Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day, A little help for Spring-cleaning and getting rid of electronic clutter

Electronic recycling from EFORCE,

Ask those who love me how I do with cleaning, and they may reply, “Marcie has some trouble there,” or “Marcie’s place is a friggin mess.” Sadly a major paradox of my life is that I love neat, tidy, and warm spaces and yet I am thrown into a panic at the thought of cleaning. I avoid, I fret, I poor a class of wine, maybe write a blog post… and I find better things to do than keep my home clean and decluttered. Now there are several things that do end up helping me, one of which is having the knowledge that things I get rid of will go to a new home or be properly broken down and recycled.

       Electronic items often pose difficulty here, as most thrift shops won’t take them and I am loathed to add them to waste in landfills. Happily, for those of us in Philly and the surrounding areas there is EFORCE recycling. They accept and will recycle any items that can be battery operated or plugged in. They sponsor events in both the public and private sectors, and there are a slew of free collections happening over the next several months! Notably, Whole Foods in Devon (April 28th) and Jenkintown  (April 129th) will be holding collections this upcoming weekend, and WXPN will be hosting one May 4th. Go ahead, declutter your life and rest assured your electronic items are being responsibly recycled and broken down! Celebrate Earth Day and your new freedom from electronic clutter!

Items EFORCE accepts:

Electronics, batteries, lamps, mercury devices, furniture and equipments, paper, bottles, cardboard, and glass 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Darkening up Without the Nasty Chemicals & a Brief History of "The Tan"

Current price of natural sunless tanners at Whole Food, spring 2012

I am one of those gals who never tans; I’m a quintessential light(ish) haired freckly gal who burns after approximately ten minutes in the sun. Well actually if I allow myself to get repeated sun burns I may darken a tick or two before the end of summer, but why risk the damage? We all know skin cancer is real, and it’s not just the pale guy and gals who are susceptible. People of all shades and color skin can develop skin cancer. So why bother getting darker? Well truth be told, even when we know skin without a tan is perfectly healthy, darkened skin now speaks to being active and fun outdoors.
There is an interesting cultural shift among western white folk that has occurred the last hundred years, and I’m not going to give you historical footnotes here, but this is what I remember from past research. At least as far back as the Renaissance pale skin, especially for women, was seen as highly desirable. Reasons were both classist and racist. Having light skin allowed a women to distinguish herself as wealthy, as evidenced by any lack of a tan she would surely have were she poor and forced to work in fields. Additionally, it announced her “purely” European ancestry by denying and mix of subjugated people’s in her background. This was the status quo for centuries until the advent of the Industrial Revolution. With the proliferation of factories and women’s subsequent employment in them, the average white working-woman was now, as a rule, pale. Couple the desire of the wealthy to maintain class distinction with the rise of “leisure time” (sports, bathing, and tourism) and suddenly being tanned became a status symbol of vitality, youth, health, and wealth.
And now that we’re all feeling ambivalent and uncomfortable because of the unpleasant history of skin tone preference…Let’s just admit most pale light-skinned folk, myself included, would like to be tan. But, we’d like to do so without increasing our risk of cancer or our exposure to nasty chemicals contained in conventional sunless tanners. Nature’s Gate and Alba each make a naturally derived sunless tanner. I have tried both, and was actually happiest with the less expensive Natures Gate. The lotion has a dark tint, making it easy to see where you have already applied, and it gives a nice warm natural looking glow. The Alba is slightly orangey looking and because of the clear nature of the lotion, I had increased streaks and missed spots. Now, Alba says it has improved the formula, so it may be better than last year. Both last about a week and can be purchased at Whole Foods, Amazon, and hopefull Essene Market and Cafe on S.4th Street will have some coming in soon.  So, if you are looking to darken up without loading up on cancer causing ultra violet rays or crazy chemicals (the affects of which we do not know) try Nature’s Gate! And whatever your skin shade, go ahead, love yourself and slather on that sunscreen!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

You might leave out your steam iron for a day or two and find ants are using it as a watering hole….

The insect Carnage post rade on my iron...

The little guys "taking a swim"
 True story: Last week, in the process of tidying my living room, I reached down to pick up my iron that had been reposed in the corner for maybe a week (or two or three….) and I recoiled in disgusted yet fascinated amazement at the sight before me. A tiny yet determined little army of ants was crawling in and out of the water intake funnel. Apparently my iron was a water oasis in the midst of the desert that is my apartment. Upon further investigation I could see clearly through the water level window there were tons of the wee invaders in there!

      Now I am a peace loving {mostly} vegetarian {just started eating some seafood after fifteen years of being flesh free} but this was plain gross and I needed my iron! In case ants should ever take to hanging out in your iron, because apparently this can happen to you, here’s how to go ballistic on their little asses and got rid of the enemy forces:

  1. Turn on the iron and place the steam setting to, “HIGH”
I know this may sound cruel, but allowing the temperature of the air and water within the iron reach death inducing heights seemed the most expedient way to handle the insurgence.

  1. Stand with thumbs poised to squish any six-legged warrior who managed to escape boiling death trap.
Again, sounds cruel, but very necessary, as I could not allow any to flee and return with reinforcements.

  1. Set homemade Borax and sugar traps for the scouts will invariably come investigate the fate of their comrades.
Total annihilation needs to be the goal here. Borax, though toxic, is far less damaging to the environment at large than many ant traps. For recipes and suggestions check out this page. Since it is reasonable to suppose most ant home invasions will not be focused on your iron, this is actually your most needed resource for a counter attack on your insurgents.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Nerding Out: Essential Oils

Toddler Melissa doing "homework."
I used to like doing homework. A lot. It was satisfying to come home from a long day of school and practice what I had learned. Perhaps I would fill in the blanks, or circle the one thing that was not like the other things, or, in later years, solve for x. I didn't always get the right answer (especially when it came to finding x), but I was grateful that there was a right answer, and that I could tune out all the surrounding chaos at home and try to find it. 

Fast forward to today. Here I am, a much older nerd, about to isolate the essence of cinnamon by extraction with methylene chloride. See how laughter and joy is just pouring out of me? 

Wouldn't this make a great passport photo?
In fact, isolating natural products is cool, if a little tricky. There's a real art to distillation technique. It made me want to do it at home without using toxic chemicals. If you decide to make your own essential oil don't ingest it. That would be gross. 

Here's how we did it in the lab:

1) Take a cinnamon stick and break it up into smaller pieces. The pieces were placed in a round bottom flask with 4 mls of water and a boiling stone.

Use stick, not powdered cinnamon for better results.
 2)Attach a still and condenser to the flask, heat it in a sand bath at 150-160 degrees C. 

Hickman still and air condenser.

3)A milky distillate forms in the still. This was removed using a syringe and placed in a centrifuge tube.

4) The organic layer of essence was extracted from water in the distillate using methylene chloride.

Milky layer of plant matter.

5)We evaporated the methylene chloride over gentle heat, and analyzed the product. 

Yay a graph!
Essential oils smell great and distilling them has been a human endeavor since the early days of alchemy. I find it fascinating that the way a molecule is shaped determines how it tastes or what odor it has. 

Have you ever chewed spearmint gum for a really long time and noticed it eventually tastes kind of like rye bread? Carvone is the molecule responsible. In one form it is the flavor of spearmint, but its mirror image is the flavor of caraway seeds. 

Somehow I manage to out-nerd the graph.

There are so many flavors to experiment with. If you don't have a still (who does?) you can use jojoba oil, add some crushed flower petals, or the rind of an orange, or fresh mint leaves. Let the plant material steep in the oil for a day or two in a closed container. Strain the oil and repeat until you get your desired pungency. 


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Asparagus Season

I know it's barely asparagus season, but since we are having an early spring and all... I couldn't help myself from sauteeing up this delicious lunch.

I chose relatively mature asparagus with resilient stalks and cut them up into bite-size pieces. Then I heated some butter in a pan, added the asparagus, chopped basil, a little salt and pepper, and finally some whole grape tomatoes. Garnished with parmesan. The key is to cook the asparagus until it is tender, but still leaving enough crunch to keep the texture interesting and satisfying. Asparagus and butter is divine, but olive oil could work too.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

10, 9, 8 76ers!

Last night my boyfriend took me to see the 76ers play the Utah Jazz. It was not so much a date as it was an opportunity for me to witness a guys' night out. So out of place was I that one fan assumed I was the designated driver of the group.

I haven't been to a sixers game since I was 16. Allen Iverson was the star of the team then. Now people love Andre Iguodala. Say that name aloud - Andreiguodala. It just rolls off the tongue. 

Plus, look at this cute logo. It's nice and retro. It reminds me of converse hightops and those basketball socks that approach your kneecaps. I approve of the new (since 2009) jerseys. When it comes to logo design less is more:

Too much going on here: this logo is lame 1997-2009

Allen Iverson is happier in retro chic block letters.

Basketball is my favorite game to watch. I like sports where the ball is in play close to 100% of the time, and scoring happens every 20 seconds. AND I played third string point guard in junior high, so clearly the sport is dear to my heart. 

At these games you enter into another universe, where giant men hold giant balls upside down in the palm of one hand. Smaller men dunk baskets as they flip off trampolines. Toddlers, teens and grown women do slutty dancing for MY entertainment. Welcome to Comcast Country, as the sign above the court reads. 

Hearing the 76ers oldschool anthem was definitely a highlight in an evening full of highlights. I can't decide if I prefer the oldschool song or G. Love's nineties interpretation (ahhh halter tops and brown makeup - very Friends-esque).    

The 76ers beat the Jazz, 104-91.  I'm not even going to pretend to be able to interpret the game. For more information, I refer you to sportshouting.

Confession of total ignorance: I thought the Jazz were from LA or at least somewhere more Jazzy than Utah. I was grateful when a friend pointed out that the Jazz were originally a New Orleans team, which makes a lot more sense.  

I hope to get to another game this year. The Phillies have all the attention lately, but I think the Sixers are way cooler. 


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Channeling Your Inner Prep: Classic American Mail-order

From L.L. Bean Signature

From Land's End Canvas

Marcie: Let's face it, most middle-class kids have had an L.L. Bean or Land's End catalog darken their door. 

Melissa: I definitely wore an all-cotton, forest green turtleneck religiously as a tween.

L.L. Bean Deluxe Book Pack
Marcie: Sure, who hasn't hauled around a giant backpack with MBL (or your initials) on it? But by the time I had my braces taken off I had to accept the fact that oversized polo shirts and crisp khakis weren't going to earn me any street cred.

Melissa: Yes, even though I LOVE the high quality cotton fabric of a Women's Boat Tee as much as the next girl, for years I have held back the urge to have one delivered to my doorstep. 
L.L. Bean Signature Wool Blanket Coat, Plaid

Marcie: Well hold back no more! In my search for appropriate work clothes I have discovered that both Land's End and L.L. Bean are moving beyond unflattering front pleats and polar fleece. 

Melissa: Marcie it's true! L.L. Bean Signature holds on to that woodsy, conservative, classic style we have always loved, but now their designs are utterly wearable for young urbanites.

Women's Lightweight Slouch Chino's from Land's End Canvas
Marcie: And Land's End Canvas has an even more extensive collection of hip, high-quality weekend wear that I can rock in Philly. 

Melissa: I am a sucker for "investment pieces." When I buy something that's good quality I want to be able to wear it for years. I love this brushed lambswool cardigan in blue (below). It's the kind of sweater that you can wear season after season. 

Brushed Lambswool Cardigan from L.L. Bean Signature
 Marcie: The Land's End line seems to be more casual (not to mention less expensive), while the L.L. Bean line ranges from casual to dressy.Melissa, I'm so glad we got to have this little talk.I like embracing my inner WASP ;)

Melissa: And I'm so glad we get to recapture our childhoods and channel our inner prepster ;)

*Marcie and Melissa are major fans of these clothes and hope you find the humor in this "Stuff White People Like," inspired post. Remember to watch for Marcie and Melissa cruising the mean streets of Philly clad in their newly aquired, quality, casual New England weekend wear.*

Shawl Collar Cardigan from L.L. Bean Signature