September 2009

Imgp1175 790 xxx

9.22.09 Green Goddess

I'm wild about kale. (Too bad I'm still struggling to do it justice with my lame photography.) Especially this dark, bumpy kind, variously known as lacinato, cavolo nero, black cabbage, Tuscan or dinosaur. It's part of the brassica family, as are broccoli, collards and brussels sprouts. Highly nutritious, with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, kale is high in beta carotene, vitamins K and C, and contains plenty of calcium. When chopped, it exudes sulforaphane, a chemical with powerful anti-cancer properties. Most importantly, it's delicious—in my morning juice, cooked with eggs, in bean soup, and even raw in salads.
Good housekeeping 1908 08 a1 790 xxx

9.20.09 Natural Cleaning

Would it surprise you to know that I'm a lazy slob when it comes to cleaning my own house? And for the last god-knows-how-many years, I've been lucky enough to pay someone else to do it. Money I consider extremely well-spent. But now that I'm  a country mouse in my own little house, living in a town where the only cleaning person a neighbor of mine could find was an unreliable meth addict (is there any other kind?), I've been forced to take things into my own hands. Before you go all Betty Friedan on me, let me say that I get plenty of help from the husband. And I also rely on a host of natural cleaning products.
Tonic 790 xxx

9.17.09 Gesundheit! ¡Salud!

My friend Bryan Thomson—a supremely gifted hair colorist AND an herbalist extraordinaire—has inspired me to delve deeper into the world of natural medicine. I began using this book about 10 years ago during an extremely stressful time of my life when my skin was bad and my hair was falling out, and I soon found myself making yellow dock poultices and steaming my face with dried strawberry leaves. Did it work? The short answer is "Yes." But, more to the point, I discovered a new way to approach my own health; one that let me be more in charge and that led to a deeper understanding of how to treat stress and other physical ailments with herbs and nutrition. This is not to say that I won't take a pill. But I like to avoid that and will first try many a remedy of my own devising, based on the ancient wisdom derived from nature. This tonic is a great example.
Lemon balm2 790 xxx

9.15.09 It's the Balm

The first year in my house upstate, I discovered big patches of a leafy green plant that smelled deliciously lemony. It popped up as soon as the earth warmed and couldn't be deterred. Turns out it's lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), a perennial herb in the mint family that is native to the Mediterranean. Mine grows into big bushes that have little white flowers by summer's end. These are full of nectar and attract the bees, and thus the genus name Melissa, which means "honey bee" in Greek.Lemon balm has long been used as a medicinal herb because of its antibacterial, antiviral and sedative properties. It is said to be effective against the herpes virus. A poultice made from the leaves can be applied to any sores or lesions. You can also rub the crushed leaves on your skin as a mosquito repellant. It is exceptionally high in antioxidants and also exhibits antithyrotropic activity, making it useful in treating hyperthyroidism. Amazing, no? Try simply steeping the leaves in hot water for a soothing tea. Or make this panna cotta, infused with a delicate lemony flavor.
Leaf 790 xxx

9.10.09 Scented Geraniums

I love scented geraniums (pelargonium). Their sweetly spicy aroma makes me swoon and revives me all at once. (I wonder if this is why they were so popular with Victorian ladies?) There are so many different varieties—apple, lime, ginger, lemon, rose, frankincense—and they retain their smell all year long. The oil exuded by their leaves is said to repel mosquitoes and biting flies; it is also antibacterial and speeds the healing of cuts and burns. My friend Kenny wears it as his signature fragrance. A couple of drops on your pulse points and you smell great all day long. You can also use scented geraniums in cooking: to flavor sugar or simple syrups; to line the bottom of a cake pan before pouring in the batter; in vinegars and marinades; combined with lemon balm or mint for tea.
Porch 790 xxx
photo by george billard

9.7.09 Al Fresco

Our house is pretty tiny, so adding on a screened-in porch made a very dramatic impact on our lives--especially from May to October, when we practically live in this big outdoor room. It almost doubles the square-footage of our home and it's cool and comfortable and safe from May flies and mosquitoes. There are built-in banquettes big enough to lie down on (or even spend the night on), a hammock, a couple of outdoor pantries and a big table where we eat our meals. We can look over at our vegetable garden or out at the many birds that come to visit our trees and the feeders G has put up. We hear the mourning doves coo, watch the butterfly bush attract its lovely fans and see the bats swoop out in the evening. These are the simple, everyday pleasures of living in nature and they define our lives. What Thoreau called the divinity—the genius—of nature brings a calming rhythm and a real delight to our daily business.When was the last time you gave yourself the gift of some time in the great outdoors?
Eggplant 790 xxx

9.5.09 R.I.P. Sheila Lukins

Back in the 80s, I was among the many crazy for The Silver Palate cookbook. That carrot cake! The famed chicken Marbella! I loved how the book was larded with personal stories and little tidbits of miscellany  in the margins (marginalia?). I adore lists. The recipes seemed somehow both cosmopolitan and accessible, perfect for dinner parties in my starter apartment on East Broadway. When I read about author Sheila Lukins' untimely death from brain cancer recently, I was deeply saddened. And I immediately went out and got some eggplant, picked handfuls of fresh basil from the garden and made this dish—one that will remain forever in my repertoire. It's excellent with grilled lamb but since I don't really like lamb, I eat it with grilled fish or tomatoes with feta.