Thursday, August 14, 2014

I found out what was digging all those &*$#@ holes in my duck pen!

A few weeks ago, I shared a couple photos of the tunnels that had been appearing in my duck pen.

A few days ago, I drained the stinky duck pond, and when I went to refill it, I decided to flood the tunnel.  But you know what?  That tunnel tool so much water!  I couldn't get it full the the top.  There's some volume in that bad boy.  Getting discouraged, I decided to at least make it an unattractive place to tunnel by locating some stinky dog poop and burying it several inches down from the entrance to the tunnel.  So I grabbed a shovel and went on the hunt.  Several seconds later, a large rodent sprinted from the corner of the yard near the duck pen towards our deck.  Boris, of mouse-hunting fame caught that M F-er before it made it under the deck.  A few pointed bites and it stopped moving.  A firm "LEAVE IT." and he backed off to let me snap the neck with my shovel and pick it up for disposal.  I was so proud of him.  Once I got it out of the yard, I set it down for further inspection.  It appears to be a mother rat, as it had swollen udders (I assume I drowned the offspring in my tunnel flooding).  And that sucker was big.  Think of all the free duck food it's been eating! I was so proud of Boris that I took a photo and texted it to Craig.  His response?  "WTF"

Anyway, Boris got extra treats and an invitation onto the bed that night.  You know, after I cleaned the blood off his lip.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Cold Peanut Sesame Soba Noodle Salad

This was incredible!  As part of my cold-food push last week, I made a soba noodle salad.  And it was delicious.

cold peanut sesame soba noodle salad with avocado

The great thing about salads like this is that you can usually make them with stuff you have lying around the house.  I did pick up some scallions and a bell pepper for this, but everything else is generally a staple in our house. Your mileage may vary.

Ingredients for Cold Peanut Sesame Soba Noodle Salad

Cold Peanut Sesame Soba Noodle Salad (serves 4-6)
1/2 english cucumber, cut into 3-4" matchsticks
1/2 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, cut into thin slices
5 scallions, white and light green parts sliced on a bias

9 oz package (or similar) dry soba noodles, spaghetti, udon, whatever kind strikes your fancy.

2-3 T peanut butter
1 T sugar
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 T sesame oil
2 T neutral oil (I used avocado)
4 T soy sauce
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 T hot chili oil
1" fresh ginger, peeled & grated
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled & grated

Toasted sesame seeds or furikake seasoning

dressing ingredients for Cold Peanut Sesame Soba Noodle Salad

*Prep your veggies and set them aside
*Toss your sauce ingredients all together and whisk to combine.  If your peanut butter won't break up, microwave for 10-30 seconds and whisk again.  Taste.  You may need more acid (vinegar) or salt (soy sauce).  Continue to taste and adjust until things seem good.
*Boil your water for your noodles, cook according to package directions (my soba noodles took 4 minutes), drain, then rinse under cold water
*Toss your noodles with the dressing, then mix in your veggies.  Taste again, you may need to adjust seasonings once again.
*Plate your noodles, top with some sliced avocado (if you like) and a sprinkling of sesame seeds/furikake seasoning.
*Enjoy, also, this makes rad leftovers and is good at room temp too, so would probably be a good picnic candidate

Cold Peanut Sesame Soba Noodle Salad

Cold Peanut Sesame Soba Noodle Salad

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

This week's meal plan - OR - Try not to heat up the house!

So it's been pretty hot in Washington this year.  Today Seattle experienced it's 10th day in a row with temperatures topping 80 degrees.  This summer, we have had 28 days over 80, with many of them in the high 80s and 90s. It's more than our poor, pale, PNW bodies can handle!  I have some enormous tomatoes in the garden, but generating heat inside the house, especially our house, which gets baked with hot sun from dawn til dusk, is a surefire way to make the rest of the evening miserable.  We have air conditioning, but avoid using it unless we get just too uncomfortable.  So in the dog days of summer, we try to avoid cooking inside. For the first couple weeks that it's really hot, I find cooking outside-only to be a really fun and neat way to challenge myself, but by week 3, I am DONE with it and just want to turn the oven on and bake something!  Unfortunately, all of this week and the next 10 days are forecasted to be in the 80s and above.  So I am meal planning to avoid getting takeout.  Hopefully my list helps to inspire something other than a boring salad for you this HOT HOT summer!


Dinners this week:
Turkey Sammiches w/ mushrooms & olive tapenade
-olive tapenade
Tuna Sammiches w/ lettuce & tomatoes
Wedge Salads w/ bleu cheese
-bleu cheese dressing - need bleu cheese
Peanut Sesame Soba Noodles
-soba noodles
-peanut butter
-avocado oil
-sesame oil
-english cucumber
Fresh Spring rolls w/ shrimp
-english cucumber
-bell pepper

Friday, August 1, 2014


That was supposed to be a duck and update portmanteau, but I fear that I may have just created a new reality tv show.  The last time I shared photos of the ducks, they were creepy little dinosaurs, half covered in down, half in normal feathers, and growing rapidly. Things have since settled down and life is easier in Duckingham Palace.  Well, mostly. So we have 5 ducks.  2 of them are 2 weeks older than the other 3.

Duck crossing sign on duck pen

The lineup:
A L'Orange (male):  This one was initially my favorite.  He's huge, ballsy, fairly friendly with me, and has this incredible iridescent black on his entire back.  But now he's a jerk.  He is definitely the leader of the flock, but he's like Lenin.  He rules with an iron fist.  I was feeding the ducks some scraps of lettuce the other night, and he bit one of the females on the back right between her wings and wouldn't let go, even when she was squawking.  I had to flick him in the neck to get him to let go.  Jerk.
Black and white pied male muscovy duck

Black and white pied male muscovy duck

Black and white pied male muscovy duck

Ina (female):  She thinks that I am satan.  Every time I pick her up, she shakes.  So I've stopped picking her up, and I'm trying to gain her trust in more sneaky ways.  Primarily by luring her over to me when I am feeding snacks.  She is appreciably larger than the 3 younger ducks, so I assume that her and A L'Orange's mother was much bigger than the mom of the 3 younger duckies.  As she gets older, the brown barring on her chest should smooth out to the blue color seen on the rest of her feathers.

blue muscovy female

blue muscovy female

Alison (female):  This one was my favorite the day that I brought them home, but then she quickly fell out of favor when she wouldn't stop peeping.  Since then, she has really caught my eye.  She is reserved, gentle, and fairly polite.  Unfortunately, she lets the other ducks push her around and pick on her (she's the one that the bully duck bit)  Her coloring is interesting.  It's similar to Ina's, but she has a pretty white apron thing going on.
female muscovies

female muscovies

And then there's the twinsies, Confit and Martha (male & female):  They were both white/yellow when we first got them, but have since developed a really beautiful black and white barring.  Based on my research, after a molt, they will probably only retain the barring on their bellies, and the rest of their feathers will grow in as solid black.   The main way to tell the two apart is their size.  Confit (the male) is about 50% larger than the other 2 young-uns, and also a hair darker than Martha.

barred juvenile muscovies

barred juvenile muscovies

OK, so now that you know who is what and you've seen current photos of them, I can tell you the rest.

The rodent: I think I have some sort of rodent living in my pen.  I've seen a series of burrows tunneling OUT of the enclosure.  I keep filling them in with rocks and whatnot, and I haven't been able to find a creature, but we shall see.  Hopefully lifting the feeder off the ground will help reduce the ease of food acquisition.  Either way, the ducks don't seem bothered by it, I haven't seen evidence of any damage to them, so at this point it's just a small pest.

burrowing OUT of the duck pen

burrowing OUT of the duck pen

The pond:  Ooof.  The ducks make this thing so disgusting that even THEY won't go in it after 3-4 days.  It's a 125 gallon pond.  That's a LOT of water to drain and refill every 3 days.  I have started only filling it to the bottom level and letting them use the stepback as a preening spot.  They seem to be enjoying it, and I prefer using less than half the water.

The sexes: I initially had a great deal of stress about determining who is male and who is female.  I have literally hours sunk into research.  And you know what?  None of it was helpful!  The only thing that I can effectively use is their voices once mature!  The females make a sort of twirring noise, kind of like a high pitched combination of a cat's purr and a bird's cheep.  It's actually really cute.  They do it when they're excited that I brought them some lettuce/weeds/kale to eat.  The males make a raspy hissy sound.  Kind of like I'd imagine a heavy smoker would sound like if they were panting. It's less cute, but a good way to tell the difference.  Which brings me to my next point.

The slaughter: We are going to kill the males.  Based on a huge pile of drama on a facebook muscovy duck group in which I got called a "Sadistic Twat," people are really upset at the idea of eating what has historically been a meat bird, which... whatever.  I took a poultry processing class  earlier this year to see if it was something that I could stomach. It is.  Shortly after the class, I was still processing my emotions about taking a life.  Months later, I have come to terms with reality.  I'm not vegan.  I'm not vegetarian.  I'm not interested in being either of those things.  What it comes down to, is that animals are going to die so that I can eat them.  Chickens from the grocery store have awful lives.  And their deaths?  Equally awful.  They're full of fear.  It's not a good situation for them.  So, by raising and eating at least a few of my own animals(happy, healthy, and respectfully harvested), I am effectively reducing the number of chickens that experience that. These ducks are livestock to me, not pets.  And males do not provide a service to me.  I prefer not to have siblings breeding, I am not prepared to hatch out ducklings just yet, and males don't lay eggs.  They also rape female ducks.  There is no reason for me to keep them around, and there are a few really juicy and flavorful reasons to slaughter them.  So that's what we are doing.  I have 2 males, and my coworker and I are going to respectfully slaughter them in a few weeks.  It's going to be sad.  But it's also part of the circle of life.  And depending on how this slaughter goes, we may see about raising several broiler chickens next spring for the freezer.

juvenile muscovies eating greens

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Super easy garlic aioli

When you aren't using dairy or some sort of premade salad dressing in your daily life, figuring out what to top things with or dip things in can be a little tough.  Now let me tell you how great aioli is.  First off, let me tell you what aioli is.  It's essentially mayonnaise, but better.  My version that we've been using a lot of lately uses lime juice instead of lemon juice, however they're both good, and in many cases, lemon is preferable.

Homemade Garlic Aioli

 Here's my loose recipe.
1 egg
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
3 cloves garlic, grated on microplane, or run through garlic press
2-3 tablespoons lime or lemon juice
1-1.5 cups neutral oil
salt, to taste

Homemade Garlic Aioli

Now let me get down to business on a few things.

How do I make it?
Well, there are many different ways, and chances are, I've tried most of them.  When making something that depends on an emulsion (that is, sticking fat molecules to water molecules to form a thick consistency), you have to be careful about the addition of your oil.  That is, in most cases.  And sometimes you'll end up with a slight failure - that is, runny aioli.  It'll still taste great.  But here's how it goes.  Your egg needs to be room temp.  I pull my egg out of the fridge and put it in a cup with some warm water.  Then I get everything else together, get set up, and by the time everything else is done, the chill has come off the egg and I'm ready to roll.  The egg yolk is the key to developing and subsequently holding a stable emulsion.  You can use just the egg yolk, but I don't see the point in going to the effort of separating it unless I have a specific need for the white somewhere else.
*By hand, in a bowl - This is by far the most time consuming method that I've tried, but it's a classic, and it works.  It also requires minimal equipment.  You need a bowl and a whisk.  Combine everything but oil, then whisking furiously, slowly drizzle in a fine stream of oil.  This can get tricky if you're like me and only have 2 hands.  I also tend to get little flecks of half-emulsified aioli all over the counter when I use this method.
*Using a stand mixer or electric handheld mixer - Basically, follow instructions for whisking by hand, but use machinery to your advantage.  I have done this with my Kitchenaid stand mixer a few times and have had success, however please note that if you either add too much oil (and not enough additional liquid), it's possible to overbeat it and end up with a very stiff and slightly rubbery end product.  This can be fixed by adding more liquid, but definitely be aware that this is a possibility
*Using a blender - frustrating.  The problem is, the ideal consistency for this is just a hair tighter than flowing, which means that it doesn't mix properly in a blender.  I have used a blender to start it, then followed up by hand with a whisk and bowl, but that means a lot of dishes for what amounts to a tiny condiment that can be just as easily produced with far fewer.  I wouldn't waste my time.
*With an immersion/stick blender - This is by far my favorite method.  Some people have fancy immersion blenders that have whisk attachments.  I don't.  Mine is a pretty ghetto hand-me-down that works like a champ.  With this method (at least using the blade attachment, I can't comment on the effectiveness of a whisk attachment), you do not need to stream in the oil, although I often do at this point because it saves time.  Here's how it goes - put all the non-oil ingredients in a jar, get your bottle of oil out, get your stick blender running in the jar, then just stream the oil in until it's all blended, moving the blender up and down to ensure there are no pockets of oil.  Conversely, you can put everything in and just run the blender also, and that'll work.  I'm not entirely sure why it's so effective, but it is, and it's the fastest, and the only things you have to clean is the spoon from your mustard and the immersion blender.  It's a win-win-win.  I have also never had runny aioli using this method, for what it's worth.  But not everyone has an immersion blender, even though they should.

Why make your own mayonnaise/aioli?
The stuff at the store contains LOTS of stuff.  Like.... well... lots.  Hellmann's contains relatively few, but still has "spices" in the ingredients list. "What spices?" you may ask, well that's a good question.  Not really sure.  Also, the oils they use in pretty much any type of mayonnaise (even olive oil mayo, look it up) are pretty awful.  Canola oil is chemically separated and also GMO, unless specifically noted otherwise.  Same for soybean oil and corn oil.  They're cheap and relatively flavorless, which is why they're used to may mayonnaise.  Most people either don't know better or don't care.  I do.  So if I for some reason don't have the time/interest in making my own mayo, I buy Spectrum Organic Mayonnaise for $6+/2 cups.  It doesn't taste as good as homemade, and the oils they use in it (although organic and from non-gmo sources) are still pretty bad for you.

Yuck!  Raw eggs!?
Yep.  Homemade mayo contains raw eggs.  That's pretty much how it is.  I have never gotten sick from eating homemade mayonnaise, and I am careful to follow reasonable food handling rules.  I don't see it as appreciably different from eating something with a meringue or a runny fried egg.  But... if eating raw eggs really freaks you out, you can buy pasteurized eggs from the grocery store.  They are expensive though, and you usually can't get organic/cage free/pastured.  So I did an experiment.  I read somewhere that with a sous vide setup, one can slowly bring eggs up to 135 degrees, hold them there for 75 minutes, and they will be pasteurized.  This kills all of the pathogens in the eggs and makes them safe for the elderly or otherwise immunocompromised folks to eat. Holding at 135 does not affect the egg's ability to create or hold emulsions.  So I pasteurized a few eggs, and ya know what?  It worked!  The whites developed a cloudiness, but they were still liquid and worked just as well as raw eggs in aioli.

How long does it keep?
I have successfully kept homemade mayo/aioli in the fridge for more than 2 weeks.  I don't recommend this, and would suggest that anything past 5-6 days is at your own risk.

What kind of oil should I use?
This is a subject that I have done some extensive research on.  As a rule, unless 100% necessary for the success of a recipe, I do not use oils that have been chemically produced, like canola, corn, or soy oil (also, the pesticide/gmo thing).  That leaves you with a somewhat limited field of acceptable oils that one may consider reasonable or palatable in something as transparent flavorwise as mayo or aioli.  Extra virgin olive oil is downright yucky.  Light olive oil is usually not actually olive oil.  I wouldn't necessarily bother with that either.  I have used hazelnut oil (fine, but I didn't love it) as well.  So far, there are 2 contenders for my heart in the neutral oil arena.  Sunflower seed oil, and avocado oil.  Now here's the problem. One can get expeller pressed sunflower seed oil for $4 from Trader Joes.  It's great, however the omega content is nearly 100% omega 6, which is not all that good for you, although better than chemically separated oils that are also high O6.  I have used 2 different types of avocado oil.  La Tourganelle is fine, but it's fairly expensive and has a much stronger flavor than the less expensive and more neutral tasting Chosen Foods avocado oil that I have found at Costco for $10.  This is currently my oil of choice, and I've been using it to cook pretty much everything.

When do you eat aioli?
All the time!  Some of my favorite ways are to dip meatballs in it, spread it on top of hamburgers, put a dollop on slices of sweet potato, thin it out with some extra lemon or lime juice and drizzle on top of lettuce wraps, or mix it with hot sauce and dip baked squash fries in it.

Pork Carnitas Lettuce Wraps with Homemade Garlic Aioli