Living in a small apartment or dorm room does not necessarily mean having a personal garden is out of the question. The Texas heat bodes well for Mediterranean type herbs, which can thrive in sunny, dry climates. (Photo Illustration)

Photo Credit: Cooper Haynie | Daily Texan Staff

Herb-gardening may seem like the exclusive hobby of bored retirees and self-described “culinary-type” yuppies, but a pot of herbs in an otherwise gloomy college apartment is deceptively useful. It can save you money on cooking supplies, encourage you to use healthier seasonings and make the whole place smell like expensive room-freshener.

Now that you know the “why” of growing an herb garden in college, how do you go about growing one in a 12-by-16 dorm room? According to Monica Solimani of local hardware store Breed & Co.’s gardening department, it takes “a good window and a lot of sunlight and drainage.” Because most herbs come from Mediterranean environments, they thrive in sunny, dry climates. If you live in an off- campus dorm or an apartment with a balcony, you would do better to place your herbs outside in direct sunlight during the warmer months. If you lack a balcony and have only a window ledge, you can easily find hanging boxes that make growing herbs outside an easy (and picturesque) endeavor.

Those aspiring green thumbs trapped in a dim dorm room or balcony-less apartment need not put down their paper in despair. Herbs are regularly taken inside during the winter months from November to February and will do well with about eight hours of direct sunlight a day, easily attainable from a large, sunny window.

How will you know if your herbs need some ultraviolet assistance? If they become “leggy,” meaning their stems become elongated, or their leaves begin to fade — you’ll know your herbs are crying out for some extra time in the sun. Luckily, the miracles of modern lighting allow you to grow “just about anything” with grow lights, according to Sharon Truett of local nursery The Natural Gardener. Truett said people have managed to grow gardens in their closets with the help of the natural light-mimicking lamps. Grow lights will run you anywhere from $20 to $100, depending on how much light your plants will need. Be careful to place the grow lights close enough to your plants for them to benefit. Again, your plants may be able to survive up to four months inside with simple window light to green their leaves.

Now that you’ve got the “sunny” aspect of the Mediterranean climate mimicked, you’ll need to master the “dry” part. Buying a pot with proper drainage will help you avoid overwatering your herbs, but you’ll still need to be careful to keep the soil moist rather than watery. Most herbs, with the exception of mint, are fairly drought-resistant. Above all, remember that no herb will grow while sitting in standing water, and no roommate will appreciate an overwhelming smell of damp dirt. When potting your herbs, be sure to use a terra cotta or plastic pot and not a metal one, as the latter will fry your plants when placed in the sun. Plant your herbs in a blend of three parts potting soil and one part compost. If your herbs will be outside, include a thin layer of mulch to help keep in moisture. Of the herbs that will grow indoors, mint is likely to be the easiest to grow, making it a good starter plant. But as your thumb gets greener and your dorm room more verdant, you can branch out into other herbs that work well in containers, like chives, parsley, lavender and rosemary.

Printed on September 5, 2012 as: "Student housing in mint condition to garden"

Science Scene

Photo Credit: Katie Carrell | Daily Texan Staff

Iceman had brown eyes, liked long walks
Scientists learned more about the Iceman, a frozen specimen of an ancient human found over 20 years ago, by applying the most modern DNA analysis available today. The analysis reveals that the caveman, dubbed “Oetzi” by scientists, likely had brown eyes, O blood type, lactose intolerance and would have been at risk for heart disease, if an arrow in the back didn’t get him first. The DNA also revealed that, though found in the Alps, Oetzi is more closely related to those in the Mediterranean regions of Europe. Additionally, scientists have discovered that he had Lyme disease, making him the earliest known carrier.

Children collaborate while chimps monkey around
A recent study published in Science suggests that one of the many ways humans can succeed over other animals is our cooperative nature. When given the same difficult puzzles with comparable rewards for solving them, 3-and 4-year-old children outperformed chimps and capuchin monkeys. However, more impressive than their ability to outperform their simian rivals, the human children were more willing to show stragglers how to do the puzzles so that they could get caught up. This kind of cooperative nature could have led to the cultural evolution that allows human societies to advance.

Pollution doesn’t respect political boundaries
As our country struggles to keep its air quality under control, it seems like we might be fighting a losing battle unless we get the rest of the world on board. A recent report in the Journal of Geophysical Research found that Asia might account for as many as 15 parts per million of ozone in the United States atmosphere, when the air-quality standards allow for no more than 75. Air’s turbulent flow reminds us that as much as we may impose rules on ourselves, we all live in a connected world and need to work together to solve these planet-scale issues.

Oxygen on Dione
The NASA spacecraft, Cassini, has detected a faint oxygenic atmosphere around Dione, a moon of Saturn’s, suggesting that oxygen can be made in the absence of life. The process, while currently unclear, is possibly a result of particles from space striking the icy surface of the moon and freeing oxygen atoms, though scientists are looking into other possibilities as well. This news is particularly exciting because it wasn’t necessarily clear that Dione was big enough to even have an atmosphere. It also shows that, as we slowly venture into looking for planets outside of our solar system, there’s still plenty left here for us to uncover.

Wave goodbye to rough waters
A scientist from UC Berkeley has come up with a theoretical way to hide objects from ocean waves. In essence, the idea involves transferring the energy from surface ocean waves to below the water by altering the sea floor and is similar, at least in principle, to proposed ideas for making objects invisible to light. The idea is highly idealized, imagining only one wavelength of ocean waves as opposed to the multitude you’d see in reality, for instance, and likely wouldn’t work as well in practice as it does in principle, but could potentially be used to reduce damage to offshore structures in rough seas.

Noodles and Company, open at Guadalupe and 24th, has a menu featuring a variety of pasta dishes, separated into sections of Asian, American, and Mediterranean inspiration.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

Noodles & Company is the last franchise to fill out the space that once was Follett’s Intellectual Property on the Drag. Featuring a multi-cuisinal customizable menu with at least eight different kinds of noodles, Noodles & Company, at least on paper, sounds like a great place to take a group of friends with thin billfolds who are all craving something different.

Its menu is divided into three regions: Asian, Mediterranean and American. The items aren’t exactly authentic, but there’s variety: everything from peanut saute to mushroom stroganoff. They even have a few different versions of macaroni and cheese, including bacon cheeseburger mac and chili mac.

After waiting in line, you order a dish, decide whether you’d like to combine it with one of the soups or salads, and then you can upgrade your dish with a protein such as chicken, beef, shrimp or tofu, or add extra cheese or additional vegetables. But be careful: by adding a protein and two vegetables, your cute $4 entree doubles in price.

During lunch, it’s pretty busy: the lines are long and seating is sparse. However, it has an online ordering option through its website and an iPhone application, which eliminates the lines, but it doesn’t offer a delivery service.

For what this venue is, it’s not bad. The pad thai is some of the best on the Drag but not in Austin. Pad Thai is a stir-fried rice noodle dish typically served with fried egg, fish sauce, red chili pepper, bean sprouts, peanuts, cilantro and either tofu, chicken or shrimp. Though Noodles & Company is a little too generous with the bean sprouts, the slightly spicy stir-fried and peanut-topped noodles are quite tasty.

The “grown-up” macaroni and cheese, the Truffle Mac, is an earthy and cheesy delight. The al dente mac-elbows are enveloped in a cheese sauce infused with white truffle oil and garlic, topped with sightly charred portabello mushrooms and covered in a thick layer of shredded Parmesan. When it comes to macaroni and cheese, there’s no such thing as too much cheese, but in this case, the overzealous layer of Parmesan destroyed the visual effect of the dish.

Again, though the menu items are not authentic, the Mediterranean portion of the menu finally fills the glaring Italian cuisine gap on the Drag. The spiral Cavatappi noodles are whimsical and fun, but the herbal basil pesto with wine undertones make the flavors sufficient to satisfy an Italian food craving. The Cavatappi is served with a sprinkling of mushrooms, near-poached tomatoes and garlic.

Noodles & Company also offers a variety of soups and salads, such as the Thai Curry Soup, a coconut curry broth with spinach, cabbage, mushrooms, tomato, red onion and rice noodles, or the Very Berry Spinach Salad topped with strawberries, pecans, crumbled bacon and blue cheese topped with a fig vinaigrette.

Despite its long lines and overzealous garnishing, Noodles & Company is bound to be a Drag favorite for its convenience and variety.

Printed on Monday, November 21, 2011 as: Noodle restaurant offers pasta dishes, convenience

A UT senior research scientist will be spending the next eight days exploring the Mediterranean waters from offshore Haifa to offshore Gaza Strip.

Senior research scientist James Austin Jr. from the Institute for Geophysics will study the geologic evolution of Israel’s continental margin next week. Austin said he and his team will also be studying biological communities that often develop along interesting geological features such as faults and canyons while aboard the E/V Nautilus, which has a satellite dish that allows them to transmit live video feed on the Internet. Depending on what they find, the area may be designated as a deep-water marine sanctuary, he said.

“Our purpose is to study the area through means of ocean exploration,” Austin said.

Working in part with Robert Ballard, the well-known oceanographer who discovered the sunken Titanic, Austin will use Nautilis Live to webcast a live scientific expedition. People can use Nautilis Live to view live video feeds and submit questions 24 hours a day. The website also posts current statuses, photos, schedules and introduces team members.

“Bob Ballard owns Nautilus,” Austin said. “He preaches the three ‘E’s’ — education, excitement and exploration. We all buy into his vision. He and I have been friends and colleagues since the 1970s.”

Austin said he used Nautilus and its remote-operated vehicles to study this margin in September 2010. The Israelis wanted them to continue their work and revisit the area, and so they’re back, he said.

Biology sophomore Richard Gillett said he thought the way the project was being broadcast was very interesting.

“Anything that allows people to see what’s going on is pretty cool,” Gillett said. “There’s a big difference between hearing things and actually being able to see them.”

Austin said he will be using ROVs, Remotely Operated Vehicles, which are connected to the ship to get electrical power but still have a lot of flexibility. He said he will also collect high-definition video, samples of both biology and geology, and will use the two ROVs in a 3-D towing arrangement to see actual underwater spaces near the seafloor.

“It sounds so awesome,” biology sophomore Christa Cook said. “They’re really far away, so it’s cool they can connect.”

Published on Thursday, November 10, 2011 as: UT scientist explores, studies Mediterranean marine world

The Falafel Wrap at Lizzie’s Lunchbox in northwest Austin combines fried chickpeas and fresh veggies inside a warm pita creating a simple, yet delicious, combination.

Austin’s newest food trailer resides in the Arbor Carwash lot in northwest Austin, boasting its hot-pink flare beneath a lofty oak tree. Lizzie’s Lunchbox sets itself apart in its suburban location and, despite the trendiness of central Austin food trailers, offers a new taste to tantalize trailer-goers through a fresh “Tex-Med” fusion of Tex-Mex and Mediterranean cuisine.

Lunchbox owner Lisa Allen was inspired by a trip to West Texas for the idea of the trailer. After eating great food at a trailer in Marfa, Allen and her friends were talking about how great it would be to open a food trailer of their own. With encouragement from her husband, Keith Allen, Lisa Allen decided to buy a tool truck off Craigslist in Dallas and get the ball rolling.

On the drive back to Austin, the truck engine blew up on Interstate Highway 35. “That’s when the adventure began,” Allen said. She and her husband gave up every weekend for a year and a half to renovate the trailer into a mobile-mini-restaurant.

A former technical writer, Allen was working for the pharmaceutical industry up until mid-June before she switched over to work at the Lunchbox full-time. Allen also runs a catering company part-time.

The disadvantage of the trailer is that it runs on an electrical circuit. Though Allen plans to use the trailer to commute to big events where there are more customers, for now, the Lunchbox will remain on Jollyville Road.

“Our biggest hindrance is that we have to be plugged in to this one location,” said Amy Richards, a Lunchbox employee.

Regardless of this minor setback, it is Allen’s love for Tex-Mex and Mediterranean food that spurred the creation of these blended cuisines that draws a public interest. Cooking since she was a girl, Allen was led to the “road of experimentation” at a young age; growing up watching Julia Child exposed her to a variety of cuisines.

“I love everything about Tex-Mex,” Allen said. “The heat of the peppers, smoky cumin, tangy citrus flavors, the cool and creamy avocado, they kick the flavors of fresh and healthy Mediterranean fare up a notch.”

The Lunchbox’s menu offers wraps that exemplify the spices of the Tex-Med fusion. The chile-lime marinated chicken kabob and Dr. Pepper Cherry-marinated lamb kabob are both served on pita bread with feta, kalamata olives, cucumber yogurt sauce and honey tahini dressing. Allen said they also “throw some heat into the mix with a sprinkling of jalapenos and some Sriracha.”

More traditional Mediterranean options on the menu include the falafel: ground chickpea patties shaped like meatballs consisting of onion, garlic, fresh herbs, spices and lemon, fried golden in non-hydrogenated canola oil.

“With Mediterranean and Mexican food, you get a lot of spices and fresh vegetables with a little bit of heat to it,” Richards said. “The good thing about the fusion is you won’t alienate a lot of people who don’t want to ask what a falafel is.”

Protesters gather outside Greece’s parliament building in Athens to express their disapproval of the austerity measures that cut salaries and impose higher taxes. The most recent measures are the latest in a series of increasingly unpopular moves by Greece’s government.

Photo Credit: Michael Nevadakis | Daily Texan Staff

As Greece comes closer to defaulting on their growing national debt, violent demonstrations and protests have become headline news throughout the world, said a UT student researching social media in the Mediterranean nation.

Last week Greece’s Parliament passed two austerity measures to secure emergency funding from the European Union, but radio-television-film graduate student Michael Nevradakis said it is doubtful the plan will solve the country’s national debt crisis. Greece’s debt is more than two-and-a-half times the country’s gross domestic product, according to Global Finance magazine.

Nevradakis is currently in Athens researching social media’s impact on the protests surrounding the economic crisis. He said the country is safe, but the protests near Parliament became more violent last week after violent protesters showed up, disrupting the peaceful protesters. As with Twitter’s impact during the Egyptian revolution in January, blogs have played a critical role in sharing information and making plans during Greek protests this summer.

“The Greek blogosphere has taken a very dynamic role in terms of spreading news and information to a large percentage of people in Greece and reporting on things the mainstream media are reluctant to report upon,” he said, adding that a Greek website became the most read page in the world in June.

Nevradakis said major news organizations are refusing to investigate the presence of more violent protesters in recent days, so the role of citizen journalism online becomes even more important. Some bloggers suggest the “hooligans” were an excuse for the police to start firing tear gas outside of Parliament to disperse the peaceful protesters. Blogs also provide networking to encourage continued participation in the face of police brutality and corruption, he said.

“The peaceful protesters are planning to continue congregating into the indefinite future,” Nevradakis said.

The unpopular austerity measures are a continuation of initiatives that began in May 2010, which lowered salaries and raised taxes for Greeks. Politicians originally said the laws would be temporary, but because the economy has continued to worsen, the new austerity measures again cut salaries and raised taxes across the board.

“Most Greeks think they should go back to their country’s original currency and leave the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, so they can create their own financial laws,” he said.

Government professor James Galbraith said the austerity measures have been vastly unpopular and unsuccessful because they directly cut into peoples’ jobs and income. National assets that employ many citizens had to be sold, including power companies, airports and harbors, Galbraith said.

“The Greek government is selling off assets which belong to the Greek republic, causing more layoffs and higher prices,” Galbraith said. “It is no longer a simple private economy.”

Galbraith compared the Greek economic crisis to the one currently under way in the U.S. and said they are both facing problems, but are very different at the same time.

“The U.S. Constitution prohibits the government to default, which is one reason why our situation in the states is much different than in Greece,” Galbraith said. “The U.S. government cannot run out of dollars and the market will not dry up, so the worst case would be a technical failure to pay on the debt ceiling.”

In a news conference last week, President Barack Obama said if the debt ceiling is not raised by the official drop-dead date of Aug. 2, 2011, the United States Treasury Department will not be able to pay its debts, which could result in
a default.

Obama said if Congress fails to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, there will be a “significant and unpredictable” impact on the U.S. economy.

In both the U.S. and Greece, cyclical economic structures mean the financial situations will eventually recover, but anything could happen between now and then, Nevradakis said.

“It is hard to see light at the end of the tunnel,” Nevradakis said. “Even though the austerity measure passed and allowed the market to breathe a sigh of relief, there’s really nothing that’s guaranteeing that it won’t get worse in Greece.”