Tag Archives: DIY

Vegetarian Dolmas

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I moved into my house just about a year ago and since that time I’ve been looking forward to making dolmas.  You see, my backyard came with this aggressive grape vine that last year didn’t really make any decent grapes (maybe it would have if the squirrels didn’t get them first, or if the previous owners had watered ANYTHING in the yard).  At any rate, the grape leaves are young and tender and it’s time to let this vine prove it’s got some value.  I posted on social media about my dolmas and got so many questions, I decided to post my recipe… thank goodness I took notes while I was making this!  Note that this recipe is not traditional in any way nor is it trying to be.  It’s just good.

Vegetarian Dolmas

This recipe is made in sections.

Rice

2 cups brown rice

3 cups water

Put the rice and water into a rice cooker and let it do it’s thing.  You could also cook it on the stove top, but you’ll need to find those instructions elsewhere.

TVP

TVP is “texturized vegetable protein”.  In my house, we have it on hand to add protein to vegetarian dishes.  We use it instead of ground meat.  You can find it in the grocery store.  We like Bob’s Red Mill’s TVP.

1 cup TVP

1 cup vegetable broth

1 Tbs tomato paste

2 Tbs soy sauce (sounds odd, makes the TVP taste amazing)

2 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp onion powder

Place the dry TVP into a medium-sized bowl (it’s going to expand).  Mix the rest of the ingredients in a bowl or other pourable vessle (I like my 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup).  Pour the broth mixture over the TVP and let it sit until the liquid is absorbed.  Give it a stir to fluff it up.

Finish the Filling

1 Tbs tomato paste

2 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp onion powder

1 tsp chopped fresh oregano

1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme

1 Tbs chopped fresh basil

4 oz oil-packed sun dried tomatoes with their oil

1 can of artichokes, chopped

1/2 cup of kalamata olives – measured and then chopped

3/4 cup (2 handfulls) of sweetened dried cranberries (aka “Craisens”… I use Mariani brand) – you could also use raisins or dried currants

8 oz feta

black pepper to taste, freshly ground

Mix all of the above ingredients, the rice, and TVP in the biggest bowl you’ve got.  Adjust the amounts to your taste.  At this point, it should smell good and taste good.  If not, make adjustments.  Set this aside and prepare your grape leaves.

Grape Leaves

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I used fresh grape leaves from my vine.  Only use leaves that you know have not been sprayed with pesticides.  Pick them when they’re young-ish.  Too big and they’ll be tough.

30 grape leaves

2 Tbs salt

Lots of water

Remove the stem and the thickest veins at the base of the leaves.  Be careful not to make a giant hole in the middle of the leaf.

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Bring a pasta pot full of water and the salt to a boil (I made it like I was making pasta).  Working in batches of 5, boil the leaves for about 2 minutes each.  They will float, so use tongs to flip the pile of leaves over a few times to make sure they all cook. Drain them in a colander to remove the excess water.

Assembly & Baking

Olive oil

2-3 cups of broth

Prepare a 9×13 inch glass pan by generously sprinkling the bottom of the pan with olive oil. (Confession: mine didn’t all fit in the 9×13 so I also had a 9×9 for the overflow… no big deal.)

Place one grape leaf flat on the cutting board with the base of the leaf (where the stem was) closest to your body.

Place about 2 tablespoons of filling in the middle of the leaf.

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Fold the sides of the leaf over the filling.

Fold the bottom of the leaf over the filling.

Roll the pile of filling and leaf sides upwards to the top tip of the leaf.  Roll a firm but not tight packet.  It will expand a little while baking, so don’t worry if it isn’t super tight.

Place the rolled dolma in the pan seam-side down.

Repeat 29 more times, arranging the dolmas in the pan so they fit tightly together.

Once all the dolmas are in the pan, sprinkle more olive oil on top of the dolmas and fill the pan with broth up to about half way up the dolmas.  Traditional recipes cover them completely, but our rice is already cooked.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes until the dolmas have absorbed most of the broth.

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Framed Carpet Cat Scratchers

I keep seeing pins on Pinterest of carpet in a frame on the wall for cats to use as a scratcher, yet none of the linked sites have instructions.  I loved the idea – it’s simple, takes up almost no space, and provides more vertical scratching opportunities – but how do you do it?  I showed the posts to my partner to get his thoughts on how we could make it happen.  He found a Martha Stewart video involving double-sided tape to hold the carpet inside a frame, which set us off on our journey.  It’s not as complicated as I thought it was going to be and you don’t really need many items and no tools.  Here’s how we did it.

You will need:

  1. carpet remnants, squares, or samples
  2. a frame
  3. Command picture frame adhesive
  4. A cat to help, and judge.

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How you do it:

  1. Pick your carpet.  We got 8×8″ carpet samples from Home Depot.  You can buy them online for $1 each (at the time of writing).  You could use any carpet you think your cat will like, especially if you had leftovers from some other project, but the super thick, long pile carpets are hard to work with.  Go for short or medium unless your kitty is really into deep pile.
  2. Pick your frames: If you get carpet samples, get a frame that fits your sample.  The 8×8″ frames fit the Home Depot samples perfectly.  Or pick a frame you like and use the mat or the frame back as a template to cut your carpet.
  3. Open up your frame.  Take out the glass and any mat that comes with it; save them for another project.  You’ll probably also want to remove the foot/prop/kickstand that many frames have so it will sit flat on the wall.
  4. Cut your carpet to fit into the frame if needed.
  5. Put the carpet into the frame, fuzzy side sticking out.img_20180810_203730711
  6. Put the back into place and close up the pins that keep the back on.  If you’re using a big frame and carpet, you might want to glue or tape the carpet to the frame back and tape around the opening on the back.  For the smaller squares, it’s not necessary.img_20180810_205101641
  7. Finally, we need to put it on the wall.  You don’t want to use the hanger the frame came with.  If you hang it on a nail, the cat will probably knock the frame off the wall or it will swing back and forth scraping the wall.  We used Command’s velcro-style picture hangers to attach it flat to the wall.  Just follow the instructions on the package.  An added bonus is that these hangers can take some weight so hopefully my 12 pound big boy won’t pull them off the wall.

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Now that they are done, do the kitties love them?  No.  Of course not.  They are cats and therefore contrary.  I think the scratchers might be a little too high on the wall, so we’ll try moving them lower to see if that helps.  Catnip gets some interest.


Growing Cyclamen from Seed

The Backstory

A couple of years ago I bought a cyclamen.  I was having a bunch of people over for Thanksgiving and the patio off the dining room looked like death.  The large volume of red flowers on the Cyclamens at the hardware store was an easy fix.  I’ve heard they are hard to grow and that they usually die after the winter, but I was willing to give it a try.  My new plant went into a large pot visible from the back door in a fairly shady spot.  In the spring, as the flowers died back, I noticed that a couple of them had made seed pods.  Being a plant person, I couldn’t just leave them.  This was an opportunity! So I did a bunch of research online on how to start them from seed.

How NOT to Do It

It’s very difficult, according to the internet, to grow a Cyclamen from seed.  You need cold, and darkness, and it takes a very long time.  I did my best to provide the prescribed conditions, and hoping that since Cyclamens come from a Mediterranean climate like my own, any mistakes would be mitigated.  I was delighted to get 5 sprouts!  I was so careful with them, but only one survived.  I thought perhaps the internet was right and this WAS hard.  It didn’t help that the clamshell plastic container that I used (because the internet said I needed a lid) was shallow and prone to drying out.

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My one surviving plant from my first try. It’s grown a second leaf which makes me very happy.

The Epiphany

I consoled myself with the fact that I could buy more of these festive winter flowerers and the next winter bought myself a cheerful pink and white one.  Like the one before it (which is still going strong, unlike what the internet predicted), it did very well. Both plants had masses of flowers and ended up making heaps of seeds.  I collected them and decided to give it another try.  The seeds I collected were waiting inside for the weather to get cold.  After all, the internet says 104 degree days are not the time to grow a Cyclamen.  Around September, I was examining plant #2 for new leaves.  This summer’s heat hit it hard but it was coming back.  I noticed some small leaves that didn’t look like the big curled new growth on the plant I bought.  They looked like the sprouts I got last year!

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Three of the 5 sprouts that grew themselves in the pot with their mother plant.

You’re kidding me.  All they need is the conditions around their mother plant.  I transplanted the sprouts to their own pot.  A windstorm killed one, but the rest are going strong.

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My cyclamen collection… and a mass of oxallis in the big pot.

Success

I grabbed a glazed pot, filled it with quality potting soil, and sprinkled on some seeds.  The established plants had a layer of leaf litter from the last year’s spent leaves that seemed to provide good protection from the sun and hold in moisture, so I covered the pot with some spent Cyclamen and Oxallis leaves because that’s what I had on hand.

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Leaf litter covering freshly planted seeds.

It took several weeks but I started to see the seeds swell and form small bulbs.

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There! Right in the middle of the photo! It’s a tiny cyclamen bulb.

I knew I had the formula right when I saw that I had a leaf climbing out from the leaf mulch.

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Yes, that’s a leaf, although it kind of looks more like a mung bean sprout…

The key really seems to be keeping them moist.  I let my pots sit in a shallow pool of water so they can wick up what they need.

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Sprouts in progress. In the square pots are attempt #1 and the volunteers. The larger yellow round pot has attempt #2. The small round pots have the last of the seeds planted today.

I’m crossing my fingers that they keep growing.  The second leaf appearing on my plant from attempt #1 is encouraging.  I’m really curious to find out what color flowers they have.  All their leaves are different from their parent plants, so I really can’t say what color flowers I’ll get, if they decide to flower at all.  I imagine I have at least another year, maybe two, to wait.

So the Internet is Wrong…

I guess you can’t trust all the garden know-how posted on the internet.  Here’s a recap of things I’ve learned:

  • Cyclamens aren’t hard to grow, but they do need the right conditions.  Direct summer sun will nuke their leaves, but they can recover. Bright shade seems to be best.
  • Don’t keep them indoors either.  They aren’t house plants.
  • They are not difficult to grow from seed, but again, you need the right conditions.
  • Temperature isn’t really an issue.
  • Moisture seems to be key.  Covering the seeds with leaf litter really helps with this and keeps the light off (if that even matters).
  • A deep, glazed or plastic pot will prevent the pot from drying out.
  • Keep some water in the saucer to provide constant moisture to the seedlings.
  • You don’t need to grow them in a dark cold closet.  It sounded insane when I read it but enough sites said it, so I thought it might be true.

The Last Aphid: Another Charley Harper Inspired Quilt Block

The next block in my Charley Harper quilt is my rendition of the artist’s “The Last Aphid” which features four ladybugs staring down an aphid that they’ve cornered between them.  This block was a challenge because of the symmetry.  Everything has to be lined up or it looks wrong (accepting some error of course because it’s applique and it’s never going to be perfect).

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Like the other blocks and quilt plan, I used Inkscape to design the pattern.

One tool that has helped me immensely through this block and the last was masking tape.  Yup.  Good ol’ masking tape.  It’s not to hold anything down, but rather to lift something up, namely cat hair.  My guy cat loves to get in the middle of anything I’m doing (case-in-point he’s currently sitting next to me and pushing the arrow keys as I try to type) and he’s a real big shedder.  I guess I should be glad he’s a short-hair.  Aside from just not looking that great, cat hair is a problem because it gets into the thread as I sew and causes it to snarl up into a knot more than it normally would.  To get rid of the cat hair, I stick the masking tape down on the fabric and pull it off; the cat hair comes with it.  It’s pretty much a cheap version of a lint roller.


My Big Day of Giving Toolbox

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A graphic used in the 2015 campaign.  Photo editing: XnView.  Layout & graphics: Inkscape.

I think it’s pretty clear from my blog that I’m equal parts scientist and artists.  One of the things I do on the art side is that I’m on the Board of Directors for the Pamela Trokanski Dance Theatre.  My job is twofold: (1) manage the social media outlets, and more recently (2) I am the Team Leader for our participation in the Big Day of Giving, which requires a lot of social media.  So, I’m doing a lot of graphic design, communications, advertising, and coordination. Big Day of Giving is a day (literally 24 hours) of donating to Sacramento-area nonprofit organizations that have profiles with Giving Edge.

Having a successful Big Day of Giving almost requires someone on your team to be able to film and edit videos and to create engaging graphics all of which can be posted online, added to blog articles, and be sent in emails… not to mention printed materials and press releases.  HOW do you do all of that?  Through my graphic editing and generating needs as a scientist (hello, figures in journal articles!), I’ve collected a set of go-to tools that are all FREE and open source.

Graphic Design: Inkscape

Photo Editing: Gimp or XnView

Video Editing: OpenShot

Why does free and open source matter?  Pamela Trokanksi Dance Theatre is a 501(c)3 education nonprofit.  Read: we have no money to spend on expensive art programs.  All of our operating costs are provided through donations and ticket sales.  Additionally, all of our board members (the board is a major source of volunteer hours) can download and use these programs without incurring costs.  Each of our board members already donates monetarily to the the organizations.  We, as board members, don’t want to have to spend money on software.

“But these are advanced tools!” I’ve heard people complain.  “It’s too much for volunteers to learn.”  Sigh.  All I can say is try.  It helps that two members of our board are die-hard Inkscape fans.  We set up Inkscape templates with the logos already added to make start-up easy for the novices.  So far, so good.


Accidental Ferns

I have this moss terrarium that is not doing that well.  It’s never done well.  I guess moss doesn’t really want to live in a jar.  Probably more than a year ago, I dropped a maidenhair fern frond in there that was loaded with spores.  I thought it might sprout, but after the leaf decayed, nothing happened so I forgot about it… not that I really knew what fern sprouts looked like.  Months ago, I started seeing this strange structure growing out of my dying moss clumps.  It kind of looks like tiny kelp.  I thought maybe it was a liverwort or some moss structure that grows from moss in some last attempt to live.  My “moss kelp” eventually grew some branches, so I thought it was making spores.

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From left to right: some scraggly moss, young maidenhair ferns, and the fern prothallia

Fast forward to today.  My maidenhair fern in my office (a division of the one mentioned earlier) is dropping spores all over the window sill, so I did some internet research on how to grow ferns from spores.  That’s when I discovered I’ve actually already done it.  The “moss kelp” is the prothallium or the gametophyte of the fern (the structure where fertilization happens).  From the prothallium, the fern that we recognize grows.  Now I wonder if I can do it again on purpose.

A note on the photograph: photographing prothallia is really difficult.  I was frustrated at the lack of good photos online, but now I understand, so please excuse my lack of detail in my photo.  I may try to get some better macro photos later.


Plant Eyeballs

plant_eyeballsPlants need eyes, right?  Maybe not.  But these floppy heaps of native grasses that my HOA planted in front of my house needed something, especially for Halloween.  Giving your plant eyes is easy.  These were made out of ping-pong balls (with circles drawn on with permanent marker) hot glued to wooden skewers.  You just stick the skewers in the ground and you’re good to go.  If you had a shrub, you could glue a loop of string instead of the skewer and hang them on a branch like Christmas ornaments.  I have been contemplating how to make teeth for my little grass buddies next, you know, just to make sure the neighbors really question my sanity.