Paradise on Earth

Growing up, the library was my sanctuary.  I practiced writing my name for hours to attain the coveted status of my own library card.  My mom would hold me up to hand the librarian my own card and I would watch her scan my pile of books under the squiggly infrared reader.  Once a week, I would take ballet classes there, dressed in my pink leotard and

Posing before heading to my dance recital at the library,

slippers while twirling off balance across the room with bad turn out.  Summer nights my sister and I would put on our pajamas, grab our blankets and watch a movie sprawled out with dozens of other kids on the floor.  That was the best because it was like living out my fantasy from the book Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, where two siblings who run away and live in the New York Metropolitan of Art.  If you haven’t read this book, I suggest getting it immediately, even if you no longer need permission to runaway from home.

I was a curious kid and an avid reader, so the mere thought that I could pick up any book to bring home was astonishing. I spend hours reading about how to raise a hamster, do magic tricks and went through both the classic and contemporary Nancy Drew Series by the time I was 7.  In 7th grade, I stayed up all night finishing Gone With the Wind and that wouldn’t be the last time I watched the night sky turn from inky black to faded gray, and finally streaky pink, before finally putting down my book.  In high school, when one of the kids I tutored knew more about the Rock of Gibraltar than I did, I drove my newly acquired car over to Center Street to research a few points to one up him at our next session.

In college, I would sometimes borrow a textbook for one of my classes from the library to save money and spend hours on the third floor, studying in the corner. In Grad School, I rented French language CDs and books on tape to make my hour commute into the city fly by.  I remember sitting in the parking garage, listening to just a few more minutes to find out what happened at the end of the chapter before dashing into class.

My relationship with the library hasn’t only been one sided. More often than not, my books were late and I paid handsomely to borrow books without expiration dates.  As a kid, my mom always had some loose change to pay the inevitable fines I’d rack up from 15 books all 3 days late, at a nickel a day.  This became problematic as I got older and those fines got more expensive, eventually culminating in a $100 penalty when my car was broken into and my (their) French CDS were stolen.  I might be the only American under 50 with a derogatory mark on their credit from a forgotten library book and too many forwarded addresses to catch it.  I consider these fines to be a sort of payment for all the books I read for free. In today’s modern world, a beautifully organized store that let’s you borrow their wares, and not just their old merchandise but new beautiful items, is a bit of an anomaly.

Even as an adult, visiting the library still gives me that sense of awe.  It feels like such a nerve center of any community.  In San Francisco, we have the most beautiful public resource right across the street from City Hall.  To me, those floors of books, magazines, DVDs, and CDs represent access.   You don’t have to be rich to be able to read and learn about anything you want.

The library was the first place I felt my mind become fully engaged. The lingering boredom I had always felt in class when I finished my math problems early or read ahead in my history assignment, finally vanished. Now when I finished my classwork I could open up my library book and be completely transported out of my pedestrian classroom in small town America. Books gave me permission to dream and the will to believe I could really go places. This led me to work hard and excel, something my working class parents had been trying to instill in me the moment I signed my childish signature on that plastic card.

My borrowed library books have trekked all over the world from Europe to Asia, Africa and South America.  I would scan the shelves for the most recent travel guide, renewing my borrowed books overseas to free up some money for beer or an upgraded hostel room.  I attribute my love of cooking to the amazing selection of food related books in the Santa Rosa Library which sparked my desire to know more about non-GMO and local foods.  I’ve learned to make cheese, brew beer, raise chickens and keep bees, all from books I’ve checked out from the local library.

Libraries bring people together. Grad students sit next to homeless people and ride the elevators with mothers and their squirming children. Kids can pull books off the shelf about anything that interests them and sit cross legged on the floor listening to librarian do funny voices to Where the Wild Things Are People struggling with unemployment can surf the web looking for job listings and perfect their resumes. If you are cold and have nowhere else to go, you can duck into a library to escape. Young mothers limp with exhaustion can commiserate with other moms in low voices while their kids flip through picture books in the corner. A brilliant poet can share her work with a community that values her words.

“I have always imagined that Paradise would be a kind of library”.
-Jorge Luis Borges

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Why Buy the Cow When You Can Get the Milk For Free?

Did you know you can make your own almond, rice or soy milk?

I stumbled upon this amazing fact when I was craving some Horchata and was too lazy to run to my nearest Taqueria. Always interested in finding out how to make things from scratch that would otherwise be purchased, I was intrigued.  Turns out, rice and nut based milks are a cinch to make and taste way better that their shelf stable alternatives.

Both Roem and I consider ourselves lactose intolerant with the occasional free pass to include things like ice cream and cheese.  I have long been a fan of milk alternatives when eating my morning cereal, but recently have tried to stay away from overdosing on soy products.  I discovered unsweetened almond milk and found I liked the taste better than my traditional soy.  In my quest to rid the WPP household of packaged products, I recently turned to making my own almond milk weekly and will never go back to the insipid boxes.

If you plan on making nut milk frequently, I suggest purchasing a nut milk bag that is reusable and can also sprout seeds like alfalfa or beans.   Alternatively, you can also use a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth.

Editor’s Note:  The homemade almond milk sometimes separates in the fridge and needs to be shaken up before serving. For some reason, Roem hates this and my beautifully made nut milk will languish on the shelf unless I secretly shake it up every morning while making coffee.  Just remember that it separates because it doesn’t have any icky extra junk to hold it all together like gross stabilizers and drink up knowing your body loves the natural, pure milk.

Almond Milk

  • 1 Cup Soaked Almonds (Soak in a bowl in the refrigerator overnight)
  • 3 cups of water
  • 1/2 tsp Vanilla (if desired)
  • Sweetener such as sugar, honey, ect. (if desired)

Drain and rinse the soaked almonds before combining them in the blender or food processor with the 3 cups of water. Add in the vanilla and blend until smooth.  Strain through a nut bag or cheesecloth and add sweetener if desired to the strained liquid.  You can store the milk in a lidded container, such as a mason jar, in the fridge for about 5-7 days.

Horchata

  • 1 1/4 cups long-grain white rice
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup almonds
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Pulverize rice with cinnamon in a food processor or blender with 2 1/2 cups of water until the rice is almost broken down completely.  Place in a 2-quart container with a tightfitting lid. Next, pulverize almonds until finely ground but not a paste. Add almond powder to rice-cinnamon mixture and stir to combine. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 12 hours.
  2. Add sugar to mixture and, using a blender, blend in batches on high until the mixture is as smooth as possible – there’ll still be a hint of grittiness when you rub a drop between your fingers.
  3. Pour mixture through a fine mesh strainer (or nut milk bag or cheesecloth) placed over a bowl. Using a rubber spatula, press on solids to extract all liquid, then discard solids.
  4. Add in 2 cups of cold water and transfer to a pitcher and chill in the refrigerator. Serve over ice.

Easy, right?  If you have any great recipes for the leftover almond meal let me know in the comments.

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Everything Old is New

I used to think antiques were weird and fussy.  My grandmother was an avid collector and while I liked sifting through her vintage jewelry, I wasn’t a big fan of the dusty dishes or worn furniture.  I fantasized about a house filled with shiny new furniture, just purchased rugs and pottery barn dishes.  Even my dollhouse had a tasteful, victorian aesthetic with newly manufactured furniture only reproduced to look like antiques.

My freshman year in high school, my friends and I embraced thrift store shopping with a vengenace.  My parents wisely viewed this as a phase and allowed me the “creative” space to find myself.  We visited thrift stores all around the Central Valley, picking up old bowling shirts with long forgotten names stitched across the lapel and ringer tees with weird sayings on them.  I went through my Dad’s closet, scoring such finds as a velour striped sweatshirt and a hand tooled leather belt with a sunset design.  I loved looking different from everyone else and took pride in my eccentric ensembles.

In college, I still wandered thrift stores but I was looking more for things I could pass off as new, rather than vintage treasures.  I wanted to fit in with my sorority sisters and upperclassmen and knew instinctively that anything different or weird would be shunned.  When my mom offered me my Nana’s dining room table for my first off campus apartment, I took it relunctantly knowing it didn’t look anything like the new Cost Plus models my friends all had.  Luckily my older and impossible cool roommate declared it “gorgeous” and I felt a glimmer of pride that I had something else no one else had.

Years later, I could kick myself for showing little interest in some of the items my mom inherited from my Grandma and Nana.  She is a very practical woman who eschews saving things if they don’t have an immediate purpose, and so a lot of things I would now love, were given away.  During wedding planning, my mom was often heard exclaiming, “Oh we had something that looked JUST like that before I got rid of it!”  She made up for it by finding a pristine box of lace from her own wedding dress and loaning us her beautiful vintage cake topper.

Now as I set up my first newlywed nest with my beloved husband, I am drawn to vintage furniture like a moth to a flame.  For one, it’s so economical and green to buy things that would otherwise go into a landfill.  After reading countless shelter blogs I am a firm believer that every piece of furniture on the planet can be re-purposed into something gorgeous with a fresh coat of paint and new hardware.  I’ve convinced Roem to haul furniture home that we found on the side of the road and pleaded with him to see my “vision” at garage sales.

Photo from Apartment Therapy found here.

Photo from Apartment Therapy found here.

And After—–>

This whole post has been written to lead up to this absurdity: I woke up voluntarily at 7:30am to attend a flea market this past Sunday.  And it wasn’t the first time.  My parents and I attended the Alameda Flea Market and it is such a magical, wonderful place that I only hesitate to tell you about it because it may increase the already insane traffic.  That being said, not even the nearly hour wait to get in and out of the parking lot can dampen my love for this incredible flea market.

I suggest you bring water and some emergency fruit because you really have no idea how long you will be there.  Coat your pasty skin in sunscreen even if it’s windy and overcast and wear comfortable shoes.  If you bring a luxury vehicle (such as a nearly new honda accord with leather seats, ahem, parents) then be sure and grab some rope and a blanket.  I’ll explain later.

I really can’t imagine anyone not liking the Flea Market, unless you are my brother-in-law who describes the one Sunday I dragged them along for a wedding shopping trip as, “the worst day of his life”.  Both he and my sister have incredible taste, but it does not run to mid century stereo cabinets cum entertainment consoles, they prefer things new.  Even if this more closely resembles you, I know you will still be able to find some treasure such as a cool bag or painting.

The market has lanes that are alphabetized and runs A-Z before it doubles up AA-KK.  It’s a lot of rows and rookies may not be able to make it to the end.  Be warned, I tend to purchase items towards the latter half of the trip, not sure if they have better things towards the back or if I just work up the courage to blow $60 on a 1960s medicine cabinet.  Which may have housed a pair of artificial legs complete with socks and shoes and Roem said looks just like, “a cabinet”.  He still doesn’t see its potential for a bar, bathroom cabinet or side table.  Sigh.  Good thing I didn’t come home with the old school lockers I was thisclose to buying for our entry way.  Also note the amazing 1950s hand cranked ice crusher I got to accompany my bar cabinet.  Currently it’s in the running for my favorite possession.

In addition to these amazing finds, I was forced to give up on the most incredible Zenith stereo cabinet because my Dad said it, “wouldn’t fit”.  I confess I threw a fit worthy of any two year old and insisted it HAD to fit because I WANTED it!  Alas, it would not have fit and I still have not received a call from my BFF Walter to announce it is now mine because it didn’t sell by the end of the day.  That’s another tip, don’t go there looking for furniture if you arrived in the aforementioned luxury sedan with leather seats.  Take a pickup truck or a convertible.

The Alameda Point Antiques Fair runs rain or shine on the first Sunday of the month. I’ll be there next week with my Zipcar pickup, a wad of cash and a (un)willing husband looking for that stereo console.

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It’s Not Always Sunny in San Francisco

Living in San Francisco, I often feel like I belong to a special club.  It is such a beautiful place with amazing people and so many things to do, that I hand over my exorbitant rent each month just happy they let me stay a member.  I chat up tourists on the bus about places to visit in my city, provide detailed recommendations to anyone new in town and am basically a goodwill ambassador for this unique corner of the world.

The last few weeks as we weathered day after day of torrential rain, my love for San Francisco never waned.  I made my way to work in the sideways rain and hail, jockeyed my way onto one overcrowded bus after another, and huddled under my covers to keep warm every frigid morning.  I suffered sleep deprivation every night when my little dog, Sadie, grew increasingly anxious as the wind howled, the rain beat against the window and tree branches pounded our building.  I protested in a downpour at City Hall, assured volunteers that we would be there rain or shine and passed out soggy flyers to anyone brave enough to cross the flood zone in Civic Center.

Four years ago when I moved here, I traded in my beloved summers for this beautiful city on the bay and never looked back.  I can still commiserate with tourists who come to California each June, optimistically sporting shirt sleeves and shorts, only to snatch up the first San Francisco embroidered sweatshirt they see to fight off the inevitable chill.  Before our wedding in July last summer, I tried to warn the guests that although the calendar said summer, most likely the temperatures would hover around 58 degrees with a cold breeze.  Some people willfully ignored these instructions and shivered throughout the ceremony, sheepishly mumbling in disbelief at the fog blanketing Golden Gate Park.  Even the comfort of our guests was sacrificed to celebrate our nuptials in our favorite city and we smiled through every chilly moment.

The reasons SFists continue to pay astronomical rents, ride out the seemingly endless season of fog, and sacrifice summers, is all for days like today.  The sky is a brilliant blue, nary a cloud in sight, the breeze just cool enough to refresh, and songbirds fill the air with their nosy chatter.  Residents flood the street, basking in the sun on every imaginable surface and soak up the weather with gusto.  At the park across the street from my house, dogs frolic on the cool green grass, a few homeless people are stretched out on the bench wiggling their toes and smartly dressed corporate drones eat their lunches on the steps, all in utter bliss.

We all delight in the weather together.  The barista at my local coffee hop leans forward and whispers confidentially, “How about this weather?!”  My coworkers and I swap secrets for the ultimate place to spend a sunny SF afternoon.  Every outdoor cafe, restaurant and bar is packed with smiling people looking like they just won the lottery.  The beaches are packed with pasty limbs, parrot colored umbrellas and people, kids and dogs giddy with relief from the never ending fog.

A San Francisco day such as this is rare and therefore, appreciated.  We love this city despite her weather- related flaws and when she gives us a rare reprieve, we are thankful.  SFists didn’t move here from around the world for the weather, but rather, in spite of it.  Many of us have stayed here because of the sun filled, magical promise of days like today that can pop up all year round.  Whether it be July, October or March, we squeeze every moment of enjoyment out of it, because we don’t know when it’s coming again.

Today, this San Francisco resident will lounge in the park with her dog and take a long, ambling walk in the park, thankful these days only come around once so often.  The rarity of these days protect us from even more people clamoring to live here, without fully appreciating our city’s charm.  All those fog filled, dreary days make today feel like a gift and the enjoyment of it is that much sweeter.

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Filed under Lifestyle, Sadie, San Francisco

Trader Joe’s Brands Uncovered

Even though I am cleansing my body and soul of packaged products, I have to admit there are still a few things I purchase from Trader Joe’s.  In my ongoing quest to a) know more about what is going in my body, b) know more about where my food is coming from and c) save money, I’ve decided to find out more about the products labeled under the Trader Joe’s brand.

Trader Joe’s is a privately held company and not required to divulge their suppliers.  They buy from high quality third-party suppliers and repackage the product for their own customers.  The product is then sold at a lower price to the consumer because of the larger scale of production.  Often, the packaging looks extremely similar to the original products and they are sometimes even sold side by side.

When I developed an incurable addiction to Strauss European Style Yogurt, I remembered reading the rumor that Strauss Family Creamery

Image found here.

supplied Trader Joe’s with their branded European Style Yogurt.  As the Trader Joe’s version of the yogurt is $2.50 when the Strauss version runs about twice that, I thought if I could confirm this hunch I could save $2.50 a week, $10 a month and about $120 a year. I also wanted to make sure my hard earned cash wasn’t going to support any companies I don’t believe in and try to avoid (including Coca -Cola).  My childhood addiction to Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew books convinced me I had the investigative skills necessary to figure this mystery out.

I started by going to my favorite Trader Joe’s items and checking the ingredients against those products I suspected it matched.  I trolled message boards, asked friends to taste test and did some extensive google research on suspected doppelgängers.

This list is hardly exhaustive so please let me know in the comments what I am missing!  I plan to keep this as a regular, updated feature and include a price savings from the original product and Trader Joe’s branded item.  For a printable list, click here.

Trader Joe’s Branded Product Supplier Branded Product
Trader Joe’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips Callebaut Chocolate
TJ’s White Baking Chips Guittard  Baking Chips
Trader Joe’s Vienna Style Lager Gordon Biersch Marzen
Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale Unibroue
Trader Joe’s Mission St. Pale Ale Firestone Walker
Trader Joe’s Mission St.IPA Firestone Walker
Trader Jose Beer Tecate Brewery
Trader Jo’es Bottled Water Poland Springs
Trader Joe’s Sprouted Wheat Bread Alvarado Street Bakery
Trader Joe’s Newton’s Folly Cider Woodchuck Cider
Trader Joe’s Granny Smith Woodchuck Cider
Trader Joe’s Goddess Dressing Annie’s Naturals
Trader Joe’s Organic Ranch Dressing Earth Island Products
Trader Joe San’s Soyaki Soy Vay’s Veri Veri Teriyaki
Trader Joe’s European style Yogurt Strauss Family Creamery
Trader Joe’s Indian food Tasty Bite
Trader Joe’s Shells and Cheese Annie’s Homegrown
Trader Joe’s Frozen Spinach pizza Amy’s Kitchen
Trader Joe’s Pizza Dough Il Fornaio
Trader Joe’s Pita Chips Stacy’s Pita Chips
Trader Joe’s Pure Butter Shortbread Walker’s Shortbread
TJ’s Veggie Sticks Potato Snacks Good Health Natural Foods Veggie Stix

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Filed under Beer, Finance, Food, Grocery shopping, Lifestyle, Trader Joe's, Uncategorized

Looks GOOD on Paper

Readers, are you familiar with GOOD magazine?  If you aren’t, I suggest taking some time to explore their website.  GOOD is true to its name in that it aspires to be a media platform for “people who want to live well and do good.”  The content is truly thought provoking and the integrated media, information graphs and charts really take complex issues and make them accessible to the average consumer.  I don’t think there is a better resource on the internet that provides valuable information on everything from world politics, food safety and environmentally responsible design.

While GOOD is a great resource for those of us interested in what we eat, consume or waste, it’s not as serious and intellectually exhausting as it sounds.  When they posted a map put out representing each states most well known beer by the The Daily Caller that included such villains as Budweiser, Coors and Miller, GOOD readers screamed in protest.  In response, they asked readers:

“What is the most awesome, best-tasting, sustainably brewed, independently owned, community-oriented, craft beer brewed in your state?”

The responses were crafted into a beer map of local and sustainable breweries that would make an amazing piece of art for any beer dining room.

 

Click here to print out the map.

If you are interested in finding out more about issues like America’s energy consumption, but get a little dizzy when reading extremely boring technical articles in mainstream news, check out GOOD’s take here.  You don’t even have to read all the text, because the main crux of the article is beautifully illustrated with numbers, graphics and pictures in a poster.  Or maybe you wonder how many gallons of fuel per passenger it takes to cover a distance of 350 miles?

 

Find larger image here.

 

GOOD also addresses the same  concerns we have here at WPP about reducing food packaging waste in their article found here.

I’m the first to admit that in this digital age of blogs, online newspapers and virtual forums, I crave the written word on good, old fashioned paper.   It is a rare occasion that  something will come along that revolutionizes the way I receive information.  GOOD is accessible, informative and has changed the way I learn.  Even better, you can receive it printed on earth friendly paper.

Now that’s revolutionary.

 

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An Apple a Day: In Defense of Cider

I love beer.

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I love brewing beer while sipping on a previous creation and experimenting like a mad scientist in the kitchen. I love the smell of the hops bubbling away in the cauldron with the richly sweet aroma of malts. I especially love tasting the beer, making notes on its fermentation status and sharing my creation with friends.

And I don’t only love my own beer. My relationship with beer extends to those that others create and I enthusiastically rate and review beers from around the world. I could (and do) wax philosophically for hours about flavor profiles, head retention and barnyard funk.

But I have a confession.

Sometimes I get tired of beer.

And it’s those times that I just can’t stomach the thought of yet another dark, malty beverage that I turn my attention to my other fling, artisanal cider. Now we are not talking about ciders such as the Woodchuck or Hornsby varieties that taste like sticky sweet concoctions of alcohol flavored juice boxes.

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No. These ciders are as ephemeral as fine wines, expertly crafted with elusive sweetness and redolent of crispy ripe apples.

One of the reasons I like trying new beers so much is that you can buy a nice bottle of beer for under $20 and really taste a superbly made product that is one of the best made in the world. To get a bottle of wine at this level you would need to spend exponentially more. I don’t mind doing this every once in awhile, but I’d still rather pair a ridiculously good beer with my dinner rather than a fine wine, as the flavor of beer is often improved by food. For all of these reasons and more, high end cider is also an excellent choice.

If you have spent some time in Europe or consider yourself an Anglophile, you will be familiar with the cider I am referring to. It’s very crisp and slightly sweet, with an almost fruity wine quality that really showcases the fruit. It tastes wonderful with a piece of cheese, some bread and cured meats.

A curious thing about cider is if you homebrew and want some carbonation, you are going to be making a very dry (read little to no sweetness) cider. When you add sugar to your juice, your yeast will eat every bit it can get. When you add the priming sugar to the fermented juice before bottling, the yeast will eat all that too and leave you will a dry, crisp cider. If you prefer a sweeter drink, you would need to “back”sweeten the cider using either a non fermentable sugar (like lactose) or an artificial sugar (like Splenda). Many store bought brands do the same thing and you are left with a very sweet product that most hardcore beer drinkers won’t touch.

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As cider experiences a resurgence in popularity, brewers and trend setting consumers alike have started to take notice. Talented sommeliers such as Frenchman Eric Bordelet have been making some amazing ciders that rival fine wines in their complexity and delicate, layered flavors. Now is the time to become a cider expert before there is a cider bar and gastro cider pub on every corner.

In colonial times, hard cider was actually one of America’s most popular beverages. European settlers brought apple seeds over with them to the new world and cultivated cider with the apple juice. Cider was easy to make and turned the sometimes bacteria filled water, into a safe and delicious beverage. It was considered healthy to drink and socially acceptable to imbibe throughout the day. Our second President, John Adams, even drank cider daily at his breakfast table to settle his stomach.

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So this weekend, consider bringing home a nice bottle of Eric Bordelet’s Poire Authentique for about $15, and still have enough cash to take your date out to dinner. Or use your new found cider factoids including John Adams affinity for a breakfast brew to impress your buddies at the March Madness happy hour. Consider bringing cider instead of that overpriced bottle of Pinot to the next dinner party and educate your fellow companions about its dry, fruity flavor profile and sophisticated, European roots. You are now on the cutting edge of all that is fermentation.

Next up: A review of some Bordelet ciders.

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Filed under Beer, Cider, Homebrewing, Lifestyle, Uncategorized