Friday, August 31, 2007

Use it Up Fridays

I think I might just make this a weekly thing here at Natural Nerds. It seems every Friday finds me hip deep in the Frigidaire or the freezer, working my way through a handful of leftover odds and ends. Usually two or three oddments that aren’t enough to turn into a meal, another miscellaneous container of, well, I can still mostly tell what it is, so I hate to throw it out. The usual line up of offenders - heels of bread, a lone carrot, the nearly forgotten cup of chicken stock, too good to waste. And, as this is a website devoted to our attempt to live the slightly greener life, I might as well begin the reduce, reuse, recycle regime in our refrigerator.

On the docket for today? Seems like I got overzealous last week during the shopping and picked up one package too many of whole-wheat tortillas. We made our way through half the package last night – getting us in under the “use by” date by several hours – when, after a rather disastrous first attempt at dinner : Let’s just say that in the three years I have done the cooking for the Prime Geek and myself, only one meal came up in memory as worse. That particular meal is only referred to in this house by the title “The Testicle Dumpling Disaster”. Don’t ask. Really. Also, don’t use cottage cheese in dumplings. Trust me. Seriously. We threw the pan away that time : we went for a quick tortilla grilled cheese and tomato soup combo. That still left me with half a package of quickly stiffening tortillas to use up.

A quick rummage coupled with about 5 minutes of work, and I now sit in my office with the wonderful aroma of cinnamon wafting up the stairs. If you happen to find yourself wanting to use up some leftover tortillas (corn or wheat works fine), why not make yourself a batch of baked cinnamon chips?

Natural Nerd NoshesBy now, you should all know I simply can’t help alliterating.

Brown Sugar
Butter (or margarine)

Now, by this point in the blog, you should be aware that I don’t deal with exact measurements too well. So, grab a little courage and wing this, okay? Remember, these are leftovers we are dealing with here. Worse comes to worst, they end up in the trash – and isn’t that the first instinct with leftovers anyway?

To begin, mix up a small batch of cinnamon sugar. About ¾ cup of brown sugar (I prefer the really dark stuff, but whatever you have is fine. There is to be no running out for groceries for this.) with 1 Tbsp of cinnamon. Mix it up well with a fork and set aside. Place 1/3 stick of butter in the microwave and melt it thoroughly. While your butter is liquefying, cut your tortillas into triangles. Try and aim for 8 triangles with each tortilla.

The messy/good part – Set a cookie sheet on the counter and starts dipping each triangle into the butter. Lay the lubed lovelies onto the sheet in a single layer. Once all the triangles have been dipped, sprinkle over the top of them all the cinnamon sugar. Use a light hand here, you only want a thin layer over the tops. Any left over cinnamon sugar? Sweeten your tea with it, put it on your toast, toss it into some applesauce. It's frankly useful stuff to have in the kitchen.

Pop in a 350’ oven until crispy and enjoy with a big glass of ice cold apple juice. (Hot apple toddies in the winter are also acceptable.)

Now that my breadbox is bare, think I should start the grocery list for next week?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Riches in Refuse

The Prime Geek and I spent a few days pouring over ads for various composter designs, ranging from the simple drum style to some incredibly complicated models that come complete with spinner, inner agitators, and some odd drainage system that required you to hook it to both a hose and the downspout. Time and time again we came back to the central question – What do we need to get kitchen scraps to rot successfully? The spinners, while quite nice, seem more than a little superfluous. Lights? As I rarely see the need to dispose of anything under cover of darkness… well, nothing I want the neighborhood dogs to dig up anyway, these seemed rather a waste as well. Drainage and water monitoring? If it needed water I figured I could handle walking the hose over to the composter, and besides that I really wasn’t too fond of the idea of a pile of garbage right next to the house (and directly under a window. Have I mentioned we don't have central air and all the windows are open in the heat?).

That left us with the basic models. They all seemed to be constructed on similar lines; heavy-duty plastic containers with lids and holes for air to flow. The colors and shapes varied from model to model, and while some might find the ability to color coordinate their garden tools to their house a definite must… well, I think I’ve made it pretty clear so far in this blog that we’re not that kind of people. Frankly, we tend to mock those kind of people.

We did hit one small snag early on in deciding what we wanted. The Prime Geek had asked me what my folks had done and I had cheerfully described the three box system with a nine apartment hutch arrangement for the rabbits built over. After a blank moment of staring at me, he asked if the rabbits were really a requirement to making this work.

“No, not really. We had just been looking for a way to make raising my 4-H projects a little neater, and dad had his students build it for me as a class project.”

As we have neither anxious students vying for an A, nor 17 Netherland dwarf rabbits to contain, we decided to dismiss the bunny bunkers as a requirement for the composters. For now. Although… it could be construed as an excellent way to fertilize the yard without chemicals. I was shut down pretty hard by the Prime Geek over the rabbits. You might not know it to look at him, but he can get awful high-strung about some thing. Strange. Anyway, my father's plans wouldn’t work for us. We would need something a tad more traditional.

A large heavy duty container, with holes for drainage, and a way to shake the material inside for proper, well, rotting. We could buy a basic unit - $75. We might be able to modify a rain barrel -$45 plus a lid. But…. a quick rummage in the garage and a jaunt down to the basement for the drill soon had us in the home stretch.

Cheap Ass Composter (for those with few aesthetic requirements)

1) One Large Plastic Trash Can WITH Lid – in our case left fortuitously by the previous owners of the house.
2) Drill with widest bit available – ¾ inch works fine

Set can on its side and begin to drill holes in the sides and bottom approximately 8 inches apart, all over the can. (We’re not looking for precision here people, just drill a hole and move on to the next. If crafting runs in your blood and you can’t leave well enough alone, feel free to make a pattern or design, but that’s only if you really feel you must.) Repeat this process on the lid. Once all holes are thoroughly drilled, set in the corner of your yard where you want the composter – might I suggest taking into consideration midwinter walks in the snow when making this call? You don’t want it next to your home, but if its too far away in a hidden corner, you are not as likely to wander out in sweatpants and a coat to get your kitchen scraps in it as you might be with it near the garage door. Easy access is the idea here.

To get started? Easy peasy. Layer in a good thick layer of browns – dried grass clippings, leaves, straw, etc - then a layer of greens – kitchen scraps, peels, pits, egg shells, that zucchini that just started waving to you in the back of the fridge. Layer and repeat.

Yes. There is a lot more to it. As I stagger my way to a healthy compost pile I’ll try and fill in the holes. On the other hand, there are a ton of people out there cleverer than I who have figured this whole procedure out, why not check them out? A few of my favorites are : - this blogger is a real favorite. I check in at least three times a week and I’ll confess a sad little fan girl secret for this one… not only do I read this site regularly… I bought the book.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Black Gold

The Prime Geek stopped by my office door, watching in amusement as I spun myself from side to side on my swiveling office chair. He had heard me grumping from the next room and wandered over to see what had made me yelp “$270! Just because it spins?!?”

“Anything wrong?”

“Yes. They want $160 for the plain jane model, $250 for this one with the foot pump, $270 for the one that spins… and it looks like this one is $320 without the attachments… but they want another $40 to light it up!”

He just looked at me for a moment. I could see confusion, amusement, and touch of fear cross his face in rapid secession. Several sentences seemed to almost be said, but in the end he settled for the most basic first.

“What, and I realize I might regret this, are we talking about… exactly?”

“The ability to utilize undervalued post consumables and partially desiccated yard waste and…. Hold on, I lost the ad….. ah, yes. And transform them into highly valuable and irreplaceable black gold.”

The Prime Geek is an eloquent man. Well read, highly intelligent, able to not just keep up with the herd but to leave them shuffling through his dust. Even so, this particular bit of advertising verbiage was met with a simple “Huh?”

“Composters. I want to start composting our kitchen scraps and grass clippings because the dirt in the back is pretty sad stuff. Dad says if we compost now and spread it around back there we have a much better chance at having a garden next year. But, all I have found so far are a list of overpriced trashcans that all claim to do something remarkably spiffy to trash. All I want is a simple place to contain everything and let it rot without stinking up the neighborhood. These all seem designed to be backup units for the space station!”

The Prime Geek is not a gardening kind of guy. Frankly, I consider myself lucky that he agrees to do the heavy lifting portion of the yard work – tote a bag of mulch here, dig a hole for a rose bush there, generally make himself useful in all the ways that don’t involve him being responsible for keeping a small green thing alive. Once things are lifted, shoved, dug, or pulled - he considers himself done and scoots out of the yard as fast as possible. But he IS the mad scientist, and anything that challenges him to one up “the man” and do things on the cheap fills him with an amazing zeal for experimentation. I had apparently waved a red flag at his creative side.

“Scoot over. Let’s take a look at this……..”

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Renovations for $25, Alex…

Our dream of a cool, comfy, and cuddle inducing haven was beginning to fledge. With a zeal found in the all the Prime Geeks confident attacks on his projects, he simply unrolled the mesh on our living room floor, slicing it into 12 lengths. To my amazement… and frankly his smugness, without measuring he somehow managed to attain exactly 12 curtains with only 4 inches remaining on the roll. While grateful we would have enough to complete our project, the fact I will be living with his gleeful “I told you so’s” for the next few months has me peevish. It was now time for me to start my portion of the project.

Now, I might not have mentioned this, but one of the ways I toss my fair bit into the family coffers is by working at home as a seamstress/costumer. Odd materials, weird pattern redo’s, and incredibly tight deadlines are the norm for me. That being said, I will confess a slight hesitancy in running wire mesh through any of my machines… my beloved serger especially. Take my car, set my computer on fire, even smash my mp3 player and I will survive. But go after my sewing machines? Them’s fighting actions, my boy. With a quaking heart and a shaking hand, I slowly started running the panels through George. Yes, my serger has a name. Wanna make something of it? To my delight, he handled the material with ease. I quickly had neatened up the side of each panel to a slightly more professional edge.

But now what? I couldn’t see simply wanging holes into the panels, it would tear in no time. Sewing a small sleeve across the top would make them stiff and unyielding. Back to ferreting around in my sewing closet. Five minuets – and only three small avalanches later – I had what I needed. Grommets from a corseting job I had worked on months before and a roll of cotton strapping picked up at a tag sale for a grand total of .25 for 50 yards. Have I mentioned how much I love figuring out how to do things on the cheap? The most time consuming portion of my part of this project was the rummaging. Once that was done, our curtains were almost ready to hang. One last scrounge found a bottle of copper bb’s hiding in Prime Geek’s crammed closet – a few hundred poured into bottom pockets in the mesh and our curtains were finished and happily weighted down so they won’t fly around in high winds.

The Prime Geek had spent the time I was sewing at a favorite haunt of his - a salvage yard where he can buy all sorts of odds and ends at scrap prices. Our curtains would hang from recycled rods he screwed into the brick surround of our porch. The rods, along with three boxes of plastic shower rings brought our total cash investment to a staggeringly low 25.00 for our new room. To round out our shabby chic montage on the porch, we dragged our old overstuffed couch out into the new three-season room and added a small table to set frosty beverages.

All in all, our red-tec rec room is everything we had hoped for. Privacy for a decent cuddle in the evenings, a cool place to chill when the house gets too stuffy, and an ideal spot to watch movies projected onto the garage door by PG’s home theater. We built the perfect drive-in movie theatre and removed the gas wasting driving part. A Natural Nerds success story.

Popcorn anyone?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

All It Takes Is One Mad Idea….

I confess, our plan for a cool zone addition to our home will not meet with Dame Martha’s approval. There are not going to be any spreads depicting this option in upcoming home design magazines. At no point are we going to be called the “classy” neighbors. The Prime Geek and I live our lives firmly split between the RedTec and the NeoElf camps, and will never wander towards the light of post modern… well, anything. As we remodel our home, we tend to place comfort, usability, and finally just plain “well, we think it’s spiffy” at the top of our lists of requirements. This complete unconcern over what our neighbors will think allows us to think not only outside of the box, but to knock the box over onto its side, set it ablaze, and roast marshmallows over the embers. With that being stated, and a quick genuflection to Saint MacGyver (topped with a suitable offering of duct tape and tube socks) we were off.

Our supply list looks like a treasure hunt run amok. It is almost completely composed of items scrounged from here and there, bits and bobs we have squirreled away at various times for no other reason than the vague idea they might one day be useful. For the walls of our summer palace, the Prime Geek found a roll of wire mesh sheeting, given to him well over a year ago by a friend who knew I sewed and thought I might have a use for it. At the time, we both wondered what we would need with 30+ yards of mesh… but instead of worrying about it, we simply shrugged and put it away for “someday”. Yes, we ARE packrats. I have never claimed otherwise. However, as long as we can see the floor and there are no bugs in our clutter… this rat is staying packed!

At first there was some thought we would simply staple gun the mesh to the top of the porch’s ceiling - tacky, but ultimately effective. However, we have gotten used to unloading Maximus – the PG’s tame Jeep – onto the sides of the porch, saving us steps when carrying heavy loads. Sealing the sidewalls of the porch would mean long walks around. I’m all for exercise…. but hefting 40 pound litter containers and 30 pound cat food bags the long way round is a bit much. We needed a way to keep everything open when we needed, but still be able to seal it up afterwards to deal with blood hungry creepy-crawlies. Instead of static walls, we decided a curtain arrangement would work much better.

Enter the next stage of scrounging……

Monday, August 13, 2007

Plans Within Plans

Here at NN Central, the Prime Geek and I have been struggling with the heat wave that is essentially flattening most of the country this summer. Day after day, we have suffered through sweltering heat, which is making sidewalks shimmer and turning asphalt walkways into the sworn enemy of barefoot nerds everywhere. Now, the Prime Geek and I have a lone air conditioning unit in our home, firmly lodged into one of our bedroom windows. We try and save this for a last resort in our fight against the summer heat, using the ceiling fans (thankfully found in nearly every room of our home) and dual unit window fans to try and force cool air through the home. It’s just me and the four furry troublemakers during the day, so most days I try and gut it out and only turn on the air conditioner right before the Prime Geeks winds his way home from work. (Air-conditioned work, might I add. Lucky twerp!) That gives us one cool and DRY room – the other plague of this summer is the oppressive humidity. While the Prime Geek appreciates Swedish bikini models… the whole Swedish steambox thing passed him by. The feeling of breathing through hot wet cotton is beginning to wear on everyone, even the furries are feeling the strain. Rarely do they try and race each other during the day, their fights have even dissolved into petulant bops on the head… but only if they are within close reach. The days of running after their opponents are on hold until the fall. (Although, I AM starting to think Trouble #1 is keeping a list somewhere. Each transgression a kitten makes finds her scurrying to her hiding spot with a decidedly determined look in her eyes. Retribution may be delayed, but it will come down upon their heads eventually.)

This is only the beginning of August, the true dog days of summer are fast approaching. What can a natural nerd do to prevent complete meltdowns without breaking down and begging her spouse to ignore her earlier protests regarding huge whacking amounts of wasted energy and go ahead and install central air? Normally, it would be a simple matter. The new house has a backyard with a large tree, spreading lots of shade across the grass. What could be easier than setting up the hammock, grabbing a thermos of lemonade and a good book and launching oneself into the cooling embrace of the yard? Except in this heat, the backyard is now a breeding ground of superbugs, primed to suck their body weight of blood out of any unwary nerdling who might venture forth - not exactly conducive to cool relaxation.

What is a Natural Nerd to do? Building a three-season addition to the house would be ideal, but that would be thousands of dollars and weeks of heavy construction. Wouldn’t it?

Let’s Light a candle to Saint Maguiver and see what we can see…..

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

With Sincere Apologies to Shel Silverstein

It’s hot!
I can’t get cool – what’s a natural nerd to do?
I’ve drunk a quart of lemonade – maybe two or three.
I think I’ll take my shoes off and sit around in the shade…
Except there is no shade to be had, and to remove ones shoes would mean leaving the top five layers of skin stuck to the asphalt.

It’s HOT!
My back is sticky – so is my front, both sides… and I think the top of my head just sprung a leak.
I think I’ll take my clothes off and sit around in my skin….
Except the FedEx guy is due and I can’t answer the door in the nude, so bra and knickers are as far as I can strip.

I’ve tried with ‘lectric fans –and an old air conditioner, it’s true.
And pools and ice cream cones – ice pops and ice cubes. Still hot, now sticky too.
I think I’ll take my skin off and sit around in my bones. Did you know skeletons sweat?

The next time someone says global warming isn’t happening I’m knocking them down and sitting on them.

Sorry for the above drivel, but my brain seems to have melted and washed away.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Thank God, It’s (Mostly) Over

After YEARS of hearing the raves and the rants, after it becoming a squabble between the extreme right and extreme left – often leaving those in the middle ground highly confused about what all the shouting is about…. Its over. Mostly.

After 7 ponderous tomes gave us the wonderful sight of small children flung willy-nilly about onto any flat surface they could find, clutching books as large as they were… the madness is finished. Harry Potter is over.

I know, I know, as a natural nerd I should be all about Potter-mania. I should own scarves in my preferred house colors. I should be found relentlessly arguing the merits of a freed society of house elves. I should, to put it bluntly, be sitting desolate and alone wondering what I will now have to look forward to? Its over, I should, like the rest of the known nerd world… be in high mourning. Or at least excessively searching the web for rumors regarding a new series set in Harry’s twenties. Right?

Sorry. Not this nerd. Now, don’t get me wrong. Anything that motivated young kids to step away from the game boy and get involved in reading is great. As a writer, I can applaud Rowlings ability to not only turn a phrase… but, let’s face it, turn a buck. Writing for the sake of writing is fine and dandy, but following a passion to a billion dollar lifestyle? Call me materialistic, but that is an achievement to be applauded. I even like the books. Not the movies so much… never been one for watching English school-house cruelty, be it muggle or magic based. But the books? Well written, it’s a hard job to plot out a characters life over almost of decade, and slowly advancing the material for the maturing of the original crowd? Brilliant.

But please, can we just please agree that J. Rowlings is NOT the mother of fantasy? Pretty please with a hobbit on top? Because if I hear one more youth decree the death of fantasy with the end of the series, or one more person claim there will never be (and never has) been a fantasy series so good… I might just have to beat them to death with my hardbound C. S. Lewis collection. She didn’t start it, she can’t end it. Fantasy has been around since people clustered around the fire telling stories to keep the dark at bay. It is in our blood, our very DNA is coded with a love of “what if’s” and “maybe’s”.

So please… take off the mourning shrouds, shuffle your sniffling butts to the library – this nifty place where you don’t have to give money or wait in line wearing a, let’s be honest, frankly embarrassing set of robes… - and they will loan you other books of fantasy and magic. Tolkien, Pratchett, Anthony, Beagle, & Lisle, just to name a few. If you really want proof your land of enchantment isn’t dead? Try where folks with WAY more time then me have listed out just a few hundred of the authors who can fill your dreams. So, say goodbye to Harry… he’ll still be there when you want to visit. But its time to move on.

Okay… Yes. We ordered the last one. Yes, I read it. Yes, it was good. Okay? Happy? I have all the books and one Hufflepuff scarf. It is entirely possible there is a wand in my back closet. My point is still valid!