28 November 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Black Friday is upon us!  I hope your Thanksgiving was a wonderful day of family, friends and food.  Take it slow and easy today.
Let's do a quick recap of the goals, then check out camping photos!
  • Camping.  We went camping with the Full Moon Bus Club.  There was some last minute scrambling to get the bus ready, but camping in a bus feels extremely luxurious after years of tent camping.
  • Start a batch of Drifter clone beer. Fail.  However, I got some Chilean Malbec wine (kit) going this month that should be ready just in time for my birthday.  I can't wait.
  • Get dirt for my raised bed garden. Also fail.  But we bought supplies to make two more raised beds and I think dirt will be on hold until this spring.
  • Meet some new people.  So many new people!  We were accepted as family into the Full Moon Bus Club, and also met a few other new people this month!
  • Complete a class I started taking on Coursera.  I started two classes, for the first one I'm on track to watch my final lecture tomorrow, and the exam is more like an "exam" but we'll see how that goes.  My other class still has a couple more weeks left.
I also had a few "admin" tasks that I needed to get done, and I'm sorry to say I got those done...yesterday.  Still, done.  But only because I knew I had to report about it here.  Let's move on to December.
  • Christmas will undoubtedly involve travel!  It's always nice to have a trip to look forward to.
  • We've got visitors coming for NYE.  I can't wait to see them!  Who knows what the weather will be like, so I need to prepare some options for things to do.
  • Bottle the IPA that's been chilling in the kitchen for a while.
  • Bus stuff.  I think that I'm pretty well decided on the layout and color scheme, but I'd love to sketchup the whole thing so I have an idea of what it will look like first.  Also the front seats have no padding and the 40-year-old seat covers are starting to shred, so they definitely need to be redone.  I think I can do it myself?
  • Eat better.  I mentioned last month that I don't feel like cooking, and as a result I've been eating crappier food.  Oops.  Should have seen that coming.  Buy-two-get-three-free ice cream didn't help.  Nor did FOUR Thanksgiving potlucks.
  • Start thinking about our next big trip.  It's been a year since we went to Mexico, so it'd be fun to take an international trip sometime next year.
Heeding my mother's advice, I watched a documentary called "What Plants Talk About."  The film posits that plants behave like animals, when corrected for time (ie sped up, viewing a time-lapsed glimpse into plants behavior).  It's really fascinating stuff - first they have the wild tobacco plant, which completely changes its bloom's timing, scent and sugar content in order to attract different pollinators, then there are the spotted knapweed plants, whose roots give off harmful chemicals in order to kill off surrounding competition, followed by the sand rockets who recognize 'kin' plants and grow smaller roots to allow their kin to survive (or, conversely, grow much bigger roots when competing for space with non-kin sand rockets), and finally, the Douglas fir, who grows massive networks in the forest and transfers nourishing carbons to baby plants in order to help them survive.  If that isn't enough to pique your curiosity, you're also privy to the film's witticisms: "but the wild tobacco plant has more than one trick up its leaves..." and "the knapweed is the plant equivalent of the Terminator."  If the social behavior of plants sounds interesting to you, check this movie out - you can watch the whole thing for free on this site.
Other than that, I really didn't take any photos this month that weren't bus related.
The morning we left to go camping, Kyle built a frame for the back of the bus so that we could fit our spare bed's mattress in there and still have lots of storage space.  He did a great job.
This summer, we picked up both a campstove and a coffeemaker for a steal.  However, we never tested either.  Thankfully, they both worked great - the first night dropped to just about freezing, so hot coffee in the morning was sooooo good.
Of course, nothing tops a nice campfire when you really need to warm up.
I don't think we've met a single person who hasn't commented on the paint job on the bus.  I think Sixer was the best-looking bus there, although there were two Vanagons with really fantastic artwork.
It was a very interesting crowd, both bus-wise and people-wise.  It's a great community that I'm happy to be a part of.
On to December!  It's hard to believe we're here already, but...cada dia is mejor.  Bring it on.

21 November 2014

Thanksgiving Leftovers Shepherd's Pie

Thanksgiving is always feast!  The turkey, the potatoes, the rolls, the veggies, the gravy - the GRAVY!  Personally, I could eat Thanksgiving leftovers for a week and not get tired of the mashed potatoes and gravy, but if you need some creative ideas, read on.
I think Kyle's favorite was the open-faced turkey and gravy sandwich.  I'm a big fan of soup, which is a great use for the leftover turkey (especially if it got dry) and possibly even some steamed/roasted veggies.  But if you want a dish that really combines everything, Shepherd's Pie is the way to go.

This version is a poor excuse for the traditional shepherd's pie (traditional ingredients include beef/lamb, carrots, peas and onions, Worcestershire sauce, thyme and rosemary), but a great excuse for using Thanksgiving leftovers.  
It starts with the veggies.  Some leftover French green beans supplemented with a bag of frozen mixed veggies will do the trick - also note that I have doubled the recipe listed below (making a 9x13 pan rather than a 9x9 pan).
Top with leftover shredded turkey.  Add in the spices.  I made a citrus-sage turkey so I used fresh sage, but also the traditional thyme and rosemary.
Add in the gravy and a little more salt and pepper.
Mix everything together then try to smooth down the top of it in preparation for the mashed potatoes.
Spread the mashed potatoes over the top of the dish, sealing all the delicious flavors in.
Bake until the tops of the mashed potatoes start browning.  I took mine out a little early because the gravy was bubbling up over the top.  I couldn't wait to get a helping of this shepherd's pie!
Thanksgiving Leftovers Shepherd's Pie
  • 2 c. veggies: green bean casserole, steamed mixed veggies, roasted fall veggies, etc.  I'm not sure how squash would work out, but don't be afraid to give it a try.
  • 2 c. shredded leftover turkey
  • 1 c. gravy
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 to 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 to 1 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 c. mashed potatoes (can use mashed sweet potatoes but NOT candied sweet potatoes)
1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 
2.  Put the everything but the mashed potatoes in a 9x9 pan.  Stir everything together.  Use a spatula to push everything down and smooth the top to prep for mashed potatoes.
3.  Spread the mashed potatoes over the top of the turkey/veggie mixture.
4.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the tops of the potatoes start browning.

*There are lots of substitutions you can make here.  If you don't have enough veggies left over, supplement with a bag of frozen mixed vegetables.  If you didn't roast a turkey, use whatever meat you have around.  No leftover gravy?  No problem.  Add a little chicken broth instead (1/4 to 1/2 cup) or maybe a can of cream of mushroom soup.  If you have LOTS of leftovers, double the recipe and put it in a 9x13 pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.  I roasted a citrus-sage turkey so I added a little fresh sage to my Shepherd's Pie.
Have a great Thanksgiving!  It will be a quiet holiday for me this year, but we might make some last-minute plans just to get out of the house.  Thanksgiving dinner is probably going to be bar food - or better yet, tacos.  We'll see!  I still got my turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy, so I don't mind a bit.

07 November 2014

Homemade Enchilada Sauce

Homemade enchilada sauce is made out of pantry staples and takes hardly any time to make (in fact, it can be done simultaneously while cooking the meat).  It tastes better than the canned stuff and doesn't contain any unknown ingredients, especially if you do some home-canning of tomatoes.
This recipe works with fresh tomatoes or canned tomatoes - so versatile!  Make it how you want it.  I used canned tomatoes from last year's harvest.
Here's the stuff that keeps it tasting amazing: spices galore.
Mix it all up and simmer.
Use on your favorite enchilada recipe, bake for 25-30 minutes, then sprinkle with your favorite cheese and some minced cilantro.
Homemade Enchilada Sauce (adapted from this)
  • 2 tbs oil (bacon grease or butter work great)
  • 2 tbs flour
  • 2 c. canned diced tomatoes*
  • 1 tbs chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • salt and pepper, to taste
1.  Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Mix in the flour. 
2.  Gently stir in the tomatoes, then the rest of the spices
3.  Simmer for ten minutes.  The sauce will thicken as it cools. 

*Here are other options:
  • One can of tomato sauce + 1 cup water (makes a nice smooth enchilada sauce)
  • 1 can of tomato sauce + 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups of diced fresh tomatoes (gives it a little more texture)
So there you have it!  The sauce can be stored in the fridge for a few days or the freezer for a couple months.  A basic enchilada recipe is to take 8 burrito-sized tortillas, fill them with anything you want (meat, beans, cheese), roll them up and place them seam-side-down in a 9x13 pan.  Pour enchilada sauce over the tortillas.  Bake for 25-30 minutes at 350* and immediately sprinkle shredded cheese over it when done.  The cheese melts, the enchiladas are awesome, you have an easy meal that feeds a crowd.