipment (except a mat).

Susan has strong ideas about fitness, and she repeated them, as mantras of a sort, throughout the classes.

I’m embarking on a challenging, interesting, but highly fragmented and demanding 2016. It’s going to demand that I’m fit. So I’m revisiting Susan’s worldview. (Your mileage may vary, but this approach worked for me in 2006, and I think it will work again.):

  • We won’t change the world or get much accomplished if we feel weak and sick.
  • We won’t be healthy and strong unless we get fit.
  • Fitness is a state of having lean muscle instead of fat on our bodies.
  • The best way to lose fat is to build lean muscles that burn fat efficiently.
  • Low-calorie diets, independent of exercise, are futile because our bodies compensate by lowering our metabolisms (burning less food) when we eat less.
  • The best path to fitness is to exercise vigorously 5 or more hours a week. It helps if we eat a diet that emphasizes whole grains, fruits and vegetables (but it doesn’t have to exclude meat).
  • Breathe. Most people don’t get enough oxygen to their muscles.

I remember thinking at the time that this sort of approach to fitness (requiring 5 hours of serious exercise a week) wasn’t something the American public was going to latch onto. But now, perhaps, with our FitBits and Apple Watches keeping us honest about how long, and how hard, we work out…

Why clothes don’t fit

dress with a bad fitWalking through town this morning I was horrified by some of the outfits I saw on people. “Unflattering” doesn’t even begin to describe what I was seeing.

This has very little to do with weight or fitness (though it never hurts to have the figure of a super model). What it’s really about is the crappy clothing we let manufacturers get away with.

A Fit About Fit

Women’s clothing used to come in many sizes. Sizes like 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, and 16. Now even jackets and pants are sold in small, medium and large. Buy a medium and it fits like an 8 — way too small. Go with the large, and it fits like a 14 — and you’re swimming in it.

Of course, one brand’s “medium” is another brand’s “large.” The new sizing (or lack of it) means that a very high percentage of what you try on in the fitting room makes you look like you’re wearing someone else’s castoffs. If you’re in a hurry and you buy it…ugh.

Construction Zone

There used to be these things called darts. The darts shaped clothing along the shoulders, bust line, and hips. Almost no clothing today has darts — unless you are shopping in a vintage boutique.

Lining also seems to be a thing of the past. Linings in jackets and skirts prevented clinging and bunching.

Darts and lining are both expensive, adding time (and materials) to the clothing construction process. Lined clothes require dry cleaning, which most women don’t want to be bothered with.

So, we have cheaply made clothes that look like we slept in them.

Material Failure

Stretch fabric for women’s clothing emerged in the 1960s, and a lot of it was bulky and sweaty (the dreaded polyester!). Today Lycra and other high-tech stretch fabrics get combined with cotton and wool and rayon in comfortable and attractive blends. Well — at least they start out attractive. Part of the problem with stretchy clothes is that they look great for a while and gradually began to bag, sag, and wear thin. The rayon blends are particularly vulnerable to sagging and pilling.

People tend not to notice this gradual degradation of their favorite dresses and pants and thus don’t realize they are soon running around looking like slobs. Sadly, there is little that’s uglier than a pair of designer yoga pants that are now wearing thin in the butt.

So there it is: Contemporary clothing sucks and we run the risk of looking ghastly in it. Don’t even get me started on the shoes that are crippling our feet.


New tastes in yogurt: Some work, some don’t

Single-serving yogurt containers are shrinking to 6 oz. servings, while their fat contents are rising — and prices are going up. How does something this plain get so fancy?

bowl and spoon with yoghurtIt all started with the Greek yogurts that appeared on the market three years ago. I’ve tried them all, and have settled on Fage (plain) as far and away my favorite, whether it’s the non-fat or the 2%. (Chobani is my runner up, and I’ve heard Costco’s plain nonfat is delicious.)

My idea of a yogurt treat (at a mere 150 calories) is vanilla yogurt, and I’m enamored of the Brown Cow “cream top” yogurt from California. But on a recent trip to the supermarket (where they have a floor-to-ceiling wall of yogurts at least 12 feet long) I spotted a tempting new yogurt that has become my favorite.

Bellwether Farms sheep milk yogurt is a traditional (non-Greek) style yogurt with little specks of vanilla it it. They’ve dialed way back on the sugar that mars so many more commercial vanilla yogurts. In fact, the yogurt is just a tad salty, like the lassi drink found in Indian restaurants. The result is complex and sophisticated.

Their website says, “Our sheep’s milk yogurt is sweeter than goat’s milk, tastier than soy and richer than cow’s milk!”

Goat’s milk?

Now I’ll have to go back to the store for goat milk yogurt by Redwood Hill Farm.

Finding exercise that fits

Woman exercising with ballMy partner is a massage therapist; he often hears clients lament about how they need to exercise but encounter so many barriers (internal and external). Tom likes to ask them if they know what the best kind of exercise is. This usually puzzles them — until Tom suggests that “the best kind of exercise is the kind you enjoy doing.”

I’m always appalled when someone mentions that they’ve finally started doing some sort of exercise and are really enjoying it and the immediate reaction they get from a friend is how some other exercise (usually the friend’s favorite exercise) would really be much better for them.

No, actually, it probably wouldn’t.

Even if that “other” exercise is easier on the knees, or better for flexibility, or a more efficient aerobic workout, or less expensive in terms of club or class fees. Because if the person doesn’t enjoy that class, or that club, or that video, doesn’t like it, and stops — then they aren’t exercising at all.

Exercise, when done in a class setting, is as much about relating to the teacher and the people around you as it is to the exercise you’re doing. In a room where you trust the teacher and enjoy your classmates, you’re going to use common sense and modify to prevent injury or re-injury. You’re going to be willing to try new challenges. You’ll have time to listen to your body because you aren’t wasting energy wondering if someone thinks you’re too fat, too old, too clumsy or — you get the idea.

The two fitness instructors I most enjoy working with are in Naples, Florida, and Las Vegas, Nevada. Since I’m in Seattle, Washington, this presents a challenge. At the moment, I’m addressing it using Skype for two classes a week.

Inspiration from yoga students

Meanwhile, I’m inspired by the stories of a number of people who have found, or created, yoga experiences that work for them. It takes persistence.

Note: While researching this post I came across several online articles and blog posts about why older and non-skinny women can and should do yoga but even the one that purported to be written by a 51-year-old yoga instructor was illustrated by a stock photo of size 2, heavily made-up, professional model. Really!