Lunar Gunshots, Mustard Leaves, Pepper Trees

Matt: Can I take my handgun into space when I go, or will I need to defend myself with a laser weapon like everybody else? I was really hoping I wouldn’t have to buy new gear for the trip. — Captain Mike, San Diego (for the moment)

Pack your pistol, Cap’n, we’re on our way. Space is a mixed bag of atmospheres and temps and such, so without knowing where you plan to vacation, we can’t give you a precise answer. But it’s a sure thing that if the time comes when you need to murder your intergalactic host, your handgun will do the deed.

“But, Matthew,” you say. “Oxygen. What about oxygen? Don’t we need oxygen to create Little Sparky that helps shove the bullet out? I won’t haul an O2 cylinder with me. Well, duh.” Worry not, Mike. Bulletwise, after hammer hits firing pin, primer goes poof, powder goes boom, bullet scrams down the barrel. All the necessary oxidizing (boom-making) agents are sealed tight inside the bullet casing; no externals needed. Oh, and if your host gets suspicious and moves a few miles away until you go home, with no friction from air and only tiny gravity (depending on where you are), you can probably stand on the front porch and still get him. A bullet will travel five, maybe six times farther than it does back here.

Once you’ve gotten your little friend past the TSA goons, your biggest problem might be temperatures. Don’t leave your gun on the dashboard. Outrageously hot temps from direct sunlight will make the thing explode. But in the shade, things might get so cold that your ammo just freezes up. Or your gun might crack into pieces. So, manage the extremes, and you can be the first interstellar serial killer. Bon voyage!

Hey, Matt Lake Murray is aglow now with yellow flowers. Some are daisies, and the others are the mustard flowers. I got to wondering: if one has a recipe for mustard, can the mustard flowers that grow in San Diego County be used to make mustard? (At least a mustard that will not poison us!) Also, the pepper trees that are all over the place with the red pepper berries on them: are they edible also? — Dale Dickerson, on the trail

Says Grandma Alice, eating your backyard is tricky business. But every spring she sends the elves out to gather weeds, which she then boils up into something that none of us have actually had the nerve to eat. But it hasn’t killed her yet, so…

The wild yellowy stuff growing all over the place is wild mustard. But suppress the urge to go pickin’ now. The very early leaves of the plant, well before the flower blooms, is the tasty stuff. Once the buds have opened, well, it’s not so great. On the baby plant you can just nip off the whole stem, as long as the growing tip is closed tight. That does mean that you have to teach yourself what the plant looks like in its just-sprouted form. Then boil ’em, make salad, suit yourself. BTW, our wild mustard bears no relation to anything in a bottle labeled “mustard.” You can put your mustard leaves on a bratwurst, but you’ll be disappointed.

Pepper trees are another matter. Grandma sez leave ’em alone. To back up a bit, we have two types of peppers, Brazilian and Peruvian. The guy from Peru is the droopy, feathery-leaved, full-sized tree with pinky-red berries. The one from Brazil is a denser, shrublike plant with thick, dark green leaves and redder berries. Both plants are cousins in the sumac family, which means they are more or less toxic. Irritating to the skin. Nothing that I’d like to serve the family, but there’s a chance you have. The pink berries from the more laid-back Peruvian strain are said to be sold as “pink peppercorns” and sometimes are included in ground-pepper products. Maybe they work as filler. They certainly don’t have the zing of true pepper.

But here’s the real deal about wild mustard and pepper trees: Grandma sez, go out there and rip ’em all up. Just pull them out of the ground. Do what you gotta do. Get rid of them. Wild mustard is a very, very invasive, nonnative plant, as are the pepper trees. The Peruvian kind reproduces by seed but also by sucker, so they pop up all over the place. Pepper trees are actually illegal in four states. Would Grandma kid you? So, she says to stick with the mustard if you’re going to be grazing your backyard.

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