December 21, 2009

"christmas dinner" cranberry porter

We started this beer around Thanksgiving. It's in bottles now and should be ready in time for Christmas! It's a cranberry porter roughly based on a recipe we found online. You may have already heard mention of this porter in Eric's spent grain bread and pancakes posts. I thought I would give it a formal introduction.

We came up with its name "Christmas Dinner" while boiling the wort. Here is the back story: do you remember in the Muppets/Sesame Street Christmas special when the Swedish Chef shows up to prepare Christmas dinner and mistakes Big Bird for the Christmas turkey? Swedish Chef tried to cook Big Bird! Luckily Big Bird won over the Swedish Chef with his charm and a gift of chocolate covered bird seed. They end up eating a vegetarian meal of shredded wheat and cranberry sauce.

So, yes, that's how our beer got its name. Who needs meat for Christmas dinner when you can have beer?

December 20, 2009

seeded wheat crackers

Eric made crackers. I don't know how. If you're curious, you'll have to ask him.

You: "Eric, how bout those crackers?"
Eric: "Okay, they were inspired by Chicago Green Roof Growers' homemade crackers. I just cut them with a pizza cutter halfway through baking."

December 19, 2009

laptop bag

I finally gave in and bought a sewing machine. I had been looking the past year at garage sales and on craigslist, but I couldn't find anything to my liking. Meanwhile, my list of clothes repairs and craft projects had been growing. So one cold and crafty afternoon I walked over to the fabric store where they were having holiday sales. I ended up walking home with a brand new sewing machine.

This laptop bag was at the top of my craft list. I had been transporting my laptop to cafes wrapped in a pillow case stuffed inside my backpack or purse. I mean, this method works fine, I just was getting a little tired of all of the extra pillow case fabric. Also, I was totally jealous of a friend's homemade courdoroy laptop bag... FYI, I love buttons. I have a small collection. I really like the one I picked out for this project.

December 18, 2009

miso mayo

We are big fans of Miso Mayo, a vegan mayonnaise alternative which, in my opinion, tastes a lot better than nayonaise or vegenaise or even real mayonnaise. It doesn't really taste like mayonnaise at all, but it is great for dipping steak fries and on sandwiches. And miso is like, really good for you, or something. But, it is a little pricey, so I wanted to try reverse-engineering the recipe so I could make it from scratch. It turned out to be really easy and tastes pretty true to the store-bought version.

8 T. canola oil
5 T. white/yellow miso
2 T. apple cider vinegar
1 t. onion powder
1 t. soy sauce

Mix all ingredients and it's done!

December 12, 2009

peanut butter rum balls

RUMBLE! RUMBLE! RUMBLE! What's that sound? It means I'm hungry for a RUMBALL!

1-1/2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup good rum
1 cup ground walnuts
1/4 cup cocoa powder
powdered sugar

Combine all of the above ingredients except powdered sugar. Shape into small balls or whatever size you prefer. Roll in powdered sugar. Store in a tightly covered container.

December 9, 2009

homemade vanilla extract

When Eric was in San Francisco a couple of months ago, he stopped for ice cream at a shop that happened to be handing out free vanilla beans as a promotional thing. What do you do with vanilla beans??

Well, it's funny how things work... Around that same time I discovered that my coworker who had infused bacon in his vodka also makes homemade vanilla extract and it's surprisingly simple. Drop several vanilla beans into a bottle of rum or brandy or vodka (we did rum). Then let it infuse for several months. Et voila! You can even keep the bottle going. My coworker has been using the same bottle of vanilla extract for years by adding more vanilla beans and rum as necessary. I guess his bottle is pretty crammed with vanilla beans at this point. Side note, you should check out his blog: FlavorGeek.

December 6, 2009

bee documentary: sister bee

(photo from

I just watched "Sister Bee", a 30 minute documentary about bees and beekeepers. It was filmed in Boulder, CO and was recommended to me during my permaculture course. I enjoyed how "Sister Bee" showcased the passion of beekeepers, but otherwise it was pretty introductory. There is one woman, Julie Finley, who I wish I could have heard more from. The film ever so lightly touches on her top bar hives. And for serious, she works with the bees without a bee suit?! The film doesn't even get into how she is capable of that!

Julie Finley seemed to have a similar fringe approach to beekeeping as Kelly Simmons who taught the backyard beekeeping portion of my permaculture course. Since Sister Bee didn't get into fringe beekeeping, I will share my class notes:

Bees are pollinators originally from the tropics. Europeans eventually imported bees and decided that larger bees were better because the honeycombs would have larger spaces and thus hold more honey. Basically over the years, the European beekeepers selectively kept colonies based on bee size.

Have you heard that our honey bees are mysteriously dying? One theory out there is that there are mites that get to the bee larva. The European honey bees that everyone keeps are larger and take just a little bit longer to develop. That little bit longer might be the amount of time that the mites need to take control. Following that logic you might not want European honey bees for you backyard bees even though they are "more productive". Besides, if you're into caring for the earth and promoting species diversity, you wouldn't buy a white leghorn chicken when you could get an American Livestock Breed like houdan, would you?

Back to bee history. Originally to get honey from wild bees, a person would tear apart a bee hive, effectively killing the colony. Beekeepers devised a kinder method of taking honey from the bees. They created potentially removable building platforms by laying sticks along the top of a beekeeping basket. This rudimentary top bar method has been around for thousands of years. Beekeeping was made more precise and gentler for the bees by Langstroth in 1851. He made boxes with removable frames spaced bee width apart. Then to expidite the honey making process and ensure uniformity, people filled the frames with pre-formed honeycombs. The Langstroth hive is very common. If you meet someone who keeps bees, it's probably what they use. Only problem is that Langstroth is pretty pricey.

Top bar hives were modernized and brought to Kenya to empower the people there. Kenyans could construct the simple design on their own with scrap materials and quickly move into the business of beekeeping. The modern top bar design is a V shaped box with bars at the top. The bees go in and construct their own parabolic shaped combs and fill them with honey. To remove honey you simply take out a few bars, cut off the wax and honey, and return the bars. No special honey extracting equipment is needed and the colony is disturbed locally unlike in Lanstroth where you remove the entire lid off the box.

This actually relates back to the health of honey bees subject. Maybe our honey bees are dying because we stress them out all the time and they don't have the strength to overcome whatever is killing them. Instead of exposing them frequently to check on them and harvest as much honey as possible, we could let the bees do their thing and harvest once a year in late spring (after they've made it through the winter). Perhaps it's a matter of entering into beekeeping with a different agenda 1) to help out an awesome keystone species 2) to have your veggie garden (along with all of your neighbors' veggie gardens) pollinated 3) to occasionally get some honey.

As an apartment dweller I think, "Yeah yeah, our town has a beekeeper who sells his honey at the farmer's market. I'm covered for pollination and honey." The funny thing is that many local small business beekeepers earn their money more from renting out their little pollinators than from selling honey.

Sounds like a win win situation, right? The bees get to frequent orchards in the winter. The beekeeper gets plenty of nectar for his bees to make honey. Thing is, it's not that easy. The little pollinators are trucked great distances to massive agribusiness orchards. Imagine getting jostled around in a truck for days with your door locked, then blindly released into a pesticide filled orchard. These bees are stressed! The beekeepers, of course, care deeply about their bees so they aid with antibiotics. Sigh.

In conclusion, keeping your own bees and being "fringe" about it could really help. If you can't keep bees yet or you don't ever see yourself as a beekeeper, you could help the bees by planting bee forage!

December 5, 2009

November 30, 2009

pumpkin tartlets

I think I've said this before, but I think mini food is awesome. Maybe I like it because it is a self-contained single serving that I can take on the go. Maybe it's that I can eat an entire pie (or 2) all by myself without having to share. Or really it could simply be that mini food is super cute.

My friend Tom is particularly into mini pies. His mini pie passion inspired me to buy some tartlet pans (with removable bases). I decided to make pumpkin tartlets which are basically mini pumpkin pies. Tis the season! I actually had never made a pumpkin pie before (unwarranted childhood food prejudice) much less a tiny one much less one from scratch much less a vegan one. I modified this recipe for the crust and this recipe for the filling. Of course, without eggs in the filling, it doesn't seem as custardy as I vaguely remember. That's fine by me. Eric says he likes them a lot and that's all that matters in my world.

Makes: 9 tartlets

Crust Ingredients:
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. powdered sugar
1/4 t. salt
3/4 c. very cold vegan margarine, cut into small pieces
2 egg equivalent in egg replacer

Filling Ingredients:
2 c. baked sugar pumpkin pulp, pureed
1 12 oz. can of coconut milk
1/2 c. packed dark brown sugar
1/3 c. white sugar
1/2 t. salt
3 egg equivalent in egg replacer
2 t. cinnamon
1 t. ginger, ground
1/4 t. nutmeg, ground
1/4 t. cloves, ground
1/4 t. cardamon, ground
1/2 t. lemon juice

Mix together the dry crust ingredients. Add remaining and mix until the dough forms crumbly chunks. Gather the chunks into a ball and refrigerate for a couple of hours.

Cut a sugar pumpkin in half. Scoop out the seeds and stringy mess. Save the seeds to bake for a snack later. Bake the pumpkin halves face down on baking sheets for 30 minutes at 450 degrees F. Let cool. Scoop out the pumpkin pulp and puree.

Mix the sugar and spices for the filling. Mix in the remaining filling ingredients. Take the dough out of the fridge. Divide. roll out, and form the crusts in the tartlet pans. Fill with pumpkin filling. Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees F and then 45 minutes at 350 degrees F.

November 26, 2009

vegan green bean casserole

Happy Thanksgiving! This green bean casserole looks pretty lonely. Fear not! We are heading over to a potluck where it can mingle with cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and wine. Mmm...

I modified Alton Brown's recipe to be vegan and more our style. Ours features the green beans we canned this summer, but frozen or store-bought canned beans work just as well.

Topping Ingredients:
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 t. salt

Sauce Ingredients:
2 T. canola oil
1 lb. mushrooms, diced
1 t. salt
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 t. nutmeg, ground
3 T. all-purpose flour
1 c. veggie broth
1 c. almond milk
3 pints of home canned green beans, cut in 2 inch segments

Preheat the oven to 400. Toss together the onions, flour, and salt. Grease a baking sheet with canola oil and spread out the onions. Throw them in the oven (middle rack) and toss every 5 to 10 minutes. Bake for about a total of 30 minutes or until golden. We had issues with uneven baking so next time I think we will just fry the onions.

In a pot, cook the mushrooms, salt, pepper, and canola oil over medium heat. After 5 minutes the mushrooms should be sweating. Add garlic and nutmeg and cook for another minute. Mix in flour and cook for another minute. Add the veggie broth and almond milk. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes. Mix in the green beans and 1/2 of the baked onions. Pour into a 9x13 baking dish and top with the remaining baked onions. Bake at 400 for 15 minutes.

rose hips

On a bike ride the other day, I came across a few rose bushes that were loaded up with rose hips. I loaded myself up with 11 oz of these fruits that have numerous health benefits. They are best harvested after the first frost makes them kinda squishy. Last year, we dried out our harvested rose hips for tea, so this year I wanted to make something more wet, like rose hip honey freezer jam:
Someone told me that you could put raw rose hips in a food mill to extract the pulp from the seeds. It didn't work out so well for me--the flesh was just too stuck to the seeds. Maybe it would work in a motorized juicer.

So, instead I stewed the rose hips in water for a long time and strained them through a jelly bag. I cooked some sugar into the liquid to make rose hip syrup. I put the now cooked seed-pulp through our food mill (thanks Davey for giving it up!) and was able to get about half a cup of pulp out. I combined with an equal amount of honey to make this delicious jam. I'm keeping it in the freezer because the water content might be too high to safely leave out as you would with honey. Luckily, it doesn't freeze solid, so it is convenient to pull out to spread on spent grain bread. Technically, this still contains the irritating hairs that surround the seeds, but they've been cooked so much they haven't bothered me yet. The cooked berries have long been used in native cooking, in soups and stews, as well as a dinner vegetable, served with butter and salt.

The pulpy seeds that were left in the food mill looked like they would be good for some more flavor, so I stewed and strained them again and boiled with sugar to make another syrup. This second one came out pretty thick...almost like candy.

November 24, 2009

spent grain bread

Here is another use for spent grain from beer brewing. Check out the swirl made by the dark malts! The bread and the pancakes both used small amounts of spent grain for flavoring, but they aren't a good way to use up large quantities. We still have a lot of grain left--almost 3 lbs. If we were doing all-grain brewing, I would want to find some animals to feed it to or try using it to grow mushrooms.

I found the bread recipe here. The recipe called for 32 oz. of beer, but who wants to waste beer when there's spent grain to use?

Makes 2 large loaves or 1 extra-large loaf.

2 1/4 lbs. unbleached all-purpose flour (8 3/4 c.)
10 1/2 oz. whole wheat flour (2 1/2 c.)
32 oz. water
2 t. instant yeast
1 oz. salt (1 1/2 T.)
7 oz. wet mash "spent grain", not pureed (2 c.)

Fold in the spent grain after kneading and before rising. Otherwise do the normal bread making things.

spent grain pancakes

Last night we started brewing a batch of cranberry porter. I've been trying to figure out ways to use the (potentially delicious) spent grain. Pancakes are one idea. These pancakes have a dark color and flavor because the spent grains from our porter included chocolate malt and black malt. I also made tea with the spent hops, and it made me sleepy.

This recipe is based on Tom's vegan pancake recipe.

Serving Size: 4

2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 T. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 T. sugar
2 c. non-dairy milk (we used almond)
1/2 c. water
1 T. canola oil
2 c. spent grain, pureed in food processor
1 t. caraway seed, ground (optional)

Mix dry. Mix wet. Combine. Make pancakes. Great with applesauce!

November 22, 2009

soap making

I took a soap making class a couple of weeks ago. We made mint soap and lavender soap out of coconut oil, vegetable shortening, walnut oil, lye, distilled water, essential oils and natural dyes. The process was simpler than I imagined. Carefully mix the lye with distilled water, let it react somewhere that you won't be breathing (like outside), and let it cool to a specified temperature. Meanwhile, warm up the fats to a specified temperature. Mix the lye water with the warmed fats. Stir until you can drip the mixture along the surface and see a mark or trace. This visual cue is called "tracing." Add the essential oils and natural dye. Pour everything into your modded out milk carton molds. Wait 2 weeks or so to take the soap out of the molds. Slice and dice. Wait an additional 2 week for the soap to harden and neutralize in terms pH. Then use, gift or sell your glorious soap!

Modern day soap making is pretty precise and scientific with lye and refined fats. The precision allows people like myself to jump into the craft relatively easily. Just follow the recipe! Back in the day, however, people would mix whatever fats they had on hand with wood ash water. With far less precision, I imagine that people spent a lifetime developing the finesse to craft quality soap. I might try the wood ash method someday just to try it...

November 21, 2009

garlic for victory soup

I caught a cold (frown). Since being sick is no fun and since garlic cures all, Eric and I made some garlic soup while listening to Garlic for Victory. We followed this online recipe exactly except we doubled the garlic. Doesn't the photo feel like you're in a French still life? Sigh... Get me a baguette! Maintenant! Dedicated to Areta Kovalskyj.

Serving Size: 6

6 c. water
4 potatoes, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 onion, diced
4 bulbs garlic, peeled
1/2 t. thyme
dash of cayenne pepper
salt to taste

We like adding a bit of a the garlic at the very end, so it has a bite. If you add too much, you can always mellow it by cooking.

November 15, 2009

chocolate chili corn muffins with whiskey cream sauce

Last night, a friend hosted her second annual Iron Chef birthday potluck. This year's theme ingredients were chocolate, cayenne, and whiskey. Julie and I had fun coming up with and preparing this dish. Working with constraints can really open up creativity. I mean, really, who thought whiskey could taste so good in so many things? Also, we discovered a new favorite, chocolate chili!

November 14, 2009

pumpkin pancakes

Eric made me pumpkin pancakes this morning! We've been eating pumpkin non-stop this week because I baked and pureed the flesh of a 22 lb pumpkin. So far we've had pumpkin seeds, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin polenta, pumpkin chili, maple syrup pumpkin purée, and now pumpkin pancakes. Pumpkin pancakes were definitely a highlight. Anybody have any other pumpkin purée suggestions?

Serving size: 14 unconventionally shaped/sized pancakes (for 3-4 people)

(recipe borrows heavily from Cookography)

Dry Ingredients:
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
3 T. white sugar
1 t. salt
1 t. ground cinnamon
dash of nutmeg
2 t. yeast

Wet Ingredients:
1 c. milk (we used soy)
1 c. pumpkin, puréed
1/4 c. oil
1/2 c. chocolate chips
1/2 c. water

Mix dry ingredients then mix in wet, adding 1/2 c. or more water for thinner pancakes. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Let sit out at room temperature for 30 minutes or more before cooking.

November 11, 2009

sichuan peppers

I've been really liking the Sichuan peppers (aka Szechuan peppers) I got from the asian grocery. Although they look like peppercorns, they're not related to black pepper or chili peppers. They give a numbing or tingly sensation with a little bit of lemony tang. They work well in a hand grinder for black pepper, which is good because Julie won't let me put them in anything she eats.

I bit my lip the other day, so I tried grinding up some sichuan peppers and applying the powder as an alternative to benzocaine. It worked, but I think the (unrelated) Szechuan buttons (aka toothache plant) would work better. I'll have to try to get some from the guy at the farmers' market who subtly sprinkled some petals in my hand, giving me an electric surprise.

November 9, 2009

backpack drumset

(photo by vanessa oniboni)

While we're on the subject of bikes and hauling stuff around town, I just love this short documentary of my brother's backpack drumset!

November 8, 2009

improved bike trailer hitch design

Although there will be two winter farmers market events, yesterday was the last official market. We stocked up on potatoes and winter squash, carrying them home on our homemade bike trailer. I tweaked the hitch design so it is now more stable with three connection points instead of two.

old design:
old trailer hitch design

There are a lot of good hitch designs out there that you can buy, but I didn't find any that would be compatible with our trailer (without additional welding), which we made from bent and welded 3/4" EMT conduit in Pat's dad's awesome metal shop. The design is a modified version of the popular "flatsy" bike trailer design:
2009.11_trailer bike trailer design

Other makin' and usin' photos from Pat

November 7, 2009

community supported agriculture: season summary

Back in February, we signed up for a full veggie share with Abbondanza Organic Seed & Produce. From the beginning of June until the end of October, we received a pile of veggies once a week (sometimes every other week). This kind of farmer/consumer relationship is called community supported agriculture (CSA). It was a great experience that we will continue in future years. In all we received 225 lbs of veg.

(photos above can be seen in more detail on flickr)

November 5, 2009

holy scrap hot springs

This past weekend we went to the Holy Scrap Hot Springs homesteader gathering in Truth or Consequences, NM, where we met some great people and learned a lot of DIY skills. Subjects included how to make tempeh from scratch, how to transform coconut flakes into coconut butter and raw coconut "cheese" cake, how to cook in a dutch oven, how to carbonate soda, how to keep bees, how to work on a bike, and how to maintain and care for batteries.

Other highlights included doing yoga in the mornings,
soaking in the hot springs under starry skies, finding ridiculous Halloween costumes, plasma cutting a keg, and scoring loofah seeds in a seed swap. Soon enough I will be growing my own sponges!

October 28, 2009

kombucha leather

I had read about dried kombucha or vinegar SCOBYs being used as a leather substitute for shoe-making during economic downtimes. These days, it could be valued as a homemade vegan leather substitute--but I haven't found any reports from someone who has actually tried it. As a small test project, I tried using a piece of the dried out "cellulose leather" to patch a hole in some old crochet-back leather bike gloves. I think it was a success. The "celluleather" is surprisingly strong. It is smooth, flexible, and full of character.

The "kombucha leather" is layers of cellulose created by the acetic acid bacteria Acetobacter xylinum. I love that the bacteria does all the hard cellulose-making work for me. The cyborg gloves now contain material from three kingdoms: animal (leather), plant (crocheted cotton backing), and bacteria (kombucha leather patch), as well as petrochemical-based foam padding and polyester-core thread.

Finished product (more photos on flickr):

October 24, 2009

squash lentil soup

Autumn soups... mm-mmmm!! I didn't feel like measuring ingredients, but here's what I threw in: pureed winter squash, red lentils, potatoes, apples, onion, chard, lots of sage, coriander, cumin, ginger, cayenne pepper, salt, vinegar, water.

October 21, 2009


This beverage, made by soaking sumac berries in cold water, tastes remarkably like lemonade. I got the idea from the collaborative map on Urban Edibles Boulder, which had the location of sumac listed along with a suggestion of how to use it. Urban Edibles originally started in Portland, OR and there is another branch in Amsterdam, as well as similar projects in Urbana-Champaign, IL and Los Angeles.

The berries can be stored and used throughout the winter--a good way to get vitamin C! This article has a nice description of sumac and sumac-ade. Here are some ways the berries have been used medicinally:

"An infusion of the fruits has been used as a tonic to improve the appetite and as a treatment for diarrhea. The berries are astringent and blood purifier. They were chewed as a remedy for bed-wetting. A tea made from the berries has been used to treat sore throats." (Littleflower)

You can easily tell the edible sumacs (including staghorn and smooth) from the poison sumac, which has white berries. If you are allergic to cashews and mangos, you probably should stay away from all sumacs as they are in the same family.

I want to try using the foraged sumac berries to make the reddish purple powder that is used to garnish hummus and other middle eastern foods. I don't know how to go about separating the seeds from the powder though... Has anyone out there tried this?

October 14, 2009

national animal identification system

"I’m willing to go to jail to defend the young people who, I hope, will still have a possibility of becoming farmers on a small scale in this supposedly free country." ~Wendell Berry

Thank you, Wendell! I like to fancy myself with a flock of unregistered laying ducks someday... Read more about Wendell Berry's response to the National Animal Identification System (NAIS).

October 12, 2009

vegan tiramisù

Happy Birthday Julie!! I based this recipe on 3 recipes that I found online. For the custard, I combined "greta's gluten-free, vegan tiramisu" with "giovanna's true tiramisu." For the cake I used "giovanna's true tiramisu". And finally for the cake syrup I followed "shawn maurer's vegan tiramisu."

Custard Ingredients:
2 containers of extra firm silken tofu (mori-nu)
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. coconut milk
4 T. rum
3 T. amaretto
3 t. vanilla extract
6 T. coconut milk
4 t. arrow root

Cake Ingredients:
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 t. baking powder
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. soy milk
1 1/2 t. vanilla
4 1/2 t. egg replacer + 6 T. warm water (equivalent to 3 eggs)
5 T. vegan margarine

Cake Syrup Ingredients:
1 c. strong coffee
3 T. amaretto
3 T. sugar

and cocoa powder for sprinkling on the top

Wrap the tofu in cheese cloth and squeeze out excess moisture. Blend in a blender until smooth. Add the sugar, coconut milk, rum, and amaretto and blend again. In a sauce pan, mix the arrow root with 6 T. coconut milk until completely dissolved. Heat it over medium heat until it coagulates. Then heat and whisk for another 3 minutes. Pour the arrow root mixture into the blender and blend one last time. Refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven for the cake. Heat margarine and soymilk just until the margarine melts. Add the sugar, vanilla, and egg replacer. In another bowl mix the dry ingedients. Mix wet and dry ingredients together until just combined. Spread out the batter in 2 9x13 pans if you want a 2 layered tiramisu otherwise 1 pan will do. Bake for 20 minutes. Cut into 1"x3" pieces (lady finger sized). Throw the cut cake pieces back in the oven for 5 minutes.

When the custard is ready to go (it has spent some time in the fridge), dip the cake pieces in the cake syrup. They should get pretty saturated. Then lay them out in a dish and spread on the custard. Do 2 layers if that's the way you chose to go. Then dust the top custard layer with cocoa powder. You can let it sit overnight or honestly you can just dig in.

October 4, 2009

sauerkraut and pickles

"hey julie! how's it going? what's new?"
"oh, good. ummm... i've been making sauerkraut and different kinds of pickles..."
(awkward silence)

October 1, 2009

zucchini corn cakes with fresh salsa

We had a brief cold front come through last week - 3 nights at 36 degrees. Now again this week we are getting a cold front but this one will dip down to 32 degrees tonight! Sigh, our tomato plants are looking pretty droopy... This will probably be the last of our fresh tomato gluttony.

Serving Size: 24 zucchini corn cakes, 2 cups fresh salsa

Zucchini Corn Cake Ingredients:
4 medium zucchini, shredded
3 ears corn
1/2 red onion, minced
3 eggs
3 c. whole wheat
2 T. cilantro, minced
2 t. salt
1/2 t. black pepper
1/2 t. jalapeno pepper, minced

Fresh Salsa Ingredients:
2 lbs. tomatoes
1/4 c. red onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. cilantro, minced
1 T. olive oil
1 T. lime juice
1 t. jalapeno pepper, minced
1 t. salt

Salt the shredded zucchini and let it sit for awhile. Shuck and blanch the corn. Remove the corn kernels from the cobs. Squeeze the zucchini to remove as much moisture as you can. Mix together all of the zucchini corn cake ingredients. Grab balls of the cake batter and flatten. Pan fry the cakes in some oil over medium low heat.

For the salsa, make really shallow X's in the bottom of your tomatoes. Blanch them by boiling them for 1-2 minutes and then putting them under cold water to stop the cooking. Blanching will help the skins come off super easy. Peel the tomatoes and cut them laterally (side to side not top to bottom). Remove the seeds from the seed pockets. Chop the remaining tomato flesh and add other ingedients.

September 27, 2009

"reclaim your palate" spice rack

I made this spice rack out of reclaimed pallet wood, as part of the OPENworkshop put on in Summer 2007 by OPENSOURCE Art in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. I realized that I never put a picture of the final product on the OPENworkshop blog, so I decided to take some pictures and write up a little about how I made this simple spice rack.

The rack was designed to fit spice jars up to 2" in diameter, and will fit 30 of these jars. There is lots of space underneath the stairs for storing bulk spice bags and other oddments.

First, we stripped the crossboards off of a bunch of trash-pile pallets. We developed a pretty good method using a circular saw and a pry-bar. Details of the method are described in this post on the OPENworkshop blog. Basically, you saw all the cross-boards in the center so they are easier to pry off. After prying the boards off, the next step is removing the nails from all of the boards using a hammer--hammering from behind and then prying from the front. The nails leave behind cool holes and discoloration patterns that add some character to your finished product.

Next, we planed all of the wood smooth with the electric planer that was generously lent to us, along with many of the other tools, for the OPENworkshop. The electric planer is a really nice tool when working with reclaimed wood. You could do the same with a hand plane, but I imagine it would take a lot longer.

Different pallets will yield different board lengths and thicknesses. There were a good number of pieces that were around 20" long, 3.5" wide, and 0.5+" thick (they must have been 1x4's originally), so I decided to use these for the spice rack. Using a table saw, I ripped seven of the pieces so that they were 2.5" wide. Using a miter saw, I cut them all down to 18" long. I used the planer again to get them all down to the uniform thickness of 0.5".

Then I made three 'T' shapes, screwed the three 'T's together, and then added a back. Then I traced the shape of these stair steps onto a miscellaneous pallet board (at least 4" x 7.5") and cut out two of these supports with a jigsaw. Screw the stairs to the two supports and you're done.
You can tell that I am not an experienced woodworker. I bought brass screws that were more decorative than anything else--the recess stripped incredibly easily.

I've thought about adding some side rails to keep jars from falling off the side, but I haven't really found them necessary and I like the more minimal look. I've also thought about staining or applying some sort of sealant to protect the wood from the liquid dangers of the kitchen, but I'm afraid anything I do will cover up the wood grain or make the finish too shiny, so I've just left it and it has been fine. More photos of the spice rack are on flickr.

You really can make a lot from reclaimed wood. Check out Louis's diagrams showing his system for converting pallet wood and drywall scraps into a modular shelving system or lamps. Mike also made an incredible Illinois shelf.

September 23, 2009

summer gumbo

Traditionally, summer gumbos are thickened with okra and winter gumbos are thickened with filé powder (dried and ground sassafras leaves--instructions for making at home). This is a summer gumbo, but I'm going to keep an eye out for sassafras leaves (ghosts and mittens!) to save for the winter. Also, I need to remember gumbo z'herbes next time we have buttloads (1 butt = 126 gallons) of greens that we don't know what to do with. Dedicated to Caitlin Bergo.

2 T. shortening (or margerine or oil)
2 T. all purpose flour
1 medium onion, diced
2 bell peppers, finely chopped (green or purple)
1 pint (10 oz by weight) okra
1 qt water
2 t. bouillon paste
1 big bunch chard (optional, or any other greens)
3 cloves garlic
1 T. lemon juice
1/2 t. liquid smoke
2 c. cooked red or black beans
1 T. thyme
2 bay leaves
dash ground allspice
dash ground cloves
2 t. salt (to taste)

First make the roux: In a large pot, heat the shortening and mix in the flour, stirring a lot. Cook the roux until it is as dark as you want it; a darker roux will have a stronger flavor that might obscure the okra flavor. But watch out, it is easy to burn, especially if you use margerine or butter instead of oil, shortening (or lard or clarified butter). Then, add in the chopped onion and garlic, saute for a bit (you might have to add more oil), then add green pepper and saute for a bit more. Then add the okra, the quart of water and the bouillon (or homemade stock). If you saute the okra, it might dry out, losing the mucilaginous effect. Chop the chard into thin strips and add to the pot, along with the cooked beans, lemon juice, liquid smoke, thyme, bay leaves, allspice, and cloves. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Add salt to taste. Serve over rice.

sidenote: pressure cooking beans

I forgot to soak my beans overnight, so I decided to try pressure cooking them in our pressure canner. This is the first time we've tried cooking in the canner, but I figured I'd give it a try because it reduces the cooking time from 2 hours to 2 minutes! Now, you are still supposed to soak beans overnight before cooking them in the pressure cooker "for even cooking and to remove water-soluble, gas-producing starches." I did the "quick-soak" method which means you boil the beans for 2 minutes, turn off the heat and leave covered, go to the farmer's market and lay in the sun by the creek for an hour, then return home to find your beans are ready to be cooked for an additional 2 minutes at 15 psi. Apparently you should add 1 Tablespoon of vegetable oil to your beans to reduce the likelihood of froth or foam blocking the vent pipe (and never fill the vessel more than 1/2 full). One of these days I want to hook up a current transformer (CT) to our electric range to measure the energy savings using a pressure canner/cooker.

September 19, 2009

"lost wisdom" pale ale

This was is our first attempt at making beer. We followed this recipe, but dry-hopped with some chinook hops too. I think it turned out pretty good. It has a little bit of a banana ester thing going on. Half the fun of brewing beer is coming up with a name (and label if you are more ambitious) for your beer. We decided to call our beer and mead making endeavors "Cute Owl Friend" after a drawing I made once. We named this beer "Lost Wisdom" because after watching a friend make the same recipe, we forgot the directions when it came time for us to make it. Also, here are some other things named "Lost Wisdom": link, link and link.

September 13, 2009

cauliflower samosas with cucumber raita

Honestly, you can't go wrong with deep fried snacks like samosas. I suppose that statement conflicts with my otherwise all-natural, healthy, hippie-self, but I feel I deserve some fatty foods every once in awhile considering my lean vegetarian diet. Besides, Indian food is totally hippie, right?

Samosa Filling Ingredients:
3 c. cauliflower, finely diced
2 c. potato, finely diced
1 c. carrots, finely diced
1 c. onion, finely diced
1 c. edamame (or peas)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. lime juice
1 T. ginger, frozen, minced
1 t. cumin, ground
1 t. corriander, ground
1/2 t. turmeric, ground
1/2 t. cayenne, ground
pinch of ground cloves
salt to taste

Samosa Dough Ingredients:
4 c. all purpose flour
3/4 c. water
3/4 c. vegetable oil
1 t. salt

Cucumber Raita Ingredients:
1 c. cucumber, peeled, seeds removed, finely diced
1/2 t. salt
1 c. yogurt
2 T. onion, minced
1/2 t. cumin, ground
1/2 t. corriander, ground

Prepare the filling by first sauteing the cauliflower, potatoes, carrots and onions until tender. Add the remaining filling ingredients and cook for a few more minutes. Set aside and allow to cool.

Mix the dough ingredients together. Knead for 10 minutes. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes. Grab a 1-2 inch diameter piece of dough. Roll it into a ball and flatten into a disc. Use a rolling pin (or in our case a wine bottle) to roll the disc into a thin 7 inch diameter circle. Cut the circle in half. With a half circle of dough, form a cone in your hand and press the edges together to seal. Fill the dough cone with cauliflower filling. Fold down the top and press to seal. It should look like a triangle. Repeat. When you are done shaping the samosas, fry them until golden.

To make the cucumber raita, start by salting the diced cucumbers. Let it sit for 10 minutes then gently squeeze out excess water. Add the remaining raita ingredients and serve!

September 7, 2009

pilgrimage to CRMPI

A greenhouse at CRMPI (Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute)

I heard about
permaculture when I lived in Illinois via Rob Scott of the School for Designing a Society and Bill Wilson of Midwest Permaculture. I didn't explore the topic much at the time. I apparently thought I was too busy with architecture studio. Silly me.

Luckily, I did not miss my chance because we happened to move to Boulder, Colorado where the
Transition movement and permaculture have a strong presence. I decided that it was time to really learn the concepts of permaculture by signing up for a course with Sandy Cruz and Barbara Mueser of High Alititude Permaculture. The course I signed up for is spread out over 8 months - one whole weekend per month. I am about 6 months in. It has been amazingly thought provoking and inspiring.

So, onto what this post is really about - my pilgrimage to
CRMPI (Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute). A few of my permaculture classmates (including Elizabeth Nitz of Weeds Rock) and myself headed out near Aspen to see what Jerome Osentowski has done with his land in 23 years.

Well, let me tell you, he has built an Eden. Not only that, it is within the challenging landscape of the Rocky Mountains - steep slopes, rocks, red clay, short growing seasons, etc. Where there would normally be pines, he has plums, apricots, apples, grapes, melons, peas, greens, fava beans, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, medicinal herbs, on and on and on.

Exhibit A for admiration: a fresh fig that was grown in Jerome's greenhouse, not flown in from California!

Exhibit B for admiration: Jerome's beautiful sheet mulch soil complete with earthworms!

If your interest in permaculture is at all piqued, check out what kind of courses are offered in your area of the country or voyage out to Colorado and take an intensive 2 week design course at CRMPI.

September 2, 2009

green chile

I was first exposed to green chile on my way to a Taos, NM. I flew to Albuquerque and caught a ride to Taos with the family I sat next to on the plane. They took me to a restaurant in Santa Fe and explained to me all about green chile and red chile and how the official state question is "red or green?" I like when regions have their own food specialties or trademarks: Chicago has deep-dish pizza; the Southwest (or more specifically New Mexico) has red and green chile.

So, when I saw tomatillos and smelled roasting green chiles at the farmers market last week, I decided I wanted to try making green chile for myself. If you've never eaten a raw tomatillo, do it. Inside the papery husk, the surface of the fruit is sticky and sweet, like honey. And the fruit itself is almost like a grape or berry (well, technically, it is a berry). Well, they have now all been mixed with chiles we roasted on the grill, along with onions, garlic, vegetable stock, and flour loosely following this recipe. We've been enjoying it on egg sandwiches, hashed cauliflower, and burritos. We also made a delicious uncooked tomatillo salsa.

August 24, 2009

homemade mozzarella

Fall semester starts tomorrow for Eric. Does that mean that the summer is over!? No, it couldn't be! Tomato season has just gotten into full swing!

jumping back into a hectic school schedule, I figured that he should enjoy his favorite meal ever - toasted bread with tomato, basil, garlic, and olive oil. To make it extra special we added in mozzarella cheese... that we made!

We've gotten our cheesemaking feet wet with paneer, but this was our first time making mozzarella. We followed instructions from Instructables, but we changed the recipe to 1/2 gallon whole milk, 1/4 c. distilled white vinegar, 10 drops vegetarian liquid rennet, 1/2 c. unchlorinated water, 1 t. salt.

We used distilled white vinegar instead of citric acid and vegetarian liquid rennet instead of rennet tablets. In the future we want to try replacing rennet with cardoons, wild thistle, globe artichoke (any composite thistle), safflower, melon, stinging nettle, fig, curdwort, mallow, sorrel (common or lemon), fumitory, and maybe borage because the internet said that we could... maybe. We'll let you know.