Friday, September 26, 2008

Since You Can't Play Outside in the Rain...

It's a rainy day in the Hudson Valley and it looks like its leading into a rainy weekend. Since there's no hope of doing outdoor things, it looks like we can focus on indoor projects, which range from putting laundry away and taking winter clothes out of the attic to bigger things like finishing that bathroom project we never got around to completing and ripping the nasty carpet out of our bedroom.

Jim & I like to put it all on paper so we can track our progess. It also helps us plan what to do when. Over the years we've found we generally work best together and with music in the background. We get silly but we get stuff done. I suppose that's pretty abnormal after 18 years of marriage but then again, we never claimed to be normal.

It would be hard to have both of us working in the tiny bathroom that is still a work in progress. However, if Jim works on the bathroom which is in our bedroom, I could be working on laundry or even possibly ripping up that smelly old carpet in our bedroom. (I'm partial to destruction. I love being the removal person. There is something so therapeutic about the process.)

Similarly, if I'm canning apples, Jim can be helping with the apple prep or doing one of the other zillion tasks in the kitchen living room area. It works for us. Other people I know prefer to work in solitude and that's fine too.

So if we plan to spend the weekend accomplishing things, I need to get the weekends menu organized now. This will prevent me from accidentally getting so involved in accomplishing things that I make it to 6:00pm Saturday without giving an ounce of thought to dinner. (I see you all shaking your heads in agreement. We've all been there.) Slow cooker meals sound like the way to go. Here's a link to more slow cooker recipes on VegWeb

Tonight is pizza night. My challenge is to get it on the table by 5:00pm so we're not late for swim team. Sounds easy enough until you factor in taking the girls to work at 3:00pm for a staff meeting, the school conference at 3:15 and picking the girls up from the staff meeting. I'd better get started now. Thankfully the dough was already made and is just defrosting/rising.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

There's No Substitute For These Substitutes

Longtime readers know, I make substitutions in my recipes with alarming regularity. I thought I'd share some of my common ones to help you on your frugal way. I don't claim to have invented all of these ideas, these are just ones I use all the time.

a chopped onion - 1 tsp onion powder or several chopped scallions or leeks
a clove of garlic - 1/2 tsp garlic powder or garlic scapes
celery - 1 tsp celery seed or celeriac or stems from kale & collards or chopped swiss chard
brown rice syrup - an equal amount of maple syrup
rice vinegar - apple cider vinegar, although its too harsh in salad dressing recipes
pumpkin puree - any winter squash or even sweet potato in a pinch
dried cranberries - dried currants, they're cheaper and unsweetened
honey - an equal amount of molasses
egg - 1 tbs ground flaxseed meal plus 2 tbs water This works in baked goods only! Don't try to scramble it.
shortening - use slightly less canola oil, i.e. if the recipe calls for 1/2 cup shortening use 1/3 cup canola oil
tomato paste - ketchup can work in a pinch if its good quality ketchup although I don't think I'd try it in pasta dishes.
worcesteshire sauce - an equal amount of Bragg's Liquid Aminos

What are your favorite substitutions?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Coconut Yogurt Pancakes??

It seems I condemned the coconut yogurt experiment to failure prematurely. It turns out it actually did make yogurt. I discovered this when I was trying to figure out what to do with the coconut milk. I'm not saying that coconut yogurt is the tastiest thing in the world but, thanks to Annmarie's comment about coconut milk being good in pancakes, I discovered coconut yogurt makes really good pancakes...if you like coconut.

I substituted the coconut yogurt for both the liquid and the oil in my usual pancake recipe. The result was a delightfully fluffy, coconutty pancake.

I tried a second batch adding nutmeg as the recipe for Coconut Pancakes in Vegan with a Vengeance suggested and I wasn't crazy about the results. I thought it tasted odd but the other coconut lovers didn't seem to mind.

If you're in the habit of making pancakes on the weekend, make a double batch next time and use the extra for weekday breakfasts. We just pop them in the toaster oven for a quick breakfast on the go, which is the only breakfast we know of on weekdays.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Let the Sorting Begin!

Remember a few days back my daughter's cleaned out their closets? I've just discovered that I need to help the boys do the same. I didn't realize we had a problem until the boys informed me that everything on the bottom shelf was shorts, not a mix of shorts and pants!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Finding Ways of Finishing Foods Before They Go Funky Can Be Fun!

As we wind down this road of using what's already in the pantry, I feel compelled to confess that I just bought 25 pounds of spelt berries and 25 pounds of mung beans from our food cooperative. Put your eyebrows back down, I'll explain these somewhat unusual purchases.

I'll start with the spelt berries, they'll be used to make spelt flour, which I've been using more of lately. I read a great article about why it is more sustainable than wheat but now that I've gotten around to blogging on it, I can't find the article. Grrrrr! Anyway, it's cheaper to buy the berries than the ground flour. Plus it's slower to go rancid in berry form. I've used spelt in pancakes, muffins and quick breads with good results so far.

As for the mung beans, the nights are getting cooler and the days are getting shorter. The end of the outdoor growing season in the northeast is in sight. That means it's time to start thinking about the indoor growing season, sprout season. Mung beans are definitely our favorite probably because they are so substantial in size compared to other sprouts. If you're curious about sprouting, click here to see how my efforts have gone.

I concocted a pretty good dinner the other night in an effort to use up the last of the barbeque sauce. Did you ever notice that after a certain point things like barbeque sauce and mustard just sit in the fridge and mock you whenever you open the door to fit something else in? It must be an end of season thing. Anyway, on to the recipe, if you can call this loosely thrown together list of ingredients a recipe.

I sauteed two chopped onions in a little olive oil. Once they were browned, I poured a little water in the pan to deglaze it. Next I added some cooked chickpeas, about the equivalent of two cans, give or take. I topped this with the leftover barbeque sauce. Then I filled the barbeque sauce bottle half way with water, shook the daylights out of it and poured this over the chickpeas. No sauce was going to waste in my house!

To my horror, there wasn't really enough sauce to cover the chickpeas adequately. Plus barbeque sauce sometimes has such a strong vinegar taste it makes me gag. Fortunately, a bottle of ketchup came to the rescue. A few squirts later, there was enough sauce and the sweetness of the ketchup took the edge off the barbeque sauce.

I served this over whole wheat couscous, which I've decided I hate. No good reason why, I just hate it. Oddly enough, everyone in the house hates it too. We all used to like it, I can't figure what happened. In any event, we've all agreed to finish what we already have on hand, which is thankfully not very much. As for the chickpea concoction, everyone really liked it.

We've been experimenting with cookie recipes too. I still say the easiest way to make a so so meal yummy is to follow it up with a good dessert. To that end we've made our favorite molasses cookies, Coconut Chocolate Chews from Simple Treats (although we actually used carob) and Fudgy Cocoa Mint cookies from Cooking with PETA. I've been tucking a few into lunch boxes as well but I'm still no Jennifer McCann.

The Fudgy Cocoa Mint cookies uses 2 1/2 cups of finely grated zucchini. How great is that? Of course I didn't have mint extract and my mint plant is upstate so I used the almond extract that I've had forever. They came out very moist and delicious. No hint of zucchini in the final product.

Finally, a yogurt experiment update. My first try of coconut milk yogurt, using the coconut milk recipe from How It All Vegan, got thicker but not nearly thick enough. I'll try one more time before calling it a bust. In the interim, I must find a recipe that uses coconut milk. Any suggestions?

One last thought, what does a highly fashionable teen do with a pair of much loved sweats that are now too short? If you're Leenie, you cut them a little longer than capri length (look at her left leg), slit the side up to capri length and tie the ends together (look at her right leg). Instant high fashion. BTW, do teenagers use the word capris anymore or are they called something else...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What's Old Is New

My summer of productivity was obviously interrupted by my son's illness so I've got some unfinished business to attend to, namely getting back to those boxers.

Here's a peek at the one and only pair that got made this summer. This fabric began it's life as a really loud Hawaiian shirt.

Right now I'm cooking some applesauce to can. So while I wait for the apples to cook down, I'm going to try to cut out a few boxer pattern pieces. It seems like the right thing to do, especially in light of the financial turmoil going on.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

About That Faux Pot Roast Recipe...

I think I finally came up with a seitan in the crock pot winner yesterday. To accomplish this, I took the best parts of both recipes, came up with a meal that was ready at 5:00pm and my family demolished it. Here's a peek at my technique.

First, I greased the crock pot because nothing chafes me more than trying to peel my food off the sides of a ceramic bowl. I turned the crock pot on high while I did my prep work. Yes, there's prep work, somehow it seems to be vegan and frugal there must be prep work. (Get over it and move on, I'm trying to.)

Robin Robertson's recipe calls for browning vegetables in olive oil before putting them in the slow cooker. I did this begrudgingly but it does make it all taste better in the end. As usual, I subbed the veggies I had for the veggies the recipe called for. It was mostly little substitutions like quartered potatoes for new potatoes.

I put the veggies in the bottom of the slow cooker and went about making the seitan. I initially planned to use Isa's recipe but at the last minute switched and used the Seitan O Greatness recipe. Since I'm always feeding a crowd, I doubled the seitan recipe.

I placed the uncooked seitan on top of the veggies and went about adding some liquid. I whisked together a cup of water, 3 tablespoons of tamari, some thyme and onion powder. I poured this over the top of the gluten, said what passes for a cook's prayer in my house (God I hope this doesn't taste like s--t), put the lid on and switched the slow cooker to low heat.

8 hours later...

I whisked 1 tablespoon of cornstarch into 1/4 cup of water and set it aside. I removed the seitan from the cooker and sliced it to serve. The seitan will have chunks of potato stuck in the bottom so I flip it over to slice it more easily. I poured the liquid from the slow cooker into a small pot, whisked in the cornstarch mixture and cooked it over medium low heat until it thickened. This creates a gravy to serve over your meal.

The texture was much better than any slow cooker seitan I've ever made. I served this with tomato salad and polenta fries which everyone really enjoyed. Personally, I think they taste even better after they've cooled off. Of course I didn't have polenta or grits so I ground up some organic popcorn into cornmeal (thank you Chile for giving me the courage!) and it worked beautifully.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fashion, Felting & Food

I don't know how it happened, but my two teenage daughters actually decided to go through their closets this weekend. Sure Eileen talked about it before, but talk and action are very different creatures. The end result of this endevor are two very uncluttered looking closets and the back of my station wagon filled, and I do mean all the way to the top, with clothes to be donated. I'm dropping it all off today before they can change their minds.

The girls did compile a "mom might like" pile from which I gleaned 3 practically new sweaters and two pairs of pants. (The rest were mostly hideous, shapeless sweatshirts. Am I that unfashionable? Should I be offended?) The pants I'm actually going to cut into strips to add to my rag ball collection. What's this, saving stuff after declaring a war on crap? Hey, I know those rag balls are just a rag rug in waiting so they are ok to save in my book.

Speaking of rag rugs and other rescue projects (ie. projects that used rescued materials), I have found myself in possession of 3 bags of 2 1/2 foot pieces of yarn that I just discovered were wool. At first I was just irritated, what good are little snips of yarn that masqueraded as hanks of yarn? Then a calm took over, perhaps I could use them to make some felted mittens?

I've had so-so luck felting in the past, but I think this is worth a try. It certainly seems like a better idea than throwing all these aggravating little pieces out. So, to that end, I've begun knotting the pieces together into actual balls of yarn while watching movies with my husband.

A google search revealed a plethora of free felted mitten projects but I like this one because it uses a size of double pointed needles that I already have. It also has no gauge which really appeals to me as well.

Since I'll be busy all day today, I'm making the Not Your Mama's Pot Roast recipe from Fresh From the Vegan Slow Cooker. It's been almost two years since I made seitan in the slow cooker but now that I'm trying it again, I'm going to use Isa's seitan recipe in Robin's recipe to see if we can get that texture problem straightened out.

Now I must go; food prep, laundry and a shower await me!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Oh Applesauce Mary!

It's madness around here. I'm spending my days weeding, mulching, staining and cleaning. All right, not every minute of every day but I did spread some wood chips out as darkness was rapidly enveloping my yard a while ago. This time of year there is so much to get done that you have to steal moments to do it.

I'm glad Crunchy Chicken posted her apple tips a few days back because it seems the apple tree that we leased is ready to bear fruit. Looks like we'll be heading to the orchard this weekend. There's something reassuring about knowing all those apples are heading our way, especially with the price of everything creeping up.

If I can mentally wander off for a brief mommy moment I'd like to share some good news. Kyle started swim team yesterday. It was his first time in the water since his surgery. I clued in the coach but I was almost afraid to watch since he wasn't that strong of a swimmer prior to surgery. He jumped right in and swam 25 yards, from one end of the pool to the other, without stopping!! I almost cried. It's official, he's fine and I have 4 more gray hairs (my oldest who's studying cosmetology keeps track, she finds it amusing.)

With swim team gearing up, its time for me to pick a new knitting project. I have to do something while keeping those bleachers warm. I'm just completing a pair of socks from Easy Knitted Socks.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Tightwaddery vs Simple Living

Ruthie summed this battle up best as she vented in the comments of my last post. To quote her:
Side one: the tightwad who stores things for later use, keeps all receipts, uses recycled materials for crafts, buys used goods and stocks up on things that are a good value


Side two: the simple-living, clutter-hating, purist who wants to live in a cleaner, emptier space with less junk and more things that mean something to me, even if they cost more.

Does that sound like any of you because it sure sounds like me. So what's the solution? I'm not sure there is an absolute solution. I think the key is to come to some kind of a compromise. For me that means only saving things that I can readily identify a purpose for and storing them in a way that makes them accessible but not underfoot.

To that end I've reorganized my yarn stash, and what a stash it is. I've stowed the whole bounty in a trunk that doubles as a coffee table. Within this trunk I've divided the yarn into four categories: cotton, acrylic, novelty and wool.

I know, how can a vegan have wool in her yarn stash? Actually the bigger question might be how can I have acrylic yarn in my stash, after all, its a petroleum product. Right now, the answer to both questions is because they were bought from a thrift store. However, if I ever run out of yarn, and it may take a few years cause I've got a mighty big stash, I lean towards buying recycled yarns from local sources or just doing the recycling myself.

BTW, any of your yarn mysteries can be solved with a match. If you light acrylic yarn with a match, blow it out and rub it between your fingers you'll be left with a hard black ball. If you light wool blow it out and rub it between your fingers you'll be left with ash. It's a super easy way to sort out your thrift store or yard sale stash.

My jean stash has been cut apart into useable fabric only. The ripped and unuseable portions have been discarded. I did cut out the seams and roll them into balls. I've got this notion that I'd like to try knitting them into a rug but for now they are neatly occupying a small basket. This fabric awaits the start of the next denim quilt. The intended recipients are my daughters this time.

Of course no discussion of tightwaddery or simple living would be complete without mentioning how food fits into the picture. We've kept up with our plan to live largely out of the pantry. Our weekly CSA pickup dictates much of the meal plan. With the abundance of tomatoes we've enjoyed red lentils with chopped tomatoes, black beans with tomatillo and tomato salsa, a mix of chickpeas, tomato and red pepper served over couscous, baked gluten sandwiches with sliced tomato and of course some lovely salads.

To keep things from getting boring, I try to rotate the protein source of each meal. Let's be honest no one wants the same beans at every meal. Tonight is chuck all the leftovers into a pot and hope for the best night. Damp rainy nights like the one we're having are perfect for this. Tomorrow will be a clean slate foodwise.

In the interest of maintaining variety, I revisiting my yogurt making trials. I discovered that the reason the almond yogurt wouldn't set is due to the process of aeseptic packaging. I'm planning to try small batches of rice milk yogurt and oat milk yogurt using homemade rice milk and oat milk.

One final note, if you cut the homemade baked seitan into thin strips, brown them on one side, flip them and pour a small amount of maple syrup over them while you brown the other side, the result is a veggie bacon that non-vegan teenagers enjoy as well.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Who's Crap Is This Anyway?

We're back at home. The many maladies of late summer are beginning to recede. Kyle got a clean bill of health from the surgeon on Tuesday and Jim is finally on the mend. My nerves are a little shot but each day is a little better. I am amazed by people who live with loved ones with chronic illnesses.

Looking forward I can't see too well because my view is blocked by piles of stuff. My house is in utter disarray. As I sort and store, I keep asking who's crap this is but the reality is, it's all ours. We have space, so we fill it up with stuff and we have too much stuff!

It was Eileen who commented on the ride home that she was going to go through her closet and get rid of most of what was in there. She went on to say that since she hadn't used it all summer, she obviously wouldn't miss it if it were gone. Wise words from a kid who just turned 16 two days ago.

So as I try to calm my nerves and get back to normal, my first task will be to go through the house room by room, yet again. I want to sort the useful from the frivolous, the time saving from the space wasting, the energy sucking from the energy saving.

I also have vowed to let my pantry dwindle down a bit in an effort to save some money (come on, I can't be the only one who's oil bill almost tripled from last year) and clear some space. Look for some creative menu ideas as this process progresses. I'll still have a pantry stash but I no longer want it to spread into rooms other than the kitchen.