Friday, August 9, 2013

My Oil Collection, and how I use it.

I love oil.

For cooking, for making salves and lip balms, and for plenty of other uses. I've gathered a pretty nice collection for my apartment, and I thought it would be fun to share it!
 Have you heard of those Misto sprayers? Well, I have one. I got it at World Market several months ago, and I personally really enjoy using it. I don't use spray oil often, but when I do, I sure don't want to use Pam. Have you heard what's in that stuff? So, I followed the directions that came with my Misto, and I've never had a problem with it!

 You can fill it with whatever you'd like. I typically fill mine with grapeseed oil. You'll learn more about grapeseed oil below!

 So, grapeseed oil. Probably the most versatile oil you can own. It has a high smoke point, so I'm comfortable doing most stovetop cooking with it. It has a very light/neutral flavor. Generally, I can't taste it at all in my food. Because it emulsifies well, it is also great for making homemade mayonnaise! The two bottles below were purchased at Trader Joe's and a co-op near my town.

 Extra virgin olive oil is a classic, so I'm sure you already have 100 uses for it. I mostly use it in pasta and to make dressings. You can buy it at almost any supermarket or grocery store.

Sunflower seed oil is light, and a good substitute for vegetable oil (for baking oil-based cakes and such). I often use it in baking, when a recipe calls for "vegetable oil." I also used it for some time when I was trying the oil-cleansing method for my face. I bought this particular bottle at Trader Joe's.

 Dark sesame oil is good for stir frying, if you like its flavor. It has a strong and very present flavor, which also makes it good for stir-fry sauces. I don't use it very often, though. Mostly for special occasion stir fry's. You can buy it in the asian section of most supermarkets.

 Mustard oil is pretty new to me! My dad bought it for me at an asian store, and I haven't found a use for it yet. The bottle reads, "For external use only," so naturally I had to research it. It's a pretty controversial oil! If I ever find a good external use, I'll be sure to let you know.

 Peanut oil is great for stir frying. It is my go-to oil (unless I'm making the stir fry for someone who is allergic to peanuts!). I bought this particular oil at a Korean food store.

 Coconut oil. This stuff is wonderful, and it has gained a lot of popularity recently. I use it sometimes for stir-frying, for asian noodle dishes, and as a moisturizer. My newest use involves adding a tablespoon or so to my morning cup of coffee. The one on the left was purchased at an amish bulk food store, and I got the one on the right at a natural food store.

I also own a small container of palm oil (sorry for not having a picture--it's packed away for my new apartment) which I bought at an amish bulk foods store. I plan to use it as a substitute for Crisco in certain recipes.

My oil collection is growing all the time, and I love finding new uses for each of these oils! Let me know if you have any interesting uses for these oils!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

How to eat well when you are making minimum wage.

Quinoa Salad. Click here for the recipe.

I get excited when I see stuff on Pinterest about "Eating Whole Foods on a Budget" or similar promotions. However, I get frustrated when these things only give options that don't seem to apply to me! I'm a "poor college student" in a town where the nearest Whole Foods or Trader Joe's is over two hours away, where the farmer's market only runs from June to August, and where a package of organic tofu generally runs about five dollars.

Still, I've found myself recently getting questions from friends about how I can afford to eat well and still pay my rent. I have always been a pretty frugal gal, so here are my tips on eating well when you are making minimum wage. I know, I know, you've heard it all--"shop at the farmer's market," "pay attention to the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen." I hear these tips over and over it. So I tried to come up with some different ideas.

1. Know where to buy certain foods that you frequently use, and unless there is an especially good sale elsewhere, stick to it. For example, I know that at a Korean food store about 50 minutes away, I can buy organic tofu, noodles, and even oils for half the price (or better!) than I'll ever find these things in my town. The catch may be that this place is nearly an hour away, but typically, it isn't too hard to find people heading that direction. I stock up (paying attention to expiration dates, and planning to use or freeze all of it), and I am usually set for a couple months.

2. Know your priorities when it comes to food, and save money elsewhere to make them happen. Yes, I buy organic milk and free-range eggs. How can I afford it? By saving money on other foods. For instance, I do a lot of my grocery shopping here in town at a new experimental store called Ruler Foods (if there is one near you, check it out!). It even has some really nice organic stuff. Stuff here is super cheap (Think Aldi, but in general, better quality foods), and it allows me to spend a little extra on items I really care about.

3. Buy in bulk from trusted sources. There is an Amish community half an hour away, and my family regularly makes trips to Beachy's Bulk Foods, an awesome store owned and operated by the Amish people of that area. This is where I buy spices, dried herbs, honey, and a lot of hard-to-find (in my town, anyway) pantry staples, like spelt flour, sprouted whole wheat flour, oat flour, etc. Prices here are incredibly reasonable. If you can find an organic bulk supplier or similar store nearby, or even an online supplier, take advantage of it.

4. Keep a well-stocked pantry. Keep plenty of healthy grains, beans, frozen vegetables, etc. on hand. This way, when you get the urge to eat out or order pizza, it will be easier to convince yourself otherwise. When you've got tasty and healthy food on hand, you will use it. This may be hard to get used to, but just like exercise, diet, or whatever, it takes diligence.

5. Don't buy pre-packaged/processed meals if you can avoid it. They are overpriced, full of things you don't need in your body, and you can make meals yourself. Get a cookbook, or search Pinterest. I'm a busy college student who works and is very involved on campus, and even I can commit to cooking most meals for myself. I promise, it's doable!

6. When veggies are in season, buy them, use them, and freeze them. This will save you a lot of money. Try to eat seasonally as much as possible, too. Seasonal produce is cheaper and better!

7. Cook big meals and eat leftovers. I don't know why leftovers gross so many people out. I think they make a great lunch for the next day! I'm learning to cook huge meals, then eat the leftovers for a couple meals later. It not only saves time, but also money.

8. Speaking of lunch, pack yourself a lunch. Get yourself a nice looking lunchbox and pack yourself a healthy lunch! Don't go to Subway and think that six dollar meal is saving you money. Every time you pack a meal instead of eating out, you are saving yourself at least some money. It adds up!

9. This is only somewhat related to food, but it will save you money for food. Use Reusable items whenever possible. Ditch paper towels and napkins if you can, use jars to store things--whatever you can think of. Just try to find a second use for things, and it will save you money over time.

10. Plan your meals, and use everything you buy. I don't always shop with a week's worth of meal plans, but I have a select group of groceries that I know I'll use. Buy food with a purpose. Have some sort of plan for it, whether that's using this week, or preserving it for later use.

I hope that you found these tips to be useful and feasible. These rules for food shopping have really helped me, and I hope they can do the same for you!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Wedding and a Funeral.

Have you seen the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral? I didn't go to four weddings recently. However, today I went to both a wedding and a funeral. Actually, I participated in both a wedding and a funeral. The wedding was for two friends of mine, Gabe and Katie. I wasn't a bridesmaid. I was a flower girl.

Yes, I know, I'm 20 years old. It's okay to have a flower girl of any age. It's okay to have a flower boy, too. It's your wedding. It's really okay to do what you want!

Anyway, the wedding was a really cute DIY-esque evening event. They sang their vows to each other, which was absolutely precious. And then, they decided to lock their bikes together, as a symbol of their unity. Adorable.

Now, about that funeral.

Mr. Daum passed away a week ago. He was a great person who inspired me when I was younger and definitely assisted in my path to music education. You can read his full obituary here. I performed with a group from the Charleston Community Band at his funeral this morning. It was such an interesting and emotional funeral. There was great involvement of music in the service, which was so nice. It honored him well. Especially when we played A Dixieland Jazz Funeral to close. Everyone was singing along, and seeing his family smiling but in tears was so touching. What an amazing person Mr. Daum was, and I am so happy to have known him.

And just for one finale update, I have hit the 60 day point with my no shampoo challenge. Speaking of which, it's really not a challenge anymore. The amount of time I can go between my baking soda/vinegar rinses is increasing all the time, and I am loving my hair these days.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Oriental Vegetables and Tofu.

A post from me regarding tofu is long-overdue.

Seriously, I can't believe I've not posted about tofu yet on this blog.

I eat tofu at least a couple times a week. I would more often if it didn't involve thinking at least a couple hours in advance before meal time. The way I do tofu, I press it for about an hour (sometimes longer, because I'm at work or in class or something), then marinate it for an hour or so (again, sometimes longer), then fry it over medium heat. And yes, that's a long process, I know, but it just turns out so incredibly delicious. It's nearly perfect. There's only one thing more perfect.

There's this dish at my favorite restaurant. T. Garden Thai Restaurant. And to me, it's just called "Number 34," because that's the easiest way to order it. It's also known as "Oriental Vegetables and Tofu." Once I tried this dish, I never went back. I will always order this dish for two reasons. One, because it's the most perfect thing I've ever tasted. And two, because every time I taste it, I get a little closer to figuring out what makes it so perfect.

There are a few things to know about this dish:
1. It contains stir-fried bits of broccolini, eggplant, red and yellow bell peppers, bamboo shoots, green beans, onions, and bean sprouts.
2. I don't think it's necessarily a Thai dish. I get the feeling it's more Cantonese.
3. The sauce does not specifically taste like anything. It's not overly garlicky, not too soy saucey, not especially hot. Not too anything.
4. The tofu's texture is perfect. Crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside.
5. It costs a dollar less at lunch time. Had to include that info.

I will tell you right now that my version does not do this dish even the tiniest bit of justice, but mine is still really good. I tend to use whatever appropriate veggies I happen to have on hand. Since I try to eat seasonally, this dish has a lot of summer veggies.

Oriental Vegetables and Tofu

Stir Fry:
1 tbs coconut oil
1 baby bok choy, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, shredded
1/4 purple cabbage, chopped
(plus whatever else you've got)
2 blocks of tofu
fresh ground black pepper
1 tbs sesame oil
1/2 cup soy or tamari sauce
1/4 cup sugar
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp basil
1 tbs vegetarian worcestershire sauce (optional)
1 tbs rice vinegar (optional, but nice to have)
1/2 cup water combined with 1 tbs corn starch
crushed red pepper to taste

Begin by making the sauce. In a small sauce pan, add the sesame oil and garlic. Saute for a moment, then add liquids aside from corn starch and water. If you are adding crushed red pepper, now is the time to add that. Stir and simmer for a few minutes, then add the water and corn starch mixture. Continue to simmer. Let cool and set aside. I often make mine a day or two in advance.

Prep the tofu. Cut the block into bite-sized pieces. I like to make thin triangular pieces. It's fun and they cook well. Using a (clean!) kitchen towel and a thin cloth (or paper towel), press the tofu between several layers of cloth. Add a nice library book or two on top, to help press it nicely. Wait an hour or so. For a visual step-by-step of this, see below.

The mighty and powerful tofu block, untouched by my hands.

Cut into triangles. Below is a kitchen towel and a cloth napkin.

Next, I place another cloth napkin as well as another towel on top, followed by a few books to help press it well.

When you come back, your tofu should be well-pressed. In a bowl or sealable container, marinate your tofu. I like to use some sriracha, soy sauce, and black pepper. Make sure all pieces are coated, and set in the fridge for a bit. At least half an hour.

Make the stir-fry. Use a good frying pan (well-seasoned cast iron, stainless steel, even a good non-stick pan is fine) and coat it with coconut oil (sesame oil can be nice, too!). Let it heat up to medium heat, and add the tofu. Be patient. The heat isn't super high, so this isn't going to happen in five minutes. After several minutes, flip all the tofu. It should be nicely browned. Continue watching and flipping every three minutes or so, until it reaches a nice "caramelized" appearance. Add vegetables to this pan, adding a little more oil if necessary, and fry lightly for a few minutes. Season with ground pepper, and continue to cook. Turn heat down to medium-low, and add sauce. Cook an additional minute or so. Serve with a pot of jasmine tea.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Earl Grey Shortbread Bites.

Just a warning. These aren't healthy...

I am fascinated by using earl grey tea to bake tasty treats. These shortbread bites are not only simple to make, but wonderfully yummy. Like, melt in your mouth yummy. I got the idea from a book I found in mom's collection, "Simply Homemade Food Gifts." In the book, these little cuties are made with colorful sprinkles folded in. I thought it would be fun to try to make them with tea instead (since, you know, I adore tea). They turned out wonderfully, and I'd definitely suggest you give them a try if you are in need of a very quick treat!

1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tbs sugar (I used raw sugar and it worked fine)
1/2 cup butter
2 bags earl grey tea (I used Twinings)

Mix flour, sugar, and butter together until it becomes crumbly. You will probably want to use some type of mixer for this. Add the earl grey tea (make sure it isn't a "full leaf" variety--you want something with very small bits of tea), stir, and form the mixture into a ball. Knead it well, then roll or flatten it onto a cookie sheet. This is tricky... or at least, it was for me. I ended up doing this in small chunks, as I had a really difficult time getting the dough to stick together and not crumble. Cut this into squares (approximately 1/2 inch to an inch), and separate squares onto the cookie sheet. Bake at 325 for 12 to 14 minutes. Mine baked closer to 12 minutes.

Let cool. These will keep for several days in an airtight container, or you could freeze them for later!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

One-Pot Pasta and Baked Summer Veggies.

I haven't posted a recipe in some time, so this is long-overdue. I'm sorry.

However, I saw this "one-pot pasta" all over Pinterest, and had to check it out. Originally, the recipe comes from Martha Stewart, but I ended up looking at this recipe for inspiration, and loosely adapted it.

For a side, I did a sort of baked vegetable dish, using zucchini, summer squash, onion, and roma tomatoes. You may notice that it is pretty similar to this dish. I chose not to use potatoes, though.

The flavors of these two dishes paired well together, and the meal was nice enough for a Father's Day dinner for my family.

Here are the recipes:

One-Pot Pasta


12 ounces linguine (or similar pasta)
3.5 to 4 cups of vegetable broth 
1 15oz can petite diced tomatoes
1/2 large yellow onion, julienned
2 cloves garlic, sliced (I would have used more, but my mom isn't a huge fan)
dash of red pepper flakes (again, I would have used more if not for my mother)
3 fresh oregano leaves, chopped
4 fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 tbs olive oil

Begin by chopping the veggies/herbs. Put half of the chopped herbs in a very small dish with the olive oil. Set aside (or refrigerate). Now, bring broth to a boil (I used one of those little Knorr tubs that makes 3.5 cups) in a large pot. Once the pot is boiling, add everything except the olive oil/herb mixture. Keep an eye on it and stir occasionally. After about ten minutes, add the oil/herb mixture, and stir well. I opted not to cook this dish until all liquid had evaporated, because I didn't want the pasta to be too soft. I estimate that I let it cook about 13 to 15 minutes, then strained out some of the liquid, leaving a little at the bottom. That's it. Pretty easy, huh?

Baked Summer Veggies


1 zucchini, sliced
1 yellow squash, sliced
3 roma tomatoes, sliced
1/2 large yellow onion, sliced into large pieces
1 tbs olive oil
Parmesan cheese (optional)
black pepper to taste
basil, garlic, thyme, etc to taste
sea salt to taste

Spread olive oil over the bottom of a casserole dish. Chop all veggies, and arrange in the dish (see my picture for inspiration. Ha.)... This can be tricky with the oil, but have patience--it will be okay. Season to taste with herbs mentioned above, or your own herbs.

Onions chopped in fairly large slices.

Put in the oven on 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, covered with foil or a similar covering. After this amount of time, take out, remove foil (carefully--it might be steaming a lot). Sprinkle parmesan cheese on, and return to the oven, without the foil. Let it bake another 25 minutes or so. Yum.

Finished product. Delicious.

Oh, and the pasta, just so you can get an idea of the consistency.

These were both delicious, and my parents gave this meal a high rating. Happy Father's Day!

Shopping, a lemonade recipe, and the purge.

 Yesterday, I went on a shopping trip with my father and Mark (happy Father's Day, by the way!). It wasn't the type of shopping trip I'd go on with my mom. Instead, we went to Strawberry Fields (a natural food store with great selection and not-so-great prices), Am-Ko (an Asian food store--highly authentic and awesome prices), and World Harvest (a store with tons of food from around the world, as well as gourmet and unusual foods). If you are ever in the Champaign, IL area, all of these stores are located very close to the U of I campus, and are definitely worth checking out.

At World Harvest, I got these "If You Care" gloves--just to check them out. I love wearing gloves while cleaning and washing dishes, and these gloves seemed like a pretty awesome investment. They are fair trade, ethically-sourced, and biodegradable. All of that sounded pretty great to me. They seem to be of very good quality, which is great, because they were five dollars. I like to spend my money well.

Unfortunately, they are bright green, which doesn't exactly match my kitchen!
Also purchased yesterday:
- Peanut oil
- Textured vegetable protein
- Arrowroot powder
- seaweed sheets (for making sushi!)
- washcloths
- rice noodles
- soba noodles
- and more!

Overall, it was a great shopping trip, and a wonderful way to spend a Saturday. And did I mention that we went to the Golden Wok Thai/Chinese Restaurant, too? We got vegetables and tofu. Yum.

Let's see. I've been doing some other interesting stuff lately, right? Oh, right, I made some delicious lemonade the other day. The old fashioned way, of course. Here's the recipe I used from the book, Back to Basics:

1 quart water
4 lemons
1 cup raw sugar (I used a little less)

First, juice the lemons. Then, put the peels on a bowl, and cover with the raw sugar. I only did these with half of the peels, because I used to other half to infuse vinegar. Let sit for 30 minutes, then pour one quart of boiling water over the sugar and peels. Let cool. Combine with lemon juice. Taste, and water down as necessary. I probably added at least a cup and a half of water, because it was so sweet. But either way, it is absolutely delicious.

Now, for the purge.

I really don't wear makeup often. Mostly because it's expensive (I won't buy products that have been tested on animals, which is difficult and guilt-inducing, because many of the products within these products have been tested), and adds a lot of time to my morning routine. Still, I own a lot of makeup that has been gathered through the years (pretty gross, now that I think about it). Same with hair supplies. Having been no-'poo for almost seven weeks now, I have not been using any products (hairspray, mousse, etc.) whatsoever. And lotions, creams, powders, etc. with gross ingredients just freak me out. It's time to purge. In favor of more natural alternatives (I've been looking up homemade versions of these things!), I am attempting to rid myself of most of these products. The problem I'm facing is, what on earth do I do with all these stuff? I'll let you know how it turns out...

Monday, June 10, 2013


Four little finches, relaxing on this Monday afternoon...

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Two Green Cleaning Books: A Review.

Working at a library certainly has its benefits, and one of my favorite parts is how often I hear about interesting books, from patrons and other librarians alike. Librarians, generally speaking, seem to be pretty green people, which is awesome, because I get to hear about books such as these:

I love the idea of green cleaning, and if you do, too, then you may enjoy these books. However, these books are helpful for different things.

Green This! is not only informative, but also an interesting read. All profits of this book go to Imus Ranch, which helps and empowers kids with cancer, which is pretty awesome in itself. If you are on the fence about whether or not to switch to green cleaning methods, reading this book will almost certainly convince you to go green. Reading about all the chemicals used gave me an eerie feeling, and I am more ready than ever to switch pretty much everything for a more green alternative. However, if you want recipes for homemade cleaners, this is not the book for you. The author makes a lot of recommendations for eco-friendly and non-toxic products, but does not give recipes. Some of the information regarding essential oils is interesting, but often unclear of how much to use. Over all, I would say this book is more informative and convincing--definitely worth reading, and especially helpful if you are looking for where to buy eco-friendly cleaners.

Green Cleaning for Dummies is full of green alternatives to the toxic ways we are used to cleaning. Not only does it give several recipes, but it also gives short, sweet, easy to understand alternatives to how you may be cleaning your home. Here is an example recipe:

Minty Fresh All-Purpose Cleaner

2 tbs peppermint liquid castile soap
1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup vinegar
water to fill 1 quart spray bottle

*mix all ingredients in bottle. Spray on cloth, mop, or directly on surface

It is not only incredibly informative on how to clean, but it also delves into an equally important issue of keeping your home free of dust mites, stress, etc., as opposed to just getting rid of the toxins.

Both of these books have been interesting to read, and I look forward to utilizing their tips and tricks.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

All-Natural Disinfectant.

I love all the recipes I find on Pinterest for natural cleaning solutions! I've been using infused vinegar for some time now (I even got my skeptical boyfriend to love the stuff!). Now I am finding myself branching out a little with the homemade cleaners. This recipe is a little more in-depth than some you'll find, but it really works well!

You will need:

A spray bottle (I got the one pictured at Big Lots for a few bucks, and I love it)
1/2 cup lavender-infused vinegar--see below (or, alternatively, use white vinegar and 10 - 20 drops of lavender essential oil)
1 tsp washing soda
2 cups hot, distilled water
10 drops tea tree oil (or more!)

To do:

If you choose to infuse the vinegar with lavender, simply combine a tablespoon of lavender buds with hot vinegar in a jar, and let sit for a week or so. Strain. Easy as that!

Combine the vinegar and washing soda together (there will be some fizzing/bubbling), next add the castile soap and hot water (not boiling). Let cool, and if desired, add a few more drops of essential oils of your choice (I'd recommend tea tree or lavender).

This disinfectant works well on most surfaces, but due to the vinegar, do not use it on granite or marble. The washing soda makes it very effective against grease, so I especially like to use it on my stove top. Enjoy your homemade disinfectant!

Natural dishwashing.

Maybe it's weird, but I love to wash dishes. A huge pile of dishes may be daunting at first, but it really isn't that bad. My family has never used a dishwasher, ever. As in, I am 20 years old, and I had never used one until I met my boyfriend a year ago. Yes, our house has a dishwasher. Growing up, it was used as a second pantry! We stored food in it instead of using it. We always hand wash, and I have played a role in the dish washing process since I was very young. As I've gotten older, I've found myself truly enjoying washing dishes. It's relaxing! However, when I move out this August, I will have a dishwasher in my apartment (with a roommate who will probably want to use it!), so who knows if I'll change up my routine. But as for now, this is what I like to use to wash my dishes.

Castile Dish Soap.

There are several tutorials online for turning a bar of soap into liquid soap. Just type it into a search engine and you are sure to find something. I personally take half a bar of Kirk's Castile Soap, grate it up, add it to 10 cups or so of hot water on the stovetop, and add about a tablespoon of glycerin. Once it is mostly cooled and thickened, I mix it really well with my stand-up mixer as I add about half a cup of vinegar and several drops of lemongrass essential oil. It smells lovely for dish washing! It can be added to a pump, a squeeze bottle--whatever you desire for your kitchen. So far it has worked well and gotten the dishes plenty clean.

Natural Sponges.

Sponges suck. Buying them sucks, too. My newest idea is buying one of those big (6 inches or so) natural loofahs, and cutting them into five or six sponges! I have found these at Big Lots for only $1.50--which is great, considering I'll get several sponges out of it. The best part is that I can compost it when I'm finished (assuming I used only natural cleaning solutions with it).

Cutting it into pieces can be tricky. The best method I've found is to get the entire sponge drenched, place it on a cutting board, and use my sharpest knife to cut through it. 

The sponge does not scratch non-stick surfaces, and it works really well for cleaning stainless steel. So far I'm super impressed, and I plan to continue using it. And of course, when it just isn't right for the job, I use a washcloth or rag.

Friday, May 31, 2013

No shampoo, 30 days later.

You may notice that I only say "no shampoo," as opposed to "no shampoo, as well as the oil cleansing method." More on that later...

The last time I used shampoo was Tuesday, April 30th, the day of my Junior Standing Jury here at EIU (which I passed, by the way). Since then, my hair has gone through tremendous ups and downs. Some good, some bad, and some in between. I should have taken a picture that day, but silly me, I didn't think of it. Here are some pictures that were taken within a month of me starting this challenge:

Cooking tofu stir fry, of course. See my hair? Long, pretty thin, kind of dull and limp.

Dad and I at the greenhouse. My hair is long, as you can see, but it's pretty thin and limp.

Here's the low down:

Week 1:
Hair was disgusting. After four days I used a ton of baking soda. Hair felt cleaner, but still really oily compared to what I was used to. So I waited two days and used more. I continued this for the first week. My hair still felt sticky, or damp, or something, but the ends were somewhat dry, even though I was using apple cider vinegar.

Week 2:
One day this week, I curled my hair for a concert. It was the weirdest smell--like burning scalp--even though I had used the baking soda. The curls barely held, because I didn't want to put anything in my hair to hold them. That was frustrating, but I continued trying. Still keeping up with the every other day baking soda washes, my hair was feeling incredibly sticky and frizzy in the back of my head, even though my hair looked clean. I wasn't sure what was going on. I also noticed my hair feeling especially tangled, which got me pretty bummed.

Week 3:
Dry. My hair was so dry, I thought it was all going to break off. It was incredibly tangled, still, but dry, frizzy, and just not feeling right. I ended up putting some vegetable glycerin in it one night (before I went to bed) toward the end of this week, which helped a lot, but it was still feeling pretty dry the next day.

Week 4:
This week started off much like the previous week. My hair was okay, but pretty dry. Then, on Saturday, the 25th day of no shampoo, something happened. My hair felt absolutely glorious. So soft, very little frizz, volume, and the ends were hydrated and healthy looking! Here's the thing, though. That morning, I took my shower at a house about two hours south of where I live, where there is very, very soft water. So I was left to wonder, can a difference in water really change things that much? Since then, though, my hair has still been pretty soft.


This challenge has been pretty interesting. It was really difficult for the first week or two, and in the end, am I totally happy with my hair? Well, I'm not sure yet! I think I need another few weeks to really decide. My hair is definitely much softer at the top, and much more voluminous, too. That's the really big thing I've noticed--so much more natural volume to my hair. It feels like it isn't being weighed down. However, the ends are dryer than I'd like, in general, and my hair tangles so easily--it can be a huge hassle to de-tangle it in the morning. I have a feeling this is because it's so long, though. This is why I'd like to give this challenge at least a few more weeks before I make a final decision. Below is a picture of me with my 'poo-free hair. Completely natural. Washed with baking soda, rinsed with ACV, air-dried, and brushed.

Hair. Feels healthy, looks fairly healthy.

So what about the oil cleansing method?

Well, about a week and a half in, my face broke out like crazy. I mean, really, really bad. Maybe it had nothing to do with it--who knows! However, I was desperate, so I switched to using only the Castile Soap with tea tree oil, then used aloe and tea tree oil as a moisturizer/acne fighter. My face is looking really good these days. I am still sort of experimenting, but I've found that the Castile Soap is working great as a cleanser, and I alternate between vegetable glycerin and coconut oil as a moisturizer. It has been working really well.

Friday, May 24, 2013

How do we teach music?

While I may not bring it up too often in this blog, my primary "job" is a musician, and more importantly, a music teacher. And though I may not yet have my degree, I give bassoon lessons to several students, and have recently found myself with opportunities to instruct larger groups of young musicians.

Pictured below is a very influential woman in my life, Mrs. Ginger Stanfield. Mrs. Stanfield recently had her very last concert, after teaching band for 35 years. She was my beginning band director 10 years ago, and fortunately, as I have lived in the same town since then, we have kept in touch. As a music education major, I have done much of my observation time with her. Through this, I have seen both sides of the process: I was once her student, and now, as a future music educator, I have observed the meaning behind her methods.

I believe there are two key things Mrs. Stanfield does that make a difference:
1. System. There is a noticeable system in her band room, and the students know it. They follow all of her guidelines, and they know exactly what the consequences will be if they don't. She sets up classroom management from the very first day.
1. Music. Mrs. Stanfield not only teaches the students how to make sounds on their instruments. She teaches them dynamics, phrasing, and musicianship from the very beginning. It may not sound as beautiful as we'd like, as these are only fifth and sixth graders. However, they are learning music.

I believe these two things are the key to starting musicians, as opposed to starting a beginning band.

But back to my story...

I have taught several students so far in my college career, and it is easy to see the differences among how some students perceive music.

To one of my students particularly, music is all notes. Nothing more. Hardly even rhythm, sometimes. I can say 1,000 times how I'd love to hear this whole note go from a piano to a forte, and there will never be even the slightest difference. I can use analogies, examples, and spend 15 minutes on one whole note, and sadly, it will always be about two seconds long, mezzo forte, and have no purpose whatsoever.

I hope I'm not a bad teacher. I really do. My other students have been different, so that must mean something, right?

For example, one of my other students, who is about five years younger than the student I just mentioned, is a musician already. Not only does he play about three other instruments, but he plays bassoon like a real champ. I don't say this because he plays the right notes. I say this because as a 12 year old, he follows the dynamics, takes breaths where they naturally occur, and asks how he can make certain lines sound better.

Here's the thing. I think I have nothing to do with the above situations. I really think it's got nothing to do with me. I think it has to do with their first music teacher, or their first band director.

This is why I try not to get so bummed about the first student I mentioned. I just continue to teach lesson after lesson, waiting, because one day it's going to click. She's going to make the most beautiful sound on that bassoon, and the reason I'm going into music education will, once again, seem just right.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Quinoa Vegetable Salad.

I am generally guilty of eating a lot of wraps and sandwiches for lunch. And of course these things can be awesome (and they usually are), but when I kept seeing this recipe on Pinterest, I knew I had to check it out. The original recipe comes from The Garden Grazer, and it can be found here. Through this recipe, I also found the blog itself to be wonderful, and I would highly recommend looking at it! But back to this delicious recipe. I changed it just a little from the original, so I would recommend taking a look at both to see which suits your tastes!

You will need:
1 cup of uncooked quinoa
1 can of garbanzo beans (mine was 14oz)
2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 bell pepper (I used green because it was what I had at the time)
1 can of corn, rinsed and drained
4 green onions (more or less to taste!)
2 tbs olive oil
1.5 tbs lemon juice
2 tsp dried basil
feta crumbles to taste (omit for vegan diets, of course!)
fresh ground pepper to taste

To do:
Cook your quinoa according to these instructions, if you have never done it before. Meanwhile, make your dressing by whisking together the olive oil, lemon juice, and basil. Set it aside. Chop the veggies into small pieces, drain the corn and garbanzo beans, and set aside. Combine everything, including dressing, into a large bowl, and mix thoroughly. Add feta, if desired. Season with fresh ground pepper, and mix again.

I have had this in the fridge for five days now (I just finished the last of it) and it kept just fine. Make a big batch and eat on it for a while. Yum!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Why I am a vegetarian.

I was not raised on a vegetarian diet.

I have been a vegetarian for about eight years. Being 20 years old, that is creeping on half of my life.

I don't have a suavely-formulated philosophy to back up my dietary choices. This post is not meant to persuade you to go vegetarian. While I would love for everyone to go vegetarian, I know this will never happen. I'm not being pessimistic. I am simply noting that we all view the world differently.

While I compare human trafficking (which many of us will immediately label as "wrong") to the way that factory farm animals are treated, you may not see it that way.

While you may be "pro-life," yet have something dead on your plate, maybe you see that as perfectly fine.

You'd never eat a dog, would you? How is your pet dog any different from the cow you just ate?

You may watch documentaries like Food, Inc., and say, "Oh my God, I'll never eat meat again!" Tomorrow, it will probably still be on your plate.

This I have come to terms with.

And I am trying to understand all of this, just as you are attempting to understand the way I see things.

I just think every life is beautiful. Whether it's a millionaire here in the United States who owns a restaurant or two, a child in Kenya who is fetching water for her family, or a mouse rooting through my family's trash. They are all beautiful lives.

I am a vegetarian because I share approximately 80% of my genes with cattle. (source)

I am a vegetarian because it takes 2,500 gallons of fresh water to produce one pound of beef, and over 3,000 children die everyday due to lack of access to fresh water. (source)

I am a vegetarian because worldwide, 60 billion animals each year are processed for human consumption, not including fish. (M.C. Appleby, Ed., et al, Long Distance Transport and Welfare of Farm Animals, Centre for Agricultural Bioscience International (CABI), 2008.)

I am a vegetarian because the "need" (to many people) for frog legs has left our world with 120 less amphibian species over the last several decades. (source)

I am a vegetarian because 870 million people in the world do not have enough to eat, and the US alone could feed 800 million of them with the grain it uses to maintain its livestock used for meat production. (source)

I am a vegetarian because I can't read the facts about how factory farm animals are treated without crying, which is why this list ends here.

I am a vegetarian because those pigs on that truck did not do a thing wrong.

I am a vegetarian because as a child, I was taught to be kind.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Thrift Store Curtain, or Cloth Napkins?

Yesterday, while looking around at our local thrift store, I found a valance-type curtain for 75 cents. My boyfriend Mark was in need of some place mats and cloth napkins for his place, so I hoped there would be enough material to meet those needs.

For the cloth napkins, I followed this tutorial. They turned out great.

For the place mats, I used the same concept to sew the napkins, but used one of my own place mats as a guide for measurements. They are a little thin, as I didn't have a nice fabric to line them with (in the future, I will definitely do that), but I am pleased with how they turned out. I had enough leftover material to make a nice little lavender sachet, too.

All of this for 75 cents? Thrift stores are the way to go.

Now, for an update. It has been a week since I transitioned to the "no shampoo method." It isn't easy, when you're used to shampooing daily. However, I am getting better at it, I think. I've been using a solution of water, baking soda, and a drop of tea tree oil every few days, then rinsing with apple cider vinegar. My hair is really long, so I don't think the ends are getting quite enough hydration. They are feeling very, very dry. I am looking to see if I can find any alternative solutions.

As for my face, the oil cleansing method, so far, is going well. I have not noticed a big change in my skin, other than not having to moisturize as often. More updates to come.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A more natural cleansing routine...

Today is May 1st, and today is the day that I am officially changing my personal cleansing routine.

I've been experimenting for a while, and I have settled on my decision:

1. For my face, I will be using the oil cleansing method.
2. For my hair, I am going shampoo-free.

Why try these methods, you ask? Look here and here.

Wish me luck!

Potato Taco Salad.

This meal is easy. This meal is delicious. This meal is filling.

A layer of small, chopped potatoes (but you could use larger chunks!). A layer of beans. Topped with vegetables. Yum. This serves one, but uses a big recipe of beans, because I like to save them for leftovers. Adjust accordingly.

You will need:

1/2 cup small chopped potatoes (cooked and seasoned with salt, pepper, and a little garlic)
1 can black beans
1 can pinto beans
1 can diced tomatoes and chiles
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 clove garlic, minced or whatever
1 tbs chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1 tbs taco seasoning
2 tbs orange juice
vegetables to top (I like using fajitas--made with peppers, onions, zucchini, mushrooms, etc.)

To do:

To make the beans, use a saucepan on medium heat, and saute the garlic and onions in a bit of olive oil. Add beans, tomatoes, orange juice, and seasonings. Cook on low to medium heat for 30 minutes or so. Meanwhile, you can saute some peppers and whatever else you'd like for fajitas. If not, use fresh vegetables--it's up to you! Put the potatoes in the bowl first, followed by the beans in vegetables. Dress with sour cream, Sriracha, cheese, etc. Enjoy!

Monday, April 29, 2013

All-Natural Shoe Deodorizer.

A moment of honesty: my feet smell pretty bad... sometimes. Mom has always told me, "If you would just wear socks, then your feet wouldn't smell."

Wearing socks isn't always practical. One of my favorite pairs of shoes is from the Green Toe line made by Simple. Unfortunately, this brand went out of business about a year ago, so they are no longer made. Bummer.

But either way, I love these shoes, and I will do whatever it takes to keep them smelling fresh. Here's my recipe for a natural deodorizer. I put it in a mason jar with a parmesan cheese shaker lid. Saw that on Pinterest once, so I had to find a clever use for it.

What you need:

Lavender, eucalyptus, and tea tree essential oils (or whatever)
3/4 cup baking soda
1/2 cup organic cornstarch (arrowroot powder would work well, too)

To do:

Mix the above ingredients until there are no clumps. Shake into offensive shoes. Leave for a few hours or overnight. Voila.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Recipe Review: Chickpea Bajane

Tonight, while I was over at Mark's place (by the way, we just celebrated our one year this past Wednesday!), I decided to try this new recipe.

How I stumbled upon this recipe is actually interesting in itself. I was at work a few weeks ago, and someone left a copy of this recipe by one of the printing stations. You can find the original recipe here.

I love anything vegetarian, as you know, and this seemed especially delicious, so I gave it a try!

Changes I made:
- unsalted vegetable broth (and I salted the recipe instead, although lightly)
- frozen spinach instead of fresh (so I added it along with the fennel and carrots)
- cooked the quinoa longer (it did not at all seem done after 15 minutes. I probably cooked it closer to 25 minutes)
- cooked the chickpea mixture longer after adding the final ingredients (probably 5 minutes)

This was totally different from anything I've ever made before, flavor-wise. The fennel (which I usually don't care for) was not too overpowering, but in the future, I would probably use less anyway, and more carrots. Would I make this again? Definitely! I will probably tweak it, though, so suit my own liking a little more. It was absolutely delicious, however, and I would definitely serve it to guests.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Potato Parmesan Soup.

Even though it's the end of March, we are under a "Winter Storm Warning" here in Illinois. It was about 55 degrees and sunny 20 hours ago, but you know. And honestly, it doesn't look so bad out there. It's mostly just really, really cold.

So of course, for lunch today, I made a great comforter for these cold days. Some delicious potato parmesan soup. My grandma has always made this for us when we come to visit during Christmas. I naturally have altered the recipe a little, mostly with some added spices. It may not be the healthiest soup out there, but it sure is delicious! Also, this recipe makes quite a bit. We like to save it and have some leftovers. If that isn't your intent, I would suggest halving the recipe. Enjoy!

You will need:

4 cups diced potatoes
2 cups chopped carrots
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped onions
4 cups water
2 cups milk
4 tbs margerine
4 tbs flour (I have experimented with whole wheat flour; it didn't go so well)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp basil
1 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp oregano
optional: 1/2 tsp paprika and 1 bay leaf


Chop the vegetables and boil/simmer them in the water for about 45 minutes. Basically until the potatoes and carrots seems edible. At this point, in a small sauce pan, begin making your sauce. I start with the butter and flour and "cook" it in the saucepan. Then I add the milk. This takes some patience, but I stir it and whisk it until it seems somewhat thick. Next, add it to the vegetables, which should still have water surrounding them. Now, add the parmesan cheese, and let it simmer just a little longer to thicken up. Stay warm while enjoying this soup!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The latest.

I've been pretty busy lately. By pretty busy, I mean to say that this has been the busiest year of my life thus far, and it's only March 23rd. Despite lots of school, work, concerts, etc., I have had some time to explore further into something that really interests me: herbal and natural ways of doing things.

Here are some of my latest findings:

 Echinacea tea. I get sick pretty often. It's part of music major culture. If it's a concert week, I'm going to get a cold, unfortunately. I am a firm believer in Vitamin C, and now Echinacea tea, as well. Combine these forces, and I'm feeling much less sniffly by the weekend--concert time, I mean.

Deodorant. Alright. Confession time. I get really bad cases of folliculitis in my underarms. Embarrassing, I know. As a preventative measure, I've been experimenting with my deodorant choices. I'd like to think I don't sweat too much under there, so baking soda was doing the trick for a while. However, since the weather is (hopefully) going to get warm soon, I thought I'd invest in  some of this For Pits Sake Lavender Deodorant. It smells awesome, and so far, it really seems to be working. It was about eight bucks at our health food store here in town. I may search for cheaper options.

(Sorry, no pictures for the next one.)

Vinegar. I've never been too into the smell, but I've been into cleaning with it for some time now. Lately, I've experimented with different infusions, and my favorite has been lavender. Basically, you boil some vinegar, pour it in a mason jar with some lavender (I only used about a tablespoon of dried lavender per 2 cups of vinegar, because I wanted to be sparing). I let it sit for two weeks, strained it, and ta-da! Water it down, and use it to clean. Awesome results.

So there you go. This is just some of what I've been up to lately.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

I need a new name.

The more I think about it, I am realizing how badly my blog needs a new name. Watercolor Problems is pretty clever, of course, but it doesn't exactly reflect my blog's content.

I'd like a name that is pretty clever, kind of catchy, not too cheesy, and that pertains to my blogging intentions. Which are, by the way, primarily recipes (vegetarian, of course), projects, and inspiration.

So, when I change the name, I'm nervous because all of people's repins on Pinterest will lead to bad links, right? Or will it automatically correct to the new url? Things to consider.

Anyway, be looking forward to a new name for this blog!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Sweet Pepper Risotto.

I'm tired of seeing risotto recipes with chicken broth, you know? Sure, I can easily substitute vegetable broth. But it's like people are saying risotto is only good when it's made with chicken broth. Forget that! Here's some very simple risotto with bell peppers and onions! Yum!

Risotto is so easy to make. Really. You just have to have a little patience. Here's what you need:

1 cup chopped bell peppers (I used red and orange)
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup arborio rice
3 cups vegetable broth
1 tbs olive oil
1 tbs margarine
1 tsp turmeric
black pepper and parmesan cheese to taste

What to do:

Start by sauteing the onions and bell peppers in the olive oil. After a couple minutes, add the rice, making sure it gets coated with oil. Add about 3/4 cup of vegetable broth. I like to water down my broth, because it tends to be too salty for my liking if I don't. This is up to you, of course!
Now, be patient. Wait for the rice to absorb the broth, then add more. You'll repeat this three or four times. Taste test the risotto to see if it's cooked. It will take at least 25 minutes. Now, add the turmeric, margarine, and parmesan cheese. Season with black pepper. Enjoy this savory dish!

Blueberry Pie.

My favorite fruit? Blueberries. Unquestionably. I love blueberry everything. It should come as no surprise, then, that my favorite kind of pie is blueberry. Maybe it screams summer to some, but I will gladly eat it any time. In fact, I made it for my family last Christmas. As usual, it was delicious. Here is my recipe. I've experimented with several recipes to find what really works for me. I got my original recipe from Fine Cooking magazine, so I'll go ahead and say this is loosely based on their recipe.

(Sorry this isn't the most glorious picture. I promise it tastes delicious.)

You'll need:

- 2 pie crusts (Go ahead and admit it, you'd rather buy pie crusts than make them)
- 4.5 cups of blueberries (honestly, I just use frozen ones half the time and thaw them out slightly)
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 tbs brown sugar
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tbs lemon juice
- pinch of cinnamon
- pinch of salt
- 1 egg white, for the crust


I make my pies by combining all the filling (so, everything but the egg white) in a sealable container, then shaking it up. Some people just kind of layer it in the pie. I have no experience with that, so I can only speak for my own way, which I do because Mom has always done it this way! With that in mind, assemble your filling and dump it into the bottom crust, which should of course be lining the pie dish. Next, I "paint" around the edge of the crust with the egg white. I prefer lattice crusts, and I'd like to think it really is quite simple to do. Basically, I just cut the other crust into strips using a pizza cutter, and I weave them in and out. After this is done, I "paint" the entire lattice with the egg white, and sprinkle sugar on it. This part is completely optional. I just think it's tasty. Bake it at 375 degrees, checking every thirty minutes or so. In the end, for about an hour and thirty minutes. Now, I like to wrap the edges of my crust with foil after about the first twenty minutes to keep them from burning. Let me know if anyone has any better solutions!

Enjoy your pie!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Potatoes O'Brien with Sriracha

I'll admit it. I love starchy foods. And I absolutely love potatoes, cooked in every way possible. This morning for breakfast, I thought I'd cook up some Potatoes O'Brien with Sriracha. If heat isn't your thing, you can always omit the Sriracha, replace it with ketchup, whatever you fancy.

Here's what you do...

You need:
1 tbs coconut oil (or whatever oil you prefer)
1 cup diced potatoes. If you're lazy, just use those frozen hash browns that come in a bag.
1/2 cup diced onions
1/2 cup peppers (I used bell peppers and poblano)
1 tbs chopped parsley
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
Dash of cayenne papper
Sriracha to taste

On medium-high heat, saute the peppers and onions in the coconut oil for a couple minutes.
Turn the heat down to medium, and add the potatoes. Cook this mixture up for a while Ten minutes or so, stirring often. Turn the heat down to low-medium, add seasoning, and continue cooking for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until potatoes are done. Serve, and artistically add the Sriracha on top. Enjoy!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Vegetable Pilaf

 At this very moment, I am enjoying some of this vegetable pilaf. I was in the mood for something rice-y, but decided on orzo. Yum! It's just a little bit spicy, and just delicious. This meal is quick to make and serves three to four. It can easily be doubled or whatever!
You will need:
1 cup orzo (uncooked)
14oz vegetable broth
1.5 tbs olive oil
3/4 cup chopped onions
3/4 cups chopped peppers
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1 cup broccoli florets
1 tsp marjoram
1/2 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp black pepper

Begin by sauteing the onions (in the olive oil) in a large skillet. Add the uncooked orzo, and let it brown very slightly (a few minutes). Add the vegetable broth, and bring the concoction to a simmer. Add the peppers and carrot shreds. Let simmer for about ten to 15 minutes, then add the broccoli, parsley, cayenne and black pepper, and marjoram. Let it very slightly simmer until most of the liquid is gone, and the orzo is cooked. Enjoy!