Archive for June, 2009

I love cooking with wine, but because I don’t often relish drinking much of it (I’m a total lightweight!), I used to run into the problem of letting wine go bad after opening a whole bottle and using only a cup or two for a particular dish.  If I was really conscientious, I would try to cook another meal with wine the same week, but let’s just say that it was pretty rare for me to use it all before it went bad.

Lo and behold, one day at my HEB, I asked for help in picking out a dry white for cooking purposes, and a helpful associate turned me on to this wondrous creation:wine edited compressed

Now, maybe I’m the last person on the planet to discover sets of four tiny wine bottles, but I was tickled pink!  Each bottle holds just about a cup of wine, which is perfect for most of my recipes.  Ever since, I’ve opened only as much wine as I can use in a single recipe.  That means a lot less guilt for me.  The extra $1 it costs me over buying a single bottle is completely worth it.

If you go looking for these four mini-bottle sets, you’ll find a bit of variety in terms of price.  What I’ve pictured above is about the cheapest of the cheap.  You don’t have to go that low for the sake of convenience.  I usually don’t, but I was in a pinch.  I have to say, though, that when we intend to drink wine with dinner, we typically buy a regular, significantly nicer bottle for drinking and cook with the lower-grade stuff.  I know that I’m not supposed to cook with a wine I wouldn’t drink, but, hey, I’m not made of money, and it’s a compromise I’m happy to make at this point in my life.  At least I’m not using nasty “cooking wine.”

That’s my Kitchen Tip!  For more great ideas, visit the Kitchen Tip Tuesday Carnival at Tammy’s Recipes.

P.S.  FYI, I’ve tried freezing leftover wine in ice cube trays, but it didn’t work very well.  The alcohol content keeps it from getting very firm.


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I started switching out conventional body care, skin care, and cosmetic products for healthier alternatives long ago, but one major hold-out has been mascara.  It’s my favorite cosmetic by far, and I just couldn’t believe that a healthy one could do the job.  Recently, though, I impulsively added two of the more popular “natural” options on the market, Ecco Bella and Reviva, to my cart while placing an order with Vitacost.  Some persistent eye burning and itching over the previous few weeks nudged me over the edge.

My experience with these products has left me with mixed feelings.  One one hand, I am encouraged that less toxic mascaras can perform really well.  Not only do these mascaras not irritate my eyes, but they really do thicken and lengthen my lashes without clumping.  (I’ve noticed that they perform better after about a week of use than right after opening, by the way.)  I can’t tell a major difference between my old favorite and these new brands.  I can even use multiple coats for a more dramatic effect.  Yippee!

On the other hand, I’m quite annoyed that I didn’t do more research first.  The ingredient lists on these brands are not ideal, dumping both products into the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database’s “moderate risk” category.  Argh.  I like to keep the things I put on my body in the “low hazard” zone, but given that my old favorite mascara rated a 9 out of 10 (yikes!), I’m looking at this as a major step in the right direction.  Now that I’ve had a positive experience with alternative products, I’m willing to go out of my way to seek out purer options.  Since Ecco Bella and Reviva are so much healthier than most drugstore and department store options, and since they’re also easier to find than a lot of healthier brands, they make a great baby step for those of us who can’t quite pry our fingers off that magic wand.  Thus, here are my thoughts on these two brands:

Ecco Bella

Cost: $9.57 through Vitacost; more through retail stores

Risk: 3 out of 10, according to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database (if you’ve never visited this site, I highly recommend doing so; it’s quite an eye-opener)

Has a nice mirror on the side of the tube
Lower hazard rating than Reviva
Seems quite resistant to wear and tears (though not at the level of a waterproof product)

About twice the price of Reviva
Creates a stiffer, less natural texture than Reviva


Cost: $4.59 through Vitacost; more at retail locations

Risk: EWG gives it a 5 out of 10, again naming it a moderately risky product.

My lashes feel softer and more natural with this mascara than with Ecco Bella
Resistant to wear and tears
Half the price of Ecco Bella
Washes off more easily than Ecco Bella (I see this as a pro because I don’t want to use eye makeup removers)
Seems to create a little bit more volume and oomph

Higher risk rating

Honestly, even though I know I should be using the lower-rated Ecco Bella, I favor Reviva for its softer texture, better results, and easier removal.  Next time around, I’m going to order a product called Ultra Lengthening Fruit Pigmented Mascara by 100% Pure.  A blogger I follow said she found it on eBay and that it’s a dream to use.  Its ingredient list is pristine, so I hope she’s right!

Do you use, or have you ever used, natural mascaras?  What is your experience?  Are there any brands you recommend?

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Adventures in Montrose

Life is finally approaching a sense of normalcy around here.  After two and half months and countless games of merry-go-round with the couch in the living room, all the public areas of our apartment — living room, dining room, kitchen, and bathroom — are finally decluttered, organized, and properly arranged.  Just having clean, orderly space to breathe in has done wonders for my sanity.  Our bedroom and the sunroom remain war zone-esque, but I’m slowly conquering that territory too.  At least now I can retreat to safer ground when I need a break.

We’ve been enjoying some of the special features of our area too.  I am now toiling through my third week of art classes at the Glassell School of Art, which, along with the Museum of Fine Arts, is all of 5 minutes from my apartment.  I’ve wanted to take art all my life, and I finally get the chance!  Unfortunately, “life-long art interest” doesn’t translate to “instant art genius.”  Imagine that.  It turns out I have to live by the same rules as everyone else.  Why are we humans surprised when we run into, um, human limitations?  Tears of frustration aside, I think I’m enjoying the experience (dare I sign up for another in the fall?), and, if nothing else, it’s a wonderful opportunity for exploration and self-knowledge.  I just don’t always like looking in the mirror.

J and I have been exploring other art forms as well.  We’ve hit up Miller Outdoor Theater several times for free, top-notch performances of various kinds.  Here we are hanging out on the green, eating our picnic dinner with friends, waiting for the Houston Ballet to begin a mixed repertory program:


It was fabulous!  They performed a heart-stoppingly beautiful pas de deux to Tchaikovsky, as well as a contemporary piece set to the music of Mediaeval Baebes that I loved and a stunning all-male piece called Solo.  I’m amazed that we can see this quality of performances for free.  Unfortunately, we missed the Houston Grand Opera’s night at Miller, but we did catch Nrityagram Dance Company, an Indian dance group that performs Odissi, one of the world’s oldest dance forms.  That was a fascinating show.

We’ve also bought tickets to a few shows, and even though I chose the cheaper tickets, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by our views.  It seems the Wortham Center’s theaters are well-designed.  Here we are right before we crashed a preview party of a new exhibit at the art museum, which I totally didn’t “get,” and then moved on to see a splendid program called the Power of Movement:

orange dress edited_edited-1 compressed

The Houston Ballet’s Swan Lake last Friday rounded out our dance marathon.  Next up is the Houston Symphony’s free performances at Miller.

Seriously, if I hadn’t been so sick, I don’t know how I could have survived in the suburbs.  We couldn’t be more thrilled with this move, even though it’s been a tough one.

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Well, this is about as anti-climactic as news gets, but that $50 Craigslist freezer does, indeed, work — and beautifully at that.  Sixteen half gallons of raw goats’ milk from Miabella Farm line the top shelf, cooked quinoa in hubby-sized portions waves from the door, and I’m chewing my lower lip over the exact composition of the fifty pound grass-fed beef and lamb order I’m about to place with Paidom Meats to fill up the bottom of the freezer.  What next?  I must say, life with a deep freeze suits me just fine.

On another note entirely, here’s a quick and easy recipe that I’m totally digging right now.  I love the lemony zing, and basil always seems just right in the summer.  It’s also a great way to use up the summer squash spilling over the farmers’ market stands — an annual dilemma for me (I wrote a whole post on the subject here).  Costco’s frozen wild-caught salmon filets keep the dish reasonably priced.  I eat it alone or with hemp seeds because my body still doesn’t love grains, but J enjoys it over quinoa or brown rice.  If you keep individual-size portions of cooked quinoa or rice in the freezer, this dish becomes a one pot meal.  Nice!

Baked Lemon-Basil-Garlic Salmon and Vegetables

4 pieces of salmon filet (4 to 6 oz each)
2 large zucchini, shredded (yellow summer squash would work too)
4 medium-large carrots, shredded

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (if your lemons have a dull flavor, you’ll need more juice)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine (e.g., chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, not riesling or zinfandel)
10 medium cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon dried basil or 3 tablespoons fresh basil
sea salt
freshly-ground black pepper (I like to pepper pretty generously)

Preheat oven to 450.

Spray a 9×13 glass baking dish with olive oil and strew shredded zucchini and carrots in it.  In a measuring glass, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, wine, basil, salt, and pepper.  Pour half the mixture over the vegetables and stir to combine.  Cover tightly with foil and bake for 12 minutes.

Remove the foil and lay the salmon filets on top of the vegetables.  Pour the rest of the lemon juice mixture over the fish and veggies.  Recover and bake for 10 to 15 more minutes, depending on how done you like your salmon.  Serve with hemp seeds, rice, quinoa, potatoes, or all by its sweet self.

Serves 4 to 6, depending on size of salmon filets and appetites.

*Note: If you don’t want to deal with adding the salmon later, you can put everything in the dish at the beginning and cook for 25 minutes.  The downside is that you’ll get overcooked fish.

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