Slow Cooker Cowboy Beans and Potato Radish Salad for the Fourth

While many of my fellow Americans were traveling, watching parades, attending or hosting cookouts, and watching fireworks or setting off their own fireworks on Friday, the Fourth of July, I for one was just happy to have a DAY OFF. No work, no raccoons, no raptors, no obligations. I didn’t set an alarm and I slept until 10:30! It was so great! And the weather was sensational: clear skies and about 80 degrees with none of that thick humidity that so characterizes summer in the DC metro area. Ordinarily weather that spectacular would have pulled me to a park, but I figured they’d all be crowded and anyway, I kind of felt like I needed a day of rest. So instead I spent what would have at one time been a normal amount of time in the kitchen but for me lately was a LOT of time. I decided to make a fairly traditional Fourth of July dinner for Mark and myself, and I’m going to share some of the recipes! That’s right, I remembered this is a food blog!

The first thing I did was quick soak some beans to make cowboy beans. I took about a pound of Steuben Yellow Eye Beans, put them in an 8-cup Pyrex measuring cup, poured boiling water over them, covered, and set aside for an hour. I used the yellow eye beans because I have a lot of them (because I LOVE them!), but you can use whatever bean you think would be good. I’d have used pinto beans if I hadn’t used the yellow eyes. And then I did this:

Slow Cooker Cowboy Beans

1 lb dried beans, your choice (something like pinto, kidney, or Steuben Yellow Eye), soaked overnight or quick soaked (by pouring boiling water over them) for 1 hour
1 onion, diced
1/2 cup seitan, ground (preferably a “pork” flavor…I’ll probably do a post on this soon) (grind in a food processor, blender, or meat grinder)

For the sauce
1 pint canned diced tomatoes
3 chilis en adobo + some of the sauce
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
1/4 cup chopped onion
3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
5 cloves garlic, peeled
5 drops stevia (or a couple tablespoons white or brown sugar)

Put the sauce ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Drain the beans and place them with the rest of the ingredients, including the sauce, into a slow cooker and cook on high for 5 to 6 hours, or until beans are soft.

Here they are plated. Mark put his on his veggie dog, which is an excellent vehicle for them.

I also whipped up some potato salad, which helped to go through some of the pounds of young potatoes I’ve been collecting at the farmers market because I can’t resist them. (I can’t resist anything at the farmers market.) Because I also had a ton of radishes and was planning to buy even more radishes at the market the next day, I decided to throw some radishes into the potato salad as well, which added some crunch and interest. Mark hates mayo and I’m not keen on it in salad-sized doses, so often I’ll do vinaigrette-based potato salads, but since I grew up with mayo-based potato salads (and according to the number of people at my brother’s party the other weekend who informed me my mother’s potato salad was delicious, apparently I grew up with a good recipe!), I decided to go a little more traditionally (for me) creamy, so I did a yogurt-based dressing this time. Of course, putting radishes in potato salad is certainly NOT traditional in my family. (Although radishes always remind me of making green salads from my mom’s garden as a kid because radishes were my favorite part.)

Potato Radish Salad

2-3 lbs young potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
4 large or 6 medium radishes, sliced thinly then cut into 2-centimeter-wide sticks
2-3 spring onions, sliced

For the dressing
1/3 cup plain, unsweetened soy yogurt (Homemade is much, much better than store-bought. And I really, really need to do an updated post on it; that old one is embarrassing.)
2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
2 tsp Dijon mustard
juice of 1/4 to 1/2 lemon, depending on the tanginess of your yogurt (mine is quite tangy so I used 1/4 lemon)

Chop the potatoes – I never peel them – and put them into a medium to large pot. Cover with cold water, then bring the pot to a boil. Salt the water, reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are soft. You don’t want them falling-apart soft, but I like mine soft enough that they just start to break apart when I stir the dressing in. When they are done, drain them into a colander.

Meanwhile, whisk together the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. While the potatoes are warm, mix them together with the radishes, spring onions, and the dressing. Cover and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours.

And this was my whole plate Friday night; also featured are some dilly beans, pickled onions, and a Field Roast veggie frankfurter in a homemade bun. I ALMOST made homemade hot dogs just so I could say everything I served was made from scratch, but then I made some sauerkraut and went on a 7-mile jog/walk instead (couldn’t avoid going outside in that spectacular weather after all). But Field Roast is good and I had three lonely frankfurters in the freezer to use up anyway.

So that was my Fourth of July dinner. And here is an osprey dinner! (You can’t see it, but the parent osprey just put a bite of fish into the beak of her baby.)

I got that picture while kayaking last weekend. There is a nest right by our launch site, and as we were returning just before sunset, the mother (or father; they both tend to the young – but that one looks kind of big so let’s say it’s the mother) nabbed a fish and swooped back into the nest and started feeding the one baby. I was REALLY close. It was awesome! I take my mirrorless camera on the kayak with me because it’s weather sealed (and if I drop it in the Potomac I won’t have AS BIG of a breakdown that I’d have if I dropped my dSLR and a telephoto lens into a river just a few months before we go to Africa), so I whipped it out and took a ton of pictures, all excited. It took me a few minutes to even realize there was another kayaker just behind me, who was doing the same thing, although with a dSLR and the Canon 100-400mm. So we ended up talking (I don’t know what’s up with me chatting up wildlife photographers all the time because I’m normally very shy, but it happens) and I told him he was much braver than me taking that setup on a kayak. He said you just have to be very careful. (I’m pretty careful with my camera equipment, but I don’t know if I’m a careful kayaker. I’m a new kayaker.) And of course, when I went to process my pictures I was kicking myself for not being as brave as that guy because they sucked. I’d have gotten some spectacular shots if I’d had my dSLR and 400mm lens. I deleted all but three, including all of the ones where you could see the mother actually putting the fish into the baby’s mouth. I love my mirrorless camera for some things, but not for wildlife. 🙁 Of course, it’s really hard to take telephoto pictures on a kayak anyway. Even if I weren’t scared of losing my camera, it’s practically impossible to sit still in a kayak.

Anyway, although I was disappointed with my osprey pictures from last week, let me tell you a happier osprey story from last week. Some good citizens saw an osprey chick fall from its nest platform, tangled in fishing line, so they cut it free, got it out of the water, and brought it to the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia (where I volunteer). Kent at RCV warmed it up, dried it out, and kept it fed. As he told me today, there’s about a 48-hour window for returning chicks to their nest before the parents abandon it. So less than 48 hours later, one of our volunteers took the healthy chick back, waded out to the platform, and somehow returned the chick to the nest (about 8-feet off the water), and cleared the nest of the rest of the fishing line. Before he departed, he made sure the parents were still in the area, AND the parents were later confirmed to be seen feeding the chick! Success! Had the operation not been successful, I’D have been feeding a baby osprey today when I went into RCV! Which would have been a new experience for me, but it’s sooooooooo much better for them to be raised by their parents. (Besides, I had my fill of feeding chicks today: several red shouldered hawks chicks, a couple of barred owl chicks, several great horned owl chicks (oh my gosh, how they hate my guts!), a bunch of screech owl chicks (so, so, so tiny and cute!), and five barn owl chicks (OH MY GOD, THEY ARE SO AWESOME! AND HISSY!!!!))

Parent feeding chick > Renae feeding chick.

I hope the Americans out there had a lovely Fourth of July, and that the rest of you had a nice fourth of July. 🙂

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Corn-Jalapeno Casserole

Here is a side dish I made last night by scrounging through leftover bits I’d saved during the week. It was a nice accompaniment to the rice and beans I also made and Mark absolutely loved it. I made ours quite spicy but you can make it as mild or as spicy as you like by varying the amount of jalapenos.

Corn-Jalapeno Casserole

1/2 cup vegan “cheese” sauce (see note below)
2 Tbsp vegan sour cream
2 Tbsp pickled jalapeno “juice” (optional; I added it for some extra kick)
1-3 Tbsp chopped pickled jalapenos
12 oz frozen corn

Note: Since buying the phenomenal Vegan Artisan Cheese, all of my cheese sauces have been made by melting a hunk of pretty much any of the cheeses from that book, generally by whisking water off the boil into it, then whisking in nutritional yeast flakes, garlic and or onion granules, and sometimes fresh lemon juice, and they’ve all blown away any cheese sauces I’ve made in the past. I had half a cup or so of such a sauce left over from serving over steamed cauliflower the other night, although I can’t explain why because I can eat that stuff straight! If you don’t have Vegan Artisan Cheese, first of all, get it, but if you don’t have time to buy the book, make the rejuvelac, and ferment the cheese, use your favorite “cheesy” sauce. The recipe for an old standby is available here.

A note on the pickled jalapenos: I linked to a refrigerator pickle version of pickled jalapenos that I’ve made in the past, but since I discovered and fell in love with canning this summer, I bought a ton of jalapenos at the farmers market, sliced them, and put them in 4-oz canning jars (which I find adorable), along with a couple sliced of carrots and a smashed garlic clove for each jar. Then I poured a hot brine of 50% white or cider vinegar/50% water and some salt into each jar, leaving 1/2″ headspace, and processed in a hot water bath for 5 minutes. I love this size jar for stuff like this and I have plenty of them to last me through the winter. I also love the spicy, vinegary brine – I mix it with tomato sauce and a few other ingredients to make a nearly instant taco sauce. Hmm, perhaps I should do a separate post on all this stuff?

Okay, to the actual recipe I’m supposed to be writing up:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. If you can fit your baking dish into your toaster oven, you can use that (I did).

In a bowl, whisk together the “cheese” sauce, sour cream, and jalapeno “juice” (if using). Stir in the jalapenos and corn. Transfer to a small baking dish (I used a glass loaf pan). The mixture should be just a little liquidy; if it’s not, add a little water or non-dairy milk.

Cover and bake for 20 minutes.

Remove the cover and bake uncovered for 20 more minute or until brown and bubbly.

I served this with rice and beans. The beans are Steubens yellow eye beans, which Whole Foods sells in their bulk bins and which I adore. I think they are my favorite bean; they are very tasty and so pretty! I soaked the beans for a few hours then put in my slow cooker with some liquid smoke and minced onion and garlic in some broth and cooked on high for maybe an hour and a half. Then I drained the extra broth off. I had a few slices of leftover seitan, which I chopped pretty small and fried until crispy in a cast iron skillet. I added some vegan bacon salt and onion granules to it as well as several healthy squirts of liquid smoke. Then I added this “bacony” seitan to the beans, as well as some sliced fresh jalapenos, and warmed it all up. This was topped generously with Tabasco and served over rice with the corn jalapeno casserole accompanying it.

And now for raptor news. Mark and I went to Charleston for the holidays this year and while we were there paid a visit to the Center for Birds of Prey, which was really cool and a place I will definitely be volunteering should we ever move down there. Although the guided tour included only a small portion of the center (really just a few of the outdoor education bird cages), the flight demonstration that followed was worth the admission fee. I’m ordinarily opposed to forcing animals to put on “shows” for human enjoyment, but because these are all education birds that can’t be released, I don’t have a problem with training and shows like this, because all education birds in this country are required by federal law to be used in education programs. It’s either that or be euthanized. And I don’t have a problem with the birds that can fly showing that off, especially since this is an impressive show that really sticks with people and they’ll be more apt to remember things they learned and better appreciate raptors. Plus, if any bird they attempt to train doesn’t show signs within one month that they are willing to learn to do it, they stop trying and use that bird for non-flight programs. I also think it’s actually good for raptors to have to work for their meals, which is essentially what they are doing during a flight demonstration like this. Anyway, if you are at all interested in raptors and you are in the Charleston area, I highly recommend The Center for Birds of Prey. Admission isn’t cheap, but I’m happy to donate money to causes like this and felt that the ability to photograph raptors in flight was absolutely worth the admission. Here are some pictures:

The first birds we came to on the guided tour were a pair of eagles, both amputees:

My only raptor volunteering regret is that the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia isn’t a big enough facility to house eagles, except very young ones. We have to transfer any we get to the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

This is an eagle owl; I forget what kind. Eagle owls are all pretty huge though. We have a Eurasian eagle owl (as did the Center for Birds of Prey) at the Raptor Conservancy and it’s enormous.

The rest of the pictures are all from the flight demonstration.

How adorable is this Ural owl? You can see his jesses dangling from the perch. Education birds will usually have leather jesses around their legs. This is what handlers grab onto with their gloves when holding these birds (I know because I get to do this!). When you aren’t doing a flight demonstration (which is not something we do at the Raptor Conservancy), the jesses are attached to a lead whenever the bird is out of its cage.

He’s just been given the signal (he’s prompted with food) to leave that perch and fly to another, and thus he is about to take off:

Because owls are nocturnal, most people very rarely get to see them fly, which is a shame because owls in flight are really amazing. For one thing, they are totally silent.

I never really expected to see a vulture in a flight demonstration, but they had one! This one is for Jes.

Did you know that there is controversy over where to classify New World vultures (like this black vulture) in the animal kingdom? They used to be linked to falcons but genetic testing in the last 20 years or so put them closer to storks. We don’t admit vultures at the Raptor Conservancy. The Center for Birds of Prey, on the other hand, is way into vultures: the bulk of the “tour” was letting us watch them feed the local wild vultures with the scraps their patients refused to eat.

This is some sort of falcon; note he is wearing a radio device on his back. If he flies away during the flight demonstration, this device is how the Center will locate him and bring him home to safety. Remember these are education birds so they have been deemed unable to survive on their own, so catching them if they escape is important for their survival. (I suspect a lot of the birds they use for flight demonstrations are human imprints.)

Here the falcon is on the ground hiding his “prey” of ground beef behind his wings.

Kites seem to be lesser known raptors, at least in this area, but they are neat birds. We don’t have any at the raptor center right now and I don’t think we see too many. But they are fun to watch fly and this guy was clearly loving the opportunity to soar around for a bit on this very clear, beautiful day.

I have yet more raptor pics – we saw a few wild raptors at various parks while we were in Charleston, but I shall save those for another day.

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Roasted Vegetables with Cippollini Onions and White Balsamic

My favorite stand at the farmers market always has cippollini onions with a sign next to them saying, “these are great roasted!” and every single week I’m suckered into buying them by that sign because I LOVE roasted onions. I made this with potatoes last night, but I wish I’d tossed a couple of chopped carrots in there as well because roasted carrots are also totally awesome and my plate would have been that much more colorful.

Roasted Vegetables with Cippollini Onions and White Balsamic

1 lb cippollini onions, peeled
1 lb other root vegetables, like potatoes and carrots, chopped
a couple springs fresh rosemary
olive oil
white baslamic vinegar
flaked salt, to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the onions and chopped vegetables in a pot and just cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 3 minutes, then drain and rinse under cold water until cool enough to touch. Place on a pan or in a cooking dish large enough to arrange in a single layer and drizzle with olive oil (about a tablespoon or so) and about a tablespoon of the white balsamic, using your hands to coat every piece. Sprinkle with the rosemary and salt. Cover the pan or dish with aluminum foil and roast for half an hour. Remove the foil and return to the oven for another 20 minutes or until the vegetables are all soft. Drizzle with additional basalmic if so desired.

The brown blob on my plate is barbecued seitan, using a riff on Vegan Dad’s lunch meat. YES, I AM OBSESSED WITH AVOCADOS.

I don’t know about where you live, but the weather in Northern Virginia has been GLORIOUS. I finally got around to getting an annual pass for Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge (there is normally a $2 honor system entrance fee) since I’m there all the time. I was very easily talked into joining the Friends of the Potomac River Refuges, which meant I paid $15 for a membership and got $5 off my annual pass, meaning I spent $10 more than planned in order to earn the privilege of doing things like picking up trash! I josh. Although really that’s one of the things I get to do as a “friend” of the refuges (Occoquan Bay is one of three refuges in a complex of three within a few miles of each other, although currently one of them is only accessible by kayak). I must be very easy to read because the volunteer making the sale remarked that as a “friend” I’d have occasional access to areas not open to the public (which, honestly, is about 80% of the refuge, and I’d give myself about a 4 out of 10 on ability to obey those rules). And really I do want to get more involved with the refuges so had I known about the organization, I’d have joined a long time ago. I want to do things like count species for them.

ANYWAY, the weather’s been about a 12 out of 10 all week and it’s the last few days I’ll be able to get into the refuge past 5 p.m., so Wednesday night I was down there again tromping around.

This is the entrance road. The main parking lot is in the middle of the refuge so I’m headed there. The sign says, “Welcome to Your National Wildlife Refuge System,” which always makes me think MINE MINE MINE!

Apparently the refuge’s beaches used to be a tourist attraction until the ’40s, after which the army bought it and used it as a research station until the ’90s, at which time US Fish and Wildlife bought it and allowed nature to reclaim most of it. Remnants of the army installation remain pretty much only in the form of the roads which now form the hiking paths. This is Easy Road, with the sun setting behind me as I hike east:

And this was taken just a little further down Easy Road, but turned around and facing away from the sun:

I’m not really sure where the boundaries of the different water bodies are, but this is probably right about where Belmont and Occoquan Bays merge. OBNWR is located at the intersection of the Occoquan and Potomac Rivers.

I’ll be honest, one of the main reasons I want to be at OBNWR around sunset is because I REALLY want a good picture of a fox and sunset or sunrise will be my best bet. And I see one maybe one out of every three times I go around sunset. But I NEVER get the picture. THEY ARE SO QUICK! (And always jumping over lazy dogs!) It started getting dark fast after I took those sunset pics over the bay(s), so I had to trot back rather quickly to my car, which as I said was parked in the middle of the refuge. So I was trot trot trotting, turned a corner, and found myself face to face with a beautiful red fox, startling both of us. He was actually too close to me! Too close for my 400mm lens to focus on him! Damn it! Here he is running away from me!

To be even more honest: although I want a fox picture bad, I also don’t want one, because I like having a goal. I wanted a turkey picture bad and now I see turkeys all the time and I’m all, “ho hum, another turkey”. (I’m also all, “Ho Ho Ho, Who’d Be a Turkey at Christmas?“, one of the three best Christmas songs ever!)

In personal news, yesterday it dawned on me that I might be a hippie, or rather, that other people probably consider me a hippie. I’m not really one for labels. When I wore a lot of black and danced to anything by Depeche Commode, I never once called myself a goth. But I went to a new person for a haircut last night and had the following exchange:

Hair stylist: How often do you wash your hair?
Me: Rarely.
Hair stylist: What do you wash it with?
Me: Some handmade shampoo bar I got from etsy.
Hair stylist: What styling products do you use?
Me: The gel I scrape from inside the leaves of my aloe plant.

I mean, to me, all that sounds perfectly normal. Everything I do seems very normal. But even *I* walked away from that conversation thinking I might be a goddamn hippie. In discussing what sort of cut I wanted, he asked what styling methods I use and I had to confess that the only hair dryer I own is my convertible car. He did his best not to look mortified, but he did suggest about five times that I try switching to a volumizing shampoo. His parting words to me were: “VOLUMIZING MOUSSE!”.

Well, that was probably TMI, so I’m going to go now and don some love beads, switch on the black light, burn some incense, douse myself in patchouli (crap, I have a bar of patchouli soap in my shower; if I wanted to avoid this hippie label I’m not faring very well here), crank up In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (hmm, not only do I own In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, probably half of my music is from the ’60s – it’s getting harder to run from this label), drop some acid, and ruminate on how the man is bringing me down.

I don’t know if this picture makes me a hippie but it is one of the more normal outfits I wore in college. It probably just makes me weird.

In the immortal words of Mark E. Smith:

You don’t have to be strange to be strange. You don’t have to be weird to be weird.

Edited to add: I just learned that Mark E. Smith is on twitter and his tweets are just about what I expected, which is to say, hilarious.

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