bring back the hanky

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The only person I have ever seen consistently use a hanky is my dad. When I was kid I distinctly remember his stained, unadorned white hanky which he kept tucked in his back pocket. It was gross but practical and seemed to me a cool accessory at the time.

As an adult I have been drawn to the more ornate “lady” hankies to be found in thrifts and vintage stores. I would usually buy them for some decorative, non-nose related purpose and then lose them somehow. So recently I have decided to bring back the hanky as a practical, eco-friendly way to keep my boogers in check.

Above are some of my late grandma Betty’s ornate hankies. I recently snagged one, washed it, and have been using it ever since. Cloth has the benefit of being reusable and gentle on the nose. It also looks classy! One other bonus, if you’re desperate for a napkin and your hanky isn’t too disgusting, it will double as one in a pinch.

For some hanky history check out these links:

http://handkerchiefheroes.com/home/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handkerchief

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i love JONS

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Live in Los Angeles? Want to have pushy elderly people invade your personal space? Hear one of your favorite En Vogue songs as you peruse the produce? Stock up on delicious Armenian goodies? Then look no further…

For a couple years I lived down the street from the Hobart/Santa Monica Blvd location of the Southern California grocery store chain, Jons. In my opinion this is by far the best Jons location and will be the focus of this post. But if we’re getting technical I’d say the Glenoaks Blvd location in Glendale is my second favorite.

The fact that this was my neighborhood go-to market was both a blessing and a curse. I could literally traipse down and in a few minutes have affordable groceries, including lots of tasty deli, produce and imported items at my fingertips. I was so close, my phone would often default “geo-locate” my photos at Jons. Ah the good old days…

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Here are handful of Jons pros and cons:

PROS

  • A substantial selection of produce, including some hard to find items (fresh endive anyone?)
  • Best music I’ve ever heard in a grocery store
  • Affordable!
  • No shortage of Persian cucumbers
  • Lots of labneh to choose from
  • Hibiscus flowers in bulk
  • Cheap booze and interesting Eastern European beers
  • Almond Roca at the checkout
  • Amazing check-out staff
  • Next door to Paro’s Chicken
  • Ample parking
  • Fresh Armenian flatbreads
  • Once I saw a man pushing a full-sized cart up to checkout with literally one item in it: a tall can of Budweiser

CONS

  • Extreme paucity of hand-held baskets
  • Long lines at peak hours (like, really long)
  • Lack of respect for personal space at the checkout
  • Unabashed line cutters

I’ve been back a few times recently and was definitely reminded of the cons, but nonetheless they had all the random items I was looking for: Matzos, tomatillos, tahini, labneh, pasilla peppers. I was also delighted to find that they started carrying more organic produce and had installed those thunderstorm sound effects that go off when the produce gets a misting. I love sound effects in the grocery store! And of course, I heard one of my favorite Earth Wind and Fire songs on the PA. Can’t complain there.

Jons has also introduced me to new foods – for example, this delicious Armenian eggplant “caviar.” Spread some of this on fluffy flatbread from the deli and rejoice!

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Some other random thoughts: I love that they always have super glue at the checkout, booze is cheap, and there is a coinstar. Also worth noting – the restaurant next door, Paro’s Chicken, is dang good. I love the “ootee” sandwich: grilled chicken, basil, feta, grilled onions and peppers(?) and delicious pickled veges on the side. Treat yourself to one after having stood in line for a half hour and your frustrations will melt away.

Oh and there is a scene in Jons from the 1993 erotic-thriller Dream Lover, starring Madchen Amick and James Spader!

Bon appetit!

 

 

a tale of two kitties

 

 

Earlier this year I went through the challenging process of trying to adopt a second cat and having it not work out. It was not a shock that they couldn’t cohabitate, but I was surprised by how emotional and stressful this experience was. Now that some time has passed, I thought I would share a bit about it in the hopes it might help those considering adding another furry friend to their household.

To preface I will state the obvious. Every cat is different and every situation is different. Some cats are clearly more open to other kitties and some really are best off being the only feline in the house. Then there are also those who learn to tolerate each other with or without occasional flare ups. You really have to decide for yourself what you are comfortable with. Would you go to great lengths to keep the peace even if it required lots of time, effort and possibly money? Do you have the space and time to make sure that each kitty has a rich environment, enough territory and attention? Can you handle the stress of them not getting along including not only aggression towards each other but stress related behavior like peeing outside the litter box? SO many questions. I would highly recommend doing your research and learning about some of the issues that can come up in a multi-cat household. This way you can be informed when you start to ask yourself these all-important questions. I’ve listed some links below to resources that I found helpful. There’s a lot out there and some of it can be a little contradictory, so I tried to include resources that I found the most reliable. Most importantly, be patient with the kitties and yourself. What works for some people might not work for you and that’s okay.

Alright, onto the kitties! Above on the left is the beautiful loving teenage boy cat we called Francis, a.k.a. the newcomer. The fluffy kitty on the right, Willy, is our resident cat. She is almost 6 years old, a “dilute” tortie, and moderately sassy. Let’s say she has mellowed with age. As a younger cat she displayed a lot of territorial and aggressive behaviors and still does but not to the extremes she did in the past. Essentially I was well aware that it would be challenging and perhaps impossible for her to warm up to another cat in her house. I’d done my research and it seemed like the only way to really find out if this could work was to give it a shot.

We decided to visit the local rescue Sante d’Or on a busy Saturday to “just see some kitties and ask questions.” I figured they could help with advice on what type of kitty would be a good potential match for Willy. After hanging out for a while and meeting lots of kitties we were told that there was a super sweet boy cat, age 7 months, who was at an adoption fair but would be back later that afternoon. We waited a couple hours and went back to meet “Declan.” He was beautiful. He was snuggly. I was in love. After meeting with their awesome executive director Christy and doing a home inspection we were given the green light to bring him home. Sante d’Or let us know that we could take as much time as we needed to decide whether Francis was a good fit and that any vet visits prior to our officially adopting him were covered. I would strongly urge anyone to make sure that wherever they adopt from is equally as patient. Sometimes you really need a good amount of time to decide, and as we’ll see with Francis, there can be health complications that come into play.

IMG_7743Ah little Francis. One of the first things we noticed about him was that he was so “un-kitten like,” so chill, so sweet, so mellow. I’d read articles that suggested a boy cat would be a good match for our female and that it was easier for an older cat to adjust to a younger one. In theory I thought she would let him know she was boss and being the sweet passive guy he was, he would back down. We made our preparations for a slow introduction by establishing our bedroom/closet as “his” space (with his own litter box – important!), leaving the rest of the house to Willy. I had read all about scent swapping and using food as a way to bring them in closer contact gradually. I had the Feliway plug-ins going. I was ready! We got him set up in his room and he seemed pretty comfortable and curious. We fawned over him and let him feel out his new space. He slept a lot and best of all gave us little kisses at night. Sigh. But all was not well inside the poor guy. By day two he started coughing at night – like really loud deep coughing that woke us up. I took him to the vet right away and learned that he had a pretty bad case of pneumonia. He was put on antibiotics and brought back home. Respiratory infections are not uncommon in rescue cats, so I learned, and in hindsight I am so glad we took him in right away. First lesson learned: if something seems off, take them to the vet. You can never be too careful!

Francis took his meds like a champ (pill pockets are your friend) but after about 10 days he was still coughing. His follow-up x-rays showed that his lungs were not totally healed and we started him on another stronger antibiotic. He gradually seemed to be getting better and after another set of x-rays 2 weeks later he was given a clean bill of health. Yay!! However, something was changing. Francis was no longer the excessively sleepy little guy he had been at the outset. Now that he was no longer sick he had gradually become a different cat. He was still a sweetheart/snuggler but now he had energy, was curious and most importantly was up in Willy’s space. This is where things started to get complicated.

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I will try to describe this next phase in broad strokes. It was not pretty and it was heart wrenching. We would have good moments, especially at feeding time, at first on either side of the door and eventually together in the kitchen. There were times when Francis was still recovering that they were in the living room together and both sleeping. That was good! But when Francis was active and wanted desperately out of the bedroom it was hard to keep the peace. Hissing from Willy was common. Her having strange freak-outs where she would hiss and growl and spin in circles started happening. Francis wouldn’t even be in the room when this happened, so I wonder if it was stress related or her trying to seem intimidating. I tried to play with him as much as I could to keep him stimulated. We tried to use treats for positive reinforcement. I was furiously reading more and more. I bought a second kitty tower so they wouldn’t fight over Willy’s, but of course it was hers he wanted to be in and she was not having it. We employed a complicated system of baby gates to separate the rooms so he had more space. He learned to scale the baby gates and fights ensued. So then came a second and third baby gate draped in blankets so they couldn’t see each other. This failed too. The fights got worse and I was going insane. I started to wonder if we might have to medicate them to get a fresh footing to work from without fights. Was I really comfortable with that, though? The more time passed, the more I began to wonder if this was just too much for us to handle. Over 2 months I had fallen in love with little Francis. I felt like a failure. I wanted it to work so badly, but couldn’t decide if it were best to give up or give it more time. Throughout this period, Sante d’Or was very understanding. I kept them updated and kept a “kitty diary” to keep track of the experience. I listened to podcasts, read books and tried to stick with it. But in the end, it was not working. I was surprised by how intensely emotional it was, especially when I was in limbo trying to decide what to do. There were a lot of tears, but after much struggling it seemed like this was just not meant to be. We let Sante d’Or know that it wasn’t going to work and he went back to the shelter. We were told that even though it didn’t work with Willy, that we played an important role in getting him healthy. I comforted myself in knowing that now I had lots of detailed information about his personality to share with Sante d’Or and anyone considering adopting him. It was pretty clear he was such a little charmer that he’d have no problem getting adopted. And indeed, he found a new home very quickly. And also important, Willy was very happy going back to being the only cat in the house. It took a little time for her to settle down, but once she did I was sure we made the right decision.

I am intensely envious of those people out there who have been able to seamlessly introduce two (or more) cats to each other. I also have a lot of respect for those who push through and give kitties who may get off to a rough start lots of time to adjust. I realize that perhaps if I’d given it more time, maybe, maybe, they might have “tolerated” each other. But during this process I realized that I just didn’t have the patience or emotional fortitude to persevere through the madness. It does seem to make a difference whether or not you can keep your own personal stress and emotional involvement in check when things between the kitties are challenging. I learned that I was not cut out for this! And it is very okay if you realize you aren’t either. Perhaps if we had more space this would have been less challenging. I also feel that Francis’ age was another factor. He was a teenager for Christ’s sake! Of course he wanted to party! And of course Willy being the grouchy old lady she is, couldn’t take it. When I let my vet know it didn’t work out she said, “I could have told you a teenage cat wouldn’t have worked out well! You should have talked to me about it first.” Oooops. Well, another lesson learned.

In my mind I now envision an “American Graffiti” style epilogue where we get updates on where everyone in our story is at. “Francis is now living the high life in a palatial Los Feliz home and has a new name.” “Willy has contentedly resumed her position as queen bee and has found a new level of inner peace since the exit of ‘the invader.'” You get my drift. Devoid of the pleasures of a multi-cat household, I have started volunteering at Sante d’Or to get my fuzzy fix. I enjoy being in the presence of so many adorable kitties and loving volunteers.

So to wrap up, here are some of the lessons I learned and resources I consulted:

  • Always be aware of potential health issues. If something seems off, have it checked out asap!
  • Talk to your vet. Get their advice on how to choose another cat or cats. They likely have some good info for you on what to consider.
  • Be patient. Sometimes it takes quite a while (like even a year!!) for two cats to adjust.
  • Trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right for you, don’t force it. Only you know what you can really handle.
  • Be prepared. Do your research and have a plan for a slow introduction. If you are lucky it will go well, but be prepared to have it not go easily and have your best foot forward. This means appropriate amounts of resources, setting up space to respect each kitty’s need for territory, environmental enrichment, playtime, vertical space, you name it!
  • Understand cat behavior and development. Know about the different stages of development cats go through so you know what to expect. Know how to read your cat’s behavior so you can respond appropriately.
  • Stay calm. This one is hard when you are emotionally invested, but try to think about the kitties’ needs first. The more calmly you can react to situations of stress, the better off they are.
  • Know how to properly handle aggressive situations. This can help keep fights from getting worse and keep them from hurting each other or you.

 

Books

Cat Vs. Cat, by Pam Johnson-Bennett: http://www.catbehaviorassociates.com/cat-vs-cat/

Cat Sense, by John Bradshaw: http://catsensebook.com/

Articles

http://nypost.com/2015/09/06/5-questions-to-ask-before-adopting-a-second-cat/

http://www.askthecatdoctor.com/fighting-cats.html

http://catsinternational.org/social-aggression-between-cats-sharing-a-house-2/

https://www.thespruce.com/introducing-older-cats-554060

http://bestfriends.org/resources/introducing-new-cat

https://www.petfinder.com/cats/bringing-a-cat-home/cat-to-cat-introductions/

https://www.petfinder.com/cats/bringing-a-cat-home/introducing-cats-to-new-cat/

http://www.catbehaviorassociates.com/how-to-introduce-a-second-cat/

http://blog.spiritessences.com/mojos-mailbag/2015/7/14/cat-to-cat-introductions

http://www.meowfoundation.com/resources/new-cat/#cat-and-cats

http://jacksongalaxy.com/blog/2014/07/08/cat-mojo-how-to-introduce-two-cats

https://www.petfinder.com/cats/bringing-a-cat-home/tips-for-first-30-days-cat/

Podcasts

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/ask-the-cat-doctor-talk-radio/id609037202?mt=2

 

 

diy flannel cotton pads

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This is a little project I did about a month ago that was well worth the time. I saw this post on the Chicago based site Litterless. For years I had been buying disposable cotton pads for eye makeup removal, never thinking how easy it would be to swap them out for a reusable version. Always happy to eliminate stuff that requires a trip to the store and laying down cash!

With my reusable ones I now no longer have to run to the store to buy them when I run out. They are easy to clean – I just wash them by hand with a little soap – and they dry quickly. I used a glass to trace my circles onto cotton flannel I bought as remnants. Then I used my sewing machine to sew a narrow zigzag stitch around the perimeter of two circles placed on top of eachother. I did the zigzag stitch twice to help prevent fraying. This worked really well.

The only issue I’ve had is the cotton flannel does lose its original fuzzy softness pretty quickly once you start washing them. I think next time I make them, I’ll likely try a fabric that will remain softer after washes. But regardless, these work great and are gentle enough for removing eye makeup. And of course reusable means less waste!

 

elderberry syrup

I finally got around to doing a little research on elderberries. I often see the shrubs growing here in Los Angeles and also all along Highway 101 when I drive up to the Central Coast. I recognized the creamy white blooms, which grow in little umbels, and had tasted elderflower syrups, but never anything made from the berries.

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I learned that in Southern California we have the Sambucus mexicana and Sambucus caerula (or blue elder) varieties. They have long been important plants to indigenous people, a prime food source for birds, and excellent pollinator attractors. The blue elder is distinguishable in part by the glaucous coating on the berries. This appears as a greyish-white bloom that gives the berries a pale blue appearance yet wipes off with a little friction. Now that I recognize them, I seem to see them everywhere!

In certain parts of Europe, the elder tree has been associated with witches and fairies. Lore has it that one should ask permission from the “elder mother” before taking any wood from the tree so as not to suffer her wrath! She seems especially keen on pulling the legs of babies and small children while they sleep. Yikes!

IMG_8157.JPGThe elderberries themselves are commonly used in syrups for cold and flu season. They are packed with vitamin C, A and antioxidants. However, if preparing your own elderberry concoctions do so carefully as the leaves, stems and unripe berries are toxic!! Make sure to identify the elderberry properly before jumping into any recipes. I found that many of the recipes for elderberry syrup are flavored with ginger, cinnamon and clove and sweetened with honey. This lends a pleasant warming quality to the syrup and makes for a tasty flavor combination. I followed the recipes found on Wellness Mama and Mountain Rose Herbs. I was not able to get a true syrup thickness with these recipes, however. The finished product was fairly liquidy, but delicious nonetheless! I tried a second go-around letting the liquid simmer for longer uncovered, thinking maybe that would help it reduce. But that seemed to just result in more evaporation. Perhaps if I had added the honey and then reduced? I’d like to find a recipe that will get me a really nice thick syrup, but for now this works just fine. If anyone has found a truly syrup-y recipe, please let me know!

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The syrup can be taken as a supplement or just used for flavorful addition to a variety of dishes. I added some drizzles of it to yogurt with blackberries and it was divine. My friend says she eats hers on ice cream! It’s also a nice addition to sparkling water. I’m also curious about the British “pontack” sauce, which combines elderberries with shallots, vinegar, sugar and spices to create a “ketchup” popular in the 17th century and typically used to season game. Perhaps I’ll give this one a try sometime!

UPDATE: I recently tried thickening my syrup with arrowroot powder and it works pretty well! It does have an ever-so-slight flavor but I’d say it’s almost undetectable. I recommend mixing the arrowroot powder thoroughly with some of your liquid syrup first before adding it back to the pot so you don’t get lumps. Start with a little and add more as needed. It will thicken a little more after cooling, so keep that in mind as well.

 

so passiflora

IMG_7922Is there anything more sumptuously psychedelic than the passion fruit? The blooms are otherworldly and hypnotic; the fruit an elusive blend of tangy, floral and sweet. The leaves, stems and flowers of certain varieties are used in herbal medicine for their calming properties, and it’s also rumored to be an aphrodisiac…need I say more?

I recently attended a fascinating presentation on passion fruit by Jorge Ochoa, director of the Horticulture Program at Long Beach City College, and hosted by the Los Angeles chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers. Jorge, a self-described “fruit monkey,” walked us through some of the many varieties of passion fruit, providing us with helpful tips on which ones have the best flavor and how to grow them here in Southern California. Here is what I learned.

Passion fruit are native to South America and in the late 19th and early 20th century their cultivation became popular in Australia and Hawaii.  The name derives from the custom of Spanish missionaries referring to the flowers as “Flor de las cinco lagas” or flower of the five wounds (of Christ fame) and hence – passion – or capacity for suffering. In locales such as Ecuador, Mexico, Brazil and Columbia, they are known to grow rapidly in clearings and along roadways. In Southern California you can find them growing along fences and walls, up trees and in containers. Their intricate flowers are only open for one day(!) and are typically pollinated by our friends the carpenter and bumble bee.

Here, the most common purple skinned variety of passion fruit is known as Passiflora edulis. Once mature, this plant can easily produce over 200 fruits in one season! As for growing them, Jorge stressed that passion fruit are not picky. They can grow in average soil and don’t require extensive care or watering. If starting from seed, it’s best NOT to buy them online and instead he recommends simply planting seeds fresh from the fruit. To propagate, cuttings of about 3-5 inches in length (at least 3 nodes) can be taken in spring and rooted in soil. As a vine, your plants will definitely need some kind of trellis or support to trail onto, and once mature they’ll also benefit from pruning to encourage growth. As for harvest, ideally fruit should be left on the vine to ripen and picked from the ground once they fall naturally to get maximum sweetness. They will not ripen if picked green!

Jorge has travelled extensively to sample and document passion fruit- a fruit “treasure hunter” if you will. So not only were we treated to a slideshow of some truly amazing passion fruits he’s cataloged, but we got the skinny on the most tasty varieties. His rating system consisted of the following:

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And my favorite part of the lecture was sampling fruit, of course! We tried the Passiflora caerulea first. These are known as “common blue” and have softer, orange skin and deep red pulp.

I was curious about these as I’ve seen them around, but had this feeling they might fall into the “yuck” category. And yep, as suspected, they are no good! So if it’s taste you are interested in, save yourself the trouble and skip these.

The other sample we tried was the Passiflora actinia. This variety has a small, yellow fruit (see below photo of yellow rind) and rather tasty pulp. These can bear fruit twice a year – in early spring and fall. I kept the seeds from this one and planted one to see what would happen. Lo and behold, about a week later it germinated, so we’ll see how goes…We also got to nibble on a couple purple skinned varieties that I couldn’t catch the name of, but they were quite good! IMG_8142

The lecture was wrapped up with Jorge’s list of the best tasting (super yum) varieties. They are as follows:

  • Passiflora edulis
  • Passiflora quadrangularis
  • Passiflora serrulata
  • Passiflora laurifolia
  • Passiflora elegans
  • Passiflora ligularis
  • Passiflora ambigua
  • Passiflora edulis
  • Passiflora tarminiana
  • Passiflora mollisima
  • Passiflora alata
  • Passiflora maliformis
  • Passiflora nigradenia
  • Passiflora actinia
  • Passiflora sidaefolia
  • Passiflora nitida

Here is a video of Jorge’s other Passiflora lecture – this one focused on the flowers!

And now I would like to finish up this post with a little celebrity star power and a recipe. A while back I was recovering from a bad cold and had finally dragged myself out of the house and into my nearby health food store. I was dazed and wandering around the produce aisle and out of the corner of my eye caught glimpse of a man with stunning cheekbones in all black. Trying not to stare I realized that this petite, overdressed gentleman was none other than the inimitable Crispin Glover. And what did he have in his cart? One thing: a plastic bag FULL of passion fruit. Bestill my heart.

Passion fruits are a little stingy with their tropical membrane and if you have to buy them, they aren’t cheap. However their flavor is quite strong so a little can go a long way. I try to either savor them as is, or stretch that flavor by making an aqua fresca. Here is a simple recipe:

  • Cut fruit in half and scoop out the flesh (including seeds) into a blender or food processor. 
  • Blend in the blender for about 1 minute – not too long, you don’t want the seeds to get totally pulverized, just enough time to separate the pulp from the seeds.
  • Pour liquid through a sieve to strain out the seeds.
  • Add water in a 1:3 ratio (1 part juice to 3 parts water) and mix in simple syrup to taste.

*It also isn’t hard to find frozen passion fruit pulp in local markets like JONS. I’ve used the Goya brand and it’s not half bad. This can be mixed up just by adding water and simple syrup. Delicious as-is or you can use it as a mixer. Cheers!

 

cilantro & pumpkin seed dressing

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This is a very easy “dressing” that I have been making lately and mixing with brown rice. The flavored rice makes a great base for a bowl. I like to top mine with black beans, avocado, pickled onions, extra dressing and a little labneh. The recipe is very flexible, but here is the gist.

In a food processor or blender add:

  • 1 small handful of cilantro roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup raw shelled pumpkin seeds
  • juice of half a lime
  • 2-3 tablespoons of grapeseed, olive or canola oil
  • enough water to blend and thin the dressing (I’d start with 2 tablespoons and add a little as you go if needed)
  • salt to taste

Blend until smooth and add more oil or water to get it to a smooth consistency. I leave it a little thick if I’m mixing it with rice and thin it down to drizzle extra on top if I’m doing a rice bowl.

Delish!