Thursday, July 10, 2014

Food On Your Face (And Body)

Dear Mouse,

It's summer!

Oops. Ok a few months to catch up on. Long story short: It's hot, I made my off-Bway debut here, I went to Norway with this show (that will be coming here in the fall),  I had a birthday and you (plus fam) made me not one but two excellent parties, and I've been spending a lot of time in the kitchen.

But not (entirely) in the way you might think.

                                                                         Also the Lab.

There's no doubt about it, Mouse, my Inner Hippie (or maybe "Natural Woman" is more accurate?) has come back. ("Back", you say? Come on, I wear heels now! Sometimes.)

 What has caused this? There are several possibilities. Could it be working on a show that was basically a Passion Play about Climate Change and the very real consequences of our disposable lifestyle?    Could it be the fact that I've been spending a lot of time with {PLACEHOLDER BLOGNAME}**, a person who prefers (herbal) tea to coffee, ice cream to cocktails, and hiking/biking/kayaking/salsa dancing/mini golf/writing a musical together to... sitting in a bar? Or could it simply be luck/sharing a dressing room with some like-minded women interested in 'green' answers to beauty/heath problems where 'traditional' (chemical-laden, plastic-encased) products and medicines have failed us?

** Despite a lengthy summit on the plane back from Norway as to what an appropriate blog handle for this person might be, at the time of this writing a decision still has not been made. Suggestions considered and then rejected: The Boyfriend (meh), The Collaborator (dry), King Hakon Hakonsson VII of Bergen (historically inaccurate). 

They say when the mind is ready, a teacher appears. In my case it was three of them. Three Wise Women, bearing gifts ... in the form of beauty/health concoctions you can make... from food!

                                                                  It was like this.

                                      ok, really this is intermission of this 5.5-hr biblical epic play where
                             if you want you can be Baby Jesus in a photo w/the cast. 
                                                   Oh, like you wouldn't have done it.

My Gifts of the Magi were as follows.


Dressing Room 1 sat to my left in, well, our dressing room, while we were working on the End of the World show mentioned above. It was perhaps during the third of our five (!) 12-hour tech days while discussing how to reduce our use of plastics and watching videos of her cute 1-yr old son that Oil Cleansing came up. The next day she brought me (unasked!) a small vial to test myself, and I am indebted to her.

If this were a different kind of blog I'd go into depth here about my personal history of 'problem skin', and mention the words 'adult acne' and the incredible frustration of looking for a fix all my life. Also, if this were another kind of blog (you know, the ones where you really learn stuff), I would explain the theory behind OCM and go into depth about options. But this is our blog, and I'm already taking liberties. So folks,  read further, but the basic dealyo is replacing your facial cleanser (you heard me) with a blend (proportions vary) of organic castor oil (yes) and another, 'carrier' oil (yes-  DR1 and I use sunflower), massaging it into your face at night (no facial cleanser or makeup remover needed), and steaming then wiping it off with a hot washcloth, once or twice a week, or (if you're me), nightly. It all varies, but

Here's how I do:

1 part organic castor oil
2 part sunflower oil  

Mix in tiny glass jar. At bedtime, pour quarter-size amount in your hand, then massage into your face. Run a washcloth (I bought a stack of cheap ones for this) under water as hot as you can stand (do not burn yourself!), wring out and press it to your face. Hold there til it cools. Do it again once or twice, then wipe away any residue and splash face with cold water. THATS IT. Maybe some moisturizer.

I know. It sounds extremely counterintuitive (OIL? on my SKIN? for breakouts??). All I can say is it has NOT made me break out more and HAS (so far) made me break out less and my face feels soft as my baby niece's butt. (Too much? Sorry. It's really soft.) Everybody's different (DR1's blend is 5-to-1 and she does it twice a week.)  In the morning I use some cetaphil or (gasp!) just water, depending.


In fairness,  it was at least a year ago that The Playwright and I had this important discussion on the rooftop of the bar Brass Monkey, and I may have mentioned it already. As I recall, I was the only one having an adult beverage while Dennis (of past tornado-incident blog fame) and herself were drinking ice water and discussing their latest health food discoveries, and it was here that I heard the words "manuka honey" for the first time.

Mouse, I'll be brief. Get this honey.


Ok. It is not cheap. (Oh hello, Gwyneth, how'd you get in here) but before anyone starts yelling, think how much people pay for good face cream, acne medication, wound salve, and cold medicine altogether, because you can use this honey for all these purposes.  It comes from (obviously) really, really savvy and talented bees in New Zealand, and Trader Joe's is now selling it for $10 a pop though I am slightly suspicious and can only speak for the Wedderspoon's at this point. (Someone test drive it and let me know).

For cold prevention:  All I can say is I ate a teaspoon of this honey every day all last fall & winter and did not get sick once. This year, I didn't, and I got bronchitis for all of January and have a cold right now (which I am eating honey to try and cure).

For skin, esp acne-prone: Put some manuka honey on your (clean) face. Leave 15-30 minutes then rinse. If you're having a breakout, do this once in the AM and once before bed.

You can also make a hydrating/nourishing face mask by mashing 1/4 of an avocado well with a bit of manuka, smearing/leaving it on your face for 15 min, then rinsing. Here's a picture of me wearing it.

                                                                Soft as ... well, you know.

I'll keep this in the kitchen? medicine cabinet? (I'm having trouble figuring out where to store it), at least until all the bees are gone (see 'end of the world' concerns, above).


Stay with me, Mouse.

Now if you're anything like me, and you are, at this point you're thnking something like this: , "The Boo has gone off the deep end. She has entered hippie-dippie paradise and I hope she has a great time living there with {KING HAKON HAKONSSON... nope},  but I've been down this Road of Lies before. Sure, we all know that antiperspirant use has been linked to many evils, most notably breast cancer and Alzheimer's, but  as the mom in the (excellent) film The Obvious Child says, "I would rather not remember smelling good than live my whole life remembering how I smelled like garbage."

And to that I say ... ME TOO!

That's the thing!! I too have been taken for a ride by all kinds of (commercially produced, in plastic) 'natural' versions. I tried The Crystal in college. I dallied with Tom's of Maine. They worked for like an hour. Or a day.

But when a (different) person who shares a (different) dressing room with you tells you nonchalantly that the substance in her small glass jar is "deodorant.. I make it myself", and that person is notably gorgeous, patchouly-free and Not Bad Smelling, it makes you curious. And when you realize you forgot your Secret and you have to go onstage in ten, and you borrow some of the homemade stuff and it works, for hours after the show and the party... you ask for the recipe.

Here's how I do.

5 T extra virgin organic coconut oil, melted (liquid)
1/4 C baking soda
1/4 C cornstarch
5 -10 drops of essential oil (optional and your choice: I went with lavender)
Whisk the dry ingredients and then pour in the oil, whisking. Store in glass jar.

DR2's recipe uses arrowroot powder instead of/in addition to cornstarch, and mixes tea tree oil with the essential oil drops. At room temp it's like a lotion, in the fridge it is solid but melts on contact with your skin. Apply with your fingers after showering in the AM. That's it.

The whole first week of this experiment  I was terrified and carried around an emergency travel-size deodorant stick in my purse for the moment of (I was certain inevitable) failure. It never came. It looks and smells pleasantly like frosting (do not eat), and though not technically an antiperspirant I have noticed it usually keeps me dry. {PLACEHOLDER BLOG NAME} asked me if it is "PH Balanced for a woman, but strong enough for a man".  No word on this yet.

Ok, that's all for now.  I can feel us losing readership by the paragraph. For anyone wondering what happened to the Food Blog they like,  I give you a different kind of potion below, one that, yes, you eat.


chickpea miso paste
dijon mustard
real maple syrup
salt, pepper

Whisk equal parts mustard, maple, and miso. Liberally spread over salmon fillets and sprinkle salt and pepper. Exactly 23 minutes at 425, skin side down, in the oven. You're welcome.


The Boo

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

I am Genius, and So Can You.

Dear Boo,

I have no remaining physical evidence of the miracle which took place in my apartment on Easter Sunday. No image appearing on a slice of toast, no time lapse photography showing a glass of wine disappeared by an elusive Elijiah (see what I did there?), no, not even a single blurry cell phone photo in which one can barely make out the outline of a figure backlit in a halo of warm afternoon sunlight.

Oh wait, there is a blurry photo:

Can you see it? Glowing, ever so slightly? There, next to the brown smudge? No, the other one?

But you can kind of feel the power, right?

Well, you'll just have to take my word for it. Actually, you won't, since you were there and bore witness to the sacred event, but for the benefit of posterity, I am putting this down in print so that, like the gospels, future generations can hear tell of a time when inspiration led to magic and tired mothers could be geniuses.

It was Easter Sunday. Some of us wore frills.

Some didn't. All were hungry. Most were sleepy.

I planned a simple menu which could be executed easily and quickly during morning naptime. It included: Shakshuka, bacon, roasted potatoes, with delicious asparagus vinaigrette provided by the Boo, and fresh fruit and a fruit crisp from The Mother.

We all know, I hope, that when making bacon in large quantities, and especially for guests, one should always make it in the oven. Standing over a splattering pan of bacon grease, flipping and burning yourself and ruining your clothes and generally smoking up the place, when you should be drinking mimosas on the couch, is just dumb. As such, I planned to stick a package on a sheet tray and throw it in the oven a few minutes before your arrival. But there were also the potatoes that I planned to cut up and roast on a pan with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a little paprika, which would also take up oven space and time. Then I realized they both would cook at the same temperature, and could therefore go into the oven together (if not for the same duration). And Then--THEN--it hit me. Here's how my thinking went, if you can call pure inspiration, pure TRUTH and LIGHT and GOODNESS beamed directly into your soul, beyond words, beyond rational thought, beyond emotion and petty distractions of human life, "thinking."

I often roast chicken on top of chunked up root vegetables (like potatoes) in the same pan. Classic, right? This serves multiple purposes: 1: makes a delicious one-pot meal with meat and sides, 2: Seasons the vegetables with herbs and juices from the chicken, and keeps them moist, and 3: makes a sort of 'rack' for the chicken which allows air to flow on all sides, so the chicken is moist and the skin crispy, rather than having it sit in the bottom of the pan, stewing in the juices.


I've seen recipes for oven-cooked bacon which have you lay it on a rack in the pan so the grease drips down to the bottom and the bacon gets nice and crispy. And I've surely seen recipes for potatoes cooked in various fats--duck fat, chicken fat (see above)...

And most of all, a voice inside me seemed to speak, why do two dishes when you can do just one! And thou shalt line it with aluminum foil and not ask questions about the potential toxicity of this and ye shall peel it and throw it away and drink another mimosa instead of getting a cramp in thy arm scrubbing off crusted bits and it will be good. 


I chopped and tossed the potatoes with just a touch of oil (the bacon would provide the rest of the fat), and seasonings. Spread them on a lined pan, and then carefully draped some nice applewood smoked bacon over the top. Popped the pan into a pre-heated oven at 400 and sat back while the incomparable smell of smoky salty pork overtook the apartment. Flipping the potatoes took a bit of finagling what with the bacon in the way, but it was worth it. When the bacon looked just about perfect, I pulled it out and onto a waiting paper towel. Left the potatoes in a bit longer until they were golden and crispy with fluffy interiors, and then scattered some chopped scallions over the top with a dash of more salt.

Result: I am genius, obvi. But this isn't about me. It was never about me. This is about the future. About sharing this revelation with our children, and our children's children. Its a new day, and this day tastes like perfectly cooked potatoes bathed in essence of bacon, with skins that shatter sonorously against the tooth and bacon that is even and crisp and smoky with nary a smidgen burnt or undercooked and slimy. It's beautiful.

And the shakshuka was pretty rapturous as well.


The Mouse

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sometimes a Cookie is Just a Cookie.

Dear Boo,

I have nothing profound to say about these cookies. A fact which has kept me from writing to you about them for some time, despite the fact that they are delicious, a cinch to make, and are both dairy free and flourless, which makes them perfect for those of us on restrictive diets/those of us celebrating the upcoming Jewish holiday. I just couldn't come up with anything poignant, moving, touching, funny, or otherwise worth saying about them, and so they've languished for weeks without a mention.

I thought about using these as a way to discuss why I’ve decided once and for all, that I am against diets of the sacrificial, weight-loss type, the kind that inevitably lend moral weight to inanimate, edible food items, and through their inevitable consumption (because we will, at some point, cave and give in and eat eat eat, feeling horrible and disgusted/disgusting the whole time), give us the false sense of BEING Good or Bad, as if these morsels have the ability to taint or cleanse our very souls. But I mean, really? Do you want to hear more about this? I'm annoying myself here.

Then I thought about something more light hearted, like the fact that when you mix up these ingredients, they somehow turn in an instant, into a thick glue-like consistency that caused my forearm muscles to ripple with the effort of moving the whisk through, despite the fact that I pick up and put down an 18 pound solid (and very cute) weight about a hundred thousand times a day. It reminded me of making ‘ooblech’ as a kid, a potent mix of corn starch, water and food coloring which turned solid when enclosed in a fist, and liquid when you opened your fingers. The best was hurling it at a wall while in the liquid state, a little puddle in your palm, which would then burst forth as spattering droplets which shattered upon impact with the surface.

The 18 lb weight enjoys some avocado
Then I thought I'd talk about how legend has it our grandmother used to bake every. single. day during our mother's childhood, and that homemade dessert would be served at every. single. meal. And that she did this while raising three kids and before the advent of And how I have one tiny person, a one bedroom apartment, and can barely manage to boil a pot of pasta, let alone make a pie crust on a tuesday afternoon. AND my husband does the laundry. But that these cookies are so simple and so fast to make that even I can do a fairly good impersonation of grandma and have a fresh-baked batch ready by dinner time. I was going to go on talking about how I still, six months in to motherhood, can't seem to get much done and how quickly each day seems to go by and how my standards for productivity have been lowered to the point where responding in a semi-timely fashion (read: three days late) to one email and finishing the dishes in the sink deserves a pat on the back. And then of course I remembered raising and growing and keeping alive another human being is pretty freaking productive and then I fell asleep from BOREDOM because complaining about being tired and busy is like the most boring thing in the world and I refuse to do any more of it.

And then I stopped thinking about these cookies and started thinking about how many other things I am not doing because I'm waiting for something outside of myself to happen--inspiration to strike, a sign to be sent my way, someone to swoop in and rescue me from doing it myself, fear to be miraculously removed from my path, indecision to be wiped away once and for all. And the list was loooong, lemme tell you. Its tremendously easy for me, I've found, to think about doing something without actually doing it. To focus on all the reasons not to do it, or not to do it NOW, or why someone else should really be the one to do it, or to get up and eat another pretzel--just ONE more--before I do.

And really, what is all of that nonsense anyway.

So I'm taking a stance, here and now, to stop waiting. Sometimes inspiration comes. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it shows up when you're busy slogging away. Sometimes it arrives at precisely the moment you sit down to do your work, with hours of uninterrupted quiet stretched ahead of you and the chair that's perfectly soft and shaped to your butt with extra lumbar support. But usually not. Sometimes things you (I) write will suck. Sometimes they won't. Sometimes other people will do it better. (And they'll definitely do it better if you don't do it at all.) Sometimes cookies are profound. And sometimes a cookie is just a cookie. And you write about it anyway. Because its better to write than not to write. Because they're yummy and your sister should have the recipe.

You're welcome.


The Mouse

P.S. Speaking of inspiration, I will forever love this interview on the subject.

Chocolate Brownie Cookies (Courtesy of Bon Appetit)

3 cups gluten-free powdered sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large egg whites
1 large egg
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons cacao nibs preparation

Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 350°F. Whisk powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a large bowl, then whisk in egg whites and egg; fold in chocolate and cacao nibs. Spoon batter by the tablespoonful onto 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2" apart. Bake, rotating sheets once, until cookies are puffed, cracked, and set just around the edges, 14–16 minutes. Transfer baking sheets to wire racks and let cookies cool on pan (they'll firm up). DO AHEAD: Cookies can be baked 3 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Raising (and feeding) A Mother

Dear Boo,

Can you hear me, quietly, sheepishly tiptoeing back to the land of the living? the land of the writing, blog posting, full sentence making? I've been honing my skills creeping around my apartment avoiding the landmines of creaky floorboards in a one bedroom housing a sleeping infant, so perhaps i've snuck in here unnoticed. Which is just fine, since I have to admit I've been a little terrified of sitting down to write anything touching on my past four months (already?!) as a new mother. You see, I understand the fact that I am now, technically, a Mother to a small person who lives in our apartment, despite the Husband and I frequently turning to each other, slightly confused, to ask when her parents are coming to pick her up. I get that she is my child, carries my DNA along with a hint of my smile emerging on a face which so strikingly resembles her handsome father. I get that I carried her for nine months (who could forget), and will absolutely never ever forget the day she announced her arrival ten days early, insistently, quickly, willfully, almost, but thankfully not quite in a taxicab in midtown manhattan traffic. (And I will never forget the ridiculously delicious burger from here that was delivered to my hospital room two hours after I gave birth. Gotta love NYC. And my husband, the best doula anyone could ever ask for.) I will forever remember the sensation of this brand new, tiny person, being placed on my chest and instantly, as if to say, 'man, it was cramped in there!' straightening her spindly long legs to do a full downward dog with a strength no one-minute-old should possess. She has hardly stopped moving since, and at four months old, is determined to prove to us that were it not for gravity, she would be standing already, strong chunky wrinkled thighs planted firmly on my lap. And yet, for all of this, I still can't quite wrap my brain around the fact that I am now, A Mother. I suspect some seasoned vets out there might say this takes a lifetime of readjusting and learning continually as the job description shifts daily without notice.

If I thought pregnancy changed my relationship to food and nourishment, well, these early days of being a mother have taken it to a whole new level. First of all, I was a hungry pregnant lady but I'm a RAVENOUS mom-person. Then there's the fact that I am feeding and growing a person with my own body. It's like living in a science fiction novel. or the zoo. And finally there's the issue of the fact that, for how instinctual it is, breastfeeding is actually way freaking harder than you'd guess. Those first few weeks were a struggle for all of us and suddenly the act of feeding someone I love, a well-documented favorite pasttime of mine, took on epic, identity crisis proportions. My sole 'job' and 'purpose' as a mother, it seemed, was to feed this tiny, mole-like human, and every two hours my ability to do this was tested, my tentative, quavering hold on this new title took another blow, and I ended up, a hormonal, sobbing mess. It was, despite the thrilling, magical presence of this new love affair in our lives, a rough patch. When we'd finally found our groove and returned to the doctor a month or two later to find out our little one was in the 90th percentile for weight (now its up to 96th. stay tuned), I couldn't have felt a surge of pride greater if you'd told me she'd gained early admission to Harvard. So this is how the Jewish mother obsession with feeding one's child begins, I thought. Just last week, I remarked in a moment of tired mom insanity, that perhaps our daughter (96th percentile, remember) wasn't eating enough. The Husband, wisely, declined to engage in this speculation.

She's developed a taste for whale tail.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Very true. But I think, really, it takes a village to raise a mother. It's easy to forget in the blur of sleepless nights and feeding the baby and changing the baby and gazing at the baby and learning the baby's cries and trying to piece one's sore body back together, and marveling at how nothing will ever ever be the same, that one has to also care for oneself. Which occasionally involves eating. I've written before about the particular gift of food and why its sometimes just exactly what our body and soul needs, and its never been more true than as a new parent. There were the meatballs our aunt made and delivered the first night we were home from the hospital which were moist and comforting and stick to your ribs in just the right way. There was the golden crispy roast chicken with velvet gravy our mom made, along with an infinite number of other meals and groceries and pretty much anything we could possibly need, delivered nightly along with the kind of reassuring hugs that only a mother is capable of providing, and a firm and loving banishment to the bathroom for a shower while she held the baby. There were the cookies from the Boo, warm and so delicious, and the middle-of-a-tuesday italian sub you tracked down and delivered when an intense craving struck. There was the email from Chef Josh with a long list of menu items and the request that we pick four things for him to make and deliver to us that first week, and the caveat that there was no use in being polite and telling him not to bother, that he'd just pick them himself and drop them at our doorstep (we had moroccan chicken tagine, kale and sausage stew, vegetable lasagna and an assortment of amazing vegetable sides). There was the casserole made by my oldest childhood friend (a mother herself) portioned into single servings and freezer ready, and delivered without expectation of coherent conversation, followed by near weekly visits with armfuls of baby equipment, endless texts responding to inane and anxious new mom questions, and swooping in to change diapers while we ate. And there were the two rolls of frozen homemade cookie dough, one popped into our freezer for future use, and the other popped into our oven, perfuming our apartment with that cozy and nostalgic scent of butter and chocolate, while the friend who brought them (a mom and midwife, lucky me!), cradled the baby and tirelessly helped show me how to feed her. There's the college cliche of a true friend holding your hair back while you vomit, and then there's the reality of a truer friend holding your boobs and your baby while you sniffle and rub your tired eyes and give it one more try.

Four months later, we are forging our way as a little trio, and I've slowly returned to the kitchen. I'm learning to take off some training wheels, little by little, tiny victory by tiny victory. I'm learning to mother the way I've learned to feed my baby, slowly, patiently, with faith, and a lot of support from the village. I still love (and often need) deliveries of food and help, whether from (I should own stock) or relatives, but I'm also back to cooking for my family. Baking, even. Which feels particularly impressive since it involves reading, measuring, and math, indicating that I am, finally, getting a bit more sleep.

And so it continues. Each day we wake up far too early, to the sounds of squealing and grunting and kicking from the crib in the corner of our room and a round face that beams fresh each morning when she spots me up above, no matter that my hair is matted to my head and my shirt stained. And each day we do our best, gobbling up each giggle and gurgle like there's an infinite supply, feasting on chubby toes and leftover late night thai, and indulging in cuddles and cake and the occasional anxious, overtired, insecure cry. And each day I try on this new title of Mother, noting how the shape of my body and heart and soul have changed a little here, a little there, so it requires tugging and pulling, adjusting and altering. And the thing I've realized is, our daughter doesn't really care if it fits perfectly. And if that's not reason enough to go on and have another slice of cake, I don't know what is.


The Mouse

**One of the major mom victories I've had thus far was solving the mystery of our two month old's near constant crying, nightly meltdowns, and love/hate relationship to eating, by discovering that she is sensitive to dairy. As in, I can't eat dairy because she can't eat dairy. Which sucks for me, but honestly, the trade-off is worth it. And I'm finding some satisfying substitutes for the things I miss (nothing can replace cheese, sadly), including this cake, a vegan olive oil cake. Meg, from my fiction group, first made this for us, before I was dairy free, and I was amazed that a vegan dessert could be so delicious. Better yet, it's not only vegan, but subs maple syrup for refined sugar, so you can really feel virtuous when you eat half the cake. And best of all, for those of us who have limited time, whether between diaper change and bath time or between rehearsal and sleep, this is pretty much the easiest thing ever, involving two bowls and a whisk.**

Chloe Coscarelli's Lemon Olive Oil Cake (from Chloe's Vegan Desserts)

2 Cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 Cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 Cup Maple Syrup
3/4 Cup water
1/4 Cup lemon juice
2 Tablespoons lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
1 Tablespoon lemon extract
Powdered sugar and/or fresh berries for garnish

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a bundt pan

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, maple syrup, water, lemon zest and juice, and lemon extract. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and whisk until just combined. Do not overmix.

Fill the prepared Bundt pan evenly with batter. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the caek comes out dry with a few crumbs clinging to it. Rotate halfway through the baking time. Cool the cake completely before unmolding. 

Garnish with powdered sugar and berries.