Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Adventures with Baking Soda

So, a bit ago, I mentioned something about having more personal experience with the uses of baking soda. A day or so before that, I had eeked out the very last bit I could from my deodorant. I had been using a liquid crystal roll-on. For years, I have used deodorant, and not antiperspirant, avoiding ingredients like aluminum. (Briefly, deodorant deodorizes and antiperspirants prevent sweat.) This proved difficult to do, at times, with several stores carrying only antiperspirants. Even when I found a deodorant I liked, I would discover that several stores didn't carry it, or we'd move to an area where the stores that did have it didn't exist. I've also been paying twice as much, it seems, for deodorant-that-isn't-antiperspirant for several years.

I had had enough.

Trolling around my blog circuit, I had found different alternatives, from simply going without (I sweat a lot, and for me sweat = smelly. Remember, I do work in an office, so I do need to look and smell professional.) to making your own from various ingredients. Crunchy Chicken has a recipe that one applies very much like the regular-old store bought stuff. I remembered this fact, but not the recipe. On top of that, I don't have coconut oil or cocoa butter at home. (Or the sandalwood essential oil, but that is optional.)

I also remembered reading about people using straight baking soda, or baking soda cut with corn starch as deodorant (with varying levels of effectiveness). As I was standing there, needing deodorant, the 6:1 cornstarch:baking soda ratio stuck in my head. I don't have a nifty little jar to put it in, and think I threw out the only make up brush I had (from when I was... let's just say that it was easily over 10 years old). I did have corn starch and baking soda (I did know it was going to come down to this at some point), a small Pyrex dish and left over cotton balls.

To the kitchen I went, and mixed up a corn starch-baking soda mixture with a ratio closer to 3:1. Then, found the cotton ball, and got out some plastic wrap to cover the dish. (Honey I'll leave out, uncovered for a bit, but if baking soda absorbs odor, don't want to leave it out, then apply to my body.) Taking advice from those who went before me, I made sure my arm pits were clean and dry, then applied my new deodorant.

Between the honey, tea tree oil, jojoba oil, and now this, I have a very interesting daily toilette.

Overall, I am happy with the results. It does a good job for a normal day for me. Even on a slightly more active day, I remain relatively dry and odor free.

I did go to an outdoor wedding in the heat, and then danced indoors. The baking soda failed there. I was just sweating too much for it to keep up. I smelled pretty bad, and went to the car to put on my husband's deodorant (out of town wedding, and yeah, it was that bad).

Using the corn starch/baking soda mix, I have not experienced irritation. When this batch runs out, I think I will try the 1:1 ratio suggested in Life Less Plastic. I will also need to get a poof or make up brush, as cotton balls don't hold up for too terribly long, I'm almost out, and I don't really want to buy more.

Have you ever tried this? What were your results?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Things I've learned about tomatoes and farmer's markets

As you may recall, last Thursday, I mentioned I had been severely under-watering my tomatoes. Once we got back home from our trip, I started giving my tomato plants the gallon of water a day my step-mom suggested, except when we had significant storms and rainfall (like we did last night, after I had watered!).

Well, wow! What a difference an appropriate amount of water makes! On three of the surviving five plants, it is a little difficult to notice, because of just how bushy they were before, but there are a few more tomatoes starting. On the other two, though, it is very noticeable. These two were initially planted in the backyard, not the front box, next to a rose bush and a privacy fence, so they only get morning sun. They are, and have been, so much smaller than the others, that I sort of thought I and planted them all wrong, but kept watering. Since I've increased the amount of water, I can see that they've shot up! And, yesterday, one of them even started a tomato! I am way too giddy about that one tomato.

Also, I went to my farmer's market this weekend, and one of the local organic farms had a native plants give-away. Thinking it was some sort of a raffle, I approached the table. When I told them what drew me to the table, they just smiled and asked which ones I would like. Talk about being giddy! Felt like I hit the jackpot! They had info sheets on the many different variety of seedlings they had, and helped me pick out two that should work well in my yard. Green because they are native plants. Frugal since they were free.

So, take the time to wander around your local farmer's market, if you can. And, make sure you are giving your plants the right amount of water! These are things I learned last week!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Woes of the oven-less baker

The oven didn't work when we moved into our house. We knew this, but (wrongly) assumed it would be a simple matter of buying a new oven to replace it. We were wrong. Since this has been a frustrating and at times all-consuming issue, I don't really want to go into it, but I have been with out an oven for nearly a month. This is tragic.

I love baking, and although many people would forgo baking bread come summer, I would love nothing more than to (clear off my counters so I can) knead dough and bake.

Initially, because of the very real constraints of time, money and know-how, I was thinking that we would probably just do without an oven until we had enough of those three things. I figured that there would be somethings we couldn't make, but that mainly, I wouldn't be able to indulge in baking. But, it didn't seem like the end of the world.

This effectively eliminates at least one of our old-stand-by dinners (frozen pizza - not the best, but sometimes, it just hits the spot), as well as things like meatloaf, biscuits, cookies, breads...

I remember reading, years ago, about people cooking and baking entire meals in rice cookers (yes, bread in a rice cooker). I should look into that. We do have a rice cooker. (And it is a trooper of a little thing. It was a wedding present from the best man. One of those things I don't think we registered for, but use regularly.)

There have to be ways to live without an oven. People have done this before. I am not the first person to be sans oven. I just feel so exhausted and frustrated when confronted with the oven conundrum that part of me just gives up for a bit.

Do you have any advice for life without an oven? Have you ever gone for long stretches without certain appliances that you thought/felt were essential? Care to share?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Recipe Thursday: Courtesy of my husband

I admit it: sometimes, I forget that my husband was a fully functioning adult before we met, and that he continues to be a fully functioning adult, who chooses to be with me and doesn't need me take care of things.

That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but the general idea holds. I don't always give him the credit he deserves.

Anyway, the other night we had a thrown together meal of rice and beans (an indian style soybean mix in a microwavable pouch). To make an appetizer, he got fish sauce and cilantro, too.

1) He taught me a trick for cleaning cilantro: remove stems from needed amount; rinse under water in your hands, and squeeze off excess moisture. Place on the edge of a paper towel, and then roll the towel, squeezing out the remaining water. Voila!

2) He then finely chopped it, salted it and peppered it
3) He made rice balls as best he could from our rice, and rolled them in the cilantro.
4) Some fish sauce was placed in a dish.
5) Rice balls dipped in said dish.
6) Pop in mouth and enjoy!

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this. Usually, I am not a huge cilantro fan. I like it, but find that it can easily overpower a dish, or that too much has been added to something. The combination of rice, cilantro and fish sauce, though, was wonderful (if not a bit salty, though, this can be easily altered, and I do like salt).

And because I know you are on the edge of your seats, wondering about my tomatoes:
There are about 6 tomatoes in various stages of growing right now. I have plenty of blooms that I hope will develop fruit.

I did learn this weekend, though, that I have been severely under-watering the tomatoes. Luckily, it had been a rainy spring, so the plants didn't die of thirst out-right, but I suspect that the water deprivation affected the fruit development.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Miracle Product that is Baking Soda

I've tried to lay off the article posts, but this one about uses for baking soda made me excited.

While I knew about some of these uses, like a deodorizer, cleaning scrub, even toothpaste, my own usage of baking soda has been somewhat limited to cooking and baking. (until recently, that is, but more on that in a later post.)

I'm not sure if it is the actual tips in this article, or the fact that it was one of my Yahoo! headlines today that makes me more excited. The uses aren't new. The knowledge isn't new. The packaging of said knowledge into an easily accessible and understandable bundle is. (somewhat) At the very least, such succinct lists are new to me.

I'm just happy that the resources are out there, and seem to be so plentiful. And I'm glad that I've been doing a bit of research into such matters. As we run out of things and are unable to make it to the store, I find myself reaching back into my memory banks to see if I can remember an alternative. Sometimes, I can. Other times, I vaguely remember something but not the entire recipe, or find I don't have a crucial ingredient. At any rate, moving and limited store-access has really helped to stretch my imagination, and helped us be a tad bit greener as a result, I think. (broken water heater helps, too. No long, hot showers when there is no hot water...)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Recipe Thursday: Sweet Potatoes on the stove

Have you ever ordered "home fries" or breakfast potatoes at a restaurant? Even though these terms can cover a whole slew of things, every time, they have been delicious. So much so that I've cubed, seasoned and cooked potatoes on the stove (in my giant frying pan) several times. (Even mixed potatoes and turnips to sneak in said turnips.)

I was thinking about those the other day when trying to figure out something to eat for dinner. It was one of those nights where we were fending for ourselves. And we still don't have a working oven. And we still haven't restocked the kitchen since the move. And the kitchen is still in disarray. I can only blame the move for so long, at some point I'm either busy or lazy. Wager it is a combination of both.

The thought of venturing out into the tornado warning weather to spend money on fast food was disheartening, both to me and my stomach. The idea of polishing off a bag of Ritz chips was slightly more appealing until I thought about it. A sandwich sounded like a good idea, but I held off on that, just in case we needed that bread later on.

Then it struck me. I still had those farmer's market sweet potatoes (from a while ago) that had never been cooked! Fleetingly, I dared dream about sweet potato fries before I remembered that the oven doesn't work. Slight let down. But, wait! I saw my big frying pan sitting on the stove, and thought, "Why not just do the potato-turnip thing with just sweet potatoes?" So, I did.

The recipe goes a little something like this:]
wash and prepare your sweet potatoes
slice thinly or cube, trying to keep the pieces uniform
heat a bit of oil or butter in a skillet over medium high heat
add potatoes
let it sit
add more oil/butter if needed
(turn off stove to leave the house to get necessities. Turn it back on...)
cook until potatoes are soft, or desired tenderness.

I like to at least start on a medium-high heat to get a few crispy edges, but often end up fiddling with the heat, and letting everything sit on the stove over a medium heat for a while.

The cooking time is somewhat longer than you would think (or at least longer than I always expect). I would say you should figure on at least a half hour of time on stove.

I realize that you can do this with pretty much any root vegetable, and any combination of said veggies. I was just rather pleased with myself that night. Especially since I didn't have to eat yet another sandwich.

Friday, June 11, 2010

New Design, Mattress Plastic, and more on tomatoes

1) What do you think? I just played around with Blogger's new template design area.

2) Do you know what the plastic that wraps new mattresses is good for? Aside from protecting mattresses from random debris in the store/truck? We've figured out a thing or two. Bought new mattress, but didn't throw away the thick plastic "bag." Instead, we threw it into the as yet unfinished room with the cans of polyurethane and the shop-vac. A very lonely and forgotten room, indeed. We intended to use it as a drop cloth for when we painted next (which hasn't happened yet, as pretty walls are pretty low on the "Needs to get done, now!" scale). Still plan to use it as such.

In the mean time, we had to return something pretty large to a store. Wouldn't fit in our car. (Curses! Small-car-power fail!) Borrowed my uncle's truck. (Woo-hoo!) It had just rained - uh-oh. But wait! We could still preserve the integrity of the box, and ensure we get all of our money back! Mattress plastic to the rescue!

A smaller piece was torn off, and laid in the bed of the truck. Items to be returned slid right on top, and remained nice and dry. The return went swimmingly. Trying to find a replacement? Still in progress.

3) Tomatoes. Still not 100%, but that isn't surprising. Upon inspection yesterday, I found a few more stalks that could probably be trimmed off. What is your favorite frugal/natural way to fertilize tomatoes?

4) Fireflies. We no longer live in a city. We live in a small town. Last night, we drove to the local small city/uni town to make the previously mentioned return. Driving back, it was dusk. Dusk + farmland = the most fireflies I have ever seen in one place at one time. Swarms of the little things, blinking beautifully. It was wonderful.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Clear! Tomato Resuscitation?

I have cautious hope for the transplanted tomato plants. They were so very sad and droopy from transplant shock for a couple of days, but I dutifully watered them every afternoon when I got home. Mother Nature decided to give me a hand, and has alternated between sun and rain somewhat frequently the past 4 days.

Yesterday, I was beginning to lose hope. Flowers had dried out and wilted. Branches and leaves were limp and dark.

On Tuesday, one plant showed a few signs of returning vigor. A few of the branches/leaves seemed to be coming back to life. I found it funny that this had been the smallest plant before, seemingly restrained by the wild abandon of the other three plants around it. The plants that had been the most robust were now the saddest. I cursed myself for moving plants that had been doing so well. So what if  they were too close together and unsupported. They were growing!

On Wednesday, my underdog plant was doing even better. Still a few wilty branches, but they were far outnumbered by the re-vitalized ones! The other plants seem to be making a come back, too. Flowers are colorful; leaves are open; branches are sturdy.

Until Wednesday, I held off on pruning because I didn't want to cut off a potentially strong branch. Yesterday, though, I took the clippers to the plants, and got rid of yellowed branches/leaves and the ones that were crispy-dry, not just wilty.  I'm pretty sure that I did most everything wrong when I transplanted them, and will be lucky if they survive, much less produce actual edible tomatoes.

What this has taught me is that next year I want to use tomato cages from the get-go. Probably a no-brainer. Or, one of those topsy-turvy tomato planter things.

Recipes, you ask? It is Thursday, after all. For several reasons, we are still mainly doing sandwiches and random conglomerations of whatever is on hand. The former have been rather straightforward, and the latter are not things about which I would boast. Instead, I watch Food Network or Cooking (we have TV again!), and drool.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Tomato Transplants

So, my tomato plants. For lack of a better place to put them, I had stuck them in a flower box in the front of our house. I didn't have any stakes or cages, so they sort of grew however. Also found out that I planted them too close together.

This weekend, I finally got a couple of stakes, and transplanted to along the fence in the backyard, using said fence to help support the plants when I ran out of stakes. The poor things looked all droopy from the shock of being transplanted. I hope that transplanting them at this point wasn't a horrendous mistake, and that the fact that they aren't so much in a garden bed as they are in yard doesn't hurt.

I've heard that tomato plants are hardy, and relatively difficult to kill. We'll see if I have a black or a green thumb.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Moving and Recipe Thursday silence

As a result of moving, for a while, I had two kitchens. One without a working oven, and full of paint cans, and tools. And one that I rarely saw, with depleted stores. Therefore, I did not cook much.

My kitchen now is still down a working oven, but a replacement is scheduled to be installed. It is also still full of tools, but I should, in theory, have time to sort that mess out.

Therefore, cooking is still difficult. Unless you count microwaving hot dogs left over from a pitch in a work. We've been spending too much money on fast food. And we can tell. We've also been eating quite a few sandwiches. My kitchen can handle sandwiches!

On a happier note, I have planted a few tomato plants, a lavender bush and a rose bush. I think I need to transplant the lavender someplace with more sun, but the rose bush is growing well. So are the tomato plants! I don't have stakes or cages for them, so some of them are falling over themselves a bit. But, they have flowers on them. I may end up with some home-grown tomatoes! This thrills me. I'm also excited because I bought three different varieties... the names of which escape me at the moment, but I am looking forward to tasting the differences.

So - are you a better mover than I am? Better at the eating-while-moving than me? How about gardener? (I bet you are.) Any advice for a novice gardener with limited tools?