Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Make your own Spice Rack- Part 1

I'm not that handy, friends, when it comes to building things. If it involves a drill and a wall and a picture frame, I'm AWESOME at it. If it involves a drill and wood and a saw and measuring acurately and patience, I'm not as awesome. Usually, my impatience wins, and I end up with a crappy looking poorly-made project.

This spice rack was about to meet that same fate- two boards, hung hapazardly on a wall. Then I brought it home to my dad (Nope, 26 years old is not too old to bring a project home for your parents help). What resulted from that assistance was this great idea that I will share with you:

                                         How to Make a Spice Rack (pt 1)

To begin, envision the space where you'd like your spice rack to hang. I decided that the area under my cabinets was just calling out for some better storage so this is my intended destination.

Now, you need to measure the space.
Figure out the height and width of the open space, and jot it down. Also, sounds silly, but measure your spice jars, and write down that height as well.

Next, figure out how many spice jars you'd like to store on the spice rack, and do some calculations. The things you need to know are:
  • How many spices do I need to store?
  • How many shelves will fit in the space?
  • How will I suspend the shelf on the wall so it is sturdy?
The spice rack I've designed is an under-cabinet one. It will be screwed into the wall, and it will hang- not sit on the counter. The space I had to work with was 40" x 19" total, and I also had to factor in the outlets and decide if I wanted to incorperate those into the design or not.

Now you've gotta get the supplies! Maybe you have some spare boards lying around, or maybe you have to go to a big box store, as I did, to get some boards. Make sure you have your measurements written down- you'll need 1 large board that's 1/2 inch thick that is the total size of your open space (40x11 in my case), as well as some smaller 1 inch board for the actual shelves themselves. Many box stores have standard sizes of lumber- here's what I ended up getting:
  • One 1"x4"x8' board for the shevlves
  • One 1/2"x2'x4' for the backing
  • One quart of Valspar latex enamel paint in "Satin Java Brown"
  • a paint brush
  • One box of 8x1-1/4 wood screws (100 count)
  • 1 package of Plastic Toggle 3/8-1/2" Drywall anchors (holds up to 143 lbs)
Tomorrow, I'll post the next part- the actual building, assembling, and installation of your very own spice rack! Stay tuned!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Winter Local Eating in Columbus, OH

I grew up in Worthington, Ohio- a suburb 10 minutes Northwest of Columbus. This weekend, my roommate and I drove down to Columbus for a visit- his girlfriend is at Ohio State and my parents still live in Worthington.
massive carrot harvest! (mom's hands)

Since I was never really an adult in Columbus (except for that crazy, hectic year of grad school), I am not super familiar with where I can "buy local". I wasn't raised "anti-local", or anything like that- my mom loves to garden and always had a veggies garden along with beautiful landscaping that always looks effortless. My dad's side of the family is from Kentucky/West-Virgina and gardened/farmed throughout the years. Enjoying home-grown food is in my blood! It's just that I truly developed interest in supporting local farmers and businesses in the past 5 years, and I've been in Michigan almost all of that time.

Every time I come into Central Ohio, I make a point to stop by the Olde Worthington Farmers Market, one of the few Columbus Farmers' Market I'm familiar with. I hadn't been to a Winter Market in the area, but I assumed that they exist- Columbus is a big city! I did an Google search and stumbled upon a list of all Winter Farmers' Markets in Ohio, and discovered that the Old Worthington Farmers' Market has a Winter Market! SO off we went on Saturday morning to check it out.
Goodies from the market

I didn't need much in the way of groceries, but the Old Worthington Winter Farmers' Market was nice and homey- I'm glad we went!

There seemed to be a fair amount of customers coming in and out, and a nice mix of fresh winter veggies, honey, cheese, meat, breads & baked goods, etc. I came home with some sweet potatoes, a few heads of garlic to replenish my local stash, and a copy of edible Columbus, central-Ohio's edible communities magazine.

veggie seeds for 2012
We also made a pit stop at the Dublin location of Oakland Nurseries, which is an Ohio gardening & nursery business. My mom and I had been pouring over seed catalogues, and were excited to find both Botanical Interest seeds (organic) and Livingston Seed Co. seeds (based in Columbus), so we went ahead and made most of our seed purchases for the 2012 gardening season. Oakland is a great store- I'd recommend checking it out if you're ever in the area.

If you're in Ohio and you're looking for some homegrown goodies in the Winter, check out this list of Winter Markets! Edible Columbus also is a great way to learn about the food hubs in the Columbus-area, and get a better feel for some of the restaurants, businesses, and organizations that work with food, sustainability, and gardening in "Cap City" Ohio.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dark Days Challenge Recipe: Homemade Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Holy crap, my friends! I want to testify that homemade gnocchi is dee-li-cious, and super easy to make. If you are asking yourself at this moment, "Great. What is gnocchi?", don't worry; I hadn't tried gnocchi until about 4 years ago, and it is an amazing food. It's essentially a little round potato-pasta-dumpling. What could you not love about that? For my Dark Days challenge this week, I borrowed a recipe from another participant, because these looked too good not to make. YOU are totally capable of making them, I promise. So without further ado;

Sweet Potato Gnocchi
2 large sweet potatoes
source: local farm, 50 mile radius
1 egg
source: local farm, 50 mile radius
1.5-2 cups whole wheat flour
source: Westwind Milling Co., 50 mile radius
1 tsp nutmeg
source: not local, but sustainable
1/2 tbsp salt
source: not local, but sustainable
  • Steam or bake the sweet potatoes until they can be easily cut through with a knife. 
  • Peel the sweet potatoes- they should be easily mushed once peeled
  • Mash sweet potatoes and let cool for 10 mins
  • Add the salt, nutmeg, and egg, and stir well
  • Now add 1.5 cups flour, mixing continuously
  • Knead into dough, add the extra flour as needed until dough does not stick to hands/counter
  • Get a pot of boiling water ready on the stove
  • Cut dough into quarters, and roll out each quarter into a long skinny log
  • Now cut the log into 1/2-3/4 inch pieces
  • Drop gnocchi into boiling water and cook for 3-4 minutes; until every piece is floating

Serve with your favorite marina, pesto, or brown sugar and butter and enjoy!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Root Cellar is a success!!

These carrots look amazing!

I went out and spent some time mulling over the garden today, since all the snow has melted here and it's a breezy 40 degrees. We've had a warm spell here, which everyone is enjoying but I have been feeling suspicious of. Global-warming-induced higher temps are somehow less enjoyable then a truly fluke of a nice day.

looking good, spud.
Peak oil aside, while I was out in my yard today, I thought to check on the root cellar that I built, and the veggies that have been hanging out in the cold by the side of my house under one of the eaves; I hadn't peeked my head out there in a while!

To my delight, both the potatoes and the carrots looked GREAT! The potatoes were still firm and looked fresh, and the carrots had seemed to be holding up as nicely as the day I put them in there, which was October 9th!  While it has been a mild Winter so far, to be able to say that I can grow my own roots and store them for almost 4 months is just so satisfying and awesome.

carnival squashes-so happy & bright!
I also have a bag of onions I bought from the Farmers' Market 2-3 months ago that have been storing well, as well as some acorn squash from the end of October! The storing capability of these winter veggies is just truly amazing me lately. While I've been lax about actually cooking for the Dark Days Challenge, looking at other recipes has inspired me to steal some of their ideas, and really incorporate these winter veggies into delicious meals. The most delicious looking one I'm excited to try is homemade sweet potato gnocci- If I could make homemade gnocci I would consider myself to be a badass. A nerdy, seasonally-eating badass.
pretty impressive, huh? ;)

On my way back in the house, I noticed and then remembered that I had some small red kidney beans and some provider bush beans hanging to dry in the mudroom. I took them down and shucked the hulls off. I always chuckle to myself when I harvest these beans- I'm intent on drying them to save, and then when I'm done with a season of growing as well as several months of drying, I get done and I have about 60 beans total- woohoo! I think that I might save these and see if they could be my planting beans for this year's harvest.

Do you have anything put away for the winter? If so, are you digging into your winter veggies?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Supporting Local Businesses while Traveling

View of the city from across the river
This week, Mike and I decided to take a little mid-winter vacation to Grand Rapids. We've spent a lot of time and effort trying to buy locally, so when traveling, we try to continue the trend.

Both of us had only spent one evening in Grand Rapids previously, and we wanted to learn about the city. Also, Grand Rapids was featured in some bad press earlier this year, being ranked as #10 in Newsweek's America's Dying Cities list. In response, the city made a video-it's pretty cute. We wanted to show our solidarity by visiting and spending some $$ there. Here are some spots we stopped, sights we saw, and where we stayed, in case you're ever traveling that way!

Kalamazoo Train Station

Travel: We chose to take the Amtrak train from Ann Arbor to Kalamazoo, and then a Indian Trails bus from Kalamazoo to Grand Rapids. If you've never taken the train or bus to a far-off locale, here's why you should try it:
  •  It's fun- there are always some characters on the train/bus
  • You save on gas
  • You don't have to park a car for $20/night.
  • One of our favorite "experiences" was just walking to each destination- that was an adventure unto itself!

Awesome hotel!
 Hotel: We stayed at the CityFlats Hotel in downtown Grand Rapids, on the east side of the Grand River. CityFlats has a LEED Gold certification, and features Michigan-made products. It was also a GREAT locaiton, close to restaurants, coffee shops, and walkable to everything! Some of the eco-friendly features include:
  • Cork flooring
  • Naturally hypo-allergenic bamboo linens
  • Low-flow faucets and toilets
  • Locally manufactured furniture and d├ęcor

Restaurants: While in GR, we made a point of eating at locally-owned restaurants, especially those featuring locally-grown produce and products. Some of our favorites were Bistro Bella Vita, Bar Divani, Founders Brewing Co., and MadCap Coffee. Bistro Bella Vita had a LOT of local produce, and all of their meat seemed to be locally-sourced and humanely-raised as well. Bar Divani featured local meats as well as local cheeses and some other products- very, very good food! Founders didn't seem to have local food, but they brew their beer right there in GR and you can eat at the Brewery.

Honorable mention: We had a several hour lay-over in Kalamazoo on our way there, and we hung out at Something's Brewing for a few hours, followed by a trip to the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange. Both were super cool: I wish we had more time in Kalamazoo! Maybe our next trip will be to stay there for a few days.

Meyer May house in Grand Rapids
 Attractions (Grand Rapids): Both of us share a similar vacation philosophy- travel lightly, walk to your destinations, and get to know the city you are visiting. Because of these values, we chose to go certain places. We saw the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meyer May house, the Grand Rapids Public Museum, and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. While on our commute to these places, we also stumbled upon the public library and an independantly-owned book store!  The Meyer May house was really cool- I love FLW's design principles of bringing nature indoors and complementing the house with landscaping and completing the landscape with the home. The Public Museum was pretty kid-focused, but still fun. the Gerald R Ford Museum was really interesting- I knew almost nothing about him, and now I know a lot more!

loves waitin' for the train home

 So if you're heading out to the West side of Michigan, consider visiting Grand Rapids! The downtown area was really, spotlessly clean and tidy, there were a lot of independently-owned businesses, and there was a lot to do. As I mentioned before, it was really walkable and there seemed to be a good bus system, although we didn't use it on our trip.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Book Review- Edible Front Yard by Ivette Soler

Totally recommended!

For the holidays, I had a lot of books on my list. One of the ones that I got and really loved is, Edible Front Yard by Ivette Soler. The Edible Front Yard is the (and I quote), "Mow-less, Grow-more plan for a Beautiful, Bountiful Garden". 

The book starts out in Chapter 1 with "Inspired Curb Appeal"- basically a whole chapter devoted to your inspirations for gardening, and motivating you to think about your house features, your dream garden, etc. Really a fun chapter! Chapter 2 is probably my favorite and the most useful, in my opinion- it goes through Edible Ornamentals- basically the nicest-looking varieties of a lot of your favorite fruits and veggies. Bronze fennel, espalier apple trees, African Blue basil, lavender, borage- all things you can either eat or consume in one way or another, but they are also just damn good-looking 

I was so inspired that my roommate and I put in an order for lotsa Herb seeds to start and keep indoorsHere's our order: Globe Bail, Mrs. Burn's Lemon Basil, Thai Basil, Cilantro, Cumin, Bronze Fennel, Green Culinary Sage, and Spearmint! Hopefully these will be attractive, product plants that will be a breath of fresh air indoors and a pretty addition out in the front yard when it comes time!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Over-wintering Herbs Indoors

from L (Rosemary, Thyme, Lemon Thyme, Rosemary, Oregano)
If you like to cook, as I do, it's a little sad to switch from using freshly-picked herbs from your garden in the Summer and Fall to the store-bought dried ones during Winter. This year, I made an effort to dry some of the herbs I use most- basil, rosemary, oregano; its been great to have those to utilize. I decided to try bringing some of my favorite herbies indoors for the winter, to see how they do.

They've been under grow lights- just standard fluorescent shop lights in my hook-up in the basement- for about 3 weeks, and they seem to be doing pretty well! I also just placed an order for some more herb seeds, so I'm going to try starting some and keeping them indoors until they're ready to go outside. This will be my first time starting herb seedlings, so we'll see how it goes, and I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Dark Days Challenge- Week 6- Sweet Potato and Eggplant Curry

Evidently I can only handle doing a recipe post every 2-3 weeks- I've not been keeping up with the Dark Days Challenge like I planned to! I've been making meals and home and they are mostly locally sourced, but I keep forgetting to take pictures, and pictures make it so fun!

Today's recipe is mostly SOLE (Sustainable, Organic, Local, Ethical), and it's about 3/4 local. There are some key ingredients that are not in season or do not grow here in Michigan ever- eggplant, for instance, is not prolifically growing outdoors here in January. BUT, I chose to feature this recipe because:
a) it is F*$^ing delicious
b) it features sweet potatoes that I bought & have stored, as well as some other local ingredients
c) it is F*$^ing delicious :)

Without further ado..

Sweet Potato and Eggplant Green Curry (vegetarian)

main ingredients

2 medium sweet potatoes 
source: Downtown Ypsilanti Farmers' Market- 50 mile radius
1 medium eggplant
source: Ypsilanti Food Co-op- grown in the USA
1 tablespoons olive oil
source: Westwind Milling Co- 45 mile radius
1 medium onion
source: homegrown!
1 1/2 cups light coconut milk
  source: far away, bought it from Ypsi Food Co-op
  2 tablespoons green curry paste
  source: far away, bought it from Ypsi Food Co-op
  75 cups water
  source: tap water
  2 tablespoons lime juice
  source: far away, bought it from Ypsi Food Co-op 
  2 teaspoons lime zest
  source: far away, bought it from Ypsi Food Co-op 
  2 sprigs cilantro
  source: far away, bought it from Ypsi Food Co-op 
  1 handful of corriander seeds, ground-up
  source: harvest from my cilantro over the summer and dried!
  1 tablespoon salt
  source: far away, bought it from Ypsi Food Co-op 
  2 teaspoons soft brown sugar
  source: far away, bought it from Ypsi Food Co-op 
  • Heat the 1 tbsp of Oil to medium in a large frying pan/ skillet
  • Peel and chop the onion. Then add to the frying pan once hot
  • Add the green curry paste and let it cook with the onions for several minutes
  • Add the coconut milk and water into the pan, and bring liquid to a boil. Once boiling, lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes
  • Peel and chop sweet potatoes into 1" size pieces, and add to pan. Let cook for 10 minutes
  • Chop eggplant, squeeze lime juice, zest lime, and add all to pan. Let cook for 10 minutes
  • Grind up corriander and salt and add to pan, or add pre-ground spices
  • Once veggies are tender, chop up the cilantro springs and add them to the pan. 
  • Let the whole dish simmer for 10-15 minutes, then serve!