Make your own Fiery Heirloom Tomato Salsa!

Hi folks,

It is Fall and the air is cooling down, which means the growing season is coming to an end for most of us (unless you live somewhere warm!). That means two things: you might be feeling chilly and you have a lot of produce to use up. Well, let me show you how to address both: by enjoying some delicious heirloom tomato salsa! This salsa has a good balance of bold taste from several different heirloom tomatoes and heat from habenero and/or serrano peppers. Allow me to walk you through…

Before getting started, here’s what you’ll need:

2 pounds of heirloom tomatoes (farmer’s markets are great places to pick some up!)

1 yellow/sweet onion, cut into 4 quarters

1 green bell pepper, de-seeded and cut into quarters

2 hot peppers (I used Serrano and Habanero, if you like it more mild, try Anaheim); I would recommended that you remove the seeds, but for those that like it hot, keep the seeds in!

3 cloves of garlic, pressed or minced

1 lime

1/3 cup of fresh chopped cilantro

vegetable oil, ground black pepper, cumin, kosher salt.

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Some fresh ingredients (note that not all of the cilantro and hot peppers will be used!)

Next go ahead and cut the tomatoes into halves. If any of the tomatoes are particularly large, cut them into quarters. Next, heat up your broiler. The broiler is like a grill in your oven. Newer ovens sometimes have it on the top, so you’ll want to put your vegetables on a high rack. Older ovens have a separate compartment, usually at the bottom, which you can insert a tray or use the one included. For more information on your broiler, click here.

 

When the broiler is heated up, arrange the onion and pepper quarters, HALF of your tomato halves/quarters, and hot peppers on a tray or sheet of foil coated with vegetable oil. Sprinkle kosher salt and black pepper as desired over vegetables on the tray/sheet. Then let the vegetables broil until tender and slightly charred. This may take about 10 minutes or so. Flip the vegetables over when the first side appears done to let the other side char. When done, carefully remove the tray and let the vegetables cool.

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Putting the fresh vegetables into the broiler

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Charred veggies!

Once the vegetables are cool enough to handle, dice all of them to as small/thin as desired. Then, take a bowl and mix the charred vegetables with the sliced fresh tomatoes and cilantro. Feel free to add some of the oil from the sheet/tray into the bowl, as it adds some good flavor. Mix together and apply pressure to squish the ingredients. I prefer a wooden spoon for this. Then, added cumin as desired. I probably use 1.5 tablespoons or so. Squeeze the fresh lime over the salsa until you can’t get any more juice out of it.

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The non-broiled ingredients

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All ingredients added together and squished and mixed

Let your salsa cool a bit and you’ll be ready to eat it. However, if you’d like to save some or make a larger amount than I describe in this post, consider canning your salsa. For more information about how to do this, check out one of our previous posts about pickling! Use the same process as described to sterilize and seal the jars. In the meantime, enjoy!!

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The finished product!

Sources:

http://www.theparsleythief.com/2011/09/fire-roasted-heirloom-salsa.html

http://www.thekitchn.com/kitchen-basics-how-to-use-your-112585

What We Learned from a Pigeon

Portrait of Franco, the homing pigeon

The way I met Franco was not very glorious. My roommate and I were on the couch near our front apartment window when she noticed something white hopping around the parking lot. It appeared to be a dove of some sort. We ran down the stairs to get a closer look. My roommate, Stassia, grabbed a shoebox before going down, knowing that the animal was injured. She got down before I did, and when I opened the door to the lot, there was no sign of the dove or my roommate. I began shouting her name. The two were in a stairwell behind a building, my roommate holding the shoebox closed. She had caught the dove.

I peeked in the box to see the bird and its potential injuries. The all white and very large pigeon was streaked in black as if it had hit a power line. It held its left wing limp at its side and beat it uselessly when trying to take off in the lot. I once worked at a wild-bird rescue center and thought we may be able to take the pigeon there to heal. Unfortunately, the center was closed for the season. Stassia and I decided it would be best to take the bird to an emergency vet to be examined.

When we arrived at the vet, the receptionist asked for a name for the bird. The box it was being held in was for “Franco Sarto” shoes. I announced that the bird’s name was “Franco.” In the patient room, Franco attempted to flap around. She looked starved and ragged. The vet inspected and observed her overnight to check for signs of west-nile virus. The vet called the next morning for us to pick up Franco. Thankfully, there were no signs of west-nile (as they would euthanize the animal). We took her home and kept her in a large rubbermaid box in our bathroom. We lined the box with towels and gave her water and parakeet seed. She ate. It was a great sign. She slowly recovered, loosing the black marks on her body and revealing pure white feathers. Franco had more visits with a vet who explained that she was a domesticated pigeon and couldn’t be released in the wild because she wouldn’t know how to survive. The fact that the bird was bred white also made her a beacon to predators, especially birds of prey. We kept her and built her a large cage. Stassia bought her “pants” to wear around the apartment so she could exercise while collecting her droppings. We loved watching her become more comfortable. For a while we thought that a) Franco was a King Pigeon and b) that she was a boy. Later, after a lot of research and talking with pigeon experts, we were informed that Franco was a homing pigeon, and built more like a hen (although still not 100% clear if she is a girl).

Homing pigeons are bred for ceremonies, such as funerals or weddings. These “release doves” are trained to return to the roost after being let out at the ceremony location. Ideally, the birds return back to the roost. However, due to the lack of camouflage and survival skills that these captive birds have, many do not come back. White doves symbolize peace in many religions and cultures. Breeders will isolate the gene for white feathers in the homing pigeons to embody the visual of the white dove. It seems to be that Franco was a bird like this. (King pigeons are white and bred for squab with the potential to escape from backyard breeders. The same issues apply.)

It never crossed my mind about what happened to the “doves” after releasing them. My great grandmother’s funeral released a pigeon and it seemingly went off to freedom. I was frustrated that I had not realized these birds were being used as props. Freedom was not there for an animal that relied heavily on humans for survival. Releasing it with the likelihood that they may not go home seemed cruel to me, as if they were disposable. The amount of research that Franco caused both Stassia and I to partake in really opened our eyes.

Franco also taught us that all animals have personalities. Her stubborn and stoic behavior became comical when her lack of gracefulness was seen. Companion animals are sometimes disrespected unless a price tag is attached; she is not a $500 parrot that people covet for its “exoticism” (don’t misunderstand me here, nothing against a parrot, just people’s mentality). She is seen by some as a “sky rat.” She was used and forgotten by someone. She was found. She has taught me to appreciate all life even more.

Illustration by: Lauren Korany, Urban Hermits

Mark Goes Places: Western Maryland!

Hi all,

The summer is coming to a close, but with the long Labor Day weekend, I wanted to make sure I got to experience the great outdoors one last time. Of course, Fall camping is my favorite and I still intend to get out for some of the cool autumn nights. This past weekend I headed down to the Maryland Panhandle, often referred to as “Western Maryland”. It is a pretty part of the country and very different from the the coastal plains and urban centers of Eastern Maryland. I stayed with some friends and family at New Germany State Park, which is adjacent to the serene Savage River State Forest. We did some good old fashioned car camping. The area provides lots of good hiking and some interesting history, as it was the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. Also, in the 1950’s, there was a B-52 crash in the area. I took a photograph of the pilot’s grave located in the park (see below). The area was quite remote, tucked into an Appalachian mountain valley. No cell phone service, but I could fall asleep to the calls of Barred Owls. Here are some photos, enjoy!

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Setting up camp

Mountain wildflowers

Mountain wildflowers

Hello!

Hello!

Fording the creek

Fording the creek

Gravestone of fallen pilot

Gravestone of fallen pilot

Salamander friend

Salamander friend

Toad friend!

Toad friend!

Rolling hills

Rolling hills

Coffeeshop we stopped at on the way home in Frostburg,MD

Coffeeshop we stopped at on the way home in Frostburg, MD

All photos property of Mark Suchyta, Urban Hermits

Lively up your Place with Houseplants!

IMG_0649Hi all,

Hope everyone is enjoying the summer! Things are quiet out here in State College, Pennsylvania, and when I am alone in my apartment things can get well…a little lonely! Although I enjoy spending time with my good friend, Django (meet him here!), I also take enjoyment in my houseplants. Houseplants are a great way to lively up your indoor environment year round. Not only that, but plants absorb air pollutants! This is particulalary useful in new buildings where the fumes from construction may be trapped in tight. Consider using house plants in your new (or old) home or workplace to keep yourself feeling fresh and eliminate unpleasant fumes for you and yours.

You might be asking what sorts of plants do well inside. After all, the indoors usually does not provide an ideal environment for most plants. The best place to start is know your indoor environment. I face the Northwest, a direction that is poor for direct sun exposure. Therefore, I avoid plants that require a lot of direct sunlight, such as the jade plant or devil’s ivy. If you have this same problem, consider plants that thrive in shade, such as Chinese evergreen or various palms and ferns (note: not all palms and ferns do well in low light, but many do). Note that many indoor plants are either from tropical and arid regions that maintain consistent temperatures throughout the year (like your home more or less should).

The Aloe vera plant is always a classic that doesn’t need too much direct sunlight, although more than some of the plants named above. It is hardy and can grow for many years and even decades, creating some monster plants! Other environmental factors to consider are humidity, temperature inside (such as if your home has problems with drafts in the winter), etc. Remember, no plant is meant to be indoors, but some can do very well and can really add a lot to where you lay your head. House plants are also generally low maintenance and do not need to be repotted regularly unless the roots are outgrowing the pot, in which it is time to upgrade to a larger pot. Do not top off soil if it is getting low, which results from decomposing and absorption of the soil. Topping off soil can bury the roots too far below the surface, causing the plant to struggle for oxygen. If the soil level drops significantly, just repot the plant with fresh new potting soil. In terms of water, pruning, and other care, seek out information on your specific plant.

Below are photos of a few of my own plants. Happy potting!

The famous Aloe vera

The famous Aloe vera

 

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My roommate planted the remnants of his green onions on the left. Try this to grow yourself some new ones!

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A newly propagated succulent

 

Source: Michigan State University Extension Master Gardner Manual. For more information about MSU Extension’s Master Gardener Program, visit: http://mg.msue.msu.edu

Mark and Lauren Go Places: A Northern Michigan Adventure!

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A scene at Sleeping Bear Dunes, in the Northwest of Michigan’s Lower Pennisula.

Hi all,

While summer weather is here, it can still be difficult to get outside and enjoy it. Work and other obligations can be overbearing, but it can do a lot to take some time for yourself and your loved ones and go on an adventure. Even if you are limited in funds, there are pockets of greatness everywhere! Personally, I love hiking and camping. Its a great way to see beautiful places and experience the world on a budget. This summer has started off with a bang, as Lauren and I made our annual trip to one of our favorite locales: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. We also made a brief excursion to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. While we have been to Sleeping Bear Dunes several times, we continue to go and be awed by the scenery and great wildlife sightings. Here are some of our favorite photographs!

Enjoy,

-Mark and Lauren

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Gulls in the sunset over Platte Point

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A firewood vending machine!

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Lauren looks into what seems to be infinity

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On the Good Harbor Bay trail

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A Sandhill Crane, Michigan’s largest bird!

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Can you spot our friend?

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A deer along the Platte River

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View from our campsite in Hiawatha National Forest

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An old ferry in the port of St. Ignace

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Try Cast Iron Cooking!

Hello all,

Hope everyone is enjoying the summer (which starts tonight!). We have been slacking on posts over here at Urban Hermits so I figured it was time to hit the interwebs again. Ahh…feels good. Anyways, I recently purchased a cast iron skillet for $33 dollars today. It is something I have been thinking about doing for a long time but never got around to it. Now that it is all seasoned and ready to go, I’m going to share some reasons why cast iron is great, as well as demonstrate how to get your skillet cook ready!

Cast iron skillets ofter a stylish option that heats evenly, lasts longer than many forms of cookware (as opposed to Teflon, that can peel over time), can allow you to cook with less oil, and still can be found at very reasonable prices. However, most importantly, a lot of non-stick cookware has chemicals that can release toxic fumes. While these amounts may be low and not particularly harmful to humans, they can impact nonhuman animals in your home. Being a bird owner, I have become aware of PTFE toxicosis, the technical term for teflon poisoning. This results from the overheating of teflon cookware that releases potentially lethal chemicals. Be aware that birds are not the only animals affected by this. Cast iron, on the other hand, is chemical free!

Before you can cook with cast iron, you need to season your skillet! This will help protect your cookware, make it non-stick, and get the most out of it! Ladies and Gentlemen, I will now present the proper way to do so.


1.) Start by scouring all sides of your cookware with hot water to wash off any grime and material that it may have accumulated in the place of production or store: 
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2.) Wash your cookware with dish soap and hot water. Use a pad or brush to deep clean the surface. NOTE: DO NOT CLEAN your cookware with soap and water once it is seasoned. This will remove the non-stick surface. Simply clean it with water between meals. Soap and water should only be used when seasoning/re-seasoning:

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3.) Throughly dry your cookware:

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4.) Rub a thin layer of oil into the cast iron. This includes the bottom and sides, not just the depression for cooking. Vegetable or canola oil work best. Use a cloth or paper towel to even distribute the oil (excuse my broken finger and stint!):

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5.) Heat your oven up to 325 degrees and insert the oiled skillet upside-down onto a sheet of aluminum foil. This will allow any excess oil to drip off. Put the skillet in for one hour. Afterwards, you are ready to get cooking!:

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Sources:

http://www.eatingwell.com/healthy_cooking/healthy_cooking_101_basics_and_techniques/3_health_reasons_to_cook_with_cast_iron?page=3

http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=15+1829&aid=2874

http://www.petinsurance.com/healthzone/pet-articles/pet-health-toxins/Teflon-Poisoning-in-Birds.aspx

Nuclear Waste and the Future of the Great Lakes

Fermi II

To continue our recent saga covering the Great Lakes, I wanted to bring attention to a controversy taking place regarding storing nuclear waste off the shores of Lake Huron. There is currently a proposal to create a nuclear waste repository just north of Kincardine, Ontario,  the home of a nuclear plant operated by Ontario Power Generation. This site lies right on the banks of Lake Huron. Despite previous claims from the Canadian Nuclear Waste Management Organization that the proposed facility was safe, it is now believe that the organization’s original radioactivity predictions were, “underestimated by more than a factor of 100″ (Detroit Free Press). Furthermore, the director of the organization’s safety and licensing division has agreed to this claim.

As the Detroit Free Press articles states: “The new findings heighten the concerns many have over the nuclear waste facility’s proximity to the Great Lakes, from which 24 million U.S. residents get drinking water and that makes possible Michigan’s $2-billion fishing, $4-billion boating and $18-billion tourism industries”.

Nuclear energy production has been a controversial practice that has split those concerned about the environment. Some applaud the low emissions and potential to curb our reliance on dirty fossil fuels. Others have warned about the dangers of the resulting waste and social and environmental issues related to uranium mining. While nuclear power presents some potential to usher in an age of cleaner energy, it has been plagued by disasters, none more shocking than that of Fukushima in Japan.

The reason I am particularly concerned about this proposed site in Kincardine is because it makes me think of the current situation, which has not received much media coverage, in Carlsbad, New Mexico. Carlsbad has been the home of a nuclear waste repository for some 15 years now. While the facility has brought some economic stability to the community, it has now been closed since February 14th of this year. The closure was due to low levels of radiation detected on some 17 employees. While these levels of radiation are not said to be harmful, experts have still not been able to detect the source of the leak and the plant is closed indefinitely. To read more about Carlsbad, which I recommend you do, check out this New York Times article. It has also been brought to my attention that the Carlsbad facility is the only site that was capable of accepting the most hazardous radioactive waste. The proposed Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada was designed for this purpose but was never opened due to various political and local initiatives, as well as its significance in the local native American culture. Interestingly, the US Department of Energy has collected $37 billion dollars off utility fees for the purpose of developing a waste repository. It has now been announced that his fee will no longer being collected, implying that there are no immediate plans for such a facility and brining into question what the current sum of money will be used for.

Although the debate regarding the future of nuclear power rages on, we still have to deal with the challenges of how to manage the already significant stockpiles of waste, much of which is in crude temporary disposal sites. In addition, there appears to be a lack of specialized locations for the waste of utmost radioactivity.

In the meantime, stay a hermit, and read Urban Hermits!

Sources:

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/fee-build-phantom-nuke-waste-site-ends

http://www.freep.com/article/20140413/NEWS06/304130074/great-lakes-nuclear-waste

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/21/us/a-livelihood-in-nuclear-waste-under-threat.html?_r=1

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yucca_Mountain_nuclear_waste_repository

Image: Lauren Korany, Urban Hermits

Concerns Mount Over Enbridge Pipeline Underneath Straits of Mackinaw

The Mackinaw Bridge seen over the straits. Underneath the water are two Enbridge pipelines

The Mackinaw Bridge seen over the straits. Underneath the water are two Enbridge pipelines

Hey folks,

Recently on Urban Hermits, we have been covering some of our concerns regarding the fossil fuel industry. In one of my posts, I discussed how with the track record of the industry, there is no way I would want significant fossil fuel infrastructure in my community. A few days later, Lauren shared news of a small, but concerning oil spill in Lake Michigan off the coast of Indiana. Ben further reported on some of the expected consequences of such a spill. Well, industry keeps making the news, this time with concerns over the safety of pipelines underwater at the Straits of Mackinaw, which is where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan meet amidst the world’s largest freshwater system. The two pipelines are over 60 years old and operated by Enbridge, a Canadian company that has been accused of negligence regarding their responsibility for a 2010 oil spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo river, which was the largest inland oil spill in US history.

As reported by Mlive.com, Michigan officials have put pressure on Enbridge to ensure the safety of the pipelines and share their contingency plans in the event of a spill, which could be catastrophic and extremely difficult to contain.

This is one of the last companies I would want to maintain such a fragile system in this crucial location. I can only hope for the best. Read the shocking article from Mlive right HERE.

Links:

https://urbanhermits.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/close-to-home-bp-spills-tar-sands-into-lake-michigan/

https://urbanhermits.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/the-unseen-consequences-of-the-bp-whiting-leak/

https://urbanhermits.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/disaster-after-disaster-why-i-cant-trust-the-fossil-fuel-industry/

http://www.freep.com/article/20130623/NEWS06/306230059/Kalamazoo-River-oil-spill

Image:

http://blog.nwf.org/2012/10/enbridge-threatens-freshwater-drinking-source-for-million-of-people/

World Week for Animals in Laboratories

Leaping-Bunny-Cruelty-Free

Look for the “Cruelty Free” logo

Hey all,

Hope everyone had a good Earth Day! As the week comes to a close, however, I would like to mention another important set of dates that is coming to an end: World Week for Animals in Laboratories. This is a week for us to think about and act on the behalf of millions of animals that we often take for granted. Animal Legal Defense Fund says it best, “They are hidden from view, but animals in labs suffer by the millions each year, and we can all do something about it”. Explore their site if you would like to hear a bit more about the significance of this week.

While it is often argued that animal research is necessary for the development of cures for diseases (which there is some truth to), a lot of animal research does not work towards such a cause. For example, in the United States, many animals are subjected to testing for household cleaning products as well as cosmetics. The questionable ethical nature of these tests has led to an European Union ban on such nontherapeutic testing.

Regrettably, the institution who I work for (obviously not as an animal researcher; although I do research “about” animals) has over 13,000 mice present on its main campus, among others such as tamarin monkeys. Some are used for “life saving” therapeutic research. Others are experimented on for testing general knowledge or simply to result in publications of questionable utility (such as a study I recently read about fear and boredom in caged mink at the University of Guelph).

Regardless on what you believe to be the role of animal testing in society and whether it is justified or not, take some time as this week comes to a close to reflect on how the decisions you make as a consumer can have an impact. If you are like me and are trying to reduce your unnecessary impact on animals, there are some easy things you can do such as look for the Cruelty Free certification on hygiene and cleaning products, among others.

If you are interested in learning more about animal research and some of the current ethical musings on it, check out a book I recently read to review for the open source journal Between the Species. The book being Animal Rights without Liberation: Applied Ethics and Human Obligations by Alasdair Cochrane

Sources:

http://aldf.org/blog/world-week-for-animals-in-laboratories/

http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/sectors/cosmetics/animal-testing/index_en.htm

http://www.gocrueltyfree.org/shopper

Images: Cruelty Free logo downloaded from http://www.seabuckthorninsider.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Leaping-Bunny-Cruelty-Free.jpg

Happy Earth Day!

Just wanted to say happy Earth Day from all of us at Urban Hermits! Today is a good day to think about your lifestyle and how you can use it to contribute to a healthier planet. It also is a great day to get outside and enjoy nature or watch a good film. I am going to try and catch a screening of Green Fire, an Emmy award winning film about Aldo Leopold’s land ethic later this week.

Here is something for your amusement: Google’s earth day logos over the years.

Have a great day and continue tuning into Urban Hermits!