Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Hella Vegan Meats

Chickwheat lemongrass chicken
When I'm into something, I'm really into something. So what is it now? Making mock meats from scratch. It turns out, although I don't know why I'm surprised, that I can make delicious mock meats as good as Field Roast at home. 

Chickwheat stir-fried with mustard greens
It all started with this chickwheat recipe from Avocados and Ales. The next logical step was to substitute different beans for the chickpeas to make fake beef and lamb.

Freshly shredded fake meats
The method is simple: blend up your mostly umami-filled ingredients with some liquid. This may include mushroom powder, miso paste, Marmite, soy sauce, and either tofu or beans. Then, knead the blended ingredients with vital wheat gluten and perhaps some chickpea flour or potatoes. Steam your loaf, and then shred it once it cools down. What your left with is homemade chicken/beef/meat substitute that is perfect for stir-fries! I've been making double batches of this and freezing it because I know that my obsession will come to an end and future me will be happy that I have a quick protein to cook.

Unribs using the recipe in The Vegan Pantry
No more Field Roast or sketchy mock meats from abroad! The boy, my eternal guinea pig, has given everything a thumbs up so far. The favorites are lemongrass chickwheat, and the Now and Zen burger and unribs from The Vegan Pantry. I tried a vegan corned beef recipe from Connie's RAWsome Kitchen, but I think I overcooked it and the allspice was overpowering. I'll try it again since I like the idea of using a raw beat in the wheat meat.

Have you experimented with mock meats and cheeses? I'd love to try some new recipes, so please lemme know in the comments!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Food Systems

Exploded bread - I'm still scared of burning the f*ck out of my hands as I lower the bread into the Dutch oven

The new dog has put a dent in our dining out adventures, mostly because Jaco doesn't like to be alone. While we are building up his crate endurance with minimal stress (to both us and our neighbors who can probably hear him crying through our walls), we've been eating in more. This isn't a bad thing, especially now that the boy and I have more time.

In order to feed ourselves 2.5 meals a day (breakfast is a tricky meal for those of us who snooze our alarms 12 times before getting up), I've had to apply some food systems (I don't know if that's the right term, but I'm going to roll with it) to make sure there is always something ready to make and eat with minimal fuss.  It would be a lie for me to say that this doesn't take up a chunk of time, but I do try to make things in parallel and split tasks with the boy so we can run efficiently. Yes, that sounds disgustingly functional, but what else can you expect from two engineers?

First system: bread. Although I had a run where I was cooking bread often, I stopped because we couldn't eat as much bread as I was cooking on a weekly basis. Baking only 1 loaf at a time, although the tastiest way to go about it, seemed wasteful. But then, fast forward 9 years later, and we are both around the house for more meals. The boy became interested in baking bread while I was away at work. At first, I pointed him towards my old methods and recipes, but I was interested in delving deeper into no knead bread. My first attempt were tasteless, and I came to the conclusion that no knead bread had lots of promise, but the flavor wasn't there. Kenji at Serious Eats solved this problem by a 3-5 day ferment. Nope, not for me. I thought about using a starter, and after a quick search, found that many people have tackled this issue already. My favorite method is from Chez Pim. She mixes her dough in the evening, lets it rest overnight, and then does the final proofing and baking in the morning. Easy enough. My only issue is that since we bake maybe 1-2 times a week, I didn't want to continually feed the starter. My solution is to take the starter out of the refrigerator the morning I want to make dough, let it sit out and perhaps feed it if it's been awhile since its last meal, and then make the dough. This wakes up the yeast. Feeding a starter daily was becoming a chore, and since I'm cheap, it pained me to dump some of the starter every time it needed to be fed. Sure, you can make crackers or pancakes out of it, but I was forcing myself to make it. I find that feeding the starter the day of bread making still gives me good results. After I use the starter, I feed it and immediately stick it in the refrigerator for a nap. Some other tips I gleaned along the way: use an instant read thermometer to see if the bread is done (temperature should be between 200-210 degF) and use rice flour to dust the banneton (brotform). Now, I just need to find a reliable way to drop the bread into the  Dutch oven. I always end up hesitating because the Dutch oven is the temperature of the sun, and my bread comes out deformed because I couldn't drop in the dough straight.

Root vegetables ready to load up into the oven as it preheats

While the Dutch oven is heating up in the oven, I toss a pan of vegetables in the oven. If those vegetables don't become dinner that evening, I use it the next day as a vegetable soup, that is also symbiotic with bread. Sometimes I make a fancy soup where I sauté onions and garlic, but other times I just put it into my Vitamix with chicken broth and let it whiz around for 7 minutes or so. Both versions taste good, but be sure to add an acid like lemon juice or vinegar, as well as enough salt, so the soup doesn't taste too sweet. 

Roasted broccoli soup
And that chicken broth? The broth comes from bones leftover from chicken dinners and vegetable scraps (my favorites are leek tops and celery middles) from previous meals. I saw both the vegetable scraps and the bones in the freezer until they hit critical mass, meaning I really need some freezer space. Sometimes the bones are raw, but most of the time the bones were roasted into some sort of chicken bake, but cut away and stored into the bone jar before I plate my food. I can't think of the last time I had to buy chicken broth. If you have an electric pressure cooker, this is really easy. I put everything into my Instant Pot and cook it on manual high for an hour. Meanwhile, I can do whatever else needs some attention because I don't have to babysit the stock.

Figs! And smoked gorgonzola!
As far as food collecting goes, I joined Urban Tilth's CSA. I used to be a part of Full Belly's CSA, but Urban Tilth has many advantages for us. First, they have a biweekly subscription, perfect for us without drowning us in produce every week. Second, I pick up the produce from the farm, conveniently a few miles away from my house. I get to check out the farm and see plants that I can grow at home. Third, my money goes towards a good cause, especially since I can have a "pay it forward" subscription that donates a portion of my subscription fees to a local family that needs a little help. Also, Urban Tilth is about community. They have volunteer days where I can work alongside the people growing my food and my other neighbors. I ended up looking for another CSA when trying to figure out what I could do at the local level to make improvements and build community. I don't know if this is the case with you, but the constant barrage of stupid politics in inescapable and I needed proof that there are groups out there trying to do the right thing.

Monday, August 28, 2017

And then there were 3...

Unbeknownst to me, but not at all surprising, the boy had been looking for another dog to call his very own. I argued that Sesame was enough dog for the two of us, but the heart wants what the heart wants and that same argument didn't work for me when it was just us and Mingus. So... Here's Jaco! 

Jaco's name rhymes with "taco," and he is loosely named after Jaco Pastorius. My hope is that Jaco won't get kicked out of a club by Santana, although that would be one hell of a bar story. If you can spot the relationship between the name Mingus and Jaco, congratulations! It wasn't something I would have known if it weren't for the boy. We floated so many names for this dog, bad names like Brozo ("bro" plus Bozo the Clown), Hoodoo, and Goose, but name fatigue set in. So, when we finally found a name the other person didn't hate, the deed was done. Dog tags were ordered, license and obedience class forms were filled out, and Jaco it is! Also, for the record, Brozo was not a name I came up with. I don't ever want to be associated with the creation of that horrible, horrible name.

Yes, he looks a lot like Mingus. This was very disturbing to me when we first met him at the Hayward Animal Shelter. I didn't want a Mingus replacement. However, once we got to know him, the similarities stop at his looks.

The boy is smitten. He sewed (yes, sewed!) Jaco a custom collar and leash. He made Jaco a 2 inch wide martingale collar that looks quite smashing on Jaco. I especially love the checkered pattern, making him either a racing dog or a dog who likes ska.

Isn't that collar great? I keep on thinking that a side gig making dog collars and knitting patterns would be a nice alternative income stream, but then the work involved always makes me reconsider. 

Now, we're are back to wearing dog treat bags in public and Greaseball and Sesame are helping us train an untrained, 1.5-year-old malamute. The new twist is that since Jaco needs so much exercise and the boy is his primary caretaker, Jaco and the boy have walked to at least 6 breweries. Yes, they get their exercise by walking to breweries! This doesn't sound like a lot until you realize that we've only had Jaco for 2 weeks.  This is the first dog we've had who is good with random people and dogs approaching him and who has no trouble settling down in a public space, so my husband's excuse is that he wants to keep this dog socialized. My GSDs have always been the manners police, and Mingus, while good with people and dogs, wouldn't settle. So, this is a new thing for us. Brewery dog, it is! If you have a lead on good breweries in the Bay Area (the closer to Berkeley, the better), please don't be shy about letting me know in the comments.

Monday, February 27, 2017

As the Garden Grows

Rain, rain, rain. That has been my garden's theme this rather mild winter in Northern California. While this makes me want to hoard even more rain barrels just in case this summer is a dry one, it also has convinced me that I never want to live in a climate where this much rain is normal. Don't get me wrong - we needed this rain. But, the earlier rains in January and December I blame for making me restless. And, since I hate being out in the rain, I also blame the rain for making me and Sesame out of shape. I'd be a sloth if I lived in Portland or Seattle. Well, at least now I know that I'm meant for a climate with more sun.

If anyone wants to see more garden photos, my current obsession, you can find them at  @foggyveggiegarden on Instagram. I'm cramming by brain with books on high-yield gardening, permaculture (fascinating!), and dreaming of a south-facing garden. My current garden gets 6 hours of direct sunlight, at most, and it's bumming me out. However, I have managed to grow a fair amount of greens (and purples and reds) for us to eat this winter. 

The beauty of our mild climate is that I can grow food all year round, even though our lack of light makes the vegetables somewhat stunted compared to a sunnier local. Our neighbor across the street has the perfect vegetable-growing space, and I covet it daily. Yet, I can't really complain. Other parts of this country are buried in snow.

My other obsession, still, is my Instant Pot, the kitchen appliance I never thought I'd want yet now can't imagine living without. I haven't been without homemade stock since getting this device. I've also made Vietnamese yogurt multiple times, pho ga, countless Indian dishes, and amazake (much maltier than I expected in comparison to the amazake I buy from the store). My Instant Pot has replaced my slow cooker, and surprisingly, my fancy pants rice cooker. I can make perfect jasmine rice in 20 minutes, no lie! My fancy rice cooker will probably go to a relative soon.

Sesame and Greaseball are doing well. Greaseball is as grumpy as ever, and Sesame continues to become a better dog, although I'm resigned that she loves the boy more than me. I feed her, train her, and walk her, but all the boy needs to do is exist to be the apple of her eye. If he's watching television, she's watching him. If he's working at home, she's by his feet. When he plays the bass, she's his biggest fan. Can you tell I'm annoyed by this? I reason that because of this, I get to pick out our second dog, too. So far, he's not buying it.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Winter Squash Vadas and Brown Basmati Basmati Rice (Instant Pot Recipe)

Kobacha Squash Vadas in Korma Sauce

I have fallen madly in love with an electric pressure cooker, the Instant Pot (IP). I agonize over purchases since I like to keep my kitchen lean, but this kept on calling to me. If it wasn't for a birthday and a husband who was completely tired of discussing the pros and cons of an Instant Pot for several consecutive weeks, I would still be in my analysis/paralysis stage. 

What I find the most interesting about pressure cooking is something I haven't quite mastered: stacking multiple dishes in the cooker. For example, you can cook rice, dal, and steam vegetables in one pot. Indian cooks have mastered it, and I've been reading Indian cooking blogs and pressure cooking forums like crazy to try to learn how they do it.

Looking around the kitchen, I had a kobacha squash and some cashew/soy yogurt (also made in the IP) that were ripe for the picking. I also wanted to experiment with stacking, so I scoured my Indian cookbooks for a recipe using both. I came across a recipe for vadas, Indian dumplings that are either steamed or fried, and often added to a sauce. 

This experiment turned out great! While the rice was cooking and the vadas were steaming in the IP, I made the korma sauce and a mustard green stir-fry on the stovetop. The longest part of the process was grating the squash. While winter squash is in season I'm going to make these a lot! I bet they freeze well, too.
Raw vadas and rice, ready to be cooked

Winter Squash Vadas and Brown Basmati Basmati Rice
The vada recipe is adapted from Laxmi's Vegetarian Kitchen by Laxmi Hiremath.
Mix together all the ingredients listed below:
1 1/2 C grated winter squash (I used kabocha, but butternut and acorn squashes would work as well)
1-2 fresh chiles, minced
1/2 cup atta (whole wheat flour)
2 T besan (chickpea flour)
1/2 tsp each ground coriander, ground cumin, and salt
1/8 tsp baking powder
Shape the vadas into balls and place on an oiled steam tray that fits in your IP. I use a rack and try that came with my WMF stovetop pressure cooker. I was able to make 16 vadas with this recipe.

Steamed vadas!

Brown Basmati Rice
There are a lot of different methods I've read about for making brown basmati rice, but the following works for me. I like my rice firm, not mushy.
Measure the amount of rice you want. For the two of us, I use 1.5 cups. Rinse the rice well. In the Instant Pot, add an equal amount of water to dry rice (1:1). Add the rinsed, drained rice to the pot. 
Put a rack and the steaming tray with the vadas into the pot. Put the lid on, and set the valve to sealing. 
Cook the rice and vadas in Manual high mode for 22 minutes, then natural pressure release for 10 minutes.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Making More Booze Than We Can Drink

A pretty picture of the makgeolli all bottled up before I ended up spraying half of the contents down the drain.
Although we've had an uptick in productivity from our garden, we're still by no means growing enough veggies for our daily use. So far, this has been fine because we usually do dinner out 3 times a week. Also, we've made our front yard look like a prison compound by caging off all our edibles to deter deer. It's working, although I just hate the way it looks - no French potager garden for us. Instead, we have what I would describe as a somewhat efficient, American ugly garden. Perhaps I'm being too harsh, but I'm still bitter about the limitations the deer put on our yard. About the 10th time they came nibbling our greens, I had enough and we bought rabbit fencing and fenced the whole damn yard in. 

While we fail at gardening, we excel at making booze (I realize that it sounds like the second part of the sentence sounds like the reason for the first part of the sentence). We have more booze here of the homemade variety that we can possibly drink. Last week, after reminiscing on the terrific Korean dive bar scene (delicious Korean street food and booze make Korean bars kick ass in comparison to their American counterparts), I attempted my first batch of makgeolli (Korean sparkling rice wine). Nevermind that we have at least 15 gallons of beer and wine fermenting already. What's another 5 gallons?
Perpetual spinach, amaranth, and bok choi
Remember my last post where I said that my husband and I seem to work in parallel rather than in series when working on projects together? The same thing happened here. This started out as my project, but since it involved making booze, the boy (who has made hundreds of batches of beer) had set ideas on how I should go about making booze. While I was out in the front yard piddling in the garden, he dove into the project. And since he is known for his lack of moderation, he started us off with 6 pounds of rice. 6 pounds of rice!!! I was going to use 5 cups of rice for my first batch. 
By the time I realized that we were going to have gallons of potentially crappy makgeolli, I had to keep going since the ball was in motion. So far, I've bottled it up, sprayed one bottle all over the kitchen after checking it, then sprayed 3 bottles into the sink with a tool over them to prevent more blow outs. The fermentation was still too active when I bottled them, so the fear was that the glass growlers would all explode. Dare I say that this tops the "molten beans on the ceiling" incident of 2001?
Straining the rice from the rice wine
Sesame and I are onto our 3rd round of Canine Circus school. I dig it, she digs it, and it makes us both communicate better. It sounds like couples therapy, which in some way, I guess it is. 

Sesame at her happy place
Other random notes to share that won't fit anywhere else: watch Stranger Things on Netflix. It reminds me of the Goonies and X-Files all wrapped up into one. Winona Ryder is excellent! Read We are Water by Wally Lamb. This is the first non-dystopian novel I've read in some time, and I couldn't put it down. I'm currently reading another Wally Lamb novel, The Hour I First Believed, and although it's good, the subject matter (Columbine shootings) makes it hard for me to read in big chunks. Something always disturbs me and I have to put it down.

Also, I may have another knitting pattern out soon! If anyone feels like test knitting a small cowl, drop me a line.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Starving Urban Homesteaders

At one point, I think I said I'd like to grow 50% of our vegetables. At this point, it's safe to say that the percentage is closer to 1%.  The list of forces working against me are, in no particular order, as follows: deer, hungry caterpillars, slugs, wind, fog, neighbor's unleashed dog, under watering, overwatering, and human error.
My beautiful plant starts, before they were consumed by the wild
With any luck, I will be able to have at least 1 purple jalapeño, some ground cherries, and purple and green tomatillos. It would take a miracle for us to get any sunflower seeds since the deer took a liking to the sunflower leaves. And, thus far, I've harvested 3 round squashes, some tree collards, maybe a pound of yellow snow peas, and a few cups of cilantro all over the course of 6 weeks.

At first, the boy and I thought a great way to make us up our gardening game would be to not buy vegetables so we'd be forced to grow more and better vegetables. This has resulted in us both going a little crazy due to lack of vegetables and fruit, save for the occasional sungold tomato that we cut in half and share. We are breaking our store-bought vegetable and fruit fast today because we believe being malnourished is detrimental to our work and to our health.

The one time we came really close to having a substantial amount of nourishment, this time in the form of fava beans I planted in March, the boy ripped up the garden to add terraces. We find that we don't work so much together as in parallel, and this results in other similar instances of things happening in orders that are not ideal. The proper order would have been to build the terracing, amend the soil, plant the beans, water beans, and then enjoy the harvest. Instead, what happened was plant the beans, amend the soil, install a rain water catchment system, water the beans, and then rip them out right as they are producing beans to build retaining walls.

How are your gardens growing this year? Got any tips on growing in the fog, deer proofing a yard that won't make it look like a prison compound? You do? I'd love it if you leave a comment!

Zoolander Sesame and the boy's homemade chair
In other news, since the boy has had a few weeks off, he's a restless force around the yard and house (see previous paragraph with fava bean incident). After another one of my 12-hour work days, I came home not to the side yard terraced but to a homemade chair made with coastal redwood branches from our yard and our neighbor's yard. You see, our neighbor hates the 80-year-old tree in our yard, the one that was there 65 years before he decided to buy his house next door, and he gives us crap about that tree's existence pretty much every time we talk. For the past 10 years, our neighbor has thrown branches of our tree that fall into his yard back into our yard. Is it an asshole move? Yes, especially when we are in the yard or our dog is in the yard. So, in the spirit of making lemonade out of lemons, the boy made a bench with some of tossed branches and gave that to his brother as a wedding gift, and he made me this throne last week. We joke about selling these artisanal chairs for thousands of dollars because it seems like something that would piss our neighbor off more than our tree.

Awesome Korean bar in LA's K-town
Over the 4th of July holiday, I spent a few days in SoCal. Although I would never move there unless under extreme duress, LA has some good things going for it. Take Koreatown, for example. There is no equivalent in California, I'm sure. The Korean bar food at Dan Sung Sa in LA made my mouth sing even as my old ears were ringing from all the noise. Did you know that there is such a thing as corn cheese? Neither did I, and now it's my mission to seek out all version of it in the Bay Area. There is another Korean bar in Oakland, also called Dan Sung Sa but commonly known as Porno Palace, that I want to visit soon so I can eat more corn cheese.

Monday, May 9, 2016

And the Gardening and Kitchen Experiments Continue...

It's been roughly two months now since I decided to revamp the garden, and I'm finally happy with its progress. During the first month, since I'd let the front yard atrophy for a year, I was weeding, hacking back bushes, and pulling ivy.  Also, I'd never been happy with the previous landscape design, and I wanted something that was more functional (more vegetable gardening space), yet not an eyesore. Since my only choice for a food garden is to have it in the front yard, it gets tricky. 

For those of you not in California, we're in the midst of a drought. For me, this means that anytime I use water in the garden, it has to be for edibles 99% of the time. The succulents, once established, can be watered once a month. We put in a rain barrel system and it's been unusually rainy, so all this gardening I'm doing now hasn't used city water.

Chinese Dunce Caps are branching out!
I've added three more vegetable gardening areas, either by wall or by tearing out the previous, inedible landscaping, and now I'm in the process of growing green manure and clearing out yard waste (old scrap wood) around the house. It's amazing what you can put out for free, sometimes with the help of Craigslist or the homestead hookup list, and the creative things people use what I would normally throw away is astounding. For example, the guy who picked up the old oak scrap leftover from taking apart 3 wine barrel planters is going to turn the wood into biochar.

My favorite succulent, the dinner plate aeonium
I have a tray of succulent leaves I've culled from the new plants. Now, 6 weeks later, I have succulent babies! Once they're a little bigger and they've used up all the nutrients in the mother leaves, I'll put them outside because the front yard is still has bare spots that need some erosion control.

Yesterday, I ordered a grow light setup online, mainly because when I grow most seedlings outdoors they're wimpy! This is what I didn't see before when I was lured by all the exotic seed packets that were all under $3 - there's a hidden cost!  The best grow light reviews, not surprisingly, are from people growing weed. It took me awhile to sort out what type of lights I should use and what would fit into our tiny house without looking like an eyesore.

The boy has mentioned several times that the cost of the vegetables we grow better be more than what we've put out, but I can stifle that conversation by pointing out his various toys in the garage that will never yield anything useful for us to both enjoy.

The collard and kale trees are recovering from the slugs. Favas are going well!
Sesame is back in Canine Circus School, and she likes to use school time to catch up on her sleep. If you want to see some adorable and impressive dog tricks, follow Canine Circus School on Instagram. You may even see some action shots and videos of us, that is, when Sesame isn't sleeping through school.

Circus School is the perfect place for a nap

Hiking it
Back in October, I started fermenting a jar of habaneros. 6 months later, I blended the fermented habaneros with lime juice and some of the brining liquid. It's good! Wicked hot and a little tart. Between this and the homemade Sriracha, I don't think we need to buy commercial hot sauce anymore.

The habaneros are finally ready to become hot sauce
I also brined some eggs for 40 days in preparation for making joong. Joong, at least in California, is usually described to those unfamiliar with it as "Chinese tamales" - I love how Mexican food is so prevalent here that I can use a tamale as a descriptor and people shake their heads in recognition. The reasons joong is likened to a tamale is because it's sticky rice mixed with a salted egg yolk, beans, and various pork products all wrapped up in a bamboo (traditional) or banana leaf. I've been using banana leaves because I have them on hand for making tempeh.

Brining eggs
I used this recipe for brining the eggs, but for my next batch, I'm going to add a splash of rice wine and star anise per this recipe. The previous attempt was good, but the flavor was a little flat. It still tasted better than what I get from the Chinese markets, and by using my own eggs I know that the quality is better, but I think a seasoned egg yolk will be delicious. This time, I have a dozen eggs I traded with friends. The boy makes beer, and our friends use the spent grains to feed their goats, chickens, and turkeys.

Finished yolk!
The hardest part is waiting for the yolks to be finished, but since making joong is a lot of work (nothing hard, but a lot of preparation), the 40 days gives us enough time to recover.

Until next time, blogosphere! I notice that a lot of bloggers I follow have moved to Instagram, and that's where I spend the bulk of my social media allotment. So, follow me there if you'd like to see more pictures of Greaseball, Sesame, or be bombarded with succulent and garden photos.  My user ID is sungoldtomato.

Monday, April 11, 2016

2016 Garden Shakedown

In February, one of my client's landscaping was overhauled with drought-friendly plants. Mostly succulents and grasses. The colors of the succulents, purple and dusty blue, made me pause every time I passed it. I started reading up on succulents, and discovered that they are low maintenance, have very little water needs once established, are relatively cheap, and are easy to propagate. Succulent obsession in 3, 2, 1...

Ground zero of succulent obsession
Now, a couple months later, I overhauled our front yard to include a ribbon of succulents along a previously boring stretch of soil. I decided that plants in the front yard garden had to either have low water requirements, or they had to feed me. Anything that got in the way of those two goals had to go. The only exception to this rule was the grass, shown below. Although it barely needed water, it was blocking sunlight to my food garden, so I spent a month chopping away at it and filling all our green waste bins to capacity. Now it's gone and a lovely Meyer lemon tree (aka my cocktail ingredient tree) is in its place.

Once I start getting into something, I start seeing it everywhere and I can't stop talking about it. Sempervivums, echeverias, crassulas, and aeoniums fill my dreams, along with kale and citrus plants.  I subscribed to Design for Serenity's Facebook page because there is a daily "Succulent Tip of the Day." 

My succulent garden is itty bitty because I'm cheap and because I have a number of propagation experiments going on, the most exciting being a tray of leaves I am misting once a week.

I repurposed several rocks I found in our front and back yards, and I made one terrifying trip to American Soil for rocks and clay soil amendment.  The trip was terrifying because I had a hatchback full of rocks and at one point I made a sharp turn and thought I heard my car window break (nothing was broken, but I can't figure out where that sound came from). I also had to drive my car into tight spaces and drive backwards while avoiding forklifts and an audience of (probably indifferent) people milling around. Oh well, part of learning new things is feeling like an idiot, so I should be used to that by now.

Sesame has been very patient with my new hobby, and I even try to incorporate training drills ("STAY!") while I play in the dirt.

This installation looks like a tombstone. What it needs is a big spiral aloe in the front of it, but see the part above where I state that I'm cheap. Those dark aeoniums were from the backyard and part of Mingus's pee garden. I really miss that dog.

I was constantly slipping on this sloped area to the food garden, so the boy and I created some traction by putting ledge stones leftover from our fireplace remodel. I interspersed elfin thyme (cutest name ever!) between the stones. Hopefully, the thyme will spread so it will look less like the steps have a disease. Landscape architect, I am not.

I've been told that this gardening period of mine is more pleasant, aesthetically speaking, than my tempeh period. I freaked a lot of people out with pictures of moldy beans, but hey! It's food! It's good food, but not pretty food.

My patch of Chinese garlic chives is back, as and my Richmond Pride collard tree is thriving.

Some yellow snow peas, squash, and snap peas are starting to gather steam.

Since my collard tree is doing so well, I'm propagating cuttings for it. These collards were so, so sweet during the winter, and they were great to have when nothing else in the garden was ready to eat. Therefore, I must have more! 

If I can grow 90% of my vegetables, I'd be so happy. This year, I'll settle for 50%. The boy and I made two new gardening areas in the front yard, and I'm currently green mulching them (refer to the part where I am cheap) instead of bringing in bags of good soil. I am determined to make this clay soil usable! 

Gardening is not for the faint-hearted, though. I think I've freaked myself out a few times by lifting rocks and finding disgusting things. Like this, for example. What is it? Eggs? If you know what they are, can you please leave a comment and assure me that they won't kill me? I started a few internet searches trying to ID these, but got grossed out by images and had to stop. 

When I discovered these disgusting white round things, I put the rock back down and went back in the house. It didn't help that I also unearthed slugs and some salamanders along with these weird globs. It took me about 15 minutes to venture out again to take a better look at them. They're not giant egg sacks, but tumors or something else gross on roots.  Maybe they're anemic radishes. If I can eat them, I don't think I will. Oh, man. I have to stop writing about this because I have goosebumps.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

T A N D E M O N I U M ! ! ! !

Tandemonium resting outside the auto parts store - we needed windshield wipers

At the end of January, the boy and I decided that all our exercise deficiencies could be solved by purchasing a tandem bike. You see, we live up a wicked-steep hill, and even a small trip to the store involves trudging up said hill. So, the new rule was that farmers' markets and grocery stores had to be reached by tandem bike.

In the back of my mind, I knew tandem bikes were perceived as dorky, but it wasn't until a Prius pulled near us and shouted "TANDEMONIUM!!!" that I realized just how far from cool we had become. We looked exactly like what we are: a middle-aged couple riding a ridiculous tandem bike.

However, the bike isn't ridiculous! It's amazing and amazingly practical! Not only are we becoming stronger, but so many chores we once did are now exciting. Buying toilet paper? So much more fun when you have to figure out a way to strap it to the bike and ride it up versus head out in our boring old car to do the same task. So far, the bike has over 200 miles on it from us riding around doing chores.

Wearing a bike helmet necessitates a new hairdo that won't be wrecked post helmet. I learned this hairdo from a 12-year-old on YouTube
 A high mileage road bike, the tandem is not. We decided one day to have brunch somewhere far away, and we clocked 54 miles that day. By the end of that day, we were hurting! The seats were uncomfortable, and worst, when were around mile 48, we started getting passed by all the "serious bikers, " those decked out in spandex and aerodynamic helmets. Most of them felt the need to say something to us. And because I was hangry and sore, it took all my might not to bite their heads off. One guy suggested that we were in the middle of a date, and he asked me where our bottle of wine and baguettes were hiding.  Others suggested that I didn't need to pedal, or that I was already not peddling. I grimaced, which I think they took for a smile. To be fair, though, see the picture of us below. Dorks. The ladybug hat with the Nutcase label doesn't help, although I love it dearly.

Could this be why people think we're dorks?
Stokers get very little respect. Everyone thinks I'm along for the ride, as if I'm a child on a bike trailer. It's not a passive position, because if I'm not paying attention, I could lean the wrong way and throw us off. Peddling when we have to go the same rate and the boy is in control has also been something we're working on smoothing out. Standing up to pedal when the bike shifts into an extremely low gear and the crunch noise happens meant that we needed to learn when to tell each other what's going on.

The first time we bombed down the hill, I demanded a cyclometer so I could see just how fast we were going so we could quantify how fast/slow is reasonable. The boy sort of understood the intent, and after the cyclometer was installed, he informed me that I scream when we go over 33 miles per hour. I've gotten better, and my current scream speed is 37.

The day we loaded the tandem with toilet paper
The bike has also been an excuse to hit happy hours around town, and to drink lightly during said happy hours since there is a hill to be conquered to get home. (I highly recommend happy hour at La Marcha in Berkeley.) Although we need these rains and I'm hoarding the rain water for my garden (see all the rain barrels on my IG account), I'll be happy to hop on the saddle again when the weather dries out.


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