Vegan Friday: Banana “ice cream”

Protip: When photographing frozen food, get the camera ready before the ice cream starts to melt. Which I obviously didn’t do.

Yeah, yeah, I’m a day late. My editor dropped three projects in my lap this week, so I’ve had my hands full and haven’t had a chance to do much blogging. Anyway, here’s your Vegan Friday recipe, posted Saturday. When you get in from mowing the lawn, you’ll be glad to have it.

Vegan Banana “Ice Cream”

Standard pint canning jar
Two overripe bananas, sliced
Chocolate sauce to taste
Optional: Whatever you like to put on ice cream (nuts, sprinkles, fruit, hot fudge, whatever)

I swiped this idea from the Internet. A few years ago, I kept seeing stickers on bananas advertising some fancy new treat called “Yonanas.” I looked it up online and found out it was an ad for a new kitchen gadget that would magically turn frozen bananas into a substance approximating the flavor and consistency of soft-serve frozen yogurt.

I looked at the gadget online and decided it wasn’t worth the money or already-limited cabinet space it would take, especially when I already owned a good blender and a set of Ball jars. The pureed-banana thing, on the other hand, seemed like a good idea, so I stole it. Here it is:

Can we talk about how much I love canning jars?

Slice overripe bananas into canning jar, leaving about an inch and a half of headspace at the top. Put the lid on and freeze for several hours (or days; I’m bad about forgetting stuff I’ve stuck in the freezer).

Nuke briefly to soften if necessary.

When bananas are frozen thoroughly, take the lid off the jar and nuke for 20 seconds to soften ’em up slightly.

Chocolate sauce. Hershey’s Special Dark syrup is vegan. W00t!

Add a tablespoon or two of chocolate sauce, then replace the lid with the blade apparatus from your blender. (Protip: If you ever break your blender jar, you can replace it with any standard-mouth canning jar. You’re welcome.)

Puree, shaking the jar and/or opening it up and poking at it as necessary until all the chunks are pureed into a smooth paste that’s about the same consistency as soft-serve ice cream.

Serve with whatever you like to put on ice cream. It doesn’t taste exactly like ice cream, but neither does frozen yogurt, and it’s a lot cheaper than Rice Dream (which also doesn’t really taste like ice cream). Plus it’s hard to argue with a cheap frozen treat that contains about 250 calories, zero fat, two servings of fruit and a big dose of potassium.

Eco-Saturday: Reel mowers


If your yard is small enough to mow with a push mower instead of a riding model, do yourself a ginormous favor and replace it with a reel mower next time it wears out.

There’s a common misconception that reel mowers are hard to use, require extra elbow grease, take longer, etc., etc., etc. This is absolutely true of reel mowers with dull blades. If you don’t maintain your tools, they’re not going to function properly. You can say the same thing of gas-powered mowers, chainsaws, sling blades, utility knives and kitchen shears. Dull blade = useless tool.

If, on the other hand, you knock the grass clippings off the blades and hit ’em with a shot of WD-40 after every use (a two-minute job) and sharpen the blades a couple of times a year (a 30-minute job), you’ll find reel mowers have multiple advantages over their gas-powered counterparts:

1. They’re easier to use. A reel mower weighs substantially less than a gas-powered or even an electric mower, because you’re not hauling an engine around with it. You don’t have to spend five minutes trying to start the damned thing (anybody who’s used anything with a two-stroke engine knows what I’m talking about), you don’t have to worry about putting gas and oil in it, and if it chokes on some random object in its path, you just nudge the blades backwards, pull out the offending object and keep going. Trust me on this: We are laaaaaazy. If this mower required us to expend more effort to accomplish the same task, we’d have gone back to the gas-powered kind years ago.

2. They’re cheaper, both upfront and over the long haul. A good reel mower will set you back $100 at most hardware stores and requires no gas, oil or electricity to use, so you save on both the mower itself and the operating costs. If you can find a Troy-Bilt, buy it; Ron swears the one we have now is the best we’ve ever owned.

3. They’re safer. Reel mowers don’t throw debris at high speeds, the blades stop turning when the mower stops moving, and the blades won’t cut backwards, so there’s virtually no risk of maiming yourself or the kids while you’re working.

4. They’re quiet. Instead of a whining engine, you’ll just hear the swish of the blades cutting grass and the occasional clatter of moving parts when you hit a bump. Much nicer.

5. They’re better for the environment. No gas or oil means no pollution and no fossil-fuel use.

I wouldn’t recommend a reel mower to handle more than a quarter-acre, and if you’re one of those people who likes to wait for the city to tell you when to cut the grass, a reel mower probably isn’t for you, but for a typical suburban lawn, they’re a cheap solution that helps the environment without demanding any real sacrifice at all.


Eco-Saturday: Clean and green


If you’re looking for a quick, apartment-dweller-friendly way to save a boatload of money and do something nice for the environment, here’s one: Clean up your cleanups.

It’s always creeped me out that the health department dings restaurants a point or two on their safety inspections if it catches them with a bottle of bleach or other cleaning products out on the counter in the food-prep area. This is what they’re using to sterilize the table where they fix my food, but the health department isn’t cool with keeping it near the table? Something ain’t right here.

About 15 years ago, I learned that cider vinegar has antibacterial properties. It’s also much cheaper than Lysol (about $4 a gallon) and easier on the environment. Fill up a spray bottle and use it undiluted for tough jobs or cut it half-and-half with water to make it go further for ordinary use. Even at full strength, it’s cheaper than commercial cleaning products, and — because it’s basically food itself — you don’t have to worry about spilling something dangerous into your food if you happen to knock over the bottle while you’re cooking.

I recycled an old Windex bottle by filling it up with cider vinegar and using it for everyday cleanups. Vinegar is also handy for neutralizing pet odors (especially urine, as the acid in the vinegar neutralizes the alkaline ammonia in the urine).

I’ve also taken to using cheap washcloths in place of paper towels. Catch a sale, and you can get them for a quarter apiece or less. If they get hopelessly nasty, they’re cheap enough that you can toss them without feeling too guilty, but they hold up well enough that you can wash and reuse them for years. I don’t use them for everything, but I keep a few on hand for quick kitchen cleanups, so we end up using fewer paper towels — which is good for both the environment and our bottom line.



Vegan Friday: Quesadilla Florentine

Flatbread quesadillas make quick dinners.

Mod’s Coffeehouse in Tulsa serves vegan crepes one day a week, and they’ve got a killer Florentine crepe that introduced me to the miracle of Daiya shreds. Sadly, Mod’s is 450 miles away from where I live now, so I can’t just dash over there for lunch when the mood strikes. Poop. 😦

Secret weapon: flatbread.

I didn’t feel like running down a vegan crepe recipe the other day, so I just took the basic premise and turned it into a quick quesadilla.

This recipe has two secret weapons: Daiya mozzarella-style shreds (available at bigger supermarkets and most health-food stores) and Flat-Out bread, a thin, high-protein, whole-grain flatbread that’s somewhere between a tortilla and a pita and just about perfect for hearty wraps and quesadillas. I found Flat-Out at a Walgreens one night while I was picking up something else, and Schnuck’s has started carrying it recently. If you can’t find it, plain old whole-wheat tortillas will work in a pinch.

Two pieces Flat-Out bread or two whole-wheat tortillas
Two small handfuls of baby spinach
Two small handfuls of sliced mushrooms
Roma tomato, sliced thinly
Two small handfuls Daiya mozzarella-style shreds

Ignore the weird lighting, please. My range hood light confuses the camera.

Layer spinach, mushrooms, tomato and Daiya on half of a flatbread. Fold it over, put it on a microwavable plate, and repeat the process with the other flatbread.

Fold like this and microwave.

Microwave until Daiya starts to melt and spinach wilts (about a minute, but check after 30 seconds in case your microwave is unusually fast). Fry gently in melted margarine until browned on both sides.

Cut in half before serving. Serves two big people or four little people.

I like these because they’re a little different from your standard quesadilla, and the flatbread and mushrooms give them a protein boost.

Trying to catch up.

Sorry I haven’t posted in ages. Things have been nuts at work, with big deadlines last week and an execution that was scheduled for this week but was stayed twice, necessitating two trips to Bonne Terre and a lot of strange hours in a high-security environment that made me tired and nervous, partly because it involved trying to work from a remote site while separated from a lot of the tools and resources I’m used to having at my disposal, and partly because I was really dreading the thought of watching a man die, regardless of what he did to put himself in that position.

In between, I had a perfectly marvelous, much-needed three-day weekend that included a massage; beekeeping; a trip to the hardware store; a trip to a 95-year-old feed store; the purchase of a lawn gnome and a fabulously creepy statue that’s weirdly evocative of the infamous Weeping Angels; a little time on both Route 66 and Highway 61; and a Judy Collins concert in a 325-seat theater a couple of blocks off 66 in Edwardsville, Ill. (We were in the second row, and yes, it was wonderful: Tiny venue full of Baby Boomers who knew all the songs and sang along at every opportunity. It felt less like a concert and more like an old friend had thrown a party and brought out her guitar to break the ice — which is exactly the sort of vibe a folk concert ought to have.)

The weekend was great, but it wasn’t quite enough to overcome the stress of last week’s deadlines and the stress, late nights, erratic meals, and general failure to take care of myself over the past couple of days, so I woke up this morning with a fever, muscle spasms in my legs and a level of exhaustion that kept me in bed until about an hour ago.

Twelve hours of sleep, several bottles of water and a lot of electrolytes later, I’m doing much better and am optimistic if I go back to bed soon and get a decent night’s rest, I’ll be able to hit the ground running tomorrow.


Folk Thursday: Kris Kristofferson

I heard Willie Nelson cover this at a concert the week Scout got her awful diagnosis. I stood in the middle of Cain’s Ballroom and listened to him sing and knew I’d better cherish my brilliant, funny, awful, wonderful, incorrigible little troublemaker for whatever precious fragment remained of our moment of forever.

I still can’t listen to it without choking up.

It’s still one of my favorites.


Eco-Saturday: Kitty litter

Ladies and gentlemen, the man who hates cats.

This may not sound important, but kitty litter can have a pretty hefty impact on the environment.

Clay-based litter is made from sodium bentonite, which is strip-mined from the ground, taken to a factory, dried (a process that requires heat, frequently generated by burning fossil fuels) and processed into granules. It doesn’t break down, so it basically just sits around the landfill forever, taking up space.

It’s not particularly great for your cat’s paws, either, as it can get stuck between toes and harden, and I can’t imagine it’s good for your dog’s digestive system if he happens to ingest some. Not that I know any dogs who sneak into the bathroom and raid the litterbox every chance they get, of course.

In my experience, clay-based litter isn’t really great for my interior air quality, either; of all the types we’ve tried over the years, it was the worst at absorbing smells.

Silica gel-based litter is lightweight, works fairly well and doesn’t need to be changed as often as other litter, but because it doesn’t weigh much, it’s often imported, meaning more energy is expended on transportation. It’s a better choice than clay-based litter, but it’s far from perfect, and I’m not convinced it’s great for cat feet or dog bellies, either.

Several environmentally friendly litters exist, including varieties made from corncobs, recycled paper and other materials, but the best we’ve tried thus far is an all-natural variety made by Tidy Cats. I’m not crazy about the fragrance they add to it, but it works very well, clumps nicely and is made from sawdust and corncobs (both byproducts that likely would be thrown out otherwise), so it’s basically recycled and theoretically biodegradable.

Speaking of recycling, our cat, Walter, is of the opinion that every object on the planet should be recycled into a cat toy:

Milk-carton rings are FUN.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him he doesn’t really fit in that box.
You can’t tell him anything anyway. He just swivels his ears and looks annoyed, the way our late rat terrier, Scout, used to do.

One more important point about kitty litter: Never flush it, even if the package says you can. Most cities don’t treat their sewage for Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan commonly found in cat feces, so the parasite travels through waterways and ends up in marine ecosystems, where it kills sea otters.

Gratuitous kitten picture.

Vegan Friday: Tahini salad

Tahini salad is one of my favorite things ever.

When I was in college, I ordered lunch from Sam’s Cafe on the Strip in Carbondale, Ill., about once a week. Sam’s had three advantages: They delivered, they took checks, and they had terrific vegetarian options. One of my favorite items on the menu was tahini salad. Before I graduated, I figured out how to make my own; it’s been one of my go-to dishes for parties and potlucks ever since. It’s also a great way to use up excess cucumbers and tomatoes from the garden as the summer progresses.

Tahini, as I’ve explained in earlier recipes, is a thick paste made from sesame seeds. Think peanut butter, but with a more assertive flavor. You can find it at the health-food store and most of your bigger grocery stores. Expect to pay $5 to $8 a jar. The recipe below serves one to two people, but it doubles or even triples easily if you’re feeding a crowd.

Tahini Salad

1/4 c. tahini
1/4 c. lemon juice
1/4 c. water
Cucumber, diced
Tomato, diced
Black olives (optional)

Stir together tahini, lemon juice and water until smooth. Sprinkle with paprika to taste. Toss mixture with vegetables and serve.

Don’t blink.

I spent a happy Saturday geeking it up in the garden. I got a few practical things done — most notably, Ron and I inspected the hives this morning, and after he left for work this afternoon, I reconfigured my irrigation system and planted a few tomatoes to replace some of the seedlings that didn’t make it — but this was my major project for the day:

Eat your heart out, Amelia Pond.
Ready for birdseed. Or, alternately, a tealight. I think we know which way I’ll end up going with that.
Sleeping angel, or Weeping Angel playing opossum? I’ve got the mermaid keeping an eye on her just in case.

After I finished my work, I made a big cranberry-peach-banana smoothie and sat next to the pond, which has tons of toad eggs in it. They seem to be growing. I imagine we’ll have tadpoles by next weekend. The duckweed seems to be increasing a bit, too, and the fish have gotten braver — they play in the shallow areas now, provided I don’t get too close.

Songdog decided he needed some quality time with Mommy while Riggy was busy sniffing the quail pen.

Notes from our hive inspection: The bees seem to be settling in. The Carnie hybrids built a lot of burr comb that had to be scraped off — much to my regret, as it was full of brood — and the Buckfasts are drawing out comb and packing in great stores of pollen, although the queen hasn’t laid any eggs yet. It’s still early for them. We’ll check again next weekend and see how they’re doing. The girls are bringing in a lot of bright red pollen, which is interesting.

Hope your Saturday was full of satisfying projects and friendly dogs, wherever you are.