Thursday, November 29, 2007

Cream or butter?

I just finished another bottle of moisturizing lotion yesterday and started on a new one today: The Body Shop's Mango Body Butter. (Just a little explanation: I usually don't buy my own body moisturizers. I get several bottles a year from girlfriends during Christmas and my birthday, I don't have to buy. I love all the variety of brands and scents they give!)

This new one's body butter, though, and not the usual cream or lotion. It's my first time to use butter—it's thick! So thick, it doesn't spread well. Then I read the label: it's for "extremely dry skin." Oh. It's not meant to spread well. At least it's perfect for those exceptionally rough spots!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My cookware wish list

And speaking of cooking, on my list of must-buy cookware are these two beauties:

8.5-Quart Stock Pot
I need a humongous pot. My soupy dishes always spill over my 5-quart pot, mainly because they're chock-full of vegetables. This should do the trick.

5-Quart Pre-seasoned Cast Iron Wok
I read somewhere that non-stick cookware should never be pre-heated. That's useless for wok cooking! Woks have to be hot before you start cooking. Besides, aluminum and stainless steel woks are just too light—they're liable to tip over when you're energetically mixing the ingredients.

These babies are by Swiss Diamond. Visit their website and drool.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Broiled, not fried

I'm lousy at frying. Really, really lousy. All my non-cooking friends find that funny because they at least can. Yet if I try cooking tapa or tocino, they're sure to end up charred. I even managed to overcook an omelette once!

The problem is, I get a hankering for fried chicken every now and then. No coating, no gravy, just plain, crispy-skinned fried chicken. (Yes, yes, I know the skin's loaded with bad cholesterol—I don't care! Besides, it's just every now and then.) I tried frying chicken once and I ended up with crispy skin all right, but with raw, pink flesh inside. Another girlfriend suggested I boil the chicken until it's half-cooked before frying, but it came out so dry! We've been avoiding fried foods at home—they aren't exactly healthy, so I don't have a deep-fryer and I have no plans of getting one.

So my solution: use a broiler. That, I have. The chicken comes out all golden brown with crunchy, crispy skin, well-cooked inside but still juicy. I've used whole chicken (like a roast—stuffed and not) and chicken pieces. They're all cooked perfectly.

The broiler I have is old—it was my mom's! It's so sturdy, I'm frustrated it hasn't conked out yet because I'd love to have an excuse to get a new one—the kind that uses tempered glass so I can see inside without lifting the lid. But seeing as how I don't really use it that much, I guess I can wait.

Just sharing with you my favorite chicken rub: rosemary, garlic and salt. That's it. Mmm…

Sunday, November 25, 2007

My whites are showing

Thank goodness I don't have any errands to do outside the house today. So I've scheduled myself, after bathing our dog and cooking, for hair coloring.

White hair runs in the family, though it's a blessing that we retain our full mops until old age. Because of this gene, though, I started coloring even before I was thirty (twenty-seven, I think). I always do it myself—salons are expensive and I really just get antsy sitting doing nothing for an hour or more. I can't even read because I have to remove my glasses for the duration.

Over the years, I've tried out so many brands of hair color and even henna. Henna, I can never use again. Aside from the fact that it stains awfully (skin, scalp, and paint, omg! be extra careful that you don't touch anything painted if you've henna on your fingers—no way to remove the stain, you'll just have to paint over it), I've also developed a pretty bad allergy to it.

I've finally settled on Revlon ColorSilk. I've no allergic reactions to it, the developer doesn't have a strong odor, and the hair conditioner that comes with it is fantastic and smells great. Before, I'd only use dark brown, my natural color. After all, the whole point was just to cover the whites. In my mid-years though, I'm finally experimenting a bit. I've moved on to the medium browns, and today I'm using a medium one with a golden shade. Maybe one of these days I'll have the guts to use even lighter colors.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Liquid or solid?

Soap, that is.

Only two years ago, I discovered that liquid hand soap is actually more cost-efficient than bar soap because they dispense a limited amount of soap (but not when you have little kids—they just love playing with the pump!). But for the feeling of a good scrub, nothing beats bars (though that's probably just psychological).

So now, I have both kinds in the house. For the kitchen sink, it has to be liquid, and anti-bacterial. I spend so much time there, bars never get enough time to dry out. They get all soft and mushy that so much of it goes to waste. Sometimes, too, little bits and pieces of yicky whatever get stuck on the bar if you don't pay attention. For the bathroom downstairs (which also serves as the guest powder room), the lavatory has both liquid and bar. I really prefer liquid for lavatories, but the one there is old and it has a shallow indentation (with a groove for the run-off)—a built-in soap dish—and it looks funny without a bar of soap in it so I put one. I also tend to use the special, scented kinds there. The upstairs bathroom's lavatory only has the liquid kind. The shower, however, has both again. I usually just use the bar for my daily showers, but when I feel like I need a good exfoliating, then it's the shower gel on a loofah for me.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Rock stars can be rocket scientists

    Queen guitarist named chancellor by British university

    LONDON (AFP)—Queen guitarist Brian May has been appointed chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University in Britain, they announced Monday.

    May, whose band hits include "Bohemian Rhapsody," will start the job as honorary head of the university in February, when he takes over from Cherie Blair, wife of former British premier Tony Blair.

    "Yes, I will be celebrating tonight. How? With a delicious vegetarian roast and a glass of choice dessert wine!" May said in a statement released through the university.

    May was awarded his doctorate in astrophysics in August. He started the PhD in 1974 but ditched it when Queen's fortunes took off before returning to his studies last year.

Saw this snippet of news in the papers last night and I was so tickled by the thought, I just had to share it.

Sigh. I wish all our celebrities were as smart, level-headed and responsible. He even sounds like a vegan!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Quick bathroom facelift

Shower curtains!

They're inexpensive so it's easy to build up a collection, and they're easy to change. I've about six now, rotated between two baths. The patterns and colors to choose from are just wonderful. Grab one every now and then when you're out shopping, especially when they're on sale.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

An answer to "What kind of chopping board?"

Astra Navigo's reply to my question about what kind of chopping board is best (see "What kind of chopping board?"):

I own a home-remodeling company specializing in home interiors. I'm often asked this question, and while the conclusions are much the same, there are some very important caveats:

1. Plastic is the cleaner of the three materials—if it's cleaned properly: (a) Scrub with a bleach solution, then (b) rinse with hot water—the hottest you can—prior to (c) putting it in the dishwasher.

2. Wood is good if your hygiene habits are, should we say, casual. Disinfectants are not necessary; standard detergents is fine. A quick scrub will do the trick. However—and this is the big thing about wood boards—all wood boards are not created equal.

All trees create a more-or-less toxic substance. Some are more toxic than others. Maple, birch, and other dense hardwoods are best, as they are naturally toxic to most bacteria, and non-toxic to humans. Walnut is very toxic—to the point that masks must be worn at all times when working walnut—human allergy to walnut oil is quite common; it's also the most toxic to bacteria, but you'll have to ensure that no one in the household is allergic to it, either.

3. Stone has no antibacterial/toxic qualities—which is why its use as cutting boards is not recommended.

Hope this helps!

Yes, Astra, this helps a lot. Thank you!

Monday, November 19, 2007

My favorite home website

I just want to share with you my favorite website for everything about the home: Better Homes and Gardens. Anything about decorating, remodeling, food & recipes, gardening, holidays, health, family & crafts. Slide shows, blogs, articles from both experts and "just" writers, how-to's. In a lot of ways, the website's so much better than the printed magazines because it's searchable, it's more media-rich (the photographs alone will make you drool, and I'm not just talking about the food pictures), and there are tools that they can offer only on the web, like their "Color" applications—you can try out color combinations for rooms and house exteriors on the site before you actually go out and buy the paint. Plus, they have tons of email newsletters available, not just from BH&G, but other magazines from the Meredith Corporation, so there are some about parenting, travel, health & beauty, even agriculture. Right now, I'm subscribed to six (I don't get to read all every week, though). I can just get lost for hours in their site—planning, dreaming.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Keep an extra roll handy

I'm sure I'm not the only one who hates running out of toilet paper in the middle of one's daily ritual. We're not always alert when sitting on the throne, so we don't always notice when a roll's almost empty. So an extra roll where one can easily reach it—without having to stand up!—is a must.

I know there are pretty crocheted toilet paper holders out there somewhere—I've seen them in the homes of friends and family. But for the life of me, I haven't had the luck to find any. So my husband jury-rigged us one.

All it takes is two S-hooks and a length of nylon string. The only thing you have to watch out for is that the S-hook can fit inside the toilet paper's cardboard tube. Tie the string to the S-hooks on both ends, put the roll through, and hook the lot on the holder. That's it. It's far from Martha Stewart, but it does the job.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Angels & wolves

The nice thing about going to a medical center that's located in a mall is, you can treat yourself any number of ways after being a good girl and going to the doctor for your check-up. So after this morning's visit, I ended up in a bookstore (yet again!) to get my treat.

I found a copy of the fourth book of Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series, "Kushiel's Scion." I have the first three and I loved them, and it seems that there's a fifth book out too. What if angels came to earth and had children with humans? Their descendants would be beautiful and would inherit the traits which made the angel perfect for it's role. Kushiel was the angel of justice and his descendants like to hurt and be hurt. They can be very compassionate, but they can also be cruel. Love, spirituality, intrigue, quests, eroticism—wonderful reading.

I also got Carrie Vaughn's "Kitty Takes a Holiday," also part of a series, but thankfully, each book seems to be independent of the others. Thankfully, because it'll be my first, yet it's the third of the series. Kitty's a werewolf, but very much a female—she has a crush on her lawyer and the werewolf hunter. Definitely light reading, I hope it's as funny and entertaining as it sounds!

Friday, November 16, 2007

She's not home

For someone who likes hibernating, I've been going out much too much recently. During the past two weeks, I attended two work-related evening events, watched two musicals and three movies, went to a lunch party, and spent two days getting medical check-ups. This coming week's schedule includes a play, a dance performance, a jazz band, and one more day at the medical center.

I'm not really complaining. Well, okay, I am a bit. I don't have much of a choice about the doctors, and everything we've watched (except one movie which was godawful!), has been great. But I am getting tired. And the weather's been perfect for hibernating!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Christmas cards

Last night, I finally started addressing Christmas cards (late yet again). Out from storage came several boxes of cards I bought after Christmas last year, green and red pens, Christmas-themed return address labels, and my index box of addresses (I'm so old-fashioned and low tech in this, and I actually plan on keeping it that way). I can usually do only a few pieces every night—I have to stop when my fingers begin cramping up and my handwriting gets wobbly. Hopefully, I'll have composed our Christmas letter—a summary of the year just past laid out with photos which accompanies each card—by the time I get to Z.

Whee! It's almost Christmas!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Like brand-new eyeglasses

If you wear eyeglasses, and use metal frames, you probably hate how the nose pads get green gunk (corrosion? fungus?) and eventually turn yellow. A quick and cheap solution: change the nose pads.

I got this tip from an office mate who told me that replacement nose pads are actually available in optical shops. I never thought of replacing them, though I totally detest the gunk and yellow color. So when we ate out last Sunday at a mall restaurant, I went to an optical shop and got two pairs. Just make sure you get the right kind for your eyeglasses—turns out that there are several types depending on how they're attached to the frame. I guess you can ask the shop to change the pads for you (I'm so DIY it didn't occur to me to make them do it because I knew that I would).

When we got home, I changed the pads of my distance glasses. Suddenly, my black frames look so much newer than my gold ones (my reading glasses) when they're actually two years older. (I used the second pair for my husband's frames and I completely forgot to count my reading glasses—next time.) Anyway, my friend said that the pads turn yellow in about a year's time so an annual change would be fine. But for the green gunk, you really just have to remove the pads every couple of months to clean them thoroughly.

Monday, November 12, 2007

You get what you pay for

Not always, really, but in the case of shoes, this adage is so, so true.

A few blogs ago, I mentioned buying three pairs of office shoes for the price of one pair of Naturalizers. After just one day of wearing one of them, I was reminded, with much discomfort, why I stopped buying cheap shoes in the first place.

The worst of the poor construction seems to be in two spots:
1. The topline at the back
With good shoes, the leather at the back is rolled over and stitched inside so there's a little cushioning. The cheap pair I got is just stiff leather there so it rubs against the back of my ankle and leaves a dark, sore mark.

2. The vamp
The cheap shoes taper too much! The spot about an inch from where my toes begin feel like it's been crushed by a rock by the end of the day.

Never again to cheap shoes, I say. Never again.

The image I used above is a pair of Naturalizers. I'm going back. To Aerosoles too.

Friday, November 9, 2007

What kind of chopping board?

Yesterday, when I Googled "chopping board" to get an image for my post (there was bound to be one on the web, so I didn't bother taking out the camera and boards), I came across an actual article (not just sales and supplies) about chopping boards. The title was "Which chopping board is worse for spreading germs?" With a title like that, I just had to go to the ninemsn (an Australian media company) website to read it.

I suggest that you read the entire article, but essentially, their reporter got a microbiologist to find out which material is best for chopping boards—plastic (polyethylene), marble or wood? The answer: wood. Tight-grain hardwood, to be exact.

Yet another item to add to my shopping list. And I have to do some research about hardwoods first.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

One for animals, one for plants

I use two chopping boards in my kitchen, one for meat, chicken and seafood, and one for fruits and vegetables. A friend said it showed my OC-ness, but it makes perfect sense to me. Meat contains more bacteria than plants, and no way can anyone chop meat on my fruit and vegetable chopping board! The other way's alright, especially if the vegetables are meant to be cooked. But for salad vegetables and fruit, meant to be eaten raw, I will only use the chopping board that has never been touched by meat.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Two dozen pairs of stockings

Don't you just hate it when you have a whole bunch of knee-high stockings and you can't find a pair whose colors match exactly? Used to happen a lot to me until I figured out a way to keep my stockings' colors even throughout their lifetime.

Instead of washing each pair as they're used, I have two sets of a dozen pairs. Each dozen has to be of the same color. After using a pair, I place them on a stool in my room (I really should be neater and keep them in a little plastic pail or basket) until I use up all the pairs in one set. Only then do I wash them altogether. That way, the color of the set remains consistent for each piece. And while that one set is drying, I begin using the second dozen.

This way, you can grab any two pieces and they're sure to match. And it doesn't matter if one piece gets a run, because its pair will match the rest of the set anyway. When one set is down to a few pieces, then I go out and buy another dozen.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

One squirt stove cleaning

Another kitchen product that I love is SC Johnson's Mr. Muscle Kitchen Cleaner. If you read the label, it says you can use it to clean almost anything in the kitchen (except things you use to cook and eat). I mostly just use it for the stove after cooking, because I'm such a messy cook there's bound to be a spill or two on it always. Just squirt Mr. Muscle Kitchen on the spill, leave it on for a minute or two, then wipe it off. No scrubbing needed whatsover.

Monday, November 5, 2007

I heart Lock & Lock

I confess: I'm addicted to the Lock & Lock brand of storage containers.

We live in a 40-year-old house which ants of all kinds have decided to call home too, and they used to get into everything—cereal boxes, syrup bottles with the cap screwed on so tightly I had a hard time opening them, dog food, even the uncooked brown rice! We used to place water in cookie trays, put plastic trays on them and keep the foodstuff in the trays. But this awful solution was just that—awful. First, the stale water is just an invitation to mosquitoes to breed. So that meant having to change the water often. Second, have you tried carrying an extremely shallow tray full of water? Third, the trays took up too much counter space. And fourth, the ants learned to swim.

When that last one happened, I decided to go buy a whole bunch of Lock & Locks. I found out about the brand about seven years ago because of my sister, but didn't pay it much mind. Now my kitchen is so full of their products I can actually throw a "Lock & Lock Party." The reason for the heart: they're airtight. As in, you can put water in the container and if you close it properly (there is such a thing as not closing it properly), you can place it in your handbag secure in the knowledge that it won't spill or even leak.

I now keep everything in Lock & Lock containers—at least the ones I want to keep away from ants. And from moisture—this is such a humid country, the containers are perfect for keeping foodstuff dry too. I have tiny ones for spices; small ones for bouillon cubes, salt, pepper; medium ones for powdered milk, ground coffee beans, powdered juice; large ones for sugar, cereals, brown rice, dog food; and one extra large one which serves as a catch-all for oddly shaped items or food we know we'll finish within a day or two. Then we also keep a few small ones as lunch boxes—no more worrying about food with broth or sauces.

The only thing I've discovered so far that Lock & Lock can't handle is onion powder. But I just found out that they've come up with a line of air-free containers. Definitely on my shopping list now.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Rice cooker cooking

I don't know why I never thought of it before when it's so obvious, and I've made flavored rice in the past (although in an ordinary pot).

I've been trying to use up a sack of jasmine rice and I've been cooking variations of Thai fried rice to do so. Our staple at home is brown rice so no one's going to eat plain white rice, even if it's jasmine. But fried rice requires that you cook the rice first then cook it again in a wok with the other ingredients. Then this morning, I suddenly realized that I can just add the flavor directly into the rice cooker. So I dissolved a pack of curry mix into the water needed for cooking the rice. Halfway through, I dumped a can of drained mushroom pieces into the rice cooker, mixed it and let it continue cooking until it automatically stopped. Tadaah! Curry rice with hardly any effort.

Should have thought of this ages ago. Now I can't wait to try out other flavors.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

All wrapped up

Because yesterday was a holiday, I was able to do something that I want to do monthly but usually can't: wrap all the birthday gifts for the month before the first birthday comes along. I place all the wrapped gifts on top of a low bookshelf on the second story landing so when the special day comes, I just grab the gift before going down to leave.

Most months, though, I either get to wrap only a few in one sitting or don't get to wrap any until the night before the person's birthday.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Send in your warranty cards

Two years ago, our digital camera's lens got damaged through no fault of our own. Luckily, it was still under warranty, and even luckier still, my husband had kept all the papers it came with and the official receipt. When it turned out that the model had been discontinued and the lens couldn't be replaced, the company gave us a brand-new higher model.

Since then, I have been religious in filling out and mailing warranty registration cards (if required) for all the appliances and gadgets—even software—that we buy. At the very least, I get the warranty card, list of service centers and the official receipt, staple them together, and keep them in a clear plastic filing case in my desk. I'm not one to keep them alphabetized or indexed, but at least I know where to get the papers when I need them. It only takes a few minutes after a purchase, and if it'll save us a lot of money in the future, then those few minutes are worth it.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Fresh book catch

Our office gave us an extra half day off work, so we decided to spend the afternoon trawling for books at the bargain floor of the NBS Superstore. Added to my piles of yet-to-read books:

    The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes
    non-fiction, history - about the colonization of Australia

    Nathaniel's Nutmeg by Giles Milton
    non-fiction, history - the story of nutmeg, the spice trade, captain Nathaniel Courthope and the island of Run

    Black Maria by Diana Wynne Jones
    children's fantasy fiction

    The Kin by Peter Dickinson
    children's historical fiction

    All Tomorrow's Parties by William Gibson
    science fiction

    Super-State by Brian Aldiss
    science fiction

    Night Watch by Stephen Kendrick
    mystery/detective fiction - Sherlock Holmes meets Father Brown

Another half year's reading added. I think I'm up to five years now.