Friday, December 30, 2011

The Rav Gets A Pad

I have this little transportation device. She's a 1995 2-door Toyota Rav4. She's got just over 105,000 miles on her. She has many names, but generally she's referred to as "The Rav," "The Great Blue Minnow" or just "Blue." And she's been parking on dirt (soil compaction!) and concrete remnants.

Which, frankly, wasn't very aesthetically pleasing. Nor was it good for our stormwater management.

So we decided to give Blue a Christmas present. Her very own parking spot, configured to slow water runoff, but also to give the water a specific path. A parking area where she was not forced to drop four or more inches off the precipice of the old concrete drive. A parking spot where she could be stylin'.

The first step was determining the necessary footprint. Blue is not a very big girl. In fact, certain people who shall remain nameless have been heard to mutter something like "roller skate" when supposedly out of my hearing. She does, in fact, have a wheelbase about the length of a Jeep. Have I mentioned I can park her anywhere? Anyway, the "pad" for the Rav only needed to accomodate the actual pulling off of the concrete and zipping around the left hip of the other vehicle. Plus some stepping-out space for the driver. We used a hose to lay out an appropriate curve and then proceeded to cut a line through the sod with a half-moon edger. Into which 4" tall metal edging was laid and staked.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

One Pan, 3 Components: Laziness Wins Again!

Photo by and (c)2008 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man).
So, the produce box! This time, in addition to yet another Delicata (which was the galvanizing force I required in order to address the four other Delicatas, and one Butternut, resting on the shelf by the open window in my kitchen ... all now roasted, thanks) and four nice fat leeks and a whole mess of citrus and apples and turnips, I got a bunch of spinach and a bunch of finger-sized carrots.
Neither bunch was big enough to form a reasonable side dish on its own, but both together served the purpose. What I did was bring out my trusty not-paella pan, heat some olive oil and butter, and throw in a nice big pork tenderloin. That browned on all sides over medium heat.
Then, the seasoning mix went on: a half-teaspoon each of
  • powdered ginger;
  • coriander;
  • allspice;
  • ancho chili; and
  • curry powder; plus
  • a generous dose of low-sodium soy sauce; plus
  • a splash of maple syrup; and
  • a little water to cover the bottom of the pan.
Then, in went the scrubbed carrots. They got rolled around in the spices a bit, a lid went on the pan, the heat was lowered to medium-low, and everyone got left alone for ten minutes. When the timer buzzed, I turned over the tenderloin, splashed some more seasoning on the carrots, put the lid back on, and gave it another eight minutes.
When the pork was done - the carrots now nicely fork-tender - I took everything out of the pan and set it aside. Into the pan went the (laboriously cleaned) spinach, and a good solid squirt of lemon juice. Tossed the leaves in all the pan juice and left them to wilt while I set the table.
When the spinach was done to my liking - probably about five minutes, tops - I divided it between two plates, divided the carrots likewise, and gave us each a chunk of pig on top of the greens.
This was a Success. Adding the lemon juice gave the spinach an acidic sweetness that was a great contrast to the spicy sweetness of the pork and carrots. It was also really pretty, quite a difference from my usual monochromatic plate: dark green spinach with browned meat and bright orange carrots - lovely. And of course, the more color your food has, the more nutrition it generally has. The only thing this was lacking was a little something crunchy, and I'm thinking some pine nuts would have been perfect.
I would not call this a recipe. It's just taking one set of seasonings and cooking two items, then cooking a third item in the same seasonings +1.
On that note: pork tenderloin is not a very flavorful meat according to most. That's because it's quite lean, and fat is where the flavor is! So whatever spices you use, pork tenderloin will act like mushrooms and take on primarily the flavor of that spice mix. It's cheap and easy to cook, and I like it.
Some people like to boil their greens, or steam them; I am not a big greens eater but when I do have 'em, I use fat. If it's raw greens, the fat is in the dressing (Caesar or blue cheese); if they're cooked, it's in pan juice or olive oil or butter.
One good reason for this is that many of the valuable nutrients in plant parts (roots, tubers, stems, and leaves) are metabolically accessible only in the presence of fat.
The other good reason is that they taste a damn sight better that way.
Image Source: Wikipedia Photo by and (c)2008 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man) and the Chanticleer Garden.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Creating a Rest Stop for Birds

One of my little migrants.
I have saved the link below for at least a year, thinking I would write something similar here. But as I re-read Janet Marinelli's excellent argument, all I could think about was the recent research (sources, below) pointing to how important even our farms have become to the very survival of bird and insect species.

So I decided to quit mucking about and point you over to her post at Audubon. It's an excellent resource for building vertical layers within your garden that will support wildlife. Not only is the case for using suburban space for wildlife clearly stated, but specific species to build with are also provided.

Please visit, bookmark, and recommend this link:

Rest Stops For the Weary

Sources: Farms Are Keeping Endangered Species Alive

Monday, December 26, 2011

Ribbon Predator

Wrapping paper and raffia will always bring Cedella out of hiding.

Be afraid, be very afraid! Appendages like fingers are fair game!

"HA. Just TRY to take it away!"

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hot Cheesy Vegetables for a Cold Winter Night

From Alex at Ombailamos:
The latest produce box contained a nice head of green cabbage and one lonely fennel bulb. Last night they made beautiful music together.
Cleaned and sliced the vegetables, and braised them together in a bit of bacon fat and a little butter, over medium-low heat, for about 25 minutes. Then, I turned the heat down to very low and the cheesy goodness was assembled. First, I made a well in the middle of the veg and poured in a small quantity of cream. Into the cream I added a can of mushroom paté (looks like cat food, smells like mushroomy heaven) and mixed that to smoothness, then tossed all the veg in it. At this point I added a generous amount of smoked paprika and a little nutmeg; Mr. P added some black pepper to his at the table.
Next, I made the well again and poured in another puddle of cream. Into the cream I deposited a generous handful of shredded fresh gruyere cheese. That melted quickly and then I tossed all the veg again.
Finally, I added most of a package of bacon, previously sliced into 1/2 inch strips and cooked, and mixed everything up.
Cooking proficiency required: very little.
This is not an inexpensive dish, even though the main ingredients are $3 worth of vegetables, because of the bacon (I buy uncured bacon) and Swiss cheese. BUT - highly nutritious, extremely delicious (if you like mac-n-cheese, you would like this), zero starch, and did I mention yum?
Note: "real" chefs make a roux (a sauce base of butter, flour, and milk) when they are building a cheese sauce. The purpose is to create a creamy sauce that won't separate on you when you re-heat it.
That's something I'll learn how to do eventually, but in my experience we either eat all of what I've made in one sitting or we just don't care if the sauce separates. Also, it's an extra pan and an extra step, and I believe I've mentioned before that in my kitchen, "simple" is the key ingredient.
** I'm going to point out here that Alex is specifying and using whole, natural foods that weren't cooked up in a lab. Real cream, real butter. The tastes your body craves. Meaning it will be satisfied with LESS!
***Extra Bonus: 5 Mouthwatering Pies, courtesy of Mother Nature Network. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Log Dressed in Fungi

"Turkey Tail" fungi hard at work busting logs.

As commenter Ellen (thanks, Ellen!) pointed out, this is Trametes versicolor, or "Turkey Tail" fungi, one of the most common North American mushrooms. It is used in Asian and European medicine and shows promise as a chemotherapy treatment for cancer.

Sources: Mushroom Expert and Wikipedia.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Lil' Drac

Wonderful little video about an abandoned short-tailed fruit bat. You will love this, I promise. :)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Power Tools and Chicken Castles

I haven't subjected you to many of my DIY adventures, but the DIY DIVA may have changed my mind about that. Prepare yourselves. In the meantime, hop on over to her website and check out a fabo top-bar beehive and the Best. Chicken. Coop. Ever.

Seriously.   :)

DIY Wrap Up: This Week's Balancing Act

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Leeks, Squash and Necessity

From Alex at Ombailamos:
Have I mentioned this every-other-week produce box I get? There are now several of us in my office getting them, and we enjoy discussing WTH we are going to do with whatever odd thing was included. I have now coped with everything in the last box except for the pomegranates, which are leering redly at me from the end of the kitchen counter. I'm a little afraid of them.*
What DIDN'T scare me was the leeks! The lovely, lovely leeks. I've been hoping for some of those. I discovered fennel because of leeks, and it just so happened I was planning to do a fennel and onion thing for Thanksgiving. That turned into a fennel and leek thing. Oh, the deliciousness.
What is a leek? It's a really big green onion, like a scallion, with a very mild (for an onion) flavor, although it will still sting the eyes when you slice it.
Components: 7 leeks, 2 large fennel bulbs; olive oil; spices; half & half; sour cream; Parmesan-Romano-Pecorino blend.
Process: Cut off the leek greens about 2" up from the white and discard the tops (Most recipes advise sticking to the white-to-pale green spectrum of the vegetable), and trim off the rootlets. Slice across the grain into one million casino-chip discs. Deposit into large, deep skillet.
Trim off the stalks, halve, and core the fennel bulbs; slice vertically into quarter-inch-wide pieces. Deposit with the leeks in the skillet.
Drizzle with olive oil and choice of seasonings (mine: white pepper and a little dry mustard), toss to coat, and cook over medium heat until tender, adding a small amount of water and/or sherry as needed to keep things from getting too dry and/or scorchy.
When tender, reduce heat to medium-low and pour in half & half just to cover the bottom of the pan. It will be hot almost immediately. Stir in a large spoonful (about 1/3 cup) of sour cream. Now add a generous amount of grated cheese (this could also be a Swiss cheese for a more traditional flavor profile) - I pretended I was covering a pizza crust - mix in thoroughly, and allow to cook until fully melted and blended, stirring occasionally.
That is all.
I infer that if you are using Swiss cheese, adding a little nutmeg can do wonders. I will try that next time ... just happen to have some Gruyere and some Emmenthaler on hand. I get a new box tomorrow. Will there be more leeks? I sure hope so!
The other new treatment was baked squash with spices, dried fruits, and cranberries. This ended up going in a direction not unlike the persimmon chutney, because I decided to use a balsamic glaze on it. Balsamic lover that I am, this took the dish from Pretty Darn Good to Yum.
The components: two Delicata squash and a Butternut; 8 oz fresh cranberries; about 20 dried apricot halves, diced; 10 dates, diced; salted butter; generous amounts of cardamom, cloves, allspice, ginger, and nutmeg.
The process: preheat oven to 350 and get out a baking dish. I used a 9x9 Pyrex. Clean the squash, remove the seeds etc., cut into reasonably small slices, and peel now if you're strong enough (I waited till it was cooked. That Butternut put up a fight). Deposit directly into the baking dish.
Pour the cranberries and diced fruits over the top and shake it all down. Now dot the top with cubes of butter. Now dust the top with your spice mix. Cover with foil and put it in the oven for 40 minutes.
Give the squash a stab with a fork and if it is tender enough for your taste, call it finished. If not, take off the foil and give it another ten minutes. Then take it out of the oven, put the foil back over the top, and let it cool - unless you are serving immediately. (This was a day-ahead preparation for me.)
If you are serving immediately, invert the baking dish into a large serving bowl and stir everything up so that all the squash pieces get thoroughly coated with spices and butter. Taste a piece now and decide if you need a little more sweetness - if so, add maple syrup. Or a little tartness - if so, go with balsamic.
Highly nutritious, pretty, and awfully easy.
So: what necessity was I talking about? The box, of course. Another one came today.

*I finally seeded the pomegranates. The sink looked like the shower scene from "Psycho" and the grout in the countertop still has red spots. However, the seeds - the beautiful, tart little ruby nuggets - are now accessible in a bowl in the fridge. HA.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Yours Is Probably Installed Incorrectly

A combination bath vent/light/heater rated for 110 CFM.
Indoor air quality is an especially important consideration during the colder months when windows are closed and we're bundled up in our Snuggies on the sofa. In newer construction especially, a good, tight envelope means that little air is exchanged from indoors to outdoors, resulting in concentrations of indoor air pollutants.

One room in the house, however, can create problems for you year-round, and that is the bathroom. Inadequately ventilated bathrooms, depending on why they are inadequately ventilated, can reduce the effectiveness of your attic insulation, encourage the growth of mold and mildew both in your bathroom and in your attic, be far noisier than necessary, and, of course, keep you from being able to use the mirror in your bathroom unless you blast it with your hair dryer.

Any of this sound familiar? There's a good reason.

Many local building codes specify bathroom ventilation practices that are flat-out wrong. Even books you pick up to help you know how to do-it-yourself are wrong. So, if you've installed your own, and it looks like the illustration here, don't blame yourself. But you'll probably want to fix it.

The illustration on the right is a perfect example of "standard practice." Its even a step above the building codes for this area in the 1970's-- those codes said it was perfectly OK to just hang that flexible plastic stuff from the attic joists and put the end of the hose up to the gable end of the house and call it good.

First, any venting hose or ductwork needs to be installed to an exterior surface that does not share air exchange with the attic. Through an exterior wall (as shown above) or, preferably, through the roof installations are how you should vent all that hot, wet air out of your home. You don't want that air immediately sucked back into the attic as can happen with a stick-the-hose-up-to-the-gable-end installation. If you cannot locate a vent hood outside your home in proximity to your bathroom, you have Work To Do. [update: The United States has finally adopted a national building code by signing on to the International Code Council. Bathroom ventilation is required to be vented outside and not recirculated. Putting the pipe to a gable vent or soffit would allow for easy recirculation; hence, this is not allowed by the new National Code. In the Resources I have included a new link which provides guidance on best "green" building practices.]

Attic insulation subjected to moisture from a bathroom vent is less effective, causing your home to use more energy to heat/cool. A bathroom vent that is having a hard time pushing air out of your bathroom because of incorrect ducting also uses more energy than necessary.

This is where "standard practice" is frequently ill-advised and wrong. The installation manual for our bathroom fan specifies rigid pipe -- either PVC or rigid metal duct. Seams are to be either glued (PVC) or taped with foil tape (not duct tape). The reason it specifies rigid pipe is because to reach the rated extraction of air--in this case 110 cubic feet per minute (CFM)--the air must be free to flow. Any restrictions on that flow, such as interior "ribs" from the flexible stuff you see above or on flexible metal hose/duct cause the fan to work harder even while less air is making it out of your bathroom. Our particular fan recommends a run of 2 to 3 feet straight out of the exhausting unit with a shallow-angle (not 90°) bend and then up out the roof. Flexible hoses that are allowed to dip or weave their way out of the attic create additional restrictions to air flow. And yet, flexible hoses are frequently "OK" with local building codes.

Does it really make a difference? OH, YEAH.

We installed the bath exhaust you see at the top of this post a little over a year ago. It was rated to exhaust 110 CFM, 40 CFM more than the fan it was replacing, which just couldn't seem to keep the moisture down in the bathroom. Condensation would build up on the walls and occasionally even run down them, if enough people showered in a short enough window of time. The new fan reduced that condensation, but not by a great enough amount. (The mirror still fogged!) I knew that we had ductwork hung at the gable end of the house, because you can see the end of the hose, if you look hard enough. So we finally "upgraded" to ductwork (rigid metal in our case) that met the specifications of the fan's manufacturer.

The condensation issues were over and done the next day, which is terrific for our indoor air quality. It might be even better for yours, if you live in a radon-prone area and use well water. (Radon is a known carcinogen.) Municipal water systems tend to have water stored for a period before use, allowing some decay of the radon prior to use. (They may also employ aeration or filtering to remove radon.) Well water, however, doesn't receive this protection, since it is an "on-demand" system. Wells tapping crystalline rock aquifers are at much higher risk for radon contamination than sand or sedimentary rock aquifers. Radon degasses during water use, especially when hot water is used. So dishwashing, clothes-washing and showering all increase our exposure to radon.  Showering is definitely the highest-risk activity, however, especially if your bathroom is not well ventilated.

One more note on getting good airflow out of the bathroom during showering--it doesn't pay to have a door that is super tight. A gap at the bottom of the bathroom door is necessary to ensure that there is air to replace that which is being sucked out of the bathroom. Otherwise, it's just like when your vacuum cleaner hose is stuck flat to the floor--high-pitched engine whine! Inability to suck!

Send this one to your friends--radon is responsible for lung cancer in many, many people--about 21,000 people a year die as a result of radon-induced lung cancer.

Sources:  Duke University, Florida Dept. of Health, CA Green Building Codes, 4.506.1 

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