It's Complicated: Eating for Nourishment vs. Enjoyment

April 8, 2015

Greens, greens, and more greens: My new eating mantra
fresh spinach salad


In all my life, I've never really examined my eating habits until now. I scoffed at dieters, rolled my eyes at health-food nuts and sent a virtual stink-eye out to everyone who went gluten-free because it was the cool thing to do (seemingly discrediting the strict eating my disease required). Years of anemia didn't mean ingesting more iron-filled foods, it meant popping iron supplements and going on my way. Even after my celiac diagnosis, I was still in it for whatever satisfied my need to not feel deprived - gluten-free pizza, doughnuts, cakes, cookies. Food was about satisfying cravings, yet it's become something too often indulged in more for its enjoyment factor, its Instagramworthiness, than it's nutritional value. Hashtag-donuts, anyone?

All food porn aside, food luxuries are ones we should be able to enjoy. Yes, it's a first-world problem, this abundance of food choice, but one so inherently tied to our psyche and well-being. Your favorite restaurant, holiday cookies made every year with your mom, that weekend brunch spot where you know the menu by heart. Not to mention travel. How can one possibly immerse oneself in a new culture without also enjoying the local food? But the truth is, these things are more than just food - they are warm memories and fulfilment. Time spent with loved ones, or even on our own, relishing in something delicious and creating a new life experience. It's hard to separate that from eating purely as a means to refuel. So what happens when we these sentiments control what we eat more than what our bodies actually need?

This disconnect has been my struggle. I grew up begrudgingly swallowing rubbery green beans from a can solely to get to the dessert, a constant at the finish line that was dinner. Salad was eaten only to be drowned in ranch dressing. I'm hard-pressed to remember anything nutritious or savory that I have strong memories of, aside from weekly steak dinners at Black Angus, complete with fried zucchini (pretty much the only kind of veg I would eat proactively) and the ever-present, sugary Shirley Temple. Sweets were what my world revolved around. Sunny days at Baskin Robbins, that green party punch that I reveled in watching kids turn their noses up at the color only to try a sip and greedily pour themselves more, weekly pilgrimages to 7-11 to spend a disgusting chunk of allowance on all manner of candy bars, sugary popcorn and slurpees for weekend sleepovers spent watching movies and obsessing over our latest crushes. It was always about getting to that sweetness at the end of the meal, that sugar-binge at the end of the week.

Savory foods did join my regular eating-for-enjoyment routine, though this appreciation dawned much later than for most. I enjoyed my foray into adulthood cooking when we moved to Germany, where I had the time to dedicate to preparing delicious meals in the absence of great restaurants and learned fresh, from-scratch recipes where the oft-used American shortcut staples did not exist. I learned fresh green beans are crisp and delicious, not the overly-salted little pieces that used to squeak between my teeth as a child. I enjoyed it, I even got pretty good at it. Sure, I still baked and indulged in sweets regularly, but now I looked forward to Sunday dinners of meat braised for hours and spicy curries chock-full of fresh vegetables. Delicious food finally went beyond ice cream and cake.

These food priorities, government-endorsed food pyramids and hippie naturalists be damned, is why my world came crashing down when gluten became my greatest enemy. No pizza, burgers, pasta, waffles?! How would I survive? Never again, Burgermeister? No more Sunday brunches? Well, I did survive. I re-learned how to cook in a way that was safe for my autoimmune disease-ridden body, and I hardly felt deprived at all, all social situations aside. I thought I had my demons under control. But just as things were starting to get good again, just when I had a way to channel my love of good food and satisfy a frustrating food intolerance into something positive, my body shouted 'no' and raised the white flag. All those pre-diagnosis symptoms were back, this time, enemy unknown. Back to gasping for breath after coming up the stairs to our apartment, waking from 10 hours of sleep still exhausted and regularly struggling to pull basic information caught somewhere in the fogginess of my brain. Perhaps the most upsetting? The gut that would protrude to six-month-pregnant proportions in a matter of hours and the elasticated pants that were increasingly necessary. I realized there must be something more than the now-non-existent gluten that was bringing me down.

I spent countless days falling down the rabbit hole that is medical symptoms on the internet and making very interesting discoveries. The studies that suggest sugar is more addictive than crack. The fact that there's added sugar in my canned tomatoes. The belief many have that the gut controls so much about the body's health, and when it is out of whack, the whole body follows suit. So I decided to make some more drastic changes to the way I ate. First, I cut out all sugar, including most fruit, but also grains and starches as well. I began eating only organic in a quest for simpler, chemical-free food easier on my ravaged gut. I added things in like bone broth, gelatin and lots of coconut (oil, milk, dried) and cinnamon, that are also supposed to heal and help with inflammation. While I've taken a lot of notes from diets like GAPS and Autoimmune Paleo, I've always been cautious of anything described as a 'diet' while using it as a platform to sell something. When these sites hawking cookbooks and supplements gave way to incredible stories, like Dr. Terry Wahls, who essentially reversed her MS symptoms through her diet, I started to really listen. Besides, my journey wasn't about losing weight or jumping on a trendy eating bandwagon, it was about my health, at a basic functioning level.

The more I read about healing through food and how it can help symptoms of autoimmune conditions - from which both my husband and I suffer - it seemed to be a smart path to follow. For the second time in one year, I began a new food journey... In the first week or so, I had some major emotional crashes, sobbing uncontrollably and swearing if I ate roasted chicken and vegetables again, I'd scream. But just like cutting out gluten, cutting out refined sugar, all grains and most dairy (and coffee and alcohol) has been a learning curve, though not as scary and depriving as one might think. There have been some clear losers in the quest for good recipes (I've determined paleo pancakes just taste like a sweet omelette - ugh) and some surprising winners (cauliflower rice?! but I hate cauliflower! *mind blown*), but the good news is I'm finally getting the hang of cooking this way and more importantly, feeling better. The coffee and alcohol though, I miss those terribly. Well, and corn chips, if I'm honest.

I understand these are not great realizations, that most healthy adults eat a well-balanced diet and don't fall to pieces when they can't patronize their local ice cream shop or catch up with friends over a cup of coffee. But I am a product of all my years of unbalanced eating and over-indulgence, convinced decades of choosing enjoyment over nourishment has left me with a body that is finally fighting back and a mind that's trying desperately to catch up to what is good for me. My outlook is still uncertain as I spend all hours of the day either researching, shopping for or preparing all of our from-scratch meals and try not dwell on the prospect that eating out and travel feels even more impossible than it was before. My doctor seems to be searching for a more concrete answer, one with the word 'disease' attached that requires more rounds of invasive tests, but I'm not entirely convinced. I don't know if this 'diet' is the course I will stay on indefinitely or if I will ease up once my body heals, but I'm going with my gut, quite literally. For now, it's nourishment for the win (with enjoyment thrown in every now and then).

Grain-free, dairy-free, no-sugar-added apple cinnamon roll via Grazed and Enthused
no-sugar-added, paleo cinnamon roll



Top 10 US Import Beauty Products

February 27, 2015

Top 10 US Import Beauty Buys


Being an expat is hard enough without also having to settle for crap European deodorant (raise your hand if you feel me on that one?) and lip balm that doesn't do much to un-chap your lips. Home may now be overseas and there may be a slew of great products to discover over here, but sometimes there's nothing quite like the staples you'd come to depend on. Both new and old, these are my favorites that I have come to depend on - and fill my suitcase with anytime I visit!


It's a 10 Miracle Leave-In Treatment | As the name implies, it's a miracle for overly dry, damaged hair. My sad locks, parched from several journeys into various hair colors, soak this stuff up like a sponge. Now I'm wishing I had bought the bigger bottle last time...


Sally Hansen Nailgrowth Miracle | Ever since this product was recommended to me by a former colleague with some of the prettiest nails I'd ever seen (thanks, Ashley!), I have never been without it. Whenever I've tried something else, I've always been disappointed. I was thrilled to see Sally Hansen products show up in German drugstores, only this magic gold bottle is annoyingly absent from the lineup of nail treatments. Don't be fooled by the other offerings, this is the holy grail for strong, glossy nails. I always return home with multiple bottles for my dry, brittle nails.


EOS tangerine medicated lip balm | Let me just be honest: I've always had super-dry lips. I would go through tubes and tubes of lip balm, trying every product on the market, stashing them in every pocket and in every bag. After my celiac diagnosis and realizing that vitamin E (which is often derived from wheat germ - who knew?!) is in pretty much every lip product, I feared I would be stuck with eternally chapped lips. Joy. No matter what products I tried that were safe, nothing gave the moisture I needed - until I found this. At first, it smells a bit medicine-y, but once it's on your lips, the tangerine takes over and all is fruity and yummy and super moisturized. Douglas just started carrying EOS balm, and it's available in the UK, but I've yet to see this particular version over here and frankly, the other flavors (I've tried five of them) just don't pack the same moisture punch. I've already blown through an entire little dome in just over a month - which while super cute, is a bit unwieldy in pockets and such - and have only one more from my last trip, so I'm plotting how to get more in bulk. Gluten-free and it works. Unglaublich.


Burt's Bees Coconut Foot Creme | This stuff is one of my ultimate beauty indulgences. It's not that expensive, but it's enough that even when I lived in the States, I only bought it every once in a while. Like so many of the products I covet, I love it because it works. Even better than that, it smells like a tropical vacation. The super-thick, goopy texture can be a bit off-putting, but one after night of slathering your feet in this stuff, leaving it to soak in under some thick socks and waking up with feet that feel like a baby's bottom, you'll be hooked. Lucky for us in Europe, it is available over here, but for a bit of a markup.


OPI Nail Polish | OPI has reigned supreme in the world of manicures for some time. It's reasonably priced considering the overwhelming color selection and top-notch formula - except in Germany. Here, a bottle of this stuff will set you back an ungodly $20. Even in the Netherlands it goes for much less! At around $8 stateside, I can't help myself from picking up a bottle or two whenever I'm back. Malaga Wine and Berlin There, Done That - surprise, surprise - will remain some of my all-time favorites.


Ion Color Brillance Brights semi-permanent hair color | For everyone who liked my recent foray into lavender hair, this is where it's at. After enjoying a brief stint with dark blue tips via Manic Panic a few years back, I was anxious to try out the whole pastel craze. I heard Ion has taken over as the semi-permanent color to use, so I bought tubes in both pastel pink and lavender. The results were mixed. The pink was beautifully subtle but definitely required longer developing time for more impact. So when I went for the lavender after the pink was gone in one wash, I was stunned to watch as the bright purple color cream on my head did not fade, no matter how much I rinsed. Almost two months later, it's faded, but still holding on for dear life. All that said, if you're looking for awesome 'temporary' color, this stuff is great. My hair was not damaged and the colors were lovely, with minimal weird tones as they faded, though they are recommended for use on hair that is already bleached so that they show up. The best part? You can find them for $5 a tube in the US, whereas I found only one color on Amazon Germany. And it went for €25.


Herbal Clear Sport deodorant | Since jumping on the more natural deodorant bandwagon several years ago after discovering that what's in most of them in the US causes cancer and those gross yellow stains on your clothes (yeah, that's not just sweat), I've found that most of the more natural stuff is just not up to the task. Except this stuff. Even in the States, it's hard to find, but I promise you it's worth it. It's not super sticky, the smell is subtle and pleasant, but most of all, it just works. While I still have my pricey La Roche Posay one here to fall back on, I always make sure I've got a few sticks of this stocked up.


Aquaphor Healing Ointment | For serious moisture, this is the cream of the crop. Rough elbows, dry feet, even burns and cuts, this stuff completely heals. Eucerin is huge over here and Aquaphor can be found if you happen into the right Apotheke, but I've never come across the giant tubs like in the States. It's all purpose, can't-beat-it-product.


Burt's Bees Baby Bee Calming Lotion | Finding lotion that calms my irritable dry skin but manages to keep all the nasty parabens and unnecessary chemicals out of the equation can be tough. This Burt's Bees formulated for sensitive baby skin fits the bill nicely. Plus, it soaks in nicely and has a scent as soothing as the name implies.


Burt's Bees Baby Bee Dusting Powder | I am completely obsessed with this stuff. I don't have a baby, but you'd think I do by the stock of this I keep in my bathroom. If I'm not powering baby bottoms, what am I doing? Using this for dry shampoo! This 100% natural, talc-free, cornstarch-based powder has the most lovely soft smell (not really like a baby, so not to worry) and soaks up oil without making me look like I'm trying to bring back the powdered wig look. Not sure why Germany doesn't carry this product, but it needs to add this to it's Baby Bee lineup, stat!


What are your favorite US-based beauty products? Have you found any good substitutions when they are hard to find?


This Valentine's, wear your heart on your sleeve (or your shirt)

February 11, 2015


Wear your heart on your shirt this Valentine's


What better way to wear your heart on your sleeve for that upcoming holiday of love than to wear it right on your shirt? Some sweet, some funny, some just nice, simple design, these love-themed options are understated enough for wear well beyond Valentine's Day and just saccharine enough to make you feel warm and fuzzy without going overboard. Feel the love, people!





My Favorite Spots for Eating Gluten-Free in Portland, Oregon

February 6, 2015

Petunia's Pies and Pastries cupcakes cookies bars_ gluten-free vegan Portland Oregon

Eating gluten-free in Portland is like spinning a fortune wheel and coming up a winner every time. Options are plentiful and far-and-away better than any of the GF options here in Berlin. On one hand, it made it seriously depressing to return home and remember, oh yeah, I can't just stop by fill-in-the-blank restaurant or cafe and grab something safe to eat. On the other hand, it was a great realization that my dietary restriction doesn't mean I'm cursed to settle for 'just OK' with every baked good I try.

While I feel I barely scratched the surface of this food allergy paradise that is Portland, I felt compelled to share the places that were so good, I felt little reason to explore beyond them. Things I figured I'd never be able to enjoy again - biscuits and gravy, beer and desserts just as good as 'the real thing' - can be found here in spades. So if you're heading to Portland and need to be gluten-free, or just want some really great food that doesn't make your gut feel like a ton of bricks, take a look at a few of my favorite spots for dedicated gluten-free eating...



New Cascadia Traditional Bakery

Challah French toast at New Cascadia Traditional_ gluten-free Portland Oregon

This is one of those spots that based on the understated demeanor and its location in a rather industrial part of town, one might not expect the greatness that lies within. New Cascadia is a bakery in the true sense of the word: they excel in breads, bagels, pizzas, cookies and cakes. What I found most impressive about this place is not only that everything is totally delicious, but the texture is so right on. For everyone who has spat out a disappointing, grainy gluten-free cupcake, this place is for you. The pizza crusts are perfectly doughy and crispy, breads are appropriately fluffy in the middle (though do best when toasted, as do most GF breads) and the cupcakes somehow manage to avoid that can't-put-your-finger-on-it sense of wrongness that is experienced with most cakes masquerading as a gluten-filled treat but just not living up to their gluten-filled cousins. Texture is where New Cascadia shines.

Since I ate here on such a regular basis while I was in town, let me share the things that blew my mind: both the crispy, bubbly thin-crust and the plump cornmeal pizzas, those little cheesy biscuits, the chocolate-espresso-walnut cookie, the caramel-y nut bar, the pink champagne cupcake (January's special flavor). The vegan cupcake of the month - peanut butter and jelly - was also very good, but as a die-hard lover of buttercream, it didn't rate for me with the other option. The Sunday brunch was extraordinary. I ordered the Challah French toast (again, perfect bread texture) and my friend let me sneak a few bites of her biscuits and mushroom gravy, which knocked my socks off. I never thought I could enjoy biscuits that weren't pronounced in their wheat-based crumbliness or gravy that wasn't born from the large jar of bacon grease that stood constant watch over my grandmother's stove, let alone the fact that I don't even like mushrooms. So in short, this place rocks.

cornmeal crust pizza at New Cascadia Traditional_ gluten-free Portland Oregon pink champagne cupcake at New Cascadia Traditional_ gluten-free Portland Oregon

New Cascadia Traditional thin crust pizza_ gluten free Portland Oregon

New Cascadia Traditional
1700 SE 6th Avenue
Tel: 503-546-4901
Open 7 days a week (brunch only on Sundays)
Also at the Portland Farmer's Market and several local groceries



Petunia's Pies and Pastries

Petunia's Pies and Pastries dessert case_ Portland Oregon gluten-free vegan

Petunia's is one of those sweet spots you can't help but want to go in. Classic bakery decor, an ample menu and a long glass case glittering with sugary baked goods... It's really only after you are intrigued by the magic of the place that you realize everything is gluten free and vegan. It only says it as a subheading on one of the signs outside and I'm not sure I even noticed it anywhere else. And that is the point. The food here is the star and stands for itself. The fact that us allergy-addled/dietary-restricted folks can dive in without thinking is the added bonus that makes folks like me stare saucer-eyed at the dessert case, mouth agape, muttering incredulously: 'I can eat any of this?!'.

My favorites here? The Cowgirl cookie, the salted caramel cookie bar (I die...), the chili with sweet molasses cornbread, the spicy blue corn veggie tacos and of course, the salted caramel apple pecan pie. Between the menu and the whole vibe of the place, never once do you feel like you're missing out. That said, as an adamant butter supporter, I think a few of the things I tried really could have benefited, especially texture-wise, from cream or butter. I do understand that gluten and dairy allergies so often go hand-in-hand, and I'm not sure you could find a place in the world that can cater to those needs better than Petunia's. Two thumbs way up. (I wonder if they'd ship internationally for Valentine's Day...?)

veggie chili and molasses cornbread at Petunia's_ gluten-free vegan Portland Oregon salted caramel apple pecan pie at Petunia's_ gluten-free vegan Portland Oregon

blue corn veggie tacos at Petunia's_ gluten-free vegan Portland Oregon

Petunia's Pies and Pastries
610 SW 12th Avenue
Tel: 503-841-5961
Open 7 days a week
Also at other retailers



Ground Breaker Brewing Gastropub

beer sampler with menu at Ground Breaker Brewing_ gluten-free Portland Oregon

After my first experience with 'gluten-free' beer (violently ill), I resigned to the idea that our relationship was over. Then my husband stumbled across a brewery in Portland that was 100% gluten free, as in, the beer was sourced from non-gluten grains. None of this 'distilled out' nonsense, it was gluten-free right from the start. This brewery was in fact one of the reasons I encouraged my parents' move to Portland: so I could come visit. Selfless, I know.

On our first visit, it was burger night. Not that I could complain, since burgers were yet another pre-celiac favorite now relegated to concocting at home with some sort of bread product that could pass as a bun in some alternate universe. While I do admit Ground Breaker's bread left me a little wanting, the rest was very tasty. Such solid, soul-warming pub food that we decided to come again for its next special menu night: Christmas Eve fried chicken and biscuits. Fried chicken was always a staple in my family, with our mid-western roots, so my standards are a bit high. This lived up to the challenge and frankly, if you didn't know it was gluten-free, you would never have guessed.

So the food is pretty good at Ground Breaker, but let's be honest, you come here for one thing: the beer. If you've ever tried gluten-free beer you probably know that it's mostly crap. They've taken something that's all gluten and then distilled the hell out of it until some rancid muck not even resembling the brew you once enjoyed pre-diagnosis: (enter overly exuberant announcer's voice here) so now even you can enjoy beer like the rest of them! Nein, danke. Ground Breaker starts with ingredients like roasted lentils, chestnuts and buckwheat to create beers that while unlike 'regular' beers you might be used to, are something unique and delicious all their own. My favorites included the Corsa Rose Gold Ale (a little like a rosé wine), the IPA No.5 and the seasonal candy cane ale (with the perfect peppermint flavor at the finish).

Beer, it feels great to friends again.

burger night at Ground Breaker Brewing Gastropub_ gluten-free Portland Oregon Ground Breaker Brewing Gastropub no gluten sign_ Portland Oregon



Ground Breaker Brewing
2030 SE 7th Street
Tel: 503-928-4195
Open Tuesday-Sunday (Tues & Wed evenings only)
Find the beer at other locations


Portland, you truly are a dream come true for those of us with food allergies...





Hello 2015 + Reevaluating

January 23, 2015

Happy new year collage

As anxious as I've been for 2014 to be over - a hospital stint, a celiac diagnosis, cancelled vacations and money stress - see ya! - I'm embarrassed to admit 2015 has gotten off to a slow start for me. Call it perpetual jet lag, the persistent effects of accidental glutenings or just general malaise, but I've felt a bit like a recent university grad, excited yet overwhelmed by everything that lay before her. Don't count me defeated just yet, though.

The new year dawned for me back in the US, where I was basking not only in years-overdue family time and the ease of daily interactions in English, but in some eye-openingly delicious food. Be it the ubiquitous allergy-friendly menus, plethora of 100% gluten-free establishments or just the fact that I could find a safe-for-me version of just about everything in a standard grocery store, but I was in heaven. The Berliner eye-roll/huffy response to requesting special food preparation was replaced with the knowing Portlander smile and nod. The weight that lifted off my shoulders was immense and warmed my food-loving soul more than I ever though possible post-celiac diagnosis. But the easy road isn't what life is really about... is it?

So I returned to Berlin a bit perplexed and conflicted. For the first time in years, I felt a pull from the US again, and I wasn't sure what to make of it. Did I really want to go back to the States? Was I done living the expat life? Was I just letting all this past year's frustrations build up and taking it out on my adopted home? Sure, it would be nice to be able to walk in anywhere without rehearsing conversation possibilities in my head first and not having to plan outings carefully around when I can be home for something safe to eat. But are German's lack of culinary diversity/allergy understanding and my own ineptitude at foreign language enough to make me want to throw in the towel? After this last year, I admit it's tempting.

Portland Rite-Aid's (like CVS) gluten-free section: more options than just about any German grocery
Gluten-free section at Rite-Aid in Portland

When my intense jet lag finally let up enough for my husband and energetic dog to drag me all around the neighborhood, I realized what I had lost sight of. As much I let myself fall a little in love with Portland, my heart still belongs to Berlin. Berlin, with it's crazy-gorgeous old architecture, abundant trees and parks, clean streets, art and creativity everywhere. Even with the oppressive grey and rather gruff people, the latest El Bocho to go up and filling up bags of my favorite sweets are just a few of the things that still brighten my day, no matter how many days we've been without sun. Norwegians are consistently rated some of the happiest people on earth and they live in near-darkness for months. Clearly, their outlook is something worth practicing.

The answer doesn't lie in the crippling paradox of choice offered everywhere in the US, it's about the right things being offered. And right now, Berlin still feels right. The ease of European travel, the ease of walking everywhere, great health care (have I mentioned my €75 week-long hospital stay?), six weeks of vacation. Though I wouldn't complain about more quality gluten-free choices and some Talenti gelato in our grocery...

My morning coffee in Portland with this as my creamer *swoon*
Morning coffee with Talenti eggnog gelato

And so I begin this year as so many others do: with resolutions of improvement. With many of my health issues answered, I am (slowly but surely) regaining my strength and focus, something that had been greatly holding me back before. First and foremost is the language. I know I'll never be one of those linguistics pros I so admire, but I can do better than I have been. I can study more, practice more, try harder. German is hard, but it's not impossible.

It's also time I stopped feeling sorry for my limited eating situation and dove headfirst into the kitchen again. One of the greatest things to come out of my years in Germany was discovering the time and passion for cooking. I went from not knowing how to cook basics like eggs or bacon to making meals my mother demands recipes for, hosting Thanksgiving dinners and baking treats that resulted in wide eyes and marriage proposals. If I can manage that, I know I can get to the same level without any gluten. Portland's amazing gluten-free bakeries and restaurants proved that to me (more on that next week!).

So while my love of the written word still remains strong, I will rebuild that slowly, out from under the foggy haze of a long-starved celiac brain. While I plan to post here a bit less, I hope to do so with more intent. I want to mull over my words more carefully, take the time to think about what I want to put out there and focus on the things that will make me whole again in real, everyday life. Food, which for a time became an uncertain enemy, is something I need to reclaim. And not just any food, great, amazing, mouth-watering soul-nourishing food. This is my challenge for the new year, for myself and hopefully, to share with others.

I was struck by the Martin Luther King Jr. quote making the rounds last week, the one that starts: "If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk...". The last few years, I was definitely crawling. While I might not be flying, or even running, anytime soon, moving forward is imperative. It might sound overly simplistic, but it's a message I could stand to be reminded of at this time in my life. I know I will still have bad days with this stupid disease, days where I get sick from accidentally ingesting gluten or where I break down in the grocery because I can't even find all the safe ingredients to make dinner, but I'm determined to meet this challenge head-on. As Dr. King also said: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." Bring it, 2015.

Two new hair colors down - pink and then purple. This year is already off to an ambitious start!
kate wirth pink and purple hair collage



Coveting for Christmas

December 19, 2014

All I want for Christmas 2014


Let's face it, it's always nice to give, but it's pretty damn awesome to receive too. I can't stop coveting all things warm and fuzzy and sparkly and shiny, especially this time of year. And a shoegirl can never go wrong with shoes, of course. Whether it's swanky headphones (I've been testing a lot, and let me tell you, these German ones are the best sound) or simple, inexpensive little studs, something coveted is always something appreciated. Even if you don't get everything you want, there are always after-Christmas sales...

Here's to a season full of things you love, from presents to family to food!




Autumn at Jungfernheide Forest and Lake Tegel in Berlin

November 26, 2014

Jungfernheide Forst Berlin_ autumn forest and Tegeler See lake

There's a joke that here in Berlin there are only two seasons: summer and winter. And to an extent, it's true. The winter is long and cold and dark. The moment the sun peeks out with any semblance of accompanying warmth, Berliners have shed their coats, taken up sunbathing and moved their lives to a Biergarten. Then a few short months later, it's time to pull out that heavy outerwear once again.

For those of us that hail autumn as the best season of the year, there is thankfully a respite, albeit blink-and-you'll-miss-it short, that is the most gorgeous and glorious fall here. The trees are adorned with multi-hued, autumnal splendor and the weather is just so that you don't need to break out the down coats, insulated boots and woolen hats quite yet. Sometimes, there's even sunshine. It's the kind of day that back in California we would take for granted, it would be just another day. But here in Berlin, it is something to savored and celebrated.

We had one such day earlier this month, before the temperatures dipped closer to freezing and the sun had begun its decent towards the earth at a painfully early hour every evening, that all but insisted we get out in nature and make the most of it. The sun felt warm on our faces. The leaves crunched beneath our feet. Bailey was like a crazed animal, running, fetching and splashing as if it was her last chance before the world iced over. We spent a few hours at one of our new favorite spots in the city: Jungfernheide Forest along the banks of Lake Tegel.

If Grunewald is the spot for rambunctious pups to gallivant and families to hike, Tegeler See is where older couples stroll hand-in-hand and younger people sit on blankets and hammocks at the water's edge, reading or just quietly taking in all in. This large body of water (second largest in Berlin), with substantial forests - Jungfernheide and Tegel - on either side, stretches out serenely before you. Stately sailboats and two-person rowboats soundlessly glide across the water, completing the picturesque scene. It reminds me a lot of where we spent our honeymoon on Lake George, in upstate New York, in all its peaceful, autumnal glory. Even the planes from nearby Tegel seem to be muffled by the forest and its unspoken treaty with the city to keep all of hustle and bustle outside its leafy confines. In all, the perfect spot to enjoy the last throes of autumn.

So it is with some reluctance that I say farewell to my favorite season. Sure, the winter solstice is still several weeks away, but we Berliners know that silly seasonal rules don't apply here. The trees on our street have shed all but a few of their golden leaves, trips outside require bundling with all manner of winter accoutrements and the Christmas markets have already begun. For us, winter is here.

Here's to a spectacular close to autumn, wherever you are, a happy Thanksgiving to my American friends and a magical start to the holiday season!


Jungfernheide Forst Berlin_ autumn color treetops forest Jungfernheide Forst Berlin_ trees and forest floor with autumn leaves Jungfernheide Forst Berlin_ autumn trees forest in sunlight Jungfernheide Forst Berlin_ autumn trees forest Jungfernheide Forst Berlin_ Tegeler See lake with autumn foliage Jungfernheide Forst Berlin_ swan in Tegeler See lake Jungfernheide Forst Berlin_ autumn tree-lined path Jungfernheide Forst Berlin_ Bailey dog fetching in autumn forest Jungfernheide Forst Berlin_ Kate Wirth autumn forest Jungfernheide Forst Berlin_ walking Bailey dog at Tegeler See lake during late autumn sun setting Jungfernheide Forst Berlin_ boat docks at Tegeler See lake
Jungfernheide Forst Berlin_ hammocks in trees at Tegeler See Jungfernheide Forst Berlin_ autumn leaf and sunset over Tegeler See
Jungfernheide Forst Berlin_ sun going down over Tegeler See lake docks

Home for the Holidays: Travel Essentials On the Plane

November 20, 2014



Travel Essentials: On the Plane


As soon as I even start to daydream about a travel destination, my mind immediately goes to: but what am I going to pack? Just as important as what I put in my suitcase is what I'm going to take with me on the plane. There are so many things to consider: comfort, entertainment, food, all those bulky items you don't want to cram into your suitcase. For those who fly often or if you're just like me and hate the fly in general, having the right things with you can help make your experience in transit as pleasurable as possible.

In an effort to make travel over the holidays - especially for those of us trekking halfway around the world - a little more bearable, I've compiled a list of what I think makes for an improved travel experience:

A nice carry-on | Even if you're stuck back in the cheap seats, you can help yourself feel a little chicer when you invest in a nicer carry-on. Not too nice, as you never know you'll be late to a connecting flight and they insist there's only room underneath the plane for your precious investment bag, but nice enough to make you smile and stand up a little straighter when you de-board alongside ratty old duffles and student backpacks. Right now, I'm loving this new print from Herschel.

A change of clothes | If like me, you've experienced a travel snag that meant unexpectedly spending a night somewhere or lost luggage (Heathrow Terminal 5, I'm looking at you), you've learned the valuable lesson that you always, always, put a change of clothes - if not a few, plus multiple underthings - in your carry-on. While you're at it, throw in a travel-sized deodorant, face wash and mascara, so when airlines do throw a wrench in your travel plans, you don't have to look as disheveled as you might feel.

Multi-purpose personal bag | Just the thought of one of my nice handbags in those dingy x-ray bins has always kept me from carrying an actual purse as my 'personal item'. A much better idea? Stow that nicer bag inside a larger, more durable bag so that when it does fall out on the x-ray belt or you end up deplaning on the tarmac to a bus in the middle of a rainstorm, you won't be any worse for the wear. At your destination, you can use this for mini-trips or carrying home market finds. I've been using my large foldable Longchamp tote for this for years and it never lets me down.

Passport organizer | While it might seem unnecessary, I love to have all my documents and papers all in one place when I travel to reduce stress in what can so often be a stressful experience. I love all the paperless solutions our technology provides us these days, but I'm very much a plan B kind of girl: if your phone can run out of juice/not connect right when you need to pull up a reservation, it probably will. Why not have all this info, along with all your IDs and information in a dedicated place, just in case. Ahhh, don't you feel better already?

Small items bag | With so much you want to have at your fingertips while living in a tiny seat for half a day or more, the more organized you are, the more tranquil and easy your travel will be. Some may call bags within bags overkill, but I call it a Type A's travel dream. Plus, I'm always dying to get all my creams and lip balms out of that heinous ziploc bag ASAP. A travel-themed bag makes it all the more apropos.

Layers | Why try to cram even more into your over-filled luggage when instead you can wear more on the plane? Layering up with things like this poncho, even over your coat, means you get more precious space in your checked baggage, more outfit possibilities at your destination and an option to curl up with in your seat beyond those yucky airplane blankets.

Large scarf | Unless you're headed somewhere tropical for the holidays, you're gonna need a scarf when you get there. So why not take your largest, fluffiest one on your person and it can double as a pillow/blanket/personal entertainment tent. I'm obsessed with this one from Zara right now. Ridiculously large and ridiculously soft.

Your bulkiest/easy-on/off shoes | Those people who can go on vacation with one pair - or, hell, even two - of shoes have my admiration for self-control. My handle isn't 'shoegirl' for nothing. Any good holiday will include multiple kinds of excursions, which of course, require multiple kinds of footwear. Travel in the winter means bulky boots, which can take up half your precious clothes space if they go in your luggage. Instead, wear a pair of cozy, yet put-together-looking boots (you're not shuffling around your living room, after all) that will be easy to slip on and off for security checks, keep you warm and comfy in transit and be great at your destination. My favorite are UGGs, of the non-elephant-feet persuasion, of course.

Cozy socks | Let's be honest, you can't possibly get comfortable enough to sleep with your shoes on. Well, I can't sleep on planes, period, but I do like to make myself a little comfortable on long flights. I'm not talking breaking out the flannel pants and facial masks (people, this isn't a pyjama party), just comfortable enough to stretch my toes in what little room my super long limbs are allowed. I've stolen a pair of these Wigwam ones from my husband because they are the ultimate in warmth and cushiness. It's the sock equivalent of a slipper. Just remember to slip your shoes back on if you head the lavatory. Eww.

Earplugs and eyemask | If you are one of those lucky folks you can sleep on a plane, you might as well make it as restful as possible. Blocking out the light and noise around you is often the only way. Sweet dreams, traveler.

Snacks | While it's true you don't really work up an appetite being sedentary for hours and hours on end, it helps to get some food at some point in your travels. There might be meals or snacks for purchase, but if you have food restrictions, like myself, there's never a guarantee. After reading several accounts of folks requesting GF meals but never getting them, not to mention the thought of multiple layovers with perhaps one terminal restaurant serving a safe option for me on the opposite end of the airport, I figured I'd better be safe rather than starving and bring my own food. These bars have been a staple in my bag at all times, the solid fruit and nuts packing a serious filling and nutritious punch. Plus, they are super delicious. Find what what fills you and slip a few in your carry-on.

Facial mist | It may seem like something only those pampered folks up in first class would do, but for good reason. Airplane air is devoid of moisture, which does the same for your skin. Slathering on layer after layer of creams can just turn your face into a greasy mess, so I like to live as the better half do and bring a travel size bottle of this stuff in my carry-on for a little bit moisture whenever I'm feeling parched. Just don't forget to do touch-ups if you're wearing make up to save yourself from looking like an Alice Cooper wannabe.

Noise-cancelling headphones | Those slightly-inhebriated guys that think they're hilarious. That baby crying. The deafening whir of massive engines keeping you thousands of feet in the air, hurtling along at hundreds of miles per hour. Sometimes, amidst a plane full of people, all with different ideas of how to spend their time, you don't want to be reminded you are captive for an unnatural amount of time with all these strangers. Some good noise-cancelling headphones are worth their weight in gold on the long hauls to restore your sanity. Santa, you wanna hook me up with these beauties for my return flight..?

Back-up battery | Too many hours and too few connections with time to scout power outlets to recharge before the next leg of your journey can mean the technology you so greatly depend on to keep you busy during your travels can fail you. Having a back-up power source to save you when the on-flight entertainment is a disappointment can be a lifesaver.

Before boarding, I always buy a large bottle of water (do you really want to be that person who keeps flagging down the flight attendants for constant refills for your Saharan-like insides?), as well as some magazines that feel like a treat and can distract you from turbulence when concentrating on a book is out of the question.


How about you? What are your go-tos for traveling?

Ace & Tate Glasses Home Try-On

November 18, 2014

ace and tate eyeglasses home try-on collage art jane george dustin
I was one of those kids in grade school who, while all my classmates were getting called 'four-eyes' and suffering through orthodontia pain, actually wanted to have glasses and braces. Perhaps it was because I knew I was a true nerd at heart, or perhaps I just liked the idea of looking smart, but I eventually got my wish - in spades. The braces I had for five long years, all the way through my first year at university (*ugh*), and my vision has gotten progressively worse, making day-to-day functioning without glasses an impossibility. My overly-sensitive eyes are grateful that glasses are still trending in a big way and that marketplace for affordable frames is growing larger all the time.

ace and tate glasses home try-on art in greyhound grey

Like Warby Parker and Jimmy Fairly before it, Ace & Tate is the newest kid on the block selling on-trend, affordable frames and donating to those in need with each pair sold. Based out of Amsterdam, this eyewear is available in Netherlands, Germany and UK. Similar to Warby, it offers home try-ons free of charge and a few locations at which to try on a sampling of frames in person. What particularly attracted me to the company was its positioning, not just as affordable eyewear, but as a stylish brand that understands that us fashion-loving folk enjoy changing up our glasses as much as our shoes or bags. Finally, a company that gets it!

ace and tate glasses home try-on jane in spotted havana

After my last attempt at getting Warby frames over here - via my mom in the US - which was a shipping (looked as though they had run over the package, repeatedly) and customs nightmare (interrogated me, made me wait an hour, then charged me an arm and a leg), I realized I should try to find affordable frames offered in my own country. Since I hadn't bought a new pair of glasses myself for a year and half, I figured it might be time to start looking again. So I began with Ace & Tate.

ace and tate glasses home try-on george in fudge havana

Since my visit to the Voo Store, which stocks some of Ace & Tate frames to try-on, left me wanting to see more colors and styles in the light of day, I placed my order for a home-try on box. There's just something about being able to stare critically at yourself in the mirror (or in my case, having to take selfie after selfie because my vision is so poor, I can't actually see myself in the mirror without my glasses on) without a store-full of people watching you. Needless to say, having five days to try out frames in one's daily life is ideal, and thankfully, Ace & Tate lets you do just that.

ace and tate glasses home try-on dustin in bio black 2

I placed my order - free, with a credit card hold - and five business days later, they arrived. The slim, paper-covered package felt special, but I realized the brilliance of it when I unwrapped it to uncover the pre-posted return label on the box underneath. All I had to do after my five-day trial was simply seal it up and drop it off in a mailbox. Easy-peasy. Furthermore, when I opened the box, I was seriously impressed with quality of the frames. Designed in its Amsterdam studio, frames hand-crafted at a family-run factory in northern Italy (save a few of the sunglasses styles, which are made in China) and lenses custom cut in a Dutch lab, these are a Europhile's dream. These felt surprisingly sturdy and well-made for such affordable frames.

ace and tate glasses close-up made in italy

Getting to live in these for a couple of days is eye-opening. The Art frames in greyhound grey were at the top of my list, but after trying them on, they felt a little uninspiring and falling too on the taupe side of grey for me. The George was a very nice shape and color, but similarly did not wow me. The more feminine Jane frame, which isn't my usual style, was surprisingly flattering, though the color available for home try-on was not the one I would choose. The Dustin in bio black felt like another possible winner, bold and black to match most of my current sartorial choices. With this experience surprising as it was, I might just order another home-try to see if there are more styles that might be just what I am looking for.

How about you? Which ones do you like?

ace and tate glasses home try-on box with instructions and personal note

While I may wait to try on some Warby Parkers while I'm in the States next month before making a decision on new eyeglasses, I have definite plans to purchase some sunnies from Ace & Tate. Unlike some other companies, Ace & Tate does not charge more for prescription sunglasses, nor for thinner, high-index lenses (very generous for someone with stronger vision needs, like myself), making them the most affordable prescription sunwear I've seen yet. I think I'm leaning towards the Robin or maybe the Bradock... Decisions, decisions.


*Update: Ace and Tate will have a pop-up shop in Berlin until December 23 at Torsrasse 66 in Mitte. It's a great space and they've got it all for you to try on!


All the opinions are my own, I have not been compensated or paid in any way. I only write about products or companies I believe in.

Lichtgrenze: 25-Year Anniversary of the Fall of The Berlin Wall

November 14, 2014

Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ lit balloons along Spree river at Bürgeramt Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus

The Berlin Wall came down when I was 10 years old. Living in California, we had just experienced the Loma Prieta quake and were still cleaning up, rebuilding and a bit shell-shocked ourselves when Berlin had it's own life-changing event. I vaguely remember seeing news footage of The Wall being broken down and people celebrating, but world events weren't high on my list of interests in the fifth grade. Even so, I was too young to understand what had happened before to make a simple city wall coming down such a momentous occurrence. It wasn't until I was living here in Berlin, and until this anniversary celebration that I began to witness the impact for myself.

Last weekend, Berlin put up the art-installation Lichtgrenze (light border) to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of The Wall and the success of the Peaceful Revolution - 8,000 white balloons lining 15km of its former path through the middle of Berlin - which lit up in the night. The balloons, which had personal wishes and messages attached, were released into the air on the evening of November 9th, the same night that marked the beginning of the end of The Wall. But it was not only the continuous line of lights that really drove home the city's divide, but the stories that reminded us of all the people who lived - and those who lost their lives - during this tumultuous time. The 80-year-old woman who leapt out of her apartment window right where the wall was starting to go up, but broke her back in the attempt to flee. The man who was shot when caught as part of a group escaping the East through underground tunnels, the truth of which only came out after the fall of The Wall. The young soldier who took a chance trying to get a little girl back to her family, separated in the chaos and haste with which The Wall was going up.

These 'Wall Stories', stationed every 150 meters along the Lichtgrenze, were telling of the way of life around The Wall. The oppression. The violence. The sadness. Rare video footage from the time was also shown on large screens at several notable locations along the path as well, showing everything from politicians to soldiers to sobbing children saying goodbye to family that ended up on the other side. At once upsetting and uplifting, experiencing these reminders of The Berlin Wall brought to life this time in history and just how monumental The Wall coming down was for the people of Berlin back then. Without this moment in history, I'm almost sure we never would have ended up living in this city and it certainly wouldn't be the amazing place that it is today. We were very lucky to have been a part of the celebration, 25 years later.


Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer Russ and Bailey dog walking between memorial and line of celebration balloons Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ Berliner Mauer sidewalk plaque Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ film set up at Kapelle der Versöhnung Chapel of Reconciliation Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ line of balloons on sidewalk with people walking past Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ Bernauer Strasse 1961 photograph wall mural Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ white balloons through Mauerpark with dog on the grass Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ lit balloons at night along Spree river at Bundestag Paul-Löbe-Haus
Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ lit balloons along Spree river path with Fernsehturm TV tower in background Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ lit balloons at night along Spree river from Bundestag
Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ lit balloons down Norwegerstrasse and along Bornholmerstrasse Bridge Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ lit balloon against night sky and moon
Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ lit balloons up graffiti stairs to Bornholmer Strasse Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ lit balloons down Norwegerstrasse to Fernsehturm TV tower from Bornholmerstrasse
Berlin Fall of The Wall 25 Year Anniversary Lichtgrenze_ lit balloons down Schwedter Steg