Saturday, February 21, 2015

Product (And a Bit of Process)

I've had one of those phenomenally productive days. I went to the hairdresser, came home and made 2 different sorts of cashew milk (turmeric/nutmeg/ginger and salted cocoa). Secretly, I added some turmeric into the salted cocoa version. You can't taste it and, seriously, that shit is good for inflammation! (I won't bore you with pics of 3 litres of nut milk - I went a bit crazy - but it's been snowing since early this morning and a girl needs occupation.)

Then, cuz I was out of almost everything, I got to work on potions:


This represents 3 hours of work - and I could have done it faster if only I hadn't had a 4-time issue with this:

Lotion B: Neroli and Ylang Ylang
Hilariously, it failed again and again till Scott came down to marinate some steaks and I told him, exasperatedly, about how I couldn't understand my continual problems considering that I was following the recipe EXACTLY.  Whereupon he suggested that I was perhaps using the Fahrenheit reading on my fancy new thermometer, rather than the Celsius reading. Let's just say that was value-added advice. Problem solved!

Yeah, lotions are tricky. I've been researching the process and finally landed on this recipe. (Excellent site I know about thanks to reader Louisa!) You may recall I tried this once before with limited success. The more I read, the more apparent it became that I'd need to bring out the big guns.

Here's the thing: Lotions are a delicate emulsification of water and oil. That balance is tricky to find. It's easy to end up with watery grease - or something weirdly gritty. Not to mention that you don't fuck around with water/oil mixes. If they don't contain a preservative, they will go off very quickly. At which point, you have a germ infested soup that may look and smell completely fine. I cannot be gifting sludge - nor using it myself - so I've had to carefully consider preservatives.

I haven't sourced one "natural" preservative that actually works (according to the peeps who know much more than I, at this point). Moreover, a lot of the natural preservatives are more toxic than the synthesized ones, just to be difficult. I've landed on this one, for the moment. It doesn't contain polysorbates or parabens but, be assured, it's totally test-tube.

How do I feel about this? Fine. But it has clarified something for me: You can make an anhydrous product (one without oil - such as face serum) with little worry using "all-natural" (aka pronounceable / readily available) ingredients. You can't do the same with a lotion - not if you want it to last more than a week. Check out labels next time you're at Sephora or the health food store, for that matter. You will always find emulsifiers and preservatives in those products - no matter how natural. There are certainly versions that aren't toxic, but they're harder to find than drug store crap.

I'm disinclined to use lotions on any part of my body but my hands because I wash them constantly and I need readily absorbable product. My face and body (the majority of my skin surface) have always been hydrated with oil / oil-based butters and I feel better about this than ever. Don't misunderstand, my lotion is pretty damn good - and as natural as it gets, but a lotion isn't strictly speaking "natural". You can't eat it.

But on to other things...

Today I made conservatively $140 of awesome, high-quality product for free! Ok, ok, I've spent a bomb on the ingredients, over time - but once you stock up, it lasts and you get lots of loot that feels free. I upcycled all of my bottles (except for the lip balm pots). Of course, when I give gifts I'll use new bottles, but for myself, I reuse. Exception: Some bottles, shape depending, are really only for one-time use because you can't remove trace amounts of oil completely (once the product is finished). To reuse those bottles is to invite rancidity. So those go in the recycle bin.

What did I make?
  • Lotion B (Ylang Ylang and Neroli) for a friend (little white bottle) 50g
  • Lotion B for me (large blue bottle) 100g
  • 3 lip balms (gifts)
  • 2 Face Serum A - one in the blue skinny bottle, the other in the clear bottle (orange oil), each 20g
  • Body Oil A - Grapefruit, Rosewood and Ylang Ylang (I really like YY), 110g
Not bad for a snow day!

Whatcha think?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

In the Deep Midwinter

The utter cruelty of winter never fails to impress me. There's something about knowing that, if not for heat and shelter you would die (probably in under 2 hours), to really depress the crap out of you. But we Northerners have work-arounds. When the cycle of life is truncated, go with the cycle of shopping. Steer clear of flash in exchange for volume.

For my own part, I'm saving the world economy (and to the best of my ability specifically the Canadian one) by having purchased a number of things recently. Amongst those are boring things like preservatives for emollient liquids (the kind that actually kill germs without being toxic to humans are far and few between), fun new containers for potions (roller ball glass for perfumes!),  a restock of my go-to Gap Body long sleeved T (I must have bought this in all the colours, at least 20 times now, in multiples) and lip stick.

But I have also purchased a couple of other things I feel the need to highlight:
  • With the reversal in strength of the Canadian to American dollar, I can no longer justify buying fabric online, from the US. That's fine, I can generally find what I need in TO (the knit options have improved even if availability is spotty). Having said this, I was recently compelled to try Blackbird Fabrics - a Canadian online store, from BC - after having heard terrific things about it. Sure, this allows me to broaden my options and to shop the broader Canadian economy. but it comes at a cost that's pretty well equivalent to what I would spend to ship from the States. Having said that, the fabric I just bought 2 metres of (they sell in half metre lengths, which is why the prices don't look bad), is spectacular. It's in the top 5, quality-wise, of any knit I've ever had the opportunity to source. Which in my opinion makes the 57 bucks (12 of it shipping, 7 tax) for 2 metres, almost worth it:
Nautical Bamboo Stripe in Navy and Cream (it comes in other colourways...)
  • My herbal tea obsession continues. It appears that I love anything "dragonfruit". Why? Well, it's a fun name, for starters. But moreover, it's pink and it tastes pink. When it comes to tea, I realize I'm rather lowbrow. I want fruity and pretty, comparators to Kool-Aid be damned. My fave Dragonfruit tea is from Tealish. (Just buy it and thank me afterwards.) But the Teavana version I tried yesterday is a pretty close second. Add a couple of those Jasmine Dragon Pearls (not to many or your tea will taste green!) for a delightful experience that will transport you, if only for 10 minutes, to Bali. Trust me.
I've also set up camp at the health food store, stocking up on super foods (goji berries, weird seeds) and supplements to ward off bugs and to make me feel like I have some agency in this climate.

I know that one day - and it's not so far from now - I'll wake up to birds singing and some buds on the trees. I'll be awed, as ever, by new shoots in the garden. The spring breeze will carry an earthy scent of new growth and a gentle warmth on its tail. But that's conservatively 8 weeks hence, and probably 12. I've hit that point when I can no longer comment on the gorgeous, budding gardens of others. I'm truly too consumed with envy. 

But enough about me. How do you manage deep winter weather? (I wish I could say I've been knitting instead of spending, but the last excursion left me in pain for 3 days. I'm still on the slow-track with that activity...) Do you cook? Do you watch travel shows? (I can't bring myself to.) Do you embrace the winter activities? Let's talk!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Small Things

Today I came home to a sink-gadget hack, courtesy of my husband:


I do realize that this rack isn't sexy, but I've been struggling to figure out a way to dry my re-cycled juice bottles (after washing 2x with soap and warm water, followed by boiling water) without breaking them.

Scott reshaped this "small spaces" gizmo to hold 5 bottles, stably, over the heating vent. I like to completely and quickly dry the reused bottles, prior to refilling, and this does the trick perfectly. Wonder how I'll manage this in the summer...

Just want to say how much I appreciate Scott's thoughtfulness. I clean at least 4 bottles every other day so I need an efficient system - after all, systems make the world run (I'm Swiss at my core). I've always loathed Valentine's Day (I think it's utterly stupid) but, as far as I'm concerned, this small gift captures love's true nature.

Pragmatists really should stick together.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Tell Me You Don't Want Some Of This...

The life-cycle of Cashew/Turmeric/Ginger milk is pretty straight forward:

Not all of these ingredients are for this elixir - I've got the fixings for Chocolate/Vanilla Almond Milk laid out too...
You blend 190g of raw cashews, 4 dates, splash of vanilla, 1tsp fresh ginger and tbsp of turmeric powder. Make everything organic, while you're at it. I mean, you are doing this for the good of your health. And to freak people out when they see you sipping on this:

Yeah, I'm reusing all of those micro-batch juice bottles I accumulated paid a zillion bucks for in January. Well, I recycled at least half of them (if not more) because they were coming out of my ears, but I kept enough to work with...
Honestly, this photo doesn't do the colour justice. It's like canary meets neon.

And since I had some left over, and I've heard this stuff is good hot (though I didn't believe that the nut milk wouldn't separate), I gave it a go with some pepper:


Amazingly cashew milk doesn't appear to lose its integrity in any way, when heated. I didn't boil it, just brought to a hot simmer.

This is a very unusual beverage, to be sure. It's creamy and vaguely savoury, even as it's sweet. I can't describe it, except to say that it's delicious - in an entirely different way than chocolate nut milk is.

So whatcha think? Does it creep you out? Do you intend to give it a go? Let's talk!

Loose Ends

It's very rare that I'm at a loss for things to do. But today, what with it being -40C with the windchill (that's where Fahrenheit and Celsius merge, btw), I am utterly disinclined to run my errands. Scott and M are off to visit his parents in the suburbs which means I am free! But I'm not particularly motivated to sew or to make potions. Sure, there's going to be some nut-blending experimentation on the agenda, but that won't occupy me for long.

I might opt to cook something - given the sieve-like properties of my century home, it's never a bad idea to run the oven for a few hours. But it's not so fun to cook just for myself. (Mind you, I could bake...)

I know that there will be a robust session of MELT/Yoga Tune Up in my afternoon, if nothing else to undo the damage of recent knitting. What? Knitting in the same sentence as damage? How can this be?

Look, I LOVE knitting. I have been very sad (massive understatement) to forgo this meditative activity, which produces entirely pragmatic, lovely and impressive end results. I've got a half-finished sweater on the needles and I want to wear it. But I've discovered, having knitted now twice in the last week (after a 3 month break), that while it's not causing my pain (neck, head, upper back), it is likely exacerbating it. I've knitted over two, non-consecutive sessions, each lasting as long as it takes to work 12 rows of a sweater. Well, I stopped every 2 rows to MELT my arms and hands and to do stretches of my neck and shoulders so, what would have taken me an hour previously, currently takes me an evening. Not to mention that I spend all of my attention trying to amend my knitting "gait" to be as ergonomic, for my body, as possible. People, this is not efficient.

I don't really know how to proceed. I'm not giving up on knitting. I mean, what else does one do on a trans-Atlantic flight or a train trip to Mtl or while waiting to see the doctor? I feel strangely bereft. I sense that, as my pain resolves with the support of my many treatment methods (more to come), I'll have that much more agency when it comes to this craft. So I guess I'm playing it by ear (and regularly putting the instrument down), a scenario with which I am entirely uncomfortable but then, I've made my peace with discomfort in the last couple of years.

Today's questions: I know that some of you have given up on knitting due to the pain it caused (RSI, for example). I'd love to know how you came to your decision. And for those of you who knit - do you suffer for it? Have you found yourself at this crossroads? But let's not leave the non-knitters out of the equation. Those of you who experience regular or chronic pain, have you given up activities you love in the name of ensuring that your body isn't under undue pressure. Let's talk!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Finished Object: StyleArc Elita

If you're looking for a quick win, I recommend the StyleArc Elita:

Isn't this a chic silhouette?


You can see the extra length of fabric (just above the closure) that could be removed by a dart to improve the fit.

Top-stitched, centre back seam at neck. The shoulders come together very nicely - with none of the hassle of Vogue 8790 (which has the same basic shoulder construction).

This is what happens if you opt to wear the cowl un-wrapped. It actually looks quite good, and totally different than the wrapped version...



It really fits the bill, and trust me, these days I have no patience.

Keep in mind, it fits large. I made a modified size 10 - using a stable knit - but I could have made the 8 and I still would have had to take it in. The fabric I used is from Fabrications. I can't recall what exactly it's made of but it's cotton and synthetic and it was listed the sweatshirting section, if I'm not mistaken. It's more refined than fleece. The back is a vaguely stripey, very soft black/grey and the right side is slate. It's structured but drapey. It's dress-, jacket- and pant-weight.

My alterations were:
  • Shortening the length of the bodice and sleeves by 2 inches. (This is standard for me, esp. with StyleArc, which designs for a long torso.)
  • I didn't use the tie closure. I've opted for a snap closure which is weird since I always have trouble with these. In this instance I had to resew the placement 3 times and it's still not right. The fabric isn't quite firm enough to deflect warping under the strain. The jacket is in no way too-small - the snap just doesn't want to hold up against the drag of the fabric. Maybe the snap is too small?
  • I removed an inch from the centre back. I know it says that the unaltered version fits shoulders of 15", but mine are @15" and this top would have been an inch too wide in the shoulders and back if I hadn't done this.
  • I narrowed the shoulders slightly (and then discovered I needed to sew another seam .25" inside the original seam to achieve a perfect fit.
  • I raised the armscye slightly. (This was done intuitively, not using math.)
  • I finished the hem seams with a half-inch hem (stablilized with stretch interfacing tape) for a more refined end-product. I also hemmed the edges that meet at the centre front. I feel that raw edges can look unrefined.
  • I shortened the sleeve head by about an inch. This is also standard for me. Let me say, I don't know how the sleeve, as drafted, could work with the armscye, because I barely altered the armscye and yet I had to take my standard 1" from the top of the sleeve. Something is up. The instructions advise that you should use the basting ease method. Why? Draft the arm to fit the armscye and save everyone the trouble. It's not rocket science.
Next time, I'll do what Anne suggests, which is to remove a dart of fabric from the cowl where it meets the bodice front. There's too much fabric there and it drags slightly. This isn't particularly observable because of the cut of the garment and the cowl, but the fit could be improved. And I don't think it has to do with fabric choice. Sure, Anne used a very drapey silk jersey but I used a robust ponte and I'm having the same issue.

Furthermore, this pattern, sleeves notwithstanding, is very well drafted and easy to assemble. The instructions, with tech drawings, really make it a pleasure to construct. I taped the pattern, made alterations and cut the fabric in one session. Next session I marked the fabric, set up my machines and sewed the garment. The sewing took 3 hours from start to finish.

The silhouette is quite good, even if it does fit on the large side, before alterations. It's forgiving so I imagine it would be a sensible first knit project. Keep in mind, if this doesn't fit in the shoulders it's going to look amateur so if that's the only thing you perfect, make sure you don't just assume that the back width is going to work.

It's a really practical, slightly edgy garment, just the kind I love to make. Thoughts?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Nutty

I've had a post done for a while, about my latest finished garment - the StyleArc Elita - but I haven't had enough light (or energy, or time or motivation etc.) to photograph the end result. Stay tuned, we are supposed to have some sun over the next few days (at the cost of -30C temps) so I should be able to take a picture soon... The short story is that it's very wearable.

This post is to update you on the saga of the blender / nut milks. OMG, people, I have no regrets about spending a small fortune on this entry-level model Blendtec. (Note: I did get a deal but it still cost a lot. My rationale is that I've never bought a blender before. I've been using the one my parents, got as a wedding gift in 1968, since I moved out of their house in 1988.) You cannot make nut milks optimally unless you've got a powerful machine with a good design. I mean, if you've got a war-horse appliance-store version that's worked for you in the past, that's great, but I've read that the low-end models just can't adequately grind.

At any rate, here's what I've learned so far:
  • I'm not nuts about almond milk when a much easier, and more delicious, alternative is cashew milk. The thrill of cashew milk is that the nuts are soft enough to be completely obliterated by blending so you don't need to strain the pulp. It also tastes creamier, no doubt because one consumes the entire nut, not simply the interior.
  • I'm using non-irradiated, non-sulphite, organic nuts (to the best of my ability). It strikes me, if I'm going to go to the trouble of making nut milk 2x per week (at the volume of 3 litres), I'm going to use the best raw materials I can find. Ditto for the dates, cocoa and vanilla.
  • It takes about 20 minutes, start to finish, to make 1.5 litres of milk. That's the amount that M and I drink in 3 days (the shelf life of the stuff). We each have 250 ml per day, she after kickboxing and I for breakfast. Of course, the nuts need to soak for a period of time (nut-depending) to soften, hydrate, clean and activate enzymes. So you have to factor that in as prep time. But that part takes a minute (followed by the waiting period).
  • The recipe is a piece of cake: 190g of cashews, 4-6 dates, 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa, 1tbsp vanilla extract or 1/2 vanilla pod seeds, 5 cups water. So far I haven't done much experimenting but my next go round, I think I'll make it ORANGE by adding a tbsp of turmeric in place of the cocoa. We'll see how the kid deals with that. I'm looking to reduce inflammation in my body, as you know, and turmeric's all the rage for that.
  • M loves it and, between the intensity of her kickboxing (she's hardcore) and some info we've gained about her learning-style and brain chemistry, I'm committed to ensuring that she increases her healthy fat and protein consumption. She and I both take daily fish oil and evening primrose oil supplements as well - for entirely different reasons. 
  • Seriously, if there's one thing that juice fast taught me it's that fat is essential. It's all the more essential for people whose mental and/or physical metabolisms move fast. Furthermore, it makes your skin glow, your eyes shine, your hair bouncy. Don't eschew the stuff - just don't eat crap. I use so much oil these days it's ridiculous. Sure, it's February. It's freezing and dry. Do I moderate my fat consumption in summer? Absolutely. Too much fat seems gross when it's warm. But this climate can kill you or, at very least, cripple you with depression. Fat moderates weakness in the face of harsh climate.
  • I'm not much into dwelling on calories in my 40s. All through my 20s and 30s I was a food diary keeper. I can tell you how many calories are in anything, anytime, and frankly, I'm bored by it. I also believe that calorie counting can obscure a much more relevant matter: nutrition. I'm in a phase of my life when my body's not acting as I expect it to, as it used to - as it would have at any other time. But there's nothing like pain to put shape-change into perspective. My goal is to get to menopause (and far beyond) in optimal health. I want to support my brain, my joints, the suppleness of my muscles and tissues, my bones. I appreciate my youthful appearance and I believe that the way to maintain it is to exercise appropriately (that changes for me depending on the week), to sleep a fuck of a lot and to eat fat.
  • Now having said that, and because a lot of people have asked me, I did the math so I can tell you that 250 ml of cashew milk has @200 calories, 5.5g of protein and 13.5g of fat. I haven't bothered to figure out the sugar content but cashews themselves have practically no sugar and I'm not going to worry about the sugar in 1 date. That makes this drink mostly fat, by composition, and that's entirely cool as far as I'm concerned. I have it for breakfast - a meal I sometimes struggle with because I don't like to eat early - and supplement it with a handful of pumpkin seeds or a hard-boiled egg. My pain is most noteworthy in the morning because I'm at my most dehydrated (though I do drink a glass of water in the middle of the night), so this elixir provides some energy, some ballast AND hydration. It also makes a great drink post-exercise and a lovely dessert. It's terrific for managing the chaos of PMS. Would I drink 3 a day? No - not unless I were prepared to cut back on solid food, which I'm not. But will I drink it daily? Yup.
So, there you go. My foray into cold-pressed juices and milks really has facilitated a change in my eating habits and perspective. I see food now in a much more deconstructed, metabolic way than ever I have before, and it inspires me to eat well, especially when the drink I take now can make all the difference in the way my body feels pain later.