Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Where Does Cooking Fit In on a Holiday Weekend?

I love to cook but when the whole family is around and the weather is nice I try to minimize my time in the kitchen. Here's how I handled things during our weekend in the Adirondacks. As with so many things, planning is the key. Although we didn't leave until Friday evening, food preparations began on Thursday.

I made a huge pot of black beans on Thursday evening. Some of these beans were used in the tomato sauce I served Thursday night. The rest were put aside for use over the weekend. I made four loaves of pumpkin bread Thursday as well. One loaf was used as dessert and Friday's breakfast. The remaining 3 were put away for the trip.

Friday morning, I made a big batch of Peanut Noodles for the ride up. We were planning to leave as soon as my hubby got home from work to avoid traffic. That meant dinner would be eaten on the road. To make things fun, everyone had dessert when we first got into the car. Actually, the real reason dessert came first was a practical one, the Tofutti Cuties my mom bought would have melted if we did it any other way. Water bottles for all and coffee for the grownups rounded out the meal. Once we reached our destination, we had salsa and baked tortilla chips.

Saturday morning we had a big breakfast of banana pancakes, banana blueberry smoothie and pumpkin bread. Lunch was leftover peanut noodles and pineapple chunks (saving the juice of course!) Snack was ice pops made from grape and watermelon juice. About half of the remaining black beans were used to make the chili we had for dinner. We also made a a quickie pumpkin pie which could have been firmer but still tasted good.

Sunday's breakfast included a potato scramble, pumpkin pancakes and banana mixed berry smoothie. The leftover chili was made into little patties and fried on both sides. Served with ketchup it made a nice veggie breakfast "sausage". Lunch was a choice of any of the reamining leftovers or peanut butter and jelly. For dinner the remaining breakfast patties were warmed, topped with a vegan cheese sauce (Easy Breezy Cheese Sauce from How it All Vegan) and served with homemade baked french fries and onion rings. To make the onion rings the onions were sliced and dipped into a mix of tamari, nutritional yeast and maple syrup (this is actually what is left over from the potato scramble) and then dregged in bread crumbs (I collect the bread crumbs each time I cut a loaf of bread.) I baked them in the oven along with the french fries. We had popcorn as a snack later that night.

Monday's meals revolved around cleaning out the fridge and carrying less home. Breakfast was fresh baked donuts, leftover pancakes and leftover pumpkin bread. The dough for the donuts was already made and had been frozen. I just rolled, cut and baked them. Dusted with a little cinnamon and powdered sugar these are a wonderful alternative to store bought donuts. While the donuts were baking I popped the leftovers into the oven to warm. I whirled the leftover juice from the canned pineapple chunks with ice for a refreshing slushy to go with breakfast. Lunch was peanut butter and jelly in the car on the ride home.

Dinner the evening we return is always the biggest challenge for me. I'm tired from the ride and its really tempting to get Chinese food or some other take out. This time I had it all planned out. The last of the black beans were used in tomato sauce and served over whole wheat pasta. We also had Pumkin soup on the side (this was frozen and waiting at home!)

I'm pleased with the results and our non-vegan houseguest didn't seem malnourished or scarred by the experience.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Tomatoes, Canning and Another Peek at the CSA

It has been a chilly, rainy week in the New York. I gave up waiting yeseterday and planted my tomatoes outside. They had outgrown their containers and weren't doing well indoors so I don't think they'll be any worse outside. I had already begun to sit them outside a few hours each day so the shock shouldn't be too great. I'm hoping to sneak some time in to plant a few more things before heading north for the weekend.

Why would I bother to plant my own garden after extolling the virtues of a CSA? I had seeds leftover from a garden 3 or 4 years ago. I decided to see if they would sprout or if they were too old. Once they sprouted, my husband and I realized that by growing a few of our favorites in addition to our CSA membership, we might be able to make it through the whole winter without running out of organic produce.

I canned for the first time last fall and it went realy well. The sauce was delicious, although I was a little heavy handed with the crushed red pepper. The sauce lasted until January.

I also made tomatillo salsa. The tomatillos were a pick your own vegetable at our CSA. At the end of the season, nobody seemed to want them anymore. I picked whatever was left because I remembered seeing a tomatillo salsa recipe in the Ball Canning Book. We had salsa until January as well.

Carrots were the final thing I canned. It was almost November and the freezer was packed but I couldn't resist the buckets of "seconds" outside the distribution room at the CSA. Many of those carrots were considered seconds because they looked funny not because of bad spots or nibbles. The carrots lasted into late February.

Perhaps you are wondering why pay for the CSA membership? Why not just grow everything myself? As a mother of four, I have neither the time nor the expertise to grow the variety and bounty that the farmers at our CSA grow. Each time that I help harvest I learn something new. One day when my kids are older and require less of my time, I hope to put that knowledge to use. For now, I love our CSA and the people involved in it. Now that's real value for your dollar.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Opening Day at the CSA

Every spring I wait for the phone call that tells me when the first pickup from our local CSA (community Supported Agriculture) will be. Last night we got the call, farm pick up starts on Tuesday. Now my winter, and my quest for organic veggies at the grocery store, is offically over. There will be a bounty on my table without a hole in my wallet.

Membership to a CSA doesn't appear cheap in the short run. Our membership cost for the season is $1095. There are a couple of things to bear in mind before passing out as a result of that figure.

First of all, there are six of us so we purchase two shares for the whole season (June, July, August, September, October and sometimes the early part of November.) We also purchase an additional share for the fall portion of the growing season (September, October and part of November.) This extra fall share is canned or frozen for the winter months. In fact, I just pulled the last of the frozen pumkin puree out of the freezer this past weekend.

Secondly, throughout the growing season there are opportunities to self pick more labor intensive produce like strawberries, raspberries, tomatillos, beans and cherry tomatoes making our membership dollars go that much farther.

A third point to consider are the "seconds" that you can help yourself to. These are veggies that are getting a little past their prime, a squash with a soft spot, a carrot that looks like an octopus, a melon that a deer has nibbled or an onion that must be cooked for soup today. They are left in bins outside the distribution room on pickup days and members can take whatever they like. I have become an expert at removing the spoiled part and rescuing the rest.

Finally, the positive environmental impact of a CSA can't be overlooked. We get an amazing abundance of pesticide free produce from the end of May until the beginning of November at a fraction of the cost of our local natural food store. The soil, air, water, and wildlife around our CSA gets a reprieve from the toxic farming techniques that have become the norm.

If the term CSA is new to you and you want to learn more, check out the links below


If you'd like to read more about our experiences with our CSA check out this link


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

A Month of Bread ***UPDATE***

Sunday afternoon it became clear, the bread would not make it much further. I reached into the freezer and pulled out four frozen loaves of whole wheat bread dough. I let the dough defrost in the fridge until Tuesday afternoon. (This may have been a bit long but Tuesday was a truly hectic day and time just got away from me.) My daughter greased the loaf pans while I kneaded and shaped the bread. Once in the loaf pans I let it rise for about four hours and then baked it as I normally would.

I know some of the veteran bread bakers must be thinking, four hours and holes the size of swiss cheese. Actually, the texture was very nice and even. The reason for the exceptionally long rising time is the bread was made with whole wheat bread flour and no gluten was added to assist in rising. Without the long rising time you get bread that doubles as a doorstop.

I have no real gripe with gluten. I even make the occasional gluten roast. The main reason I stopped adding it to my bread recipes is its sold in tiny bags and I was constantly running out. At the same time, it wasn't something I used enough of to merit buying a 50 pound bag from our food cooperative. It just didn't seem cost effective.

The more I read about bread making, the more I discovered that there are only a few hard and fast rules. A lot can be left up to the individual bread makers' discretion. If you're wondering where the white bread flour in my bread recipes went, it just got gradually eliminated. I would sooner plaster my walls with white bread flour than feed it to my family. (It is the ONLY aspect of today's low carb craze that I agree with.)

So relax, let the kids help knead the bread (play dough with a purpose?) and let it take its time rising. The end result is worth it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

My Day with the Daisies

I taught a fitness class to several groups of Daisy Girl Scouts this past Saturday. These girls are usually between 5 and 6 years old. It was a twenty minute class that included a warm up, an aerobic portion, a strength portion, and a stretch portion. I use a lot of music and imagination to get them to participate and its usually a lot of fun. This is the second time I taught this type of class for the Girl Scouts and I've noticed a definite pattern.

My first class came bounding in full of energy. They were ready to move their bodies. I get silly when I teach this age and I encourage the kids to get silly with me. This class was great, no matter what silly move I asked them to do they were willing. We marched, hopped, kicked, and swam. The adults took pictures throughout.

During the strength portion I incorporate several Pilates based moves, like the preparation position for rolling like a ball (for you non-Pilates people, that essentially means balancing on your butt) and the mini roll down (starting from a seated position and lowering the upper body down just until you feel your feet will pop off the floor and then engaging the abs to pull the body back to a seated position). Kids make this look easy!

I try to move around the class to help kids get positioned and make sure they are safe. One of the mom's jumped in to help. Many of the kids told me that they did some of these moves in gymnastics, dance or karate. When the class was over, every adult in the room thanked me for doing the program. Several asked where I taught.

The second class, dragged in and were difficult to engage. Two minutes into the program they were asking when it would be over, many of the kids were already winded. The adults were less involved, no pictures were taken. The adults in this group were significantly heavier than those of the first group and so were the kids. No one volunteered to help and no one said thank you when it was over. In fact they all basically fled.

The third group came bounding in, much like the first. They were active and involved. They even had ideas about different ways to move that I hadn't included. They too had experienced some of the moves in dance, gymnastics, and karate. The parents were involved and some even moved a bit with us. The adults and children were not as heavy as the second group. At the end the adults and kids from this group all said thank you.

It seems quite clear that our actions are mirrored in our children. In both the first and last groups the parents and/or troop leaders were active people. (I know this from talking to them afterwards.) The kids had no difficulty being active, it was just what they did. The second group had parents who were far more sedentary and physical activity was almost foreign to these kids. Face it, at 34 I should be struggling to keep up with 5 and 6 year olds, not the other way around.

I know I mention that the first and last group said thank you but its not really about manners. Have you ever just felt so out of place that you just wanted to get out of the situation? Clearly that is how these adults felt. They looked at this spandex wearing loon and figured, "she's nuts!" Maybe it got them thinking. I have to hope that someone in that group began to recognize that something needs to change. Perhaps one of them peeked in at one of the active groups and saw the fun they were having. Maybe one of them went home and took a walk with the whole family.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Worm Bin

Fear not, you're not the first to raise an eyebrow and ask, "The WHAT??" Read on and see.

Worm composting has been a subject getting a lot of attention around our house, in part because my husband hates the regular compost heap. Lack of yard space is another reason we decided to explore this type of composting. Basically, the worms live in a box and eat your food scraps and trimmings. They are ideal companions for vegans because pretty much everything you consume, they can too. The worms have been living in a temporary bin in our basement and as far as my sons are concerned, they are our new pets. The boys love to feed the worms with me.

The worms need to be red wigglers and they cost about $25 for 500. I had a coupon and got them for $12. There was no way I was paying about $100 for a plastic tower for them to live in, so our weekend project was to build a worm bin. We scavenged wood from some pallets and an old train table my sons no longer play with.

Our bin is 30" x 34" and 12" high(a slight variation from the 1-2-3 box described in the best known handbook Worms Eat My Garbage but we wanted use wood that we had on hand.) The bin looks like a coffee table or bench. It will spend warm months outdoors, in the shade and winters indoors out of direct sunlight.

Naturally, I got asked if keeping a worm bin was vegan. I'm not growing the worms to eat or so my brother can fish with them. I'm not starving the worms or leaving them in conditions that they aren't suited to, so I think I'm okay.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

A Month of Homemade Bread

Monday was pickup day for our food coop. I usually spend a few hours over the days that following putting the 25 pound bags of beans, flour, etc into manageable, airtight containers. This month I decided to try something new.

As you may know, I bake my own bread. I use an old fashioned bread bucket to mix it. I can mix 9 loaves of bread at one time, although I usually do 6 because that's how much bread we use in a week. This time of year things are hectic and my spare time seems harder to come by than ever. I've been doing some readin about cooking for the month and decided this might be something I could incorporate into my bread baking.

So at 1:00pm yesterday, I began my bread making extravaganza. I baked four loaves of whole wheat bread, three loaves of Cornell Bread (a heartier, more filling bread that makes toast in the morning something nutritious) and 24 baked donuts. I mixed and froze 23 loaves of whole wheat bread, 3 loaves of Cornell bread, and 12 donuts to be baked as needed.

In theory all I have to do next week is defrost, let rise and bake the bread for the week. If I'm smart enough to do the same thing in four weeks, I'll always have some bread in reserve. The best part? I only had to wash the bread bucket one time!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Flower Gardens for Less

The simplest way to keep the cost of beautiful flower beds down is to take advantage of nature's habits. Perennials cost more in the short term but they come back year after year making the cost over time negligible. Speaking of time, perennials are a time saver as well. Once the first growing season is past, they don't require nearly the same amount of time and attention that annuals do.

Bulbs are another great choice. Some need to be taken out of the soil after they bloom so be sure to read the packages. I avoid these. There is just no time in my world for high maintenance plants! Daylillies are beautiful and they not only come back year after year, but they spread as well. This allows you to lift them out, seperate them and move them around to cover a larger area, if you choose. Last year a friend decided to thin her daylillies and I was given the spares. They looked a little anemic but I planted and mulched them, hoping for the best. They have come back this year with gusto. I've had good luck with Iris as well.

Flowering shrubs like azaleas are also a favorite of mine. They are hard to kill and easy to please. The only important thing about azaleas is they set their buds in the fall for the following spring so beware of the urge to prune in the fall. Late pruning will result in no flowers in the spring. I learned that lesson the hard way.

I don't really use annuals, they aren't usually cost effective in my opinion. The exception to this is the impatien that I got for Mother's Day three years ago. Cuttings from that original plant have been used to fill window boxes, hanging baskets, and regular pots. That is the great thing about impatiens, they are so easy to root.

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Buffet in Your Backyard

A few weeks ago I shared my daughters disgust with my use of dandelion greens in our dinner. She's gotten over it and, since I've promised not to tell her friends what they are, is willing to eat them. It is funny how we must work to get past our personal biases.

I've just been made aware of a website that is chock full of information about a huge variety of wild edibles. It has photos of the plants to help you identify them, habitat information, nutrient analysis, and recipes.

It also has information about common things that are mistaken for food, like the plants I've always assumed are wild strawberries. The ones I've seen in my backyard have yellow flowers and, even though they aren't poisionous, tend to upset peoples stomachs. I didn't know that until I checked out this site and am quite glad that I found out. Here's the web site, its definitely worth a look.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

A Favorite Warm Weather Snack

When I was a newlywed in the early 90's, a friend become a Tupperware Lady. I grew to hate Tupperware. It seemed to be a time and money sucking venture.

Having said that, I confess to calling my mother in search of the Tupperware ice pop molds she got back in the 70's. Now where is all this nostalgia leading? To the kitchen of course!

I was searching for a substitution to those skinny plastic bags of sickeningly sweet, brightly colored water, known in our part of the country as freezy pops. Every kid I know loves them. As far as I'm concerned, they are an ecological and nutritional nightmare. That's how my search for my mother's ice pop molds and what to fill them with began.

Obviously you can buy 100% fruit juice and use that to make the ice pops but I found an even more frugal way. The next time you slice a watermelon, canteloupe or any juicy fruit, pay attention to how much juice is left behind when you're done. I discovered there was quite a lot. So I began pouring this leftover juice into the ice pop molds and the kids loved it. It kept us with a ready supply of ice pops all summer and my kids really enjoyed the intense flavors of the real fruit.

You can use a mesh strainer if remnants of fruit chunks will bother your kids. You can also use juice leftover from canned fruits or even that bit of leftover smoothie you thought wasn't worth saving. You can fill the ice pop mold all the way or freeze it a bit at a time to create a multi-flavored pop.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Two Reasons to Love Your Java a Little More

I confess, I love my morning coffee. I also love my midmorning and afternoon coffees as well. Yes its true, I average three cups of coffee a day. I do so without guilt. My coffee is organic, fair trade, and I drink it black. It's not a dessert like the huge Cafe Mocha with whipped cream I used to drink in Starbucks.
That's enough about me and my coffee habit. Read on to learn why you should love your coffee too. (If you're hoping its the miracle cure for some ailment, don't bother reading on, you'll just be dissapointed.)

Reason 1
Ants Hate Coffee
I don't recall where I stumbled across this gem of information but its true. Ants won't cross a line of used coffee grinds. If you can find the spot where the ants are coming in, block their path with your used coffee grinds. Its a great alternative to pesticides and its readily available. We've used it in several spots and it works really well. Best of all I'm not worried about the kids or dogs poisoning themselves.

Reason 2
Your Plants Love Coffee Too
Adding used coffee grinds to your houseplants gives them a boost. I just put a spoon or two in each pot avery few weeks and the plants thrive. I also pour leftover coffee onto them (let it cool down first.) Outside, I've put the coffee grinds directly on day lillies and roses with good results. Any coffee grinds that I don't have an immediate use for end up in my compost heap. According to Mary Appelhof in her book Worms Eat My Garbage, coffee grinds work well in worm composting bins as well.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Reflections on Mother's Day

Some years I struggle with what to do on Mother's Day. This year the ideas just about did a dance to get my attention. I've said before one of the keys to successful gift giving is being a good listener. I was fortunate that the ideas were presented to me this past week.

My mother-in-law has been expressing an interest in getting some vegetarian recipes. Lately meat has been turning her off. We put together a gift bag with recipes, dried beans, nutritional yeast and coupons. She seemed genuinely tickled by the effort.

My mother had asked about keeping healthier snacks on hand which led to a discussion about a icebox cookies. Icebox cookies are made from a stiff cookie dough that is rolled into logs and kept either refrigerated or frozen until you are ready to slice and bake them. They are like the ones you see in the grocery store but you control the ingredients. We quadrupled the recipe and made her an assortment of Icebox cookies to keep on hand. She too seemed happy.

As for me, I was presented with a beautiful card made by all four kids and my hubby. Everyone worked together without fighting, it was the perfect gift.

Friday, May 06, 2005

When Is a Splurge a Bargain?

While counseling a nutrition client, I was complemented on my purse and asked where I got it. I got the purse at a craft fair. It's hand made and if I remember correctly it cost about $50. How is this frugal you ask? Is this frugal woman a fraud?

I don't think so. I bought the purse in 1997 and it still looks brand new today. It was a Mother's Day present to myself. For years I had admired this purse with its "Children of the World" fabric. When we first embarked on our adoption journey, I made a promise to myself. When the phone call came telling me a was child waiting for us, I would buy myself the purse I always wanted. It would be a calling card of sorts, a multicultural purse for the mother of a mutlicultural family.

The 6 year old child that sparked the purchase of that purse is almost 14 and will be entering high school in the fall. I still use that purse every single day. I'm fairly certain that my splurge, over time, has proven itself a bargain.

When I shared this with my client her eyes lit up. It turns out she was an adoptive mom as well. Definitely money well spent.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

What I'm Reading

The library is one of my favorite frugal places to check out. Here's a look at what I'm reading right now.

Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof
This is considered by many to be the classic guide to setting up a worm composting system. This is a project we've undertaken because my husband truly hates our outdoor compost bin.

Feed your family for $12.00 a day : a complete guide to nutritious, delicious meals for less money by Rhonda Barfield.
Not particularly vegetarian but I'm always curious to see how others approach frugal eating. Also frugal eating books that I've read generally have a lot of near vegetarian recipes or recipes that lend themselves to converting to vegetarian. I really like her recipe for Cinnamon Bread in 90 minutes.

Our library has just extended how long you can keep VHS movies out to 3 weeks! My daughters are thrilled.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Easy Breakfast Ideas

Before reading any further be warned, when it somes to frugal breakfasts on the run, planning is everything. I'm a reformed "let me just grab a bagel and coffee on the way" kind of a gal. Back when I was commuting to work, I padded in extra time to hit the gas station and get the coffee and bagel bacause I "had no time" for breakfast at home. At that time, it cost me $2.19. I worked three days a week. If you do the math you'll discover, I was spending $341.64 a year on my little splurge. You could argue its not that much but I personally wouldn't throw out a check for $341.64.

For those of you with spouses, here's another morsel of food for thought. My hubby had a similar habit but he commuted 5 days a week. That same $2.19 per day adds up to $569.40 per year for him. Together we were spending in the ball park of $911.04 per year on a breakfast that packed little or no nutritional punch.

Climbing out of the rut took planning and a fair amount of trial and error. Oatmeal may be one of the cheapest and most nutrient dense breakfasts around when prepared with soymilk and fruit but its useless if you have no time to eat it. Everyone loves my homemade granola but the time it takes to chew a bowl of it makes it impractical for weekdays. As our family has grown extra time has become less and less available. We need things that can be eaten in the car or on the way to the school bus without leaving a trail like Hansel & Gretel.

I try to make a batch of something on Sunday to get us through a week of breakfasts. Whatever I make also doubles as a healthy afterschool snack. For the six of us, I usually make 4 loaves of banana or pumpkin bread or about 8 scones to get us through the week.

Here are my favorite recipes:

Raisin Oatmeal Scones (this is from The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn with a few slight changes)

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup uncooked oatmeal
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup raisins
3/4 cup soymilk with 2 tsp vinegar whisked in

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix dry ingredients and cut in canola oil and raisins using a fork. Stir in soymilk mixture until just combined. Divide dough in half and form two circles about a half inch thick on a greased baking sheet. Cut into quarters and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

variations: add a hanful of walnuts with the raisins and a drizzle of real maple syrup over the top

Banana Bread (from the Compassionate Cook by PETA with a few changes)

1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup soy milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together the canola oil and sugar, then stir in remaining dry ingredients. Add remaining ingredients (sometimes I whirl these in the blender to avoid banana chunks.) Pour into an oiled loaf pan and bake for 50 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Bread or Muffins (this is from a local pumpkin farm, Secor Farms, again with some minor variations from the original)

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup soymilk
let stand for 5 minutes.
Beat in:
1 cup cooked pumpkin puree
2 Tbs flaxseed meal whisked with 4 Tbs water
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup sugar

In a seperate bowl combine:
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice (ginger will work in a pinch)

Gradually add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture. Mix until well blended.
Optional add ins:
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup rasins or dates

Turn batter into greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until toothpick comes out clean. For muffins bake 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Makes 12 muffins.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Check This Out

For those of you just itching to learn more about the way we live, go to www.vegfamily.com and click on my article The Vegetarian Majority.

More later today.