Babies!

Our quail finally showed up at the feed store today. We brought home a dozen. Squeeeee!

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chicks2

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This is where they’ll live when they get big enough to go outside:

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I’ll have an Eco-Saturday post about our quail-rearing adventures in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, here are a couple of quick facts about the cage you see above:

1. This is a “quail tractor” — a portable coop designed to protect the birds while giving them access to fresh forage. I’ll post details when I do the instructional post — complete with plans and a materials list — but for now, the upshot is that it’s a similar setup to the one we used for our chickens in Tulsa, except I designed it to suit the needs of quail, which are smaller and have different habits and preferences than chooks.
2. It’s not quite finished. It needs a roof, some corner braces to reinforce the lid, and maybe some removable insulation panels around one end to keep the quail warm in the fall. The hard part — cutting and attaching the hardware cloth — is done, though.

Now we just have to keep these little guys healthy and happy until they’re big enough to work in the garden. I hope they’re as enthusiastic about scratching up weeds and eating bugs as our chooks were.

Emily

Eco-Saturday: Bottle your own water

Bottled water is stupidly expensive and generates an unconscionable amount of completely unnecessary plastic.

If you’re me, it’s also just about the only way to ensure you stay adequately hydrated, because I haaaaaate tap water and seldom drink any water at all unless it’s convenient.

Fortunately, for less than the price of two months’ worth of cheap bottled water, you can buy a good filter and several reusable bottles and DIY. (Don’t reuse a standard water bottle. They’re hard to clean and bad about harboring bacteria. Toss them and buy whatever bottles you can find on sale in the camping aisle.)

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I can’t find my step-by-step pictures of the filter installation process, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say it’s ridiculously easy. I’ve owned at least three or four faucet-mounted water filters over the years, and none of them cost more than $30 or took more than 10 or 15 minutes to install.

If for some reason you don’t have the option of installing a filter on your kitchen faucet, you can get filtration pitchers in varying shapes and sizes. Most of them cost $15 to $30. One caveat: Some models are prone to mildew, so if you get one, take it apart and run it through the dishwasher once in a while to prevent this.

If you really want to encourage yourself to drink more water, get yourself a good infusion pitcher to flavor that water after you filter it. An infusion pitcher looks like this:

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I got mine for $15 at Target. The clear tube in the middle holds chunks of fruit, cucumber, etc. I fill the tube with a handful of whatever frozen fruit happens to be on sale, and I replace it as needed — usually every couple of days. Even if you buy organic berries, you’re not likely to use more than a quarter’s worth per day, which makes this an inexpensive luxury. (Come summer, I’ll switch to cucumbers and peppermint, which the garden will provide for free.)

Emily

Vegan Friday: Vegan Black Metal Chef

My attempt at a vegan recipe this week didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped, so instead of subjecting you to something subpar or cheating you out of a recipe altogether, I thought I’d introduce you to someone whose work I am sure you will appreciate:

Vegan.
Black.
Metal.
Chef.

You have to say it like that.

One.
Word.
At. A.
Time.

I haven’t tried any of his recipes yet. I keep meaning to, but I keep getting distracted by shiny objects. They look promising, but the real attraction here is the performance. Be advised that he uses some strong language, so use headphones if that’s likely to offend anybody near you. If you enjoy metal, cooking shows, or satire, Vegan Black Metal Chef is a must-watch. I think it may be the greatest thing on the Internet. I can’t really think of anything that one-ups it.

If you don’t have 12 minutes, skip to the second segment. It starts around 4:45 and is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

Can we talk about how much I need a mace to use as a potato masher? That is badass.

I’ll cook something this week. I promise. In the meantime, you can try one of Vegan Black Metal Chef’s ideas.

Emily

Fence

I managed to wrap up my stories quickly enough to make it home from work this evening with an hour and a half of daylight to spare, so I spent that time installing the new garden fence. The yard was just exactly too narrow for the panels, which I discovered after I’d installed all but two of them. I’m putting the apiary directly in front of the westernmost panel anyway, so I just installed it at about a 15-degree angle to the others. Nobody will notice by the time we get the bees over there; I’ll just have a little extra room to work around the hives, which is fine with me.

Thanks to the uneven ground in our yard, it doesn’t look perfect, but it’s better than T-posts and chicken wire, and I saved a good $250 by installing it myself, so there’s that.

We’re getting quail this week. Eep! Can’t wait to have babies cheeping in the house again. I have to draw up plans for my portable coop so I can gather materials this weekend and start building.

Have I mentioned how happy I am that it’s finally spring?

Emily

The simple pleasure of a spring weekend

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Contented collie.

Today was just about as close to perfect as it gets.

We met up with my friend Sam in Chaffee this morning, got a tour of the gorgeous Queen Anne house she’s restoring, and followed her out to her dad’s farm to pick up compost starter. It’s been a long time since I scooped horse manure out of a barn. I should do that more often; it’s good for the soul.

After we got back from Chaffee, we went and had lunch (I had a very passable chicken-fried steak at the Sands Pancake House on 61 here in Cape) and then got to work. We layered the manure with dry leaves in the compost bin, cleaned out the pond, landscaped the area where we plan to put the beehives, measured the garden, bought fencing materials to keep the dogs out of the plants, and picked up equipment and feed for the quail chicks I’m getting later this week.

I cannot begin to explain how good all that felt. Last year was wonderful, but I really missed the amenities we had in Tulsa — bees, chooks, pond and garden. I’d still like five minutes with whatever idiot thought it was a good idea to ban backyard chickens, but if I can’t have chooks, quail should make a fairly acceptable substitute.

A few visual highlights:

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Mulch cloth, edging and three bags of cypress mulch should keep the weeds down around the beehives, which we’re setting up next month.

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As we start Year 2 in the Darwin Garden, we have at least two survivors: this strawberry plant …

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… and these chives. I love the dependability of chives.

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Riggy guards the compost bin, which is now full of horse manure and dry leaves — the perfect balance of browns and greens.

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Best friends enjoying a pretty afternoon in the backyard.

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Ron helped refill the pond after I bailed the murky water out of it. We have established that it holds approximately 50 gallons.

I also found time this weekend to make yogurt, get a massage and a haircut, put together a couple of Eco-Saturday posts, check out Cape Comic Con, and make a batch of laundry detergent.

I’m tired and dirty and sore and happy, which is as it should be.

Hope your Sunday was good, wherever you are.

Emily

Eco-Saturday: Coffee conscious

NOTE: This is the second of two Eco-Saturday entries I’m posting today to make up for the lack of a post last week.

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Saving the planet with help from the Good Doctor.

I am a shameless coffee junkie. One way I’ve reduced my environmental footprint is by making my own coffee and bringing it to work in a reusable container.

Here are a few tips and instructions for making three popular drinks: plain, single-serving coffee; cappuccino; and mocha frappes.

Plain coffee

First, don’t buy a Keurig. They are obscenely expensive and generate a lot of unnecessary waste. You can get a good single-serving coffee maker that will brew directly into an insulated travel mug for $25 or less. I use this model. Make setting up the coffee maker part of your before-bed routine. That way, all you have to do in the morning is flip the switch on your way into the shower.

For a coffeehouse-worthy experience, buy unflavored, whole-bean coffee (preferably fair-trade and/or organic) in small quantities and grind it as you use it. You can get a decent burr grinder for $40, and it’s well worth the money. Avoid flavored coffees, as artificial flavoring is often used to mask inferior-quality beans. If you want your coffee to taste like hazelnut or vanilla or whatever, buy a bottle of Torani syrup and DIY.

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Ignore the big bubbles in the froth. I tried using almond milk for this one. I don’t recommend it. Some things were never meant to be vegan.

Cappuccino

Real cappuccino is one part espresso, one part steamed milk and one-third foam, and you can’t make it without an espresso machine. Anyone who claims otherwise is either a fool or a liar.

You can buy a perfectly good espresso machine for less than $50 at any big-box store. Just be aware that when you are using a small machine to make cappuccino, you may have trouble getting it to build up enough steam to froth and heat the milk. To prevent this problem:

1. Make sure the coffee is ground finely enough. Some of the pre-ground “espresso” is too coarse to work well in small machines, as the water flows through it too quickly to build up a good head of steam.
2. Set up the machine to make four shots instead of two. This helps ensure you have adequate steam.
3. Tamp down the espresso as firmly as possible. (The bottom of a shot glass works well for this purpose.)

This is a great demonstration of the frothing process, which is the hard part:

Frothing takes practice, so don’t get frustrated if your initial efforts are less than satisfactory.

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Purple haze courtesy of the growlights I’m using on my tomato seedlings, which are in the dining room at the moment.

Frappes

Frappes always make me think of Travolta’s “five-dollar milkshake” riff from Pulp Fiction. They are not worth $5. Make one yourself for less than $1.

Start by making a couple of shots of espresso. Add an equal amount of any kind of milk (skim, whole, soy, almond, whatever) and a handful of ice cubes.

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Ice cubes, ice Daleks — potato, potahto.

Add chocolate syrup to taste and blend until thick and frosty, adding more ice if necessary. (Protip: Most blender blades will fit on a narrow-mouthed Mason jar, so you can make the drink and serve it in the same container to save time and dishes. This also works well for smoothies.)

Top with whipped cream and chocolate sauce if desired, add a straw and enjoy.

Eco-Saturday: Easy rice bags

This is the first of two Eco-Saturday offerings you’re getting this week to make up for the fact that I didn’t post one last week. This one is apartment-friendly and very cheap and easy. 

Years ago, one of my mom’s Brownies or Sunday-school students or somebody gave her a Christmas present. It was a cloth bag, stuffed loosely with rice and sewn shut, with a little instruction tag that said to microwave it and “put it where you hurt.”

Rice bags have been pretty much standard-issue at her house ever since.

You can make them out of just about any fabric, provided it doesn’t have big holes in it that would let the rice fall out and isn’t made of synthetic fibers that are likely to melt when heated, but in my infinite laziness, I like to make them out of knee-high socks.

Here’s what you need:

Knee-high sock (cotton or cotton blend)
About two cups of rice
Empty Ro-Tel or enchilada sauce can (optional but very helpful)

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Remove the ends from an empty Ro-Tel or enchilada sauce can. (I’m specifying these two types because you can use a can opener to take off the top and bottom. A lot of cans these days are designed for easy stacking, with rounded edges on the bottom that you can’t remove with a can opener. So far, Ro-Tel and Old El Paso haven’t sold out yet.)

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Slip the sock over one end of the can.

Using the can as a sort of funnel to keep the sock open, pour rice into the sock.

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Tie a knot in the end.

Microwave for 30 to 90 seconds, depending on how much heat your skin will tolerate, and drape around your neck, shoulder or wherever else your muscles feel sore or tight. You can also freeze rice bags to use in place of ice packs.

The nice thing about rice bags is that they serve the same purpose as a heating pad, but the only electricity they use is the amount necessary to heat them in the microwave — as opposed to being plugged into the wall the whole time you use them, like a conventional heating pad — and they don’t involve any packaging, disposable parts or weird chemicals like the self-heating pads and patches you get at the drugstore. Good way to recycle mismatched socks, too.

Emily

Vegan Friday: Red beans and rice

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Somehow I failed to take step-by-step pictures of this, but I don’t think you’ll need them.

Red beans and rice

Two to three bell peppers (any color), diced
Three or four ribs of celery, chopped
Small onion, chopped
Olive oil
Two to three cloves of garlic, minced
Can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Can of tomatoes
File powder to taste (start with about 1 tbsp. and go from there)
Ground red pepper to taste
Bay leaf
1 c. water
1 c. Minute Rice

Combine vegetables and olive oil in a covered, microwave-safe dish and nuke until celery is tender. Combine vegetables with garlic, kidney beans, tomatoes, spices and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove bay leaf, add rice and cover. Simmer over low heat until rice is tender. Serve immediately.