Sunday, November 7, 2021

Be Lenka Sierra Review: Barefoot Minimalist Riding Boots

Update: I ended up altering these boots to fit my calves better. See the blog post here.


Lately I have been very into barefoot or minimal style shoes. Everyone's feet are different, but for me, switching to barefoot style shoes has made a huge difference in my long-term foot pain and problems. 

If you are not familiar with them, "barefoot" shoes have absolutely no heel or heel lift and are sometimes called "zero drop." They also have a foot-shaped toe box so that you can spread out your toes fully and a thin sole with minimal padding that allows your foot to have more of a sensation of "feeling" the ground. 

The first barefoot shoes I tried were athletic shoes to help with my foot pain when walking and running for fitness, but I soon found that switching all of my shoes to barefoot style shoes helped my feet feel better on a daily basis. 

My job as a professor involves standing and walking for much of the day, and wearing barefoot shoes has really helped me to stay on my feet for longer with less foot pain. It seems counter-intuitive since arch support and padding seem like a good idea when your feet hurt and your arches ache, but I've tried so many of the "orthopedic" brands but none of them really helped in the long term. 

I was really nervous about the footwear I was bringing to Europe with me since the amount of walking I do when teaching in Rome far exceeds my lifestyle in the US, but I was very happy to find that my barefoot shoes have kept my feet happy and pain-free.

The other advantage of being in Europe is that there are barefoot brands that are more accessible here. Most brands will ship to the US, but often do not accept returns or the cost of shipping for returns is prohibitive. 

My latest purchase has been the Be Lenka Sierra, a leather riding boot by a manufacturer in Slovakia. I just couldn't wait to share them with you!

Some Be Lenka shoes are available from Anya's Shop for free shipping and returns in the US. I had purchased the Be Lenka City in suede from Anya's Shop before coming to Europe, and these are one of my most comfortable shoes. For days when I know I'll be walking for a long time on varied terrain, these are my shoe of choice, so I knew that there was a good chance that I would like other Be Lenka shoes. Anya's Shop carries the Be Lenka Sierra, but they don't currently have the Ruby and I was smitten by this eye-catching color. 

My feet are 25.5 cm long and I ordered my usual size in BeLenka, a 41. My calves are wider than the measurements on the size chart-- they measure about 42cm, and the 41s have a calf circumference of 38.2. However, I have successfully stretched boots to fit my calves in the past, so I decided to give them a try.  Since I'm in Europe, returns would not be terribly difficult if necessary. 

When my Be Lenka Sierras arrived and I first put them on the heels felt very stiff and uncomfortable, and I could not zip them up. However the foot box was a perfect fit for my toes in both width and length. 

After a bit of wearing them around the house the heel started to feel more comfortable, and some stretching of the elastic caused a bit of relaxation, so with some work I was able to carefully zip them up. Wearing them around the house I have continued to break them in, and today I wore them to lunch at a friend's house. They are still quite tight in the calf, but very comfortable in the foot, like wearing a cozy slipper. 

They still might require a trip to the cobbler for some calf stretching, but the fact that I can wear them gives me hope that only a little bit more space is needed to make a perfect fit on the calf. In some ways this is probably ideal since the boot with time will have a perfect fit with no sagging. 

I am very happy that this boot fits, since I very much missed having a riding boot last winter as I was transitioning to barefoot shoes. 

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Zaqq Equity Brogue- Barefoot Chelsea Boot Review

When I was looking for a great barefoot Chelsea boot, I came across the brand Zaqq. Their Equity Broque Cognac was exactly what I was looking for-- a beautifully made chelsea boot lined with leather in a zero drop, thin sole, natural foot shape shoe.

I tried to order this shoe from the US but I was unsuccessful, as they required me to send my SS number and I am not comfortable giving this to vendor. When I knew I would be coming to Europe, I was excited that I would be able to try this boot. 

My foot is 25.5 cm, so after watching their videos and looking at the size chart, I chose the 44. This boot was massively too large on me, so I sent it back and ordered the 42. 

The 42 fits in the length, but the boot is very wide in the ankle and heel. Both of my heels slip when I walk. I tried adding a wool insole from other shoe, but this does not fix the problem. You can see how baggy these are on my foot in the photos.

I have a fairly wide, high volume foot, but these are still too wide for me and they are on their way back. Zaqq has been good about honoring their return policy, but they do not pay return shipping outside of Germany.

Interestingly, my husband also ordered a pair of Equity chelsea boots. The size he chose based on measurements was too small for him, so he ordered a size larger, and this fits his foot very well. He has a very high volume foot in both the ankle and heel. 

Happy shoe shopping!

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Gluten Free in Rome: Mama Eat Lab Review

Hi all! If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I've been in Rome two months now, and I have another month to go. Sooo, not much sewing... but if you are interested in the wardrobe I brought with me, I've been posting on Instagram and I'll probably do a round up here soon. 

However, I have been doing a lot of great eating... gluten free eating!

Do you remember back when the lockdowns started, how we all stocked up on comfort food like bread (or tried to bake it, emptying out stores of baking products!) Well... I did that. For a couple weeks I ate more bread products than I have for many years, and felt terrible. I've always tried to deny that gluten was my problem, but this experience seemed to make engaging it unavoidable. 

So I tried avoiding gluten... and it was amazing. Within weeks, I felt like my digestive system had reverted the kind of normal function that I remember from my early 20s. For me, it was more effective than all sorts of other diets and supplementary regimes I've tried over the years. I've been practicing a gluten free diet ever since. 

I don't have an official diagnosis, and I'm not really interested in one. My symptoms are not serious enough to really warrant long and arduous discussions, testing and isolation diets. I'm also very open to the idea that I'm not really allergic to gluten and it could be some element of the mass production and continuing refinement of wheat in our culture. I found it very interesting that on one of our trips, I ate a whole meal of ancient wheat grown, harvested, and prepared on a farm in Umbria with no noticeable intestinal effects. Alternatively, during a recent cooking demo, I consumed a commercial wheat pasta masterfully prepared into some of the most delicious Carbonara ever tasted and paid a price afterwards. 

In any case, my body is happier when I forego gluten, so I have been seeking out places to enjoy Italian cuisine gluten-free and I've had some wonderful culinary experiences that I'd love to share!

Today after an incredible 3-hour tour of the Vatican Museums, we stopped to refuel at Mama Eat Lab, Borgo Pio, 28.

This is a small place, a few outside tables and about eight 4-person tables. This was my second visit, and we had no problem finding a lunch table with no reservations, although occupancy rose and fell over the time we were there. Clearly, people had heard about it and were seeking it out! There are English menus and servers are comfortable speaking English, but they are also happy to speak Italian. Prices are pretty reasonable, about what you'd find at a comparable non-gluten free restaurant.

This is a sister restaurant of Mama Eats Trastevere, which is an old standby of the gluten-free crowd. The Borgo location has a smaller menu and focuses on "street food" which can be take out or served at the table. You can also get pizza or pasta and various other primi piatti, all gluten free. They have gluten free beer and reasonable wines available, as well as the usual soft drinks and sparkling or still water. 

The appetizers are amazing, you could definitely make a whole meal of them. This time we got two of the 25cm Arancini, Pistachio and Rago. 

Usually arancini in Rome are round, fist-sized affairs. The long format is sort of unusual, but it does seem to maximize the delicious crispy gluten-free crust. Inside there is perfect risotto around a cheesy filling. Just right for two to share! Our family of four rapidly consumed the two long arancini down to the last crumb. 

Also on the appetizer menu are Crocchè (very similar to the long arancini, but with a potato base and delicious fillings like mushroom) and fried pizza, both of which we tried last time and were wonderful. 

For main dishes, we sampled a few different items. 

Polpette al Formagio, meatballs  with cheese and french fries.

Frittura di mare: fried calamari, anchovies, and shrimp.

And the old standby, the Margherita Pizza.

I especially enjoyed the pizza, the crust was light and fluffy in an almost Naples kind of way that I have yet to enjoy in a gluten-free pizza. 

For dessert we had Scunizielli Nutella which are fried pizza strips drizzled with chocolate hazelnut. Delicious! You can get them in a paper cone to go or on a plate. A single serving was more than enough for our family to eat their fill of sweet fluffy fried dough. Last time we had fresh donuts with hazelnut sauce... these were out of this world, but they weren't on the menu today. I'm going to have to keep a watch on the menu, they are worth going back for!

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Belatedly loving the Burnside Bibs in Telio Silky Noil

Y'all know by now that I overalls are my fave. If there was any holding back, the quarantine did that in... why dress to please anyone but myself? 

I've made a countless number of Closet Case Jenny Overalls (at least eight!) and a very well loved pair of Helen's Closet Yanta Overalls. With spring on my mind, if not yet in the weather (it snowed again this morning!) I was thinking about making a lighter weight, more jumpsuit-y pair of overalls. Enter the Burnside Bibs by Sew House Seven!

While I have long loved all of the gorgeous Burnside Bibs sewn by the many talented makers I follow, I've been skeptical of how much I would like the clever tie system that distinguishes the Burnside Bibs. Even in the more streamlined versions, it tends to produce gathers across the bum, which I don't care for on my own body. I also have a quiet dislike of dangly ties, which tend to end up in the most inconvenient places when utilizing the facilities in a rush. After careful consideration, I decided that both of these minor flaws could be avoided with a few minor changes. 

This was my first ever Sew House 7 pattern, and any flaunt with a new pattern company is a bit risky. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the large format files were made for printing on a 36 inches wide printer rather than the usual 50 inches or so. The printers I have access to are 44 inches wide, so this worked out well.

The instructions, for the most part, were very clear and a joy to follow. The only bit of confusion I encountered was in the changing seam allowances, and there was one point where I seriously could not figure out from the instructions what the seam allowance was. However I persevered in wildly guessing and it seemed to all work out fine in the end. 

I didn't toile, I just sewed up my size via the measurements and made adjustments on the fly. I made the closer fitting view, with pleats in the back. I ended up raising the crotch half an inch and trimming an inch off the top of the bib, but other than that I made no changes. The invisible zipper went in without a hitch. The method of sewing the waistband and facing was very clever and left a very clean finish on the inside. 

I left the front of the straps as intended to keep the clean lines of the front bib, but instead of long ties through belt loops in the back, I sewed buttonholes into the straps and buttons to the inside back of the waistband. This makes the straps somewhat adjustable without the use of ties or other hardware. I don't need to unbutton a strap to get the overalls in and out, so this works out very well. 

To manage the extra ease that the pattern manages with the ties, I made side straps that cinch with d-rings. This generally works well, but it made slightly more awkward than it should be in that I was lazy and used the left over straps for the cinching, and I didn't have any D-rings smaller than 1 inch. Therefore the D-rings tend to twist annoying when you cinch them. I may at some point re-sew them with either smaller D-rings or wider straps, which would solve the problem. 

My fabric is a very drapey linen-viscose noil by Telio. Since I was going for a lighter, more flowy jumpsuit look, I think this achieved that look and feel, although I think I'd also really enjoy the burnside bibs in a slightly beefier fabric, perhaps a light denim or heavy linen.  

I'm wearing them here with a fushia linen Liesl Classic Shirt, but I'm going to be enjoying trying them out with all sorts of tops in my wardrobe, which is part of the fun of overalls! I definitely think there will be more Burnside Bibs in my sewing future, it was a quick and satisfying sew.