When I was in Europe with my brother Icecat, my BFF Sheila, and my cousin Liz, we had the usual stupid ways of amusing ourselves while on the road. We had rented an Opel Corsa. This little car I will never forget. It was so tiny that we had to pack our luggage in a certain way every time we got in, and we all had saved seats so we would fit. I got the most space, since I was the designated driver. I can’t get into the damage we did to that car right now, because I have another story to tell that’s not remotely related to anything under the sun.

We made up poetry. I’m referring to the stupid ways of amusing ourselves. We had this one poem that came about after entering a charcuterie (I’m not positive that’s the noun form, but it’s a place where you get different kinds of cured meat and sausages.) We had sampled various hard sausages: saucisse, saucisson, chorisson. As we strolled through downtown with our saucisson, walking when we were permitted by the “pieton” signs (that’s pedestrian, for you pedestrian non-speakers of the Language of Love), we invented this little beauty:

I do not like your saucisson!
I do not like it, Pierre Pieton!
I will not eat it in the Louvre.
I will not eat it on the move.

I do not like it in the park,
I will not eat it after dark.
I do not like your saucisson.
I do not like it, Pierre Pieton!

I think there might have been some other verses, but these are they which survived the ages. There was another, notably less witty, poem that Icecat and I made up after viewing a commercial in London, wherein a block of cheese falls onto a bare surface. “Cheese!” I chimed. Another block fell on top of the first. “More cheese!” called Icecat. A third block fell. “Three cheese!” and after the last, “Four cheese!” This wonderful poem had another incarnation when, as we were driving through the wild and winding roads of the Italian Dolomites, we spotted the carcass of a victim of the road. Then another, and two more.

More roadkill.
Three roadkill.
Four roadkill.

You could really use that form with just about anything. And you have my permission to do so.

I am reminiscing about these marvels of our invention because, a short while ago, I overheard my two boys, 6 and 4, poetically discussing their own love of cheese.

“Mmmm, blue cheese!”
“What kind of cheese is that?”
“I like head-cheese.”

I swear by all that is holy that I have never, ever, ever fed my kids head cheese.

Everyone in my family has crappy teeth. We all get too many cavities (it couldn’t possibly be the horrific amounts of candy we all eat. It must be genetic.), and we all have had to have fillings and root canals, plus a few extractions. I never used to be afraid of the dentist, until I started getting abscesses, and the resulting root canals and crowns. I once had a crown crack in two, and the tooth cracked right along with it. I had to get it pulled. For some reason, the Novocaine never works very well on me, so they end up pumping me with 7 or 8 shots, and I can still feel it. Well, getting a tooth pulled sucks, especially if you can feel it going on. I don’t know if it sucks as bad as what happened to my brother, though.

Isaac is a magnet for negative cosmic energy. People pick on him for no reason. The laws of physics conspire against him, and worlds collide to render him uncomfortable. I am not making this up. He gets way more than his share of bad luck, but I’m not going to tell you all the tragic stories today. Just one.

Isaac had recently gotten a new crown for one of those awful root canals. The dentist affixed the crown with temporary glue, instead of permanent, so that Isaac could wear it for a while and decide first if he liked the crown before it went in there permanently.

About a week after he got it, of course it loosened itself and fell out. Not wanting to waste a $400 crown, Isaac planned to keep it and return to the dentist. Having nowhere better, he decided to leave it in his mouth. After all, who wants to keep a tooth in their pocket, with all that lint, and who knows what else?

Just after finishing the last bite of his burger at lunch, Isaac suddenly realized that his crown was no longer in his mouth. OK, this part might have involved a tiny bit of lack of common sense, but read on.

Angered at himself, but nevertheless determined not to waste $400, Isaac descended upon a plan wherewith to retrieve his crown. You may be able to guess what his plan involved. Initial attempts at vomiting the crown out were unsuccessful, “probably,” he says, “because I ate it and it went right down to the bottom of my stomach, under the burger.” So he waited until the opportune moment and, armed with a quart sized Ziploc bag, he “sh– (rhymes with scat) in the bag.” He described to me the benefits of the bag. Apparently it is much easier to squish around if you first let all the air out of the bag.

The first attempt resulted in nothing, but never losing hope, Isaac persevered through a second. And Eureka! He found the crown. He fished it out of the bag of his own poo, and was rinsing it off in the bathroom sink, when Mom came downstairs and inquired about his activities. He tried to tell her several times that this was a clear case of “You don’t want to know,” but she pressed him until he explained.

Thoroughly grossed out, Mom left, only to hear a solid stream of profanity emanating from the bathroom shortly thereafter. Isaac had, of course, dropped the crown, and it had, of course, gone right down the drain. My compassionate mom went in to help him retrieve it again. They dismantled the sink and drain, and were able to rescue the treasure.

Isaac thoroughly cleaned the crown, and then took it to the dentist, who glued it right back into Isaac’s mouth. I can honestly and quite literally say that I am glad my teeth are not as crappy as Isaac’s.

As if the bring-your-own-bag song weren’t bad enough, last night, I spent a good hour surfing the ether world for ideas on using up those fabulous petroleum byproduct pieces of doodoo. I can’t call them useless, because MY OH MY did I find some amazing uses for them. It would be far better if they ceased to exist, but while they’re here, and they can’t degrade, and there are billions of them, we might as well put them to use.

I should not be surprised that there are people out there who dedicate their spare time to using up plastic bags. I mean, there are people who make soap for fun, there are people who run 26.2 miles for fun, and there are people who collect neti pots and use them to serve gravy or cream. So why not try to use those stupid bags? And I’m not talking about using them as liners for garbage cans, or to take out the pile of diapers outside the bathroom door (not that I’ve ever had a pile of diapers outside the bathroom door, or anywhere else in my house). No, my favorite site so far is My Recycled Bags.com, where the author uses them for craft projects. Craft projects, you say? Don’t laugh. This lady, and she’s not the only one out there who does this, cuts the bags into strips and makes a chain of them, then crochets all sorts of great stuff. Like this reusable grocery bag. Way to make those things fit their intended function, only without the tearing and spilling their contents onto the parking lot. Or how about a cute little cosmetic bag? A water bottle holder? A pot scrubber?

This fantastic woman also uses the innards of cassette tapes and VCR tapes to crochet stuff. Among other things, like the above, check this out. That leaves me speechless.

Needless to say, I think I have found a kindred spirit. I’m so sad I didn’t think of it, but I’m so glad that there are people out there who want to slow our waste production, and who can think of creative ways to do it. I just need a bigger crochet hook.

Mixing lye into water.

Measuring lard.

Weighing all the fats.

Blending fats and lye.

Greasing molds with petroleum jelly.


Soap almost cured in crock-pot, without color or fragrance.2070483638_36ab457901.jpg

This is how much soap we got out of a tripled recipe. The balls are just the scraps all balled up. Purple is lavender, molded in a Pringles can and sliced, the pink is peppermint, molded in a heart-shaped muffin tin, and the yellow is honey-almond, molded in duck-shaped soap molds. The brown one in the back in the cake pan is chamomile, but was too soft yet to turn out or cut.

And for a close up, you may be able to see from the pink heart how lumpy it turned out. The crock-pot way really isn’t the way you should use if you want pretty results, but for a first shot, I’m happy.


For the full report of the process, go here.

Are there people out there that have no fridge? I mean on purpose. I realize that there are many more people on the earth who don’t have a fridge than people who do, but that seems like a far-away, non-North American thing. Wow, I sound like such a nut.

I was thinking today about what we would do if we had no fridge, whether as a result of a disaster that rendered electricity unavailable, or if we just decided that it was one luxury that we should do without, to help minimize our energy consumption. Do you know anyone that doesn’t have a fridge?

I think I could pull it off, but where does the cost-efficiency cross the line with using electricity to keep food fresh versus using some mode of transportation to get the perishable stuff more often if you don’t have refrigeration? I would sure need to have a garden, and a few chickens wouldn’t hurt, but there are many things I would still have to buy. I would buy things like grains, nuts, dry beans, dry spices, and dried fruits and vegetables, but I guess I would have to buy huge quantities, and then make sure I had a cool, dry place in the basement for them. Then I would have to make sure I had enough fresh stuff from the garden to feed us every day of the growing season, plus whatever I could put up in jars or dehydrate.

I would also feel OK about walking to the market, which is about a mile away, or biking, when I get a bike. I guess if I had a bike, I could tow one of those kid trailers, but fill it up with groceries instead. Except I wouldn’t have to fill it up, since I would only need to buy what I would use the same day.

I would also have to plan much better than I do. I would have to make meals that are the right size, with no leftovers. When I was in the Philippines, we would make dinner in the evening, and leave the leftovers on the table, covered with a cage so the rats couldn’t get to it. Then we never had to make breakfast. At first it bothered me, especially in such a warm, humid climate, but since nobody else seemed to care, I just followed suit. I think I have reverted to the paranoid American mentality, though.

Is this something that matters to people? Or is it just assumed that there will always be refrigeration? When we were looking for a house, it really only crossed my mind briefly that we could survive without a fridge, but not long enough for me to seriously consider not having one. In fact, I think I was more inclined to think of where I could put a deep-freeze or second fridge. Do I need either of those things? We have just decided to eat meat only once a week at the most, and it seems like meat is what people keep. I don’t really get pre-made, packaged foods, and that also takes up a big chunk of the average American fridge.

So do you dare me? It would take planning, and the cooperation of the other 4 people who live with me, but I think it’s possible. How much would I have to change?

Liz and I made two batches of soap using the same recipe but slightly different methods. The results are different, but both good. I think both methods have their merit, so if you want to know about soap making, read on! If, after reading this, you’re just too curious and want to try the soap, email me your address and I will send you some soap. Unless you’re related to me, in which case you may reasonably expect to receive some in the next couple of months without asking for it.

We started with this recipe for grocery store soap, meaning that you could theoretically find all the ingredients at the grocery store. Theoretically, I say, because we searched 10 different stores for lye. I know, you would think you could find lye anywhere, but no. We went to Marsh, Pay Less, Home Depot, Walmart (gasp!), Rural King (neon orange suspenders, a farm section, and free popcorn), JoAnn, Michael’s, and Lowe’s. I can’t remember the other two, but we ultimately found it at Lowe’s. It’s in the drain cleaner section, and my dad said we should just use Drano, but we weren’t sure it was 100% lye, or if it was in the same concentration as we needed. We didn’t want to take any chances with something that could melt our faces off.

One handy thing that came out of our search is that Walmart (gasp!) has a 31.5 oz. container of coconut oil for $3. That’s incredible. The same size at the health food store is usually like $18. Also, lard can be found in the Mexican section of the supermarket in a 3 pound tub. A tub-o-lard. I think it’s also in the refrigerated section in sticks, like butter, but we wanted a lot, so we got the tub. Castor oil is in the pharmacy section, but can be found at health food stores in larger containers, and is pretty cheap. We used regular olive oil. There’s no use using extra virgin if you won’t taste it. And I hope you won’t be tasting your soap. Although, Liz liked the fragrances we used so much that she kept saying she wanted to eat it.

So here’s how it goes. You get all the ingredients ready, with your pot and stirrers, scale, gloves and goggles. With your gloves and goggles on, you measure the lye into a small container, then measure the water by weight into a larger one like a pitcher. You add the lye to the water, stirring gently without letting it splash. You do NOT add the water to the lye. Unless you want a hot, caustic, skin-melting volcano. Then you let that cool, since it goes up to about 200 degrees during the reaction.

You start measuring the oils into a bowl, taring the scale after each addition. The oil mixture needs to be liquid, so unless your kitchen is 90 degrees or hotter, you will probably have to melt the coconut oil and lard. We just added all the fat and stirred it on the stove until melted.

Then you slowly pour the lye mixture into the fat, stirring gently. We used a stick blender, but didn’t turn it on until all the lye was incorporated. When you blend it with a stick blender, the stirring takes about 5 minutes. I guess if you only have a whisk, you can do it by hand, but it will take about an hour of stirring. When it reaches the stage called ‘trace’, which is where it resembles vanilla jello pudding and a blob dropped on top doesn’t sink, it’s ready for the next step. This is where our two batches differ.

With the first batch, we put the mixture into a crock-pot on high, and let it cook for about an hour, until it started to be glossy like petroleum jelly. It was fluffy and airy. We then added the essential oils and colors. For the first batch, we used lavender oil with lavender buds and purple coloring in one bowl, honey-almond oil and yellow coloring in another, peppermint oil and pink coloring in the third, and a home-steeped oil concoction of chamomile tea with no coloring in the fourth. We stirred ’em up good and put them into our prepared molds. We used some mini loaf pans, some heart shaped muffin tins, a Pringles can, an 8’x8′ glass cake pan, and some little soap and chocolate molds shaped like ducks, seashells, and frogs.

With the second batch, we skipped the crock-pot part. We used oatmeal, apple-spice oil, and cinnamon in one bowl, and orange oil, lemon oil, orange zest and lemon zest in the other. Neither of these needed coloring. We used the same molds as we had the night before, since the previous batch was already hard.

The non-crock-pot batch was much easier to handle and pour, since it wasn’t cooked, but it takes at least 24 hours to harden in the molds, and 4 weeks to cure before you can use it. I guess the crock-pot does all the curing, so you can use crock-pot soap as soon as it’s hard, but it’s pretty gloppy after the cooking, so it doesn’t go into the molds nicely. Except the Pringles can. We just pushed the soap log out and sliced it. That one is very nice, even though the round sides aren’t completely even.

I tried the crock-pot soap, since it didn’t come out of the bowls all the way and there were scraps, and it was luscious. I usually don’t use bar soap because my skin is so dry, but this stuff was smooth, foamy, and smelled delicious. And I didn’t have to put on lotion after using this soap.

Sometimes I meditate on the subject of what I would write on my postcard if I sent one to postsecret. Angela has tagged me for this 8 facts meme, and I’m ready. I’m going to try to remember all those “secrets” that I’ve been storing up for a rainy day. And I’m not saying I’m proud of all these. Most of them make me feel like a freak.

1. Every time I use a paper towel, I think about how I’m probably going to Hell. I hate being wasteful, but the convenience of grabbing a paper towel and then not having to wash it is too seductive. But I do save every single plastic bag I ever come in contact with. If I get one at the market, because I was dumb enough to leave the house without my canvas shopping bags or Mexican bolsas, and I have to get one of those crappy bags, I save it and use it as many times as I can. I reuse ziploc bags. I make Derek wash them. I save the bags from the bulk section and use them the next time I go shopping, and I don’t put veggies in any bag at all. Four zucchini? No bag. Dripping wet parsley? No bag. Twelve oranges? That’s what that canvas bag is for.

2. I wear my clothes until they’re visibly dirty. Don’t say ew. Americans have such a neurosis about being clean. Clothes last much longer if you don’t wash them every single time you wear them. So you use less water, put less soap into the water supply, use less energy for the dryer, spend less money on clothes, and have that nice, comfy feeling of not having to get into tight jeans every single time you dress.

3. I have to do everything myself. And then brag about it. I made a pie today from pumpkins that I baked. Next year, I’ll have pumpkins in the garden, so I’ll just run outside to get a pumpkin to make that pie. I made three and a half meals out of one tiny roasted chicken, including a great soup from the broth I made with the carcass. I made my kids their Halloween costumes. I’m knitting myself a scarf. I make our bread whenever I can. I’m planning on making all the Christmas presents this year.

4. I’m always deeply ashamed when I give people store-bought presents. Unless they’re from DI. Then they’re recycled, so it’s OK. I never send thank you cards, because I never get it together and actually make them.

5. I’m afraid of everyone. Even people I’ve known since I was 5. Even my own family. Even Derek. I’m always afraid they really know what a sham I am, or they’re just being nice.

6. Prepare yourself for this one. It will sound horrible, but read on. I think I’m smarter and more talented than almost everyone. Which is not to say that I necessarily know more, but that I have this inner demon that says, “I may not know that, but it’s only because I haven’t tried to learn it yet. It’s not like I can’t, I just haven’t had the time.” Don’t misunderstand me. I know this is a snobbery, and that it’s untrue, but my brain doesn’t want to change it’s mind. I was told at a very young age that I was very smart, by many people. Those things don’t just go away.

7. The people that I know are smarter than me make me the most terrified. Like they know I’m really just an idiot. I have to compensate for my feelings of inferiority by doing everything myself. Like somehow sewing puppy costumes makes up for my inability to even read the math Derek works on. Or speaking 9 languages makes up for my dismal lack of knowledge in pop culture. (It’s a total lie, I don’t really speak 9 languages. But for the record, I speak English as my native tongue. I lived in Mexico when I was 5, and learned fluent Spanish, which I lost in the years following, but regained in part when I went back to Mexico when I was 19.

I studied German for 5 years in High School, but I didn’t have my heart in it. I learned the vocab, but I never cared about the cases. Hmmm, how can you speak German without the cases?

I took Italian for 4 or 5 semesters in college, because when I was choosing my classes my first semester, all the Spanish classes were full. I went to Vienna, Austria for a semester abroad, and improved my German, then took 3 more semesters of it.

I went on a religious mission to the Philippines when I was 22, and learned Tagalog fluently. One of my native companions said that when she wasn’t looking at me while I was talking, she would forget that I was not a Filipina. I also studied Ilokano, a regional dialect, while I was there. I was never fluent in Ilokano, but I could talk about church and God pretty smoothly.

I stayed in Holland for a few weeks with a Dutch friend, and learned a bit of Dutch, after which I got some books in Dutch and studied it on my own. My friend once told me that it was funny hearing me speak Dutch, because instead of an American accent, I had a German accent.

I took a semester of French following my trip to Holland. Only one, but with the background in Spanish and Italian, all I had to do was learn the spelling and pronunciation idiosyncrasies.

After I met Derek, I took a semester of Russian. The teacher only let me in because I had the same last name as he did, but I turned out to be a crack shot at it, so he liked me all the more. Even when I skipped about two weeks… after getting engaged. Yes, I was one of those. Don’t make fun.

But since I’m afraid of everyone, I never speak any of the languages, so they pretty much don’t count anyway. Oh, I started learning Greek this summer. Yay for me.

8. I want to know everything. I honestly cannot think of a subject that I don’t want to know more about.

Are you sad you wasted your time on that?

I’m tagging Elizasmom, Kalli, my fantastic aunt Barbara, Sketchy, Honeyvine, Yardbird and that’s gonna have to be all! Because who else can I tag that hasn’t done this one or hasn’t decided to renounce all future tags?

“Mom, if I eat my fingers, I am candy.”


I am inordinately excited about cookbooks. I love them. I buy them, I borrow them, I get them from the library. I read them like novels, front to back. I use them.

I bought my first cookbook,The Joy of Cooking, by Irma Rombauer, as a freshman in college. Sadly, I discovered too late that it was bound without pages 117-148. I contacted the publishers, and they curtly informed me that I would just have to buy another. Anyway, Ms. Rombauer undertook the task of collecting recipes for everything she could think of as a remedy for the depression she experienced when her husband died. It is full of age-old recipes, new, modernized recipes, quick recipes using convenience foods, and witty commentary, including old-wives tales, folk remedies, quotation, and verse. My favorite: On beaten biscuits, page 634:

To win unending gratitude, serve to any homesick southerner this classic accompaniment to Virginia ham. The following lines by Miss Howard Weeden in Bandanna Ballads sum up in a nutshell the art of making biscuits:

“Of course I’ll gladly give de rule
I meks beat biscuit by,
Dough I ain’t sure dat you will mek
Dat bread de same as I

“Case cookin’s like religion is–
Some’s ‘lected an’ some ain’t,
An’ rules don’t no more mek a cook
Den sermons mek a saint.”

Our boxes from the storage unit were delivered on Saturday night, and with glee, I began opening them to see what treasures had been secreted away these many months, even years. Since we had been living in a basement apartment with little shelving, we kept most of our books in boxes, but now, I’m going to let them free. Or course, I still don’t have any shelves, but those will come.

Here’s a list of all the cookbooks I’ve unearthed so far, in absolutely no order of preference.

The Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer.
The Cake Bible, Rose Levy Beranbaum
Vegan with a Vengeance, Isa Chandra Moskowitz
To the King’s Taste, the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Early American Cookery, Margaret Huntington Hooker
The Splendid Grain, Rebecca Wood
Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Deborah Madison
Jaques Pepin’s Table, Jaques Pepin
Potager, Georgeanne Brennan
finger food, Elsa Petersen-Schepelern
Greens Glorious Greens, Johnna Albi and Catherine Walthers
New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant, The Moosewood Collective
Classic Indian Cooking, Julie Sahni
World Vegetarian, Madhur Jaffrey
Moosewood Restaurant New Classics, The Moosewood Collective
Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, The Moosewood Collective
Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special, The Moosewood Collective
Bones, Jennifer McLagan
Cookbook of Breads, Sunset
Moosewood Cookbook, Mollie Katzen
Mexican Cookbook, Sunset
The Bread Bible, Peter Reinhart
The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Peter Reinhart
Easy Beans, Trish Ross
Vegetarian Sushi Made Easy, Hiroko Fukuhara and Yasuko Takahata
The Silver Palate Cookbook, Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins
Secrets of Jewish Baker, George Greenstein
Great Cookies, Carole Walter
The Pie and Pastry Bible, Rose Levy Beranbaum
Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, Recipes from the Hunan Province, Fuchsia Dulop
Arabesque, A Taste Or Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon, Claudia Roden
Chez Jacques, Jacques Pepin
Flavors of India, Madhur Jaffrey
First Meals, Annabel Karmel
Sundays at Moosewood, The Moosewood Collective
Moosewood Restaurant Celebrated, The Moosewood Collective
Breakfast, James McNair
From Julia Child’s Kitchen, Julia Child
The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines – China, Greece, Rome, Jeff Smith
The Frugal Gourmet On Our Immigrant Ancestors, Jeff Smith
A French Chef Cooks at Home, Jacques Pepin
Theory and Practice of Good Cooking, James Beard
Quick and Easy Thai, Nancie McDermott
Corn Cookbook, James McNair
Rice Cookbook, James McNair
Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook
Pretend Soup, Mollie Katzen and Ann Henderson
International Vegetarian Cookbook, Sunset
Tofu Cookery, Louise Hagler
Light Desserts, Sunset
Hors D’Oeuvres, Sunset
Picnics and Tailgate Parties, Sunset
Pasta Cookbook, Sunset
Amish Cooking, Crescent Books
The Provence Cookbook, Patricia Wells,
American Pie, Peter Reinhart
1000 Best Recipe, Cook’s Illustrated
Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking, Julie Sahni
Betty Crocker’s Cookbook, 1969 edition

That’s the list so far, but I think there’s at least one more box to find. As you can see, my collection is a mishmash of high and low cooking, vegetarian and non, ethnic, fake ethnic, baking, and general recipes. Just looking at them all makes me excited to go experiment in the kitchen. What should I make for dinner?

This boy just lies down when he’s tired and falls asleep. On the couch, on the floor, my bed, behind the couch, in the hall, anywhere.


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