Product Review: Mountain Khakis Bridger Sweater

by Nicole Sheets
( December 13th, 2014 )

Mountain Khakis Bridger Sweater

Though it’s high season for the Ugly Christmas Sweater, a category near and dear to my heart, I also take pleasure in a well-made sweater that’s stylish all the time.

The folks at Mountain Khakis sent me their Bridger Sweater (shown above). The company, based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, named this design after the nearby Bridger-Teton National Forest. I’m sure there’s a metaphor to be unpacked here, something about the majesty of the forest reflected in the sweater’s regal color palette.

The emerald/burnished gold color combo is eye-catching but not too loud. In the colder months, when layering is a must, the Bridger pairs well with other patterns or a bright scarf.

Mountain Khakis emphasizes the “feminine” fit of its women’s line, such as the Bridger’s scoop neck and shapely silhouette. The Bridger is no exception. It’s comfy but not slouchy, and it avoids The Box, the dreaded shape that plagues we wanderlusters with long torsos and no appetite for baring our midriffs. (The box is a plague that’s most definitely a first-world problem, sure).

The sweater’s cotton-wool blend is soft and not scratchy. I’ve had the good fortune to review several Mountain Khakis pieces, including their Flannel and the Lodge Jacket. I’m consistently impressed with the construction and durability of the clothes. The first time I washed the sweater, it looked a little less sprightly than when it was new. This may well be Wanderchic error. I tend to throw things into the wash rather, uh, indiscriminately; on the next wash I’ll try a delicates bag or pillowcase to maintain the sweater’s shape and softness.

So break out the felted reindeer antlers and the bedazzled vests for the holidays. And take a look at the Mountain Khakis site for classic pieces with a fresh twist. You’ll want something cool to wear once the jingle sweaters are packed away.

Photo Credit: Mountain Khakis

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Fair Trade Underwear: “The Second Best Thing In Your Pants”

by Nicole Sheets
( October 9th, 2014 )

Windmill Boy Short

“Change starts with your underwear” according to PACT Apparel, a company that offers fair trade, organic cotton socks and underthings.

One evening last summer, I Googled ”fair trade underwear” and found PACT. I’d read Vincent Miller’s “Slavery and Commodity Chains” about what he calls the “commodity veil.” Basically, Miller points out that we know a great deal about the specs of the products we buy, but we know little about the conditions under which most of our stuff is made. One of Miller’s challenges to the reader is to “purchase items that we know were produced in a just and sustainable manner” and to “[c]ommit to buying at least one of these regularly.” 

I needed some new skivvies and thought I’d start there.

PACT’s manufacturing is wind-powered and fair trade. Their cotton is certified organic. I feel like a better person just for browsing the lookbook.

Womens Bramble Print Legging

This is not a surprise, but it’s important to remember that when shopping for ethically made clothing, you have to reconsider what you know about  price. This is not the Hanes Her Way multi-pack for $8. Fair trade proponents would argue that PACT’s prices are closer to what our clothes should cost, if low price didn’t trump quality or humane working conditions. Also, as an owner of multi multi-packs, I have to admit that the great asset is quantity; never sumptuously soft to begin with, those briefs and bikinis become scratchy and sad with repeated washes.

So PACT’s goods would soothe my conscience. But how would they feel on my nether regions?

I ordered PACT’s Everyday Boy Short in black, a two pack at $23.99. I’m usually medium-ish, but I ordered a large. Slightly too-big u-wear is much more tolerable than too snug. They fit well, and the cotton lives up to its hyperbolic ad copy. I’d describe them as “soft as an angel’s eyelash,” to borrow a phrase from Ariel Garfinkel.

I enlisted WanderHubs in this test effort, too, to try out the men’s line. The exchange went something like: “if I buy you premium underwear, can I interview you about it for my blog? Success. “Comfortable” was how Hubs described the boxer briefs. He continued, “A lot of inexpensive boxer briefs skimp on the length of the inseam, but these didn’t.”

I’m quite tempted by the array of patterns in PACT’s products: Mountain Range? Basketweave? Behold the Windmill Boy Short, Women’s Bramble Leggings, and Prairie Stripe socks shown in this post.

Prairie Stripe Crew Sock

PACT pledges to be “the second best thing in your pants.” I’m more of a fan of the single entendre underwear ad, myself, but they’ve got a great product and an important mission. I’m sold.

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In Praise of Huckleberries: A Taste of the Northwest

by Nicole Sheets
( August 29th, 2014 )

Huckleberry Haul

When I moved to the Pacific Northwest four years ago, I learned quickly that this is Huckleberry Country. (Huckleberry Country is also a pretty good name for a band that might play at, say, the Saturday farmers market or a street fair).

I was familiar with Huckleberries of the Finn and Hound variety. But I’d never thought of them as raw materials for pie, nor did I understand why people swooned at the mere mention of huckleberry pancakes or ice cream.

I’d read that huckleberries aren’t cultivated. You have to go into wild, or pay someone else to, if you want these treats. So far, there’s not a great way to grow them commercially. The untamed spirit of the berry makes a great metaphor for the American West. It’s a sweet-tart edible version of one of those wooden plaques with an eagle carved over an American flag.

A friend describes huckleberries as the anti-consumer fruit. This isn’t to say that there aren’t shelves full of huckleberry products. But the local berries aren’t like blueberries air freighted in all year. We don’t get huckleberries on demand.

When some friends, including this blogger, invited me to go to huckleberry picking with them earlier this month, I said sure thing. I was the only first-timer. I knew my assimilation to the PNW wouldn’t be complete without a huckleberry picking merit badge. We headed up to Mt. Spokane State Park because the berries prefer a “mid-alpine” climate.

I didn’t even have a bucket to put them in, so a friend loaned me her Party Pail ice cream container (shown in the photo below). One member of the group brought two small Tupperware containers, probably less than two cups each, with lids. We mocked. Girl, have you no ambition? Why would you bring dinky little Tupperware? But after almost spilling my bucket for the second time, I recognized the wisdom of the lid.

Huckleberry Picking Outfit

As you can see, I chose my berry-picking attire with care. The sun hat was a good call. I opted for the plaid shorts because of their berry shades. Even so, I managed to sit on fruit that left a rather unladylike splotch on the back of them. The rest of the berry pickers wore black shorts and pants. Genius. I also had the chance to break out my American Apparel fanny pack for hands-free access to my camera and chap stick, vital equipment for any berry picker.

What do huckleberries taste like, my mom asked. A good question, and I didn’t have a simple answer. The closest I’ve come is like a cross between a blueberry and a cherry, but with the lightness of citrus, too. One site describes their taste as “as tasting like a blueberry, raspberry and cranberry all together.” 

So, when you’re up on the mountain, how do you know that these berries you’re eating and dropping into your bucket aren’t, like, from The Hunger Games? My strategy was to go with people who’ve done this before. Dea, from Live.Eat.Travel. has a more evidence-based approach: “[L]ook for the little crown on the top that you see on a blueberry. That is unique to all vacciniums (the blueberry family) and means that it is edible.” In fact, I refer you to Dea’s tutorial on picking huckleberries.

I learned that berry picking is slow work. Now wonder these little gems are so pricey. Our containers of berries were like rare money we had to spend carefully, and soon. Would you blow them all on a pie? Would you ration them, little by little, into your pancakes?

In a couple of hours, I picked enough huckleberries to make one crisp. I used the “four fruit crisp” recipe from Simply in Season, one of my favorite Mennonite cookbooks. If I’d had any berries left over, I’d have mixed up some huckleberry mojitos to enjoy in this primo backyard-sitting weather.

And though they say you’re supposed to keep your huckleberry-picking spots a secret—like fishing holes or the workings of a magic trick—here’s a look at mine.

Huckleberry Picking Spot

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