Friday, July 31, 2009

Beauty: In Their Own Words

Maybe it's that I'm sugared out from our morning party (o, the chocolate-chili cookies!), but I thought I'd use this SGED Friday to share some words of body-love wisdom, along with links to galleries at The Judgment of Paris where you can see more of these beautiful women. And beautiful they are, inside and out.

"I’ll never forget seeing my fifth-grade photographs, taken at the beginning of the school year. I had just started developing. Just a little, and at the same time just enough to start feeling awkward about my body. I remember looking at the other kids’ pictures and comparing myself to them. God, I thought as I looked down at my reflection, I don’t like the way I look.
"Years later, on a sun-kissed beach in the Bahamas, I felt the same way as the day I saw those photos. I was with Michele [Weston] that day and I was being photographed for a summer issue of MODE. The only thing I had to wear was a swimsuit and a smile. I turned to her as the photographer had finished setting up his equipment, and I said, 'I just don't deserve to be here.' Michele took me over to a full-length mirror and replied, 'Barbara Brickner, you look at yourself. What makes you think you don’t deserve to be what all of us see in you?' I didn’t have an answer, for I could only see the reflection of a girl posing for her school picture. She continued: 'You’re here because we see the beauty in you. Not just the curves, the beautiful body, or the beautiful face, but it’s what comes out of you.' I was awakened."

Barbara Brickner
Barbara Brickner: An Encomium

"When I was thinner, I wasn’t comfortable with my body. Now, I like myself, tummy and all. The problem isn’t with me; it’s with others. When you’re full figured, people treat you like a failure. Even when I was a size 10, they thought I should do more to lose weight, not realizing how much I was doing. There’s so much pressure to be a small size in this society, even if it’s not natural or healthy for you. People should understand that when you’re healthy, it doesn’t matter what size you are."

Shannon Marie
Shannon Marie: Fairest of Them All

"As for maintaining such positive body image, well, I read a lot of books on the subject. As a plus model it's always been something that has come up...meaning the positive influence we are able to set for women. So it's good for me to be well read, right? And the bottom line is, I know I'm worthy and deserving of the very best in life, as we all are. This includes the choice to Love myself completely and totally as I am, exactly as I am. All you have to do is be willing to learn to Love yourself and the door has been opened. I remember recently sitting on the couch with my sister Jen. We had just had a lovely dinner, and my stomach was feeling it! So I looked down at my protruding belly full of good food, and gave it a rub and said, 'I Love you, stomach.' We both laughed of course. It was funny and sweet and true."

Valerie Lefkowitz
Valerie Lefkowitz: An Homage
I Love how Valerie capitalized "Love." Now I'm doing it, too! - MB

How are you loving yourself today? I am wearing one of my favorite dresses. Later, I'll be playing mermaid in the pool and lying quiescent in the sauna afterwards.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Turkish Delight

There was no post last Friday because I took the last part of the day to prepare for and attend a concert by Peter Murphy, one of my all-time favorite musicians. He is one of the most compelling performers out there, a charismatic, limber frontman in the tradition of David Bowie and Iggy Pop, with a resonant, powerful baritone and a mystical bent that manifests itself in his lyrics.

I've been a fan of Peter's since I was about fourteen, when 88.7FM (CIMX) began its switch from adult contemporary to New Wave and alternative. I didn't always know what his lyrics meant, but I loved the mysterious, fanciful imagery ("The djinn men smash the ark/Four guides afloat, four dots of God"). And of course, I loved his strange, rich voice; singing along, I reached for those low notes until my throat was sore. Someday, I hope to tell him about all the little babies I've sung to sleep with snatches from "Huuvola," a lovely song he wrote for his own children. As most couples have a "song," our song is "I'll Fall With Your Knife;" it was our first (and only!) dance together at our wedding (my husband's not much for dancing).

I was lucky enough to meet Peter in 2000; he clasped my hand and said, "How are you, darling?" in response to my nervous "Hi, Peter." At another show on that same tour (I told you he's one of my all-time favorites), he autographed my copy of Coleman Barks' The Essential Rumi, after I handed it to a new friend, who handed it through a van window to Peter. He inscribed the book "To Moe," my nickname (usually minus the "e"), because that's the only name my new friend knew me by. This book is one of my treasures, and I nearly wept with relief when I found it intact after the fire that destroyed my apartment building several years ago. On the flyleaf, in blue ink now slightly smudged by water damage from that awful night, he wrote:

"Be as you are
Be as you appear to be..."
Peter Murphy

Peter is married to the beautiful Beyhan Murphy, founder and head of Modern Dance Turkey. They live in Ankara, Turkey, home to all kinds of marvelous sweets. My personal favorite is baklava, but I also like Turkish Delight. Unlike Edmund Pevensie, I can only eat a couple of pieces at a time, as it's very sweet.

This recipe contains no gelatin and comes from, Liz Upton's superlative blog. Please do go to the site and read the fascinating history of Turkish Delight, then try tackling this recipe. Serve the candy with strong coffee, as is traditional; it really takes the edge off the amazing bitterness of real Turkish coffee.

Rahat Lokum (Turkish Delight)

For 80 pieces (40 orange-flower flavour, 40 rose flavour) you'll need:

4 cups sugar
4 1/2 cups water
Juice of 1 lime
1 cup cornflour (cornstarch for Americans)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar (this stops the mixture from crystalising)
1 tablespoon essence of rose water
1 tablespoon essence of orange-flower water (both of these ingredients are made by the English Provender Company and are available in the UK in supermarkets) [American and Canadian friends, check Indian and Middle Eastern grocers -- MB]
1 cup icing sugar (confectioners' sugar for Americans)
1/4 cup extra cornflour

Begin by boiling the sugar with the lime juice and 1 1/2 cups of water. Use a jam thermometer and remove from the heat when the syrup reaches the soft ball stage (115C/239F).

While you are boiling the sugar syrup, combine the cream of tartar and a cup of cornflour with three cups of cold water. (Using cold water should prevent lumps.) Mix well and bring up to a simmer, stirring all the time. Continue stirring at a simmer until the mixture has made a thick, gluey paste. Stir the sugar syrup into this paste. (If you end up with lumps at this stage, push everything into a saucepan through a sieve with the back of a ladle.)

Simmer the sugar and cornflour mixture, stirring every few minutes, until it's a golden-honey colour and about 120C/248F (this is halfway between soft and hard ball on your jam thermometer, and will take about an hour). Divide the mixture into two, and pour it into two prepared trays lined with oiled cling film (American readers - this is what we call Saran wrap over here). Add a tablespoon of rose water and a few drops of pink food colouring to one and stir, a tablespoon of orange-flower water to the other, and stir. Cover and chill for a few hours until set.

Turn out the wobbling sections. You will be glad for that oiled cling film. Slice the set Turkish Delight into cubes, and roll in a mixture of 1 cup icing sugar and 1/4 cup cornflour so that they don't stick together. Set before the ravening hordes. If, unaccountably, they don't raven their way through the whole lot in one go, store in airtight boxes between layers of greaseproof paper, well-dusted with the icing sugar/cornflour mixture.

Monday, July 13, 2009

"The Honey Pat"

No, the Honey Pat isn't another term for a love tap. I found it in Jeanne Rose's Herbal Body Book and it is really wonderful. You spread honey evenly on your face, and then tap your face all over with your fingertips for a few minutes; the honey will get stickier and stickier. Rinse off with warm water.

Honey is very good for skin. I sometimes spread a blob on my face and neck and relax for a while, rubbing it in to the skin every so often. I wipe it off with a warm washcloth. My skin feels soft and smooth, and looks clearer and brighter. The scent of honey is one of my favorites, and getting to lick my fingers after applying the honey is nice, too.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Waldorf-Astoria Rice Pudding: in memory of Nikola Tesla (1856-1943)

The great Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla spent many years living at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. He dined alone each night, entering the dining room precisely at 8:00pm. As Tesla's eccentricities and exploits have been amply documented elsewhere, I'll refrain from attempting a biography here. If you're interested in learning more, I recommend the biographies by Margaret Cheney, Mark Seifer, and John O'Neill. I also recommend having some tissues handy, and possibly an image of Thomas Edison or J. Pierpont Morgan to thrash.

As he grew older, Tesla became more eccentric and, perhaps, a bit mad. He loved pigeons, for whom he bought seed even when he could not afford to pay his secretaries. As old age and poverty overtook him, Tesla ceased his sumptuous dining and subsisted mostly on warm milk, which he would heat himself in a chafing dish if required to dine with others.

I often think of Tesla, wondering, among other things, what he felt and thought about in his last years, alone in his suite at the New Yorker. Was he homesick for the white house, little church, and animal friends of his childhood? Did he miss the days when he strode into Peacock Alley, dressed to the nines, on the way to his solitary table at the Waldorf-Astoria? Or was he happy, alone with his pigeons?

In honor of Nikola Tesla's birthday, here is a recipe for rice pudding, allegedly from the kitchens of the Waldorf-Astoria. I like to think that the milky simplicity of this sweet would have tempted the ascetic genius enough to take a taste, at least.

Waldorf-Astoria Rice Pudding

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons short-grain rice
2 1/2 quarts milk
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup raisins
Vanilla to taste
1 cup whipping cream
2 egg yolks

Rinse rice in cold running water. Drain well. Combine milk with 1/3 of sugar and salt and bring to boil. Add rice, reduce heat and simmer, covered 1 hour or until rice is soft, stirring occasionally. Add raisins, remaining sugar and vanilla to taste.

Turn mixture into oven-proof serving dish or individual pudding cups. Beat cream until soft. Add egg yolks and stir well. Spread mixture evenly over top of rice pudding. Place under broiler until browned on tip, being careful cream does not scorch. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

In memory of Tesla's pigeon friends, here is a recipe for a cake made of bird seed -- it's part suet block and part seed, for birds to eat (you could try it yourself, but it probably tastes better to our feathered friends).

Bird Seed Cake

1 part vegetable shortening, suet, or lard (or use part of each, or add peanut butter)
2 parts bird seed

Melt the fat slowly over low heat. When it's completely melted, turn off the heat and stir in the seed. Pack it in a bowl or small Tupperware-type container. Refrigerate until good and solid. When ready to turn out, let your hands warm the outside of the container to loosen the cake, then dump it onto a plate or cutting board. Place outdoors (out of cats' reach, please) and watch the birds enjoy it.

"Let the future tell the truth, and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I have really worked, is mine."
Nikola Tesla

Happy Birthday, sir.

Postscript: Mr. John Wagner, a Michigan teacher, has made it his mission to place busts of Tesla in institutions around the world. Below is a fabulous 1989 photo of the bust housed at the University of Michigan, surrounded by members of Tesla, the inventor's namesake rock band, along with Mr. Wagner's students. The band funded the creation of this bust, the first one made, which was offered to, and rejected by, the Smithsonian.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Cancellation, and Perspective

My ballet class has been cancelled due to low enrollment; apparently, I was the only student. The new term starts in the fall, so I have plenty of time to crochet myself a little backpack for my gear. I bought my dance clothes last Thursday from a little shop in my city, and the young lady clerk was very helpful and supportive of my beginning ballet at my age and size (she said nothing about either). There was a large range of sizes available, and mine actually fell somewhere towards the middle, though I did select a "Tall" size to suit my long torso. I tried on the complete outfit last night and it felt very good. I will use the time between now and the start of the fall term to work on becoming more flexible, though, happily, I'm quite bendy now.

My friend Heinrich Saint-Germain at The Judgment of Paris recently posted some new photos of the gorgeous Barbara Brickner. Wouldn't you know it: in one of them, Mrs. Brickner is posed almost as I am in the photo of myself that I thought so lumpy and bumpy and, therefore, ugly. Of course, she is wearing more clothing in her photo than I am in mine...

I don't think that posting my photo here is appropriate, but if you must see it, I'll email you the link to the gallery page.

Anyway, I found my reaction to Mrs. Brickner's image very interesting. First, I was struck by her beauty, of course; she is very lovely. Then my mouth slowly opened as I realized how similar my body is to hers, though at five-six, I'm at least two inches shorter than she is. After a moment or two, I whirled around to my husband and almost shouted into his startled face, "Why don't I see that when I look at myself?!" The very characteristics I like about her body are the ones I feel funny about in my own body. Is it possible to see oneself as beautiful, all the time?

The gaps in self-confidence during which I feel bad about my looks are shorter, though still intense. The difference is that now, I acknowledge when I have those feelings, instead of pretending to everyone, including myself, that I know beyond any doubt how hot I am. I still dress up and wear short skirts and camisoles, even when I worry that I resemble the Stay-Puft marshmallow man more than a vibrant, healthy, young(ish) woman who is lucky enough to be living many of her dreams. Because, really, I am. I am thankful.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Long Hair

As a little girl, I almost always had long hair and heavy bangs. My hair, being long, wavy, and red, made me a target on the playground and in the classroom; my braids and ponytails got yanked hard and often by the little bastards at school. One girl delighted in seizing one braid in each hand and screeching, "Make a wish!" while she pulled hard. When I was ten, my mother cut my hair to about the middle of my neck. My youngest sister was starting school, and my mother didn't have time to brush my hair for me every morning; it was too long and thick for me to take care of myself. So, my hair was cut short. I actually liked the way it fluttered around my ears when I shook my head. My head felt light and cool.

In eighth grade, I decided I wanted to let my hair grow. I had learned to care for it myself and felt able to handle it. The period while my layers grew out is horrifyingly documented in school pictures.

Query: does anyone have a good time in middle school? Why can't we hide our transformation period in cocoons?

When I was fourteen, I began baby-sitting a family of three children, whose mother had curly hair. She advised me to try a little gel in my hair, applied by "scrunching." I did try it, and suddenly I had curls hanging to my shoulder blades. I asked my parents for a "Curly Top" diffuser and was thrilled with the results.

Since then, I've let my hair grow. It hovered around my waist for many years, and now it hangs below my hips. The springy curls I enjoyed when it was shorter are now pulled into S-shaped waves by my hair's weight. I don't wear it down very often, but when I do, people stare. I've found that some people respond very strongly, and positively, to hair like mine. Little girls have mistaken me for a princess.

No matter how I feel about the rest of my physical self, I always love my hair. I love its length and weight and color. If I could change anything about it, I'd like it to be curlier. It could be, if I cut it, but I don't want to do that. I wish it were immune to split ends, too. Someday, I hope it will reach to my knees, healthy and strong and shining deep red.

For anyone interested, here's what I use these days:
Mehandi Ginger/Cardamom shampoo bar
50/50 cider vinegar/water rinse
L'oreal Vive Pro Nutri Gloss Conditioner (long/wavy/curly formula) (I'm looking for an inexpensive, cruelty-free alternative and, since there seems to be no such thing, I am considering making my own.)
flax seed gel
cocoa butter on the ends

Friday, July 3, 2009

Coconut Cake with Lime Curd

Lately, I've been drinking coconut water -- the liquid found in immature coconuts. It's delicious and loaded with beneficial minerals. I drink it straight and also blend it with frozen mango, pineapple, and fresh ginger. Here's a cake recipe that calls for coconut water drawn from mature coconuts, but I think it would be good with water from young coconuts, too. You can use a packaged brand like O.N.E., or follow the directions in the recipe for preparing coconuts.

Coconut Cake with Lime Curd

For cake layers:
3 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup fresh coconut liquid (from about 3 heavy coconuts without any cracks and containing liquid, (procedure follows) or water
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
5 large eggs

For lime curd:
6 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons heavy cream
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 teaspoons freshly grated lime zest

1 cup shredded fresh coconut (procedure follows) or sweetened flaked coconut

For frosting:
2 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

about 4 cups shaved fresh coconut (procedure follows) or 2 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line bottoms of three buttered 9- by 2-inch round cake pans with rounds of wax paper or parchment paper and butter paper. Dust pans with flour, knocking out excess.

Make cake layers:
In a bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a glass measure stir together milk, coconut liquid or water, and vanilla. In a large bowl with an electric mixer beat butter on medium speed 1 minute and add sugar in a slow stream, beating. Beat mixture scraping bowl occasionally, until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce speed to low and beat in flour mixture in 4 batches alternately with milk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture and scraping bowl occasionally, until batter is just combined (do not overbeat).

Divide batter among pans, smoothing tops and tapping pans on counter to allow any air bubbles to escape. Bake cake layers in middle and lower thirds of oven (arrange pans so they overlap only slightly) until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert cake layers onto racks. Remove wax paper carefully and cool cake layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped in plastic wrap, in an airtight container in a cool dry place. (Alternatively, cake layers may be made 5 days ahead and frozen wrapped in plastic wrap and foil. Thaw cake layers in refrigerator 1 day before proceeding.)

Make lime curd:
In a heavy saucepan whisk together yolks, sugar, lime juice, cream, and butter and cook over moderately low heat, whisking constantly, 5 to 7 minutes, or until mixture just reaches a boil (do not let boil). Strain curd through a fine sieve into a bowl and stir in zest. Cool curd its surface covered with plastic wrap, and chill at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.

Assemble cake layers and lime curd:
Put 1 cake layer on a cake plate and spread evenly with about half of lime curd. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup shredded fresh or sweetened flaked coconut and chill 15 minutes. Repeat layering in same manner with another cake layer, remaining lime curd, and remaining 1/2 cup coconut and top with remaining cake layer. Chill cake 15 minutes.

Make frosting:
In top of a double boiler off heat or in a large metal bowl with a hand-held electric mixer beat together frosting ingredients until combined. In double boiler or in bowl set over a saucepan of boiling water beat mixture on high speed until it holds stiff glossy peaks, about 7 minutes. (Depending on mixer and weather, this may take longer.) Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat and beat frosting until cool and spreadable.

Frost cake and coat with shaved fresh or sweetened flaked coconut.

To extract coconut liquid:
Pierce softest eye of each coconut with a metal skewer or small screwdriver and working over a bowl shake coconut, draining liquid and reserving coconut for shredding or shaving (procedure follows). Makes about a scant 3/4 cup liquid.

To shred or shave fresh coconut:
Preheat oven to 400°F.

Bake reserved drained coconuts in oven 15 minutes

With a hammer or back of a heavy cleaver, break shells and remove meat, levering it out carefully with point of a strong knife or small screwdriver. Remove brown membrane with a sharp paring knife or vegetable peeler.

To shred coconut:
In a food processor fitted with fine shredding blade shred coconut meat from about 1 coconut in batches or shred by hand on fine shredding side (small tear-shaped holes) of a 4 sided grater until you have about 1 cup, reserving remaining coconut meat for another use.

To shave coconut:
With a vegetable peeler shave edges of coconut meat pieces until you have about 3 1/2 cups, reserving remaining coconut meat for another use. Coconuts may be shredded or shaved 1 day ahead and chilled in a sealable plastic bag.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The (broken) heart of the matter

I, with my 44-34-46 body, will begin ballet next week. I now face the purchase of dance clothes, risking the criticism of my body by shopkeepers and teachers. I have another artist interested in photographing me, just as I am, without makeup and without clothing, and right now I can't imagine why anyone thinks I am beautiful.

My eyebrows and lashes are white-blonde, my hair is overlong and wavy red, my skin is freckly in places. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Yet I don't want to change anything, because I know how stupid I would look with shorter hair of another color and that even at my thinnest (and least happy), my thighs were still thick and my tummy rounded and therefore eating even more salads won't make me slimmer. I say "No" to the "obey!" messages I see around, and like myself, in my secret heart, pretty well; I mistrust others and assume they are "just being nice" or that they want to photograph me because my body is abnormal and, therefore, interesting. It's harder for me to admit that I'm still not wholly accepting and celebrating my body than it is to acknowledge that I can't ever fulfill an ideal. I'm too fat for Modigliani and too thin for Rubens. I'm nowhere.

I want acceptance and affirmation so much. I dread being sloppy, stretching the definition of "beauty" until it breaks into two meaningless syllables. I hate the way I push myself and the voice I thought vanquished telling me "no, harder, more, faster, no." I hate that I listen to it and can't make it go away right now. I want to get it right.

Telling you all this probably sounds like I'm fishing for compliments. I'm not and I don't.

The enemy isn't in magazines or on TV. It's not "the patriarchy" or another such socio-political bogeyman. It doesn't motivate me to buy products or services to make myself over. I'm still not sure that I have the right to order my life as I choose, to seek pleasure in my flesh, to decide for myself what I will do, wear, believe, and say.

Inside me, there's still a little red-haired girl in a blue dress and oxblood-colored shoes, wanting her daddy to love her, say he's proud of her, tell her she's pretty and perfect just as she is. I am ashamed of her and want her to stop, even as I cry her tears.

"Fathers, be good to your daughters." Please.

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