Is Olive Oil Always Best? You Might be Surprised

oilI was formerly of the opinion that olive oil was the best oil, very good for us, almost a cure all–and that I should use it whenever I was going to use oil. I’ve since learned that it’s not quite that simple.

Olive oil is great raw–on salads or with some spices and balsamic vinegar for bread dipping. It’s an omega 3 fat, something most of us in this country need to eat more of. But cooking with it is not always the best option, especially at higher temperatures.

There is also some confusion as to the label “extra virgin” olive oil (also known as evoo). To be officially certified “extra virgin,” an olive oil must be first cold pressed. If it’s not first cold pressed, it can’t qualify as extra virgin olive oil under standards established by the International Olive Council or the California Olive Oil Council.

First cold pressed basically means the fruit of the olive was crushed exactly one time – i.e., the “first press.” The “cold” refers to the temperature range of the fruit at the time it’s crushed. If the temperature range is too high during the crushing process, the quality of the oil will suffer. Lower quality oils – those that aren’t extra virgin – typically are crushed multiple times and at higher temperatures to extract more oil from the fruit. The resulting oil is much lower in quality. Quality is important when it comes to olive oil.

Every oil breaks down when heated, but exactly when that process happens is determined by the oil’s smoke point. Smoke point is the temperature to which an oil can be heated before it smokes and discolors—indications of decomposition. At the smoke point, the oil can add unsavory flavors to your meal. It may also start to smell as you are cooking. Watch out for those particular signs as it means you are getting close to the flash point, which is when the oil can burst into flames.

As a rule, vegetable-based oils have higher smoke points than animal-based fats like butter or lard, with the exception of hydrogenated vegetable shortening (which has a lower smoke point than butter) and olive oil (which has a smoke point about equal to that of lard).

I use coconut oil for making pop corn the old fashioned way (much better than microwave popcorn by the way). It tastes great and doesn’t break down or discolor when heated to the point needed to pop the corn. As a saturated fat, coconut oil had a bad reputation. But research has proven that it is actually beneficial and contains some saturated fatty acids (like Capric Acid and Lauric Acid) that raise the level of high density lipoproteins in the body and lower bad cholesterol. Fatty  acids are also believed to increase the rate of metabolism and thus help shed weight. Used topically, coconut oil is also good for skin and hair.

Hemp oil and flax seed oil are both great for your diet, as they are naturally high in essential fatty acids. I have to admit I don’t know what hemp oil tastes like, but as in many things hemp, it is said to be high quality yet controversial.

The best oils for deep frying and very high temperature cooking are refined safflower and sunflower oils, peanut, safflower and soy oils. Refined almond, avocado and cottonseed oil are also great if you can find and afford them, and canola (rapeseed) oil is usually OK as well. Safflower and avocado oils have about the highest smoke points of all oils, right around 475-500°F.

A simple way to try new oils is to make a vinaigrette. Mix three parts oil to one part vinegar (my sister uses half oil and half vinegar–try different proportions to find your favorite). The varieties of oils and vinegars are endless and you can add crushed garlic, sea salt, spices and / or lemon juice. Homemade vinaigrette is much better than what you get at the store minus the preservatives and chemicals in commercial brands. Another way I get healthy olive oil in my diet is to make a dip for bread. Start with a 1/2 cup of olive oil. Add two cloves of crushed garlic, 1 tsp. of crushed pepper, 1/2 tsp. of sea salt and 1 tblsp. of balsamic vinegar. I love rosemary bread for dipping, but in lieu of that add rosemary or other spices to the oil dip and enjoy.

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World Water Week: March 20-26

Because we have plenty of clean water to drink, we don’t often think of the global water crisis, which is part of the reason that world water week exists. It helps to remind us of this very precious commodity that we take for granted, and how we can conserve it.

Most of you readers already know that bottled water is a no-no. The Madison Water Utility had showings of the movie “Tapped,” in which we discovered that a lot of bottled water is just municipal water. Corporations come into small towns and buy up the rights to the water and then bottle it and sell it. They are subject to less regulations in many cases than the municipality that has given them the permit to take the water. So there are no standards and no real way to know the quality of the bottled water. Perhaps worse than this fact is the understanding that the waste plastic bottles are dumped in the ocean! There are floating masses of plastic bottles in our oceans, compromising them and the life within them. Watch the movie when you get a chance.

According to , every $1 invested in water sanitation and hygiene improvements does approximately $8 worth of good for individuals and communities across the developing world.

Interesting facts from

  • Women spend 200 million hours a day collecting water
  • More than 3x more people lack water than live in the United States
  • More people have a mobile phone than a toilet

There are small things we can do, and large things. We can donate on or We can also buy a low-flow toilet, install a rain barrel, grow a rain garden, fix all leaks, check out environmental films at and definitely don’t buy bottled water.

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Sandra Fluke and A New Era of Fighting for Basic Rights

Whether Rush Limbaugh is uninformed or whether he just wanted to call law student Sandra Fluke names isn’t clear, but it’s conceivable that he actually believes that birth control is the same as Viagra and that you take it in the same way for the same reason.

Perhaps Limbaugh’s equating birth control with Viagra prompted some of the legislation aimed at helping men with their sexual health, such as an amendment introduced by Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, D-Madison, that would have required men undergo rectal exams before they could use erectile dysfunction medication. A bill introduced in another state required men get the opinion of a psychologist and sign a document acknowledging the risks of taking the medication before going on such medication. (See ohio-lawmaker-wants-men-to-get-second-opinion.)

Limbaugh displayed complete ignorance of the fact that birth control pills are hormones and are prescribed for many hormone-related health issues. That was, in fact, part of what Fluke was testifying about, had Limbaugh cared to find out before blasting her.

But the story doesn’t start there. It begins with an all-male committee (the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee) that rejected Democrats’ request that Fluke testify on the Obama administration’s policy requiring that employees of religion-affiliated institutions (such as Georgetown University where Fluke attends law school) have access to health insurance that covers birth control. She was denied the right to speak, as if somehow the men on the committee knew more about the issue than she did. In light of Limbaugh’s lack of knowledge, what woman could feel secure leaving it to men to decide the issues of women’s health care? Obviously Limbaugh does not represent all men, but why would women be shut out from a discussion of women’s health?

Because of an extreme agenda that is not about health care, it’s about religion. In this country, we are supposed to be able to choose our religion, and if we choose a religion that is against birth control, then we can choose not to use it. Do people really want this country to be a theocracy like Saudi Arabia? There, too, women’s lives and choices are controlled by men (or should I say religion?).

The other disinformation that Limbaugh was trying to spread was that Sandra Fluke was asking tax payers to pay for her birth control. She was actually trying to make the case that employers should not have the right to decide what coverage they want to afford to employees (and students who get insurance through the university). What would stop employers from deciding they did not want to offer coverage for pregnancy if the pregnancy had started with in vitro fertilization? Or if the employer was a member of a religion that didn’t accept blood transfusions, they would ostensibly be allowed to deny coverage of blood transfusions.

Committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., had said that the panel’s focus was on whether the administration policy was a violation of religious freedom. He said that Fluke, invited by Democrats in her capacity as former head of Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice, was not qualified to speak on the religious rights question.

This turns the principle of religious freedom on its head. It would mean that employees who were not part of the religion of the employer could be discriminated against due to their religion (or lack of). It is religious discrimination, not freedom. Employers should be able to practice their religion freely as should their employees, and benefits should not enter into the equation. Just one more reason that health care should be provided for all universally, and not part of an employer / employee relationship.

Thankfully, the hypocritical, illegal-drug and viagara-using limbaugh was punished for his idiocy by his advertisers. At least 45 dropped their ads from his show.

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La Brioche True Food, Truly Good

cup of teaI had the pleasure of dining at La Brioche, 2662 University Ave, on Friday with my sister and niece.

The first thing of note was parking–not good, though we all found a spot. I had to do two tours around before I got mine and we were meeting at 1:00, so probably even worse at noon.

Once inside, the room is lovely. People were drinking tea from Hall tea pots my sister was quick to note (a collector of same). Many were seated in overstuffed chairs as the sun streamed in. The bakery was displayed in a bakery case up front to tempt us all.

We were seated in the back–still pretty but darker as it was not by the windows.

I had shitake sake soup and cherry-walnut salad–organic mixed baby greens, pecorino, balsamic vinaigrette, dried cherries and walnuts. The soup was good. There was a grainy-ness to it which I enjoyed and there was a bit of a bite as well.

My sister got the grilled cheese: sharp cheddar, pesto, tomatoes, red onions, avocado, served warm on sourdough. She was very happy with her choice and my niece got a combination which was a half veggie sandwich and a cup of the shitake soup. She was pleased with her choices as well.

We also had a piece of caramel leche cake and coffee. The coffee (including my decaf) was good. The cake was OK, not worth the price. We could see inside a window to part of the kitchen where a man frosted stunningly beautiful cakes.

All in all a great lunch. Support our local businesses and give La Brioche a try.


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Say No to Puppy Mills

A puppy mill is any place that puppies are abused. This can be a breeder who keeps their dogs in cramped cages, unclean conditions and various other abuses. They are usually playing a numbers game, trying to sell lots of dogs with no thought to quality control or conditions or simply the comfort of the animals.

Unfortunately, puppy mills do exist in Wisconsin. So please take time to write a letter to your legislator or get involved in other ways to safeguard these dogs who can’t fend for themselves.

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Violet Art Studio: Accessible Art

I spent a productive afternoon making prints at Violet Art Studio, 223 E. Mifflin St. We bought the class through a groupon a few weeks ago–half off a two-hour printing class.

All supplies were there and  you could use anything you saw including a very cool gold ink. Experimentation was encouraged by Aliza, owner and artist-in-chief; and the freedom to “mess up” was enjoyed by all. I walked away with six nice prints. Violet Art Studio is in a huge Victorian house and the art room was flooded with sunlight on a cold February afternoon.

The class was fun and Aliza is knowledgeable and friendly. She teaches ceramics, linoleum block printing, and printing with styrofoam. There are classes for kids, classes for adults, and classes for adults with kids. You can arrange to have a group class or just sign up for a class and meet new people while making art.

What a great way to spend a cold winter afternoon. Be sure to check out Violet Art Studio.

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Make Kitty–and Yourself–Happy With Wheatberries

It’s so easy to grow your own cat grass, provided you can get the grains. Wheat berry is what I use and I am able to get them locally at Willy Street Coop.

Fill a shallow container about half full of rich soil, I use potting soil. Sprinkle the grains on the soil trying to keep them in a single layer. Place in a sunny window sill and mist them daily.

You can also make a yummy salad with wheat berries. Put a cup of winter wheat berries into 3 cups of boiling salted water and cook for 45 minutes. Combine with 3 Tlbs of olive oil, 1/2 cup of dried cranberries and 1/4 cup of toasted pecans. Add 1 Tlb of balsamic vinegar and a 1/2 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper for a nutritious treat.

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Technology Turnover: CDs Into Clocks


clock image courtesy of Alan Cleaver via Flickr Creative Commons

CDs and DVDs are starting to give way to MP3s and Blu-ray disks — My, how technology changes! While I still haven’t found many uses for old audio or videotapes (beyond continuing to enjoy them on my old equipment), I’ve discovered a number of cool reuses for old disks.

Creative ideas abound on the web, and I’ll share more, but thought I’d start with one elegant — and simple — solution. You can turn used CDs or DVDs into working clocks.

CD clock making: two approaches

Clock making kits are available and inexpensive. Klockit is exactly what you’d expect — a virtual warehouse of clock-making kits. There are many similar sources on the web. You can find a standard quartz movement for under $10, even under $5 if you look.

Completely recycling an old clock is another very frugal option. A lot of folks I know have old, working plastic alarm clocks that either no longer fit their decor or have cracks in their cases. You can pick these up through Freecycle, Craigslist or Ebay or just ask around.


CDs image courtesy of Peter Coombe via Flickr Creative Commons

To make your clock, you’ll need the following

  • One old CD or DVD per clock
  • Pretty printed CD or DVD label clock face
  • Clock kit or old clock
  • A stand or hanger for your clock (sometimes hangers are a part of the little quartz movement but you may need to buy or make your own.)
  • Small, flat pliers for easy handling

The following should come in your kit or with your old clock movement:

  • Inner workings for your clock; a simple quartz movement makes it easy
  • Clock hands
  • Hardware to fit it altogether: one rubber gripping disk, one spacer disk (to fill in the hole a bit as well as space out the parts) and a brass locking nut.

clock facePrepare the clock face

Print your own clock face easily either directly onto your CD (if you have a printer that does that) or print onto a pre-cut CD or DVD label.

I found some lovely downloadable clock faces on a decorating blog called White Life and on The Woodshop blog, but Klockit also has some and, if you’re artistic you can create your own.

Painting the CD and drawing on the numbers is another option for those of us with skill. I found detailed instructions for painting a clock face on eHow.

CD clock assembly steps

  • Print or paint your CD with a clock face
  • Get your kit out or remove the workings from another clock
  • Follow the kit instructions, some variation of the following:
    • Hold the the movement with spindle facing out.
    • Put the rubber gripper ring on the spindle
    • Next slide your CD clock face on, making sure 12 is at the top
    • Put the plastic spacer disk on next. It should help close up and center the hole around the spindle.
    • Next put the brass locking nut on. Make sure 12 is at the top and everything is centered and then tighten the nut.
    • Now you are ready for the hour hand. Make sure it is pointing to 12.
    • Follow it with the minute hand; making sure it is also at 12.
    • Last, put the second hand to finish it off and lock everything into place.

clock image courtesy of kojotomoto via Flickr Creative Commons

Flip the on switch and viola! Your first upcycled CD clock.

For more, check out  “How to Make a CD Clock“  on YouTube for some fairly clear instructions.

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Saying Thank You: Small Gesture, Big Impact

Thank youSaying “thank you” can be as subtle as a pat on the back or as bold as a parade, but I will go out on a limb here and say, no matter how you do it, it will never, ever go out of style.

Thank you cards and notes may seem quaint in this era of terse text messages and furtive emails, but there really is still nothing like getting that handwritten appreciation via the mail, left on your desk or tucked discreetly into your jacket pocket by your loved one.

Advice on how to write thank you notes is all over the web, so I’m thinking many folks are like me and want very much to continue the tradition.

When should you send a thank you note?

Receiving a gift is one situation where a thank you note is a given. Like many people, my first experience with writing a thank you note was writing to my grandma after Christmas. At the time it was a chore, but as a grandma now I get why it was so important.

Getting a gift is not the only opportunity to let someone know his or her kindness was appreciated. Thank you notes can be sent when:

  • someone does something especially nice and thoughtful for you
  • someone helps you out of a jam — jumps your car battery, walks your dog when you’re sick, steps in on a project with some new ideas
  • hosts you at their home either for an occasion or as an overnight guest

Timing your thank you note

Thank youThank you notes are wonderful when sent within days of receipt, but for a lot of us this isn’t always feasible. Bottom line on this is it’s better to send a thank you than not…even if that means it’s very late.

Small gestures and kindnesses should be acknowledged quickly, in proportion to the situation. A rule of thumb is to try to do that within a week or two maximum. For me, I often get waylaid and it is one instance where calling the person or sending an email is better than letting it go for a month of more.

For holiday or birthday gifts, try to get them out at least within a month of the occasion.

For the big life occasions — weddings, births, funerals and the associated showers — it is perfectly acceptable to take many months if not a full year to acknowledge a gift. Givers know theirs is not the only gift and that you are busy with your new baby or may need time after the loss of a loved one.

Thank you note tips

  • Be personal. A good thank you note is very personal. Don’t just say “thanks” and sign your name. Address the gift giver by name. People want to know the thank you is for them, not just part of a stack of generic thank you cards.
  • Mention the gift or action specifically (unless it is cash). Examples: “Thank you for the lovely blue ski sweater” “Thanks for hosting such a fun New Year’s party.”
  • For cash, it’s just more courteous to say what the cash means to you. Examples: “Thank you for your kind and generous gift.” “With your help, I will be able to start school well-prepared. Thank you so much!”
  • Include at least one other personal comment. It could be something about the gift or action or something about your relationship. Examples: “The sweater is a perfect fit and so pretty.” “I can’t wait to see you again this summer!”
  • Avoid extraneous news. Send a separate letter to “catch up” with the person or enclose it with the notecard, but let the thank you itself stand alone.
  • Customize your message. Preprinted thank you cards are okay, but a pretty or funny blank notecard allows you customize the message (and they can be used for a variety of situations). Postcards also are acceptable for a quick thanks.
  • Hand write or hand print your note. Even if your handwriting isn’t great, it will be very appreciated. This is a very human interaction, and writing makes this more apparent.
  • Be natural, not formal unless it is a business acquaintance. For family and friends “your hospitality is appreciated” is all wrong (unless that’s the way you always talk).
  • Be yourself, be genuine…let them know it comes from your heart.

What if you hate the gift?

Never lie about a gift you really don’t like or won’t use. Avoid commitments such as “I will hang this lovely picture in my front hall” unless you want to scramble to hang it every time grandma is due to pay a visit.

Try to find one feature of the gift that you like: “I can tell it was lovingly crafted.” “It’s a pretty shade of blue.” “It will remind me of how much fun I had on our trip.”

Focus on the giving part, if you can’t find anything nice to say about the gift: “Thank you for the hat and gloves. It was so kind of you to remember my birthday.”

If a clothing gift doesn’t fit you, it’s okay to let the giver know. They can usually exchange it for the right size OR they can give you the receipt so you can exchange it. If you don’t like the color or style of item, this might be a good time to get the right size and perhaps a more suitable color.

Duplicate gifts can be hard. If you receive more than one at the same time, it’s okay to just say you received two (because the givers knew “how much I wanted it” or “how well it suited me”) and ask for the receipt to exchange one. Otherwise, you could quietly donate one or carefully regift it. After all, the giver doesn’t need to know which of the two you are not keeping.

Just grin and bear it. Remember, it’s the thought that counts. Put the item away, and at some point in the future you can donate it or even regift if you are careful to keep it out of the same circle of friends or family.

Thank you

While we’re on the subject, thanks to our readers who have shared their thoughts, opinions and ideas this year. We look forward to a simple and fun year ahead!

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Idiot-proof Way to Get the Money out of Politics

In a word: read. Another word: research.

It’s really pretty simple. Money is used politically to win elections. Political campaigns raise money, then spend it on TV and radio spots, direct mail campaigns, email campaigns, twitter, facebook, etc. All those efforts are expended to get you to vote for the particular politician. What if none of it worked? What if, instead, we did our research and picked the BEST QUALIFIED candidate! I know it’s radical, but it just might work.

Most of the time, he who spends the most, wins the race. And that is sad, regrettable and no way at all to pick the person who would govern the best.

Currently, one does not have to go far or work hard to find the truth. If you join me in this revolution–that is, if you read and research rather than react to an ad–the money will go in another direction. The nonpartisan League of Women Voters will suddenly have an equal but opposite group called Society of Women Voters that will be highly partisan and backed by big money and will, they hope, appear in the press to be equivalent to the truly nonpartisan League of Women Voters. That will also happen to the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and other similar groups.

But–it has not happened yet (on a widespread basis and so we have the chance, right now, to vote in the best candidates for the job instead of the best candidates money can buy. And if we do that, maybe we can reclaim the middle class, rebuild America and spend the billions and billions of dollars used to deceive voters to actually help American citizens. We’re in trouble here in the good ol US of A and we’re in trouble in the great state of Wisconsin. So let’s try something radical. Let’s not let money buy the next elections. Let’s take a step towards getting the money out of politics. Because if we read and research what is truly going on, and who the candidates really are, we’ll be more involved, more aware, and less likely to sit by as big money literally buys the air we breathe.


  • League of Women Voters, Wisconsin
  • Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
  • WDC’s Campaign Database
  • ALEC Exposed - Through the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights. These so-called “model bills” reach into almost every area of American life and often directly benefit huge corporations.
  • The Center for Media and Democracy publishes SourceWatch, this collaborative resource for citizens and journalists looking for documented information about the corporations, industries, and people trying to influence public policy and public opinion. We believe in telling the truth about the most powerful interests in society—not just relating their self-serving press releases or letting real facts be bleached away by spin.


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