Simple, Spiritual, Outdated Living in a Vintage New England Home on the Southern Coast of Maine

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Downsized to 7 Feet, 121 Branches, 150+ Ornaments

There was a time when my Christmas tree was a small, plastic model I purchased at Woolworth's in the 1970s. Money was tight so it was the best I could do. I adorned it with red Satin balls and listened to Christmas music on my clock radio. It's what's behind my passion for collecting and maybe a little over the top decorating.

Over the past fifteen years of picking I've devoted a lot of time to scavenging for Christmas decorations. Sometimes I was lucky and scored a bunch of packed boxes from an attic; other times it was a lone ornament, but bought it anyway and kept adding to my collection (I have a basement for storage, thankfully). That all led to putting up two vintage aluminum trees, filling my home with vintage holiday decor on every shelf, making my sunroom a Christmas winter wonderland and hosting holiday parties. 

It was all too much! The season was a whir of activity but I never got to really appreciate it or the decorations I prized. Then it was time to pack them up and put them all away in the lonely cold month of January.

Forget decking the halls. The only thing I wanted to deck was myself.

I ironically longed for the simplicity of and spirit behind my faux Charlie Brown-esque tree from my childhood. 

I've since resolved to scale things back. This year I've assembled and decorated one tree, which is a seven foot Evergleam Pom Pom that comes in a box with 121 sleeved branches that I bought at an estate sale for $3 some years ago. (That was a really cool sale. The basement, trashed but the cowboy and girl silhouettes on the walls and window treatments still intact, had been transformed to a square dance hall in the 1950s and 60s. I thought that must have been a great way to exercise indoors during the long Maine winters.)

I placed a handful of decorations on my mantle. And that's it. I didn't knock myself out to get it all done immediately, relaxed while I assembled it, and felt very grateful for all that I have. I enjoyed a sparkling water in my favorite etched glass.

Ta da! 

My guinea pig, Tiny Tim aka Timmy, who I fostered and adopted two years ago, knows what Christmas is really all about!

I've been going to Church and plan to continue through the holidays. I'll be focusing on the friends and family who matter to me. Something I won't be cutting back on? 

Cooking and BAKING.

Holiday recipes are coming!

Monday, November 23, 2015

How to Stuff a Turkey + Vintage Recipes: Basic Stuffing, Salt Pork Stuffing, Oyster Stuffing

I was looking through my collection of cook booklets (I have so many I've bought at estate sales over the years that I'm not sure of what's in my library) I came across one completely dedicated to stuffing! "Stuffing Sampler" was published in 1958 by the American Institute of Baking and contains a handy how-to:

For the Birds: This is How to Stuff and Truss Them:

There's a Basic Stuffing and Roasting Guide for different sized birds:

If you're looking for something different this year, here's a recipe for seafood lovers: OYSTER Stuffing!

Now let's back up a second! Do you see that? A 5-7 pound turkey?? I've never been able to get anything smaller than 12 pounds, even when selecting from "organic" birds! This reminds of my "Skinny Chicks" post where I compared a 1950s chicken:

To THIS:  

It really illustrates the differences in how our food is treated and raised! Not exactly appetizing! Sorry. Ok, on to the next recipe, this one for Salt Pork Stuffing:

I think I love stuffing more than I love dessert. I'll have to get back to you on that after this year's meal, though, since I'm making this new-to-me vintage Pumpkin Chiffon pie recipe.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Bittersweet Holiday Blues

Vintage circa 1950s oil on canvas painting from a yard sale
This is not an easy time of year for many people, and it will be a bittersweet time for me.  It will be my first holiday divorced. It was finalized this summer after sixteen years of marriage. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

New "Page" Added: Can You Be Gluten-Free and Eat Retro?

I have added a static page addressing the issue of being gluten-free while eating retro. It's something that has come up before so I think it deserves a permanent place on my blog. Please check it out!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Do mirrors lie? This one does! And it may be coming to a retail store near YOU!

I attended a wedding over the weekend. I chatted with a lovely young couple during the reception who expressed an interest in my first and next book. They said they couldn't find a regular room in the hotel where they were staying so they ended up booking a bridal suite for the night. The next detail they shared after hearing about vanity sizing took me by surprise: Their suite has a slimming mirror! 

When I got home later I had to look that up. Maybe the mirror was simply warped? 


There is, in fact, a new mirror called "The Skinny Mirror," and the manufacturer purports to be selling "The Truth" to women because, they reveal, a woman's view of herself is skewed by the media and well, an honest mirror. "I'm not skinny enough" is one of the lies a woman believes, they claim. 

The same company sponsored a "double blind" study and put one of their mirrors in a "popular underwear retailer." They report that women were "more comfortable" and had a "more positive attitude toward their bodies." 

What were the results for the underwear retailer? Sales rose by 18.2%. We can only assume that would translate to more sales of "Skinny Mirrors."

If you think this is a dirty trick, the manufacturer promises that the mirror is a "truer reflection" of what you really look like:
Women who had been exposed to The Skinny Mirror did not believe that they were more “skinny” than they really were. The Skinny Mirror© did not lead to body size distortion because most women believe they are 2-3 sizes larger than they are.
Yet, in their press release they state:
The Skinny Mirror offers a subtle slimming reflection (5-10 lbs) that works on the psyche over time. It gives the users the instant visual gratification of a “slimmer you” while educating that how you choose to feel about your body has nothing to do with your actual shape, size or weight.
So, if I have this right, I'll sum this marketing philosophy in my own words:

When a woman looks in a non-distorting mirror and sees an accurate reflection of how she really looks standing in front of it, she can't trust her own perceptions because she will see a distorted image.

Placing a Skinny Mirror in a retail store helps women because it distorts women's distortions in such a way that women can finally get the skinny on the truth about how they look.

When women look in a distorted mirror and see the truth they are more likely to spend real money.

By spending more money, they fatten the wallets of both retailers and manufacturers while feeling great!


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Is Counting Calories An Eating Disorder? What About Intuitive Eating?*

The general consensus about counting calories overwhelmingly seems to be that it's a pathology, anti-feminist, self-hating, a monumental task, deterrent to happy living, a form of self-abuse, inhumane, impossible and even shameful.

But let's start with a topic not as charged but equally taxing: money. It's no secret that Americans, overall, are Money Disordered. In the 1950s kids learned about managing a budget in home economics, people didn't have credit cards (only 20,000 Americans owned a "Diners Card" in 1950 and the balance had to be paid in full each month) or access to easy credit, so budgeting was very important. The health of the household depended upon it. Despite the  post-war boom, thrift and budget weren't bad words.

Suppose I propose that Americans need to learn how to manage a household budget. To do so they need to start accounting for where their money is being spent and cut back on unnecessary expenditures. The only way to do that is to make a daily tally of how much money is coming in, how much is being spent and in which categories (food, mortgage, dining out, fluff, so-called "diet foods," etc.) There are plenty of software options available that analyze the data enabling people to make informed choices about future spending. It's a snap, really. Otherwise it's a guessing game and decisions are emotionally based. 

Would you think I was promoting a form of "disordered" thinking about money? I would hope not. The basics of math don't change because you find it to be cumbersome or the results unfair. If you spend more than your income you will be in debt. If you spend less than your income you will have a surplus. Your bloated debt can be turned into a healthy savings for special occasions and peace of mind should you have unforeseen expenses. On your body, a bloated surplus is not a healthy state of being. Yet both situations can be rectified by being accountable to yourself.

So why does our thinking change when it comes to the sake of our health? Some Internet shrinks whose "education" comes from memes and collective consensus deem that counting calories is either a gateway to or in itself an eating disorder. Besides demonstrating a dangerous misunderstanding of what constitutes a disorder as defined by trained, qualified professionals they are oblivious to something very important called the Global Assessment of Functioning Scale. The entire person, their relationships to others and life needs to be assessed. In layman's terms that's: "How's that working for ya?"

There are millions of healthy, highly functioning people who keep track of their finances and/or calories and it's because of that data gathering that they are able to excel. I am not going to turn this into a psych class nor could I, but what I want to point out is that typing numbers into a spreadsheet or software program as a form of budget management, whether the numbers represent calories or dollars, is not a disorder when the end result is an improvement to your well-being. 

It's true that there are people who don't count calories and maintain a steady weight, or don't keep track of what they spend but always have enough. It's also a fact that they don't represent the majority of Americans. What matters to you personally is if your own budget and body is in order. I wasn't able to manage my food choices based upon any form of "intuitive eating." The same with a budget; I can't intuitively or emotionally spend. (For example: "I've been through a lot lately. I deserve to treat myself to that Tiffany bangle.")

If you burn more money than you bring in, you will go into debt.
If you save more money than you spend, you can bank it.
If you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight.
If you save more calories than you burn, you can bank on gaining.

Of course there are people who find themselves in dire financial situations due to no fault of their own, whether it be due to a layoff, circumstances beyond their control, mental illness or medical condition. And there are people who may suffer from a glandular disorder, side effects of medication and numerous other possibilities (but again, the 1950s consensus was that that comprised a small percentage of the population).

In both scenarios, wouldn't it make even more sense to keep track of eating and spending so that you could make wise choices about what's in your best interest? The 1950s way would be an emphatic YES. To not do so could lead to the house going bankrupt including the house you live in-- your body! That would certainly be disorderly living.

Disclaimer: If you think your value as a person depends upon the final tally based upon how much you eat, weigh, or how much money you make, or you are underweight thinking you need to limit calories or have the means but don't spend enough on what you need, those are separate issues and I encourage you to explore them with a qualified mental health professional.

 *A modified version of this post originally appeared in my old blog American Women Didn't Get Fat in the 1950s but got lost in the shuffle when I merged it with this one.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What "Clean Eating" Means to Me. (It's Not What You Think)

The term "clean eating" didn't exist when I first started conceptualizing my book. When it became a new food fashion I thought it was a good start, but the idea that you could lose weight simply by eating minimally processed food and "portion control" without knowing the calories contained within it is, by vintage diet accounts, suspect. For example, a few handfuls of cashews, a calorie dense food, isn't dainty eating when compared to a healthy-sized bowl of oatmeal and raisins. Both are "clean" but calories have a way of going incognito. 

However, there's something more pressing for me: good housekeeping. I need my kitchen to sparkle (can I get the five second rule up to ten?) and food to be safely handled, and that means I like things to be literally clean. Yes, I do have a bit of a cootie phobia. So when I do go out to eat, I know that my standards of cleanliness need to relax somewhat. (During my college days I worked in food service so I've seen THINGS.) Well, today something really gross happened!

I was running some errands at the mall and decided to have Japanese food court fare for lunch. It was still early so there weren't many people around. A shaggy looking man walked from the men's bathroom and got in line in front of me. At the same time others started lining up behind me.

The lady at the register behind the counter began to fill the clamshell  containers with rice and line the orders up on the counter top. Shaggy and the two people behind me ordered the same thing. Normal protocol is that the chef behind the counter moves the containers down the line where he places the food in with the rice, and then closes the tops. This is an important detail: the tops always come in contact with the food; in fact it helps smoosh it all down.

Shaggy, who was rather boisterous, decided to be "helpful," and with his palm facing down, placed his (fresh from the bathroom) hand flat on the inside of each and every container and in that position pushed them further down the counter.

Wut. Seriously? Yes.

Immediately I tried to do a quiet statistical analysis of the percentage of EWWW on his hands that would come in contact with my food. The verdict? Nope. Not eating that.

I wanted to be discreet and not make a scene, so I waited until he took his and left. I quietly explained that I preferred to have a new order and why. It was clear then that neither of them understood English. Oh what the heck, I thought, and I began to pantomime what just happened, thinking they would get it. Nope. After a few awkward performances they did get that I would go away if they gave me a new everything. Phew!

This eating clean business isn't always easy!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

My Guinea Pig Tiny Tim Loves His New Bed

This is Tiny Tim aka Timmy, the "failed foster" of mine (as in I agreed to foster him but then made him mine a few days later) that I adopted from the shelter almost two years ago. He was abused as a baby and suffered from severe head trauma which led to a skull fracture and being blinded in one eye. When I brought him home he was unable to walk without falling over due to vertigo. After a lot of love and rehab he is a happy, well adjusted boy despite some ongoing issues from his trauma.

I just bought him this new bed. Originally I was going to wait for Christmas but he deserves to be spoiled year-round. You can watch him and my other pigs (RIP Casper) in this little video of their holiday bash last year:

Unrelated, while going through some files I found a slip of paper with my old circa 1990s AOL email address and password. It still works. Kooky.

Friday, November 6, 2015

What does a typical day of my eating look like?

Scan from a vintage dish towel that's fitting since I had eggs and chicken yesterday.
Blog reader Donna asked:

Could you share what could be a "typical" day of eating for you looks like? I know this question is really too broad since days can be so different and places you are at on any given day, can drastically change things up. Just wanting a glimpse of someone's routine - who achieved a wonderful goal. 

Thank you, Donna. You are correct in that every day will be different, but there are some general consistences with my "typical" weekday menus which I'll point out after I show you yesterday's fare.

What I ate yesterday

Hot Breakfast 

Bowl of hot "old fashioned" oatmeal made with 1/2 cup oats (160 calories) with  a small half ounce box of raisins (50 calories)

Two whole large eggs (140 calories) with a tablespoon of heavy cream (50 calories) scrambled in a well-seasoned vintage cast iron pan with a half tablespoon of butter (50 calories).

450 calories

Mid-Morning Snack

Medium sized locally picked ppple

70 calories

Cold Lunch Plate

Two ounces of hard cheddar cheese (220 calories)
1/2 cup grape tomatoes (25 calories)
1/2 cup grapes (30 calories)
One cup sliced rainbow carrots (45 calories)
One clementine (35 calories)

Afterward I ate 1 1/2 ounces of pitted, unsweetened dates (120 calories)

475 calories

Hot Dinner 
Chicken Spinach & Potato Pie was a creation of six ounces of leftover roasted chicken breast (300 calories) mixed with three cups of mashed boiled potatoes (540 calories), 1 1/2 cups of chopped frozen chopped spinach (70 calories), two tablespoons of olive oil (240 calories) with salt and pepper baked in a 350 degree oven for one hour until golden around the edges. I ate two of four slices.

575 calories

Day's Total: 1,570 calories

Here are some things that are typical for my weekday menus:
  • I have a hot breakfast that includes oatmeal almost every morning. It's quick, healthy, thrifty and very satisfying. 
  • Cold lunches work for me because I'm busiest during the day. I like to keep lunch simple and satisfying but not quick; by that I mean it's not gone in a few bites. 
  • Dinner is hot and frequently includes either meat or poultry, carbs, fat and veggies. 
  • Although I didn't have any yesterday, I often eat a serving of home baked sweets as a dessert or as a part of my breakfast.
What's not a daily consistency is my calorie count. Some days I'm on the lower end, but never below 1,500. I don't enjoy feeling hungry! Other days I may have over 2,500 calories. What counts is that I know and maintain my daily average each week to stay at my current weight. If the scale shows I've put on a couple of pounds I immediately cut back.

That's the beauty of counting calories:You know where you stand when you step on the scale!

Did you find this post helpful? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Vintage 1950s Diet Advice: An All-You-Can-Eat Diet Food List!

Inside one of my vintage diet booklets from the 1950s is the "Choice-Of-Foods" diet from Knox Gelatine. As to be expected, aspics, food molds and other forms of "gel cookery" are an integral part of the diet and recipes are provided. In addition to the meals, gelatin drinks are touted as between meal snacks, such as a cold glass of gelatin with 3/4 cup fruit juice or, served hot when mixed with broth. The Knox "Booster" drink contains 3-6 tablespoons of dry milk.
The Choice-Of-Foods diet, based on meal planning data from the American Diabetes Association and the American Dietetic Association, is promoted as time-saving because you don't have to count calories.

Three different diets are offered: total values of 1,200, 1,600 or 1,800 calories. Foods are grouped into seven different category lists: vegetables, breads, milk, fats, fruits, meats and snacks. Listings within each category are broken down into serving sizes that appear to have equal calorie values. Depending on which of the three daily calorie totals you're following, you're permitted to have a certain number of servings of each.
Many 1950s ladies' magazines offered suggested menus for diets of differing caloric amounts so the concept wasn't terribly revolutionary. What is unexpected and ahead of its time (I don't mean in a favorable way) appears on the vegetable list.

According to the list, you can have unlimited amounts of those particular foods in raw form. 

I immediately thought of two things, the first of which is Weight Watchers' long list of foods that won't "cost you" any of their "Points." Essentially, they don't count in their PointsPlus® universe. The second thing that came to mind was the "negative calorie food" folklore popular in the 1980s. The belief was that certain foods burned more energy than used to consume them.

This line of thinking about weight loss is not aligned with the typical 1950s diet advice with good reason. Promoting any kind of food free-for-all for those of us who are reducing or want to stay reduced doesn't add up. (In 2005 the American Dietetic Association stated: "Consumers should not be led to believe that fat- and calorie-reduced products can be consumed in unlimited amounts.") 

Having said that, the unlimited foods in the Knox list are low in sugar, low in calories and high in fiber. I like that they separated out the higher value choices in the "vegetable" category as being limited. Many of the foods included in the current Weight Watchers list of free foods, especially the fruits, are limited in the 1950s Knox diet.

My advice is to eat lots of those nutritious foods from the Knox list of unlimited foods with a few grains of salt and maybe even a pat of butter, but just be sure to count it all in your calorie totals! It's not impossible to do.