Humidifying – without a humidifier

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I don’t know what winter is like where you live (if, in fact, it IS winter where you live), but here in the Ottawa Valley winter is cold. Very cold. And very, very dry. It’s not uncommon to spontaneously bleed from the nose as you battle a searing headache and croak for more water through parched lips. And that’s not even an extreme case. In our house, the Pie’s sinuses dry up and cause him to snore. My asthma acts up, meaning I cough and wheeze all the time, and, because we have wall-to-wall carpeting, Gren has been avoiding us because we static shock him every time we pet him. It’s no fun.

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We have a humidifier in our bedroom, and it helps a whole bunch. We did our research and got the one that worked the best for the money we wanted to pay and we’re very happy with our choice (remember, kids: always do your research when buying an appliance). I also picked up a travel-sized humidifier for the various hotel rooms I seem to be finding myself in these days (and Winnipeg is even colder and dryer than Ottawa, and I’m in it as we speak).

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But sometimes you don’t want to buy a humidifier. Sometimes you can’t afford one (the ones that won’t give you Legionnaires’ Disease or fester with black mould tend to run a bit expensive). Sometimes your dormitory has ruled them out (usually for mould reasons). Or maybe you just need to give a bit of extra oomph to the humidifier you have. Here are seven quick-and-dirty tips to help you humidify your home the old-fashioned way.

1. Shower with the door open.

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Yeah, so this won’t work if you have roommates or small children or larger children or children at all. But if you don’t, skip turning on the exhaust fan and get things all good and steamy.

2. Get more house plants.

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So plants, when they’re done with all the nutrients and stuff in the water they suck up through their roots, basically sweat out water vapour through their leaves. It’s called transpiration. And sweaty plants make for a more humid environment.

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3. Skip the dryer.

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When you’re doing laundry, hang your clothes to dry inside the house in a warm spot. As the clothes dry the water on them will evaporate into the air in your house, making it more moist. MOIST. Plus you save on energy costs.

4. Spritzy-spritzy.

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Grab a spray bottle of water and gently – GENTLY – spritz your curtains with a little bit of water. You don’t want them soaked or anything, but a little misting on them will produce the same effect as wet laundry – without putting your skivvies in the middle of the living room.

5. Set out bowls.

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Place shallow dishes of water on sunny windowsills or on top of heating vents and the water will evaporate as it warms. Make them pretty crystal vases and you’ll add to the decor of your home. Add a floating bloom or some pretty pebbles. Granted, if you have small children or pets, leaving a bowl of water on the floor in your kitchen is asking for trouble, so be warned.

6. Wet a towel.

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Run a small dish towel under your tap and then wring it out thoroughly. Lay it over a heating vent (make sure the fabric isn’t so thick that it blocks the warm air completely) and let the heat percolate through and humidify the air as the towel dries. Again, probably not a good idea with small children. This is why we can’t have nice things.

7. Cook!

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When in doubt, cook. Whip up a batch of chilli or soup, anything on the stovetop that will get hot and steamy. I like to make a giant pot of tea, and when the kettle whistles and I’ve poured my pot and turned off the burner, I put the kettle back on the cooling element to let it steam itself out.

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You could also try a “simmer,” which is super trendy right now. Set a saucepan full of water on your stove and heat it to a low simmer. Toss in some whole spices: bay leaves, cardamom pods, star anise, cinnamon, and allspice; or rosemary, citrus zest, and lavender – or some combination thereof – and let that sit there simmering and scenting your house while it steams it up. Just keep an eye on the pot and add more water occasionally so it doesn’t all boil away.

The Perfect Pop

The Perfect Pop

One of my research participants told me about this method of popping corn.  It was a cold night in January and we would both rather be elsewhere — in this particular situation, we would both rather be home in front of the fire, digging into a book we’d both started reading at the same time, and stuffing our faces with popcorn.  She told me about this new/old method she’d re-discovered: the art of cooking popcorn on the stove top.

We’d had an air-popper growing up, which was fun to watch, but noisy, and when you poured the melted butter over the popcorn you often ended up with soggy popcorn in some places and no butter at all in others.  The flavour-distribution method needed work.

Then of course there are the microwave popcorns, which always seem to leave a weird film on my teeth and which all taste (to me) faintly of chemicals.  I’m also not a huge fan of using the microwave, unless it’s to melt butter for baking or heat up my tea.

Everyone has their own method for making popcorn on the stove, and I tried a bunch of them (including the method prescribed by my research participant).  The best and simplest method I came up with was a combination of her recipe, this one, and this one.  You should definitely test out different approaches to see which works best for you, your stove, and your pots and pans.

So.  Take yourself a large saucepan with a lid (the amounts below will give you about 12 cups of popcorn).

Add 1/4 cup vegetable oil to the bottom (anything with a high smoke point will do, like canola, sunflower, peanut, or grapeseed.  I like to use peanut oil because I think it tastes better on the popcorn).  Place over medium heat and let it get nice and toasty.

The Perfect Pop

Plop 3 or 4 kernels of popping corn (my research participant tells me that No-Name brand kernels are terrible for popping this way, so use another brand if you can) into the pan and cover with a lid.  When you hear the kernels pop (you use more than one in case that one is a dud), you know the oil is hot enough for popping.

The Perfect Pop

Pour in 1/2 cup popping corn.  For a sweet treat, add 1/4 cup sugar as well (if you use white sugar it tastes like candy corn, and if you use brown sugar, it’s like caramel corn).  For a salty taste, add in 2 tablespoons salt instead.

The Perfect Pop

Stir it all really well, cover, and remove it from the heat.  Wait for 30 seconds.  This brings all the kernels up to the same, almost-popping temperature.

The Perfect Pop

Put the pan back on the heat.  Very shortly thereafter the corn should start popping like crazy, and all at once.  Keep the pan covered but leave the lid slightly ajar to let the steam escape, and every few seconds, give the pan a shake back and forth on the burner to keep the popped kernels from burning.  When you get to the point where there are about 2-3 seconds between pops, it’s time to take the pan off the heat.

The Perfect Pop

Pour the popped corn into a large bowl.  If you used sugar, allow the corn to cool slightly (so you don’t burn your tongue), and break up the large clumps with a spoon.   Then feel free to gorge yourself silly.  I did find that the sugar version has a slightly smaller yield, and I think that has something to do with the stickiness of the sugar tamping down the explosive properties of the corn.

The Perfect Pop

Some of the kernels got caramelized before they’d reached their full potential.  But perhaps I just didn’t stir it well enough.

The Perfect Pop