Thursday, December 20

Menu for Hope, Last Day!

Today is the last day for the charity raffle Menu For Hope, started by food blogger Pim from Chez Pim, raising money for a school lunch program in the town of Lesotho, somewhere in Africa--can't find where. This program doesn't only benefit the kids, it also benefits the local farmers, because all the food is bought from them rather than buying imported food staples from the West.

The way this raffle works is that prizes of many kinds are donated. Each $10 you donate buys you a raffle ticket, and you get to name which prizes you'd like to win. The prizes donated are great in number and really great in quality this year. Apparently since so many were donated, the chances of winning are quite good. So it's fun and for an excellent cause.

Monday, December 17

Christmas In New York City

Tomorrow morning will be drizzly and grey, like this morning, and the morning before it. We'll be getting up early to straggle into a taxi and fly over the continent from Vancouver to the bright cold of New York City, where my family lives. The City is a wonderful place to spend Christmas... full of lights, and window displays, an abundance of restaurants and excellent shopping. And I love the way that my family celebrates Christmas; it's warm, and fun, and elaborate. It may not compare to the fun we had when my grandmother Oma was alive and Christmas was an extended family affair, but it's wonderful nonetheless. And there is always tons of delicious food involved.

Part of the reason I'm so happy to celebrate the holiday with my family is because celebrating it alone with my husband Gordan doesn't really work. He grew up in communist Yugoslavia, where Christmas was viewed as primitive and bourgeois. What did they celebrate in the winter instead? New Year's Eve! And how did they celebrate it? Why, of course--with a New Year's Eve tree! And New Year's Eve presents! And lots of food, and parties, and Jack Frost also brings presents, and... I never quite understood why his enthusiasm for New Year's couldn't transition over to Christmas. (Meanwhile on New Year's he's afflicted with yugonostalgia, which is not very celebratory either. The crowd of Bosnian friends here gets together, sing lots of Yugoslavian pop songs, then Gordan gets morose and grouchy and we go home.) However he loves a good party of any kind, which my family certainly knows how to throw, big or small... so I'm hoping we can bring some of that holiday cheer back with us.

My shopping for presents is basically done, thanks to the internets. I might get a few more trinkets to give. One thing I am thrilled to have pulled off this year: I am sending a certain someone in my life this notice regarding their new monkey. I got Dragana to write in it--so that the recipient sees no familiar handwriting--"You're going to love this! From, Liz" because of course there are so many Liz's in the world. Dragana's going to Trinidad for Christmas (ah, the benefits of being partnered with a sailor) so she'll post it from there--an appropriate location for a monkey import company, I think. Oh, I really hope my mother falls for it.

I must admit that I never got around to decorating our apartment here. First, the building doesn't allow live Christmas trees--which is actually okay by me. However I always buy a wreath instead, and I haven't come across any this year. I also planned to get more strings of lights, and to tie a bunch of brass bells onto a big red ribbon and hang them about, and to make and buy more little hanging decorations... doves and stars and glass balls, I have in mind. Gordan and I have agreed that we'll continue to decorate (in other words, start to decorate) when we return. Perhaps the stuff will be on sale then? And as Gordan says, we can be decorating for Orthodox Christmas, which is on 7th of January. I'm browsing photos of decorations on flickr for inspiration, and finding plenty. How did your seasonal decorating go?

Thursday, December 6

Essential Oils for Emotional Balance: Introduction

We mammals live because we ingest plants, directly or indirectly. In this way, the very matter of which our bodies are composed originate in plants. We are, in this sense, part plant. Further, in the grand evolutionary scale, plants and animals are still close to each other. Just as a gardener can care for a plant and offer it more vibrant health, so can plants heal us.

Essential oils are oils within some plants which contain volatile aromatic compounds, the 'essence'. These compounds perform medicinal functions for the plant. For example, all essential oils are anti-microbial to varying degrees, thus protecting the plant. These essences may perform similar medicinal functions for animals which ingest or rub against the plant, or use it in any other way.

The healing influence of plants has a broad spectrum of possibilities. The study and use of these healing influences is called herbalism. Distilled essential oils are one shade in this spectrum. As such, they have many unique advantages and disadvantages. They are potent. They are sensual, directly engaging the sense of smell. They easily pass through the skin. Because of the volatility of their compounds, they evaporate and fill the air. When essential oils are extracted, water which is full of similar volatile aromatic compounds is also produced, called flower water or hydrosol. These hydrosols are another shade on the spectrum of plant healing, and are milder than essential oils.

In addition to their overtly physical actions, plant essences influence our emotions. They inspire feelings of calm, energy, deep strength, reflectiveness, lightheartedness, and warmth, among others. They also influence our bodily systems in ways which will influence our emotions, through stimulative or sedative effects. Each plant essence has a unique influence. These influences can be used for many purposes. I'm going to address the use of essential oils for the purpose of emotional balance, based on my simple knowledge and experience.

There are often times when our emotions seem to lurch back and forth, while we would prefer a more steady and regular movement through our life's journey. We know what sort of lifestyle allows us to thrive; one which is more regular, peaceful, close to nature, full of exercise and pleasure and fresh good food and social connection. As we consider all the good practices and healing methods available to us, plant essences are a practical and effective healing method to start with or include. They are potent, delightfully sensual, and easy to use and store. Because they speak so directly to our bodies and emotions, we can employ them for an immediate subtle effect. In this way they can tame those lurching emotions, bring back a sense of balance, and allow us to be more ourselves again - and expand to enjoyable and empowered dimensions of ourselves of which we may not be yet aware.

Many people are attracted to essential oils, but wonder where to start. While the expense involved is generally affordable, it does mean that each purchase is a small investment and you will want them to be well chosen. The next post will suggest a group of the most useful essential oils to begin with, describe their unique influence, keeping price in consideration. It will include suggestions for how to use them, as well as some information on safety and proper use.

Remember, as you go into healing through essential oils, that the whole world around you offers natural healing. Remember also the senses of sight and sound and taste and touch, as you cultivate your home environment and plan adventures. The process of evaporation is the original distillation, drawing potent compounds out of the many plants and the very earth around you. Breathe deeply of fresh air, full of diffuse wild essences, and take in all the good that the world around you has to offer.

Monday, December 3

New Finds in Efficiency

Efficiency is not just for offices. I've recently discovered a couple of lovely organization blogs: Unclutterer, and 43 Folders.

Unclutterer has a handy gift giving guide, by the way.

On 43folders, I came across the most fantastic application: MacBreakZ, "a personal ergonomic assistant that promotes healthy and productive computer use." It measures your keyboard and mouse usage, and determines when you need to take a break--and what kind of break, based on what you've been doing. There are three breaks. With one, it simply plays a kind of subtle warning music to prompt you to pause for a few seconds, if you've been doing the same thing for too long. Another break suggests that you close your eyes for a few seconds, then look at a distant object, before returning to your work. The third break gives you three stretches to do (illustrated by drawings of cute and hip Dutch office workers), then suggests you go take a short walk, and summons you back with another kind of music. This is all customizable, you can change the times and the breaks and various details. The software for OSX 10.4 has a long trial period, I believe of 40 days.

I also came across a to do list website, vitalist. I had been using iCal for my to do list, but I found that as my to do list got bigger, the sheer size of it was overwhelming and made it harder to focus. Right now I'm keeping my full to do list on vitalist, and just my day's to do list in iCal. Ah, peace of mind. In vitalist I can also group the to dos into 'projects', and give each to do tags (called 'contexts') which helps me to organize them even more effectively. I'm using the tags instead of due dates as well (tagging tasks with the day of the week on which I want to do them), which works much better.

Saturday, December 1

Winter's Joy

Another really excellent blend. Regular readers (all three maximum of you!) will remember the rose & cinnamon blend for love and connection. Since we're having our first snow today, I wanted to make it with an extra winter spice touch, but nothing quite as obvious as orange and clove. It became:

Orange, rose (diluted), benzoin, cinnamon.

(By the way, I almost never give quantities, but usually they are given in order of greatest to least. Especially in this case, where cinnamon can be overwhelming in excess.)

For orange you could use a number of citrus essences; sweet orange, bitter orange, mandarin, or bergamot. I used bergamot because I was in a hurry and it was right there, but mandarin I think might be the most suitable.

The citrus essences give a sense of lightheartedness, playfulness, encouragement. The rose brings an atmosphere of love, while the benzoin evokes both strength and deep gentleness, mellowing cinnamon's powerful excitement and connection and psychic enlivening.

Sunday, November 25

Christmas Shopping Online

We usually do most of our Christmas shopping on the internet. It's vastly easier, especially when Christmas includes traveling, and when some of your recipients of gifts live in different places.

Here are the sites I'm shopping from:

Things I Want Gift Registry - I've set up my wishlist here, and my shopping list for gifts that I want to buy. I've been keeping this for a couple months now and it's been very useful.

MoMa Store - Modern & design museum shops are great places to get unusual, interesting gifts.

LL Bean - They're having a free shipping "sale", even to Canada, so I'm getting a few practical gifts.

Nature's Gift - My favorite aromatherapy site, it's hard to go wrong here. Aside from the straight essential oils they have blends (which they call synergies), exquisite bath products, and some other mixes for external cleansing and health. (And some gift suggestions.) Oh, and they also have essential oil kits for someone who's just starting to get into essences. If you want to give a diffuser as a gift, I highly recommend the aromastone. While many of their products are a bit expensive (yes you are getting quality, but let's face it sometimes you need to safe money), if you get the "anointing" version of the synergies they cost less than $10 and are just as luxurious, in some ways more handy. I can also recommend Mountain Rose Herbs, though I wouldn't recommend buying precious oils from them, their quality there is not as good.

Occasional Gourmet - As I mentioned, I'm getting some spice mixes from here.

Perpetual Kid - Great for cheap stocking stuffers and silly gifts, especially if you are buying for the 13 to 18+ age set.

Bucky - Some of the nicest quality sleeping and back aids. They appear to be having a 25% sale, they don't say when it ends.

Freedom Filer - I can't vouch for it yet, but I've heard many rave reviews about this filing system. We'll get one for ourselves as well because our file is a bit unmanageable. Great for the 20 to 25+ age set.

LowBlueLights.com - As I mentioned before, these amber colored light filtering products help to maintain natural melatonin levels by absorbing blue light waves (amber, also known as orange, is the opposite of blue) which prevent the body from producing normal amounts of melatonin. Great for the insomniacs on your list. This is somewhere between a teasing stocking stuffer and a useful gift. The products here range from $4 lightbulbs to $80 glasses, so you take your pick.

Now & Zen - Home of the zen alarm clock. These are fantastic. For years I abstained because I felt they were too expensive and yuppie, but now I have decided that this is what alarm clocks should be like and if you can afford it, it's worth it. The small handy ones cost $100, they are not as conspicuous as the bigger clocks. $100 might be a bit much, but it's something to consider.

Update: Unclutterer has some great clutter-free gift suggestions, and more good ideas follow in the comments.

Today's Blend: Many Forests

This blend I just started is incredible. Four drops of cedar, three drops of spruce, two drops of fir, two drops of diluted lemon balm, one drop of lemon.

There are the two evergreens, spruce and fir, giving the blend its primary character--great and powerful and austere and alive. The cedar matches those essences in as another wood oil, and rounds them out with a base of sensuousness and familiarity. The lemon brings liveliness and focus, mirrored by a receptive, complex, musty lemon balm.

Wednesday, November 21

Small Quantity Spices

This would go very well with the previous recipe: I've recently come across The Occasional Gourmet, which sells small amounts of spices, packaged a bit like tea bags to preserve freshness. In particular, they also have blends which also sound truly wonderful.

I'm planning to order a bunch of the spice blends and a few of the spices that I would like to use, but extremely rarely, such as asafetida, aleppo pepper, and a few common spices that I'm not as familiar with like coriander. I'll give some of the spice blends to my mother and friends as christmas gifts, and keep the rest for myself. (Can you see me rubbing my hands greedily?)

Saturday, November 17

Chickpea Crunchies

Yum, yum, yum. We just ate these, and I'd happily eat some more. This recipe is from Mothering Magazine's recipe list.

2 cups chickpeas cooked, well drained
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt
paprika or chili powder

Preheat oven to 350F. In a bowl, toss the chickpeas with the olive oil. Add salt to taste and toss a bit more, check if you want to add more salt.

Spread them over a baking sheet (I used our baking pan) and sprinkle the spices over the chickpeas. Bake for 30 minutes.

Eat them the day that they're made.

Milk Pudding

As enamored as I am of Claudia Roden's The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, I haven't cooked very much from it yet. This milk pudding, or muhallabeya, is one of the first. To be honest, the end result was a little eh... however, it is incredibly easy to make. If, as I was, you're craving something mild and pudding-like late at night, this dish can be produced quickly and easily. Also I suspect that it's really the toppings that make this dish worthwhile to the palate. It could be a lovely sweet, filling, exotic yet mild end to a meal that could be prepared long ahead of time. Here is the recipe, with some notes and changes.

3 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons rice flour
5 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon flower water (such as orange blossom or rose)
1/4 cup almonds chopped
1/4 cup pistachio nuts chopped
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon floral water
1/2 cup water

Roden offers the alternative of using 2 tablespoons of rice flour instead of the 3 tablespoons of cornstarch. Not having any rice flour, I used 4 tablespoons of cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of oat flour (for color more than anything). It seems that the cornstarch made some tiny little clumps. In the future I might actually grind rice in my coffee-grinder-in-which-no-coffee-is-allowed. I wonder how it would work with ground brown rice? It may be worth experimenting with other grains, as well.

Pour half the milk into a bowl and slowly add the cornstarch and flour, whisking to prevent clumps. Set aside.

In a saucepan, bring the rest of the milk to a boil. Add the cornstarch flour and milk mixture, stirring constantly. Put the heat on low and keep stirring until you feel a slight resistance.

At that point, leave the milk on low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every so often. Be sure not to scrape up the layer that forms on the bottom of the saucepan; it often burns slightly, and if scraped up will add a burnt flavor to the pudding. A few minutes before time is up, add the sugar and floral water.

Let the pudding cool slightly, then pour into bowls. If serving appearance matters, be sure to pour into individual serving bowls, as it will solidify and look strange if served in scoops. Chill the pudding in the refrigerator.

When the pudding is sufficiently chilled, mix the honey, water, and floral water. Roden recommends boiling them to make a syrup, but to me that sounds like needless work and destruction of the enzymes in the honey. Decorate the surface of the pudding with a pattern of chopped nuts. (If you have no nuts handy, you could use ground spices instead for visual effect.) Pour the honey sauce on top of the pudding and nuts and allow it to seep in.

Monday, November 12

Cornbread Pudding

After making cornbread last night, we had a lot of cornbread left over. Actually, we'd eaten all the crust, since that was the yummiest part. To be perfectly honest, the center of the cornbread was not completely baked--you will recall that my husband forgot to follow the recipe, and by the time I checked in with him he was happily squishing the batter through his fingers (that's one way to mix when you forgot to melt the butter) and saying "Now what do I do with it?" So, as I was saying, it wasn't perfect cornbread. It was delicious and beautiful though, with all those unblended corn kernels. So I saved the rest for cornbread pudding--I'd been craving bread pudding for weeks.

I used another recipe from Cook's Illustrated, the one for bread pudding. I do think this recipe could be improved upon, but I'm going to have to make it a few more times before I think of how.

Bread Pudding

2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
4 eggs
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup sugar granulated
2 1/2 cups milk
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons bourbon
1 tablespoon nutmeg, ground
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 ounces bread (about 1/2 loaf), cut into 1 1/2 -inch square pieces (about 8 cups)
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for greasing pan

Mix the sugar and cinnamon and set aside. Preheat the oven to 325 and grease a 9x13 inch baking pan with butter.

Whisk the eggs, yolk, and sugar together in a large bowl. I found the sugar to be slightly excessive, although I generally prefer less sugar--next time I'll decrease it slightly. Add the milk and cream and whisk. I actually used 4 cups "cereal cream" and 1 cup milk, since the local stores don't have heavy cream. Add the vanilla extract, bourbon, nutmeg, salt, and whisk.

Add 6 cups of bread to the liquid, reserving 2 cups of bread, and let sit for 20 minutes.



Pour this into the baking dish. Scatter the reserved bread on the surface of the mixture. Pour the butter into this exposed bread, and sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the whole surface.

Bake for 45 minutes. When it's done, the recipe recommends that you let it sit for 45 minutes--but we could only manage 15, and it was perfect then.

Attaining Healthy Sleep

A good sleep schedule is important for your health. During sleep your body rests, readjusts, performs certain functions specific to sleep, and your spirit is nourished by its travels and contemplations.

Sometimes the modern life counteracts our ancient circadian rhythms. These are particularly responsive to light waves. Blue light waves wake us up, halting our production of melatonin--and lightbulbs, television screens, and computer screens all produce blue light waves. I recently came across https://www.lowbluelights.com/ which sells amber colored glasses and other such products which filter out blue light. (Amber, or orange as it is called under common circumstances, is the opposite of blue, being composed of the two other primary colors, red and yellow.) This is also the science behind the light box, for those with Seasonal Affective Disorder, which floods your environment with strong blue light waves. While I'm on it I might as well mention that I've heard that Amazon has the cheapest light box.

Every evening I dim the lights and put on some quiet, soothing music. I do best when I put the computer away several hours before bedtime, but sometimes there are things I want to do, so I'm getting an amber screen filter.

There are many other simple steps which foster healthy sleep. I keep coming back to this post on a New York Times blog, Curing Insomnia Without The Pills:

One of the most effective methods is stimulus control. This means not watching television, eating or reading in bed. Don’t go to bed until you are sleepy. Get up at the same time every day, and don’t nap during the day. If you are unable to sleep, get out of bed after 15 minutes and do something relaxing, but avoid stimulating activity and thoughts.

So-called sleep hygiene is also part of sleep therapy. This includes regular exercise, adding light-proof blinds to your bedroom to keep it dark and making sure the bed and room temperatures are comfortable. Eat regular meals, don’t go to bed hungry and limit beverages, particularly alcohol and caffeinated drinks, around bedtime.

Finally, don’t try too hard to fall asleep, and turn the clock around so you can’t see it. Watching time pass is one of the worst things to do when you’re trying to fall asleep.

It may be hard to believe, but studies show these simple steps really do make a meaningful difference for people with sleep problems.

Sunday, November 11

White Beans with Kale and Rosemary, and Cornbread

Tonight we dined on White beans with Greens and Rosemary and Cornbread. These are both recipes from Cook's Illustrated, which devotes itself to perfecting classic recipes. In our case, so that we can mess them up and still eat well. As you may notice from the photo, we don't have white beans--I thought for sure we did--so I replaced them with kidney beans. Also, what is not entirely clear from the photo is that my husband, who made the cornbread, followed the ingredients list instead of the recipe, just dumping everything into one bowl, disregarding the directions to keep dry and wet separate and to blend some of the ingredients--and it still turned out delicious.

The beans in particular would make a great vegetarian-friendly side dish for a Thanksgiving dinner.

If you're making these two together for a meal, start the cornbread first since it takes a long time to cool.

Cornbread

1 1/2 cups flour, all purpose (7.5 oz)
1 cup cornmeal, yellow (5.5 oz)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup brown sugar (1 3/4 ounces)
3/4 cup corn, frozen and thawed (3.5 ounces)
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
8 tablespoons butter, unsalted (1 stick), melted and cooled slightly

Thaw the corn and prepare the melted butter. Preheat your oven to 400F. Oil your 8 or 9 square inch baking dish. (Cook's Illustrated recommends pyrex for baking dishes. Yes, they also test equipment.)

Whisk the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl.

Here's the part that Gordan dispensed with. Put the sugar, corn, and buttermilk into a blender or food processor, and blend for about five seconds. Add the eggs and blend another 5 seconds or so.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and pour the wet ingredients in. Mix them together quickly a few times. Add the butter, and mix briefly. Pour the batter into your baking dish, and smooth out the surface. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until it looks deliciously golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Cool in the dish on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip it out of the baking dish and cool by itself for another 10 minutes. Cut into pieces and serve.

White Beans with Greens and Rosemary

1/2 pound white beans, soaked
1 bay leaf
4 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1 teaspoons salt
2 pounds kale, collard, mustard, or turnip green (roughly 2 bunches), stemmed and washed and torn or cut into nicely sized pieces
1 teaspoons salt
2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
1 teaspoon rosemary, fresh minced
a small pinch of teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt
optionally, some grated parmesan cheese for serving

stemmed, washed in 2 or 3 changes of clean water, and coarsely chopped

As I mentioned, we substituted kidney beans. We also quick-soaked the beans--you boil the beans for five minutes, and then soak them for an hour. They could have done with more soaking or cooking, I'm not sure if kidneys need more time than white beans. I'll report back when I make this again.

The beans can be made up to 5 days ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator. Go through the beans, clean and rinse them. Soak the beans for at least 4 hours, if you aren't quick-soaking them. Simmer the beans, bay leaf, and garlic in a saucepan, partially covered, for 30 to 40 minutes. If you are making the beans and greens at the same time, start the greens now while the beans are cooking.

When the beans are done cooking, remove them from the heat, stir in the salt, and let them stand for 15 minutes so that they become more tender. A note: the original recipe called for 1.5 teaspoons of salt, but I found that slightly too salty. And when I find something too salty, that's saying a lot--I like my salt. So I decreased it to 1 teaspoon.

Drain the beans, reserve one cup of the cooking liquid, and discard the bay leaf. Store in refrigerator or set aside. Another note: the original recipe has you discarding the garlic, but I say nonsense to that--cooked garlic is delicious and nutritious, and while some might call it "unsightly" it mashes easily into the liquid, enriching the sauce.

Now before you start with the greens, I'm going to warn you about one detail. You're going to have to pour the greens into a colander, and keep using the sink for rinsing the pot. If you can keep the colander to the side in the sink, or place it into a bowl after pouring out the greens, this will work more smoothly. You'll also want to do all of this quickly.

For the greens, bring about 9 cups of water to a boil in whatever vessel is most convenient--I used our smallish stock pot. Add the salt and the greens, and stir until they're wilted. Then cover and cook for around 7 minutes, so that they become tender. Drain the greens into that colander and put aside.

Now rinse the pot with cold water to cool it down, and then fill it with cold water--enough to immerse the greens into. Drop the greens into the cold water, to prevent them from cooking further from their own heat. Now take handfuls of the greens, squeeze them out, and set them aside.

In a large pan heat the olive oil, garlic, rosemary, and pepper flakes on medium heat until the garlic has just barely browned. Add the greens, stir to cover with oil. Add the beans and reserved cooking liquid. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Season to taste and serve with the parmesan.

Saturday, November 10

A General Update: Classes & Music

I've also been reading SmellyBlog, a perfumer's blog. Lo my astonishment and excitement when I discover that said perfumer is located in Vancouver (where I live), and offers a fantastic course series called Botanical Alchemy... on perfumery, health, cooking, and bodycare with essences! I'd rather take the whole series, while only the last two classes are left now... I'll email and inquire.

I'm also planning to take a class in February, either on watercolour painting or portraiture.

Tonight Gordan and I went to a Suzanne Vega concert. Amazing. Astounding. A month or two ago we passed a poster about her concert. He pointed it out, I got all excited and then promptly forgot about it. A week or two later, he'd bought the tickets. Isn't he brilliant? I considered it a bit of a chore really... based on her second to last album Songs of Red and Gray I thought she'd changed far beyond the Suzanne Vega I knew and loved. In fact she has not. She sang lots of old songs, as well as songs from her new album. She has the same oval face and eyes, while looking her age in a wonderfully real way--a stunning combination. She talked a fair bit, and was quietly witty. The audience surrounding me was a little odd, but towards the end when some people were calling out requests I was impressed--I would really have liked to meet these local Vegaphiles! Anyway, I'm generally swoony about it.

While attentive to her lyrics and stories my thoughts became more fertile, as they often did while listening to that kind of music. We came home and had a fruitful discussion about creativity in our lives. I used to be a tremendously creative person, and now I am not. It is partly due to a gradual adaptation to Gordan who, while he adores all things inspired and unusual, is inclined to a very simple life himself. It is also partly the result of my old inner conflicts around art etc, increasingly resolved. We agreed to make more music together, one of the most accessible things for us, because it is one of Gordan's areas of greatest skill and I can generally sing as well. I still dither on whether to take ukulele classes or not. And I'll have to look and ask around further for a traditional folk songbook.

Saturday, October 27

Google Reader

I've signed up for Google Reader, an rss feed reader. I've been planning to do this for a long time, and now I finally have. This way I can subscribe to the myriad blogs and online publications I read, group them into folders, and read them in chronological order on the same page.

Meanwhile there's a link, on the mid-righthand side of this page, to my latest saved posts under "favorite blogs & feeds". As I read through everything, I can save it to this page for your perusal. At the moment it's a bit random, it's partly meant to simply tell you who and what I'm reading generally. It'll grow more specific to the individual posts with time.

Tuesday, October 23

Projectless

Oh, agony! I don't have anything to think about.

I'm nearing the end of the coif... I had to lengthen the pattern considerably. What person has such a tiny head that they only have six inches from one ear-tip to the next? Anyway, I have twelve inches. I know my head is big, but it's not that big.

I had a rip-roaring good time the other day working on our finances and adding data into Quicken. Yes, I'm not kidding. However, data entry is just not that exciting every single time. Oh, I could certainly enjoy it, but it's not the same.

I made the chicken with shallots and the eggplant caviar. The caviar was a bit, eh. The chicken was good, fairly delicious even, but more tedious to make than the recipe looked. Although it was still an exciting, magnificent meal... we managed a salad, and Gordan toasted a leftover half of a "multigrain" baguette in the oven, which we then doused in extra virgin olive oil and shallot sauce... mmmm.

Tonight I greatly enjoyed looking over pumpkin carving pictures at, ahem, the Martha Stewart website.

Last night I learned a great deal while exploring the bowels of the Cook's Illustrated website.

And yet... and yet...

Friday, October 19

Perfect Hair Days

It turns out that the secret to perfect hair for me is to henna my hair every few months, oil it once a week, and tie a handkerchief or scarf over my hair as it's drying. This keeps the top smooth and shiny and well behaved, while below my ears the hair turns into big, subtle corkscrew curls.

What's left to discover is how to wash the oil out of my hair all at once. Baking soda doesn't do it, shampoo and diluted shampoo both seem to take two washes.

Thursday, October 18

Calling Inspiration

It's three in the morning, and I don't know what to cook next week.

The reason I care at all is because the grocery order has to be in by 9, and I'd certainly rather do it now... and since I am not overall a spontaneous cook, if I don't plan something yummy for next week we'll just end up with pre-made or restaurant food.

Tomorrow night I plan to make a combination of chicken breast with shallots and a version of eggplant caviar. Saturday we'll have Bosnian beans with bread, dandelion greens (sauteed I think), and maybe roasted beets. On Monday I'm planning to make lentils in butter with little spicy sausages, zucchini with onion garlic and mint, and rice. (There would be some yogurt in there as well.) However, the lentils after the beans might be a bit much?

And then for the rest of the week I ran out of ideas. I have sketched in "spaghettini with garlic" and later "something delicious with squash." None of the cookbooks are doing it for me. There's a squash and chickpeas with tahini dish I'm sort of hankering for but I don't quite trust it to be as good as it sounds. I'm wanting a moist sort of squash, some green leafy vegetables, and a good solid protein--I'd be happy with more beans but Gordan might be tired of them.

All right, white bean soup with winter vegetables it is!

Oops, was I thinking out loud?

Sunday, October 14

New Knitting Project: Green Coif

I'm starting a new knitting project. It's a pattern from knitty.com, the coif. I'll be doubling the yarn I got, to get the right gauge.

I really have to keep up a knitting project all the time, so that I continually learn new things--and remember them!

I was thinking of adding a fuzzy strand of some special yarn, but I decided to make a simple coif first. This should be a relatively quick pattern to knit. For my second one I'll get more experimental.

Exotic Veggie Soup

Exotic Veggie Soup
Serve with red wine and bread.

I believe this recipe is based on a basic veggie soup recipe from Madhur Jaffrey, but it's been some time and I no longer remember. In any case, basic veggie soups are no mystery. The exotic taste here comes primarily from the unrefined coconut oil, chile, pesto, and spices. Refined coconut oil will not do. The vegetables are variable, although it helps if they are mild.

Ingredients:
water or stock
salt
1 onion, sliced
1 leek, sliced
1 potato, diced
4 carrots, sliced
1 bay leaf
olive oil
coconut oil, unrefined
1 dry red pepper, cut in half lengthwise
spices (cumin, italian mix, black pepper)
2 zucchini, halved & sliced
2 tomatoes, diced (either fresh or whole canned)
1 teaspoon pesto

Bring water to a boil. Add bay leaf and salt. Add onions, leeks, carrots and potatoes. Simmer and cover. Cook for awhile.

In a pan, heat olive and coconut oil. Add chilli. When chilli begins to fry, remove from the oil. Add spices and fry briefly. Add zucchini and tomatoes. Stir. Allow to fry for a few minutes.

Add oil, zucchini and tomatoes to soup. Cook for a little while longer, then let it cool. Add pesto, stir, and serve.

Tuesday, October 9

Exploring Ovens

I'm having fun and learning about new territory: baking!

The first step is to assemble the equipment, as we explorers know. However we explorers don't always know what equipment to assemble. I was hearing conflicting accounts: was the ideal surface on which to bake--the most important item--a baking sheet, or baking stone? I came across conflicting information, until I discovered this fantastic forum on breadmaking and other baking: The Fresh Loaf. They have informed me that you primarily want to bake on a baking sheet, with or without sides, and have generously given me lists of other important things to buy.

Now, I actually don't plan to leap into breadmaking quite yet. Breadmaking is a fairly vast world unto itself. I got into it years ago, in a very simple way of course, but I got a foretaste. (Also I'd like to borrow the bread cookbooks I'll use from the library, and the library is still closed due to the strike.) Right now I want to get into other things--cookies, galettes, quickbreads (and roasting). So I'm weighing what to buy now, since most of the advice is geared towards bread. What I'll probably want to do is to collect the first recipes I want to make--well perhaps including one or two bread recipes from Gail Sher's book--and pore over them, noting the equipment that I'll want to use for each. And buy that.

I've also gotten some information on local restaurant supply stores, so I'll check those before ordering anything over the internet.

I might also consider cleaning my oven, now that I think of it.

A New Comments Post

Comments, comments, comments.

Friday, October 5

Simple Food

I have a new cookbook: The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters. What a lovely book. First, the most fun in reading a cookbook is often in its introduction. By the way, I didn't write enough about Claudia Roden's book on Middle Eastern cooking... now there's a thrilling introduction in which history unfolds from the perspective of food.

Waters' introduction sticks to cooking. However her style is sophisticated yet simple, thus very easy to learn from, and then to put the new knowledge into practice. She covers ingredients and kitchen materials in an inspiring way--I for one am inspired to buy some baking sheets!

I was especially struck that her first chapter is on sauces. In my experience sauces are normally relegated to the back. And only four are profiled in that chapter: vinaigrette, salsa verde, aioli, and herb butter. Somehow that subtle choice is greatly significant. From the very start she puts four easy yet sophisticated tools in her readers' hands, so that you can take any simple dish to the next level of taste.

The first half of the book consists of typical chapters--sauces, salads, vegetables, poultry, etc--but they contain only three or four recipes, and one or more essays on the tastes and techniques involved. You can see that Waters is a teacher at heart. (In fact she apparently trained in Montessori before becoming a chef.) The second half of the book repeats the same chapters, but this time with more recipes and no essays. This is lovely for me because it is much easier to learn from a short chapter and a few representational recipes, and then for actual cooking to pick out something more specifically suitable from the appendix-like chapters in the back.

I haven't really delved into using this book, though I've stashed many recipes into my computer program. I'm going to add some of them to my meal plans for the next few weeks. In particular I'm excited to try new techniques which she explains very clearly, such as pie-making. (She recommends making galettes, where you fold the edge of the pie dough over the filling so that it is self-contained, and no pie dish is necessary for baking--which is great because I don't have any, and hardly have the space to store such a thing.) In any case, the subject of meal planning leads us to my next post...

Essential Oil Blends

Another lovely blend: lemon, bergamot, and lemonbalm (10% diluted). Lemon and bergamot are like the two extremes of the citrus range--one tart and alert, the other deep and gentle. (Although perhaps grapefruit is even further along than lemon.) Yet together they blend effortlessly, creating what could seem to be a new citrus fruit. So this fairly round new scent is still eminently a citrus, to which you add the citrus-like yet very different scent of lemon balm--soothing and mild with an unusual, almost smoky green quality.

I recently got some lavender essential oil from Gaia Gardens. In general their prices are a bit high for the same quality you can get elsewhere for less. However, they have the best lavender oil I have used. It is subdued, and full, and welcoming, soft and strong at the same time. The other oils I've tried have been thin and woody to varying degrees... I should specify that I mean an unappealing woody, since woody can also be delicious... here the scent seems to me to be more pure. I am back to adding lavender to a wide variety of blends.

Thursday, September 27

Oil Pulling

I've started "oil pulling" in the mornings. This simply means that after I wake up, before I brush my teeth, I swish sunflower oil around my mouth--supposedly for around 15 minutes, in reality for about 3 minutes. I have heard great dental and oral healing attributed to this method, cavities cleansed, plaque removed, and... teeth whitened! The website promoting the method also says that it cures all kinds of non-oral diseases, but I don't know about that.

It feels really nice. I brush my teeth afterwards, but I could well imagine the method being able to replace tooth brushing in a toothbrush-free world.




I'm sure there are some other nice things I'm doing but at this hour, I can't remember what they were.

Tuesday, September 18

Essential Oil Blends for Fresh Air

While we're at it, I don't think I mentioned that the best blend for freshening the air up a bit is pine and lemon.

Essential Oil Blends

I've found a really lovely essential oil blend: spikenard, rose, and bergamot. However spikenard and rose are really quite intense so it's important to use only one drop of each oil at a time, in my diffuser.

Spikenard is a base oil. By itself, especially on first whiff, it's sort of unpleasant, as with many base oils. In combinations, it deepens a blend and brings a distinct emotional quality that I find affects me quite distinctly, though gently. Perhaps it is because of the description I read of it--that Mary Magdalene washed Jesus Christ's feet with it before he was crucified--but it really does seem to bring about a feeling of devotion and openness.

As such, it is a perfect accompaniment to rose, the essence of love in all its complexity. Rose also sweetens the earthy spikenard's scent.

And bergamot adds a note of soothing and upliftment; and to the scent it adds a very gentle citrus quality, to make things more interesting.

Sunday, September 16

Mop, Hair, Cook

We mopped the floor today! Yes this is a rare event around here. And a fun one, too.

The oil soak was really good for my hair--it's much softer and shinier now. Still, I'm looking for a more lasting fix. I'm going to add some hair nutrients to my supplements: 5000mcg of biotin, and silica gel. Iron is also reputedly important for hair but I already get that from my multivitamin. And I'm due for some henna as well. The dandruff-freedom concoction seems to be working very well already.

I cooked a spicy potato dish from the new cookbook and added red lentils. It was delicious, but I accidentally made it way too spicy. I'm still recovering. Next I have in mind a rich little whole wheat bread with molasses, and a bean dish.

The weather is turning overcast and cool, which puts my minds towards crafts once again.

Saturday, September 15

Comments?

Gecher comments here!

Friday, September 14

White Vinegar for Dandruff, New Approach to Recipes, Fertility Awareness

I'm trying something new today. I must confess that my hair gets more dandruff than I would like the day after washing. I've decided to be proactive about it. So I made a concoction of one part white vinegar to one part water, added rosemary, cedar, and lavender oils, and scrubbed that into my dry scalp. Since my hair has also been quite dry since the trip, I added a lot of olive oil to the length of my hair, and wrapped it all up in an older towel.

I'm now back with my books as the concoctions soak in, drinking my water and apple cider vinegar. I'm going to wash it all off with shampoo diluted heavily with water, as advised by my wise and lovely friend Bug. (I keep a few empty Cetaphil bottles around for just this sort of purpose--cetaphil is a nice product, the bottles are perfect, and the labels come off cleanly.) And before washing it off I'll use even more of the white vinegar solution on my scalp.

By the way--Devon this is especially for you--Bug's approach was to slowly dilute her shampoo more and more until now she basically cleans her hair with water-only, and an occasional diluted shampoo every few weeks. It's another approach to try!




I have started adding recipes to a recipe application called Connoisseur. (Several months ago I downloaded all the freeware or shareware recipe applications I could find and compared them, I liked Connoisseur the most.) So far the recipes have come from Madhur Jaffrey's "World Vegetarian" and have all been for beans and lentils. This morning I received Claudia Roden's "New Book of Middle Eastern Food" and have been reading through that, and am truly impressed.




I also got "Taking Control of Your Fertility" last night, by Toni Weschler, and I'm re-reading that. It's really a book that every woman should at least have the opportunity to read. I'm getting more seriously into the Fertility Awareness Method of birth control; the fact that I now have a lovely alarm clock will, I think, make the process more fun and effective.

Tuesday, September 11

No-Poo

I'm inspired to write out a detailed description of my no-poo regimen and the information I've picked up about it. Most of my knowledge comes from the MDC Natural Home and Body Care forum, including the sticky. The rest comes from my own tinkering. There's also a good cheat sheet from babyslime on livejournal.

No-poo is the art of not using shampoo. There are variety of alternatives to shampoo. There's water-only, which works for a lucky few. There's conditioner-only, which is ideal for curly hair and perhaps very dry hair. There's shampoo bars. And there's baking soda and vinegar, which is the method I use.

I can't tell you very much about why shampoo is problematic. I have come across explanations which I found interesting, but I don't remember them all that clearly. I simply found no-poo intriguing, tried it, and stuck with it. I know that shampoo is a bit harsh on my hair and makes it more prone to breaking, while with no-poo my hair is softer and healthier. I also enjoy reusing bottles and having creative control over my own hair wash. I never had an adjustment period while my hair got used to the new regimen--only an adjustment period as I tinkered with the ratios and techniques. Once I got it right my hair was just as clean as when I shampooed.

The general principle is simple. Soaps are made by adding an alkaline substance to oils. The alkaline substance saponifies the oil, or turns it into soap. With no-poo, I add diluted baking soda (a gentle alkaline) to my hair, where it saponifies the natural oils in my hair. They then rinse away, taking any dirt with them. Because I control how much baking soda I use, I can choose how strong or mild to make the hair wash, depending on what my hair needs.

After using the alkaline hair wash, the hair and scalp are clean. However they are now at a gently alkaline ph, when their natural ph is gently acidic. Hair that is left at an alkaline ph will be dry and brittle. So after applying the baking soda solution and rinsing it out with water, I apply a diluted acidic solution--usually apple cider vinegar, but other acidic substances can be used too... other vinegars, lemon juice, beer, wine, etc. Then I do not rinse this out with water. Water is slightly alkaline and rinsing with water after the vinegar solution would give my hair an alkaline ph again. I simply let it dry after this. The vinegar evaporates quickly and my hair is left soft and shiny.

A basic principle in tweaking your mixes or your technique is this:

dry hair = too much baking soda and/or too little vinegar
oily hair = too much vinegar and/or little baking soda

Let me be more detailed about the steps involved in making the solutions, and then in washing my hair. One note is that most people seem to make a new solution every time they're going to wash their hair. I make two bottles of solution and only make more when I run out. Other people have a number of different approaches, for instance some apply the vinegar solution with a spray bottle. I'm just going to cover my approach, for alternatives you will find a lot of information in the MDC forum mentioned above. Here are the bottles I use:






Making the solutions

A good dilution rate to start with for both baking soda and vinegar is roughly 1:10. My bottles hold about about a cup of fluid each. There's 16 tablespoons in a cup, which we'll round off to 15. So I might add 1.5 tablespoons to the water. In practice I usually add 1 tablespoon of baking soda, and 2 tablespoons of vinegar, but this varies.

Baking Soda Solution

1. Using a funnel I pour 1 tablespoon of baking soda into the bottle.

2. I squirt a nice glop of honey into the bottle. Honey is added for its moisturizing effect, it is optional.

3. I fill the bottle with water.

4. I add about 3-6 drops of essential oils. It may be worth while to choose these oils said to stimulate hair growth. I'm particularly enthusiastic about rosemary and cedar. I find the smell is washed away but I expect it to have some effect on the scalp because it is really scrubbed in.

5. I mix all this together by shaking it either gently or vigorously or just letting it sit... depending on how soon I need to use it. The baking soda needs a chance to dissolve at least a bit.

Vinegar Solution

1. Using a funnel I pour 1 or 2 tablespoons of vinegar or other mildly acidic fluid such as lemon juice into the bottle.

2. I fill the bottle with water.

3. I add about 3-6 drops of essential oils. These are the essences that will stay in your hair and influence your scent. I use vetiver and rosewood. The vetiver also quiets the vinegar smell, I find.




Washing with the solutions

1. I wet my hair first. I use warm or moderately hot water, which is best for skin and hair.

2. With one hand I squirt the baking soda solution directly to where I am going to scrub, and with the fingertips of my other hand I scrub my scalp and hair roots. (I never pay any attention to the rest of the hair, which gets clean as the baking soda solution rinses through it.)

3. I scrub in the pattern described by Veganmamma in the above-mentioned sticky. I start by scrubbing along the crown of my head--where the rim of a crown would be. Then I scrub the top of my head, filling in the crown. Then I scrub below the crown.

4. I rinse the solution out with water.

5. I squirt the vinegar solution into my hair, concentrating on the length of my hair. I avoid getting too much around my roots, which can make them oily--opinions differ on how big a factor this is, I find that it is not a very big factor.

6. After this I do not rinse with water, I keep my hair out of the water and finish up my shower.

Sunday, September 9

Today was a great day in the world of decluttering. For one thing, we found a way to put away our suitcases.

Mainly, though, I decluttered the kitchen. It's interesting how clutter relates to the psyche. I've decluttered the kitchen before, but each time I only skimmed the surface. This time the changes are much more complete--I choose one shelf, remove everything and put it all on the kitchen table, ruthlessly get rid of whatever needs to be gotten rid of, and then put things back in a more efficient fashion. I got some stackable shelves, and now my essential oils and gardening materials fit in the same shelf.

I also got some baskets for storing potatoes & onions & beans & grains.

We also put in a new incoming paper holder, which is far more space efficient than the old one.


There are still a few corners not yet decluttered, that pleasure will come tomorrow.

I also want to get up some good energy around cooking, which previously has been an obstactle for me.

Friday, September 7

Return With New Eyes

I'm back from Europe!

(We'll see about the trip posts... as soon as I get the inspiration to play with them. I have a bunch that are just about finished and for the rest I have to get the pictures from Ivan's computer onto mine.)

I'm seeing my home with new eyes. And I am driven to declutter. So far I've decluttered my clothes and our bathroom stuff. Next will be the paper corner in the kitchen, when Gordan gets home from work. These are all areas I've decluttered before, but I'm being more exacting this time, to great improvement. In the meantime I've also been doing a lot of much-needed cleaning in the bathroom and kitchen.

It's hard to believe that it's nearly 3 PM. Jetlag is sort of fun, once the acute phase wears off! The weather pattern lately is that the day is cloudy and cool until around 1 PM, and then it turns warm and sunny--with an autumnal scent in the air. This is the time of year in which I miss the east coast, and wish I could introduce Gordan to the pleasures there--the crisp air, gorgeous trees, cool wind, enormous sunny days, golden leaves fluttering over the roads, exquisite fresh cider and abundant apples, tromps through the forest... not to mention the magnificent Sheep and Wool Festival in Kingston, NY.

Perhaps I'll go buy some flowers from the hardware store and plant them while the day is warm. Our porch garden wants a little color after our absence.

Wednesday, August 15

London Day Two

On our second day in London, naturally enough, we headed straight to the British Museum. That was a delightful experience--although may I be a snob and say that I think the Metropolitan in New York is better? Still they are, of course, closely parallel. We were there primarily to see John Dee's artifacts, but we couldn't resist going round to see everything else we could. Ivan, amazingly, photographed almost every single exhibit. Here are some of my favorites:














And then at last, we found John Dee:



I don't remember the exact chronology of events following. So I'll improvise. After the Museum I believe we went to Treadwell Books, the other occult bookstore. I liked this one even more; to begin with, it had plenty of chairs and as tourists, we had very sore feet. Even as a regular reader, however, it's nice to sit down and study your prospective purchase. Also the books were overall of a higher quality, generally of good substance. I discovered an encyclopaedia of herbalism--ancient and modern magickal and medical uses of herbs--that I lusted after, somewhat, but it was 200 pounds in the currency sense, and 8 pounds in the sense of weight... not very practical. They also seemed to be selling excellent quality handmade oils.

Then we were hungry for a real lunch, though we'd snacked in the Museum cafe. We headed towards Covent Garden Piazza, a lovely broad space... and found a delicious pizza restaurant. Ah, that meal was lovely and so satisfying. It was my first taste of really good European food in years. (Ivan had had some good sausages and mash in a local restaurant, but our pescatorian dishes weren't quite as delicious.) We finished our exquisite pizza and Gordan left for a certain library. Ivan and I remained in the Piazza to watch some street theatre: samurais sword fighting to beat box music, and a man who lay on a bed of nails while an Italian tourist stood on top of him.

We arrived back at the hostel at 4, and I couldn't resist; I went to sleep. So, all in all, a short day.

London Day One

London was quite a trip. It was important to us to spend a few days there, because Gordan is such an Anglophile but had never been in England beyond Heathrow airport. So there we were in London at last... jetlagged beyond belief. (Especially me!) We spent those few days doing as much as we possibly could, and they were well documented. The jetlag came in handy to the extent that we were up quite early. I found the city to be far more fun and postmodern than I expected. Our hostel was lovely:

Ivan took that picture as I was setting things up. You can see our three bunk beds. I slept on the top one, Gordan slept in the middle, and Ivan slept on a fourth bed that you can't see in the picture. Spartan, cheap and fun. I wish we'd taken a picture of the hostel from the outside. It was right near St Paul's Cathedral in the center of the city, and was the former house of the chorus boys. Can you imagine? Ivan did take a video of it so perhaps later we can extract a still shot of the building. Or else if he finishes the movie he's making of the trip (entirely out of videos shot from my camera; I didn't even know my camera could do that!) I'll link to it. It came complete with a cafeteria where we had our free breakfasts with such delicacies as bacon and beans, along with the usual hard boiled eggs, cup of yogurt, canned fruit, cold cuts, and slices of cheese or marmalade on toast. There was a lovely reception downstairs staffed by extremely helpful Russian students, which rented and sold all kinds of useful things like towels and umbrellas for the rainy mornings.


The first day we walked along the dark and swollen Thames to the Temple Church, where several templar knights are buried. It was closed for cleaning and repairs. One thing I love about traveling with Gordan is that our primary destinations are always esoteric sites of interest.





As we walked out of that area, weaving between venerable buildings and small lanes and passageways, we passed two beautiful courtyards. The first bore a lovely pink passionflower, and the second consisted of a fountain surrounded by three gorgeous trees to which pictures cannot do justice.





And then we were off to the National Portrait Gallery. I didn't take any photographs of the paintings, if I recall correctly you weren't supposed to. However they were quite impressive. There was a great variety; stodgy old portraits, modern ugly portraits, lots of photorealism, realism using miniaturist techniques for unbelievable detail, semi-abstract portraits, actors, artists, royalty, politicians, judges, soldiers, anonymous people, wives in baths, children, and so on. I did take some pictures of the building as viewed from the underground cafe, and the ceiling of the lobby:




Our next destination was Atlantis Books, a venerable occult bookstore. We first took a detour in some regular bookstores. I happened to find "Plants in Garden History" by Penelope Hobhouse which has utterly delighted me since then; as the title suggests it looks at the role of specific plants (especially imported plants) in garden design history. I've read about Egyptian gardens, Hellenic gardens, Roman Gardens, Islamic gardens, and Medieval gardens so far. Additionally we found that although London is quite expensive in most respects, books are far cheaper than they are in Canada.

Gordan asked the shopkeeper for directions to Atlantis Books. The shopkeeper murmured, searching his directory, "Atlantis Books... it may not exist any more... I have heard of it, it's a very old bookstore, but I'm not sure where it is or if it's still there..."
His assistant replied, "Atlantis Books? I thought that it fell into the sea."

For lunch we toured through Chinatown, randomly selecting one dim sum restaurant. From the rowdy wet streets of Chinatown we entered a sumptuous (or perhaps garish?) interior, surrounded by children racing about. We sat at our table and young Chinese women with trolleys full of food came and attempted to explain what foods they were offering us. We could not understand them and they could not understand us. On the whole it was a delicious and stressful experience, however we didn't end up with any bizarre accidents like New York's duck feet.


We did eventually find Atlantis Books, with its beautiful blue storefront. I found mostly new age fluff but Gordan zeroed in immediately on the good stuff. The shopkeeper offered us chocolates and off we went again.

However at that point we were rather staggering about, what with the jetlag. We decided to see a movie in order to stay awake a little longer. We could have watched The Seventh Seal, or a movie about an Englishwoman putting her life back together after prison, but couldn't decide between the two. So instead we watched The Simpson's Movie (eh). And then we walked home and I at least went to bed.

So concludes my first day in London.

Tour of the Continent

Hello from Ljubljana, Slovenia! It's a peaceful day here at the hostel in which we're staying. I'm alone here, eating smoked gouda on brown bread, and taking the day off before our next adventure starts tomorrow, so that I can update everyone.

I haven't even mentioned this trip at all on this blog, previously. While we'd been vaguely planning the trip for quite some time, the details unfolded rapidly and serendipitously in the weeks before we left.

The outline of the trip is that Gordan, Ivan and I are in Europe for a month. We spent four days in London, then we flew to Slovenia. There we spent a few days visiting Gordan's old friend Janez in the country, then a few days in Ljubljana. Next we'll spend a night in Zagreb, Croatia, and then go on to Bosnia. Now I don't have the clearest sense of our itinerary in Bosnia; we'll meet up with Dragana and Anselmo, and we'll spend some time in Gordan's hometown, some time in Sarajevo, and some time in a few other towns. After that we're planning to spend a week on the Croatian sea coast with Dragana and Anselmo, and then a few days in Paris visiting Leila, before we return to London and then Vancouver.

Wednesday, July 25

Mmmmm! I mentioned in my first post about lacto-fermented sodas that I had ordered a yogurt cheesemaker. It arrived a few days ago and I filled it with plain yogurt.

I am now eating the delicious yogurt cheese on bread. It tastes exactly like cream cheese, really, only better quality. This is going to be very useful!

I also used half a cup of whey to start some lacto-fermented soda. For water I added mint sun tea. In 24 hours it'll be ready to transfer to another bottle.

Comments?

Just in case anyone has any comments!

Sunday, July 22

All Things Come To Me By Virtue Of My Vibration

The thought that keeps circling through my head: "All things come to me by virtue of my vibration."

All that is exists in many forms. It exists in the forms in which we usually perceive it. It also exists in the form of vibrations. We perceive vibrations, according to Abraham-Hicks, as emotions primarily. The most suitable practical synonymns for vibration are emotions, feelings, and mindset.

This idea has interesting parallels in older philosophies, and I am excited about rereading Abhinavagupta and Hazrat Inayat Khan (among others) in light of Abraham's teachings.

Thoughts are curious things. The thoughts you think express your vibration. At the same time, your vibration attracts the thoughts you will think. At the same time, you can change your vibration to some extent by changing your thoughts. While they are consistent with your vibration, to some degree they are also a bit of a wild card which allows you greater empowerment. It's also possible to change one's vibration directly, without having to work through thoughts. However I find that this usually does not come naturally.

The idea presenting itself most directly is that I can lighten up on the thoughts that are not serving me, simply let go of them and let them fade away. I still have the tendency to attempt to work on them, which usually makes them more active in my life. An alternative is to focus with greater openess and vision on my desires. Several months ago I let go of a particular habit of obsessing over unwanted subjects. Not that I never obsess anymore, but the habit has lost all its previous power; it comes up now and then but it doesn't interest me in the way it used to. However, I still live in a world which tends to seek improvement by focusing on the unwanted. This does work, but it is slow, painful, and ineffective. Often it takes many generations for change to unfold this way. I want to change as an individual, freely. I want to let go of the social structures which are focusing me on what is not wanted as a (the) method of improvement.

The key, which I have forgotten slightly over the past few months, is dynamic acceptance of the unwanted. This is closely parallel to Gandhi's teachings in particular. We have the tendency to focus on the unwanted, to resist it, and to rationalize endlessly why it makes us unhappy, why we don't like it, and why we are still focused on it. This is, usually, a complete waste of time. Although not always--there are times when focusing on the unwanted helps us to refine our desires. Well it always helps us to do this, but sometimes that further refinement is necessary, at other times we can happily do without it.

Again, I keep attempting to solve the problem, to figure out how I do want to relate to these social structures. I don't need to intellectually figure out a solution. All things come to me by virtue of my vibration. I will orient myself towards the emotional tone which I desire, and the suitable actions will come to me at the right time, through inspiration.

And the best way to orient myself to an emotional tone or vibration which seems relatively out of reach is (at this moment--there are other methods which may be more suitable under different emotional circumstances) to find the scraps of those feelings which I am experiencing right now or lately, and focus on those and appreciate those. Then the fuller vibration will come easily.

The Seventh Book

I have finished "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows". It was magnificent and inspiring. I am so glad my interest was caught only a week ago, so that I got to read the last three books all in a row, rather than one per year. I will wait a year or so and then read them all together, starting with the very first one. And then I will enjoy reading them more slowly than I did this time, I hope, and savoring the details that were so delightedly crafted. It is really a masterpiece.

There are more thoughts, but I am not going to put them here yet!

Sunday, July 15

Tunneling Books for Children of All Ages

The world of Harry Potter has finally sucked me in. I put up quite a fight and resisted this for years. Only last year was Gordan able to convince me to watch a Harry Potter movie, to which I submitted scornfully. Of course I was intrigued. We ended up watching all of them in a few days. Then I forgot about it for awhile, with the occasional repeat marathons. Just recently I saw the fifth movie in the local theatre (twice, because the first time I couldn't understand what anyone was saying). I've ordered books six and seven, and I'm reading Gordan's copy of book five.

Actually I think a large part of the reason I'm more comfortable with Harry Potter is because I spent January of this year paying tribute to Tolkien. It might have been more than January. I read all of the Lord of the Rings again while in India, including some parts that were removed from the original edition, if I remember correctly. And I read a very good biography of Tolkien.

I'd like to keep reading kid's books, I've decided. I want to revisit "The Five" series (which Harry Potter reminds me of distinctly, plus I don't think I ever read the whole series), and "The Borrowers". There's also a novel about a boy who's adopted by some semi-magical homeless men involving escalators and trains and manhole covers. (I sincerely hope that's not another novel my subconscious has invented and disguised as a memory, because I want to reread it.) Incidentally, do you notice a pattern of tunneling in my favorite children's books? Of course you don't, but I just did. Anyway.

I think this would be a very good exercise. And a delightful one. I'd also like to read more writer's journals--my father suggests Sylvia Plath or John Cheever.

Tuesday, July 3

Comments?

Putting up another one!

Monday, July 2

In Which the Industrial Revolution Comes to my House

Exciting news! I have become one of those people who has a sewing machine... and is not afraid to use it!

I actually bought it, a kenmore 16764, a month ago. The arrangement is that I am sharing it with Dragana, whose old sewing machine went kaput. She will actually use it, and she is also teaching me how to use it. I had planned to start sewing in a few years, because I already have my thumbs in so many pies. Then Sears had a big sale, I had a gift card, and it all worked out perfectly!



I didn't expect to do any real sewing myself at first. However to my surprise I've been thinking about things I'd like to have that I could sew myself. There's the dropcloths for artmaking, which could be hemmed. I wanted some cotton produce bags, as our grocery delivery sends us vegetables with no bags--and realized I could easily make them myself. Then I decided to start an extra knitting project besides the shawl I'm currently making, and for that I could use an extra knitting bag. My current knitting bag (pictured below) is a lovely simple square cotton bag with a drawstring which I stash in my purse, and another one should be easy to make.



Dragana will soon be sewing a simple ceremonial robe for Gordan. So we bought our respective fabrics, went home and opened the sewing machine box for the first time. It was a lot of fun setting it up with her, because while that particular machine is new to her, she already knows how sewing machines generally work.

I started on my knitting bag last night and was having a grand old time, until the threads snagged and broke somewhere along the way. I think it will be easy to fix myself at this point, with the manual. I'm so delighted at all the easy useful things I'm going to make, and how eventually my stitch will go in a straight line! Stay tuned for further adventures!

Sunday, July 1

Today's Essential Oils; On Blending; Tea

This morning I made an energizing blend of rosemary, bergamot mint, and lavender.

Rosemary is an absolutely lovely essence. It is the herb that I identified most closely with during my teenage and college years. I always had a 25ml bottle, regardless of quality, and I used it for everything; upliftment, grounding, headaches, bug bites, cuts, burns, skin trouble, dispersal of unpleasant smells, clarification and energizing, and more. Zeke says that rosemary is related to creativity, and those also happened to be my most creative years so far. It feels fundamentally similar to lavender, to me, and I'll bet they are related; their leaves and flowers look similar. While the primary scent in rosemary is energizing and clarifying, it leaves a woody afternote which I have been enjoying all day. Since discovering "rosemary verbonne", a gentler rosemary, the deliciousness of rosemary has reached a new level. Rosemary is one of my standard morning essences.

Bergamot mint is my other standard morning essence. It is an absolutely delightful and unusual oil. It is indeed a mint, and has mint's energizing quality. However it is far milder than the familiar peppermint and spearment, and is not as cooling. It also does have a distinct citrus smell which is probably closest to bergamot. With the gently clarifying and energizing quality of a mint, and the loving playful quality of a citrus, it is a lovely essence to have.

Lavender, as always, is the backbone of the blend, with its nurturing and harmonizing quality.




Tonight I am diffusing rose (diluted), spikenard, and lavender.

Rose is well known as a universal symbol of love. It's handy to have some of that in a bottle nearby! Thank goodness mine is diluted, because it is so powerful. I actually have rose absolute rather than essential oil. Absolutes are not extracted by steam, but with chemical solvents, which are then removed. Apparently with contemporary technology, absolutes by reputable companies are very clean. They are especially faithful to the plant's actual scent, because they extract the essence a bit more completely than steam does. Thus they're particularly recommended for inhalation, while for application to the skin true essential oils are preferred. All the floral oils are quite powerful, as flowers themselves are. Rose is a sort of "broad spectrum" essence. While it has a strong affinity with love and the heart, it goes beyond these as well, and affects the whole person and atmosphere. (On the other hand all essences do this to varying extents.) Rose is, I believe, closely related to the orientation of the current human evolutionary path. And maybe that's why I'm diffusing it tonight, for a little evolutionary boost.

Spikenard is relatively new to me. It's a base oil, and like most base oils, undiluted it's almost unpleasant. Base oils add a deep grounding note to blends. They help us to stay connected to the earth, to our sexuality, to our strength, to our physicality. At the same time the base oils are some of the most sacred and divinely-oriented. They inspire earthiness that is harmonious with the world of spirit. Spikenard specifically is said to inspire generosity and devotion.

Once again, lavender is the backbone of the blend. It opens up the influence of rose and spikenard, and provides a gentler, milder note.




I want to add something about the blending of essential oils generally. This may apply to blending herbal extracts in other forms (infusions, tinctures, hydrosols) as well.

Herbal actions are due to the chemicals in the herb. It's these chemicals that allopathic medicine looks for. They select an individual chemical for its medicinal action, recreate it synthetically, and then prescribe that when its action is needed.

However, the individual chemicals are not the whole story. The chemicals in the plant interact together. Sometimes they modify the medicinal actions so that medicines from the whole plant produce no or fewer side effects. Sometimes they complement each other's medicinal actions, so that for example the primary chemical may lower blood pressure, but secondary chemicals also reduce blood clotting, include antioxidants, have an antispasmodic and antiinflammatory effect, and promote cellular regeneration. Sometimes a medicinal action is caused by the presence of two chemicals together, and seperately neither have that effect. Sometimes it is not known exactly what causes the medicinal action.

Plants develop these actions for their own benefit. Animals such as humans have been ingesting plants from the beginning, and we have evolved alongside them. They are truly an inseparable part of us.

Just as the variety of chemicals in the whole plant cooperate together, so may the chemicals of two whole plants when they are blended. These interactions aren't usually as significant as those between the chemicals of an individual plant, which has spent centuries finetuning its chemical symphony. Nonetheless they can be quite valuable. In a sense, when you blend essential oils, you are creating a whole new essence--a new herb, a new medicine.




Tonight's tea is lemon balm, chamomile, and linden. This is the very mild evening blend I've settled on for the time being.