Friday, June 30, 2006

All My Bags Are Packed, I'm Ready to Go...

Actually, they're not all packed, in fact, I'm way behind! There's a franticness (is that a word??) about life in our house right now as we try to tie up all the loose ends before heading to the Adirondacks for the summer. I suppose it didn't help that I spent a good portion of this week working extra hours because in September, in addition to teaching my regular fitness classes, I'll be managing the women's gym! The timing is perfect, my youngest will be in school full time come September and the job is only about 20 hours per week. Unfortunately, now wasn't the optimal time to get trained but we all have to compromise sometimes.

We're all looking forward to the way life slows down once we get there. I'm really looking forward to exploring the farmer's markets up there. I never really had an opportunity to do this last year. Jim's planned his own film festival to share with the girls this summer, with movies taken out from the library of course!

In the past this time of year has always made me vaguely uncomfortable. I've always felt a little guilty that we have this great little getaway while others don't. This time of year I'm forced to acknowledge it as we say goodbye to friends and coworkers. In fact the kids have all been instructed to downplay the house if they mention it to friends.

We say things like, its just a little cabin, its not on the lake, the property is tiny as if to say you shouldn't be jealous because its really very flawed. In reality, these things, while more or less true, don't matter to us at all.

This year has been different for me, I've felt much less guilt about our little getaway. I think its the realization that we worked for every penny that went into the house. Instead of taking expensive vacations or buying fancy cars or buying expensive grown toys, we bought a summer house. Its not that its a better decision, its just a better decision for us. I wish more people would realize that because I've come to the conclusion that jealousy is a wasted emotion.

So I'll be spending the rest of the morning, along with my kids, trying to cram things like bulk purchased whole wheat bread flour and dried beans into every nook and cranny of my 1999 minivan while still leaving room for people and dogs. Later today, once the kids are strategically positioned in the minivan to grab any of the container garden plants that try to roll away when I turn onto the entrance ramp of the highway, we'll hit the road.

Twelve hours from now, I expect that the car will be unpacked, the boys will be in bed, exhausted from bike riding and the girls will be making a batch of popcorn getting ready for Jim to arrive and get our movie started. It isn't glamorous but it makes us happy!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Magic Loaf Studio and Meatos

Jennifer from The Vegan Lunchbox has a great feature on her blog call The Magic Loaf Studio. It shows you how to make a customized vegan dinner loaf. It is ideal for those of us who are looking to keep our food costs down because you can choose to use the ingredient options that you have on hand. I havn't tried it yet but I plan to in the next few days.

I did try the recipe for Meatos which was posted to the The Vegetarian Group a few weeks back. I really like the recipe but I hate the name. I used chunky peanut butter (natural peanut only peanut butter) and diced tomatoes with a teaspoon of chili powder because I didn't have any diced tomatoes with diced green chilies.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

What Do I Do With This Food

The kids finally discovered the raspberry bushes yesterday. With all the rain we've been having, they hadn't really noticed it. The four of them went out while dinner was cooking and picked all the newly ripened berries. They were just giddy about it. We've been part of the CSA so long, I don't think it occured to them that we might grow some of the same things at home. We also got our first taste of ripe white currants yesterday.

I mixed the two berries together to make a batch of 8 Minute Jam since we were almost out. It turned out quite delicious. Another option is to freeze the berries as is to use later.

Yesterday was our pickup day at the CSA. I think the greatest challenge of a CSA versus a backyard garden is the storage. With a backyard garden you can harvest a little over several days. With the CSA, it all comes home in one giant batch. Dealing with it can be a bit overwhelming. Check out this post from last year to give you some ideas for dealing with the abundance.

Its raining again in NY. I fear I may never finish my rock project.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Raspberry Crumble Bars

Yesterday, I discovered that we had some ripe red currants as well as some ripe black raspberries in our yard. It was such a thrill to fill a bowl from our own patch!

Now that the kids are all home from school for the summer, the kitchen looked like Grand Central as dinner prep began. Tasha worked on emptying and reloading the dishwasher. Leenie chopped a large head of cabbage for the Oriental Cilantro Slaw from The Complete Vegetarian Kitchen by Lorna Sass. Ameleii was the ingredients guy. Now that he can read he's quite good at getting what you need for a particular recipe. Kyle was busy putting away ingredients that I no longer needed.

There was a hum about the kitchen as everyone worked, sometimes grudgingly, together. Then again, it may just have been the rumbling of our stomachs. Not all of my kids like to cook but its a skill that will serve them well as they get older. I include them, whether they want to be included or not.

As the meal began to fall into place, everyone's thoughts kept returning to the fresh berries. What were we going to do with them? There wasn't really enough to let everyone just eat some. Of course that was largely due to the fact that everyone had been eating them. I wanted to make some kind of a tart but wasn't really sure where to begin so I began pulling recipe books out.

Inspiration finally came from Cooking with PETA. Using the recipe for Raspberry Crumble Bars as a guide, I concocted this delicious dessert which reminded everyone of the Raspberry Linzer Tarts we used to get at a local farmer's market before going vegan.

This recipe is still a work in progress. The results are crumbly and don't maintain a bar shape. You might want to add a little more liquid to hold it all together better, I plan to. For anyone interested in recipes with little sugar, this is not the one. I think you could easily decrease the sugar without destroying the recipe. I plan to try using half the amount of sugar next time.

Katie's Version of Raspberry Crumble Bars
Combine the following with a whisk or fork:
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
1 Tbs flaxseed meal whisked into 2 Tbs of water

In a seperate bowl combine:
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 Tbs baking powder
1 1/3 cups shredded coconut

Add dry ingredients to wet. Press 2/3 of the mixture into a greased 8 x 8 pan. Place black rapsberries and red currants on top of this mixture. We used about 2 cups of the berries. Use a fork to crumble the remaining dough on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Everybody Get Exercising!

I finally broke down and ordered a WalkyDog for Biscuit a few weeks ago. It arrived last week and has proven to be a wonderful investment. A big thanks to Audrey for the tip! A welll exercised dog is definitely a mellow, happy dog.

We're still working on mastering the communication piece of the puzzle. At 78 pounds, he needs to better understand that he cannot chase small woodland animals while attached to my bike. I need to better recognize that sometimes when he starts dragging me off the road its because he needs to pee. (A quick walk before biking really helps.) We'll get there, its only been a few days. Its great to see Biscuit run as fast as he can, which is much faster than I could ever hope to run!

Speaking of running, this is my last week of teaching aerobics until the beginning of September. I always find this a little scary. I normally teach about 8 hours of fitness classes a week. On one hand, I welcome the break but on the other hand, there's a fat chick inside of me just waiting to get out. Even though I'm very active all summer, its not the same level of intensity. I thought I'd drop dead teaching a senior citizens aerobics class after a summer of not teaching last September. This is where the running comes in.

My teenage daughters have asked me to start jogging with them over the summer. They are both awesome runners. I am not, but its a great way for us to motivate each other to stay in shape over the summer. Besides its too easy to cheat when you're using the bike by coasting whenever you get tired. If you're interested in jogging but don't know how to get started, check out How To Start Running Now - An 8 Week Training Program to Start Running

Running with the girls also ties into our plan to get an early start on our days this summer. The girls and I would all rather sleep until 10:00am but the boys would rather be up at 7:00am. This creates an icky morning ritual of trying to get the boys back to sleep that I don't want to repeat this summer. Therefore the jogging will begin at 6:30am and end at 7:00am. The added benefit to this is we'll stop screwing up Jim's internal clock when he comes up for his long weekends.

On a final fitness note, I'll be working on yoga this summer with Kyle. You wouldn't suspect it unless you knew what you're looking for clinically but my youngest son Kyle has mild cerebral palsy. Besides the physical and occupational therapy services he's gotten since he was a baby, I've also done yoga with him guided by a wonderful book Yoga for the Special Child by Sonia Sumar. Since he doesn't get PT or OT services over the summer, I believe it is extra important for me to devote this time to him.

If you're interested in other yoga resources for kids, check out Shana Banana Yoga. Both of my sons love to do yoga with this fun video and the songs she sings are infectious. Another tape my sons enjoy is Yoga Fitness For Kids Ages 3-6 with Leah Kalish .

Friday, June 23, 2006

Super Simple Chinese Food

Last night I made this super easy dish.

3 cups boiling water
3 cups TVP
1/4 cup tamari
1 tsp ground ginger

Set this mixture aside.

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat(or put some oil in a regular pan) and toss in:
4 scallions, thinly sliced, green parts included
a small handful of garlic scapes, sliced
(if you didn't have these on hand substitute a regular onion and a clove or two of garlic)

Let this cook for a minute or two and then add the tvp mixture. Let this brown while you prepare the following:
1 large head of green cabbage, thinly sliced
3 heads of broccoli, including stems, cut the heads into florets and chop the stems
4 carrots, sliced into coins

In a seperate large pot toss in all the chopped vegetables with a bit of water and cover. This will look like a huge amount but it cooks down quite a bit. Cook for a few minutes (it depends on how crunchy or soft you like your veggies) and then stir in 1/4 cup tamari.

Serve vegetables over rice topped with tvp mixture. Everyone loved this and it was enough to serve 6 with a bit of leftovers for Jim to take for lunch.

I normally would have cooked the tvp in the oven but the oven is still dead so I did it stovetop instead.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Why I'm a Vegan

Yesterday Maggie asked, "Why do vegans not eat animal products? I don't mean the meat, I mean eggs, milk,etc.."

I suspect its different for everyone but here's my take on it. Let me take you all the way back to the beginning of my vegetarian journey to explain.

Back in 1995, I was taking an anatomy and physiology class in college. Two things happened there. First, I had to dissect a cat. Aside from the overall disgust of seeing a dead animal on what looked like a large cookie sheet, this also made me miserable because I had two cats at home. I assuaged the guilt by giving the cats extra treats when I came home.

The second thing that happened was a little more subtle. One day we were reading about human muscle fiber bundles in class. That night for dinner I made steak. When I looked down at my plate there were muscle fiber bundles looking back at me. That was the beginning of my life as a vegetarian.

Now for the answer to Maggie's question. We went on happily eating eggs, milk and especially cheese for a long time. Eggs were the first to go, although not for very vegan reasons initially. At first, I was just tired of hearing about the threat of salmonella.

Then I discovered during a routine physical that my cholesterol was high. The only remaining dietary cause I could find was the amount of cheese that I ate. Since I didn't want to go on meds, I stopped eating cheese and started exercising. My cholesterol went down about 30 points.

By March of 2003 the only animal products left in our diet were some milk products. Thats when we went to a talk at our local vegetarian society given by Gary Yourofsky. Along with the talk, he showed clips from his video From Liberator to Educator. He's a little intense but he made some good points. It was the first time I had ever seen the deplorable conditions that animals raised for food live in.

I was patting myself on the back and feeling pretty good that I was vegetarian (ie. I wasn't contributing to all that suffering) when he mentioned the acceptable levels of pus in milk. Cows like humans can get mastitis and when they do, because milking machines aren't as delicate as baby cows about their milk needs, there will be pus. Some of that pus gets into the milk. I'll let you do the google search on that but I warn you, you'll never be the same. We ditched dairy and went vegan that night.

Over time we've come to feel the same way Ruthie does in this quote, "I always tell people that cows and chicken kept for their milk and eggs are treated no less deplorably than those kept for their meat... they are usually killed in the end, or die an unnaturally premature death, so it always seemed to me that if you eat eggs and milk you're contributing to animal suffering and death just as you would if you ate meat."

But in all honesty, for me a vegan lifestyle started with the pus. I hope that answers your question Maggie. Feel free to ask more questions.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Accidental Raspberry Patch

I've always suspected that we had raspberry bushes in our backyard. Jim's always hacked the brambly mess down to the ground in the spring, so I've never been sure. This year Jim was a little slow and as a result we have a very large raspberry patch that is brimming with berries!

Since they obviously can grow with little or no attention, the only flaw is that raspberries can be very invasive and spread where ever they please. I'm told this can be limited by planting them in large bottomless containers. You dig a hole large enough to accomodate the bottomless container and then plant the raspberry bush in this. Once the dirt is filled in, all you would see is about an inch of the container peeking above the soil. I'm hoping to try this soon.

I freeze fresh picked raspberries, strawberries and blueberries as is, with no fancy preparation. I imagine, I'll do the same with the currants and gooseberries when the time comes.

Speaking of currants, despite all the transplanting, they have some berries and the berries are beginning to ripen! I didn't expect that to happen. I think its a testament to the wonders of vermicomposting!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Spoonful of Planning Whittles the Errand List Down

I finally got tired of asking my sons to open their curtains rather than turning on their bedroom light in the morning, so I took the lamp out of their room for a few days. Suddenly, they understand that if you open the curtains you let in light. Sometimes you have to make your point in a dramatic way.

I was able to get a lot accomplished yesterday with the help of a list and some preplanning. I looked at everything I needed to do and plotted out the stores that were closest together to minimize time and gas use. For example, I needed dog food so I went to the hardware store that was closest to the pet store, rather than the one I'd normally go to. From there, I stopped at the grocery store across the way to get the few things I needed. You get the idea.

Today is pickup at our CSA. While out on that errand, I'll pick up my paycheck, hit the bank and drop some books off at the library. When I get home, I will be done with my errands today, yeah! I often couple trips to the post office with trips to the library since they are around the corner from each other. It just makes sense. I think this is why I love the summer so much, almost everything we do is in walking distance. My car will sit all week without moving.

Monday, June 19, 2006

A Minor Kitchen Calamity

My to do list for the next few days is about a mile long! This time of year is brutal. The harder I try to complete tasks, the more tasks I find to complete. The cabin is beckoning to me. Just a few more days and we'll leave the stress behind but in the mean time, I've got stuff to do!

The girls are each having a friend sleep over on Wednesday to celebrate the end of school. I told them menus are due tonight so we have time to get things ready. We'll head over to the library tomorrow afternoon to get some movies for the occasion. The selection of movies at our library has really expanded in recent months. The girls are thrilled.

On a poopy note, our oven died the other day while I was making cookies. I never had so much trouble making a batch of cookies in my life! When I went to make them the heating element in the oven caught fire (just a tiny one) and then the element blew out completely. Naturally, this didn't stop me from turning the oven back on just to see what would happen, which was nothing at all. The oven was cool as can be. It wasn't a surprise, we knew the whole stove was on its way out it was just the timing that was bad.

So presented with this little challenge, I turn to the toaster oven only to discover I'm out of aluminum foil and I don't have a cookie sheet that will fit in there. Which brings me to the reason the cookies looked like mini muffins, they were cooked in the only pans I had that fit into the toaster oven, mini muffin pans. I just don't accept defeat well.

As for the problem of the oven itself, since I'm leaving for the Adirondacks with the kids soon, we've got the whole summer before it actually needs to be replaced. The ability to take one's time when making a purchase like this is the best friend of the frugal; panicked purchases always cost more!

Now I'm off to work on that to do list!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Friday, June 16, 2006

COK & VegginOut

I just discovered that Compassion Over Killing has a great resource called Vegan Eatin' on a Budget. The tips are great for new vegetarians and for longtime veggies who are looking to cut costs a bit.

Harmonia has put together VegginOut. To quote her, "It’s a little place us female veg*ns can hang out, post info, learn, etc. You do have to register - but it’s FREE!" I just visited for the first time and it looks really interesting. There are a lot of topics to choose from. I can't wait until I have more time to stop by and give a really thorough visit. Stop by and give a peek.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Herbs in My Garden

Last year my mother-in-law gave me a basil plant and somehow I ended up with a dill plant, although I can't remember where it came from. It was really my first foray into herbs. Looking back, the dill just frightened me. I couldn't seem to use it fast enough. The basil, on the other hand, was a joy. I don't think anything tastes better than fresh pesto.

This year our CSA was selling herbs as a fundraiser. We came home with basil, thyme, mint, parsley and chives. I'm very excited. To prevent the plants from getting leggy, I'll keep harvesting regularly and just throw what I'm not using into the freezer to use later. I found this method of storage works so well.

Yesterday, inpsired by someone at our CSA, we cut sprigs off the mint plant, put them in a large glass and filled it with water. I let it sit for a while and then added ice. The result was a refreshing iced tea like drink. My daughters weren't impressed but both of my sons loved it. I liked it too.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A Super Simple Strawberry Jam Recipe from VegWeb

There was an abundance of juicy strawberries at our CSA yesterday. We've eaten scads of them. Some were sliced and put into almond butter sandwiches in place of jelly (thanks to Jennifer at The Vegan Lunchbox for giving me this idea.) The rest are being made into 8 Minute Awesome Strawberry Jam. This is my favorite quickie jam recipe. I usually use less sugar adding only the barest minimum.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Using What You've Got in the Garden

We took advantage of the nice weather and did some much needed work outdoors this weekend. One project that needed desperate attention was the ground around the currant bushes. The grass was taller than the bushes and Jim wasn't comfortable using the weed trimmer around them, its too easy to damage them. We had some landscape fabric in our garage so we set that up around the plants and figured we'd have to break down and buy woodchips, when I had an idea.

In another section of the yard we were moving some dirt that was about 75% rock. I was marveling that the house must be built on a rock quarry when I realized we could use those rocks around the bushes and solve two problems (what to put around the bushes and what to do with all the rocks) in one step. We're about 1/2 done with the project and already it looks much better.

Its not a perfect idea but I think it is the one that is best suited to our needs. I can't mulch the bushes the way I had planned to. My solution to this is to make use of worm tea which can be made by soaking worm castings in water and then using this nutrient rich water to water the bushes.

Monday, June 12, 2006

A Special Gift Idea

I promised I would share some end of school year gifts that I made for a very special group of coworkers. For ten years I've had the pleasure and privledge of teaching nutrition and healthy living to four year olds at my friends' preschool. This year, for various reasons, the school is closing down.

What present could possibly sum up ten years worth of emotions? I'm not certaint that I came up with the correct answer but at least I think I came pretty close.

There were four of us who worked together closely at this school. I wanted something that would bring us together even though we might not see each other as frequently as we have over the past few years.

I bought four matching tea cups and saucers, one for me and one for each of them. Each tea cup and saucer was filled with molasses cookies and placed in a basket along with a container of tea or coffee. The piece that tied the gift together and made it unique, in my opinion, was the card I attached. Without quoting word for word, the gist of the card was that since we all had the same tea cup, whenever we drank from it we should think of the other three and offer a toast to our friendship.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Vegetarians Like Fun Stuff on Their Salads Too!

The month of June is basically one giant greens festival at our CSA. Consequently, we eat a lot of salads in June. We try to keep it interesting by varying what's in the salad along with the greens. This time of year typical vegetable add ins are cauliflower, broccoli and kohlrabi. I love salads and could eat one everyday without much variation but I think the rest of the family might revolt.

Yesterday, I heated up a small cast iron pot over medium low heat and tossed in:
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 tsp garlic powder

I kept stirring it to get the garlic powder well mixed and to prevent the nuts from burning. Once the whole mixture is browned, transfer the mixture to a bowl and let everyone sprinkle this mixture on top of their salad. This was a delicious treat! It also solved the double challenge of finding a vegan crouton and one that doesn't have partially hydrogenated oils in it.

My daughter, Leenie, likes this so much that she has taken several salad concoctions topped with it to school in the last few weeks. The nuts give the salad some protein and fat which makes it more of a meal rather than just a side dish.

My youngest son was looking through my cookbooks and found a recipe for frozen banana pops that really intrigued him. Its just a peeled banana, brushed with maple syrup, coated in coconut and frozen. We'll probably make a few after karate this morning. BTW, for those of you with picky eaters, let your kids pick a recipe and get involved in the cooking. It can really help improve their willingness to try new things.

Monday's post will be up late in the day. I'll be sharing the end of school year gifts that I made for a very special group of coworkers.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Trash Bin Part 2

I often cut off the bottom of the gallon jugs I mentioned yesterday and use them to root plants. Four years ago I bought an impatien plant at a plant sale in my son's preschool. Since then, every spring I cut a whole bunch of pieces off the big plant and root them rather than buying new ones every year. Once the rooted pieces are established, I transplant them outside and they provide a durable, shade tolerant burst of color most of the summer. If you've never done this before, I think impatiens are the best plant to start with. They are very forgiving.

Unfortunately, I encountered a little problem with my rooting plans this year. I forgot to punch holes in the bottom of the container and I'd forgotten them outside in a downpour. My solution was unorthodox but it worked really well and the only tools it required were a candle, a nail and a pair of pliers.

First, I lit a candle. Then I placed the nail in the jaws of the pliers and heated the pointed end of the nail in the flame of the candle. After a few seconds of heating, I was able to push the nail through the plastic easily and create the misssing drainage holes! Water poured all over my kitchen table as I repeated this process with two other containers but I didn't mind at all. Its the little things that make me happy. BTW, my sister used the bottom of soda bottles similarly and you can punch holes in them the same way.

Newspapers (black and white pages only, not the pages with color), toliet paper tubes and dryer lint become fire starters for the woodstove. We are also going to give newspaper logs a try this year to augment our wood pile, although these will use wire to hold them together rather than toilet paper tubes. Since we don't get the newspaper everyday, I've enlisted the help of my extended family that does.

I've found ketchup bottles to be very useful. Old bottles from dishwashing detergent would work as well. We've also used these filled with water when we have a campfire. They are great for putting out stray embers.

There are trash items that I just haven't figured out a use for yet. Broken kids toys make up a large part of this category around here. Every few months, a purge takes place and I remove all the broken bits and pieces. I strongly suspect that the only toys young kids really need are a bicycle, a ball, blocks, books, paper and crayons.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Trash Bin Part 1

Ruthie was thumbing through the Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn and posed some interesting questions on the garbage we generate. Check out yesterday's comments for specifics. One of the things she noted was that Amy Dacyzyn really did a lot with her garbage. Her comment really got me thinking, could I be doing a lot more with mine? I thought it might be interesting to take some time to examine what's been going into my trash bin and what hasn't been going into my trash bin.

First a pet peeves about things people throw out. I have talked to more people who throw about their kid's outgrown clothes and toys in the last week than I care to mention. How hard is it to gather these things up and bring them to your local Salvation Army, Goodwill or other thrift store? Why not donate to a local women's shelter or freecycle? Find a friend who has kids a size smaller than yours and hand the outgrown clothes down. Take the extra step and keep this stuff out of a landfill while helping your fellow humans!

Around here outgrown clothing is either passed down to the next sibling or smaller sized friend, used in a project like the denim quilt or donated. I usually have a bag going at all times that everyone can put their outgrown clothes in. Clothes that are beyond repair (ie. too scary to donate) are either cut into rags or thrown in the trash.

We have very little in the way of packaging from foods since we buy in bulk and use the CSA for veggies but their is still some. Our grains and beans come in giant paper sacks. I cut these into drawing paper for the boys. This worked out especially well for my kindergartener who had homework every night and would have gone through several reams of regular white paper otherwise. Glass jars are often reused to store other items.

Plastic grocery bags turn up at my house with alarming regularity. I bring these by the CSA because they keep extra bags on hand for members who forget to bring their own. There's also a recycling bin at our local grocery store. By far the most popular, and probably least eco-friendly, use of plastic bags around here is to pick up my dog's poop. I've also used plastic bags as packing material in packages with breakables that are going to be mailed.

The gallon jugs that vinegar, shampoo, conditioner and liquid soap come in have a lot of uses. I let the kids use them as watering cans. I keep toying with punching one full of holes, burying it in the garden area and then filling it with water to make sure I get the water to the roots of the plants but I haven't done it yet. I've cut the bottom off of the vinegar container to use as a dog bowl in a pinch. I've seen people use them as little plant covers in the event of late frosts.

Vegetable trimmings go into one of the compost bins, either the worm bin or the traditional compost heap. Shredded newspaper and paper bags, without colored ink, make great worm bedding. I've also heard of people using shredded paper as a mulch in the garden but I've never had enough to try.

Share some of your ideas to deal with trash.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

What I'm Reading

I recently heard an interview with Patricia Klindienst author of The Earth Knows My Name : Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic America. As she spoke in the interview, I was reminded of childhood visits to my great aunts' house in Brooklyn. Their tiny backyard was a lush edible landscape of tomatoes, figs and much more that I was too young to remember. I can't wait to get a peek at this book.

I find stories like these so inspiring. It helps me envision my own personal edible landscape. Path to Freedom is another great resource to inspire you to see the gardening bounty, and level of self sufficiency, that is possible no matter how small your plot is. (Thanks to Ruthie for bringing it to my attention.)

Jim and I have been reading the book Hard Times by Studs Terkel. Its a book filled with people reminiscing about their experiences during the Great Depression. Each person's story is a seperate little segment and its a fascinating read.

I've got a Steve Brill book on wild edibles waiting for me at the library. That should be a very interesting read.

Fans of the Vegan Lunch Box will understand my sadness that Jennifer posted her last lunch box yesterday. Where will I look for inspiration now??

Stretching Your Dishwashing Soap

I'm always looking for a way to save a little more on cleaning products. New readers might want to check out my earlier post for homemade laundry soap and a less expensive dishwasher detergent.

I had stumbled across a recipe for stretching dishwashing soap on a while back but only recently got around to giving it a try. It worked really well and is much less expensive than the dishwashing liquid I had been using.

Here's how to do it. On they recommended using a pump bottle for this but since I didn't have one, I just used another dishwashing liquid container. You fill the empty container about one third full of dishwashing liquid. Add 1 tablespoon of Borax and fill the rest with white vinegar. Shake gently to mix and then use as you normally would.

I like this because it allows me to use pricier but more environmentally friendly dishwashing liquids, like Ecover and Seventh Generation, without breaking the bank.

Tip of the Day

If you happen to spill coffee on your keyboard like I just did, turn it upside down over a towel and let it dry out. Once it has dried out it should be fine. This is the voice of experience talking, I've done it twice!

Monday, June 05, 2006

A Little Bit of Everything

Did I ever mention that I'm a messy packrat at heart? Well its true, I am. I tend to have lots of projects going at one time and I tend to spread those projects out around the house. Jim's a neatnick and spends a great deal of time beating my projects back into a retreat, ie. getting them out of the living room. Ah, the perils of a frugal, what if I can use it again later, lifestyle.

This time of year is especially bad, second only to Christmas, because of the end of year festivities at the schools. There's a whole lot of crafting going on. Sshh, can't tell what I'm making because some of the recipients read this blog!

In the great outdoors, things are going well. The potatoes are growing nicely. We added another layer of leaves and a bit of worm castings to the containers. My other container plants are doing well also. We got our first strawberry off my strawberry plant. I'm anxious to get the plants up to their summer home in the Adirondacks. The currants are getting big and so are the Jerusalem artichokes. I find this all very exciting.

There's still a lot more to be done around here before I can switch into summer mode. I like to leave things super organized so when I return in September I don't feel like hanging myself. I also need to start getting Jim's bachelor meals made, labeled and in the freezer for the three days a week he'll be eating alone. That was a disorganized point of stress last year that I don't intend to repeat.

Jim and I have decided to cut way back on our food coop orders for the summer months. Our pantry (closet) is really full and since I don't work during the summer (in other words, I don't get paid during the summer) it seems like an ideal time to deplete some of the stock around here. Now that the CSA is having weekly pickups, our main food expense will be soymilk, which brings me to an interesting tale.

I'll title this portion of the post:
Why I Never Grocery Shop With My Children
We were running out of soymilk last week so on my way home from an appointment with my 7yr old, I stopped at the grocery store. I had been wanting to check out other nondairy beverage options, just for the sake of having more variety in our diet. Why I decided that this would be a good time to do this, I'll never know. I thought I bought rice milk and almond milk. I also thought I was pretty smart because there was a coupon on the box that the store doubled.

When I got home, Jim discovered that I bought rice milk and almond flavored soymilk! I was so aggravated but it was my own fault. I know that I am far too distracted to read labels adequately and correctly when my kids are along. BTW, everyone liked the rice milk.

Frugal Thrift Store/Tag Sale Finds
We went to an indoor tag sale that was at a local church. The same church has a thrift store that was having 50% off all its clothing that same day. Here are some of the highlights of what we found; some beautiful shirts (Gap and Old Navy), a cast iron frying pan (the best nonstick surface you'll ever use), and a brand new, sealed in the box ceiling fan!

A New Vegan Breakfast Option
I can't say how much I love the recipes from Vegan With a Vengeance, especially the seitan recipes. I made Jerk Seitan again this weekend and it was delicious. Check out Isa's website and cookbook, you won't be sorry.

I took some of Isa's basic seitan and marinated it in:

1/2 cup of the cooking broth
1 Tbs maple syrup
1 Tbs nutritional yeast

Longtime readers might rcognize this as the marinade from the Veggie Bacon recipe. I cooked this on my cast iron griddle and everyone agreed, the result was even more delicious than the Veggie Bacon, which had previously been their favorite.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Another Salad Dressing

This time of year its so delightful to have fresh from the garden, or CSA, salads. Keeping with that theme, this is a vinagrette I really like. Its inspired by a recipe from Fireless Cookery by Heidi Kirschner.
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs vinegar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp dry mustard whisked into 1 Tbs water (I've used a squirt of regular mustard in a pinch)
1/2 Tbs fresh basil, finely chopped
1/2 Tbs fresh fennel (the fringy looking top), finely chopped
2 Tbs water

Whisk it all together and serve. In addition to traditional green salads, I like to use this over pasta salads and bean salads as well. Foods like these are wonderful in the hotter weather and they don't scream VEGAN which is nice if you're entertaining omnivores.

I think a basil plant is a very worthwhile plant to grow because the flavor enhances so many dishes. If you're a pesto fan, like my daughter, its a must have. This year I'm growing regular basil and purple leaf basil.

BTW, if you're not a fennel fan substitute in your favorite herb instead. If you're using dried herbs, decrease the amounts to 1/2 tsp of each.

I'm off to continue cutting the remaining old jeans into quilt squares. The squares take up so much less space than the jeans did. Lately, I've been trying to work on storage solutions for future projects. Certainly saving only the useable pieces will help with many future projects.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Denim Quilts & My Favorite Dressing

The first of the denim quilts is completely sewn and just waiting to be knotted. I can't believe how quickly it went using the sewing machine. I've started sewing the squares for the next one, I save knotting for when I'm watching movies with Jim, but I'll need to start cutting out more squares very soon. Its very exciting to watch a project come together. It's even more exciting to hear my teenagers reaffirm their desire to have a quilt made for them as well.

I've been tinkering a lot recently with salad dressings. If you read the labels on commercial salad dressings they sound like a chemistry experiment. If you read the price tag on the more food based or organic dressings, you'll pass out. Here's my favorite dressing. Its not a precise recipe but it's really quite simple.

Maple Mustard Dressing
First, find an old ketchup bottle or other bottle that you have to squeeze to get the contents out. This prevents huge blobs on the kid's, or the adult's, plates. The dressing itself is just a mix of:
pure maple syrup
regular mustard
dijon mustard

I start off with equal amounts of maple syrup and regular mustard. I add a blob of dijon mustard, mix and taste. I make my adjustments from there, usually adding a bit more mustard. I'll be posting more dressing recipes over the next few days.

Here's a parting thought on other scary things in our food. Check out this article from the current issue of Mother Earth News. Its just one more reason to skip the soda.