#324. I Got Mugged at Gunpoint

Well, this sucks. 

Well, this sucks. 

I got mugged last night at gunpoint. 

For context: I went to the Brave New Workshop Christmas show last night (great show, btw) with three girl friends. After the show, we had a drink at the bar down the street from my house. At midnight, we starting walking home, together. A block and a half from my house, three men approached us, each of them pulling out a gun. 

Oh shit.

You know, I've always wondered how I'd react in a situation like this. Would I just hand over my purse? Could I defend myself if need be? Would I run? Would I cry? 

As it turns out, I hit the deck, somehow belly flopping on the sidewalk. One of the gun wielding A-holes sternly stated, "Give me your purse. Where's your phone?" In my purse, I think I said calmly-ish.  

Within 15 seconds, the guys were gone. One of my friends had her phone in her coat pocket (LUCKY!), and called the police. An officer met us at my house and got all our information. Then, he left and us girls at my house, where we cancelled our credit cards, tried to track our iPhones and couldn't stop saying holy shit.

Obviously, the most important thing is that we're safe.

OBVIOUSLY. But if I am really being honest, once I realized we were still alive/okay and saw the guys run away with our purses, all I was really thinking about was the inconvenience of having my ID, credits cards, phone and stupid purse (that I really, really liked a lot) stolen. One second before Christmas. And the lifelong feeling of being unsafe in my neighborhood? Ugh, it's so, so sad. 

It's the dumbest!

I mean, really? Mugged at gunpoint. I can't even. Sometimes you don't need to seek out the scary stuff. It finds you, whether you like it or not. 

Quitters: I Overhauled My Diet & Got My Life Back

Danielle Walker, making medicine. 

Danielle Walker, making medicine. 

Danielle Walker seems like she's got it all together-- beautiful family, booming business, amazing hair.

However, her life wasn't always this awesome. At 22, she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that led to several near death experiences. As a last-ditch effort, she decided to overhaul her diet, cutting out foods like grans, legume, lactose and processed foods. Within a month, she felt notably better.

A self-taught cook, Danielle's food blog Against All Grain showcases delicious, approachable Paleo recipes. People love it-- in fact, AAG sees two million page views each month, and in 2013, Danielle's first book, Against All Grain immediately landed on the NYT bestsellers list,, where it still sits comfortably (oh, and here's the follow-up, Meals Made Simple). I talk to her about food as medicine, eating grain-free in an Italian family and inadvertently building an empire. 

* * *

What did you quit and why?

Grains, lactose, legumes, anything processed, refine sugars and flours. I think that covers it all!

What did your life feel like before you quit?

I was extremely sick, so I wasn’t really living much life.  I was on medical disability from my job and in the hospital constantly. I could barely even leave the house.  So when I discovered diet could potentially help, I had a feeling of hope. 

Biting the bullet and trying it was another hurdle to overcome. But in the first month or so, the results were really encouraging.

This does not look fun. 

This does not look fun. 

What was the hardest thing about quitting?

Oh gosh. Everything. I love food. I was really young and didn’t really know how to cook all that well. I grew up in and Italian family, so I loved Italian food. I loved all the bread. I missed being able to go out to eat and eat the same as everyone else or go to someone’s house and enjoy the things they were serving. Initially, the hardest thing was probably feeling ostracized.

It was a mental thing I needed to get over. Now I can go out and I know what to order. I know what I can pick around and I know when I need to bring my own food. This continues to get better as the awareness for gluten- and grain-free grows.

The before and after pics pretty much sum it up. 

The before and after pics pretty much sum it up. 

Quitting can be emotionally taxing who or what help you cope?

My husband is a huge player. He gave me that extra push because I was dragging my feet for so long. It was a lot of back-and-forth at first. I'd commit to it and then I'd go back and eat things that I shouldn’t. Eventually, he asked, "Do you need me to do this with you so you’ll stick to it?" And I said that would be really great!

Before [he committed], I'd would sit with him at dinner and he’ll be eating something that I couldn’t. When he switched, it became a lot better. I always tell people to find a support system, whether it’s a friend, spouse or parent who not only keeps you accountable, but encourages you and helps you feel like you’re not alone. 

Was quitting to your new diet for good scary?

The very first time, I had a fear that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy food.  But over time as I started experimenting with things, it really wasn’t that bad. There's actually a lot that you can eat. It was really empowering, too. Taking your health into your own hands, seeing such a massive improvement and knowing it’s all in what you’re eating,  not in medications. I was helping myself get better.

Changing my diet was a leap of faith, but it was either that or an IV immunosuppressive drug  that would have to be administered every six to eight weeks. I would be on that for the rest of my life. For me, the food seems a lot less scary than the alternative.

Aside from your health, what has been the most rewarding thing that’s happened to you since you quit?

Being able to be a mom to my son. I had a big flareup when he was nine months old and I was hospitalized for two weeks and pretty much bedridden for two months.  I was unable to take care of him. That's my number one. I love that I’m able to be there for my family.

But in terms of the blog and the books, it's definitely all of the people who share their stories of finding health. It’s been incredible.

Danielle's two fabulous and best-selling books. 

Danielle's two fabulous and best-selling books. 

There's a lot of people who are sick and over hearing you should try this diet or that diet. Was that you pre-Against All Grains?

Oh yes, definitely. People threw every book and supplement at me.  It’s very tiring. Honestly, I even didn’t read any of the books. I just wanted someone to tell me what I could and couldn't eat. When you're sick, you don’t have the bandwidth to try everything. Plus, you’re really tired of things not working. You're upset and frustrated and losing hope that anything will work.

My advice for people is to just start with the basics. Don’t go for the layered birthday cake recipe right away. It'll probably make you run the opposite direction. Start with some of the more simple, crockpot things. Just realize that the food tastes good and go from there.

Kind of a dumb question because the answer is so obvious, but how has quitting changed your life?

Of course the family aspect,  but this business I’ve been able to grow out of it. It's nothing I would’ve ever expected. When I started doing this, I honestly thought it was only for my digestive health. I didn’t know it could help anybody else. I thought it was just for me.

It’s been amazing to see people using it for all sorts of things. I started my blog just to fill my mom and sister in on what I was eating. The fact that it’s reached millions of people is more than I ever could’ve imagined. I’m so grateful to do something that I love and I’m getting to touch a lot of people along the way.

* * *

You can read more about Danielle on her blog Against All Grain. Wanna find her elsewhere? Try Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Check out other Quitters here.

PS If you want to share your quitting story, email me at heyeleanorproject@gmail.com.

#323. The Classiest No-Bake Recipe: English Toffee

'Tis the season for baking. 

I'm not good at baking. 

However, come Christmas, there are two treats I make annually. One of them requires zero baking, but is actually a pretty sophisticated-seeming treat. 

I'm talking about English toffee. 

This was my maternal grandma's go-to confection. Every year, she'd bring it to our house, displayed in beautiful crystal bowls. She'd tell me, "I want to make these with you next year, Molly Doll." She even gave me a candy thermometer for Christmas. 

I was in junior high. I wasn't really interested in making toffee with my 85-year-old grandma. Don't get me wrong, I LOVED her SO much, but I was busy trying to figure out how to replicate cute outfits from the Delia's catalogue so boys would like me. 

So of course, my grandma died a few years later, before I ever got around to learning her toffee method or recipe. My heart still hurts when I think about that. 

But then something magical happened. 

About ten years ago, my paternal grandma mentioned she always loved the English toffee my other grandma made for Christmas. It was her favorite. She missed it. 

I decided to make it for her. 

Of course, I had no recipe. I googled the crap out of toffee and stumbled upon Cooking for Engineer's simple, practical method. I followed the instructions and though my first batch wasn't perfect, I was shocked at the how easy it was! 

Over the years, I've made a few tweaks so it's more like how I remember my grandma's. 

Every year, it would take me a few attempts to really nail a batch. My best batch went to Grandma, and the rest went to my friends and family. 

I'm always nervous about sharing recipes here because A) what if yours doesn't turn out because I sucked at explaining it and B) I'm never quite confident enough in my skills. However, this recipe? I've made it dozens of times and have effed it up so many times that I really have it dialed in. 

Grandma Stromberg's English Toffee

Active time: 30 minutes
Ingredients:
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 t water
1/8 t salt, plus a little extra for sprinkling at the end
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup roasted and salted almonds, coarsely chopped

Equipment:
Medium sautee pan (high sides necessary-- this stuff expands as it cooks!), spatula, candy or instant read thermometer, baking sheet, parchment paper.

My go-to butter... mainly 'cause I just love that Land O Lakes lady. 

My go-to butter... mainly 'cause I just love that Land O Lakes lady. 

Hardly any ingredients. I love it!

Hardly any ingredients. I love it!

In a medium sautee pan with high sides, melt butter on low (temperature is important here-- too hot and your butter and sugar will separate). Once the butter begins to melt, add the sugar, water and salt. Mix constantly until everything is incorporated, which should take a few minutes. 

Low and slow. Loooow and slooow.

Low and slow. Loooow and slooow.

Once the sugar and butter are one, turn the heat up to medium-high. The mixture will begin to bubble and nearly double in size. Continue stirring.

When the water boils off, the mixture will collapse on itself, becoming creamy and thick (two words I hate). Continue stirring even though your arm hurts until the mixture reaches 300 degrees (hence, the thermometer). The mixture should be a beautiful toffee color. The key is removing the mixture from heat once it reaches 300 degrees but before it hits 320. I use this super nice Thermapen we got as a wedding gift. Works for candy, meat, everything.

Next, pour the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Let sit for 60 seconds, then evenly distribute the chocolate chips on top. As the chips melt, spread them evenly across the toffee with a spatula, back of a spoon, whatever. 

This photo is so pretty. 

This photo is so pretty. 

Slap that chocolate on!

Slap that chocolate on!

Next, evenly sprinkle a 1/4 t of salt over the top (optional, but I think this is the key to my toffee), then top with chopped almonds. 

Let sit in the fridge (or outside if you live in Minnesota!) for a half hour. Then break into pieces with your chef's knife. Try some. Aren't you really impressed with yourself?!

Welcome to my walk-in fridge!

Welcome to my walk-in fridge!

Please note: You will lose a lot of almonds. Don't worry, that's totally normal. I like to take the tiny left-behind bits, store them in the freezer and put them on ice cream when I really need to eat my feelings.

If you have any issues/comments/questions, ask me in the comments. Happy to help.

* * *

PS if you're into cooking, maybe you should pick up some of these things for yourself. Or someone else. Up to you.  

PPS The only other recipe I've shared thus far on Hey Eleanor. I still think tomatoes are pretty gross. 
 

#322. Why I'll Probably Never Do Airbrushed Makeup Again

It takes a lot of goop to look this good-ish.

It takes a lot of goop to look this good-ish.

Until 2014, I'd never been in a wedding. 

As the saying goes, Always a personal attendant, never a bridesmaid.

In fact, the first wedding I stood up in was my own. How weird is that?! I loved it. 

Even weirder, in the six months after my wedding, I've been a bridesmaid twice. Most recently at my brother's wedding in California. 

Shari (the stunning bride and my new sister-in-law!) and the rest of us ladies got gussied up at the St Regis hotel. As you can see from the pictures, it's a total dump

Since my hair is three inches long, I opted out of getting it professionally done. So when the makeup artist asked if I wanted to upgrade my makeup from the standard stuff to airbrush, I was like,

"Sure!"

She said it would last longer than regular makeup, be sweat/tears proof and look flawless in photos. That all sounded great to me. Plus, I'd never tried airbrushed makeup before and celebs are all into that stuff, right? 

I did have just a twinge of anxiety.

I didn't want to look ridiculous in person. I mean, a mega makeup look isn't may jam. But whatever, I'll give it a try! 

The makeup lady did my eyes first, then began the loooong process of airbrushing my foundation. She told me to stay still and expressionless so the spray wouldn't congregate in my smile/forehead lines. Then, she started spraying. It went a little something like this:

Be prepared for some serious excitement. 

The airbrushing felt like it took 10 full minutes, but I'm sure it was quicker than that. When she was done, I opened my eyes and immediately saw Shari's wide-eyed, panicked face.

Uh-oh.

Now, please keep in mind, I did not have a mirror handy. So this made me panic, too. I reminded myself that I'd chosen this airbrush thing and it was too late to turn back. 

Next, false eyelashes were added and lipstick applied. Makeup lady then handed me a mirror. 

Applying me false eyelashes, matey! Also, seeing my skin up close = incentive to keep getting facials. 

Applying me false eyelashes, matey! Also, seeing my skin up close = incentive to keep getting facials. 

Yeow! 

The look was aggressive, to say the least. But hey, it'd wear off a bit in the 90 minutes between now and the wedding, right? And once I'm in my dress and jewelry, it would look great.... right?

I hoped so. 

As I sipped champagne in my yoga clothes/red carpet makeup, I got a call from my husband. He was delivering a gift for Shari from my brother and asked if I could meet him the hotel lobby. I said sure.

And then I panicked some more.

Josh doesn't really like when I wear a lot of makeup, so I knew he probably wouldn't dig this look. However, when I approached him in the lobby, I was pleasantly surprised.

"You look so beautiful!" 

Aw, thanks, honey! I smiled and went in for a hug. He then gave me a quizzical look.

"...from a distance." 

Ah, crap! I didn't even take offense because I totally, 100 percent agreed! Between laughs, I assured him that by the time the wedding rolled around, all this would be toned down... which I knew was probably a lie. 

Fast-forward.

The wedding was beautiful. Sunny, 70 degrees, and lots of tears from everyone. As promised, my makeup stayed put! And yes, it looked nice in photos: 

Ready for my close up, Mr. Seville. 

Ready for my close up, Mr. Seville. 

Bridesmaids with the mother of the bride. Cheers!

Bridesmaids with the mother of the bride. Cheers!

The airbrushed makeup delivered on all promises. But (and as I write this, I am saying it in my best Carrie Bradshaw voice), I couldn't help but wonder:

Should we really be making ourselves look strange in real-life just to look appear 'flawless' in the photos?

If this was my wedding, I'd say yeah, probably. But I was just a bridesmaid. The sister of the groom. I wish I'd felt that I looked more like myself that day, regardless of how the photos turn out.  

I loved getting my makeup done. Fake eyelashes? The best! But next time, I'll keep it more natural. 

Because real life should always be better than the pictures. 

My hubby carrying me on the beach. I love this guy. 

My hubby carrying me on the beach. I love this guy. 

* * *

PS On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, here's what I learned when I skipped on makeup for a full week. Beauty maven Elizabeth Dehn shares how she turned her passion project into a budding empire. And remember that time I waxed my armpits? It was pretty hilarious.  

This Week's Best Stuff on the Internet

I just chugged some honesty serum, so I feel compelled to tell you I when my brother's friend Kevin shot a vlog at their wedding last month, I thought it was kinda tacky. That said, I totally enjoyed watching it.  

Here's where we're Instagramming the most, broken down state by state. I'm kinda surprised Chicago's bean dealio isn't listed, nor is the Spoonbridge + Cherry

When should you break-up with a friend

I don't do New Year's resolutions, but if I did, I'd resolve to make Jennifer Lawrence my real-life friend

Hey bloggers, writers, online marketers, tweeters, onliners: check out this handy-dandy headline analyzer. Type in your headline & it tells you how awesome (or sucky) it is, and suggests ways to improve. I like to think of it as a video game. Currently, my high score is 73. 

Throwback! Check out John Hodgman's recap of the Mall of America, from This American Life circa 2005. So funny & perfect for everyone hating shopping right meow. 

I know this is supposed to be funny, but could people please stop making being a mom seem so terrible? Maybe if/when I am a mom I'll be eating my words, but can we ever focus on the awesome parts about being a parent? All I hear is complaining and it makes me want to put a "Closed for Business" sign on my uterus. 

* * *

If you like these links, you might like following me on Twitter & Instagram, where I'm always sharing the coolest, scariest, funnest stuff I find on the web.

You can also sign up to get all my posts delivered to you via email. Easy!

#307 - 321. Why Capsule Wardrobes Aren't Stupid.

You say stupid, I say potato. Let's call the whole things off, shall we?

You say stupid, I say potato. Let's call the whole things off, shall we?

It's been about 6 weeks since I purged 90 percent of my closet.

Whether it's stowed away in my basement, currently for sale at Buffalo Exchange or Goodwill, the point is my closet is currently light/airy/empty.

Like 35-ish things in it empty

A week into my pruned wardrobe, I thought this whole idea was one big, fat mistake. I didn't feel like I had enough options, especially considering I live in Minnesota & a trip to sunny Siberia sounds like a tropical vacation. Over the past few weeks, I've added and subtracted a few items (warm stuff), but I've stuck to that 35-40 piece range. 

Now that I have my wardrobe fairly dialed in, I'm feeling really, really, really good.

Okay know what you thinking: Molly, you're self-employed, work from home and barely ever interact with humans in a professional setting. Of course you feel good! This should be easy for you!.

Yes, there's some truth to that.

However, I've had a handful of people tell me to my face (by the way, thank you! Totally appreciated in lieu of saying it behind my back) that this little exercise I'm doing is stupid.

A capsule wardrobe might not be right for you. I totally respect that. And long term, who knows how much of this I'll stick to.

But it most certainly is not stupid. Here's why.

1. It Starts My Day on a Positive Note.

Prior to limiting my clothing options, I would probably take me 15 minutes to select an outfit. For the past six weeks, I’ve literally been able to look at my closet, pick something and put it on in under two minutes. Not only do I have fewer options, but I’ve worn most of the outfits at least once (or...hmmm.... eleven times), so I know exactly how things fit, and what shoes/jewelry pair well.

Not spending the first 15 minutes the morning stressed out about to wear sets a nice tone for my day. 

2. I Spend Money More Wisely.

A lot of people told me that they could never commit to a capsule wardrobe because they "enjoy shopping too much."

I enjoy shopping a ton.

I find it to be relaxing and fun. However, I get into trouble when I don't set ground rules for myself. Now that I'm limiting my number of clothes, I'm forced to really think about every purchase. 

Pre-capsule, I'd just buy things that were kinda cute that I kinda liked because it was kinda on sale. $40 bucks here, $30 there and $50 at that GAP sale, big whoop. But those small buys adds up to more than the $120 I told myself I wouldn't spend on the pair of jeans that fit me perfectly but were just too expensive to justify. You know, the jeans I'd probably wear everyday if I owned them, unlike the six cheapie sweaters I purchased instead.

My husband brought up this idea of "relative merit." When you set parameters (i.e. I currently only have room for one piece of clothing), some things have waaay more merit, while others simply don't. Without these ground rules, you everything is on the same plane. 

It's sort of like eating crappy birthday cake at the office: If you don't have any nutritional goals, it's easy to just eat it and move on with your life. But if you've decided to only eat one really awesome treat a week, passing on mediocre junk is a no-brainer. And then you really appreciate that sugar rush when you get it. 

3. I Spend Time More Wisely. 

As a person who could literally spend hours at TJ Maxx or aimlessly wandering the Mall of America, buying less meant I'd be shopping less. I was a little sad about it at first, but then I started thinking about what I was getting out of an afternoon of shopping. 

For me, it's mostly that I enjoy turning off my brain and wandering through a store at a snail's pace. It's like watching TV, but feels less lazy!

I realized I get a similar feeling from simply running my errands on foot (I live in an urban area, so that's easy for me to do), walking my dog while listening to Serial or This American Life, or cooking dinner/baking. When I'm done with those activities, I feel a great sense of accomplishment, have spent little to no money, and haven't added any more stress...er... clothes... to my already bursting closet.  

So, in conclusion...

Paring down my clothing options makes me less stressed. I spend less time getting ready. I like my clothes more. I spend less money. I've found myself with more time to do fun, relaxing things.

None of those things sound stupid to me. 

Here's some of the things I've been wearing. PS I took my own pictures this week because of convenience. So yeah, they are a little out of focus. On the bright side, I was much more comfortable posing. 

Here's the Anthro shirt I re-purchased because I shrunk mine. Whoopsies!

Here's the Anthro shirt I re-purchased because I shrunk mine. Whoopsies!

Casual, daytime get up. 

Striped tee  *  Skinny jeans  *  slouchy crew socks  *  Toronto Boots  *  Scarf  *  Necklace

Still love this sweater, three years after I bought it!

Still love this sweater, three years after I bought it!

Client meeting ensemble... yes, this is definitely not corporate 'Merica.

Polka dot sweater  *  High riser mom jeans  * Tall brown boots

Easy and somehow put together feeling. 

Easy and somehow put together feeling. 

Influenced by Allison Williams as Peter Pan, obviously.

Green blouse  *  High riser mom jeans  *  Short black boots  *  Long necklace  

Patsy makes a cameo.

Patsy makes a cameo.

This sweater = one of my sub-ins. Liking it a lot, though it looks really big in this photo. 

Oversized turtleneck  *  Rip & repair skinny jeans  *  Toronto Boots  *   Long necklace  

Sweater dresses = easy and put together feeling.

Sweater dresses = easy and put together feeling.

The first time I've even worn this since I started ye ole capsule (though I have owned it for over a year). I still have 3-4 other things I have yet to wear. Seriously.

Sweater dress (similar, and so cute)  *  Opaque tights  *  Black booties

* * *

Admittedly, I am a little boring with my outfits. But I really just don't care. I feel great and that's all that matters. 

PS Here's a little more about my closet purge, my capsule wardrobe, plus what I wore in weeks one and two and three.  And on a totally unrelated note, here's another weird and awesome thing I was doing a year ago