During the daily hazing that is elementary school lunch, most of my classmates ate peanut butter and jelly, or ham and cheese, crusts cut off blemlishless white bread. I, however, was the weird kid sent to school with giant Italian subs made with cold cuts left over from family gatherings—Sundays spent in the driveway with multicolored olives, hunks of cheese, meatballs and anisette cookies.
In my family, olive oil was king. It dripped from those Italian subs, started all sauces and soups, and slicked back our hair when we mixed it with lemon juice as teenagers, hoping it would make blond miracles out of black hair. But there’s a lot more to olive oil than vinaigrette and omegas. You can use it as furniture polish (if you have furniture nice enough to polish); as the fluid in a makeshift lamp, should the apocalypse catch you off guard; and in these five surprising ways.
1. Make a cocktail. A classic flip has a creamy, viscous texture created with a whole egg. Try replacing the yolk with a half-ounce of olive oil. The result is a bit lighter, but still foamy and decadent as it slides down your throat. You can do this with just about any flip, but be sure to get pretty serious about your shaking so that the egg white emulsifies well with the oil. (Don’t worry. You won’t end up with mayo.)
2. Wash your face. The whole point of washing your face is to get rid of the general life-gunk that clogs your pores, but most facial cleansers on the shelves are water-based, and we all know that oil and water aren’t exactly BFFs. Oil-based cleansers help dissolve the oil clinging to your skin, pulling it from your pores like a magnet. Massage a few teaspoons of olive oil—you can also try the oils of almond, hazelnut or coconut—into your skin. Leave it on for a few minutes, then remove it gently with a facecloth drenched in warm water.
3. Freeze it till it’s like butter. Drizzling olive oil on crusty crostini is old hat. Try freezing your olive oil in an ice cube tray and spreading the result on toast with jam for breakfast, or creaming it with sugar for all your baking needs. If you experiment with the latter, be sure to choose an oil described as mild and smooth over something peppery, and substitute just a little less than 1:1. Here’s a nifty chart that will help. Your desserts will take on a lighter, slightly savory flavor that works especially well in cookies, muffins and cakes.
4. Oil your pet. It’s well known that olive oil offers several health benefits to humans, but your furry roommates can also get in on the goodness. The occasional dash of olive oil added to your pet’s dry food can help with weight management, circulation, a strong immune system and a shiny coat. Bonus: Olive oil can also help rid your kitty of those embarrassingly hacking hairballs.
5. Soak your coat. Your skin is both your body’s largest organ and your personal armor against the pollutants of the world. Sometimes it just needs a soak. Skip the headache-inducing bath bubbles that stink up the mall and the medicinal Epsom salt that screams grandma, in favor of a drizzle of olive oil in your tub’s running water. Ten minutes later your skin will be all glowy and soft. Lotion not required.
Jennifer Cacicio is a Boston-born, L.A.-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Salon and Punch. Find her on Twitter @jrosecacicio and read more of her work at www.jennifercacicio.com.