Gift Great Hair – A DIY Last Minute Gift (for the super procrastinator)

Happy holidays everyone!!!  I can’t believe the end of 2014 is nigh.  This has been a seminal year for me and the husband as it signifies our first marital Christmahanakwanzika together!  In lieu of buying material things for the holidays (and in general), we have made the conscious decision to shed the clutter in our lives and minds.

When presented with ultimate holiday cuteness, however, it becomes a true test of will … like this Buzzfeed post on last minute DIY gifts. SO. CUTE. Plus… gifting can be fun.  Which brings me to my perfect procrastinator, yet super practical, 5 minute (no joke) gift idea – a gift of great hair.  Who would say no to that?

Homemade Shampoo and Conditioner

Homemade Shampoo and Conditioner

I came across this homemade solution a few months ago when I was desperate for hair products that are organic yet effective.  Since I had all the ingredients readily available, I figure, why not?

Shampoo Ingredients:

  • 1 Tablespoon of Baking Soda
  • 1 Cup of Water

Conditioner Ingredients:

Other Materials:

  • Ketchup / Mustard squeeze bottle or perhaps an old shampoo bottle?
  • Essential oils, if you’d like. Here’s some guidance on properties of essential oils for hair

Directions:

  • Mix Shampoo / Conditioner ingredients together in 2 separate bottles
  • To use shampoo: Pour baking soda solution on scalp, massage and let sit for a few minutes. Rinse
  • To use conditioner: Pour vinegar solution on hair, massage and rinse. For extra shine, rinse with cold water (closes hair cuticles)
  • Do a happy dance. VOILA. It is THAT SIMPLE

Now you may think this is weird, I get it. I also know that the solution doesn’t foam like commercial products out there, but here’s my “why not” logic:

1. Baking soda is a known cleaning agent. It’s a mild abrasive and attractant (picks up dirt), and it is also alkali, which deodorizes. No brainer! In fact, after you apply the baking soda “shampoo”, you’ll notice that your hair is SQUEAKY CLEAN.

2. Apple cider vinegar has the same acidity as your hair, thereby restoring the alkali environment that the baking soda shampoo created. It also works to naturally de-tangle your hair and binds closely to your hair cuticle.  Ooooo, SILKY AND SHINY hair.

3. It’s works! It’s natural! It’s magic!

I have been using this solution for a few months now and have experimented on my husband (lol), we have both noticed a big difference in the health of our hair.  I have received more compliments on how bouncy, voluminous, and shiny my hair is over the past few months than I have in past years (even my hair stylist said so, therefore it must be true)!

This has since been recommended and passed onto many friends and family of ours and we’ve heard some pretty great feedback.  Now, this solution shouldn’t be used every day as it is pretty potent, so definitely listen to your scalp and adjust as needed. And try not to get the vinegar in your eyes, it WILL burn (duh).

On that note, HAPPY OWLIDAYS and see you all in 2015!

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Stewing in the Right Direction – Polish Edition

Winter gettin you down? No sweat (it’s too cold anyway), lift your spirits with some Polish Hunter Stew!

I still remember the first time I had this radiant stew years ago at an unassuming New Jersey catering spot.  With loads of vegetables, the slight tang of sauerkraut, smokiness of kielbasa, spiciness of cayenne pepper, this Polish national dish (Bigos) is anything but forgettable.

Bigos - Polish Hunter Stew

Bigos – Polish Hunter Stew

Far from being a “quick” dish, this stew is a great alternative to your traditional stew and is worth the extra TLC.  What’s more? It freezes well, keeps well, AND it tastes even better by days 2 and 3! BOOYAH!

Ingredients

  • 2 thick slices hickory-smoked bacon
  • 1 pound kielbasa sausage, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 pound cubed beef stew meat
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 4 cups shredded cabbage (green or napa,both ok)
  • 1 (16 ounce) jar sauerkraut, rinsed and well drained
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon caraway seed, crushed
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 ounce dried mushrooms (ok to skip)
  • 1 dash bottled hot pepper sauce
  • 1 dash Worcestershire sauce
  • 5 cups beef stock
  • 2 tablespoons canned tomato paste
  • 1 cup canned diced tomatoes

Directions

1. Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add the bacon and kielbasa; cook and stir until the bacon has rendered its fat and sausage is lightly browned. Use a slotted spoon to remove the meat and transfer to a large casserole or Dutch oven.

2. Add the garlic and onion in the pot, sautee until golden (approximately 3 minutes), then add carrots, fresh mushrooms, cabbage and sauerkraut. Reduce heat to medium; cook and stir until the carrots are soft, about 10 minutes. Do not let the vegetables brown.

3. Deglaze the pan by pouring in the red wine and stirring to loosen all of the bits of food and flour that are stuck to the bottom. Season with the bay leaf, basil, marjoram, paprika, salt, pepper, caraway seeds and cayenne pepper; cook for 1 minute.

4. If you have them, mix in the dried mushrooms, hot pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, beef stock, tomato paste and tomatoes. Heat through just until boiling. Pour the vegetables and all of the liquid into the casserole dish with the meat. Cover with a lid.

5. Cook on low to medium heat for at least 1 hour or until meat is very tender.

Give a gift of food!

From Poland, via NYC, gifted with Love!

Credit goes to All Recipes with my notes and modifications

People of Hong Kong, I Hear You Sing. Let Your Light Shine!

Image Courtesy of South China Morning Post

Occupy Central – Hong Kong, 2014. Image Courtesy of South China Morning Post

I don’t write much about my personal views here, but as a Hong Kong transplant living in NYC, I would like to share this humble post with anyone who would care to read it.  This much I can do.

I wanted to thank those of you who are on the ground right now and those of you who have been posting the latest from the current protests in Hong Kong. Every article I’ve read, every picture I’ve encountered, and every video I’ve seen, raises the hairs on the back of my neck.

I had moved away from Hong Kong years ago and had the benefit of participating in this prosperous city before any of the recent transitions. While my time here in the US has been life transformative, never would I downplay the role Hong Kong had in my growth.

The great education that my alma mater (Diocesan Girls School) gave me, the lifelong friendships of the girls and the families I grew up with, the spirit of excellence and competitiveness that was instilled in me. The love of culture, food, the excitement of traveling, freedom of expression… the list goes on.

I’m in disbelief. Because all those things I’ve taken for granted, my constant, my foundation of my home, everything, is changing.  But I am also hopeful and proud. Hopeful because hope is the only thing greater than fear. Proud, because of the resiliency, the civility, that the Hong Kong people are showing the world.

The world is indeed watching and listening. I know many will say, what can Hong Kong, a little city, do against a large government with money, natural resources, and an army? We can unite.  In this trying time, Hong Kong is representing much more than our own freedom, we are fighting for all the sisters and brothers around the world who are fighting the same good fight.

We, the people, against all odds, will be the beacon of light that will never extinguish.  My thoughts are with you all, be safe.

For those of you who would like to learn more about the impetus of the protests and some good international resources for your latest news:

Vox.com: Hong Kong’s unprecedented protests and police crackdown, explained

BBC: Things that can only happen in a Hong Kong Protest

South China Morning Post: Top 10 Highlights of Occupy Central So Far

National Post: More images and videos from the movement

Is it Fall Magic? No, it’s Apple Saucery!

This year, my husband and I finally got our act together, managed to organize an Adirondacks Fall camping trip (more on that later) and squeeze in our first apple picking experience!

Ok, so apple picking is actually quite a bit of work and is not like the calico skirt, birds chirping, pretty basket experience that I had envisioned, but it’s totally worth it!  Not only are the apples crispier and sweeter than our farmers market apples, it gave us a healthy appreciation for how hard it is to actually pick (let alone grow) the perfect apple. Here’s a quick shout out to Hicks Orchard, which despite my Manhattan food snobbery, does have the best Cinnamon Sugar Apple Cider Donuts…

To reward our hard work and as a continuation of my husband’s birthday week celebration, I decided to try my hand at making apple sauce!

Branching Owl's Homemade Apple Sauce

Branching Owl’s Homemade Sugarless Apple Sauce

I’ve never done it before, but making apple sauce like a boss isn’t as hard as it might seem. First of all, upgrade your mom’s apple corer with this, it is worth the $10, second, making apple sauce really does involve boiling the crap out of some apples.

Ingredients (Yields 12 – 15 servings, or 1 serving for my husband)

– 15 Apples

– 2 1/2 cups of water

– Juice of 1 Lemon

– 2 Tsps of Cinnamon

– 1 Pinch of Nutmeg

– 1 Pinch of Salt

Directions:

– Wash and core all your apples, cut them into chunks. We kept the skin on, since that’s where the flavah lives!

– Put apple chunks, water, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a big stock pot

– Bring the water the boil, the lower to a boiling simmer. Stir frequently and cook for 20 – 30 minutes, until the apples are mushy (i.e. boil the crap out of the apples)

– You can use a potato masher, or an immersion blender to smooth out the consistency

Here’s the result: The Homemade Apple Saucery Tower of Power:

Homemade Apple Sauce Tower of Power

Homemade Apple Sauce Tower of Power

Apples from Hicks Orchard

Honeycrisp Apples from Hicks Orchard

Edit: As a demonstration of his gratitude, my husband contributed this helpful reference image:

apple saucery - duh

apple saucery – duh

Be Cool. Freeze your Trash!

Ok, by trash, I really mean all the food scraps from cooking!  A few years ago, after watching “Dirt! The Movie“, I was inspired to start composting.  In a space-challenged city apartment, having a worm bin is out of the question, but that didn’t stop me.  I went on to discover the awesome GrowNYC community compost program and never turned back.

I can’t say that I was there for the beginnings of the program, but “back in the day” (lol), this program was only available in the Union Square Green Market.  Every 2 weekends, I would lug pounds of compost for the 45 minute journey downtown. It sucked, but I did it.

The program has since expanded and I was so thrilled when community compost arrived right outside our doorstep on the Upper West Side 2 years ago!

Urban Composter

Reasons why you should compost:

  • Less stinky trash = you don’t have to take your trash out as often. WOOT!
  • Say goodbye to the Mickeys in your neighborhood by taking their food source away. YAAAS!
  • Community compost makes it SO EASY (& all the cool kids do it)! Instructions below.
  • It reduces our waste stream, provides great nutrition to the Earth, AND can be used to produce renewable energy. SAY WHAT?!?!

 

Instructions on How to become a Cool Urban Composter:

Step 1: Read up on the rules and locations near you 

Step 2: Decide on the container you want to use for composting! You can go for something fancy, OR we just use an air tight jar. Other ideas include, an old plastic bag, empty yogurt container etc. etc.

Step 3: Collect your food scraps in the container. Freeze it when the container’s full!

Step 4: Drop off your scraps at the Community Compost

Rinse and repeat. You’re now an URBAN COMPOSTER. BOOM!