Saturday Linkages: Urine Soaked Eggs, Currents, Squirrels and School Gardens

Urine-soaked eggs a spring taste treat in China city: http://reut.rs/HqBQny

Amazing wind map.

Equally amazing water current map: http://www.theawl.com/2012/03/soothe-yourself-with-the-oceans-swirl

Bald eagle, fox, and cat are porch friends: http://boingboing.net/2012/03/29/bald-eagle-fox-and-cat-are.html

HOWTO build a robotic squirrel-squirting water sentry-gun, with python: http://boingboing.net/2012/03/26/howto-build-a-robotic-squirrel.html

Tips on running a school garden: http://bit.ly/GKA3Md

@bikejuju blog post: Freak Bike Friday: Bed Frame Bike http://is.gd/f18Q5A

These, and more linkages, are from the Root Simple twitter feed.

Return of Recipe Friday! Spicy Korean Tofu

Ummm…Our food stylist is on vacation! This was lunch today. It would look much better if the tofu sheets were reclining whole on snowy rice and artfully sprinkled with green.

We’ve been eating a lot of this lately. It’s Erik’s favorite meal these days, in fact. I make it for him whenever he’s grumpy and he perks right up. I like it too, and I especially like that it’s fast cooking and I usually have all the ingredients on hand, so it’s pretty effortless.

I know, I know–there’s a lot of tofu haters out there, but this is really good–if you like spicy food.

The key to this is Korean chili powder, called Gochutgaru. You just can’t substitute other pepper flakes. We always have this spice on hand because it’s critical for making kim chi. (If you like kim chi you’ll love this dish!)  If you have access to an Asian market, you’ll find Gochutgaru there. It’s sold in big bags and is pretty cheap. Look for bags full of fine red flakes with pictures of red peppers on the front.

Credit where credit is due: I’d eaten this style of tofu somewhere before and went looking for a recipe–and found one on the Blazing Hot Wok blog. This is an adaption of that, which was an adaptation from a cookbook, as I recall.

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of firm tofu (Silken tofu works too, see instructions at the end)
  • A few scallions/green onions, maybe 5 or more, depending how much you like them, chopped into 2 inch pieces.
  • This is not cannon, but you could also throw in another veggie along with the green onions for variety. Lately I’ve been adding in a few chopped asparagus spears into the mix.

Sauce:

  • 3 Tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 3 Tablespoons water (equal amount to the soy sauce, however much you use)
  • 2 Tablespoons of Korean chili powder (This is a whole lot of spice, but we like it that way. You could use much less.)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves minced or pressed
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • Maybe some wine if you have a bottle open. See instructions.

Optional:

  • Toasted sesame seeds or peanuts for topping. Sesame is more traditional, but we really like peanuts with this.



Prep:

1) Cut the tofu block in 1/4-1/3″ slices. Press some of the water out of it by laying the slices out on a fresh kitchen towel or paper towels, putting more toweling on top and pressing gently with your hands–or by leaving it there under a weighted plate while you do the rest of the prep. This is not absolutely necessary, but the dish will come out better if you do it.

2) Chop up your green onions.

3) Combine the sauce ingredients above in a bowl. Since I use so much chili powder, the sauce can be pretty thick. For that reason I like to dilute it with a splash of wine (of any color) or water.

Cook:

Get out a big skillet. Heat a couple tablespoons of cooking oil in it and lay down the tofu slices. Cook them about 3 minutes each side over medium high heat, just so they’re nice and hot. Then add the green onions and cook a minute or two longer to soften them a bit.

Then add the sauce and cook it all together until the sauce simmers, tuning the tofu pieces so they get sauced on both sides. At that point it’s up to you to decide whether you want to cook the sauce down for a fairly dry presentation, or serve it right away while the texture is still “wet.” Either way it will be good.

Serve this over short-grained rice. Top with sesame seeds or peanuts if you’ve got ‘em.

Silken Variation:

Silken Variation? Is that some sort of feminine product or a Kama Sutra position?

Anyway, if you’re a fan of silken tofu, as I am, you use that, too. You just do things in a different order. Heat up your skillet and add your green onion pieces and cook for a minute or so, then add the sauce and bring it to a simmer. Then add your silken tofu. Toss to cover with sauce then put a lid over the skillet, turn the heat down and let the tofu sort of steam/heat through gently. Takes about 5 minutes.

A Rocket Stove Made From a Five Gallon Metal Bucket

The principle behind a rocket stove is simple–rather than cooking on an open fire, you burn wood in an insulated chimney. Rocket stoves are highly efficient and easy to make. They run on twigs, so you can avoid cutting down a whole tree just to cook dinner.

We’ve had a rocket stove made out of brick in our backyard for several years. The post we wrote on it in 2007 is–oddly–the most frequently searched post on this site. I figured that since there was so much interest in the topic it would be good to offer one that didn’t require masonry work. Better yet, I figured that it should be portable, so I made it out of a five gallon steel paint bucket. (eta: for your googling pleasure, it seems retailers call these cans “steel pails” rather than buckets). The project took less than an hour to complete and I’m very pleased with the final result. We created a pdf with full instructions that you can download at the Internet Archive. What follows are some photos showing the building process:

Using a piece of 4″ vent pipe and a 90º elbow, I made the chimney. See the pdf for the exact dimensions.

I traced the outline of the vent pipe on to the lid of the bucket and cut this hole out with a jig saw. Tin snips would also have worked.

Using the vent pipe as a guide again, I cut out a 4″ hole near the bottom of the bucket.

I used one part clay (harvested from the yard) to six parts vermiculite as my insulation material. Mixed with water, the clay holds the vermiculite together. I could also have used dry wood ash, but I had the vermiculite and clay on hand so that’s what I went with.

With the vent pipe in place, I packed the insulation into the bucket and let it dry for a few days before putting the lid on.

I found a barbecue grill at Home Depot that rests on the top of the bucket to support a pot.

Next you want to get yourself a tin can, take off both ends and open it up with tin snips. Cut a piece to serve as a shelf in the mouth of the pipe. It should be about 4″ long–so it sits forward in the mouth of the vent. The rear part of the vent, where the fire burns, is open. The twigs rest on top of the shelf, the lower half is for drawing air.

The last step was to add the new Root Simple stencil to the back.

Some fire tips from the little lady, our resident pyro:

A rocket stove isn’t like a campfire–you don’t throw on a big log and kick back. Cooking on it is intense and concentrated, best suited for boiling or frying. The best fuel source is twigs, small ones–I prefer pencil-sized twigs, and I never try to burn anything thicker than a finger.

To start a fire just shove some paper or other tinder under the shelf toward the back of vent. Lay some very thin twigs, pine needles or other combustibles on the shelf. Light the paper and watch it go. Start adding larger twigs to establish the fire. Of course, twigs burn fast and hot, so you have to keep adding more fuel. Also, the twig are burning from the back (the fire is concentrated in the bend) so as the fire consumes the sticks, you just keep shoving the unburned parts to the rear.

There’s a balance between choking the vent with too much wood and having too sparse a fire. After a few minutes of playing with it you’ll get the hang of things. If you’re doing it right, there should be no smoke, or almost none. These things burn clean.

Let us know if you like the pdf and if you would like to see more similar instruction sheets (maybe in an ebook format) of these types of projects. There’s also a good book on using rocket stoves as heaters:  Rocket Mass Heaters: Superefficient Woodstoves YOU Can Build by Ianto Evans and Leslie Jackson.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca on Living Within Limits

Writing in the 1st century AD, Seneca makes a good case for common sense limits:

Is it not living unnaturally to hanker after roses during the winter, and to force lilies in midwinter by taking the requisite steps to change their environment and keeping up the temperature with hot water heating? Is it not living unnaturally to plant orchards on top of towers, or to have a forest of trees waving in the wind on the roofs and ridges of one’s mansions, their roots springing at a height which it could have been presumptuous for their crests to reach?

-Letter CXXII from Letters from a Stoic (Penguin Classics)

Apparently the Romans had a thing for ridiculous, energy intensive vertical gardening schemes. Perhaps it’s what happens as empires trend towards the decadent and live beyond their means. It’s hard not to see modern parallels. Witness what happened when an upscale hair salon planted a vertical garden on a south facing wall in Los Angeles.

I’ve come to much the same conclusions about the garden surrounding our own household. Growing blueberries in Southern California? I’ve done it, but who wants the extra effort to secure acidic soil and tend a potted plant? Maybe it’s better to grow pomegranates here instead. They thrive in terrible soil with not much water.

I could thoughtstyle on about this but, as usual, Archdruid John Michael Greer beat me to it with a thought provoking interview on the C-Realm podcast about the creativity of living within limits. Have a listen and, on a similar theme, check out my new, most favorite, blog, Low-Tech Magazine.

Vale!

The World’s First Lamp

Erik’s link to the orange lamp on Saturday reminded me to post this. This is Project #1 in Making It, and we often open our lectures by building one of these, but I realize I’ve never talked about oil lamps here on the blog.

Forgive the somewhat atmospheric photo. What you’re looking at is the simplest thing in the world: an oyster shell filled with olive oil and balanced in a small dish of sand. Three pieces of cotton string are lying in the oil with their ends poking just a little way off the side of the shell. Those are the wicks.

This is a shell lamp. This is perhaps what the first lamp ever looked like. (A Paleo-lamp?) At the very least, this is a fundamental human technology. When you build one, you’re echoing the practices of so many cultures over so much history–from the flat clay oil lamps of Rome to the soapstone lamps of the Inuit to the the ghee-burning temple lamps in India.

Even if you don’t buy all this romance, it’s a good trick to remember next time you’re in a blackout and running out of candles.

One reason I burn little shell lamps like this because I like candlelight, but candles are expensive, especially beeswax candles, which I prefer over petroleum-based candles. Since these lamps use olive oil or any cooking oil for fuel, they’re a great way to us up those rancid or off-tasting oils which tend to clutter the back of our cupboards. I save the stale or otherwise suspicious olive oil from my herb-infused oil experiments for this purpose– oil which I’d have to throw away otherwise. This makes my flame habit essentially free.

The shell lamp FAQ:

  • A lamp with a single wick burns approximately 1 tablespoon of oil per hour (burn time varies by wick size and number). You can easily top off the oil as it burns.
  • Anything cotton makes for a good wick: a bit of string or a shoe lace or a sliver of cotton rag work great. The wider the wick, the wider the flame. Also, I keep meaning to try a twist of mugwort–I hear that works.
  • Want more light? Add more wicks. The shell above has three.
  • Yes, you can add a few drops of essential oil for scent.
  • Adjust the flame height by lengthening or shortening the wick length. The oil doesn’t get hot, so you can just poke your finger in the shell and push the wicks up or down.
  • Don’t use lamp oil, kerosene, etc. as fuel–only cooking oils. Conversely, don’t try to burn cooking oil in other types of oil lamps, like hurricane lamps. 
  • Stabilize tilting shells either by nesting them in one another or by putting them in little dishes of sand, salt or pebbles. I’m using a couple of oyster shells that I dragged home from an oyster bar right now because I broke my favorite shells, but in terms of restaurant-sourced shells, I prefer big mussel shells because of their depth. Scallop shells work well, too.
  • If you don’t have a shell, you can use any shallow vessel. A jar lid works especially well if you dent one edge to make a little “V” for the wick to rest on. Lately I’ve been eyeballing ashtrays in thrift stores, wondering how well the cigarette rests would work as wick rests. 
  • Like any candle, the open flame can set things on fire, but if you knock one of these over it’s not going to erupt into a conflagration of doom. Olive oil and other cooking oils have high flashpoints. All that will happen is that you’ll stain your favorite tablecloth. The wick will most likely be snuffed out in the spill. If it doesn’t get snuffed out, it will continue burning if it can continue to draw oil from the spill.

Saturday Linkages: Orange Peel Lamps, Axe Porn and Craft Rooms

From Portugal Smallholding a orange peel lamp.

Lamp made from an orange: http://www.portugalsmallholding.org/how-to/make-an-oil-lamp-with-an-orange/

A clever planter made from an Asphalt Handbook: http://www.recyclart.org/2012/03/asphalt-handbook-planter/

Hand-made Axe porn: http://bit.ly/GA0KWp

Our friends at the Tangled Nest create an inspiring, low-budget craft room http://shar.es/pvLY5

And, yes, a toilet brush chandelier: http://www.recyclart.org/2012/03/toilet-brush-light/

These, and more linkages, are from the Root Simple twitter feed.

Sign Up for the Root Simple Meetup

It only took six years, but I finally put together the beginnings of an events page for this website using Meetup.com. To see those listings go to the event page or check out sidebar on the right. You can also sign up for the Root Simple Meetup. Right now the Root Simple meetup will list events we’re speaking at, workshops we’re teaching and other goings on we find interesting. Most of the events will take place in the Southern California area.

To those of you outside of SoCal, I can’t say enough good things about the Meetup interface. Unlike Facebook, which seems to exist to get us all to work for free harvesting marketing data, Meetup is about fostering face to face meetings.

Hope to meet many of you in person soon!

Home Food Preservation Resources

I’m honored to have been included in this year’s class of the Los Angeles Master Food Preservers, a program offered by our local extension service to train volunteers to teach food preservation in under-served communities. I thought I would share the textbook resources from the class as they are an excellent set of reference books for your homesteading library. And many are available for free online. Like all information from the extension service system, they are research based.

First off is So Easy to Preserve a large collection of recipes, everything from canning to dehydrating, all carefully tested and in line with current U.S. Department of Agriculture food safety recommendations. The book is put out by the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension.

We also will be using the Complete Guide to Home Canning, put out by the USDA and available for free online. Lastly, there’s the classic Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, a reliable introduction to the subject.

In addition to covering food safety issues, I like these carefully researched food preservation guides for their reliability. If I’m going to commit the time to doing a food preservation project I like a reasonable chance of success. While we learn from our mistakes, I’d prefer to have a few more jellies and a few less accidental “syrups”.

You can connect with the Los Angeles Master Food Preservers on Facebook and via their blog.