I have pretty mixed feelings about the holidays.  I’ve gotten pretty good at giving presents (usually baked goods) and other items to a select people, but I’m single and I HATE the feeling that you HAVE to be happy this time of year.  It’s like if you’re not happy, goodbye.  Maybe that’s not true, but I just read a fascinating book that came out 10 years ago called The Geography of Bliss about a NPR writer who goes to 10 different countries to find out if they are as happy (or unhappy in one- Moldova) as he thinks.

I actually found the chapter on Moldova the funniest, and believe it or not, it made me happy reading about people who just muddle through life to the best of their abilities, even if their country doesn’t have their best interests at heart.  I also enjoyed the chapter on Iceland, because it seemed like that small country was a storybook land that valued people and I can see why tourism has taken off their in the last 10 years or so.  It just seemed like the opposite of Moldova, where Iceland did have its residents’ best interests at heart.

Anyway, when I think about being happy in America, it just seems like a fake happy sometimes, especially if you consider retail and shopping.  That’s probably not reality, but it seems like if you can be happy during the holidays, you can make it through the rest of the year.

But also in the Geography of Bliss book, the writer talks about four Asian countries: Qatar, Bhutan, Thailand, and India.  Now I kind of want to go to India someday, but comparing India to the other countries, Bhutan seemed the most ideal in terms of happiness quota.  Its been ranked the happiest country consistently because they don’t value money and material possessions it seems (they didn’t have a national currency until the 1970s).  Also, comparing the Asian countries to the Western countries he profiles like Switzerland, Netherlands, Great Britain, Iceland, and USA, the Asian countries like Qatar and Thailand seemed more fake happy (at least to me) than the Western ones.  Maybe we Westerners are more genuinely happy than we think.

But he also notes that happiness isn’t everything.  Just because you’re happy, doesn’t mean you’re content (he gives an example of a very happy man released from prison, who was so euphoric, he essentially dies of happiness- ugh).  Now I tend to suffer from depression sometimes, but I think by keeping busy, ie volunteering, reading, cooking, being around friends, does wonders and I think I am more unhappy than depressed when I am sad (which is why the unhappy Moldovans were so funny!)  So whatever mood you’re in this holiday season, try to be good to yourself, and if you feel up to it, read “The Geography of Bliss” by Eric Weiner, because it just will help you get over those holiday blues!!

I’ve been thinking about being crafty more, because I’ve been crafty my whole life.  So I recently joined a meetup craft group a couple towns over.  Most of the ones I looked at were knitting, wouldn’t you know, but this one was open to any craft.  So I’ve been two times and people do a variety of crafts like scrapbooking, beadwork, some sort of sequin cross stitch, and me, regular cross stitch.  Now I try not to buy a lot of the stuff at the big craft stores because it just seems like a waste, but I’ve done crafts that don’t really use plastic, and are somewhat environmentally friendly.  In the past 20 years I’ve made Ukranian eggs, a variety of cross stitch, decoupage (glueing shells, or pieces of paper on boxes), making earrings from porcupine quills I collected, basket weaving, and a variety of little things like fixing crafts or projects.

Now I’ve been thinking of Native Americans some and how they would use materials they had on hand to make things.  Isn’t that how we should do it with crafts today?  I know some people recycle items to make crafts, but it just seems that if women want to be called real craftspeople (as opposed to men who do a specific craft like woodworking, metal working, or bigger things), then shouldn’t we work we what’s around us?

I mean, isn’t that what America used to be about, especially during the Great Depression?  Just because we’re a superpower now doesn’t mean we have the excuse to waste things.  I say if you use a certain amount of plastic, you should work it off like take the train, bike, walk to places that you can do that.

I watched this episode on PBS streaming last weekend about crafts in California and my Mom and I particularly liked a Native American woman who made baskets out of grass.  I see a lot of different ethnic groups around the world struggling to make ends meet, yet it seems like we focus on them when we want to show an example of what is the right way to live, and how cultural they still manage to be.  I know America gets a lot of negativity for pollution, politics, the way we eat, etc…  but if we are truly a melting pot, we should adapt to other cultures if we hold them to the light in many other ways.  America should not have a distinct American culture, like we do in terms of media or commercialism.  We should create a space for other cultures who come here to thrive and prosper, like we did when times were hard.

It’s kind of ironic that here in the Philadelphia suburbs where I live there are so many grocery stores, (too many), but yet we still have a huge hunger problem in Philly and around the suburbs.  Granted, I know there are some 8 million people in the Philly area, but it just strikes me that there needs to be a food community.  Now I’m not sure what I mean by that; maybe trading one food for another at designated places or something.

My Mom’s side of the family has a family cottage in Michigan that we go to once a year or so (if you look at Michigan as a hand/glove, it’s the little pinky where we live, Leelanau Peninsula.  It’s a summer place to live and so even though it can be kind of crazy with tourism and being there for a couple of weeks or so (I don’t think I could live there), I just love the food “community” there.  I mean I don’t know a lot of people there, but it just feels like you’re connected to the land.  If you drive down the backroads, you’ll always find a sign saying eggs, cherries (what the peninsula is known for), or peaches for sale.  And I kind of like the farmer’s market there better because it just seems like the produce really is grown right near by!  Our farmer’s market here is in Lansdale is very popular, but it just doesn’t seem like a truly local farmer’s market if you know what I’m saying.

I’ve done my share of non fiction reading about food, and some things I’ve read that have stuck out, is that food is supposed to be the main part of your day, so shouldn’t community revolve around that?  I read pretty often that community is really lacking in the USA, but with all the food books, shows, farmer’s markets, etc… it seems like we should use what we have to create a real vibrant food community!

I just think when I’m in Michigan, even though I don’t become an outright farmer, I’m so much more aware of the land and nature, and so grateful for the little food stands, and the real local food around there, like fish from Lake Michigan, cheese, produce, meat, etc…  that I suddenly feel like cooking local foods and being connected to what’s around me.  As Mario Batali said of the Leelanau Peninsula several years ago (he has a house there), one thing about Leelanau Peninsula and the food is they don’t pretend to be something they’re not.  They know who they are, food wise, and excel in that area.

I’m currently really trying to be vegetarian, for the last 2 months, but I did have meat a bunch of times.  However, one of the times I had meat it was humanely raised at a local cafe in a touristy town.  So I have to wonder, if people who are vegetarian tend to eventually eat carbs or sweets a lot of the time, is it more humane to just eat humanely raised meat?  Isn’t that more politically correct?  Because I hear of people who try to be vegetarian or vegan and get diagnosed as diabetic or something else because they’re not eating proper food like vegetables, or the like.  I think even when I do eat meat somewhat often, but also try to eat green vegetables and healthy foods, I am doing better for the environment than these people who say they are helping the environment, but aren’t really helping themselves!

And along that note, what about all the plastic that sometimes gets used in being vegan/vegetarian? I don’t mean just for eating, because I know there are a lot of people who do eat environmentally sound.  But what about all the so called environmentally safe products that have plastic and they’re touted as being “better” than old school stuff. I did some major reading of politics and the like during the Trump election, and one of the things that stayed with me is people who hunt (and thus use guns and want the 2nd amendment protected) and say they are doing more for the environment than some of the so called liberals who say they are using safe chemicals or whatever and using their liberalism as a platform to “pretend” that they are “better” than the Trump supporters.  I have to side with the Trump supporters on this aspect (if what I read is true) because I see all the plastic and the like that gets used when some of us try to eat environmentally safe or be environmentally safe in our daily life.  I don’t know much about hunting, but I live in Pennsylvania where I can imagine a lot of hunting goes on in much of the state.  It always strikes me that where I live, outside Philly is so rampant with drug use and homelessness and I hear about people living in other areas of the state who must live below the poverty line, and I’m sure some of them must do what they can to survive and not turn to drugs, etc…  They seem more “cultured” in a way than some of the “liberals” who live around artsy Philly.

I sometimes watch Antiques Roadshow, and I learned recently that since the Great Recession, antiques have really fallen in price.  I have a good amount of “antiques” and have been wondering for quite some time how much some of them are worth.

I don’t really travel anywhere exotic these days, but I do have some items from other countries, though I don’t think they’re that valuable.  I don’t know if I’m right, but it seems like “antiques” from America are more valuable than “antiques” from other countries.  Or maybe it’s just that antiques from America are more plentiful.  I really wonder if some of the more modern artisan products from other countries will one day be valuable, or maybe they already are?!?

I also wonder if clothing has more value in it if it’s handmade or the fabric is really good. I’ve seen this 2012 documentary “Iris” a couple times about this 90 year old woman who is somewhat of a celebrity because she had this exotic career in fabrics and clothing that took her all over the world when she was younger.  I think it’s just the best movie about clothing I’ve ever seen.

I like to think my sense of style has really evolved in a more positive in the last say 10 years.  I used to dress kind of sporty, but now, since going contra dancing at one of the best contra dances (near Philly), seeing the creme de la creme of dancers wear great things, going to art museums, and just observing what’s around me in general, I think I have a far better sense of style than I used to.

Sometimes, I wish I had more outfits from other countries, or wish my sense of style was kind of ethnic.  And it would be nice to make more money too, so I could buy all kinds of different worldly goods like different kinds of hats, tops, shoes, etc…  However, I just read a newspaper article yesterday about a female teacher who wore the same outfit to her class for 100 days (excluding weekends of course) to understate how much clothing we wear on a weekly basis and to cut back on water use and such.  As much as I admire something like that, it makes me kind of peeved that we put that kind of thing on a pedestal when so many other aspects of “green living” should be.  I mean, what about walking, biking, and taking public transportation everywhere, or not buying many material posessions, or recycling practically everything you own?!?!  I mean people do those things these days in abundance!

I don’t presume I do all that, but I do the best I can, which means not using much water, celebrating art and nature over commerce, and not using up much fossil fuels.

In light of the recent presidential election, I’ve been questioning our melding of different cultures and if we’re that aware of other cultures (not just through food, despite this blog).  In terms of popular food, it’s obvious that Mexican food has assimilated into American life like no other kind of ethnic food (just look at Taco Bell, Chi Chi’s and Chipotle, to name a few).  But when I do my little research on who eats at McDonald’s and the like, it’s usually the poor, like Latino immigrants who eat fast food.  Isn’t that kind of sad?  Of course, it can’t be everyone and aren’t Latinos more family oriented than other ethnic groups?!?

And on the front page of our Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday, there were masses of people from war torn Honduras dying to get into America (and Mexico which is where the picture was taken).  This despite the fear of Trump, which no doubt has led many Americans to leave America since he became elected (if not when the Great Recession came about 10 years ago).  Does this mean our country’s people will change yet again?  I know Trump promises to be hard on immigration, but really how much power does he have to keep immigrants out?

My Mom and I hope to go to Spain and France next year which, just thinking about going, makes me happy.  I’ve been to Spain before in 2000, but never France, which I’d go to in a heartbeat.  I’ve seen a lot of French movies, and hey, if France’s President is our President’s best political friend, all the more reason to go right?

But anyway, I know from my culinary schooling, that French cuisine is the basis of cooking in general.  I’ve never really attempted cooking French food, unless you count their baking influence.  But it seems to me that gardening and/or farms are more important to France than their restaurants, and I just read an awesome memoir called “French Dirt” which came out in 1991, and is about an American couple who rent a house in Southern France for a year in a provincial town.  It’s exactly how I’d picture the French.

meat eating


I took an Earth Science class a year ago with intentions of getting a liberal studies degree at the community college (in addition to the Bachelors in communication/journalism I already had).  My family had been egging me to take it because we’re kind of an outdoorsy family and I thought it would be good for me.  I took it for credit, as opposed auditing it.

It was so hard.  There was either a quiz or test every week, it met 6 hours a week, there were labs with people I found it hard to work with, but I made out with a B in the end, so obviously I did something right.  And funny thing is, I miss it now.  I’m taking modern art history now at the same community college, and there’s no talking really because it’s kind of a lecture course, and I just miss the come what may attitude of Earth Science.  And I like to think I love art history waaaay more than Earth Science.

But anyway, near the end of class we had to do an oral presentation with a group presenting a hypothesis and proving some kind of scientific fact.  Since my group didn’t seem to care, I picked, “How Meat Eating Causes Climate Change and Environmental Degradation,”  since I feel like I kind of have grown up with that mantra.  More than half the other groups picked how climate change causes something, like glaciers melting, coral reefs eroding, etc…  So I thought our’s would be a different spin on the most controversial science of our time.

I basically just picked facts from articles that seemed commonplace, but it was rather hard to find the facts that eating meat does in fact cause climate change and environmental degradation.  I bet that is probably more controversial than the climate change mantra.

When I started getting into cooking, it was always in the back of my mind not to eat too much meat, because my Mom has been a vegetarian for 20+ years and is an environmentalist on top of that.  My Mom is someone everyone seems to hold on a pedestal.  Although I have tried mightily to give up meat, I have to do with eating vegetarian most of the time, as opposed to 24/7.  But having to still live with my parents, I am most readily aware of the vegetarian dishes my Mom makes seemingly every day.

Anyway, I did most of the research for the oral presentation, mostly because articles about the subjects were hard to find and having this blog, it gave me some overview of what I needed to look for.

The oral presentation mainly consisted of the depressing aspects of environmental degradation everyone probably reads or hears about from news sites, classes, TV, etc…  Obviously it was stuff people had heard before, because as my partners read the facts, they would erupt into laughing fits.  I tried to maintain some sanity by using my many years of comedy training to combat the comedy routine.  My years of reading food books came in handy, as I got to intersperse the boring facts with more enlightening ones.

I honestly sounded like I knew what I was talking about I think, and really got into it to some degree; or maybe I just hate seeing meat eating effects turn into a joke.

Anyway, I got a couple questions, one of which was how are the people who still raise animals on the land, as opposed to the factory.  I said that they have a relationship with the animals and I thought they might get backlash for their humane practices.  We got a B.


I don’t know if I ever really mentioned it to all those reading from countries around the world, but I live with my parents, and my Mom has had a garden for as long as I can remember.  It has expanded a little every year (although it seems we run out of space sometimes!), and this year I tried growing asparagus (but it might prove difficult).

Anyway, we have a steady stream of tomatoes coming in that started in July.  I have been trying to make as many tomato dishes as I know how which include tomato corn salsa, cherry tomatoes with feta cheese (and red onions that came from our garden), gazpacho, layered lettuce pea salad, which I make at least once a week and uses slices of tomatoes on top, and my Mom has her own recipes.

Every time I take walks around the neighborhood, I notice a few gardens, and they always happen to grow tomatoes.  I wonder if they’re easier to grow than other vegetables??  I know they like warmth, (and also eggs shells for calcium) and judging from how hot summers have been lately, that seems prime for tomato season if you ask me!!  A couple years ago, I was home alone for a week, and the tomatoes were massive and all over the place so I gave a whole bunch to the food pantry and some friends.

But it makes you wonder, what is the attraction of this fruit, which wasn’t even considered edible until a couple centuries ago??  Why put so much time (and money) into growing tomatoes, when you came just buy them (in a bland state I might say) from the grocery store??  Is it really so important to have heirloom tomatoes when vine tomatoes from the store (which are probably more often than not grown hydroponically), are notoriously tasteless?  Has growing your own tomatoes become in sync with the farm to table movement?? I have a feeling it has thank you very much!!


international cuisineI don’t watch much food shows anymore, with the exception of food documentaries, which can really be either hit or miss.  But I saw two food documentary series last night with a friend that were just fascinating, one more than the other, if you ask me.  The first one was call “Street Food all around the world” and featured an actor going to be cities with legitimate “street food.”  The guy obviously had improv training and it was using it to the utmost degree.  I could not stop laughing because he was just so enthusiastic (he was from Israel), and seemed so international.

The second was called “Chef’s Table” and featured some of the best (and unusual) restaurants around the world.  They included a restaurant (with hotel too) in very rural Sweden where there was pretty much no civilization.  But the head chef was from Sweden and decided to have his restaurant include ancient foods and locally grown ones from their land.  They had a pantry and everything seemed to be pretty much from the land (even the stone/wood/branch plates.  There was one chef from Chicago who had a kind of futuristic approach to food, which I didn’t quite get, but the chef looked to present everyday foods in a unique and sometimes bizarre way.

There was another guy from Brazil who took a risk some ten years ago and opened a Brazilian themed restaurant (most high class restaurants in Brazil are Italian or French) which took awhile to acquire a desire from people, but eventually did and now the head chef is a big political and foodie spokesperson for the Amazon, (that’s where his food comes from).  And finally there was a French woman (who was adopted from Dominican Republic) who had a restaurant in San Francisco and also used local foods.

As much as I admired the Chef’s Table for using local ingredients, I just kept comparing it to Street Food, which was so much more fun and accessible.  I’m so used to seeing chefs as the be all end all spokesperson in food, that I was totally blown away by the actor guy just blazing through cities in search of a meal.  I honestly wanted to be him.  Even the intro was brilliant:  He’s sitting in some high end restaurant clearly bored out of his mind by the seemingly fake food and not exciting food he’s getting.  He riffs out of there and starts off on the streets in search of some more calorie laden food so he (I suppose) can put some meat on his bones.  In some ways, this actor seemed way more of the times we live in then those well meaning but out of touch chefs I see all the time explain their way through the authenticity of each dish.  I might watch “Street Food” again or maybe look for the next edition!!

vegetarian NOTI have tried over the years, since I really got serious about cooking, to be a vegetarian, but am more of a flexitarian.  It seems far easier to be a flexitarian than any kind of “…arian,” but when I really tried my hardest to be a vegetarian for the past year, I realized that it is far easier than I could have realized.  My Mom, (whom I live with) has been my influence, and has become very efficient at cooking lots of vegetarian meals, so I thought I had I had a real chance, because I likewise cook my own share of vegetarian dishes.

We went to our family cottage in Michigan last summer for a month, and I cooked a lot of the meals.  But when we left and had dinner at my parents’ friends house on our way home and they had sausage, well I just couldn’t pass it up.  I even took some of the B-12 liquid drops as supplements for not having meat (but have since stopped taking them).

However, even though I am now a flexitarian for the immediate future, I prefer vegetarian dishes for the most part- meat is just something I’m programmed to eat- at least that’s the way I see it.

I don’t think I’ll be eating beef for a long time, as I always try to order a veggie burger whenever I go to a bar type setting or it’s offered on fast food type menu.  But sausage, bacon, and chicken are another story, and although I try to avoid these, I cannot help but be lured in on occasion.