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Monday, April 24, 2017

Gardening: Building A Rain Barrel

Spring has fully sprung here in the Midwest and I feel fantastic about it. Not only am I in possession of a beautiful home, but with that home comes a beautiful tiny piece of the earth which sustains us. It is upon this earth that I grow a garden with which to sustain me, my family, and my soul(of course).

I truly love gardening; it's like therapy, only you get potatoes, and usually lots of them. I grew a potato tower last year, and though it was a rather short one, I still got over 50 lbs of potatoes in one crop. I also grow corn, squash, melons, spinach, and cabbage. Melons and squash are thirsty little babies that require a lot of water and sun, so anything to make it a little more sustainable to grow, I'm all for.

I grew up in Tucson, AZ, where a rain barrel is absolutely essential if you want to have any sort of garden other than caci, and even those need a little something here and there if you want them to thrive. I remember the two rain barrels in my backyard, always full of mosquitos, and getting eaten alive. In spite of that, I remember liking them. I remember being barely tall enough to see the top of it, and pretending that the reflection in that black barrel's waters was a portal into another world. I used to think I was a princess that was from a hidden mountain kingdom, trapped in the desert, and that my only way back was by looking into my magic black mirror, which was the water in the barrel. I think I made up this whole fairy tale about myself, and how the spirits of the mountain streams were trying to tell me how to get home, and sending messages in far-travelling rain clouds, collected by the rain barrel. I'd spend longer than I care to admit, just wishing to hear the voices of my people again, staring into the black waters of that rain barrel.

In reality, I was a bored child with an overactive imagination that was likely suffering from some form of heat stroke from staring at a rain barrel in the Arizona heat, possibly hallucinating. Oh well. Maybe I'll write that novel someday. Who knows? In the meantime, here's a few fun facts about rain barrels and using them:
  • Rainwater is better for your plants and soil
    • Highly oxygenated and free of softeners, flourides, etc., that might be in the water you get from the city.
  • Rain barrels help control the moisture level in the foundation of your home, which is a very good thing if you have a basement!
  • Rainwater is thifty! 
    • In Kansas City, water is roughly $0.49/gallon. My rain barrel holds 50 gallons of water, and that means, per barrel, I save $24.50. It's not much, but if it were to save me $24.50 per month, then that's a spare $294 per year.
  • Rainwater is the eco-friendly alternative to keeping compost moist
    • Tapwater isn't always the best for the sustainability practice of composting, in practice or in ideology
  • You can paint a rain barrel! 
    • Good luck painting your water bill...

On April 13th, I attended a rain barrel workshop, hosted by my neighborhood association. It was a lot of fun, and I even convinced B to get out of the house and attend with me. I came, took notes, took pictures, and we went home with our very own rain barrel. The barrel itself was a 50 gallon drum that - I can only assume - once housed chilies, considering the smell. For $30, we got the supplies, and were able to assemble the entire thing in about 20 minutes using a drill, a saw, and some glue. Here's what we used:

  • A 50 gallon drum
  • Female adaptor(to go into the barrel wall)
  • Male adaptor
  • Stubby bit of PVC pipe
  • Another Male adaptor
  • A threaded ball valve
  • Metal adaptor for the hose
 These parts were pretty darn inexpensive, and the paint, brushes, and sandpaper we used to decorate the barrel weren't much more, either. I think I spent $20 on the paint and brushes, but I already had the pans, paint remover/mineral oil, and every other bit of stuff I needed.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that this is a perfect project for those that are already set up to do some handiwork of their own. B has a workshop in our garage, so tools are no problem for him. I don't know if I could have done this as easily as I did without him. Basically, I'm a strong, independent woman until I'm not.  I just figured I'd throw that in there, just in case my lifestyle blogging is giving you that false sense of ease.  I don't like to make any bones about how easy or how difficult something is. It just feels dishonest, you know? So maybe do this one with a friend, if you - like me - aren't handy.

You know what's not dishonest? Dat ass. (Don't objectify men. They probably don't like it.)
Once the supplies were gathered, we drilled a hole about an inch off the ground from the bottom, into the side of the barrel. The female adaptor went on the inside, and then we screwed the male adaptor in. (That's what B was doing in that photo.) Next, sand the inside of the other two male adaptors and the outside of the pvc pipe, then glue them in. Connect everything normally and boom! You've got yourself a spigot! All that's left now is to figure out the placement...but while you're thinking on that, you may as well decorate it.

Even though cerulean is my favorite color, I didn't think B would like a big, blue, industrial-looking barrel outside of our nice house. (I don't think I would, either, as it is a little industrial-looking.) We decided to paint it, together, and boy was it fun! It only took us a single afternoon to do, so here's how we did it.

To your left is the base coat. We lined the floor of our garage with an old tarp that we had lying around and left the door open to let any fumes out. The base paint we chose was a nice cool gray, and the accent color was called "toasted almond", but it was a creamy white color. I won't mention the brand, but it was an oil-based exterior paint that had primer in it already. Here are the supplies I used to paint the barrel:

  • 3" fan brush(the kind used for oil-based paint)
  • 4" plain paint brushes(also the kind used for oil paint)
  • 80 grid sandpaper
  • Exterior oil-based paint-primer in cool gray
  • Exterior oil-based paint-primer in warm white(almond)
  • Cloth paint tarp
  • Buckets
  • Odorless mineral spirits
  • Scrap rags for cleanup
Even though the mineral spirits(which are used to removing the paint) are odorless, they still smell. The paint smells, too, so be sure to work in a well-ventilated area. I actually love the smell of paint - I associate it with creation and renewal - but I don't want to die from paint fume inhalation. I'm certain you'd like to not die from paint inhalation, as well.

 We sanded the outside of the barrel and painted two coats of the base color for a nice matte finish. The can said to let the paint dry completely, which should take 6-8 hours, but ours dried to a relatively dry finish within a mere one hour. We also didn't care too much if it was perfect-looking, so we fudged it a little. I think we waited about an hour and a half between the two base coats, and then about 20 minutes for the next step, which was to add the trees.

I spent a good portion of my childhood watching "Painting with Bob Ross" on PBS along with my granny. She was a wonderful artist and favored pastels over paints, but I was addicted to everything he did with acrylics and oils. One of the things he said with many of his episodes was to paint on a wet surface. As the paint colors raced in yellow text along the bottom of the television screen, he would mention that he'd already coated the canvas with a liquid white in preparation...thus my reasoning for rushing through the job! The paint on the barrel wasn't necessarily wet, but it was tacky, so it took the accent coating nicely! 

Let's paint some happy little trees!
I used the fan brush to make trees using Bob Ross's technique!

I started the video at 17:03, where the particular piece of technique he uses came in handy for my own work. See, my own happy little trees?

I know they're not perfect. I don't mind so much; after all, we don't make mistakes - we just have happy accidents! My own happy little trees remind me of a picturesque scene of winter against that cool gray. I just love the birds that B painted on, and the clouds were a nice fun touch, as well.

I hope this has inspired you to do your own wonderful version of a painted rain barrel in your own home. I personally think that it's a better thing to spend an evening with your partner making something than simply just going out to dinner. Having something tangible, something that you made, some proof that you were there...well, hey, there's just something special about that, isn't there?

Happy crafting and happy gardening!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Flour Tortillas

You can take the girl out of Tucson, but you can't take the Tucson out of the girl. Sometimes, you just get a hankering for the good food of your childhood, and though you may not be hispanic, the latinx food of your upbringing and formative environment sings the siren song to your stomach. Yeah, yeah, I know, they're just tortillas, but once you've had a good tortilla, you'll understand. Here's how!

Flour Tortillas

  • 8 oz bread flour(my own adaptation; I just prefer it)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 5 oz warm water
  • 1 Tbsp lard(yes, LARD. Don't use shortening or oil. Use lard.)

Dump the flour, baking soda, and lard onto a cool marble surface. Cut the lard in using two butter knives. You can also put this in the bowl of a standing mixer with a dough hook attachment, but this is the way I learned how to do it, so I prefer it by hand.

Yeah, yeah, I've got a marble slab in my kitchen. "Check your privilege, Chef". Right...
If doing this on a cool surface, make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour in the water. Using a dough scraper(or your hands, if you like), pull the flour over the water, over and over again until everything is combined. Knead the dough until it's very smooth and elastic, about five minutes. You could save yourself the arm strain and do it in the standing mixer, but I like getting the workout in.

Once the dough is pulled together and feels quite tight, cover it loosely with plastic wrap and let it hang out on the counter for about 10 minutes to rest. This lets the glutens relax a bit so they're easier to work with and roll. After that time is up, divide the dough into eight equal portions and begin to roll.

 Cover the little dough balls with that same sheet of plastic wrap to keep them from drying out while you roll. I roll my dough out flat into discs using a rolling pin, then stretching them by hand just a little as they relax. I keep track of which discs I have rolled first, and then go back over the sequence once or twice, to get them super-thin.

At this point, I like to dust mine with just a little bit of flour, and then let them hang out for a few minutes while I get my griddle ready. You might also want to think about any meat or veggies you're prepping for the meal that's actually going with these puppies, as - in a perfect world - you'll want to eat your freshly-cooked tortillas with your freshly-cooked meal... My point is: timing. Timing is everything.

Get a thick-bottomed skillet or griddle nice and hot on the stove. I prefer a fairly high heat for my tortillas, to do them quickly, but if you'd like to do a medium heat, just until you're confident, then that's fine, as well. All that must be done is to cook them until they bubble up and get golden, then flip over.

If you have an actual tortilla warmer, then dear Gods, use it. If you don't, simply get a ceramic plate and clean tea towel to keep them nicely wrapped until it's time for dinner. The tortillas will keep for at least a week, but I promise you that they won't last that long.

I love fresh tortillas with carne asada. You can also have them around to make quesadillas, cheese crisps...whatever! If you have avocados, make some guacamole... Or just eat them as simple tacos with some grilled meat, peppers, and corn. Few things in life are as lovely as a warm tortilla, so I highly recommend you trying these. Also: please grill corn inside its shuck. Not only is it the easiest cleanup ever, but it steams and grills at the same time! If you really want a southwestern flavor profile, squeeze lime juice, cotija cheese, and mayo over your corn before eating. I know the mayo part sounds weird, but don't knock it til you try it.

Boys be texting you like
Happy cooking and happy eating!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Vegan Banana Pancakes

Surprise, bitch. Thought you'd seen the last of the #MUGLIFE mug.
Everything I cook at home for B and myself is dairy-free. He's got an extreme intolerance to any sort of dairy, and I'm Asian, which means I'm (generally) mildly lactose intolerant. Did you know that 90%-100% of East Asian people are lactose intolerant? I'm only half-Asian, though, so I guess that's 50% for me. I, thankfully, don't get extreme discomfort when I consume dairy products, but it does make me farty, which is definitely unpleasant for all.

Breakfast is the most-important meal of the day, and it can be sometimes difficult to make things dairy-free or vegan, especially when you think about fluffy pancakes. I don't often eat vegan food, but I do know how to substitute for eggs, should the need arise. This morning, for example, I did have eggs in the fridge, but I also had a bunch of overripe bananas, which are a perfect substitute for making yummy vegan pancakes. Here's how to make mine, without dirtying a single bowl:

Vegan Banana Pancakes

  • 5 ounces(by weight) AP flour
  • 1 oz baking powder
  • 7 oz coconut milk(almond-coconut milk blend works, too!)
  • 1 medium-sized, overripe banana
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 oz grapeseed oil(canola or olive work fine, too)
In the pitcher of a blender, weigh out all of your ingredients and blend until wholly combined and very smooth, about 30 seconds Scrape down the sides and up the bottom, and blitz again for about 5 more seconds. Heat a nonstick skillet on medium heat, just until hot, and then turn the gas down to low to simply maintain the heat. Turn your oven to 200 degrees, and place a ceramic or glass dish or pie tin in the oven for holding. Save the banana peels for your garden to help give some well-needed nutrients!

For the pancakes, simply pour out of the pitcher and let cook until the bubbles keep their shape. Flip, and cook for another minute or two, then pop in the oven to hold. This makes a nice batch of 8 pancakes, which is perfect for 3-4 people. If it's only you, simply make all of the cakes and freeze the rest for a quick microwaveable breakfast. 

No, really! Individually wrap each with plastic and freeze. You can heat them in the toaster or 30 - 45 seconds in the microwave for an on-the-go breakfast. You can also make jam sandwiches with the frozen-reheated ones for a really on-the-go breakfast!

Or, you know, enjoy with maple syrup. Whatever.

"THIS ISN'T LASAGNA YOU PIECE OF SHIT" - Also my cat, probably
Happy cooking and happy eating! Be sure to check out the WannaBGourmande Facebook page for more content between posts, and follow me on Twitter for more.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Dubliner KC

I've been exchanging some tweets with The Dubliner, a pub in Power & Light District in Downtown Kansas City over the passed few days. As you can see from above, they asked if I'd ever given them a try before, and the answer was no. This is our story...

I, admittedly, don't tweet a lot on my personal life. I spend a good portion of my Instagram time promoting my business and my life as a chef, and my twitter is basically reserved for Foodiechat Mondays. I'm frankly having a rough time balancing personal and business time, considering I'm burning the candle at both ends. This is why I cherish the time I get to spend alone with B., and be out and about having fun.

I tweeted at The Dubliner, telling them to gird their loins, at about 5:45 pm on a Thursday night. When we entered, the place was completely empty, save for an adorable blonde server that took care of us promptly. We sat up in a booth, away from where the crowds would likely be, so we could enjoy our meal and conversation. Eating out is sometimes difficult, as B has a pretty severe intolerance to dairy, We tend to stick to most Asian places when we eat out, as it's almost a guarantee that dairy isn't on the menu anywhere except for crab rangoon. That being said, we found something to eat.

Between the time it took for us to place our order and get our food, the Dubliner filled up to the rafters, and our poor server was running around like a madwoman - not surprising, considering she was the only one on the floor. We later found out(after a 30 minute wait for our food) that the manager had sent the other two servers home, thinking that they wouldn't be busy on the Thursday before First Friday. Unfortunately, all of the Downtown office scene had decided to stop in for a post-work drink and some food. Oh well. Such is life.

Remember: in the UK, their chips are our fries, while our chips are their crisps.
B ordered the Fish & Chips, and got it with malt vinegar, only because I told him to try it. The fish was moist, the chips were good, and the portions were nice. All and all, it was a really solid fish and chips. I liked how it was served on a nice plate, yet still seemed 'homey' and 'bar food'y. Yes, there's a great bit of virtue in those gastropubs that I'm such a huge fan of, but it was certainly refreshing to just have a real honest-to-goodness regular pub meal.

Chicken & Rashers was my meal of choice, and boy howdy was it good. It was a hair underseasoned, and the cream sauce was barely reduced and tragically runny, but the roasted carrots and potato puree was very good, and the meat itself was nice. Oh, and in case you didn't know, a 'rasher' is just Irish bacon! Super good, house-cured, and decently executed. I have to say that, again, it was nice to skip the 'gastro' and just eat the 'pub.' The portions were great, filling, and pretty good. I imagine that if I were drinking, this would be an excellent drunk food for me.

The dessert was a yummy apple cake with vanilla ice cream on top, which was super sweet, and very stick-to-your-ribs. I know that the butterscotch sauce was made in-house because it was really grainy; this happens if you stir the sugar at the wrong time during cooking, and is an easy mistake to make, especially since one often doesn't go into a pub for something sweet. It's 100% understandable that they wouldn't have a dedicated pastry chef, and put this on the pantry cook's shoulders, so I'll absolutely give them a pass on this.
The Dubliner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
All in all? A pretty solid meal. I'm not a big drinker, but I can see the appeal of being at a nice, solid Irish but after work. I saw a ton of young professionals from offices nearby in downtown, meeting for an after-hours drink. The Dubliner has its demographic down, and make no apologies about it. Honestly, it's sort of nice to see something un-ironic nowadays.

I won't say the Dubliner is great, but it's good. It is a solid, good pub, that makes no apologies about what it is. Will I be by again? Possibly, since I don't drink often. If I am bumming around downtown, however, I'll absolutely stop in for a sandwich or some sort of lunch.