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
Sauce:
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

Ingredients:

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

Ingredients:

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

Finches.


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.