Thursday, November 30, 2006

Hanging Out at Home

There are some serious stomach bugs traveling around our corner of the world. Usually we get by without a problem but not this time. So far Leenie and Am have been hit (5 days apart which doesn't seem fair to me. I thought we were in the clear!) I'm a handwashing, laundry doing, doorknob wiping psycho right now. Nothing puts fear into a mother of 4 like the prospects of throwing up.

I acutally have a somewhat unusual technique for dealing with a puking child. Since we have two bathrooms and its easier to clean up tile than carpet, the child in question drags his/her pillow and blankets into one bathroom and just sacks out on the bathroom floor (on the little throw rug of course) close to all the ameneties a puking person needs (a toilet, tissues, soap and water). This eliminates the dreaded run to the bathroom and possible mess along the way, as well as the truly disgusting cleaning out the barfy garbage bag from the garbage can near their bed. Instead we keep it all in one room away from everyone except mom and dad who wash their hands until little skin remains. Once active puking ceases, everything in said bathroom gets washed.

Am's sacked out on the floor in front of the tv. The barfing is over but he's just worn out. Biscuit is sleeping on the floor behind me, snoring loudly. I can't believe he's been with us a year already. Its hard to imagine life without this lumbering lab mix banging into you all the time. Mel, our bichon, is sleeping too but he's not snoring. Poor little guy has lyme's disease and he's all doped up. I feel like I should go to sleep to! Instead I'll hit the showers and try to make some progress on a variety of projects.

It seems I have a lot of half started projects, as well as supplies for future projects, that are not very well stored or organized. I'm planning to attack this problem today. Some projects can be done while watching a movie, thereby keeping your hands busy and your mouth empty, other projects require more direct attention.

The darn thing is I like having projects to do but I'm finding I have less and less time for them. I like the way it feels to create something that is useful or beautiful or maybe a little bit of both. Actually, the whole family is finding we lack time to do things we enjoy. Its a combination of things; time spent commuting, time spent at work both planned and unplanned, time spent shuttling kids to swim team four days a week, and a host of other mundane tasks that all add up. This lack of time has become a hot topic between Jim and I as we plan for the future.

I'm leaning towards a big pot of soup for dinner to clean out the fridge a bit.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Raspberry Fig Bars Redux!

I love a recipe that can do double duty and last night I discovered that my trusty Raspberry Fig Bar Recipe from The Garden of Vegan works well with winter squash puree in place of the raspberry jam! Can you see me doing a happy dance? This time of year I'm fresh out of frozen raspberries from our days at the CSA, but boy oh boy do I have winter squash to spare!

I started with:
about 5 cups cooked winter squash
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cloves

I was trying to make pumpkin butter in the slow cooker. This never works well for me and this time was no exception. So I abandoned the pumpkin butter idea after cooking it all day on low, got out a fine metal colander and set about draining the excess liquid from the squash. I was left with about 3 cups of squash after draining.

I used a cup of this in place of the cup of raspberry jam the recipe calls for. (Actually, the recipe calls for 1/2 cup but I was doubling the recipe.) I had considered adding a bit of sugar but once the squash was pureed with the figs all the taste testers felt this wouldn't be necessary.

The result was really delicious!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Tis The Season to Sit in the Car (or on the sidewalk in front of the store) at 3 a.m. and Wait for the Stores to Open?

I love a bargain as much as the next person, perhaps a bit more, but I don't understand this post-holiday tradition. I saw all the sale flyers and yes the prices did seem impressive on some items but I didn't have a burning need to purchase any of these items that would rouse me out of bed in the predawn light.

Black Friday always causes me to ponder wants versus needs. Like grocery store coupons, I suspect the mere presence of coupons promising huge discounts may persuade people to purchase things they might not ordinarily buy. Obviously, there's a difference between buying preportioned snack food with a triple coupon and buying a laptop that's 50% off between the hours of 6-8 a.m. but I think the concept is very similar. I think the flyers and commercials that bombard us this time of year train us to want more.

We boycotted the traditional Black Friday fare by hitting several thrift stores as planned. To me this is more like treasure hunting than regular shopping. Along the way we found several wants (a silver ice bucket with tongs for Jim's very Dean Martin vintage bar, some records and some books) as well as a few needs (a winter jacket, a denim jacket, some shirts, a pair of pants and a ladel). We even drooled while window shopping over a console record player that we loved but neither needed nor had the space for. Best of all, we got to introduce a friend to the wonders of thrift store prices.

Our No Crap for Christmas policy continues this year, although I'm not certain we called it that in years past. Gifts to adults must be useful or edible. They absolutely can not be clutter bought for the sake of just giving something. Gifts to children will take into account that there are far fewer kids than adults and, because of this, the kids will all make out like bandits. Less is more during the holidays. The less you get, the more you appreciate the things you do get.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Nut Roast & Other Thanksgiving Critiques

The Nut Roast was delicious but unbelievably messy. I followed the recipe but it just did not hold together in any sort of a loaf shape. I suspect it would have worked better if baked in a pan with a cover (uncovered for the last few minutes to brown a bit) and served with a spoon. I'll try it that way next time since it was a really tasty dish. BTW, I served it with Tofurky gravy, which now has mushrooms in it.

The Raspberry Fig Bars were a hit as was the Coconut Custard pie. The pumpkin pie was tasty but I forgot to drain the pumpkin before pureeing it. Actually, it was another winter squash. They can all be used interchangeably EXCEPT some have more liquid content than others. If you just put the cooked, but unpureed, squash in a colander, the excess liquid will drain off thereby avoiding soggy pie.

I also tried Isa's Pumpkin Muffins from Vegan with a Vengeance. I added in the optional cranberries and walnuts. These were sinfully good.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving to All

Last night I experimented with a Vegan Coconut Custard pie recipe from How It All Vegan . Jim served as the master critic on this experiment since he's the cocnut custard pie fan. I'd actually never tried it before. The results were a stunning success for vegans and pie lovers everywhere! To quote Jim, "This is the best coconut custard pie I've ever had!" That's high praise. Anyone who knows Jim, knows he doesn't sugar coat his opinions.

Since I bought the raw cashews yesterday, I guess I've committed to the Nut Roast but I'm leaning towards including a the Butternut Squash and pasta dish I concocted suing the recipe from The Vegetarian Mother's Cookbook as well.

Tonight the kitchen will be filled with my cooking and Jim's tiling (there's some edges still left to finish!) Tomorrow my focus is on friends and family. I've never convinced anyone to give vegan food a try by discussing the dead carcass in the middle of the table. Instead I'll stick my usual plan of food that looks good (eye appeal is so important), smells good (the sense of smell really affects how we percieve taste) and tastes great (its a must, no so-so dishes on my holiday table).

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Thanksgiving is in Two Days

Jennifer over at Vegan Lunchbox posted her Thanksgiving menu and I think I'm going to use it or at least gather inspiration from it. I have all the ingredients except the frozen puff pastry which I can pick up on my way home from work tonight. Although, I still like the idea of a nut roast. Check out this link that Crystal sent me. Obviously, I've ruled nothing out.

Its funny, trying something new is a very me thing. Jim and the kids all want the Tofurky feast which I traditionally make the day after Thanksgiving. (Not to worry, this year is no exception!) They would all be perfectly happy if I made the Red Lentil Roast again to bring to my mom's. Who knows, maybe I still will.

I'll be making my pumpkin pie Wednesday night as well as experimenting with a vegan coconut custard pie recipe. If the coconut custard is a bomb it will stay home and no one will be the wiser. Raspberry Fig Bars are on the baking agenda as well.

We have a rather unique plan for Black Friday, which I'm already sick of hearing about. We're heading up to the Adirondacks Friday morning, as we always do. We spend the weekend listening to Christmas records and decorating for Christmas, which is fun but silly since we won't be back until New Year's. We also make our Christmas cards while we're there. This year we're adding a new element. On the way up to the Adirondacks we're hitting all our favorite thrift stores for a truly unusual Black Friday shopping event. We can't wait, although more than one person we know thinks we're a bit daffy.

I promise, tomorrow I'll have an actual Thanksgiving menu planned!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Its Monday Already!

Projects always take longer than you expect in the planning stages and the flooring project is no exception. I spent the weekend with my stove and refrigerator in the middle of the kitchen. Thankfully, they're back in place and all that's left to be done is the tiles around 2 edges of the kitchen and outside my son's bedroom door. Of course these are all the tricky cuts but at least the end is in sight. Jim and I are both pleased with the results so far. We have no regrets about not spending the extra money on laminate flooring.

Since my stove was out of commission for the weekend, I did some creative cooking on the two burner buffet range that I usually only use when canning. Its hard to justify take out for 6. After only a few meals, we'd spend the money we saved on flooring on food! The cooking discovery of the weekend was the Cast Iron Skillet Biscuits I made to go with one of my one pot creations.

The original recipe was from a book called Cast Iron Cooking and it called for cooking the biscuits in an inch of oil. Here's my version which uses the natural non-stick properties of my cast iron skillet.

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 heaping tsp of baking soda

Mix these together and cut in:
1/3 cup canola oil

Make a little well in the middle and pour in:
1 cup of soymilk whisked together with 2 tsp vinegar

Stir until dough comes together and then knead for about 15 strokes or until everything is combined and elastic. Heat cast iron skillet over medium low heat. Cut the dough into 30 equal sized pieces and roll them in your hand before flattening them slightly and adding them to the heated skillet. Let them cook 2-3 minutes on each side (watch carefully, you may need to adjust the heat to avoid burning.) Serve these hot plain or with a thin spread of margarine.

I discovered a frugal find this weekend at our local Walgreens. They have all Celestial Seasonings Teas on sale 2 for $2.99. Their selection isn't great but they do have a delicious holiday tea called Candy Cane Lane. I'm not a big fan of green tea even though I know it has wonderful antioxidant properties. In fact, I think it tastes yucky. Candy Cane Lane is the most delightful way to enjoy green tea that I've ever come across.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Friday Freebies

PETA kids stocking stuffers

Simple Living Network Holiday Newsletter You have to scroll down a bit but there's a great article called Simple, Sustainable, Clutter-Free Gift Ideas Simplifying The Holidays as well as 10 Ways To Eat Organic On The Cheap

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I'm Totally Floored!

Actually, I wish I was totally floored; right now I'm just a bit torn up. I'm talking about the floor in my kitchen, hallway and living room. We've needed to replace the rugs and linoleum for quite a while and today the process of removing the old stuff began.

After much discussion and price checking we decided to put down a laminate wood floor. Just this morning we chickened out. Once we calculated the cost of covering the 500 square feet we needed to cover (about $1900) we checked out other options.

Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that we'd have to cover such a large expanse of space at one time. Our solution is functional, decorative and much more economical. We've decided to put down self stick 18" x 18" tile through the hallway and kitchen. They have a lifetime warranty, the larger size will make the job move along quickly and, even though we'll have to put down a layer of thin plywood over then whole floor first, the cost is about 1/4 of what we were going to spend. Also if the dog decides to dig a hole in one of the tiles, as he did with the sheet of linoleum that had been in my kitchen, I can easily replace it.

We're going to leave the living room for after the holidays. We might put down carpet. We might put down a wood patterned self stick tile. We may even decide to put down the laminate wood flooring in there after all. No matter what we choose, I feel relief knowing that the price tag won't be as high and I won't have to pay it all at once.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Thanksgiving Meal Planning

Yesterday's mail came bearing gifts, The Vegan Lunchbox Cookbook has arrived! My kids have already begun to persue its pages. I'm sure lunch requests will follow, although lately my 14 year old just wants generic looking sandwiches. How boring!

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, the hunt begins for that perfect recipe to bring to the family table. It has to be omnivore friendly, it has to travel and reheat well. We cook it at our house and reheat it at my mom's.

In the past I've done Tofurky in a crock pot and Red Lentil Roast with Gravy. I'm looking for something new. I can't bear the thought of being accused of eating "boring" food.

I'm leaning towards one of PETA's nut roast recipes. There are more of them in The Compassionate Cook. Check out a whole range of vegetarian holiday recipe options. I will definitely be making the pumpkin pie recipe that I posted last year. It was easy and gave extremely consistent results.

I'm planning to do a practice run of whatever main course I choose on Saturday. I think its important to do a practice run or you might take a real stinker to the party, like the horrible acorn squash recipe I tried last year. As vegetarians, like it or not, the pressure is on you to prove that your food is just as tasty as everyone elses. There's just too much bad PR to deal with if the dish isn't delicious.

I'll try to get all the other Thanksgiving posts organized under the "vegetarian holiday cooking label" in the next day or two.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Cajun Red Beans and Rice

This recipe was posted Jennifer C. on the Healthy Vegetarian Crockpot Cooking yahoo group last week. It was very easy and very delicious. I've put my substitutions in parenthesis. As always, most of my substitutions are based on using what I have in the house rather than making a trip out to the store.

Cajun Red Beans and Rice

1 pound small red beans
1 tablespoon boullion (1 Tbs All Season Blend from The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook by Joanne Stepaniak)
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
Several dashes of hot sauce (I skipped this and let everyone add their own)
2-3 bay leaves
2 small onions
1 green bell pepper (finely shredded kale)
5-6 stalks celery (1 celeriac and some chopped collard stems)
2-3 cloves garlic
About 6-7 cups of water (I used boiling water because I was nervous the beans wouldn't cook up by dinner time).

Serve with:
fresh parsley, minced
prepared brown rice

Dice the veggies very finely. Throw everything into a pot and let it
simmer for several hours (or throw everything into a crockpot and let
it cook 7-8 hours). Once the beans are very tender, remove several
scoops of them and purée them to make a paste. Or just put them in a
bowl and mash the heck out of them. Stir them back into the pot. Serve with brown rice and fresh parsley.

I cooked this in the slow cooker and didn't bother to mash or puree the beans. The result was a yummy dinner with minimal effort. If you're wondering why I used kale in place of the pepper but collard stems in place of the celery, it was because I had already used the leaves from the collards in something else and the stems were just sitting their in the fridge. I also find that collard stems work best in a long cooking recipe since they tend to be tougher than kale stems.

Last night I discovered that one of the teenage girls I recently hired is a veggie also! Isn't that a happy coincidence.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Do You Have Any Unclaimed Funds?

I've always heard about unclaimed funds but never gave them any thought until I checked out New York Unclaimed Funds. This is the website for the comptroller of New York and all you have to do is input your name to see if you've got any money lying around. Naturally, I had none but my hubby did! We just have to have the form notarized before we send it in to be processed.

That was a pretty interesting, but unexpected, experience. I'd imagine other state comptrollers have similar websites as well. It certainly wouldn't hurt to look.

Its a gloomy looking day in New York. The kind of day you want to snuggle up with a blanket and a book. I'll be making some Lima Bean Minestrone Soup in the pressure cooker.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

There's Always More to Learn!

I've just begun reading The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. Its a pretty graphic read for its time. The descriptions of the slaughterhouses read like the script of a PETA documentary.

I'm trying out a Cajun Beans and Rice recipe in the slow cooker today. If its a hit, I'll share the recipe.

In other news, I'm so aggravated. I got my free copy of the Environmental Risks of Breast Cancer a few days ago and one of the chemicals they list as a risk, paraben, is in nearly everything, deodorant, hair gel...even the Nature's Gate shampoo and conditioner that I've been buying for years! So the frugal veggie hunt begins for alternate, eco-friendly, non paraben containing products. I swear, if I can find user friendly recipes, I'm going to just start making my own. More on this later...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Pasta & White Beans with Chunky Cheezy Vegetable Sauce

I wandered into the kitchen last night with only the vaguest plan for dinner. In knew I had white beans already cooked and that was about it. I put a pot of water up to boil and took out my container of Instant Cheez-It dry sauce mix from The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook by Joanne Stepaniak. A plan was developing!

I mixed a double batch of the Instant Cheez-It sauce (1 cup of mix to 2 cups of water) and added a dash of olive oil to it. I put this over medium low heat, whisking every few minutes while I began chopping some very iffy looking tomatoes. I then chopped some roasted red peppers and a fairly huge amount of kale, saving the stems for another time. Once the Instant Cheez-It sauce began to thicken I tossed in the tomatoes, peppers and kale.

By this time the water had boiled and the pasta was already cooking. Just before the pasta was completely cooked I added the already cooked beans to the boiling water to heat them. Once the pasta was tender, I drained the bean/pasta mixture.

By then the cheez sauce was thick enough and the kale was wilted, so I mixed it into the pasta/bean mixture. The result was unbelievably good. No complaints about taking leftovers for lunch today!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Did You Remember to Vote?

If you didn't vote yet, there's still time so get out and do it. 'Nuff said.

I ended up making the leftover black beans and barley with the cornbread topping last night. It was just too convenient to pass up. I did find that I had to cook the whole thing longer than I would if I was simply making cornbread. It took 40 minutes to get the cornbread topping to cook completely. Jim wasn't thrilled with it but he had unwittingly taken the same thing for lunch. I think he was just bored because everyone else enjoyed it.

I forgot that I have to teach a class tonight and unfortunately I didn't set the slow cooker up as I intended. I'll be putting together a pasta and white bean dish of some sort before running out. I've been flipping through The Garden of Vegan for inspiration.

In other frugal news, I've been doing a great deal of mending recently, mostly missing buttons and split seams. Its been piling up for weeks. Its nice to see the pile diminish in size. Of course, with four kids there will always be more on the way.

Jim made a trip to the Salvation Army this morning to donate some of our useful clutter (useful to someone else, clutter to us). To regular readers we must seem like clutter magnets. Its one of the hazards of accepting hand-me-downs. Amy Dacyzyn talks about this in The Complete Tightwad Gazette. She mentions, if you're really picky about what you accept from people, they may stop offering you things and you may miss a real gem. A fairly regular trip to the thrift store to donate the excess seems a small price to pay.

With the weather getting colder, the days getting shorter and my goofy neighbor putting up Christmas lights already, the holidays are obviously on their way. Now's the time for a little frugal holiday planning. I'll begin sharing my holiday ideas later this week.

Monday, November 06, 2006

A Mini Bulk Cooking Spree

I've been itching to build on my first bulk cooking experience back in September but I've had trouble finding the block of time to do it. This weekend I did a smaller verison that should last the week.

I began by making 6 loaves of Barbara's bread. The results were once again spectacular. I should mention that this bread is a dream to mix in my bread bucket. It comes together into a ball beautifully and cleans the inside of the bread bucket in the interim. Like Barbara, I wind up using about 3 1/2 cups of whole wheat bread flour for each recipe.

I also made a huge batch of black beans and rice, actually I used barley. We had this for dinner Saturday along with salsa, guacamole and tortilla chips. The leftovers will be topped with cornbread batter for a meal later in the week.

I cooked up a big batch of white beans to use as the base for several meals during the week. Since the beans are already cooked, I can set them up in a recipe in the slow cooker the night before, refrigerate and then begin cooking in the morning. You need to have a slow cooker with a removable crock to do this.

Finally, I made 4 loaved of Apple Bread and a triple batch of my granola to use as breakfasts and snacks. I tried something new with my granola to cut down my use of sugar. I put 1 cup of date pieces into my Vita-Mix, covered them with water and pureed them. I added this to my granola recipe and cut the sugar from 3/4 per recipe down to 1/4 cup per recipe. That amount of dates is for the triple version of the recipe but you get the idea. The results were fabulous, no one detected the change and once I mentioned it, no one cared!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A Leftover Casserole Creation

The weather is getting colder, it must be casserole time! I love casseroles because they are a great way to use up leftovers, they dirty only one pot and the heat of the oven warms the kitchen.

Earlier this week I combined leftover Vegan Sloppy Joe's with 2 large, uncooked, cubed sweet potatoes and put this mixture in a greased 9" x 12" baking pan. I topped this with some leftover mashed potatoes and a sprinle of paprika. I cooked it in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes, until the top was beginning to brown and the sweet potatoes were tender. I'd imagine you could cut your cooking time down if your sweet potatoes were already cooked.

The result was very much like a sheperds pie but with a tomato based gravy.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Friday Freebies

Here are this Friday's links:

Yogi Tea Samples

Juicy Juice Sippy Cup

Free Gentle Thanksgiving Kit

Tomorrow I'll share my latest leftover creation.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Its Cold But the Garden Still Grows

Swiss chard and kale are just amazing. We've had a little frost and a lot of cold nights in the high 30's but still they grow, in containers! In theory they should die off quicker in containers because the soil cools more quickly but they didn't get the memo. I wonder how long I can keep them going?

After work today, we'll be upending the last of our potato barrels. I'm anxious to see how many pounds of potatoes we ended up producing. The challenge I've discovered is what to do with the dirt afterwards. From what I've read, using the same container soil 2 years in a row is not recommended because of the potential for pests to thrive in it. I believe crop rotation is important for regular gardens as well.

The Jerusalem Artichokes grew wonderfully as well. I'm planning on harvesting a few just to see what they taste like. My overall plan is to let them spread and take over the patch of garden I planted them in.

My herbs are all indoors and frankly the mint isn't happy. I've yet to find a spot it likes. Its dropping leaves like crazy. On the other hand, the sprig of sage that I rooted a few weeks back seems to be doing well.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Vegan Sloppy Joes

The candles were a big Halloween hit at the gym, although one member did ask why we didn't do Tootsie Rolls instead. She wasn't unhappy with her candle, she just had a Tootsie Roll jones and needed a fix. Personally, I never liked Tootsie Rolls, give me real chocolate rather than rubber chocolate substitute any day.

The neighborhood goblins were happy with the chocolate and pretzels that we gave out. I let the girls take all their candy to school today. I just want it out of the house. One option for chocolate candy is to cut them into small, chip size pieces. Place these in the freezer and use them in place of chocolate chips in cookies. The results can be quite unique.

Take out restaurants must make a fortune on Halloween. I know I was the only person cooking in my neighborhood last night. I mentioned yesterday that I had an excess of produce in the fridge from last weeks CSA pick up. The majority of it was greens. I have a repertiore of strongly seasoned recipes that hold up well with the slightly bitter flavor that can accompany some greens. Last night rather than use beans, I opted to make Vegan Sloppy Joes.

There are a lot of variations on this recipe but my favorite is based on a recipe from Feed Your Family For $12.00 a Day by Rhonda Barfield. Here's the recipe:

In a heavy pot over medium heat combine:
1 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion or leek diced
1 large bunch of kale, chopped with stems or chopped celery, or beet greens, chopped with stems or collards chopped with stems or 1 large celeriac, peeled and chopped or any combination of the above.

Let this cook for about 3 minutes stirring frequently. If you've used a lot of leafy greens, cook them until they wilt down. Add in:

3 cups tvp
3 cups of boiling water
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup vinegar
2-4 Tbs brown sugar (I started using 4, now I use 2)
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp seasoned salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp pepper

Stir to combine. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.

I love to serve this over bulgur.