Thursday, December 20, 2012

Morningstar Grillers Chili and a Yogurt, Honey, Nutmeg Mask

Two recipes today! I'm sorry, no photos right now because I'm lame like that. While I read tons of food blogs with gorgeous, mouth-watering pictures of their recipes, I am absolutely terrible (and lazy) at construction the perfect photographic set-up for the meals that I make. However, I will be making the chili again so I'll try to remember to take a picture and update this post with it.

Anywhoo. The recipes are for a really simple but pretty freaking yummy chili using Morningstar Grillers and a riff on the nutmeg and milk microdermabrasion I wrote about in my previous post. While I really liked the results of the microdermabrasion, it bothered me how runny it was. I would have to do it in the shower and it made such a huge mess. You ain't lived until you've nearly slipped and died on milk and nutmeg all over the bottom of your bathtub. Besides, picking nutmeg out of your hairline gets annoying after a while. 

So the solution was to create a more mask-like concoction. I came up with this when I went to go wash my face with honey one night and thought, "What would happen if I mixed yogurt, honey, and nutmeg together?" The answer? Magic. Yes, magic happens. I'm not lying. It turned into a face cleanser/scrub/mask that creates magically clear, smooth, soft skin. 

The thing is, most people don't realize that dry, flaky skin can benefit from a good hearty scrub rather than a super-moisturizing mask. When my forehead was going all, "I hate you, I hate life, zits, zits, zits," this mask calmed it right down. "Hey there boy, relax a bit."

So here's the recipe for the magical, and apparently talking, mask.

Yogurt, Honey, and Nutmeg Mask

1 tbsp yogurt
1/2 tbsp honey
1/2 tbsp ground nutmeg

Add to bowl and mix together very well. Apply to a dry, makeup-free face using gentle circular motions. Leave on for 5 minutes or more. Rinse off with warm water. Apply moisturizer if necessary. (I use olive oil.)

And onto the recipe of the edible kind...

Grillers and Red Bean Chili
makes 4 - 6 servings.

1 onion, diced
1 tbsp tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, minced (more or less to your preference)
32 oz. can fire-roasted diced tomatoes (I use Muir Glen)
15.5 oz. can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes (Muir Glen also)
2 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
pinch cayenne powder
Salt to taste
1 bag Morningstar Grillers
1 big can red kidney beans
Optional garnishes: chives, cilantro, parsley, chopped avocados

In a dutch oven or heavy pot, saute the onions in olive oil until soft and translucent. Add the tomato paste and garlic and cook for about 30 seconds more. Then, pour in the two cans of tomatoes and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and season with chili powder, cumin, cayenne powder, and salt to your taste. Simmer partially covered for about 20 minutes or longer if desired. Add the Grillers and beans (as much beans as you like) and cook until warmed through. Garnish and serve!

I served it with elbow macaroni which was what Guitar Boy requested. It's called chili mac? Eh. It's not really my thing. I've only ever really eaten it by itself with a hunk of crusty bread. But you can serve it however you like. A note on Morningstar Grillers: I try not to use faux meat a lot but when Guitar Boy gets those pleading sad puppy eyes, I can't say no. However, it's my philosophy that when I gave up meat, there's no reason why I should try to revisit it in faux form, you know?

Can you believe Christmas is almost here? My Christmas spirit has not yet shown its spangly red and green head, but I think it's because we completely slacked on getting a tree. Holiday fail, I know. There are certain people in my life who will be aghast to find this out... In any case, Happy Merry Christmahanukwanzicah! 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Face Mapping and Nutmeg Dermabraison

Hello there. Winter is coming here. Though it doesn't really feel like it. For as much as I hate snow and winter, if it's going to be this cold and gloomy, it might as well snow. Might as well make it all pretty-like, you know? I'm tired of looking at the corpses of stray dead leaves over my lawn and being paranoid if my yard has gotten too unruly for the neighborhood. At least with a dusting of snow, it can look like a tiny vignette inside of a snow globe and I'll just bitch about the finger-biting cold and not about the finger-biting cold and the drab scenery.

Anyway, rant aside, I wanted to discuss the other fun part of winter: dry skin. My skin pretty much feels like all the moisture has been zapped out of it. My face especially. It's look ashy, a bit puffy, and I'm finding flaky dry spots here and there. Pimples have come out full force all across my forehead so I'm going to have to figure out what to do there. 

By the way, is anyone familiar with the acne face map? It is believed in Chinese medicine that the location of acne on your face is related to various imbalances and upsets in your body and health. I've always known that acne on the jawline is related to hormonal changes, but finding it on my forehead and between my eyes is definitely new. According to this acne face map: for acne between my eyes: I either have a weak heart, I'm drinking too much alcohol, or smoking too much tobacco. Since I don't smoke and I'm pretty sure my heart's going strong, I guess wine might be the culprit. For acne on my forehead: I could be having digestive problems (yep,) small intestine issues, liver issues, irregular sleep schedule (double yep,) too much worrying (triple yep,) too much sugary foods (quadruple yep,) toxin build-up, hair products, bangs, and wearing dirty hats. 

I'm a strong believer that stress and other mental incapacities have a direct effect on one's body and health. For years, I've experienced terrible migraine-like headaches that only grew worse as time went on. I took medicine, went to the doctor, got testing and was concluded that I may or may not have tumor in my pituitary gland. Fun stuff, right? When things in my life changed and I was placed in a situation away from certain people and things that were stressing me out, my headaches melted away. It was pretty close to miraculous. 

So aside from using natural products to wash my face and care for my skin, I really need to ramp down my stress level, quit eating so much sugar (I'm so stressed, cookies look so damn good to me right now,) and reduce the amount of wine I'm drinking. I will also be doing this:

Nutmeg Microdermabrasion Scrub

1 tbsp whole milk (or hemp milk, almond milk, rice milk, but not soy unless it is GMO-free)
1/2 tbsp nutmeg (ground or freshly ground if you can do it)

Mix together well in a little bowl. With clean, dry hands, and preferably a clean face, scoop the mixture up and massage it in little circles on your face. Try to use an upward motion to counteract all that gravity does. Leave on for 2 to 10 minutes depending on whatever floats your boat. Then, rinse well. Moisturize if needed.

Why nutmeg and milk? Nutmeg is similar to honey that it has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties which makes it good for oily skin and acne. It's also nourishing which helps dry skin by removing the top dry skin layer and nourishing the new layer beneath. Milk has lactic acid that works as a gentle peel for dead skin that refused to be removed as well as moisturizing benefits. It makes your skin baby-butt soft and helps replenish some of the lost moisture in your skin. So really, this is a great scrub for all skin types.

For some people, they say they feel a burning sensation when they use it. I didn't feel it at all. However, if you do feel it, it's not a bad thing but just leave it in for much less time, obviously. Rinse it right away or just do a minute if it's not burning badly. Do not use cinnamon as it will burn. 

My skin was still a little tight and dry afterwards, but it's just because my skin gets really dry once winter comes around. It was definitely extremely soft. I'm going to try this again with heavy cream to amp up the moisturizing benefits so check back to see my experiences with heavy cream.

Like all scrubs, resist the desire to use it everyday. Just try to keep it to once a week to prevent any irritation. Also, you will experience the desire to bake a pumpkin pie. I don't recommend resisting that desire.

Special thanks to Crunchy Betty for the idea.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New Perspective on Global Warming

I found this and just had to share:

At first, I thought, "Cool!" then I realized the implications of that. I know there are people out there who don't believe in global warming (why?) but it's hard to deny the evidence has been piling up for a long time. I won't get into that quite just yet, but it's coming.

Granted everyone hears the same things: the Arctic ice cap is melting, glaciers are disappearing, general temperatures are rising, warmer than average months are breaking records, etc., etc., etc., which is why I love this new perspective on global warming. Most of the millenials and the generations after (i.e. those born between early 80's through early 2000's) have pretty much never experienced a colder than average month. That includes me. Is it bad I'm secretly happy because I hate winter? Anyway, just because I hate snow doesn't mean I'm jumping for joy that we're all becoming warmer and warmer.

We have all become comfortable with the idea of global warming. We hear about it nearly every day. We know that waste of any kind contributes to global warming; for most of us, recycling and finding environmentally-friendly products is second nature. However, there's a line and it seems like that unless we all move into grass-thatched huts and figure out how to create heat without wasting resources, it can seem like a battle with no defeat.

I didn't write this to make you feel like shit, though I certainly am feeling a bit down while posting this. Just think of it this way, if there weren't such a great movement towards saving the environment and halting global warming, imagine how much worse off we'd be right now. The only thing we can do is continue to do the little things to improve our efforts. 

They can be as simple as:
  1. Covering your pots while cooking to save energy needed to prepare food.
  2. Buying energy efficient appliances when it's time to replace them.
  3. Using the washing machine and dishwasher only when it's completely full.
  4. Recycling in your home and outside. (So easy to toss that paper coffee cup.)
  5. Planting a tree, a plant, anything.
  6. Buy locally whether it's food, household goods, or anything else.
  7. Eat less meat. (You knew that was coming.)
  8. Try to reduce the amount of heat you use whether it's heating your home or heating your shower.
A simple Google search for "little things to prevent global warming" will yield tons of ideas and tips that will help you live better and breathe easier.

It's not hopeless and the more we're aware of what we need to do and the more we encourage others to do the same- whether they're believers in global warming or not (again, why?)- the more we're likely to make a difference. I am a vegetarian because I believe in animal rights. An animal shouldn't die just so I could have a meal, especially since there are tons of other things I can eat that are just as nutritious and satisfying. People would tell me that being one single vegetarian in a "world" of meat-eaters isn't going to make a difference. For me, though, the fact that one less cow is eaten because of me makes all the difference. If we could all see things the same way about global warming, vegetarianism, whatever you prefer, it will make a huge difference, whether other people say so or not.

What do you do to combat global warming and help the environment?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving of Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving!

I was in Austin, Texas, for two weeks and when I returned home, it was pretty much hit the ground running until today. I'll be posting more often in the upcoming days, I apologize!

Today, I wanted to list a few things I'm thankful for. Sometimes, I get wrapped up in the minor details that I forget to take a step back and look at my life as a whole. 

Yesterday, I got really cranky because I spent the whole day cooking and didn't have a bite to eat. I failed to remember I was cooking for the very first Thanksgiving dinner I was hosting... at my house, with my loved ones. 

  • I'm thankful for having a home- one that's comfortable, beautiful, and in a neighborhood where the neighbors take their leaf blowing seriously.
  • I'm thankful for sharing that home with those that I love- Chanel my cat. Oh, and Guitar Boy too.
  • I'm thankful that my boyfriend can take a good joke.
  • I'm thankful that my parents are around and well enough to cook their version of Thanksgiving to bring over to the house. The more food, the better!
  • I'm thankful for the material things, as superficial as it sounds, because I recognize and appreciate what they've brought to my life: a car that I finally adore, my Macbook because I can write on it and learn from it, and my phone because it keeps me in touch with everyone I love.
  • I'm most especially thankful that I'm alive and experiencing life and that I've finally been able to embrace it.

It's a pretty common list many people share. (Come on, admit it, you're thankful for your phone too!) 

Now to the good stuff. What are you making today? On the menu at my house:

First course: Pumpkin Apple Soup


  • Turkey-Less Roast with Roasted Vegetables (from Trader Joe's. First time trying it!)
  • A Small Turkey. But we don't care about that. It's for my dad. ("Must have meat! Rawrg!)
Also considered entrees but we can't help ourselves:
  • Dried Fruit and Pecan Rice Pilaf 
  • Mushroom Quiche 
  • Garlic-Roasted Mashed Potatoes and Parsnips
  • Apple Bread Stuffing
  • Roasted Mushrooms with Green Beans
  • Rosemary Honey Cranberry Sauce
  • Orange Cranberry Sauce (Don't ask why we have two cranberry sauces.)
  • Cornbread 
Dessert: Chocolate Pumpkin Pie (Of course.)

I'm super-excited and I sincerely hope I remember to take a picture of it all before we devour it. 

Have a happy, joyful, and delicious Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Irked by Greenwashing

While I'm thrilled to see more and more companies offer all-natural, no chemical alternatives, I'm increasingly irked by the number of corporations that just flat-out lie. I'm talking food, beauty products, cleaning commodities, and anything else that touts itself as all-natural or even just looks like it's all-natural, but is actually not. (image source)

This is called greenwashing. It's a popular trick where companies use marketing and packaging that makes the product look natural and eco-friendly and can even go as far as to say it's natural but upon closer examination, it's as chock full of chemicals as any other product. So at first glance, it looks like it's good for you, but that is the trick.

Don't believe me? Here's the description for greenwashing from Wikipedia:

Greenwashing (a compound word modelled on "whitewash"), or "green sheen",[1][2] is a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization's aims and policies are environmentally friendly. Whether it is to increase profits or gain political support, greenwashing may be used to manipulate popular opinion to support otherwise questionable aims.

Deceptive, eh? I'm sure that you, the average consumer, are not thrilled to be lied to. But there is hope. We can just opt to stay informed and make good choices. The less we buy greenwashed products, the less likely the corporations will continue making them. 

With just a quick glance down a Target aisle, I can name several examples of greenwashing. 

  • Suave Naturals: Sure it says natural and there's a big pretty picture of fruits or waterfalls on the front, but a look at the ingredients list on the back exposes the numerous harmful chemicals that makes up the line. This example is an oldie, but a... baddie? Herbal Essences. I think they use the term organic in their pitch, but nope. There is nothing organic here at all.
  • Clorox Green Works Cleaners: Yep, sorry to burst your bubble, but this is another classic example of greenwashing. Sure they claim to be 99% natural, and while the unpronounceable ingredients are, in a way, naturally derived, it's certainly not eco-friendly or chemical-free.
  • Huggies Pure & Natural Disposable Diapers: Can you say oxymoron? Anything disposable is by far not eco-friendly at all. They are not biodegradable like other serious eco-companies producing diapers nor is the claim for organic cotton reliable. As far as we know, there is organic cotton on the outside, but not on the inside; you know, where it actually touches the baby's skin.
  • Potato chips, granola bars, and other packaged foods: The word "natural" is not regulated in any way. Anyone can pretty much slap the word "natural" onto any product and still get off scot-free. Think about this, high fructose corn syrup is derived from corn- a natural product. Organic, on the other hand, must meet strict government regulations in order to use the "organic" label. The same goes for free trade. Natural? Nope, it's still a free for all. 

Those are just a few, but greenwashing lurks everywhere. It's frustrating. Even I consider just giving up sometimes, but once you find a few dependable products, the rest will be easy. So by hit-and-miss and extensive research, I came up with a few tips that help me avoid greenwashed products and find eco-friendly, chemical-free ones instead:
  • Favor tried-and-true companies: Seventh Generation, Method, Dr. Bronners, Mrs. Meyer's, Mineral Fusion, gDiapers, Tushies, Burt's Bees, Yes To, Tom's of Maine, and other well-known eco-friendly companies.
  • Search for the organic or fair trade label. While fair trade isn't necessarily organic, it is much more likely to be natural and chemical-free.
  • Shop at health food and supply stores: Whole Foods, Mustard Seed (if you're in Ohio,) Sprouts, Fresh Market, Earth Fare, even Trader Joe's. There are a couple of locally owned health food stores in the area for me, so I'm sure there are a few near you too.
  • Read up to learn about the products you use and the products you may not know about: 
    • Skin Deep by the EWG (Environmental Watch Group) has the lowdown on almost all beauty products and grades them by amount of harmful chemicals on a number scale. 
    • Treehugger is a comprehensive site that covers eco-friendly information in all areas of life
    • The Daily Green has everyday advice and information on living green and finding products free of harmful additives. It's a pretty accessible site.
    • Mother Nature Network is a news source for all things environmental. 
  • Last, educate yourself on the products that may not be the best choice. A good place to start is this top 25 list of greenwashed products.
  • And if you're really ambitious, you can make your own. A simple google search will come up with hundreds of homemade instructions for anything you need from laundry detergent to face wash to all-purpose cleaners. Not to mention, dinner made from scratch is the healthiest you can get.
Thanks to people like you and me who take the time to search out natural products and use them, more retailers are listening and stocking the products we want. Target hasn't failed me yet in their selection nor has drugstores like CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreen. It's just a matter of keeping your wits about you when you shop. A little bit of research and a shopping list will go a long way in helping you make safe and eco-friendly choices. 

What sort of eco-friendly or natural product do you use and what are you doing to include more of those products in your daily life?

Monday, October 8, 2012

When Teeth Surgery Invokes Desire

Last Thursday I finally completed the rite-of-passage most people experience in their teens and 20's: wisdom teeth removal. It's a damn shame we haven't evolved out of having wisdom teeth because it's definitely something I rather do without. I needed to get them out for quite a few years but certain restrictions (cough:insurance:cough) and timing got in the way. 

When a lovely dentist (not really) pointed out that the unwelcome teeth were pushing my jaw sideways so much that my face was slightly asymmetrical... well, that's when I panicked. It's just like if the damage from cigarette smoking were superficial rather than hidden away inside our body, everyone would stop smoking immediately. 

Vanity always wins out.

Needless to say, I dumped that fear-mongering dentist and hightailed it to another one and decided that avoiding the problem was not going to solve it. Four less teeth later, I can certainly tell you that being able to chew food is a blessing one takes for granted.

I also found out I was allergic to acetaminophen which is in Tylenol and, surprise, my Vicodin.

Anyway, the other, lesser-known, downside to wisdom teeth removal aside from the pain and potential for dry socket and eating liquidy food that you're going to throw back up because you haven't figured out you're allergic to the painkiller? Plenty of time to sit and go online window-shopping. I now want everything from Zara and Free People. I've been mentally putting together beautiful fall outfits which I cannot wear because the weather seems to have skewed more towards winter rather than breezy, sunny autumnal 60 degree weather. 

Why is it a downside? Do you realize how hard it is to want something and you can't have it? Insert temper tantrum. I'm sure you've all been there and you know what, there is no shame in it. No shame.

Well, even though I can't physically possess these items, a girl can certainly dream, but this is what I desire for that perfect fall season that, well, we're never going to get in a million years until some genius can clock the three days where it's really, truly fall and put it on the calendar. 

Dressy Casual Fall Outfit

A grey silk button-up blouse tucked loosely into a burgundy high waisted mini-skirt. Pair with opaque black tights, knee-high boots, and, of course, a sparkly set of earrings. After all, why not? Polyvore is proving to be a bit addictive. Whoops. 
What's would be your fantasy Fall outfit? If you're on Polyvore, create a set and link to it in the comments below. Happy window shopping!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Moving is Stressful

Happy Vegetarian Awareness Month! Of course, I'd be all over this month. October 1st was World Vegetarian Day so pretend it's Monday and I'm wishing you that very sentiment.

Unfortunately, I don't have any new recipes or new natural beauty find to give you today but I have a good reason. I can attest that moving is, indeed, one of the top three stressful events in a person's life, following divorce and death of a loved one. If you moved in the last six months, I beseech you, don't do it again. But there are two sides to every coin and all the stress and crankiness that came with this second move was tempered by a brand new location in a gorgeous great big house with a giant kitchen and hardwood floors that have not overzealously polished within an inch of its life. 

Here are the things in our new place that we missed that people wouldn't really consider in every day life:

  1. Garage: You would not believe the usefulness of a garage. Not just to keep your car shielded from the weather be it blazingly hot sun or mountains of snow, but the sheer simplicity of pulling into a garage, getting out, and walking into your home under a roof as the door rumbles its way closed behind you. You can keep whatever you like in your car because, you know, it's 9:54 at night and you're much too tired to ever think of grabbing that bag from Target and there's a hot cup of tea waiting for you right now. Not to mention, your own parking space, all the time, every time.
  2. Dishwasher: I know this is high on a lot of people's list, but people underestimate just how much joy it brings to one's life. In the sweet little townhouse, the dishwasher was named Beatrice and she had to do the dishes every day, after every meal, after every single spoon was used. The lengths she went to avoid dirtying up a dish suddenly became very reasonable. I can tell you right now, it's no way to live; mentally tallying up every dirtied dish and fork and knife every single day.
  3. Deck: We had no outdoor space at the townhouse. Granted, we did have a little "stoop" and rather than birds and pretty black squirrels, we had recipients of the local drug dealer meandering their way into our courtyard in their Landrovers and Escalades and other equally obnoxious cars that clearly scream "I sell cocaine and pimp girls out for a living." Unless there was a blonde soccer mom, then clearly it screams "I have juice boxes, bandaids, and a death wish every time I haul my son and all his friends to their games." We did not get the latter, though it would be fun to watch those ladies self-implode. Drugs are equal opportunity after all.
  4. Two bathrooms: Something happens when a guy and a girl falls in love for years and years and finally move into together. They need space, lots of it, and most importantly, their own. Matches are not enough, trust me.
Leaving our townhouse was a bit bittersweet for me. It was, after all, our very first place together, but we know we'll lead much happier lives in a bigger space. We didn't really move far away or anything, but it's just far enough that if we forgot to close a window, it's not a tragedy because we're no longer in drunken-hipster-bar-town.

Clearly, that's a major contributing cause of my silence on this blog and Facebook. Instead of packing everything up into boxes and getting a U-Haul and doing it all in one day- which we promised we would this time- we ended up moving everything little by little over a month. This resulted in having no internet for a while, a major shut-down on my part (due to being extremely overwhelmed,) and well, not having a laptop. 

The laptop part had nothing to do with the move. It's just bad timing. I sold my Macbook Pro in order to get a Macbook Air. With the changes going in my life and transitioning into being more of a writer, I didn't really need such a powerful computer like a Macbook Pro. 

Anyway, yadda yadda yadda, it took me a month to finally get my Air. Don't ask me why. Just know I am an extremely patient girl who was slowly getting eaten away inside because I could not update the blog. Seriously, that's how much this blog and you mean to me. When I finally sat down to start writing this post, I felt like I had come home at last. How perfect, huh?

Thank you for your patience and stay tuned, new stuff will be coming your way. I'm also getting ready to post some beautiful 50's and 60's winter coats (mink collars and everything) and sweaters and other cold-weather wear for sale so stay tuned!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Vegetable Scrap Stock

I'm baaaaack. I know it's been a couple of weeks since my last post and that is my own fault. There'sbeen a variety of things going on including a period of time where I did not have my laptop, a move, and a period of time where I've failed to have internet connection. Can I just tell you that having no internet connection is really one of the hardest things to experience? Don't get me wrong; on vacation, not having internet is one of the best things to happen, but when you need to, erm, work, it gets frustrating fast. 

So as my apology and olive branch to those of you who might've been getting annoyed that I haven't been updating, I shall offer up my method for making vegetable stock. It's simple to do and perfect to make for these rainy, cold days we've been experiencing in the good old Cleveland-Akron area. Obviously most of you can't make this immediately because this depends on using vegetable scraps from all those days of making dinner, but it's a great recipe to have on hand once you do decide to start saving all this ends of zucchini and skins of onions.

Vegetable Stock Made From Scraps
The yield varies with the amount of scraps you have.

What you need:

  • Washed vegetable scraps that you've kept in a bag in the freezer. They can be corn cobs, green onion ends and tops, onion skins, carrot peelings, tomato seeds and juice, parsley or other herb stalks/stems, any ends or peelings from tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, peppers, celery, asparagus, green beans, kohlrabi, swiss chard or other greens stems, and other produce that's still okay but you're not thrilled about eating it in it's whole.
  • Do not use anything from: beets, eggplants, cabbages, mushrooms*, or anything with a strong, undesirable flavor or color. Note: onions will turn the stock dark so eliminate if you want a clear stock. Also, do not use any produce that is rotten. If you won't eat it in its original state, don't eat it any way else. 
  • Salt, pepper, and various herbs such as parsley or oregano. I've heard rosemary can make it bitter but haven't experienced that myself.
*Do save the mushroom scraps in a separate bag because they make a delicious mushroom stock.

To make the Vegetable Stock:

  • In a large stock pot, pour in the still-frozen vegetable scraps. Fill with enough water to cover.
  • Bring to a rolling boil and season with salt, pepper, and a bit of herbs either dried or fresh. Just throw the fresh in whole since it will be strained. Use a light hand since this is your base for whatever you make it with be it soup, stew, risotto, or whatever else.
  • Lower it to a simmer and let it simmer for about an hour and a half. Longer won't really do much so don't waste your time. Then, let it cool.
  • Cover a colander or a strainer with some cheesecloth or even a double layer of paper towels just in case you weren't able to get all the dirt out when you originally washed the vegetables you got the scraps from. Then, place it over a large bowl and pour the soup through it. You may need more than one bowl, you may not.
  • Squeeze as much water out the vegetable scraps as you can. Either compost or toss them when you're done.
  • Divide and pour the stock into cups, pints, and/or quarts either in ziplock bags or bottles or whatever, and freeze. (Or be like me and pour most of it into a gallon sized ziplock and guesstimate whenever you cook with it.)
  • To use: either let it defrost in the fridge or in a bowl of or under warm water until melted. Use as normal stock.
I filled up an average-sized soup pot to make my first batch of stock. It yielded enough for two soups and a batch of risotto. I was kind of wary about it because I had added green bean ends and they have a very strong flavor. However, it disappeared and all I had was this very fresh-tasting stock that added a depth of flavor to the dishes I made with it. You may taste your stock and think the flavoring is subtle. I certainly did; but when I used it, I realized that homemade stock really was the way to go. Plus, I save a ton of money since I didn't even need to go buy new vegetables for the stock. 

I keep all my scraps in a large ziplock bag in the freezer. Whenever I'm prepping for dinner, I bring the bag out and throw my scraps in it as I go. When I'm done, I put the bag back in the freezer. Easy!

So start saving your scraps and the next time you get a blah type of day, it's the perfect time to start simmering your own easy homemade stock.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tiger Pose Chaturanga

I'm sad to say that I've been slacking on my yoga. Guitar Boy and I have been going on bike rides instead. The weather has been so lovely; it's hard to compare an hour indoors doing yoga with an hour (or more) outdoors biking and enjoying the beautiful Towpath. Yesterday, we managed to go 30 miles, much to my dismay because we were utterly wholly unprepared and were practically starving and shaking with hunger by the end of the ride. Next time, granola bars. Yep.

However, when I'm watching TV while winding down at night, I'll do a couple yoga poses during the commercials. Sometimes, I'll do a few quick Sun Salutations, other times, I'll do some twists and seated stretches. Yet other times, I'll do this modified Tiger Stretch I've seen in some yoga sessions but can't find the official name for it. I consider it a sort of Tiger Stretch chaturanga. Chaturangas are an important part of Sun Salutations. It's a yoga push up. What fun!

This modified Tiger Stretch is a vinyasa that includes an Extended Cat Stretch and a yoga push up, finishing with the Tiger Stretch. It's a great way to stretch out your spine and neck. It also strengthens your arms, most specifically your triceps, and it helps build your core. It's incredibly energizing. After I finish my sequence, my muscles are loose and renewed and I feel relaxed.

1. You begin in tabletop pose, (remember from the Cat-Cow Pose.) Stand on your hand and knees, your wrists below your shoulders and your knees below your hips. Keep your back and neck flat and straight and relax your jaw.

2. Then, shift your weight so it centers over your right knee. Inhale and slowly lift and stretch out your left leg. Reach it up while arching your back, lowering your belly down towards the floor, and looking up. This is the Extended Cat Pose.

3. Exhale, with your leg still lifted, soften your back slightly and begin to lower into the push up. Slowly, by bending your elbows back towards your hips, not out to the side, lower your chest to the floor in a mini push up. You will now look like a diagonal line with your leg in the air and your chest close to the ground.

4. Inhale, and slowly push yourself back up into the Extended Cat Pose in number 2.

5. Now, exhale and release your leg. Raise your back, bend your knee as you release the leg and bring it under your body close to your forehead. Lower your head to meet it and stretch your spine in the opposite way from the Extended Cat Pose. This is the Tiger Stretch.

6. Come back to the Extended Cat Pose and repeat 2 through 5 two more times on the same leg. Then, return to the table top pose.

7. Repeat the sequence three times on the opposite leg making sure to center your weight on your left knee first before raising your right leg. 

I do this three times on each leg then move into the Child's pose to relax for a minute. If you don't think you can manage the chaturanga, the push up, you can simply skip steps 3 and 4 and go straight into number 5. Do give it a chance though, you might find it a bit enjoyable!

Note: I am not a doctor or any type of medical/physical professional. My advice is given because it works for me, not because a doctor or professional said so. If you have any questions about your physical ability, please check with your doctor or physician first for all matters.  

Photo image source

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Healing Power of Honey

I had the opportunity to test out honey's healing powers. About 5 weeks ago, I scraped my shoulder on the corner of those fire alarm boxes you see in offices and buildings. It wasn't rusted or anything or else I would've ran screaming for the next health center offering tetanus shots. However, I did want to pass out because I don't do well with blood or seeing exposed expanses of white flesh thanks to ultra-sharp metal corners. Anyway, it happened because I bent over to pick up something and got up way too fast.

So I thought this would be a great opportunity to try out all that I've learned about honey and its antibacterial, healing properties. For millenniums, honey has been nothing less than "liquid gold" when it came to health, healing, and happiness. Almost everyone knows that honey was used as embalming fluid in Ancient Egypt, but it doesn't end there. As far as 8,000 years ago, humans have been hunting for honey. (source) Not to mention, for at least 2,700 years that we can find, honey had been used for medical purposes whether through topical application or consumption. (source)

Here are the three valuable properties of honey in terms of healing:
  1. It's hygroscopic, which means when exposed to air, it naturally absorbs moisture in from the air. In treating open wounds, honey is useful as it could help prevent scarring by keeping the skin moist, encourage the growth of new tissues, and allow easy removal of any dressing by preventing dressing from becoming stuck to the skin.
  2. It's antibacterial. Researchers began to document the healing properties of honey in the early part of the 20th century. This ceased with the development of antibiotics but recently the development of resistance to antibiotics has led to a resurgence of interest into the healing properties of honey. The effective antimicrobial agent in honey prohibits the growth of certain bacteria. It contains an enzyme that produces hydrogen peroxide which is believed to be the main reason for the antimicrobial activity of honey. Cuts, abrasions and scalds can be covered in honey to prevent bacteria from entering the wound and promote healing.
  3. It's a source of antioxidants. Honey contains natural antioxidant properties that can destroy biologically destructive chemical agents which have been linked to many diseases such as cancer. Not only could honey's antioxidants help to eliminate free radicals in the body, they are also part of the nutrient supply for growth of new tissue. These precious honey properties help protect the skin under the sun and help the skin to rejuvenate and stay young-looking. (This could explain my inexplicable tan lines in that area, haha!)
If you're squeamish like me, you may not want to look at these photos. They're not dramatic or particularly gory, but sometimes I can get grossed out or lightheaded from the simplest wound. But this is a picture of my scrape a day after it happened:

Here's what I did to naturally heal it. I didn't just stop with honey but also used extra virgin olive oil and cocoa butter*.
  • For the first week, I applied honey to the wound once in the morning and once at night and kept it covered with a bandage. 
  • For the second week, I simultaneously applied honey and extra virgin olive oil to the wound twice daily and continued to keep it covered with a bandage.
  • For the third week, Guitar Boy demanded I let it breathe so the bandage was exiled. I alternately applied olive oil and raw, pure cocoa butter on the wound for the first few days, then just continued applying cocoa butter for the rest.
  • For the fourth week, I applied cocoa butter to it about three times daily. Usually whenever it felt dry.
  • Here I am, on the fifth week. I apply cocoa butter, olive oil, and/or honey whenever I remember which tend to just be once a day at nights. 
*In test treatment of 1st and 2nd degree burns, cocoa butter promoted 100 percent regrowth of new skin by 8 to 9 days after injury, much more quickly than untreated burns. (source)

Guitar Boy says it looks 100 times better and the picture doesn't do it justice. I agree, though the white scar is bothering me. It's a little pink because I haven't been incredibly vigilant about applying sunscreen, but alas, that's the suntanned life for me. However, I recently read somewhere about the application of ginger juice to help turn scarred white skin into normal colored skin. I plan to look into that on a couple of old scars on my legs since I don't feel like my scrape is ready for it.

Here's the picture of it now:

Do you think there's a big improvement? If I never applied the honey, olive oil, and cocoa butter, I would've likely bandaged it for a week, then let it alone for the rest of time. I'm pretty sure it would dry out, scab over, and end up with scarring even worse than what I have now. What do you think?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Roasted Vegetable and Mushroom Soup

Everyone knows Kitchen Sink Soup. You just gather up all the vegetables you have that you have too little of to make a real meal or that are on their way out and you dump them into a giant vegetable soup. It's always yummy and perfect for those rainy days where it's too gloomy to consider leaving the house. Well, today was one of those days for me, but mon dieu, I had no such odds and ends veg-wise to make a Kitchen Sink Soup!

All I had were a sweet potato that began to sprout pretty little purple vines, a 12 oz. box of baby bella mushrooms, two scallions, a kohlrabi, and a golden beet. I also had froze some of my homemade vegetable stock that I made over the weekend (instructions coming soon!) I really wanted to try out the stock so I started to formulate an idea.

I roasted all the vegetables, threw in some seasoning, melted down the frozen bag of stock, and pureed them together into a soup, leaving the mushrooms whole. At the last minute, I threw in some spaghetti I had already cooked and kept in the fridge. I expected a meh soup. Nothing to write home about but still edible. When I was done, I was kind of shocked. This soup was actually good. I mean, really good. A nice complex flavor. One vegetable wasn't overpowering the others. Everything melded really well. Best of all, it tasted nice, cozy, and warm. Perfect for this gloomy August day. 

Now, let's hope that these rainy days we've been having this August isn't the norm. I've been angling for another beach day this weekend and the weather better cooperate!

Get together:
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1 large golden beet
  • 1 alien-looking kohlrabi (purple or green, it doesn't matter)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup olive ol
  • 2 scallions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • A couple sprigs of oregano or 1/2 generous tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1 to 1 and 1/2 quart of vegetable stock
  • 1 12 oz. box of baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 mushroom bouillon cube (optional) 
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 a lime, juiced
  • Enough spaghetti for 2, prepared
Now, to make 4 servings of soup:
  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  • Peel and coarsely chop the sweet potato, golden beet, and kohlrabi into 1/2" cubes. Add them to a large roasting pan, salt and pepper generously, and drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 35-40 minutes, tossing the vegetables halfway.
  • Meanwhile, prepare and chop the scallions, garlic, and oregano. Set aside.
  • Clean and slice the baby bella mushrooms.
  • Add the scallions, garlic, and oregano to the roasted vegetables in the last 10 minutes of cooking, tossing well.
  • Remove the roasting pan from the oven but do not turn it off.
  • In a blender, add cilantro and all the vegetables, scraping every last bit out of the pan. Pour in about half a quart of vegetable stock or enough to cover the vegetables. 
  • Move the mushrooms to the roasting pan, season lightly with salt, and drizzle with more oil if needed. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes.
  • While the mushrooms are roasting, puree the vegetables in the blender. Pour the puree into a pot and add more stock to thin it out. Don't make it watery, just make it slightly thick enough to have texture.
  • Add the mushroom bouillon cube and season with cumin, cayenne pepper, and salt. Bring up to a gentle boil over medium heat. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.
  • When the mushrooms are roasted, soft with slightly crispy edges, remove from the oven and add to the soup. Squeeze 1/2 a lime over it. My lime was particularly juicy so it was enough, yours may be stingy so use a whole lime if needed.
  • Ladle into individual bowls and add spaghetti whole. Cut up the strands with your spoon and enjoy.
This is super easy to double up to have a larger pot. Even though it sounds labor intensive, it's really not. A short cut I did was roasting the mushrooms with the other vegetables and just picking them out when they were done. It allowed time for the vegetables to slightly cool so I could handle them in the blender. Alternatively, you could add the stock and the vegetables including the cilantro to the pot and use an immersion blender to puree. Then, add in the mushrooms and continue as directed. 

I know it sounds like a weird soup, but it's well worth it. The sweet potato's sweetness played really well with the kohlrabi's cabbagey turnipy flavor and the beet's earthiness. The roasted mushroom added that "final" punctuation that ends the play of flavors on your tongue. The spice from the cayenne pepper, the smokiness from the cumin, and the tang from the lime really helped bring it together. This is definitely a soup I'd make again!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Holy Kohlrabi!

I have heard of kohlrabi, seen kohlrabi, could probably likely identify it if needed to, but it never occurred to me to actually try it. So when I was at the Farmer's Market last week, I found myself in a talkative mood. Sometimes you just want to get in and get out and woe betide the one who tries to strike up a conversation with you. You don't get that? Maybe it's me.

I was looking for something unusual to bring home. Kale was stricken from the kitchen due to Guitar Boy, ("I don't like the texture," he wailed at me once,) and if I had to look at another zucchini, I might find myself ramming it down someone's throat. Tomatoes, well, yeah, tomatoes are nice, but tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes. So my eyes alighted on a deep purple alien ball: "Kohlrabi, .50" as I was purchasing a pint of Italian plums. (You cannot get between me and my plums, so don't even try.)

"Oh, kohlrabi," I said outloud.

"Yes, kohlrabi, you'd love it, it's awesome." The lady at the stand jumped in.

"How do you eat it?"

"You peel it, then slice it thinly, and just sprinkle some salt on top. It's great, you'll love it." She snatched up a spiky royal-colored one and plopped it in my bag. 

"Oh, like a radish?" My moment of enlightenment.

"Yes! Try it and you'll be coming back for more."

"Er... okay, wow, thanks!" and I walked away.

So why wasn't I overly thrilled for being offered a kohlrabi? I have a mild dislike of radishes (understatement.) Being handed this enormous extraterrestrial vegetable that promised to be an oversized, probably more pungent, radish wasn't making me skip for joy.

I find radishes bland with a peppery aftertaste. There's no excitement there. Then, as they sit out, they become slightly rubbery which tended to happen in my household growing up. My mom harbored an unhealthy love for these red and white balls, serving them with buttered bread and salt. Sometimes, she'd throw them into salads. I ate around them, always. She would just have a bunch of slices lying around and nibble at them throughout the day, blech.

But my philosophy is, well, you can't say you hate something without even trying it. So, literally an entire week later, I finally remembered the kohlrabi in my crisper and brought it out to the counter. I stared at it, took a picture or two because, well, it's pretty and unusual so why not. Then, with a peeler, I attacked one side of it. I got the purple peel off, then continuing to use the peeler, I cut out ultra-thin slices. A sprinkle of salt. I ate a piece. Then, another. Then, another. Then I toasted a slice of bread, spread it with a dab of dijon mustard and a kiss of honey and piled loads and loads of sliced kohlrabi on top. Sprinkle of salt, dash of pepper, and a squeeze of lemon.

Holy Kohlrabi!

In my mind, this kohlrabi has proved itself far and beyond the lowly radish. I offer no sorrow for those pitiful things because... kohlrabi.

It turns out there's so much more you can do with kohlrabi other than thinly slice them and dress them with a dusting of salt. I don't know why you want to try because this is kind of perfection on its own, but like one gets sick of zucchini after the upteenth recipe, it's nice to have a backup. You can pickle them, roast them, shave them into salads, turn it into a ceviche, deep fry them, steam them, and probably throw them into a stew with much too thick gravy (guilty.) I can't picture things like cucumber or radishes being cooked (ew, limp, warm radishes,) but kohlrabi has a promise of releasing luscious sweet sugars to caramelize and send the vegetable to a whole new level of food.

I will get around to trying one of the cooked recipes for kohlrabi, but until then, I'm content with a slice of bread and salt. 

By the way, I did go back for more, just like she said.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Pieczenia Proziaki: Polish Soda Bread

Pieczenia proziaki is Polish bread made with baking soda rather than yeast. As a result, it's really quick and easy to make with just a very light amount of kneading. It's not even worth getting out the electric mixture for this, it's that simple.

Strangely enough, even though my parents immigrated from Poland, they've never made this when I was growing up. They know of it but not the recipe. It took some stealthy research to come up with one; that and some frequent testing. Though there are several ways to present it, I chose to make the round loaf as opposed to the small round flat breads just because the only directions I could find for it were way too vague. Sadly, I don't speak or read Polish. It's something my mom has berated me forever about though I think it's my parents' fault for not teaching me. Gotta love that old-fashioned Catholic guilt.

Alas, that's the joy of being your parent's child, right? 

Like all breads, it requires your touch and judgement to know the correct proportions. Here are the basic measurements of the ingredients, but as you'll see in the directions, you may need more or less of an ingredient to come out to the same result. You know, bread is like that, but don't let it deter you because this is pretty forgiving no matter what you do.

 Pieczenia Proziaki- Makes one 6" loaf

Gather up:
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (I use whole wheat)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 to 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp honey (or sweetener of your choice: sugar, agave nectar, etc.)
Now, make it:
  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees, prepare a kneading surface by dusting with flour, and prepare a baking pan by dusting with flour as well
  • In a large bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. (I just whisk with a fork.)
  • Create a well in the center of the flour and pour in the sour cream starting with 1/2 cup and honey
  • Using a wooden spatula, slowly mix flour into the sour cream. If it looks a little dry, add a little more sour cream.
  • Once the dough is coming together with about 1/3 to 1/4 of dry flour still loose, dump the dough and flour over the kneading surface and begin to knead gently. Use a light hand and move quickly because unlike yeast, the baking soda can cause the gluten in bread to tighten up too fast and make it tough.
  • Knead to achieve a slightly sticky but elastic dough. You don't want it to be leaving bits of dough on the surface because it's so sticky, but you don't want it to be completely dry. You may need to add more sour cream or more flour as you knead or you may already have the perfect consistency without adding either. (I've been known to use nearly a whole tub of sour cream with good results if that makes you feel better.)
  • Shape into a ball gently and place onto the baking pan. Using a sharp knife, make an X into the surface quickly and decisively. Then, dust the surface with more flour.
  • Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden and the crust is firm. It will sound hollow when tapped. My method is to use two towels to flip the loaf upside down in one hand and to tap the bottom. If it sounds hollow, it's done.
  • Let cool on a rack immediately. 
  • Serve with butter and salted radish slices because well, it's Polish.

Here's why it's forgiving. If you use too much sour cream, it's okay because it'll still taste good. The slices will be extremely moist and a bit crumbly so use this as a bread for soup and stew. We still use it to make peanut butter toast regardless. If you had more flour than sour cream, you'll have firmer slices that can be toasted and topped with your favorite spread. First, just experiment the way you like then go from there. Don't try to aim for a firm or soft bread on your first try. Test it out as is.

If you don't want to use sour cream, you can use whole yogurt, greek yogurt, or even one of those Activia yogurt drinks in a pinch (been there, done that.) Buttermilk and kefir works as well. Here's why regular milk won't work. The fermented dairy has the acid that baking soda needs to help make the bread rise. I'm eager to try this with creme fraiche or mascarapone cheese for a sweet bread because, man, that sounds good. I would have to whip or soften them first so they can blend into the flour well.

This loaf is magical. Why? Because it pretty much disappears when I'm not looking, (glares at Guitar Boy.) He has been known to take enormous bites out of the loaf itself leaving me with weird crooked slices for my freaking peanut butter toast in the morning. (Glares again.) I really need to make several and freeze them next time. I bet you this can be easily doubled for a larger loaf. Just bake for a little longer.

Next time, I'm going to try and add some flax seeds or chopped herbs. Smacznego!