Good to Grow

Like painting or or singing, some people have an innate gift for gardening. Call it a natural talent that’s given at birth, I’ve seen sickly plants flourish under the right care. It seems even more magical to me, as someone who’s liable to turn that scenario on its head and drive supposedly indestructible vegetation right back into the ground. Described more favorably, you could say that I’m excellent at making compost.

This is the year that I’m changing all that. It’s no secret that I haven’t had the greatest luck with plants, laying to waste everything from succulents to bamboo, but that’s all in the past. Now, with a bit more experience and the right tools, I’m already the proud plant mama of some lush fresh herbs, thriving tomato vines, and even a few flowering pepper buds, ready to burst forth with fruit any day.

How is this possible, you may ask? As with most things in life, it comes down to dumb luck, hard work, and a few simple tricks.

Location, location, location! Make sure you start growing in a space that gets at least 8 hours of direct sun everyday to best suit most plants. You don’t need a ton of acreage or even a yard to start growing; any outdoor space can become a flourishing garden. Apartment dwellers would be wise to invest in a vertical planter to maximize limited balcony space. Lacking that, a window box planter can go anywhere, indoors or out.

Make it rain. Water religiously, even if mother nature does help out with a few showers. Make a habit of checking the soil everyday; if it seems dry, add more water. No need to go crazy, and you might not need to water everyday, depending on your climate. Set yourself a regular calendar reminder if you’re liable to get swept up in the daily madness and forget. Gardening apps like Planta and Flourish are brilliant for this and so much more, specific to your particular plants.

Feed me, Seymour. Like a pet, plants need good food to grow, too! About a month after the first sprouts emerge, add plant food to the soil. You can easily and cheaply make your own from Epsom salts and baking soda, an reapply roughly once a month. Just a little bit will do! Alternately, consider adding ground kelp or seaweed into the soil, which is a rich source of trace elements such as iron, zinc, barium, calcium, sulphur, and magnesium.

Don’t be a pest. Pull out weeds and other odd interlopers, of course, but don’t get sentimental over your own dying sprouts, either. If any of your plants are on their way out, remove them before they have time to rot, attract bugs, and potentially spread disease. If you suspect an infestation, don’t panic, and don’t pull out the toxic chemicals. Depending on the pests, there are many natural remedies you can make from household ingredients.

Slow and steady wins the race. Be patient, don’t overdo it, and celebrate the small victories. Especially if you’re starting from seed, it will be a while before you can reap the fruits of your labor, so buckle in and get comfortable for the long haul. Personally, the actual fruits and vegetables are a bonus at this point; just seeing greens living and thriving under my care, growing bigger and stronger by the day, is something to celebrate already.

Worst comes to worst, if your best efforts still end in barren earth, you’ll still end up ahead of the game. You’ve just enriched your soil for even better growing conditions next year! Your future plant babies will thank you for it.

Miraculous Olive Oil

The legendary oil that fueled the original Hanukkah miracle, burning brightly for eight days on end, was most certainly olive oil. Capable of wonders both big and small, historically and still to this day, it’s an indispensable staple that’s saved me from all variety of culinary plights. Just as the biblical story exhorts, a little bit of extra virgin olive oil goes a long way.

Why is this the obvious, and only rational choice? While it doesn’t last forever, kept in a dark and cool place, tightly sealed bottles will stay just as fresh for up to a year and a half without any preservatives, high-pressure canning practices, or refrigeration. Plus, it can handle the heat. Contrary to popular belief, extra virgin olive oil does indeed have a high smoke point (400° F), so it can handle anything from a light sauté to a deep (and deeply flavorful) fry. You can bake with olive oil, as well.

Extra virgin olive oil is made by sheer force, extracted by pressure without heat or chemicals. It represents quality you can taste. Virtually free of acidity(below 0.8%,) each oil is judged by experts, who must agree that it meets the high flavor standards to bear the official designation of “extra virgin.” Each bottle that makes the grade must exhibit the presence of nuanced fruity, bitter, and spicy notes, in every bold drop. If these signature components aren’t all in perfect, harmonious balance, it won’t receive the esteemed rating, and you’ll never suffer the injustice of a subpar specimen.

European extra virgin olive oil in particular is held to some of the highest standards. The olive tree has been revered in Europe since antiquity. Over thousands of years, farmers have evolved hundreds of cultivars and optimized them for different environment conditions and terrains to produce the most flavorful yields.

Beyond its legendary piquancy, aroma, and zest, extra virgin olive oil can literally shed a light on the darkness of a largely overlooked holiday practice. The fabled tale of the Hanukkah miracle is more than just mythology, after all. Even without a fancy vessel or ornamental candles, my menorah burns as brightly as ever this year, powered by oil alone. If you have wicks and olive oil, you can make one from scratch in a matter of minutes, too!

Just make sure you save a little drizzle for dessert. While balsamic vinegar often gets all the attention as an unconventional ice cream topper, lending a savory, tangy twist to the usual old frosty scoop, I happen to love the richness that this golden-green elixir adds instead. Vanilla would be most traditional, but what’s to say it doesn’t pair just as well with a luscious spoonful of giandua (hazelnut-chocolate) ice cream, melting luxuriously to mingle with the oil itself?

Quality staples are worthy of a celebration everyday, but especially for the holidays, splurging on really good extra virgin olive oil will taste like a little miracle in every dish.

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A Dying Art

After the garish plastic skeletons of Halloween are cleared away, something far more haunting, yet entirely joyous remains in their wake. Sugar skulls, glittering sweet crystals dried into the shape of a human head, shine in the dark of night to honor the dearly departed on Día de los Muertos.

When the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31st, deceased loved ones can return and spend the day with their families, drawn to the calavera made in their likeness. Decorated with colored icing, the most basic are technically ghoulish sugar cubes, super-sized for a couple gallons of coffee, but not exactly something you’d want to consume. Most artists incorporate inedible media like feathers, glitter, sequins, foil, and fabric, treating them more like sculpture than food, since there’s no such thing as too colorful nor too flamboyant to match the most vivacious personalities.

Traditionally, the “glue” that binds these sweet offerings together is either egg white or meringue powder, but for a simple veganization, this is another job for aquafaba. Just because you don’t eat it, doesn’t mean you can’t make it cruelty-free, too.

Contrary to the name itself, Día de Muertos is a truly celebration of life. Why not make it a sweet occasion with these sugary monuments, recalling the spirits of those no longer with us?

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Bare Essentials

This blog post is sponsored by iHerb but as always, the opinions and experiences expressed in this post are my own.

Essentially, the freshest new obsessions in ancient wellness trends are essential oils.

Distilled from the roots, stems, leaves, flowers, or fruits, essential oils are the most concentrated expression of individual plants available through natural means, which makes them incredibly potent and effective for therapeutic uses. It doesn’t take a medical degree to reap the benefits, though! Aura Cacia makes these powerful extracts accessible to everyone, offering well over one hundred single origin essential oils and dozens of different blends. Previously overlooked or simply unavailable in small health food shops, iHerb is delivering the largest selection of these indispensable ingredients around.

Based in California but reaching customers in over 150 countries all around the world, iHerb boasts over 30,000 brand name natural products, guaranteed at the highest quality and lowest prices possible. Free or discounted shipping ensures that your oils will arrive on time for even the most urgent needs or ailments; no need to suffer from both an unfortunate malady and the offense of an interminable wait. Additionally, do I have to remind you that all this shopping can be done from the comfort of your own home, without going on a mad goose chase trying to hunt down obscure pieces to complete your wellness puzzle?

Aura Cacia oils promise the highest standards of quality. You’ll never find synthetic fragrances, fillers, artificial colors or stabilizers in any of their products. Only 100% pure essential oils make the cut.

Starting from truly the bare essentials, uses for these powerhouse oils are endless. Take a peek into my kitchen and you’ll undoubtedly find an impressive array of those tiny glass bottles standing tall, but perhaps not in the way you might imagine for someone as food-focused as myself.

Not only do citrus oils infuse everything they touch with a bright, clean, uplifting scent, but they’re also powerhouse grease busters. Natural antibacterial and antiviral properties make everything from lemon, tangerine, grapefruit, sweet orange, and all the sunny shades of warm yellow in between ideal candidates for chemical-free cleaning. My very favorite Citrus Symphony Dish Scrub is made of little more than baking soda and essential oils. Sometimes I’ll switch up the routine and inject a new bright scent with ginger or lemongrass, which are both excellent for soothing nausea, in case the aroma of your splattered, stained, and crusty dishes becomes overwhelming.

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Glass Act

After so many years of looking inward in search of that “new you for the new year,” can we all agree that what we really need to change is the same tired routine? Could it be that such deep personal dissatisfaction is simply a side effect of boredom, of time wasted on the couch instead of living life? Shake it up, get out there, and do something radically different this time around! I’m all about making 2019 my year of adventure, starting with a little help from IfOnly. Curating singular experiences with talented luminaries in cities across the US, this is not just another Groupon or Living Social app. You can have Alice Waters cook a private meal for you in your own home, go paragliding over the whole bay area, or even book a hot air balloon excursion over Mount Everest. Starting a bit closer to home, I’m still just testing the waters before I jump in head-first on a scuba diving adventure, instead homing in on the wide range of hands-on art opportunities nearby. Sure, painting and sewing are easy enough to pick up, but glass work is considerably less accessible.

Enter: Lynn Rovelstad, offering curious crafters an opportunity to get up close and personal with a kaleidoscope of custom glass projects. Rather than a standard drop-in to dabble with scraps, this booking gets you a private tutorial with the glass master herself, for an intimate afternoon for two or a party of twelve.

Whereas blown glass is difficult, hot, and potentially very dangerous, fused glass is easy, safe, and fun for all ages. In fact, children as young as 18 months have gotten in on the act, but 3 years old is the generally recommended minimum. The biggest hazard to participants are possible glass splinters, though even that risk is quite rare.

Fragments of colored glass are adhered to solid white, black, or clear glass base with plain old nontoxic Elmer’s glue gel. The process is very much reminiscent of mosaic making, with the bigger picture slowly revealing itself through each subsequent shard. Placement becomes permanent only after a day or two in the 1500-degree kiln. Edges are rounded, surfaces smoothed, and your work of art transforms into a solid, single piece. It’s akin to modern magic, although in the case of my one-of-a-kind serving utensil set, much more practical alchemy.

In one afternoon, I managed to go outside my comfort zone to explore a new part of the bay area, meet an inspiring artisan, spend time with a good friend, AND craft a completely unique salad serving set, barbecue fork, bread knife, and cake server. While it may not be as bold as flying a jet plane at mach speed, it was the exhilarating change of pace I needed to get out of my crafting rut and try something new.

Join me: Don’t just make resolutions for 2019, but make something real. Start crossing activities of your bucket list instead of adding them, for once. Get $50 off your first booking on IfOnly with the discount code “Kaminsky50” until 3/31/19.

Dirty Mouth?

While I can’t promise I have a fix for rampant vulgar language, I can offer a solution for cleaning out the evidence of a snack attack in the middle of the night. After sharing so many sugar-coated recipes over the years, it’s really the least I can do!

One thing I always have on hand, in abundance to the point of absurdity, is toothpaste. From free samples to irresistible coupon deals, the impulse to stock up lead to an unfathomable overflow of minty paste, gel, goop, schmears, and anything else you can slather on the end of a toothbrush. Considering that wealth, why bother making even more from scratch? That’s exactly what I was wondering, until I discovered the difference of homemade.

A full batch costs cents on the dollar, contains no questionable ingredients, and feels like a refreshing massage against my gums. It’s not harsh like some brands but every bit as effective, which is a relief for sensitive teeth. Sometimes I’ll even melt it down and gargle with it, like oil-pulling version 2.0. That’s why I store mine in a glass jar, especially in the cold days of winter when it might be too solid to use right away. Just pop it in the microwave for a few seconds to soften and it’s ready to go!

This is a different recipe than most I’ve shared in this space, so a few notes on ingredients here:

  • Virgin coconut oil will also work, but impart a more distinctive flavor. If you don’t mind that, go for it!
  • Xylitol is technically optional, but very strongly recommended. Not only do studies show that it genuinely helps to prevent cavities, but it gives the toothpaste a sweeter flavor, to put it on par with more commercial options. Please be very careful though because xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs.
  • Peppermint oil or cinnamon oil refers to essential oil, which is much stronger than extract. Also optional, if you don’t mind an unflavored paste or don’t want to buy a whole bottle, and highly flexible if you wanted to mix in different flavors instead.

Seems like my push for cleaning out the pantry has inadvertently lead to a cleaner mouth, too. Now that I have this staple to replace all those old tubes cluttering up the bathroom cabinets, I don’t think I could go back to the old trash talk.

Homemade Toothpaste

1/2 Cup Refined Coconut Oil
2 Tablespoons Baking Soda
6 Tablespoons Calcium–Magnesium Citrate Powder
3 Tablespoons Xylitol
1 – 3 Drops Peppermint Oil or Cinnamon Oil

Simply melt down the coconut oil and whisk everything else in, until smooth. Transfer the liquid toothpaste to two small glass jars. Seal and store in a cool, but ideally not cold, place. Keeps indefinitely.

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