24 February 2015

Sometimes "Good Enough" Is Good Enough

It's been a while since I've posted anything other than book reviews--sorry for the repetitiveness, guys.

These last couple of years have been insane, stressful, and traumatic. There have been major losses. Plans fell completely apart. Dreams were shattered. Reality has left me emotionally battered. But things are slowly starting to feel okay again.

I keep having this conversation with a friend of mine about whether it's ever okay to accept something is "good enough." He's pretty adamant that you either do it right or don't do it at all. That's an excellent attitude to take if you're, say, a brain surgeon or a structural engineer. For the rest of us, though, I think we should cut ourselves some slack. Because if we don't, life will make sure to do it for us.

When our house was destroyed in the ice storm of December 2013 the day after we sold it, we had to spend the next several months (most of the year, actually) fixing it again before the sale could be finalized. It demanded so much of our time and attention, we could barely accomplish anything else. Should we have spent even more time and energy fixing the house to the buyers' preferences (that is, rebuild it with the upgrades and renovations they wanted as opposed to way the house was when they bought it) or was it okay just to restore it and make it livable again, or "good enough," so that we could finally move on with our lives? They bought it the way it was before the damage (which wasn't exactly horrible), so that's what they got again in the end. Good enough.

When our sale finally closed, we started looking for a new house for us, but the search wasn't going at all well. Rather than buy something out of desperation, we decided to temporarily rent a house while we keep looking. Renting got us out of the tiny, dreary condo the insurance company had stuck us in, gave us a place to call home again (with our own stuff back!), and gave the cats space and light. This house is far from perfect (in fact, it's got tons of issues), but for now, it's good enough.

When I'm too tired or stressed to continue the seemingly endless task of unpacking and setting up the new place (sadly compounded by all the damaged items we keep finding; damage caused not by the ice storm, but by the movers and restoration people who were supposed to be taking care of our things. Maybe they should also be part of that select group for whom "good enough" shouldn't be an option). At those times it's good enough for me to just read or cook or do something crafty. And that's perfectly okay.

In the spirit of Good Enough, I've decided it's better to post something rather than scrap a post because the timing is off or some part of it didn't turn out perfectly. So, I present you, somewhat late for the lunar New Year for which they are a traditional treat, pictures (taken with my phone because I wasn't up to dealing with the fancy SLR) and the recipe for Chinese Tea Eggs, or Cha Ye Dan, based on this recipe. It was an enjoyable process and resulted in smokey, slightly sweet, subtly spicy eggs (and not as salty as you would expect, given all the soy sauce). They didn't look as pretty as the one in the original picture, but they were good enough :)

Spices, sugar, soy sauce, and lapsang souchon tea are the basis for the marinade

The eggs needed a good, long soak to attain the marbled look

Chinese Tea Eggs

[My comments/changes in brackets]

½ cup soy sauce
½ cup sugar
½ tsp. whole black peppercorns
½ tsp. fennel seeds
8 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
2 sticks cinnamon
1 tbsp. loose-leaf smoked tea, such as lapsang souchong [I got mine from a local tea shop, but you can try a good supermarket, or get it from Amazon or another online store]
8 eggs

Bring soy sauce, sugar, peppercorns, fennel, cloves, star anise, cinnamon, and 2 cups water to a boil in a 2-qt. saucepan; remove from heat and add tea. Let steep for 10 minutes. Pour marinade through a fine strainer into a bowl and keep warm. [You'll need a deep bowl that can hold all the eggs. It's also not necessary to keep the marinade warm.]

Place eggs in a 4-qt. saucepan; cover by ½″ with cold water. Place saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. [This is where I started diverging from the recipe. I found the instructions somewhat unclear, and the comments also indicated that they didn't work well. I ended up hard boiling the eggs. I used tongs to remove them from the water, placed them on a plate, and used the handle of a butter knife to gently crack the shells all over. I then placed the cracked, *unpeeled* eggs in the bowl with the marinade. I then placed the bowl in the fridge. After a couple of hours, I checked one of the eggs by peeling it. The colour hadn't really penetrated. So I left the eggs in the marinade overnight. The next morning I peeled the remaining eggs and had the results you see in the pictures above. You can marinate the eggs for a shorter period if you don't want the marbling to be so dark. Serve cold.]

Makes 8 eggs

04 February 2015

Review: Natural Beauty

With endless options for quality beauty products available in stores, why would anyone go to the trouble of making their own? Actually, there are a lot of good reasons. Making your own ensures your products contain only natural, high-quality ingredients, with no fillers, artificial colours, or preservatives (and once you've set yourself up with the basics, individual recipes are actually far cheaper than anything you can buy). With homemade preparations, you can also be sure to avoid animal testing (I keep finding out about companies that claim to be cruelty free, but are happy to use the loophole of letting other companies test for them. Not okay). Lastly, making your own is just fun. So, when DK offered me a chance to review their book Natural Beauty, I jumped at the chance to get crafty.

First, the good.  The book is beautiful, with tons of excellent photos, and packed full of information. Did you know your skin changes according to a daily, as well as monthly, cycle? Or how to read the label on a store-bought product? Or the difference between "rose otto" and "rose absolute"? With Natural Beauty you'll learn all that and more. I especially liked the Directory of Ingredients, with its in-depth coverage of individual flowers, fruits, oils and more (my only complaint: I have no idea how this section is organized--it doesn't seem to be by common name or Latin name. I guess you just have to search page by page to find what you're looking for). There are also sections on caring for your skin and hair by type, tips on eating well for specific beauty goals (like clear skin), info on DIY spa treatments, and somewhat incongruously, an entire chapter on how to wear makeup. While I thought it was fun that the book tells you how to recreate makeup looks based on the elements (earth, air, water, fire, wood, and metal), I don't think makeup and "natural beauty" exactly go hand in hand. Some people might like it, though, and there's some solid information here on how to apply makeup correctly. At the end of the book there are also charts comparing vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and superfoods. And there are plenty of recipes, for just about every beauty product you can imagine.

Unfortunately, I found the recipes to be a bit of a let down. I was disappointed by the number of them that were listed as being suited to "all" skin types. After the great information on the different skin types and their specific needs, I had been hoping for more customized recipes (or at least more suggestions on how to customize them). As someone with both dry and extremely sensitive skin, I can tell you that products labelled as good for "all" skin types really aren't. And one of the few recipes included that was actually for sensitive skin contained chamomile, which I'm allergic to. Not a promising start.

The first recipe I tried was the Coconut Shaving Balm. I did substitute a few ingredients, choosing to go with what supplies I had on hand: Instead of shea butter I used jojoba oil; I replaced carnauba wax with beeswax; and rather than buy pricey chamomile essential oil (which I'm allergic to anyway) for the single drop the recipe called for, I decided to use benzoin essential oil, which I already had and has a preservative effect. While the instructions were clear and the Balm was easy to make (I don't think even a total newbie would find this a challenge), it didn't work out for me. I don't know if the problem was due to my substitutions or a fault with the quantities in the recipe, but my Balm never set (it solidified when refrigerated but turned liquid again at room temperature). It smelled nice, though, and worked as it was supposed to--moisturizing my skin and resulting in a nice smooth shave. And while it didn't look like a lot, it turned out to be more than enough for my legs, with plenty left over for future uses. The downside is that it clogged my razor with oil and hair that then wouldn't rinse out (which was as pleasant as it sounds) and made the whole process take much longer than it should have. Since I don't know anyone who wants to spend even more time shaving, I think this would maybe be better used afterwards instead, as a moisturizer.

Next, I made the Dry Shampoo. This time I didn't make any substitutions. The instructions were incredibly easy to follow and the shampoo came together quickly (and smelled great, thanks to the peppermint essential oil). It was also easy to use, although I'm not sure you save that much time over just washing your hair the usual way, and the results were only okay. My hair looked cleaner but I wouldn't go so far as to say clean. The greyish cast it left on my hair no matter how much I brushed it made my hair look dusty and weird. Eventually the grey mostly went away, but I still wouldn't want to leave the house after using this, which kind of defeats the purpose. It did last for a long time though--maybe longer than regular shampoo. I think it would be useful for touch ups in between shampoos, or for lazy days at home. There's also a version for dark hair that uses cocoa powder.

I had the most success with the Honey and Oat Scrub. Like the other recipes, it was easy to make and smelled lovely (essential oils pretty much always smell fantastic). The scrub was on the sticky side, which made it somewhat tricky to use (it might work better as body scrub rather than on the face).  It also left my skin feeling dry, but that was remedied with a generous application of lotion, Despite these issues, the scrub left my skin feeling soft and smooth and gave it a glow that lasted longer than other scrubs I've tried. I'll definitely be making this one again.

Natural Beauty is an excellent resource for anyone interested in making their own all-natural beauty products. The recipes may take some experimenting to find the ones that work best for you--I suggest you try a few, don't be afraid to make changes to suit your needs, be flexible in your expectations, and--most importantly--have fun with it.

Want more information about Natural Beauty or other books to inspire you to start something new? Click here.