Sunday, February 20, 2011

February in Photos

Recent Breakfast of Champions: a bean tostada topped with a fried egg.

Egg Tostada

Sometimes it pays to spend an afternoon staring at the ground.

Real Estate - Franklin, TN

You never know when you will spot a vagabond.

Lost Flamingo - Franklin, TN

Freight trains cross the Cumberland in East Nashville...

Shelby Bottoms - Nashville, TN

... and sit idle in South Nashville.

Train, South Nashville

Meanwhile the frozen wetlands in Shelby Park are beginning to thaw. Spring is coming.

Shelby Bottoms - Nashville, TN


This is a collage I made as part of a mail-exchange project.

I'm the baby

Friday, February 18, 2011

Vegan Red Beans and Rice

It's been a while since I've posted a recipe, so here's a little something for those of you looking forward to mardi gras, or anyone hankering for something hearty, spicy and vegan.

vegetarian beans and rice

Vegan Red Beans and Rice (with Veggie Sausage)


For the Rice
1/2 cup diced onion
1 Tb olive oil
1/2 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp oregano
2 cups of vegetable broth
1 cup brown basmati rice1
a dash of salt and pepper

For the Beans
1 Tb olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
3-5 cloves garlic minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 bell pepper2, chopped
2 15oz cans of kindney beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups of chopped veggie sausage3
1 - 2 cups of vegetable broth
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
2 bay leaves
1 tsp or more cayenne sauce or other hot sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Let's get cooking!

Start with the rice. In a small pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the chopped onions and sauté until transparent. Add the spices, broth and rice. Bring to a boil, slap a lid on it and lower the heat to a soft simmer. Let simmer for 50 minutes or so until done. Easy Peasy!

While the rice is doing its thing, prepare the beans. In a large soup pot sauté the onions in the olive oil over medium heat until they are tender. Add the garlic and sauté another minute. Add the celery and bell peppers, and sauté for another 3 minutes or so. Add the kidney beans and sausage and stir well to combine. Add just enough vegetable broth to give the whole mess a stew-like consistency. (You don't have to drown everything, but you want enough broth so you can get a nice sauce going. I think I used about 1.5 cups.) Finally, add the spices and hot sauce and lower the heat so the beans can simmer. Stir occasionally, crumbling the sausage and mashing the beans as they soften; this will help thicken up the sauce. The beans will be done when the vegetables are all softened and the sauce is nice and thick - about 20-30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

beans, veggies and sausage

When everything is cooked, filled your bowl with a big scoop of rice, a big scoop of beans, and maybe lace the top with some more hot sauce. This stuff is stick to your ribs good. It's even better after a day or two in the fridge.


1. I used brown basmati, but you can use whatever kind of rice you have on hand. Just remember to adjust the cooking time and the ratio of broth to rice accordingly.

Sad to say, but I'm with His Airness on this one. Green bell peppers are super delicious raw, but once you cook them they become bitter, mushy messes. Since I am a petulant moneybags these days I have switched over to yellow, orange or red bell peppers for anything that goes on or in the stove.

3. You can use store bought veggie sausages, or make your own. I used leftover homemade veggie sausages from this recipe:
Chorizo-style Vegan Sausages
from Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. Here's what they looked like before I chopped them up:

homemade veggie sausage

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Zoo School, part 1

I have been animal crazy my who life. In kindergarten I began flipping logs and catching salamanders. By fourth grade I was catching snakes. I've kept nearly every pet my family/significant other would allow: hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice, water snakes, fighting fish, anoles, iguanas, parakeets and many other critters. In another lifetime where I am less paralyzed by math I will become a biologist and live out my dreams of studying the natural world. But until that reincarnation, there is Zoo School.

I am currently training to become a volunteer docent at the Nashville Zoo. As a docent my job is informal interpretation: answering questions, providing information and showing off "biofacts" like skulls, pelts and preserved specimens. This is a dream come true for me.

When I received the training schedule, I was utterly delighted. Who wouldn't want to take a class called Zone 1 - Entry Village exhibits {meerkat, macaws, lorikeets, etc}. Just to repeat, I AM TAKING A CLASS ABOUT MEERKATS.

We had our first class yesterday and it was a blast. I sat there the whole time thinking Wow, I really get to do this. This is really real. We spent part of the class discussing the mechanics of zoo interpretation and biofact use. The rest of the class was devoted to an exhibit called The Unseen New World, a collection of fish, reptiles, birds and amphibians from the Americas and West Indies. We moved through the exhibits at molasses speed, discussing the animals and habitats with keepers and experienced docents. We learned how to tell the caimans apart, which animals were a-courting, and which turtles had to be separated because they wouldn't stop a-courting in front of guests. Even though I am pretty well read on wildlife I learned so much, especially talking to the aquaria keeper. Needless to say, I am super stoked for my next class.

Here are some of my new friends:

Mexican Beaded Lizards, Nashvile Zoo

These Mexican Beaded Lizards may look sweet sleeping, but they are one of the few venomous lizards in the world.

Here a Caiman Lizard (not to be confused with the crocodilian caiman) shows off its swimming skills.

A staring contest with a Black Pacu. I love its weird mouth.

little boy, looking at a stingray: "It looks like a QUESADILLA!!!!"
dad: "..."

Friday, February 4, 2011

My Secret Weapons

my secret weapons

Although I fancy myself a pretty decent cook, I am not afraid to admit my undying affection for these two little kitchen cheats. Without them, I would be sad and lost, unable to make a 5 minute tostada or ultra-luxe croutons to save a wimpy soup.

Penzey's Sandwich Sprinkle: This shit is legendary. Originally devised as a crouton spice blend, this mix of garlic, salt and stuffing herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme and marjoram) is perfect for when a dish needs just a little oomph. Also, it makes everything taste like Thanksgiving. Brilliant in salad dressing, stuffing, gravy, eggs (and egg sandwiches) and anything involving a potato. And fear not, Penzey's does not lie; it does make rad croutons. From the back of the bottle: mix 2 cups of bread cubes & 1 TB seasoning, saute in 2 TB butter or olive oil until crispy. So easy it doesn't even need a complete sentence. PS: although my little vegetarian heart breaks to say it, I bet it would be killer on a turkey sandwich with lettuce, tomato and mayo.

Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce: While Sandwich Sprinkle has been my jam for the past year, me and Tabasco Chipotle go way back. I've been chugging this stuff since I found a bottle of it at FoodLand in 2005, and I've still totally entranced by its rich, smoky flavor. Naturally, it is fantastic on anything tex-mex, mixed into refried beans or blooped into chili. It's also the secret and vital ingredient in my stand-by quick meal of beans, hominy and greens (recipe to be featured in a later post). Lastly, this shit makes a KILLER MARINADE. The basic recipe is soy sauce + Tabasco Chipotle + minced garlic + white wine. Throw it on some tofu and stick it in the fridge overnight. Fry it up the next day and die because it is so delicious that you plucked out your own eyeballs.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Jules Verne is a Helpful Cat

With Matt in school and me working full-time, it's hard to find the time to do everything that needs to get done. That's why we are very, very lucky to have a helpful cat by the name of Jules Verne.

Jules Verne is a fabulous organizer. Here she is packing up some books to be stored in the basement. Good kitty! Watch out for brown recluse spiders while you are down there!

JV helps move boxes

Like many people I hate folding laundry and putting it away. Fortunately Jules Verne is an expert at folding laundry. She can even fold those elastic-edged fitted sheets without ending up with a fabric lump resembling a tumor. Check out this folding prowess!

JV helps with the laundry

But what good is a cat-maid without a deep, tender emotional connection? Jules Verne greets us each day with the warm affection of a wet-nurse. Here she is making sure overworked Matt gets enough sleep. Growing brains need rest!

JV helps matt sleep

Yes, we are very, very lucky to have a helpful cat like Jules Verne.