Friday, February 26, 2010

Curing an Ear Infection

I woke up this morning so dizzy that it took me 5 minutes to slowly, slowly, get out of bed. I am, unfortunately, ridiculously prone to ear infections. So much so that dizziness doesn't even worry me anymore. However, waking up with such a sudden and intense onset of dizziness is pretty bad, and I have a packed weekend ahead of me. Not being able to focus at the opera tonight or not being able to dance at the David Bowie tribute tomorrow would be a real shame!

Of course, I completely forgot to take care of my ears this morning, so it looks like there will be no way to get around using this smelly, all-purpose fix to ear infections tonight, when I have a date. How embarrassing! (actually this is a lie - given who it is, it's not embarrassing at all - just a bit smelly. It's great to fall in with people who are great and as diy as me - if not more - omg I'm doing the thing I swore to myself I'd never do on this blog).

Now, I unveil the horror! It feels great, but trust me, you do not want to do this for a date

Garlic ear oil
Curing an ear infection is fairly simple, but it doesn't smell good. All you need is a clove of garlic and olive oil (1-2 tablespoons should be fine) and a small pan. heat the olive oil while mincing the garlic. drop the garlic into the hot oil, turn off the heat, and let it sit until it's warm to the touch. scoop some oil into your finger and drop 3-6 drops into one ear. rub it in well, and lie on that side for 30 seconds or so. Then repeat with the other ear. Do this 2-4 times a day.

To save the oil, strain out the garlic. I would make a new batch each day though. When using cooled oil, make sure you rub your ear thoroughly to heat the oil and your ear up.

Some people use mullein-infused olive oil to heat the garlic in - but unless you happened to infuse olive oil with mullein 6 weeks ago, I wouldn't worry.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

About that Seed Starting...

I suddenly remembered (yesterday) that I had planned to figure out the details of my seed starting, buy everything, and set it up by now. Oops. Clearly, I've been a bit distracted. Not that I mind being distracted, but these things need to get done!

So what I did was figure out that I need to start 68 plants (I'm started a third more plants than I need of each variety), and then, given that they will be grown in 3 inch pots, I figured out the dimensions of the space I would need (3 pots by 23 pots is 9"x68", 4 pots by 17 pots is 12"x51" and so on). then I went and measured every available surface I had in the house (I don't want to build shelves) and found that the desk I NEVER use in my bedroom is not only a good bit larger than the necessary area, but is in the warmest spot in the house and is close enough to a low ceiling to easily accommodate a florescent light with adjustable chains for height without any other rigging. As for cat-proofing - we'll just have to hope, for now. if it gets bad, I'll make a chicken wire cage around the plants. I'll cover the surface of the desk with plastic so as not to hurt the pretty wood.

So that means I need to purchase:
1 florescent light fixture and bulb (about 40" long)
2 chains - 40" and 30" (it's a sloped ceiling)
2 ceiling hooks that can take the weight
...which really isn't bad at all.

I will make a bunch of little pots out of newspaper. Tutorial to follow.

Added bonus: that desk was a mess and during the lovely snow day I had this morning, I got a chance to finally (and for the first time, I think) clean it off.

Monday, February 22, 2010

mmm Flowers!

Quick! It's the season to force flowers indoors! Go out and get those early woody bloomers - forsythia, peach, apple, cherry, or dogwood stick them in a vase with water in a warm spot in the house and wait for them to bloom which they should do in a week or so. It'll feel like spring.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Aquaponics and Fun with Soil

Two awesome links that have captivated me today.

First, this article on aquaponics (hydroponics meets aquaculture) where fish and plants grow in the same low-impact system. Definitely part of my 5 year plan. I love tilapia! You can read the article (with a lot of great links) HERE

Second, really fun craft time project once the soil thaws. Dorodango shiny balls made of soil! I don't know if I'll have the patience, but aren't they pretty? I definitely want to try making one. The early step is similar to how you would make a seed bomb (you put a bunch of seeds in and then form the ball just until it dries in the second step. Then you throw it where you want seeds to sprout).

Good Ol' Standby

My dear readers, you're not the only thing I've been neglecting. My cat keeps meowing at me too. She's used to getting a lot of attention and I've been skimping on it lately. Accept, as my apology, this very simple recipe, which is my favorite thing to make when I just want to make something fast because I don't want to or can't focus on cooking. It's my good ol' standby food - always easy, and always reliable. I improvise depending on what I have on hand, or if I want to make a fancier dish. it works with lettuce instead of cabbage too - but I like the crunch of cabbage. We all have those quick and easy recipes that are delicious and come through when you need it, and this is that recipe of mine - also, it's healthy.

Cabbage and bean salad

Ingredients (for one):
Cabbage (for one person less than a quarter of a head is good)
A carrot (if you don't have carrots substitute a beat or parsnip)
1/2 can of beans (my favorite are black soy beans, but chick peas are good too)
scallions and/or cilantro (optional, but delicious)

soy sauce
rice vinegar (if you don't have it lime or apple cider vinegar work too)
toasted sesame oil
a carrier oil like canola or peanut (olive will work in a pinch too)
ginger (optional, but delicious)

Shred the cabbage. To shred cabbage, cut off a slice of cabbage (by cutting off a side), cut the slice in half, and then cut as thin as possible across the slice. Grate the carrot and add beans and whatever else you're using.

To make the dressing, mix equal parts soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and carrier oil. If you're using lime or apple cider vinegar, add about a 1/2 part or less (it;s stronger). grate in 1/4 inch of garlic, cover, and shake it until it's a light brown color).

Dress, toss, and enjoy. this is my favorite quick and easy meal. with rice, it's the best.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hosting through 3 Delicious Meals

It's surprisingly rare for me to truly enjoy hosting someone through three daily meals, all cooked at home. It's very rare to share breakfast, lunch, and dinner all homemade with a guest, but that, my dear readers, was something I got the chance to do yesterday, and in the process I learned that it's really easy to cook 3 fast and delicious meals in a day (which is something I rarely do for myself as is). The, trick, it turns out, is to go for delicious yet simple. here was my action plan:

Late Breakfast - Herbed Scrambled eggs with fried parsnips and rutabaga
Late Lunch - Fried tofu with caramelized onions, rice, salad with a ginger vinaigrette
Late and small Dinner - Tomato rice soup

Here's the scoop:

Breakfast (10 minutes prep, 15 minutes cook)
For the root veggies, thinly slice up 2-3 parsnips (as thin as you can get it - circles or half moons depending on the size of your parsnip) and a quarter of a medium rutabaga (you can also use potatoes, sunchokes, celeriac or whatever root veg you have on hand). Thin slice an onion. Sautee, covered, with a lot of butter and rosemary (to smell), you can add a quarter cup of water if things are burning. Add a bunch of salt. It takes about 15 minutes. Serve with sour cream.
For the eggs, beat 4-6 eggs (for two people) with sage, thyme, oregano, and a bit of rosemary (a lot - it should smell well-herbed). Scramble.

Lunch (20 minutes prep, 25 minutes cook, with some overlap)
Drain tofu, cube it, and then cover with 2 parts soy sauce, 1 part rice vinegar, and 1 part sesame oil, plus a grated inch or so of ginger (frozen ginger grates really well) a minced clove of garlic, some chives (if you have them) and a pinch of red pepper. let it sit while you prep a basic green salad, set the rice cooking (enough rice for lunch, and dinner! remember tomato rice soup!), and dice an onion.

For the salad dressing (this is the best part, and really ties the meal together) grate about a half inch of ginger into a dressing that is one part neutral oil (olive is fine), one part sesame oil, one part rice vinegar, and one part (or more even) lime juice salt or tamari to taste. Stir really well and don't let anyone pour it in their salad without stirring it well enough.

throw the diced onion and the tofu (reserve some of the marinade or it will burn) into a hot pan with oil, and sautee for as long as it takes the rice to finish. this should be plenty of time for the onions to caramelize and the tofu to brown. While everything is cooking, you can prep dinner.

Dinner (10 minutes prep, simmer as long as you can)
The trick to dinner is that it has to cook for a long time, so prep it while you're doing lunch, or while your guest is checking voicemail/something of the sort. It's the easiest meal you're going to cook all day. Dice an onion, a carrot, garlic, and some celery or celeriac (I didn't have it so I skipped it) throw that into some chicken stock, add a can of tomatoes (I added a can of tomatoes and a can of sauce for extra yum and so I had plenty for leftovers) and sprinkle in some marjoram and a dash of thyme (if you have it) salt, and pepper, and simmer until you're ready to eat it (yes - like 5 hours - that's the trick, seriously). I simmered mine uncovered because it was so watery and it turned out perfect. Dump in the rice a bit before you're going to start and stir in a cup or more of sour cream, half and half, heavy cream (don't overdo it), milk, or whatever combination thereof you have on hand. Serve hot with bread. if you're going to skimp on the chicken stock and use veg stock, you should sautee the veg before cooking. If you don't think you can leave a pot of soup simmering while you run around town for an hour or two, you're too risk averse, and I recommend trying it (unless you have a dog that will want to know what's cooking).

And that, as they say, is that. Very simple.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Planning for Indoor Seed-Starting

I'm late! I'm late! The spring season has been ticking closer and the sudden toe-tapping feeling has come over me. Oncoming spring always makes me feel late. I walked into my landlord's house to chat about laundry and thank him for keeping my fire going when I had an unexpectedly long stint away from home last weekend, and saw a fully rigged set up of shelves with florescent lighting to start the lettuces and tomatoes. I haven't even cleared enough space in my living room to start seeds yet! I haven't even ordered my onion sets yet! or discussed my garden plans with my landlord!

But really, it's okay. My farming friends are only starting their onion seeds now (they grow from seeds, not sets - sets are tiny second-year onions started the previous autumn and then over-wintered. They grow faster to ensure nice, fat bulbs, and are easier to maintain for those of us who don't have the faith in our gardening skills to grow onions from seed). They will start tomatoes in March. I will follow their example and chill out. I've already numbered all my weeks in my planner backwards from the last frost for the region (May 20th), so i always know what week it is (The week starting Monday, February 15th is 13 weeks from the last frost). In the mean time, there's a lot to think about.

Here's my plan:

This week I will:
- Design my indoor seed-starting set-up
This includes:
- Figure out how many seeds I will be started and what the system will look like
- Figure out if I need to heat the system (I hope not)
- Figure out how to keep the cat out of the seedlings
- Make a full shopping list for what I need

Also this week I will:
- Actually talk to my landlord about my garden plans and the where and when of it
- Buy onion sets, herb seeds, and other things i don't have! I will buy my next round of seeds from Fedco, which is the cheapest and most responsible northeast seed company with a comprehensive variety of seeds)

next week I will (12 weeks before the last frost):
- Buy the necessary equipment

The following week I will (11 weeks before the last frost)
- rig up the seed-starting system
- run a test-start with lettuces, and possibly okra (i need to do some more research on this Southern, heat-loving plant which grows so anemically here in the Northeast)

9 weeks before the last frost (the third week in March):
I will start my earliest seedlings (tomatoes, peppers, okra, and I'll probably start my herbs and flowers as well)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sick Days

My dear readers, sorry for the lag time between posts. Between working weekends and getting sick, I haven't gotten a chance to do much. While tossing and turning in bed all day yesterday (not feeling 100% up to snuff today, but a woman's gotta work!) I re-learned one of my least favorite lessons of adult life. All of the knowledge in the world is useless in the face of sickness and exhaustion. Yes, even though I knew, in theory, what I needed to do to get my sorry ass off of the couch and feeling better, I did none of it, since it took more energy than I had to clear my mind enough to go and pull the fennel off the spice rack and start chewing it.

Between lying on the couch all day watching Planet Earth, and lying on the couch some more and reading The Neverending Story (meh), and When You Reach Me (you should read it) When You Reach Me (I'm on a children's book kick), I basically only had the energy to make myself some chicken and rice soup out of desperation (I was hungry). Luckily, I had frozen stock in convenient ziplock bags and I grated up some ginger (if you freeze ginger it's really easy to grate it up and it doesn't come out stringy), chopped some garlic, onions, and carrots into the stock and called it soup. For lunch I mixed in some miso (mix miso into a small amount of the broth in a bowl, then add in the rest of your soup - boiling miso kills the nutrients in it).

If I were fully cognizant, or if I had a mommy available to me on site (Mommy called later and reminded me to chew my fennel) I would have been drinking fennel and ginger tea all day with honey and keeping my stomach occupied with crackers (saltines) and rice.

Instead I lay on the couch all day cursing the medicine that wasn't working, drinking water, and doing little else. Spare energy went to keeping the stove well stocked. I think that's what I'll have the energy for tonight too.

More when I feel 100%.

Friday, February 5, 2010


Warning: money talk, but there's a treat at the end of this entry!

I have a tendency to think in terms of 10-year plans. I know, I know, plans never make it past the first engagement, but I can't help it! How else do I know that I'm acting in a way that furthers my goals? Well, my friends, to further my goals, I bring you the next step in my life resolutions. This one is going to be much harder than cutting down on radio time, but it must be done, so onward!

I've been living fairly comfortably barely within my means. Now, I'm afraid, it's time to get on with it and start saving. No more excuses - I know I can do it. What does that mean, realistically? It means I'm no longer going to buy what I can otherwise make or do myself (within reason). Like all of my resolutions, the frugal aspects of this one coincide with its environmental and anti-consumerist ones. But here are the practical details:

First - no more going out for lunch. I will pack a lunch every day. Going out for lunch will be reserved for the once or twice monthly occasion of really needing to get out of the office, SERIOUSLY. I will eat lunch away from my desk, in order to not go absolutely looney with no lunch break. If I forget lunch, I'll have to survive on the leftover pastries and popcorn in the office and since I don't have much of a sweet tooth or any sort of fondness for popcorn or junk food, I'm sure one day of this diet will force me to remember my lunch from that point on. Since I never eat out for dinner except on special occasions, I don't really feel the need to cut down on that expense. I think I'll be freezing little lunchables for myself and buying more deli meats (yum!)

Second - I don't need to purchase certain services. For example - an oil change. Not only do I know how to change my own oil (I've never done it in this car, but I've done it in my old Jeep - and it was surprisingly easy), I find it significantly harder to schedule time to drop off my car or sit and wait for it than to just find time to change my oil myself. Now that it's light out after I get home from work, this will be even more doable (stay tuned - it's time for an oil change - maybe Sunday or Monday?)

Once the summer comes around, both of these will be easier. Winter food takes a long time to cook and that often turns me off to cooking for myself, and diy is always more fun when it's warm out - especially when it involves sliding myself under my car.

if I do this right, it means I'll be saving about $15 a week (about how much I spend on eating lunch out) plus $15 or so on each oil change. Which doesn't mean I'll be able to take that vacation I want to take necessarily, but I might be able to figure something out (Maine instead of Seattle?). And, to further it, does anyone know a high-interest, low-risk savings account option?

Phew! Now that you got through the money talk, here's a treat:

Chai Custard
I made this for dessert yesterday and LOVED it. It is the easiest, most delicious dessert I've made in a long time. The perfect conclusion to a thai-style meal. Also, it was way easier than pie. I made it for two, and didn't follow a recipe, so bear with me. I didn't use a recipe - so you should feel free to estimate also.

You need:

- 3 egg yolks
- 1/3 pint of heavy cream
- 2 Tablespoons whole milk
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 cloves
- a tiny sprinkle of nutmeg
- a pinch of cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp of cardamom (the whole seeds (not pods) or powder)
- a sprinkle of grated ginger (if you haven't put ginger in every other dish that night like I did)

- something to bake it in (I used a mini pie plate, you could use little canning jars, ramikins would be ideal)
- egg beater/wisk
- an oven preheated to 325

separate the yolks and beat them up. add sugar and beat smooth. ad cream and milk and beat some more. add all the spices and beat until mixed. Pour into your baking container and bake for about 8 minutes, or until the sides have set but the center still jiggles.

A Note
I have a sneaking suspicion that if you scald the cream and steep some black tea in it, the custard will come out even tastier.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Beginning

There is a holy day lost in the endlessness of days. That day, whether with a mid-winter thaw or the sudden realization that the days are getting longer, when the spring becomes possible. With the thaw that came this January, I suddenly woke to gardening.

Like all holy days that come from a true craving in the human spirit, this implaceable day when winter begets spring is still marked. Groundhog day, though perhaps only marked by the occasional child who longs for more snow days, still reminds us that spring has infiltrated winter. Purim, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the queen Esther bringing hope back to her people who could see nothing but annihilation ahead of them, is the most festive and bacchanal of Jewish holidays - and it falls around this liminal time. In the old Western Euoprean world this holiday of the unquestionable advance of spring was called Imbolc.

It is with this holy day, lost between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, when the gardening year truly begins. Of course I have been pestering myself for weeks and weeks to start on my garden already, to make plans, to order seeds, but until that subtle day when spring breaks her first, premature smile, I am loathe to think of the garden. But once it comes and spring digs itself into me, I am infected. The gardening season has started.

No logic, no science can explain why it is that i garden. No science can hold the incredible miracle of a seed sprouting - a seed I planted in soil I prepared for it. While I claim idealistic and ideological reasons for gardening, the true reason is that I am in love with the inexplainable miracle of it all - the magic of warm soil, of a seed sprouting, and of that day in midwinter when it all infects me. I want to hold the awe of this reason for growing food - hold it and, without explaining it, acknowledge it, bow before it as my only reason (as unreasonable as that may be), and embody it in my writing.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

One good reason for doing your dishes immediately after eating is so that when you learn on wednesday at work that you will, in fact, have company over for dinner on thursday, you don't have to scamper to figure out when you'll do the sink full of dishes between now, the bonfire you're going to tonight, and work tomorrow. However, that does mean I get to turn my old hen that's been sitting in the freezer into stock and make some thai-style winter root veg curry (I'm making up the recipe - leeks were too expensive and pathetic-looking) with lemongrass (cheaper than leeks!) and black soy beans (my new favorite bean for asian-style meals - they absorb flavor so well!), add into that some kraut-cum-kimchi (I'll be adding chilis, ginger, garlic, and thin-sliced turnips to some of my kraut and letting it all sit in brine overnight so the flavors can meld), and some spiced peach cobbler, I say we'll have ourselves a dinner. Whether or not the kitchen will survive, that i don't know.

In other news - I ran out of my lovely local onions yesterday. I probably had 10 pounds or so for the winter, and they were perfect, little single-serving onions. Moral of the story: I'll need double the onions for next year.

I'm also on a mission to have more dinner parties so that i can use up the rest of my winter storage veggies as spring comes upon us. Anyone have some good winter veg recipes you want to share?

Monday, February 1, 2010

This Year's Garden Plan

Here is my garden plan, drawn out. It's designed to feed just me, with all of my favorite food and plants, taking into account what I can get cheaper and easier from my landlord's farmstand and garden, and what I'd rather grow inside or closer to home (herbs - which will be tucked into the ornamental border planted around my house), and what I'd rather not grow. I just realized that I totally forgot onions. go figure.'s somewhat revised from the plan I described earlier. I'm sure it will be revised even more when I till and plant.

I always draw my garden plans oriented to the South (see the compass rose on the right), and I include the year and where I'm gardening for my records (not shown in this image). This is the last of about 10 drawings I did (most small and in pencil) and it includes planting distance, thinning distance (where applicable), and some notes on plantings as they change (ie - peas followed by beans). On first thought, I'll probably add a small bed south of the garden, I'm thinking 2 feet by 20 feet and plant it full of onions and that way I'll have enough onions for spring and winter (I hope).

Now all I need to do is make a calendar of when I will be planting everything - indoors, transplanting, direct seeding, etc. to finish with this initial planning stage. Getting the planning stage done early means not realizing a week late that you should have planted the corn already.

Feel free to use as much or as little of this garden plan as you'd like, and copy it entirely if you so desire. I hope it helps.