Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Regifting is not a sin, Jesus does it every year.

Now before you chastise me for the title of this post let me explain.

This year, my family and I spent Christmas at my grandma's house in Sacramento.  It was really fun. We played a ton of games, shelled 44 pounds of walnuts (a Christmas tradition,) recycled the classic jokes about being Portuguese, and talked about family members who are gone from this earth but not from our hearts.  We ate till we couldn't see straight and reminisced about what it felt like to feel hunger.  It was awesome. 

Our family is not religious.  My dad was raised Catholic and my sister and I were baptized but that's the extent of my religious upbringing.  Though I'm sure my grandma would love it if we went to church with her, she understands and doesn't bother us about it.  So, like a good Catholic, she went to mass on Christmas morning while the rest of us stayed behind and got breakfast ready.  She came home, and we did our Christmas morning as usual. 

During lunch, someone brought up the concept of regifting.  We discussed whether it was good or bad and decided it can be a great thing if all the circumstances are right.  First, the item being gifted has to be a wanted item.  Shawn once got a package of socks from his grandpa that he had already opened and decided they didn't fit.  It was clearly an afterthought, and therefore was a bad way to regift something.  Second, the gift has to be from someone who either will never know of the regifting, or from someone who didn't put much effort into the gift and will not care if it was regifted.  And lastly, it has to be an item that the recipient has a need for or can appreciate.

An example of the last two requirements is the Christmas gift that my sister's BF gave to his mother.  The company that both he and Shawn work for gives out annual gifts to all its employees.  Last year it was an ice cream maker, this year it was a box of a bunch of random locally made goods.  There were cookies, toffee, and pretzels, as well as a hand-carved ruler and a picture frame.  Do the boys have any need for this stuff?  Not really.  My sis's BF was already planning on getting his mother a gift of Seattle-based goods anyway so this was perfect.  They printed a picture of the two of them and  put it in the picture frame, wrapped the box, and away it went to Alabama where a very excited mother awaited.

See, regifting isn't always evil.  It's good for the pocketbook and if the recipient is happy there is no harm done.  An item that is not useful to one person is given a new life and adopted by someone else, putting some relief to the the ever-growing problem of us all having too much stuff.  I can justify anything in the name of sustainability.  And who says that you have to spend money to give someone something they can appreciate?

Ok, back to the Jesus thing.  So right after this conversation about regifting, my grandma changed the subject by asking us why we have Christmas in the first place.  (They had asked the kids this during mass that day.)  We responded with, "well, it's Jesus' birthday."  Then she asked us why we get gifts for someone else's birthday.  After all us heathens looked at each other blankly for a few seconds she replied "because Jesus is very generous and he wants us to have his gifts."

To which my dad quickly responded with, "he just regifting."

Judging by the amount of laughter this caused, including from my grandma, I'm guessing this will become an annual family joke from here on out.  Hopefully this explains away the title of this post, and if not, explains the kind of sense of humor my family appreciates.

Hopefully, your holiday season was filled with silly jokes and fun times as well.

An accurate portrayal of the chaos that ensues when 8 people try to shell 44 pounds of walnuts.
Awesome chicken quilt made by my Auntie Martha.  Yes, my parents are dorks.  That's why I am too.

Cleaning Clothes with Science!

About a year ago, I read and reviewed a cool book from New Zealand about a lady who went completely chemical-free in her home.  She handmade all cleaning and personal beauty products and eventually made a living off of it.

Since reading the book, I too have slowly starting phasing out chemical products in my home.  I haven't bought toilet bowl cleaner since then, as well as all-purpose surface cleaner and glass cleaner.  All of these things have been replaced by the very cheap and effective team called baking soda and vinegar.  It's been awesome.  Not only are these things super cheap (I buy baking soda by the pound now, just 2 bucks!) but it feels good knowing that these cheaper options are also much less harmful to the earth as well as all the lovely inhabitants of my home.

Yesterday, I took the next step and made my own laundry detergent.  The recipe I used is a combination of the recipe in the aforementioned book as well as other instructions I've read in earth-friendly blogs:

I used Boraxo, not Borax, I hope it works.
1 cup washing soda
1 cup borax
1/2 cup baking soda
1/2 bar of soap, finely grated  (this comes to about a cup)

Mix 'em all up and use 1/4-1/2 cup per load in a top loading machine.  (The water needs to be warm or hot to melt the soap.)  More efficient side loading machines only have to use 2-3 tablespoons.

I made a small batch this time to make sure I liked it, and next time I'll make a larger batch.  The soap I used was Dr. Bronner's, made of all fair-trade ingredients, and I got the rose-scented one since that's Shawn's favorite smell.  The borax I had left over from our epic ant-war of 2008, and the baking soda... well duh.  The biggest problem was the Washing Soda.

Before I go into the deets of my quest for this elusive product let me tell you a little bit about it.

Washing soda is Sodium Carbonate, or Na2CO3.  (The science nerd part of my brain is totally excited right now.)  It can naturally be extracted from the ashes of plants, but is synthetically produced though a process called the Solvay Process from salt and limestone.  Washing Soda is used in all different kinds of ways, from making glass to developing film, and browning German pretzels to getting all the tissue off of skulls in taxidermy.  (OMG, so cool!)  The reason it works so well in laundry is because it's a natural water softener, by competing with the calcium and magnesium ions in hard water which prevent laundry detergent from working.  By doing all this, it helps get out grease, alcohol, and oil stains.  (My head just exploded with the awesomeness.)  Washing soda to the rescue!  It's a bird, it's a plane, it's WASHING SODA!

This basically explains why I went through all the trouble of getting this stuff.  I had a feeling it wouldn't be easy to find, since I've never seen or heard of it before I read about it in the book.  A little bit of research online resulted in a lot of old discussions on blogs of people asking where they can get it.

I started my quest at Central Market to no avail.  I didn't see it on the shelves, so I got home and called them just in case, but the lady had never heard of it so I knew they didn't have it.  The people at QFC, Fred Meyer in Shoreline, or Safeway had never heard of it either, (they all responded with: "washing.... soda....?") so I felt a little sad that maybe my laundry detergent dreams were never going to be fulfilled.  Then I read online that someone found it at Fred Meyer in Ballard so I called them and the got the response of "oh yeah, we have it.  It's right next to the borax in the laundry detergent aisle."  YES!

So I drove to Ballard and got it.  And I was happy.

I calculated the price of this detergent to see if it was cost efficient compared to just buying it, and came up with the price of this home-made kind to be about 28 cents per load.  Compare that with a similar earth-friendly detergent that is 35 cents a load, and I think I have a reason to keep doing this!

The results?  It's totally awesome.  The clothes were not only clean but they smelled like.... nothing!  All the usual smells that accompany well-worn clothing was gone.  If you're the type to want your clothes to smell all perfumey, then you might want to add some essential oils to the recipe but I like it when my clothes smell like nothing.  To me, that's clean.  And they seemed softer too, but that may just be something I wanted to notice.  Either way, I'm happy with the results and will make a bigger batch next time. 

Added note:  Even if you don't want to go through the trouble of making detergent, adding washing soda to your regular load with regular detergent will make your detergent work better, thus resulting in you having to use less detergent.  So if you find yourself in Ballard, you should pick some up.  Just saying.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sometimes an egg has twins

So remember the awesomely large egg that Elsa gave us last week?  Totally a double-yolker.  Man, do I know my chickens or what?  Shawn did some research last night about them, and I guess it happens to young pullets who are new to laying eggs and are still figuring out their laying patterns/cycles.  It is likely to stop happening once it's all figured out, but there are some hens who will continue laying them periodically.  Oh, the complications and beauty of being a woman...

Don't mind the broken yolk.
I hope we get more.  They're so fun.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Goose.

I think a goose sneaked into our chicken coop yesterday.  See below.

One of these eggs is not like the others...
The look on Shawn's face says it all.

Seriously?!
And the best part?  It's an Elsa egg.  All of the past ones from her have been small and dainty.  And then this monster showed up.  It's so big and heavy I laughed out loud when I picked it up, and I can barely get my hand around it.  We're wondering if it's a double-yolker.  I'll let you all know when we crack it open.  Of course, today's egg was back to normal size.  

This makes me happy. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Pie Crust Problem Solving

I hate prepping pie crusts.  This is a problem if you bake as much as I do.  I always end up fighting with them and worry about working them too much and making them tough.  I don't like getting pie crusty fingers and the worst is getting it under my nails.  It gives me the heebie jeebies.  They always fall apart on me and the mess that it creates (bowl, rolling pin, bread board, etc.) is just too much.  I usually pass the task off on to my sister since she doesn't seem to hate it as much as I do. 

BUT!  I found a recipe for a no-knead, easy peasy pie crust that creates no mess at all.  What?!  Are you serious?!  Totes people, totes.

Some believers in true pie crusts made from lard/butter/shortening may think this is a travesty.  I have yet to introduce the idea to my grandmother, the pie-making buddha.  But I think it's awesome.  The recipe listed is a little wonky so here is what I did:

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tbs sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbs milk

Place all ingredients in a 9 inch pie pan.  Mix together to make a dough, then use your fingers to pat it into the bottom and sides of the pan evenly.  Bake in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes, then continue on your way and make your pie as usual, like nothing changed.  That's it.  Super cool.  Did I mention no mess, aka no cleanup?

The reviews for the pie crust say that it was a little salty and better used for savory pies, but I think if you cut back on the salt (which I did in the above recipe anyway,) and added more sugar it should work for desserts too.  Also, the original recipe says to use vegetable oil, but I'm on the team that thinks vegetable oil tastes like satan's pee pee so I rarely use it.  But for desserts it might be a good idea to find an oil with a more mild or dessert friendly flavor.

Why did I make a pie crust in the first place?  Duh.  Quiche.

Just in case you're curious, here are the ingredients for the quiche:

4 eggs
1 cup milk
several handfuls of spinach, torn apart
a quarter of an onion, chopped
1/3 cup of shredded Jarlsberg cheese
1/2 cup of shredded Colby Jack (for sprinkling on top)
2 Field Roast smoked apple sausages (sliced)
garlic salt and pepper to taste

Mix all the non liquidy ingredients together and pour into pie crust.  Mix the liquid ingredients together in a separate bowl with the salt and pepper and pour over the other stuff into the crust.  Top with some cheese and bake in a 375 degree oven for 30-45 minutes.  It might be a good idea to protect the edges of the crust with foil so it doesn't burn.

Will definitely make this again this week.
I don't normally toot my own horn, but damn, that was a good quiche!  And the crust made it even better.  It was a little more fluffy and thicker than a normal pie crust, but it had such good flavor, I didn't care.

(Oh, and using the above recipe in a sweet dessert pie should be just fine.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Nog Dilemma

To cook or not to cook?  I still have this question.  For this first batch of egg nog, I decided to go with the non-cooked kind since I know my eggs are safe.  (I made them extra safe by dunking them in boiling water for 20 seconds each to kill off any possible salmonella on the shells.)

So yeah.  It's the holidays.  Like every year they have totally snuck up on me and I have to remind myself to get festive.  So I stare at our Christmas tree to try to get in the spirit.  We've been drinking a lot of store bought egg nog, (by the way, Twin Brook creamery nog is the BEST,) which has helped but I decided to go one step further and make some of it myself.

Looking up recipes online was confusing.  There are a ton of recipes out there and some are just too much trouble.  Not only are some cooked, but some have beaten eggs whites mixed in (which sounds gross because I don't like drinking things that could be considered "frothy",) and some have so much cream that I have a heart attack thinking about it.  I also don't partake in the consumption of alcoholic beverages, so a bunch of other recipes were out.

So I looked at several recipes just to get an idea and came up with my own.  I decided to make a smaller batch first, and make adjustments if necessary.

Ingredients:
4 eggs
4 cups milk
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup sugar (rounded, so there's a little more)
1/2 tsp nutmeg
a dash or two of cinnamon
a dash of salt

Directions:  Beat the eggs with a hand mixer then slowly add the sugar, vanilla, and nutmeg.  Once mixed well, add milk, one cup at a time.  Chill, and enjoy!

The frothiness dies down pretty quick.
How does it taste?  Awesome.  I'm having hard time not drinking the whole batch.  Oh, and our nutritionist neighbor told us that the cholesterol in eggs is made worse by cooking the yolks.  Since these yolks are raw, you can drink this guilt free!  Even awesomer.  Happy holidays!

(Maybe I could just drink the whole batch and just make more to replace it... then no one would know...)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Nutty Cheesy Pesto Rolls

Last week I found a small batch of shiso pesto that I made a month ago, looking sad and lonely in the back of the 'fridge.  I also had a handful of pumpkin seeds on hand that needed to be taken care of.  Add these things to some carbs and cheese and I had a feeling they wouldn't be so lonely anymore: Nutty cheesy pesto rolls to the rescue!

First was the dough:

Ingredients
1 cup warm milk
Half a stick of butter
2 tsp yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
4 1/2 cups flour
2 eggs

Heat the milk until the butter is just melted and add to the premixed yeast, sugar, and salt.  (Make sure the milk is around the happy yeasty temp of 115 degrees.) Let sit for 10 minutes to make sure the yeasts are still active.  Add a cup of flour and mix in.  Drop in the eggs and mix.  Add the flour one cup at a time until the desired consistency is reached.  Let rise in a warm place for about an hour or until the volume has doubled.

Knead the dough for a few minutes.  Let rest of 10 minutes while you get the other stuff ready: plesto (shiso or basil, whatever works,) grated cheese like cheddar, feta, and parmesan, and pumpkin seeds.  Roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick.  Spread the pesto evenly across the dough and then sprinkle seeds and cheese evenly on top.  Roll up into a log and slice into 1 1/2 inch lengths using a super sharp knife or flavorless dental floss.

Line on a 13 x 9 inch greased baking pan and bake in a 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.


I actually made a batch and a half of the above dough and made cinnamon rolls too.  Delicious.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Urban Bird Watching

Ever since my year of living in the forest, I've loved birds.  They are so fun to watch, they do amazing things and there's so many of them you can never get bored with them.  And who doesn't like to hear bird songs and calls?

Living in the forest, I was surrounded by birds of many species and often times there were so many calls and sightings that it was hard to keep track of it all.  Living in the city, one has to work a little harder to enjoy birds, but that doesn't mean it can't happen.  I am lucky enough to live in an area where I have a yard and some green space a couple blocks away.  For this reason, I am able to do lots of bird watching from inside my house.

Ever since we put down grass seed, there have been tons of dark-eyed juncos enjoying the fruits of my and Shawn's labor.  Other birds that frequent our backyard include:

* Crows (yes, very common, but have you ever really sat down and watched them?  They're fascinating.)
* American Robins
* Steller's Jays
* Northern Flickers
* House Finches
* Black-capped chickadees
* Red-Breasted Nuthatches
* Spotted towhees
* Anna's Hummingbirds
* Bushtits
* Brown Creepers
* House Sparrows and European Starlings (grrr... invasives.)

There are also the quintessential lines of small holes made by red-breasted sapsuckers on our apple tree so I know at one point those were in our backyard also.  I also regularly see glaucous-winged gulls, rock doves, and this summer even heard and saw some cooper's hawks flying around.  In Hamlin park, (the park about 10 blocks away,) Shawn and I got to see a Barred Owl hunting down a squirrel.  Though also non-native, I really appreciate the Barred Owl.  I've also seen Bald Eagles and Red-tailed hawks perched on the trees at Jackson Park golf course and half a block from my house.

So there you go.  Birds are awesome.  I keep a pair of binoculars on the window sill just in case something cool stops by.  Yes, most of the birds on my list are super common and are not as cool to some.  But does a bird being common make them any less amazing?  So take a look outside, I think you'll be amazed and impressed by who you share your home with.

Me and my bad hair with a barred owl baby.  Only at IslandWood.
P.S.  Here's a low quality video.  I took it from inside the house.  And the creepy voice in the background is just Skipper calling me garbage.

video

P.P.S.  Seattle has tons of amazing parks that have some resident birds.  Some of them include: Carkeek, Magnusson, Seward, and Lincoln.  You should go.  With binoculars.  And maybe a bird guide.

P.P.P.S.  http://www.seattleaudubon.org/sas/
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