Monday, June 30, 2014

Getting Bigger


Lion decided to weigh himself yesterday night, when I was near the scale. He is 9.8 pounds. I was surprised; he's as big as Harris and Toffee now, but he's only about 9 months old. And he weighed only 8.8 pounds just two weeks ago, so our program of giving him extra food is working — probably too well. We had noticed that he's looking and feeling a bit pudgy these days. It's hard to find his ribs. We will return to feeding him the smaller amount he was getting before. He won't be happy.

Our vet thought Lion should be eating twice as much as we were giving him, but if we had doubled his food, I know we would have soon had a double-wide kitten.

Lion snarfs his food as quickly as possible so he can move on to his favorite mealtime activity: helping himself to whatever the other cats haven't eaten yet. Why they tolerate him stealing from their bowls is beyond me. They are all quite hungry, too. It must be his irresistible pink nose. For Lion, life is an all-you-can-eat buffet and it must all be for him.

Friday, June 27, 2014

A Box of Harris

The postcards from Maine are very slow in arriving, but maybe some will show up while I'm in Pennsylvania this weekend, celebrating my dad's 100th birthday.

In the meantime, here's our Most Important Cat (self-declared):


When we're away, I leave out plenty of stuff to amuse the cats: toys, empty boxes, tissue paper, and long pieces of kraft paper. Our cat sitter plays with everyone who wants to run around and chase things, too. We also have a long, collapsible nylon tunnel that Lion, Harris, and Toffee love. And since it's big, it's best if we leave it out when we're not here to trip over it. Last week, one of them chewed through the cord that held a tiny pompom by the peephole, but I found both the toy and the cord, which was only a few inches of thick cotton shoelace. It was only a matter of time. I'd decided no one could swallow it when it happened but, of course, one never knows with this crew.

And off we go....

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Box of Possum


Man, it was hot last night. We need to get our (noisy, ineffective, entirely loathesome) window air conditioners out of storage and have our (charming, fashion-model) handyman install them before the cats remove their fur coats and start hanging out in their skivvies.

Possum was no help last night. At some hour, long before dawn, he wanted attention and kept head-butting me with his wet nose whenever I stopped petting him. After about 20 minutes, he slumped his hot, furry body against me and fell asleep. I did not.

Harris and Lion also join us when we go to bed. Harris curls up between our heads, purring quietly but intensely, while Lion attacks our feet and then comes up to snuggle, purring loudly. He lies down across my arms when I'm holding a book. He licks my nose. He's wonderful. And I sometimes wake up to find that Toffee has settled down on me, with his face inches from mine. I can't see his milk mustache up close in the dark or I'd laugh, and he'd leave.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Summer Bag

Postcards from Maine will arrive later, after I've had a chance to process my photos. In the meantime, a bit of consumer spending:

I'm loyal to my Longchamp totes because they weigh nothing and hold everything, but nylon bags are sticky to carry on a hot day. So I found this light, weather-resistant canvas "City Tote," made by a California company called rockflowerpaper:


It's a good-sized bag; at full-size, it's useful as a beach or market tote. But you can convert it to a smaller shoulder bag by using the hidden snaps on either end, which make it narrower. It has an even trimmer profile if you tuck the sides in, like this:


It has a sturdy base to keep it upright, and soft handles. Inside, there are a couple of useful pockets, plus a snap closure, but no other bells or whistles.  It's just a simple, casual bag that lets you to bring along that sweater in case it's chilly, and a hat in case it's sunny... and some sunblock, and a magazine.... It's good for farmer's market trips, too.

Shipping is free on their website for orders over $25. This bag comes in many patterns and colors, and they have a few other styles as well.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Way Life Should Be

Where is the Proper Bostonian?

Poolside on a lounge chair in Southwest Harbor, Maine:


The cat sitter keeps posting photos of our Fab Five on Facebook. Even Wendy comes out to see her, and Lion is brave, too. So no worries there.

No worries at all at the moment, beyond where to go for dinner?

Time to hit the hot tub. I'll post again soon.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Smoothies

We're heading to Maine tomorrow for a week. Time to pack (hello there, shorts, fleece jacket, and swimsuits) and make sure the house is scattered with cat toys, empty boxes, and their tunnel for entertainment.

But first, a smoothie. A vegan friend turned me onto these. I know I'm coming late to the party and you all have probably been drinking wheatgrass/carrot/quinoa/protein smoothies for ages. If so, read no further. I'd been craving an interesting drink since I had to limit my added-sugar intake to 25 mg a day and gave up sweetened iced tea, soda, and juice. So I pulled out our blender, checked the freezer and the produce drawer, and started a daily smoothie habit.

While a homemade, sugar-free smoothie is far from the candy-sweet concoctions you can buy, it is delicious, refreshing, and completely good for you. Since whole fruit contains natural sugar, offset by fiber, smoothies are nutritious and filling as a snack or a meal substitute. I think fruit tastes better in smoothie form so I'm getting closer to the recommended daily allowance if not meeting it. So I need a straw and I can feel righteous, and life is good.

My vegan friend makes her daily smoothie with a combination of fresh and frozen fruit and soy or almond milk. I use skim milk. Frozen fruit makes the drink thick and cold, simulating a fruit milkshake. (Frozen fruit is also cheaper than fresh fruit and it's supposed to be healthier, since it's picked and frozen at the peak of ripeness, when it has all of its nutrients.) Neither of us adds any sweetening but you could certainly add a little; you might try honey. You can also use yogurt or water as a base instead of milk.

Since I went to the I Can't Be Bothered School of Cooking, I was pleased when my friend told me she doesn't have a recipe. She just uses whatever fresh fruit is lying around plus frozen fruit, especially mango, from Trader Joe's. (Both of us want to move, but both of us feel we absolutely must always live within walking distance of Trader Joe's.)

It can be a little tricky to get the proportions of fruits and liquid right, but there's no harm in adding a little more of this or that until you get it right. You'll just end up with extra smoothie. I use about a cup of milk first (it helps the blender process better if it's at the bottom), a couple of small handfuls of frozen fruit, and a piece of fresh fruit, like a banana or a pear. That will give you enough for two reasonably sized smoothies. If you use too much frozen fruit, your blender might complain, so stop and let it thaw for a little while.

This is a blueberry-banana-mango smoothie:


Even a somewhat bland smoothie tastes better than yet another glass of water, and a good smoothie is heaven. If I really cared, I could add a little cinnamon or a touch of vanilla extract. 

I expect it's only a matter of time before I try a vegetable smoothie or start experimenting with protein powder; I'll let you know how that goes, if it goes. But I'm beginning to lose my taste for super-sweet stuff. I had a taste of a cookie yesterday and shuddered at the sweetness. That's a surprising situation for someone who discovered her passion for chocolate before she was a year old, having eaten a whole chocolate Easter rabbit, including the foil wrapper, when no one was looking.

Chocolate would be really good in a smoothie....

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Getting Big

Little Lion is not so little anymore, but he can still relax on his favorite pillow. 


He weighs almost 9 pounds now, still smaller than Harris and Toffee. His feet are huge, so he may grow up to be a very big cat. But take your time about that, Lion. You're so easy to scoop up with one hand, and you fit perfectly in my lap.


He looks so relaxed and confident in that photo, but all I need to do is take the vacuum cleaner out of the closet and he'll hide for hours. When I vacuum, he sometimes keeps hiding through his next meal. It's a great excuse not to vacuum. Thank you, Lion.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Sneakers

When I wear flip flops in wet weather, I slide around, soak my feet, and find bits of mud, leaves, and other street dirt sticking to the backs of my legs. I needed something more practical, so I broke down and bought these Keds. (Between a sale promotion and a rewards credit I had, I got them for about $24 at ShoeBuy.com.)




They are neutral but there's a faint gold shimmer to the canvas. They're simple but different, and I never liked rubber toe caps. When I was in 9th or 10th grade, I had a pair of (dirty) white boys' sneakers similar to these from the five-and-ten, and I sewed rows of dark red bugle beads along the sides, near the laces, to make sparkly stripes. No one else I knew had done this, and I don't know what inspired me, but my mom and I thought my sneakers were wonderful.

While shopping for these Keds, I discovered that I hold powerful, quasi-religious beliefs about sneakers that date to my single-digit, primary-school years. Unlike my belief in the Holy Trinity, my sneaker creed is still Truth to me. So I never, ever wear socks with sneakers. I'm deeply suspicious of pointed, girly toes. And I can't wait for these Keds to get dirty. Clean, new-looking sneakers are sissy, girly and just horribly wrong. Ew.

I didn't buy white ones because I knew I'd immediately have to find a muddy creek, a deep puddle or the city version — a running, filthy curb gutter — and stand in it, soaking them, as I did in my youth.

But, dammit, they hurt. Like the Converse All-Stars I suffered in during the '90s, they bite the backs of my ankles like crazy and won't break in.

A layer of moleskin along the edge didn't help at all. My ankles were bleeding and I was limping after a couple of slow, careful miles. So I've been putting layers of clear plastic surgical tape on my skin. It helps, but it's not perfect.

I hear that taking a hammer to the backs will soften them. They're already pretty flexible, so I'm doubtful about this, although I don't know what else could be wrong. Please let me know if you have any other suggestions before I dig out our big hammer.

Perhaps the mud puddle is the secret.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Lucky Day



Friday the 13th is turning out to be rainy, cool, and dark. Perfect June weather for staying in and being lazy. Much, much better than a heat wave. 

There's just room for me between these two with David McCullough's John Adams. I still have 100 pages to go.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Bit of Shopping

Good times at Madewell: a big sale on some good stuff. The soft cotton jacket that I live in was originally $138, but sometime after I got mine last year (on sale, of course) they dropped it to a less-crazy $98. Now it's $79.50, but you can use code "SUNNY" for another 20 percent off, so it's $63.60. (I enjoy this kind of math.) They make a few variations, including a darker green "all-weather" version that isn't worn or battered so you can do that yourself. They all have six useful pockets, adjustable gathering at the waist, and sleeves you can unbutton and roll.


I'm still waiting for this cotton ikat scarf to go on sale. I saw it in their window on Newbury Street the other night, and it stopped me in my tracks. (Or is it a little too "Cambridge"?) They have other scarves on sale but not this one, of course....


I don't wear clothing with words on it (except for a black tee that says "STRONG" that I was amazed to win in a weight-lifting competition in gym class years ago... not that I ever work out nowadays). But if I ever did wear any writing, I might choose this tee or one of its saltier brothers:

Originally spotted at A Cup of Jo.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Just This

Maybe you're behind on your tax returns. Maybe you haven't been to the gym in a couple of months.

Or a couple of years.

Maybe you owe a lot of people a phone call; maybe it's been too long since you visited an old, old friend.

Maybe your desk is an embarrassment — like mine always is.

Maybe you've got a list of things you should have done weeks or decades ago; maybe you can't even remember all the things you were supposed to have finished by now but haven't started.

You probably owe somebody a thank-you note.

Maybe you're lazy, or going through a messy stage.

Perhaps you got stuck in a moment and you can't get out of it.

But consider this: You do not have a tall, lit Christmas tree in your living room right now, like the one I just saw up the street.

No, you do not.

So you are just fine.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Soaked, Sudsed, Lost, and Juiced

How often do you go shopping and find that one of your favorite products has disappeared from the shelves because it's been retired? It happens to me often enough that our trips to stock up at CVS have an underlying hint of dread.

A year or so ago, Bausch & Lomb stopped making the basic "Boston" solutions I've used to clean and soak my contact lenses forever, so I'll need to audition replacements, at some expense — not that there are many options. I won't be using B&L's other formulas because they made my eyes sting the time I tried them. I was able to get one last bottle of soaking solution from an independent pharmacy in Vermont, so I'm okay for a little while.

My most recent surprise was the disappearance of my favorite Neutrogena shampoo:


Instead of this rather elegant bottle of clarifying and volumizing shampoo, they are selling opaque tubes of new, gussied-up formulas. The whole point of buying Neutrogena is its simplicity and implied "purity," isn't it? That's what the bottle above suggests to me, and what it delivers. Now we're asked to buy this:


It's supposed to strengthen your hair and repair split ends. They've lost me: the only thing that "repairs" split ends is glue. I get the point of tubes, but I like to see how much shampoo I have even more than I like getting to it quickly, and I can always turn a bottle upside-down when it's getting low.

You can usually track down a discontinued product for a while on eBay, Amazon, or in old-fashioned pharmacies.  I ordered four bottles of shampoo from Amazon. I want more but I'll need to find space for them.

I understand that marketing and R&D people hang onto their jobs by convincing their employers that consumers love change, variety, and "improved" products. This is also true of web-development people who keep mucking up Redfin.com, Walkscore.com, eBay.com, and countless other websites that were faster and better in the past, adding unnecessary bells and whistles in site rollouts that often cause more problems than they solve — but keep people on the payroll even longer as they work to repair them. Eventually, those folks may even "redesign" the site to be closer to how it worked in the beginning, and they'll claim it's another improvement. Most of the time, their job consists of fixing things that aren't broken and disappointing their most loyal customers and users. 

A good example of a formerly good but currently bad website is Walkscore.com. When you typed in an address, it used to give you a clear, simple map that showed you how close the property in question was to various destinations: restaurants, groceries, errands, schools.... Now, most of the time you'll get an apartment listing — even if it's not for rent or for sale. The site exists mainly to push rentals now instead of its original, noble purpose, and don't ask me how sales are doing. You have to fight to find the shrunken, Walkscore map — and then you have to double-check that it took you to the correct address. It's plunked me in the wrong neighborhood (in well-established areas of Newton and Jamaica Plain, for instance) several times in recent weeks. That's pretty terrible for people who are mainly using the site to check out unfamiliar neighborhoods. On top of all that, the categories are loaded with incorrect, closed, or private businesses. For example, the closest "grocery stores" to several addresses I was curious about turned out to all be vitamin supplement stores, caterers, and food importers. Gee, thanks.

On the retail side, the Ocean Spray product people are on a perpetual tear, creating new variations to the point where you can't find the basic flavors because the shelves are so packed with weird ones. (Cran-Broccoli, anyone?) Now, as we know, all juice is loaded with sugar, or sugar substitutes, so it's not good for you no matter what else is in it, including vitamins. All we should be drinking is a splash of it in our sparkling water. Sometimes. So it's not like we need this level of cranberry connoisseurship. But Ocean Spray offers so many different juices now that I doubt if even people who work there can keep track of them all. Maybe they think we'll be fooled into thinking juice is okay if it fills an entire store aisle. Maybe they think we'll feel tempted by all this:









Or maybe they're just out of their minds?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

View from My Window (Shudder)

Someone in our alley likes to live dangerously. Check out the fire escape at the top of this photo, and in the [blurry] close-up below:



I see two potentially terrible scenarios here:

A.  Charcoal grill on fire escape, violating the Boston Fire Department's regulations:
The following regulations apply to the use of portable charcoal and liquified petroleum gas (LPG) operated cooking grilles on or within a building or structure and includes balconies, fire escapes, porches, roofs as a part thereof. (This does not apply to natural gas grills permitted through ISD and installed by a licensed installer in accordance with all applicable codes nd standards).
Charcoal Grills
Under the authority of Article 1, section 1.05(b), the Boston Fire Department prohibits the use of portable charcoal cooking grilles on or within a building or structure for the following reasons:
  • Improper use of starter fuel resulting in burn.
  • Numerous fire safety complaints to the Boston Fire Department by persons within or near the building.
  • Wind velocity affecting open flame.
  • Fire hazard conditions high or extreme.
  • Resultant Fire Department response due to persons observing assumed building fire from a distance and/or reports of smoke odor from an assumed building fire in the area.
  • Lack of attendance resulting in unwarranted smoke pollution. Danger of explosive gas build up. 
  • Charcoal grills inside a house, garage or any enclosed area, may cause carbon monoxide to accumulate and could cause serious injury or death.
  • Hot coals/ashes in close proximity to combustibles.
B.  Lovely cat, wandering around on third-floor fire escape, risking High-rise Syndrome

We have laws to enforce fire safety, but we don't have laws to protect that cat. According to that Wikipedia link, a cat who survives a fall of more than two stories has a 90 percent chance of recovering from its injuries, which commonly include a broken jaw, broken legs, torn ligaments, shattered teeth, and internal injuries, especially to the lungs. 

If you live above the first floor, please keep your charcoal grill on the ground, safely away from buildings and wooden structures like decks and fencing, and KEEP YOUR CATS INSIDE. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Luxury Cat


With the silkiest, most delicious fur, the richest purr, and the most perfectly applied eyeliner, Lion is our Luxury Cat. He's elegance and sweetness combined; it would be impossible to improve upon his looks or charm. The other cats enjoy having him around and he's a wonderful companion for us, jumping into our laps and joining us at bedtime.

Admittedly, he could use a few more etiquette lessons so he stops helping himself to the other cats' food. The only other thing he lacks is a certificate from Miss Robin's School of Modeling, where Harris learned his technique. Then I'd be able to take better photos of him.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

More Fun with an Avocado

We're still eating lots of the Avocado Chicken Salad I wrote about in March. But avocados keep calling out to me from the produce section of Trader Joe's. I had a ripe one but no chicken last night, so I made a pasta sauce I've been wanting to try for a while, which I found on Pinterest. It's a keeper: decadently creamy and rich, full of fresh flavors, but healthy. My husband liked it even though it has lots of fresh basil, which he usually refers to disparagingly as "weeds." He said we should try it as a cold dish on a hot summer day.

It didn't last long enough for me to take photos. Maybe next time.

It's very simple and takes only as much time as you need to prepare the pasta.


Avocado Pasta with Lemon, Garlic, and Basil

Serves two.

Boil enough salted water for two servings of pasta. You could use spaghetti or pappardelle; I used small penne because I had an extra bag.

You also need:

2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of kosher or sea salt (or to taste)
1 to 3 garlic cloves (optional — I used one; if you love garlic, use three)
Juice and zest of 1/2 of a lemon
1/4 cup packed basil leaves
1 ripe avocado
Ground pepper to taste (optional)

While the water is coming to a boil, blend the olive oil, salt, garlic, and lemon juice in a food processor  (I use the "mini-prep" size). Then add the basil and blend until it's finely chopped. When the pasta is a few minutes from being done, cut the avocado in half, remove the pit (I press that half into my cutting board to loosen the pit), scoop out the flesh and blend it with the other ingredients until it's smooth and silky. Transfer the sauce to a medium-size bowl, add the hot, drained pasta, and combine. Divide into two bowls, season with ground pepper and lemon zest, and serve right away.

I doubt this would make attractive leftovers, not that there'll be any. We cleaned our bowls.

I'm going to tinker with the recipe next time. I'll probably add more garlic and basil, and a small amount of either toasted pignoli or walnuts for more texture.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Bad and the Good, Part 2

I believe my propensity for sugar is a genetic trait. I take after my dad and have inherited many characteristics from his Sicilian/Italian parents. Along with our similar faces, builds, temperaments, and tempers, my grandfather, my dad, and I are the only family members who have never been overweight, despite eating and drinking whatever the heck we wanted.

And that was always, always, plenty of sugar.

I called my dad last night. He told me his current habit is to eat three doughnuts at a time, prepared in a manner he described in case I want to try it. I figure he's having sugar-glazed doughnuts from the local supermarket. I know he'd prefer chocolate frosted or, ideally, chocolate-frosted-sugar-glazed, but he isn't fussy. If I ask, I'll get a detailed answer. He might read me the ingredients on the box; he's that kind of guy.

Anyway, he says he takes his three doughnuts and divides each into eight bite-size pieces on a plate. Then, as he reads the paper for a couple of hours, he dunks each of his 24 pieces into his coffee before eating. To me, on my sugar-restricted diet, 1/8th of any old doughnut sounds marvelous. (I didn't tell him anything about my health problem. He still assumes I think nothing of eating three doughnuts at a time; indeed, as a teenager I could eat a box of chocolate-frosted Entenmann's in a day.)

His coffee is a story in itself. I always enjoy watching him prepare a cup; he uses his parents' method, and I felt they put the proper emphasis on the various components. I grew up thinking everyone drank it their way and was taken aback when I discovered no one actually did. Whenever I taste other people's coffee, I'm horrified. It is vile; there's no point in arguing with me. It just is. But my grandparents and dad figured out how to make it tolerable.

First, they never paid any attention to the coffee itself. As I said, coffee tastes awful no matter how esoteric your beans, how blonde your roast, or how fancy your coffeemaker. Coffee connoisseurship is a hipster affectation, if you ask me (and most certainly you didn't; I have my own set of affectations, and you are welcome to have yours). My dad buys any old instant coffee, the cheaper the better. It just has to dissolve into a coffee-colored, coffee-scented hot beverage. He microwaves a big mug of water and stirs in Folger's, Sanka, or whatever. Then he pours in a great deal of sweetened, condensed milk. He buys it by the case.

I just did a little research and, wow — 2 tablespoons of Eagle Condensed Milk contain 23 grams of sugar, or just about my daily allotment, according to the liver specialist. But I'd say that's maybe half the amount my dad puts in his coffee.

But the raison d'être of dad's coffee is the five or six teaspoons of sugar he dumps in on top of the milk. Now, these are level teaspoons, not heaping, added in rapid succession in case anyone is looking. But I calculate that each cup of dad's coffee has about 70 grams of sugar — three times the allotment I'm allowed each day. (That's the recommended allotment for all women, by the way. Men can have 36. Dammit.) That's more sugar than there is in a 20-ounce bottle of Coke.

It's a good thing I don't drink coffee, although it's supposed to be beneficial for your liver. My dad has two or three cups a day. It's his favorite beverage — and why not? He likes it with his doughnut breakfast, with his ring bologna sandwich and Tastykake* lunch, and with his Dinty Moore canned stew or Hungry Man frozen dinner. He will have a glass of (whole) milk and a bowl of ice cream, and probably a piece of cake or pie before he goes to bed. Did I mention he also drinks a lot of cheap, generic cola? And he loves candy.

I'm going home later this month and look forward to secretly calculating my dad's sugar intake to compare it with mine. I can't tell him, though; he'll roar with derisive laughter if he finds out I am counting sugar grams.

If you imagined I began lecturing my dad on the evils of sugar after I learned about them from my liver specialist three months ago, you'd be wrong. I do not fear for my dad's health: He is going to turn 100 this month. He just received a lovely signed letter from President and Mrs. Obama, and even though he's a birther, he was pleased and proud to read it to me.

Despite what the nutritionists tell us, my dad has clearly done it right — for his particular body and genetic makeup, anyway. He was trim, fit, and healthy for 95 years; he only slowed down and began having balance and strength problems about five years ago, after a bad fall. He just started taking his first prescribed, daily medication — an aspirin. He went to the hospital last month because he was having problems with his feet, and the doctors gave him what they called his "100-year tune-up," since he generally refuses to have anything at all to do with doctors from one decade to the next. (All of his test results were great, although they found he has an irregular heartbeat. They said nothing about changing his diet beyond limiting salt. That went nowhere. After sugar, my dad loves salt.)

I hope I've inherited his excellent genes along with his appalling eating habits. It does seem that sugar by the bowlful is one of the secrets to his longevity... and I hope mine, too.




* TastyKakes are a staple in my family and throughout our region of Pennsylvania. My dad had to go home for lunch when he was in school 90 years ago. As he tells it, kids who lived less than a mile from the one-room schoolhouse were forbidden to bring lunches; they had to eat at home. My dad lived 9/10 of a mile away, so almost all of his lunch period was spent walking back and forth. He says my grandmother solved this problem by handing him a TastyKake and sending him right back out the door. I have some difficulty believing this, since TastyKakes aren't that big; I had them in MY school lunch every day, too, but I also ate a sandwich and maybe some fruit. He says they were a lot bigger when he was a kid. I can't argue with that. Lucky him.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Bad and the Good, Part I

The bad news: my liver enzyme levels were elevated into the abnormal range when I had my annual checkup last February, putting me at risk for liver disease.

The good news: it was probably because I was living primarily on sugar: not only cake, brownies, cookies, donuts, candy, soda, sweet tea, and juice, but also sugar hidden in "real" food, from cereal and yogurt to crackers and peanut butter.

The bad news: I had to cut out my favorite foods and read labels to avoid hidden sugar and other unhealthy additives. I had to limit my sugar intake to 25 grams a day, for three months, until another round of liver tests. (And no Splenda or Nutrasweet, either.) I was told to exercise daily, too.

The good news: I was already in the habit of walking 5 miles a day, usually at a Bostonian clip. I had been taking a break for a few weeks to see if rest helped my knees. It didn't. It was easy to start walking again.

More good news: we both stopped eating several unhealthy, processed foods, rediscovered things like locally made pecan butter (Fastachi), and began eating more fruits and vegetables — and it was relatively pleasant. And there's no added sugar in cheese, milk, or butter. There are good crackers and pasta sauces, etc., that don't contain sugar but you have to look hard to find them.

Easter: No, no, no, no, no, no. 
(But those are indeed two jelly-bean topped cakes surrounded by chocolate bars.)

The bad news: I had some lapses. There were a couple of trips to Tasty Burger and Shake Shack, where my husband let me share his vanilla shake. There was Paris, where my pastry consumption was Spartan for me, but epicurean by liver-specialist standards. I broke down and baked brownies one night. There was that obligatory Brimfield apple fritter. And how I craved sweet drinks: Diet Coke, root beer, Nestea and Snapple iced tea, chocolate milk.

The good news: I figured out that one tablespoon of Nesquik (rather than the recommended two) doesn't contain all that much sugar. Thank god. Every sip was heaven. Also: a Lindt truffle has only 5 grams of sugar. I don't miss ice cream, pie, donuts, granola bars, trail mix, cereal, or most candy. I've become less tolerant of very sugary things. My husband's buttercream birthday cake was too sweet for me. I am only tempted by really nice baked goods, in small amounts (except for brownies). At night, I limit myself to a McVities digestive biscuit or a single square of a Lindt Crème Brûlée chocolate bar (5 grams of sugar in each) and a glass of skim milk.

The bad news: I hate our filtered tap water. I add a splash of cranberry juice, and then it's like drinking the ghost of some delicious, sweet, juicy beverage of my good old days. Unsweetened cereal tastes like styrofoam or cardboard, depending on the grains. Unflavored Greek yogurt tastes like, well, vomit. Stevia (a natural sweetener that's healthy) tastes weirdly powdery, even though it's liquid.

The good news: I lost a few pounds, which is ordinarily very tough for me to do. I'm surprised and pleased. It never occurred to me that I'd lose weight since I make up for my long-lost desserts with lovely cheeses and nut butters. I never feel hungry, just mildly deprived. All I really cared about was never needing another liver ultrasound or, god forbid, a biopsy, so not eating sugar was easy as long as I kept that in mind.

The bad news: I'd filled a bag last month with old, tight clothing, which I was finally ready get rid of (flared jeans, anyone?). Today, it all magically unshrank itself to fit me for the first time in years. I'll have to browbeat myself into getting rid of it now.

The very good news: I had my three-month test yesterday and my liver enzymes are in normal range.

The rotten news: The enzymes are still not low enough to appease the specialist. She told me to keep up the good work, add some intense cardio if my knees allow it, and return for more tests in six months. That's an awful lot of ghost drinks and digestive biscuits. But, first, I'll celebrate with a brownie or something.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Produce Thoughts

1. If you store your pears in the same bowl with your shallots, you'll get shallot-flavored pears.

2. Shallot-flavored pears taste awful.

3. The Cara Cara orange is the superior navel orange. They come from California, not Florida. They have pink flesh and are as sweet as candy; other oranges taste sour in comparison. They are out of season now, and that's a drag.

4. Big Agriculture ruined the blueberry and strawberry long ago. But the raspberry and, to some extent, the blackberry are still putting up a decent fight. They taste almost as good out of the plastic container as they do off the bush. To me, it's worth paying extra for them. For baking, try the frozen tiny wild blueberries from Trader Joe's. They have flavor. They also defrost very quickly for adding to yogurt or cereal.

5.  Soaking fresh berries briefly in a solution of 1 part vinegar to 10 parts water will prevent mold so they'll keep longer. You can rinse off the solution or not.

6. We cook broccoli or peas in the boiling pasta water for a couple of minutes at the end of the cooking time, or wilt baby spinach as we cook the pasta sauce for a healthier one-dish meal.

7.  If you separate your bananas from the bunch as you store them, they are supposed to ripen more slowly.

8. The next time you bake brownies, melt a bunch of Andes Mints in a double-boiler and pour the hot mess over the cooling brownies for mint-chocolate frosting. Mint is a herb so this counts as a produce tip. And chocolate comes from cacao pods, so it's essentially a fruit. So there.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Recent Adorableness

Toffee can find a way to make himself comfortable anywhere. Cats can teach us a few things about how to live.