Friday, November 2, 2012


I should note upfront that I'm a lucky North Jersey squatter right now in that I actually have power.  We're one of the few even in our own apartment complex who do (which has something to do with our electricity being on the utility circuit or something like that since we're right next to the laundry room).  The scariest thing that happened was that a power line came down right behind our bedroom and lit the backyard on fire, but fortunately again, no one was hurt and the building wasn't damaged.  (It should be noted that my tranny ass response to impending fire danger was to grab Donut and a bag full of pills and makeup.  Priorities!)

So now, our biggest challenges are:

  • No frozen or refrigerated goods in the grocery stores (so no milk, eggs, meat, salad greens, raw vegetables, or bougie yogurts)
  • No gas (they were out before the storm, and now the gas lines are literally miles long)
  • Not sure if my office exists anymore and can't get to Manhattan anyway since all the trains are down and there is no gas in the car
Luckily, I'm obsessed with pantries thanks to my mother's Tupperware wonderland kitchen that always has the ingredients for cookie making on hand at all times, so we've developed some hacks.  Here's what we've got twerkin:

  1. Hot Cocoa Mix.  Before the storm, I made a hot cocoa mix by combining an organic vanilla pudding packet , a canister of powdered goat's milk, cocoa powder, and sugar.  (I'd list the ratios here but I've had to keep adding and mixing to get it to taste right.)  I've taken to putting this in my coffee since there's no milk or half and half around.  I tried to do Coffeemate but it was fucking disgusting.
  2. Winter Squash, Various Kinds of Potato, Onions, and Garlic.  Any Little House on the Prairie enthusiast knows that these guys keep for months in your root cellar.  Most of us with apartments don't necessarily have a spot that will keep them at the optimal 50 degrees and dry temperature required to make them last all winter, but it should get us through this period.  Since we have electricity, we roasted four spaghetti squash, one turban squash, and one red kuri squash yesterday at 375 together for about an hour (and roasted the seeds separately).  If you've got a generator that allows you to use the oven for a short period of time, you could cram it full of squash, potatoes, and sweet potatoes to roast to get the most out of the space.  You could also grill these or cook them over a fire if you don't have a generator.

    This allows for a couple different meal options.  We've got cans of crushed tomatoes and pesto I froze over the growing season to put on the spaghetti squash.  I've got cans of coconut milk, red curry paste, and some ginger root to make into a squash soup.  And the sweet potatoes are earmarked for roasting, for sweet potato casserole, and for sweet potato meatloaf using the remaining ground beef in our freezer (it's technically for Donut but since he's got dry food as well he'll have to do without grassfed beef for the time being, which I guarantee he will be prissy about).  You can also use winter squash puree in recipes that call for pumpkin puree- I wanted to make pumpkin pancakes but I'm trying to save up my remaining three eggs so I'm not sure if this will happen or not.

    All of these foods, combined with onions and garlic, have leftover parts that can be made into soup stock.  I'll be doing this in my slow cooker, but you just need a pot, water, and a heat source for this, so you can probably manage this over a fire if necessary.  I'll be using the stock to make minestrone soup and to rehydrate dried beans.
  3. Dried Beans.  I have to admit that I'm not the world's largest bean enthusiast.  I often find them boring and as a meat eater I'm not as dependent on them as my vegetarian friends so I can generally get by without them.  But, since there isn't any meat to be acquired, beans it is.

    I've always stocked a somewhat excessive quantity of dried beans considering my feelings towards them, but all the homesteading books recommend this so I have a decent supply.  I soaked some kidney beans yesterday and cooked them last night in the slow cooker with the last of my frozen soup stock and the bottom of my box of red wine, plus a bunch of garlic and herbs.  I'm going to put some in minestrone soup, some I'll make into hummus, and I guess I'll try to make refried beans or something with the rest?

    I'll probably also try to sprout some dried chickpeas I have.  This involves rinsing them, soaking them in water, and letting them hang out in a jar covered with cheesecloth, rerinsing them once or twice a day.
  4. Dried Grains.  We've got pasta, quinoa, oats, barley, and couscous.  The last four can all be made into breakfast porridge-type joints by adding nuts and a sweetener, or an approximation of tabbouleh with whatever mixture of vegetables and herbs you have access to.  And they can all go in soup, or get mixed with some form of tomatoes or pesto or whatever weird mixture of olive oil, nuts, and herbs/vegetables you have lying around.  (I'll probably make a sundried tomato pesto later.)  You can also sprout quinoa the way you sprout beans.
  5. Seitan.  If you can get to a grocery store to buy a bag of wheat gluten (or if you're really up for some work, whole wheat flour), and you can access a heat source to boil water, you can make your own seitan and have just a very nice fake meat party for yourself.  It's really just a mixture of wheat gluten (which is in the speciality flour section) and water or stock with spices.  In the past, I mixed the wheat gluten with chicken stock in the bread machine because I was lazy and didn't want to knead it myself, and then I cooked it by covering the resulting dough in more stock in the slow cooker and letting it cook on low overnight.  If you have no power, you can knead the dough yourself (and you can technically start with whole wheat flour, although it takes several rinses and a lot more kneading) and boil it in a pot of water.  It's not quite the same as the vegetarian duck you'd get at a Thai place, but it's weirdly kind of good.  I threw some in with vegetables I was brazing in boxed wine because I am fancy as shit, and you can also stir fry it, barbecue it, or use it in other applications you'd use cut up meat for.
  6. Citrus.  Fairway still had citrus because they're tougher than blackberries and the like that go bad fairly quickly at room temperature.  These will keep for a few weeks in the crisper of your refrigerator, but if your power is out, they'll keep at room temperature for a week.  I'm thinking about zesting and drying the peels or maybe making preserved lemons to cook with, but we'll see how motivated I get.  For now, I'm just glad to have a raw fruit around.
  7. Apples and Pears.  I'm so blown because I went apple picking with my family last weekend just to see how excessively New England we could be, but I couldn't carry the applesauce I made home with me because it would have been too heavy.  If you can get apples and pears, they can keep well for a long time given the right conditions.  Unlike squash, they're ideally stored at around 35 degrees, in a moist environment.  Potatoes release a gas that makes apples spoil faster, so they shouldn't be stored near each other.  You probably don't need to store them for the whole winter, so if you can keep them in the crisper in the fridge with a damp paper towel, whether your fridge is working or not, you should be able to have them around for awhile.
  8. Various Oils, Butters, Milks.  Now- I'd be lying if I said vegan things don't make me anxious.  The word "earth" is basically always in the name and the ersatz version of a delicious thing you're accustomed to is always going to be weird.  But coconut milk and coconut oil are actually better than milk and butter if, you know, you want something to be coconut flavored, and you can do both sweet and savory applications with them, all without requiring refrigeration.  And my mom has successfully subbed half the butter in cookies (and this is "successful" according to my fat ass standards) with pumpkin puree and applesauce- you could easily use coconut oil or organic vegetable shortening in place of the rest of the butter.

    There's also apple butter and other fruit butters that don't have any fat in them.  While I've generally just eaten apple butter on toast, there's a surprising amount you can do with it, like making the base for meat sauces and glazes, squash soups, pie fillings, and weird cheddar and ham sandwiches.
So those are my hustles for now...hopefully the Netflix I access via Melissa's password holds up.  Stay safe out there gang!

Friday, May 11, 2012

How I Poisoned Myself, and Why I Write This Blog

Sometimes, hey, things happen.  You're riding the rush of finding THE HARVEST DREAMZ VINTAGE PYREX BOWL you've been obsessed with and BAM!  You decide that with your boyfriend gone and your roommate out of town, now is the perfect time to cut a shoot off of that ginger root you've been growing to make a delicious ginger shoot vodka.  Man oh man, people will be all like, "Wow, Heather, my mouth is experiencing heretofore inconceivable taste sensations!  I don't even know where my tongue is!  Is it in a china hutch?  Is it in a graveyard?  Is my tongue in a graveyard?"  And I'll be all like "Guys, it's cool, you've just fallen down the rabbit hole of subtle ginger tastes, and when you finally land, you'll commence on a journey that largely resembles my 1994 crowd-pleasing turn as the Cheshire Cat, wherein my mom made my costume thanks to Affordable Fabrics' unbeatable $1.99 a yard prices and one of those sticks of lavender opaque colored sunscreen, and also, it will look a little like Care Bears in Wonderland, and let's take a minute to relive one of those Amazing Songs, because it's basically Singing in the Rain for our generation."


Okay also this one:

Okay and also briefly I would like to curate some related art from my favorite medium, You Tube comments:

So yeah, basically, my assumption had been that I would make an incredible ginger shoot liqueur whose delicate flavor couldn't be found in stores, plunging them into a remarkably artistic venture for a film whose purpose was essentially to shill Chinese-made stuffed animals.

This is not what ended up happening.

Here is what the plant looked like:

The two long stalks with a leaf at the end, or "ginger" shoots, had been growing at a fantastic rate, thanks to its permanent home in a southern window sill and what I like to think of as The Magic Of Gowanus!TM.  Ginger roots produce tall, edible shoots with edible leaves, and while not produced commercially since their flavor is much more mild than the root, I browsed through a number of culinary applications and felt fairly confident I could make an interesting drink.  My googling also yielded ginger leaf images that looked like either of the following:

The leaves on mine didn't look quite the same as any of them, but considering the range of leave shapes I saw, I figured it was just a different variety.

So, still in post-Pyrex acquisition glow, I cut the stalk.  It should be noted that I'm pretty much a rugged outdoorsman.  As such, I knew that when trying a new part of a plant or a plant whose identification you're not 100% certain on, it's best to first smell it, and if it doesn't have an off-putting odor, to try an extremely small bite, wait 15 minutes to see if you experience any ill effects, and then try another extremely small bite.  So gingerly (AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA WORDPLAY!) I took a tiny nibble of the shoot.

It tasted mad gross- bitter, not gingery at all.  I became suspicious not unlike Donut when confronting bivalves:

Round hair brushes:

And fish named after characters from The Wire/90s R&B young man singers:

So I dug up the entire plant and examined the root.  It looked like ginger.  I washed it off, and cut into it, and took the very teeniest nibble.  It was again super gross.

About five minutes later I called my nerd boyfriend to report on the disappointing ginger.  It was at that point my mouth started burning and non-sensually tingling.  I was all, "hey boo, my mouth is burning and non-sensually tingling right now and I'm starting to become suspicious that I just poisoned myself, you want to break this off?"  And he's like, "look, I know It's The 90s and you're a modern woman who blazes into an office and incontestably wears shoulder pads better than me, a fact that doesn't make me jealous [ed- that is a lie], but you should probably call poison control."

At this point I was liberally rinsing my mouth out with water and guzzling milk and using it like a milk mouthwash which gets really gross don't picture it oh God you pictured it and now you can never unsee that.  Meanwhile, he's asking me, "Heather- remember that plant we saw yesterday whose leaves you said resembled the ginger?  What was that?  I'm going to try to google it.  Also- you should probably call poison control.  Do you know the number?  You don't have the number for poison control memorized?  It's 1-800-222-1222."  "...can you text it to me?"  "Really?"  "I don't have a really good memory."  (Unless it's about who was and was not in the video for "Back That Ass Up," because I've literally gotten into a Best Friend Fight about the fact that LIL WAYNE WAS IN THAT VIDEO and I WAS RIGHT ALL ALONG.)

But before I called poison control, it hit me that I did remember what those leaves from yesterday were- they were calla lilies.  And while I'm not in the habit of purchasing non-edible plants, last year Melissa wanted to do a brunch for her birthday and had made this purchase at the farmer's market, which I left in her care:

True story:  a purchase Kailin has made is a product called "Weave Aid."

Having been distracted by what I'm going to assume was intercourse (as if that's more satisfying than indoor gardening LOLZ!), the calla lily died shortly thereafter and I threw the potting mix into a container where I kept such things and forgot about it because it was a dead plant and if I remembered every plant that has died in this household I would be constantly weighed down in my life with mental pictures of anthropomorphic chlorophyll crying or some shit and I already cry an unnecessary amount as it is.

But this undead son of a bitch had ceremoniously turned back up just like old jumpoffs texting, "Do You Ever Miss Me?"  or "Have A Merry Christmas- I'm Sure You Will."

A quick Google search confirmed that calla lilies are poisonous.  BLOWN, BLOWN, BLOWN.  I dialed the number for poison control.

At this point my mouth was still super burning, but it wasn't quite as bad as a really hot pepper.  Interestingly, it connected me to some sort of UCONN poison control, so I couldn't help but think of that wonderful scrunchie emblazoned with huskies that Jessi gave me one time, and also, where is that scrunchie?  I could probably use it for washing my face, although I'd still need a headband to keep my bangs off my face, although I keep taking the headband back to my room with me, so it's never there in the bathroom when I need it, and although my apartment is small and I could technically walk back, I'm always like, "well, I'm here already" so I just unpleasantly get my bangs damp, and since the sink is really small, I basically get water all over the place which makes me think that sinks should really be designed for this kind of thing, and in fact, I believe they are, because this place I walked by on my way to work had those Mad Fancy sinks that look like bowls, and I'd like one, because a fancy sink means You've Made It, and that could help me Fake It Til I Make It, since I'm trying to practice being more confident, because Nancy Drew books taught me to treat my accomplishments in a humble and self-effacing manner even when you're clearly better at being a detective than local law enforcement and making lesbian friends named George (very progressive, Nancy Drew!), and not unlike how I tried to learn fashion from The Babysitter's Club books and put together what I thought was a Really Cool Claudia outfit in elementary school with orange lace leggings and was mocked because It Was The 90s and BSC is from the 80s, those 1950s values of feminine modesty that Carolyn Keene (WHO WAS A MAN, THAT NAME IS A PSEUDONYM AND I FOR ONE FEEL DUPED) proffered really only serve to inhibit women from achieving their whole potential.  And also, doesn't UCONN have a really good ice cream place or something that somehow relates to their ag science program?  I should go there the next time I'm home, I thought.

The poison control lady was very nice, even though she did not know where my scrunchie was.  I told her what I'd eaten, the amount, and what I was doing to treat it, and she said that I was doing exactly the right thing.  She said the burning sensation derived from the oxalic acid, which meant that it was kind of like I'd swallowed a thousand pieces of tiny glass.  (But it's tiny glass!  That's so cute.  It is basically the cutest way to poison yourself.)  Since I'd only eaten a very small amount, the only real side effect was the chance I'd have a slightly upset stomach because of all the adorable glass slicing up my insides, like a million Boos clawing me apart.
Do not let your roommate show this book to your boyfriend if you don't want to see a grown man contemplate his mortality because he becomes incredibly saddened by the thought that he "doesn't want Boo to ever die."

As it turns out, I didn't even get a stomach ache.  Poison success!  Which leads me to the last half of the title of this post: why I write.

I've had a lot of homesteading failures, but poisoning myself is kind of up there in terms of Embarrassing Moments.  I can handle a nip slip (who hasn't seen them, at this point?) or any of your more Seventeen magazine style mortifications, but this made me feel like something everyone could use to mock how foolish I was for trying all of this homesteading stuff out.  See what happens when you try?  You poison yourself.  I'm going to keep it casual and watch television programming and feel superior to you because I haven't poisoned myself.  Also, you've really gotten fat lately.  (I feel like in New York, negative self-talk tends to skew eating disordery, or is that just me?)

Ultimately, though, these kinds of mishaps are a huge part of why I write.  One of the much discussed issues about aspirational lifestyle blogs, with their photographs that actually look nice and the portraits on an unsloppy life they paint, is that they serve as a mechanism for reinforcing feelings of inadequacy women have about  themselves.  The thinking is that Martha Stewart was bad enough- now, thanks to the democracy of the medium, there are actual real women sans lockdown cred living these serene lives of idyllic country DIY splendor (and are also better than you at being a mom, though I don't know why their ability to fuck without condoms OR pulling out is something that is societally rewarded?).  And while every discerning reader obviously knows there is significant curation going on here, and that these women probably also make shitty dinners sometimes and make ugly crafts and throw up on themselves on the subway (is that just me?) and just don't mention it, the absence of visible fail on these blogs that purport (at least sort of) to be "realistic" can make the reader discouraged about their own abilities and life.  

This skewing of perspective is something I'd like to remedy.  I can't tell you how many recipes I fuck up a week, how many whole pineapples I drop on the floor after cutting the skin off so the gross floor debris gets all like encrusted on there and I'm like "fine, I'll just give that side to Donut" and he just leaves the piece sitting on the dog bed overnight, how often I feel like an abysmal failure at all I undertake...but the fact is, that's just what happens when you try.  Sometimes you'll accomplish fantastic things, and sometimes you're going to just sit on the floor crying over yet another broken Grimace glass.  I still think, however, that you'll accomplish much more than if you never tried at all.  

I'd like people to read this blog and think that if I can do it, they can do it.  Because (to change tenses) you probably can.  There are couple things I'd like to think I'm naturally good at, (pretty much all of which have no use in our modern economy, like reading French and accurately recalling all the lyrics to "How Many Licks") but gardening and cooking and any of the various homesteading skills that involve spacial relations are not among them.  This means that I'm fairly confident that most people reading this can do what I'm doing, and probably better and more quickly than me, even.  It just takes feeling comfortable enough to take risks and fuck up.  And hopefully, me being a human disaster and still doing this will encourage you enough to try projects of your own.  DARE TO DREAM 2012?

Trying.  A half hour later, I would finish skiing from "the top of the mountain" by attractively careening into a fence situated in a patch of mud.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Theoretical DIY Soap Dispenser MASHUP OMG!

UPDATE: You can do this with dish soap too.  6 tablespoons of soap + fill the rest of the bottle with hot water.  You can also do this if you're a baby.

Hipsters and moms who love sayings alike have suckled from Pinterest's teat benefited from Pinterest's bounty.  And while I personally get a panic attack whenever I see signs that tell me how to live...laugh...and/or love, I can't ever hate on ideas like this:
What?  That's right, another thing that bougie people love: MASON JARS!!!!!  And I can't deny that I love them too, and regularly spirit them away from my parents' basement like a ferret hiding socks inside a mattress. (N.B.: Do not own a ferret.)  This is a tidy way to upcycle not just the pump from a soap dispenser, but also the metal lid of the jar, which, if you're actually canning something, is for one use only (the lid vacuum seals the jar's contents, but can't reseal once it's been opened).

However, I've got Big Dreams to take this even rowdier.  I recently read an entry on Root Simple about using liquid castille soap, diluted, in a foaming hand soap dispenser.  This provides a pretty tidy solution to the fact that Dr. Bronner's judgmental soap is really runny and recommends dilution, and to the fact that staring at this in the shower basically makes your face melt off (even if his son who currently runs the business being not crazy religious as per that documentary Leah watched sort of redeems it):

Their entry recommends filling the bottle 1/4 full of soap, the rest with water, and playing with it based on your preferences...or should I say...liquid dreams?

(I also saw recommendations when I looked online that you use hot water when mixing, since it helps with the pump not getting gunked up.)  So my dare to dream on this one is that I'll stick (pause) a foaming hand soap dispenser through the Ball (pause again) jar lid...oh my God this mashup is making my loins quiver like I am at a Will Smith concert.  (And you can FORGETIT if, say, Sisqo came on stage and cameoed on "Wild Wild West."  I would lose my goddam mind.)
You can also just reuse a plastic foaming dispenser or purchase a glass one.  According to some mom blogs you can also use shampoo, but those same blogs also recommended that you not use a creamy handsoap, so I'm inclined to think that only kind of shitty shampoo would work in this.

I'm currently using Method's foaming hand soap (which has a Cradle to Cradle certification aka MAD ENVIRO FANCY) to get this party started.  I'll post back if/when I create my own inelegant version of this.  

Friday, March 16, 2012

How You Apple A Man's Jacks? A Vintage Blog Draft I Found That Never Got Posted

We all know that if you teach in an urban setting, you're pretty much going to be confronted by that question, and the follow ups, "how you crunch a man's berries?" and "how you honey nut a man's cheerios?" all the time.  You might be too tired to be out there appleing a man's jacks willy nilly, instead choosing to fall asleep on Melissa's shoulder while people enjoy complimentary cheese puffs at The Levy with abundant plaid ambiance, but eventually, you'll get around to appleing a man's jack's all the live long day again, and here's why: apples are an excellent homesteading staple if you have recently googled to see if you qualify for medicaid.

I'm not sure if apples also grow in the southern regions of the country, but in the Northeast especially, circa right now [ed- not circa right now, unless you are reading this in the fall which is when I assume I started this post] they are abundant, very affordable, have myriad uses, and store exceptionally well compared to summer fruits like berries.  I've gone three times so far this season. [ed-lies, and now I'm pretty sure I started this post in 2010 because I did not go three times last year, and that one time I did go, we took the following wonderful picture, but it was unseasonably mild, which I felt really cut into the Fall Fun feel.]

The first two times they were around $1.25/lb, but this last time, they were $0.99/lb, and $14 for a half bushel, which ended up being around 21 pounds.  (Location: Dondero Orchards in South Glastonbury, for all my bitches showing that 860 love.  Plus the old lady there had mad jokes.  And they had apple cider milkshakes.  Holy shit, that milkshake was delicious.  Also, they charge the same price for picking the apples or getting them from the bins, which have more selection and include pears as well.)  I think at the Union Square Farmer's market, the cheapest I've seen them is a bag of busted apples for about $2 that contained maybe a couple pounds?

Anyway, the point is that they're probably the cheapest fruit we have access to in the Northeast, and considering how many servings of fruit you're supposed to be eating in a day and how expensive most produce is, apples can really get the job done, especially because there's so much you can do with them.

1.  Eat them plain (obvious, boring, but had to be included anyway)

2.  Use the cores (or peelings) to flavor vodka.  I have a jar I keep in the pantry filled with vodka that I add apple cores to as I use the apples.  If you're peeling the apples for pie or something, you can add those to the jar too.  I think, ultimately, when the vodka's been flavored enough, you could take the cores out, put them in the slow cooker, and make applesauce with them, but I haven't tried that yet...

3.  Applesauce and apple butter.  To make applesauce, I have been super lazy before and just cut up apples, with the peels on, and cooked them down in the slow cooker for a few hours.  But you're not really supposed to leave the peels on and in, technically.  When I looked up how to do this properly, you either have to peel and core the apples, or, if you have a food mill or this crazy sieve thing my mom stole from my grandpa's basement because my family stays stealing shit from each other , you can just cut the apples up, without peeling or coring or anything, and after it all cooks down you put it through the mill or sieve.  That sieve is awesome, by the way.  It enabled me to use way more of the apple, and not much ended up being left behind.  [ed- I received one of these for Christmas 2011, dreams can come true.  Below is a picture of one like it I found on the internet.]

Apple butter is just taking applesauce one step further.  You just keep cooking the applesauce until it reduces down further to a spread-like consistency.  For both of these, it's easiest to use a slow cooker because if you do it on the stove you have to watch it and stir it more frequently so it doesn't burn.  You leave the lid up a little bit to make apple butter, so the water can evaporate out and escape.   And then, oh manzies, the world is pretty much your oyster.  You can use either to substitute for half the oil in cake and muffin recipes, use it in soups, mix it in with oatmeal or yogurt or granola, and other hippie bullshit.  You can freeze them or can them, and apple butter, from what I've read on A Website, can actually just keep in the fridge for a really long time (probably because so much of the water is cooked out).

4.  Dried apples or apple chips.  This is much easier in a dehydrator, although you can do it on the stove set to around 98 degrees and rising.

I core the apples, put the cores in vodka, and lay the apple slices out in the dehydrator until they're like cracker crisp.  You can dry them less and then they'll be more like the chewy dried apples you get at the grocery store, but I prefer them drier.  [ed- and now I use the dried apples in steel cut oats I make in the slow cooker.]

5.  Apple juice.  This is another reason why yes, hey, I have a lot of kitchen appliances, but they're quite handy, I'd say.  A lot of other healthy juices use apple as a base, and they can help sweeten a juice or partially mask a vegetabley taste, so they're very useful in this respect.

6.  Apple jelly or jellies that use apple as a base.  I didn't really understand this until recently, but the difference between jelly and jam is that jam is made from the whole fruit, and jelly is made using just the juice of a fruit.  Also, since apples are high in pectin, the substance that makes jellies and jams set, other jellies use apples as a base.  In my book whose title makes me uncomfortable, The Pleasure of Herbs, a number of herb jellies that you can use in savory dishes use apple as the base.

Now, that was all 2010 Heather stuff.  But this is Heather from the future/present talking now.  Actually, though, I don't really have that much else to say.  There's apple crisp, pie, and any number of delicious dessert takes on apples, you can put them sliced in ham sandwiches or cut up in chicken salad sandwiches, and I'm sure there are apple breads you could get involved with.  The only Addition From The Future I'd add is that you can use apples to make your own pectin for jam/jelly making, instead of buying it in the stores.  Now, pectin costs like $2.00, so this isn't necessarily the biggest savings unless you make a lot of jam, but it is a way to use up kind of busted apples if you have an apple tree (or to thin the fruit), and you can also just use a bunch of peels and cores.  (I believe some purists will say that this produces a better tasting jelly than what commercial pectin provides, but I've yet to make my own- something I will correct this year now that I have a nerd boyfriend with a car.)

Stay tuned as I unearth other drafts from the archives that will undoubtedly just contain one Antoine Dodson reference after another.

Monday, February 27, 2012

COCKroach Blocking (Apologies This Wasn't A More Creative Title)

Of all the various mental breakdown stimuli that have caused me to gnash my teeth at the sky like Grendel and cry out I'M A HUMAN DISASTERRRRRRRRRR,

the cockroaches had to be one of the worst.  While I appreciate this landlord's absenteeism to a certain extent, and prefer it to the "hiding behind a van" involvement of prior socially unstable landowners, he is still kind of a slumlord, if a more genteel slumlord (I later found out, from my neighbor who looks like Fat Joe, that my landlord used to also own the building next door, and that he didn't maintain it and eventually they sued and the building was taken away from him?).

So we wrote businesswoman-like emails, we called the super multiple times, and we wrote follow-up businesswoman-like emails.  Out of all the calls, the super came twice and put some tiny, ineffective traps down, and the landlord provided only this Hemingway-esque response:

"Please call andrew [the super] who will take care of it. Boric acid, available in the hardware store, is totally effective against them- but don't leave any food or unclean dishes around."

Valid.  But we weren't leaving food or unclean dishes out, the cockroaches were even going inside the dishwasher, and Andrew was not taking care of it.  When I asked Andrew for an exterminator after two of his visits without continued improvement, he said he was going to have someone come, and then called me to ask if someone was going to be home to give him cash?  This, of course, being suspect, I declined his request, and he said he would figure it out.  He did not.

Result: Leah and I realized we had to address this ourselves.  We researched boric acid and learned that it is non-toxic to humans or pets, and that it destroys the cockroach's exoskeleton as well as their insides, if they ingest it.  The nerd boyfriend got involved and learned that whatever poisoning method used will "work its way through the population," which is super gross because this is achieved by the cockroaches eating other cockroaches.  TMI, amirite ladies?

Our apartment's layout is sort of box-like.  You enter in the kitchen, whose windows face south, and to the left is the bathroom, whose windows also face south.  Behind the kitchen is a windowless living room, and behind that are two bedrooms that face north.  The cockroaches' chill spot was the southwest corner of the kitchen near the sink, oven, and dishwasher, and they never ventured beyond the kitchen.  So Leah lined the back of the kitchen counters with boric acid, and we waited.

Some dead cockroaches turned up, and they seemed to be momentarily slowed.  But then, we'd use the oven or something, and they'd pop out and I'd have a complete mental breakdown and comfort myself with the Rossi.

And then it happened- I found one in my room.

Rationally, I knew the cockroaches were migrating because they were trying to avoid the poisonous trap we'd laid for them.  Emotionally, I completely lost my shit.  I went to Home Depot that night in a rage, spent like twenty minutes talking to an employee looking for something Leah had used in LA that she only knew as "the peanut butter stuff," and I bought a large tube of it and what seemed to be a more chemical-laden boric acid the Home Depot employee called "the blue stuff."  I didn't want to violate environmental principles that have a sound, reasonable basis, but this was a clear quality of life issue that I just couldn't put up with.

As it turns out, I didn't have to.  Behold The Peanut Butter Stuff:
That font tells you everything you need to know: bitches were going down.  I used my Herculean rage strength to pull the refrigerator out, cleaned underneath it, and squirted the thin brown, somewhat peanut butter-like strings liberally about.  I drew a line right underneath the oven on the floor and by the heater. (I blocked the areas off with tape in case Donut was interested, but he only eats organic so he hasn't been tempted.)

This represented a two-fold approach, depending on zone.  On the countertops, where we wanted to repel the roaches, we'd applied a powdery insecticide.  In out of the way places, we applied delicious fake harbinger of their doom peanut butter that would kill them from the inside and also their families would die too because they have no respect for authority figures and they lack a traditional burial culture.  

And they went for it.  YA BURNT, ROACHES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

While the bait is, I'm sure, environmentally questionable, the amount we used and the spots we put it in tend to limit the amount of toxic danger Leah, Donut, and nerd boyfriends faced, and I didn't end up having to resort to the blue stuff.  And in my opinion, it was much more painless than fumigating, since we would have had to remove all of our dishes and food from the kitchen (I'm getting a panic attack just thinking about the level of effort that would entail).  We still see an occasional roach (in case anyone's wondering, it's the small roaches- not like the terrifying ones I imagine are in LA), but after we applied the Combat it declined dramatically.  Should you find yourself in our sad girl roach killing position, I heartily recommend it.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

This Is A Game Called "Fun With Dishwasher Detergent." It Is A Boring Game.

Update: Whether you choose to make your own dishwasher detergent or not, vinegar is a consistently excellent rinse aid AND it also helps keep the dishwasher itself clean.

As some of you know, I am a ho about Pinterest and spend an inordinate amount of time on it.  Through a girl I went to high school with, I ended up at a blog with a recipe for homemade dishwasher detergent, and I thought, okay, Internet.  I'll bite.

Let me just preface this by saying that I am fucking obsessed with my dishwasher.  I've lived in New York since 2003 and this is the first time I've ever had one.  When I saw it while apartment hunting, I pretty much lost my shit almost as hard as when I recently ate a very wonderful molasses cookie that Jessi made, watched Jurassic Park for the first time on VHS at a ski cabin in Vermont, and Melissa explained that all- ALL- her young years, her whole life, she never understood that it was about embryos.  EMBRYOS!!!!!!!!  She just thought Newton was hungry.

                                            Pictured: "Newton"

Pictured: What Owen consumed because he could not have any cookies since he is a pilot.  The results can be seen in the background.

So yeah, the dishwasher is wonderful if you cook from scratch, because you just make so many dishes which is the worst.  Obviously, I had to find an eco-friendly dishwasher detergent.  In terms of cost and environmental impact, the powder form is best, and it's best if it comes from a cardboard box rather than plastic.  When Melissa still lived with me, we ended up using seventh generation, which is one of their few products that doesn't disappoint.  But when I saw that DIY post I referenced a million years ago in this post before I got distracted by Jurassic Park and how Jeff Goldblum looks like a swarthy version of Melissa and Jessi's Uncle Darren, I thought it was worth some investigation.

This, however, prompted concern from Leah, since she was worried a homemade detergent wouldn't get rid of the diseases she felt were possibly lurking on the plates.  It makes sense that she would be nervous- besides the griminess of our apartment, the marketing we've experienced our whole lives has suggested that if we let a piece of raw chicken touch the countertop, we are going to get salmonella and die.  But this made me wonder, just in general- how "clean" do dishes actually ever get?  And if a dishwashing liquid doesn't contain chemical antibacterial agents, how do germs ever get killed?  Moreover- how the fuck does soap even work?

I turned, of course, to The Net.  Because that is what people call it.

Question #1:  How Does Soap Work?
Soap, apparently, works by looking a a combination of lollipops and sperm.  TRY NOT TO THINK ABOUT THAT LAST SENTENCE TOO MUCH I JUST GROSSED MYSELF OUT REAL BAD.  The heads (pause) are hydrophilic.  They LOVE water, almost as much as Donut loves being little.  The tails (pause) are hydrophobic, love each other (pause), and so for whatever reasons they make this spherical joint right here that is called a micelle:

When soap is in water, and it comes into contact with grease/oil and the dirt that is stuck to it, it busts into it and makes a new, grimier micelle with the grease/oil/dirt stuck inside, which the water then rinses away.  If you have hard water (pause), the minerals in the water react with the soap to form a precipitate, which is what soap scum is.  Other effects: "[t]he insoluble salts form bathtub rings, leave films that reduce hair luster, and gray/roughen textiles after repeated washings."  WOW.  It is a good thing I live in New York where I do not have hard water and I have cockroaches instead.

Question #2:  What Is Detergent?
"Detergents were developed in response to the shortage of the animal and vegetable fats used to make soap during World War I and World War II. Detergents are primarily surfactants, which could be produced easily from petrochemicals. Surfactants lower the surface tension of water, essentially making it 'wetter' so that it is less likely to stick to itself and more likely to interact with oil and grease."

"Detergent" used to just mean "cleaning agent."  However, it would appear that in current usage, "detergent" generally refers to a synthetic, petrochemical-based cleaning agent.  

Question #3:  Why Detergents and Not Soap?
"You may well ask why soap, which served well for so many years, was eventually displaced. Soaps are cheap and they are manufactured from a renewable source, whereas many of the synthetic detergents are made from petrochemicals. Soaps are also biodegradable; that is, they are readily broken down by bacteria, and thus they do not pollute rivers. However, due to their gelling properties, soaps do have a greater tendency to clog sewerage reticulation systems than synthetic detergents. The grease trap of a non-sewered house was often laden with soap. But the most important reason for the displacement of soap is the fact that, when a carboxylic acid soap is used in hard water, precipitation occurs....You may live in an area where the water is extremely soft. But calcium and magnesium ions are present in the dirt that you wash out of your clothes, so that some precipitation still occurs if soap is used, and gradually deposits are built up in the fabric.

There are other disadvantages with soap; it deteriorates on storage, and it lacks cleaning power when compared with the modern synthetic surfactants, which can be designed to perform specialised cleaning tasks. Finally and very importantly from a domestic laundry point of view, soap does not rinse out; it tends to leave a residue behind in the fabric that is being washed. A residue gradually builds up and causes bad odour, deterioration of the fabric and other associated problems."

(Also interesting- the amount of foam generally does not correspond to the amount of cleaning power a substance has, unless you have very little liquid involved.)

...Modern detergents contain more than surfactants. Cleaning products may also contain enzymes to degrade protein-based stains, bleaches to de-color stains and add power to cleaning agents, and blue dyes to counter yellowing. Like soaps, detergents have hydrophobic or water-hating molecular chains and hydrophilic or water-loving components. The hydrophobic hydrocarbons are repelled by water, but are attracted to oil and grease. The hydrophilic end of the same molecule means that one end of the molecule will be attracted to water, while the other side is binding to oil."

Here is one thing I found particularly interesting from this article:
"Neither detergents nor soap accomplish anything except binding to the soil until some mechanical energy or agitation is added into the equation. Swishing the soapy water around allows the soap or detergent to pull the grime away from clothes or dishes and into the larger pool of rinse water. Rinsing washes the detergent and soil away. Warm or hot water melts fats and oils so that it is easier for the soap or detergent to dissolve the soil and pull it away into the rinse water."

Summary of How Soap/Detergent Works Research:
SO.  Soaps are from animal or plant sources; detergents are (generally) made with petroleum byproducts.  Soaps and detergents/surfactants (let's ignore the other ingredients in commercial detergents for now) are just Mr. Banana Grabbering oil/grease and its attached dirt, with the aid of agitation.  Soaps and detergents do NOT disinfect, like bleach.

Throughout the history of time, then, scullery hoes rendered dirty plates suitable for eating on again by essentially pushing the germ-attached dirt away.  However, the thinking today is often that old timey people were gross and probably gangrenous, and that if we don't avail ourselves to the triclosany fruits of modern science, we will be too.  This brings me to the next question:

Question #5:  How Clean Do Dishes Need To Be To Be Safe?
At this point, I think we've all heard the arguments against chemical antibacterial cleaners like the aforementioned triclosan because they inhibit our body's ability to naturally defend itself and lead to the creation of superbugs.  But even ignoring that, it looks like a number of tests indicate that use of antibacterial cleaners doesn't actually make you less likely to get sick.  I think this Scientific American blog provides a pretty readable rundown of this (if you want to really nerd out, Rae-style, read some of the comments section).  If you're too busy being a modern 90s businesswoman to read it, it notes that a professor who "surveyed all of the experimental or quasi-experimental studies published in English between 1980 and 2006 on the effectiveness of different hand washing strategies" discovered that plain soap and water was more efficacious at preventing disease than the antibacterials. 

Apparently, the effects of antibacterial cleaners are still not well understood, but some scientists think that they are disruptive because they kill the regular bacteria that live on us, leaving us more vulnerable to freeloading newcomers who just Houseguest their way in.  Because apparently, it seems like the key to healthy cleaning is really in limiting the number of bacteria that gets all up in you, not firebombing them into oblivion. 

After delaying this post for way too long, perhaps distracted by that Jeff Goldblum painting, my conclusion is that for the dishes to be "safe," any soap/detergent that's effective at removing food debris is adequate, especially since a dishwasher supplies reasonably hot water.  However, a dishwasher that really effectively removes all the grime is somewhat rare in my experience- more often, this process is usually aided by some manual pre-rinsing or scrubbing.  So with both manual and automatic dishwashing, it's not imprudent to consider additives to the dish soap or dishwashing detergent that will make it more efficacious, as long as the environmental or human impact is benign.  The seventh generation detergent includes the following ingredients:

Sodium carbonate (water softener and alkalinity builder), sodium sulfate and sodium chloride (promote flowability), citric acid (water softener), sodium silicate (protection agent and alkalinity builder), polyaspartic acid (water softener and anti-filming agent), ppg-10-laureth-7 (anti-spotting agent), sodium percarbonate (removes stains and water softener), protease and amylase (enzyme soil removers).

Enzymes, citric acid, other shit I don't know about- these all work to make the detergent more effective and to address some of the deficiencies noted about soap above, like its tendency to form soap scum.  From some cursory googling, it looks like it's certainly possible to make your own enzyme cleaners from citrus peels, to get your hands on some citric acid by merely opening a Kool Aid packet, and to throw a bunch of stuff together to make your own detergent.  But unless you have an obscenely cheaper source of these ingredients, per pound, than what this costs, which is not much, it looks like you're better off spending your spare time getting drunk and making bread, because carbs are a lot better baby daddy bait than soap.  

(N.B. That's certainly not to say this is the case with all DIY cleaning products- throwing some citrus peels or drops of essential oil in a bottle of vinegar to make toilet bowl cleaner takes approximately 10 seconds and it definitely saves you a considerable amount of money on something you're literally throwing down the drain.  But with more complicated recipes, again, if you have disposable income, just spend it on the Rossi.)

Thursday, January 5, 2012


A question I should probably ask myself when I write new posts about homemade dog food is, hey, Heather, do you want to make that same ODB joke over and over again about liking it raw, or do you want to post gratuitous photos of Donut?  And I should limit myself and say, hey, you can have one, not the other.

So here he is in a raincoat!
Here he is in another raincoat!
Okay, now that I've indulged that, I'll get to some content

He is just the tiniest.  Well, that was worth missing out on ODB for


Like you didn't want to watch this too.

Anyway, like yesterday's post about trying to simplify cooking oatmeal from scratch, I'm continuously trying to find lazier ways to handle homemade dog food.  Obviously, few things can compete with the convenience of scooping up a cup of dry dog food and adding water, like with kibble.  But since it's undeniable how well Donut has done on raw meat, it's now additional bougie guilt I have to deal with.  So I have to figure out how to make it manageable, time-wise, while making it possible with the space (I have an unnecessarily small freezer) and financial constraints I have.

At first, I'd make a batch of ground beef heart, liver, and old bull, plus some quinoa and vegetables, freeze half, and put the rest in the refrigerator.  He liked it, and dogs can tolerate meat going a little past its prime (pause?), but it still got kind of gross in the fridge, plus every morning it meant I was scooping out raw meat, and he'd kind of make a mess of it on the floor.  Like I said yesterday, in the morning, I am really just tryna handle my morning wood, so this got old.  Plus, if I go away on the weekends I often miss the farmer's market, and I don't get out of work on time to pick up meat (pause again?) in Manhattan.  (Even though I work near Chelsea TERRIBLE JOKES!)

Hence, over the summer I caved, and just bought that dehydrated raw dog food from the honest kitchen that the young man used to eat.  I was also worried that he wasn't getting enough nutrients in his diet, so I liked that the honest kitchen food had so many different vegetables in it.  But I still felt like he needed legit beef.

When I had my shit a little more together, I finally was around to go to the farmer's market, but they didn't have the old bull, just heart and liver.  Heart is muscle meat anyway, and it's the cheapest thing they have, so I figured this was okay, since liver has a shitload of nutrients.  And that night, as I was grinding it in the food processor, I had a moment of laziness inspiration- what if I measured the right portion in each cup in a muffin tin and froze it?  That way, I'd end up with a bunch of little patties that I could throw in a ziplock and keep in the freezer, and every morning I could just take one out and put it in his bowl.

I sprayed the tin with canola oil first- if you attempt this yourself, do not skip this, because those fuckers get stuck.  I put 1/4 cup of the ground meat/quinoa mixture in each, froze it overnight, and in the morning...I could not get them out.  I was about to have another CLASSIC Heather moment in which I was like, EVERYTHING TURNS TO FAILURE but fortunately, after thawing for about 20 minutes, they came right out, and everything went according to plan.

Well, everything except what Donut did with it.  I figured he'd let it thaw a little first and nibble throughout the day, but his ass WENT for it.  On the comforter on the couch.  Ew.  He LOVES spiriting things away!  So I had to train him that he could only bring it to his dog bed under the kitchen table (which gets washed regularly).  But, hey, It Works, It Works For Me- he really likes those meat muffins.

The morning feeding routine now is that he gets 1/4 cup of the dehydrated raw food in the morning with a 1/4 cup meat muffin on top.  And that's literally all I have to do.  With dogs, you can technically feed them only once a day, so I started doing this because I really have no idea what time I'll get home on a given night, so this was the best way to give him some consistency with feeding and not keep him waiting for hours.

So, if you're a real Suze Orman,

Pictured: Who I prefer to think of as *the* Real Suze Orman and the "real" La Prohibida

right now you're probably thinking, Hey Boyfriend, how much is all of this costing?  Stupidly, I'm not sure where I put that envelope where I did all my financial calculations, but it worked out that the meat muffins (made from exactly the kind of bougie beef one would assume it would be, plus organic quinoa) cost about the same per serving as the honest kitchen dog food.  However, the meat muffins had significantly more meat in them (and a more expensive meat- the packaged food has turkey), so I think that if I made the vegetable portion myself, it would all work out to be cheaper, while being local, organic, and all of that shit.

My game plan, should I get my act together enough, is to get really crazy with my dehydrator and make a big batch of dried assorted vegetables so that I can cut the packaged food out entirely.  That way, I can buy whatever is cheapest at the time at the farmer's market (or just steal it from my mom's garden), when it's in season, and keep adding to it continually, such that I never have to worry about running out of dry food for him.  Then, I can put the foods into the muffins that don't necessarily keep forever at room temperature, like the meat itself, flax seed, and the quinoa (or quinoa flour- I'm trying to decide what form I should feed it to him in).

The whole point here, like with the last entry, is that by doing some advance prep work when you actually have time, you can cook from scratch using all the pansy ingredients that are better for you, for your small dog, and for the environment, and you can even make it cost less and behave much like a packaged convenience food.  Making your pet's food from scratch every day is definitely not feasible for anyone with a normal weekday drinking problem or, really, anyone who has a job or friends.  But you might be surprised about how painless it can be to integrate this into your lifestyle.

Even if that small young man in your life STAYS giving you judgment eyes from a bag and throwing up on your hair in the middle of the night...