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

Friday, March 2, 2012

“Leap Day comes around every four years, but a girl like you only once in a life time.”

This is real life! Actor Dan Hodge kissing his new fiance, Krista, at the end of Wednesday's "The Mousetrap."
 I am a huuuuge Agatha Christie fan, and for those of you who happen to be under ninety who probably aren’t familiar with the delightful Dame Aggie, she happens to be the most published author of all time!{check out her books here!} Quintessentially British, she wrote in the post WWI era, and penned delightfully wry and astute observations of human nature throughout her works. 

       Philly’s Walnut Street Theater is rapping up their rendition of her murder mystery The Mouse Trap, with their last show being March 4th. This play just  happens to be, “the longest running show of any kind, in the world,” and Wednesday, the elusive February 29th, Melissa, my sister Tegan, and I sat in the cheap seats (ten bucks!) for this delightful “who dun it.”    Walnut St’s rendition was solid. And, I must say it was a joy and a delight to spend time with two of my favorite gals and be pulled into quaint 1950’s England- it’s looks,  humor, words, mannerisms, and murders (their murders of course being allot more civilized than ours…)
        At the curtain call the actors of course requested we keep the secret of the identity of our diabolical murderer, and of course I will. But one surprise I must share! Wednesday night’s audience was treated to an event I suppose those who go for the remaining performances shall not get to see- the proposal of Dan Hodge (who played Giles Ralston) to his totally shocked and thrilled girlfriend, Krista! The crowd was equally wooed as Mr. Hodge got on one knee and declared, “Leap Day comes around every four years, but a girl like you only once in a life time.” As if the crowd could have loved the couple more, they promptly dropped the ring and upon recovering it, both remained on one knee. Love, delightful love, and an ending Aggie would have been proud of! Go check it out while there’s still time!