“Mostly Plants”*: 5 Food Books for Starting the New Year Right

oh-she-glows-cookbookI am obsessed with cookbooks.  When I first started to learn to cook for real (in my early twenties, just after I turned vegetarian), I would entertain myself for whole afternoons by going to the cooking section of a bookstore, sitting down on the floor (this was in the days before bookstores provided comfy reading chairs), and pulling a cookbook off the shelf to read it cover to cover.  Now that I have a regular income, I periodically break my budget (or fill my Christmas wish list) with a stack of cookbooks that I can pile next to me on the coffee table and read one after the other like novels.

Although I’ve been more or less vegetarian for the past 25 years (with exceptions made for fish and seafood because they made my life easier and, I believed, made me healthier), my diet has taken a sharp turn to the left recently.  I stumbled upon a string of documentaries, the most notable of them being Forks Over Knives and Vegucated, that convinced me of something I already half believed: I should try to eliminate all animal products from my diet.

So I’m starting 2015 with this tentative goal.  I’m not yet ready to demand that restaurants make my sag aloo without any ghee, or to carry a vegan bento to dinner parties in case my friends put eggs in their handmade pasta.  However, I’m having fun going through old cookbooks and buying (or demanding) new ones, and learning how to make cashew cream and multigrain chia power bread.  And the smoothies!  So many smoothies.  It’s a good time.

On my path to a whole-foods, plant-based diet, the food books below have been both helpful and enjoyable.  If you love a good cookbook, whether or not you want more plants and fewer animals in your diet, these books will give you hours of reading entertainment, an excuse to spend leisurely afternoons in the health-food store buying buckwheat groats and sorghum, and freezers full of healthy, tasty meals.  Which, when taken all together, is pretty much my definition of bliss.

1. The Oh She Glows Cookbook (photo above): A friend introduced me to Angela Liddon’s blog at around the same time this vegan, allergy-friendly book was released.  It’s where I learned to make overnight oatmeal, and it inspired me to buy a vegetable spiralizer.  It’s also super pretty, especially the Canadian edition with the chia pudding fruit parfait on the cover!
thug-kitchen-cookbook2. Thug Kitchen: Caution: profanity.  Lots and lots of profanity.  My husband sent me the “trailer” for this book/blog because a) he couldn’t stop laughing, and b) he wanted to gauge, by my reaction, whether he should buy me the cookbook for Christmas.  And, because I said, “Holy &%$*,” he did.  It is great, and the blog is too.  Best recipe so far is the citrus tofu marinade, but I’m looking forward to trying the “Warm the F%*# Up Minestrone” next.
YU_Book_Main3. YumUniverse: This book is a wonderful compendium for someone embarking on what Heather Crosby calls a “plant-powerful, whole-food lifestyle.” As a bonus, all recipes are gluten free and most are made without soy.  The first chapter compiles research on why we should eat lots of plants and less of other things.  The second gives lots of good advice on filling your pantry and your kitchen tool cabinet.  The best part, though, is the pages dedicated to making staples like dairy-free milks (I have been avoiding buying these lately because they’re so full of preservatives), soaking and sprouting, storing vegetables, etc.
fok4. The Forks Over Knives Plan: The companion to the documentary mentioned above, this book details the research on the advantages of low-fat, whole-foods, plant-based diets entirely from a health perspective.  It then offers recipes and techniques (like how to saute without oil – it works!)  If you’re interested in the research behind plant-based eating, I would also recommend two books upon which this one is based: The China Study and Whole, both by T. Colin Campbell.  The China Study was a foundational text for the Forks Over Knives documentary, and gives excellent arguments for giving up all animal protein, as well as reducing added fat and salt, in order to ward off or even reverse chronic disease.
SS-b5. Salad Samurai: This was another Christmas gift, and I love it even though I haven’t yet made a thing out of it.  Just reading about Coconut Samosa Potato Salad and Tempeh Rubenesque Salad has made my life better.  Terry Hope Romero is one of the geniuses behind the classic vegan cookbook Veganomicon (with Isa Chandra Moscowitz, a vegan punk icon).  This book is not light on the fat – its subtitle includes the phrases “ultra-hearty” and “you don’t have to be a vegan to love” – but it is heavy on the veggies, legumes and grains, and is a gorgeous little handbook to making every salad a meal.

What food books have improved your year?  Do you have a favourite vegan or vegetarian collection?  Have you made any changes to your diet recently that you feel were for the better?  Let me know your thoughts.

*Note: post title from Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, another great food book not on this list.



Shape (This Woman in Clothes)

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be responding to questions on the Women In Clothes survey.  For more on the book Women in Clothes, go here.  



miKy4SSI’ve resisted my own body most of my life.  One of my goals for my middle age is to stop doing that.

I’m just under five feet five inches tall.  I have large breasts and hips, and a smallish waist even though my belly has always protruded.  I have a sharp curve in my lower back (and almost none in my neck; this is due, apparently, to many years lying on my back with my head propped up on a stuffed animal to read, and more years bent over a notebook scribbling.)  In the last five years, I’ve gone from almost 170 pounds down to just over 120, and now I’m back at 140.

Even when I weighed 125 pounds, there were things I couldn’t wear.  I thought I could finally buy some of those nice little triangular-cupped yoga bras, instead of the Ace-bandage family of sports bras I’ve worn all my life.  I went to that yoga clothes store – you know the one – and tried on a couple that pleased me.  I bought them.   I wore one to a yoga class the next morning; it became clear within minutes that I must NOT wear such bras to yoga class, because after every contortion, I had to pause to tuck myself back into my bra.  So that afternoon, I wore the other bra around the house, doing nothing more active than typing and walking to the kitchen.  Every fifteen minutes, I had to stuff myself back into the cups.  No matter how thin I got, those bras would never be for me; I brought them back to the store the next morning.

I could, when I was at my thinnest, wear button-up shirts without them popping open on me.  I love the look of a crisp buttoned shirt with jeans and a blazer, but as I put pounds back on, all three of those items become more and more difficult.  Pants are always an issue, especially pants for work – I have big hips and short legs, and have a horror of pants without back pockets, or with small back pockets, or, especially, with those little non-pocket slits that sit at the top of the butt, making your rear end look endless. Pants that fit my hips tend to gape at my waist and, unless I’m buying from a retailer that offers “petites,” they’re usually too long.

Even now, I’m an average-sized person.  Despite the fact that I’ve put on 15 pounds since my wedding day, I’m not overweight by any definition, not even the retail fashion world’s; I wear a size 8-10 in most shops.  So it doesn’t really make sense that it’s difficult for me to find, say, well-fitting pants or a shirt that will close.  It’s my shape, not my size, that causes issues.

This fall, I decided to stock up on cropped leggings and short tunics and dresses.  This, I thought, would be an easy, comfortable look suitable for both work and play.  The shalwar kameez – the tunic over loose pants worn in South Asia – has always been my favourite outfit, but, not being South Asian, I don’t feel I’m in a position to pull that off.  The tunic-and-leggings combo is a good substitute, and it is indeed both comfy and pretty.

However, I still long for the look of the chic tomboy.  I wish I could go out braless in a tank top and Daisy Dukes, or line up men’s-style Oxford shirts and tailored pants in my closet.  I’m trying to accept that certain clothes will never feel comfortable or look polished on me.  I’m trying to believe that choosing what works, as opposed to what I want to work, is an important element of one’s personal “style.”

I haven’t entirely given in.  Those permanent-press shirts I bought three years ago are still in my closet, and every so often, I button one up halfway over a camisole because I can’t let go of my fantasy of myself as Katharine Hepburn.  Each time I do so, though, I come home at the end of the day freshly reminded that pretending to be something you’re not is uncomfortable on all levels.  I peel the shirt and camisole off with a sigh of relief.  I pull on a worn linen dress and knit pullover.  Even pyjama pants are pants, and pants are really meant for someone else.


Is there are type of clothing you wish you could wear but don’t feel works for you? Please leave your own answers in the comments, or link to a response on your own blog.

Image by Dan Shirley

High Heels (This Woman In Clothes)

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be responding to questions on the Women In Clothes survey.  For more on the book Women in Clothes, go here.  


*shoes 3

This past weekend, the Globe and Mail published an article about Vince Camuto, the designer who co-founded the company that makes my favourite shoes: Nine West.  Near the end of the article, Camuto declares that “a woman needs a lot of pairs of shoes today. It’s not just one. You want to buy hundreds of pairs. Women need a flat, they need a mid-heel, they need a high heel, they need a dress sandal, they need a low boot, high boot, flat boot.”

This sort of pronouncement makes me throw down newspapers, sputter, and storm into the living room to explain to my confused husband that women do not NEED anything but a good pair of walking shoes and some winter boots.

In a similar vein, a few weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast in which there was a discussion of the necessity of giving up your seat on the subway for pregnant women, the elderly, the disabled, and WOMEN IN HIGH HEELS.  I sat straight up in bed (where I listen to most of my podcasts) and said, out loud, “You have got to be f*&#ing kidding me.”

Dear Woman in High Heels: from a woman who has spent her whole life in flats because she wants to be able to stand, walk and dance like a human being: you are not getting my seat just because you have made a deliberate decision to cripple yourself.  Did you know you would have to ride the subway?  Then why did you wear something that makes it difficult to ride the subway?

Let me get the sour grapes out of the way: it’s not that I never like the look of high heels.  (When I say “high,” I mean “anything other than completely, totally flat and even.”  Kitten heels, mid-heels, low pumps are all “high heels” to me.)  I acknowledge that a raised heel often flatters the female leg, and my legs could use some flattering.  I’m aware that many of my outfits would look more elegant if I made myself a bit taller.

In fact, occasionally, in a moment of total self-delusion, I buy a pair of heels.  A couple of years ago, I went shoe-shopping in slim burgundy jeans and a loose sheer magenta top, and came across an amazing pair of fuchsia stacked-heel pumps that made the whole ensemble look better than anything I’d worn in recent memory.  I walked around the store in the shoes for about twenty minutes and convinced myself that they were “surprisingly comfortable.”  I bought them – they weren’t expensive, but they were more than I could afford – and wore them out of the store.  By the time I got home, I had 1. twisted my ankle on a rut in the sidewalk, causing me to spill, skin my palms and draw pitying stares from passers-by, and 2. driven my kneecap into the edge of a bus seat so painfully that I couldn’t walk well for about six weeks.  I have worn those pumps exactly once since then – I carried them to school, wore them to class, and regretted it.

I have oddly shaped feet: they’re medium-sized, but the toes are square and wide, and the arches are high.  I also have a neuroma (pinched nerve) in the front of my left foot.  Any shoe that puts pressure on the sides or arch of my foot or throws my weight forward causes me problems.  So I’ve given up on high heels, and frankly, I rarely find them attractive, on me or anyone else.  I do like the look of a chunky boot with a bit of height to it, or a wedge heel on certain sandals, but pointy, precarious heels? Stilettos baffle me – those are shoes?  They look like a satirical art project to me.

I wore low heels to my high-school graduation, and took them off halfway through the night.  At that moment, I absolutely relinquished the idea that women have to wear heels for special occasions.  I wore gold ballerina flats (purchased, in fact, from Nine West) under my wedding dress.  If I ever receive an important award, I’ll have to find myself the perfect pair of flats and then choose a dress to match them, because there’s no way I’m walking up onto any stage, anywhere, in heels.

So no, Mr. Camuto, women do not “need” most of the shoes you describe.  If I were able to prance around with my heels three inches higher than my toes, I’d probably have more fun with shoes, and would spend more money in your stores.  Instead, I content myself with the impressive variety of flats you provide me with, including an orange patent-leather pair that I love but wear only occasionally because they gall my ankles a bit.  I have learned over the years that I accomplish less when my feet hurt, and as much as I would love to look sexier, it’s more important that I be useful.


What are your thoughts on shoes?  Are there fashions that you refuse to adopt?  Please leave your own answers in the comments, or link to a response on your own blog.



Hair (This Woman In Clothes)

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be responding to questions on the Women In Clothes survey.  For more on the book Women in Clothes, go here.  



hairMy hair is a problem.  It’s taken me almost 45 years to begin to figure out what to do with it, and I’m still not getting it right.

I have a lot of fine hair that’s curly in the front and wavy in the back.  It frizzes in humidity and falls limp and flat if I put just a smidge too much product in it.  If I don’t at least rinse and condition it in the morning, it’s usually a rat’s nest, but I’m also a lazy person who doesn’t necessarily want to shower before AND after Pilates class, so I often feel bad about myself as I stare at my frizz-headed reflection in the studio mirrors.

On a good day, my hair can be pretty – soft and ringletty – at least until I leave the house and encounter wind and/or precipitation, at which point, all bets are off.  On a bad day, it’s a fright.  I try to accept it for what it is, but that involves accepting that sometimes it just looks terrible.

When I was a child, my hair was long, and was usually in two braids or long ponytails.  I often shrieked while it was being brushed and braided, because it was knotty and difficult to smooth into bobbles. When I look at pictures now, I see that the braids/ponytails made my face, always a bit sad when at rest, look even droopier and sadder.  Nevertheless, I cried when my mother suggested, when I was eleven, that we bob my hair.  I eventually relented, and, although my new blunt cut didn’t look all that nice, my hair became a lot easier to manage for a while.

When I was fifteen, I cut my hair very short for the first time, and have done so periodically since.  When I’m slim and fit and my face is more heart-shaped than round, I think a pixie cut suits me, but when I put weight on, I like to have a bit more hair to balance me out.

I didn’t learn until well into adulthood that I shouldn’t be brushing my hair.  A hairdresser finally told me (why was she the first?) that I should comb it while it’s wet and then not break up the curls by fussing with them.  This has helped immeasurably, and I don’t even own a hairbrush any more.  I recently read, though, that I should still brush it at night before bed to stimulate the scalp and distribute the oils.  I might start doing this just to amuse my husband with the results.

I think my hair flatters me most when it’s long but pulled back, either in a knot at the nape of my neck or twisted and pinned just above it. However, this is easier to achieve some days than others; I’ve never mastered the balance of damp/dry, pins/freedom, product/natural that will make this work reliably and not result in a dandelion poof at the front or a weird cowlick on one side of the crown.  I am absolutely unwilling to screw around with straightening irons or other implements, so I keep fiddling with different combinations of product, accessories and, at the limit, blow-drying, in hopes of finding an idiot-proof style that takes no more than ten minutes.  I haven’t found it yet.

I didn’t start to go noticeably grey until I was around forty.  I was impatient for it, because my mother has really beautiful silver hair.  It came in in gorgeous streaks that looked like she’d had them done in a salon.  My grey hair is not having the same effect.  First off, my mother had dark hair.  Mine is a sparrowy light brown, so the grey just looks mousy, although I’m starting to notice it glimmering a bit now that there’s more.  I’m also getting allover grey hairs with no discernible pattern, which doesn’t do me any favours.  However, I’ve stubbornly stopped dyeing since the grey started arriving in earnest, and I’m enjoying the slight change in texture that I’m noticing.  I’m hopeful that, once I’m mostly grey, my hair will form cooperative ringlets or settle into nice waves.  One can always dream.


How do you feel about your hair? Please leave your own answers in the comments, or link to a response on your own blog.



Pullovers (This Woman In Clothes)

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be responding to questions on the Women In Clothes survey.  For more on the book Women in Clothes, go here.  



sweaterI own about fifteen cowlneck pullovers, most of them big, wooly and cozy.  The majority are grey, but I have a red-orange one and a sky-blue one that I love.  Some are fifteen years old or more; the sky-blue one has moth holes in it, and another, a navy cable knit, is coming apart at the shoulder.  My favourite, a charcoal in a variety of textures, has accidentally gone through the dryer twice; it’s shrunk and has gotten very pilly.  I’m too lazy to shave it, but I’m also too attached to get rid of it.

I buy pullovers because they make me feel both covered and flattered.  I’m busty, and so all my favourite shirts are knits; buttons tend to pull and gape on me, so a sweater is nice and accommodating.  Big pullovers are forgiving if you gain or lose weight; when I lost 40 pounds a few years ago, there was no need to get rid of any of my sweaters, and now that some of those pounds are coming back on, the sweaters don’t mind.

When I was a child, I was frightened of putting on turtlenecks, and screamed at my mother to hold the neck open as she pulled it over my face, convinced that I’d get trapped in the fabric and suffocate.  Most of my sweaters have high, face-framing but flexible cowls that don’t feel constricting but cover me fully.  The cowls are a bit inconvenient in the depths of winter, when they’re bulky enough to interfere with a scarf but not fitted enough to replace one.  Until then, though, they fold nicely over any jacket collar, and provide a good place to bury my face in moments of discomfort.

I love this time of year, because all summer, my pullovers have been languishing in my closet.  Last week, it was sticky sundress weather, but this week is cold enough for gloves, and I’ve been delighted to get out the pullovers and even layer them under jackets and thermal vests.  The pullovers are long enough to obscure the fact that my pants are too tight on me, and roomy enough that I can put a t-shirt under them in case I arrive somewhere warm.  I work in an old building where the indoor climate is unpredictable, so once the cold weather arrives, layering is one of my most important sartorial challenges.

The one issue with my pullovers is that my husband is allergic to wool.  Shortly after we first started dating, I found myself in need of sweaters, and combed the city looking for good, attractive, cozy acrylic knits.  I came up mostly empty-handed, and decided that romance and merino would have to come to some sort of understanding, because my wool pullovers would brook no substitute.  This may be the reason we don’t cuddle more when the weather really calls for it.

Every winter, I try to convince myself that I have enough wool pullovers, dammit, and I do dabble in cardigans and, to a lesser extent, blazers, hoping they will help me feel more professional and chic.  Nevertheless, if I’m cold or sad or tired (and most mornings, from now until April, I’ll be at least one of those things), a big snuggly pullover is what I want.


Is there one clothing item that you keep buying over and over?  Why do you think this is?  Please leave your own answers in the comments, or link to a response on your own blog.



This Woman In Clothes

women-in-clothes-cover-usI’m reading the mesmerizing book Women in Clothes, and it’s making my brain dance.

The book is based on this survey about women’s thoughts on clothing, fashion, style and beauty.  The survey includes such questions as “DO YOU NOTICE WOMEN ON THE STREET? IF SO, WHAT SORT OF WOMEN DO YOU TEND TO NOTICE OR ADMIRE?” and “IS THERE ANYTHING POLITICAL ABOUT THE WAY YOU DRESS?”  The survey was sent to many women, both famous (Lena Dunham, Miranda July, Tavi Gevinson, Molly Ringwald…) and non-famous.  The editors then compiled the surveyees’ responses and interspersed them with photos of “collections” (one woman’s clogs; one woman’s white pants; one woman’s week’s worth of false eyelashes); with poems; and with “compliments,” mini-plays in which a woman tells a stranger that she likes something she’s wearing.

I can’t stop reading it.  Every page makes me think about some aspect of my “style” (or lack thereof), my history with clothes, my relationship to “fashion,” in a completely new way, a way that I want to write about.  And so I thought maybe I would.

Over the next while, I’m going to publish a series of posts responding to some of the questions on the “Women in Clothes” survey, and I would love it if you would respond with comments or even posts of your own.  In fact, given that this book is a pretty big deal, some of you may already be doing this on your own blogs, so I hope you’ll point me there!

And if you haven’t yet picked up Women in Clothes, please do.  You may think you don’t care about fashion, but this book will probably convince you otherwise.


Montreal Melon

This week’s most exciting garden development: the melon is making melons.


A friend gave me some seeds for Montreal Melon last year; it was too late to start them, so I designated them this year’s project.  I had never considered growing melons.  I grow all my veg in containers, and pack the containers fairly close together to maximize my tiny yard space; I wasn’t sure a melon plant would be happy under such conditions, as they require a lot of room.  I decided to partly address the problem by growing my melon on a tomato cage, so it could grow up instead of out.

melon cage

The plan is to create little hammocks, out of old tights, for the fruit as they get heavier.  Not sure what I’ll do about the raccoons, but so far they haven’t been a major nuisance this year; I will consider constructing a cage as the melons mature, but I might just take my chances.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the Montreal Melon was a hugely popular garden fruit and considered an exquisite delicacy.  However, it was labourious to grow and did not ship well, and so all but disappeared until recently, when, starting with a few forgotten seeds in an American seed bank, one intrepid gardener managed to grow a plant and harvest the seeds.  Since then, local supporters of the melon have made a project of bringing it back.  You can read a detailed history of the Montreal Melon here.