Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Foodiness

One of the highlights of spending Christmas with my parents in Florida (besides the salt-water swimming pools and the Siesta Key drum circle) was the visit to Katy Rose Olive Oils in Sarasota.  Before any real foodie gets condescending about it, let me say that in southwest Michigan the idea of an oil and vinegar bar is pretty damn exotic, so I was mainly limited to what I could find on the shelf at Meijers.

You walk into this place and it is rows of "casks" of olive oils and vinegars.  You can taste each one, and/or they will fill bottles for purchase.  Everything they have is gluten-free, and they stock other gluten-free items, such as pastas and candies, elsewhere in the store.

The foodie impulse, of course was "one of EVERYTHING!" I ended up with a large bottle of an herbed olive oil, a medium bottle of a fig balsamic vinegar (so delicious on fruity salads!) and a tiny bottle of the red apple balsamic vinegar.  The last is a thick vinegar with a rich, dark tart apple flavor, and I had a specific purpose in mind for it.  As soon as I tasted it, I knew it was destined for homemade caramels.

Now the caramels are made, and so very, very tasty.  I'll share the recipe, but know that you can either substitute another fruity balsamic or leave out the vinegar and they will still be very, very tasty!

1 cup unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1 cup corn syrup
2 1/4 cups (lightly packed) brown sugar
2 cups heavy cream (can use whipping cream)
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon high quality, thick, fruity balsamic vinegar 

Extra butter for greasing

Other handy things to have include a large sauce pan with a heavy/thick bottom, a basting brush, parchment and wax paper, and a 9x9 pan.  A candy thermometer is handy, but not crucial.  A flat-edge wooden spoon makes an excellent stirrer for candies.  A bowl of ice water allows you to test for firmness and brush down sugar crystals on the inside of the pot. 

line the pan with parchment paper and use the butter to grease the paper.  I used two loaf pans and poured half the batch before adding flavorings (so that I'd have a plain half-batch and a fruity half-batch).

In the saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.
When it is melted, add the sugar and stir well until it is all incorporated. 
Stir in corn syrup and cream
Cook over medium heat for two to three minutes, then raise temperature to medium-high.
Stir constantly until the mixture boils, then reduce back to medium heat.
Keep at an even boil until the mixture thickens (30 minutes to 1 hour), stirring frequently to prevent separation.
If sugar begins to crystallize on side of pot, use a wet basting brush and cold water to rinse down the crystals.  They will cause the mixture to crystallize and separate if allowed to stay.
When mixture reaches 245 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer or a spoonful dropped into ice water forms a firm ball, remove caramel from heat.
Add sea salt and vinegar and stir briskly for a few seconds to incorporate.
Pour immediately into buttered parchment-lined pans.
Allow to cool for several hours or until completely firmed.
Cut into small pieces with heavy duty kitchen shears, a knife, or a pizza roller.  Greasing the cutting edge with butter will help prevent sticking.  Wrap each piece in wax paper.
The flavor of the vinegar will be subtle at first, but will develop more over time. 

Next year, I think, I'll need a bigger bottle.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Personal Note (and kitty health care)

After a 10 hour drive home from my parent's place in Florida, I woke up Foxie cat and she started crying and walking in circles, bumping into things. The pet-sitter's report from the day before was normal, but at some point in the night or day she had gone completely blind. We found a veterinary emergency room. After $1000 and only five hours of sleep we found out that she has mild kidney dysfunction, which caused her blood pressure to soar, which caused her retinas to partially detach.

There is some hope that with medication she'll regain her sight, but in the meantime the poor thing is completely blind, and had already gone mostly deaf. She's 17 years old, and in fairly good shape for all that. We're assured by many people that (indoor) cats can function just fine by sense of smell and navigate by memory if you're careful not to rearrange rooms. Her quality of life will be fairly good (other than when I'm trying to get her to swallow her pills). But it means we have maybe 2 years left with her. Not the best ending to a vacation, but it definitely could have been worse.

If you have an older cat, make sure that your vet checks blood pressure at the annual checkup.  It can have many underlying causes, but it is the most common cause for sudden blindness in cats and can be controlled with medication.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

SAAS (Sewing at Any Size) Fatkini Season Bandeau Top

You can find many more simple sewing projects by clicking the sewing link at the side of my blog.  

 It's almost here...the frantic messages screaming from televisions and newstands about post-holiday "beach bodies." These next three months or so always strike me as the most actively body-shaming time of the year in our culture. So in response, I say celebrate your beach body! It is your body, as it is, right now. Because people of any size, shape, color, etc. deserve to get out in the sun and sand, or down by the pool, and bare some skin!

To that end, this is the second in my series on Fatkinis. This is a super-simple bandeau-style bikini top.  You can find instructions for a halter-style string top here. 

First, the measurements.

Measurement A is just above the breast. A good way to find this point is to look where your cleavage starts. Measure around the chest, under the armpits.

Measurement B is from under the breast, over the nipple, to above the breast where you measured for A.

You will need stretchy fabric, but if you have larger breasts you may want to look for something more supportive than standard swimsuit fabric. You can even recycle an old tee shirt, sweat shirt or yoga pants for this. If you use a thin, light-color fabric, get it wet and drape it over your hand in bright light. This will tell you how see-through it will be at the beach. You may have to sandwich several layers of lighter fabric to keep from flashing nips to the world.

Cut a long rectangle of fabric that is Measurement B plus 1" wide, and Measurement A long.

You will also need 2 lengths of string or ribbon approximately 12" long and 4 lengths 6" long. These can be a different material or you can make it from the same material by folding over a 1/2" wide strip, stitching on the long edge, and turn it inside out. Stitch or knot the ends.

Fold all four edges of the long rectangle over 1/4" and press or baste. Fold the edges over again 1/4" to hide the raw edge and use a stretch or zig-zag stitch to hem.

Fold the two short edges over 1" and stitch with a stretch stitch at the hemmed ends, creating a tube of fabric at each end.

Thread one of the 12" strings through each tube.

Tie a 6" string around the center of the top. This will go between your breasts. This is optional, if you want a solid tube-top style instead of a sweetheart top, you can leave this off. 

If you need additional support for the top, you can use a much longer string, knot it tight at the center as below, and then tie the ends behind your neck as a halter.

Tie the top on behind your back. On each side, mark the spot directly under your armpit. Take the top back off again, and knot one of the remaining two 6" strings at each armpit mark. 

Put the top on again and adjust the ties as needed. When they are in a good spot, make sure you tie them in a solid square knot. If they're in danger of coming undone or shifting, put a few stitches in to hold them in place. You can cut off dangling ends if needed at this point, and use stitches or glue to prevent fraying.

You now have a complete bandeau bikini top, so rock it whenever you please!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Chris Christie Calls out Jon Stewart for Fat Jokes

Chris Christie was on Jon Stewart this week (December 6).  It was a fairly good conversation, but for me the best part came right at the end.  Christie actually called Stewart out for previous jokes and comments Stewart had made about Christie's weight.  It was fantastic!  Here was a fat man on national television telling this respected comedian that what he did was NOT OKAY. 

Here's the episode link.  The bit I'm talking about starts at 33:54 on the timer and lasts about a minute or less. 

Now I have a lot of respect for Jon Stewart as a brilliant, rational man and a mostly compassionate human being.  The one place he repeatedly falls down is in weight bias.  Not in every episode or even the majority, but he does take up the cheap shot fat joke when it presents.  While he didn't actually apologize to Christie (there's a moment when he seems about to, but is interrupted), he was at least given some visibly uncomfortable moments when he realizes that the person he mocked not only listened, but felt.  Here's hoping it'll make him reconsider his words in the future. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

My Fatshion

 I have just recently come to a stunning, world altering realization:  I no longer have to dress for the office.

I know, obvious right?   But after spending 10 hours a day, 5 days a week in office clothing for 13 years,  it comprises some 75% of my wardrobe.  Another 10% is "going out clothes" (with some crossover with officewear) and the rest were camping/cleaning/yardwork style grubbies.

Now I'm a student.  Not only that, but I'm an online student.  I don't have to get up and put on a conservative skirt or dress and sit in a cubicle all day while I represent a company.   I get to represent myself

This is an amazing thing.  When I was a teenager looking to find my "style," it was pre-Internet.  We lived in a small town with one available plus-size store (Lane Bryant) and they were back in their conservative, loose-fitting, "woman of a certain age" phase (you know, the styles that got farmed out to Catherines).  So as a teenager I was in outfits suitable for a 33 year old office worker.  I often just wore things out of my mom's closet.  I never got to develop a style, because I was entirely limited to what was available. 

Now I can lust after e-shakti dresses and others on the internet.  I can wear a man's suit and wingtips out on the town to mess with peoples' gender perceptions.  I can push boundaries.  Finally, as a 33 year old, I can wear whateverthehell I want.

But I'm not a fatshionista.  I don't choose to make high-end clothing labels a priority in my life, and really don't see much of a point in handbags (I own one purse).  I am, thanks to the fatshion blogs and others, developing a specific set of styles I want to play with more to see which feel right.  I think it's going to depend on my mood of the day.  I still love menswear, but high-end formal menswear.  I would spend more on a suit than I ever would on a dress.  I have my Donna Reed days and my punk days.  Maybe my taste will settle into a style, and maybe it won't.  But the choice is finally up to me instead of a company dress code.  You wouldn't believe how powerful that feels.

So here's a Fatshion pic:

Awesomely geeky tee shirt from  Tweed pencil skirt courtesy of my sewing machine.  Extended-calf boots from Payless.  This is my "flirty nerdy" look, but really needs some zero-prescription glasses with square black plastic frames.  Alas, the low-script reading glasses I got from the dollar store would have been perfect, but they gave up the ghost (and a lens) that afternoon.