Dump Some Cumin in It

New post: Dump Some Cumin in It

Baking Soda Tutorial

Check out my latest Hobbies for Hobos post, Baking Soda Tutorial!

Update

After spending hours combining my two blogs, Hobbies for Hobos and Left Brain Right Brain, on this WordPress site…I have decided to separate them. From now on, these blogs will remain two separate sites from this one, and I will post links to new blog posts as they are written. I intend for this site to be primarily a portfolio, with links and pdf versions of my work.

Here is the latest post from Hobbies for Hobos. Enjoy!

What to do with a $23 chicken

For months preceding and following my recent move to Orlando, I have been searching for ways I can get plugged into the community. Coming from a year of small-town Georgia life, I have been eager to take advantage of all the different activities and resources that a slightly more urban life has to offer. I also have lots of free time. As you may remember from my bread-making experience, free time for me usually translates into finding ways to make delicious food in a cost-effective manner.

So, naturally, I spent $23 on a 3.75-pound whole chicken.

Yes, I know that whole chickens normally cost about 5 bucks. Let me back up and explain. Jobless hobos such as myself certainly can’t afford to spend gourmet prices at every meal, and this was not my intention. Rather, I was trying to acquaint myself with the local food co-op scene.

Local food co-ops are just one facet of the fast-growing local food movement, acting as a partnership between multiple farms to provide environmentally friendly whole foods to a local community. The farms are local or regional and often practice organic or natural farming – plus, since they’re local, there’s not as much gas used for shipping. Co-op members make an order a few days in advance, and on the designated pick-up day, come to collect a box of whatever produce is in season. Eco-conscious, healthy, and convenient? Yes, please! I signed up for my first box of local produce within a week of moving to the city.

Don’t worry, I’m getting back to that $23 chicken. Hang on.

My husband and I have also been trying to limit our meat consumption. We’re not trying to be vegetarian per se, but we try to practice vegetarian tendencies. We both try to eat a little bit lower on the food chain – it’s good for us (not as much fat and cholesterol in our diets) and good for the environment (it takes much less energy to produce vegetables than meat). There are exceptions to the vegetarian rule, because, let’s face it. Meat is delicious. When I scanned the local food co-op website and saw that they also sold grain-fed, free-range chicken for $6, I decided to get some poultry in addition to my produce box.

This is an instance in my life where my tendency to read quickly and gloss over some of the finer details of writing really came back to bite me. Or rather, bite my wallet. In my defense, I didn’t read all of the information on the website wrong. That chicken definitely cost about 6 bucks.

Per pound. My chicken clocked in at 3.75 pounds. Ergo, $23 chicken.

There’s not a lot of free stock photos of raw chickens online, OKAY!?

Needless to say, I felt a little foolish for not bothering to read the information correctly. I was trying to be healthy and save money, not put us out $23 because I had a Chick-Fil-A craving. To save face (and more money!), I vowed to use every last piece of the chicken.

And I did. Tada!

The second bit of panic after the initial sticker shock came when I realized I had no idea how to cook a whole chicken. The natural idea that sprang to mind was roasting it like a turkey. But that would require purchasing a roasting pan, which I couldn’t afford, because I spend all of our hard earned money on a chicken. Instead, I rammed half a can of beer up its rear end and we baked ourselves a moist, delicious beer-can chicken.

 

Beer Can Chicken

Adapted from http://www.e-rcps.com/pasta/main/fowl/chick_brcan_ovn.shtml

Ingredients:

3.75 lb whole chicken

Assortment of spices (we had Old Bay, chili powder, cumin, garlic, and oregano)

1 can of beer (we used Yuengling)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Remove innards from chicken.
  3. Rinse chicken, inside and out, with cold tap water.
  4. Rub chicken, inside and out, with several tablespoons of assorted spices of choice.
  5. Drink a quarter of the beer. Or, pour it out, but drinking it’s more fun.
  6. Puncture several holes in beer can and place in oven proof pan.
  7. Plunk the chicken down on the beer can. Form a tripod with the two legs and can to stabilize. If the sight of a chicken standing up on a beer can makes you giggle, then you did it right.
  8. Cook at 400 degrees F for half an hour, reduce to 350 for the next hour.
  9. After about an hour and a half, it’s done! Don’t pour out the drippings from the pan – that’s for gravy!

I made a salad and mashed potatoes to go with the chicken, and used the drippings from the chicken to make a pretty decent gravy, if I don’t say so myself.

 

I said it was pretty decent. I never said it was pretty.

Creamy Gravy

Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook

Ingredients:

Drippings from chicken

2 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 2/3 cups milk

Black pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Pour drippings into a skillet.
  2. Add flour and pepper and stir til smooth.
  3. Add milk and cook over medium heat until thick.
  4. Let sit for 1 minutes, thin with milk if needed.

This was way too much gravy for our mashed potatoes, so I have since been using the gravy over biscuits for other meals.

I made sure to save all the bones from our meal, and began collecting vegetable odds and ends over the rest of the week. By the Friday after our Sunday meal, I had collected about a quart’s worth of onions, kale stems, and other veggies to make a chicken stock for future use in soups and gravies.

Hey look, I took my own before and after shots this time!

Chicken Stock

Adapted from http://allrecipes.com/recipe/brown-chicken-stock/detail.aspx

Ingredients:

Bones from leftover whole chicken

Approximately 1 quart of assorted vegetables

Garlic, pepper, and oregano

8 cups of water

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Arrange bones and vegetables on baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes
  2. Move roasted bones and vegetables to large stock pot, fill with approximately 8 cups of water. Heat to boil.
  3. When boiling, add a couple of teaspoons of assorted spices such as garlic, pepper, and oregano. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 2 hours.
  4. Strain out solids and chill stock in refrigerator. When cool, transfer 1 cup at a time to plastic sandwich-size ziplock bags, lay flat, and freeze. Use later for soups.

I haven’t used the stock yet for soup, so the verdict is still officially out on that. But the chicken and gravy have definitely been crowd pleasers…if you consider my husband and me to be a crowd. The chicken, salad, and mashed potatoes lasted us for two dinners, so 4 entrée meals for $23 divides out to about $5.75 per serving. Not cheap, but not too bad. I probably won’t be purchasing grain-fed, free-range chicken for every Sunday dinner, but at least I know I can satisfy the occasional meat craving with local, whole ingredients.

And yeah, I’ll probably still find a way to sneak a Chick-Fil-A chicken biscuit in my diet every now and then. I’m not completely vegetarian, after all.

Sharks are Better Than You

Sharks are insane. There’s no light way around it. Almost everything about their natural history, their morphology, and their adaptations seem to cross the line from typical, run-of-the-mill animal nature to completely and utterly bizarre.

Let’s start with their sensory organs. Since childhood, it is ingrained in us that there are five general categories of senses: sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch. Each of these senses has a general organ associated with it for people: eyes for sight, nose for smell, so on and so forth. Five general sensory organs for five general senses. Pretty simple stuff, pretty well established across the animal kingdom. I mean, wouldn’t it be ridiculous for other animals to have extra senses that we don’t have? That would be utterly terrifying.

 Gulp.

Sharks don’t have five sensory organs. Not six, either. Their sensory organ count tops out at seven. Seven separate body parts, each performing a different function – usually related to food consumption, further cementing their reputation as incredibly efficient  killing machines.

Their sixth sense derives from something that all fish (including sharks) share: a lateral line. This line is a series of sensory organs running alongside the fish, giving it the sense of motion detection. This way the fish can feel potential prey moving away from it – or a fearsome predator moving towards it – before it actually sees the animal at hand. The fish in the Chondricthyes class (sharks, rays, and chimaeras) have a seventh sense as well: the ampullae of Lorenzini, a series of snout receptors that can detect electrical impulses produced by otherwise cryptic prey.

 Electric impulses are given off with muscle contractions. Yes, that includes your bicep flexing to impress the ladies.

I could go on all day about all the anatomy that we take for granted in the animal kingdom that are simply not true for sharks. Skeletons are made out of bones, right? Not for sharks – their entire skeletal structure is made out of spongy cartilage and connective tissue. It’s also pretty much common sense that fish lay eggs. Sharks can lay eggs. But for most, this egg laying occurs inside the mother’s body, where the pups are incubated, hatch, and are then born into the water. (Some species forgo the whole egg concept and give live birth.) And as for jaw placement? The whole idea that jaws are attached to something on the head just simply doesn’t apply to these guys.

Who needs cranial jaw attachment? Not goblin sharks, that’s for sure! (Photo credit Peter Halasz)

In general, sharks also have way too many of certain body parts, as the following chart suggests.

Body Part Our Number Shark’s Number Because . . .
Eyelids 2 per eye (top and bottom) 3 per eye, including a clear nictitating membrane …sharks need eye protection underwater.
Teeth 28, 32 if you still have your wisdom teeth 3,000 at a time, thousands in a lifetime …a sea creature diet isn’t as easy on the teeth as our mushy human food.
Male reproductive organs 1 per male 2 per male …sharks are just more manly than human men.

Last week, I encountered what some might consider the most unabashedly bizarre shark of all – a scalloped hammerhead shark. Not only does it have a detachable jaw, spew live babies like some kind of mammal wannabe, and can find electricity with it’s snout, but it also has one of the oddest shaped heads in the animal kingdom.

Don’t make fun of his head, he can’t help it. (Photo credit Barry Peters)

Scalloped hammerheads are just one of 9 species in the genus Sphyrna, which derives from the Greek word for hammer and refers to the odd head shape. This “hammer” is known as a cephalofoil, and this oddity has been around in the shark world for 20 to 25 million years.

Why the odd shape? There are many theories floating out there, but one widely accepted idea is that the odd eyeball placement enhances the animal’s binocular vision. Monocular vision, or using one eye at a time to increase the field of view, is better for animals that are primarily prey, as it helps them scan the horizon quickly for predators. Binocular vision, however, offers much more of an advantage for predatory critters. This is because the binocular vision, which creates an overlap between the two eyes, helps the animal locate and focus on specific prey items. The wider the head, the greater the binocular overlap – as long as the eyes tilt forward, as the hammerheads’ eyes do. Hammerheads also have 360 degree vision, thanks to their straight-outta-sci-fi eyeball placement. Like sharks needed something else to make them scarier.

For some reason, I don’t think human binocular vision has the same terrifying effect.

Hammerheads, like many big sharks, have built up a rather nasty, human-biting reputation. After all, most of them are primarily carnivorous beasts the length of a Lincoln Navigator, so it’s not hard to imagine where that reputation came from. This reputation however, is almost 100% unfounded, according to the International Shark Attack  File.  Since 1580, only 1 fatal hammerhead attack has been recorded. That’s right. We’re looking at a 1 per 500 year average. Overall, the grand total of fatal, unprovoked shark attacks in the last 500 years? 138, out of just barely more than 1,200 reported attacks. Those are pretty good odds.

Now I’m not suggesting that we go out and give hammerheads a big ol’ bear hug, of course. Sharks still have powerful jaws and thousands of sharp teeth. They are still creatures that have the potential to hurt us. But that’s it – just the potential.

No shark hugs. Not even the little cute ones. (Photo credit Terren Peterson)

Humans are not natural prey of sharks. Most cases of shark bites end up being “exploratory bites.” One taste usually results in the shark leaving, because people are apparently not as tasty as seals, stingrays, squids, or any one of the million other things that sharks eat.

Even trash is considered more desirable than humans by many shark species. Take that as a compliment. (Photo credit  S. Muller)

Sharks are a group of animals that people should certainly be aware of and respect. This is just a classic example of the “we leave them alone, they leave us alone” concept. So exercise caution, but don’t go thrashing about in terror like a wounded animal if you come across one. Observe, learn, and share. Because sharks may be some of the weirdest animals to grace our oceans, but they’re also some of the coolest.

Avocado Family Tree

During the blazing hot summer months in Georgia, my eating habits suddenly change. My produce bills start to go up as I toss more and more avocados in my grocery cart. I seem to be drawn to more authentic Mexican restaurants with fresh, chunky guacamole. Without realizing what I’m doing, I order menu items just because they have the word “avocado” in the description. What is it about this vegetable that inexplicably draws me to it when the temperature heats up? This cool, creamy, smooth, refreshing, heavenly—

Excuse me while I faceplant into this bowl of guacamole.

Culinarily speaking, avocados are considered vegetables. Botanically, however, the avocado is definitely a fruit. Specifically, a berry. Yes, I am aware the avocado looks nothing like a blackberry, strawberry, raspberry, or any other fruit-like object that people have slapped the “berry” label on.  Oh, and by the way – none of those are berries anyway.

Berries are fleshy fruits with seeds contained in a single ovary. If it has seeds in one fruit body from many ovaries *coughcoughblackberrycough*, then it is not a berry. It’s called an aggregate fruit. If the fruit’s so called “seeds” are actually teeny tiny individual fruits (with their own ovaries) all lumped together, then it’s an accessory fruit – meaning strawberries are not even close to true berries.

The jig is up, straw-”berry.” We know your secret.

Avocados, or Persea americana, are a widely cultivated species in the Lauraceae, or laurel, family. Laurels are known for their aromatic oils, small round flowers with spirals of stamens  (aka, boy parts), and fleshy fruits – such as enormously fleshy avocado berries.

The fleshy part of the avocado is technically the mesocarp.  I prefer it’s common name, the deliciousness.

Another cultivated member of the laurel family tree (See what I did there? Clever, eh?) is Cinnamomum, or simply, cinnamon. Rather than being cultivated for its fruits, these plants are grown for their bark and harvested to create spices and herbs.

That’s right, your morning bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch came courtesy of some tree bark. You’re welcome.

One member of the laurel family that is native, rather than cultivated, here in the southeast United States is the redbay, or Persea borbonia. Often outshadowed by majestic live oaks, this small tree has been gaining more than it’s fair share of attention in the last decade due to a particularly nasty strain of laurel wilt.

The wilt is caused by a fungus transmitted by the redbay ambrosia beetle (an exotic pest) and is currently wreaking havoc on Georgia’s redbay population – and is expected to keep moving along the coast. This is terrible news for turkey, bobwhite quail, songbirds and deer, which all eat various parts of the redbay plant. It’s even worse news for three species of swallowtail butterfly, which all produce larva that is dependent on redbay leaves.

I know this creeper spicebush swallowtail butterfly larva looks like he could destroy anything that tries to take his food, but he’s pretty defenseless against laurel wilt.

And if we’re not careful, it could spell doom for lovers of decently priced avocados. Redbay and avocado are not only members of the same family, but the same genus. In 2007, five years after the arrival of the laurel wilt fungus in the Southeast, Florida’s first avocado plant fell victim to the disease. It sounds devastating, and it very well could be. But there is action that can be taken. Leaving the research and policy making to the experts, there are several easy things we can do to help: avoid transporting firewood or dumping yard waste, donate money to research efforts, and simply spread knowledge of the problem to more Southeast citizens.


Please help stop the spread of the redbay ambrosia beetle. Avocados are expensive enough as it is  Save the Redbays!

Just Keep Swimming

I totally know how to swim. That is,  if the definition of swimming is “not drowning.” I can float, kick, flail, and generally keep my lungs water-free with the best of them.  But once you start to throw in ideas like strokes, form, and efficiently moving from point A to point B…then my swimming skills are sadly lacking.

That’s more my style.

This normally wouldn’t bother me too much (I still haven’t drowned, last time I checked), but now that I live on the coast, learning to swim properly seemed like a valid use of my time. 

Step 1: Equipment

Body of Water

For my first “real” swimming attempt, I decided to take advantage of my apartment complex’s swimming pool while the local kids were at school. This not only assured me an interruption-free swimming time, but also protected me from being completely schooled by 7-year-old swimmers.

Swimsuit

I smartly decided that my blue bikini, while perfect for laying on a beach towel, would not be a perfect choice for swimming – thanks to its tendency to only stay put on my body when I  am being very, very still. My only other swimsuit option was a tankini. While offering considerably more in the coverage department, the tankini’s primary function also appears to be body decoration for immobile people. Another reason why I’m glad I went to the pool while the kids were at school. My advice: wear a one piece to avoid, uh, slippage.

Goggles

I usually rationalize my non-use of proper swimming strokes by claiming I can’t see where I’m going underwater with my contacts in. I decided to eliminate that excuse by taking advantage of the end of summer sale on seasonal items at Target. I got these babies for less than $5.

Jealous? I thought so.
Step 2: Swimming
This is where things started to get tricky. My belief that you can learn how to do anything on the Internet might not be so true when it comes to swimming technique. I did the best with the resources I had, however, and visited one of my favorite go-to sites, eHow.com. The article “How to Swim the Freestyle Stroke” did offer some helpful tips, as did WikiHow.com’s “How to Swim Free Style Correctly.” but it was a little difficult to remember all of them without a referencing a computer screen constantly. A poolside computer just sounded like a recipe for disaster.
Avoiding electrocution seemed like the best way to go. Although, now that I think about it, 
I could have just printed out the swimming tips rather than do without. . .

 The biggest tips I brought with me to the pool were rotating my body on a horizontal axis, treating my arms like windmills, and remembering to kick the entire time. Here’s my take on these website’s freestyle tips:

Horizontal Axis: Basically, visualize a line running down the center of your body, from your head down to your toes. Rather than relying solely on your arms to propel you forward, learn to twist your body to give this motion more power. If you’ve ever been canoeing or kayaking, or even taken kickboxing lessons, it’s the same idea: use power from your core to move you forward, rather than your extremeties. It’s a difficult change to make, since we seem to be accustomed to using our limbs to move, but it’s possible with practice. Try rolling your shoulders in the direction of the twist to help keep the body aligned as you rotate side to side.Oh, and don’t forget to breathe once you rotate to one side. Kind of important.

Windmill Your Arms - Sort of: Think of your arms as part of a two-bladed windmill. Try your best to keep your arms completely opposite from one another – if one is reaching out forward, the other one should be reaching back. Don’t make the mistake of keeping your arms completely extended, however. Extend fully when the front arm  hits the water, then bend the arm as you move it under your body, extending once more as you get ready to leave the water.

Just Keep Kicking: A constant, soft, up-and-down flutter kick, will help keep your back end out of the water and keep propelling you forward. No need for big splashy kicks here (even if you think you’ll look cooler in front of the 7-year-old swimmers). Kick gently from the hips, keeping the legs straight (but not rigid), and you’ll be fine.

Step 3: Regroup
Most of these tips were easier said than done; it’s very difficult to wipe out 20-plus years of doggie paddle muscle memory from my body. I hopped in the pool with the fullest intentions of following all these steps, but to be quite honest, I’m not sure if that actually happened.

I also had lofty aspirations that my swimming session would last for, oh, at least 20 or 30 minutes. I didn’t wear my watch down to the pool (see: electrocution picture), but I’d venture to guess that I lasted for more like 5 minutes once actually in the water. Swimming for fitness is a bit more tiring than the type of swimming that I’m used to.

 When I’m in a pool for 30 minutes or more at a time, I’m usually in one of these…
“swimming” rarely involves much actual “moving.”

My plan for next time? I’d definitely spend some time focusing on one of these three basic tips before leaping in headfirst and trying to accomplish all at once.  And in all honesty, I don’t know how much more for-real swimming I’ll be attempting without having an instructor help me. Relearning bad habits ingrained in me since childhood will probably require a little more help than what the Internet offers. And, as much as I hate to admit it, adult swimming lessons disqualifies it from being a true “hobby for hobos” since that involves actual transaction of money.

But underwater FUN will always be free!

But all in all, learning to swim for fitness was a worthwhile activity.  I had fun, got a little exercise, and rocked some pretty sweet-lookin’ goggles. Not sure I’ll be signing up for the Ironman Triathlon anytime soon, but I think I picked up a nice warm-weather hobby…just in time for autumn. Whoops.