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Archive for August, 2009

Buns from the oven

Posted by eemilla on August 30, 2009

I’m not someone who has to cook everything from scratch, but I am demanding about my food so if I cannot find an easier substitute then I will make it myself.  Thanks to SmittenKitchen for this lovely light brioche bun recipe.  Although I don’t make many baked goods without subbing out some of the bread or all purpose flour with wheat flour; here though, I only traded 1/4 cup of bread flour out for the whole wheat in order to keep the light in the recipe.  As a result they turned out just like the buns I was buying from a local bakery until they started selling defrosted (and as a result deflated) hoagies.  We used them for phillies, and next time I think I will stretch them out into hoagie rolls.  I will also likely trade another quarter cup of bread for wheat flour.

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Recycling, Composting, Worms, and More

Posted by eemilla on August 30, 2009

Before recycling was so widespread and typical, my parents supplemented our family’s income by recycling our glass at the old Ball plant, and my dad collected aluminum cans to exchange for cash at Biltmore Metal.  This early exposure ensured that recycling has always been second nature.  My work study was campus recycling coordinator, which was a nice inflated title for the dirty work of sorting recycling on a college campus (albeit a small one).  I’ve started the bin at every place that I have worked, and I still remind my colleagues to recycle (even though they have to pass the bin on their way to the main trash can).  With our recycling at home, we produce a bag of trash a week thanks to the cat litter, and my honey drives two trash cans and a printer box of shredded and mixed paper once a month to the recycling center on the North side of town.  Although we could have the recycling picked up, we would have to put it in a disposable blue plastic bag.  I have lobbied the Hendersonville Rd Earth Fare (the “healthy” grocery store) to replace the recycling trailer that used to reside there (incidentally, the old Ball plant used to stand there too), but they advised the annual cost, $60,000, is more than they wish to spend.  With the mark up on everything in that store, surely they could spare that much a year!

Composting, on the other hand, scared me.  It seemed gross with a huge potential to become a mess and an attractive nuisance for rodents and vermin.  My mom started a compost bin one summer, and it really stank.  It also become a bee hive, for yellow jackets.  Once I did some reading my worries were assuaged, and when we moved into our first apartment (a duplex with a yard and flower beds!) together we started a compost bin.  The first bin did succumb to my inherent laziness, but it was far enough away from the windows and the neighbors to not bother anyone.  The fencing I installed did little to keep the neighbor’s dog from eating scraps, but it did make turning it difficult.  Our current pile is a free form pile on the ivy covered far bank of the drainage ditch stream that divides our little lot.  It doesn’t smell even though it almost never gets turned, and I cannot figure out why.  However, the soil on the bottom is the prettiest, blackest soil.  We used copious amounts to amend the soil of our shared victory garden last year, and we grew some awesome herbs, tomatoes, arugula, and cantaloupes.  We don’t put any cooked food in, but it does get plenty of peelings, leaves, twigs, and grass clippings.

I am also interested in starting a worm bin to produce house plant food as well as worms for the compost pile.  I have been mulling over the worm bin for about a year or so, so maybe by the end of this calendar year I will have one going.  I will even post photos of its supplies and construction, which will hopefully goad those with limited space into starting some form of composting.

As we all know, recycling is one only part of the environmental trinity.  Reducing and reusing come first.  The first part of this post address last week’s Change the World Challenge from Small Footprints, and this second part is in response to the current challenge.  Think about all of the things you have plugged in that draw phantom loads, or even worse all things that you might leave on when you leave a room.  When we were kids, my parents were always harping about leaving lights on when we left the room, but now when I visit my mom I’m the one walking through cutting all of the televisions and lights off.  I call my husband a Progress Energy agent (after our local power plant) for his habit of cutting on a light in every room.

When the computer isn’t going to be used for over two hours, we turn it off, but otherwise we sleep it (I use the same standard at work for my lunch break or when I have to be in the field, always turning the monitors off).  When we are listening to music, we sleep the computer screen (our Mac has one power button which is why we don’t turn the monitor off).  We do not use standby mode for our DVD player, and we always turn the TV and the cable box off.  One thing we failed to consider when we purchased our dishwasher is that every time you open the door, the display comes on and it stays on for a several minutes; even with this irksome feature, it still had a strong Engery Star rating.  The best thing about power strips is that you can unplug all of the appliances with one fell swoop, thereby eliminating the phantom loads from several appliances all at once.  Although the appliance with the largest phantom load, our computer, we have a battery back up due to the numerous power surges our area experiences so it cannot be unplugged (it will beep).  We do be sure to always unplug the phone charger as soon as the phone is charged; not only does it suck plenty of power, it can be a fire hazard.  Although my parents always unplugged everything when we went out of town, it is a habit that I have fallen out of so I will endeavor to bring the tradition back for our travels.

Small steps and changes add up to bring big changes in our lives, especially when we add up all the small steps our friends and neighbors are taking.  A few years ago a peak power plant was proposed, but community outcry shut it down.  By reducing our electricity consumption, especially during peak hours, we can help prevent the need for another power plant.  One of the cheapest ways to reduce your consumption is a clothesline; the line itself was about fifteen dollars (but if you don’t opt for retractable one that I did for ease of installation you could probably put a line up for less than ten dollars) plus a few dollars for braces and extra clothes pins. Check out  250 Megawatts of Community Action; I am lobbying my husband to change our rate plan to the peak power plan, but thus far he isn’t convinced.  At least we’ll be unplugging those power strips on our next trip.

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Clean and Green

Posted by eemilla on August 19, 2009

I have successfully procrastinated cleaning the bathroom for three days now!  One of the reasons I hate cleaning the bathroom is that I haven’t greened up with the cleaning products.  I have stopped using paper towels for most cleaning, and I now have a nice collection of rags and dog towels.  However, I still use chemical surface cleaners, even as I soak the shower curtain in the washer with vinegar and use old newspaper to clean the mirror.  Small Footprints from Reduce Footprints is challenging everyone to green up the cleaning routine.  Over the past year, many a green cleaning tip has appeared, and this week there are some handy links for homemade green cleaners.

My favorites is one my mom used: vinegar water in a spray bottle for glass cleaner.  My husband worked in a restaurant that cleaned their bathroom mirror with old newspaper, and I love that one too!  I have used baking soda in lieu of abrasive powders, but it isn’t something that has turned into a habit yet.  I guess I cannot procrastinate any longer so later today I will employing some of the suggestions along with plenty of elbow grease.

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Change the World Wednesdays

Posted by eemilla on August 9, 2009

I’ve been slack about posting the Change the World Wednesday Challenges from Reduce Footprints, but this week the challenge involves food.  This week if you are an omnivore then go vegetarian one full day, and if you regularly eat veg then go vegan one full day.  Our household will go vegan as much as possible this week (cheese is something I cannot live without).

My extended family and the other meat eaters in my life seem to get hung up on the “missing” protein and fear of tofu.  Just like chicken that isn’t properly cooked and seasoned, tofu will not taste good.  Another issue with tofu seems to be texture; we use extra firm almost all of the time even for marinara (it gets pureed in with the rest of the veggies using the immersion blender).  To make tofu more firm and chewy, press it to remove excess water (between your hands or with a weight) then freeze it.  My husband also likes to bake it for 30 minutes on 350F in a flavorful liquid then add it to the stir fry or salad.

Earlier this week I threw together a nice fresh little meal of quinoa and baked tofu; I messed up by not making enough for lunch the next day.  We had two servings each for a dinner.  Below is the recipe.

Papaya Quinoa

  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 cup papaya juice (feel to substitute the fruit juice of your choice)
  • .25 cup water
  • 1 pound extra firm tofu
  • 1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
  • 2 gloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1″ fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and minced
  • 6 or so leaves of kale, de-stemmed and chopped
  • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Pour the quinoa into a strainer and rinse it for a few minutes to remove the bitter coating (better safe than sorry on the rinsing because if you skimp you will ruin the entire dish; I speak from sad experience).  Move into a medium sized saucepan and toast for a few minutes over medium heat.  While the quinoa is toasting, slice the tofu into four slabs and press the excess water.  Back to the quinoa, add .75 cups of juice and the .25 cup of water to the pan then increase the heat to high and bring to a boil.  Once it boils, stir it once or twice then reduce heat to medium and cover and allow to cook until the liquid is absorbed (twenty or so minutes).  Once done set aside.

In the meantime, place the tofu in a glass baking dish and cover with the rest of the juice, tamari, garlic, and ginger.  Turn the tofu to be sure both sides are exposed to the liquid.  Bake for about thirty minutes, flipping the tofu halfway through.  It is done when it has a nice crust and smells yummy.

After you turn the tofu at the halfway point, heat the oil over medium heat in your favorite skillet (we can’t live without our seasoned cast iron one). Begin preparing and cutting your vegetables then add them as you cut them.  Grind the pepper over the veggies and allow to cook over medium-low.  By the time the kale’s green has brightened, your tofu should be done.  Cube it and add the entire baking dish to the veggies.  Stir in the coriander and the quinoa and serve.

Tempeh

The next vegetable protein I discovered was tempeh.  While it is still a soy protein, it has a solid texture and more of its own flavor (although still very mild).  We usually get the flax seed flavor for its omega-3 punch.  The first tempeh dishes I cooked I just subbed tempeh for tofu in stir fry.  However, I think tempeh lends itself to sandwiches since it comes in nice square or rectangular packages, and I would much rather have tempeh in my burrito than tofu.

Tempeh Sandwich

  • 2 tablespoons miso (I prefer something milder than red, like chickpea or white)
  • 4 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1 pound tempeh
  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • 1-3 cloves garlic
  • eight slices of thick, hearty bread
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • half of a red onion (or less depending on taste)
  • 1 cup spinach

Combine the miso, water, and lemon juice to make a paste.  Stir in the tahini.  This is a riff on a dressing recipe from Miso Master, and I usually don’t measure it but rather taste it.  Slice the tempeh into half crosswise, making two rectangles then divide those into four thinner pieces (like dividing a cake layer).  Cook these in a skillet with oil and garlic until they have a nice crusty exterior or bake or grill them.  Divide all of the ingredients for four sandwiches and assemble them without the miso spread as heat kills the beneficial bacteria in miso.  Toss as many onto a panini press as it will hold and toast the bread for a few minutes.  For our wedding we received a Forman grill which works great as a panini press, but before that I would’ve tossed the sandwich into the skillet and used a spatula and some elbow grease and flipped it to toast both sides.  Once it has been toasted spread the miso spread on the top slice then reassemble and cut diagonally for eating ease.  For a vegetarian option, I love this with manchego.

Seitan

My most recent vegetable protein find and probably my favorite is seitan.  It is the meatiest of the vegetable proteins, and as such it lends itself to more fine dining applications, although I think it is just perfect in my lentil and peanut butter stir fry and seitan phillies (even without cheese).  The Laughing Seed works magic and turns seitan into soysage, which I think is so similar to grocery store sausage patties from my childhood that they are perfect for someone scared of vegetarian cuisine.  In the winter I make a delicious stew that I envision should be made with game, but between the mushrooms, seitan, rosemary, and red wine there is no need for game.  The Co-op has had some amazing shiitakes for the past few weeks, so for my honey’s birthday I made him the mushroom bourguignon from SmittenKitchen (I didn’t take any photos, though).  With shiitakes being a bit pricey, I added much cheaper seitan to fill the dish out.  Homemade seitan is really easy to make, especially if you purchase the wheat gluten rather than make your own, but unless you have a pan and the storage to make pounds I think it is more cost effective to purchase it.

mushroom bourguignon

mushroom bourguignon from the archives

When thinking about vegetable protein, please don’t limit yourself to the “meat substitutes”.  Lentils, chickpeas, fava beans, mung beans, and quinoa among other grains and beans are fairly good sources of protein with none (or substantially less) of the fat found in animal protein (not to mention the cost benefit).

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A Short Bar Hop

Posted by eemilla on August 1, 2009

Out to see a show and enjoy a few drinks away from the sticky beer covered floor of the Orange Peel, we stopped into Rankin Vault.  The scene wasn’t for us: overcrowded and over-cleavaged.  As far as the drinks, we only stayed for one overpriced Sapphire with a twist.  The eight dollar price tag was okay, but (as my husband so colorfully and aptly described it) the bartender totally jerked my drink off; by the time it arrived in my glass it was about half water and half gin.  I like my gin chilled with a twist but don’t short my pour and then melt a jigger of ice to cover it up.

As we moved closer to the Peel, we passed the newly opened Possana, but they looked about to close so we asked for a menu and crossed the street and ambled down to The New French Bar.  I’ve never been particularlly impressed with the food, and I cannot stomach the permeated smoke stench of the bar even for the Biltmore Ave people watching window (and even when smoking isn’t permitted before nine pm), but they have a nice little courtyard in the back that abuts to Diana Wortham.  When they have live music the dropped area is the stage, and they often set up a little bar station close by.  As a plus they have a few tables that you can use in the breezeway to do the Biltmore Avenue people watching (from this vantage point you can also gawk at Marble Slab customers).  These tables can be either self service or wait service depending on the number of servers and their table load; on the night we went the bartender tried unsuccessfully to have a server visit our table, so we took the self service option.  The advertised special was $4 Sapphires, but I promise you whatever gin was in the Sapphire bottle wasn’t Sapphire (maybe Seagram’s or something else from the well).  Although our service and drinks weren’t great, I still like the New New as a place for a cheap drink before you get to where you’re going.

Rankin Vault

Rankin Vault

New French Bar

New French Bar

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The Sky Bar!

Posted by eemilla on August 1, 2009

Finally after many a failed attempt (Sorry we’re at capacity), we made a first visit to The Sky Bar last year right before they closed for the season.  We knew the bartender, so the drinks were great and the service was prompt.  Our most recent visit didn’t give us the same personalized service, but hey what can one expect on Bele Chere weekend?  There is no food, just drinks and the skyline.  If the top tier is crowded, there are two more below; however, the better service is on the top tier as it is closest to the bar, and each tier is a different section so you might be asked to transfer your tab if you move down a tier for a table (the top tier is table free for maximum gazing and snap shooting).  The views are great, and this time I had my camera (but I was also a few drinks in so this is really the only one I like).

View from the Sky Bar

Why oh why don’t we have more roof top bars or restaurants (a number of other buildings have better views)?  As a pittance for being such a stain on our skyline, BB&T needs to sponsor a wonderful restauranteur to open another restaurant up there.  The drinks should be good without the Grove Park price tag, and the food should be something other than boring, overpriced steaks (again avoid the Grove Park).  With the Asheville city primary fast approaching, I hope one of the candidates (Mr. Miller this is your specialty, right?) will bring this important issue to the forefront!

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