Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Too close for comfort--the swine flu near you?

I hate how the media is spinning the swine flu situation--it seems the first thing out of commentators' mouths is the antisocial advice to avoid public places, accompanied by frightening video of people in Mexico wearing face masks. Ugh.

However, now that the flu--and fear of flu--is spreading quickly, it's best to remember that basic measures are the best prevention. What are some of these simple things?

Hibernation. Get your eight hours every night as often as possible--your life may depend on it. As researcher Stanley Coren notes in the "Sleep and Health" chapter of his book Sleep Thieves, "Researchers are now gathering a lot of evidence that confirms the idea that sleep is a vital factor in staving off disease and fighting disease organisms that have already started their attack."

Hydration. Drink mostly water, sipped often throughout the day. Occasionally drink 100% Concord grape or cranberry juice, hot (but not boiling hot) tea, or a tisane (lemon balm, honeysuckle petals, ginger, all of which have antiviral properties, mentions James Duke in The Green Pharmacy).

Sanitation. Wash your hands! Take a good twenty seconds under warm running water to lather, rinse, and repeat. (Use regular soap, not that antibacterial stuff which has antibiotics such as triclosan added.)

Nutrition. You know the drill--aim for five fruits and veggies daily, at a minimum. For extra protection, take vitamin D. Foods to consider eating regularly to prevent upper respiratory illnesses like the flu include apples and yogurt, according to Jean Carper (The Food Pharmacy). In Food--Your Miracle Medicine, Carper notes that food with antiviral activity include: barley, black currants, blueberries, chives, coffee, collards, cranberries, ginger, garlic, gooseberries, grapes, grapefruit juice, lemon juice, mushroom (notably shiitake), orange juice, peaches, pineapple juice, plums, plum juice, raspberries, sage, seaweed, spearmint, strawberries, tea, wine (red).

All of the abovementioned actions consist of taking care of ourselves as individuals. However, there is not-so-idle speculation that this flu virus came via a town which has a factory pig farm. Such industrial farm operations implicate us as a society, for our lust for meat at the lowest cost is causing pigs to be raised in sickening conditions which are a breeding ground for pathogens like swine flu. The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production report, "PCIFAP Staff Summary of Occupational and Community Public Health Imports," which focuses on public health consequences of factory farming, makes for frankly frightening reading, particularly pages 13 and 14.

As Republican speechwriter Matthew Scully stated in Dominion, "And no one who has seen how they are treated will ever again dare to use "pig" as a synonym for filth and greed and ugliness."

* * *

In times like this, it's good at times to savor the simple things, such as this song of the same name from the late, great Minnie Riperton.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sunday in the park with George...

Bowie State University signAuthor and networking guru George C. Fraser was scheduled to speak Sunday afternoon. However, his talk began late at Bowie State, although Fraser values punctuality. He was there in time to begin as scheduled, but the setup took longer than expected. A good mix of people arrived, and the small auditorium was almost full. Fraser is a funny, engaging speaker, alluding to his most recent book, Click, as well as his earlier book, Success Runs in Our Race, lightly touching on a few themes from both. The gist of his remarks was that we have all we need to become economically empowered--education, capital, entrepeneurial attitude--we just need to genuinely connect with each other to make it happen. Fraser admitted that he wasn't saying anything original, only giving his message in a highly memorable manner. Among other anecdotes, he related a saying from his father, "The words you speak today are waiting for you tomorrow."

Interesting that at the book signing later, he point-blank asked for the business card of each person in line, but managed to do so without seeming unpleasant. In fact, a number of times before and after his remarks, he managed to be economical and efficient with his words without seeming curt or brusque.

It was a hot, sunny afternoon at the campus, whose foyer at the Center for Learning and Technology looked out onto a pleasant, grassy promenade, a pleasing venue for the event, coordinated by the Sisters 4 Sisters Network. Refreshments were served, featuring food from local caterers, such as the healthy walnut brownies from The Land of Kush. I was dismayed, however, but not surprised, after the remarks, to see more people in the refreshments line than the book signing one, a state of affairs which persisted for a while. Also met some affable, hardworking people there, many with side hustles--how could it be any other way in this economy?

* * *
I read Fraser's earlier, more comprehensive book, Success Runs in Our Race, that week. Not only does it have guidelines to the whys of networking, but Fraser provides practical tips as to the hows of the process, and suggests reasons that black people have been reluctant to network (as opposed to merely coming together). It should be read before his other books, and before hearing him speak if possible, as it makes his remarks that much more powerful and useful.

Click focuses on the underlying principles that make good networking successful. It's a nice complement to Success Runs in Our Race. (However, if forced to choose one, I'd choose
Success Runs in Our Race.)

All in all, a productive, yet relaxed, Sunday afternoon. How often does that happen?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Arbor Day...the forgotten day?

neighborhood cherry blossoms Almost didn't realize that today is Arbor Day, the last Friday in April, for all the attention that its most recent relation, Earth Day, receives. (Had I not caught a glimpse of Martha today, it would have completely slipped my mind.) That's a shame, because much environmental destruction is related to our lack of appreciation of trees, and how they benefit us.

Actually, the neglect of Arbor Day is a double shame, because too many people have attempted to assuage their guilt over human environmental assaults by engaging in the bankrupt practice of purchasing carbon "offsets," one of the most popular types being to have trees planted, somewhere, by someone. Of course, there are the nagging questions of how much good that could possibly do, if in fact such actions are taking place (and how can you even verify that), for basic questions, as where should such trees be planted--in your local area, over part of the area you fly over, in a deforested nation overseas--are just the beginning of the carbon offset tree planting dilemmas.

Great ways to celebrate Arbor Day, seems to me, include either planting tree(s), or, at the least, appreciating the ones already planted in your area. Today's sunny weather was perfect for Arbor day, as the Washington area is thick with fluffy blooms from the next tier of cherry, and other, trees.

* * *

Less direct, but no less important, ways of celebrating Arbor Day include using resources that don't require more trees be cut to provide products. If your community is considering converting residential recycling to a single stream recycling system, more power to you! Single stream recycling is an easy way to get more participation in a recycling program, as the only separation is of garbage (wet or greasy stuff, which is to be composted) from trash.

Of course, if you recycle, it's best to complete the process by purchasing recycled products or tree-free paper products, whenever possible. Their prices have come down, and the quality has gone up, a win-win situation. My favorite 100% recycled writing pad is the Riverside Paper Ecology Premium legal pad, as its paper is high quality; it's much better than other recycled writing pads, but I haven't seen it in brick-and-mortar stores in a while. The easiest to find almost-tree-free paper is the Staples eco-friendly writing pad, which is 80 percent sugarcane content, which is also high quality at reasonable cost (and is also available at Giant Food, oddly enough).

I like to think of Arbor Day as a day to kick back, to walk around, and in all other ways, simply appreciate the beauty remaining in the world.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My Own Private Earth Day...

blue skies over southern Maryland The other day, when the weather was cooperative (hours before drenching rain fell), I performed one of the rites of spring, cutting the first grass of the season. What makes this ritual green? Well, when you cut grass with a manual lawn mower and leave the clippings behind, you have grass cycled. Grass cycling occurs when you leave the clippings behind on the lawn; when done frequently enough, the clippings decompose into the soil, nourishing it.

Not only did this make the lawn look better, but because there's a small hill, the task also helped tone my glutes, making it unnecessary to go to the gym early in the week. (A small blessing, for it took long enough to recover from my recent gym visit, the first in years!) Knocking out two tasks at once--that's the easy earth friendly way to do things!

* * *

Pamper yourself for Earth Day, part II

To replenish some items running perilously low, I made one of my occasional trips to Whole Foods (occasional because there's not one close to me); I was disciplined enough to buy everything on my list, but not disciplined enough to limit my purchases to things on the list! This is a perennial temptation with that store, because it has vegetarian items at the lowest prices around, sucking you into its vortex of buying more, more, more! Even worse (or better, depending on your view), there are gobs of appealing petroleum-free products (if not their packaging) that look and smell good which I feel I must purchase while there. Prime suspects include the wonderful Badger line of lip balms, particularly the lemon-ginger flavor, which keeps lips wonderfully moist, and even gives a nice hint of flavor, in contrast to the common petro-balms.

Now, I couldn't stop there with the eco-pampering; I just had to buy the Burt's Bees grapefruit and sugar beet shampoo, after swooning over the refreshing fragrance. I don't feel guilty with these "splurges," because frankly the cost of many of these products is comparable to their drugstore and grocery counterparts.

Oh, food. Bought that too, along with supplements. The store brand has the cheapest price on grapeseed extract (100 mg. veggie capsules), so I scooped that up. Also had good prices on organic citrus, bags of lemon and lime in particular, so into the cart they went.

sign for organic lemons at Whole FoodsWhen you can find organic citrus at a good price ($3.99 for a bag of lemons), go for it, because most pesticide ends up on fruit skin. The skin of fruit like lemons (aka zest) is used extensively to add flavor, so the organic version is a good thing. (This is for pampering of the taste buds.)

Another enjoyable eco-splurge (well, not so much of a splurge, because it's only $8.95), is the solid perfume from Pacifica--yes, the candle people. The gardenia scent smells just like the candle, so you can imagine how good it smells! Best of all, it comes in a small, portable container and lasts a long time, months in fact, even when used every day. Bought it from an unusual source, though, Borders Books. (Then again, I've also bought many Pacifica candles there--wonder how long the store will keep that up. Particularly because the same store seems to have a problem with having bookstands in stock, as using bookstands is a good way to pamper your neck and shoulders while reading!)

* * *

The rest of my purse got a break in Whole Foods bulk foods section. Of course, you can save loads of money, as this is the DIY part of the store, where you bag as much as you want of what's in bulk. This type of bulk buying can benefit anyone, from singles to couples to families, because you only buy as much as you want. This time, I went for nutritional yeast, baby lima beans, French lentils, regular oatmeal, and blueberry granola. The last one is one of my favorite cereals, and I prefer to get it at Whole Foods, not only because it's tasty, but because the cost of boxed cereal is beyond ridiculous.

Enough about Earth Day from these parts; I plan to simply enjoy the rest of the day!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Open Veins, Open Minds? (Or not...)

It's jarring that the book, Open Veins of Latin America, which I read for a class twenty-something years ago, is suddenly a subject of public discussion as a result of one politician handing a copy to another.

front cover of the book The Open Veins of Latin AmericaIt's even more amazing, and disturbing, that so many people formed instant opinions on a book they've never read--unless an unheard-of number of Americans have taken up speed reading!

Granted, as Eduardo Galeano is known more for his poetry, Open Veins is written in a dramatic fashion, concentrating on how exploitation of the natural resources of various Latin American countries, first by Spain, then by the United States, has contributed to the region's great poverty.

As such, the book is, of course, a fascinating yet necessarily incomplete account of the economic and political factors that account for the political and economic pitfalls of many Latin American nations. Perhaps his most interesting observation, from what I can remember, is that a nation having enormous natural resources does not automatically make it wealthy, but often the opposite, because of exploitation of them. The example that comes to mind is of the wealth extracted from the silver mines of Potosi.

One could argue, rightfully, that such exploitation is not, and has never been, limited to Latin America, and that such geo-political exploitation even occurs within countries. (Witness the current controversy regarding coal extraction via mountaintop removal, in Appalachia.)

Also left unmentioned (after all, Galeano is not an economist) are other factors which accounted for the wealth of Spain, Britain, and the United States, in addition to the gross exploitation. Completely forgotten by Galeano is the relatively quick economic downfall of Portugal and Spain relative to other European nations; this omission is particularly odd, as Portugal was the first to cash in on the bonanza brought by the trans-Atlantic slave trade, with Spain jumping in soon after. Why did Portugal fall so far behind Spain so quickly, both in its degree of entanglement in the nefarious ventures of the slave trade and colonialism? England was a latecomer to this party, but quickly surpassed both nations, and indeed all of Europe, in its ability to cash in on the trade in human bodies. (But then, England showed a great nimbleness in trade of all kinds.) What accounted for the wealth of Holland, another nation with a great facility for commerce, during the same general period as Britain? (Especially since the Dutch didn't dive into the slave trade with the same gusto as the British, yet became wealthy nonetheless.)

Etc., etc. Whatever the flaws of Open Veins, and the probably dubious motives of Chavez in publicizing the book, it is an important work, both for Galeano's writing and as an example of a strain of thought common among some in Latin America regarding the causes of its ills.

I do wonder, however, if the real reason for the book's sudden popularity among Americans is that it hits a psychic nerve, from the perception that the (economic) veins of ordinary Americans are being drained by the practices of the corporate elite.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Savings are always in season...

neighborhood cherry blossoms close upSaving money depends on timing, as the prices (and availability) of items varies like the seasons. For instance, late last week, the cheapest items at the grocery were, of course, food in season, so strawberries were three packages for $5, and were snapped up; I've never seen so many containers of fresh strawberries tossed into carts like so many rags! (I couldnt' resist playing the tossing game myself.) Naturally, eggs weren't left out of the festivities, as Easter was around the corner--at Giant, you could get two one-dozen cartons of eggs for the price of one dozen. Great for kids dyeing eggs for Easter, or for adults planning an Easter meal (ahem).

Meal planning around in-season food helps you shop more cheaply (because of supply and demand), more nutritiously (as the food is not trucked from half a world away), more deliciously (also because your food doesn't need to take the red-eye), with less stress (no wondering if you'll be able to find a particular food if you buy with an eye to what's available now). And who needs more stress!

It's easier to save precious funds if you anticipate when certain items may become more plentiful (supply and demand at work again), for when their production is ramped up, they're put on sale. For instance, because there's overlap between school/academic supplies and office supplies, August is an excellent time to stock up on office supplies. As I have an addiction to using the durable, unassuming product known as clear packing tape, I've found that a good time to buy it is in November, when people are preparing Christmas presents to be sent.

Yes, I clip the occasional coupon, which can come in handy (particularly because I carry a small coupon book organized into categories), but I find coupons to be hit or miss--some weeks you find all kinds of products, others none. Attempting to use Internet coupons is even more frustrating, plowing through multiple pages of items in order to see something that might interest me. Ick.

Internet strategies that work better for me include going to the websites of stores I often visit, or are likely to visit, as not all sales are advertised; Whole Foods never advertises sale items, but has them all the same, and I've dropped in on clearance sales at independent stores like Pangea (items that aren't even listed as being on sale on its site). It's also helpful to occasionally browse manufacturer websites to find coupons.

I've also had success with e-mail alerts from retailers; in this way, I'm notified of sales ahead of the general public. For instance, Borders sends coupons approximately twice a month, usually for 30 percent off (and not only for books--I've purchased items like solid perfume there and used a coupon). Around Christmas, their coupons are for 40 percent off! Filene's Basement and Comfort One Shoes also believe in the e-mail love. The latter's products are not inexpensive, but come from quality manufacturers, and with my shoe size and podiatric problems, I need to get durable, high-quality shoes that I can afford. (Ha!) Well, a few months ago, Comfort One had a clearance sale (and could have taught the now-defunct swindlers Circuit City what a REAL sale looks like), for the sale was for 85% off selected items, on top of previous reductions of 40% off. On the first day of the sale, there was plentiful, attractive merchandise, even in my size, so I pounced on a cute pair of comfortable pumps, which were affordable at last (at $50, down from the Olympian heights of $195). Woo hoo!

Many people make the mistake of assuming that a store's looks predicts how reasonable its prices are, and are thus convinced that Target is much more expensive than Walmart because it tends to be neater. Many folks in this area have long made the assumption that Giant is more expensive than Safeway because Giant's stores tend to be cleaner and more organized. The truth is, Giant's prices are often more reasonable than Safeway's, sale or no sale (why else would McCormick flavor extract cost a whole two dollars more at Safeway, when neither store was having a sale on baking products?), and are often comparable to those at Shoppers Food Warehouse, although Shoppers tends to be cheaper for most products.

Shoppers is cheaper for most things, but not everything. Although I'm not near a Super-Target, the Target that's closest does have some food, on shelves and a small refrigerated and freezer section. For some reason, it carries the best prices around on Silk soymilk, consistently selling it for 50 cents less than Shoppers! Even better, Silk is periodically on sale at Target for two for $5. Target also carries some frozen vegetarian items, for a good 50 cents less than Shoppers, and is a good place to buy name-brand grape and/or cranberry juice, as it's noticeably cheaper at there.

When it comes to saving money, it's like the saying, "don't assume, because when you assume, you make an a** out of you and me."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Taxman Cometh, and Goeth...

If doing taxes were only this entertaining...

I actually did my federal taxes electronically, via TurboTax this year, because of the free federal filing option. (I've used them a couple of times before, and the program works fine.) Admittedly, the only reason I filed electronically was to get my refund back fast. Of course, nervous nellie that I am, I did my taxes by hand first, then did them electronically to see if I got the same result, which I did. I always do taxes by hand first when I file them electronically, to see if I get the same results with the two processes.

However, I did my state taxes manually, and decided to check the status of the refund today. Uh oh. says that it's having a backlog because of fewer state workers to process them! So, that check will come ambling in, whenever, apparently.

I could never, in good conscience, recommend H & R Block to anyone. After all, their tax preparers aren't CPAs, so if you get audited, then what? Years ago, I went to the blockhead (my one and only time) to get them done, because my financial situation was highly different from the previous year. Waste of time. Not only did the company take my money, but didn't do any better than I could, as the preparer didn't ask many questions, so how could he find out how many deductions/credits I might have been eligible for? TurboTax asks more questions than an H & R Block tax preparer! (And I owed money that year. Ugggh!)

In fact, with all the tax forms, publications, and toll-free IRS number available from the IRS website, it's possible to do your taxes with less fear and trembling. (That toll-free number comes in handy for getting hold of an IRS employee to translate its terms into English.)

* * *
Of course, if you owe taxes this year, you'll soon be singing this classic tune, although the way the economy's been the last few months, you may have been singing it anyway! From Mr. Johnny Guitar Watson, A Real Mother for Ya.

The newest O, Bo...(the first dog)!

Finally, the newest Obama has arrived at the White House...and it appears he's already bonded with the President...

photo of President Obama running with dog Bo by Pete DeSouza

Photo by Pete DeSouza.

Seems the Portugese Water Dog is a good choice for this athletic family! However, I wish the naysayers grousing about the Obamas not getting the dog from a shelter would calm down --he said that he would prefer to get a shelter dog, but didn't guarantee that the dog would come from one. Bo was returned to the breeder because the original owner couldn't keep him, so the Obamas are Bo's second family--what more can you ask for? Sheesh! (How soon we forget that he recently posed with "Baby" to encourage people to get dogs from shelters whenever possible in the A Rare Breed of Love campaign.)photo of Barack Obama holding the dog Baby As much as I admire the work of the Humane Society and other organizations, I wish they'd concentrate more on helping people keep their pooches and kitties, which would greatly reduce the numbers of critters in shelters. It's much more complex than simply spay or neuter your pet, important as these measures may be, as recent economic pressures have forced many to give up their four-legged loved ones (such as having to move into housing that doesn't allow pets).

Some of the more common reasons that people give up their pets (not including the aforementioned economic one):

  • Pet behavior, such as soiling the carpet, destroying furniture, or other behavior issues, many of which can be dealt with by training, offered by stores such as Petsmart.
  • Dog is "too" energetic.
  • No time for the dog.

While other reasons are beyond the owners' control, such as illness or death of the owner, many of the others ultimately stem from folks not researching the canine lifestyle in general, not researching particular breeds, and not researching whether a small dog or large dog would better fit your lifestyle (as large breeds tend to have more expensive upkeep [e.g., larger kibble and vet bills], yet don't live as long as smaller pooches).

beloved pembroke welsh corgi sleepingAlso, the policy of shelters not allowing people who don't have fences to adopt a dog is counterproductive. Unfortunately, too many people who have a fence allow their dog to stay outside for far too long; if this is the case with a young dog that is of age to be spayed/neutered (but it hasn't yet been done), it's easy for a dog to slip under the fence to sow its wild oats, so to speak, or for a stray dog to come under your fence to mate with your dog, which are all-too-common scenarios.

The sad fact is that most of the dogs languishing in shelters tend to be medium to large breeds, rather than smaller dogs, which are quickly snapped up when they do arrive. (I know--I've tried--you almost have to conduct a vigil outside a shelter in order to get a small dog [under 30 pounds]; a neighbor who successfully obtained his Benji lookalike from a shelter agreed).

Can't we all get along, and try to help people keep their dogs (dogs that are not being abused, that is), so that the animal shelter population has a reasonable chance of being reduced in the future?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Radical Good Friday?

Who says Christians don't have a sense of humor? Of course, you can always attend a great service today (Good Friday services often seem more intense than other church services, but that could be my selectiveness playing tricks on me), but if you need some laughs when you return, and are a Facebook addict, you may get a kick out of the following Facebook "page":

screenshot of the facebook passion of christ The team (I assume it's a team!) did a good job with this one, which I originally saw on Ben Witherington's site (who also has a sense of humor).

* * *
A balm for the soul in troubled times is the rendition of the hymn Peace Be Still, performed by the Hutchinson sisters, better known as the Emotions, which is part of the Wattstax documentary. Powerful.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Something soothing (or, a good tea is hard to find)

cherry blossoms reaching for the sky With all the lovely Yoshino (and other) cherry trees in bloom at the Tidal Basin and beyond, beautiful, comforting sights in these distressing times, another soother of frayed nerves from the Far East also comes to mind--tasty hot and cold drinks from the leaves of the camellia sinensis shrub, otherwise known as tea.

All types of tea--green, oolong, and black--are known to be medicinally (and psychologically?) beneficial, but how to get the most flavorful brews is the question, as we are primarily a nation of hopped-up java junkies.

Ironically, some of the best places to get a good cuppa in DC if you're away from home include coffee shops! As the better ones want to offer high-caliber drinks and noshes of all types, they've stepped up their tea game as well. For instance, because Starbucks owns the Tazo tea line, Tazo is offered in all Starbucks, which is a good thing, as Tazo is good tea. Of course, you can also purchase a box of Tazo tea there (which is sometimes on sale, such as near Christmas), at Whole Foods (which sometimes also has it on sale), or other stores, where it tends to be priced much higher.

Although Tazo tea is most often offered in bags (heresy!), the leaves contained therein are high quality, not fannings, and the sac is large enough to offer the leaves enough room to expand. Even better is that ALL Tazo teas are delicious, high quality brews--green, oolong (which is even rarer than green), and black, as well as its herbal infusions (more properly called tisanes). [The oolong is part of the "Om" blend, which is re-packaged as "Joy" near the holidays.] The company even offers a tasty decaf green tea, "Lotus. "

Another surprising place to find good tea was Caribou Coffee. While its tea offerings are much more limited compared to Starbucks, in addition to black tea, it offers a good quality jasmine tea (a type of green tea which is scented with night-blooming jasmine blossoms), a box of which is about $7.

Decent loose leaf jasmine tea can be found at Target, part of its in-house Archer Farms line.

One more odd coffee place to get a bag of tasty loose-leaf black tea (of the Assam variety) is Swing's coffee, near the White House.

* * *
You may ask why it's so hard to find good green tea at the supermarket, given all the reporting about its beneficial qualities? Long story short, according to Kit Chow and Ione Kramer in their opus on tea, All the Tea in China, most of the green tea produced in China stays in China. (As their neighbors in Japan are also massive green tea drinkers, they purchase much of the rest.) Thus, there's not enough of the good green brew to go around. This is important, as you're only inclined to drink decent quantities of a beverage that actually tastes nice. Also important is that good green tea can be drunk without sweetener, or with very little. I often don't put sugar in my green tea; if I do, it's a scant teaspoon.

Thus, only buy green tea from the supermarket or health food store if you find one of the following brands:

  • Tazo
  • Numi (Its Water Sprite Ginger Oolong is good, too.)
  • Republic of Tea (The green, white (a premium type of green), and black teas are excellent, but the tisanes are indifferent.)
  • Forte (The black currant is awesome. I'll have to try its decaf breakfast tea someday.)
  • St. Dalfour (I know, the company is known for its preserves, but its lemon and peach flavored black teas are special, provided you can find them anymore. They used to be at Safeway, but...)

The supermarket brand green and black teas are too bland to even merit a mention--Celestial Seasonings should stick to tisanes, in which it excels (especially the Bengal Spice, an herbal chai, and the various rooibos blends); oddly enough, Bigelow's tisanes are also superior to its green and black teas (particularly "I Love Lemon," cranberry blends, and the peppermint tisanes).

* * *

Of course, the best places to enjoy tea away from home are teahouses. Perhaps the most "authentic" is Ching Ching Cha, which arrived in town when tea was just becoming cool. It's a tranquil spot in Georgetown, near the C & O Canal, and is like entering another world. I get relaxed just thinking about my trek there a few years back.

Most accessible is the local establishment with three locations (and a dedicated tea shop), Teaism. While most of their menus and teas are the same, there are slight differences in offerings of each, and each has different hours. Nonetheless, all locations offer fantastic green, black, and oolong teas and delicious food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (including desserts). The location near the White House is probably the most casual, and is across from Lafayette Park. The two-story original location, near Dupont Circle, is an urban oasis, as is the newest location at Penn Quarter (which has a downstairs level featuring an indoor waterfall and colorful carp swimming about, in a small pool near the stairwell).

Teaism's anxi oolong is one of my favorites, and is a great way to start the day when accompanied by those zesty ginger scones. If you're in the mood for tea and dessert, the chocolate torte with green tea ice cream is a winner. (The salty oat cookies are extremely good, too.) The Dupont and Lafayette locations offer bags of tea for sale, but the best selection comes from the tea shop two doors away from the Penn Quarter restaurant.

* * *

When brewing green tea to enjoy at home, you probably know that you should brew water for green tea (including jasmine tea) to just below boiling, so as not to stew the leaves, nor your throat. (I ruined a delicate jasmine tea by brewing it with boiled water.)

The burning question with brewing individual portions of loose leaf tea is what to put the leaves in. Over the years, I've had unfortunate experiences with all kinds of contraptions reputed to keep leaves from straying into the hot water, such as tea balls (which always break apart), bamboo strainers, and the like. More recently, I've tried a cute metal mini-teapot with holes to keep the leaves in line, but that didn't work any better.

The best solution I've found is not marketed to be used for tea, but works wonderfully. For loose tea (or tisane), the best strainers are those organza party favor pouches, found in the wedding planning department of Party City. Those drawstrings tie up tight, and are spacious enough to cover the bottom of the sac with leaves, with plenty of room for them to expand. No more stray leaves to spit out and ruin your serene state!

brewed loose tea and used tea sachet

Monday, April 06, 2009

Fab Fabian House Cafe (or, a nice place to come in out of the rain)

entrance to Fabian House Cafe After a meeting, the rain, and another lunch(?) establishment that didn't pan out, Moz, Mom, and I headed to Old Town Bowie's Fabian House Cafe for a late lunch. So glad we went off the beaten path to get there.
Fabian House sign You go through the antique store to get to the cafe. No, actually the cafe is the back part of the antiques shop, because it also had whimsical antiques for sale there, too. A small, friendly place, there were a family there and a cafe regular, speaking with the owners. We were offered samples of the two soups of the day (cream of garden vegetable and Mediterranean lentil); we all chose cups of the lentil soup to go with the various sandwich platters we ordered. (Good thing we had sense enough not to get bowls of soup, or I would have had to be rolled out of the place.)

The sandwiches--the alternative burger, tempeh salad, and the CAT--were all delicious and filling. The tempeh salad, on whole grain bread, was full of fresh dill as well as tempeh and vegan mayo, thankfully. (Apparently, that monstrosity known as sweet pickle relish isn't used in their salads.) The alternative burger contains mushrooms, is nicely seasoned, and very good, even if you choose to leave off the toppings. (Well, I had a bit of mayo on mine, but the flavor still came through.) The CAT was pretty good, because it's mostly avocado and mayo on whole grain bread, and how can you go wrong with avocado?

The rest of the platter was interesting, as the sandwiches came with couscous and a (suspiciously tasting like canned) tropical fruit salad. The couscous initially fell flat, because the dried cranberries and almonds on top led to me to believe that it might be sweet, which was not the case. However, it had a nice smoky flavor from the sesame oil (the couscous was not oily, however), and was fluffy, like properly cooked millet; I think it would make a good bed for a Morrocan-style stew.

All this food was filling enough that no one was tempted to get a dessert, although we saw the regular finishing off a float when we first arrived there. (And that's saying something from this family of sweets fiends!) Fabian also offers smoothies and hot drinks such as Tazo tea (nice!), coffee, and of course...
hot cocoa sign on Fabian House porch (This must be the best welcome sign ever!) All the while, we were taking in the quirky antiques in the cafe, such as the fan painted in a giraffe motif, the botanical prints (which were $14 each), and used books. When it was finally time to pay, we went to the front of the store, where the register is currently near a telephone bench (never saw one of those before), surrounded by other antiques. Sweet!

What a nice afternoon, in a place that seemed a thousand miles from the beltway. Friendly people, friendly prices, vegan-friendly food, eclectic antiques, what more could you want? I'll have to find some excuse to slip back there again.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Feeling the strain...

Events of the past few days--the multiple fatal shootings--certainly have me on edge as much as anyone, considering that you never know when you may cross paths with someone like the gunman in Binghamton, obsessed with guns in addition to undergoing the stresses that we're going through.

Don't know if any policies can help reduce this problem; after all, how can you ban someone from purchasing a gun who has no criminal record and has not undergone psychiatric treatment, which was the dilemma with the gunman of the Virginia Tech killings--he hadn't been confined for mental health treatment, so nothing could have stopped him from buying guns legally. This situation is way past scary.

Just as scary is talk of budget cuts in DC. Of course, they're necessary, but one can only hope that they're not done in such a way as to make a bad social situation too much worse. According to the Washington Post, the budget axe is supposed to fall fairly evenly across agencies, but then I heard that the greatest cuts are to take place to outpatient mental health facilities. What?! Um, it's good that the police and fire departments aren't scheduled to take cuts, but then if outpatient mental health services are cut even closer to the bone, they'll have even more work, and more strain for them and us all. Ugh.

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Stumbled across another "version" of the timely Isley Brothers classic, Harvest for the World. Actually, it's the prelude to the song, a shorter, yet haunting, rendition. For those of us who feel the strain.