My thoughts on life

Hot Compost

To try and get the garden beds productive as soon as possible, I researched hot composting. With hot composting you get your compost pile as hot as possible and turn it frequently — every 2 to 4 days — to get fully composted organic matter in a matter of weeks instead of months.

I got a compost thermometer and combined some grass clippings, kitchen scraps and all of the soiled bedding from the duck shed into a pile. A few days after I built the pile, the temperature peaked around 120° F and each time I turned it after that, it was getting to around 110° before starting to fall again.

On Wednesday I turned the pile again, and it only got up to a measly 101° after a couple days. There is quite a bit of uncomposted material still in the pile, so the internet told me I need to add more nitrogen. Cheap sources of nitrogen are: urine, manure, and brewed coffee grounds.

Since I live in a city where you can almost literally see a starbucks no matter where you’re standing, Ethan and I took a tour of several coffee shops and were able to acquire about 5 gallons of coffee grounds. As an aside, we stopped at Foxy Lady Cafe, which is a Bikini Barista place, and the barista that answered the drive through window in a lacy thong and bra said sorry, no, they don’t save their coffee grounds. I’m not entirely certain they actually serve coffee there.

We mixed the grounds in on Saturday while turning the pile again, and today the pile is up to a whopping 130°!

August 10, 2015 Gardening

Killing Weeds Without Chemicals

I planned a new layout for the garden that Ethan and I will implement in the coming years. That’s not a typo. It will probably take us years to get the garden where I want it. I expect that by Winter we’ll have one new bed prepared and the three existing beds can be enriched enough so that next Spring we can use all four for planting.

A rough sketch of my plan for the garden.

A rough sketch of my plan for the garden.

The first step to preparing a new bed is to eliminate the existing weeds, and step two is amending the soil enough so something will thrive rather than survive. Continue reading →

August 2, 2015 Gardening ,

Dead Soil

Ethan and I have been working on getting the garden that came with our house into a usable state. Not only was it completely overgrown with weeds and grass that is taller than me, it seems the soil is totally dead.

Koralik Tomato

Koralik Cherry Tomato

Between the two of us we have dug up three small beds, each about 4 feet by 20 feet. We haven’t gotten much of a harvest from them so far, only some tomatoes and spinach last year, and some more spinach, arugula and radishes this year. I say the soil is dead because it has terrible texture and barely holds moisture. I spent an hour or so digging an edge around one of the beds to keep the weeds down, trenching 25 – 30 feet, several inches deep the whole way. In that time, I did not encounter a single worm.

Gill's All Purpose Tomato

Gill’s All Purpose Tomato

We’ve been working to amend the soil in hopes that we’ll get more out of the garden this fall and next year. So far we’ve amended one bed where we currently have tomatoes planted, but we only top-dressed the area because the tomatoes had already gone in the ground (oops). We added the rest of the compost to another bed where Ethan planted some brussels sprouts, and possibly something else… but the ducks ate them all.

I started another large compost pile mostly from duck bedding and kitchen scraps, plus weeds we’ve pulled from the tomato bed. Unlike all of our previous composting, I’m trying a hot compost method and acquired a compost thermometer. We’re about a week and a half, and two full turns in. So far so good. It will be a few more weeks before we know how well it worked.



We’re also trying ‘green manure’ to speed up the amendment process. Last weekend we planted buckwheat in the bed of failed brussels sprouts. It started sprouting yesterday and is coming up with a vengeance. I’m excited to till it under in a couple of months and get that soil ready to go for next spring.

I can only speculate about how the soil got in this condition. The only thing we can figure is that the previous gardeners just used lots of chemical fertilizers and never added any plant material or other amendments to the garden. It seems impossible that in just a few years of being left to the weeds that healthy soil would end up like this. It will take many years, but hopefully we’ll be able to get it back to a respectable condition.

July 30, 2015 Gardening

Ducks, Part 1



Last Spring Ethan and I purchased four ducklings, intending to raise them for slug eating so that our garden could stand a chance against the ravenous hoard of unstoppable slimy invaders. We acquired two muscovies and two khaki campbells. We put the four of them in a box with a heat lamp, some food and water, and watched them grow. Not knowing their sex or personalities, we named them Zero, One, Two, and Three in order of size.

Continue reading →

June 22, 2015 Pets, Uncategorized

Adventures In Running

When I don’t have an event to train for, I find myself running in a very unstructured way, and not running as frequently as I’d like. To combat this, I signed up for the Tacoma Narrows Half Marathon this August. I set up a training plan in RunKeeper and now I have set days and distances to run.

In Minneapolis I lived a couple blocks from a really large trail system that branched in many directions near my home. I could start from the same place for all of my runs and plan long or short runs that took me out and back or in a loop, with very few street intersections to deal with. The only feature not offered by those trails was variety in running surface or terrain. It was all paved, and virtually flat. I could run over 12 miles without a single hill, especially if you don’t count freeway overpasses.

Now that I’m in Olympia, I’ve got plenty of terrain! In a quarter mile I can get the same elevation climb I’d achieve in a 5K in Minneapolis. It’s a new challenge for me, and one that I’d been looking forward to. I’m also enjoying it now that I’ve had a chance to try it out. What I don’t have is a giant trail network a few short blocks from my home. There is a biking trail that is great for running about half a mile from my house, which is nice, but it’s also paved and relatively flat. Boo. If I run on the shoulder in the opposite direction of the trail, I can get some great hill runs in, but I’m also running on the shoulder of a moderately busy road and it’s still paved.

With  my recent training regime, running on the one trail over and over again has gotten pretty repetitive. I thought I’d scope out a nearby park and go for a run there. The first thing I found was the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge Trail, and since  it’s only $3 for up to 4 people, Ethan and I headed there this morning to take a slow run down the boardwalk. Sadly, right after we paid admission, we saw the “No Jogging” sign. Since we were already there, we did take a nice 4 mile walk around the park and saw some wildlife. It was nice, but now I’m set to go run on the same biking trail again. I’ll have to keep looking for the elusive nearby unpaved trails.

May 10, 2014 Fitness, Running , ,


One of the joys of home ownership is the projects that come with it. I’m sure these are the same projects that drive some people to rent or move from new house to new house their whole lives, but I enjoy them. They’re fun to plan, can be challenging to execute, and the results are usually very rewarding.

In our old house, Ethan and I tackled everything from tiling and painting to replacing fixtures, installing shelves, hanging doors and repairing lots and lots of plaster. This house is quite a bit older, but was also much better taken care of. We haven’t even finished unpacking but we’ve already got some projects in progress. They are so far on a smaller scale, but generate the same satisfaction. Continue reading →

April 26, 2014 Home Improvement ,

Living without a microwave

Around 6 years ago, I bought and moved into a house. In a very short time frame, Ethan and I noticed that a) the house did not have a microwave and b) we were having a hard time living without one. So we went to Home Depot, bought stuff to make a shelf, then Ethan built a shelf over our oven, and we put a microwave on it. The microwave lived there happily for years (and is still there). I remember feeling like I was really deprived without the microwave and I was super relieved to be able to reheat some food in it for the first time.

Fast forward to today: we just bought another house, and moved in. Ethan has been here about a month ago, and I’ve been here 3 weeks. It took me a few days to even notice that we didn’t have a microwave. So far I don’t miss it.

So I have to ask myself: what changed?

First, I noticed over the last year that we were not using our microwave very often. What brought it home for me was that we had cleaners coming every other week, and the invariably put the turntable back in wrong. I would notice the first time I used the microwave after they cleaned, but sometimes that was over a week after they were last in the house. We were only using our microwave about once per week.

I think this is partially because our diets have changed quite a bit. In the last year I have changed to eating a lot more whole foods, including lots of raw fruits and vegetables. Simply having a huge supply of these things in the house means that Ethan is eating more of them too.

The other reason we were less dependent on our microwave is that we bought a new oven, and we had more counter space. When we first moved into our Minneapolis home, there was barely any usable counter space, and the oven and stove were horrible. We had a large cutting board set up on two burners and that was our primary food prep space. Once we replaced the oven, reheating food on the stove was less of a chore. When we had more space to prepare our food, we could use 4 burners instead of two, and it got even easier.

For the last few weeks, I’ve had several hot lunches that I heated in a small frying pan (stews and soups, mostly). I also toasted (and burned) a number of pitas and tortillas on the stove. I’m grateful to have my toaster back for the pitas, but I’ll continue to heat tortillas on the stove. I can’t think of a reason I need a microwave now.

April 18, 2014 Personal

Three Second Neutral Response

I recently watched Blackfish, a documentary about orca whales in SeaWorld. Tangential to the contents of the documentary, one of the former trainers briefly mentioned the use of a three second neutral response, which I found very interesting. The concept is that after an animal is asked to perform a trick, they are either given a food reward for a successful trick, or a three second neutral response for an unsuccessful trick.

So far as I can tell, the intent is to clearly indicate “you did not do what I wanted well enough” without punishment or expression of anger, frustration or disappointment. It simply involves not expressing any emotion through speech or body language.

I tried looking up more information about this as a training technique, but most results were just discussing or reviewing Blackfish. The idea stuck in my head though, and I began to imagining scenarios where it would be fun to try. Whenever someone tells a bad joke: three second neutral response. When someone asks me “do you want bacon on that veggie burger, har har har”: three second neutral response. When someone comes to my door and asks for $5 because [story that doesn’t really make any sense]: three second neutral response. Basically any time someone does something you just find disappointing and obnoxious, rather than dignify it with a response, simply do nothing for three seconds.

In seriousness, I did actually try it on Ludo the day after I watched the documentary. At night he sleeps in his own room, and sometimes he goes in right away when asked, and sometimes he freezes and growls and refuses to go in without being forced. So far, I can’t tell what the difference is, in his mind, between those times. On that particular night, he chose the freeze and growl option when I asked him to go in his room. I was very frustrated and tired, and his reaction made me angry, but I know from experience that yelling or otherwise expressing my anger just makes him nervous and more uncooperative, so I tried to relax my face and shoulders, and slowly counted to three. After that pause, I gently asked him again to go to his room. He tentatively walked over and, resigned, went in his room.

I strongly recommend everyone add this to their repertoire of reactions. It’s a good way of not feeding the trolls, and might actually be an effective training technique, with animals and people.

February 2, 2014 Humor

Vegan French Toast Recipe

Ethan’s coworker recently gave him a gift of maple syrup. That, combined with the almost full jug of maple syrup we have on hand is excessive for two people who don’t eat pancakes with any regularity. I decided to make some french toast this morning, to use some of the syrup up. He’re the recipe, roughly:

  • 2 Tbsp ground flax
  • 6 Tbsp hot water
  • 1/2 Cup soy/nut/rice milk
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • dash of cinnamon
  • dash of nutmeg
  • 4 slices of bread, preferably stale
  • coconut or canola oil

Slowly mix the hot water into the flax until fully incorporated (it will get slimy, like eggs). Add the vegan milk, vanilla extract, cinnamon and nutmeg, and whisk until completely blended. Pour the mix into a shallow pan or 9″ x 9″ baking pan.

Heat a griddle or frying pan over medium-high heat. Add oil and wait for oil to shimmer. Quickly lay each slice of bread in the mixture and flip to coat both sides. Let any excess drip back into the pan and immediately put in the pan. If you can’t fit all four pieces of bread into the pan or griddle, wait to dip each slice until it’s ready to fry.

Cook each slice for 4 – 6 minutes on each side, until the coating is mottled brown and beginning to crisp. Serve immediately, with syrup, fruit or whatever toppings you enjoy!

I found that a non-stick skillet works best for this, but a well-seasoned cast iron pan would probably work equally well.

November 9, 2013 Recipes , ,

Salad Dressing Recipes

I’ve always liked eating salads, and since I make a lot of my own food, I have long wished I could make my own salad dressings. While I like the taste of bottled dressings, I’m always concerned by their ingredients. Many contain xanthan gum, high fructose corn syrup, hydrolyzed soy protein, or other ingredients I don’t generally feed myself.

I started by trying to mimic an Italian style dressing, because they seem so simple: oil, vinegar, herbs and spices. I tried a handful of recipes and found them all to be lacking. They were either bland or had strong flavors that were far from delicious. Then, a few months ago, a friend brought over some Trader Joe’s chickpea dressing. After looking at the ingredients, I realized it was basically watered down hummus. This was something I could work with.

I’ve been making my own hummus for years, because it’s so much less expensive than buying it pre-made, and I can add whatever flavors I want. Also, with a food processor, it is dead simple. So the next time I made a batch of hummus, I combined the following in a small glass jar (mine was leftover from sundried tomatoes):

  • 3 – 4 Tbsp of hummus (any flavor)
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp of fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp water
  • a pinch of salt
  • a few grinds of black pepper

Then I sealed the jar and shook it vigorously until the hummus completely dissolved. It resulted in a surprisingly creamy dressing and was enough to dress several salads. It kept just fine in the fridge in the same jar, for over a week (and then it was all used up). This dressing is very easy to modify by simply using different flavored hummus, or adding herbs, spices, or other flavoring liquids. I have since made a toasted sesame ginger version where I made hummus with ginger and sesame seeds, and added dark sesame oil to the dressing.

Yesterday I was inspired to make another dressing using a similar approach, and it was so good that after one bite, I got up, walked over to Ethan and forced him to try a bite of my salad. This dressing was based on a pesto recipe that I made a couple weeks ago. The recipe made about 1 full cup of pesto, which was more than we could use on pasta, spaghetti squash, and wax beans. Yesterday I took a tablespoon of the pesto and added a splash of pickle juice from some garlic dill pickles, and whisked them together with a fork. As I already said, the result was delicious. The best part is, the only fat in the dressing comes from the oil and nuts in the pesto, and neither the pickle juice nor the pesto contained any refined sugars.

The pesto recipe I used was given to me by a friend who got it from his CSA. The original recipe calls for carrot tops, because that week’s share came with carrots, tops included, but I used the same recipe using curly leaf parsley, to similar effect. It also called for parmesan cheese, but to make it vegan-friendly, I used this vegan parmesan subsitute. The resulting recipe was:

  • 1 cup packed curly leaf parsley (stems removed)
  • 6 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1/4 tsp kosher or fine sea salt
  • 3 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/4 cup vegan parmesan cheese

I combined ingredients in a small food processor and processed until grainy. This pesto is delicious when made into a dressing, or when tossed with some vegetables and pasta.



October 27, 2013 Recipes , ,