Vegan Friday: Gorgeous little tacos

Gorgeous, yes?
Gorgeous, yes?

I don’t know whether this is the best Vegan Friday recipe I’ve ever posted, but it’s got to be in the top five, and it’s definitely the prettiest.

The idea of using savory seasonings on sweet potatoes never occurred to me (y’all know how I feel about keeping my sweet foods and my salty foods separate) until I had some vegetarian tacos at a place in Tulsa called Elote.

They were awesome. I don’t mean pretty-good-for-vegan-food awesome. I mean they were just flat awesome, and not the sort of thing I’d ever think up on my own.

I miss Elote.

Fortunately, while I was looking for vegan inspiration on Pinterest recently, I found several pictures of things that looked awfully similar to those gorgeous little tacos from Elote, and after looking at several recipes, I came up with something similar. These aren’t a precise replica, but they’re pretty great, and Ron — who is generally not a fan of any vegan food that is not a PBJ or a bowl of chips and guacamole — liked them enough to look disappointed when I only put two of them on his plate. (He brightened up when he learned he could have more once he finished the first helping.)

Three tacos apiece were enough to fill both of us up, and the amount of fiber, protein and “good” fat in this recipe ensured we didn’t get hungry again an hour later. WIN.

2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 packet of taco seasoning (or 1 T. homemade; I’ll post a recipe for homemade seasonings soon)
2 T. olive oil
2 small limes
1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 c. salsa (preferably homemade, but if you have to use storebought, buy something respectable, and add a teaspoon each of cumin and chili powder and a squeeze of lime to dress it up)
1/2 c. chopped fresh cilantro
1 T. chopped red onion
1 avocado
12 small corn tortillas

My taco seasoning looks dark because it contains cocoa and chipotle powder.
My taco seasoning looks dark because it contains cocoa and chipotle powder.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat the bottom of a smallish baking dish with 1 T. of the olive oil. Toss sweet potatoes with taco seasoning, the rest of the olive oil and the juice from one of the limes. Roast until sweet potatoes are tender. (This took about 30 minutes in my oven, but your mileage may vary.)

While potatoes cook, heat beans and salsa together.

I don't really have words for how good sweet potatoes are when you dice them and roast them with taco seasoning.
I don’t really have words for how good sweet potatoes are when you dice them and roast them with taco seasoning.

When potatoes are done, nuke tortillas between two paper towels for 30 seconds.

Arrange tortillas in stacks of two. Dice the avocado and cut the remaining lime into wedges. Top each tortilla stack with a spoonful each of sweet potatoes and black beans; some cilantro; a little onion; and a few pieces of diced avocado. Garnish plates with cilantro and lime wedges.

Sit back and enjoy the sound of people telling you how awesome you are. Because they will.

Makes six tacos, plus enough leftover beans to make a small burrito or a couple of black-bean tacos for lunch tomorrow.


Folk Thursday: Helen Reddy

Not folk, but protest. Close enough. I’m not at liberty to go into the details, but I got an eyeful of some spectacularly misogynistic respectability-politics bullshit in action yesterday, and it reminded me of how terribly true this song remains — especially that bit about, “I’m still an embryo with a long, long way to go until I make my brother understand.”

Forty-two years later, and we’re fighting the same frickin’ battle.



Busy Sunday

I have to work tomorrow. Which sucks, because Monday is usually my day off, and which sucks more because I had a headache Friday and called in sick, which means I already used up the comp time working tomorrow would have earned me.

On the up side, we crammed a lot into my one day off this week. Ron wanted a rain barrel and wasn’t keen on spending $80 to buy one, so we went to the lumberyard and picked up a big trash can and a few fittings.

We took the dogs to the park, which was about as busy as I’ve ever seen it — not surprising, considering this is probably the last 85-degree weekend we’re likely to see before winter sets in. Song and Riggy had a good time bouncing around with a pack that included two Labs, an old English sheepdog, a Scotch collie, a Pekingese, a Labradoodle and several other enthusiastic characters. They wore themselves out thoroughly. (Riggy is snoring loudly as we speak.)

After a stop at McDonald’s for their usual cheeseburgers, we brought the dogs home and headed to Carbondale to pick up some odds and ends I needed from the Neighborhood Co-op, and then I spent the balance of the evening turning a trash can into a rain barrel and making that ice-cream-bucket biofilter I’ve been talking about all week. (We haven’t finished all the ice cream, but I scooped what was left of it into an old cheesecake filling tub so I could start my project.)

I haven’t tested the filter yet, but if it works, I’ll basically have $50 worth of filtration for about $8 worth of materials. Assuming they work as well as I’m hoping, I’ll post instructions for both projects in the not-too-distant future.

By the way, that pond remains one of my favorite projects. It requires a little effort to maintain, but it’s provided a constant water source for my bees and plenty of habitat for toads. I heard one jump into the water today as I stepped out the back door to check on the quail.

In other garden news, the lemon balm next to the pond is ginormous, and the arugula I planted in the fire pit this spring reseeded itself nicely, so we had a nice salad the other day, and I’m planning to make another this week. The Darwin Garden is alive and well. Yaaaaaaay!


Eco-Saturday: Make your own soap

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. Continue reading Eco-Saturday: Make your own soap

Vegan Friday: Stuffed mushrooms

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

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

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

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.