Sunday, August 22, 2010

Introspection and Cabbage

"Know thyself" said the Greeks. Maybe Socrates, maybe someone else. Thoreau left society to live alone in the woods in order to accomplish this, among other reasons.

Why the philosophy? I don't know. Maybe because I'm considering my life and where it's going. I've been spending more time alone than usual, which as Thoreau discovered causes those sorts of thoughts to spring forth.

I've been spending time alone because I've been living alone, for the first time in my life. I've had roommates since moving away from home. Technically this place is not mine alone, Boyfriend will be moving in with me. But he's spent the summer on the Northern Peninsula and I've been on my own in this house for nearly two months.

There have been times when the solitude has been a relief, even a joy. After a heavy day at work, or a week that's found me busy every night. It's wonderful to have a space over which I had complete control, a place where there was no need to consider anyone else at all. Music if I wanted it, silence if I didn't. No mess if I didn't make one, and no one else judging my mess if I did.

There have been other times, when the solitude has become emptiness. Where my house, instead of seeming large, became tight, closed and oppressive. One Saturday morning I dashed out to the grocery store, just to be around people. I'd only been on my own since the previous afternoon, but at that moment it was more than I could handle.

What have I learned in this time? I think I do well enough on my own, but I do need other people. I need someone to share my life with. I can make a house feel like home all by myself, but I want to share my home. Not with just anyone, but with someone I love who loves me, to share not just my home, but my life. Boyfriend will return from his Northern adventure next week, and he'll move in then. And I'm ready for that.

The other issue about living alone is the cooking. I discussed this in an earlier post, but I find very little pleasure in cooking just for myself. It doesn't seem worth the time or the dishes. I eat tuna sandwiches, cheesy eggs, and veggies from the market. Almost all my meals are forgettable.

Except this one:

In a fit of loneliness the other evening, I decided to make the ultimate comfort food. It had to be warm and mushy, to start. It had to have cabbage (because the cabbage couldn't wait any longer to be cooked) and it needed to have chicken-soup levels of comfort.

I started with a recipe from I Know How to Cook By Ginette Mathiot but I changed it a lot. That's something new for me. Maybe when I'm feeding myself I'm more likely to take risks? Who knows. Anyway, I came up with the following, which was everything I needed it to be:

Comfort Cabbage

Half a large cabbage, sliced to ribbons
An onion, chopped
1-2 Tbs olive oil
1 slice prosciutto, ripped to bits
1 cup chicken broth

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then stir in the onions. Add a pinch of sugar to help them brown. When they start to brown a little, add the cabbage and stir to coat. Pour the broth over and reduce heat to a low simmer. Simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Done!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Air Freshener Rant

I hate air fresheners, room scents, and anything created by the Glade company. Strong words, but carefully considered.

I should mention I do not have a problem with scents, even artificial scents in general. I am an avid collector of perfumes, and I wear one almost every day (but never at the office, because I'm a stickler for rules). The difference is that for perfume we're talking about a half drop selected by myself that no one else can smell. I frequently do checks on this with either Boyfriend or other friends, "Can you smell me now? How about now? No? Good!" A scent can be a very personal thing. Room scents, on the other hand, fill the air, and everyone has to smell them. Moreover, I find most of them unpleasant. Scented oils are heavy, incense is smokey, and those awful aerosols and plug-in things just smell like a chemical swamp. I was excited by the claims of febreeze when it first came out, as it was advertised as a product that would eliminate smells without covering them up. I imagined a sort of spray baking soda. It's not. It smells like febreeze, which smells awful. I recently read about a woman who, when she was too busy to clean would squirt windex into the air to trick guests into thinking she had. It always worked and I bet smelled better than febreeze.

I don't see what's wrong with having your house smell like it does naturally. I open the windows as often as I can and I clean regularly. My house smells fine. I use baking soda in the fridge, the garbage and anywhere else that a bad smell might have a chance to grow and that takes care of that. I have the added advantage that I bake frequently, so my house often smells like baking. That's all the perfume it needs.

There are times, however, when the house gets a bit stale. I experienced this a few weeks ago when we had some pretty warm weather. There was no breeze coming in through the windows and, even though the house was clean, the air was heavy and sticky. I had guests staying with me and I knew they would be tired when they arrived. I wanted my house to be fresh and refreshing, I wanted it to smell like lemons. There's an easy and cheap way to do this without using lemon scented air wick. (I can only assume that whoever created this product has never actually encountered a lemon)

The only room-scenting technique I have ever employed comes from an old "Hints from Heloise" column. One of the few that doesn't involve re-using old containers. Basically, boil some cinnamon. It makes your house smell like cinnamon. Duh. So simple, and so perfect. Now, the cinnamon part has never quite worked for me, as the smell makes me crave it so badly that I usually wind up dropping whatever I was busy with to make a coffee cake. But this technique works with almost anything. The evening my guests were to arrive I put a few drops of lemon juice in bowls which I placed around the house. I then boiled the kettle and poured the water into the bowls. The cold bowls increased the steam, which quickly dispersed through the air. Each room was immediately freshened, and had just a slight hint of real lemon. Less than five minutes, barely costing a penny and no huffing mystery chemicals. Ta da!