Saturday, February 28, 2009

More with beans

There are many methods for cooking dried beans. So many that it makes a very simple task seem more intimidating than it is. Really, any method you find in a cookbook should work. If you love your pressure cooker, you might want to start with the recipe book that came with it. Otherwise, choose a recipe from a favorite cookbook. The recipe in Food Matters by Mark Bittman looks good. The Joy of Cooking has a lot of material on beans including a section on pressure cooking.

I cooked dried beans for the first time about twenty years ago from Laurel's Kitchen. I suppose that was the first vegetarian cookbook that most people my age owned. Unfortunately, my copy met its demise during a horrific putrid zucchini accident. So, for this pot, I used a recipe that I copied from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Cooking, mostly because it suggests using a bit of kombu to aid digestion and we have a lot of kombu left over from some experiments R did awhile ago with cooking rice.

I threw the beans in a flat baking pan and sorted through them last night, making sure that there weren't any rocks or mouse droppings, and then rinsed them and soaked the beans overnight. This morning I drained the soaking water, put the beans in a pot with water and some celery and onions and the kombu, and let them simmer for about an hour. That's it! Next I'll drain them, reserving the bean stock. I'll put half the beans and stock in the refrigerator and half in the freezer and they will be ready for any bean dishes that come my way.

My plan is to start cooking a pot of beans every other Saturday (on alternating Saturdays, I'll make chicken stock). That should help us eat lower on the food scale while decreasing our carbon footprint and grocery bill.

Friday, February 27, 2009

A Pot of Beans -- The Real Value Meal

An Applebee's commercial has been annoying me recently, something about "A night out for the cost of a night in!" But they're advertising 2 meals for $20. I can't remember the last time that I spent anywhere near as much as $20 on a home-cooked meal for the two of us.

One of the lighter moments at our Book Club last night (we discussed Race Matters by Cornel West, which is not a light book) was when we were discussing the state of the economy and one of the black women bragged that black families know how to make a meal on a budget, "serve 10 from a chicken breast!" Another black woman countered, "...from a chicken bone!" I'm going to have to get recipes from Antona and Gretchen to do that well, but I got four servings from a chicken breast earlier this week and I routinely get two servings per breast with stir-fries like the greens and chicken dish.

The locally grown, organically raised chickens that I buy whole and cut up are about $11 each. Typically, we get eight servings from one chicken plus chicken stock. So, even using some of the best meat I can buy, the chicken works out to less than $1.50 per person. Add a few other ingredients, and we still easily get meals that are less than $3 a person -- that's considerably less than you can eat at Applebee's, or would typically spend at McDonald's.
Now, let's talk about beans. In Mark Bittman's new book, Food Matters (yes, I did manage to read Race Matters and Food Matters back-to-back and learned from both), Bittman says "I'm on a mission to make sure every fridge or freezer in America is stocked with a container of home-cooked beans." The book is new, so he wrote it before this current economic crisis fully hit. His argument is that beans are a healthy source of protein with a low carbon footprint. For the economical cook, we can also add that they are cheap.

I have less experience with beans than chicken. The package says I'll get 12 servings from this pound, but I suspect those are side dish servings. Let's assume I'll get 8 main dish servings, just like my chicken. I bought this bag of beans for $1.34 today. Now we're talking a serving price of under 20 cents! I'm planning to make tostadas on Sunday -- adding a tortilla, some lettuce, some cheese, a bit of home-made guacamole and this meal is going to cost less than a $1 per serving. Later in the week, I'll try Alanna Kellogg's new black bean burger recipe for a similar cost.

So, don't buy the hype that restaurants, including fast-food ones, are trying to sell that they are a good value. If you don't believe that you can have a meal for $1 to $3 a person, just ask some home cooks -- and make sure to ask some black home cooks!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thanks for all the fish

R's water lily has been blooming in the window since before Christmas. And, his fish are getting big. I took a rare sunny moment on a rainy day to take water lily photos while perched on a chair next to the bay window.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fluttering by

Today's photography adventure took me to the Butterfly House.

More photos on my Flickr page.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Make your own salad dressing

Here's one of those old-fashioned thrifty ideas that feels new again. Instead of throwing away the last of the mustard or ketchup, dump a bit of vinegar in the bottom, shake it up, and put it back in the refrigerator to use as a base for homemade salad dressing. I thinned this ketchup with apple cider vinegar and later mixed it with mayonnaise and agave nectar (but anything sweet would have worked) for a creamy french dressing.

This would be a good time for me to promote my friend Alanna Kellogg's challenge: Never Buy Salad Dressing Again. Homemade salad dressing is not only economical, it's more natural (can you pronounce all the ingredients on a salad dressing bottle?) and greener (never have another salad dressing bottle to throw away or recycle again!).

The picture is my shutter speed experiment. At the relatively slow shutter speed of 1/125, the ketchup bottle blurred when I shook it in front of the camera. At the fast speed of 1/2500, the camera froze the movement so well that it looked like I was holding the bottle still in front of the camera.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Home movies to DVD

This is one of several piles around the house that are covered by my New Year's Resolution with the fewest words: Unpack. Today was the day and this pile was the place to start because, believe it or not, I needed something in one of those boxes.

One of the things I found in my parents' house after my mother died was a small stack of Regular 8 movie rolls. Since we've been visiting Schiller's, a camera store in St. Louis, more frequently, I had an opportunity to ask them what they can do with those. It turns out that they can convert them to DVD, but not for much longer. The manufacturers have stopped making the parts for the home movie projectors. I forget the full story, but I think Schiller's had something like five machines and only two currently work -- the other three are being robbed for parts. When they reach a point where they have no more available parts, they will be out of the home movie to DVD business. So, if I wanted this done, I couldn't let them sit around in a box for three more years.

Four of the six rolls were labeled: Sara and Bob's Wedding, Joy's First Film, Parade Labor Day 1962, and Christmas 1962. I was born in May 1962. The other two are not labeled but are presumably in the same general timeperiod. I'm hoping that they are after August 1963 when my brother was born.

I figure this is good for one entertaining evening with my brother and the cost was less than a nice meal out for four, so that seems reasonable.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hawaii Dreamin'

Late in the winter, I find myself drawn to music of the tropics. I tend to alternate locales. Last winter it was Caribbean, particularly steel drum bands, so, 2009 is a Hawaiian year. New, for me, this year are the hula DVDs and the Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (affectionately known as Iz) CD. I've heard the CD before, borrowed from the library, but I like it so much that I bought my own copy.

This is the album with the "Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World" medley. It's an amazing piece. He sings it with full awareness of the tough times in life while expressing all the optimism and hope of a Hawaiian rainbow -- a beautiful song given the current situation. According to the Wikipedia article on Iz, at least two large 2009 New Year celebrations featured this song, so I'm not the only one to think that this is a song of our times.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Chocolate Chip Bread

This Chocolate Chip Bread from the bread machine is a treat that's not too decadent. Since it's a yeast bread, rather than a cake or quick bread, the fat, sugar, and sodium are all at reasonable levels. I reduced the fat a bit and used a blend of pastured butter (from Whole Foods -- I froze several pounds last summer) and canola oil. I also snuck in some whole grain flour. The secret to getting the chocolate chips to stay intact is to freeze them the night before baking the bread. Otherwise, you'll end up with chocolate marble bread or even entirely chocolate bread.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Soup's on

My new skill this winter is making soup from whatever needs to be used up in the refrigerator. This version had Mexican flavorings because, among other things, I had a tablespoon of lime juice and some chopped cilantro to use.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A tale of two rosemary pictures

I'm still working on understanding apertures. Here's a nice visual. I focused on the closest rosemary sprig for both of these pictures.
In the first one, the aperture is 10 which is about as small of an opening as I could manage without noticeable camera shake under the conditions. In this picture, the tall sprig behind the first one is also in focus and the ones behind that are recognizable as rosemary. Smaller apertures are appropriate for landscapes when there is lots of light available and you want everything in focus.

In the second photo, the aperture is 5, a larger opening that allows in more light but creates a narrower depth of field -- less of the picture is in focus. So, now the tall sprig is out of focus and the sprigs behind are ghosts. Wider apertures are appropriate for flowers when you want leaves and ground to blend into the background highlighting the flower itself.
This plant is our barbecue rosemary. The sprigs grow tall and straight and are supposed to make nice kabob sticks for the grill. So far, we've used it for it's tasty herb flavor. Rosemary is not a perennial around here although there are some newer varieties that can survive at least most Missouri winters. We experimented with one of those varieties but we think we lost them -- those plants are looking pretty brown. The rosemary in our bay window is doing fine.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fun with f-stops and flowers

An f-stop, I learned last night, is the same thing as aperture but not the same thing as a full stop. Having those two confusions cleared up was probably worth the price of the class! With a wide aperture (think eyes wide open), I get lots of light and a narrow depth of field, meaning that flowers will be in focus with a soft and fuzzy background. That's pretty much perfect for taking pictures of flowers inside greenhouses at the Missouri Botanical Garden on a cloudy winter day.

Here is one of the camellias that are blooming now in the Linnean House. It's probably sacrilege, but I like the camellias better than the orchids -- the Orchid Show is the current special exhibit at the Garden. Many more pictures on my Flickr page.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

First photography class

OK. It's not a very exciting picture, but it's my first ever aperture priority picture. So, it's pretty exciting to me!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Preparing for new shades

We spent much of the day moving furniture and washing windows in preparation for new shades on these four windows. The TV is in the same room as this sitting area so we have a glare problem when attempting to watch television, even when the shades are down. The new shades are similar, but they will be black and have special light blocking powers.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Arranging things

The HVAC company sent us flowers last week as a thank you for our business. They were looking a bit worse for wear, so I took out the dried pieces and it's like a whole new arrangement!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Garden for orchids and more

We took photos at the Missouri Botanical Garden today and I can't choose just one picture for the blog.

We managed to make it to the Orchid Show during our visit today.

The Garden has witch hazels with showier flowers than the witch hazel in our yard that I took a picture of yesterday. This 'Rochester' witch hazel shined like a beacon in the winter landscape.

The snowdrop crocuses are blooming. I miss those from the old house. I guess I'll have to get some planted here.

This picture of a grass seed head was my artistic photo of the day.

Rick took pictures today, too.

Including one of me.

More photos on my Flickr page.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Blooming witch hazel

The Ozark witch hazel shrub has several good attributes for Missouri gardens:
  • it's native
  • it retains its leaves for a long time
  • it blooms in the middle of winter

The blooms aren't particularly showy, but they don't have any other flowers to compete with at this time of year. The Missouri Botanical Garden considers Hamamelis vernalis a Plant of Merit. We have been happy with this one that is growing at the top of the driveway.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Soft hands

I suspect I'm not the only person who needs heavy duty hand moisturizing in the winter. The Skin Creme Stick from Bee Naturals is my solution. It's waxy rather than oily and stays on even when I wash my hands. Bee Naturals is a small boutique in the town downriver from the one where I grew up. I've shopped in the store, but usually order my skin creme from the web site.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

High Tech Yoga

Seems I'll do anything to put off doing yoga -- ooo! take a picture! I really did the yoga routine on the DVD that was in my compuer after I took this picture.

In even better news, my doctor reduced my blood pressure medicine today. He was crediting the exercise, but I suspect all those local veggies from my CSA and the farmers market helped, too.

Monday, February 9, 2009

New heat pumps

Here's the most visible part of the project that I wrote about a few weeks ago. Of course, there are lots of interior bits when replacing an ancient, inefficient HVAC system. It took two guys working more than 6 days in our house to put it all together. The two shining heat pumps are the most photo-worthy.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Wicked Good Slippers

I had a different idea for a photo today, but I out-foxed myself by planning to wait until the good sunset light. The sun was completely obscured by clouds at sunset. So, instead, you get a picture of my slippers and a low light experiment. The image stabilization magic in the lens is pretty good, but not a miracle. This was the only one of six pictures that wasn't blurry.

These are the comfiest slippers I've worn since I grew out of the pink fuzzy ones I wore when I was five.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

February 7th

Today is the first anniversary of the tragic shooting at Kirkwood City Hall. Some people in Kirkwood refer to that as "February 7th" the way the rest of the country speaks of "September 11th."

On my way to this morning's community dialogue meeting sponsored by the Community for Understanding and Healing, I stopped by City Hall because I figured the light would be nice for pictures on the east-facing front. While I was there, someone left flowers on the door.

The front door is always locked now, for security reasons. It's no real loss of function for the citizens of Kirkwood -- we all use the back door where the parking is. But, if you believe that architecture has meaning, there is something sad about not being able to walk into the grand porticoed entrance of our City Hall. Still, amidst the sadness that we have experienced in the last year, this is not so great of a sorrow.
I'm pleased and proud to report that the locked front door does not seem to be a metaphor of anything in Kirkwood, now. There are certainly things that we Kirkwoodians can find to complain about. But the fact that we can and do complain about it in both official and unofficial settings means that the door is metaphorically open even if it's physically closed.

Friday, February 6, 2009

A day of photographs at the Garden

Today, was a rare warm day in February. We took advantage of the weather and went to the Missouri Botanical Garden for my first lesson on my new-to-me camera. Here we are reflected in the Lehmann Building.