Thursday, January 29, 2009

Do You Neti??

If you already have a neti pot and know how great it is, well, consider this a reminder and skip this post! However, if you don't even know what a neti pot is, read on!

This is a neti pot. It looks a little bit like Aladdin's magical lamp, doesn't it? You fill it with warm, salted water and pour it through your nostrils, as in, IN one nostril and OUT the other one. I know it sounds creepy but trust me, it is fantastic!

Neti pots have been used for thousands of years in India. I first learned about them 10 years ago in my yoga teacher training, while learning about various cleansing techniques. It is great if you live in a dry climate or if your house gets dry due to central heating or air conditioning. It restores moisture to your mucous membranes. It's also great for getting rid of excess mucous in your sinuses. It helps to wash out pollens and pollutants and even germs that could cause colds or flus.

I used to have dry, cracked nostrils in the winter time, which would bleed and scab and really hurt! I don't have that problem any more. Also, any time I feel a cold coming on, or even if I just think I've been exposed to a lot of germs, I use my neti pot every few hours for a day or two and it seems to do the trick. I'm not saying you'll never get sick; I'm just saying that it may help ward off sickness, or perhaps shorten the duration.

I confess that I some times put my neti pot away and, well... out of sight, out of mind! If I leave it on the counter where I can see it, I use it every day.

Some more specific directions: Prepare your saline solution by adding salt to warm water, using about 1/4 tsp salt if it is very fine, or up to 1/2 tsp salt if it is coarse, to 8 oz of warm water. You don't have to buy any special salt, but don't use iodized salt. I try to use a natural sea salt. You can also buy "special" solutions for your neti pot, ranging from a simple saline solution to those that contain herbal blends. I've never tried any of them, but I can assure that a simple homemade solution works just fine. Make sure your water is a comfortable temperature, not too cold and not too hot.

Okay, so pour the warm salt water into your neti pot. Lean your head over the sink sideways, with one nostril up and one down:-) Place the spout right into your nostril and start pouring. You will experience about 1 second of very slight discomfort as your nostril fills up and then it should start flowing out the other side. You can breathe comfortably through your mouth. If the salt water is dripping down your throat, you need to lower your forehead. If it doesn't flow out the other nostril, just adjust your head slightly, tipping backward or forward. When you are done, remove the neti pot and then blow vigorously out your nose. Repeat on the other side.

There is a You Tube video showing how to use the neti pot. You can buy one for about $10-$12 at health food stores and at lots of places online.

Just consider this a public service announcement. I am not a doctor, and I don't play one on tv!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Daily Bread

Am I overdoing it with the food posts? Sorry! I just love to cook and I love to eat and I can't help myself!!

This post is about bread. Home-baked bread that you can pop into your oven every single day, even if you think you don't have time! That's correct: I'm talking about "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. If you don't know what I'm talking about, go directly to the library or bookstore and grab a copy. You won't regret it!

Okay, so the premise is: you make up a batch of fairly soggy, wet dough. You store it in your fridge. Whenever you want bread, you hack off a hunk of dough, let it rise a bit and then bake it. The results are phenomenal. This is not your average home-baked bread. It's a crusty, complex loaf of bread, the kind you drive to a bakery to buy, and it couldn't be easier!

There have been some basic directions printed in Mother Earth News and Vegetarian Times, but if you like bread, you will want the whole book. You start with the basic white bread, then you can move on to whole grain breads, flatbreads, pizzas, and dessert and pastry breads. There are also some add-on recipes, like salads and sandwiches and other things you might want to serve with your bread, or make with your bread. Trust me, it's easy and delicious.

So, here are a few more details: you mix up the dough. For the basic recipe, it's water, yeast, salt and flour. You let it rise for about 2 hours and then you store it in the refrigerator. It will keep up to 2 weeks. You can make 4 1-lb loaves out of the basic recipe, but it is easily doubled. Whenever you want to bake, you pull out your dough bucket and cut off a grapefruit-sized chunk. You quickly shape it into a round and then let it rise at room temperature for about 40 minutes.
Then you slide it into your oven onto a pre-heated baking stone or sheet. You add some water to a pan in your oven to create steam, close the door, and let it bake for about 30 minutes. Then... Cool. Cut. Eat. Repeat.

The possibilities are endless!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sushi Time!

Have you ever made sushi at home? Well, you should definitely give it a try! It's fun and easy and a LOT less expensive than taking your family, with 3 hungry, sushi-loving teens, out to a sushi restaurant. This is the sushi we made on New Year's Eve.
I don't pretend to be an expert, as I've only made it a few times, but I did do a bit of research, so I'll share what I've learned. As an aside, the only things I've filled my rolls with are vegetables and those fake crabmeat things. I don't know anything about where to buy raw fish for sushi, or how to handle it, or anything else. This just pertains to veggie sushi, okay?

Apparently, the secret is in the rice. You will need to use Japanese, short grain rice, also known as sushi rice. (clever!) It is very tiny grains of rice, smaller than arborio. I like Lundberg Farms brand, but there are others that I'm sure are wonderful, too.

You need just the right amount of starch, so it's important that you wash the rice before cooking. Simply measure out your rice into your pot or the bowl of your rice cooker, fill with water, and swish it around a little bit. Dump out almost all of the water, and then gently scrub the rice with your fingers in the small amount of water that remains. The water will get white and milky. Fill the bowl with water again, dump and scrub. Do this 3 times; by the third time the water should be much more clear. Next, add the amount of water which corresponds the the amount of rice you are using. (i.e., 1 cup of dry rice to 1-1/2 cups of water). Now, let the rice soak for about 30 minutes. After soaking, cook it up! (Note that some recipes recommend adding 2 Tbs. sake to the rice water, right before cooking. I've made it with and without sake and noticed no difference.)

Once the rice is cooked, just let it set for about 10 minutes while you make up the sauce. In a small saucepan, combine 1/4 C rice vinegar, 1-1/2 to 2 Tbs sugar and 1 tsp salt. Simmer over medium heat and stir until dissolved; let it cool to room temperature. (This amount of sauce will season 2 or 2-1/4 C dry sushi rice, which is the amount I used.)

Here we go: Scoop the cooked rice into a clean bowl. Gently sprinkle the vinegar mixture over the rice by pouring it onto a spatula that you move across the bowl as you pour. Cover the rice with a dishtowel and let it set for about 2 minutes. Now you want to mix and cool the rice, being careful not to mash the rice, keeping the grains distinct. You will gently cut through the rice with the spatula, turning the bowl. Some recommend that you use a small fan or a blow dryer set on cool to "fan" the rice, but I've never tried it. Just gently cut and lift and turn the rice until the rice is cooled.
Now, make your rolls! It's easiest if you use one of those little bamboo sushi mats, shown in the first picture. Lay down a sheet of nori, shiny side down. Now spread a little rice on top, using wet hands, leaving a little bare edge on the sides and bottom and 1-2 inches bare at the top. Add your fillings, right onto the rice, about an inch up from the bottom. We have used: thin carrot strips, cucumber strips, avocados, asparagus, sprouts, radish, daikon, lettuce... you could use scrambled eggs, too. I like to sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Now, roll it up from the bottom, nice and tight, using the bamboo mat to help you roll. Cut into pieces with a nice, sharp, WET knife. That's it! I usually make the rice and the kids roll it up. Have some soy sauce and wasabi for dipping, and pickled ginger for a nice, cooling contrast. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Going With the Flow

That's my new year's resolution: to go with the flow. That's it. I'm not going to sweat the small stuff, or even the big stuff. I'm going to stop trying to control everything and just sit back, relax and enjoy life. I realized that the harder I hold on to something, the harder I cling to a thought or a notion or an idea or "the way it SHOULD be," the more it eludes me. Then, I get all tight and bunched up, in my body and in other parts of my life, and I don't want to do that any more. I'm just going to take it day by day and see what happens.

I love the beginning of a new year. New lists and journals and calendars. Starting over, starting fresh. It feels so great! I know I'll probably abandon half of the new lists and journals, and it's okay. It's the starting over that feels so great.

So... let's talk about knitting! Here are some mittens I knit for my aunt, to go with the scarf I knit her last year. They are knit in Berroco Foliage, which is sort of thick and thin and loosely spun, very rustic, with beautiful and gradual color changes. I love the yarn.

Here is a scarf I knit (now finished) (needs to be blocked) of my own design... sort of. I used the "Little Arrowhead Lace" pattern from the first Barbara Walker treasury and added edging stitches. You can't see the design very well unblocked, but it's pretty. The yarn is Nashua Geologie, another yarn that is all about the gradual and beautiful color changes. I only used one skein and I hope it will block out long enough.

Finally, I bought the yarn for ANOTHER sweater. This one is IT, I just know it!!! It's going to fit in the shoulders and chest, the sleeves will be the perfect length, the yarn won't be too heavy or too hot or too itchy... PERFECT!! I bought Cascade 220 Tweed, in a dark charcoal color (much darker than it looks in the photo!). I've started knitting and... so far, so good!!

I do have a pair of socks in my queue, this time for Mike! He loves to wear his leather flip flops, regardless of the weather, except when it is just too cold. I'm going to knit him a pair of Tabi socks; you know, the socks that actually have a pocket for your big toe, and then another one for the rest of your toes, so you can wear them with flip flops!! He swears he will wear them, but... if you know Mike, you know that it's a gamble on my part! I think they'll be fun to knit, though, and if he won't wear them, I just might!