Tonight’s dinner: Thai basil coconut curry

Between SF Pride week and unexpected physical malady, it hasn’t been a great week for home cooked food. But tonight, I made a delicious Thai-inspired curry with zucchini, carrots, coriander and basil from our farm. I adapted it from the recipe here:

In mine, I sauteed coriander seeds for a minute before throwing a chopped medium onion in the pan. I followed that with minced fresh ginger and garlic, and threw in some red curry paste, cayenne pepper, and red chili flakes. Then I added garden carrots and zucchini (in place of the celery the recipe recommends), red lentils, water, coconut milk, tomato paste, a bay leaf, and a cinnamon stick. Once it boiled, I simmered it for 25 minutes, then poured it over jasmine rice and covered it with fresh basil. Yum!

Here is the giant zucchini (and teeny carrots!) and basil before I chopped them up:



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Homemade deodorant


My skin is delicate.

I’ve inherited a cornucopia of skin issues from my parents. (Thanks!) My skin is, at once, too dry, too oily, prone to breaking out if I eat too much of x or y, very fair and highly likely to be burnt, etc. It also does not react well to many substances, both chemical and natural. Finding a deodorant that does not make me break out in a rash has been challenging.

I gave up antiperspirant about ten years ago. Even then, the idea gave me the heebie-jeebies (my Mom is a breast cancer survivor, and I’m a little paranoid), and honestly, the adjustment to living with sweat took me about a week. I don’t understand why this is still marketed as a good idea – it’s as if you had an expensive, multi-layered waste filtration system set up in your house, and you put a cap on the final layer so none of it worked. If you don’t want unsightly sweat stains on your pits, wear breathable fabrics!  

The problem I had was moving beyond mainstream deodorant. Tom’s of Maine made me break out in a painful rash, particularly the non-scented stuff. The crystal stuff was completely ineffective. Other “natural” brands I tried also made me get a rash. For years, the only thing I could reliably use was the basic Speed Stick by Mennen, but I’m not a fan of having deodorant that turns into cologne when you start sweating, AND I was worried about the chemicals I was putting under my arms.

I’ve finally found the solution, thanks to an adaptation of a recipe by Crunchy Betty. Here’s the link:

For those who don’t want to click through, here’s the basics: you need beeswax, coconut oil, shea butter, essential oils, and some kind of powder. She used bentonite clay. I wasn’t that fancy, so I used arrowroot powder. Basic internet research said that arrowroot was less problematic for people’s skin than cornstarch, so I chose that. 

I heated up the grated beeswax and coconut oil in an improvised double boiler set-up. Then I stirred in the shea butter and arrowroot powder until blended smooth. Finally, I added my oils. Now, I thought that my partner had tea tree oil, but it was in fact eucalyptus oil, which doesn’t have the same antimicrobial properties. Oops! I also used my homemade sage oil, because I was desperately wanting to use it for something! The result is a deodorant that smells good and kinda works.

I had heard that baking soda was caustic for lots of people, so I was originally hesitant to use it on my picky skin, but I’m finding that if I powder some on over my deodorant while it’s still wet, it doesn’t bother me at all, and my deodorant goes from “kind of” working to completely working. I’m also using organic baking soda from a  bulk bin, so that could be making the difference in terms of not giving me a chemical burn. I have a very physical job and unload trucks full of furniture twice a week, and this stuff has passed the test. I compensate by skipping the baking soda on my days off.

I am curious to see what happens if I use the right essential oils for the next batch, but for now, I’ve found something that works! 


The garden tour

Welcome to Filbert Farm!

The zucchini plant is the crown jewel. There are several proto-zucchinis and many flowers underneath these massive leaves.


Chard is constantly rotating through our menu. This is a new batch.


Tomatoes! We’re going to have tons of them this year. They outgrew their pots and Alex had to plant them wherever we had gaps in the garden.




There’s some dino kale hiding behind a tomato plant:


Pepper plants of various kinds on the left side of the L, and calypso beans along the fence:


Another section of tomatoes:


Lavender bush:


An almost ripe strawberry on one of our many strawberry plants along the fence:


This is the long view of our side yard, with the main garden visible at the back:


A nice shot of the bulk of the main garden:


Basil, in pots:


Another long view, facing the street:


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The previews

These are posts on my mental list or in the works:

  • A proper picture tour of Filbert Farm, aka our garden
  • Homebrewing, or how we make cheap and delicious beer, including gluten free beer that I can actually drink
  • The benefits of stretching and breathing every morning
  • How I made my own deodorant and I don’t stink
  • We watched some documentaries on plastic and they made us sad… and motivated to up our game!

But for now, sweet sleep beckons. 

A rant about pigeons.

I interrupt this stream of DIY joy for a little rant.

It really bugs me when parents let their kids chase pigeons all over the place.

First, there is the aspect of annoying the people around you. When a kid chases a pigeon, the bird will fly wherever it thinks it can get away. When pigeon chasing is done in a crowded area, that means other people have to duck suddenly when a frightened bird flaps toward them.

More importantly, I feel like it sends a bad message to kids – that it’s okay to frighten an animal just for enjoyment. That it’s not important to approach all animals with a healthy sense of respect (and, in the cases of many animals, necessary caution.) My mother taught me very early on how to approach a strange animal, even a domesticated one – the proper stance, allowing time and space for the creature to back off or approach. I never pounced on an animal, chased one, or suddenly approached with my hand out. If I had disobeyed these strictures and gotten scratched or bitten, it would be my own damn fault. 

People have a particular disdain for pigeons. I’ve heard it all – “rats with wings,” “disease carriers,” “filthy birds,” etc. I’m not denying that pigeons present sanitation problems when they share space with us in urban areas. But how did they get that way?

Our modern “rats with wings” are a recent ancestor of the rock dove, a wild breed of bird that typically lived on cliffs. These birds were domesticated and kept as pets, and became the common pigeon. Due to their navigational accuracy, they were trained to carry letters and small parcels (such as tubes of lifesaving medicine), and were heavily used during both World Wars.

These useful, lifesaving birds were sometimes released into the wild, and over time, feral populations took root. We created the pigeon, and these birds were a critical part of many human infrastructures. Now they are considered a pest.

Pigeon droppings are not healthy, but every living thing on this planet emits waste. The problem is that the pigeon lives in a world of concrete. When birds poop in the wild, it falls into the dirt or into plants, and then it’s probably eaten by specially evolved bugs who thrive on the stuff. Otherwise, it becomes compost in the fields or forests. When a pigeon leaves droppings on concrete, it stays until some poor worker has to hose it off. Pigeons also like to mass where there is a lot of food – and densely packed urban areas, filled with people casting off their trash into the street, provides an amazing buffet for the birds. Without our trash, pigeons wouldn’t be able to survive in cities, and might well return to a more natural diet. Our towering buildings, which drive away other wildlife, are the perfect habitat for the former cliff dwellers.

I don’t try to get close to pigeons. I’m not a fan of walking under dropping-encrusted overpasses. They’re not particularly beautiful creatures. But they’re fascinating in their own way. Last week, I was sitting at a park by my job on my lunch break – a little urban oasis. This park has a flowing water feature in the middle of the steps, and a group of pigeons was taking an afternoon bath. I sat only a few feet away, quietly, and watched them duck their entire bodies into the water and come up with mottled feathers, over and over. They repeatedly shook themselves dry like dogs do. I was relaxing and feeling grateful for the simple joy of witnessing this ritual when a kid came out of nowhere and chased them all away. I looked around for his parent, who was, of course, preoccupied on her phone. She let the kid run all over and chase the pigeons until she was done with her conversation. She didn’t attempt to engage the kid or say anything about what he was doing.

If it had been my kid (and I do hope to be a Dad one day), I would have encouraged him to stand back and watch the pigeons bathe. I would have told him about the history of these birds, as I just told you. If he were in the mood to run, I would have taken him to the meadow across the street and played a different game. Yes, kids want to run, and enjoy the sense of power they get when forcing something else to move. However, it is the job of adults in their lives to teach them respect for the world around them. 

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Playing in the dirt is healthy

I was feeling slumpy this afternoon. After a productive morning and hauling home a great find on craigslist (a giant cooler for free), I found myself stuck in a rut on the internet, getting sleepier and sleepier. 

I made some iced coffee, dragged myself out into the yard, and started working on the border to our garden. Little by little, I’ve been taking the pile of scrap bricks from the back of the house and creating a little fence. The goal is to keep weeds from filling in along the edge while also keeping precious soil from being lost to the concrete driveway. This involves hacking a few inches into the soil and digging out the annoying, spiny, and hearty weeds that like to creep in around the edges of our veggies and spill out onto the driveway.

Twenty minutes in, I was working with gusto. I’m now about 1/3 done with the border, and it’s looking great! My partner was also outside, bottling another batch of homebrew, so we got to hang out while both working away. 

Our hope is that by keeping the garden boundaries neat, we can continue to slowly expand our empire of veggies against the tyranny of the lawn. We’ve already won over our upstairs neighbor, who appreciates the fresh beets we give her. (We also heeded her request to plant some lavender bushes along the fence, which look lovely.) I think the landlord would be happy to mow less lawn; he just wants the place to look presentable. To this end (and for our own enjoyment, as well), we’ve planted a bunch of gardinias along the edge by the fence, mixed in with our strawberries. We also put in a few sunflowers, and the upstairs neighbor gave us some wildflower seeds to plant, which we just put near the front of the house. We also maintain a little succulent garden in a planter box next to the front porch.

I now feel sun-kissed and smell pleasantly like dirt, despite the fact that I’ve washed my hands. It gets under my nails and into my skin, and I don’t mind. That’s what showers are for, right? And I now feel motivated to cook another garden dinner!j

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This is not a soundbite.

It’s the end of a little vacation at home for me, and I’m feeling a flickering combination of contentment and depression.

I am content with the food in my kitchen (bolstered by a trip to Costco today), and the dinner to come. One of my housemates made homemade guacamole and chips as an appetizer, and I’m about to eat chicken and dirty rice and drink sangria, all made by him. I’m excited about the variety of meals I ate these four days, and all of the lunches I can bring to work for the remainder of this week. I’m hopeful that the bulk-sized container of unsalted mix nuts is enough to sustain me during my snack cravings there for quite a while. I’m looking forward to making a white bean fennel soup for tomorrow’s dinner.

I am feeling a sense of accomplishment about further research and tweaks to my finances – I set up a new ING savings account set up just for the Surly bike (which I got to see and touch in person on Sunday), and also asked Alex to explain compound interest formulas to me so that I could calculate the benefits of paying off my low interest student loans versus investing in retirement.

Part of being sustainable for me is getting my expenses really low through natural means (gardening, cooking, buying used and making my own stuff whenever possible) and ultimately marginalizing my involvement with the full time work treadmill. I need to continue pulling in a full time salary now, but the more of that I save, the better my options get. This may sound like sacrifice, but it’s really more about being satisfied with the little things.

When I go back into work tomorrow, everyone is going to ask me what I did with my vacation, and they’re going to expect stories of events and faraway places visited. My answer won’t fit into a few soundbites. But here it is:

I fed chickens out of my hand, rode my bike, planned a meal budget, put (half) of a border up around the garden, read books, sat in the sunshine, reveled in finding a beautiful old glass butter dish for $2 in a thrift shop, ate delicious food, made granola, researched options for our upcoming conference in Seattle, and basically allowed myself to pretend, for just a few moments, that I had achieved early retirement. I wasn’t bored. I still worked, but I did what I loved. And those fleeting moments were the kick in the pants needed to see life in a whole new way, and to do even more to structure my life so that I achieve that status much, much sooner than I ever believed possible.