Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 8: Back to the Roots Mushroom Garden

I had wanted to grow some mushrooms for a while, but for one reason or another I just didn’t get around to it…until now! There are several different mushroom kits to choose from out there, but the latest sensation is a pearl oyster mushroom kit developed by Back to the Roots, a recently formed company founded by a couple of college friends who were studying to be investment bankers. Once they discovered that mushrooms could be grown in used coffee grounds, they developed a vision for a new company; and hence, Back to the Roots appeared. I’m not a huge fan of the name considering that mushrooms don’t even have roots, but I guess I can see what they were going for. The oyster mushroom kit is meant to be a very simple set-up so that pretty much anyone can have success, a very do-it-yourself approach. Plus, the growing medium is used coffee grounds, and most of the kit is either recyclable or compostable, so it’s definitely an environmentally responsible product.
The question is does it perform? The instructions say that if all goes well, you’ll be harvesting mushrooms in as little as ten days; mine, however, took more than two weeks. My harvest was significantly smaller than the pictures on the website, which was a major disappointment; however, the mushrooms were still pretty tasty, which only made me wish I had more. The instructions also say that each kit can yield multiple harvests (as many as 4); I’m not holding out much hope for that, but I guess we’ll see. Either way, I highly doubt that I’ll be harvesting 1 ½ pounds of mushrooms like the website claims is possible. Despite my disappointing results, I still had fun with this kit, and I would recommend it to any mushroom fan – or really anybody who likes to watch things grow – and hopefully you’ll have better luck than I did.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Weekly Reccomendations, Week 7: The Calculus Diaries by Jennifer Ouellette

I’ve been math-phobic for as long as I can remember, but something about being a graduate student made me decide that I needed to get over it, so I picked up a copy of Jennifer Ouellette’s book, The Calculus Diaries, determined to teach myself a little calculus. It took me several months to read it, but that's definitely not because it was dry and challenging - in fact, it was just the opposite. Now that I have finally gotten through it, I've decided to make it this week’s Weekly Recommendation, because I’m certain that you will find this book as enjoyable as I did, if not more so. In her book, Jennifer takes readers on a journey through a period of time where she began to apply what she was learning about calculus to a variety of events in her daily life, including a trip to Vegas, the purchase of a new house, a Disneyland vacation, visiting the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and a surfing excursion in Hawaii. It was amazing to me to realize just how much calculus (and math in general) can be applied to everyday life, and while I really didn’t learn much about how to do calculus (which isn’t the point of the book, really) I was inspired to make a greater effort to understand it and its importance in the world. If nothing else, at least I got some great history lessons concerning the development of calculus since much of Jennifer’s book consists of profiles of famous mathematicians and anecdotes in their lives that led to the development of certain components of calculus. If none of what I have said so far has convinced you to pick up this book, then perhaps the fact that Jennifer spends a pretty good chunk of the book discussing the zombie apocalypse will at least pique your interest enough to consider it. The zombie discussion was my favorite part of the book and totally worth the read. Jennifer is a fellow (former?) math-phobe and an excellent writer, and regardless of how you feel about numbers, calculations, formulas, equations, and other such nonsense, she will definitely entertain you while simultaneously educating you. What more do you want?

For more Jennifer Ouellete, check out Cocktail Party Physics, a blog that she maintains for Scientific American.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 6: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Even though it is very possible that I won’t get to have a garden this year, I still placed a small seed order with one of my favorite seed companies, because I couldn’t look through their catalog without feeling the urge to at least order something. The seed company I am referring to is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, this week’s Weekly Recommendation. To start off, they have the most visually appealing seed catalog I have ever laid my eyes on. It’s full color and glossy with the kind of photography that you might expect from a magazine like Organic Gardening; instead, this incredible photography is found in the catalog of a modest, little seed company based in tiny Mansfield, MO. Several of the photographs take up entire pages, while some even include the smiling faces of the Gettle family, the owners of Baker Creek Seeds. If your sole purpose of getting your hands on a copy of this catalog were to entertain your eyes, that would be totally understandable; however, an eye for design is not the only thing that Baker Creek has to offer – their massive and distinctive seed inventory is really the main event. They are leaders in the heirloom seed movement – scouting the planet continually for obscure varieties and old school favorites – so many of the seed varieties they offer are not likely to be found in many other places. In fact, in their 190+ page catalog you’ll find 1300 varieties of seeds from 70 different countries. One prime example is their wide selection of hot peppers, which includes ‘Bhut Jolkia’ (also known as the Ghost Pepper), weighing in at more than one million Scoville units. Whether you’re going to have a garden or not this year, acquaint yourself with Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, a company that truly sets the bar for all other seed companies.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Weekly Recommendations, Week 5: Kepi Ghoulie - I Bleed Rock 'n Roll

This week’s recommendation is pure rock ’n roll. Kepi Ghoulie has done it again, rocking the brains out of the human population with his latest album, I Bleed Rock ‘n Roll. With a long history of crafting quintessential pop punk songs with Groovie Ghoulies, The Haints, Little Medusas, and as a solo artist, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Kepi’s new album would be packed with ridiculously catchy, incredibly dance-able, and lyrically impressive pop punk songs; however, on this album, Kepi has stepped outside the box with a sound that is more layered, more punchy, more experimental, more complex, and more rock ‘n roll. Change and experimentation doesn’t always work out well for all artists, but for Kepi it has definitely paid off and has resulted in some of his best work yet, and while I would have been perfectly happy if Kepi had continued on with his traditional, no frills sound without adding or changing a thing to it until the end of time, I am loving the fact that he had the courage and gusto to expand and that it totally worked out for him. Some standout tracks this time around include “Nikki Lee,” “The Fever,” and “Part Time Romeo.” A couple of the tracks on the album are re-workings of older songs – “When I’m Gone” and “Love to Give” – and both renditions are amazing, vast improvements, and highly recommended. On “Unfigureoutable,” Kepi channels Daniel Dale Johnston, which caught me off guard at first listen, but actually happens to be a nice, little break amidst non-stop rocking. Kepi also added a cover song to the mix – “Blame It on Mom” by Johnny Thunders – and totally nailed it, of course. Lyrically, this is a Kepi album through and through, and “Break My Heart” features lyrics that are trademark Kepi:

“I’ll just go down to the gutter
Ask it if it’s seen my heart
I’ll get directions to the shredder
And I’ll go and pick up all the parts
And then I’ll put ‘em in my pocket
And then I’ll go down to the tailor
And then I’ll say ‘Can you fix me up?’
And he’ll say ‘No way, man. There’s no way!’ ”

If there is one person on this planet that I would say actually bleeds rock ‘n roll, it would have to be Kepi without question; thus, his new album is aptly titled in more ways than one. If you want proof of Kepi’s rock ‘n roll prowess, just listen to “Nikki Lee” and try and convince me that he’s not a rock ‘n roll king. Even if this is Kepi’s magnum opus, which it very well could be, I sincerely hope that he keeps on rocking for a long, long time to come.