May 2013 archive

Seitan

We’ve recently started incorporating seitan into our meals. Seitan is made from wheat gluten and is often used as a fake meat substitute; although we do use it to replace meat in some recipes, we also like to think of it as an excellent and tasty source of protein.

At first, we were purchasing seitan from the grocery store. However, seitan can be a little pricey, and recently the store was actually out. So, we’ve begun adventuring to make our own, using the “Simple Seitan” recipe from Veganomicon. We tried once in February, but due to some miscommunication about whether we were halving the recipe, we ended up with a less pleasing version.

However, we tried again last week! Seitan starts out as a stretchy dough. After the cooking process, you end up with this:

Seitan

From here, seitan can be cut into cubes and used in a variety of dishes. We used the first hunk to make an orange-ginger stir-fry, which we’ve also made for Aaron’s parents in the past.

Then, tonight, we repeated a recipe we’ve come to love: vegan orange chicken. In general, I’m not a huge fan of using “meat substitutes” to re-create meat dishes. I would rather have new dishes that make interesting use of vegetables and grains. However, there are some marinades that I love and want to find new uses for; Aaron discovered that tempeh makes a good base for a lemon-dill marinade with which I grew up. And, I happen to adore the sauce that’s used for orange chicken (specifically, the gooey version that you get from Panda Express). A quick google search found us the Vegan Happy Hour blog and a wonderful vegan orange chicken recipe. This recipe creates a fantastic replication of orange chicken; the sauce, in particular, is remarkably close to what you’d get at the restaurant.

Vegan Orange Chicken

 

Patio Plants

Despite a slow start this year, spring appears to have arrived in Madison. We’ve been enjoying more pleasant walks around our neighborhood, renewed interest in our patio (see Aaron’s post about our new drainage system), and abundant sunshine–except for when it tried to snow last week.

As Aaron alluded to in his post, we lost most of our plants during last summer’s heat, drought, and subsequent watering fiasco. But, this gives us the opportunity to make new plans this year. I will quickly admit that I am not the gardener in our house–I am likely responsible for much of last summer’s poor watering, and I have very little intuition about the entire process. That said, I love having all kinds of flowers, herbs, and vegetables on our balcony (we cannot have indoor plants because our cats devour them).

Once we decided how our pots would be set up this summer, we set out to pick plants. We first acquired these hyacinths from the farmer’s market. The colorful baskets are from Target, if you’re curious.

IMG_6390We then made a long stop at Menards to purchase seeds. After much deliberation (and consultation with the ASPCA’s toxic plant list), we settled on:

  • vegetables: beets, green beans
  • flowers: snapdragons, impatiens, alyssum, pansies
  • herbs: parsley, mint (to be purchased from the market), basil (we will receive a basil plant in our first CSA share)

You’ll note that hyacinth is actually poisonous to cats; we’re planning to mitigate the risk by not allowing the cats out on the patio unsupervised.

Last year, we grew pansies and bell peppers from seeds. Unfortunately, before they were ready to be planted outside, Luna devoured them. The bell peppers survived, although you could see that the leaves had been attacked for many weeks. The pansies did not survive the attack.

So, this year, we decided to try something a bit different. We still wanted to grow things from seed, but we knew that doing so inside was a lost cause. Instead, we decided to make a mini greenhouse, using an old cage from our late guinea pig and some painter’s plastic tarp.

SeedsThe seed packets are just in the picture for decoration; they are now safely stored in our “garden” box. And yes, those are knives we’re using to label the various sections of seeds.

IMG_6514The plastic cover actually turned out pretty well. We placed a small thermometer inside, so we can monitor temperature in our “greenhouse.” The first day, it was quite sunny, and we saw a high of 122. Yikes! During the cold spell we had last week, we saw temperatures in the low 40s. If it gets cold again here in Madison, we may bring the greenhouse inside temporarily. The cage will protect our seedlings from feline predators.

When I checked this weekend, we were starting to get growth in a few sections–the alyssum is coming up, and we have the beginnings of green beans.

IMG_6566The finished potted plant arrangement looks like this:

Finished patio

We’ve been enjoying keeping the patio door open while we’re home in the evenings, and we’re starting to lounge out there also. Now that all the pots are in place, we have a lot more room to move around out there, and I expect we’ll start eating dinners out there soon.

Of course, the cats don’t want to be left out of this enjoyment!

Hairy and the GreenhouseHairy frequently dashes out onto the patio when we open the door. Last night, we pulled out his leash so we could let him lounge on the patio (still strictly supervised). Hairy, however, is in the middle of a rigorous weight-loss plan. He’s down 3lbs from when we got him a year ago, and 3.5lbs from the highest we’ve seen him. For those keeping track, that’s over 20% of his total weight lost. We would be very proud of his hard work and progress, but this has been sheer calorie-counting (you too can count your cat’s calories–it’s fun!), and Hairy isn’t too happy with it. But, we look forward to many future years with Hairy, and hopefully this weight loss will contribute to a happier, healthier life. In any case, his harness no longer fits. At the tightest setting, it can easily be removed without unfastening. We adjusted Luna’s harness (which is a size smaller) to fit Hairy so that he could come out on the patio. If you look closely, you can see “Luna” written on the back of the rabies tag on the harness. Next weekend, we’ll get a smaller harness for Hairy, and return to multiple cats on the patio.

Balcony Pots Drainage System

Last summer we had significant drainage problems with the pots on our balcony.  Some pots did not drain,  filling up with water and killing the plants–a boxwood, in particular–that were in them.  Other pots drained so well they drained right onto the furniture–and one time a person–on the balcony beneath us.

In both cases the problem was too much water.  You might say we were over watering (and maybe in the case of the boxwood we were), but it was a very dry summer and we wanted to make sure the plants did not die due to lack of water.

To solve the problem of too much water–in the pots and on our neighbors–we have now implemented a pot drainage system.  We removed the drainage trays from pots that have plants and placed these pots in larger pots.  Any holes in the bottom of these larger pots have been sealed, and a drainage spout has been added to each.  The drainage spouts are connected to pieces of PVC pipe that run along the edges of the balcony.  This PVC pipe has one open end that points off the back corner of our balcony so water can drain into the landscape bed that is three stories below.

To prepare the larger pots (that would hold the smaller pots), I added a “spout” to the bottom of each.  Part of the spout is a threaded 1/2″ PVC female adapter, visible in the bottom of the photo below.  I drilled a 1″ hole in the pot using a spade bit, which was just right for the adapter to fit snuggly in the hole.

Drilling Pots for Drainage System

Once the spout was in place, I caulked around the edges (with silicone caulk) to make sure it was sealed and water would not leak at the seam between the adapter and the pot.  I also screwed a threaded 1/2″ male barb into the adapter so I could connect the pot to the main drainage pipe using a short piece of flexible PVC tubing.  Finally, I caulked any drainage holes that were in the pot so water would only drain out of the spout and not out of the bottom of the pot.

Finishing Pots for Drainage SystemNext, I put together the main PVC drainage pipe.  The drainage pipe runs along two sides of the balcony, with a valve on the end that hangs off the edge so we can stop the flow of water if need be.  I figured out where on the patio each pot would go, and put a 1/2″ threaded female T at that point.  I screwed a threaded 1/2″ male barb into each T so I could connect the other end of a piece of flexible PVC tubing that was connected to the male barb on each pot.

Assembling Pipe for Drainage System

Finally, I put everything on the balcony and connected each pot to the main drainage pipe using about a 6″ piece of PVC tubing connected to the male barb on the pot and the male barb on the drainage pipe.

Connecting Pots to Drainage System