Thursday, April 30, 2009

vanilla sky

Mmmm, vanilla! It's funny that a lot of people have no idea what a vanilla bean even is (including yours truly, I admit, up until not too long ago), forget about how to use it. Then a dear friend of ours from Bologna who loves good cooking came to visit. He wanted to make his homemade vanilla ice cream and was aghast to hear that it's nearly impossible to find a vanilla bean in Naples. Finally a few months later I found vanilla beans in a supermarket, but they cost a small fortune. So in the end I turned to the ever-faithful and ordered a big bag of organic vanilla beans for what it would've cost to buy just a couple of those non-organic ones at the supermarket. I went off to work.

First with "Vanilla Ice Cream alla moda di Villiam":
1 liter of whole milk
1 vanilla bean
100 g. (3.5 oz.) sugar

First cut the vanilla bean lengthwise with scissors or a knife. Boil the milk with the cut bean and sugar. Simmer until it evaporates down to half what it had been before. Let it cool down a whole day in the fridge so at to mature the cream and make the final ice cream creamier. Then put it in the freezer and blend it every 1 or 2 hours with an immersion blender (or whatever it's called, I can't remember right now!) or a fork so it doesn't form one block. When it looks like ice cream, it's ready. And gobble it up! But be sure not to forget it out of the freezer for too long because it starts melting pretty quickly.
In the USA we use vanilla extract to make desserts, not that powdered "vanillina" that Italians use. In the past I've had to buy it in the States and bring it over here. Then one happy day I saw Angry Chicken's post mentioning giving away homemade vanilla extract. So I checked out her link to and I followed their recipe. I made it up in December and just today filtered and bottled it (even though I had already used it before filtering). And it's soooo good! And now I have a life time's supply of vanilla extract! Yum! At some point I'll put up some recipes I use it with, be patient!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


First off the bat, I'd like to excuse my recent non-blogging to the maybe two people who've ever looked at this blog. I've been super busy and haven't had any time at all for writing.

Ok, now that apologies have been made and my washing machine is once again broken, let's talk about washing detergent. I'm always excited to find any sort of ecological alternative. I use hardly any disposable products and our cabinets and drawers are full of lovely washable cloth stuff: napkins, hankies, menstrual pads, diapers, wipes, shopping bags, etc. No matter how happy I am to be throwing out (and buying) so much less crap, I still can't help wondering, but considering the fact that I have to wash all this stuff, are they really so ecological after all? Washing uses water, energy and detergents which pollute the water.

So I went searching for some alternative to detergent. First I found "Ecoballs," plastic balls filled with little pellets which alter the pH of the water, letting it wash much better. In addition, they're anti-bacterial, they don't leave chemicals or perfumes on your clothes, they are much more delicate on the material and they can even make your water a little softer. You use these balls and you never have to use regular detergent again. How cool! I was psyched and ordered them right away on UK eBay (with another product made by the same brand, the "Magnoball," a ball with magnets inside which protect your washing machine or dishwasher from limescale deposits without having to use any sort of chemical agents).

It's true, they are pretty cool, but we all know that nothing is ever as wonderful as it first may seem. First of all, you can't fill your washing machine up completely because the balls need to "circulate freely." And this circulating is damn noisy (well, maybe not the Ecoballs, because they have a sponge ring around them, but the Magnoball is heavy and thumps around). They clean dry and easy removable dirtiness, but if you have harder dirtiness, like oil, blood or wine, not even the special stain remover they toss in with the Ecoballs will get rid of it.

So then I decided to try the Natyr soap nuts that you can find in Altro Mercato stores. The nut
Sapindus Mukorossi from India has a natural soap in the shell. You put these shells in a little cotton pouch and you put the pouch in with the rest of your laundry and it works like detergent. Nothing synthetic or chemical and after using them, you can put the shells in your compost. I really like these nuts, even though I've found that the hardest stains still just won't come out.

And so, my ecological-while-still-being-functional solution? Laundry without staining dirtiness (like sheets, clothes worn but not really visibly dirtied) with Ecoballs. Regular dirty laundry with the soap nuts. Worrisome dirtiness pre-treated with that laundry liquid detergent on tap at Auchan, the type where you bring back the container and fill it up over and over so you don't ever throw it away. And everything with the Magnoball (we've got hideously hard water here), but filling up the machine normally.