Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Couple Easy Appetizers

I've never been a big fan of New Year's Eve as a holiday, it just feels too arbitrary to me. Yes, I know, it's a fresh start and all that, but I've always felt that one's birthday is a more meaningful date for fresh starts and new beginnings. Anyway, this year, like most years, we just stayed home, but instead of having a regular dinner, we had appetizers for dinner. Here are two of the things I made. (I know, the holiday party season is almost over, but you can hold on to these recipes for the "Big Game" parties that will be coming up soon!)

Sue D’s Mediterranean Layered Dip

1 8-oz package prepared hummus
1 8-oz package prepared tabbouleh salad
1 cup English cucumber, peeled and diced (see note)
4 oz crumbled feta cheese
Greek salad dressing
Oregano for garnish
Pita chips

1. Spread hummus in bottom of 8-inch pie plate.
2. Spoon tabbouleh salad evenly on top of hummus.
3. Spread diced cucumber evenly on top of tabbouleh.
4. Sprinkle crumbled feta over cucumber, then drizzle with Greek dressing.
5. Garnish with oregano and serve with pita chips.

Note: If you can't find English cucumber, just use a regular cucumber, but be sure to seed it first. To seed it, cut it in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scrape out the seeds.

Customizable Baked Brie

1 small brie round (6-8 oz)
1/4 cup jam, preserves, or honey (seedless jams or preserves work best)
1/3 cup chopped or sliced nuts (could also use hulled sunflower or pumpkin seeds)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Line a small oven-proof dish with parchment; place brie round on parchment.
3. With a small sharp knife, cut three or four slashes lengthwise and then crosswise across the top of the brie (only cut in about 1/4-1/2 inch). 
4. Spoon jam, preserves, or honey over top of brie, then sprinkle nuts over top.
5. Bake for 7-8 minutes -- just long enough to warm and soften the brie, but not long enough to melt it completely. Serve with crackers.

The beauty of this recipe is that you can customize it to your own personal tastes. The brie in the picture above has honey and hazelnuts. Some other possible combinations: apricot jam and sliced almonds; plum preserves and walnuts; seedless raspberry jam and pecans; sweet pepper jelly and pumpkin seeds. Use your imagination and have fun with it!  

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A New Idea for the Holidays

...because inclusiveness doesn't seem to be working. And yes, I said "Holidays." I said "Holidays" not because I am ignoring Christmas or "waging war" on Christmas, but because Christmas is not the only holiday that is celebrated around the time of the Winter Solstice.  Over the past several years I've gotten very used to saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" for a number of reasons; I worked retail for many years, and retail establishments cringe at the thought of alienating customers, especially during the biggest shopping season of the year; as mentioned previously, Christmas is not the only holiday that is celebrated around the time of the Winter Solstice, and what's so wrong with being inclusive, anyway?; and, as a non-Christian, I don't actually celebrate Christmas myself. I am a Pagan, and I celebrate the Yuletide. However, it does seem that the more people like me try to embrace holiday inclusiveness, the angrier certain other people become because they feel we are trying to exclude Christmas. We're not, we're simply trying to acknowledge all the other holidays (including our own, in many cases) that tend to get pushed aside by the Christmas juggernaut every year. But obviously, we need to look at this differently.

So I had an idea today. Let's forget all about "Happy Holidays" and inclusiveness. Let's celebrate our spiritual and religious differences, but let's do so in a neighborly way by celebrating the one thing that all our different holidays have in common.


Think about it: Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights, which celebrates the miracle of the oil during the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Pagan Yuletide is a celebration of light returning to the world in the form of the Sun after the autumnal months of darkness and the promise of the coming spring. On Christmas, Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, whom they call The Light of the World. Kwanzaa is celebrated by lighting candles that represent the Seven Principles of African Heritage.

But what does light represent? Well, think about this: slightly earlier in the autumn, the Hindu Festival of Lights, Diwali, uses lamps and lanterns to celebrate the inner light of spirituality and higher knowledge that all human beings possess. To quote Wikipedia: "Central to Hindu philosophy is the belief that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the Atman. The celebration of Diwali refers to the light of higher knowledge dispelling all ignorance, the ignorance that masks one's true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. With this awakening comes compassion and the awareness of the oneness of all things (higher knowledge). This brings ananda (joy or peace)."
Light, the element that is common to all these different religious and spiritual celebrations, is nothing more or less than the human soul. That's pretty deep. What's more, it is the human soul that is seeking connection: to other souls, to universal love, to the Divine Spirit. We may look different, and speak different languages, and worship different forms of the Divine Spirit, and eat different foods, but essentially we are all the same. You're a shining star, no matter who you are.

So this holiday season, go ahead and wish people whatever you want. My Christian friends can wish me a Merry Christmas, my Jewish friends can wish me a Happy Hanukkah, and I'll wish everyone a Blessed Yuletide. But whatever you choose to say, why not acknowledge everyone's humanity by following it up with "And may your days be merry and bright."

I think this could work.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Howling at the Moon

I recently removed the curtains from the windows in my "yellow room" (so called because of the hideous yellow shag rug) so I could hang a plant in the window. (The yellow room is a combination of library and office: it's where I have my computer and my ever-growing collection of books.) I discovered, much to my delight, that by removing the curtains I can now see the moon rise:

The picture certainly doesn't do it justice (I really need to get a better camera). The moon was approaching full the night I took this. The week before, it was approaching first quarter, and it totally reminded me of this:

 Eventually, probably after the holidays, I'm going to have to make a Cheshire Cat fleecie.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Me and My Monkeys

Harold and Maude
I love monkeys. They're silly, they're funny, and they're one of my favorite animals. One year for Yule (a.k.a. "Christmas"), I bought monkeys with long arms and Velcro hands and wrapped one around each family member's stocking. A few years ago, when I learned to crochet, I found a freebie pattern for a crocheted monkey. I made him and named him Harold. The next year, my sister gave me The Sock Monkey and Friends Kit, from which I made Maude. And from there the floodgates opened. I had never been much of a sewer previously: I could just about sew straight lines on the sewing machine, I was really good at replacing buttons, and I could cross-stitch. But I certainly took to sewing sock monkeys like the proverbial duck to water; I even have an Etsy shop where you can buy them. And while monkeys are by no means the only sock creatures I have made, I've certainly made more monkeys than any other creature. Here's a few of them:

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Third Time's the Charm (Maybe?)

Once upon a time, oh, about five years ago, I started a blog. The original purpose of my blog was to track my progress as I (once again) attempted to lose some weight and get healthier. Eventually it fell by the wayside for two reasons: 1. As often happens, eventually I lost momentum and focus on losing weight and getting healthier, and 2. Even if I hadn't lost momentum and focus, I discovered that, while trying to lose weight and get healthy is definitely a worthwhile pursuit, it's pretty boring to blog about exclusively. So I renamed and repurposed my blog to widen its scope. It ended up becoming mostly rants and recipes, with an occasional musing on spirituality and the meaning of life. Now, I like posting the recipes I develop so I can share them with my friends easily. I also like posting pics of the things I make. So it seems like the best answer is to once again repurpose my blog as a place to share what I create, whether it's food, sock creatures, jewelry, papercrafts, or silly drawings. Yes, there will probably be random musings about life in general, and I'm sure there will be the occasional rant as well, but I'm feeling pretty good about the direction this is going right now. We'll see.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Update/Repost: Sesame Noodles


This is a recipe that I had posted last year, but I'm reposting it because: 1. I wanted to add a picture (such elegant china! heehee); 2. I've tweaked the recipe slightly; and 3. so I could expand somewhat on the cold and gluten-free versions of the recipe. Please note: I have an ounce range listed for the noodles and the vegetables because different brands come in different size packages, and it's really OK if you don't use exactly the same amount for these ingredients.

Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 15 Minutes
Ready In: 30 Minutes (hot) or 2 hours, 30 minutes (cold)
Servings: 12

16 to18 oz. Japanese Udon or Soba noodles (or linguine pasta)
1 package (8 to 12 oz) broccoli slaw
4 to 6 oz shredded carrots
4 to 6 oz fresh soy or mung bean sprouts
6 cloves garlic, minced (1 tablespoon)
6 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 tablespoons rice vinegar (white wine or cider vinegar works as well)
6 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon chili sauce
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 bunches green onions, sliced
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted

  1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil. Add noodles, and cook until al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. When noodles are just at the point of doneness, add broccoli slaw and carrots to pot and stir well. Drain immediately, and transfer to a serving bowl (the idea is to quickly blanch the veggies so they stay crisp, not cook them completely). Add bean sprouts.
  2. While the water is heating, prepare the dressing: add garlic, sugar, oil, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, chili sauce, and ginger to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil or medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves. Pour sauce over noodles and vegetables, and toss to coat. Garnish with green onions and sesame seeds.

Can be served hot as a side dish or cold as a salad -- if serving cold, rinse noodles and veggies with cold water after draining, and chill after dressing for at least 2 hours; re-toss and garnish just before serving.

For a gluten-free version, use gluten-free Soba noodles (Japanese buckwheat noodles -- check to make sure they are gluten-free, as some brands are made with wheat as well as buckwheat) or rice noodles and a gluten-free soy sauce (Kikkoman and San-J both make gluten-free tamari-style soy sauce).

IF USING RICE NOODLES: Rice noodles are prepared slightly differently than wheat or buckwheat noodles. To prepare with rice noodles, place the noodles in a large heat-proof bowl or pot, and cover completely with boiling water. Stir to loosen up the noodles, and allow them to soak until al dente -- depending on the thickness of the noodles, this could take anywhere from 2 to 6 minutes (I know the lady in the video said one to four, but mine took longer). When the noodles are just about done, add the broccoli slaw and carrots to the bowl/pot to allow them to blanch (alternatively, you could put the broccoli and carrots into the colander and pour the noodle water over them). Proceed with the recipe as above.

I hope you enjoy whichever version of this you make. Feel free to tweak this recipe a bit -- maybe spice it up with a little Sriracha if you like it hot, or change up the veggies a bit (although I do not recommend using canned veggies at all -- I made this once with canned water chestnuts, and it just didn't taste as good). Be sure to let me know what yummy variations you come up with!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Pain, Pain, Go Away...

and kindly take the fatigue, the migraines, the depression, and the insomnia (and all the frustration that they cause) with you. This whole fibromyalgia thing just isn't working for me.

< sigh> I wish it were that easy. Unfortunately, it's not. So now I basically have to learn a whole new way to live and cope from day to day.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, fibromyalgia is a chronic, incurable condition that affects your muscles, your joints, your nerves, your brain, your mood, your sleep patterns... basically it just screws up your whole life. Your nerves and the pain receptors in your brain become extra-sensitive; it's like they go to eleven. You end up spending every day in pain. Some days are worse than others, but even the good days are not completely pain-free: the "good" days are when the pain is just a dull ache, and you can grit your teeth, take some ibuprofen, and somehow get yourself through the day. The bad days, well, there's simply not enough ibuprofen in the world to help on the bad days. Those are the days when you sit in the recliner, cover yourself with ice packs and Salonpas patches, and read. Or just stay in bed and sleep. Pain is a little easier to deal with when you're unconscious.

But more than the pain itself, what I'm really having trouble dealing with is how the pain affects my energy levels. Fatigue is part of the deal anyway, and the insomnia that comes with it certainly doesn't help matters any. But you have no idea just how tiring it is to live with constant pain. It doesn't matter whether it's sore muscles, aching joints, migraines, or a combination of all three, pain is exhausting. But the thing is, life still happens, and it doesn't really care how tired or in pain you happen to be on any particular day: meals still need to be cooked, laundry still needs to be done, pets still need to be fed, and so on, despite the fact that all you want to do is sit down and rest.

Once upon a time, I could do whatever I wanted or needed to do without wondering whether I would have enough energy left for the other things I wanted or needed to do that day. Now, sometimes I wonder if I'll have enough energy to do whatever I absolutely need to do at any one moment. For example, grocery shopping for most people is just a somewhat tiresome chore, but they get it done and move on to the next thing. For me, grocery shopping has become, for lack of a better descriptor, a major event. If I need to go grocery shopping, then I can't plan any other major events on the same day, as I simply will not have the energy for anything else that day. Pretty sad, isn't it? "Sorry, I can't go to dinner with you tonight, I went grocery shopping this afternoon and I'm totally wrecked." And if I'm not careful and I do more than I really should, I may end up out of commission for a couple of days instead of just an evening.

I suppose, if I choose to look at this as a lesson, there may be a certain value in being forced to examine my activities and decide which ones are really essential to my life. How many of us waste time on activities that provide little real value to our lives? I'm sure I have done plenty of that over the years. Now, my health is forcing me to slow down and seriously consider every little thing I do. There's absolutely nothing wrong with slowing down and taking stock, I just wish my health didn't have to deteriorate in order to force me to do so.

The Universe works in mysterious ways, my friends.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Marking My Territory -- A Lesson from Mother Nature

If you know me at all or have read some of my past posts, you know that I am a Pagan. In general, Pagans are very respectful of Mother Nature and all her creations: we are tree-huggers, animal lovers, and dirt worshippers.We honor the sun, the moon, the sky, the sea, and the earth, and we honor all those that live under the sun and the moon,within the sky and the sea, and upon the earth. But I have to be honest: there is a group of beings that I dislike intensely, commonly known as "the creepy-crawlies." Insects and arachnids. Bugs and spiders. Ick. (Honeybees, ladybugs, dragonflies, and butterflies are exempt from this status. They are either useful or pretty or both and not icky at all.)

Spiders in particular skeeve me out. Yes, I know, spiders trap and eat other bugs. You know what else eats bugs? Frogs, bats, birds, lizards, ladybugs, dragonflies, hedgehogs. You know what I'd rather have around me than spiders to eat bugs? You guessed it! Frogs, bats, birds, lizards, ladybugs, dragonflies, hedgehogs. And besides, I've lived through two spider bites: first was a brown recluse bite when I was at college in Texas, second was a minor bite I got last year (the spiders in NH are not as deadly as the ones out west). To be honest, surviving uterine cancer was easier and less painful than living through a brown recluse bite. So yeah, I'm just so not into spiders. I don't want them near me, but I also hate killing them and disposing of their creepy hairy corpses. That's why this year I decided to try making some spider repellent, to keep those little eight-legged bastards out of my space. You know, kinda like how animals in the wild mark their territory by peeing, but not quite as, ahem, primal.

My homemade spider repellent spray, complete with misspelled label! Yay me!
I happened to learn that there are a number of essential oils that spiders find unpleasant. Among those are peppermint, eucalyptus, lavender, citrus, citronella, cinnamon, tea tree, and clove. I also happen to have several of these already on hand because I use them to make soaps and potpourris; you should be able to find one or more of these essential oils at any health food store, or in your regular grocery store if they have a health food section. Most craft stores that carry soap making supplies also carry essential oils. Here's a simple recipe to make your own spider repellent spray. You'll need a spray bottle; you can buy a new one, or you can reuse an empty spray bottle from any household cleaner, such as Windex (make sure it is clean!). Add 1/2 to 1 ounce of your chosen essential oil to the bottle, then add a small squirt of dish soap (any scent will work, but citrus or lavender will make the spray more effective). Now fill the bottle with tap water and shake gently to mix everything up (it will make a bit of suds, but the suds will die down after a bit). To use, simply spray in areas that spiders may lurk, such as woodpiles, fireplaces, and closets; also spray around your windows, doors, and baseboards, or anywhere else where spiders may get in. So far it seems to be working -- I haven't seen any spiders in the areas that have been sprayed. I don't know how long the spray stays effective, though. I'm sure I'll need to respray eventually, I'm just not sure whether the timeline will be weeks or months. We'll see.

Next thing to try is homemade boric acid ant baits!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Slightly TMI, But Too Funny to Not Share

I discovered today (quite by accident, of course) that Nad's works on cats. Well, cats' feet, at the very least.

(For those of you unfamiliar with Nad's and too busy to click the link, Nad's is a hair removal gel. You smear the gel on your skin, cover it with a cloth strip, and then rip the strip off. The gel is very sticky, so it grabs the hair and pulls it out as you rip the strip off. It sounds more painful than it actually is, especially after you've done it on a regular basis.)

Earlier today I was waxing my legs with Nad's. I did this while sitting on my bed, accompanied by my cat Tessie. This was not the first time I had waxed my legs, but apparently it was the first time Tessie had seen me wax my legs. She was rather fascinated by the process. She had the same expression on her face that she gets whenever I put lotion or perfume on, so I'm sure she was thinking something along the lines of, "These humans, always putting weird stuff all over themselves when all they really need to do is lick." Anyway, I did one leg, setting aside the used cloth strips in a pile out of the way. Then I turned around to do my other leg. Suddenly, Tessie lunged forward in attack mode: apparently she decided that the used strips were some kind of prey. What she did not realize is that the used strips are still quite sticky, so she ended up with one stuck to her paw. She flailed around for a bit, trying unsuccessfully to get it off; at this point I noticed what was going on, and I started laughing. I grabbed the strip, held her foot, and pulled the strip off. Sure enough, a small tuft of her fur came with it. She was not pleased and proceeded to bathe her foot for the next five minutes while pointedly ignoring me.

Good thing she didn't get the strips all over her, or I'd have one very unhappy, partially hairless cat (and some very funny photos).