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.
(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!
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.
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.)
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.
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.