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Jun 02, 2020

A Guide to Grocery Shopping at Local Your Asian Market

Chances are that somewhere in your town––either far away from the big box stores or in some area that is under-visited or out of the way––there is an amazing Asian market nearby. They exist in towns and cities of all sizes, so don't assume there isn't one near you until you actually look into it. Asian grocery stores are an immigrant's lifeboat, and they are one of the few, authentic cross-cultural locations you can find in most of America that isn't a temple or cultural center. They tend to have an array of products that confuse nearly all shoppers due to the sheer diversity of products that fall under the category of "Asian." 

asian market vegetables
Photo:  Edmund Lowe/Shutterstock

While the meat offerings and seafood tends to be absolutely exceptional and exceptionally inexpensive, the thing that routinely blows me away at my local Asian market is the produce. My god, the produce! Where your standard grocery store will have a small range of Asian ingredients, an Asian market will stagger you just in its section of radishes. Its refreshingly overwhelming, especially when you see something familiar––a bunch of cilantro or garlic or something––and recognize their exceptional quality. This is a place you should certainly familiarize yourself with, and return often.

And while you're there, you should use some of the wonderful vegetables that are, unfortunately, out of our Western culinary vocabulary. In an effort to help you navigate, here are some of the tastiest ones to look out for. This list is anywhere near exhaustive (we love you, too, ong choy), but a great way to start to learn to use some of the classic produce you just can't find at you local megamart.    

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Jun 01, 2020

For Better Tasting Grilled Foods, Try the Dual Fuel Technique

Among the true believers, there's a fair consensus that when it comes to grilling: charcoal simply tastes better than propane. No disrespect to the gas grill; it can turn out great results. But when the true taste of summer is the priority, nothing can beat the smoky, open-flame flavor of food grilled over hardwood coals.

Well, except for food cooked over an actual hardwood fire, with coals freshly made from whole logs that you just ember-ed down yourself. This is easy enough to do in a backyard firepit, or even in the same kettle grill you likely use with your charcoal.   

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May 27, 2020

Why Do I Ever Eat Beans from a Can?

 

Canned foods are kind of passé these days. And rightly so. If you've ever eaten a real carrot or a fresh green bean, you would never opt for a canned version of either. Canned vegetables somehow end up tasting like boring and extremely soft...pickles: vaguely salty and quickly turn to mush. Canned food has the virtue of being able to sustain your imperial army for part of the distance to Moscow, but they have the downside of basically preserving food that you'd rather not eat unless you are marching across the frozen countryside. (Except for corn. I don't know why, but canned corn is delicious and nearly impossible to re-create from fresh or frozen corn.)

Prevailing wisdom says there are two exceptions for acceptable use of canned vegetables. The first are tomatoes, which seem to have been grandfathered in because of the long availability of really amazing Italian tomatoes like the San Marzano varietal that was so famously grown in Naples and its environs. I'm a big fan of canned tomatoes, but their use as the basis of a nearly ubiquitous kind of sauce makes their role as a canned ingredient unlike other vegetables. No one thinks a canned tomato tastes like a fresh tomato, and no one wants to eat canned tomatoes without doing something pretty aggressive and involved to them. (Or, maybe you do. But why?) 

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May 22, 2020

How to: Sharpen a Pencil with a Pocketknife

Let's say you've read up on the merits of woodcase pencils and you've decided to become an inveterate pencil carrier. You've sorted your B's from your HB's, you've picked your favorite finishes and ferrules.  You've bought your dozen (or two) and are scribbling smoothly... until one day you find yourself with a dull point and no sharpener. 

But if you've got your pocketknife, you're just a few minutes from a fresh point! Let's take a look at how to sharpen a pencil by hand.

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May 20, 2020

How to Make a Cocktail from a Tree

During spring time, pine, fir, and other evergreen trees grow by producing new tips at the end of each branch. The new growth is a lighter, vibrant green, and you can (and should!) eat it. The tips have a wonderful citrus-y, woodsy flavor that tastes awesome in all kinds of sautes, seafood, and roasted dishes. But the easiest way to preserve their flavor is steep them gently in a syrup, which will last in your fridge for weeks. 

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May 18, 2020

To Build a Garden is to Embrace that Some Projects are Unfinishable. And That's the Point.

The garden suggests there might be a place where we can meet nature halfway.

— Michael Pollan

If you've never gardened before, but you would consider yourself a DIY-er/craftsperson/maker or what have you, there may be some things about gardening that are very different than other kinds of projects. To build a garden entails some kinds of making that are very ordinary and along the lines of any other plan–>materials–>product kind of project. But in other ways, it requires craft and technique that are completely beyond other kinds of skills. But, to build a garden is not to simply make something. It is to embark on an un-finishable

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May 12, 2020

What the Heck is Apfelschorle? And Here's How to Make It

After I graduated from high school in the early 2000's, I had the privilege of taking a Wanderjahr in Germany before college, spending a year as a foreign exchange student with a host family about an hour's train ride west from Berlin. Two things from that year still stick with me 15 years after packing up my stuff and touching back down on American soil: 1) German, which my firm-but-kind host family helped me learn, and 2) German food. 

I had no idea about German cuisine prior to that year, but I've loved it ever since. Traditional German food is hearty, full of bread, meat, cheese, beer, and hardy vegetables like potatoes. It's the ultimate comfort food. The king of fruit in Germany is the apple, which lends its juice to the delightful, concoction known as Apfelschorle.

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May 11, 2020

Put This on Everything: DIY Sriracha Powder Recipe

We would never want to actually judge this competition, but if you were to pit all the mass market hot sauces against each other in a taste test, the classic green nozzled sriracha sauce with the rooster on the label might very well come out on top. It's extremely versatile stuff, and offers heaps of complexity and flavors other than heat and vinegar tang.   

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May 05, 2020

How to Build a Floating Shelf for Less Than $10

Completed floating shelves

Floating shelves can be built in a myriad of different ways and with any lumber you can get your hands on, but if you’re buying blind shelf supports for each shelf, the amount of money spent can add up quickly.  Enter: this inexpensive and rustic option for building floating shelves will materials you likely have on hand in your shop. This is a relatively simple project and it can be completed in an afternoon for less than $10 in materials. There are three simple parts of the process to making these floating shelves.   

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Apr 28, 2020

Lazy Food: 7 Weeknight Dinners to Keep in Mind When You Don't Feel Like Cooking

This happens to me way more often than it should––the day has gone longer than expected, I didn't plan carefully enough for what I was going to eat, and now I am home and hungry, without a plan. For much of my life, this has been a recipe to order something, pick up something, or heat up something frozen and in a box. But now I live in a place where few things deliver, the only foods close by are not conducive to living (or sleeping) well, and I have stopped allowing myself to buy things that come in frozen boxes, no matter how lazy I may be feeling.

If I have all the time and money in the world, I love to shop and cook. But my foodie

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Apr 22, 2020

How to: Make an Inexpensive DIY Rain Barrel

One of the first big projects I completed when I bought my house was digging a large garden in the backyard, and we just barely made it in time for a summer full of tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, eggplant, peppers, and squash. The 20 x 30' patch somehow wasn't big enough for both eating and canning, so when spring rolled around again, I set out to expand our patch. Gardens are never finished, after all! (Check out our tutorial on how to hand-dig a garden here.) 

The only thing I wasn't interested in expanding, though, was my water bill. Since we get on average 4 inches of rain per month during the growing season here in North Carolina (Apr–Nov), it was time to let the clouds handle the water supply rather than the city. Since this is mostly a money-saving project, I kept my budget really low because I preferred to have the materials pay for themselves as quickly as possible.

Read on for how to make a rain barrel on a budget!

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Apr 21, 2020

How to: Make Your Own Iced Coffee Soda

coffee soda

Now that the days are warming up the thought of a hot latte with milk and cinnamon sure adds a drop of sweat to my brow. It's usually this time of year, I swap my typical addiction to hot coffee to sweet, syrupy iced coffee. I just can't get enough of the stuff!

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Apr 17, 2020

Ten Great Food Moments from Ten Great Books (with Recipes!)

The best kind of writing, fiction or otherwise, is the kind that produces a strong mental image of what you're reading about. It's vivid and concrete; it's why metaphors and parables exist. To quote Strunk & White: "The greatest writers—Homer, Dante, Shakespeare—are effective largely because they deal in particulars and report the details that matter. Their words call up pictures."

One of my favorite ways that writers bring their stories closer to reality is when they plop descriptions onto my mental dinner table. Maybe it's because I just love eating, so I don't need a lot of arm-twisting to think about food; maybe it's that I like it when the lines between fiction and reality blur, like Mac Barnett waxes about in his TED talk "Why a good book is like a secret door." Regardless, I'm fascinated with collecting moments of characters interacting with their victuals.

Here are some of my favorite food mentions in books, linked up with recipes.

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Apr 16, 2020

How To: Make a $2 Nautical Knotted Rope Bracelet

The sun is out, sleeves are getting short, and that means: it's time to update your look for the season.

We have created two easy DIY projects that will add a nautical touch to your wardrobe without breaking the bank or having to buy a boat. Learn how to make your own knotted bracelet and...come sail, uh, away?

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Apr 09, 2020

How to: Make Your Own Typographic Illustrations and Artwork

Everyone likes a nice motivational quote with a fine adventurous backdrop and some nice typography that reminds us to get outside.   

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