Monthly Archives: October 2013

What’s for dinner: Salmon with mango

October 31, 2013

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Here’s a recipe that’s super easy to make and packs a punch of flavor in five easy steps.

Prep time: 15 minutes. Cooking time: 20 minutes.

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Ingredients: Two pieces of salmon, two peaches, two mangoes, two apples, one carrot, a small amount of chives, a handful of dill and a dash of butter and pepper. Maybe some lettuce if you would like to eat the dish in a salad fashion. And have your tinfoil on hand. *Disclaimer: We tried making this dish with lemongrass (as pictured), but do not recommend the extra crunch it offers*

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Step 1: Let the chopping commence! Mix the sliced peaches, mangoes and apples together in a bowl. Shred the carrot into strips.

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Voila! Chopped beauty.

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Salmon on standby.

Step 2: Take the pieces of salmon and rub in a light touch of butter. Sprinkle with chives.

Step 3: Cover both pieces of salmon in the chopped fruit, and then wrap separately in tinfoil (like a burrito).

Step 4: Place salmon in the oven for 20 minutes on a temperature of about 175 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit).

Step 5: When salmon is finished baking, garnish with shredded carrots, dill, chopped lettuce and a dash of pepper. And now … ((drumroll please)) … enjoy!!

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Seven ways to improve your city living

October 30, 2013

The goal of this post is to share some products that have helped make my Chicago apartment a better living space for me. I’ve lived in Chicago for almost 2 years, but until about a month ago, I had lived in completely furnished apartments with roommates and relied a lot on other people’s “stuff habits” to cozy my apartment-living. **Disclaimer:  This post’s goal is definitely NOT to recommend buying unnecessary quantities of material goods. **  Illustrations by Diarmuid.

So here it goes, seven things I could live without but wouldn’t want to.

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1. Nespresso Machine: When my sister moved from Chicago to Hong Kong, I was extremely sad. YOU’RE MOVING HALFWAY AROUND THE WORLD…AND YOU’RE NOT TAKING ME WITH YOU! I still miss her every day in Chicago. The silver lining: She bequeathed (temporarily) her fancy appliances to me as the outlet situation on the other side of the world would have ruined them. Seriously, espressos, cappuccinos, or lattes in the morning make me want to wake up earlier, run marathons, and read the whole paper.

Price: From $160 (depends on the model and enhancements). Although this is a pricey gadget, if you’re an espresso-based drinks lover, think about the alternatives: A latte in the city is $5. If you have 3 lattes a week for a year (~$144) you’ve likely already paid more than the cost of one of these machines.

My favorite flavor: Brazilian Dulsao

Fun fact: You can keep the pretty capsules and use them for fun projects: I remove the filter and coffee grounds, wash out the capsule and hammer it into a pretty, flat circle. Use for tabletops or earrings to start!

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2. Air purifier: Yes, it’s ugly and kind of loud. Cuter/quiet alternatives are $$$ though!

Ever find that you’re having difficulty breathing? Itchy throat? Well guess what: It might be dust mites! If you live in an old house or apartment, you likely have this problem. Although I’ve never thought I was sensitive to dust, after moving into my new (but very old) apartment last month, I literally couldn’t sleep. I had a cough that lasted for weeks. I tried everything: dusting. Inhaling steam. Opening the windows often (though this can be scary when you live on a really high floor!) The issue remained, so finally I bought a HEPA air purifier on Amazon recommended by a friend. Wow – what a difference! I can’t believe it. I can finally sleep again…and am now a believer in air purifiers!

Price: This Honeywell model is $99 on Amazon, but there are definitely sleeker, quieter models that you can spend several times this price on.

Benefits: I can finally breathe. And sleep peacefully. **Sigh**

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3. Rustic trunk turned coffee table: When my Craigslist roommate moved out unexpectedly (the day I moved in!) she took the coffee table with her. A week or so later, my hunt began. Although some may think coffee tables aren’t necessary, I love them for game nights, footrests and of course their namesake purpose: holding my coffee.

Thank you Brown Elephant Resale Shop in Chicago for giving me the most charming trunk turned coffee table a gal could ask for! I feel like I’m on an adventure every time I sit in my living room.

Price: $62.50 – originally $125. Remember: 1) haggle if you’re searching in resale shops and 2) look for sale days!

Benefits: Unlimited apartment charm

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4. A good knife set: Pretend like you’re a professional chef and invest in a good knife set. One of my biggest pet peeves are dull, poorly made knives. If you can’t chop a butternut squash easily, get out of my knife drawer!

Price: $102.99 on Amazon (18-piece Chicago Cutlery set) retailed at $211

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5. Grocery Delivery Service: Ok- so not really an item, per se. However, Peapod, a U.S.-based company that delivers groceries to your door, really can improve your apartment-living if any of the following describe your life:

  • You travel a lot for work
  • Live far from a grocery store and don’t have a car
  • Live near a grocery store, but it’s a pricey one
  • You live somewhere where the weather can be described as freezing, numbing, bone-chilling or frigid
  • You love to cook but don’t love to carry insanely heavy groceries

Basically, you just have to plan one day ahead of time and place your order online. Voila! Peapod takes all those back-breaking, finger-numbing, inconvenient trips and turns them into a pleasant delivery experience.

Price: Delivery cost ranges depending on how much you spend on your groceries. It’s cheaper if you buy more.

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6. Genie pants: This may seem random, but I truly believe that these breathable, genie (gypsy, if you prefer) pants make living in my apartment better. Living in a high rise, the temperature is controlled by the building, not the individual tenants. Half of the building I live in is very warm, while the other side is freezing. You guessed it: I live on the warm side. If you live in a chilly building (or an old one), sweatpants may be more appropriate!

Price: < $10 in Thailand

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7. Landline: Believe it or not I’ve reverted back to using a landline! They will never become extinct as long as high-rise dwellers are unable to get good reception on their cellphones.

Price: Unsure. Included in cable package. Strangely enough often these packages are cheaper if you get a landline.

Benefit: No dropped calls! Also, it’s weirdly awesome to have a house phone again!

How to make a terrarium

October 29, 2013

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Let’s face it, houseplants are needy. They demand weekly waterings, occasional nutrient applications and re-pottings from time to time. Not everyone is cut out for the responsibility of houseplants. If you’re one of these people, then terrariums are for you.

A terrarium is a mini ecosystem of small plants in a closed container. As a terrarium heats up, the water evaporates into the top of the jar, condenses back down the sides to be soaked up by the soil, keeping the plants happy and healthy. True, from time to time your terrarium may need light pruning, airing out or an occasional spritz or two. Overall though, terrariums demand much less attention than their houseplant counterparts and still give off that comforting earthy feeling we all know and love.

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What You’ll Need:

  • Glass jar (lid optional)
  • Small stones (or other drainage-achieving material)
  • Activated filter carbon
  • Potting soil
  • Plants that like each other (i.e. thrive in similar conditions)
  • Squirt bottle full of water

Optional Items that Increase Terrarium Success Rates :

  • Nerdy plant friends (one of the many advantages of going to an agricultural school!)
  • Tasty beer (to increase terrarium arrangement creativity)
  • Reptiles (they have no relevance whatsoever except that their presence makes for great photo ops)
  • Decorative trinkets to jazz up your jar – the possibilities, of which, are endless

Containers with terrarium-potential are everywhere, so don’t be afraid to experiment a little. For instance, applesauce jars, jam jars or mason jars work wonderfully. We used jars we had laying around the house of all shapes and sizes. Lids are optional but if you create a terrarium without a lid, use plants that favor more arid environments and realize that it will need to be spritzed with water more often than closed terrariums.

First, cover the bottom of the container with a 1-inch layer of small stones, which allows for proper drainage. Next, create a thin layer over the stones with the activated filter carbon. This layer serves as a filtration substrate to keep the water clean. Take a few healthy scoops of potting soil and place it over the activated filter carbon. The amount of potting soil used depends on the size of your container, so aim for a healthy portion, leaving enough room for your plants to grow to the desired size.

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Activated filter carbon keeps the water in your terrarium clean. You can find this at any store that sells aquarium equipment.

Your ecosystem is almost in tact. Now it’s time to put in the plants, my favorite part. The best way to acquire plants is to forage for some in your own backyard, or take clippings from those needy houseplants. Remember to choose plants that grow in similar conditions. Mosses, which like damp and cool environments, probably wouldn’t do great with succulents that like dry and hot environments. This is where having nerdy plant friends comes in handy! Or you can utilize the magic google machine if your nerdy-plant-friend contact list is lacking.

We chose a combo of mosses, spider plants and ferns. Take some cuttings of your fav plants, poke a hole in the soil and insert your clippings. If you do use moss, make sure to plant it on top of some bark or other material so it doesn’t live directly on the soil (something my plant friends brought to my attention).

Once the plants are in, jazz it up with your trinkets – dinosaur heads, seashells and colorful stones are  a couple things we played around with. Dig around the “stuff drawer” (everyone has one) for those random, unused treasures that need a good home.

Fill up your squirt bottle full of water, and give your terrarium a good 10 or so spritzes, until the soil is pretty moist. Try to avoid a lot of water collection on the bottom – if this happens, it’s probably saturated enough. Once the soil is saturated, secure the lid (if you’re using one) and find a spot with lots of indirect sunlight. Avoid direct sunlight as it can damage the plants if the air inside the jar gets too hot.

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Two of my awesome nerdy plant friends, Leena and Justin, adding a 2-in layer of potting soil to the jars. They study horticulture science at N.C. State and put their expertise to good use as the brains behind this terrarium-making operation.

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An almost-finished-terrarium in need of some fun trinkets. Don’t forget to spritz your jar well so your plants have enough water to keep them growing.

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 Seashells, dinosaur heads and bark serve as great trinkets to decorate your terrariums. 

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This terrarium, made by terrarium-master Leena, doesn’t have a lid so I’ll have to water it more often. It makes for a great table centerpiece and convo starter.

Maintenance Tips:

If a terrarium is planted too heavily, or if the plants grow too much, some may die off if out-competed. Try to start out with just a few plants in each jar. Give the plants a trim every now and again if they look like they’re getting too big for the jar.

If there is so much condensation on the sides of the jar that you can’t see in, take off the lid and let it air out for a bit. On the contrary, if the soil is a little dry, give it a good couple of spritzes with the squirt bottle.

If a plant dies, go dig up a new one and try again. Think of it as an experiment. Trial and error is never a bad thing, just a learning process.