Happiness is …

… listening to the soft plink of canning jars sealing in the kitchen.

Not enough tomatoes yet for salsa, but I just put up seven pints of pickles. I think I might roll Vegan Friday and Eco-Saturday into a single entry this week, because canning is an incredibly useful skill to have if you’re trying to shrink your environmental footprint.

This project wraps up a pretty productive weekend. I made a feed-store run, started two more batches of beer, blogged, planned for vacation, sorted recipes, ran errands, moved the quail, harvested cucumbers, took the dogs to the park, picked up guitar strings and a comic book, and put up pickles. Not bad; the only thing on my to-do list that didn’t get crossed off was a trip to Shivelbine’s to have the action lowered on my guitar, which I’ll try to do this week.

I am considering making two acquisitions after our vacation.

The first thing I need is a vehicle suitable for chasing stories in lousy weather, because the Dreamcar did NOT perform well on these hilly streets last winter. If I can put my hands on a reasonably priced AWD Volvo wagon, it’s going in my driveway. If I can’t, I’ll probably just buy an old pickup. Whatever I get will NOT be my daily driver, but I need something I can use for covering stories in the snow and hauling (sometimes literal) crap around on weekends.

The second thing I need is a half-feral cat to guard my tomatoes. We never had a problem with birds and squirrels raiding the garden in Tulsa, because the neighbor’s cat was always hanging out back there, but we’ve been battling the SOBs all summer here.

I’ll have to put a latch on the quail pen to discourage the new hire from going after the wrong fowl, but if this proposed right-to-farm amendment passes, I should be swapping my vulnerable little birds for a few big, saucy chooks in the near future anyway. (While I suspect right-to-farm is Monsanto’s latest middle finger to the planet, if it passes, I’ll certainly be happy to exploit the loophole it creates exercise my constitutional right to life, liberty and a flock of buff Orpingtons, and the city can get riiiiiiight the hell off my land while I do it. Supremacy clause, bitches.)


Eco-Saturday: Reusable Maxi-Pads, Part 1

I made eight pads for less than $4. That's about $116 less than they'd cost at the health-food store. Not bad for three hours' work.
I made eight pads for less than $4. That’s about $116 less than they’d cost at the health-food store. Not bad for three hours’ work.

Note: Male readers can feel free to skip this post if the subject matter is too icky. But if you contribute to your household income and live with any women of reproductive age, you might want to suck it up and keep reading, because this project can save $35 to $60 a year or more. That’s a lot of beer money going in the trash. You’re welcome.

Let’s face it: Maxi-pads suck. They’re expensive, contain petroleum products, are made in ginormous factories, have to be shipped hundreds of miles, aren’t really recyclable or compostable, contain weird chemicals, and may or may not increase your risk of yeast infections, depending on how often and how long you wear them. Applicator-free tampons are marginally better, but they have their own drawbacks.

Fortunately, an alternative exists: reusable cloth pads.

I’m not going to go out on a limb and say I’d trust the average cloth pad under, say, a wedding gown. And hippie though I am, I’m not willing to keep used pads in my purse all day until I can throw them in the laundry. But they’re great for backup with a tampon, easing your mind if your cycle is a bit wacky, or using while you putter around the house.

Several companies sell prefabbed cloth pads that are pretty well-designed and hold up pretty well. The down side? They cost about $10 to $15 each. If you hate sewing enough to pay someone else to do it for you, I can recommend Gladrags.

If you’re broke (or just cheap) and have access to a sewing machine, however, you can crank out eight regular-absorbency cloth pads for about 50 cents apiece. Directions are below the fold.

Continue reading Eco-Saturday: Reusable Maxi-Pads, Part 1

Vegan Friday: Mushroom couscous

Whole-wheat couscous is cheap, nutritious and cooks quickly.
Whole-wheat couscous is cheap, nutritious and cooks quickly.

This is so easy, it’s almost disingenuous to call it a recipe, but it’s a good option for a summer evening when you don’t feel like heating up the whole kitchen.

Mushroom-Nut Couscous

1/2 c. whole-wheat couscous
1 c. water
1 tbsp. olive oil
Handful of sliced mushrooms
Handful of walnuts or pecans
Soy sauce (optional)

Throw this stuff in a covered dish. Nuke. Dinner's ready.
Throw this stuff in a covered dish. Nuke. Dinner’s ready.

Nuke all ingredients except soy sauce in a covered dish for about 5 minutes. Stir and serve with soy sauce. Serves two as a meal or four as a side dish. Nuts and whole-wheat couscous are high in protein, and the mushrooms give the dish an earthy, meaty tone. Serve with a quick salad of whatever you pulled out of the garden or found at the farmer’s market, and you can have a complete meal on the table in less than 10 minutes.


Eco-Saturday: Homebrewing

Home-brewed beer: more flavor, less unnecessary packaging.
Home-brewed beer: more flavor, less unnecessary packaging.

A few weeks ago, I bought Ron an early anniversary present: I got him a Mr. Beer homebrewing kit. He really likes craft beer, and I’ve gotten into making yogurt lately — and, to a lesser extent, cheese — so I figured I might as well buy a kit and start learning about the fermentation process before apple season. (I’m daydreaming about making my own hard cider if I can work up the nerve to try it.)

If you’re a beer drinker, I strongly encourage you to support local microbreweries, for all the environmental and economic reasons you’d support any other local business. If you enjoy cooking or have a bit of a DIY streak, you can take your efforts at sustainability another step by trying your hand at homebrewing.

The primary environmental advantage of homebrewing is that it reduces packaging. Our little kit requires one can of malt syrup, a small packet of yeast and a small packet of sanitizer to make about two gallons of beer. That’s the equivalent of just over 21 standard 12-ounce bottles or cans. The kit came with reusable bottles, which means we’ve just kept 21 bottles out of the waste stream. (Yes, I realize you can recycle glass and aluminum — and we do — but melting down containers and making new ones still requires way more energy than simply reusing an existing container.)

The second advantage is that it reduces the energy needed to ship ingredients. As anyone who’s paid attention to gas mileage on a road trip knows, extra weight requires extra fuel to haul around. Two gallons of liquid weigh a lot more than a pound or so of malt syrup, so by purchasing just the syrup and adding our own water, we’ve saved a little fossil fuel and kept a little carbon out of the atmosphere.

Anyway, on to the project. Ron wasn’t sure it would turn out well or be worth the effort, but it took me less than an hour of actual work to make the first batch — including the time it took to assemble and test the equipment — and between the printed instructions and the video on the company’s website, the whole process was virtually idiot-proof. Basically, if you can handle baking a cake from a mix, you can make a batch of beer.

This plastic keg holds the wort -- a mixture of malt syrup, yeast and water -- while it ferments.
This plastic keg holds the wort — a mixture of malt syrup, yeast and water — while it ferments.

The finished product, a Mexican-style beer that tastes a lot like Dos Equis, took a little over three weeks to ferment and carbonate. It turned out very well, and we’ve got a batch of Czech-style pilsner fermenting as we speak.

The kit cost just under $60 from a little homebrewing supply place in Ste. Genevieve. I’ve seen them as cheap as $40 at big-box stores. Refills run $15 to $20, which works out to about 71 to 95 cents for 12 ounces of fresh, unpasteurized beer.

As we get the hang of the process and gain a little confidence, I’ll start experimenting with making my own malt syrup from scratch, which will only increase the environmental benefits (and decrease the cost).


Vegan Friday: Sloppy Joes

Way better than Manwich.
Way better than Manwich.

We ate a LOT of sloppy Joes when I was a kid, but for some reason, I never really bothered to make them after I grew up — which is a shame, because they’re cheap, easy and good. I sort of forgot they existed until a colleague and I were out on assignment a couple of weeks ago, and we stopped at a small-town dairy bar whose specialty is sloppy Joes. I enjoyed mine thoroughly and decided to throw together a vegan version last week. I think it might have been better than the original.

Vegan Sloppy Joes

1 bag Boca crumbles (available in the freezer case at most grocery stores)
1/2 bunch green onions or 1/2 small yellow onion, chopped
About 1/2 c. chopped bell peppers (any color; frozen are fine)
Olive oil
Your favorite barbecue sauce
Margarine (optional)
Hamburger buns

Saute the peppers in olive oil until soft. Add onions and saute until tender. Add Boca crumbles and a little more oil, if necessary, and cook until heated through. Stir in ketchup, mustard and barbecue sauce to taste.

Melt a little margarine in a skillet and toast buns in it lightly if desired. Assemble sandwiches and serve. Makes about five sandwiches.

Nature facts

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

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.