Monday, September 20, 2010

Stephanie's Ho-made Banana Bread

Aaah, the joy of banana bread. The smell of it envelopes the room and sucks you in. It’s comfort food.

When my bananas get too ripe I can't seem to throw them away. So I make banana bread with them. I have a really great recipe and use it all the time. It is so easy to make that now it’s just a quick whip up. This is how I do it:

8 tbs sweet butter (no salt) @ room temp

¾ cup sugar

2 eggs

1 cup unbleached, all purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

1 cup whole-wheat flour

3 large, overripe bananas, mashed

1 tsp vanilla extract

½ shelled walnuts, chopped (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease a 9x5x3in glass bread pan.

2. Cream butter with sugar until light & fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition

3. Sift the all purpose flour, baking soda and salt, stir in whole-wheat flour and add to creamed mixture, mixing well.

4. Fold in mashed bananas, vanilla and walnuts.

5. Pour mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 60 min or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 min then on rack.

This will make one loaf and its super good. I add a little love for extra flavor. That’s the “ho” part !

I LOVE my Desert

I love, love, love my desert - landscape. Yes, you heard that right, I do! Some people come to the desert and see only dirt. I think it’s those same people that come to Las Vegas and only see casinos. I find the Mojave Desert so open and beautiful and peaceful and unlike any other desolate area on the planet it is quite lively; from its unique rock formations to the little critters to the amazing plants that can only survive in the harshest environments as the dry desert. Just that alone is incredible. Talk about irony, that’s like parallel to my life, surviving in the one of the harshest environments. But that’s a whole other post that I’ll get into at a later date.

Back on track, the desert. If you have read my other blog post, I am Thirsty, you will understand how I feel about our natural resource: water. It’s special. It’s pure. It’s a gift. It’s a necessity. And it’s running out. At least here in the desert southwest it is. If you haven’t seen the water level at Lake Mead lately then you should go have a look and you will understand my point. The lake is at an all-time low and is being reduced by an alarming rate every day! When it’s gone, it’s gone, baby. That’ll be it and it ain’t gonna come back!

This is a problem. And I’m part of that problem, or at least I was. Why? Because I live in one of the driest areas on planet Earth and was trying to grow grass, unnaturally, in one of the driest areas on Earth. Because I was paying a service to look after my lawn that did a really good job in keeping my sprinklers from taking water out of Lake Mead but did a really good job in making sure I was putting it back in! I always had irrigation problems. After being so passionate about water how could I waste it? I needed a solution.

The solution was to get rid of the problem. First went my service then went my grass. I gave the Southern Nevada Water Authority a call to schedule an appointment to have them assess my property. At the current time the SNWA is giving $1.50 rebate for every square foot of grass someone converts to desert landscape. Excellent. They came out, took photographs, measured and gave me all the necessary paperwork to qualify for this rebate. Included was a VERY informative CD that listed all the drought tolerant plants, how to irrigate them and even landscape ideas.

But where to start? I needed help and I needed a plan. I called a few people I knew who I thought would be able to do landscaping. Based on the amount of square footage I was going to convert would give me a nice size rebate, but I didn’t know how to go about it. I wanted a nice design and had a few ideas in my head. I even drove around and took photos of properties whose landscape I liked. I kept my eyes open every time I went through the desert searching for the color rock I wanted to use. I went to the nursery and took photos of the plants that I liked. Luckily I didn’t really have to add plants since I already had a large mimosa tree that gave me 100% of my plant requirements.

Based on my ideas I got a few quotes. Sod removal: $800! Are you kidding me? That was nearly the whole rebate! I don’t think so, next. I called a friend who came by, took measurements, sent me a few photos of some of the work he did and gave me a bid to do the job, $2400 and that was AFTER the rebate. One more bid, a company I found on the Internet. Again, made an appointment, the guy came by, took photos, measured and a few days later he too eMailed me a design and a bid of $3800. Now these two companies might have been OK but their designs looked nearly identical. What is there a premade template of the square footage of my land that you enter into a database and it spits out a design? I felt like it was just another cookie cutter design. Forget me living in a tract where all the houses look the same, now I have to have my landscape look the same as well? Nuh ah. Nope, not this chick!

Thank goodness for great neighbors who helped steer me in the right direction. He mentioned how easy it was to do the landscaping ourselves. What? Me do landscaping? Are you kidding me? Where do I start? How do I irrigate? What? He assured me it would be no problem and he would help me since his father used to own a landscape service and learned how to do all that stuff. Plus, he did his own landscaping and, though mine looks nothing like his, he did a nice job! So, OK, let’s do it.

First thing was to get rid of the grass. How do I do that? Rent a sod cutter! It took a half a day for Anthony, Josh and I to cut the sod out and remove it. For a rental fee of $65 that was a lot better than paying someone $800 to do it for me.

The next thing I was out looking for were rock for the steps. I knew I wanted steps, and BIG ones, to invite people into the home. I originally wanted big concrete steps but I couldn’t use concrete because it isn’t a permeable surface. In order to get the rebate the Water District has strict guidelines and concrete is a no-no! And you might think I’m a freak but I believe in feng shui. Fine, I am a freak but I wanted to invite people up to my house and make sure the chi didn’t come all at once it had to flow evenly into the home. To accomplish that I wanted nice, big, steps to go from the street to the front door. I didn’t plan it but felt it after I brought the big rock slabs home. It was like a puzzle and a feeling setting each stone slab into steps. Almost like sculpting it into the Earth. We spent days carving the walkway!

Next on the list were plants. Well, at least it ended up being that way because the nursery was clearing out a lot of their inventory. It was a lucky day for me to find all the cacti I had been eyeing half price. I got an Argentine Toothpick, two Dwarf Indian Figs and a FREE Spanish Bayonet. It WAS my lucky day. Plus, a couple days earlier I got a sweet Silver Dollar Gum for under $10 because it wasn’t doing so well. The center branch broke off and the leaves were sparse. Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree came to mind when I saw it and thought I could take that tree and make it great. I named the tree Charlie and he is thriving with new growth even though everyone that saw it when I first planted it thought it was dead.

Up next was choosing the color rock. Color was big for me as well since I mentioned the “cookie-cutter” look. I really didn’t want my property to have the same rock as every other house in the neighborhood. During my hunt I realized it WAS all the same, each rock place I went to had the same rock. I knew I wanted the big steps, some boulders and a flat rock finish or chat. I had to go to three places to find the rock I liked and that was the last place I looked. I took all the samples of rocks to see how each one would look in their environment and Royal Mist chat was the winner. With a name like Royal Mist it had to be good enough for me.

So the work began. I made sure all the other aspects of the landscape were finished and ordered the rock. With me laying the weed cover and my neighbors doing the hauling and spreading of the rock we had it done in no time. The landscape was near completion. Just a few minor touches like planting more cacti and adding stepping stones near the front door was all that needed to be done. Oh, and a few more decorative rocks to make pagodas and other odd yard art. I trimmed back all the overgrown jasmines along the walkway which made everything clean again. The front was done and it looked amazing. I did all the work, well with a lot of help from my neighbor(s), and spent less than $1,200. That sure beats $3,800 I was quoted (but that was for the front AND back). I still have the backyard to do but I can’t imagine it being much – not if I do it myself!

Now I enjoy going out to my front yard and admiring how my cacti are growing. It feels so much better living without the guilt of knowing I am no longer a water waster with a front yard full of grass. I am NOT one of the “problems” anymore. And you know you have done beautiful work when your neighbors stop and tell you how beautiful it looks and the children walking by on their way to school tell you “I love your yard” …. I just think to myself…, I LOVE my desert!