Saturday, December 31, 2005

How'd We Do With Our Goals for 2005?

Here's a quote from my blog this time last year:

So what's in store for 2005? I'm hoping to get more earth friendly and decrease my global footprint even more. Solar ovens, compost tumblers, and rain barrels are all things I'll be exploring. Planning our retirement home and life is also on my mind even though I'm only 34 and my hubby is only 39. The choices we make now will forever impact how and when we are able to live our work free years. I'll also be reading and trying out new recipes, especially ones written about lean times. One of the most creative cookbooks I came across was Grandma's Wartime Kitchen. It certainly wasn't veg but there were some great veg recipes in there.

We did use solar cookers this summer with pretty good success. Using a solar cooker is very similar to using a slow cooker. We'll definitely be using solar cookers again this summer and perhaps even earlier in the season.

The compost tumbler plan was aborted in favor of the worm bin (check out the archives for Monday May 23rd). I couldn't bear to spend the money on the compost tumbler. I'm really pleased with the worm bin. Those little guys are still eating away in their winter domain (a huge old cooler in our basement). They were instrumental in the success of our container gardening this past summer.

I never got around to doing anything with the rain barrel but I'm still planning to give that a try.

Planning our retirement is still high on our list of priorities. We used this year to take a hard look at where we are and where we'd like to be. Aside from the obvious things like paying off debt, things like planting the currant bushes, making plumbing repairs and insulating the attic at the cabin all tie into this. We want to get the big expenses out of the way while we are still working. We still don't have an exact timeline on this but in 2006 we will continue to solidify our plans. Spending the summer here really helped us realize that we could live happily in a smaller, simpler house in a smaller, slower community.

As for reading and trying new recipes, for me this is a joy and there will be more of that in 2006 as well.

When I teach Yogaball, I end our meditation with this thought:

Remember that yoga is a practice and there is something to be learned each and every time we practice, both in our successes and the things that continue to challenge us.

I think this applies to frugal living as well. Happy New Year to all!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Some Goals for 2006

Its that time again. Here are some of the things that top our list of things we'd like to accomplish in the new year.

First, I want to pay off all of our debt, (excluding the mortgages). We kept having runs of big expenses in 2005. They always came in bunches. You know the kind, you just spend $1000 on a car, then an $800 medical bill arrives, followed by a $1200 car repair. I want all that gone! We've mapped it out and should have it paid off by November. As soon as that's paid off, we'll shift into paying off the mortgages early.

Second, I want to continue to prep our cabin for our eventual permanent move there. There are repairs that need to be done and space/storage issues to work out (our house is about 1,800 square feet, the cabin is just 1,000) but mainly I'm talking about more plantings. This year we put in the currant bushes. I'd like to add something like that each year, so that by the time we make the move, we have well established, productive fruit bushes. This year, I'm hoping to add gooseberries and possibly blueberries. What I actually add will depend on how productive a plant is and how shade/acidic soil tolerant it is.

When I get dejected about the size of the land (its measured in feet rather than acres) and its ability to produce food, I draw inspiration from my great aunts. Behind their apartment house in Brooklyn, they had planted an incredible garden of tomatoes, peppers, fig trees and heaven knows what else all in a plot of land considerably smaller than ours.

Third, I want to continue to simplify and declutter the house. I'm a packrat at heart.

On a personal level, I'd like to finally get my website up and running. I've got the domain name, now I just need to get my butt in gear and actually put something together in Frontpage. I'm toying with a lot of different ideas that I'd like to explore but I need to get that website going first!

Tomorrow, I'll look back at our goals for 2005 and how we did.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Loving All the Leftovers

I'm kind of sad, tonight I might actually have to cook something from scratch for dinner! We have been living on Christmas leftovers since Sunday and its been a bit of a vacation for me. I've had a little extra time for other projects, like those darn drapes that I don't think I'm ever going to finish! So how do you keep the family from revolting when you're serving leftovers night after night? Here's how I did it.

First you may need to vary the presentation. In general, leftovers presented in the same crusty pot they were cooked in are unappealing to anyone. Having said that, some things work really well in the original pot. For example, the Tofurkey was long gone but the pot still had a good amount of stuffing in it, as well as a spoon or two of mashed potatoes and some leftover roasted veggies. We also had a huge amount of leftover gravy. I added some rehydrated tvp to the pot and mixed in some gravy. Viola, faux turkey casserole.

The Red Bens and Rice returned first as itself served with some leftover squash biscuits that were toasted to give them a new lease on life. They made their final appearance as burgers when I mixed the last bit with some oatmeal and flaxseed meal (these work as binders to hold the burger together.) I served the burgers with a soup made from the leftover veggies and broth from the gluten pot roast recipe and some leftover foccacia bread. The gluten roast itself never made it long enough to become anything but itself, my daughter and I really enjoyed it.

The leftover pasta was combined with the sauce, sprinkled with a cheese substitute called Fake Fake (its a mix of walnuts, nutritional yeast and garlic powder), and baked in the oven. I served this with focaccia as well.

The White Beans and Tomatoes haven't made a second appearance yet because I opted to freeze them. This will make my world an easier place on some future hectic night.

The baked goods have all made appearances as quick breakfasts for my husband on his way to work. A quick toasting does wonders for biscuits, breads and Apple Butter Pull Aparts that have gotten a little soggy from being in the fridge.

Shayla asked for some input on her new slow cooker, my response is in the comments section of yesterday's post for anyone else who might be interested.

Tomorrow I'll share some of our goals for 2006.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

So How Was that Holiday Menu?

To be frugal is to admit what worked and what didn't, especially in the kitchen. Having said that here's a review of the culinary side of our holiday. BTW, Ruthie was right on target with her plan to pare down their holiday menu (she is wise beyond her years!) There is part of me that is so afraid of running out of food that I always make way too much, but we'll get to that later.

Here was my plan for Christmas Eve Dinner:
Tofurkey with Roasted Root Vegetables and gravy
Potato Rolls
Molasses Cookies

Here's what we actually had:
The only change to this menu was the potato rolls. I made mashed potatoes instead. I should mention that since Tofurkeys are pricey little buggers, I always make a batch of my own rice stuffing to go along with it. The molasses cookies were the standout hit of the evening.

Here was my plan for Christmas Day Brunch:
No Fry Donuts (The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery)
Apple Butter & Pumpkin Butter Pull Aparts (Vegetarian Resource Group)
Squash Biscuits (Grandma's Wartime Kitchen)
Cinnamon Yeast Bread (Feed Your Family for $12.00/day)
Homemade applesauce
Strawberry Banana Smoothie

Here's what we actually had:
Time ran short for food prep on Christmas Eve and because of that we nixed the donuts. We ran out of pumpkin butter, so we just had Apple Butter Pull Aparts. No one was in the mood for smoothies, so I didn't bother making them. As for the apple sauce, my inlaws brought tangerines and we had those instead. The cinnamon bread was the standout hit of the morning but everyone enjoyed the biscuits and pull aparts as well.

Here was my plan for Christmas Day Dinner:
Not Your Mama's Pot Roast (Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson)
Pasta with Chunky Sauce (my own chunky sauce made with TVP to give a meaty texture)
Red Beans and Rice (Harvest Cookbook by Nava Atlas)
White Beans and Tomatoes (Miserly Moms by Johnni McCoy)
Molasses Cookies
Any Leftovers from brunch may be used as desserts
The Most Fabulous Frozen Peanut Butter cookies on the Planet Earth we used carob instead of cocoa powder

Here's what we actually had:
Actually there were no big changes here except not a single molasses cookie made it to dinner and I made Foccacia to go with the pasta. BTW, Foccacia is just pizza dough with Italian Seasonings and a spray of olive oil over the top. The pasta was the big hit but that is to be expected. People like to stick with the familiar, especially when dabbling in vegetarian fare. Most everyone tried a bit of everything. As I also suspected, the gluten roast was only enjoyed by my kids. The texture of gluten is something that not everyone is ready for, still I'm glad we included it this year.

Tomorrow I'll tell you about the plethora of leftovers and how we made them palatable day after day!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas in the Rearview Mirror

The holidays always amaze me. Like a roller coaster ride, you creak up the hill and then suddenly, its happening, you're flying down the hill whether you're ready or not. Sometime on Christmas morning, I experience that same feeling, company is here, ready or not! Overall, I'm really happy with the way our holiday unfolded.

Our kids made us a beautiful patchwork quilt for our bed upstate (baby, its cold up there!) Perhaps it was the ultimate testament to our journey into frugality as a family. The only supply they bought new was quilting thread. The fabric was from freecycle, I believe a local seamstress was retiring and clearing out her fabric supply. The backing was a queen size fleece blanket that we already had. I had bought the batting over a year ago, on sale of course, with the intention to make a quilt for the same bed. To give my kids proper credit, I should remind everyone that they are 14, 13, 6, and 5. (My 13 yr old, the sewer of the group, did ask for some technical advice along the way but the kids did all the planning, cutting, sewing, decorating and embroidering.) I'm not sure anything that follows can top this gift!

For the kids, we kept it low key. We gave the kids personalized bathrobes (most were from the thrift store, one was acquired from my sister-that adds cool appeal, one was made from scratch using towels.) The kids all modeled these Christmas morning. Learning to embroider is such a useful skill at a time like this. The kids also got some books, some shirts, a new sheet set and the third Harry Potter DVD (used of course!) Jim and I exchanged some records (he collects them) and books (I love Joyce Carol Oates.) We also reminded the kids of the canoe we had purchased earlier in the year as a family Christmas present.

Santa brought the girls old style metal Atra razors (I've mentioned before these last forever. These were the most expensive item we bought, $57.77 for both of them on ebay, but, when you consider how long I've had mine, they were a bargain.), white Ked type sneakers (they wanted to decorate these with fabric paint), shaving cream and hair gel.

For the boys, the big man left a guitar (freecycle), a recorder (ebay), crayons, colored pencils, drawing paper, wallets and gloves. Throughout the day, the boys were seen playing music and discussing the songs they should write. At the end of the night, we found them in their room, tushes sticking up in the air, coloring.

For extended family, we made a variety of things based on the recievers lifestyle (I mean we couldn't give homemade placemats to my 18 yr old sister who still lives at home.) For some we made placemats and matching napkins or potholders, for others record bowls filled with cookies. Everyone got a flower pot decorated by the boys.

Not all the gifts were homemade, some were acquired creatively. One of my sisters was looking to go back to the gym. We gave her a gym bag, water bottle and jump rope that I had planned to use as a giveaway at work two years ago but never got around to. My brother recieved a brand new, still with tags on, Rangers pullover jacket that had been left at a friends house when they moved in. The price tag said $100, I got it for nothing and my brother thought it was a great story.

Some gifts were a combination of homemade and acquired, like the ceramic pig lamp for my sister in law (she loves pigs!) The lamp was perfect, the shade was not. We recovered the shade with fabric that matched her home's color scheme.

Three gifts were just bought, a griddle for my parents that we chipped in on with my brother, a bath set for my youngest sister, and a mesh bag and bath toys for my one year old niece.

The final price tag for the whole holiday was about $100 ($225 if you include the earlier purchase of the canoe). Tomorrow: a review of the food we served and how we're dealing with the leftovers.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

It Beginning to Get a Little Manic

Things are falling into place, although I'm really regretting my offer to sub for a friends two classes Saturday morning. What was I thinking???

Tomorrow, I will spend the early part of the day working with the kids on finishing presents. If all goes well, in the evening I will switch over to food prep. If all doesn't go well, I'll be sewing at the kitchen table while directing a teenage girl to chop, slice, mix and stir. You do what you've got to do. Its a fun kind of mania, especially because the kids are into it.

I will try for one more update tomorrow evening but there is a very good chance that there will be no postings until Monday morning.

For last minute food ideas check out,,

Happy Holidays and Peace to All

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Our Christmas Menu

After much deliberation and scanning what's in the freezer and cupboards, we've settled on a menu. I also take into account what can be prepared ahead of time, what can be cooked in the slow cooker, what needs the oven and what needs the stove top. There is no bigger pain in my behind than planning a great menu only to discover you don't have enough room to cook it.

There are a couple of things worth mentioning. First, I don't include a lot of snack foods in my menu, that is deliberate. We don't need to snack on salty yum yums all day long. Also my family typically brings an assortment of snack foods. Second although this may seem like a huge amount of food, for the number of people we entertain, it really isn't. Everything I've chosen freezes very well so leftovers are welcome. Finally, since few of our family are vegetarian much less vegan, I like to offer a variety of taste experiences. I include the familiar, pasta, with the unfamiliar, gluten roast. Here's the menu...

Christmas Eve Dinner
Tofurkey with Roasted Root Vegetables and gravy
Potato Rolls
Molasses Cookies
(I'm sure there will be a fair number of candy canes and other treats from a variety of sources as well.)

Christmas Day Brunch
No Fry Donuts (The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery)
Apple Butter & Pumpkin Butter Pull Aparts (Vegetarian Resource Group)
Squash Biscuits (Grandma's Wartime Kitchen)
Cinnamon Yeast Bread (Feed Your Family for $12.00/day)
Homemade applesauce
Strawberry Banana Smoothie

Christmas Day Dinner
Not Your Mama's Pot Roast (Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson)
Pasta with Chunky Sauce (my own chunky sauce made with TVP to give a meaty texture)
Red Beans and Rice (Harvest Cookbook by Nava Atlas)
White Beans and Tomatoes (Miserly Moms by Johnni McCoy)
Molasses Cookies
Any Leftovers from brunch may be used as desserts
The Most Fabulous Frozen Peanut Butter cookies on the Planet Earth we used carob instead of cocoa powder

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Holiday Finances

My holiday party at work was yesterday evening. It was a low key affair, in the gym. Everyone brought a dessert to share. I got to try wasabi crackers with tabouli. It was hot enough to bring a tear to your eye but really delicious. The conversation was the best part.

One close friend confessed to spending $1500 on immediate family. I almost passed out. When I told her our holiday expenses so far were about $25, it was her turn to gape. (Its actually closer to $150. If you recall we bought a canoe for the family back in late October that was tied into our holiday budget. I did tell her that once I remembered.) What followed was a fascinating conversation on the act of holiday giving.

In the end, we weren't that far apart on our philosophies. My friend had only used cash, it was money that was specifically ear marked for holiday spending and she had not impacted her overall cash flow in any way. She had spent what she could afford to spend. I should also mention that she is a very highly paid computer programmer who moonlights as a fitness instructor, a scrapbooking consultant, a Mary Kay consultant and a trainer at Uno's. We all make choices.

On the food front, let the holiday food prep begin! Tonight we will finalize the holiday menu. Christmas Eve dinner is a quiet affair with just Jim, myself and the kids. My brother, his wife and daughter will stop by for dessert and coffee. Christmas Day is my big gig. We call it an open house. Family and friends come any time that is convenient for them. The hope is that this will lower the stress of a set time. We start the day with brunch type foods and then around 1:30 we change everything over to more substantial, dinner type food.

I'll share our decisions tomorrow morning.

Monday, December 19, 2005

We've Run Out of Pasta!!

We ran out of pasta last week, talk about inconvenient timing. Our food cooperative order is scheduled to arrive on 12/24. The challenge, can I make it to Saturday without any pasta in the house?

Since both of my quickie meals rely on pasta (Mac Uncheese and Peanut Noodles), I need a quickie alternative. I've set my sights on bulgur. I don't think it would be partcularly good in either of my quickie meals but it does cook quickly and the grains stay seperate, unlike millet which always winds up a gummy mess in my house.

Last night I tried this substitution in a recipe from the Vegetarian Resource Group for skillet macaroni with tvp and sauce. It actally substituted very nicely, almost better than the original. I've found in the past pasta can get gummy in this recipe.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Busy Little Elves

Its very busy around here. Everyone seems to have a project that they are working on. Jim is putting together his first batch of homemade wine. The girls are working with the boys on a present for Jim and I. I'm alternating between doing laundry and working on holiday presents.

So far I have two bathrobes personalized, one with a name the other with a name and picture of a dog that looks remarkably like ours. The picture was scavenged off a never worn tshirt that my sister was getting rid of. I'm currently working on a belt for a robe that was missing one. There's definitely a bathrobe/sleepwear theme going on this Christmas.

The pumpkin butter was pretty good. We used it to top pancakes, in place of apple butter in the Apple Butter Pull Aparts recipe and my sons ate it out of a bowl as is.

I'm going to go with some lentils for dinner. We need a quick cooking meal.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Pumpkin Butter and Kale Stems

When I was making bread the other day, I put it near the wood stove to rise. We are currently enjoying some of the fluffiest whole wheat bread I've ever made. I'll definitely use that trick again.

Last night I was on a quest to find a recipe for pumpkin butter. None of my cookbooks had it. If you knew how many cookbooks I have and how many time periods they cover, you'd understand how impressive that is. I ended up online and even didn't have a recipe. A google search revealed a plethora of recipes. I'm experimenting with one in my crock pot now. I'm hoping to use the pumpkin butter as a filling for holiday baking. We'll see how it goes.

I managed to get one of the bathrobes embroidered yesterday afternoon while everyone was at school. I'm hoping to get two more done today but we're already working on a two hour delay and I'm afraid school might be canceled all together.

Last night we had chick peas cooked with stewed tomatoes, onion, garlic, turnip greens, basil and finely chopped kale stems. I served this over brown rice cooked with some garlic scapes I had frozen a few months back. It was delicious.

I had read that kale stems can be used like celery but was a little apprehensive since my experience was that they were too woody to be palatable. During one of our steaming/freezing sessions this growing season, we finely chopped the stems and steamed them so we could give them a try over the winter. I'm really glad we did.

I feel experimental today, and with a two hour delay I don't have to go to work, so I'm planning to try a new recipe for dinner. Now I just have to find one that appeals to me.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Magical Culinary Combination?

I'm beginning to think that the following combination is some sort of magic culinary bullet.

1/2 cup tamari
1 Tbs nutritional yeast
1 Tbs maple syrup
2 tsp garlic powder

That combination made some fairly bitter greens, chick peas and bulgur into "the best soup ever." Jim said that and believe me, he's not one to give out unwarranted praise.

I have a two theories about this. First, I gave the greens a whirl in the Vitamix. I think the fact that no one ended up with a chewy mouthful of bitterness had a lot to do with the success of the soup. Also, I served the soup with Oat Sticks, which are basically quick bread sticks. They were a high fun factor food which ties into my long standing when in doubt add a fun food theory. Even grown ups like to have a little fun.

I'm a lot more confident today about getting through all the greens in the freezer. I should also mention that even though I'm calling this soup, if you stuck your spoon straight into it and let go, the spoon would continue standing. This was very thick soup.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Gooey Squash

Yesterday afternoon I discovered that one of the butternut squash in the basement had gotten all gooey. That one went out to the compost bin and the other eleven got cut in half and baked. We had some with dinner. They were so delicious that we just ate them plain. I think everyone assumed I had put some margarine on it but I hadn't.

The rest were scraped out and put into a bowl in the fridge. I made squash biscuits this morning and I'll probably make some muffins tomorrow. The rest will get frozen in the amounts that I commonly use.

I just put some chick peas up to soak. I'll be making the chickpea and greens soup tonight. I'm going to see if I can sneak in some of those not so favorite greens. Later today I will be baking bread. The upswing of this is the heat of the oven will be welcome. Its mighty cold in NY right now.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Holiday Countdown

Last night I made veggie chili with the kidney beans. We topped it with some leftover cheez sauce (Easy Breezy Cheezy Sauce from How it All Vegan). I added a little oatmeal as a binder to the leftover peanut soup/black eyed pea concoction and shaped them into burgers to have with the chili. I thought we might have some left for lunches but we didn't.

On the holiday front, some good progress has been made with the kids. Wednesdays are family day at our local Salvation Army thrift store. That means half off everything except one tag color. Last week I was able to get bathrobes for both girls, really nice ones. I'm embroidering their names on them but I have to do it while they are at school. I have several easy reader books for Ameleii. Yesterday was the coup de gras, I got Kyle a kids guitar off of freecycle. He's been asking for one for weeks.

I acquired a Scooby Doo sheet set and valance off freecycle a while back. That had me stumped, what good is one sheet set when you have two boys who both like Scooby Doo? I ended up pairing the patterned sheets up with plain sheets to make two complete sets. One set has a plain blue sheet on the bottom and a Scooby Doo sheet on top, the other a Scooby Doo sheet on the bottom and a plain sheet on top. The pillow case was missing so the girls are taking plain white pillow cases and personalizing one for each boy.

On Sunday, the boys and Jim mixed and shaped dough for the dog biscuits that we give all canine family members. They are in the freezer waiting to be baked. The girls are working on their own projects as well. Its all still a work in progress, but at least I feel like we're making progress.

Is this Christmas on the cheap too extreme? I don't think so. My kids don't feel deprived, in fact they get right into the challenge of it all.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Finishing Up Before Getting Started

Sometimes you have to finish one project before you can get started on another. What a pain it can be! I still had a pile of fleece and four curtains to finish lining from my project weeks ago. I just never got around to the last four curtains. Now I needed some of the leftover fleece for a holiday project but I had to make sure I left enough for the curtains. There was no way around it, I had to at least cut the fleece and pin it to the curtains. Its all pinned but I still need to finish sewing 2 1/2 curtains. At least I know I have enough fleece left.

I ended up making peanut soup last night. I added black eyed peas and bulgur to it. The whole concoction ended up being more like a beans with a sauce than a soup. It was really good. Tasha chopped the veggies from the fridge to make vegetable soup. We didn't bother with the beets, turnips, carrots or celeriac since these all store well in the fridge. On the other hand, the bok choy, mystery greens, radishes and daikon radishes needed to be used. I tossed them into a pot with some onion and let it simmer for a while. We added a little tamari and then pureed the whole thing. We had a little last night, it wasn't bad but it needed some dressing up.

When in doubt about a meal, always serve a favorite food with it. We had homemade French fries with last nights meal, just in case!

On tonight's menu...something with kidney beans.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Dogs, Holidays and Cleaning Out the Fridge

All Santa's little elves are scurrying around as I write this. There are plenty of craft projects to be started and many more to be completed. Later this afternoon the boys (Jim included) will begin making the mix for the dog biscuits. There are a lot of special dogs in our family who need gifts too! Each dog will get a bag of biscuits and a braided rope toy. The braided ropes are made from old cotton shirts. The dogs love them and you can throw them in the washer if they get too nasty.

Dinner tonight will revolve around cleaning out the remaining fresh veggies from the fridge. To my memory there is still some bok choy, turnips, beets, radishes, carrots and cabbage in there. Lately, things have been so busy that its been easier to dig into the freezer or cupboard for precut, prelabeled produce than to take the time to wash and cut the things in the fridge. Who says canning and freezing don't save time?

Anyway, all signs point to vegetable soup as part of tonights meal. There's a good chance that peanut butter will be involved as well since I have to grind some more peanut butter for the week. As I've said before, I like to use the water I rinse the blender with rather than just pitch it.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A Successful Holiday Gift

Yesterday was the first of outing of this years handmade holiday presents. Naturally, I was up completing it Tuesday evening when I should have been sleeping but I'm a born procrastinator. These gifts were for three special coworkers at the preschool where I do a nutrition program. (BTW, I don't personally think every coworker needs a gift but these ladies are more longtime friends than coworkers.)

I made them a quilted potholder each using multicultural angel fabric and a blanket for the batting. I already had both of the raw materials on hand so the cash outlay was nil. I used three of the flower pots that my sons painted this weekend and a candy cane. The pot holder was folded into quarters and stuffed into the flower pot so it looked much like a flower. The candy cane was inserted next to it. It didn't look like anything in particular but it added a nice touch.

I added this message to the tag:

Here's a pot holder for all the wonderful things you cook this holiday season, a candy cane to sweeten things and a flower pot to help remind you that spring will be here eventually!

This was perfect because all of these ladies like to cook and garden and none of them like the cold weather.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

My Granola Recipe

Harmonia asked about it and I thought I'd post it here rather than hide it in the comments section. This recipe has evolved from an old Vegetarian Times recipe and the one in The Complete Tightwad Gazette. I've simplified it by eliminating every extra step possible.

Katie's Granola

In a large bowl combine:
5 cups rolled oats
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup sunflower seed (walnuts or almonds work well also but sunflower seeds are the cheapest option)
1/4 flax seed meal or wheat germ

In a smaller glass microwavable bowl or in a small pot combine:
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup molasses
3/4 cup sucanat or brown sugar

Heat these ingredients until the sugar melts. If you're using the microwave do it in no more than one minute increments and make sure you don't use a plastic container. On stove top, heat over low to medium heat until sugar melts. Either way, stir frequently. Pour melted mixture over rolled oat mixture. Then pour a bit of boiling water into whatever you used for the sugar mixture and whisk it around to get the residue off. Don't use more than a cup of water. Pour this over the oat mixture. Mix until everything is coated. Spread onto greased cookie sheet and place in 350 degree oven. Bake 15 minuted, stir mixture and return to oven for 15 more minutes. Let cool and enjoy.

If you like dried fruit add it when you serve the granola, don't bake it with the granola.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Last Minute Meal

Lately, I seem to be running perpetually short on time. I keep finding myself at about 3:30 without a concrete plan for dinner and very little prep work done. Five minutes later my sons get off the bus, the dog needs to run for half an hour and there's a pile of book bags and papers on the kitchen table. Its not the best time for me to ponder what culinary delight I can pull together.

Last night, I checked the freezer/cupboard inventory clip board and made a quick plan. I know this sounds anal but the clip board is a huge time saver. I grabbed a container of split pea soup from the freezer, a quart of canned carrots from the cupboard and an arm load of potatoes from the cabinet. I certainly wasn't in the mood for split pea soup and I was pretty sure no one else would be either so I needed a treat to make it fun, that's where the potatoes came in. I scrubbed the potatoes and cut them into strips to make French fries. The carrots and split pea soup went into a pot, along with some leftover bulgur. No one complained about the soup because they were too busy eating the French fries! We ended the meal with popcorn which, despite its simplicity, everyone loves.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Holiday Ideas

Yesterday I made two big batches of granola. It was a nice change from muffins for breakfast, although it does require more time to eat. Today I've got to make bread, I meant to yesterday but the holiday crafting began and took longer than I anticipated. You just can't walk away from a 5 & 6 year old who are wielding sponges and craft paint.

This year we wanted to give something that was not only frugal but useful. That can be a struggle, useless crap is cheap, easy to make and easy to give. Jim helped me come up with a really good idea that takes advantage of materials we already have on hand and also shares a little piece of our philosophy. Hey Audrey if you're reading, skip this part for now. We're making placemats and matching (or possibly complementing colors) napkins. The whole family will have a role in their production. Jim even offered to sew!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Steamed Brown Bread in the Slow Cooker

I swear people eat more in colder weather or maybe its because everyones been out running with Biscuit (labs need a lot of exercise). In any case, I can't keep muffins, biscuits, scones or any quick grab food in the house! Each night this week I've thought that breakfast was set for the next day only to discover its gone.

Last night I was too tired to stay up while something baked in the oven so I gave steamed brown bread a try. The recipe was in 125 Best Vegetarian Recipes by Judith Finlayson but, as always, I experimented a bit. Her recipe called for cooking on high 2-3 hours and using 3 individual 13 oz cans to cook in. I cooked it on low overnight in a pyrex bowl and it came out fine. She also used white flour, rye flour and whole wheat flour.

Here's my version of the recipe:

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup cornmeal
2 Tbs sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups plain soymilk plus 3 tsp vinegar (this is a buttermilk substitute)
1/2 cup molasses
2 Tbs olive oil (I used this but I think canola oil would work just as well)

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Combine wet ingredients in seperate bowl and add to dry ingredients. Pour into greased oven proof container of choice (remember it has to fit inside your slow cooker). Cover with foil and place in slow cooker. Pour boiling water into slow cooker. It should come up about an inch of the way on the OUTSIDE of the container with the bread batter. I screwed this step up and filled the slow cooker to an inch from the top of the container and it worked out fine. Turn cooker on low, cover and cook about 8 hours.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Frugal No Bark Solution

In an effort to get ready fot the arrival of Biscuit this past Sunday, I had to suck it up and go to Petco. I'm not a fan of big box retailers, but I needed a very specific collar and I needed it ASAP. Sometimes you have to compromise. The irony is, in the long run, I ended up returning the collar, it wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Two visits to Petco in less than a week. That's a new record for me.

The variety in a store like that is enough to make my eyes fall out. Looking for an appropriate chew toy took half an hour because there were so many. Am I the only one who yearns for the old Sears catalog where there were generally three choices of any given product and they were labeled good, better and best? But I digress.

Biscuit has had his fair share of health problems arthritis from malnutrition during a growth spurt (I know it sounds ridiculous but if you had seen him limping you'd understand) to hook worms. Now that Biscuit is eating regularly and taking meds for the arthritis and hook worms, he's a much perkier guy. Last night he was so perky, he wouldn't stop barking when we crated him for the night.

Now I know there are quite a few no bark items sold and I know they're pretty pricey. Thanks to my neighbor's suggestion, I threw some change into an old empty coffee can and shook it whenever the dog barked. The result, almost instantaneous quiet. The cost, nothing the coins were foreign ones that we've saved over the years. The benefit to my mental health, priceless.