Monday, May 9, 2011

Homemade, homemade

Being in a new environment has got me feeling experimental lately. I made this hot oil a few weeks ago with advice from the spice man at my Sunday market ("the recipe is free! ha! freeee!"). It gives an extra kick to my stir-fries, my fried eggs, my toast (fried in the pan with oil when I run out of butter; we are a toasterless household). It draws little flames around whatever my heart desires. Anyone who's been to Brazil will have seen countless bottles of this stuff on the tables of homes and homey restaurants.

To make it, I took an equal mix of orange, red, and green chili pepppers (the little green ones are the meanest), washed and destemmed them,

put them in a jam jar with this much salt,

et voila! After about a week, the whole thing got spiced up.

I also made this homemade mosquito repellent from really cheap vodka (R$6 a bottle) infused with a packet of cloves and some cinammon. I let it steep for a week, shaking up the mixture every day, then mixed it with sweet-herb-scented body oil. It seemed to work for awhile; at least it made my skin smell really nice, but then I started getting less vigilant about putting on insect repellent. Then I fell ill with dengue fever, which has been something of an epidemic in Rio in the last couple years. My bout was intense, though maybe not as bad as others have had it, and I am now in recovery and have finally been leaving the house. I blame succumbing to the illness on a combination of an evil, gluttonous Aedes egypti plus intense stress from trying to finish a dissertation chapter by a self-imposed deadline. (Dissertations are bad for your health.) I'm going to try another batch using olive oil instead of body oil. The only problem with cloves is that they can stain clothes and some report that clove oil can be a skin irritant, though I haven't had this problem.

My latest and most exciting home project has been making my own compost bin out of an old French fryer. In San Francisco, I got so used to never throwing a single scrap of food in the garbage since the city picks up compost separate from garbage and recycling, so that when I moved here, it caused a great pain in my heart to throw out so many beautiful vegetable and fruit parts. I met a woman at the organic farmers' market who gave me this old French fryer she cleaned out, plus some advice on how to put all the layers together.

I poked drainage holes in a plastic planter base for the bottom, found a metal wire sieve to block the top from critters while letting in air and sun, and now have become totally obsessed with feeding my compost, turning it, chopping up my organic scraps into tiny, digestible pieces for the sweet creature that lives in the back near the laundry machine. My yin and yang have now been transmuted into brown and green layers (brown=old leaves, sawdust, shredded newspapers, the "cold" stuff; green=organic materials from your kitchen and garden, the "hot" stuff that steams and brews as the bacteria transforms it into cold, black matter)

 It is still a work in progress and I already need a bigger compost receptacle, so I'm on the lookout for an old laundry drum, which will already have all the breathing holes drilled in the sides, plus drainage in the bottom. The Alameda County Stop Waste site also helped me imagine how all these technicolor scraps would eventually decay and shrivel up into beautiful black compost. Meanwhile, I continue to chop up my scraps into bite-size pieces and store them in a drawer in the fridge. It's an exciting life here in the southern hemisphere.


Rachel said...

Or go to the Feira São Cristovão and buy it ;) Good job making it from scratch!

kale daikon said...

The feira nordestina! It's been soooo long since I've been. But once you plop some peppers in a jar with olive oil, it's kind of hard to pay money for it (it's incredibly easy to make).