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Eggshells

Twelve eggscellent things you can do with eggshells

—Jeff Yeager

I love eggs, and not just because I love the way they taste. Of course, part of my “eggophilia” is also due to the fact that eggs are an affordable, high-quality protein, usually costing less than 20 cents apiece. Despite much publicized cholesterol warnings, more and more research is revealing the many health benefits of eating eggs—everything from strengthening muscles to improving brain function—with most research now showing that an egg or two a day is just fine for most people.

Plus, eggs have clever packaging. I hate paying for packaging, but when it comes to the uber-chic engineering marvel known as the eggshell, I don’t mind the cost. Madison Avenue marketing gurus or MIT engineering professors could never design packaging as cool and functional as the eggshell. If eggs didn’t come in their own shell, we’d probably package them in some form of plastic, which might be recyclable, but would never have the multitude of reuses attributable to Mother Nature’s own packaging.

Take a crack at these eggshell reuses:

  1. Compost for Naturally Fertilized Soil
    Eggshells quickly decompose in the compost pile and add valuable calcium and other minerals to the soil in the process.

  2. Nontoxic Pest Control in the Garden
    Scatter crushed eggshell around your plants and flowers to help deter plant-eating slugs, snails, and cutworms without using eco-unfriendly pesticides. Also, deer hate the smell of eggs, so scattering eggshells around the flowerbed will help keep Bambi away from your begonias.

  3. Less Bitter Coffee
    Add an eggshell to the coffee in the filter, and your morning coffee will be less bitter. The spent coffee grounds, eggshell, and biodegradable filter are then conveniently ready for the compost pile.

  4. Splendid Seedling Starters
    Fill biodegradable eggshell halves with potting soil instead of using peat pots to start seedlings for the garden. And an egg carton on the windowsill is the perfect way to start a dozen tomato seedlings in shells before transplanting them to the garden in the spring.

  5. Eco-friendly Household Abrasive
    Shake crushed eggshells and a little soapy water to scour hard-to-clean items like thermoses and vases. Crushed eggshells can also be used as a nontoxic abrasive on pots and pans.

  6. Eggy, Crafty Projects
    “Blow out” the inside of a raw egg, and paint/decorate the hollow shell to make your Faberge eggs or other craft projects. Pieces of eggshell (plain or dyed) are also used in mosaic art projects.

  7. Clever Jello and Chocolate Molds
    Carefully fill “blown out” eggshells (above) with Jello or chocolate to make unique egg-shaped treats; peel away the eggshell mold before serving, or serve as is, and let your guests discover the surprise inside.

  8. Natural Drain Cleaner
    Keep a couple of crushed eggshells in your kitchen sink strainer at all times. They trap additional solids, and they gradually break up and help to naturally clean your pipes on their way down the drain.

  9. Membrane Home Remedies
    The super-thin membrane inside the eggshell has long been used as a home remedy for a wide range of ailments, from healing cuts to treating ingrown toenails.

  10. Treat Skin Irritations
    Dissolve an eggshell in a small jar of apple cider vinegar (takes about two days), and use the mixture to treat minor skin irritations and itchy skin.

  11. Egg on Your Face
     Pulverize dried eggshells with a mortar and pestle, then whisk the powder in with an egg white and use for a healthful, skin-tightening facial. Allow the face mask to dry before rinsing it off.

  12. The Fuel of Tomorrow?
    Just when your brain was totally fried by all my ingenious reuses for eggshells, researchers at Ohio State University recently discovered that eggshells might be the key to producing affordable hydrogen fuel. I’ve heard of walking on eggshells, but maybe some day we’ll be driving on them, too.

Jeff Yeager is the author of the book The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches. His Web site is www.UltimateCheapskate.com. In his ongoing, but sporadic series, Don’t Throw That Away!, the Green Cheapskate shows you how to repurpose just about anything, saving money and the environment in the process. z


When does home remodeling make financial sense?

—Jason Alderman

My wife and I survived two major home remodeling projects, and we’ve got the battle scars to prove it. Like most people feeling cramped for space—thanks to two growing children in our case—we weighed the plusses and minuses of remodeling versus moving to a larger home. Because we live in a great neighborhood with strong local schools, we ultimately decided to stay put and remodel, but everyone’s case is different.

Here are a few considerations to weigh before you decide to remodel:

  • Wishes vs. needs. How necessary are the improvements you want? The days when many improvements paid for themselves in increased home value are over for now, especially such strictly cosmetic upgrades as new kitchen cabinets or a bathroom skylight. That doesn’t mean certain projects aren’t worthwhile.

    For instance:

    • Repairing a leaky roof or faulty plumbing might spare you from water or mold damage.

    • Installing attic and wall insulation and energy-efficient windows or replacing older appliances and light fixtures will lower utility bills and may be tax deductible. (Visit www.energystar.gov for information on tax credits and rebates.)

The IRS allows tax deductions for certain home improvements to accommodate medical conditions or disabilities with a doctor’s recommendation. The rules are complex, so read IRS Publication 502 at www.irs.gov, and consult a tax advisor before proceeding.

  • Budgeting. Gather cost estimates for each job or item, and create a chart with columns for high, medium, and low-cost options. Don’t forget supplies for do-it-yourself projects, and always add an extra 20 percent or more for unexpected expenses. If contracted labor is involved, gather three estimates, and carefully check references and business licenses. Also, ask about discounts for grouping multiple projects together.

  • Financing options. Ideally, you’ve already established a home improvement savings plan. But if you’re planning to borrow, proceed with caution. Just a few years ago, home values were skyrocketing, and many people took out a home equity loan (HEL) or line of credit (HELOC) to tap their home’s equity.

The real estate market’s collapse left many people owing more than their homes were worth, so now even folks with excellent credit and significant home equity have difficulty finding such financing. Lenders now demand stringent income documentation and have cut back on the debt-to-value percentage they will allow—only 60 or 70 percent or less of the appraised value in some hard-hit areas. So if your existing mortgage is over that amount, you may be out of luck.

  • Comparison shop. First, ask if your existing lender offers HELs and HELOCs. If so, compare their interest rates, fees, and qualification criteria to what other lenders are advertising. Bankrate.com has home equity rate comparison tools for both banks and credit unions (www.bankrate.com/home-equity.aspx and www.bankrate.com/funnel/credit-union), but be forewarned—pickings are slim right now. You might have better luck talking directly to lending officers at local branches.

One important caution: HELs and HELOCs are considered secured debt, in which your home is used as collateral for the loan. If you miss payments or default, you could lose your home. If you’re not certain you’ll be able to make the payments (worries about unemployment, prolonged illness, etc.), it’s probably best to forego remodeling until you have sufficient savings.


Flash in the Pan

Chewing the fat

—Ari LeVaux

I’ve always enjoyed casual conversation and rarely been averse to chewing on a nice hunk of fat. But the expression “chew the fat” never resonated with me, until some mochileros showed me the phrase’s literal meaning.

Mochila means backpack, and the mochileros are a tribe of Argentine wanderers who camp their way across some of the finer parts of the landscape, banding together around the fire by evening to drink matè, play guitar, and plan the next day’s adventures. It was next to one such fire, under a starry night in San Martín, that I understood fat chewing.

A piece of meat had been cooked over wood coals. Red wine was flowing. There was a bowl of salad, a loaf of bread, and everyone ate his share. As we lingered in our joyous collective afterglow, I sat there chewing the fat with the mochileros, as I literally gnawed on a bone to which a glob of fatty material was attached. Several times I put my bone back on the grill to heat up and re-melt. The matrix of fat and connective tissue attached to that bone continued to surrender flavor as I chewed.

I imagine language evolved in ancient scenes like this, around the same fires that hardened the spears and cooked the meat of our ancestors, while keeping away the wolves. They chewed the fat, told stories, worked on their communication skills, and planned the next day’s adventures.

In addition to stimulating conversation, some anthropologists believe that cooking food facilitated human brain development by increasing the efficiency with which calories are extracted from food. Because cooking produces soft, energy-rich foods, fewer calories are spent in digestive efforts, leaving a higher margin of caloric recovery. This supposedly allowed our brains—the most energy intensive organ we have—to grow.

Though fire was the original stove, today’s cooks have largely left it behind. With the loss of fire, we’ve also lost touch with the feelings and flavors associated with it. But fire remains available, at our service, a genie in a bottle that can be conjured anywhere, any time.

And when we do, the experience of tending hot coals takes us to an archetypal place of smoke and ash—which, by the way, we’re now told are carcinogenic.

In his recent cookbook, Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way, Argentine chef Francis Mallmann writes: “I adore dissonance in food—two tastes fighting each other. It wakes up your palate and surprises you ... The right amount of burning or charring can be delicious and seductive: a burnt tomato, for example, has a dark crust bordering on bitter, while the inside is soft and gentle in texture and taste.”

Applying the right amounts of smoke and fire to your food is a delicate act and easy to overdo. You want these harsh flavors to be team players and not take over.

One common rookie maneuver in this department is to start cooking before the fire completely burns down to coals. This exposes your food to licking flames that can char the food and make the smoke flavors too strong.

Start the fire about an hour before you want to cook. Spread the coals evenly under your grill grate, and wait for them to develop a layer of white ash.

Some woods burn hot and quickly, some have sweet smoke, and some throw a lot of sparks. Hardwoods are generally better for cooking than are soft woods. Wood from fruit trees is a safe bet, although, true to form, chokecherry wood has bitter smoke. Cherry, on the other hand, is one of the best, burning hot without too much flame and producing a sweet smoke. Apple is right up there with cherry. Hickory, alder, and mesquite are common, good options. Whichever wood you use must be fully dry.

Your meat should be at room temperature, seasoned with salt and pepper. Some meat cooks love their marinades. But I say if you have good meat, you should be able to taste it. If anything, I’ll serve my simply cooked meat with a sauce. Lately, I’ve been into chimichurri, an Argentine garlic and herb vinaigrette.

Chimichurri is best prepared a day ahead so the flavors can develop. It will continue to age nicely for a few days in the fridge. Applied to fire-cooked meat, the spicy, oily, acidic fragrance of the chimichurri interacts with the slightly crispy, slightly smoky, slightly charred exterior of the meat to create the kind of harmonic dissonance that would make Mallmann cry.

To make chimichurri, dissolve one tablespoon of coarse salt into a cup of water. Chop a head of garlic, a cup of fresh parsley, and ¼ cup fresh or dried oregano (or marjoram), and add it all to a blender. Blend, adding ¼ cup red wine vinegar and then ½ cup olive oil. Finally, blend in the salt water. Transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid, and keep in the refrigerator.

When your coals have burned down and you’re ready to cook meat, make sure the grill grate is clean, and oil it with a piece of fat or an oil-soaked paper towel. You should be able to hold your hand at grill level—a distance of 2-4 inches from the coals—for about two seconds before the heat forces it away. The meat should sizzle when it hits the grill.

The following instructions are intended for this hot of a grill and for an inch-and-a-half-thick steak. Adjust the times appropriately to your conditions.

After five minutes, lift the steak, and rotate 90 degrees—this prevents overburning by the hot metal grate. After four more minutes, turn the steak over, and repeat the process, turning 90 degrees after five minutes. After that final turning, it’s two minutes to medium rare.

Chewing the fat continues to guide and reflect human evolution. As the primal act of cooking with fire contrasts with the newer, sophisticated arts of wine and sauce making, a harmonic dissonance develops. It’s even better than a burned tomato.

• • • • • •

Dear Flash,

I’ve been eating psyllium husk powder, on the advice of a friend, to treat some, shall we say, bowel-related problems. Basically, I’ve been feeling that more food is going in my mouth than what’s coming out the other end. And what does come out the other end is, shall we say, sloppy.

Well, the psyllium husk is clearly helping. It’s gotten to the point where the smell of it in the morning, when I take my first dose, has the effect of loosening my bowels that the smell of coffee used to have. The quantity of material that’s been leaving my body has been epic.

I’m very happy with it and also curious as to what psyllium husk is, and what is going on.

—Recovering Anal Retentive

A: When you say you’ve been “eating” psyllium husk powder, I hope you mean you’ve been drinking it, after mixing it in water. Eating dry psyllium husk can lead to choking and other blockage problems in the throat.

Psyllium husk comes from the small seed of the isabgol plant, aka Plantago ovata, which grows in high, arid regions of India and Pakistan. The husk is water soluble and extremely absorbent, soaking up as much as 15 times its mass in water. It’s also extremely fibrous, and those fibers are like rebar in the sloppy contents of your intestines, reinforcing that goop into a solid fortified matrix. Meanwhile, the psyllium husk powder attracts water from elsewhere in your body, which creates a heavy mass in your bowels. That mass, assisted by the gelatinous consistency of the wet husk, creates something of a greased torpedo, and it’s bombs away.

Just don’t overdue it. Too much psyllium husk can create a blockage in your intestine and cause you to be dehydrated as it absorbs water from your blood and tissues. Drink lots of water when using psyllium husk.


Five ways to deal with sibling rivalry

—Jane Isay

The bane of many parents’ existence is the rivalry that exists among their children when they are young and when they are adults. There seems no end to it. Children count the number of potato chips on every plate, and adults keep track of the value of gifts their siblings receive. Being evenhanded and fair with a pack of kids takes more energy and patience than most of us have, and we hope they will grow out of their competition. Understanding the root of rivalry—which is a small child’s belief that there isn’t enough food, or sweets, or love to go around—may make it easier to think through the situations as they come up.

Here are some tips for downplaying sibling rivalry:

  1. If you didn’t see it happen, you can’t decide who did it. Staying out of your kids’ fights is a powerful tool in helping them resolve their conflicts on their own, even though things may get out of hand regularly. Encourage them to settle disputes among themselves, and intercede only to avoid physical harm. Stay neutral whenever possible. Always telling the older child, for instance, to give in to the baby isn’t fair, and they both know it. It’s better to make them both sit in a big old chair until they’ve made up. It may take more patience to do this than to side with one of the kids, so don’t blame yourself when you lose it. Kids know your limits, and they can’t expect more from you.

  2. Steer clear of favorites. Every child wants to be the favorite, and if there is a favorite, all the others are jealous of him or her. They feel that they’ll never get enough of your time and attention, and they often blame the favorite for the rest of their lives. It’s natural for a mom or a dad to feel a greater kinship with one of the kids. He or she may look like you or resemble somebody you love. Or you may share temperaments or ways of thinking. That’s natural, but there are plenty of ways you can make the others feel special. Also, beware the favoritism of relatives. That can make the competition more serious. Explaining to an aunt that the unfavorite is feeling bad can usually do the trick.

  3. Be flexible about how you characterize your kids. If one child is “the smart one,” and another “the pretty one,” or somebody is the bad child and another the perfect child, kids feel pushed to fit that role and that makes for mutual hostility. Since the pretty one may be smarter than you think, and the quiet one may grow a good social intelligence, let those stereotypes float away. The kids who get along best in their families are the ones who don’t feel boxed in.

  4. Encourage your kids’ differences, and don’t compare them. This helps to downplay rivalry. If they all want to play musical instruments, help them to choose different ones, and the same goes for sports. Of course, if you have two tennis stars, that’s great (how could we live without the Williams sisters?), but you can praise their strengths in different areas, too. Spending alone time regularly with each of the kids will go a long way to helping them deal with their competition over your time and attention.

  5. Whenever you can, level the playing field. Give your clumsy girl dancing lessons and the one with unruly hair a good haircut. Then you can focus on the strengths that make each child different.

At the end of a long day, it’s almost impossible to keep these tips in mind, so try to actively deal with sibling rivalry only when you are fresh and have the energy. Children who feel that they are known and appreciated for themselves are less likely to be so competitive with others. Kids are very smart, and they know what you’re thinking most of the time. And since you love them all (most of the time), these tips may start coming naturally to you. The energy you spend now will repay you when they grow up. Seeing your grown kids like each other and get along is one of life’s joys.

Jane Isay is the author of Mom Still Likes You Best: The Unfinished Business Between Siblings. www.janeisay.com

 

     

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