26 May 2010

A Slice of Organic Life

A Slice of Organic Life was generously donated to Parkview Neighbourhood Garden by DK Canada. I'm reviewing it on behalf of PNG.

The moment I saw this book I knew I wanted to read and review it. It's hard to resist the colourful cover bedecked with bright-eyed chickens! The overall design of the book is appealing, actually, with heavy (although not recycled) paper and plenty of beautiful full-colour photos. After a foreword by Alice Waters and an intro by editor-in-chief Sheherazade Goldsmith (fantastic name!), the main part of the book consists of over 80 projects grouped into three sections: No Need for a Yard; Roof Terrace, Patio, or Tiny Yard; and Yard, Community Garden, or Field. You can find projects to suit your needs in any of the three sections, but obviously some will be more suitable than others. I loved the idea of the book being divided this way; unfortunately the execution has some issues. There's too much repetition (e.g. "Start a Worm Composter" in Part 2 and then "Nourish the Soil" in Part 3, with nearly identical information), and I think it might have worked better if the categories were more strictly adhered to. But overall it's not bad.

You should also be aware that the book was apparently first published in the UK, so North Americans might have trouble with a few of the terms. Luckily measurements are offered both in Metric and Imperial.

I like that each project is kept short--there's nothing more tedious than authors who delve into every minute detail while neglecting the fun side of exploring a new subject. Unfortunately, if you're looking for in-depth instruction you won't find it here. Instead, I suggest you use A Slice of Organic Life as a starting point. Find out what interests you, get a feel for it here, and then round out your knowledge elsewhere. Chances are, once you start projects you'll be hooked and will naturally start learning all you can about the subject anyway.

The projects are surprisingly inspiring. Somehow I went from being opposed to livestock in the city (if you've ever heard the racket made by roosters, you would be too) to trying to figure out how I can get a pair of geese for my yard. In some cases my enthusiasm for things I used to do and drifted away from (like companion planting) was re-ignited. And best of all, I learned new things (bee-keeping)!

On the downside, I noticed several inaccuracies, a couple of which are actually dangerous. I was really surprised to read a suggestion of flavouring oil with garlic. I thought it was common knowledge that garlic stored in oil is a formula for botulism. Unless you add some acid (such as vinegar) to the mix, do not store garlic in oil. Another terrible suggestion: making flea collars using essential oils. Although my vet had to search a bit to confirm it, essential oils unfortunately do cause kidney damage to cats. It's fine to diffuse oils in a room with good air circulation, but anything in close quarters will hurt your cat (not to mention that they're extremely sensitive to strong smells). And although not dangerous, the idea that there's a link between aluminum and Alzheimer's has been disproven; no one should still be repeating it. This is another reason why further research is essential (luckily most of the problems seem to be in Part 1 of the book).

The book also has a few recipes, all of which look tempting indeed. I only tried one: Mushroom Frittata and it's already become a favourite. I'd love the chance to try more (I can see I'll be borrowing this book from PNG again)!

Here's some of what you'll find in A Slice of Organic Life:

Part 1: No Need for a Yard
Growing Pots of Herbs Indoors, Support Local Businesses, Grow Strawberries in a Hanging Basket, Campaign, Go Green in the Playroom, recipes for Mushroom Frittata (p 106) and Wholemeal Bread (p 57)...

Part 2: Roof, Terrace, Patio, or Tiny Yard
Keep Urban Honey Bees, Use Eco-Friendly DIY Materials, Make Your Own Barbecue, Grow an Apple Tree in a Pot, recipe for Blueberry Muffins (p 123)...

Part 3: Yard, Community Garden, or Field
Make Simple Preserves, Grow Your Own Vegetables, Plant a Fruit Orchard, Keep a Few Geese, Make Organic Drinks, Create a Pond for Wildlife, Keep a Milking Cow, recipes for Pumpkin & Apricot Chutney (p 193) and Damson Wine (p 290)...

The book ends with a reasonably detailed Directory and Resources section, which includes websites, books, and a few phone numbers, as well as the index.

This book is fun to read, inspiring, interesting, and lovely to look at. It's not rocket science, but then, that's kind of the point.

Quote: "...the small decisions we make can truly change the world."

17 May 2010

Hot Mormon Muffins: May Edition

It's that time again--when we all get to enjoy hot Mormon muffins! This month's muffin is Zesty Zion Zucchini, brought to you by Tami, age 35, mom of three, and pretend gardener. Click photos to enlarge.

All the good stuff (the glass jar contains home-grown and -dried basil):

Eggs, milk and oil (we only use free-run eggs):

Sugar-- only a small amount for this savoury muffin:

Parmigiano-Reggiano, ready to be sprinkled on top:

Zucchini grated in about 10 seconds. I love my food processor!

Mixing the batter by hand, making sure not to mix it too well (the "treenware" batter beater was a gift from the lovely Bella):

Zucchini and basil are added last:

Topped with cheese and ready to go into the oven:

Freshly baked:

Can't wait to get eating:

Tami's Zesty Zion Zucchini

[My notes/changes in brackets]

2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
2/3 cup vegetable oil [I used safflower]
2 cups [all-purpose] flour
1 tbs baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup [granulated] sugar
2 cups shredded zucchini [I used one small zucchini and didn't actually measure how much I ended up with]
4 tbs dried basil [This seemed like a lot to me so I only used half. I liked the subtle basil flavour but you could put in the entire 4 tbs and not be overwhelmed]
6 tbs grated parmesan cheese [Splurge on parmigiano-reggiano--it's worth it]

Beat eggs in bowl and stir in milk and oil. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Mix dry ingredients into egg mixture just until moistened. Batter should be lumpy. Hand mix in zucchini and basil.

Fill greased muffin cups 3/4 full [I always ignore this. As long as the batter isn't right to the top it should be fine]. Sprinkle each muffin with 1 tsp of cheese. Bake at 400F [200C] for 18 to 20 minutes.

My verdict: I love these muffins! Unfortunately my SO didn't care for them (he's got a particular palate) but I thought the subtle sweetness went perfectly with the aromatic hint of basil and salty cheese. It also had a great texture, dense and chewy but light and airy. These are a perfect snack or "starch" alongside something like a fritatta or grilled chicken.

I also think these muffins would be delicious with the addition of about 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts or walnuts (added to the batter at the same time as the zucchini and basil).

Want more Hot Mormon Muffins? Check out my previous posts:

January (Lisa's Priesthood Praline)
February (Amy's Relief Society Raspberry)
March (Kourtnie's Mormon Marmalade)
April (Charli's Seminary Streusel)

Photos by Domicile.

06 May 2010

Lilac Love

I don't usually like to cut flowers from the garden; I prefer to enjoy them where they are. But when it comes to lilacs, I always have to fill at least one vase with them. The scent alone is worth it--a reminder of spring, and warmth, and (for me) childhood. And sometimes, when so much seems to be wrong with the world, it's nice to have a tangible reminder of what's right.

Click photos to enlarge.

All photos by Domicile.

03 May 2010

Keep Your Cool (without AC)

Every year as the weather starts getting warmer, the SO and I have the same debate: should we get air conditioning installed or not? We'd have to go with the ductless kind, as our house comes equipped with radiators, but that's not where the quandary lies. During the few hot and humid weeks of the year (not that they feel like few when you're suffering through them), there is nothing quite as wonderful as walking into a refrigerated building. But much as I don't like the heat, I'm also not a fan of the artificial cold. Even in the car (where I think AC is an absolute necessity), I have to set it to where it's only a step above warm, otherwise it's uncomfortable. But aside from personal preferences, air conditioning is a huge drain on power. It's so bad that our local power company is desperate to get people to sign up for a program where the company can remotely cut your AC when power demands are at their highest (this is to help prevent rolling blackouts). At a time when the world really needs to think about conservation and smart use, do we really want to install an energy hog?

Luckily, there are ways to keep the house cool and comfortable (but not cold) without resorting to AC. Some of these we already have in place, some we're planning on trying out. Most of these came from Home Comforts (whose author claims her grandmother's house was always pleasantly cool in summer), and a couple are my own. If you have any tips of your own on keeping cool, please comment and share.

Keeping Cool without AC

*If you can, install exterior shutters, shades or awnings on your house to help block out the sun. Light colours reflect more heat.

*Interior shades, blinds or draperies also help a lot. Anything that can block the sun will help (so if going for draperies, make sure you get an opaque, tightly woven fabric). Again, light colours reflect more heat. In fact, two layers (blinds/shades and draperies, or two sets of draperies) are best of all. They'll help keep the house warmer in winter too, by blocking out drafts.

*Ventilation can help if the outside temperature is lower than the inside temperature. A good idea is to open windows to let cool air in at night and in early morning, and to close blinds and draw curtains during the sunniest, hottest part of the day.

*Use appliances selectively. Don't use the oven on hot days (for some reason I always get the urge to bake on the hottest days of the summer. No idea why). Limit use of the stove, dishwasher, and clothes dryer (or use them at night), and close the doors of the rooms they're in when using them. Speaking of, TVs and computers can emit a surprising amount of heat; don't turn them on unless you really need them (another reason why summer is a great time to catch up on your reading).

*Fluorescent lights produce far less heat than incandescent bulbs (in fact, some people have complained that after switching to fluorescents, they had to turn up the thermostat in winter because the lights were no longer providing extra heat).

*I cannot emphasize enough the awesomeness of fans. I have tabletop and floor fans in every room (ceiling fans are also really good, but I find them unattractive). Not only will fans cool you and the house down using far less energy than AC, but they'll circulate the air and make your home generally more pleasant to live in. Even with AC, I'd keep the fans for this latter reason.

*Dehumidifiers are great as too much humidity makes you feel hotter (not to mention icky). Dehumidifiers emit some heat, though, so we keep ours in the basement and turn it on at night. You'd be amazed how much water you collect.

*Plant shade trees (e.g., elm, maple, oak, sycamore, ash)! They can lower temperatures around them by up to 9F. Deciduous trees are best, as they drop their leaves in winter and allow the sun back in to warm the place. Bushes and vines on trellises near the house also help. Trees should be planted on the northeast-southeast and northwest-southwest sides of your house. Don't plant too close to your house or you'll block breezes (and don't plant trees where their roots will get into water pipes).

*Insulating your attic makes a huge difference, as apparently that's where most of the heat enters your house (an insulated attic also helps keep heat in during winter). Interestingly, venting your attic is also an excellent cooling measure. You should probably hire a pro for this, but if you're feeling handy make sure to place intake vents low and exhaust vents high. You might also want to make sure you install some kind of secure screening to prevent critters from getting in.

*A light coloured exterior will help reflect heat away from your home, but if you're lucky enough to have an old house with original red/brown bricks, I strongly urge you not to paint or cover them. Those old bricks are gorgeous, and have a patina that can't be replicated. Painting them just looks bad.

*You can buy reflective roof coatings to help lessen heat absorption. Home Comforts doesn't mention them, but I have to wonder about different types of roofing materials, as well. You might want to look into whether terracotta, ceramic, or aluminum shingles and tiles would help keep the house cooler, and also whether they're practical for you.

*Make sure your bathrooms are vented. They help suck out humidity and maybe some heat as well. Anyone who's ever showered in the summer in an unvented bathroom (right here) can attest to the sauna-like effects once you step out of the enclosure.

If the heat still gets to be too much (as it might, especially during a bad summer), I suggest cooling off with ice cream, cold watermelon, quick showers (or running under the sprinkler), and occasionally escaping to a beach, pool or public building (libraries, malls, community centres...) You should also keep a close eye on pets! Make sure they have plenty of cold water available and a shaded area to sleep (preferably inside). Dogs overheat more easily than cats, so watch them extra closely. And do not, ever, under any circumstances, no matter what, leave them in your car! Not even for a second while you run inside. (Same goes for kids, although I hate that it even needs to be said in either case.) Cars are ovens on sunny days.

Image from http://www.freeimages.co.uk/