Friday, September 29, 2006

Vegans Don't Just Eat Vegetables!!! A Succint Rant on the Idiocy of Preconceived Notions

I don't expect people to do culinary back flips for my family when we are invited to an event but is it too much to expect that at least some rational thought will be given to our food needs? Do people honestly think we only eat vegetables? I could go on for a few hours with this but I won't.

Instead, let me encourage all my non-veg readers to find a vegetarian they know and ask them questions about the way they eat. Ask them why they are veg, or if its boring to be veg, or if they only eat vegetables or if they miss meat, or what they could eat if you went out to a particular restaurant together. Ask them for a taste of their favorite food, if you like it ask them to share the recipe (you might be surprised, they don't all contain "weird" ingredients.) Ask them anything you were ever curious about, they won't bite(after all they are veg!) If you don't know any real live vegetarians, ask your question here.

With intelligent dialogue, we can dispel many of the myths and preconceived notions that surround vegetarianism and veganism but someone has to start the conversation.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A Few More Thoughts on Bulk Cooking

Annmarie had a great idea for lessening the load of bulk cooking if the kids aren't involved. She suggested doing it with a friend. That's definitely a win win idea.

I have to clarify a misconception about my families involvement in my first bulk cooking experiment. I wasn't actually ditched in the kitchen while everyone else was having a blast. The kids were less involved because I didn't have a clear picture of how they could best help me. Kids, even teenagers, need a lot of direction in the kitchen and I was too busy sorting out my own thoughts and continually trying to make a plan of action to give them adequate instructions. This should improve as I become clearer in what I need them to do.

Last night's chickpea dish was ok but not worth sharing. Dessert, on the other hand, more than made up for it. For each person, I took a small square of Dr Furhman's Carob Almond Fudge and topped it with the leftover soy ice cream cake. It was decadent but delicious!

Tonight, by popular demand, I'm making Isa's Jerk Seitan. Its so much easier to have the seitan premade rather than trying to make the seitan, marinade it and then cook it in the jerk sauce all in the same day.

You Want to Pay for Ripped Up Clothes?? - An Open Letter of Apology to My Mother

I confess, when designer jeans were the rage I wanted tight jeans not straight legs. When I watched Flashdance all those years ago, I wanted a sweatshirt with a ripped out neck like Jennifer Beals wore. When jeans with ripped knees were sold in stores, I wanted them too. In other words, when I was a teenager, I wanted to wear the current fashions. (Now, much to my daughters' chagrin, I wear whatever I want which is usually either jeans that actually cover my butt crack or gym clothes.)

I must have had a frugal streak even back then because I remember altering 4 pairs of my jeans by hand when I was in high school. I had quite a technique. I would pin them the way I thought I wanted them to be and then try them on inside out, with the pins in, to see if I got it right. Then I stitched each pant leg 4 times, by hand, because only death could be worse than splitting your pants in high school and my mom's sewing machine didn't work at the time. I don't remember riping up a sweatshirt but I probably did that too. I think I let the ripped knees in the jeans happen naturally but I can't be sure. In short, I drove my mother crazy.

Flash forward 15 or 20 years and my own little cherubs are driving me nuts too but generally in a frugal way as well. Leen just went scissor happy on a pair of jeans that were too tight around the knees. Her plan is to get a pair of leggings to wear under them so she can wear them in the winter. Besides, she tells me, she needs the leggings to wear under her denim skirt. (Help, help, I'm having an 80's flashback complete with Martha Quinn!) Tash and Leen both made Flashdance style sweatshirts a few months back as well. Since they are the "hand me down queens" from their very fashionable, college age aunt, they had no problem coming up with a sweatshirt to ravish. Sometimes they troll the thrift store just to find the perfect piece of clothing to revamp. They do a good job too.

So mom, I'm sorry that I made you crazy but I'm getting mine right now!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Bulk Cooking Four Days Later

I realize I forgot to mention a few things I made as part of my bulk cooking. Here they are:
a quadruple batch of granola
a quadruple batch of Isa's Fettucini Alfreda
a quadruple batch of Cold Thai Peanut Noodle Salad (although I subbed steamed kale for the cabbage and sprouts)

While the granola was part of my bulk plan, the pasta dishes were actually for some entertaining we did on Sunday.

So far I've been really pleased with how this has gone. Dinner has been on the table with much less rushing and, as a result, a greater variety of entrees. If there's a kink in the plan it seems to be our weekly CSA pickup which causes us not to have all the vegetables on hand to freeze completed meals. I've had to prep/cook veggies each night.

On the other hand, that's not necessarily a bad thing because of the potential nutrient losses that go along with cooking, freezing and reheating. Besides, I like most of my veggies crisp not limp and overcooked. Finally, veggie prep/cooking just doesn't take as long as measuring out a tsp of this and a tablespoon of that.

Here's a peek at what we've had for dinner so far:
Saturday: Red Lentil Loaf with Gravy and veggies
Sunday: Fettucini Alfreda/Cold Thai Peanut Noodles/Coleslaw made with vinagrette
Monday: Sunday's Leftovers (Hey, I had to work Monday night!) with steamed broccoli
Tuesday: Seitan simmered in salsa and black bean dip (leftover from Sunday) with sliced green peppers and salad
Tonight: I'm trying a new chickpea recipe in the crock pot that includes tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant. More on that tomorrow.

Another challenge I'm having is remembering to defrost things, like pumpkin bread or cinnamon raisin bread. I really should have taken a loaf of one or the other out last night but I forgot. This morning we had just enough for the first round of departures (Jim and the girls) but the boys had to leave enough time to sit down and have granola with raisins and soymilk.

Depite all the food I made, I don't think we'll get more than a week and a half out of it. I'm already putting together my plans for the next round of cooking.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

How to Impress Your Friends and Family With a Bundt Pan and Plastic Wrap

I know your intrigued but before we get to it, I just wanted to let everyone know the link for the Red Lentil Loaf recipe mentioned in yesterday's post is now working. I'll be talking more about my bulk cooking experience tomorrow as I see how my efforts are panning out but now on to today's topic.

You'll need:
2 quart containers (or the equivalent) of the soy or rice ice cream of your choice
1/2 package of Midel Chocolate Snaps
a bundt pan (although any pan will do, the bundt pan just looks fancy)
plastic wrap

Let the ince cream soften on the counter while you take the bundt pan and line it with plastic wrap. The ice cream needs to be soft but not watery. Press one whole container of ice cream into the bundt pan. You want to make sure you press it into the pan so it takes the shape of the pan.

Run the chocolate snaps through a food processor to make crumbs (or if you've had a particularly stressful day, put them in a doubled plastic bag and beat the into crumbs). Sprinkle the crumbs in an even layer on top of the ice cream that's already in the bundt pan.

Top with the remaining quart of ice cream, smoothing it out with a rubber spatula. Cover the whole thing with plastic wrap and place in the freezer until serving time.

Before serving turn the cake over onto a serving plate and remove the plastic wrap. Voila a very impressive looking ice cream cake with minimal effort.

Our favorite combination is So Delicious (formerly Soy Delicious) mint marble fudge and vanilla.

Monday, September 25, 2006

My First Foray Into Bulk Cooking

Margaret wanted to know my tvp recipe. As in the past, I have to give credit to Ruthie's hubby, Russell for opening my eyes to the wonders of tasty tvp. Check out this link for my version of it. If I don't have broth available, water works fine as well.

Bulk cooking was an eye opening experience for me. The first challenge I encountered was putting together a series of recipes that my family enjoyed that lent themselves to bulk cooking and freezing. There was that inevitable moment where I wished someone had invaded my thoughts and put together a magical vegan once a month cooking book for me. I think I did ok in spite of this.

The first thing I did was to replenish my staples a bit. Out came my copy of The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn. I put together her recipes for seasoned salt and taco seasoning. These are two spice mixes that are handy to have around. Isn't it easier to through in premixed taco seasoning than diddling around with tiny spice bottles as you frantically try to get dinner on the table?

I next grabbed The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook by Joanne Stepaniak and put together a double batch of her All Season Blend, which works well as a vegetable broth powder, and a quadruple batch of Instant Cheez-It dry sauce mix, which I've used both as a sauce and for grilled cheeze sandwiches (use less water for the grilled cheeze).

This prep work behind me, I moved on to the main event. Here's what I made:
6 loaves of cinnamon raison whole wheat bread
2 Red Lentil Loaves
2 batches of gravy to go with the lentil loaves
1 batch of White Beans, Tomatoes and Barley (this makes a huge amount, so no need to double.)
a quadruple batch of Isa's Homemade Seitan
4 loaves of pumpkin bread with walnuts
large batch of cooked chickpeas (unseasoned)
double batch of Dr Furhman's Almond Carob Fudge although I used cashew butter because I was out of almond butter.

Here's what I learned along the way. I need to know how many onions to cut, how much garlic to mince, how much (fill in the veggie of your choice) I need for all the recipes to make the whole process go smoother. I also need to have a flow of prep work into cooking so it doesn't take forever. Finally, I need the whole family more involved so I'm not alone in the kitchen talking to my wooden spoons so much of the day.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Just Chuck It In

Dinner tonight is a mix of the leftovers from the entire week tossed in the slow cooker. There's a bit of whole wheat couscous, Monday night's red lentil concoction, last night's chunky vegetable pasta sauce, some baked TVP, a few extra tomatoes that I chopped in. In a few moments I'm going to add in the Mac Uncheese that went horribly wrong (the pasta got tossed in before the uncheese sauce was ahisked together) to it. My plan is add some Cajun seasoning to it before serving but that will depend on the taste.

Clearing out the fridge clears the way for my foray into bulk cooking!

Its Alive!!

The symptoms of my dryers death were just that, death. I pushed the button and nothing happened. Jim had taken it apart and, seeing no other problems, figured it was the motor. We were ready to sell it for scrap but my father-in-law managed to bring it back from the dead. Its kind of spooky really. This is its second ressurection this year. I'm just thrilled that it works again. I don't even use it that much but its nice to be able to throw damp clothes in from the clothesline if you need to.

Since I'm only working for a short time today, I'm planning to get some recipes together for my own bulk cooking spree which will happen between tonight and tomorrow.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Home, Home Is My Range

My new oven is finally here! Its nothing fancy but it works like a charm. I already baked a batch of scones in it. I went with a fairly basic model, not a ceramic top. The reason for this was not price, although the ceramic top ranges sure are pricey. My reason is actually because the majority of my pots and pans are cast iron and cast iron is not generally recommended for use on ceramic tops.

The main reasons seem to be that cookware used on a cermic top needs to be smooth on the bottom and cast iron cookware is commonly ridged and cast iron tends to scratch the ceramic burner surface. Here some links that discuss the pros and cons of using cast iron cookware on a ceramic cooktop:

I made an interesting observation a while back when I cleaned my old oven. It looked like it was going to be an awful job but it actually wiped clean with a wet cloth. It occured to me that because we are vegan, nothing ever really spatters around the oven the way a turkey or roast would. Its the burnt on grease that makes an oven horrible to clean. Knowing this, I almost went with an oven that didn't have a self cleaning feature.

In the end, it was my cast iron cookware that made me decide to go with a self cleaning oven. The reason is simple, a horribly cruddy cast iron piece that you find at a tag sale can be rehabilitated by running it through your oven on the self cleaning cycle and then reseasoning it. Since I have several pieces that were rehabilitated this way, I had to go with the self cleaning model.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Don't Toss That Cooking Liquid!

Unless of course its bean cooking liquid, then you can toss it away. I know some recipes use the liquid from beans but unless you live alone or in a frat house, I wouldn't recommend it. Bean cooking liquid will make you gassy like you never knew possible.

On the other hand, liquid from cooking pasta works nicely in soups and it is thicker than water which gives soups a nice bit of body. It was actually the cooking liquid from some faux chicken gluten that prompted me to post this though. The recipe I used said to cook the gluten about 50 minutes until the liquid had all been absorbed. 50 minutes came and went but the cooking liquid was still there. The gluten was good but what to do with all the broth?

Monday night I tossed it into the pressure cooker with some water, dried red lentils and a tablespoon of oil (to prevent foaming). Seven minutes later, I let off the steam and added in some chopped tomatoes. I served this over whole wheat couscous, which cooks in about 2 minutes. We had homemade coleslaw on the side.

Dinner took about a half an hour to get on the table and it was really delicious. So don't toss that cooking liquid, it may save you time another night. AT the very least toss it in the freezer to use another time but make sure you label the container.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Results of the Tag Sale & Other Weekend Activites

I'm feeling much better. Thanks to everyone for their well wishes.

The tag sale went pretty well. We got rid of a lot of big bulky stuff. People who came tended to buy quite a few things at a time. I think the way we grouped things together helped with this. I've already freecycled some of the leftovers.

We did yard work yesterday when it was slow, which was often. We stacked wood, weeded the flowers and trimmed the hedges. Everyone pitched in. We had music playing which helped immensely.

Jim had good results when he called the metal salvage place. They'll take the dryer and the old bike frames and they'll pay 2 1/2 cents per pound. I don't think we'll be buying dinner with the proceeds but it sure beats paying to have it taken away! He'll be taking them over on Wednesday.

I made Cindy O's "Chicken" and Rice Soup for the Soul on Friday as planned but I tinkered with the recipe a bit and it was really delicious. The recipe calls for mixing equal amounts of vital wheat gluten and water together to make the "chicken". They should pick up the flavor from the broth they cook in. I'd found them to be a little bland in the past so I added a little vegtable broth powder and 2 Tbs of tamari (FYI, I quadruple this recipe so in the grand scheme of things its a tiny amount of tamari.) We also had a lot of tomatoes in the house so I added a few chopped tomatoes to the soup portion of the recipe. These few changes made a pretty good recipe into an unbelievable recipe.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Amazing Dissapearing Chickpeas

The chickpeas never made it into any new recipe at all. A good portion of them were used in the chickpea, greens and bulgur soup that I concocted last year (I know its in the blog archives but I don't have time to find it now. I'll link to it tomorrow.)

The rest of the chickpeas were stuffed into pitas with chopped up tomatoes (some with Nayonaise some without) and used as after school snacks. These were so delicious but I don't think they'd travel well as regular school lunches (too soggy and messy). Its really too bad.

Saturday looks like its going to be wet but Sunday looks dry. We'll hold our tag sale then. I'm not sure what appeals to me more, getting rid of the clutter (its all in a giant box by our basement door) or making a little spare change. We've already agreed whatever doesn't sell is going to the local thrift store. I'll be advertising our tag sale on local tag sale websites thereby avoiding the charge of a newspaper ad.

Here's one from the unplanned expenses file, my clothes dryer is officially dead. This has been the year of the dead household appliance at our house. I had hoped it was just a belt but upon further inspection Jim discovered that the motor is dead. Jim came up with an intriguing idea for disposing of it. He's calling scrap metal dealers to see what they'll give us for it. I'm curious to see what he finds out.

I've got a stuffy head, compliments of my lack of sleep no doubt, so I'll be making some of Cindy O's "Chicken" and Rice Soup for the Soul from La Dolce Vegan to have with dinner tonight.

Tonight we're heading out to our library's annual book sale. Normally I go on their bag day, which is Sunday, but Jim wants first crack at the records and he's willing to pay $1/record so tonight's the night.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Is It Really Wednesday Already?

I confess, I never did try a new chickpea recipe yesterday. I had promised my son Peanut Noodles after our next food coop pickup and that was yesterday. I put the chickpeas aside for today. BTW, for lunch today I added chopped tomatoes to the peanut noodles and that was a really delicious combination.

It's chilly in New York, a perfect soup day. I'm not certain what soup I'm making but I'll be tossing the chickpeas in.

On the money saving front, it occured to me that I needed to start thinking about holiday craft projects to avoid breaking my holiday budget. It looks like we'll be having our "everything for a dollar or less" tag sale this weekend as long as the weather holds.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Economy of Motion

When you have four kids in school, you need four quick breakfasts, four snacks and four lunches everyday. Add in my husband and myself and you're up to six of everything. To make things go more smoothly we rely on big batches of everything.

For example, last night I made a huge batch of Brainless Banana Pancakes from How It All Vegan. Actually, it was 6 times the original recipe. The way I see it, the blender was dirty from pureeing the bananas whether I pureed one banana or six of them. Same goes for the bowl and the griddle. In the morning these get popped into the toaster oven for a quick breakfast.

Lunch is done in the same manner. Whoever makes the sandwiches, or whatever is being had, does it 6 times instead of just one. Water bottles and snacks can be handled in the same fashion and believe me it makes life so much easier.

Tonight I'm trying a new chickpea recipe. If its a hit I'll share it tomorrow.

Monday, September 11, 2006

How Pasta Saved My Sanity

Aside from unpacking, there's a lot to other stuff to catch up on when you've been away for two months, like yardwork. Our weekend was chock full of it. It seemed my busy work week followed me home this weekend, because once again I found myself very near dinner and not prepared at all.

I keep forgetting to put beans in the slow cooker overnight (my favorite way to cook them) so most beans weren't an option (I have to use lentils sparingly or they stage a revolt around here.) I couldn't make TVP because the new oven isn't here yet. Grr, what's a frugal veggie mama to do??

Friday night I made Mac Uncheese. Saturday evening I made pasta and topped it with pan fried eggplant, toasted walnuts, garlic and onion. Sunday I made Fettucini Alfreda from Vegan With a Vengeance. I suppose it was really nutritional yeast and walnuts that saved my sanity but the pasta sure helped.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Is This Weird or What??

I just recieved a postcard in the mail stating "As you already know, Budget Living has ceased publication and the remainder of your subscription is being serviced with Marie Claire magazine." It went on to tell me how to cancel the rest of my free replacement copies.

Actually, I didn't know Budget Living had gone under but I was curious where the Marie Claire issues were coming from. Could two magazines have any less in common than these two?? I'll be opting out of the free copies of Marie Claire, its too hard to find the articles in between all the ads.

One Week Down

Everyone is adjusting to school nicely. My lack of a full size oven has put a crimp in my cooking since I got back but I'm planning to remedy that problem tonight. Jim has promised to get it up and running tomorrow.

I'm adjusting to my increased hours at work now that everyone is back to school. I feel the temptation to get take out now that I'm coming home closer to dinner and tired to boot. I won't give in though. Its time to dust off my slow cooker and get creative. I'll be sharing my strategies for avoiding the convenience food take out trap.

No posts this weekend, there's still too much unpacking to do. My house looks like my minivan pulled up and vomitted our belongings into it.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round & Round

Todays the day the kids go back to school. Their book bags (2 from freecycle, 1 thrift store, 1 birthday present) are loaded with school supplies (bought on sale with items like scissors, pencil boxes and calculators saved from the year before) and lunches (packed in washable cloth bags bought in a lot of 12 the beginning of last school year).

Tonight they'll return from school with yet another list of supplies they need but before we go out we'll check out the stash of school supplies I already have. If what I have is functional but not fashionable, they are welcome to spend their own money on folders (or whatever school supply it might be) with cute fuzzy, wuzzy animals themselves.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Cleaning Out That Fridge & Other Tales of the End of Summer Vacation

Wow, this weekend was busier than ever as we packed up to come back to the Hudson Valley. In fact, it was so busy that I haven't had time to blog about it! Even as I type this, I really don't have time to blog about it!

Cleaning out the fridge went really well. To use up the beets, carrots and potatoes we made roasted root veggies and served them along with Vegan Sloppy Joes. The Sloppy Joes used the last of the ketchup and barbeque sauce, as well as the leftover kale stems and cooked eggplant.

We finished the vacation off with two days of big breakfasts. The frozen bananas were used in banana pancakes and smoothies. Some of the potatoes were used in potato scramble and the rest were made into herb roasted potatoes.

This was one of my most successful fridge/cupboard cleanouts because it never felt like we were suffering through a barrage of unwanted, mismatched meals. Of course the big batch of chocolate chip cookies that I made thanks to Isa's Vegan with a Vengeance helped sweeten the deal.

We were able to load the car with quite a bit for our Dollar or Less Tag Sale. The car was unbelievably packed. I feared if we hit a bump, the car might explode and vomit our belongings all over the highway. I think there's a lesson about clutter to be learned here.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Where Did the Summer Go??

It feels like I just blogged about loading up the car and heading to the Adirondacks but as Barbara so wisely observed, its almost time for my kids to go back to school. We've begun packing up, in a noncommital, half baked kind of a way but we need to get moving because Monday morning we hit the road.

Its been a great summer. The kids made quite a few friends. The girls had their first summer job, walking the neighbor's dog. We've kept up jogging around the lake which I'm really proud of. Even Biscuit has run around the lake using the Walky Dog.

I think my favorite thing about this summer has been the acceptance of our multicultural family. I know I return to this theme often but when you have a non-traditional family, acceptance and welcoming can be the ultimate litmus test of a community. All of my kids were befriended by the lifeguards. Several took the time to go bike riding with my sons which thrilled them. My youngest son was welcomed at the story time at our library. My older daughter was encouraged to take the test to become a lifegard next year by the other lifeguards. (If she does it, I suspect she'll be the first lifeguard of color this town has ever seen.) Several year round residents, who I always feared disliked our family, made it a point to cheer on the kids as they practiced bike riding and roller blading. These were moments that made my summer special.

Our limited container gardening attempts really paid off. We've been enjoying kale, swiss chard, basil, chives, scallions, parsley and thyme all summer. The blueberry bushes are doing well and should have no problem getting through the Adirondack winter. My son harvested all the carrots from their container today and we used them in our Cold Thai Peanut Noodles tonight. Tomorrow, he'll harvest the beets and we'll make roasted beets and potatoes. Both the beets and the carrots could have stayed in their containers longer but in the interest of not making my minivan an unbearable jungle for passengers, I've opted to harvest them. Somebody is still going to get stuck riding next to a giant tomato plant, kale, swiss chard and all the herbs.

Once home, we're going to check out the potatoes. I'm anxious to see how they fared. I've heard some tales of overwatering from other people that tried them in garbage cans for the first time. I've got my fingers crossed. If I had good results, I'd like to try growing them up here next year.

We'll try to keep the next few days fun while we pack up. The current frugal challenge is to avoid the grocery store and eat only what we have on hand until we get back home. So far we've been doing really well but we'll have to do a Silk run tomorrow. I'll share our "clean out the fridge" menu over the next few days.

We'll start Saturday with a big breakfast that involves banana pancakes because I have quite a bit of frozen banana on hand.