Category Archives: You Are What You Eat

Spa-At-Home

I told Twitter I was going to make a bunch of body products today and somebody said, “how?” So I decided to share the things I’ve figured out over a couple of years of trial and error when it comes to making some basic body items. Here are detailed steps for body lotion and some additional tips for other products below that:

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Step One: Gather your ingredients and supplies.

I made a little bit of everything today, so I needed a little bit of everything. Depending on what you’re making you might want shea and/or cocoa butter, grape seed oil, vitamin E oil, rose hip seed oil, sunflower seed oil… you get the idea. You can use any “butters” or “oils” you decide. I like shea butter as a lotion base with just a little cocoa butter, mixed with grapeseed oil for body lotion, and just shea butter and rose hip seed oil for face cream. You can then add the essential oils you prefer for scent and some subtle effects. Lavender is my favorite, but maybe you’d prefer grapefruit or vanilla. (Cocoa butter smells like chocolate, so you either need to cover that scent with others or embrace it. It’s nice with vanilla–if you want to smell like birthday cake.)

I have bought these things in a number of places. You can get quite a few things at any old grocery store, certainly a “health food” type of grocery store. My mom found out that you can sometimes get your oils cheaper in the food section than the body care section. It’s the same thing, so compare price by volume before you put it in your cart. I have also bought many of the things you see in the photo here from Mountain Rose Herbs. They have good prices on high quality products–many of which are organic and/or fair trade and all (I think) are kosher.

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Step Two: Mix ingredients.

For my basic body lotion, I put about a cup of shea butter, a 1/4 cup of cocoa butter, a 1/3 cup of grapeseed oil, a tablespoon of vitamin E oil, and sprinkled lavender to preference. (I use a lot–probably 40 drops.)

IMG_3278Stirring constantly, melt these together over very low heat, double-boiler style, as shown, until everything is blended and the mixture is clear.

Step Three: Whip and cool.

IMG_3276Fill a large pot with ice. Sit your pan of clear oil down into it and use your grandmother-in-law’s 1950s hand mixer* and start whipping. Carry on for ten or fifteen minutes.

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When the mixture begins to cool and enough air is whipped into it, it will get thicker, slightly duller and completely opaque.

IMG_3281Pour this thicker, opaque mixture into your containers** and refrigerate them.

Step Four: Use!

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When it’s been refrigerated overnight, then allowed to return to room temperature, the lotion should have about the same texture as a nice thick buttercream cake frosting. (DON’T eat it! Okay, fine. DO eat it if you really must. It’s edible. But I can’t recommend it for internal use.) The lotion in the photos above is a face lotion made with about a cup of shea butter, a half cup of rose hip seed oil, a bit of vitamin E oil, and of course, essential oil of lavender. It’s the rose hip seed oil that gives it the yellow-orangey color. To the right is the body lotion I actually gave you the recipe for in the instructions. Its color comes from the grapeseed oil and it’s a nice pale green.

I keep any extras in the refrigerator, but I keep the ones I’m using out at room temperature. The butters definitely respond to temperature changes though, and are best kept below 75 degree (f). I start notice them getting too melty any hotter than that.

Other Body Care Recipes

For rolling Nat’s locs, I’ve been using cocoa butter mixed with just a bit of rose hip seed oil. Even my favorite ready-made loc butter has a bit of bees wax in it and this just gums up her hair and takes forever to wash out. I sometimes even cut the cocoa butter mixture with plain aloe gel–half and half, whipped with a fork. It’s light, and doesn’t hold the locs as tightly as heavier stuff or wax, but it’s good for her hair.

To make a detangler for Selina’s curls, I mix a spray bottle half and half with aloe gel and water, plus essential oil of lemon. Shake and store refrigerated. Shake again before use.

I brush my teeth with a spice jar filled to the top with baking soda, then slowly filled with hydrogen peroxide (there’s a lot of air in the baking soda, so there’s room for the peroxide) and about ten drops of peppermint oil. It’s a great whitener. Keeps the tea stains at bay.

I don’t use flouride toothpaste even when I do use ready-made tubes. It exacerbates my rosacea. If you want or need fluoride, this obviously isn’t a good option for you everyday, but could still be a whitening supplement to your usual toothpaste. It’s much cheaper than ready made whitening products–which contain these exact ingredients.

I also made some lip balm and some mustache wax today. It was my first go at those. I used a mix of half and half cocoa butter and beeswax, plus peppermint oil for the lip balm and cedar and sage oils for the mustache wax. (I did not whip it, but poured it into its little metal containers and stuck them right in the ‘fridge’.)

I await the early reviews on it. Will let you know if it needs tweaking. Meanwhile, if you have any tweaks for what I’ve told you here, do share. I developed these recipes/methods after a few trial runs. So far these are my best versions.

* I’ve often thought an ice-cream maker would work really well for this step. But I make such small batches, I don’t want to use mine for them. Also, I’m not sure how cleanup would go. Wouldn’t want lotion-y ice cream in the future.

** I use four-ounce glass jars intended for keeping cooking spices. I bought them really cheaply on the Internet. They have nice glass stoppers with plastic seals and are dishwasher safe so I can reuse them without worry about toxins leaching into my lotion.

Elitist Soup*

I made this last night and it was a hit. I often make something kind of like it, but this one needed to be recorded for posterity–in case I want to do it just this same way again sometime.

You need:

4 cups of mushroom broth

2-4 frozen salmon filets, thawed and chopped into bite-sized pieces (or fresh salmon to serve about 3 people if it was the entire entree)

one large onion

lots of crushed garlic

some sweet peppers (I used a bag of frozen tri-colored peppers, thawed and drained. Fresh would be better, but I didn’t have any on hand.)

about 2/3 cup of soy sauce, about 1/2 cup of rice wine vinegar, about 1/3 cup of honey and a good healthy squeeze of sriracha (to taste).

about a cubic inch of peeled and sliced fresh ginger (but more never hurt anyone)

a package (enough to serve 4-5 people) of soba noodles (you can also use udon or ramen)

Chop the onions and garlic and sautee them (I used safflower oil, but whatever you use is fine) until partially carmelized.

While sautéing, boil the noodles in a sauce pan. Chop the ginger and (in a separate bowl) stir it together with the sauces (soy sauce, sriracha and honey) and mushroom broth.

When the noodles are done drain and rinse them well in cold water. Return them to the sauce pan and add the mushroom broth/sauce mixture.

Deglaze the sautee pan with the rice wine vinegar and add the peppers and salmon. When the salmon is looking cooked through, pour the sauteed ingredients into the noodles and mushroom broth. Stir.

If you have it, fresh cilantro would be an awesome garnish for this.

Serves 4-5 people, depending on how many people want seconds…or thirds… Yum!

* so-dubbed jokingly by my friend Trish, overhearing a Twitter conversation about cooking at home being “too expensive” and me protesting. I’d say this meal cost about $12-15 and it served five with double helpings for four of us. I think all but the sriracha and rice wine vinegar were organic too. I shop pretty carefully–stocking up on the frozen salmon when it’s on sale, for example. Actually, I buy almost everything on sale or in bulk on the Internet. There’s no way we could have gotten this high quality of a meal at a restaurant for even $20 for the five of us. And it took a total of about 30 minutes to make. Probably more like 20-25. So there. Not so expensive. Not so time-consuming. It does, however take planning.

P.S. If you are thinking “but two of those five people were little girls” I must tell you that Nat and Selina ate as much as Cole and I did. They love this stuff. It was Josiah who was out seconds, because he got the leftovers (about a bowl full)  in the fridge when he got home late.

On my Children, my Father, Life, Death and Vegetables

I wrote the following for my church’s weekly newletter. You can find the original here.

Train up a Cucumber

Nat Harvests Radishes in the SPR Garden

“They are like children!” said one of the garden ladies. “They will climb up, but you have to give them a little help and show them where to go.” She gently lifted a cucumber vine and twined it through the netting so it would climb.

My children have grown a bit this summer — more than a bit, perhaps, to judge by shortening dress hems and tightening shoes. But they have also grown in understanding.

This summer, they lost their grandfather after two years of watching him fight cancer. It is their first death, and they have taken it hard. As my older daughter said the week after the funeral, “I don’t want anyone who loves me to die!”

I sympathized and told her I felt the same way, but there was nothing we could do about it. One of the hardest things about losing my father has been losing some of my children’s confidence that I can make anything and everything better for them, if only I want to and am willing to try.

I could do nothing to save their Granddaddy, even though I really, really wanted to. So my kids learned the sad lesson that parents are fallible and that sometimes death wins.

But the SPR garden also has been a pastime for them this summer, in the weeks we have been home and able to get to church on a Sunday. It has been a reassuring counterpoint to the fact of death, and that is the very concrete, undeniable fact of life.

When my children ask me questions about God, I tend to tell them some version

My father loved this picture he took on a walk with my girls.

of this: “God is a very special mother who takes care of the whole world. God makes things be alive. She makes things grow.”

(As a result of this teaching, when my younger girl saw a landscaper doing some work recently, she said, “look, that man is helping God! He’s taking care of the world.”)

When things in a garden die, my children know that nature turns them into dirt again, like the compost in the buckets on our own patio garden at home. New things can grow from that next season.

A garden at church is the perfect object lesson for them to connect the sacred and mundane facts of life — that God makes life, makes things grow, turns death and decay into something new and beautiful and perhaps even delicious, like a cherry tomato picked right off the vine, warm from the sun.

But this comes at a cost — a cost of labor and time and sometimes the frustration of fending off rapacious beetles that would chew down your vine before it can blossom.

And some people, work as hard as they will, never can get that vine blossoming.

This summer, along with the sad fact of death, my kids also have begun to learn the sad fact that life is not fair. Some people have more than they need, while some don’t have enough. The good news is that those who have enough can share and even the score just a little bit, almost every day.

When we go to the grocery store each week, we have a list of “Things We Need” and a list of “Things We Want.” My older daughter carefully crosses things off our “need” list and adds the prices as we shop. We have a budget every week and we are never able to get everything on our “want” list. But “sharing food” for the basket at the church altar is on the “need” list.

We always have enough to add a can of beans or a package of cereal for someone who might be hungry, even if it means we can’t get a candy bar for ourselves. It’s a lesson the children take with all the faith in the world that what I’ve told them — sharing is part of being who we are — is a simple truth. They never quibble about this.

Granddaddy and Nat

Recently, my older daughter badly wanted to eat a fresh pepper harvested from the SPR garden. I told her no. She kept begging and cajoling and I kept saying no until the thought struck me to simply explain. “The garden vegetables are sharing food,” I told her. “Oh!” She put down the pepper gently. She has never asked me to eat food from the garden again.

But she loves the garden nonetheless for that. She is as happy as she can be, helping pick ripe veggies, pulling weeds, plucking beetles off the plants and asking the expert gardeners a thousand questions.

The morning after my father died, my younger daughter asked, “will God make Granddaddy again?” I explained that Granddaddy was one-of-a-kind and that God is just too creative to ever make the same thing twice.

But although it may sound odd at first, I’ve told the girls that Granddaddy is a little bit like the compost. For one thing, he donated his body to cancer research. So there is an obvious way in which his physical being has been used to renew life among those of us who are still here slogging along on the Earth. But in the end, my father’s body was just a body, and it has returned to dust, as every one of ours will someday.

My Father and Me

And yet, like the compost that gives so much vitality to a tomato plant, my father’s love for his children and grandchildren will become — has already become — a part of who they are.

My children are stronger, happier, more loving people for having known his love for them. The spirit of sharing that he demonstrated even after death, he passed down to me to pass on to my own children. If all goes well, someday they will pass it to theirs.

And SPR — both in the garden and elsewhere — is a place to nurture those seeds of generosity and kindness, of sharing and enjoying people from all over the world (or from just across the neighborhood at KAM Isaiah Israel!). People come and go — even the ones who love us.

But in the end, it’s that very love that really wins.

Autumnal Acorn Squash Soup

Made this this morning for supper this evening. I am recording it for posterity, because I tend not to make things the same way twice and when I hit it just right, I want to remember what I did!

2 acorn squash, halved and roasted for about 40 minutes

2 cups of broth (I used chicken this time, but veggie would be fine too)

1 onion, sliced

1 teaspoon of sage

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (a little fresh ginger would be better, but I was out)

2 tablespoons maple syrup (the real deal–don’t cheap out on the mammy one)

salt and black pepper to taste

 

While roasting your acorn squash, bring your broth to a boil. Chop and and add the onion and spices.

After the squash is roasted, scoop out its meat into the broth and puree. (I use an immersion blender for this.)

Turn off the heat and stir in the butter and maple syrup.

 

You can eat this now or later. You can add a dollop of sour cream, creme fraiche or plain yoghurt. You can serve it hot or chilled. It’s all yum, no matter what.

If I was really awesome, I’d bake some fresh bread to serve with it, but alas, I am not that awesome today. I have too much to do outside the kitchen. But you? YOU should bake some fresh bread.

Selina’s Favorite “Green Soup”

This is easy-peasy, delicious and super healthful. Selina begs me to make it.

Green Soup

1 head of cauliflower

2 heads of brocolli

1 large onion

1 large potato

1 quart of broth (any kind–I’ve used chicken, veggie and mushroom–all are good)

4 or 5 tablespoons of butter

salt and pepper to taste

Put the broth on the stove to heat while chopping all the veggies. Toss them in the pot and cook until they’re all soft. Puree with a blender or food processor. Add the butter and stir until melted. (You can skip it if you’re vegan or something, but it really makes a difference.) Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve!

Home School Update

Yes, yes, we put the kids in school. But I have mentioned before that this does not mean we are not still home schooling just about 24/7–as most parents do, without thinking of it in those terms.

One of the down sides of school for Nat, in particular has been that she is absolutely wiped out by school and we don’t have any time left to do much of anything else. That said, school is good. It about covers most of the things we want the kids to be doing anyway. It’s just that some of those things would be nice to do–or also do–at home, or otherwise within the family.

So. Weekends.

Cole signed the girls up for dance lessons on Saturday mornings and they do “creative movement” and “pre-ballet” and “hip-hop” for a total of an hour. I have to confess here, that if Selina were not the “Me Too!” baby sister of the family, I wouldn’t bother signing her up to continue. She wants to do what Nat is doing, but she really doesn’t seem all that interested in the dance classes per se. But it’s not a huge thing and so they go along with Cole and I sleep late on Saturday mornings. Sundays, one or both of them go to church with me and Cole gets the morning off.

So that has been about it as far as any official activities are concerned. Anything else you might call “home schooling” has been easy-breezy unschooling in the sense of just looking for chances to push their little brains a bit further in whatever direction they are wandering in at any given moment. Yesterday, Selina and I brainstormed jobs one can do when one grows up that involve spending lots of time with animals. We discussed being anything from a veterinarian to a rancher.

But lately I’ve been feeling guilty, given the importance food has in my parenting philosophy (which is the philosophy of MY parenting–not yours, so please do not misread here and think that I am being prescriptive for anyone else!), for not spending more concerted time in the kitchen with, at least, Nat, who is over six and a half now.

The recent BlogHer Book Club selection I’ve been reading and discussing (Lunch Wars)  has done nothing but deepen my chagrin. After reading about Jamie Oliver in Lunch Wars, I looked up Food Revolution on Hulu and Cole and I watched it obsessively. Now, it definitely has its shortcomings. Cole’s family is from West Virginia and the cultural and class aspects of the problem were, essentially, not discussed at all. But, it was network television, so they are hardly going to take on The Man, now are they? Otherwise, we found the thing moving and educational (if a little grand stand-y at times–but again with network television) and motivating.

Now, our poshy-posh-posh private Montessori school (for which we are exceptionally grateful every minute of every day) doesn’t do food service for most kids. But for the whole-day preschoolers, they cater in meals from a local company that provides all-organic, mostly locally-sourced food with a complete and attractive vegetarian option to schools and nursing homes and other institutions. I don’t know what it costs the parents at our school because we are not its market. But I pored over the website and discovered that the company won a grant to participate in programs to get food like theirs (and indeed their food) into the most underserved public schools in our area too, so that made me feel good about it. They are not just a luxury item for the wealthy, but a movement of a sort. Their food service also includes visits from a truck carrying veggies growing in pots and field trips for the school kids to visit farms, so it’s a very wholistic approach.

But it’s hardly a wide-spread phenomenon, and Jamie Oliver’s TED talk about this stuff suggested that every public high school graduate ought to be leaving school able to cook ten easy, healthy meals. That sounds wise to me. (Again with our poshy-posh-posh school–the 4th-6th grade room has a full kitchen where the kids cook meals for themselves and the staff and teachers on the reg.) I didn’t really learn to cook until Cole and I decided to adopt. Then I knew I wanted to give my kids a different food culture from the one I grew up with and I bought The Joy of Cooking and learned to boil an egg.

The upshot of my investigations into and thinking about all this is that I started feeling really guilty about not cooking with Nat.

So today we have started at the very beginning–”Get the colander” “What’s a colander?” Then we cleaned and chopped broccoli and cauliflower and potatoes (I helped her with the chef’s knife and am going to teach her to use it). We learned about how sometimes we put stuff into the compost, but sometimes (given our limited compost space and long winter) we put it down the garbage disposal. Yes indeed, we do. She and I are making a delicious soup.

The plan is to do this every Saturday.

Wish us luck.

Cornbread Stuffed with Yum

Melt two tablespoons of bacon grease in a medium skillet.

Add some chopped green tomatoes (I used what was left on the vine of my grape tomato plants) and some sweet red pepper.

Saute.

Mix up a batch of cornbread batter, leaving out butter oil or shortening.

Add sauteed veggies along with the grease to the batter and blend well.

Pour the batter back into the greasy skillet and put it in the oven at 350 degrees (F) for twenty minutes (or however long your cornbread recipe calls for).

Serve to hungry people and pretend to be humble while they gush.