Thursday, October 2, 2008

Tighty Whiteys

I have been getting a negative reaction from people lately when they find out that I make my own laundry soap. Reactions like, "You're crazy!" (Why yes. Yes, I am.) or "You must have a lot of time on your hands". (Ahem. Yes, Treen. I just don't know what to do with all of the time I have on my hands). Or even, "Why would you want to do that?".

Why would I? For one, it's great for the environment. We try to be green around here, as green as we can get, and it's not easy when you live in a small village with only a handful of stores. This cuts down both on packaging (no plastic bottles!) and does not contain any harmful chemicals. And! It saves me the petrochemicals that I would normally burn in my automobile driving to a larger centre to find green items, because I can walk to everything in our own town. Second, it's so easy and fast! Third, it's cheap-ass to do so! I haven't done the math myself, but a lot of testimonials I've read on the interwebz have priced homemade detergent at around three cents per load.

Let's say you buy some Gain, (Oh, Gain. How I miss your chemical scents!) on sale for $5.99 for the 48-load bottle of liquid. Math that out, and that's what, like 12 cents per load? Except for the fact that you always end up using way more than what they say you'll use by accident, especially if you're me and are clumsy. I always end up pouring some out and over-filling the lid, thus getting it all over my hands in the process and using triple what you'd normally use. Clumsy, I told you! So I probably end up using triple the amount that I should be using, which thereby pollutes our earth with nasty chemicals and puts too many plastic (evil, evil plastic) bottles into our landfills. Even if you are using a "green" type of laundry detergent, they are generally far more expensive than ordinary detergents and then there's still that packaging problem.

Problem solved! All you need are some soap flakes, preferably the "Green" type which are phosphate-free and all that jazz. I get even crazier and grate my own soap, a brand called "Simply Clean" which is made in Guelph, Ontario and costs me $1.79 at our local bulk food store, right in this town! If you live in the U.S., you can get Fels Naptha, which is nearly impossible to find here in Canada and therefore I will be jealous of you. If you're stuck you can use the old-fashioned Sunlight bar that your mother or grandmother used to have on hand in the 80s before such a thing as "Spray n'Wash" was invented. I have a bucket and a cheese grater that I use specifically for the purpose of soap making. So that's:

One bar of pure soap, grated


Approximately 2 cups of soap flakes.

One cup of washing soda (I use Arm and Hammer, found at the grocery store for $2.99 which was a huge box, great for many, many loads of laundry)

One cup of Borax (I use 20 Mule Team, also at the grocery store in the green box with the cute little girl on it, which I think was also 2.99 for a huge box)

Mix all that together!

Now get this. You only need to use two tablespoons of this stuff for one whole load of laundry. That's the best part. I keep mine in an old pickle jar, both so that the children won't get into it and so that it won't absorb moisture from the air. I am on the lookout for a really cool canister or something to put it in, but haven't found the right one just yet.

We have hard water here as well because we're in an area that is covering a lot of limestone, so I always dump about half a cup of vinegar into the laundry each time. If you're a scent person and feel you can't do without the heavenly chemical scents that come from conventional detergent, there is a solution! You can buy some essential oil either online or locally, and put about 40 drops into a bottle of vinegar. It's a 4 Litre bottle, which is roughly one gallon as far as I can tell by looking at it. I like to use lavender oil for laundry because to me, that smell accompanies the feeling of clean. Of course you need to shake the bottle every time you use it, because of the "oil and vinegar" thing. You can also add a few drops to your dryer as well, because as you might not know, dryer sheets are evil! If you can still smell vinegar on your clothes you can either increase the scented oil, or decrease the amount of vinegar.

I don't know about you, but I find that "alternative bleach" sucks ass for whitening clothes. Please don't switch back to chlorine bleach because that would just defeat the purpose of making your own green detergent. You can add an extra half-cup of so of Borax every time you do your whites, and use either hot water or warm. Your whites will be white, not grayish and dull.

From all of the research I've done on homemade laundry soap, most websites say that you should use warm water, fill the machine with water, let the agitator start up to dissolve the soap and then put the clothes in. Bollocks! You don't need to do that. What I do is put in some hot water first, add the soap, wait for a while and then switch it to cold. We don't use hot or warm water for laundry in this house because my better half is a Nazi about conserving electricity. (He is much greener than I, having been raised that way. I am still learning). We've never had any soap residue left on our clothing, which is amazing because nearly everything I own is black.

There are recipes to make homemade liquid laundry detergent as well that I did come across, but you had to cook it and it just looked like too much bother to me. I was a die-hard liquid person before, but now I'm a total convert to powder. So, do your research. Google it! You can eff around quite freely with the quantities and experiment all you like, but I promise you: you will love this method. I should know. I have three boys under the age of seven and a partner who is a full-fledged "working man" who comes home filthy and full of saw dust each and every day. Mountains of laundry are therefore my specialty.

Some more tips: wash your dryer vent with soap to remove residue from the dryer sheets; the sheets coat the vent and impede the progress of the vapour. Better yet, use your clothesline and dry things outside if you can. You can then fluff in the dryer afterwards to remove wrinkles, lint and the occasional bug. More and better tips here, here, and here and the liquid recipe is here.

So, am I still crazy?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

It's a beautiful autumn day here in Tweed, Ontario, Canada. The leaves are starting to change colours and there are a few scattered here and there which give a very satisfying 'crunch' when you step on them. But something is very different.

There are Canadian Flags flying all over town.

Now, Canadians are not like you Americans. My father was always joking when I was growing up that any excuse an American could think of they would wave their flag. In my experience, not many Canadians I've met are patriotic. We haul out our flags on July 1st faithfully, but after Canada day you seldom see one other than on government buildings. When I drove through the downtown core on Monday I was overwhelmed by emotion. There were flags everywhere. Everywhere! I think they should stay.

Not only is this town flying the flag, but most every town. This is because throughout this week, 1200 more of our troops are being deployed to Afghanistan. This week, after we've just repatriated our 97th slain soldier. This week which just happens to be the 7th anniversary of 9/11.

All this week, people have been arriving to greet the troops as they cruise through town. There are stations set up at Tim Horton's (love of Tim Horton's is just something that's ingrained in our culture--there's even one in Kandahar), and people set up their lawn chairs on the sidewalk downtown. Everyone has a flag and is wearing red and white. (I'm not even judging people for wearing white pants this far into September--I however, will not go that far). School closes down as all of the students are lining the sidewalks waiting for the convoys to appear.

I'm not even the type, but I'm out there too. I'm wearing a red Roots t-shirt right now, because I just came home from seeing them off. I've been out there this week greeting troops with a full face of makeup and a smile. Jeremy was teasing me and said that I was 'trolling for soldiers'. I'm not Lydia Bennett, I'm doing what I can. Smiles are free, after all, and I have time on my hands.

The climate around here this week makes me think of how it must have been when young boys were being sent off for the World Wars. Proud, yet sad. And angry. Still very angry. Frustrated. Scared. You name it. I fear that we're headed into a World War and many of the signs point to that.

When was the last time that Canada, the U.S. and Japan all had an election at the same time? If I'm not mistaken, it was right before World War II, the consequences of which are still evident in me. Even at my age, I was raised with a war mentality. I eat everything on my plate and I save scraps of string, for goddess sake! Right now since it's fall I've been heavily into preserves and stocking up on lentils, rice, salt, sugar and tea. If only I could stock pile gasoline I'd be all set.

I don't know why, but I feel very emotional about this week. Even though I'm decidedly anti-war, I happen to be supportive (this week at least) of this one. I'm trying not to feel as I once used to, that these soldiers are dying because George Bush is an idiot. This week I feel proud. I feel proud that they are willing to make such a sacrifice for us here at home. That we may live here in our cozy little country in our cozy little lives; watching what is happening on the news, talking about how awful it is and then turning our backs again to resume eating our dinners. At least there are people out there who are willing to defend our right to live the way we do. To keep us safe. To keep my babies safe.

I've changed my views on this war because I don't feel that these Taliban people can be reasoned with. How can you reason with someone who is mental enough to fly planes into buildings because they're convinced that God has told them to do so? The thing is, you can't. All we can do is to try to defend our own way of life and hope that we have the men and the resources to win out over the enemy.

I don't think the war should have been started, but for fuck's sake, finish it! So very non-Buddhist of me to say this, but kill the fuckers! I'm sad and I'm angry and I just want these people to be able to come home and say that they were successful. I don't want 97 Canadians to have died in vain.

Is it too much to ask?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Okay! NOW You Can Look on my Works, Ye Mighty. Then Despair.

I had meant to post these pictures in the last blog, but in combination with the baby waking up and the fact that my mouse was choosing not to swing to the right I just got frustrated and hit "post". So here you go. The baby is sleeping and I'm waiting for my chocolate-espresso agave mini-cupcakes to cool so that I can then apply the ganache. It's my Dad's birthday! (I just thought that I'd add that in there. He may or may not read this blog.)

This is a close-up of the cookies and cream cupcake from last post.


These are just plain white cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting, tinted pink. I only made these because I was having one of those moments where I was starting to feel smothered by the fact that I have three male children, one male partner, and a male Dupree living in our garage. There was too much maleness around and I needed to look at something frilly and pink. Henceforth, the pink cupcakes, which the males had no trouble wolfing down unceremoniously. They didn't even care what colour they were, or that I had been doing crazy things with the piping bag.


Now this was an experiment. I made some vegan chocolate cupcakes, cut the tops off of them in a circular shape, then I filled them with a homemade raspberry jam-like substance and vanilla buttercream icing. Then I replaced the tops I'd removed, piped on some more vanilla buttercream and drizzled over a bittersweet chocolate ganache. They were good (of course), but very messy. You wouldn't be able to eat one while driving to work, for instance. Neat freaks might need a plate and a spoon. Or fork. I prefer a fork but some people are just spoon people.

I actually put the cupcake right on the book to take the picture because the table had kid fingerprints all over it.


These next ones are mini-cupcakes that I made for Liam's party to celebrate the end of school. I had a vision of chocolate cake topped with swirls of lavender coloured vanilla buttercream with a simple dragée on the top of each one, but the boy had other ideas. So we just put either chocolate or vanilla icing on them and he dumped a bunch of assorted and brightly coloured sprinkles on them. Also, we used black papers with big, white eyeballs on them. Boys!


Speaking of boys... Liam wanted me to make my own birthday cake this year and I didn't really need anyone to twist my arm. I used the recipe from Nigella Lawson's "Nigella Bites", and I agree with her that it's the kind of cake that you'd want to eat entirely on your own after a bad break-up. You can see what I mean about boys and their idea of decorations. Liam asked if he could decorate it in private and then surprise me with the results. I was very surprised.


Now. As I was saying, "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" Also, admire how much my mad html skillz have improved ever so slightly.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Vegan Cupcakes Are Taking Over My World!!!

I recently bought the book "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World" by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero and my world has completely changed. I am not a vegan. I am not even a vegetarian! I was actually just judging a book by its cover and was pulled in by the catchy title. That, and who can resist cupcakes? No one! As it even says in this book, "If you don't make someone a cupcake, you don't really love them". Plus, my seven year old is allergic to the chemical additives that they put into dairy products so I'm always trying to find new things to feed him that don't include those.

Trust me when I say this, you have not lived until you've tried a vegan cupcake. The vast majority of the recipes in this book don't even contain weird, hippie ingredients. Just stuff you'd be able to find even in this podunk village in which I live. I am a total convert now. Eggs and dairy just aren't necessary in cupcake form, and let's face it: don't eggs kind of gross you out?

Eggs gross me out. Probably because as a teenager I washed dishes in a restaurant which specialised in breakfast. That and I've been on the South Beach Diet, which actually really works for me. The only problem I have with it is that by the middle of the first week I am trying to force down my egg breakfast before it starts coming back up. I'm happy that since buying this book we hardly ever have to bring the little embryos into the house, much to my relief. You ought to see the place where we go to buy them! The chicken! The chicken! My eyes! My eyes!

Not only does this book contain some great recipes that help you to save the planet one cupcake at a time, but it's also entertaining and funny. On page 24 it talks about baking powder and how you should preferably use one that hasn't been in the family for generations. Then it says that while we're out buying new baking powder, we should also drop off our acid washed jeans at the Goodwill. I laughed so hard that I spit tea out onto the book and now I always have to pry those pages apart every time I need to re-read them.

My mother always had the worst baking powder. Whenever we baked something we'd have to scrape some off from the big hardened chunk it had become over the years. When I went to university I was so happy to get to purchase my own brand new container of Magic Baking Powder which was so fresh and new that I felt like gloating every time I used it. (And no, I wasn't exactly a Domestic Diva back then). And! My mother once got mad at me for purging the house and getting rid of a pair of green acid washed jeans that she wanted to keep just because they were really small and she once fit into them, so I can totally relate to that snippet in the book.

We've made a great number of the recipes from "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World", one of our favourites being the "Cookies and Cream" variety. They consist of chopped Oreos (Canadian Oreos are vegan, apparently the American ones are not and you'd have to use the Paul Neuman Os) in a chocolate cupcake, topped with crushed Oreos in white buttercream icing. I've also made white cupcakes with Golden Oreos in them but I wasn't as excited with the results, mainly because I hate Golden Oreos and partly because I forgot to put the baking powder in them and they turned out quite heavy. But I learn more from my mistakes than I do from perfection.

Another one of our recent favourites is the "Simple Vanilla and Agave Nectar" cupcakes, which is supposed to be good for people with "sugar sensitivities". I made these for my sister's boyfriend who has diabetes, and he liked them but I haven't heard back yet as to whether or not it spiked his sugar. Apparently with agave nectar there are good points and bad points and it doesn't work for every diabetic person. It's also referred to in the book as "The natural sweetener of millionaires" because it's quite dear, although so worth it.

There are also recipes for low-fat cupcakes (which quite frankly just seem like no fun at all!), and also gluten-free. There is an entire chapter devoted to "fancy cupcakes" which have slightly more "uppity" ingredients like Matcha tea powder, rosewater and dulce leche which I have yet to try. What I really want to try next is the "Crimson Velveteen Cupcakes with Old-Fashioned Velvet Icing". I've always had an inkling to try red velvet cake since the first time I ever watched "Steel Magnolias" and saw that groom's cake in the shape of an armadillo. I still laugh so hard every time Weezer chops off the armadillo's ass and hands it to the father of the bride. But I digress...

You simply must have this book. You will not be sorry. Your clothes might be, but cupcakes are worth stepping up the cardio for. And since I'm not going to regurgitate some of their recipes here (because apparently that's plagiarism), you'll just have to look at some of the pictures of the things we've made.


There's Harrison, wanting to dive into his Cookies and Cream cupcakes that I made for his first birthday. His face says it all.

Here's Oran, enjoying the icing like any three year old would:


And why are there no pictures of Liam? I'll throw this one in just to make it even, although there are no cupcakes in sight, just residue on his face, from a different occasion.


Look on my works, ye mighty! And despair!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

FlavoUrs of Canada

Alanis Morissette who is one half of the former celebrity couple "Ryanis", the other half being the orange-hued beefcake Ryan Reynolds, has come out with a new album. I'm not a big fan, but I will admit to catching myself absentmindedly singing along to her songs on the radio. More on that later.

Alanis supposedly writes the best break-up songs ever. (I won't even tell you that she wrote the whole 'Jagged Little Pill' album about Uncle Joey from "Full House". Come on now. Cut. It. Out.) I would be heartbroken and very insecure as well if my ex-fiance were now engaged to one of the most beautiful women in the entire world! I, myself have had strange pregnancy-induced dreams about Scarlet Johannsen. Don't lie. You totally would go there if you had the opportunity.

I haven't actually heard any material from this new album, but I do take great offense at the title. "Flavors of Entanglement"? Alanis, who hails from Canada's Capital City of Ottawa, must have been living in the United States for far too long. Everyone knows that Americans have no use for the letter "U", and that they use the letter "Z" (that's 'zed' to us) far too often where a simple "S" would suffice. I'm not saying that one version is any better than the other when both are technically correct, but what I am saying is this.

There is a governing body in Canada called the CRTC. That stands for Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. This essentially requires that radio and television broadcasters must air a certain percentage of content that was at least partly written, produced, presented, or otherwise contributed to by persons from Canada. It also refers to that content itself, and, more generally, to cultural and creative content that is Canadian in nature. I know that this is true personally, and also because I decided to cut and paste from the Wikipedia article to be found here. For radio that magic number is 35%. This is supposed to keep us from slowly turning into Americans; as if the fact that a lot of us are French won't serve as a deterrent.

I can understand the need for the law, and appreciate why we have it. There is a definite need to promote our own talent, for sure. However, that doesn't mean that radio stations are going to fill that 35% with really great kick-ass Canadian content. That means that you're going to hear Alanis Morissette, Avril Lavigne, Nelly Furtado, some Canadian Idols, The Barenaked Ladies, and maybe Bryan Adams over and over and over until you think you're going to rip your radio out of your car and drive over it repeatedly if you hear the misuse of the word "ironic" ever again. Don't even let me get started on Kim Mitchell's "Patio Lanterns". Was that song ever even cool in the eighties?

Isn't it ironic, though? Alanis favoUred American spelling, but Canadians are the ones who are going to have her "Flavors of Entanglement" shoved forcefully down our throats for the rest of eternity. Would it have killed you to retain the "U" and just give your own people a nod? We are, after all, the people who will be listening to your high-pitched yodeling for years to come, non?

Here! Have some totally kick-ass Canadian content!

Okay, so I secretly effing love this song.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Peanut Butter

Sometimes I'm struck by the idea of how much I love this man. This overwhelming-peanut-butter-stuck-to-the-roof-of-my-mouth kind of love, and I think, "This can't be it". I can't have been with this man since I was twenty years old, and still feel like this.

When I happen upon him in some cheesy movie-like moment, like when he's dancing in the kitchen with the baby to "Benny and the Jets", me knowing full well that he hates Elton John. Even when discovered, he always grabs one of my hands and the three of us dance together in one of those moments that make my heart burst. Only to have the other two kids hear the fun we're having come running in until there we are; all five of us singing out "B-B-B-Benny and the Jitsssssssss" and having the time of our lives.

I didn't have much time to love him as himself before I had the opportunity to love him as the father of my children, but it's like getting to love someone new all over again. He's the cheese to my macaroni, and I'm so glad that I hopped into his truck eight years ago.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Eat, Pray, Gag

I've recently given in. I normally don't go for the Oprah-style self-help mumbo-jumbo. However, the hype surrounding "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert was just too frenzied to ignore. So I gave in and read the book. "Eat, Pray, Love" is about "one woman's search for everything across Italy, India" and blah, blah, blah, do we really care?

"Liz" starts out in the first chapter by making me smirk. She is sitting across from a real Italian Stallion at a table in a cafe in Rome, and contemplating sleeping with him. Then it occurs to her that at that point in her life (her mid-30s I might add), that it may not be wise to try to get over another man by getting involved with a new one. Is it just me, or am I the only one who thinks that one should already know that? If this is supposed to be profound, she's really missing the mark.

Before this journey Liz embarks on, she has just divorced her husband who basically took her for everything she had. She had been living with a man named David with whom she'd been having an extramarital affair and this relationship wasn't working either but she was still pining away for him. Basically she's a serial monogamist with attachment disorder. So Liz decides to undertake a "spiritual journey" as well as a geographical one, all the while planning to write this book about it. She'd also been able to take this journey of hers because of the advance she'd acquired in preparation for this book. Sound fishy already?

The book is divided up into sections, hence the title "Eat, Pray, Love". The "Eat" section is where newly divorced Liz moves from New York to Italy to further her study of the Italian language and to eat carbs with wild abandon. Sounds good, but she spends most of her four months there moping around and using food as a crutch to help her deal with her depression. She meets some nice people and eats a lot. Gluttony is not becoming. Move on to section two.

Section two is the "Pray" section. She moves to an ashram in India for four months so that she can meditate. This is the part where we're supposed to think that Liz is just "oh so spiritual" because she meditates. She whines on about how hard it is for her at first to meditate because of her emotional baggage and the only saving grace is a Texan named Richard who won't let her mope around. Richard is like her own personal gadfly, never letting her just coast along and settle for her misery. One thing that Richard said to her when she was whining about missing David was that soul mates are not supposed to be forever. That they're designed to essentially come into your life, show you parts of yourself that you never knew existed and then move on. I have felt that way as well, and it's something that I truly believe in so I could identify with that.

So Liz eventually settles down into meditating and then tries to explain to us how she has become enlightened in India. From a Buddhist perspective, if you notice your own enlightenment, that ain't it. Sorry, Liz. You're not a Buddha. The sensation she was trying to describe is familiar to me, and I've also read about a lot of other people who have described it that way, but to actually hint that you've attained enlightenment at the end of four months of ashram living is way off the mark. Perhaps I'm just being too cynical, but even so I just love the way that life comes along and kicks you in the ass as soon as you think you've got things figured out. It doesn't let you start to feel smug, which is the way this book felt to me. A journey across Italy, India and Bali where nothing really happens but you somehow feel the sense of entitlement enough to become smug.

Next we move on to Bali, where Liz had visited before. This is where she's supposed to find a balance between earthly pleasure and spirituality. Liz meets up with an old medicine man that she'd met on her previous trip who'd told her that she was going to come back and live with his family for four months. On arriving the medicine man has no recollection of her at first, but explains it away as if it's just because she looks like an entirely new woman. This is supposed to make us feel that yes, she has had a wonderful transformation due to her spiritual journey. See how that works?

I actually liked a lot of the section on Bali, because there were other interesting and more developed characters in the book and I didn't have to be all alone with Liz for extended periods of time while I was reading. This is of course where Liz meets "The Great Love of Her Life". Because a self-help book written by a woman and for women can't end until the female heroine has met "The Great Love of Her Life". Which of course she can only meet after learning to love herself.

I know that this book is supposed to be autobiographical and that she is actually still involved with this man. However, the book could have ended just as well without implying that to really figure your life out, your place in the universe and to be emotionally healthy, that you need to find a man in the end. This idea that "real love", this mature, romantic love can only be achieved after you've worked out your own personal demons and after you've learned to love yourself is entirely overdone. It is insulting to the intellect of every female alive to have the outcome of every volume of "chick lit" end with a great romantic love story. Real life is not reflective of that ideal, and I wonder how much of this "autobiography" was embellished to adhere to that formula; how much of the story was omitted because it didn't fit with the way the book flowed and how the story needed to transpire in order for this book to become "The Next Big Thing".

All in all I enjoyed the book, but sometimes I became smug in Liz's stead and laughed and pointed at her while shrieking, "You don't realise that yet?!" in my most infuriated inner monologue voice. It's worth a read because some of the advice that other people have given her is worthwhile but just because she was the one that wrote it down and published it, it doesn't mean that it's coming from her. I can't even get into how her privileged life has allowed her to take an entire year off from working or living in the real world in order to turn her life around in the first place. Or how misleading it is to her devout followers, The Oprahites who take her word as gospel and memorise passages from this book as they all wait around for "The Great Love of Their Lives" to materialise now that they've been saved by proxy through Gilbert's experience. Eat, pray, gag.

Perhaps this book is above me because I'm young. Perhaps it's because I'm not divorced. Maybe I'm too cynical and Elizabeth Gilbert is a great mystic, after all. Excuses aside, I still think I'm going to wait around for life to kick Liz on the arse and remind her that she's not finished yet; that she really doesn't have things all figured out into nice little packages. The universe will right itself on its own, after all. It always does.

Monday, May 5, 2008

I'm so excited!

I've been wanting to start blogging here for a long time, but it looks like I just needed a kick in the arse to get myself motivated. More will be forthcoming.