Eco-Saturday: Make your own soap

October 25, 2014
Homemade castile soap is easier to make than you'd think.

Homemade castile soap is easier to make than you’d think.

I’ve promised myself for years that I’d learn to make my own soap, but I never got around to it. I finally got my act together, rounded up all the equipment and materials I needed, and started my first-ever batch of soap over Labor Day weekend. I unwrapped a bar a couple of weeks ago and can confirm that it is, in fact, lovely stuff. Homemade castile soap makes a nice Christmas present, and if you start a batch now, it should have time to age before Dec. 25.

Details are below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Vegan Friday: Stuffed mushrooms

October 24, 2014
Ignore the weird lighting. These tasted awesome.

Ignore the weird lighting. These tasted awesome.

I hadn’t had stuffed mushrooms in years — which is odd, considering they were my favorite food when I was little — but I was hungry one night and had some great-looking mushrooms leftover from a lasagna project, so I rummaged around and came up with the ingredients for a terrific batch of vegan stuffed mushrooms that took about five minutes to assemble and maybe 20 minutes to bake. These are a nice appetizer, or — if you’re me — a perfect dinner on a drizzly fall evening.

Nine fresh mushrooms
About 1/3 c. frozen Boca crumbles
About 1/3 c. breadcrumbs
Basil, oregano, garlic powder and onion powder to taste
2 T. olive oil, divided
About 1 T. water

I could eat my own weight in mushrooms. I really could.

I could eat my own weight in mushrooms. I really could.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drizzle half of the olive oil over the bottom of a baking dish. Remove stems from mushrooms and arrange caps in the dish.

Veggie crumbles, breadcrumbs and a little seasoning make a quick filling.

Veggie crumbles, breadcrumbs and a little seasoning make a quick filling.

Thaw Boca crumbles in the microwave for about 30 seconds. Stir in remaining ingredients to make a thick paste.

Stuffed and ready to bake.

Stuffed and ready to bake.

Fill mushroom caps with Boca mixture and bake until tops start to brown. Depending on your oven, this should take about 15 to 20 minutes.

Note: You could double or triple this recipe easily; I just used nine mushrooms because that was all I had in the fridge. The leftover mushroom stems are good in meatloaf, stuffing or vegetable stock. (If you have a worm bin, they also make a nice treat for your little gardeners. Redworms like mushrooms.)



Folk Thursday: Joe Hill

October 23, 2014

I’ve probably posted this before. I don’t care. Although it addresses a different issue, that line about “what they could never kill went on to organize” went through my head when Trayvon Martin’s murderer was acquitted. As I was dinking around with the guitar tonight, I mentioned that to Ron, who said, “What about Michael Brown?”

To which I responded with:

I dreamed I saw Mike Brown last night, alive as you and me.
Says I, “But Mike, you’re 10 weeks dead.”
“I never died,” says he. “I never died,” says he.

“Darren Wilson killed you, Mike; he shot you, Mike,” says I.
“Takes more than guns to kill a man,”
Says Mike, “I didn’t die.” Says Mike, “I didn’t die.”

And standing there as big as life, and smiling with his eyes,
Says Mike, “What they can never kill
Went on to organize, went on to organize.”

From Ferguson on up to Maine, in every street and town
Where innocents defend their rights
It’s there you’ll find Mike Brown, it’s there you’ll find Mike Brown.

I dreamed I saw Mike Brown last night, alive as you and me.
Says I, “But Mike, you’re 10 weeks dead.”
“I never died,”says he. “I never died,” says he.

This is why I’m a folkie. I really wish the songs I love would become obsolete. I really want them to be quaint relics of the past. But every day, they become more relevant. And until they’re not, I will keep singing them.

I’ve got a lot of horses in this race: kids I adore who are at risk of being hurt or killed solely because of the color of their skin, and cops I interview regularly who are at greater risk of being hurt or killed every time a member of their profession is involved in an unnecessary shooting.

And the middle of it all, I watched a video the other night of a former colleague being arrested at a protest.

Listen, society: Mama Bear’s gettin’ real sick of your shit. I need ALL my cubs safe.


Taking one for the team

October 22, 2014

I am pleased to report that we are almost halfway through that gallon of ice cream I had to buy when the motor burned up in the all-in-one pump-and-filter unit in the pond.*

At this rate, I should be able to construct a new filter by Saturday.


* For those of you just joining us: I had to buy a gallon of cookies and cream ice cream Monday because I needed the bucket to use as the housing for a new filter. An ice-cream bucket full of scouring pads is way cheaper than a prefabbed biofilter. I couldn’t just buy a bucket, because I had to have one with a lid, and all the containers with lids that are available for purchase are too big to fit in the bottom of the pond. So eating an entire gallon of ice cream is a necessity. All the fish and toads that live in that pond are depending on me. Plus you know I’ll post instructions if it works, so I’m doing this as much for you as for them. I’m obviously taking one for the team here. Quit looking at me like that and respect my sacrifice.

Pinterest quackery

October 21, 2014

I’m beginning to think Pinterest has become the wormhole through which junk science enters the universe.

Sample du jour: an “alkalizing foods” chart telling people they can lose weight and prevent cancer by consuming certain foods to make their blood more alkaline.

Among the supposed “alkalizing” substances: lemon juice.

Those of you who passed chemistry class might, at this point, be giving that sentence an epic side-eye. But wait! You don’t understand! See, you put the lemon juice in water, which raises its pH, so when you drink it, it “alkalizes” your body. Science!




For those of you who flunked chemistry, let me explain:

Acids have a pH below 7.

Alkaline substances (a.k.a. bases) have a pH above 7.

Neutral substances have a pH right at 7. Pure water, for example, has a pH of 7.

When you add water to a strong acid, you get a weaker acid. When you add water to a strong base, you get a weaker base. You can’t convert an acid to a base (or vice versa) by diluting it. And you obviously can’t raise the pH of a substance by adding acid; that’s like trying to lighten paint by mixing in some more black.

Now for some biology:

Your blood is slightly alkaline, because blood is supposed to be slightly alkaline. The pH isn’t subject to the whims of your diet. If it were, a bag of Sour Patch Kids would probably kill you. The alkalinity of your blood doesn’t bounce around like your glucose level. It’s more like your body temperature: It has to remain within a very narrow window.

Even if your blood’s pH were subject to wild fluctuations, you couldn’t adjust it by means of diet, because anything you eat has to go through your stomach first, and your stomach is full of hydrochloric acid, diluted by your body to a pH somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5. To neutralize that, you’d basically (see what I just did there?) have to knock back a shot of Liquid Plum’r and chase it with a glass of Windex. I don’t recommend this, unless you’re just trying to die young, in the most horrifying possible manner.

What I’ve seen of the “alkalizing diet” isn’t particularly harmful on its face. It’s never a bad idea to go heavier on the vegetables and lighter on the aerosol cheese. But doing that won’t alter the pH of your blood — and it shouldn’t.


Missed a day.

October 20, 2014

Shoot. I forgot I hadn’t prefabbed a post for yesterday, so I missed a day. So much for NaBloPoMo in October, I guess. :/

Anyway. We went up to Foster Pond, Illinois, yesterday to have a late lunch at Dreamland Palace, a German restaurant I highly recommend if you’re anywhere within a couple of hours’ drive of the metro-east. Great food, and lots of it. I wanted hasenpfeffer because I am trying to convince Ron a small rabbit-breeding operation would be a worthwhile endeavor, and I figured a bite of ridiculously tender meat would help support my arguments.

It looks like Tractor Supply has the best price on the J-clip pliers I’ll need to assemble the rabbit cages.

Also, can we just talk about how much I love my Outback? I’d forgotten the luxury of doing things like going to the feed store for dog biscuits and coming home with a chicken coop without having to worry about logistics. Throw in the hard plastic liner in the cargo space, and I am head over feet for this car. I have no idea how I got by without a station wagon for 10 years. What was I thinking?

In other news, the motor in the all-in-one pond pump/filter/UV clarifier I bought last year burned up. With the water lettuce shading the water, I don’t really need UV, so I bought a new pump tonight at Lowe’s and a bucket of Oreo ice cream for $6.50 at Schnucks. As soon as I finish the ice cream, I’ll fill the bucket with scouring pads from the dollar store and inoculate it with pond water, thereby constructing a $75 filter for $10 worth of materials and $6.50 worth of ice cream.

DIY rocks.


Eco-Saturday: Blanket shades

October 18, 2014
Falsa blankets make inexpensive, insulative window coverings.

Falsa blankets make inexpensive, energy-efficient window coverings.

I swiped this idea from my mom, who made Roman shades out of quilts to insulate her windows. I’m too cheap to buy quilts — and much too lazy to make them — but I love falsa blankets, which fit my Southwestern sensibilities and can be had for $10 or less at just about any truck stop on Route 66.

To make a Roman shade out of a falsa blanket, you will need:

1. Falsa blanket
2. 15 small plastic rings
3. 1×2 about an inch longer than the width of your window
4. Three small screw eyes
5. Nylon cord
6. Sewing machine or needle and thread
7. Scissors
8. Cordless drill
9. Screwdriver
10. Pins
11. Three deck screws
12. Cleat hook

Instructions are below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »


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