Author Archive for Alice and the Rabbit Hole

SF Like a Local – Tales of the City Mini-Tour

A quick trip down Barbary Lane

Somewhat by accident, I ended up visiting several Tales of the City sites today. The recent reboot of the series on Netflix spurred an interest in these fictitious (and real) locations in San Francisco. 

View from Lyon at Broadway

It started at the Lyon Street steps, a place I frequent often. It was easy to recognize DeDe Halcyon Day’s front gate; the house is adjacent to the top of the steps at Broadway and Lyon Streets. As a local, it was quite amusing to see Mary Ann Singleton (Laura Linney) dragging her suitcase laboriously up those steps, as that would never be a route to take with luggage!

Of course, it’s not really DeDe’s house (as DeDe is a fictional character), but I still had the urge to ring her bell. A glass of wine and a dip in the hot tub, perhaps?

I then drove east on Broadway, past the Mrs. Doubtfire house (another story for another time), and ended up near Macondary Lane. I parked on Jones Street and walked through the shaded entry, which looked more like a cul-de-sac in someone’s fancy driveway as first. Soon it meandered into a lovely little lane with rocks, a small water feature and Buddha statue. And then I saw the steps, from the top side, that are so famous in all iterations of Tales of the City – the fictitious address, “28 Barbary Lane.” 

I walked down and snapped a photo from below. The wooden steps got an upgrade before the filming of the 2019 series. If you’re seeking a modern view of the “old” steps, I recommend this 2017 documentary of Tales creator, Armistead Maupin. He stands at the base of the steps which at that time still looked very similar to the original 1993 series. 

City Lights Books

I headed down to North Beach next, a place mainly for tourists (not locals). Still, I like to play the tourist sometimes. And I love City Lights bookstore, which is featured prominently in flashbacks of Anna Madrigal’s early days in San Francisco, when she was a bookstore clerk. I like to weave through the narrow shelves and pretend it’s the 50s-60s heyday of the Beats. 

My mini-tour of Tales at an end, I left City Lights with a peek into beer-soaked Vesuvio’s next door, and then a skip down to the Coppola building for lunch. 

Heavenly braised baby beets

Oh my, this dish is exquisitely delicious. How I love my CSA! Today’s box came with a recipe from the farmer. See my modifications below.

Braised Whole Baby Beets

1/4 cup butter (I used 2 Tbsp ghee)

whole baby beets and greens, washed well, trimmed and patted dry

2 cups fresh chicken or veggie broth/stock

2 Tbsp chopped mint (I sprinkled on herbs de Provence instead)

2 Tbsp cider vinegar

Lucky for me, I had just made chicken stock the night before. My bunch had four baby beets – perfect for two servings. The greens were so fresh and tender, and they held up well simmering with the beets.

Melt butter in skillet, then place beets on one side and greens on the other. When greens are wilted, add the broth, cover and simmer until beets are tender (about 10 minutes).

The recipe said to present on a platter with beet roots at one end and greens at the other. But I served myself a bowl and spooned on extra broth. The splash of cider vinegar is essential for bringing out the delectable flavors, as well as herbs, salt and pepper.

These beets are a joy to eat!

SF Like a Local – Five Favorites on Fillmore

Fillmore Street in San Francisco has a reputation for being filled with fancy shops and restaurants, many of which seem out of reach for the average consumer. I live and work near this area, so I’ve had time to explore and find a few affordable favorites that I love to return to time and again.

If you find yourself on Fillmore for the holidays (or any time of year), here’s my short shopping guide:

  1. Boba Guys – my favorite fuel up spot on lower Fillmore (near O’Farrell St). I’ve become addicted to the boba tea. Who knew tapioca balls in oolong could be so satisfying? If I’m hungry, I’ll go for a little Sunday Bird chicken. 
  2. Asmbly Hall – a few blocks north (between Bush and Sutter) is a sweet little clothing shop that caters to both men and women. They feature local designers and are surprisingly affordable and always on trend.
  3. Sunhee Moon – just across the street from Asmbly Hall, this local designer for women’s clothing has savvy window displays that will draw you in. Simple lines and beautiful patterns, it is easy to build an entire outfit head-to-toe with perfect layers. 
  4. ModCloth – head on up the street (between Bush and Pine) to this “FitShop.” Featuring vintage-inspired women’s clothing in a full range of sizes (XXS-4X), the ModCloth experience is like ordering dim sum (one of each article of clothing on dispaly; select what you like using pencil and mark sheet and they pull it for you in your size to try on). Whatever you buy is mailed to you in a couple of days. 
  5. Credo Beauty – one more block up the street (near the corner of Sacramento) you’ll find a small storefront chock full of safe, non-toxic beauty items. Try out their testers of makeup, skincare and hair products. 

Fillmore Street only allows small chain merchants; some have just a few shops in select cities while others are local to SF. All have an online presence, so click on the links above to buy from your locale, wherever you are. Happy shopping!

Castor Oil Challenge: Skin and Hair Review

I got an itchy armpit rash last week. A real doozy. I’ve had pit rashes before, but this time I suspected a yeast infection. Yuck!

I hated the thought of putting topical antibiotics on my precious pits. So I thought I’d try something new: castor oil. 

I have a big bottle sitting on my shelf. I bought it from Amazon months ago to help with red, itchy eyes. I’d also bought empty mascara tubes for applying the oil to lashes and brows. Castor oil did help soothe my eyes, but I never kept up with the application. 

I read so many glowing reviews about castor oil’s effect on hair and skin. Yet I resisted because it’s a sticky mess. Like honey without the smell. I put it all over my hair once, covered with a scarf on a lazy Sunday. My hair felt greasy for days. I wasn’t too into it, I must admit!

But with renewed (and rashy) fervor, I decided to go whole hog and take a 10-day castor oil challenge, addressing all problems skin/hair. Thus my nightly ritual of “lubing up” began:

  1. Armpits
  2. Chest/neck
  3. Hairline/part
  4. Lashes and brows (with mascara wand)
  5. Lips

My nightly “lubing up” ritual

The 10-Day Castor Oil Challenge

How I did it

I put 1-2 TBSP castor oil in a tiny bowl and added a couple of drops of tea tree (note: this amount lasted for several days/applications). Tea tree oil, like castor oil, is known for its skin-healing and hair-stimulating properties. For the first seven days, I applied this to pits, chest/neck, hairline/part by painting it on with a cotton swab. For the last three days, I massaged the oil in with my fingers instead. 

For lashes and brows, I used the mascara wand (tube contained castor oil, but not tea tree). For lips, I dabbed on a little plain castor oil with my finger. 

Let’s address these areas one at a time, shall we?

Armpits: I gave up my deodorant for the ten days since it exacerbated the rash. Every morning, I rubbed my pits with lemon. Most afternoons, I dabbed on apple cider vinegar. Then I applied the castor/tea tree oil at night. The rash cleared up in a week. Interestingly I had no body odor smell during this time. I think the castor oil had something to do with this. It felt very soothing to have the oil on overnight; my pits looked and felt better in the morning. 

Chest/neck: My chest and neck are always red, itchy and rough due to rosacea. Even though I’m very committed to my rosacea face regimen, my chest/neck never seem to get enough attention. So why not shellac on some castor oil? 

I’m very pleased with the results. I only wish I hadn’t been such a sissy at first – dabbing it on with a cotton swab left me very sticky and shiny. It worked much better once I tossed the swab and started working it into my skin with my fingers. Sure, my hands got sticky, but I could wash them!

My chest/neck area is soothed, much less red, hydrated and softer. And I do believe my neck looks less wrinkled- score! Castor oil has worked much better for me than other oils in regards to this area. Definitely worth the effort. 

Hair: A friend of mine (my same age) complained about her hair thinning. I told her I’d read all those reviews saying castor oil makes your hair thicker and darker. Yeah, because it’s got oil in it, right? True that – but there’s something to this growth stimulator. 

Darker hair and brows, longer lashes

I can tell you, for me, there is a noticeable difference. And I only applied a small amount around the hairline and down my part. That’s it. That’s all it took since the oil seeps and migrates. I didn’t want to wear a scarf to bed, didn’t want to worry about staining my pillow. I mainly wanted to see if it affected the hair around my face. 

It did. My hair looks darker. I’m strawberry blonde, and have seen a lot of fading in recent years. Castor oil made my reds look redder and my golds look golden. My greys are so less there with my darker hair. Yippee!

My hair is thicker, softer. Worth a little dab of sticky any day. 

Lashes and brows: Ditto on the darker/thicker. My brows had been getting so sparse. The mascara wand feels like nothing – I was suspicious at first, but then I could feel the oil by touching the wand with my fingers. It’s there, but not making a gloppy mess. Brilliant! Loving my longer lashes and darker, thicker brows. 

Lips: My lip problems are nothing new. Castor oil hasn’t improved the situation too much. Still so dry. Sigh. It might take a little while longer. I’ll keep experimenting. 

Castor Oil Conclusion

I want to keep going. With chest and neck on the daily, for sure. I might try every other day on the hairline (the night before I shampoo). And the lashes/brows application is so easy and quick – I can definitely stick to that!  Castor oil will remain my go-to product for any skin ailments that arise. It’s proven its worth! 

Dress-to-Shirt Hack

Super easy way to convert a shirt into a dress: just find a similar shirt in your closet to use as a template. These are both silk sheaths – the top on the left hits me at just the right spot, so I layered it over the dress, folded excess material to about an inch below (leaving room to sew hem), then moved top to the side and cut the dress.  Now it’s perfect! Even if I never get around to sewing that hem, silk lies flat. So don’t be afraid of a no-sew hack!

For a more challenging example of dress-to-shirt conversion (with cinched waist and actual sewing) – check out my earlier post here.

Way to Rutabaga

Farm box brought a bunch of rutabagas, which I intended to make into rutabaga-mashed potatoes. But I don’t really like mashed potatoes, so why bother?

Instead, I found an online recipe for pan-roasted rutabagas and then embellished with whatever I could find in the fridge. Leftover pho (for the chick stock flavor), leftover rice (well, why not – rutabagas aren’t nearly as starchy as potatoes). So after a 30-minute simmer, I had this lovely pan that resembled a Spanish paella of sorts.

How did it taste? Quite delicious! Rutabagas work well with the rice because they are similar in density and sweetness to other hearty root vegetables (such as carrots). And despite their unbecoming outward appearance, rutabagas turn such a beautiful golden hue with cooked (think butternut squash).

It did indeed remind me of paella, sans meat. This dish was perfectly filling. What a comforting meal on a cold winter’s night!

Here’s my makeshift recipe:

3 spring onions, chopped (white parts only)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBSP butter + 1 TBSP olive oil
1 lb rutabagas, peeled and chopped
Pinch thyme and rosemary
Salt and pepper (I used Herbs de Provence salt)
1-2 cups chicken broth
1-2 cups cooked rice

Sautée onions and garlic in butter/oil. Add rutabagas and seasoning, stir. Add broth and rice. Turn up the heat to boil, then lower heat to medium. Cover and simmer until liquid absorbs, about 15 minutes. Stir again and reduce heat to low. Cover for another 15 minutes, until rutabagas are soft.

Clothing Swap Love and KonMari Madness

The cats can stay

While planning a clothing swap, I stumbled upon The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I thought it would make the perfect raffle prize for my swap guests. Being spring, I’d already caught purge fever and had several bags piled up in my closet awaiting the swap. But when I started reading Kondo’s book, I was transfixed! Before I delve deeper into the impact of the “KonMari Method,” let me first share a few words about the satisfying act of clothes swapping.

Behavioral scientists say that our eyes crave seeing something new. Once we acquire an object, however, the newness wears off in about three months. So the reason why some clothes get worn to death while others are seldom worn has more to do with how they make us feel when we put them on.

This is the beauty of the clothing swap. You satisfy your need to purge AND satisfy your need for eye candy! I usually end up with just a few new-to-me items, knowing some of them may stay with me a little while and others will be long treasured. Happens every time, and yet there are no regrets. Some of the best things in life ARE free!

What’s better than free? FREEDOM! Freedom from things you no longer want or need. While I already had a pretty healthy attitude about letting go of clothes, the Tidying-Up book helped me apply that to all possessions. Marie Kondo, the famous Japanese organizer, says in her book, “If it does not spark joy, you must discard.”

Sparking Joy

Purge by category starting with clothes – since that’s the easiest – then proceed to books, papers, miscellaneous and sentimental items. Take it all out and put it on the floor/bed so you can see everything. That makes it easy to decide what you want to keep and what can go.

Sent some to friends and the rest to the library

Why keep a perfectly good shirt if you never wear it? Free that shirt from your closet prison so it can live a new life (on someone else’s back). Same rule applies for all that stuff you “might use some day.” Pass it on – don’t let it waste away in your drawer! And when you find true treasures in the muck, put them where you can see them so they bring you daily joy.

The KonMari Method is meant to be a marathon (“all in one go”). While Kondo says it should take about six months, I went KonMari crazy and finished in six weeks. Partly because I have moved a lot and partly because I live in an 800 square foot apartment in SF, I already prided myself on being the Queen of Purge. But I was wrong. Oh, was I wrong.

Every day I spent at least a few hours going through drawers, cabinets, shelves and boxes. One day I spent 9 hours in my husband’s closet! (Note: Kondo does not recommend purging other people’s belongings; luckily my husband was pretty patient with me during this process.) It felt like moving, minus the packing boxes and truck.

At least 4-5 bags ended up in our hallway every single day. I couldn’t believe the volume and the weight of all this discarded stuff. I made daily drops at Goodwill. I lugged 25 pounds of old software CDs and hard drives to a local place that grinds them to smithereens. I donated old pillows to the pet hospital.

I recycled mountains of old papers. A ridiculous amount of paper sorted; so much so that my fingertips developed a painful sensitivity (which thankfully subsided after the sorting was complete).

I never knew so much junk was lurking in our tiny place. My husband and I have always been tidy, at least on the surface. Our apartment looks exactly the same as before, unless you open a closet or drawer. There it’s a whole new ballgame.

My rainbow shirt drawer

I showed my bureau drawer to a friend of mine – all those shirts folded the KonMari way, like lovely little sushi rolls. She snorted, “Somebody needs a hobby.” Why, I think I’ve already found it! Did I mention I’m a Virgo? 😋 I could happily continue my new-found folding fetish until my dying day.

I met a lot of resistance from friends when I mentioned my purge marathon. Let me be clear, I’m not advocating a spartan lifestyle. My closets and drawers are still full, but I’m no longer drowning in a sea of excess. Now things are really clear because I can see all my stuff. And I only kept what I truly wanted to keep. Liberation!

And yes, “things are really clear” has more than one meaning here. My mind feels lighter without all the clutter. It’s not just the space but what’s in the space that matters. I chose these things, and my sharpened decision-making skills have emboldened me. I’m sparking joy all over the place!

(p.s. – I gave away the book and promptly checked out Kondo’s second title, Spark Joy, from the library. I highly recommend both.)

 

About Face: Days of Wine and Rosacea Revisited

From Wax Figure to Glam Glow – Marie Veronique Review

No big cover up here, just healthy skin!

Last summer I wrote about my rosacea issues in Days of Wine and Rosacea, Parts 1 & 2 – tracking 30 days of facial crisis. I never published, however – it was a boring food/skin diary that didn’t have much conclusive evidence to share. Other than red wine did NOT always make my skin flush red (thank goodness)!

I have been struggling with rosacea for over four years now. I believe it is linked to age-related hormonal changes (perimenopause). Since the beginning I’ve been determined to “win the war” on redness. For over a year, I took a photo of my face every morning, searching for some sort of pattern.


On my worst days, I had extreme flushing (all over facial redness) and red bumps.  Sometimes referred to as “adult acne,” these bumps (papules) are not really acne at all. They certainly didn’t act like the zits of my youth. My stressed face was now a dry, flaky, bumpy red desert that I hid daily under a waxy cover up mask.

Turmeric honey oatmeal mask

I tried dermatological treatments. They didn’t work for me (and sometimes exacerbated my dryness). I tried all kinds of home remedies, some of which helped temporarily. But my face really was under duress, and I was running out of tactics.

My 30 day test had a “more is more” approach. Looking back on it now, I learned a bit about the foods I was eating. But my skincare routine was all over the place. I was desperate to find something that worked.

Lucky for me, I have found relief! Not a cure, mind you (there is no cure for rosacea). I still get red.  But my skin is so much happier and I am no longer at war with my face. The turning point came when I happened upon a lecture by Marie Veronique at a neighborhood skincare boutique.

Marie is a chemist, a grandmother, and has beautiful, healthy skin. Her staff was giving complimentary facials that day, so I sat down and let them take off a waxy layer of foundation to reveal my highly-stressed skin. In a few minutes, my face felt soothed and looked visibly hydrated. I took home some free samples and bought her book.

What I love about Marie’s book is that she never tries to push her products. In fact, she offers plenty of home remedies and less expensive product choices. For instance, putting yogurt on your face as a moisture mask really helps. I don’t always care for the sour smell or the “brain freeze” application (I try to warm it up in my hands first), but once it’s on there I’m a happy face. 🙂

I actually left the house one day with no makeup at all!

Marie Veronique’s line is expensive. I tried the other (cheaper) brands she mentioned in her book, but I didn’t like them as much. So last fall I took the plunge and bought a set of her products to use every day. To my pleasant surprise, I haven’t run out of anything yet (except for the face oil which I use twice daily). I am miserly with the products, only one pump gets the job done. No more bumps! In 8 months, I’ve had nothing but happy, glowy skin. I am no longer afraid to show my face.

This is my routine:

I never, ever wash my face in the morning. Just a splash of water.
Pre+Probiotic Daily Mist
Vitamins C+E+Ferulic Serum
Protective Day Oil
Everyday Coverage Tinted Sunscreen

In the evening, I use the Replenishing Oil Cleanser or organic greek yogurt
Pre+Probiotic Daily Mist
Gentle Retinol Night Serum
Protective Day Oil or Rejuvenating Night Oil

A word about the tinted sunscreen. At first I thought it was too sheer, but then I grew to love the look of my actual skin. The light tint balances out my redness just enough, but it certainly looks like I have on nothing at all. I’m free of the mask!

(top photo by Mike Lloyd)

Magic Stone Soup

I just made this gorgeous soup out of nothing. Or everything, rather. Maybe it should be called Kitchen Sink Soup – I used everything I could find in the kitchen. But with such a puny list of ingredients, I find myself circling back to that old folk story about stone soup.

One of my best friends from high school called me her “stone soup friend” because she said I always knew how to make something out of nothing. Tonight’s motivation: the weather is frightful (rainy and blustery) and the flu is rampant around here. So I decided to skip the store and see what I could cook up from my next-to-bare cupboards.

I can’t believe the magic: this flu-fighting bowl of goodness is one of the best soups I’ve ever made. Minestrone-like in taste and texture, with plenty of spicy flavor. Perhaps this will inspire you to make something out of nothing.

So here’s what I had staring me in the face: 3 small potatoes, fettuccine, and about half a cup of lentils. Oh, and half a bag of spring mix salad. That’s it. How did I pull it off, you ask?

I looked in my trusty pasta cookbook (with true Italian recipes, including ones with potatoes and pasta); then I compared notes with a couple of recipes online. From what I found, I knew the potatoes and lentils would give my soup richness and substance.

I was still missing a lot of ingredients, though, so I got creative with my substitutions. I used vegetable bouillon cubes to cover for the lack of celery and carrots. I used freeze-dried shallots instead of fresh onion. And an ample squirt of tomato paste and anchovy paste (from tubes I keep on hand in the fridge) to replace the can of tomatoes that I didn’t have.

Thankfully I did have fresh garlic and a knob of ginger. I pressed a couple of cloves and chopped ginger into a sauté pan and drizzled with olive oil – only to realize my drizzle was down to a drip. Are you kidding me? Out of olive oil, too? No problem, I added some coconut oil instead.

I sautéed the garlic/ginger/shallots in the oil, then added the tomato and anchovy paste. Meanwhile I simmered the lentils and diced potato in vegetable broth (two bouillon cubes and 5 cups water). I set the timer for 30 minutes.

After adding the garlic mixture to the soup pot, I added turmeric, cumin, coriander, herbs de Provence sea salt, black pepper, and a bay leaf. Did I mention I’m well stocked with spices? Whew, good thing!

After the timer went off, I broke half a handful of fettuccine into quarter pieces and threw them in the pot along with some minced spring mix (my substitute for parsley). Cooked another 8 minutes and turned off the heat.

No Parmesan here to top my soup, so I served my bowl with extra spring mix and – wait for it – turkey jerky that I found on the shelf. Man, those bits of jerky really satisfied!

So maybe I did have more than three ingredients after all, but certainly not ones that you’d normally see together on a recipe list. I’m so glad I got to stay home in my toasty apartment and make some Magic Stone Soup!