Monday, December 23, 2013

Flower Power Hand Salve

Here's a nice and ultra pampering hand salve, perfect for these dry winter days. The blend of infused oils lends the salve a really nice scent without being overwhelming. I put it on every night before bed to help sooth my overly scrubbed, inky printer's hands. When I wake up in the morning my hands are soft and smooth!

12 ounces infused oil, prepared at least a month in advance
about 1 ounce beeswax
1 tablespoon cocoa butter
5 drops vitamin E oil
7 drops lavender essential oil (optional)

To make the infused oil, fill a glass jar with loosely packed dried rose, lavender, calendula, chamomile, and red clover. The amount you use is up to you and the size of the jar you are using, just make sure the jar is about 3/4 full of dried flowers. Fill the jar with oil so that the flowers are completely submerged. You can use one type of oil or a combination depending on your skin type. I used about half olive oil, with the other half being macadamia, kukui, and avocado oils.

Leave the jar on a warm, sunny window ledge for a full moon cycle being sure to shake the jar once a day.  After a month, strain the oil through a cheesecloth to remove the bits of dried flowers and store in a clean glass jar until ready to use. The oil will have a wonderful floral scent and will be packed with skin-nourishing properties.

To make the salve, gently warm the oil, beeswax and cocoa butter in a heavy nonreactive pan over low heat. Stir frequently and remove from heat the moment the wax melts. Allow to cool for a minute or two (but not long enough for it to solidify) then quickly stir in the vitamin E oil and optional lavender essential oil. Pour into glass jars, secure lids and allow to sit overnight to solidify.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Roasted Garlic Habanero Hot Sauce

I made a double batch of this hot sauce to give as xmas gifts this year. It turned out great and can be cooked up, bottled, and hand labeled in an easy afternoon so if you are in need of a few more gifts, read on. It seems like in every hot sauce recipe I see, the blogger talks about the Hot Sauce Camp and how he or she is firmly in it. I'll say that I enjoy a good hot sauce, but I'm not the kind of person who slathers it on everything. Be warned, it is pretty darn hot so if you are interested in having a flavorful but more mild sauce, swap out half of the habaneros for an equal amount of orange bell pepper.

5 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 medium carrot
Half of a small onion
12 medium orange habanero chiles, stemmed
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
Additional water (as needed)

Break apart the garlic cloves and wrap them in some foil. Roast in an oven (or a toaster oven if you have one, it'll use less electricity) at 350 F for about 20 minutes. You can also dry roast the garlic cloves in a pan on the stove, just be sure to keep on eye on them and stir frequently so they roast evenly. Check the cloves; they should be soft and fragrant. If they look done, let them cool before peeling. Set aside.

Meanwhile roughly chop the carrot and onion, then add them to a medium sized pan. Add the habanero chiles (just leave them whole), vinegar and water. Partially cover and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes until the carrots are very tender. Remove from heat and let the mixture cool a bit.

Transfer the carrot/onion/habanero mixture into a blender along with the roasted garlic, salt and sugar. Blend until very smooth. Taste and decide if you want to add more salt. If you think the sauce is too thick, blend a bit more with additional water until it's where you want it. Pour into glass bottles and store in the fridge. I recommend crafting cute little labels to make it official.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Tadka Dal

Here is Part III in my "favorite soup series." Although I've enjoyed this dal for years in restaurants, this is the first time I've made it at home. And it turned out so tasty (and such a lovely color) that I decided it's worth sharing with you all. It can easily be made on the stovetop (like I did) or in a slow cooker if you want dinner waiting for you when you get home.

Lentils are nutritionally potent lil legumes. In addition to being rich in protein, iron, potassium, copper, phosphorus, and fiber, lentils also contain a number of essential amino acids. The body can't manufacture essential amino acids on its own and relies on your diet to provide them. One of these amino acids is tryptophan, which gets a lot of blame this time of year. Tomorrow, families across the country sitting around their Thanksgiving table will yawn and blame the tryptophan in their turkey for making them sleepy. It's true that tryptophan helps the body produce niacin, which in turn helps produce serotonin, but there are a couple problems with this Turkey Makes You Want to Sleep on Your Face myth. Firstly, turkey isn't a remarkable source of tryptophan. Spinach, tamari, salmon, pork, watercress, egg whites and duck all out rank turkey in this race. Secondly, tryptophan works best on an empty stomach, so when you factor in an excess of mashed potatoes, stuffing, pie, rolls, a plethora of casseroles and some booze, you're probably just sleepy because you ate too much.

So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving I give you a recipe that is not at all relevant to tomorrow's likely menu. But you'll be thankful for it in a few days when you're sick of leftovers and want to eat something nourishing, energizing, and healthy for a change.

2 tablespoons oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and pressed or minced
1 medium tomato, diced
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon salt, more or less to taste
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 cups of water
1 cup split red lentils (masoor dal), picked over and washed
1 cup split green lentils or yellow split peas, picked over and washed
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced
additional red pepper flakes (optional)

Heat the oil over medium heat and saute the onions until translucent. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for about a minute. Add the tomato, cumin seeds, turmeric, salt, cayenne, and pepper flakes and cook for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the water and lentils/split peas and bring to a boil. When the soup comes to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer and let cook for about 45 minutes or until the lentils become soft and creamy. Turn off heat, stir in half the cilantro and taste for seasonings. Serve in bowls garnished with remaining cilantro and additional red pepper flakes if desired.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Lazy French Onion Soup

Before I find a reason to procrastinate, here is another favorite soup of mine. I've always loved French Onion Soup, but it isn't something I eat very often. This is because at a restaurant it's bound to have beef broth and at home it's rather time consuming to nurse a pot of slowly carmelizing onions. By using veggie broth and a slow cooker, this recipe solves both problems. . . although you'll still have to be brave and slice a lot of onions. I've heard plenty of bogus ways to prevent the tears from coming (eat a slice of bread, press your tongue to the roof of your mouth), but the only thing that works for me is to wear goggles. Which I don't currently own, so I just power through.

Did you know that the humble onion has a number of impressive health benefits? Native to Asia and the Middle East, onions have been cultivated for over 5,000 years and have been used for their therapeutic properties since at least the 6th century. Onions have anti-inflammatory properties and are rich in cancer-fighting organosulfur compounds (which helps stop cancer cell growth and prevents the development of cancers). Onions contain anti-angiogenic phytochemicals which fight tumor growth. Studies have also shown that onions are great for bone density and connective tissue as well as regulating blood sugar. So eat onions every day.

Onions before cooking down. They'll look a lot different in 8 or so hours...

3 tablespoons olive oil
6 good sized onions, sliced (about 3 lbs)
5 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup dry white wine or sherry
1/4 cup tamari
1/4 water
6 cups hot vegetable broth
Sliced French or Italian bread
Cheese of your choice (I used Daiya Mozzarella vegan cheese)

While you prep the onions, turn the slow cooker on Low and add the oil. Once you've recovered from crying your way through 3 pounds of onions, add them to the slow cooker. Sprinkle in the flour, brown sugar, black pepper, and thyme and stir to coat the onions. Add the wine, tamari and water, cover and let cook for 8 to 10 hours.

Check the onions, they should have cooked down significantly and be a rich mahogany brown. Add the hot broth and taste for seasonings. Depending on your broth you might want to add some salt. Toast the slices of bread then top with cheese and melt under a broiler. Serve the soup in bowls topped with one or two slices of bread. Perfect to come home to on a rainy day.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Roasted Delicata Bisque with Cashew Cream

A couple weeks ago, Milla asked if I had a favorite soup recipe I could post. The answer is yes but I can't really decide on just one. Soup is my favorite type of food and just as I have a number of favorite dresses suited for different moods and seasons I have many favorite soups. I love noodles, wontons or matzo balls in a savory light broth. I also love a spicy stew with lots of beans and veggies served over rice or quinoa. Then sometimes I crave a warm bowl of corn and roasted poblano chowder and nothing else will do. So I will share a few favorites over the weeks to come, some recipes that I turn to regularly ranging from stews, to chowders to broth-y deliciousness.

First up is this seasonally appropriate Delicata Bisque with Cashew Cream. It comes together with just a few ingredients and is open to interpretation. If you don't like cashews you can substitute a can of coconut milk for a sweeter yet equally delicious soup.

If you have a different kind of winter squash hanging around your kitchen go ahead and use that, although delicatas are ideal if you got 'em. They are excellent sources of vitamin A (good for your eyes, immune system and reproductive health) and are good sources of Vitamin C (also beneficial to your immune system, helps protect cells from free radicals and helps your body absorb iron from plant-based foods). Cashews are rich in copper which helps eliminate free radicals and contributes to healthy skin and hair. Cashews "nuts" (they are technically a seed) are also very rich in magnesium which contributes to healthy bones. And they contain proanthocyanidins which starve tumors and stop cancer cells from dividing! Plus, it's a bisque which is just fun to say and sounds swanky.

2 good sized Delicata squash (3 lbs)
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 or 5 cups excellent vegetable broth
1 cup raw unsalted cashews
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Black pepper and salt to taste

Note: If you have some wimpy blender that you ground scored after your neighbors moved out be sure to soak the cashews for several hours or overnight before attempting to puree. This will help the cashews achieve divine creaminess instead of chewy sand status.  

If substituting with coconut milk, reduce the amount of broth by about a cup.

 Preheat your oven to 400 F. Trim off the tops of the squash and scoop out the seeds and pulp (don't forget to save the seeds for roasting later). Oil the cut sides of the squash and place face down on a baking sheet. Roast until the squash is fork tender and the edges are slightly caramelized.

While you wait for the squash to roast, prepare the cashew cream. If you soaked the cashews, drain off the excess water then blend with 1 cup of the broth. Really let your blender work for a few minutes until it's totally creamy. Spoon out about 1/2 cup of the cashew cream and set aside for garnish.

After the squash is roasted, allow to cool until you can handle it comfortably. Remove the skin, and heat the squash, remaining broth, and thyme in a soup pot until it boils. If you want a thicker soup, don't add the full amount of broth. I put a range since finding two squash that weigh precisely three pounds isn't always in the cards. Reduce heat and simmer, covered for 20 to 30 minutes.

Let the soup cool a bit, then add (in batches if necessary) to the cashew cream in the blender. Puree until smooth. Transfer the cashew/squash mixture back to the pot and heat. Add black pepper and salt if needed. Depending on the saltiness of your veggie broth, you might not need to add any salt (I didn't at least).

Serve in bowls with fancy dollops of the reserved cashew cream and freshly cracked black pepper.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Hello Olympia

As I said before, it's good to be home. Just a little walk through of some of the things I missed the most.

Taking my dog to the beach.

Walks with my brother in the woods.
     Hanging out with my mom.

Enjoying excellent local produce, purchased or found. (What a season for 'shrooms!)

Soaking up beautiful gray afternoons.

Reading and drinking something hot downtown.

Hanging out on campus and feeling strangely nostalgic about my college days.

Stumbling on evidence of people not taking things too seriously.

Being outside and seeing more trees than humans. 

My next post will be some sort of recipe or project, but I'm not sure what exactly. I'd really like to make some new batches of soap, but most of my supplies are still packed away in boxes from the move. Maybe I will mix up something for the face, like an herbal infused facial oil for the colder months ahead. I'm open to suggestions too...

Monday, October 14, 2013

Where I Am and Where I Was

Ah, it's so good to be home. I mean it really, truly is. There is so much I missed about the Pacific Northwest during my 3 year stint in the Second City. Whether it's true or not, life just feels easier here. The people I see around town are generally happier and friendlier than the average people I would encounter at an L stop in the South Loop. Small talk between strangers is relaxed rather than guarded. I feel like I can be silly and crack jokes and not feel like smiling at someone is an invitation for harassment. I really love being able to walk around in public places without having on my "game face."

That is to say, when I would walk around in my Chicago neighborhood or around school I was very self-conscious and defensive. Only now am I realizing how stressed out I was just getting from point A to point B. I got tired of feeling generally distrustful of strangers, then feeling guilty about being distrustful and eventually I was just left wondering how the heck I got to be so pessimistic!

And one night in particular several months ago, when I was muddling through this mental rabbit hole, my boyfriend came home and I asked him about his day. He told me about walking down the sidewalk and seeing a man in a wheelchair cross the street. A car hit the man in the wheelchair and threw him out of his chair and into the middle of traffic. When the driver realized what happened, she got out of her car and yelled at the man about needing to watch where he's going. He had been in a crosswalk. She did not help him back into his chair.

Of course there are great things about the city as well. Personally, I loved school which is good since that's about all I did for the past three years. Chicago was the perfect place for me to geek out on late 19th century American type history, experimental poetry, and artists' books. My print studio was blocks away from the historic Printer's Row and just a few train stops away from the Newberry Library and the Joan Flasch Artists' Book Collection. That city is chock full of fantastic printers and book artists and I am so thankful for the friendships I made.

But I am not trying to tally up all the pros and cons of my urban experience. I'm glad I did it, I learned a lot about other people as well as about myself. Most importantly perhaps, I learned just how much I love my personal neck of the woods. For example, these woods.

More about "these woods" in my next post. Until then, have you ever tried living somewhere that just never clicked? Or you always felt like an outsider, even after a few years of living there?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Homemade Vegan Pumpkin Creamer

Yes, I know. Blogging about pumpkin anything during the month of October is about as rampant as cat videos on youtube. But don't worry dear reader, though I could go on and on about my favorite season, I'll stop now before I get all squishy about the way the air can smell like wet leaves and chimney smoke. But I do recommend trying out this pumpkin creamer recipe. Instead of using an artificially-flavored syrup or store-bought creamer, this one uses actual pumpkin to give it that lovely color. It's delicious with coffee but my favorite way to drink it is to mix it in equal parts with a cup of simple slow cooker chai (instead of milk). This creamer isn't especially rich, so you really need to use a lot of it. So brew your coffee or tea extra strong and leave plenty of room for the creamer, maybe 1/4 or 1/3 cup. It's more like you're making a latte than adding a bit of cream to your coffee.

I adapted this recipe slightly from Girl Makes Food's Homemade Pumpkin Creamer.

2 cups vanilla soymilk or water*
3 heaping tablespoons pumpkin (cooked and pureed or the kind from a can without the spices added)
2 tablespoons almond butter
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
scant 1/4 teaspoon ground clove
scant 1/4  teaspoon ground ginger

Throw everything in a blender and blend until creamy and smooth. For best results, heat the creamer before adding it to your cup so you don't have a lukewarm pumpkin latte.

*10/22/13 revision: When I first posted this recipe I used water, but have since experimented with vanilla soymilk which I think is even yummier. The downside to using any kind of milk instead of water is that the final creamer won't be such a nice pumpkin-y orange as it is in the picture above. If you eat with your eyes or don't have any milk on hand use the water.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Lavender and Flax Cleansing Grains

Have you ever used cleansing grains to wash your face? It's a really refreshing and invigorating experience. My skin felt and looked better after the first time I tried it and now I'm hooked. The all natural blend of clay, grains, seeds, and herbs act as a multitasking team to draw out impurities, exfoliate dead skin cells, unclog pores, and tighten and nourish skin. Throw in an herbal steam and a homemade moisturizer and you've got yourself a luxurious facial on a budget. You'll probably have most of the ingredients in your pantry and it only takes a couple minutes to mix up.

There are a number of good cosmetic clays to choose from. I used Bentonite clay from volcanic ash. French Green clay is a little more expensive but is extremely absorbent and effective for drawing oils and impurities out from your skin. For those with oily skin that is prone to acne, Fuller's Earth clay is the way to go. Good old White Cosmetic clay is the least expensive, is easy to apply, and is very versatile. The indulgent Rhassoul clay from Morocco is reputed to blend the best with water (I've found Bentonite to be kinda a pain in the butt to mix...) and is rich in Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Potassium, Silica, and SodiumChoose your favorite based on the needs of your skin, after all customization is one of the major benefits of making your own facial potions!

1/4 cup cosmetic clay
2 tablespoons cornmeal
2 tablespoons oatmeal
1 tablespoon lavender flowers
1 teaspoon ground flaxseed meal or 1 heaping teaspoon whole flaxseeds
1 teaspoon sunflower seeds
3 drops lavender essential oil
1 drop patchouli essential oil

Add clay, cornmeal, oatmeal, lavender flowers, flaxseeds, and sunflower seeds in a food processor. Process until uniformly coarse. The clay will rise and create a lot of dust, so to avoid inhaling it let the mixture rest for a minute before adding the essential oils. Pulse several times to incorporate the oils, then transfer to a glass jar for storage.

To use, mix a small amount of the cleansing grains with water in the palm of your hand. Gently massage the paste on your face then rinse clean with warm water and pat dry. Follow with a facial oil or other moisturizer.

Makes about 1 cup

Thursday, September 5, 2013


The four-day drive West on I-90 was a toasty one, right smack in the middle of a heat wave. My mom and I had a really great trip nonetheless, making time for extracurricular activities like a stop in South Dakota to track down my great-grandfather's grave and have a picnic with him. My cats also joined us for lunch in the cemetery as did two wild turkeys and a pair of fawns.

I had been really apprehensive about the drive, specifically wondering how my cats would handle being in a car. They're sisters, both rescue cats with troubled kitten-hoods (their litter was found near a factory in Chicago, the kittens had been abused and some were even killed). All the surviving kitties were rescued and adopted. Ruby and Mabel were the last ones, waiting for their forever home (with me) for over a year and a half. They've both blossomed and are really social and playful cats around people they know well.

Copilot Mabel
Amazingly, they loved riding in the car and exploring new hotel rooms at night. Mabel especially loved to sit in the passenger's lap and gaze out the window at all the semi trucks, windmills, and fields of sunflowers. On a particularly clear night in Montana, I noticed she was staring up intently at the sky... it was the first time she saw the stars!

Ruby in the hotel, Minnesota
Our last day of driving was intended to be two days, but due to a hydroplane festival in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, a Dave Matthews band concert at the Gorge, a Bob Sagat show and a rodeo around Spokane, we couldn't find a single hotel room until we made it over the pass. At that point, home was only a couple hours away so we just cranked up the radio and soldiered on. It was a 17 hour day in the car, going 860 miles!

It's good to be home. The cats are settling in and making friends with the family dog. The air is cool, damp, and fragrant with just a hint of saltiness coming off the sea. I'm surrounded by green instead of gray and I feel like I can breathe again! More on that later, I'm gonna take the dog for a walk.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Goodbye Chicago

Goodbye Lake.

Goodbye skyscrapers.

Goodbye kitschy window displays.

Goodbye city porch sitting.

Goodbye South Loop, Lakeview, Bridgeport, Pilsen, Hyde Park and Logan Square.

Goodbye garden apartment (that's a euphemism for basement, there's no garden) were I can watch all the drunk Cubs fans stumble by.

Goodbye serious winter.

Goodbye kitten-sized rats

Goodbye reliable old post-crit dive bar with your tater tot platters.

Goodbye paper studio.

Goodbye bindery.

Goodbye (especially) print studio.

Goodbye Midwest!

My three years in exile are over and I'm coming home! I will be spending the next 4 or 5 days driving west with my mom and two kitties. See you on the other side of the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Rockies, and the Cascades!