The World’s Best

I have devised a recipe for the world’s best salad.  I know it is the best because I have personally taste-tested it against all other salads I have personally made, and I have personally decided that it is the best.  You can see that my system is fool-proof.

I’m not greedy, though, so I’m wiling to let you have the world’s best salad, too.  You can even pretend it’s your own if you want.  I’m not going to tell on you.

See, I’ve never loved salads.  I have always thought they were boring and bland.  They never filled me up.  I didn’t understand why there was always grated carrot and red cabbage at the bottom of the salad bowl, and why is a massive ring of red onion okay to just drop on top?  Add that confusion to the fact that I don’t like tomatoes, I can’t have croutons, and most salad dressings are either awful for you or just awful for me in particular, and I usually had a bowl of lettuce with a couple of sad cucumber slices.

After seeing a dietician recently and finding out that I don’t eat enough food — shocking news! — I realised I was going to have to make more of an effort to eat lunch.  I whined, ‘but lunchtime is the exact time of day when I least want to eat!’  Why?

Well, I used to eat sandwiches for lunch.  I thought I was doing all right by it, never eating plain white bread, typically passing up the crisps, and adding lettuce to give me a vegetable.  After I’d eat, though, I would get very tired.  I didn’t want to do anything; I wasn’t sure I could do anything. What I didn’t realise was that I wasn’t really feeding myself; I was just putting stuff in my body.  There wasn’t anything nourishing to what I was eating, and, while I don’t knock a good sandwich now and again, I just know it doesn’t function as a daily standard.

Knowing that someone else was looking over my food journal with me made me a bit more self-conscious.  Of course I wanted to look like I had it all together, but I also came to realise that I simply knew better. More fruit, Sydney, and more vegetables.  Just get over yourself and do it.

Thus, THE salad was born.  There’s crunch, there’s heft, there’s sweetness, there’s protein, and there’s also a little bit of heat.

World’s Best Lunch Salad

Ingredients:
Romaine lettuce (or favourite leaf)
Spinach
Sunflower seeds
Pomegranate seeds
Sprouted mung beans
Sprouted lentil beans
Cucumber
Broccoli
World’s Best Balsamic Vinaigrette (see recipe below)
Your favourite hot sauce (I use Frank’s Hot Sauce for this salad!)

Hardware:
Big bowl
Hands

Directions:
Assemble as big or as small a salad as you’d like with the ingredients.  I start with the lettuce and spinach, tearing them into bite-sized pieces by hand, add broccoli and cucumber around the edges, and add the smaller ingredients in the middle.  Then, I dress it with a couple of shakes of the hot sauce and a quick drizzle of the vinaigrette.

salad

This is the little version. I may or may not have used a mixing bowl for just myself before. (I definitely have.)

World’s Best Balsamic Vinaigrette

Ingredients:
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar (may not be needed if you shell out for expensive oil and vinegar)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt (I use pink Himalayan salt for a couple of extra minerals)
1/8 teaspoon chilli powder
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cumin

Hardware:
Jar that will fit at least 1 cup of liquid (with lid)
measuring cups and spoons
heavy-duty shakin’ arms

Directions:
Dump everything except the sugar into the jar.  Shake, shake, shake until it is completely combined.  Taste and see if it needs the sugar for your tastebuds.  Some vinegars can be more tart than others, and some people like a more tart vinaigrette.  Add the sugar if you want and shake again.

Store in the fridge.  Remove a while before you need it, and shake it again to reintegrate the oil and vinegar, which will separate when cold.  If you forget, pop it in the microwave without the lid for 15-20 seconds — just enough to soften the oil but not “cook” it — and shake.  Oh, yes, more shaking.

Essential Oil Q&A + Simple Sweet Tooth Recipes

This is a long one, guys.

I didn’t mean to leave you hanging after that last post, but life went a bit crazy.  I took another trip to Glasgow, I had crochet orders coming out of my ears, I had foolishly scheduled both of my classes to submit essays on the same day, and we had what amounted to a four-day Valentines extravaganza involving buses and trains and concerts and Dublin and running here and there with the hopes of making it anywhere on time.  We survived by the skin of our teeth (what does that even mean?).

I have had several questions since my last post about essential oils.  Two of the main ones have been: ‘What does it mean to use an oil?’ and ‘What does a typical day using essential oils look like?’  I’m really glad I was reminded of the first question because it was actually one of those things I originally wondered and forgot to share.  The second one will differ, of course, depending on what an individual’s needs are, but I can show you what my day looks like.

What does it mean to use an essential oil?

I think the term ‘use’ is a bit vague, and it’s because it is there to encompass loads of things.  The main ways to use an essential oil are by diffusiontopical application, and, in some cases, ingestion.  I only recommend Young Living essential oils, especially for ingestion, because I can trust their processes and protocols.

  • Diffusing an oil puts it into the air in tiny particles.  You can smell it, changing your environment the way that a candle or a good soup on the stove (It is me we’re talking about, after all.) does.  It also means that you are breathing it into your body.  It can affect your mood, change your breathing, and can even remove bad smells and toxins from the air.
  • Topically applying an oil simply means putting it on your skin.  It can be particularly useful for things like blemishes, burns, cuts, etc. where you want to affect a specific place on your body.  It can also be helpful for muscle aches and joint pains because you can apply it directly to the sore spot.  Topical application is also good for oils that you can’t or don’t want to ingest or diffuse (They don’t all smell great.).  Some oils should be diluted before applying because of their strength.
  • Ingestion is not something you should do with all essential oils, but many of them are labelled as safe.  You can buy empty capsules to swallow them, and some you can even drop onto/under your tongue if you like the taste of them.  Ingesting oils can be helpful for things like helping to combat a virus or easing digestive discomfort.

What does a typical day using essential oils look like?

When I wake up, I usually already have a pile of work ahead of me.  Often I’ve gotten a ton of student emails while asleep — the wonderful part about living five time zones away from your students — and I have either (or both) student work to mark or crochet orders to fill.  Whatever is on the agenda, I typically need help focusing first thing in the morning.  I stick on the diffuser with lavenderpeppermint, and lemon.  This trio is super-helpful in reducing sinus inflammation, which prevents those sinus headaches I used to get daily, and it’s very light and uplifting.  The diffuser, itself, acts as a humidifier but doesn’t produce any heat, so it helps with the early-morning dehydration grumpiness.

diffuser

Go, little guy, go!

Because I have hormonal issues ranging from thyroid to reproductive to digestive to sleep, I use some oils in the morning and one at night.  I put Progessence Plus blend on the insides of my wrists and rub them together, and I do the same with Lady Sclareol blend on my ankles.  These spots are really good for getting into your bloodstream faster because your veins are so close to the skin there.  I also use a roll-on of cypress on the tops of my feet and hands to help with circulation. [I tried cypress for my awful circulation on a bit of a whim since I got a bottle in a kit as a present from my mum. I actually have before and after photos of my toes taken only three days apart to show the difference it made, but I figured nobody really wants to see my stinky feet.]

When I let Zoe outside for the first time in the morning, I pop over to the fridge and grab my bottle of Ningxia Red juice.  It’s made with whole crushed wolfberries (you may also know them as acai berries) and a handful of oils already mixed into it.  It gives me a mental and physical boost and helps to balance blood sugar throughout the day.  I can always tell when I forget to have any of it because I’ll start to really drag around 3-4pm.  It only takes a little bit — think of a shot glass — so I usually mix it equal parts with coconut water to give me extra electrolytes, too.

ningxia red bottles

Juice juice juice

About a half-hour before I have lunch, I make a capsule to take.  I use grapefruitpeppermint, and Thieves blend and swallow it with a glass of water.  Grapefruit helps digestive motility and aids in metabolism issues.  After seeing a dietician in the past few months, I learned that I actually have slowed my metabolism by not eating enough food most of the time.  It shocked me because I love food, but I don’t get hungry all the time and often let myself get too busy to stop and take care of myself.  Peppermint eases digestive discomfort; pain when eating was yet another reason why I avoided eating throughout the day.  I actually don’t experience pain when eating anymore. Whoo!  Thieves helps my immune system by fighting off anything I might pick up and boosting my natural immunities to the world around me.  That’s right — I don’t have to be sick all of the time!

Most of the time, I will try to have a salad or a green smoothie for lunch.  I try to have a little fun with it.  When I make my salad dressing, I will often add lemon essential oil to it.  It doesn’t separate in the oil and vinegar like lemon juice can, and it’s just easier to handle.  If I’m making a smoothie, I might add the grapefruit oil (instead of taking it in a capsule) or any other ingestible oils that sound good at the time.  All of my oils help me in some way, so I’m not wasting them by adding them to my food — I’m just finding another way for them to help me.

Day 7

Don’t tell me you wouldn’t gulp that down.

In the afternoons, I usually get a bit stressed out, so I’ll put the diffuser on again, this time with peppermint and Release blend.  I was given the bottle of Release for free at a meeting I attended in town; I have to admit I probably never would have bought it myself because it (and some of the others) has a bit of a silly name to me, but it was exactly what I needed at the time.  It helps to, well, release stress and bad emotions, while the peppermint uplifts.  It’s the perfect mix for a slump.

Before bed, I put EndoFlex blend on the arches of my feet.  This oil is one of the most important for me, as it’s the other side of the hormonal equation for me.  I use it before I go to sleep so that I can truly rest.  It is what has made the biggest impact on my rest cycles and what actually allows me to wake up feeling less tired than when I went to sleep — you know, like you’re supposed to.

The very last thing I do is put the diffuser on one more time.  It helps me to get to sleep and stay asleep.  Most nights, I’ll diffuse orange, cedarwood, and Valor blend.  I use orange a lot (you may have noticed) because it is great for triggering natural melatonin release, aiding sleep but also calming nerves throughout the day.  I actually bought it ‘just because’ one month, and it turns out it’s my favourite. Coincidence? Cedarwood is great for breathing issues, and it has helped me to not wake up reaching for my rescue inhaler at night.  I used to need it at least once through the night — my breathing was inhibited enough that I would wake in a panic — and again as soon as I woke up in the morning; I don’t need it at all during the night, which is clearly a good thing for my lungs, but it also means I’m not working up those stress hormones while asleep. Valor is in the mix for another type of sleep discomfort altogether.  Since I added it into the nightly routine, CB has stopped snoring.  I didn’t even notice the difference — because I was asleep! — until we were in a hotel recently.  Once the chainsaw started up, I had a devil of a time drifting off.  It wasn’t until I read about Valor reducing snoring that I put it all together.

If that all sounds like a lot, there are two things to keep in mind: 1) Most of the time, I’m only using 1-2 drops of each oil. A 5ml bottle has just over 80 drops, and a 15ml has about 250 drops. 2) I haven’t taken anything else (other than my inhalers, and I’m working on that!) in months — not pain relievers when I threw out my back, not Sudafed when I got an awful cold and sinus infection, not sleep aids for my life-long insomnia. My essential oils have completely replaced medications for me.

Bonus for your sweet tooth

One of the things I like to do (like I mentioned with my lunch above) is add essential oils to sweet treats.  One of my favourite oils to use is orange because it just tastes great.  I have used both it and peppermint in milkshakes and chocolate-banana-shakes (four drops per shake).  At Christmas, I made little chocolate candies with a few drops of orange essential oil and sea salt — if you’ve ever had a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, the reviews were better for mine than his, though I don’t have a fun orange-shaped mould.  Considering today is Shrove Tuesday, I think we might find a way to make some specialty-flavoured pancakes after dinner tonight!

Want to know more about essential oils? Leave me a comment or send me an email!  If you’d like to order, you can go here to sign up and get your starter kit. Four of the oils I mentioned above come in the Premium Starter Kit, along with others and a diffuser!

Just Call Me Frank.

I haven’t been around a lot. You might have noticed. Things got hard, and I checked out in a lot of ways.

The last time I posted, I was talking about being on the brink of getting a new kitchen. Well, I did, and I love it. It also took 13 months to be completed.

new kitchen photo

Two ovens, six stovetop burners, all mine. Finally.

We had our boiler break down in the dead of winter, and it took two months for us to get a brand new one installed. Every room in the house needed more work than anticipated. I ended up in hospital and darting between doctors’ offices for a few months. CB worked himself half to death writing a book, book chapters, editing a book, and, you know, doing his job. We argued a lot because we weren’t happy with the status quo and we didn’t know how to fix it.

To put it simply, I was depressed. I didn’t say it for a long time, but now I’m in the business of being Frank.

When you’re depressed, you don’t want to spend time being creative in the kitchen, and you certainly don’t want to pretend on a blog that everything is fine and bubbly. I did try to take solace in my kitchen, but I was constantly reminded that THAT wall still needed to be redone and THAT cabinet is going to have to be removed and WHEN are the tiles going to be installed? It wasn’t the most positive place for me.

tired sydney

I only now realise how tired I looked even when I thought I was having a good day.

Over the summer, things started improving. We spent about six weeks in the States with my family and friends, and I think the change of scenery did us well. Sure, we avoided some of the problems instead of fixing them, but they suddenly became much more manageable with fresh eyes. CB and I made an effort to start spending more quality time together — particularly hard when he had looming deadlines and I took on too many crochet orders leading up to Christmas.

One thing that made a huge difference but I haven’t really talked about with a lot of people is starting to use essential oils. I joined Young Living in August of last year, just when we got back from the States. I had read for ages about using essential oils for all sorts of healing, but I honestly thought it was a bunch of bunk. I was willing to try just about anything to get myself out of my funk, but was I willing to try THAT?

Then I actually thought about it.

If I believe that natural and healthy food is one of the best healers there is — and I’ve proven that to myself, anyway, through the last few years — then why were oils so different? They are made from plants, and Young Living ensures the purest quality of their products by actually owning their own farms and taking everything from “seed to seal” (hokey phrasing but a very effective way to describe the process). If I have seen that eating peppermint leaves aids in my digestion, why wouldn’t a truly quality peppermint essential oil — made from those same leaves — have the same properties? If I can spout all day about the antioxidants found in certain fruits, why wouldn’t I think adding orange oil to a glass of water would give my immune system a wee boost?

I tried a couple of oils at my parents’ house just before we left in July. I had gotten a whopper of a head cold, and I did not want to get on an international flight when my ears couldn’t even pop. I got out their diffuser, slapped Thieves oil blend and lemon oil (I later learned that Thieves HAS lemon in it already — oh, well.), and put that thing on full blast right next to me as I moaned and whined on the sofa. A couple of hours later, I was breathing and smiling. Nothing in my entire life — not even that awful nasal surgery I had — had made such a difference in my breathing, and, oh no!, it made the house smell like Christmas!

Thieves oil

Thieves oil — I love the fact that its history includes THE PLAGUE.

That event is what made me decide to enroll with Young Living. I had only been back to our house for a few days when my breathing got awful. I later found out that I had developed asthma. [side note: Who on earth develops asthma at my age?!] It only took a couple of days of watching me struggle for CB to decide it was worth the money, even if we had to scrape it together out of the couch cushions.

What I didn’t really anticipate was falling in love with these oils. I was still a bit reticent about them, even after I knew they could help me breathe, because they still seemed a bit weird. Would they be greasy? I couldn’t get the idea of cooking oils out of my head. They also come in such tiny, tiny bottles. How often would I have to buy these things to even make a difference? I started reading about what came in the Premium Starter Kit and kept seeing things about healthy moods and hormone balancing and house cleaning. What on earth?!

I still didn’t know what I was doing when I got my kit. I think I kind of stared at it for about ten minutes, then closed it back up and set it aside for a few hours. It was in the corner of my eye line, daring me to do something about it. I got an email from Katherine, this lovely woman under whom I’d signed up, giving me ideas for some of the oils. I decide to dive in head first. No pain, no gain, right?

Everyday Oils Kit

What do you even do with these little guys?

I used the diffuser, sticking in lavender, peppermint, and lemon oils because I had heard they were good for breathing and congestion. It helped a lot. I soon was given inhalers from the doctor, but I realised that, the more I diffused these oils, the longer I could go without having to use the rescue inhaler. So I started playing around with some of the other oils in the kit. I say playing around, but I really mean meticulously reading testimonials and oil recipes and very cautiously proceeding.

I didn’t even notice that the oils were having a bigger effect on me. I knew I liked them, and I knew that I felt better when I put them on me or diffused them into the air. It shocked me when CB pointed out that I had done things that my anxiety hadn’t allowed me to do in years — I thought nothing of going to the shop or post office at the top of the road on most days. Before long, I even heard myself say that I would walk into town — about three miles — and meet him after work one day. Even more, I actually saw myself do it. People started talking to me in public again, and a woman in a local shop said that I’d been looking more confident lately. I got compliments from my family. I can’t tell you how many individual times I heard some variation of “you look/sound healthy” on phone and video chats. A rather unintended — though not unwelcome! — effect was that I started losing weight again. I felt like being active, and I didn’t feel drawn to so much bad food. For the first time in my life, I also began consistently sleeping through the night. I haven’t been starting every single day already exhausted, which has done a world for my general outlook as well as productivity and health.

Do I still have bad days? Absolutely. Essential oils are not miracle cures. They didn’t turn me into a superhero [note to self: come up with a really awesome superhero name in case this does ever happen.], and they haven’t even kept me from ever being sick or sad. What they have done is give me the confidence to know I can make it through the tough days, and I haven’t been sick for more than one or two days in a row — unheard of for my immune system! I thought that life got better when we got back from the States, but it was just my coping mechanisms that changed, or, I might should say, I actually HAD coping mechanisms. We still had all of CB’s publication deadlines in front of us, and I hadn’t even touched that mental amount of Christmas crochet orders yet. The house wasn’t — and still isn’t — finished. The weather has still been dismal, and most of the news we’ve gotten over the last six months has been very sad or disappointing.

But it feels better. I’m not constantly knocked down by bad news. I don’t catch every little bug that’s going around, especially hanging a super-adorable and super-germy niece.

Clio

Exhibit A: super-adorable, super-germy

I am taking more things in stride, I am content with where I am in life, I value my relationships with my husband and my family [embarrassing oversharing note: I just about welled up on Christmas night when CB’s family and my parents were all in our house opening presents. It struck me that everyone was happy and laughing and sharing and enjoying everyone else’s company, and I was the reason for all these people to be gathered in one room. Oh, is someone cutting onions in here again?], and I just have a more positive outlook on things.

I’ve been doing more than coping lately, too. I have a load of new recipes I’ve got banked to share with you all now. I have felt like an actual person, not just dragging myself from Point A to Point B but enjoying the bits in between. I’ve been silly and playful. This weekend, I actually even boarded a plane by myself to go to a city I’ve never visited and do things by myself. I didn’t stay holed up in the hotel room alone either — I ate meals and learned things and chatted with people and had a genuinely nice time. I haven’t travelled on my own like that in almost five years, partly because I would have mostly gone places with CB but also because I just couldn’t.

Glasgow e-ticket

That happened, folks.

The craziest thing is that the goalposts have shifted for me. I used to take deep breaths and hope I could make it to the end of the week without a little breakdown and hiding under the covers in bed all day. I used to plead with the universe to get me through things. I couldn’t see very far because, every time I looked forward to something, I would have a disappointment and lose sight. I spent ten minutes yesterday writing down “I would love to…” style goals (something I would have found too ridiculous to even do in the private corners of my mind before now), and I realised that I have LIFE GOALS. When did that happen? I have things I want to happen and ideas on how to make them happen. Who is this person inhabiting my body?!

Life is different now and can be different and will be different. For anyone that still resides in Skeptic City like I did for so long, I have two things:

A) If they work, then I’m glad I’ve found a natural, plant-based solution for my problems. I don’t have to worry about loads of side effects, contra-indications of various medications, or the squirmy feeling I get supporting big pharma companies all the time.

B) If they don’t actually work and it’s all in my head, I don’t care. If they are placebos, then they are placebos I will gladly pay for. Why? Because I feel like a human being for the first time in a VERY long time, and that feeling is precious to me. I am worth it. I don’t know if I’ve ever said that before in my life, but it’s true. I’m not hurting anyone or even myself with my “placebos”, so let me get on with it.

I truly, whole-heartedly believe they aren’t placebos, and there is one main reason for that: I didn’t even know what I wanted to happen when I started using them. All I could think of at that point was being able to breathe. I didn’t think I would get confidence, happiness, protection against sickness. I didn’t think I would get myself back.

Are you curious about essential oils? Have you ever used them? Do you have questions about them? Let me know!

If you’re looking to get yourself back like me and are ready to take the plunge, you can sign up here. My referral information should already be plugged into the page, so I’ll know if you sign up.  I’ll send you loads of information to get started, and you can learn at your own speed. You can always come to me with any silly, ridiculous questions you might have — because I’ve probably already asked them, myself.  If you sign up with the Premium Starter Kit, I’ll even send you a wee sample of an oil that doesn’t come in the kit.

Oh, and that tiny, tiny bottle issue? It’s because there is so much packed into every drop of Young Living’s essential oils that you only use a tiny, tiny amount. I still have some in most of the bottles that came in my Premium Starter Kit almost six months ago.  That’s value.

Move along to my next post where I write too much in response to very short, simple questions.

Kitchen Progress, Life Progress

Things are happening so quickly!  The giant week (which is so giant that it actually encompasses 9 days) kicks off Friday when I see Van the Man receive his Freedom of the City.  Two days later, I’ll be taking in They Might Be Giants in my third country — this time, only down the street, no airplanes required!  Thursday brings the Lumineers, and Saturday is the Doctor Who 50th anniversary.  Somewhere in the middle, I have a sewing class to attend, parents to retrieve from Dublin, tons of crocheting to do (speaking of crocheting, if that’s your thing and you want to order for Christmas, you need to get on that.  Really.), and, oh, some houseWORK to tackle.

Tearing out kitchen

Clearly, one of my favourite parts of the process is the WORK.

So much to do — should I say ‘so much to be done’ — but it’ll all end with a brand new shiny kitchen for me to mess up during Thanksgiving.  The first crumb will be a tiny heartbreak, but then I know I’ll dive right in and make it my own.  And my own kitchen is nothing short of a workshop.

Kitchen newly plastered

The current state of the kitchen — yes, new plaster is meant to look like that.

Radio Silence

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and there’s a reason.  This is my kitchen:

Kitchen

Yes, that’s a bottle of Pepsi and a package of string cheese. No, I’m not ashamed.

Well, if I’m honest, THIS is my kitchen:

Kitchen full

Doesn’t everyone keep mattresses on their countertops?!

You see, CB and I bought a house.  A big house that requires a lot of work.  What it means is that I have not properly cooked in close to a month.  Since I don’t have as much as a stove, I have also tried not to think too much about food in general.  We are working too much, not eating enough, and not sleeping enough.  It’s taking a toll, but it’s our house.  Every wall that is plastered and painted makes me fall more and more in love with it.

What I do have is a date for my kitchen installation!  About a week before Thanksgiving, the final touches will be finished.  I get to demolish the existing kitchen, too, which is just too much fun to me.  As soon as things get moving, I’ll start updating again, I promise.  Until then, send me all the good surviving-the-mess vibes you can manage!