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Keeping The House Comfortable in Seven Steps 09/17/2013

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A few years ago, I found out that I’ve been cleaning all wrong. I was in an inn, when a maid came in and sprayed a solution on every surface…and then left. Right when I thought she’d forgotten, she returned. She wiped for less than two minutes with a thin dry cloth, and the whole place sparkled. It had, frankly, never occurred to me to let one solution do all the work, so I asked her what she’d used. It was something called Butcher’s Bath Mate—an industry standby.

Pro cleaners have brilliant tricks to get the job done.  Here are their tips:

Change Your Strategy 
The biggest mistake people make is cleaning room by room (this is called “zone cleaning”). It’s much too slow! “You can either clean your kitchen in four hours, or clean your entire house top to bottom in four hours,” says Lisa Romero, owner of Just Like New Cleaning in Fort Collins, Colorado. “A lot of people get caught focusing on one area— say, doing a super job cleaning the counters—and never get to the stove, let alone the next room. In reality, just wiping things down and moving on is quick and efficient.”

Most pros are in favor of “task cleaning”: completing one chore, such as dusting, throughout the entire house, before starting the next. “You’ll do a little more walking, so it’s a good workout,” says Ronald Payne, owner of RZJ Janitorial Services in Plano, Texas, “and I find that it’s faster because you’re in a mindset to keep moving.” Follow these seven steps and your whole house will sparkle in four hours if you’re a beginner, two and a half once you become a pro.

The Starting Point: Upstairs bathroom 
“I always start there,”  “It’s a good place to leave supplies.”

The Plan of Attack: Top-to-bottom, left-to-right 
For each task, start at the highest point in the room (if dusting, this might mean high shelves), and move from left to right across the room. This way, you don’t miss anything, and you won’t accidentally knock dust onto already-cleaned lower shelves.

Step 1: Dust
Dust each room, including the topsides of all the furniture, undersides of shelves, and all handrails, as well as picture frames, TV screens and knickknacks. “When it’s possible to dry-dust, I do—getting something wet makes it harder,” says Romero. To get rid of fingerprints, dampen a microfiber cloth with warm water. Pro tip: Look up top. “People don’t dust up on the very top of furniture, and that’s where all the dust collects and then falls off,” says Romero.

Step 2: Furniture Fabric 
Go through the house and strip and remake beds; neaten any pillows or furniture blankets. Brush furniture surfaces with a vacuum extension as needed.

Step 3: Mirrors and Glass 
Wipe down mirrors and windows throughout the house. Pro tip: Using one wet and one dry microfiber cloth won’t leave streaks.

Step 4: Surface Cleaning 
Wipe down all surfaces and counters throughout the house, disinfecting as necessary. Pro tip: Be sure to wipe down all places that fingers touch, like door handles, light switches, TV remotes and phones. “Those are the places that people forget, and they really hold germs,” says Payne.

Step 5: Kitchen and Bathroom 
Walk through and spray cleaner on tubs, sinks and toilets. Return and scrub. Then, in the kitchen, wipe down the inside of the microwave, and cabinet and appliance doors. Step 6 floors Sweep, then mop or scrub the bathroom and kitchen floors, and any other floor that needs it. Pro tip: “I always do bathroom floors on my hands and knees with a microfiber cloth and cleanser,” says Romero. “That’s how I know that I got every corner, even behind toilets, and that they’re 100% disinfected.”

Step 7: Vacuum 
“I vacuum my way out the bedrooms, down the stairs, through the living room and out of the house,” says Romero. Pro tip: It’s not crucial to vacuum every single inch. Just keep moving. You’ll get the spots you missed next week.

Overhaul Your Cleaning Kit
No pro cleaner likes to carry around too many supplies. Their five must-haves:

1. A 20-pack of microfiber towels (wash ’em as needed). “I’ve saved thousands of dollars on paper towels and window cleaner since I started using microfiber,” says Romero. Make sure to buy good-quality cloths, usually around $1 per cloth from a janitorial supply store, and never wash with dryer sheets or fabric softener. Pro tip: Before using a cleaning product for dusting, try just warm water and the microfiber. “It usually works,” says Romero.

2. A microfiber mop. On a tight budget, it’s cheaper and less wasteful than disposable mops. Pro tip: Great for picking up dust in high and low corners.

3. A nylon-bristle broom. “It doesn’t splatter walls or lose its bristles,”  Pro tip: Sweep your rug. It often works better than a vacuum.

4. A Shammy. A synthetic version of the traditional chamois cloth, this rubbery, hyper-absorbent towel is great for soaking up water and quickly buffing counters and furniture. Pro tip: Run a dry Shammy over a couch or floor to pick up pet hair.

5. A self-propelled or a backpack vacuum. Professional cleaners love backpack-style vacuums because they’re gentle on back muscles and make it easy to move quickly from room to room. Pro tip: Look beyond the floor. It’s easy to quickly vacuum shelf surfaces, mantels, railings and inside drawers if you use lightweight hand extensions.

Clean for Less
“Your home is just like your body—you don’t need a lot of products,” 

Instead of…Air Fresheners
You might want to try… “Essential oils,”  “At my house, I like to use cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg or any spices from the Middle East including lemon,” I just boil a little in water and let the aroma go through the house.”

Instead of…All-Purpose Counter Cleaner
You might want to try… “Warm water and basic dishwashing soap,” “It does the same thing.” If you need to disinfect or wash off some serious grime, grab Butcher’s Bath Mate.

Instead of…Carpet Cleaner
You might want to try… “Vacuuming regularly. You’ll get 70% of the dirt and won’t need a carpet cleaner.”

Instead of…Hardwood Floor Cleaner
You might want to try… A damp cloth with warm water (a mop can get too wet). Get on your hands and knees!

Instead of…Just-Spray Shower Mists
You might want to try… A microfiber cloth and white vinegar diluted 1:3 with water, followed by a disinfectant. “There’s no easy way of removing soap scum and mold other than scrubbing.”

Instead of…Window and Glass Cleaner
You might want to try… Warm water and a microfiber cloth, which often does the trick. For serious cleaning, 1 part ammonia, 3 parts water and a dot of dish-washing soap work for a tenth of the price.


The Bleach Secret! 
For years, I cleaned with lots of bleach—only to find mold growing back days later. It turns out that straight bleach is less effective at killing mold spores and many bacteria than bleach diluted 1:10 with water, says Tim Ryan, PhD, a fungi researcher at Ohio University. Mix a small amount and use it right away, before it destabilizes.

Do What Custodians Do 
“Purchase from janitorial supply stores, where products are much cheaper and often come concentrated, so you just add water,” says Ronald Payne. Try looking up a local source under “janitorial supply” in the phone book, or try online stores like Janilink.com or uClean.com.



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Serves about 6-8

“She offered me a chair by the kitchen table and disappeared through the service door that led to the garden and came back with 6 lemons and a small bunch of mint leaves. As she squeezed them and stirred the juice with sugar and water in a pitcher, I found myself trying to recollect when I last had fresh lemonade. She carefully washed a few mint leaves and put them in the pitcher, and from a small bottle that was sitting on a shelf, she added two drops of a sweet transparent liquid. She then sat across from me and remained silent. Before she finally took a sip from her drink, she pointed to mine as a form of invitation, and I had a spurt of the essential quality of what the earth can offer. It was the two drops of essence of orange blossom that made all the difference. — Christiane Dabdoub Nasser, “Leyla”

Juice of 6 large lemons
sugar to taste  make it too sweet, because you will serve this over lots of ice, which will dilute the sweetness
7 cups water
2 teaspoon orange blossom water
handful of tender fresh mint leaves
Squeeze the lemons and stir in the sugar. Add water and keep on stirring, making sure all the sugar has dissolved.

Add mint leaves, essence and blend well in a blender.  Refrigerate for an hour before serving in tall glasses with lots of ice.



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Thanks to Anna Mindess, we get to meet the wonderful Ayyad family from Palestine. Along with staying true to who they are, they seem to make mouth watering food from Palestine.

East Bay Ethnic Eats

Zaki-Ayyad family
Photo courtesy Zaki Kabob House

Middle Eastern restaurants dot the Bay Area dining scene, like parsley sprinkled over a plate of hummus. A recent discovery, Albany’s Zaki Kabob House, intrigued me for two reasons: the menu, featuring Palestinian dishes not commonly found at other shawarma-falafel spots, and the compelling story of Zaki’s determined owners, the Ayyad family.

Sitting on the patio of their modest green building on San Pablo Avenue, I spoke with Fayza, Kameem, Ramzy and Layla about their journey to opening Zaki (which means ‘delicious’ in Arabic) and some of their Palestinian specialties. (Palestinian cuisine includes foods prepared and eaten by Palestinians, whether living in the Palestinian Diaspora, West Bank and Gaza, Israel, Jordan, or refugee camps. It traces Persian, Turkish and Greek influences and shares features of other Levantine cuisines, such as Lebanese, Syrian and Jordanian.)

Fayza, the matriarch and recipe developer, recently returned from…

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1948: Bread Left Baking in the Ovens of Palestine 06/12/2012

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This is a collection of pictures and quotes from various linked sources.  Thanks to all the photographers who made this possible, as well as journalists who interviewed the refugees.  Most of all, thanks to the steadfst refugees of all ages, who continue to this day to hold the keys and titles to their land.


At 70 years of age, Ali has the dubious honor of recalling the full 62 years of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Ali has lived most of his life in the Ein Beit el Ma refugee camp in Nablus, but he never passes up an opportunity to revisit his childhood memories of Yazur village, from which he and his family fled in 1948 during al-nakba when he was a young boy.

“We were simple people, farmers,” Ali recalls. “Everyone knew each other in the village, and we worked together as one. My family’s home was two kilometers from the sea, and there on our land we grew oranges, apples, vegetables – everything that we needed.”

It was after the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the British government’s first formal policy announcement of support for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, that Jews first came to the area of Yazur. “There was a Jewish village established five kilometers from ours,” says Ali. “In the beginning we lived in harmony; we would even drink tea together and share our food with them.”  (See http://www.adbusters.org/magazine/91/memories-nakba.html


Food was left still warm and uneaten on tables, clothes left hanging in cupboards, and toys, photos and papers were all left behind in the rush to escape. But the 750,000 Palestinian refugees, who barely locked the doors to their homes behind them, all thought that they were coming back. (SEE http://ziomania.com/articles5/The%20Ghosts%20of%20Deir%20Yassin.htm)


lutching a rumpled package wrapped in a shopping bag, Ali Basyuni carefully peels back the layers of plastic and paper to reveal a heavy scroll of faded documents – the deeds to his family home in Yazur, a small village that once lay five kilometers east of Jaffa, Israel. The deeds date back over 120 years, through the Ottoman era and the British Mandate, but the Basyuni family’s history in the village can be traced back even further. The family had lived on the land for centuries. Somewhat ruefully, Ali sifts through the papers to find the crowning glory: the ancient key to his home in Yazur. He places it around his neck. Since the implementation of Israel’s Absentee Property Law of 1950, a law that legalized the annexation of over two million dunums of land belonging to Palestinians who fled during al-nakba (the catastrophe), the artifacts of Ali’s childhood home have become mere emblems of a promise: the Palestinian right of return.  http://www.adbusters.org/magazine/91/memories-nakba.html


The scale of the devastation was overwhelming: four in five Palestinian villages inside the borders of the new state were ethnically cleansed, an act of mass dispossession accompanied by atrocities. Around 95 per cent of new Jewish communities built between 1948-1953 were established on the land of expelled, denationalised Palestinians.  See http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/05/201151593642551148.html


The transfer of the Palestinian population is still ‘encouraged’ through highly discriminatory policies, some visible, such as home demolitions, closures, checkpoints, attacks on peaceful demonstrations, and others less so, such as the system of registration, permits, etc., special to Palestinians in the Occupied Territory (including Jerusalem) — a bureaucratic process straight out of Kafka’s nightmarish world.  http://rabble.ca/news/2010/05/al-nakba-expelled-home-and-native-land-not-history


“Oh, how I yearn for my childhood days. Today, I am 75 years old. I remember our home and family. Now, they are but a fading memory. We have been displaced and killed. We will not forget. Our grandchildren will be given the keys,” Um Anaam told Al-Safir. [Clarification: the reference to keys is to those which will unlock the houses left behind by the Palestinians in 1948.]  “Every day is Nakba to us. Our children are being killed and imprisoned. Our houses are being demolished and our land stolen, yet, the world does not lift a finger.”  http://uprootedpalestinians.blogspot.com/2012/05/particularly-bitter-nakba-day.html


Not far away from Hajja’s house in the camp lives 78-year-old Mohamed Ibrahim. The long years have taken their toll on the old man. The years weigh heavy on him, forcing his head to the ground. “Today, I do not feel like I exist. Although I still live among my family here, I am not at home. My house there was taken away from me. But I must return one day,” he told Al-Safir.  http://uprootedpalestinians.blogspot.com/2012/05/particularly-bitter-nakba-day.html


I never forget that 2003 Spring when my grandmother and I “went back” to our destroyed village Beit Jibrin.  We managed to get there despite the checkpoints and high level of security. It isn’t easy although the actual distance that separates my refugee camp from the village is less than an hour’s drive. I’d been there a few times before but never with her. This was the first time. I walked behind her climbing up a hill in the village. She seemed much stronger and able to walk faster than I remembered. She knew where exactly we were going as if she was there yesterday.

Under a fig tree we sat and my grandmother smiled and remembered when she used to play with her friends, decades ago. She said, “It’s the same tree, a little bit different now; it’s been more than 50 years after all. Nonetheless, it is the same tree.”

Her memories dated back to 1948. She was nearly 10 years old. Despite her young age, she remembered. She remembered her school, the lovely summer evenings she spent with her family in the village.  She remembered the harvest time and travelling to Haifa and Yafa with her dad to sell their produce. She also remembered the nights when the peaceful village was first attacked. “We never saw a fighter jet before”, she said. Maybe they had, I thought, but I’m sure it wasn’t the same sight as the one that was now spreading death and fear into people’s hearts in 1948. This was the same year that witnessed over 750,000 of the native Palestinian population expelled from their homes and villages.  So far, to this day, they have never been able to return.



Palestinians in Santiago, Chile, share their flare for cooking 05/26/2012

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Palestinian Food Confiscated at Israeli Checkpoints 05/26/2012

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As Palestinians await to pass through an apartheid checkpoint, they arrive with their lunches for the day.. Most work in construction, on the Israel side of the apartheid wall. But sadly, they are not allowed to take much of their nourishment with them, only small portions are allowed. Cold water is seized, so is candy, and hummus. Food, as well as land, is seized.

Afteem Restaurant:Serving Peace and World Famous Falafels in Palestine 05/26/2012

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Watch how hummus is made, and more. Displaced in 1948, the manager’s grandfather had to leave Jaffa for Bethlehem. The first restaurant was opened serving all vegetarian food Palestinian style.
Afteem is the first traditional restaurant in Bethlehem since the mid 1900s, and has become a part of the sacred city’s heritage.

Lunch: Falafel with Vegan yogurt sauce made of soya yogurt, cucumber, parsley 05/19/2012

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Falafel with vegan yogurt sauce made of soya yogurt, cucumber, parsley 


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This recipe is not Palestinian, but it makes use of the most wonderful bread ever, arabic bread, which is the staple food of Palestine.  This is a fusion recipe of middle eastern flavors, with Indian curry and Asian tofu.
  • 1 (12-15ounce)carton firm tofu
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 lime, juice of
  • salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped gingerroot
  • 1 jalapeno chile orserano serano chile , seeded and minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds , crushed
  • 2 onions , finely diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 roma tomatoes , seeded and sliced
  • 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro , chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon masala


  1. Crumble tofu onto a cloth towel, then gather the ends and twist firmly to get rid of any excess moisture. The tofu needs to be fairly dry. Turn crumbled tofu into a bowl and toss with half of the turmeric, the lime juice, and a few pinches of salt (to taste). Set aside.
  2. Heat oil in saute pan and add ginger, chile, and garlic. Saute over medium-high heat for 2 minutes or less, if the garlic begins to color. Add cumin, onions, remaining turmeric, and cayenne and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft (about 5 min.).
  3. Add tomatoes and raise the heat, stirring and cooking until the juices have just disappeared, then lower heat and add tofu. Season dish with 1/2 tsp salt and more to taste, and cook until tofu is heated through, 3-5 minutes. Stir in cilantro, sprinkle with the masala, and turn into serving dish or pitas. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Mlokhiya, A prisoners first food after 9 years in Isolation 05/18/2012

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On twitter today we hear about political prisoner Abdullah Barghouti, and that for the first time in 9 years, the Israeli prison authority let him call his family.  Imagine the emotion of that moment!  He tells his family he is back in human contact, and that prisoners cooked mlokhiya for him.  So, as a tribute to ALL prisoners in isolation, who are still awaiting that call & that welcoming meal of Mlokhiya, I urge you to try it if you have not.  Just look for the bags of frozen mlokhiya (almost always prepared from fresh leaves in Palestine) at your local Arab grocers.  This is the vegan version:

Ingredients (5-6)

  • 2 packets of frozen or fresh finely chopped mlokhiya (molokhia leaves) (Frozen molokhia is almost always sold finely chopped, but double check the package to make sure)
  • 6 cups of vegetable broth, canned or freshly made
  • 1 yellow onion, cut in fourths
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon of organic grass-fed ghee or pastured butter
  • 1 tablespoon ground organic coriander
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2-3 bay leaves, broken into pieces
  • 4-5 cardamom pods, crushed to release flavor
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • First bring stock to boil, and then add the frozen leaves in small pieces to the broth. Boil for 10 minutes. Chop onion and garlic very fine and saute in a pan with the olive oil and the spices. Add this mixture to the boiling soup and stir. Cook for 10 more minutes until it becomes thick. Serve warm with hot cooked rice.  Swirl lemon juice over top.