Whenever someone asks, “What’s a healthy recipe that’s easy and I can snack on?” I have a stock reply.

Hummus. (See just the recipe here).

It’s easy, it’s healthy, it’s delicious and it can go with vegetables, bread, with other sauces, or be served as a spread.

So, what is hummus and why should you make it at home?

Hummus is a mix of cooked and crushed chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, with tahini, also known as sesame seed paste.

There are some other ingredients: lemon juice and salt, as well as a host of optional ingredients including garlic, peppers, artichoke hearts and other seasonings.

Mainly though, it’s just cooked chickpeas and tahini, blended together.

Things can get a little bit more complicated if you’re willing to take the extra step (frugal and healthy) of cooking the chickpeas yourself.

Even then, hummus is a super simple recipe.

It’s also cheap.

Adding the chickpeas to the blender.

Normally, stores sell 8-16 ounces of hummus for $3 to $8.

You need eight ounces of tahini for this recipe which sells for $3. The pound of dried chickpeas is another dollar.

It makes a full 72-ounce blenderfull, which is a decent return on investment.

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Find the stand-alone recipe here.

Sometimes, great things come from the lowly grill at your local gas station.

That is the case with the corned beef hash burrito, originally hailing from the Triple S gas station in Española.

Uniquely New Mexican and a delicious fusion, there is nothing quite like it.

I was first introduced to this fusion by a co-worker who announced to the newsroom that he was going to get one at the gas station.

Soon, I went to discover this invention myself. I can vouch: it’s amazing.

Here in New Mexico, you will always be asked if you want red, green, or nothing. This refers to green chile and red chile. If you want both, it’s called Christmas.

This version leaves the chile choices up to you. I decided to chop up and lightly cook a green chile for the burrito. Normally I would have paired it with salsa and the secret sauce I use for grilled corn and fish tacos, but I was out of both.

There are quite a few moving parts to this recipe.

First, the corned beef hash. I used the canned kind because I haven’t made corned beef in a while. If I had, the cash is pretty easy to make. Finely dice everything (cabbage, potatoes, corned beef) and throw it in the skillet to fry up.

Either way, it fries in the skillet.

Next are the diced potatoes, which are optional.

Since I now have an InstantPot, the brand name for a type of electric pressure cooker, I cooked the potatoes the night before. First, I cooked them for five minutes, which left them a little too hard. I cooked them again for two minutes, which made them a little too soft. The next morning, I diced a few of them, then threw them in a skillet with some oil, salted liberally, and let them fry.

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23. Have your Viber and WhatsApp accounts already created

If you’re a solo traveler on a short trip like me, or going on a longer adventure, you should sign up for Viber and WhatsApp before you leave.

A lot of the people you meet, both locals and travelers, are going to be using one or the other for communication. Remember, you switched your SIM cards at the airport and there’s no more texting from your US phone number, for the duration of your trip.

(Unless you use Google Voice: I was still able to text people from my phone, and computer, with my normal phone number. That’s because I use Google Voice instead of my phone on-board number. Because Google Voice is an application that sends text over the internet, I could still send and receive texts like normal. However, that is a choice I made many years ago, when I changed numbers.)

That’s where Viber and WhatsApp come in, especially when you want to text your new-found friend what time you’re going to catch the bus, or if they want to go to dinner, or anything else.

You can always email, but that’s so much clunkier.

I personally learned the lesson the hard way (in 2016) when I had to sign up for both types of accounts with my Vietnam phone number, and then try to switch everything back over to my US number.

See all the travel lessons here.

22. Be prepared to haggle

For the most part, in Southeast Asia, you’re going to have to haggle.

Not so in restaurants (fixed prices) or convenience stores (the same) but for the most part, be prepared to haggle.

It often helps to either know what other people are charging for similar goods or what the price should be in general.

See a nice backpack? Ask one of the travelers you’ve met what they paid. Use that to gauge what you should be paying.

One of the main markets in Ho Chi Minh City on Dec. 5, 2016. When going to a market, be prepared to haggle!

In addition, you should be prepared to walk away.

A lot of the time, vendors will quote you prices that might as well be the full retail when you walk into any store in the United States. Totally unacceptable. That’s when you walk away.

The vendor should came back with a better price and begin negotiations again. If not, it’s time to move on.

Other things to consider when haggling is buying multiple items to bring the price down.

Since I’m a big fan of bringing back really nice scarfs, when I find a vendor who has the wares I want, I ask how much. We go through the haggling rigmarole. When I’ve finally got the price down, I’ll say, what if I buy five, or 10? That should bring the price down even more.

A boy smokes something, Dec. 8, 2016, on the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam.

Be prepared to have your calculator out (presumably your phone) and I also suggest having a currency converter app on your phone.

(When communication breaks down, use your calculator to quote prices.)

Other ways to politely talk a vendor out of an extreme price: I’m a student, I’m poor or, my favorite, I’m a poor journalist.

Sometimes, in especially tourist-filled areas, the vendor just doesn’t care, especially if you’re only buying something because you need it right now. In that case, just walk away.

It’s raining and you want to buy an umbrella, or a poncho? Sky high prices. It’s not raining? Reasonable price.

If you think it’s going to rain, or if it’s been rainy, then make sure to buy the umbrella when it’s nice out.

Did I mention an umbrella? If you’re in a rainy season, or area, or there’s a storm coming in, buy a nice umbrella. Spend a few extra dollars because, trust me, it’s worth it.

Just remember: you’re not made of money.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

A boy smokes something, Dec. 8, 2016, on the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam.

If you’re a journalist like me, you have a lot of records requests pending at any one time.

If you’re not already keeping track of them in a spreadsheet or similar fashion, this article is to show you how it can be easily done, offer up a template, examples, and some organizational tips.

When I first started out, I didn’t know much about record requests.

That all changed when I started working at the Rio Grande SUN. Now, filing record requests is second nature.

A spreadsheet for open records requests makes it so much easier to keep track of everything.

Since I’m in New Mexico, it’s a lot easier than most states. New Mexico has a very requester-friendly open records law that allows for free inspections of records and offers few exemptions for public officials to withhold records.

That does not preclude me from filing FOIA, or Freedom of Information Act, requests with public agencies, although those requests compose just a fraction of my work. (My FOIA spreadsheet is just a copy of my IPRA spreadsheet that I modified.)

Keeping track of all of those requests, their statuses, when they were filed and all of the other important information can be somewhat easy, but it takes a little bit of organization, a spreadsheet and the determination to keep the spreadsheet updated.

As an example, I currently have 148 (as of June 4, 2017) open records requests. Keeping track of all of those demands some sort of organization.

I’ve only come to the helpfulness of spreadsheets in the past two or three years. Before, I always thought spreadsheets were for things that dealt with numbers. For everything else, I would use a normal text document.

For records requests, I used to just not do anything, other than a search through my email. Oh, how wrong I was!

So, let’s dive straight into the spreadsheet.

(Personally, I use Sheets in Google Docs, mostly because it is available wherever I log into my Google account. Attached at the end of this post is also an Excel version of my template as well as the example spreadsheet.)

Rows upon rows

Before I go any further, please remember, spreadsheets are a somewhat personal thing. I suggest you use a spreadsheet to keep track of your requests, but you should format the spreadsheet’s rows or columns to match what information you want to access.

The first row I use to sort requests is agency. This could be replaced with date, depending on your personal preferences.

Next is the date the request was sent. This is very important because it dictates deadlines and how late a request is in being fufilled. Plus, it’s a great row to sort by.

Everyone needs the first four rows (date, agency, documents requested and status) for a records request spreadsheet. Everything after that is what data you need to help keep track of your requests.

As an aside, when I send requests, I put the date I’m sending the request at the end of the email subject line. I use this as a sort of master reference point when trying to find the string of emails attached to the request.

I also make sure to put a very brief summary of the content of the request in my subject line. This, just like a date, adds another reference point.

An example of a subject line, which I condense for the spreadsheet:

IPRA – May 8 incident reports, supplemental reports, investigative reports, audio/video from incident & communications from — 5-28-2015

The next row is the request’s status, along with the last date  of the last status, if it exists. If an agency sent the three-day letter (mandated in New Mexico law) on May 1, 2017, then I write: “3-day letter 5-1-2017.”

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In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, quickly coming up, I’m reposting an Irish soda bread blog post, and recipe, from Sept. 1, 2009 when I was living in Germany as an au pair. Here’s the original.

I realize that it’s a little bit disjointed at the end. So it goes.

You should be pairing that soda bread with some slow cooker corned beef, potatoes and cabbage made with beer, cider and mustard. Trust me. It’s really good.

Recipe: Irish Soda Bread

I could make excuses or give reasons for not having written about vacation yet, but I won’t. Instead, I’m going to share a recipe for Irish Soda Bread that I made last week. Before I give the recipe or subsequent notes on it, I’ll rap about it because I personally love recipes with a story behind them — a recipe with no notes, no story, no nothin’ is not only less appealing to me but also dry. I should say, the whole reason I made the soda bread was a beef stew which I’ll hopefully make soon again, takes pictures of and write up. A glut from two grills the last two nights engendered the beef stew, which spawned the soda bread.

Out of the oven, on a baking sheet.

I think sourdough bread goes better with beef stew, or lamb stew, or pork stew rather than soda bread, but this may just be nostalgia speaking. The soda bread goes well with the beef stew, is semi-authentic and as a plus the bread is great – it merits repeating – with a little butter and good honey.

I picked up the recipe from allrecipes.com (credit to “MP Welty”) and changed it for my tastes. My tastes at the moment are for whole wheat goodness wherever and whenever possible. So far this has been an apple crisp, the soda bread and pancakes.

Below the recipe will be given in both metric and imperial, but small measurements will be given exclusively in imperial. I personally use metric because I’m in Germany and actually I found measuring by grams to be a bit easier than the normal packing and sifting ways. However, I’ve found with American recipes, this difference can be a bit of a problem.

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It’s already 2017 and I’m not much closer to finishing Jake Highton’s five-year reading plan than I was when I started back in the summer of 2013.

(Read the original post here and read the revised, shortened post here.)

I’d just been laid off from the Nevada Appeal, along with a part time person. I had the least seniority in the newsroom, so I was the one to get the ax and go on unemployment.

It was summer, I had a kegerator in the house and I lived next to the river in Reno.  I rode my bicycle up to the university to visit with my former journalism professor, Jake Highton.

Highton gave me two columns he wrote for the Sparks Tribune outlining the list of books, movies, music and plays he thought young journalists should consume, set to a plan of five years.

While I haven’t been doing much to finish off the list, I have made some progress.

At least two years ago now, I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Considered a masterwork in its time, I found a more critical reading of it took away some from the bluster it is normally buoyed with.

Although it is about environmentalism, chemicals, and the havoc we’ve been wreaking on the planet, I was really worried about some of Carson’s claims because they did not represent the whole truth.

I think the best example is her bemoaning of the havoc certain chemicals had on the lowly earthworm.

We all love earthworms, right? They’re fantastic. They do all sorts of things for the environment.

Except. Well, most of them are not native to North America, the place Carson was writing about. They vastly change the ecology, and according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, they’re really bad, especially in forested areas.

Farad Power Plant in California on the Truckee River

But Carson never acknowledges the lowly earthworm as an invasive species, or that it changes the ecologies of the places it is introduced to, or anything else. She only talks about how bad it is that chemicals are killing them.

While I certainly agree that the widespread use of chemicals is a bad thing, her complete and total lack of either understanding or acknowledgement of their invasive nature casts her entire book into doubt, at least for me.

As a critical reader, I now question every single premise she puts forth. I think to myself, what else is she holding back? What else is she ignorant about?

In short, her credibility is severely damaged for me, and as a result, so too is her book.

There are more examples, but, alas, I have lost or given away the copy I annotated.

Nonetheless, the only answer is to keep on, keepin’ on through Highton’s five-year list.

Since moving to New Mexico, homebrewing has taken a back seat to everything else.

12 packs and 24 packs, recycled, were the best way to store the brew.

I have 15 gallons of cider (in three separate batches) hanging out against one wall in my kitchen, a big bottle of iodopher sitting in my cabinet and a bunch of bottles sitting outside, behind a shed. I even have lactose and corn sugar to get those batches bottled. (I haven’t reinvested in a capper yet).

Unfortunately, with no dish washer to easily sanitize my bottles, I end up putting bottling off time after time after time.

However, when I did have access to a dishwasher, before I moved to kegging (which I cannot recommend enough) and I had friends to consistently drink and brew with, having enough brew on hand was a big issue.

Once we three started brewing, we quickly realized that we liked what we were making, that what we were making took a long time (relatively) and that we needed to be making loads right now for our future selves to have enough to imbibe.

(On another point, if you’re not kegging, getting enough bottles is definitely an issue. Fortunately, when I was living in Reno, there was separated curb side recycling.)

Another of our concerns, as broke young people, was how to maximize our dollars in comparison to our brews. That is, beer is great, but beer can be relatively more expensive to brew, so what about cider?

Cider was easy. Cider was super easy. Cider required less effort and took much easier to get 5-gallon buckets (rather than 6-gallon buckets).

20 gallons of cider in four 4-gallon buckets and one 5-gallon bucket.

So we started making cider, realized we loved it, then had a problem. There was no more cider left. Between ourselves, our friends, the people who lived in the house, the first five gallons of cider were gone in a heartbeat.

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In New Mexico, Chile is king. No questions. No debate. Red, or green? Christmas? (Christmas is both red and green.)

(If you want just the recipe, see it here.)

Zhug, after the cilantro and jalapenos and citrus and salt have been blended together. Ready for some fiery consumption.

Cilantro certainly plays a second fiddle, in salsa, as do tomatoes, but still: chile, cilantro, these are the building blocks of many New Mexican meals. So, what does that have to do with zhug? Well, combine those two things into one dish. Blew your mind, didn’t it?

Chile and cilantro are not the sole property of New Mexican cuisine and lots of other cultures do complimentary things with them that I think we should all copy, or at least, pay attention to.

That New Mexico can learn a lot from other parts of the world, including from the middle-east, where zhug originated.

What is zhug, anyway?

It can either be described as a cilantro-based hot sauce (and, depending on how you make it, I mean Hot) or as chile and cilantro pesto. Take your pick. I prefer the former, partially because I make mine scalding.

It’s a very simple sauce. Put cilantro, lemon juice, lime juice and, important here, peppers, into a blender. Blend. Blend, blend, blend.

That’s it. Maybe add some salt, to taste. And you’re done. It’s a pesto-like hot sauce or a hot pesto. Either way, zhug goes well with pita bread and tabbouleh, with some hummus. Maybe you’re going to make zucchini fritters. Add some on the side, along with tzatziki.

I should add, this sauce is very dear to my heart. Being such a fan of cilantro, even naming my blog after a proclivity for it, I gotta say. We all should love zhug.

 

Zhug

Ingredients
• Between 10-20 hot peppers, rinsed and chopped (de-seed if heat is an issue)
• 1-3 bunches of cilantro, washed and chopped
• 3-6 garlic cloves, chopped
• ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom or seeds from 6 cardamom pods, crushed
• ¼ teaspoon ground coriander (cilantro seeds)
• ½ teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 lime juice, more to taste
• ¼ to ½ cup lemon juice, more or less to taste
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• Salt to taste
• Optional: 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

Directions

1. Chop the cilantro, peppers and garlic.
2. Put all the ingredients, sans salt, in a food processor or blender.
3. Blend until it reaches desired consistency.
4. Add a small amount of salt, to taste.

 

If you want the full gallery of full-quality photos, they are licensed under a Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution-only license. See them here.

Jalapenos in a blender, before being blended, to make Zhug. Add liquid (lemon/lime juice) to aid in the blending process.

Cilantro, being being chopped up and put in a blender to make Zhug.

I’ve been a fan of curry pastes for a long time, as well as a fan of buying ingredients in bulk for cost savings.

I don’t just buy curry pastes in bulk. Potatoes, too, as well as chicken thighs when there’s a big sale.

Somehow, and I don’t know how, I alighted on the idea to combine all three of these things. It may have started with pan-fried potatoes, or maybe with oven baked chicken thighs (skin on, bone in). It may have its genesis in yellow curry fried rice, where I first learned that the (Thai) curry paste works incredibly well as a seasoning.

Before I go any further, I need to mention that this dish goes really well with at least tzatziki, and probably zhug as well.

Yellow curry paste!

Irregardless of how it happened, I then used yellow curry paste (the mildest of the pastes) as a seasoning for pan fried potatoes. All of this is being done in a cast-iron skillet, of course.

Finally, I decided that the best of all worlds is to put the chicken thighs on top of the potatoes, and maybe a few other vegetables and then bake to allow the juices and fat to seep into the potatoes, mingling the flavors.

The problem with chicken thighs is they take a long time to cook at a high temperature. It’s not so much a problem as something you need to be aware of going into the cooking process.

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