It’s hot out this week. After a June full of rain and low temperatures, summer has really landed here in Chicago.

I generally spend hot weather lying in front of a fan, sipping ice water, and arguing with my partner about turning the air conditioner on. I have the heat tolerance of a popsicle, anything over 80 makes me want to hide in a cave until fall, the queen of seasons.

However, I understand that many of you adore the heat. And good for you! In celebration of summer, here are a few vintage takes on the heat.

First off, Miss Piggy, singing the classic “We’re Having a Heatwave.”

Bonus: The penguin back up singers are much more comfortable than the racial stereotypes in the original Marilyn Monroe number.
Bonus: Miss Piggy’s penguin back up singers are much more comfortable to watch than the racial stereotypes in the original Marilyn Monroe number.

Next, this great collection of photographs from British heatwaves (warning: Nudity!) throughout the 20th century.

Followed by the perfect sun hat. In fact, I’d take any of Unique Vintage’s pretties. My current sun hat is losing its shape, and their hats are just peaches.

And finally, a reminder about heat safety—be careful, and check on your elderly friends and neighbors.


Canning Without Death and Destruction

canning strip

Many people don’t can food at home because they think it will kill or sicken them.

This is a kind of extreme position.

Yes, indeed, it is possible to can at home very unsafely. However, following basic precautions and using common sense goes a long way towards keeping your canned food safe to eat.*

I think we can relax a little. I can a lot, and have not yet been poisoned. While this evidence is anecdotal at best, there’s also science on my side. Short story: if you heat things enough, and the acid is high enough, the bacteria will be dead. DEAD. Because of SCIENCE.

Safe canning is not a mystery. We know a lot about bacteria and how to prevent them from hurting us. Loads of research has been done, and basic precautions have been developed because they work. If you follow the accepted safety standards, you’re going to be fine.

The elephant in the room is botulism, of course. Botulism is fairly rare, but what it lacks in frequency it makes up for in deadliness. Unlike some other kinds of bacteria, Clostridium Botulinum, which can trigger botulism, flourishes without oxygen, in low-acid environments, and loves temps from 40-120 degrees. So food that is canned inappropriately is a perfect combination of factors to encourage it to blossom into poison. Your canning must be hot enough and/or acidic enough to knock it out, or you’re in danger. Neurotoxic danger.

Some foods are safely canned in boiling water baths, because they are high in acid. Clostridium Botulinum does not like acid one bit. If your food is low-acid, it must be pressure canned. Even if your grandmother canned green beans in boiling water for years without poisoning a single person, it’s still not safe. Don’t do it.

Botulism is at the high end of risk. You’re way more likely to ruin your canning with some other thing. Other risks include mold, yeast, and other kinds of bacteria. These may not give you deadly neurotoxic food poisoning that inhibits your breathing and disturbs your vision, but they can still make you sick or ruin all your hard work.

Reduce this risk by:

  • Canning things in the appropriate manner. Pressure can anything low in acid.
  • Using good, not rotten or over ripe produce.
  • Using clean jars.
  • Keeping your work area clean.
  • Canning for the recommended length of time.
  • Check to make sure your jars sealed.
  • If anything looks or smells weird when you open it, don’t eat it, silly!

The nice thing about home canning precautions is none of them are hard. It’s not like you need to follow elaborate procedures with a centrifuge only under a full moon to be safe. Just be clean, heat things up, follow directions and pay attention to the acid content. You’ll be fine.

*These are all my opinions, and not a substitute for legitimate safety advice. Check out your University extensions advice for canning safely in your location and altitude.

You can can!


can all you can edit

Canning at home is one of those things that makes you seem like magic.

Making your own jams and spreads, pickles and chutneys, sauces and delicious things, and preserving them for another season is a fantastic combination of art and science, frugality and fanciness, and demonstrates your mastery over death and decay. At least of the fruit and vegetable variety.

Basically, home canning relies on a couple basic scientific processes–sterilization and oxygen removal. Heat and water are the mechanisms by which these processes work. Whether you’re canning by boiling water bath or pressure canner (the only two methods recognized as safe in the United States), your goal will be to create an environment in which bacteria, including good ol’ deadly Clostridium botulinum which can trigger botulism and KILL US ALL, just like in East of Eden, when Kate covers up her slow poisoning of the madam at the brothel by making it look like the home canned green beans weren’t safe. Canning is Steinbeckian, y’all.

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The Music Box: An Old-Fashioned Movie Date for the 4th of July

This Fourth of July,  the fellow and I went to one of my absolute favorite places in Chicago: The Music Box Theatre.

Me under the marquee!
Me under the marquee!

The Music Box Theatre retains its gorgeous 1929 architecture. It seats 800 people, and has plaster wall decorations and twinkling star lights in the ceiling. It really is a step back in time. Billed as “Chicago’s year-round film festival” it shows a variety of contemporary independent, art-house, and foreign films, as well as frequent classics.

This time, we went to see the 1949 noir classic, The Third Man, starring Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, and Alida Valli.

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10 Things to Do with All Those Greens in Your CSA

I don’t actually have a regular CSA  this year

kaleIn the past I’ve had a weekly CSA share, and I heartily recommend them to everyone. This year, I can’t quite swing it because of A) my glamorous freelance life (aka, money is tight), and B) my glorious garden. If you’re looking for a great way to bring organic veggies into your life while supporting local business, a CSA share cannot be beat.

It’s no secret that we’re supposed to eat our greens. They supply us with vitamins, and calcium, and folate, and fiber. They protect against some kinds of cancer. They’re good stuff…but sometimes we end up with a lot of them.

I currently have two swiss chard plants, and four red kale plants. Since I cut off the leaves I need and leave the plants growing, I basically have…unlimited chard and kale. While this is a vegan fantasy, it’s also a lot of greens.

So what to do with them? Here are ten, that’s right, ten of my favorite ways to use greens. Again, I mostly use chard and kale, but most ideas are adaptable to spinach, collards, whatever you’ve got around.

  1. Smoothies- Toss a few leaves in, or make it a complete green monster!
  2. Saute- This is what I do more often than not. Tear greens into bite-sized pieces. Saute some garlic and fresh ginger (let’s say 1 clove and a teaspoon, respectively, but who really knows?) in a little oil. Throw in the greens, cook until wilted and soft. Add a good shake of tamari or shoyu and a spoonful of sesame seeds.
  3. Soup- You can fit an astonishing amount of greenery into a pot of minestrone or lentil soup. I’m also looking hungrily at this old-timey kale and potato soup recipe.
  4. Raw- I am actually not thrilled with raw greens, however, I can manage massaged kale in a salad. It’s exactly what it sounds like–tear up kale in bite-sized pieces, add to a balsamic vinaigrette (I don’t think oil-free would be good here) and then…massage it. Squish it around, beat it up a little, rub the oil into it for about two minutes. The texture will change, and suddenly, I will be able to eat it. Add other veggies as desired, I’m fond of sweet potato or butternut squash.
  5. Colcannon-If left to my own devices, I could eat colcannon all winter long. It hits all the right comfort notes–my mom used to make it, it’s Irish in origin, and potatoes feature prominently. It’s also thrifty and delicious. Recipes vary, but basically, stir some kale (or chard, or spinach, I guess) and chopped onion into mashed potatoes, grease a skillet, fill the skillet with the potato mixture, salt and pepper it, and bake it until lightly browned.
  6. Greens and beans–Saute greens with onion and garlic to taste. Throw in a cup or two of cooked navy beans or cannelloni beans, or really, whatever bean you like. Serve over rice or potatoes or pasta.
  7. Steamed– So simple and so reminiscent of old-time hippy vegetarian restaurants. Lightly steam the greens. The ultimate simplicity is to serve with a little vinegar (rice wine is nice) or a squeeze of lemon juice. Fancier takes include adding a dressing like tahini or peanut sauce. For that ultimate “I am a vegetarian in the 70’s” feel, add a bowl of brown rice and baked tofu.
  8.  Greens and tomatoes–Greens and tomatoes are best friends, because the tomatoes Vitamin C makes the iron in the greens easier to absorb (non-vegans probably don’t care about this). Also because they taste good together. Saute your greens with the requisite onion and garlic, add a can of diced tomatoes, and you’re done. Or you can add something proteiny–seitan slices are good here, tofu probably is too.
  9. Chips–This one’s really just for kale, ideally the green curly kind. You can use lacinato, but it will not be the same. Wash the kale, pat it dry, tear into bite-sized pieces. Toss with a little olive oil and a tablespoon of nutritional yeast. Or just salt and pepper. Or cumin and chile. Whatever you like. Spread them on a greased cookie sheet, or one with parchment paper, and bake at 350 for about 10 minutes, or until crispy. Eat like potato chips.
  10. Wrap things in it–If you like raw greens, you may find they make good wrappers in place of tortillas, spring roll wrappers and the like.

What do you do with your greens?