Folk Thursday: Tom Jones and Dolly Parton

April 17, 2014

Yes, I just posted Tom Jones on Folk Thursday. I was actually looking for something else, but this was too good to pass up.


Eco-Saturday: Solar landscaping lights

April 12, 2014

This is more of a product endorsement than a how-to, but I was so pleased with the outcome of today’s landscaping efforts that I had to share.

We’re a week out from Planting Day, which longtime readers of this blog know is my favorite day of the entire year. I spent most of today getting the backyard ready for next week’s gardening extravaganza — tilling the garden area (Ron rented this little Stihl tiller, which was very lightweight and easy to use, even for a first-timer), buying a quarter-ton of flagstone and turning it into stepping stones, fixing a small problem I discovered with the fence I installed a couple of weeks ago, shopping for odds and ends, and installing solar landscaping lights to mark the stepping-stone paths I’d just put in.

I’m sure the batteries compromise some of their environmental integrity, but I’ve been a fan of solar accent lights for years. I bought my first one when we lived in Belleville. It cost $30 and produced a weak amber light that ran down a couple of hours after sunset. I wasn’t impressed, but I liked the fact that it didn’t require any wiring, and I figured the technology would improve over time.

Nearly 15 years later, you can buy bright white solar accent lights for $2 apiece. I picked up 10 of them tonight and spent longer removing the bar-code stickers than I spent installing the lights themselves. They don’t use any electricity from the power company, and I didn’t have to wire anything. More importantly, when I buy solar-powered products, I’m showing their manufacturers there’s a market for alternative energy, which hopefully will drive more and better technology in the future.

Here are a few grainy shots of the new lights in action. I love that star pattern the diffusers make:

solar1 solar2 solar3 solar4

You aren’t going to end global warming with a handful of accent lighting, but you’ll save a little energy and make the garden a little prettier — and the more you enjoy your garden, the more time you’re likely to spend working in it, growing your own vegetables and herbs and reducing your reliance on factory-farmed produce. There’s no question that’s good for the environment.


Vegan Friday: Stir-fry

April 11, 2014

I was running low on rice, so this batch is mostly veggies. C’est la vie.

I practically lived on cheap stir-fry my senior year of college. It’s not the highest-protein dinner around, but if you’re worried about that, you can add a handful of Soy Curls soaked in bouillon and Asian five-spice seasoning or a block of extra-firm tofu (pressed for optimal texture) along with the vegetables or just serve it over whole-wheat couscous laced with a bit of TVP.

Cheap Vegan Stir-Fry

1 bag frozen Asian-style vegetables
2-3 tbsp. olive oil
Orange juice
Soy sauce
Ground ginger
Celery salt
Garlic powder
Onion powder
Ground red pepper
Sriracha sauce


Store-brand vegetables are fine for stir-fry.

The starting point for stir-fry is a bag of frozen Asian-style vegetables. Saute them in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until they’re heated through.


If you look closely, you can see a drop of sriracha in midair, falling into the pan. Don’t act like you’re not impressed.

Here’s the part where it gets as precise and scientific as usual: Stir in all the other ingredients to taste. Left to my own devices, I usually start with a quarter-cup of orange juice, a few good shakes of soy sauce, celery salt and red pepper, and maybe a teaspoon or so each of ginger, garlic and onion powder. Then I douse the whole mess with approximately two metric crap-tons of sriracha, because sriracha is a beautiful thing.


You can never have too much sriracha.

Cook another minute or two and serve over the starch of your choice — rice, couscous, ramen noodles, etc. All I had on hand the other night was a handful of brown Minute Rice, but if you’ve got whole-wheat couscous, it cooks even faster and tastes pretty great.


On-Time Folk Thursday: The Weavers

April 10, 2014

Does it get more folk revival than the Weavers singing “Goodnight, Irene”?


Belated Folk Thursday: Neil Young

April 6, 2014

From a 1992 concert in Oregon. I’m not a big fan of Neil Young’s voice, but “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” sounds appropriate coming out of his mouth.


Belated Vegan Friday: Mexican gumbo

April 5, 2014

Protip: If you make dinner at home, nobody gives you the side-eye or charges you extra for topping it with half a cup of guacamole.

I posted a version of this recipe once before, but I’ve tweaked it a little to make it faster, easier and slightly better. It’s basically my riff on Qdoba’s Mexican gumbo, which I love, but which has made me terribly ill the last few times I’ve eaten it. Could be a coincidence, but I think it’s more likely that I’ve developed an allergy/sensitivity/whatever to some ingredient they’re using. Anyway, here’s my version. As always, adjust the spices to suit your taste.


Mmmmm … cilantro.

Mexican Gumbo

For the soup part:
1 cube vegetable bouillon
2 c. water
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can chopped green chiles
2 cloves garlic, minced, or 1 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tbsp. chili powder
2 tbsp. ground cumin
1/4 c. fresh cilantro, chopped coarsely with scissors
2 tbsp. lime juice

Throw everything in the Crock-Pot, turn it on low and ignore it until you’re ready to use it. (If you’re cooking at the last minute, you can also make your soup on the stove or in the microwave.)


If you have the storage space, a rice cooker is a great tool.

For the rice part:
Make a batch of plain white rice. Add a handful of coarsely chopped fresh cilantro when you add the rice. I like to make mine in an automatic rice cooker, because I’m lazy.


Hard to go wrong with black beans and salsa.

For the beans:
Can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 c. salsa
Chili powder to taste
Cumin to taste
Onion powder to taste
Garlic powder to taste

Throw everything in a small saucepan and cook gently until heated through.


You know I’ll seize any available excuse to eat avocado.

For garnish:
Fresh avocado slices or guacamole (I kept mine simple and just mashed up the avocado with a little chili and cumin, a sprinkling of chile-lime salt, and a squirt or two of lime juice)
Tortilla chips if desired
Salsa if desired

To assemble, put a big scoop of rice, a big scoop of beans and a big scoop of tortilla soup in each bowl and top with avocado, guacamole, tortilla chips, salsa or all of the above. Makes about three big servings.


Eco-Saturday: Eliminate phantom loads

April 5, 2014

I know, I know. I owe you a Folk Thursday, a Vegan Friday and an Eco-Saturday. This week has been nuts. Let’s start with today’s Eco-Saturday offering, and I’ll work backwards from there.

One quick and very easy way to reduce your environmental footprint is by eliminating phantom loads.

A phantom load is, in essence, a very small but completely unnecessary power drain. It doesn’t help you at all. It doesn’t make you more comfortable. It doesn’t entertain you. It doesn’t save you time or money. It just sits there sucking power for no good reason, and odds are fairly high you don’t even know it’s doing it, because it does it even while it’s shut off — hence the term “phantom.”

For instance, if you have a stereo, its speakers draw a small amount of power whenever it’s plugged in — even if you’re not using it, and even if you shut off the power button. My record player, television, compact stereo and digital piano all create phantom loads. So do the built-in clocks on my stove and microwave and the pointless little blue light on my coffee grinder.


Shutting off the appliance isn’t enough. To eliminate a phantom load, you have to cut off the power supply altogether. You can do this by unplugging the appliance, of course, but a much faster and easier approach is to plug it into a power strip; then, instead of plugging and unplugging all the time, you can simply flip the switch on the power strip, cutting off all the energy to the appliance and eliminating the corresponding phantom load.

You can buy a basic power strip for less than $10. It’s an easy, convenient way to save energy, and if you’re thinking of installing solar panels on your home at some point in the future, this is a must-do. Solar panels cost about $800 apiece, so the fewer of them you have to buy, the better off you are. I’d be mad if I shelled out $800 just to power a bunch of redundant digital clocks and useless lights whose sole function is to tell me the coffee grinder is ready to work.

In general, if an appliance has a built-in speaker or clock, it’s drawing power all the time and probably should be plugged into a power strip.



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