9.13.2018

plants

I can't stop taking pictures of my plants. I am amazed when I can keep them alive and healthy... and heartbroken when they get sick and die. I have had a few die on me these past couple of months: RIP calibrachoa, begonias, lantana, dracaena marginata #1, lemon thyme. I am trying to learn how to not get affected so much when things go wrong in the garden. I have to remind myself that gardening is as much a lesson in letting go as it is in perseverance.

plants opuntia microdasys monstrose (crazy bunny ears) sampaguita vinca (still moody) boston fern flowering echeveria more plants more plants prickly pear cactus with new growth prickly pear with new baby pads organized potting table baby's tears poinsettia & norfolk island pine succulents on the potting bench rosemary germander dwarf olive tree chimineaportulaca, late afternoon

9.04.2018

cardamom + rose tea ice cream

We just got an electric ice cream maker. Imo found it at Homegoods for $50 (it's this one). I was so excited, I wasted no time using it! For the trial run, I made matcha ice cream, based on the New York Times' master ice cream recipe, and all of us in this family agreed that it was much better than Fosselman's (and we love Fosselman's) and even better than the Maeda-en brand we buy at the Asian grocery store (which is legit stuff). I love ice cream but often crave (or wish for) flavors that aren't readily available, so you see, after the success of that first attempt, I felt empowered to make all the flavors I could dream of! (That is, one at a time, haha.) The first in this series of dream ice creams is inspired by my favorite Indian dessert, ras malai.

cardamom + rose tea ice cream

Cardamom + Rose Tea Ice Cream
makes around 1 1/2 quarts

2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/8 tsp salt
4 green cardamom pods, crushed lightly
3 tbsp dried rose petals
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup roasted unsalted pistachio pieces

In a medium saucepan, heat the milk with the cardamom pods and rose petals until small bubbles form on the sides of the pan. Stir in heavy cream and salt and continue heating gently until frothy. Turn off the heat and allow the cardamom & rose to steep in the milk mixture. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until well-blended. Take a quarter cup of the milk mixture and slowly pour it over the egg mixture, stirring constantly. (Patience is important in this step of tempering the eggs because you don't want to end up scrambling them!) Continue to pour and stir in a little bit of the milk into the bowl until you have about half of the mixture incorporated with the eggs. Carefully pour the contents of the bowl back in the saucepan with the remaining milk mixture and stir. Over medium low heat, continue stirring until custard thickens slightly -- thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and strain custard through a fine mesh sieve into a clean container. (Discard used rose petals & cardamom pods.) Cover and chill overnight in the refrigerator.

Churn in an ice cream maker for about 25 minutes. Pistachios may be added in the last few minutes of churning, or simply sprinkled on top of ice cream when ready to serve. Ice cream may be eaten immediately as soft-serve, or frozen for at least 4 hours in a covered container.

cardamom + rose tea ice cream cardamom + rose tea ice cream

8.31.2018

a few housekeeping things

Funny how I was just writing about tapas, because, later that day, I burnt my fingers while making pho for dinner. It warranted a trip to urgent care, where I received treatment for first and second degree burns. Upon arriving home an hour and a half and a bandaged finger later to finish making the pho and finally have dinner at 9:30pm, the low-grade depression that I had been trying to shake off for the past few weeks had magically dissipated. Let's hear it for the transformative quality of heat! Lol.

Anyway, I've been wanting to share some updates on the organizing/home improvement tasks I was busy with the past several months but just haven't been in the proper frame of mind to write about them. I know it seems so trivial to sing the praises of an organized pantry/fridge/cabinet/room or a housekeeping method, but these changes have been so liberating to me, at least within my little domestic world. Here's a list of things that have recently simplified (and added some joy to) my homemaking life.

1. The Instant Pot

I was so skeptical of it at first -- skeptical even when Imo ordered it on Amazon (where we got a great deal on it on Prime Day -- thank you, Jeff Bezos [sarcasm]), even when it was delivered and sat in its box in the house for a few days. I was also intimidated by all the buttons and valves and knobs and the jargon (Natural vs. Quick Release, wtf is that?). But I learned it and felt determined to make it work, even after the first less-than-stellar dish of veggie biryani that I cooked in it. I have now had it for a little over a month and I have made in it with success: kaldereta, multi-grain rice, broiled chicken legs, Hainan chicken rice (TWICE), chicken adobo, pork chile verde, lamb biryani, pork rib sinigang, gua bao, kare-kare, barbecue ribs, beef pho, mushroom risotto.

The Instant Pot isn't really quick like cooking in a microwave, which I think some people will find disappointing. Even though the recipe might say "5 minutes pressure cook time," you still need to account for the time it will take for the pot to come to pressure + depressurize. What it does is cook a dish AT A FRACTION of the time it would normally take to make it on the stovetop or in the oven, WITHOUT SACRIFICING FLAVOR. I also love that it doesn't make the whole kitchen hot the way an oven would, and that you can press a button and walk away from it. It isn't no work -- because you don't just dump everything in and turn it on (meat sometimes needs to be browned, aromatics need to be sautéed, sauce thickened, etc.) -- and if you hate to cook, I doubt it will make you love to cook, but the amount of effort required to make a meal from scratch, I believe, is significantly lessened with an Instant Pot.

dishesre-organized drawer (my pared-down collection of dishes and eating/serving utensils)

2. Castile soap

ONE product for hair, face, body, and hands in the bathroom. I buy ONE large bottle which I dilute with water and decant into recycled amber bottles -- we also use it in solid bar form, which Imo prefers -- eliminating the visual and physical clutter of, and the waste produced by, dozens of plastic bottles. We use Dr. Bronner's "Baby Unscented." I like to customize our soaps with essential oils for a light fragrance and other therapeutic benefits, and add a bit of vegetable glycerin for moisturizing power. I mix directly into a 12 or 16 fl. oz. glass bottle, using a basic formula of 70% water, 25% liquid Castile soap, 5% vegetable glycerin, 10-20 drops of a mix of essential oils. A bottle of this solution, used as hair, body & facial wash, lasts our entire family around three weeks; a 32 fl. oz. bottle of the undiluted Castile soap lasts us several months. Currently, our main bath soap/hair wash contains peppermint, lemon, and tea tree -- it cools, and contains antibacterial properties for skin breakouts and itchy scalp. (I also made one with lavender and citrus essential oils which smells wonderful!)

I am so happy to report that we have gotten over our dependence on shampoo, which we used to buy a variety of: clarifying, dandruff, everyday moisturizing, etc. It took months to transition my hair to Castile soap and it wasn't the most pleasant transition (oily, gunky hair), but now my hair feels and looks better than when I used shampoo -- soft but not slippery, and no more of the limpness which I thought was natural to my hair. Turns out my hair has body and is actually slightly wavy, who knew! I now only wash my hair every 2-3 days (as do Asha & Yumi) with the diluted Dr. Bronner's solution followed by the same company's citrus rinse (that smells like fresh lemonade).

I also use Castile soap with peppermint to make an insecticidal spray for my plants!

soap mixes

3. Vinegar and baking soda for cleaning

Distilled white vinegar is such a cheap, effective, non-toxic cleaning agent. It works exceptionally well for getting rid of mineral deposits on faucets and sinks, and removing soap scum in the bathtub and laundry. I mix it with water, Sal Suds (or clear dishwashing detergent; NEVER mix with Castile soap!) and a few drops of essential oil (or with fresh herbs or citrus peels infused in it) in a spray bottle to make an all-purpose cleaner for use in the tub, sinks, toilet, tile and glass surfaces. (Sal Suds is super concentrated -- I didn't believe it at first, but a teaspoon of that stuff, mixed with vinegar and water, is enough to make an entire 16-oz bottle of all-purpose cleaner.) I've also used scented vinegar (I make my own by either adding a few drops of essential oil, or steeping fresh herbs or citrus peels in it) as a fabric softener and rinse aid in the washing machine.

I keep one jar of baking soda in the kitchen and another in the bathroom. I use it to 1) remove stains in porcelain and ceramic (cups, as well as the bathtub & bathroom sinks!) and hardened gunk on the stovetop; 2) deodorize the refrigerator, trash cans, sink drains, litter box, sometimes with a few drops of essential oil; 3) mixed with coconut oil to make a paste, to remove sticky labels on glass bottles and jars.

A note: vinegar and baking soda are best used separately for cleaning. I think they can be used one after the other, but never mixed together as they will simply neutralize each other.

bathroom all-purpose cleaner

4. Recycled glass jars and bottles, brown packaging paper

I keep the jars and bottles that have a nice/useful shape and size. I wash them really well and remove any labels with a paste made of baking soda & coconut oil, as mentioned. I use them to store food in the pantry and/or in the refrigerator, to fill with my different soap concoctions, to use as flower vases or candle holders. I've even saved little yogurt jars and Starbucks Frappuccino bottles to serve panna cotta and drinks in at parties. Another good idea is to stick a stainless steel pourer in a clean glass bottle and use that as a soap dispenser. (See picture #3 above!)

As for brown packaging paper, Imo and I like to save the crumpled ones that are used to pack delivery boxes with, smooth them out and roll them up to use later as gift wrappers for birthdays and Christmas. We don't need to buy gift-wrapping paper -- I/the kids just decorate the recycled brown paper with stamps and washi tape and string!

One home organization endeavor involved setting aside shelf spaces for these recycled items, because I've grown a collection over the years. (In a small apartment with limited storage space, this was a real challenge. But I found that we did have space once we got rid of the many things that we didn't actually need.) I have a shelf in the potting table in the patio for jars & bottles to be used for flowers and candles, a shelf in the kitchen for those to be used for food, a shelf in the bathroom for bottles meant for bath/cleaning solutions, a space in a cabinet for recycled paper and other craft and sewing materials. (Yes, I am pretty hardcore.)

organized pantry! present for indie

5. Cloth drawstring bags, beeswax wraps, cotton fabric

These are all amazing alternatives to single-use plastic bags and film wrap. I was able to buy a set of 50 plain muslin bags in different sizes from Amazon a while back for something like $15, and we've used them for a variety of things like storing toys, art supplies, toiletries, even using them as gift bags. The beeswax wraps (from Bee's Wrap and Abeego) were more of an investment (they are not cheap) but they are great for wrapping food like cheese and cut-up fruit and veggies and herbs to store in the fridge, and sandwiches for lunch and dry snack foods like crackers and nuts, and are washable and reusable.

Beeswax wraps, though, are not meant to be used for meat and hot food so I still found myself using more cling wrap than I wanted, until a few days ago, when I had the brilliant idea to sew some bowl covers (versus purchasing them here), using linen fabric and elastic that I had been keeping in the craft cabinet mentioned above! I followed the basic how-to steps in this YouTube video. I made them in 6 sizes, in reversible fabric, to fit a variety of bowls, from a large salad bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, to a drinking glass or a jam jar.

linen bowl covers in drawstring bag linen bowl covers Excuse my mom-blogger-styled pictures. I just felt that this sewing project called for a proper photo shoot. Haha. I was so proud of myself! I am.

*On a more serious note: I feel that I must say something here about "zero-waste," which is a topic that is often on my mind. The sentiment behind zero-waste is admirable, but I also believe that we can all benefit from thinking more critically about it and the limitations of lifestyle politics. It seems to me that many people, myself included, because of the media we consume (Instagram, Pinterest, mommy blogs, Remodelista), are susceptible to a number of tendencies, notably: 1) fetishizing objects that are deemed "eco-friendly," "natural," etc., and 2) feeling personally responsible and guilty for the destruction of the planet. These tendencies are counterproductive because #1 simply leads to feel-good (or worse, sanctimonious) materialistic consumption, and #2 reduces the problem to a matter of individual choice. I don't think that we will arrive at real solutions and real change until we situate these ideas and actions within the context of a broader, deeper social and political analysis, that is, until we see that what we are really up against is structural, systematic greed and destructiveness (i.e. capitalism)! Here is something worth reading and thinking about.

8.29.2018

tapas

I think I may have spoken too soon about having the days to myself again. Last week, the kids' first full week of school, was long. There was no "easing" our way back into a schedule, we plunged right into it. There were also medical and dental appointments that I had to take each of the children to, and one early morning meeting with a guidance counselor. This is all good, I suppose, this busyness that feels a lot like a sense of purpose.

Anyway, it's another week. Yesterday was laundry day. I had to go to the laundromat because our building's washing machine has been staining our clothes with a waxy grey substance and it's been giving me major stress. I know it sounds ridiculous to fret over such a small thing, but it would drive you nuts too if your laundry kept ending up dirtier after you had washed it. So off to the laundromat I went, as early as I possibly could just to get it over with. I dreaded having to do it, but I did it. And now our clothes are clean. I've reported the apartment washing machine to the landlord and she said it just needs to be cleaned with vinegar or bleach, but I am skeptical about that completely solving the problem. It appears to me that the machine doesn't properly go into a rinse cycle and just regurgitates dirty water. I don't know if I can stand having to haul a ton of laundry each week by myself to the laundromat and back if this problem persists. But of course I will do it. Who am I kidding. These past several years have all been a test in soldiering on.

Depression creeps up on me, but I try really hard to keep myself busy to overcome it, or at least to distract myself from it. I get out of bed and do my chores and make sure that home is always comfortable. I keep up with my kids' lives and activities and listen to their stories. I lavish attention on my plants and cat. I make things to amuse myself (most recently, matcha cookies and cloth bowl covers). I force myself to go to the Y (I swam 95 laps last week, I'm not so sure about this week). I read. I take pictures. I try to write -- always try to write, even if it's mostly in my head while washing the dishes or taking a shower. I maybe need more human interaction, though humans tend to be disappointing (lol). I also know I need to get out of the house more, except I don't really have anywhere to go (LOL).

There was a time a few months ago when I felt effortlessly content. I stopped eating meat for a while -- I was always hungry but I felt virtuous -- and went swimming nearly every day. It felt good to be cradled by the water and to think of nothing and hear nothing but the rhythm of my own breathing, and that was its own reward. Summer break disrupted that, and now it's harder than I thought to get back to it. I was just reading something recently about the concept of tapas, in yoga, which is from a Sanskrit word that means "heat." Heat is associated with pain and so we meet it with resistance, even though heat is also transformative and creative. Tapas is the story of my life.

8.14.2018

august

This is the first day in more than a month that I haven't needed to turn on the AC. On Thursday, the kids go back to school. Hooray! The past couple of months seemed to have stretched on, even though the weeks feel very short (i.e. it's laundry day again). I know that this summer has been long -- at least, for me -- because we didn't really go anywhere or do anything. That is, for the first time in years, we didn't need to go on any sports-related trips. We didn't go on any trips, period. When I am at home with the kids, that's no vacation for me! Also, the heat was something else this year, with the loss of those ficus trees that once shaded our apartment and the record-breaking heatwave and those record-breaking wildfires. ("IN YOUR FACE!" said climate change.) Anyway, I am thankful that the weather is pleasant today, and that in two days, I'll have the weekdays to myself again.

8.03.2018

small city, big city

Some photos from the South Pas Arts Crawl and dinner at PYT in downtown LA. diamond ave. water color by p. morris communal arts crawl posterpop-up shops meridian & mission davey donaldson performer balloons jasmine vines roasted beets outside pyt dtla street

7.19.2018

jekyll/hyde

My daily online reading consists primarily of Remodelista and Jacobin. This pretty much sums up my frame of mind throughout the day, wherein I vacillate between wishful aesthete and helpless socialist. I find that the more I focus on "beautifying" my immediate surroundings, the busier I get, the more content I feel, and the more I blog. And then just as my mind starts to feel numb, I turn to more serious reading, and I feel ridiculous and agitated and guilty. To which I have to respond by diving right back into care work lest I lose my mind. And so forth. Writing this blog always makes me feel simultaneously relieved and uncomfortable. It serves mainly as a record of my days (fleeting, repetitive), and as therapy (antidote to the mundane), and also performance ("I may be a housewife, but I have IMPORTANT THOUGHTS"). I wish I weren't always so conflicted about the way I present my reality. It must be nice to flaunt (OR FAKE) one's privilege without having any qualms about it.

Or not.

I think I would rather be painfully conflicted than have no class consciousness at all.

*

Here is something worth reading.

I follow Bernie Sanders on Instagram, and sometimes, just to punish myself, I read through the comments to his posts, and would come across people who say, "Why do you hate rich people so much?" like that was the problem and not greedy capitalists making billions in profits off the backs of starving workers.

a monday morning

I woke up late. Imo left me some coffee (kept hot in an insulated bottle), as he does most mornings. I poured myself a cup and brought it outside to drink. The air was cool. My outdoor rug is new and clean.

string lights in the morningcoffee new outdoor ruglavender bloom

7.18.2018

thirteen #2

Asha turned thirteen and I now have two teenagers in the house! Yeah! (Seriously though, in my experience, thirteen is a relief after the emotional/hormonal turmoil of twelve.) She invited some friends over for dinner (grilled chicken and caprese pasta salad) and cake (carrot, by request, with mascarpone cream cheese frosting) and an outdoor movie (Titanic) and impromptu s'mores-making in the middle of the movie (right before all the sinking action -- sorry, spoilers, LOL). I enjoyed throwing this party because Asha and her friends are a crazy bunch -- I could barely keep from laughing as they shrieked and giggled at Jack and Rose's most romantic scenes then shushed each other during the "Draw me like one of your French girls, Jack" scene. For the record, this was the third time Asha saw Titanic -- and it was what got her started on a Leonardo DiCaprio movie-watching spree earlier this year. (I believe she's gone through his entire filmography. She's now moved on to River Phoenix.)

dinner keeping those candles litthe breeze blew them out
There was a breeze in the patio and the candles wouldn't stay lit, so we had to move the birthday cake festivities indoors.
singing happy birthday happy birthday, asha!yay!!! hugs!huuugggsss The kids settled in for the movie in the back patio. We were equipped with spray-on mosquito repellant! (One of my great ideas that evening, to make up for the fact that I momentarily forgot how to focus a camera.) about to watch Titanic s'mores breakmaking s'mores The carrot cake was delicious, by the way. Birthday girl had the last slices to herself the next day.
what's left of the carrot cakewhat's left of the carrot cake

Many, many happy returns, my fiercely independent, always original, funny, brilliant Ate Asha!