Monday, April 21, 2014

Good News! I figured out a way to jam more tomatoes into my garden without giving up space to anything else!

Aren't you relieved?  I thought you might be.  You see, our back yard is in a state of total disrepair.  We have focused so much of our gardening energy into relandscaping our front yard that we totally ignored the back, save for adding a few more raised vegetable beds and dogproofing what we have in the back.  As such, all of the areas that at one point contained 15 year old bark mulch have been overtaken by weeds and grass, and the lawn has experienced the opposite effect.  A couple years of neglect and lacking water, and there are areas that have nothing growing on them.  It's a bad state of affairs in our back yard.  We have a big project this year, with some big decisions to be made in terms of whether we keep the lawn or try to make some sort of potager setup or orchardy thing.  I don't want to totally destroy our resale value, but we never use the lawn, and it seems like it'd be much more enjoyable to get some incredible flowers, vegetables, and fruits out of the yard instead of (occasionally) mowing the lawn and pulling weeds in areas that we never go into.  Regardless, the purpose of that rant was to describe the deplorable state of our back yard.  It's not looking good. We have a long and skinny garden bed along the front of the deck by our bedroom, which blocks off access to under the deck(dogproofing), and helps "finish off" the space a little (that is, when it looks nice). I have a wisteria vine that I put in a year or so ago (I have been warned), some honeysuckle, and I usually grow dahlias and piles of nasturtium in the bed.  And it's very pretty.  You know, for the 8 weeks out of the year that the nasturtium looks nice.  Otherwise, It looks like a bit of a wasteland with wilting vines (nasturtium seems to be very heat intolerant in our yard's baking hot full sun), unused dirt, or, every spring, shotweed, which is something that I can't seem to get a handle on.

 photo IMAG0068.jpg

I have also made the conscious decision to scale back on dahlias in the future.  They're such beautiful flowers, but I think they get too much sun in our yard and I don't give them enough water (I'm on a drought-tolerant kick right now, I hate watering), and frankly, they're just a little too fussy for me to concentrate on.  I want like 5 really good plants in one bed that I am likely to care for them in, and otherwise, none.  Anyway, I'm kicking them out of the long raised bed by our deck.  It is all the way full of shotweed.... like... the idea of trying to pull it gives me anxiety.  I figured I'll just lay down a few layers of newspaper and top it with some good topsoil, then start growing veggies there.  But then I realized that the newspaper (at least for a few months) will prevent seeds from setting roots far enough down to survive, so I'll need to plant actual plants, and I don't usually grow actual plants except for tomatoes, and could I grow tomatoes in that bed, and oh man, how haven't I seen this before?  The deck still has the supports from when we had corrugated plastic on it, and those would be perfect for stringing up tomatoes, and the elevated deck makes training them easier, and I could totally use the railing to make a tiny plastic tent for them til the weather warms up and oh man am I incredible or what?!  That happened in the shower, and I was so excited to get out of the shower and tell Craig about it that I nearly forgot to rinse the conditioner out of my hair.

So anyway, I will use the railing to make a small version of the plastic tent support, like I have in my bigger tomato bed, and then when they outgrow the small tent, I'll use the pergola-type thing to run the strings up to support the tomatoes, and that'll be that.  It'll still look bad for 2/3 of the year, but at least we'll nearly double our tomato capacity without removing anything that'll bother me.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Progress on Duckingham Palace, bit by bit. Stain edition

Things are progressing, slowly but surely.  We have been running into the perfect storm of illness (I have had no fewer than 3 very intense cold/flus this year), weather, and time commitments.  It seems like whenever we have some time off, it's pouring rain, and whenever it's nice outside, we are either working, or have other engagements.  C'est La Vie.  Things have progressed fairly slowly up until now.  At this point, we need to get a friend to take us to Home Depot to get a few more pieces of lumber (plans changed partway through the construction of the pen and we are going to end up needing more lumber than we currently have), plus some clear polycarbonate roofing material for the covered portion.

The pond portion is something that I have had a great deal of anxiety about.  We got the backing plates glued to the liner successfully(woohoo!!), and even got the big hole for the drain drilled out, we just had to drill the 4 auxiliary holes necessary for clamping the drain on, then install the drain and glue the crap out of it.  But drilling things scared me, and I kept putting it off.  Sunday morning, we finally bit the bullet and committed to just getting it DONE (and out of the living room).  So we did.  And it seemed to work just fine (knock on wood).  The adhesive that we used is a pretty intense marine grade adhesive-sealant that I have been recommended separately by 2 different people.  The only down side is that it takes a full week to cure, and more than 48 hours before it even stops being tacky.  I know this because I stuck my finger in it last night and then smeared the glue everywhere.  Gross.

shower drain installed on preformed pond liner

shower drain installed on preformed pond liner

The tube said that as soon as the tube is punctured, it begins curing, regardless of whether the tube has been resealed, so we decided to just use the entire tube.  Most of it is inside the bottom of the drain area.  It's cupped, so we just filled it up with goo, then went around the outside with it, and anywhere else we thought there may be any potential for it to leak.  There's a cardboard box under the pond liner on the inside to catch any potential drips that may sneak past things.

And knowing how tough it is to get motivated to work on these projects, I bribed a couple friends with burgers and beer if they would give us a hand, on the nicest day we've had so far this year.  We needed to get a few "rafters" up to support the roof, and get that bad boy stained!  Staining anything outdoors in spring in Washington is a problematic proposition.  It needs to be nice for a few days prior to the "staining day" to help dry out the wood and make it receptive to stain.  Then it needs to be nice on the day you stain, and the following day, to allow the stain time to dry.  Timing this to a weekend is particularly tough(it pretty much rains all weekend every weekend, even if we have 5 solid days of sun during the week), but we lucked out this time and had the perfect sunny-day timetable.  So they installed the rafter pieces while I went over the doghouse with some leftover deck stain(a light cedar color), and then we all set about getting the entire structure stained.

stained doghouse

stained duck pen structure

Well... Almost all of it.  We tried to cut the top of the posts off with the sawzall, but the switch broke like 3 seconds into the first post.  So we need to fix the sawzall.  Anyway, that's why those aren't stained.  They're getting cut off.

After the staining was done, it was time for burgers, and beer, and Boris begging for food.

dog licking his nose

The next portions of the project include:
*Hooking up pluming and burying the pond (it'll be early next week at the soonest - the glue needs to set)
*Putting up and staining remaining 1 "roof" beam to support the wire fencing over the top of the pen
*Installing polycarbonate roofing
*Installing "roof" portion of the wire fencing
*Installing wall sections of the wire fencing
*Staining and then putting up horizontal supports for wire fencing
*Grading entire pen, and burying the underground portion of wire fencing
*Building, staining, affixing wire fencing to, and installing doors
*Grading the entry-area to the pen, burying fencing under the doors, then laying down pavers on top of the buried fencing.
*Levelling out the "slab" area for the duckhouse, and putting that in
*Going to the feed store for food, oyster shells, and straw
*Setting up feeder, waterer, etc
*Filling and testing the pond
*Getting some dang ducks!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Surprise Party and Pizza Oven Factory Tour

My brother in law turned 28 on Wednesday.  Because he has a great girlfriend, she threw him a surprise party on Sunday evening at the demo kitchen at Woodstone Ovens.  Her dad works at the company as a demo chef, who trains buyers on how to use the products.  I can't really put into words just how cool the whole evening was, so I'm just gonna share pictures instead.  I totally nerded out like crazy.

So many flours!

Like the "robot coupe" brand...

 Apparently these flat-top grills will be coming to a Chipotle near you!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Lentil Tacos

Lentil Tacos

(Recipe at bottom) I love me some tacos.  Really, any and every kind of taco.  But they're not exactly extraordinarily healthy.  Neither are lentil tacos, but they're pretty budget-friendly and they're vegetarian, not all that common in the taco world.  Plus they are easy, the leftovers stay good forever, and they're tasty.  When I was growing up, tacos consisted of ground meat+taco seasoning on either tortillas and shells with lettuce, salsa, cheese, sour cream, and sometimes avocados.  I still kind of have a thing for this combination.  I certainly like making more pretentious versions of tacos, but this type is comfort food to me, and so familiar. As such, it's a good go-to for an easy dinner that makes tons of leftovers for lunches.

taco fixins

I went a little nontraditional with toppings... I added Feta to the roster, and swapped out the lettuce for some of Ivana's "cruciferous crunch" that I've been munching on for the last week and a half.  This shit's amazing.  It's a combination of shredded brussels sprouts, green cabbage, red cabbage, fennel, and kale.  And it lasts for freakin' ever.  She made like 3 gallons of it for only a few dollars also.  Just watch out if you're sharing a bed with someone who's eating volumes of this stuff. lol

cruciferous crunch

Anyway, get started on your lentils.  I used green lentils because they retain some texture and don't cook down to an indistinguishable mush.  The texture of cooked green lentils is actually not that dissimilar to the texture of cooked ground taco meat. So there.  You want to start with an onion.  chop it up and saute it in a little butter, olive oil, sunflower oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, etc.  Basically any good oil that's not all freaky and chemically extracted (I'm looking at you, canola oil!)  Anyway, soften your onion, then stir in a few cloves of minced garlic.

sweating onions

minced garlic

While your onion is sweating and your garlic is cooking, get to prepping your lentils.  You just want to rinse the crap out of them basically.  That'll allow any weird ones to float away, and hopefully help you to determine if you have any stones in the mix.  Probably remove those if you do.

rinsing lentils

rinsing lentils

Then go ahead and add your lentils to the onion-garlic mixture (I'd say this was about 2 cups of dry lentils), then add liquid.  If you're vegetarian, vegetable stock would be good.  We are not.  I used some chicken stock.  You could also use water, after all, you're putting a whole bunch of taco seasoning in later anyway, it probably won't make much of a difference, and we always have water on hand!. Maybe 3-4 cups of water.  Bring to a simmer, then drop the heat to medium-low.

cooking green lentils with onion and garlic

Cover the pan, let it simmer for 25-30 minutes, and taste a few to test done-ness.  If they're nearly done (they should be), then go ahead and leave the lid off, and add some taco seasoning.  I seriously buy pre-made taco seasoning in those huge spice containers at costco.  I am aware I can make it myself, but honestly, this is easier, tastes fine, costs $4, and in the grand scheme of things, the chemical portion of the anti-caking agents and whatnot add up to practically zero in the grand scheme of chemical exposure.  I'm sure coloring my hair every 2 months and leaving makeup on my face all day, etc have a far bigger impact on me.  Anyway. Quit making excuses.  If you like to make your own seasoning, do that.  I use crap from a huge McCormick bottle and it works fine.  I started with a few tablespoons(ish), and then continued adding it til it tasted "right."

Taco lentils, cooking

Then I brought the heat up to medium and allowed them to simmer more vigorously to cook off extra liquid.

Taco Lentils

This is how they looked after they had cooked down.  Then it's just a matter of filling your tacos, and adding all the toppings you want. I photographed this as soft tacos, but I think I actually prefer them as a taco salad.  I make a bed of cruciferous crunch, add some spinach on top of it, heat up some lentils with a little cheese, then add those to the top, and make a dressing out of sour cream mixed with salsa and avocado chunks.  Easy, peasy, and delicious. I've been eating taco salads for lunch all week! Bonus points for nachos!

lentil tacos

1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups green lentils
4 cups water, broth, or stock
4-8 tablespoons taco seasoning

Avocado, diced and topped with lime juice
Sour cream
Shredded cheddar cheese
Feta (if desired)
Salsa or pico de gallo
Greens of some sort
Hot sauce (if desired)

*Soften onion for 4-5 minutes, then add in garlic.
*Rinse lentils, then add them to pot with liquid
*Simmer covered 25-30 minutes, then add taco seasoning to taste
*Continue to simmer, uncovered, until liquid has disappeared
*Build Tacos, taco salad, nachos, etc

Thursday, April 3, 2014

We made nigiri for the first time

And I'd call it a success!  Not perfect by any means, but we are definitely improving our sushi-rice skills, and I think by the end of the year, I'll make a pretty great nigiri.  No big deal.  Apparently we're going about this all wrong though.  Pressed sushi and rolls are supposed to be the easiest, and nigiri is supposed to be the hardest.  Reasonably, it's simple enough that not doing any one of the components right will be pretty readily apparent.  Using correct form, you should be able to cut the fish in such a way that it makes a slight cup shape to cradle the rice, and it should also adhere to the rice.  Mine doesn't.  I'll get there. I suspect that it had a little to do with Craig cooking the rice before I got home, and it wasn't as hot as normal when I went to spread it out and mix in the vinegar concoction.

sushi rice

So here's the rundown.  I used "Sushi Rice."  I am aware that it's a little on the nose, but the rice aisle at my Asian supermarket makes my head spin, and most of the short grain white rices don't have any English on the bags, so I stick with something that I know will work for my preparation.  Here's how the prep goes....

Get 2 cups of sushi rice, and place in a fine mesh strainer.  Rinse with cool water until all of the runoff is clear.  And I mean really rinse that stuff.  Rinse it til you think it's done, then rinse it 3 more times.  When it's sufficiently rinsed, put it in a saucepan, and top with 3 cups of cold water.  Cover, bring to a boil, turn the heat to low, and set a timer for 20 minutes.  When 20 minutes is up, turn off the heat and set a time for an additional 15-20 minutes.  When that time is up, scoop the rice out into a wide, flat dish.  I use a Pyrex 9x13 casserole dish.  Sprinkle with your sushi seasoning mixture, taste, adjust, etc.  I am currently using a premade mixture of vinegar, sugar, and MSG.  You can also make your own with vinegar, sugar, and salt.  But MSG is delicious, and it's easy.  Either way, use your rice paddle to keep mixing the rice around, and get a breeze going to dry off the rice.  Having a partner fanning it with a magazine or something works beautifully.  If you're forever alone, an electric fan would also work I suppose.  Anyway, keep working it til it stops steaming. Now you have some sushi rice!

salmon and tuna nigiri

The fish I got was sashimi grade tuna and wild-caught salmon from our local high-end Asian supermarket.  Each block cost about $5-6.  We probably got 15 pieces out of the 2 blocks of fish.  I'd like to discuss the quality of fish found at the different types of Asian supermarkets for a moment though.  We have 3 main Asian supermarkets in our area.  Ranch 99, H-Mart, and Uwajimaya. I used to go to Ranch and HMart all the time for cheap produce and crazy snacks, but was always a little hesitant to get meat at either place.  Straight up, they smelled.  I thought that was normal for Asian supermarkets, and it pretty much is.  I also won't buy fish at them.  In college, Craig and I bought fish at Ranch 99 and it was not very good.  As a rule, I no longer buy fish from places that have an "odor" upon walking in the door.  Uwajimaya is appreciably more expensive than either of the other 2 places, but they also have gorgeous produce (not skanky seconds type stuff), and a huge variety of really crazy snacks, a whole aisle of instant ramen varieties, etc.  They're about on par with the prices seen at a second-tier grocery store... that is, not Whole Foods, but something like QFC(a higher-end Kroger-owned store, for those of you not in the PNW).  But Uwajimaya doesn't smell like anything other than their incredible hot foods "deli" where you can get a Chinese BBQ whole duck, japchae, soba noodles, soups, etc.  And they're my favorite high-end foods place.  You can get quail, quail eggs, foie gras, free range chicken eggs, etc.  You can also get gorgeous hunks of sashimi grade fish for around $28/lb.  That is the place we go for good quality fish.  It is a polar opposite to Ranch 99 or HMart.

tuna nigiri

We sliced the fish up, then got to forming the rice blobs.  The main trick here is to wet your hands, otherwise you'll have a ton of sticky rice all over your hands and no blob.  Then you press the fish onto the blob, form it a little more, and it's kind of done.  I am obviously no expert, but this worked for me to make "sufficient" nigiri.

salmon nigiri

We had this with pickled ginger and some tamari (wheat free soy sauce) with wasabi powder mixed in.  It was pretty incredible.  I think we will probably make this a more regular thing.  It was easy, tasty, and really not THAT expensive.  But speaking of expensive, we also made a batch of spam musubi, because Craig loves it so much, and likes to eat it for breakfast.  I'm not a lover of nori (seaweed sheets), so I have been experimenting with ways to enjoy spam in a sushi setting without the nori, and I think I found my ticket.  SPAM Nigiri!

SPAM Nigiri