Monday, March 30, 2009

Being Beautiful

Though I am told that I don't really qualify as "fat" or even "chubby," I support the size-acceptance movement. I believe that it is possible to be healthy at any size, skinny, fat, or in between, and that we owe it to ourselves to love, accept, and care for our bodies. Too often, though, women are told that our bodies are wrong. Hearing a message often enough (and o, how bombarded we are with this particular message!) can make even the hardiest among us doubt herself. The question for myself was not, "Can I be beautiful?" (i.e., lose or gain weight or otherwise change my body to fit some ideal), but "May I be beautiful?"

Since the beginning of treatment for hyperthyroidism in 2005, I have gained about twenty pounds. During the fag-end of the Bad Old Days, when I had not learned that loving myself was not only OK, but of utmost necessity, I cried when I could no longer zip my size 12 jeans (my "skinny" jeans) or button up my sleek, genuine U.S. Navy pants. The emotional choppiness born of a sudden relocation under bad circumstances and stormy hormones seeking a new equilibrium made it harder to bear my weight gain. In my head, I knew it was a sign of health. In my heart, in my feelings, I cowered before the blaring, jeering voice of internalized body-hatred.

Eventually, with help from my doctor, my therapist, my mother and my friends, I realized that what I had had before, as a thinner person, wasn't anything like a real, healthy life. Still, in my saddest moments, when I forgot I didn't really hate myself anymore, I wished my sickness back so that I could be thinner. A few minutes spent skimming the diaries I had kept in Tennessee were enough to snap me out of it.

One day, in the bathroom at my mother's house, where I was living after moving back to Michigan, dressed in jeans and a bra, I found myself admiring the curve of my hip and how it flowed inwards to form my waist. I ran my hands up and down my sides, from ribs to thighs. I liked the way my body felt; it was larger, yes, but it filled my size 14 jeans and my new, larger bra beautifully. It was soft and sleek and beautifully shaped. I laid my hands gently on my now-rounder belly and closed my eyes against grateful tears. I gave myself permission to see my beauty, to marvel at it, to love it, and revel in it.

Do you have permission? What would it take for you to grant it to yourself?

Friday, March 27, 2009

No-Bake Drop Cookies

My mother made these often. They never lasted long, especially once Daddy found them. He loved these. I still do, too. We just called them "drop cookies," so I was surprised while reading Mom's cookbooks, as a little girl, to see recipe after recipe for baked drop cookies. This recipe is nice for summer because it cooks on top of the stove. I don't know if these cookies are, like Big Boy restaurants, "a Michigan thing," but I've never encountered them outside my beautiful mother state.

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 stick butter or margarine
1/2 cup milk (or evaporated milk; my friend Heather's mother used it)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups "quick oats" oatmeal

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, cocoa, butter or margarine, and milk. Bring to a boil and cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and add peanut butter and vanilla, stirring until the mixture is no longer glossy. Stir in the oatmeal. Drop by spoonfuls (whatever size you like) onto a cookie sheet or waxed paper. Let cool until firm, and enjoy!

You might like less oatmeal, or you might like part oats and part chopped walnuts, or flaked unsweetened coconut. You could also use chunky/crunchy peanut butter.

Sometimes, when we were short of cocoa, my mother simply omitted it and we had peanut-butter fudge cookies. Mmmmmm!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Good stuff from Stephanie Tourles

For the last few weeks, I have been reading Naturally Healthy Skin by Stephanie Tourles. I bought the book a number of years ago, hoping to find something to help my poor ravaged skin. Of course, I didn't know that I had Graves' disease; once I had my thyroid out, my hormone levels balanced themselves and my skin improved dramatically. Since beginning each day with a full recipe of Ms. Tourles' "Skin-So-Smoothie" recipe (I make it with unsweetened almond milk), my skin has felt softer and looks smoother than I can ever remember. My forehead is less oily, and I believe the faint vertical line on the inside of my left eyebrow has diminished. I've also tried her snack mix recipe, modifying it for what I have on hand. It's delicious. My attempt at her chewy apricot "cookie" recipe was less successful; they taste good, but they're awfully gooey, so I think I must have added too much juice.

I can't, of course, reproduce any of her recipes here, but I encourage you to visit Ms. Tourles' website and to take a look at her books at your local bookstore or library. Seriously good stuff!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring has come

Photo by


She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
She wore her greenest gown;
She turned to the south wind
And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor,
"Winter is dead."

A. A. Milne

Black Forest Brownies

Whether you start with a family recipe or a boxed mix, brownies are always wonderful -- at least, I've never met one I didn't like. My favorite way to serve and eat brownies, especially for "occasions," is a kind of rearranged (or disarranged) Black Forest gâteau.

Black Forest Brownies

Your favorite brownie recipe
OR: a "family-size" (9"x13") box of brownie mix
1 can of cherry pie filling
1 oz. Kirschwasser
1 half-gallon vanilla ice cream
whipped cream

Pour the cherries into a small bowl and stir in the Kirschwasser. Let stand at room temperature while brownies are baking.

Mix and bake brownies in a 9"x13" pan. Cool to lukewarm. Slice the brownies into your favorite size squares.

For each serving:
Place one brownie on a dessert plate. Top with a scoop of ice cream and a generous spoonful (or however much you like) of cherries. Place another brownie on top of the ice cream and cherries, pressing it down so that it sits securely (or not, as you like!). Pour another generous spoonful of cherries over the second brownie and top with a big fluff of whipped cream.

Now dig in and enjoy!

As with all my recipes (the ones not given to me by Kristina, that is), there's a lot of room to improvise with this one. Warm the cherry-kirsch mixture before serving. Try mint-chocolate chip ice cream and substitute hot fudge for the cherries. I've made this with chocolate cake, too; I baked a 9"x13" cake, cut it into squares, and split each square into two layers before proceeding as above. Mix it up and make it your own, but most of all, enjoy it!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Prayers for the Neesons

The beautiful and talented Natasha Richardson has died from her head injury.  She was 45 years old.

"Liam Neeson, his sons, and the entire family are shocked and devastated by the tragic death of their beloved Natasha. They are profoundly grateful for the support, love and prayers of everyone, and ask for privacy during this very difficult time."

Please think of and pray for her family, especially her husband and her young sons.

If you bump your head, please go to the hospital. Please. Better to feel silly afterwards for having made a fuss over nothing than to take such a chance. So much can happen in so little time.

Take care of yourself; we need you.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Portable Shade

"The parasols this year look like big, beautiful flowers that have grown and blossomed at will without having a single pretty fancy restrained or pruned away. Like all of this Springs work they are characterized by a picturesque and irresponsible variety that refuses adherence to any one pattern. Any sort of parasol may he carried with the assurance that the more it differs from every other parasol the more it will he approved." -- The New York Times, May 1, 1892.

The days are growing longer, which reminds me that everyone should use sunblock. I like Neutrogena's SPF 30 for sensitive skin, but sometimes I forget to apply it or to tuck it in my purse before going out. My two failsafe measures are a large hat and a parasol, both of which are much harder to overlook and leave behind.

I have a large head covered with a lot of thick, long hair. Finding hats that fit is difficult for me, especially as I frequently wear my hair pulled or pinned up, and so I decided to make one, thereby guaranteeing a good fit. Last year, I found this pattern by Lily Chin, and I executed it in jute twine from the hardware store for a rustic look. Lily models her hat pushed back from her face, but I wear mine level across my forehead to shade my face and throat. I made two hatbands which coordinate with just about everything I wear; I swap them according to my outfit and pin them with an antique brooch. The hat draws lots of compliments, but the parasol draws stares.

On eBay, that bargain-hunter's playground, I found a Chinese paper parasol, dated about 1920. Its paper canopy was torn in several places, so I mended it with tissue paper and Elmer's glue. The patches are white, but I haven't figured out how to stain them to match the rest of the canopy without dissolving the paper. They don't show much, fortunately, so I may leave them as they are. The parasol shades me well, allowing only dim sunlight to touch my skin. I used it for most of last summer, and between it and the hat, I didn't get sunburned once. As fair as I am, that's quite a feat.

We all need some unprotected exposure to sunlight (ten to fifteen minutes a day, I have read) to help our bodies make vitamin D, a nutrient necessary for regulating the body's calcium and phosphorous levels. Sunshine feels good, and it's good for us. But baking our skin, whether in the sun or a tanning parlor, is a great way to wind up with prematurely aged skin or, at worst, skin cancer. Even if your skin is olive or dark, excessive sun exposure can cause damage, but paler people are much more susceptible.

Enjoy checking out the parasols at these links. Maybe we'll start a trend!

Darna's East Angel Harbor Hat Shoppe -- elaborate, hand-decorated parasols and hats
Designs by Victoria -- parasols, fans, and other goodies
Lace Parasols: Undercover Elegance
Luna Bazaar -- colorful paper parasols
Pamela's Parasols
Parasols at Gentleman's Emporium -- oodles of other lovely wearables and accessories, too.
Shooting Star History -- patterns and supplies for making your own parasols

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pear and Almond Tart

Photo by Brian Leatart (Lea-TART?!) for Bon Appetit

I had planned to post a brownie recipe with jazz-up suggestions, but as tomorrow is Pi Day, I thought a pie recipe would be more appropriate. I asked around, and my friend Elan suggested a pear-almond tart recipe. She made this many years ago, and says it was "painfully good." This recipe is adapted from one printed in Bon Appetit, but it receives the Elan Seal of Approval. So..."bon appetit!" Sorry.

For the pears:
4 cups water
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 medium-size pears (Bosc or Anjou), peeled [or use canned pears - I have it on good authority that French women do just that!]

For the crust:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

Almond Filling
2/3 cup blanched slivered almonds
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
7 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg

Powdered sugar for decoration (optional)

For pears:
Bring 4 cups water, sugar, and lemon juice to boil in large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add pears. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until pears are very tender, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool pears in syrup. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

For crust:
Blend powdered sugar, almonds, and salt in processor until nuts are finely ground. Add butter and blend until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally. Mix in egg yolk. Add flour. Using on/off turns, blend until dough comes together in clumps. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 3 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

For almond filling:
Finely grind almonds and flour in processor. Mix in 7 tablespoons sugar, then butter, blending until smooth. Mix in egg. Transfer filling to medium bowl. Cover and chill at least 3 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.)

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Roll out chilled dough on floured sheet of parchment paper to 12-inch round, lifting and turning dough occasionally to free from paper. Using paper as aid, turn dough into 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom; peel off paper. Seal any cracks in dough. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch. Fold overhang in, making double-thick sides. Pierce crust all over with fork. Freeze crust 10 minutes.

Line crust with buttered foil, buttered side down, then fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake crust until sides are set, about 20 minutes. Remove foil and beans. Bake crust until sides are golden and bottom is set, pressing with back of fork if crust bubbles, about 10 minutes longer. Cool crust in pan on rack. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

Spread almond filling evenly in crust. Stem pears and cut each in half lengthwise; scoop out cores. Cut each half crosswise into thin slices. Gently press each pear half to fan slices but keep slices tightly overlapped. Slide spatula under pears and arrange atop filling like spokes of wheel with narrow ends in center.

Bake tart until golden and a toothpick inserted into center of filling comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool tart in pan on rack. Push pan bottom up, releasing tart from pan. (Can be made 8 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.) Cut tart into wedges; sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve.

The Smitten Kitchen has helpful step-by-step photos for their version.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Devouring Lady

It is difficult for me to write about spirituality without feeling both naked and flaky. But, because I believe this subject is very important, especially now, I'm going to try.

My nom de plume means "beloved of Bast" in the Egyptian language. Bast is the cat-headed goddess; her name means "Devouring Lady." I do not follow the Egyptian religion, but I am drawn to Bast, and not just because I am a cat lover.

Bast is also known as "the eye of Ra," a protector and avenger as fierce and hot as the sun. She is the protector of women, especially expectant mothers, and children. She is also a protector of the home.

I imagine how she would react to a bruised wife, a bullied girlfriend, a frightened child, an ashamed and injured man. And how would she confront one who hurts the vulnerable and shatters the home's peace?

I imagine her, in cat form, comforting the hurt ones by curling up in their laps and purring soothingly. I imagine her soft paws dabbing away tears and her raspy tongue kissing hands and cheeks. I imagine peace and pure love radiating from her beautiful green eyes.

Gaze into her pupils and see yourself there. See how loved you are.

I imagine her, with a bloodcurdling yowl, flinging herself upon the abusers in a frenzy of slashing claws and sharp, shining teeth, burning them with the fire of her righteous anger, ears flattened, eyes blazing like the sun. I imagine her fierce joy in avenging the innocent.

With certain stories in the news these days, I know that some survivors of domestic abuse have had bad dreams and feelings of panic, depression, and helpless anger.

No one deserves to be called names, manipulated, controlled, robbed, deceived, forced into sex, threatened, struck or injured in any way. No one.

If you or someone you know is being hurt by someone close to her or him, know that there is help available. It can be scary to reach out, but you are strong and brave. You can get out, you can get away. You can thrive.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN): 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)

The Emancipation of Artemis: Artists United to End Violence Against Women (Facebook group run by Jennifer Fields-Summer, a phenomenal photographer and a dear friend)

Cassiopeia photographed by Allisonmariecat.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Soothing Salt Scrub

My skin tends to get itchy in the winter, and this soothes any rashes and reveals fresh, soft skin. Don't use this if you've got cuts or scrapes; the salt will sting, and you don't want to "scrub open" healing wounds.

You'll need:
2 parts sea salt (substitute sugar if you're concerned about stinging)
1 part oil (olive, almond, jojoba, etc.)
few drops essential oil, like lavender or rose (optional - I like Aura Cacia's Rose Otto in jojoba oil)
a lidded container (I use a plastic, well-scrubbed hummus container)

Put everything in your container and stir it well with a spoon. Scoop out with your fingers and scrub your skin before bathing (standing in the tub so you don't get oily salt everywhere!) or in the shower. Be careful not to slip! Rinse off, dry off, and apply moisturizer as usual.

Okay, I admit: this does sting my (occasional) eczema, but it's a good kind of sting; I know that the salt is helping the rash to heal. I don't scrub irritated skin, but let the salt mixture sit on it for a minute or so. I'm no dermatologist, but I think it really helps.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Waking Up: Luscious Tiramisù

For most of my last decade, I was a bony, trembling, emotionally volatile wreck. My heart was a jackhammer. My skin was a minefield. My mind was a vortex of self-hatred, self-destruction, and rage. After a night of chest pains so crushing and breathtaking that I thought I was dying, one blood test gave me my answer. I was severely hyperthyroid: the butterfly-shaped gland in my throat was pumping out twice the thyroid hormone my body needed, in defiance of attempts by my deranged immune system to shut it down. An interesting test involving radioactive material confirmed that I had Graves' disease.

What does all this have to do with tiramisù? Read on.

Coincidentally (or not?), on Wednesday I attended a lecture on weight discrimination, given by a (petite and slender) professor at my university. It was fun to hear her debunk the "obesity epidemic," and we the audience laughed as she amply illustrated its absurdity. Afterwards, I spoke with her for a few minutes about my experience with weight fluctuation and others' reactions to it (sick and thin=many "thin" compliments from women, not so many from men; healthy and heavier=fewer compliments from women, many more from men), she told me that she had Graves' disease, too. We shared our stories of misdiagnoses and recovery and laughed a bit together.

Three years ago today, I underwent a total thyroidectomy, putting my disease in remission and waking me from my long and dreadful nightmare. Because of the profound changes that took place afterwards in all aspects of myself and my life, this is a kind of second birthday for me. Tonight, my husband and I will celebrate with Chicago pizza, followed by tiramisù, my very favorite dessert. Each bite is another nail in the coffin of the Bad Old Days when I hated myself and, especially, hated and punished my body.

Rather than present a single tiramisù recipe, I am giving several links to versions of this truly divine and sexy concoction. Eat it, and see if you don't feel awake, alive, and happily sated.

Heavenly Tiramisù - many, many recipes
Finding La Dolce Vita - nicely illustrated
Cooking for Engineers - illustrations galore, plus a fun task chart (the "engineering" part, I guess)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Another link change, reconsidered

Debutante Clothing has a link to a blog in which a liposuction procedure is described. Because the brief article is a description and not an endorsement (indeed, it ends with a question about health risks), I am leaving Debutante Clothing in the Beauty-Full Blogs section. I like DC very much, as it's full of wonderful clothing and interesting information about vintage styles and labels, and I don't want to delete their link because of a single informational link. Again, you can't see the article unless you follow a link at DC, and if you blink while scrolling, you'll miss it. I only mention it because some readers may have followed the link, and be wondering why I would link to a blog that links to a potentially triggering article.

Yes, I do have a gimlet eye, but I want this blog to be a safe place, a joy-full place. I'm trying to create a website full of things I wish I had seen, heard, and dwelt upon when I was struggling with loving myself. I don't want anyone to find any reason here to feel bad about herself.

Door tag available for $1 from

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Prayers for Mariska

I have just learned that Mariska Hargitay went back to the hospital this morning. She is a great inspiration to me, and to many others. Her Joyful Heart Foundation helps survivors of sexual violence. She radiates love and joy.

I wish all good things for her, especially a comfortable, speedy recovery.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Good Morning! fruit drink

Sunshine in a glass!

2 cups orange juice
1 cup frozen pineapple chunks
1 grapefruit, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
1 frozen banana, cut into chunks (I cut up ripe bananas and freeze them in baggies, one banana per baggie)
thumb-size chunk of gingerroot, peeled and sliced
dash lemon juice
dash sea salt

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth (2 minutes or so). Makes one big breakfast. Sparkly, tart, and loaded with beautiful nutrients to make you feel wonderful. See, hedonism can be healthy!

Experiment with your favorite fruits. For example, substitute fresh or frozen mango chunks for the grapefruit if you'd like a sweeter drink. Omit the ginger if it's too spicy for your taste. Add a few ice cubes for a frosty, slushier texture. Improvise! Do what you like best!

Love your body, and it will love you right back. I promise.

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