Missed a day.

Shoot. I forgot I hadn’t prefabbed a post for yesterday, so I missed a day. So much for NaBloPoMo in October, I guess. :/

Anyway. We went up to Foster Pond, Illinois, yesterday to have a late lunch at Dreamland Palace, a German restaurant I highly recommend if you’re anywhere within a couple of hours’ drive of the metro-east. Great food, and lots of it. I wanted hasenpfeffer because I am trying to convince Ron a small rabbit-breeding operation would be a worthwhile endeavor, and I figured a bite of ridiculously tender meat would help support my arguments.

It looks like Tractor Supply has the best price on the J-clip pliers I’ll need to assemble the rabbit cages.

Also, can we just talk about how much I love my Outback? I’d forgotten the luxury of doing things like going to the feed store for dog biscuits and coming home with a chicken coop without having to worry about logistics. Throw in the hard plastic liner in the cargo space, and I am head over feet for this car. I have no idea how I got by without a station wagon for 10 years. What was I thinking?

In other news, the motor in the all-in-one pond pump/filter/UV clarifier I bought last year burned up. With the water lettuce shading the water, I don’t really need UV, so I bought a new pump tonight at Lowe’s and a bucket of Oreo ice cream for $6.50 at Schnucks. As soon as I finish the ice cream, I’ll fill the bucket with scouring pads from the dollar store and inoculate it with pond water, thereby constructing a $75 filter for $10 worth of materials and $6.50 worth of ice cream.

DIY rocks.


Eco-Saturday: Blanket shades

Falsa blankets make inexpensive, insulative window coverings.
Falsa blankets make inexpensive, energy-efficient window coverings.

I swiped this idea from my mom, who made Roman shades out of quilts to insulate her windows. I’m too cheap to buy quilts — and much too lazy to make them — but I love falsa blankets, which fit my Southwestern sensibilities and can be had for $10 or less at just about any truck stop on Route 66.

To make a Roman shade out of a falsa blanket, you will need:

1. Falsa blanket
2. 15 small plastic rings
3. 1×2 about an inch longer than the width of your window
4. Three small screw eyes
5. Nylon cord
6. Sewing machine or needle and thread
7. Scissors
8. Cordless drill
9. Screwdriver
10. Pins
11. Three deck screws
12. Cleat hook

Instructions are below the fold. Continue reading Eco-Saturday: Blanket shades

Vegan Friday: Trail mix cookies

These all-natural vegan cookies are full of fruit, nuts and whole grain.
These all-natural vegan cookies are full of fruit, nuts and whole grain.

I hesitate to call these “low carb,” because there’s a ton of fruit in them, so I’m sure the sugar content is ridiculous, but they definitely have a higher good-stuff-to-crap ratio than a standard cookie, and I’m finding they satisfy junk-food cravings fairly nicely. They’ll also stand in for breakfast in a pinch; I’ve been eating them all week, and four or five of them will carry me through the day quite nicely. Apologies for the terrible photo quality; my iPhone camera decided to act the fool for some reason.


The must-haves
(Note that amounts are approximate)

3 overripe bananas
About 1 c. chopped dates
About 1/2 c. natural peanut butter
About 2 c. rolled oats
About 1 c. shredded coconut (optional, but increase the oats if you don’t use it)

Other niceties
Raisins, chopped nuts, finely chopped dried fruit, vegan chocolate chips, sunflower seeds, whatever


Mashed bananas and chopped dates provide the sweetness.
Mashed bananas and chopped dates provide the sweetness.

Mash up the bananas. Stir in dates and peanut butter. If using raisins, nuts, etc., you can stir those in now. (I used a handful each of some golden raisins and black walnuts I had on hand.)

Peanut butter adds fat and protein.
Peanut butter adds fat and protein.

Add oats until your thick batter turns into a thick dough. You want it sticky but thick enough that the cookies hold together when you drop them onto the cookie sheet. If using coconut, add it with the oats.

Grease a cookie sheet (I have become a giant fan of Baker’s Joy, but plain old margarine would work just fine) and drop heaping tablespoons of the dough onto it. You don’t need to leave much space between the cookies, because they won’t spread or rise as they bake.

Add rolled oats until the batter becomes a thick, sticky dough.
Add rolled oats until the batter becomes a thicky, sticky dough.

Bake at 350 degrees until tops are browned and cookies are fairly firm when you touch them. If they seem gooey or squishy, they need to bake longer. If they’re soft but springy, they’re ready.

Makes about 40 cookies.

A word on Ebola

Started my morning ridiculing some particularly irresponsible headlines about Ebola, which has now infected a grand total of three people in the United States (two of whom were treating the first one, who picked it up while rushing a sick woman to the hospital in Liberia).

Got to work late (largely because I’d wasted half my morning on Twitter, making fun of the panicky headlines) and was promptly assigned a last-minute story about whether our local hospitals are prepared to handle an Ebola patient if one shows up.

God bless our local public-safety folks, who all said, in essence: “Yes, we’re taking logical steps to deal with it in the unlikely event it happens. No, you’re not going to get Ebola. Now, go get your damn flu shot.”

Here’s a cold, hard fact: In the United States, your chances of winning the Powerball jackpot are significantly higher than your chances of dying of Ebola.

Things that are far more likely to kill you than Ebola:

1. Lightning
2. Your dog
3. Obesity

Are you afraid of storms, household pets, or bacon cheeseburgers? If not, you probably need to quit worrying about Ebola and focus your energy on something more pressing — like whether San Francisco can get into the World Series so I don’t have to root for the damned Cardinals this year.


Little blessings

Little blessings today:

1. I tried this excellent yogurt recipe last night. It turned out well and saved me some major cleanup hassles. I’ll blog about it one Saturday in the near future.

2. I finally got hold of two sources I’ve been trying to reach for over a week, so the deadlines I’d been worried about suddenly became less worrisome. After 30 years, you’d think I’d be used to the last-minute nature of this business, but sometimes I lose the rhythm and forget that things have a way of coming together when I need them to, if not necessarily when I want them to.

3. I went to cancel our gym membership tonight, since we don’t use it as much as we’d hoped, and the contract was set to expire this month. The guy who filed my paperwork said if I’d come in one day later, I’d have ended up being billed for another month. I almost waited, because I was tired and hungry when I left the office, but I decided to get it out of the way so I wouldn’t have to think about it any more. SCORE.


My promise to you

So I’ve been spending more time on Pinterest since I dumped Facebook a couple of months ago, and I’m noticing an unfortunate trend that mirrors my experience with far too many cookbooks and magazines:

Vegetarian recipes — especially those of the vegan persuasion — are outrageously inconvenient and/or expensive.

Example du jour: I found a vegan tiramisu recipe tonight that looked promising — until I discovered it took nearly an hour to make and required me to make my own sponge cake and hunt down two containers of vegan whipped cream and some kind of prefabbed “coffee beverage” made of coconut milk.

Crap like this is why going vegetarian is so difficult. If people aren’t asking you to spend hours on fools’ errands, they’re sending you on scavenger hunts for things like vegan Cool Whip.

I won’t do this to you. I promise. Over the past nine and a half months, I’ve posted 39 recipes, I think, and IIRC, only three of them (hummus, tahini salad and nooch nachos) absolutely require the use of somewhat exotic ingredients — all things you’ll want to keep on hand if you do much vegan cooking anyway. The rest can be made on the fly, using ingredients you can find at any regular grocery store.

That was the whole point of Vegan Friday. I’m not a vegan at the moment, but I eat a lot more vegetarian meals now than I did before I started this project, because I have a nice assortment of cheap, fast, convenient recipes in my repertoire — and that was really my goal. When I know I can put a batch of fajitas or a plate of chili mac on the table in less time than it takes to drive through McDonald’s, I’m more likely to eat at home, and I’m betting you are, too.

I was thinking about ending Vegan Friday with the Dec. 26 edition, because my goal was to do it for a year, and I was afraid I’d run out of ideas. But I’m thinking instead of quitting, I might expand it a bit — maybe call it Vegetarian Friday and open it up to lacto-ovo recipes — and keep going. We’ve come a long way since 1992, when I literally had to draw a picture for the waitress while ordering pizza with a vegan scholar bowl teammate. But as Pinterest has demonstrated quite clearly, we still have a long way to go … and I kind of enjoy having a few readers along for the ride to keep me motivated.


P.S.: If you’re on Pinterest, you can follow Vegan Friday here and Eco-Saturday here.

Eco-Saturday: Hot sauce

Homemade hot sauce makes a pretty gift for the fire-eaters in your family.
Homemade hot sauce makes a pretty — and practical — gift for the fire-eaters in your family.

Ron questioned how homemade hot sauce could be considered beneficial for the environment. The answer, of course, is transportation. Home-canning anything you grew yourself (or even bought at a local farmer’s market) is better for the environment than buying canned goods at the store. Plus when you can at home, you get to reuse the container over and over. And my approach to hot sauce stretches the peppers, so you get two to three times the potential benefit out of a single harvest.

Do it right, and the amount of actual work involved in making hot sauce is less than the effort of driving to the store and buying it ready-made.

Stem the peppers, cut them up, and throw them in a Mason jar with salt and vinegar as you harvest.
Stem the peppers, cut them up, and throw them in a Mason jar with salt and vinegar as you harvest.

Start with a regular quart jar. Every time you go to the garden, pull off whatever peppers are ripe. Bring them in, pull off the stems, cut them into chunks, and throw them in the jar. Sprinkle them heavily with salt (preferably not iodized, as it may discolor them), add enough distilled vinegar to cover them, and put the lid on the jar.

Keep adding to the jar until it’s within an inch or so of being full.

When the jar is full and the peppers have steeped in the vinegar for a while, replace the lid with your blender blades.
When the jar is full and the peppers have steeped in the vinegar for a while, replace the lid with your blender blades.

At this point — assuming you used a standard Mason jar, and not the wide-mouth kind — you can simply screw your blender blades onto the jar, put it on the blender, and process it into a fiery orange puree.

Mmm … hot pepper smoothie.
Mmm … hot pepper smoothie.

Don’t drink it. (Unless you’re me, in which case, feel free to take a swig to clear your sinuses.)


To make a Louisiana-style hot sauce, pour the resulting puree through a standard kitchen strainer. A quart of puree should make about two half-pint jelly jars of virgin hot sauce.


At this point, you have several options. Your first option is to add more vinegar and salt, steep it another week or so, and strain it again. You can probably get away with this a couple of times before you start to exhaust the peppers’ flavor. Each subsequent batch will be less fiery and flavorful, so keep that in mind. If you’re making this as a gift, make sure the fire-eaters on your list get the first batch.

Your other option is to make sriracha. I recommend this option.

To make sriracha, cover the puree with salt and vinegar again. If you have any more peppers that have ripened, it’s fine to add them at this point; they’ll just make the sauce hotter.

Throw some fresh garlic into the jar and puree again. To make sriracha with pulp and seeds in it, skip the next two steps.

To make sriracha and chili sauce, ignore the puree for another week or so, then strain it again, pour the resulting liquid (about a half-pint) into a jelly jar and add sugar to taste. Transfer the pulp to a pint jar. The sweetened, strained sauce will taste like sriracha, and the pepper-garlic pulp will taste like the chili sauce you get at Chinese restaurants.

If you’re lazy and/or like the idea of a hybrid of sriracha and chili sauce, skip the second straining and just add a quarter-cup of sugar to your garlic-pepper-vinegar mix. Pour it into jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.

I canned a couple of Red Peter peppers for my little brother, who shares my macabre sense of humor.
I canned a couple of Red Peter peppers for my little brother, who shares my macabre — and frequently immature — sense of humor.

If you’re really lazy, you can skip all these steps and just harvest your peppers into jelly jars, salt them down, and cover them with distilled vinegar. This will produce a nice pepper vinegar that tastes magnificent on collards.

Regardless of which method you choose, you’ll need to can your sauce. Make sure the lid and the top of the jar are clean and free of any bits of pepper or moisture that could prevent a good seal. Screw down the lids tightly and process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.

When I give away hot sauce as gifts, I usually unscrew the band, put a second lid on top, and screw the band back down. The recipient can then use a churchkey to puncture the bottom lid — making a simple dispenser — and put the spare lid on top to keep it from spilling in the fridge when not in use.

Happy canning!


Vegan Friday: Fried pickles

You simply cannot go wrong with gratuitous salt and grease.
You simply cannot go wrong with gratuitous salt and grease.

The first time I ate fried pickles was at Smitty’s, a little diner just off the square in Oxford, Mississippi, while I was attending a conference with my high-school lit teacher. The biggest highlight of the day was meeting Stephen King, but those fried pickles were a close second. I mean, how can you go wrong with gratuitous salt and grease?

Fried Pickles
Feel free to double or triple the recipe, but be prepared to change your oil at least once or twice so it doesn’t get totally polluted with scorched flour. This recipe makes two servings.
1 c. flour
1/4 packet Italian dressing mix (optional; you can also use dill, parsley, taco seasoning, or whatever floats your boat)
1 c. cheap dill pickle slices
Canola or peanut oil

Heat oil in a heavy cast-iron skillet. I forgot to measure mine, but you want about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of oil in the bottom of the skillet.

While the oil heats, stir flour and seasoning together in a cereal bowl and dredge the pickle slices in it to coat. (If you want to speed this process up, you can also throw everything in a ziplock bag and shake it up. If you use a freezer bag, you can fill it up and freeze whatever you don’t use so the next round is faster.)

Fry the slices in oil, turning as needed, until they’re browned and crispy. Adjust the heat and add or change oil as necessary to keep it from smoking.

Drain the whole batch on a big plate lined with paper towels before you transfer it to your serving plate.
Drain the whole batch on a big plate lined with paper towels before you transfer it to your serving plate.

Drain on paper towels. I drain mine twice — when they come off the stove, I put them on a platter lined with paper towels, and when they’re cool enough to handle, I transfer them to smaller plates lined with paper towels to absorb a bit more of the oil and keep them from getting soggy.

Serve with mustard or ranch dressing. Goes well with Southern food.

If you like sweet pickles, you can fry them the same way and serve them with barbecue sauce.