Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sprouts, Figs & Sweater Poop

The mung bean and alfalfa sprouts are ready to go. I'm going to try them in a recipe for Sweet and Sour Bean Sprouts that I found in The New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook by Jean Hewitt.

I discovered 5 more wide mouth jars that will work with my sprouting lids. Yeah! Now I have no excuse not to have continuous sprout harvests. I also discovered that Sproutpeople is offering a stainless steel version of my plastic sprouting lids. Replacing my plastic lids with the stainless steel version is definitely on my to do list.

I also found a sprouting tube that was in with the sprouting lids I picked up at the thrift store last year. Now that I'm moving away from using plastic, I'm not sure if I'll be using the tube or donating it.

This brings me to a revelation I had yesterday. The more I think about it, the more I'm with Chile. I don't give a hoot how Steve Meyerowitz grows his sprouts. For now, I'm content with using jars and I'm having good success with them too! I like trying to time the "harvest" of the sprouts with the meal that evening rather than worrying about storing the sprouts in the fridge to use another day. I'm not suggesting his methods don't work. I'm simply suggesting that his book makes sprouting more complicated than it has to be.

I have an inordinate amount of parsley in the freezer. Truly, its an astounding amount. It seems my best bet to use it up is to make tabbouleh (let me just state for the record that I think tabouleh sets the record for the largest number of possible spellings ever seen in a cookbook. Honestly, I just found it spelled tabooley in the aforementioned NYT Natural Foods Cookbook).

As for the figs, the verdict is still out but check out these websites where I'll be looking for some inspiration. (If you're scratching your head and wondering, why does she need recipes for figs??, remember that sometimes buying in bulk goes wrong and leaves you with a lot of something that you only like a little.)

California Figs

Valley Figs

Here's a Fig Spice Cake that sounds intriguing.

Skinny Fig Bars look good too

These Healthy Fig & Date cookies look so easy, I have to try them.

The Fig Manicotti looks intriguing but I don't think my kids will go for it.

In other frugal news, I've taken apart three sweaters that were headed for the donation bin for various reasons. Instead of unusable sweaters, I now have some very usuable yarn. Ruthie linked up to this great tutorial on how to do it a few months ago. It makes the process so much easier if you know what you're doing.

I can see why the unraveling was done outside in that tutorial. When you unravel inside, you wind up with a bunch of sweater poop on the floor!

I guess it was time to vacuum anyway.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Fruits & Veggies on My Mind

Its astounding to calculate how much food a family of six will go through in a month (or any period of time for that matter). What looked like an overful freezer that would surely last until spring, is dwindling.

I was a little aggravated that we will only are making it partly into February with my freezer/canning stash. Looking back on last year's posts I discovered I was still trying to empty the freezer in March! So what went wrong? How could we have increased our CSA shares by two yet ended up with an inadequate supply of veggies for the winter?

After a lot of thought, I believe I've discovered the problem. Its my sons, they keep growing and earting more as a result of it. (Awfully rude of them, don't you think??) Its a simple mistake but one worth noting. Years ago it could have been a life or death mistake (and might be again with peak oil looming...)

I've heard about calculating how much food you need to get through a winter but I've never actually tried. For us, a full freezer and cupboard has been enough. If we are to become more self sufficient, this is a calculation worth taking the time to make. Good health and healthy food go hand in hand so this is not a place I want to scrimp.

To that end, and in keeping with my plan to be part of Path to Freedom's 100 foot garden challenge, I've pulled out my sprouting jars and am two days into my sprouting of broccoli, alfalfa and mung beans.

Notice the very high tech device I use for tipping the tray so any drips run into the sink. It's a spare sprouting lid!

Today's quest is to find more wide mouth canning jars so I can get more sprouts going. I'll also do a little thinking about meals that use beets, winter squash puree, parsley, figs, garlic scapes and whatever else I might find lurking in my freezer. I'm on a quest to try to make it to next Saturday's Winter Sun Farm pickup without buying veggies. That means finding creative ways to use the sprouts as well as growing them.

Its also time to start thinking about what to add to my edible landscape this year. So far we've got blueberries, lingonberries, strawberries, purslane and Jerusalem artichokes.

One final thought, a fellow ecycler brought this site to my attention. Sheds and fences made out of pallet wood? I thought it was a really great use of an abundant free resource. Note: You have to scroll down past the ads to see what he's done with the pallets.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Braided Denim Rug Tutorial

***3/5/2014  UPDATE:  Check out A Better Recycled Rug for my latest thoughts on rug making***

Ruthie had asked for instructions on my braided denim rug. I don't pretend that my way is the best way, especially since this project has been largely dormant for well over a year. That having been said, I do like the way it looks.

I start by cutting the strips into strips that are about 2 1/4 inches wide. I don't care how long the strips are because they will be sewn together into a long strip anyway. I try to keep the strips I've cut organized by color (amount of fading actually). This allows me to keep the colors in my rug marbeled rather than winding up with a big patch of one color or another.

To get started, I sew several of the same color strips together until I have a strip that is about 6 feet long. I find anything longer is difficult to work with. You might even want to start with a shorter length until you get used to the braiding process. Repeat this until you have three strips that are about 6 feet long or your chosen length.

Here's the time consuming part. I fold the edges of the strips in and sew them together to create a finished edge. So the strip you actually braid with winds up being about a 1/2 inch wide. In looking at other rag rug patterns on the internet (and let's face it, this is a rag rug), I don't know if this is really necessary. I'd love to hear from other people who've done it without sewing the edges. Once I've sewn the edges I roll up most of the strip to make it easier to work with.

I sewed the ends of the three strips together and began braiding. This is a pain to get started. I pinned mine to the arm of the couch to keep it steady while I tried to get the braid started. I try to be very deliberate about the braiding and avoid twisting the fabric so the finished product will lay flat. Is this really important? I suspect because of the weight of the denim that it might be. However, if you were using a lighter fabric or you weren't finishing the edges, it probably wouldn't be a big deal at all.

Once I had braided a length of about 3 feet, I folded the braid in half and stitched the center together to create the center of my rug. From that point forward, I sew a few more strips on, finish the edges, braid a little, and sew the new lenth of braid onto the rug.

To give the rug more stability, I periodically flip it over and sew the back edges of the strips together as well.

Ruthie found this rag rug tutorial, which I'm really intrigued by. Here are instructions for another braided rag rug.

Here's a book that sounds very interesting on the subject. I've just requested it through inter library loan so I'll let you know how it is.
Handmade Rugs from Practically Anything
by Jean Ray Laury and Joyce Aiken. Countryside Press: Philadelphia, 1972.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Softer Hands While You Grease the Pans

It's easier to get help in the kitchen if the helpers know they will recieve some benefit as a result of helping. The boys like to lick the spoon of whatever was being mixed. The promise of this will get them to help with almost any kitchen task. (Its a little odd but they don't care what was mixed, everything from pancake batter to cookie dough is fair game as far as they are concerned. They don't seem to notice that some things just taste better cooked). The girls, on the other hand, are motivated purely by if you don't do this, then you can't do that logic/threats. That's what life with teenagers is like though.

But how do you get someone to do the really icky tasks, like greasing the pans and muffin tins? (I hate getting my hands all slimy). You just have to match the right person up with the right job. Jim works outside and all winter long struggles with dry, cracked skin on his hands despite slathering them with lotion. What better candidate to get his hands all greasy?

He was skeptical when I told him that I thought he'd enjoy greasing the pans but he's a good sport, so he gave it a try. After greasing a few muffin tins, his hands were fairly oily. Rather than washing the oil off, he rubbed the oil in. He felt it worked better than any lotion he had tried. Now he's willingly become the official pan greaser in our house and I'm thrilled because he never misses a spot.

Otis frequently positions himself so he can keep an eye on things in the kitchen.

Speaking of the furry family members, Jim made an amazing find at a tiny thrift store that I usually avoid. Its not one of my favorites, in fact, I often refer to it as a shit shop. You all know the kind. It smells damp and funky, the lighting is bad, half of the stuff is broken and all of the stuff is overpriced. Some big changes went on since I'd been there last. It was cleaner, better organized and the prices were more reasonable.

I stumbled upon a 2 cup pyrex measuring cup to replace my plastic one. Jim found a very high quality, older, Oster dog clipper. The package had a receipt in it from Caldor dated 1973! Back then it cost $14.99, now a comparable one sells for almost a $100. We got it for $2.00! What a coup!

We've had our eye on one of these for quite a while because Mel gets so matted that he frequently renders the Flowbee useless. Click here for the back story on Mel and the Flowbee haircuts. Now the Flowbee will go in the to be donated pile which is ever growing.

The clipper is amazing but Mel's still looking a little sketchy. His haircuts can take a day or two because he gets so agitated. Plus, it doesn't help that I couldn't figure out how to put the guard on. I've used clippers for years on the boys but the guards always clipped on. This one slides on. I didn't know, I thought the clips had broken off. As a result, Mel's got some spots with really short hair and he's embarassed. He's asked me not to take any pictures until I even him out. You know how these macho dogs can be. I'll leave you with a before picture of him instead.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Long Awaited Denim Potholder Tutorial

Who knew writing down all the steps to make something really simple could be so much work?? Kudos to all the bloggers out there who routinely set up how-to tutorials.

The first step to making your potholder is to decide how big you want it to be and then make a template. My template is a puzzle box that is 6 3/4 inches by 8 inches. To make two potholders you will need four squares that look like this.

I use a rectangular shape because it works well with the legs of jeans, causing minimal waste. You can choose whatever shape tickles your fancy. Despite this, I am going to continue to refer to "the denim square" throughout this post.

The next step is to make a template for your insulating layer. It should be at least 1/2 inch smaller all around than your denim square. I use old blankets, fleece scraps or sweatshirt material for this. Use whatever is handy and will provide enough insulation so you don't burn your hands. Center this smaller square on the larger one and pin in place like this.

I like to pin opposite edges first to keep things centered. Once that is done, pin the other two sides so it looks like this.

Don't let the corners intimidate you. Just fold them under to create a fold. Don't do any fancy folding or you'll create a huge lump that will be impossible to sew through.

Repeat this with your second potholder. Now you have two that look like this.

I chose to the pockets of the jeans so here's what the back of my squares look like.

WARNING: Incorporating the pockets into the potholder is a pain in the ass and best not attempted the first time to avoid frustration. It is difficult centering the pocket and sewing through the extra layers of material. Wait until you've made a few and are comfortable before attempting.

Now its time to stitch the denim and insulation layers together. I'm a fan of hand sewing while watching movies with my hubby but a sewing machine would work as well. Once you've sewn these, set them aside.

I opted to add a design to the remaining two squares, this is totally up to you. To add a cross stitched piece, like the ladybug below, fold all the raw edges in and pin as shown. (I centered mine on the lace pattern of the jeans rather than the square itself, which was probably a mistake.)

I stitched the square of cross stitch fabric onto the denim square using red embroidery thread to create a border. Here's the two sides of the potholder ready to be put together.

Now, flip the side that doesn't have the insulation sewn in over and center the side that does have the insulation on it. The wrong sides of the fabric will be facing each other. Pin the opposite sides in place.

Flip the potholder over so the side without the insulation is on top. Starting with the two unpinned sides, begin folding the raw edge under, making it even with the side you've already sewn, and pin in place. Take out the two pins we put in in the last step. Fold under and pin these sides as well. Pin the edges last, remembering to fold these edges under the opposite way of the edge it faces. This will avoid creating a lumpy corner.

Before we begin sewing the two sides together, we need to add a loop of some sort to hang this potholder up. I've used clean shoe laces, those goofy around the waist ties that re in so many pajama pants but always fall out and numerous other things. This time, I used a scrap of denim to create the loop. I cut two equal rectangular lengths of denim, then folded the raw edges in and stitched.

I folded this in half and centered mine. You can also fold it in half and then slide the bottom edges apart (it will look sort of like a triangle) and sew it in place. It will lay flat against whatever it is hung on if you use this method instead.

I stitched the two sides together using a dark blue thread and then did a decorative stitch with red embroidery thread. I like to do the final decorative stitch not only for decoration but to reinforce as well. Here's the edge.

I also usually add a knot or two, just as you would when quilting, to make sure the insulation layer doesn't shift. Here's the final product.

Friday, January 18, 2008

A Few Thoughts for Friday

The sprouting book I've been reading is irritating me a bit. It totally poo-poos the use of jars for sprouting. Although I can see why baskets might be a good option, I've had really good luck with sprouting in jars. Plus, for me its about using what you have. For now, I plan to continue using jars despite their limitations. Although, I might try a batch of sprouts in one of my metal colanders just to see what happens.

I'm irritated lately by the waste that is all around us. I'm further irritated by the fact that very few people seem to notice it. What really makes me aggravated is sometimes I'm a part of it. Sure, I have my reusable grocery bags in the car but until very recently, I only brought them into the grocery store. Besides, grocery bags are only one piece of the puzzle.

How do you convince people to think beyond putting the garbage into the can or recycling bin? What about the things you buy weekly that are hard to break down (like the Silk containers that we go through so quickly)? Is it more eco-friendly to make your own soymilk? What about the great locally grown foods that are available only in plastic tubs? What trumps what? Does local in plastic beat non-local in bulk bins?

These are the things I'll be wrestling with. Although it seems daunting, I will not slide into inactivity. I feel like a pioneer of sorts.

Its funny that Ruthie seems to be experiencing similar angst. Check out her recent posts here and here.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Anatomy of a Barter

It seems so simple. I'm looking for something. You have what I'm looking for. You offer it to me. I give you something in return. Both participants benefit from the exchange yet no money changes hands. I come away from this simple explanation wondering why bartering doesn't occur more frequently?

I've encountered formal barter arrangements at food coops and our CSA. In both instances, you do volunteer work hours in exchange for a discount. It seems to work well in both those instances, so again I wonder why it doesn't occur more often?

I'm currently involved in a barter with Ruthie. She's giving me Simple Foods for the Pack and I'm giving her a pair of denim potholders. (They're almost done Ruthie, I swear!!)

What bartering have you done? What skill do have that you could barter with?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Sprouts on my Mind

I've just begun reading Sprouts the Miracle Food: The Complete Guide to Sprouting by Steve Meyerowitz. I picked this up at a library book sale a while back. I figure if I'm to really be a part of Path to Freedom's Hundred Foot Garden Challenge in January in the Northeast, sprouting is the way to go. I've had pretty good success with my earlier sprouting attempts and this book seems to have a great deal of information on improving the variety of what I've been sprouting. I'm intrigued.

I also stumbled upon a New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook by Jean Hewitt which has an entire section devoted to recipes using sprouts. There are the sprout recipes you'd expect to see where they're used in salads but the sprouted wheat balls and broiled sprouted wheat patties are high on my list of things to try.

Here's another sprout recipe link we can all explore. I'll definitely be posting more about this soon.

Monday, January 14, 2008

What Is That?

In the warm months of summer and early fall, I often freeze excess produce from our CSA pickups to help get us through the winter. Sometimes my labeling of this produce is less than adequate. This weekend, I came upon two containers of something that might have been Chinese cabbage or might have been lettuce (there was a lot more than we could use some weeks). Its hard to plan how to use something when you're not sure what it is. I was tempted to toss it back into the freezer.

Instead I decided to use it in a recipe that either cooked cabbage or cooked lettuce could work in, simple vegan fried rice. My version of this is largely inspired by Stephanie Scarborough's one in her zine, The Complete Cheap Vegan.

I started by cooking some bulgur since I seem to be out of brown rice. I a seperate pot I began to defrost the mystery veggie mentioned above. Once it was partially defrosted I cut it into very thin shreds and set it aside. Next, I tossed in some frozen veggies we had gotten from our Winter Sun Farm pickup this weekend. While the veggies defrosted, in yet another pan, I crumbled and heated up some leftover veggie burgers that I'd made.

Once everything was heated through, I tossed everything into the largest pot and added some ginger (I used crystallized ginger crumbled up very small), tamari and a few drops of toasted sesame oil. The toasted sesame oil is what really gives it a great flavor. Having eaten the mystery veggie, I'm still not sure what it was but it worked very well in the recipe. Everyone devoured the tiny bit of leftovers yesterday at lunchtime.

Last night, Jim, the boys and I did the food prep for dinner together. We are embarking on a major cleaning in the boys' room and wanted to have dinner cooking while we got the process underway. We put together the Seitan Cutlets from Veganomicon, a quick tomato vegetable soup and (finally) the corn crackers from Simple Foods from the Pack. I felt like a crazed traffic cop directing everyone around the kitchen (ie. vital wheat gluten is in the cabinet to the left of the stove on the top shelf, right hand side - why do I know that??)

We served the seitan with mustard over couscous. The taste/texture reminded me and Jim of veggie hot dogs. I prefer the baked setian texture but I'm intrigued at the thought of creating my own veggie hot dogs.

The corn crackers went very well with the tomato soup which, by the way, wasn't the most complicated recipe in the world. It was inspired by the tomato soup recipe in The Complete Tightwad Gazette but, in the true spirit of tightwaddery, it was altered to use what I had onhand.

Tomato Vegetable Soup
2 28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes plus whatever water it takes to get the residue of tomato out of the cans
2 tsp celery seed (this might be overpowering so consider starting with 1 tsp and adding the 2nd if you want more flavor)
1/2 tsp seasoned salt
vegetables (I used kale and chopped peppers)

Let the soup simmer until everything is heated through. Serve as is or add some plain soymilk to make cream of tomato soup. If you are going to add some soymilk, let the soup cool a bit first to avoid curdling.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Doing the Friday Food Follow Up

I feel so brain dead by the time Friday rolls around. That's too bad because Friday is a time to look back on the week in food. It's a time to calculate the successes and failures of your cooking from the last week. It's an opportunity to use this new information to make the next week in food better.

Sometimes it's not about whether the meals tasted good or bad. Instead it can focus on too much repetition during the week (ie. if I have to eat that raspberry fig bar one more morning I'll kill someone!) or not enough (ie. who ate all the Thai noodles, I wanted to take them for lunch too!) or mismanagement of resources (ie. where can 6 loaves of bread go in just 5 days? Who's eating tons of toast again??).

Being successfully frugal in the kitchen requires paying attention to individual family members' needs, within limits. Personally, if I make a batch of muffins or quick bread I am willing to eat the same thing for breakfast, and even an afternoon snack, all week. The convenience of it already being made outweighs the boredom of repetition for me. It drives Jim a little batty. He can eat it for breakfast or he can eat it for snack but not both for 5 days in a row. His request for a little more variety isn't unreasonable especially when you consider that he is willing to deal with repetition on especially hectic weeks. Knowing this, I can plan better for the coming week.

The kids need more guidance in the kitchen and are most often the culprits in the missing bread because I ate a lot of toast mysteries. They all need reminding about what's an acceptable snack and what will throw our food planning into a tizzy if eaten. Mine get more of a say in the whole process if they're willing to help with the cooking.

Friday is also a great day to cull together the remaining leftovers of the week into one lovely, fridge emptying meal. My challenge is to create a meal from leftover pasta with sauce and tvp, split pea soup, some beets and their cooking liquid, some peanut sauce, some fennel with lima beans and couscous and three burgers that were made of leftovers themselves. Sometimes you can combine them and sometimes you just need to heat everything up and serve it buffet style.

I'm not entirely sure how I'll put these leftovers together but I'm leaning toward combining the pasta dish with the fennel dish, topping it with Fake Fake (a parmesan substitute that's a mix of ground walnuts, nutritional yeast, garlic powder and seasoned salt) and baking it in the oven. The split pea soup, beets and burgers could either become more burgers or another soup. I lean toward making it into burgers because that particular batch of split pea soup wasn't my best.

Does all this planning sound like too much work? Don't kid yourself, the time you save by not thinking about your food for the next week is negated by the elevation in stress level of standing before an open fridge, trying to figure out what's for dinner knowing you have to get your son/daughter to swim lessons in 1/2 an hour. I know because I've been there.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Review of Plato's Closet

In the whirlwind of snow and kids going back to school last week, I never blogged about our trip to Plato's Closet.

I was skeptical and so were the girls but I figured it was worth a try. It just sounded so utopian, a thrift store geared toward teens that carried designer labels only and had a clothing buy back program? The closest store to us was in Albany, about an hour and 15 minutes away, and basically on our way to the Adirondacks. The plan was to let the girls shop at Plato's Closet while we explored Albany.

Note to parents of preteen girls - You may not know this yet but once your daughter becomes a teenager, you are the uncoolest thing in your daughter's life. You have no fashion sense and are embarassing to shop with. You obviously want your daughter to be a social pariah because of your desire to have her dress like a little girl (ie. most parts of the torso covered). That having been said, daughters are much easier to deal with clothes-wise when they are paying for their own clothes, with their own money. They suddenly become better shoppers (ie. I'm not paying $5 for that cami, there's nothing to it).

The store was clean, well organized and appealed to my daughters immensely. They had brought a bag of clothes to sell and the salesperson was very helpful. They had been afraid she might be "wierd" about it. They left the clothes with her while they began shopping. Once their "buy" had been calculated their name was put on a chalk board so they new without asking that she had finished going through their clothes and was ready to make them an offer. The transaction itself can be done while checking out when you're done shopping.

Once the bargain hunting was well underway, Jim, the boys and I went exploring and stumbled quite by accident onto the Honest Weight Food Coop. If you ever find yourself in Albany, NY you have to check this place out. The staff is friendly, the selection is amazing, food made on site is delicious and reasonably priced. The vegan BLT is awesome!

Back at Plato's Closet, I ventured in, risking the wrath of the teens but they were too busy loading up with bargains. The girls had spent about an hour and a half there and could easily have spent more. Once at the register, they discovered the clothing they had brought in to sell wasn't what Plato's Closet was looking for (ie. last years style, too worn) to which Leenie responded, "Well duh, that's why I was getting rid of them." The girls were given the option to take the clothes back or to let the store donate them to a local shelter. They opted to donate them.

They each spent about $50. Leenie got three pairs of jeans (some name brand that meant a lot to her but nothing to me!) and several shirts. Tasha got two pairs of pants and 5 shirts. Now that both of them are working, they would like to make this a monthly pilgrimage. This is definitely a more palatable thrift store experience for teens than digging through the clothes at the Salvation Army, although SA is still my favorite place to treasure hunt. Aside from the great clothing selection, the nicest thing from a teen point of view was how teen friendly the store staff was. It's definitely worth a trip.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Using What You've Got

I have a real love of depression era and wartime rationing era recipes for the creativity they used in creating meals out of what was available. While the recipes themselves may not be veg, many are veg friendly since meat was more of a condiment in those times. At the very least, they give us an insight into combining things to stretch our food budget.

This leads nicely into something I've been reading about in the last Path to Freedom newsletter, Path to Freedom's 100 Foot Garden Challenge, which is reminiscent of victory gardens. I think its a great idea, although a real challenging one. Are you in?

Here are some interesting links to and about recipes from these time periods. They might even give some ideas for what we'd like to grow for the 100 foot garden challenge:

Two Depression Era Cake Recipes that are vegan if you substitute oil or margarine for the lard

Depression Era Recipes Don't Have to Be Depressing

Great Depression Recipes

Food Timeline 1930's 1940's is very interesting as well. I'm always amazed that stewed prunes turns up on all of these menus.

Homemaking Depression Style

A Peek at the Push for Victory Gardens with original posters and text

Making Do - Check out the Mock Duck recipe on this site

Check out the Mock Goose and Mock Black Pudding recipes

Wartime Recipes

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Frantic Frugal Veggie Mama?

Now that both of my daughters are working, I feel like I'm becoming the frantic frugal veggie mama. Food prep and cooking have to be fit in between driving the girls to and from work, as well as, picking up Jim at the train station and swim team/swim lessons for Rob and Kyle.

Fortunately, everything is concentrated in one location that is only 15 minutes from our house. Jim's train gets in just in time for us to pick him up and get the boys/girls to the Y in time for their class/job. While the boys are doing their thing, Jim takes time to exercise. I sit in the bleachers watching the swim lesson/team and knit. Knitting makes me feel like I'm doing something productive while I'm stuck there.

Food is a little trickier. On Mondays and Wednesdays (our most hectic nights), I'm trying to have dinner done and the boys fed before we leave for all the evening activities. It doesn't always work out so well. Last night Rob loved the mac and cheeze so much that he had a second serving and wound up with cramps while he was swimming!

I also made some burgers using leftover Cajun Black Eyed Peas. Right before we left, I turned the oven off but left the burgers in. They got nice and crispy using the residual heat and were still piping hot when we got back.

One positive thing about this time of year is that the veggies I'm working with are generally frozen. This means they've already been cleaned and cut which saves me precious time. If you were looking for something good to say about winter that might be it!

At Ruthie's suggestion, I've been trying recipes from Simple Recipes from the Pack . So far I'm pleased with the results, everything has been tasty and holds up well in the lunch box. I had to ration the Anzac cookies they were such a big hit. (I cut the sugar in this recipe almost by 1/2.)

I did destroy a batch of Pumpkin Pie Cakes by accidentally putting in 1 tsp of nutmeg instead of 1/4 tsp! On first bite the kids said they tasted great. Then, their faces turned and they said there was some kind of an after taste (overpowering nutmeg). I couldn't bear to throw them out so Jim and I choked through the last of them today. I'll try them again with a keener eye on the spice amounts.

I'm anxious to try the corn cracker recipe Ruthie spoke of. I'm planning on trying it tonight to serve with a bean and fennel soup. If it goes well, it will make a great lunch box addition to go along with soup in general. (Crackers come under my definition of fun foods that are best served with more functional foods like soup.)

Ultimately, I'd like to create a repertiore of high nutrition snacks that hold well to make on the weekend and use during the week. Things you could grab when you find yourself low on time. If you're thinking, it sounds like she wants to make a nutrition bar without the wrapper, you're not too far off. The convenience of something like a Clif bar is undeniable but the expense and the wrapper waste is unbelievable. I've dabbled in this before but I need to get more serious about it. I think this cookbook is a good place to start.

Healthy foods and teenagers with spending money don't always walk hand in hand. I'm trying to encourage both of my daughters to peruse this cookbook, or any of my cookbooks, for foods they can bring along with them to work and school. This is very much a work in progress.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Little More Shameless Promotion

Remember a while back I shared my Just Start Grant application? Today's the last day to rate Just Start entries. Here's the link to mine. It takes a minute for my page to load so just be patient. If you like my idea, leave some feedback and tell a friend.

Thank You!

Staying Healthy This New Year

Jim and I watched Sicko this weekend. I'm not a huge Michael Moore fan (I think he routinely goes for the teary eyed shot) but I think he's right on the money with this movie. The healthcare system in America is a broken one, how can you put a monetary value on life and limb? Why don't we have access to universal health care like our European counterparts do? Why is health care in America a big money making business? No matter what you think of Michael Moore, its definitely worth a watch.

Watching the movie reminded me about the importance of prevention. Exercise, rest, healthy foods all play a big part in keeping healthcare costs at bay. To that end I whipped up some granola, experimented with some lunch bag snack recipes (more on that tomorrow - I have to wait for feedback from the kids), made 6 loaves of Barbara's bread and vowed to clear the kitchen counter enough to get back to sprouting this week.

This weekend we have another Winter Sun Farm pickup which will add some variety to what's in my freezer. Access to local veggies grown without pesticides is so important to health and the local economy.

So far I have kept my promise to myself to do yoga every weekday morning after I drop Jim off at the train. It's hard to unroll the mat at 6:10am, it's hard to meditate until 6:15 and it's hard to begin the most basic sun salutation after that. The whole time I'm doing yoga, I'm fantasizing about relaxation pose. Am I almost there? Can I skip a few poses to get me there quicker? When I finally settle into relaxation, it's bliss. I feel the tension in my muscles just melt away. In the end, I'm always glad that I pushed myself to do it.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Cool it Down and Still Get Your Zzz's

I made a big batch of Dr. Fuhrman's Famous Anti-Cancer Soup and served it along with biscuits and a tofu scramble for dinner last night. The soup really hit the spot. I like the creaminess the cashews give it. As usual I didn't follow the recipe exactly. I didn't use the Vege Base the recipe called for because I didn't have any. Instead I added a bit of miso before serving and it worked out very well.

We had to cook all the winter squash because it just wasn't holding well in our quasi root cellar anymore. I also needed a quick breakfast for everyone to grab as they race out the door to catch the school bus. Naturally, I realized this much later in the day than I would have hoped.

For a change I made the pumpkin cranberry scone recipe from Veganomicon, the latest cookbook from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, which I got for Christmas - Thanks Ray!! The recipe uses cardamom which I rarely use but it lends such a nice flavor. Its also a quick recipe to make and cook which gives it bonus points in my eyes.

I really like Isa's pumpkin muffins from Vegan with a Vengeance because of the combination of spices she uses as well. They really highlight the pumpkin. Truth be told, my kids and I know the spices in the pumpkin muffins by heart. We have a habit of chanting them as I head to the spice cabinet to get them. Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice cloves. Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice cloves. Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice cloves. You get the idea!

Of course I'm guilty of not following this recipe exactly either. I decreased the sugar, used currants instead of cranberries, added some sunflower seeds, used oatmeal in place of some of the flour and all of the flour I did use was whole wheat. (I wanted it to be more of a breakfast than a dessert.)

While making these scones, I discovered a less than orthodox way of dealing with how to cool this sudden burst of after dinner cooking and still getting to bed quickly. You can't put hot stuff in plastic containers (well you could, if cancer doesn't scare you but I'm not going to) besides hot baked goods make condensation which leaves you with nasty, soggy stuff in the morning. I can't leave anything on the counter to cool because my dogs and cat think its a buffet just for them. What to do?

My solution was to turn the oven off a few minutes before the scones were done and leave them in the oven until morning. Wait, you might be screaming, you'll still have a soggy mess because you didn't put them on a wire rack to cool. True the underside was a bit moist, which sounds much better than soggy, but this was easily corrected by a little go round in the toaster oven. I wouldn't do this everytime but it sure got me out of a bind this time.

For anyone wondering what squash has to do with pumpkin scones, any winter squash can be used in place of pumpkin in recipes.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

My First Sewing Project of the New Year

I made one correction to yesterday's yoga post. Sun salutation lacks spinal rotation and a balance pose. I usually fight my way through tree pose for balance. I actually need to work on balance poses a lot more since they are my weakness.

Yesterday was just as hectic as I thought it would be but I was able to accomplish everything, even getting yarn from the same dyelot to finish the leg warmers. I think I'll have them done by the weekend.

The thing about the leg warmer project that irritates me is the pattern calls for making them 26 inches long. From my daughters' perspective this is unnecessarily long but I didn't find this out until I had already bound off one of them. Had I known this sooner, I would have had enough yarn in the first place. (Obviously, I could have tried to unbind them but that scares me.)

I was thinking that one way to avoid a problem like this in the future is to wind the yarn into two equal size balls (ie. one for each leg warmer). Having this visual cue would help keep me on track. I mean, had I known I was running low on the one yarn, I could have changed to a different color for the last few rows, creating a stripe and then done the same on the second leg warmer. I think the dividing into two balls method would also be a good way for me to organize my thrift store yarn for bilateral projects like this one.

The kids are off to school this morning. Poor kids, its a whopping 4 degrees outside. What a welcome back to school that is. It was so cold when I drove Jim to the train that the keyless entry on my car wouldn't work. The fire is doing a nice job keeping the house pretty toasty but you can just feel the cold trying to get in. This is really our first frigid bit of weather and it inspired me to finally find a new use for the skinny quilts! They make great throw blankets to put on top of the boys' regular bedding on frigid nights.

The morning scramble for mittens just never lets up around here. I couldn't begin to count how many we've lost so far this year. It makes a person wonder how its possible that I have the same gloves in my coat for years at a time. Could be that I always put them back in my pockets, too bad my kids can't learn this simple lesson. Time for Plan B, which involves taking the leftover fleece I have and making mittens out of it and sewing said mittens onto coats with a little piece of elastic.

A well stocked, well organized fabric and notion stash is like a well stocked, well organized pantry. Both allow you to complete tasks without a trip to the store. I have everything I need to complete this project right here.
Here's a link to the fleece mitten pattern I used last year. Here's another that lets you personalize the size a bit more.

The cold weather in NY isn't letting up anytime soon, so let's get sewing! I'm planning to attack this later today.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

2008 Day 2, Back to Real Life

The thing about a few realxing days away is, it hurts to get back to the normal grind. The first day back is the worst. Although the kids don't go back to school until tomorrow, today is that day for me.

I was up at 5:15am to take Jim to the train station. Once back home, the whole drop off/get back home procedure takes about 15 minutes, I decided to ease into my day with a little yoga to get my head on straight.

Fifteen minutes later, I'd done medidtation (Biscuit licked my face to let me know 5 minutes were up. Who knew he could tell time??), sun salutation, spinal twist, shoulder stand, fish and relaxation. I felt much more able to tackle the day. My yoga teacher pointed out to us that a sun salutation moves you through all the body positions, except spinal rotation, hence the added spinal twist, and balance - I usually struggle through tree pose for this. I added shoulder stand in because I like the challenge of shoulder stand and fish is the counter pose.

If one of your resolutions is to do more yoga but you don't want to spend money on classes or you don't think you have the time, give Rodney Yee's AM Yoga a try. Its only 20 minutes but its a well balanced program. Take it out from the library to see if its for you.

If you know anyone who's training to be a yoga instructor, offer to be their student. Most yoga programs require you to volunteer teach, mine certainly does. You may be able to get the benefits of yoga while helping a friend.

Now, remembering the calmness yoga brings, I'm off to the shower. Then I'll drive my daughters to my brother's to babysit his two kids. Next, I'll head back to teach a class. Then I'll pick up the girls, possibly drop my niece and nephew off at daycare, drop Leen off at her final lifeguard training, hit the yarn store to pick up the yarn I need to finish Tasha's leg warmers (I'm a little cranky about this but I'll tell the tale another time), pick Leen up and finally go home to make dinner.

How many weeks until summer vacation??

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

Here are some long awaited hat pictures to get your new year started!

Here's Kyle wishing you a happy new year in his hand knitted hat. Kyle didn't request these colors but everyone who knows him swears this pattern screams "Kyle!"

Here's Rob offering his new year wishes in his hand knit hat. (He requested the colors and I used my imagination.)

Now remember, if I can figure out how to upload these pictures, you can accomplish any of your resolutions as well!