Monday, February 25, 2013

Death Defying Playground Stunts

"Daddy, what is that stuff?" Ashley Olsen shrilly asked. He glanced up at her as he filled a small green flask with whiskey over the kitchen sink.

"It's Jameson. Irish whiskey."

"Is that really bad?" Before her father could answer, he bent down in an attempt to slurp the excess trickling from the rim of the flask's spout.

"It's pretty bad," Ashley's mother chimed in. "We're giving this to a friend."

Mother and father were off to the local irish pub for green beer delivery day, an annual tradition leading up to St. Patrick's Day, or as Ashely calls it, Leprechaun Day. There was talk of making green cupcakes in spirit of the holiday, but Ashley persuaded Mary Kate to agree to snickerdoodles instead.

After cookie baking concluded, we drove to a nearby playground so the girls could expend some pent up energy. I'm always more than willing to spend time outdoors with the girls because they usually get me running through some obstacle course or an army training game which is great exercise.

We arrived at the playground to find it deserted and were happy to have the place to ourselves. The three of us hurried out of the car and pranced to the playground only to nearly tumble into each other after slipping on the thick layer of ice lurking beneath a thin layer of snow. No wonder there were no children playing today; the playground was treacherous.

Leery as I was, the girls were not concerned with a harmless layer of ice and played as they normally would, just occasionally falling to their knees and laughing. Part of the normal playground routine involves a game they invented called "Dare Devil." The format is similar to a game show where one of us will announce the other two contestants as well as the daring feat about the be performed. One of the day's stunts involved sliding across the track ride while avoiding contact with the deep and dangerous puddle of ice water swirling below. Luckily, we all managed to slide across the track without succumbing to the puddle's icy grip. There were other, more death defying tasks that I refused to take part in. As a college kid who relies on my own two feet to get me to class every day, I couldn't risk an injury. Ashley would eventually pull me aside, calling me out as a "scaredy cat" when I refused to take part in some of the more challenging Dare Devil exploits on the icy playground.

Sliding acros the track and avoiding the frozen lake of doom

Girl can't keep her laces tied. Rookie mistake

Oh look, another giant, icy puddle

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sweet and Tart

Being sick sucks. Luckily, thanks to my recent acquisition of several herbal remedy books, I am becoming well versed in the ways of medicinal healing. A great recipe for colds is a simple concoction that you may have even tried before. The first time I tried it, I was hooked.


2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Boiling water

All you must do is mix the three together and if forms a magical cold remedy to delight the taste buds  It think of it as a little cup of sunshine and I've been drinking at least two of these a days for the past three days and cold symptoms are already subsiding.

Leave the lemon wedge in your mug for
an extra lemon kick and a pretty presentation

Friday, February 15, 2013

Maple and Mustard are Marvelous

In my view, Valentine's Day is a great excuse to prepare a sinfully delicious meal that would not typically be featured in the regular menu of a poor and lowly college student such as myself. Honestly, I would probably hold this view regardless of whether or not I had a significant other to share it with, but sitting down to dinner with two plates on the table is much more comforting than eating alone.

This year Ben Affleck and I went all out. Maple and mustard glazed pork roast was the feature of our Valentine's menu board, accompanied by a savory selection of roasted vegetables. The photos do not do the best job of showcasing the deliciousness of the meal, but I was too ravenous to take the time and extra effort to snap high quality photos.

Everything was roasted in the oven at 350 degrees. The carrots were simply tossed in olive oil, the potatoes were tossed in olive oil, herbs de provence, italian seasoning and parmesan cheese, and the recipe for the pork was extremely easy. Feast your eyes.

I used whole grain mustard to add some texture

Those green lookin' things are the potato wedges.
They may be a funny color but  they sure were tasty

Tantalizing Tisane

I am a budding tea aficionado. I drink all varieties, often without honey so I can experience the natural flavor of the particular blend in my cup. Recently, I have become interested in concocting my own herbal blends. I enjoy a steaming cup of tea for the taste and aroma, but more often than not I opt for a caffeine free variety to avoid the jitters that I normally experience with caffeine. With these preferences in mind, transitioning to naturally caffeine free herbal infusions rather than tea is a no brainer.

The sleepy time tea I have come to adore is one example of an herbal "tea"that is not really a tea at all. Sleepy time tea contains chamomile, spearmint, West Indian lemongrass, tilia flowers, blackberry leaves, orange blossoms, hawthorn, and rosebuds. Tea leaves are completely absent from the list of ingredients. One misconception most people have is that tea is a universal term to describe pretty much any assortment of plant parts steeped in hot water to be consumed. The only beverages that are technically tea are those brewed from actual tea leaves. So if it's not tea what is it? Well if you care to be politically correct, the proper term for an herbal infusion is tisane. As nice as it is to expand your vocabulary, spouting off this word to any average tea drinker may induce a look of utter confusion, even if they are regularly, maybe unknowingly, drinking tisanes.

A tisane is a great option for anyone who isn't looking for a caffeine boost, but enjoys an inviting cup of something steamy that warms the hands and the throat. Most herbs also possess certain medicinal properties of which my knowledge is still virtually nonexistent.  While I aspire to learn more about the magical medicinal properties of herbs and grow and dry my own assortment of herbs, I recognize the need to first experiment with some store-bought ingredients to see which flavors I fancy most. Luckily, there is a fabulous natural foods store not far from my house in Syracuse, and I recently spent some time scouring the impressive collection of herbs and spices lining the shelves of the store. I had done some preliminary research to gain a sense of common herbs to use, but in the store I also based my purchases on which herbs gave off the most enticing fragrances. I came home with an ounce of each of the herbs listed below.

Each of these herbs possess unique medicinal and cosmetic qualities when added to tisanes, soaps, lotions, face masks and other products, all of which can be easily made at home. The properties listed below were gathered from two books: The Complete Book of Herbs: A Practical Guide to Growing and Using Herbs, by Lesley Bremmes as well as Your Backyard Herb Garden by Miranda Smith. Additional research was compiled from the following websites:

German chamomile flower

  • Culinary: Make excellent teas.
  • Cosmetic: Make rinses and conditioners to heighten blonde highlights, help prevent dandruff, and condition dry hair. Cosmetic preparations containing chamomile are also used to soften the skin and refresh the eyes.
  • Medicinal: Teas are said to be sleep inducing. People who have known sensitive to ragweed may also suffer allergic reactions to chamomile.

Ginger root

  • Culinary: Can be pickled and served with sushi, can be candied for a sweet treat. As a steeped hot tea or a chilled ale, ginger is a refreshing, purifying beverage.
  • Cosmetic: Used in facials and body wraps to soften the skin and aid in detoxification.
  • Medicinal: Used as a remedy for travel sickness, nausea and indigestion. Eases inflammation of joints and muscle tissue.

Hibiscus flowers
  • Culinary: Used in sauces, curries and chutneys.
  • Cosmetic: Antioxidant and exfoliating powers.
  • Medicinal: High vitamin C content. Used as a diuretic and circulation conditions. Calming and cooling effect on the scalp. Remedy for headaches.


  • Culinary (flower): Used to flavor jams, can be mixed with savory herbs for fragrant stews.
  • Cosmetic (flower): Can be used to make tonic water for delicate and sensitive skins and as an antiseptic against acne.
  • Medicinal (flower): Soothes headaches, calms nerves, eases flatulence, fainting, dizziness and halitosis (bad breath)

Marjoram (similar to oregano)

  • Culinary (leaf): Chop finely for salads and butter sauces for fish. Add to meat dishes in last few minutes of cooking. Add to pizza. Rub into roasting meat.
  • Cosmetic (leaf): Infuse for a relaxing bath. Infuse strongly as a hair conditioner
  • Medicinal (flowering top): Infuse in a tea for colds, headaches, simple gastrointestinal and nervous disorders


  • Culinary (Leaf): Infuse either individual or blended mints as a refreshing tea. (Spearmint and peppermint) Use for mint sauce, vinegar, syrups and with chocolate in rich desserts. Crystallize as a sweet for decoration. Add fresh leaves to new potatoes, peas, fruit salads, drinks and punches. Use sparingly in soups and stuffings.
  • Cosmetic (Leaf): (Spearmint) Decoct strongly to heal chapped hands. Add to bathwater for an invigorating bath.
  • Medicinal (leaf): (Spearmint) Inhale drops of essential oil or sprinkle on a handkerchief, for relief from heavy colds. (Peppermint) Infuse as a tea to help digestion, colds and influenza. Sip cold tea  for hiccups and flatulence. (Spearmint and peppermint) Macerate leaves in oil; then massage affected areas for migraines, facial neuralgia and rheumatic and muscular aches, especially in winter.

Red raspberry leaf
  • Culinary: Raspberry leaf tea popsicles are delightful and refreshing
  • Cosmetic: Natural astringent that tightens and firms the skin and relieves irritation
  • Medicinal: Known as the woman's herb. Helps with painful menstruation and flow and lessens and over-abundant period.

  • Culinary: Extremely sweet. Can be used to sweeten dairy products, puddings, sauces, salads and custards.
  • Cosmetic: Sometimes used in facial cleansers.
  • Medicinal: Helps the body regulate blood sugar. Inhibits growth of bacteria that cause gum disease and tooth decay. Helps heal lip sores, open cuts and other skin ailments including acne.

Whole Rose hips

  • Culinary: Pulp may be used in sauces or made into a jelly.
  • Cosmetic: Astringent qualities. Helps regenerate new skin cells. Can be used to treat scars, acne or burns. High vitamin A content helps regenerate skin.
  • Medicinal: Because of high vitamin C content (50% more than an orange) they are an excellent immune system booster. Fruit acids and pectin in rose hips help relieve symptoms of kidney disorders or help ease mild constipation.

Yarrow (milfoil)

  • Culinary (leaf): Finely chop slightly bitter, peppery young leaves into salads and soft cheese dips. Use to garnish
  • Cosmetic (flower): Infuse fresh flowers for a facial steam and tonic lotion. Use the infusion as a basis for a face pack for greasy skin or in a relaxing bath.
  • Medicinal (leaf): Chew fresh leaf to aid toothache. Infuse as a tea for digestive problems and to regulate menstrual flow, induce perspiration, cleanse the system and clear a cold. Make a decoction for wounds, chapped skin and rashes. Use as a mouthwash for inflamed gums.

This collection of ten herbs, roots
and flowers only set me back $13
German chamomile
Whole rosehips
Hibiscus flower

Lavender flowers

With my new collection of herbs in stock, I was excited to put them to good use. After careful consideration, I opted to start off with a simple recipe. I learned from a friend that raspberry leaves can make a lovely, slightly fruity infusion, so I decided to give it a go. I've made tea with loose tea leaves before, but I wasn't quite sure if the same concentration of herbs could be used in place of tea leaves. I suspected I may require more herbs to adequately flavor a single cup.I started off with roughly the equivalent amount I would use for loose tea, to keep the experiment consistent. I would then add more raspberry leaves if it became necessary. Is this starting to sound like the written procedure for a scientific experiment?

From what I've read, tea leaves require shorter brewing times to avoid bitterness. Herbs need a little more time for their full flavors to permeate hot water, usually between ten and twenty minutes. While some herbs also give off a bitter taste, there are sweeter herbs you can add to a blend to counteract that bitterness.

Bitter Herbs
Rose hips

Sweet Herbs
Vanilla (bean)

The raspberry leaf infusion I made had no detectable bitterness, though I certainly don't have the most refined palate.The initial amount of raspberry leaf flavored the water wonderfully. In fact, I could have used a bit less and conserved my raspberry leaf provisions. A successful first experiment with a new found hobby, I look forward to trying a more complex herbal blend soon.

Packing the infuser

The raspberry leaves tinged the water a delightful emerald hue

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Dumpster Diving

I know people who dumpster dive. They aren't homeless and they aren't looking to sell their food wares on the black market. They're actually college students, and they happen to be some of my good friends. Even in the freezing, windy, winter weather they will eagerly pile into a vehicle and peruse the local food stores after hours.

Dumpster diving is not illegal, and while some groceries stores frown upon it and others find it repulsive, there are plenty of people out there committed to the act.

Despite the seemingly barbaric act, there are actually very clear cut, logical rules behind the practice. If any  food packaging looks like it might be even slightly open, leave it behind. The most important rule? Leave the dumpster and surrounding area as clean or cleaner than how you found it. The quickest way to return to a grocery hotspot and find it all locked up is by leaving a mess and signs of your presence.

Besides the obvious benefit of cutting grocery costs, another important benefit is the reduction in waste. Regardless of whether or not people choose to dumpster dive, immense amounts of food waste are discarded by grocery stores each day. Perfectly good loaves of bread, saran wrapped produce, canned goods, and much more are carelessly tossed into the trash.

While some perfectly rational citizens could never fathom climbing into a dumpster to find that evening's dinner, shouldn't those who can stomach the experience feel free to do so? Dumpster diving is certainly not for everyone, but it is without a doubt one of the most daring ways to recycle.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Fabulous French Toast

First off, it must be stated that this recipe would not have been possible without the loving support of a most admired grandma. On a recent grocery shopping excursion, she purchased an exquisite loaf of cranberry orange bread for me to have at school. She and I have been known to devour entire loaves of this stuff in one gluttonous evening. This bread is not only riddled with dried bits of fruity goodness, but also sprinkled with a grainy layer of white sugar across the top.

I had been saving this bread to make french toast because I knew it was going to be simply spectacular. It's much more fun to make a fancy breakfast when you have company, so I waited for a day when my boyfriend and I could enjoy a candy coated breakfast together. We mixed in a smidgeon of cinnamon with the egg for a little extra kick.

Before I explain how absolutely delectable this french toast was, I must reveal the pseudonym for the boyfriend I occasionally refer to. There is a short backstory involved: We were out one night to see the movie Argo, when I came to the stark realization that my boyfriend shares a similar facial structure to that of the daring and dreamy Ben Affleck. They even style their hair very similarly when it is cut short. So there you have it, I am dating Ben Affleck. Wait 'til the gossip magazines catch wind of that!

Back to the french toast: You ever taste something so good that it makes your mouth hurt with delight? That's how good this french toast was. With a light drizzle of maple syrup, I would invite the real Ben Affleck over to my house to see if it wasn't the best french toast he has ever had the pleasure of enjoying.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Babies and Razors

Why was I in the baby isle at the grocery store? Maybe because I was looking for one of those mucus extractors, or maybe I just like to eat out of tiny plates and bowls. That's beside the point. Amidst the sea of vibrantly colored plastic bottles and bibs, I noticed a display that at first, seemed terribly inappropriate to be included with so many baby products. Why would you ever give a baby a razor unless you were mentally insane? Then it dawned on me that whoever thought of this idea is a genius.

I barely have time to shave as a squirrelly college kid. Okay that's an excuse. I should just admit I shave when I can but it's not my number one priority in winter. If I can't put shaving at the top of my list of priorities, I can't imagine how far down on the list it is for a full time mother. She has so many other things to worry about like changing diapers, feeding a baby, engaging it in play, not drowning it... I mean the list goes on and on. And even for mothers who do find the time to shave, half the battle is remembering to get a new razor at the store. Even I have trouble remembering everything on my shopping list, and I don't have a screaming infant pulling on my hair as I wheel my cart around the store. We've all heard the classic story of "Gosh darn it, I got everything at the store except the one thing I originally went in for." That one thing was probably a razor.

Nutty Knothole

My college's newspaper includes a column entitled "Ask-a-Nut."I was leafing through an issue of The Knothole from December when I came across this piece that had me laughing out loud:

Dear Nut,
I have an issue and I can't figure out how to fix it. Whenever I am at parties and end up in a conversation with a mutual acquaintance, I freeze up and can't figure out what to say or how to act. I then normally end up making up outrageous lies about some other place I need to be and inevitably can't figure out where to go after leaving the conversation.

-Socially Inept Person at Parties

Dear SIPP,
Have you tried consuming massive amounts of alcoholic beverages? This seems to work for the majority of socially inept college students, who must let everyone know how many inhibitions they threw out the window the previous weekend with exploits of intoxicated, absolutely useless behavior. Personally though, I think you are close to the fix. I would stick with the lies, just make them less outrageous, and instead make them build you up in some way. For instance, you could tell people how you once met Bill Clinton at an international Hemp Legalization Rally in Oregon and he was kind of a dick, or something along these lines. If you are bad on your feet, write some lies up while you pretend to pay attention in class.


Evidently, encouraging kids to lie to their peers and get ridiculously drunk makes for a hilarious newspaper article.

Slimy Fingers

Usually when I babysit MaryKate and Ashley... hold on - I don't actually babysit two insanely rich and famous blonde sisters. I do, however, babysit two little blonde girls whose real names I will not divulge on this blog. So like I was saying, MaryKate and Ashley are nine and eight years old. They may not be twins, but they are close in age and share many common interests, including a love of sugar.

The other night we had finished up dinner, which happened to consist of a large batch of chocolate chip pancakes. Yes. I know. I AM an awesome babysitter. We usually bake a cake or cookies or something riddled with sugar and covered in chocolate frosting for dessert, but after a ridiculously sweet dinner, no one was really in the mood for hardcore baking. Instead, Ashley decided it would be fun to try dipping marshmallows in melted chocolate because she surmised, "it might be good."

Ashley loves to experiment in the kitchen, but she always questions whether a recipe involving chocolate will taste as good as she imagines. This is a girl who suffocates her hot cocoa with a thick, spongy layer of mini marshmallows. Yeah Ashley, you're going to love the chocolate covered marshmallow recipe you came up with.

We have melted chocolate so many times before, that Ashley set up a double boiling system on the stove before I could even remind her. Together, MaryKate and Ashley melted the chocolate chips to perfection, and carefully dipped mini marshmallows into the gooey chocolate. In an effort to conserve toothpicks, I suggested making chocolate covered marshmallow clusters. I watched as they rolled each individual marshmallow in chocolate, taking infinitely longer than how I'd envisioned. I also watched as their sticky, chocolate covered fingers were sucked clean and covered in a fresh membrane of kid saliva before tending to the next marshmallow.

"We're making these for you!" Ashley exclaimed with an excited high-pitched trill as both sisters peered over at me with a girlish twinkle in their eye. Little did they know how unexcited I was at the idea of popping one of those clusters into my mouth. Unable to confront them about their repulsive kitchen habits, I graciously accepted a small container of the clusters and brought them back to my house. I warned my three roommates about possible contaminants lodged between the cracks of these marshmallow morsels, but offered the container to anyone brave enough to try a marshmallow treat. I set the container out on a communal table in the landing of the second floor. When any of us have yummy snacks to share, we place them on this table. Normally, these treats are gone in a flash. My contribution has been sitting out in the open for a few days, untouched since I first set it down.

Let's be honest, they kind of resemble turd piles

Kitchen Contamination

I am such an ass hole. Seriously. One morning I just woke up, went downstairs to make some breakfast, cleaned up after myself, then took a minute to observe what a shit hole the kitchen has become. I was so perplexed as to why my roommates kept confusing the concepts of clean and dirty. To remind them, I thoroughly cleaned one side of the stove, and left the other side caked with its normal grimy layer of dried chicken juice and cheese sauce. Then, I wrote out two post-its to label the stove appropriately. Not too long afterwards, I returned downstairs to find a perfectly clean, decontaminated kitchen. I knew all my roomies needed was a reminder about the differences between clean and dirty. Hopefully they can keep it straight in the future.