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Winter is coming. Seems obvious and though I’m having a hard time truly accepting this fact, I came face-to-face with the inevitable. It snowed on Halloween. Oh joy. It was a light dusting in the morning followed by that particularly awful mix of cold slightly frozen rain, huge traffic delays and everyone generally acting like an idiot. At the end of my two hour commute home I saw a few determined trick-or-treaters on the streets. Good for you kids, good for you. I hope you took home loads of treats for simply braving that mess.

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Oh salads. You and I have a lukewarm relationship at best. Sure, back in the day at the Sizzler salad bar, you were my favorite. A giant chilled plate with a side of Texas Toast was all I – and most people I suspect – needed. A pile of crispy, cold iceberg drenched in blue cheese dressing, croutons and a few standard fixing’s really hit the spot with that bottomless barrel of iced tea. But I’ve grown up. I’ve moved on and I’ve become increasingly tired of uninspired and insipid salads with limp greens, boring toppings and heavy, flavorless dressings. So few salads are done well these days. Why is that? Does no one care anymore?

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With this Unprocessed October Challenge, I’ve been reading a lot of labels. I forget how much crap is in things. I don’t buy much processed food, or thought I didn’t, but I tend to forget about everyday purchases like tortillas or crackers. Just the other day I threw a pack each of corn and flour tortillas into my cart without much thought. They’re tortillas from a local company, not chicken nuggets so they’re fine, right? Maybe, maybe not.

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1hero.lrg.IMG_3863 The annual Unprocessed October challenge is two weeks in and I’m doing OK. How about you? I’ve slipped up a few times, usually not realizing it until I’m halfway through eating or drinking something but overall this one is certainly do-able. The Vegan-Before-6 challenge I decided to tack on isn’t going nearly as well. Processed foods are easier to avoid, for me at least, but this vegan challenge takes some planning and thought. Neither of which are a particularly strong character trait of mine early in the morning. The very first day, October 1, I ate a mini Snickers bar at work, which technically voided both challenges. Great. Day 2 I purposely drove out of my way to a particular café for lunch where I thought I’d find a vegan friendly option. Not so much so I decided on the fly that simply vegetarian was an ok substitute and had gouda on my rather plain, disappointing sandwich. Day 3 I absentmindedly buttered my morning toast, out of habit. Day 4 I did it again. Day 5 I made a beautiful stir fry packed with vegetables and tofu, then tossed in a healthy shot of fish sauce before I realized what I was doing.  Day 6 I threw all rules to the wind and thoroughly enjoyed 3 fat spoonfuls of pastry cream I’d made for a Boston Cream Pie. It was delicious. And that’s when I decided I would have to amend my challenge. I really have no problem avoiding meat but dairy is my downfall, and I accept that. To do this right, I need to concentrate and now is not time so I’m going to continue with Unprocessed October and make conscious choices in other matters, vegan-ish if I can swing it. No need to beat myself up about this.

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The backlash against pumpkin spice has been particularly fierce this season. Granted, everything seems to be pumpkin spiced in some way and it’s become quite obnoxious. I blame Starbuck’s. Their latte success has convinced every food manufacturer that they too can capitalize off this seasonal flavor regardless of it makes any sense. The list of absurd products is endless– Pumpkin Spice Doritos? Really? With minimal effort you can find pumpkin spiced margarine, M&M’s, sugar free gum, Pringles, frozen waffles, non-dairy creamer, cookies, pudding and even special Four Loko, that jacked up energy drink that makes people crazy. Take a trip to Trader Joe’s and there’s an entire pumpkin spice section (see!). It’s all a bit much.

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Hey, guess what?  Today kicks off the annual “Unprocessed October” challenge, where we try to eschew all processed foods and unpronounceable ingredients for a month. Doesn’t sound that hard, does it? Try it. Admittedly my first thought was “How the hell is it October? Where’d September go?” Sure, summer zoomed by, but I expect that. Summer is always too short. But September? When did that happen? I look out my window at the quickly advancing yellow and orange leaves and am a little baffled by it all. I guess it all comes down to mental preparation. Last winter was so horrendous I’m not sure I’m properly prepared for a reappearance. Is anyone? Continue Reading »

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I was talking to my cousin last week and among many things we discussed – work, politics, holidays, travel, hipsters, Reuben sandwiches – was her recently departed mother. My Aunt Patti was a real character, a remarkable woman with strong social and political opinions backed with just as strong action. That woman did things, made things happen, made a difference. She was really funny, had boundless energy and laughed easily. She and my uncle had a bit of hippie in them, lived in a solar house they built themselves, raised and butchered their own animals for a time and had an enormous garden. She approached this newfound hipster fascination with butchery and canning with a bemused grin given that she’d been doing in for years. When I excitedly told her how I was spending time with butchers, learning how to break down a pig, blathering on about heritage hogs and whatnot, she howled with laughter and reminded me that back in the day, Thanksgiving at their house also meant it was time to butcher the pigs they raised. Much to my city girl chagrin I realized I should have paid more attention back then. Patti was also a helluva cook, coming from a long line of great cooks. She was the caretaker of our family recipes, taking the time to learn from her mother and grandmother many of our sentimental favorites.

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