• Revitalizing Epsom Salt and Ginger Lime Body Scrub

    This is an amazing scrub to do when you have tired or achy muscles.  Sore muscles could be from over-exertion in physical activities or because of flu-like sicknesses.  The magnesium helps to soothe the aches and the ginger warms muscles and relieves muscle pain.  The vitamin C from the lime will help act as a mild fruit acid to smooth the skin.

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    In a microwave-proof container, combine the following:

    • 1/3 cup Epsom salt
    • 1 Tablespoon very finely chopped ginger
    • 2 Tablespoons grapeseed oil (jojoba, almond, or olive oil would work too)
    • Juice of half a lime
    • 2 drops each of lime and ginger essential oil (optional)

    Once the ingredients are thoroughly mixed, heat the mixture in the microwave at 15-second intervals until it becomes very warm but not hot.

    Take the mixture in to the shower and apply to wet or dry skin in a gentle circular motion or with exfoliating gloves.  Applying to dry skin will result in a more intense exfoliation.  Rinse and pat skin dry.

    If you don’t have any Epsom salt on hand, sea salt could be a good substitute.

  • Oktoberfest Bangers & Mash Recipe

    So official Oktoberfest has passed but it’s still October so I’m posting up this Oktoberfest dinner idea.  It’s always a good standby during the chilly winter months that are nearly upon us in the Northern Hemisphere.

    One frustration I have with cookbooks is that they rarely give an idea for a meal.  Often they contain just a recipe for one part of a meal.  Then I have a hard time deciding what the sides should be.  Bangers and mash is a hearty, healthy, and simple classic dish and it’s one that is easy to please most people with (including kids).  There are different variations but I like to serve mine as sausage and mashed potatoes (the bangers and mash part) along with sauerkraut and Dijon mustard.  One way that I like to add nutrition is by substituting some of the potatoes with some combination of parsnip, turnip, and/or cauliflower.  I also like to add in caramelized onions with the potatoes.

    To make the “mash” boil up equal parts potatoes and vegetables (I love cauliflower).  For five servings, I will usually use 3 small peeled and sliced potatoes and an equivalent volume of peeled, coarsely chopped vegetables.  If you’re going to go through the trouble, it’s nice to make a big batch that can be frozen and re-used later.   Put the potatoes and vegetables in a pot with a teaspoon or so of salt, cover with water, bring to a boil and let cook 15-20 minutes or until fork-tender.   I usually err on the side of overboiling during this step so that I have an easier time mashing later. This meal can sometimes be monochrome, so one way to counter that is to use Peruvian purple potatoes or purple cauliflower.  Once the potatoes and vegetables are fork-tender, drain the mixture.  Using either an electric hand mixer or manual masher, mash the mixture with some butter (3 Tbsp) and some milk or cream (not quite ¼ cup).  If you want to keep it vegan, use olive oil (decrease amount) and oat milk.  Add a generous amount of salt and pepper.  I also love to fold in caramelized onions for extra flavor.

    While the mash is cooking, either grill or sauté the sausage.  If you are going to grill it, slice it after it has been prepared and if you are going to sauté it, cut it up before hand.  I like to cut the sausage at a 45° angle to the length to make each piece a little longer and improve the presentation.  Kielbasa works great for this.  Often times for my portion, I will use the Tofurkey kielbasa.  It’s not fooling anyone, but it’s something I can feel better about consuming.  Our friend brought us some kielbasa-style venison sausage from a hunt he went on, and that’s wonderful too.  Try and find sausages that have not been preserved with nitrates.  There is a wonderful store in Houston called Revival Market that raises sustainable, humanely raised pigs if you are local and are going to eat “real” sausage.  They also have great American mustard that works well with this meal.

    I have a recipe for sauerkraut in a previous post, but if you’re not in to playing around with that, just buy some good refrigerated sauerkraut.  If you prefer your sauerkraut warmed, warm it in a pan while the rest is cooking.  I like to top it with caraway seeds.  A lot of people turn their nose up at sauerkraut, but I encourage you to try it again.  It’s one of those things like pickles that you might eventually start craving.  The cabbage from which it’s made is so healthy.  Cabbage is part of a family of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, bok choy, etc.  It is chock-full of disease fighting phytochemicals, vitamins (including vitamin C), and fiber.  The slightly sulfurous smell all these vegetables have in common is because they contain sulforaphane.  Studies have suggested that this phytochemical can help reduce the risk of cancer.  It does so by stimulating enzymes in the body that detoxify carcinogens before they wreak havoc on cells.  I talk more about the benefits of fermented food in general in the post on sauerkraut.

    Serve the sausage and mashies on a plate, along with some sauerkraut and Dijon mustard.

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    This is a great fall meal, especially served with a nice pint of Oktoberfest beer.  Yum!

  • Travel: Carry-On Only Packing with Video

    There are many reasons that I try to travel with just a carry-on bag when flying.  They are listed below:

    Why??

    • Resourcefulness. I love any opportunity to have a MacGyver moment of my own.  Isn’t that what travel is all about…relying on just your wits and a small bag like Indiana Jones?  It’s about the experience, not the stuff.  People always need far less than they imagine they do and it’s nice not to be carrying around all that extra baggage (literally and figuratively).
    • Self-reliance.  You’re not at the mercy of others. You alone are responsible for your luggage and don’t have to rely on others to help you lift and hoist, etc.  There are no problems with airlines if your bag is lost.
    • Flexibility.  How many times have you realized you could have caught an earlier flight or changed your travel plans only to be stymied by having to wait for your bag to come on a different flight? I also love that there is no waiting at baggage claim after your flight lands.  This can sometimes add 30 to 40 minutes to a trip.  This is a big deal for me because I take a lot of quick jaunts.
    • Smart and efficient.  You don’t waste time worrying about which outfit to wear.  And It’s my view that light packers make a good impression.  Would you rather pick someone up that is lugging around a giant suitcase of crap or someone who is tidy and thoughtful about their packing?  I guess I’m just kind of an asshole that way.  It reminds me of a a study on the impression businesswomen make in relation to their handbag.  If she had to dig and waste time trying to find something, she was thought of as inept and disorganized.  I feel like it’s the same way with packing.

    Here are a few guidelines that I’ve realized on countless trips (I seem to fly about once a month):

    Simple Guidelines

    • It might be a little colder than you expect.  Keep yourself warm.  Bring a versatile garment (jacket) to keep you warm every day.
    • You don’t need as many pairs of shoes as you think you do.
    • If you’re going to overpack on something, do it on first layer shirts and underpants.  It’s always nice to have a fresh one of each of these things.
    • Bring something that is comfortable but can also be dressed up.  I have many times found myself wishing I wasn’t wearing something that was so obviously “traveling” clothes.  Americans seem to be particularly guilty of this.  Go on, you très continental globetrotter *said with a French accent*– play the part.
    • Accessories can go far.  Especially if they do double duty to protect you against weather or give you a way to cover up messed up or dirty hair, like a hat, scarf or head scarf.
    • You don’t need as many pairs of trousers/bottoms as you think you do.
    • Advice from my friend, Sarah, when I told her I could never decide what to pack.  “Really?  I always just bring all my very favorite things!”  Very sound advice!  After all, this is when pictures are going to be taken.
    • Often times you might want to shop or buy something that reminds you of a place so err on the light side and use this as an excuse to buy something local if you didn’t pack enough.  This works especially well with jewelry when you don’t have much space in your luggage.

    Suitcase

    If you know which airline you’re traveling on, check the limitations for carry-on baggage size.  I have two suitcases that I love (and show in my video) that easily fit in most overhead bins.  There is a 17” Brookstone hard case that is really light and maneuvers easily and a great Osprey Meridian convertible wheeled suitcase I have that works really well for doing a tour or “backpacking” type trips.

    How to Pack

    Please see my YouTube video for a more detailed description of these ideas.

    Depending on the type of trip I’m doing, I will pack one of two ways.  If it’s a trip where I’m going to be moving around a lot between hotels, houses, and/or it’s more a tour type trip, I will pack everything in plastic bags as described in my  video.  This method of packing groups all like things together.  That way when you want to find the thing you’re looking for, you can grab it out of a bag and then stuff everything back in without messing it all up.  It’s great if you’re not really able to unpack on your trip.

    If I’m going to be set up somewhere for a while and can kind of unpack, I will just skip the plastic bags.  In both cases, I will roll up all my clothes to save space.  I always bring a small bottle of detergent (shampoo or Dr. Bronner’s soap work fine too). That way I know I can do a quick wash in the sink and an overnight air dry if something is desperate for a wash.

    When I pack, I sort of do it from a body scan approach.  I pack the necessary shoes – usually one pair that can be dressed up, one simple flat that is comfortable that can go with jeans, shorts, or a dress (sometimes the same as my one that can be dressed up) and one pair that is athletic.  For women, I love the Patagonia Maha Breathe to do triple duty if it won’t be cold.  Then I make sure I have the necessary socks.  I usually only need a few pairs of trousers/skirts no matter how long the trips is. Then underpants.  Again, splurge here. Then short sleeve, tanks and shirts.  This again is where I splurge if I’m not going to stay somewhere people will be doing loads of laundry.  A dress or two.  Something warm for the plane.  A jacket.  Then accessories.  Maybe a scarf or belt and a couple pieces of jewelry that travel well and that you wouldn’t be devastated if you lost.  I try to stick with one color family on a trip so everything goes together, including jewelry.

    I cover packing for toiletries in another post.

  • Finding the Good in the Bad

    We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses. ~Abraham Lincoln

    The other day as it turned from warm sunny and beautiful to windy, Chief and I found ourselves complaining that it was now too breezy to grill our dinner outside.  We set aside our plans for a barbecue and a bike ride with a resigned sigh and went out for dinner.  The next day, the wind dissipated and so we went out to grill our original meal, finding it still and muggy and hot.  As we started preparing everything, we realized the mosquitoes were out.  If only we had some wind to keep them away!

    We have pretty much stopped using our air conditioning and heating, the Houston climate sometimes verging on freezing and often verging on hot, but never enough that you can’t stand it.  It doesn’t make sense to blast air in to our old and energy inefficient house.  All  last winter I ran around covered in three layers and down slippers, occasionally a hat, piling on blankets to go to bed.  I dreamed of the summer days when I could again walk around feeling warm, taking cold baths and wearing hot yoga shorts and a bralette around the house.  Well, those days arrived and guess what?  I once again found myself longing for those days we spent snuggling under the covers and making hearty stews.

    All of this has caused me to reflect on how we feel about life in general.  Sometimes we long for something to be how it used to be, or to look forward to the way things will be without appreciating all the things about the present moment.

    When it’s windy, it keeps the bugs away.  When it’s raining, it’s good for the garden and plants and gives us an excuse to not feel guilty about curling up with a book or movie.  When it’s cold, it gives us a chance to put together cute outfits and make a fire and snuggle up with loved ones.  When it’s warm, we can leave the house without worrying about a chill. When it’s humid, it keeps our skin plump and hydrated.  When it’s dry we can cruise on foot or bicycle without becoming covered in sweat.  When it’s sunny, we can soak up the vitamin D and watch the solar-powered rainbow maker.  When it’s cloudy, it gives us a cozy feeling.

    What if instead of assessing what’s wrong with today, we appreciated what this weather or circumstance was bringing to our life?  I am trying to be thankful for the things that may seem like annoyances or deterrents and appreciate them for what they are providing instead of focusing on what they are preventing.  Like weather, life always changes.

    A windy (but bug free!) hike in Big Bend National Park

    A windy (but bug free!) hike in Big Bend National Park

  • Hot autumn thunder
    Makes moon melt tickle my face;
    Harvest wild dreams.

    a haiku, by Emily Ness