Nature facts

July 16, 2014

Here are some facts about nature:

1. Tiger mosquitoes love hiding out under cucumber leaves.
2. Tiger mosquitoes can bite through denim.
3. Tiger mosquitoes are a-holes. I think the only part of my body that doesn’t itch at the moment is my pancreas. But I’m sure the little SOBs will find a way to bite all the way through my torso to get to that next.
4. Homegrown heirloom cucumbers are totally worth it.


Weekend projects

July 14, 2014
I used Valspar instead of Krylon this time, mainly because I couldn't find Krylon. We'll see how it weathers.

I used Valspar instead of Krylon this time, mainly because I couldn’t find Krylon. We’ll see how it weathers.

This weekend was all about clearing projects off my plate. Most of them were little projects (moving the quail, putting bird netting in the garden to protect my tomatoes, and starting a new batch of beer), but the big one I’d been meaning to finish involved the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcar.

I’ve been neglecting the car for about two years. Oh, not the mechanical stuff — I take it in to have the oil changed and the tires rotated and various belts and filters and things replaced at all the appropriate times — but what makes the Dreamcar the Dreamcar is its Amazing Technicolor paint job, which becomes decided less amazing and decidedly less technicolor after a few months in the sun. To look its best, it really needs to have its hood and roof repainted about once a year.

Last time I repainted it was a couple of days before we left for vacation in 2012.

After spending the brutal summer of 2012 in the Oklahoma sun, it was pretty faded out, but before I got a chance to repaint it, we moved, and I was too busy to mess with it. I also managed to leave all my leftover spraypaint behind when we moved, and I couldn’t really justify spending the better end of $50 on a glorified craft project while we were paying for two mortgages. By the time we sold the house in Tulsa, it was October, and then the holidays hit, followed by ice storms, a rainy spring and a stormy summer, and … well, yesterday was really the first opportunity I’ve had to do anything with the car, so I took advantage of it.

While I was working, I installed a few of my recent acquisitions on the dashboard:

On a recent trip to Memphis, I picked up some miniature rubber chickens at Schwab's. Because if there was one thing my dashboard needed, it was rubber chickens.

On a recent trip to Memphis, I picked up some miniature rubber chickens at Schwab’s. Because if there was one thing my dashboard needed, it was rubber chickens.

Is there a Doctor in the house? From right, the Seventh, Fourth and Second Doctors, accompanied by a Roman centurion auton.

Is there a Doctor in the house? From right, the Seventh, Fourth and Second Doctors, accompanied by a Roman centurion auton.

I painted a TARDIS on part of the car last night, but the sealer I used on it this afternoon interacted badly with the paint and ran all over the place, so I’ll have to sand that area off and start over as soon as I can shake free.


(Belated) Eco-Saturday: Dehydrating herbs

July 14, 2014
Basil is one of the easiest herbs to grow.

Basil is one of the easiest herbs to grow.

If you have a yard, a balcony or even a sunny window big enough for a flowerpot or two, you can grow your own culinary herbs.

Herbs are among the easiest plants to grow. My favorites are basil, dill and cilantro — all vigorous self-seeding annuals that will produce plenty of volunteer plants year after year — and peppermint, spearmint, oregano, rosemary, sage and chives, which are all reliable, productive perennials.

If you grow herbs, you’ll inevitably end up with far more than you can use in a season, so you’ll have plenty left to dry for winter use.

The fastest way to dry herbs is in a dehydrator. If you have more than a couple of plants, a cheap electric dehydrator is probably worth the investment. You can find a good one for $50 or less. I got mine in the hunting aisle at the feed store.

Dehydrating is easy. I’m using basil as an example here, but the same method works with pretty much any herb you can think of.

This is part of one plant.

This is part of one plant.

Start by harvesting as much as you plan to put up. A good pair of shears will speed the harvest along.

Ready to rinse.

Ready to rinse.

If using a dehydrator, snip the leaves from the stems. Put the leaves in a colander and rinse them off. (If you don’t have a dehydrator, just rinse the stems and leaves, tie them in bundles with string or rubber bands, and hang them upside-down to dry, checking them frequently to make sure they’re still bound tightly.)

The thinner the layer, the faster they'll dry.

The thinner the layer, the faster they’ll dry.

Arrange the leaves on your dehydrator trays. Try to keep them to a single layer per tray to allow them to dry quickly and evenly.

After dehydrating.

After dehydrating.

The leaves will shrink as they dry. Check them every half-hour or so until they are completely dry.

The finished product, ready to add to spaghetti sauce.

The finished product, ready to add to spaghetti sauce.

Put the dried herbs in a ziplock bag to keep them fresh, crush them and use a Sharpie to label the bag with the product and the date. Half-pint Mason jars are also excellent for storing dried herbs, or you can recycle old containers from storebought spices.






Technical difficulties

July 12, 2014

I had some intentions about blogging more this past week, but our Internet service went down after a storm, and it took nine days, umpteen phone calls and two Twitter conversations with AT&T’s customer service people to get somebody out here to fix it. In the meantime, we were reliant on our iPhones, and using the phone as a personal Wi-Fi hotspot is … well, let’s just say you don’t exactly get blazing Internet speeds with that approach.

I came back to discover something has gotten screwed up with WordPress, and for God alone knows what reason, the landing page for this site gives an error message (although it has no trouble displaying specific posts — it just can’t find its way home). Not sure what’s up with that, and I haven’t had time to find out, but hopefully I’ll get it sorted tomorrow.

In the meantime, I’ve been cooking a bit (which means I should be able to get a little ahead on Vegan Friday offerings); gardening a bit (I harvested 21 cucumbers yesterday, and may I just say that Miniature White is the greatest variety ever?); traveling a bit (bizarre Memphis pictures forthcoming); planning to travel a lot (Tulsa next weekend; Ludlow in the not-too-distant future); getting sick; getting better; battling the forces of evil (mainly preparing my friends for my impending departure from Facebook and figuring out how many art supplies I can get at the hardware store so I don’t have to drive to St. Louis to sustain my Hobby Lobby boycott); and bracing myself for the massive creative outburst I feel coming on.

I’ll have an Eco-Saturday entry for you tomorrow. It will involve either homebrewing or culinary herbs, depending on which project I feel like tackling first.


Vegan Friday: Pasta salad

July 11, 2014
Pasta salad should be as pretty as it is tasty.

Pasta salad should be as pretty as it is tasty.

Here’s a good recipe for summer picnics and potlucks. Use Creamette’s quick-cooking three-minute rotini to speed up the stovetop part of the process and keep from heating up the kitchen too much. Make this the night before you plan to serve it to give the flavors time to blend and the dried herbs time to soften.

Pasta Salad

1 1/2 c. rotini
1 cucumber
1 bell pepper (or equivalent; I cut up three different peppers and used parts of each for color)
1 carton cherry tomatoes
1 can black olives
2 tbsp. dried Italian spices
1/2 c. Italian dressing

This is basically a big salad with a handful of pasta thrown in.

This is basically a big salad with a handful of pasta thrown in.

Prepare rotini according to package instructions. (Don’t overcook it; mushy pasta is nasty.)

While pasta cooks, stir Italian spices into dressing.

Dice cucumber and pepper. Toss cucumber, pepper, tomatoes and olives with dressing-spice mixture.

Drain cooked pasta, rinse under cold water and toss with vegetable mixture.

Refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to blend. Makes four meal-sized servings or eight side-dish-sized servings.

Eco-Saturday: Buy in bulk

July 5, 2014

Here’s another quick way to make your lifestyle and your wallet a little bit greener: Buy groceries in bulk.

Packaging takes energy and resources to manufacture, which means the more of it you use, the bigger your environmental footprint will be.

Energy and resources take money, which means the more packaging you use, the more money you end up spending on stuff that isn’t really doing you any good.

You can reduce the amount of money, energy and resources you waste on packaging by purchasing basics in bulk whenever possible. Most health-food stores have a large assortment of bulk items, and in recent years, a lot of mainstream grocery stores have added a bulk aisle, too.

If you buy in bulk, you’ll need two things: reusable storage containers and common sense.

Paper bags — which fold up neatly when you’re done with them, making them easy to save and reuse — are good for bringing dry, oil-free bulk goods home from the store. (Choose plastic bags or those lightweight, disposable-but-reusable Ziploc containers to haul stuff like nuts, sunflower seeds or dried fruit, which can stain paper bags.)

Once you get your products home, however, you’ll need to transfer them into something sturdy that seals well for long-term storage. I’m a giant fan of Mason jars (which are cheap) and OXO canisters (which aren’t). If you don’t want to spend any money on containers at all, you can save glass jars with screw-on lids and use them to store bulk food.

You’ll also need a little common sense and restraint. When you’re staring at a wall of bins full of colorful beans and seeds and noodles, it’s tempting to buy umpteen pounds of each, but keep in mind that some products keep better than others, and buy only what you can eat before it spoils. You’re not really helping the environment — or your bottom line — if you buy six pounds of vegan gardenburger mix or 12-bean soup, only to end up throwing it out when you discover it doesn’t taste as good as you’d hoped or it takes longer to prepare than you’d expected.

As a general rule of thumb, I buy only one or two servings’ worth of unfamiliar products so I can try them and make sure I’ll like them before I commit to several pounds. Dry beans, rice and pasta will keep for years as long as they’re not exposed to moisture. Flour keeps pretty well, although you do have to protect it from grain moths; to be safe, I generally don’t buy more than a couple of pounds at any one time, and if possible, I keep it in a sealed container in the freezer. Trail mix, nuts, dried fruit, oils, herbs, tea and coffee spoil much faster: Nuts and oils will go rancid; fruits will get tough as they age; and highly aromatic products such as herbs, tea and coffee will begin to lose their favor the minute they’re harvested, so buy them in very small amounts to ensure you use them up while they’re still fresh.

Vegan Friday: Taco salad

July 4, 2014

Vegan taco salad is gorgeous, tasty and a great excuse to pork down avocado.

Here’s a quick recipe for hot days. It serves two but doubles easily if you need to feed more people.

Vegan Taco Salad

1 can pinto beans
2 c. shredded lettuce
1 Roma tomato, diced
Black olives
Chili powder
Garlic powder
Onion powder
Tortilla chips
Taco seasoning (optional)
3/4 c. textured vegetable protein (optional)

TVP will absorb plenty of taco seasoning.

TVP will absorb plenty of taco seasoning.

If using TVP, place in a microwave-safe dish with enough water to reconstitute it and nuke until soft and hot through. Stir in a packet of taco seasoning and set aside while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Season beans with spices to taste and microwave until hot through.

Divide lettuce, tomato, TVP, beans, salsa, avocado and chips between bowls. Garnish with olives and chips. You can use whatever other vegetables make you happy; I just used what I had on hand. Canned jalapeno slices would make a nice addition, as would fresh bell peppers, shredded carrots, or sliced cucumbers.

Serve with salsa, hot sauce and — if desired — vegan sour cream.


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