March 29, 2010

stayin' alive

It's spring and our worms are still alive! Last winter, we awoke each morning to find a few worms had escaped their bin and dried out on the kitchen floor, in search of A) warmth, B) food, or C) moisture. We attribute their success this winter to two changes we made after buying a new batch of worms last spring:
  1. Insulation - Our kitchen has floor to ceiling north-facing glass as seen in the photo above (blech!) . We covered up the bottom half of of this window with a scrap piece of 2" polyiso. insulation board (R-13) to prevent the cold window from sucking radiant heat away from the worms. This of course led to condensation and ice between the glass and the insulation, so I propped the insulation up 1" to allow airflow behind the board. This means we aren't reducing the convective heat loss of the window, but at least there is no ice formation (and melting)!
  2. Worm smoothies - We now blend most of the kitchen scraps that we feed to the worms. This makes the food more immediately available to the worms ("worms are like straws") as opposed to waiting for other organisms to break it down first (which would slow in the winter due to lower temperatures). We don't bother blending tea or coffee grounds. This might not work as well in more humid climates or with plastic bins.
Below is a diagram of our worm bin. We put kitchen scraps and shredded paper at the top, adding a tray to the top as they fill up and removing the bottom trays when we want to harvest the worm compost for our container garden. We bought the bin from a guy in Denver but you could easily staple a few pieces of wood together and attach some wire mesh.

March 27, 2010

homemade honey oatmeal soap

About a month ago, a friend and I made a batch of honey oatmeal soap. It is finally done curing and ready for use!

March 20, 2010

vegan chicago-style deep dish pizza

As we've mentioned before, we rarely put cheese on homemade pizza--cheese is expensive and you can make pizza that tastes great without it, even Chicago-style deep dish pizza. Although this doesn't have the stringy cheese characteristic of of Chicago-style deep dish pizza, the tofu ricotta filling is quite good. We made this, along with the shepherd's pie for a pi day party and both were a hit.

The crust recipe we used is no longer online, but searching for a "Chicago style pizza crust" will yield many results.

I took 1 lb. extra-firm tofu, crumbled it and drained it in a colander. Then I mixed in some minced garlic, salt, and oregano. The sauce was 2 pints of our canned tomato sauce, cooked down to the right consistency, with olive oil, honey, oregano, and basil. After baking, sprinkle with "gomasio-ish parmesean": toasted sesame seeds, lightly ground with a bit of salt and nutritional yeast.

March 16, 2010

vegetarian shepherd's pie

Underneath the garlic chive mashed potatoes, I've got tempeh, carrots, green beans, mushrooms, and onions cooked in olive oil, soy sauce, molasses, red wine, parsley, and black pepper. Sorry, no measurements, only inspiration!

March 14, 2010

diy grow light

Time to start seedlings! Inspired by our friends Tom and Susan, we made this grow light. Store-bought grow lights can cost a pretty penny, but you can use standard linear fluorescents. You don't even need special full-spectrum lamps. Wikipedia and another source say that cool blue color temperature lamps are better for the initial growth stage, whereas the warm red-orange spectrum lamps are better for the flowering stage. Full-spectrum lamps can be ten times as expensive as standard lamps and are less efficient at providing the blue spectrum necessary for the initial growth stage. You can use one cooler color lamp and one warmer color lamp if you want to keep growing into the flowering stage. If you are a plant biologist, please correct me if I am wrong.

I think much of what you pay for in a commercial grow light is the super-duper reflector. We just used a section of round aluminum ductwork and it seems to work very well.

If you own your abode or if you have a cool landlord, you can simply hang the fluorescent fixture from the ceiling above your seedling table. Since we don't own and our landlord isn't that cool, we built a stand out of PVC pipe to hold up the fluorescent bulbs. From what we've read, you're supposed to keep fluorescent lights 4 inches above the tops of the plants, so we incorporated a method to raise and lower the lights by adjusting the length of chain.

Our total cost was about $35 but I am sure if you found a used 4 foot fixture you could do it for way less. For maximum energy efficiency, look for T8 or T5 lamps, and avoid T12s. We spent most of the $35 on a new, energy efficient 2 foot T5 fixture because we live in a tiny apartment where counter space is limited.

Here's what we used:
4 - 5" long 3/4" diameter PVC pipe (stand base)
2 - 28" long 3/4" diameter PVC pipe (stand base)
2 - 20" long 3/4" diameter PVC pipe (stand verticals)
1 - 28" long 3/4" diameter PVC pipe (stand top)
8 - 3/4" PVC tee connector (stand joints)
2 - 1 1/4" diameter rings (hang around the top of the stand)
2 - carabiners (connect the light fixture to the rings)
1 - 2-lamp T5 linear fluorescent light fixture
1 - grounded power cord
1 - switch
1 - 3x24" aluminum snap lock duct vent (light reflector)

Optional bits:
2 - 6" chains (to adjust the height of the light fixture)
2 - carabiners (to adjust the height of the light fixture)
1 - lighting timer (to turn the light on and off when you're not around)

March 9, 2010

ethiopian wat

Wat what? It's thick Ethiopian stew. Wats come in all sorts of flavors. Eric and I made a simple red lentil wat and a winter squash, chard, berber wat. We also made injera, a sour flat bread akin to crepes. Injera is actually the reason I crave Ethiopian food. Our injera was all teff flour which is supposed to be more authentic, but I am accustomed to the white flour/teff flour mix in our American Ethiopian restaurants so I think that's what we'll make next time. Oh, and it is important to know that you will not need utensils for your meal because you simply grab food with the injera.

March 2, 2010

pin cushion

Get it? It's like flowers in a flower pot. All Eric's idea, I just executed. If you're looking for another non-tomato pin cushion idea, Eric also suggested Geniol the Argentine cultural icon/aspirin advertisement.