Monday, October 31, 2005

We Planted the Currant Bushes

What a weekend it has been! I spent almost the whole day at the gym helping at the Open House on Saturday. We did exercise demos every half hour, by the time I left at 2:45 I had almost no voice and was pooped.

I had warned Jim when we ordered the currant bushes, they would arrive at the most inconvenient time and need to be planted ASAP. True to my prediction, they arrived in Thursday evening's mail. Because of their untimely arrival, I barely got to change my clothes after my time at the gym before we loaded the whole family into the car for a quick overnight trip to the north to plant the currants. What seems like a great idea at one moment sometimes seems like an idiot's idea the next!

Thanks goodness for the time change, we really needed that extra hour Sunday morning. I had put a potato scramble in the slow cooker Saturday evening before bed to make the morning go smoother. We also had a ton of leftover apple pancakes, which I popped into the oven before I got in the shower Sunday morning. In less than 30 minutes we had a hot breakfast, rounded out with orange juice and coffee (thanks to Jim for getting the coffee brewing!)

While at breakfasts we made our plan of attack for planting the bushes. We had to be on the road by 1:30 at the latest or risk missing a family birthday party at my parents' house. Since the family birthday party was my own, we really couldn't be late. We broke the task of planting into parts. I marked the holes, Jim dug the holes, the boys brought over the bare root bushes to the holes, I planted the bushes, Leen followed with a small layer of worm castings, Tash and the boys filled the holes with water, and Jim covered the holes with a final layer of mulch. In less than two hours, we had planted 20 currant bushes!

We closed up and were on the road by 1:30 on the nose. My only complaint is that the bushes are not guaranteed for fall planting but that must have been in really tiny print because I never saw it on the website. Grrrr!! Despite this, I'm hopeful, most everything I read suggested fall planting to be a better choice for currants than spring planting. I'll let you know.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

When the Fruit Flies Come for a Visit

I noticed the first fruit fly the other day. One fruit fly mean more are on the way and since the one we had was hanging out by our apples, it was obviously time to use or lose the apples. I got them cut and into a pot simmering ASAP. I added cinnamon, allspice and cloves in the same proportions Barbara mentioned in her Crockpot Apple Butter recipe (I had a lot more than 8-10 apples in there). I let it all cook until it was soft but not long enough to make it apple butter. I ran it through the blender, set aside some as applesauce and designated the rest to be used in baking.

The rest of our week, including Saturday, promise to be hectic so I made several batches of Apple Maple Muffins. Okay, truth is I made 8 dozen of them! Bear in mind, some went to my continuing ed class, we have company coming tonight and the muffins will be served with coffee, and of course the hungry mob will eat them for breakfast and snacks the rest of the week.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Many Faces of Split Pea Soup

The split pea soup that began as lunches on Monday made some interesting transformations since then. For dinner Monday night, I pureed the leftovers, added some leftover roasted veggies from Sunday's dinner and served it with millet. It wasn't bad, although everyone seemed to like it more than I did.

Since I badly misjudged and made a huge amount of millet, I mixed it with the leftover soup, added about 1/4 cup of peanut butter, a squirt or two of Braggs, and enough uncooked oatmeal to firm it up enough to shape it all into a loaf. I used a pizza pan, although in retrospect, I'm really not sure why.

I popped that into the oven at 400 degrees while I put together a barbeque sauce. Here's the recipe I used:
1 cup ketchup
1/2 Tbs garlic powder
1/4 cup brown sugar (I used turbinado sugar)
1 tsp mustard
1/4 cup cider vinegar (you could probably use less)

I whisked it all together and simmered it for 10-15 minutes. I poured half of it over the loaf and popped the loaf back in the oven for about another 40 minutes. The remaining barbeque sauce I put on the table so people could add more at serving time. This was a big hit, although I plan to use less vinegar in the sauce next time.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Frugal Compromise

I ordered the Tofurky. The mere mention that I was considering not ordering it resulted in agitation. Its actually a good example of a frugal compromise. The Tofurky was on sale and although not a true bargain, the satisfaction it gives makes it worth the price. I am going to play around with some other "roast" type recipes to bring to my parents and I'll save the Tofurky for us.

I dropped off the sewing machine at the repair shop last night. The repairs it needs seem to be minor, although he'll call if he finds anything else. This is another example of a frugal compromise. Repairing the machine and giving it a tune up will cost about $80, but its money well spent because in the long run it saves me time and money.

Being frugal doesn't mean never spending a penny, it simply means all the pennies you spend are spent wisely!

Monday, October 24, 2005

Curtains, Gluten Roasts & Tofurky

I'm a feeb with the sewing machine. Thankfully, my 13 year old is a whiz with it. While I pinned the fleece to the curtains, she threaded the machine, set up bobbins and did a good portion of the sewing. Things were going well until the machine started making a hideous noise and a black plastic thingy began to shred. That slowed us down a bit. The sewing machine is a beautiful old Graybar and needs/deserves the TLC only a trained technician can give. Fortunately, there is a sewing machine repair shop in the same mall as my gym. I'll be stopping in this morning to get some info on repair costs.

We switched over to the other sewing machine. Actually, Leen switched over to the other machine, I panicked and began hand sewing because the curtains we were working on were for the French Doors that face the street. I was afraid that once the sun went down we'd be putting on a side show for the whole neighborhood. Two broken needles later, the sewing machine was making a tiny zig zag stitch and I was just too tired to figure out why. I'm sure in the light of day it will be obvious. At the end of the day, the curtains for those windows were done. They look nice and they did keep the room noticeably warmer.

My oldest daughter hates sewing. She prefers to cook. So, with a little oversight from me, she made a delicious gluten roast with roasted veggies and gravy for dinner. She also managed to get 6 loaves of bread made for the week. Everyone pitching in made all the projects go a lot smoother.

Before bed, I put some frozen split pea soup into the slow cooker to put with lunches today. That really helped this morning.

Jacqueline's comment about the Tofurky and the success of the gluten roast last night got my wheels turning. I'm really thinking about skipping the Tofurky this Thanksgiving. We go to my parents every year and I'm not certain if its the best vegan taste experience to share with the family. I've got a few hours before I have to place the order to decide.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Food Coop Orders

I have to finalize my food cooperative order today and get it to our coordinator. If you're wondering how I put together my order, here's a peek into my thought process. First I go through the price list, all 200 pages of it to see what's on sale. I write down any sale item that we might want. Generally speaking, I avoid prepackaged mixes. I also check our inventory of staples to see what we are low on.

Comparing the sales and the staple needs gives me a basic list of items, then I bring it to the table. I mean the dinner table of course. I try to let everyone have some input, within reason. For example, if two things they like are on sale but we are only able to budget for one, which would they prefer?

Keeping to this method I am usually able to keep our food order cost under $250/month buying mainly organic foods. About once a year we wind up with two food orders from the same pricelist. Our current pricelist is the one this occurs with. I'm pretty pleased because this pricelist has quite a few things on sale that I'd be happy to stock up on, like kidney beans, black eyed peas and Tofurky (my kids love Tofurky!)

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Snugging Up

First of all, for Judy and anyone else who was curious, the recipe for Pumpkin Muffins appears in the May 4, 2005 blog entry. Just click on May's archives and scroll down for the date. I'm going to need an index soon!

The baked mac & cheeze was a delicious end to a pretty good experiment. Jim didn't even realize that the veggies had been part of the original soup. We did add some collards for color (it was a little too yellow/orange without them) and because we certainly have plenty of them. As long as they are cut into small pieces, my kids love collards.

Jim's ended up working this weekend so our insulating plans at the cabin have been pushed off. I've turned my attention to snugging up this house. (I'm not certain that snugging is a word but if its not, it should be.) Joanne Fabric has all its fleece on sale so I bought enough to line the back of all the curtains here. At $3.99/yard I probably could have done better by locating thrift store blankets but that would be hit or miss and, gas being what it is, it didn't seem frugally logical. Also, the curtains here are mainly shades of beige. Any patterns on thrift store blankets would show through making them useless to me. When he's not working, Jim will be putting door sweeps on the bottom of the doors to keep out drafts.

I've come across some interesting items in magazines recently. Although I'm not a fan of Vegetarian Times, check out pg 10 of the November/December issue for a tasty sounding, vegan, tofu based unturkey. The October/November issue of Mother Earth News has a great article on page 102 called, "Make Your Own Whole Grain Cereals."

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Week Winds Down

Ruthie's idea for making hot pockets was a big hit! I used my whole wheat pizza dough recipe to make the pocket and filled with a veggies and some of the leftover pumpkin and white bean soup. We ended up with a fun and yummy meal. Thanks Ruthie!

Tonight the vegetable soup will make its final appearance as it is used in Baked Veggie Mac & Cheeze. The original recipe called for broccoli but I've used collards, cauliflower and a whole lot of other veggies. Since I've used most of the broth already, its just the veggies that will be in this dish, although leftover broth could certainly be used in place of the water in the recipe. Here's the recipe:

1/4 cup canola or olive oil
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 cups of water (boiling is ideal but cold works as well)
1 Tbs plus 2 tsp tamari
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
pinch of tumeric
1 cup nutritional yeast

I a small saucepan heat the canola oil. Whisk in ww pastry flour until crumbly and combined. Add water and continuing whisking. Whisk in remaining ingredients except for nutritional yeast. Cook until sauce thickens and bubbles. It is a very forgiving sauce, you can add more water if it gets too thick. Remove from heat and whisk in nutritional yeast.

This is enough for 4 cups of uncooked pasta plus 1-2 cups of added veggies, depending on your tastes of course. Pour 3/4 of this cheeze sauce over pasta and veggies mixing thoroughly. Pour mixture into greased 9 x12 pan and top with remaining cheeze sauce. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Vegetable Soup-Day Three

The dumplings in last night's soup got mixed reviews. No one hated them but no one loved them either. I used a cornmeal dumpling recipe which I suspect was part of the problem. The taste of cornmeal complemented the soup nicely but makes a drier more crumbly dumpling. What I appreciate most is everyone ate their meal with the understanding that the dumplings wouldn't be appearing again. The soup itself, with the addition of pureed white beans and pumpkin was thick, creamy and delicious.

Tonight I'm going to use Ruthie's idea and make hot pockets using the vegetables from the soup and bread dough. If there is any of last nights soup left over after lunches are made, I might use some as a gravy inside the pockets or maybe over the pockets.

BTW, I know people are always curious about how my kids fare on a vegan diet so I thought I'd share this with you. My daughters' who are 13 & 14 recently went for their physicals. When the doctor reviewed their charts we discovered they had not had a single sick visit in the last year. My youngest son (age 5)had no sick visits either. My 6 yr old son did have pneumonia last year but he was born 9 weeks premature, has asthma and he's prone to pneumonia. And no he wasn't premature because of my vegan diet during pregnancy, he's adopted!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Vegetable Soup-Day Two

Last night's soup with the Cajun spices and peanut butter was a big hit. It almost made up for the fact that I took the wrong bag to my continuing ed class last night. I opted not to put in dumplings last night because I was in and out of the house too much to give them proper attention. Tonight I only have a 7pm class to teach so I should have plenty of time to make the dumplings.

I've cooked up some white beans again, because there flavor is mild. I'll be pureeing the white beans with some cooked pumpkin/winter squash and adding that to tonight's version of the soup. I decided to use pumkin puree because, despite having at least three more harvests from our CSA, our freezer is totally full! Since the pumpkin I had on hand was getting funky, I had to cook it or lose it, hence the addition to tonight's meal.

Since I still have far more veggies in the fridge than we can use in a week, I'll be exploring canning possibilities. I'll also be reorganizing the freezer portion of our refrigerator to see if that gives me more space. Although I mostly use containers in the freezers, I've just resorted to freezer bags to make use of the space in between containers. So far its working like a charm. I think we will easily make it through the winter on this year's CSA shares and I find this really exciting.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Veggie Soup - Day One

I did make that huge batch of veggie soup yesterday. It worked out really well except I forgot how long it takes 16 quarts of anything to heat up and cook. Dinner was a little late last night because of this. Here's what I ended up putting into the soup:
3 leeks
a refrigerator drawerful of carrots cut into coins
3 bunches of red radishes with greens chopped
8 large potatoes chopped
1 whole bulb of garlic chopped
a mystery container from the freezer labeled "broth"
thyme and sage

I had never added radishes to a soup before but according to Carla Emery in the Encyclopedia of Country Living, they cook up just like carrots and the greens are edible so we gave it a try. They worked out very well, the peppery taste added a nice touch to the soup and the chunks themselves were fairly mild after simmering a while.

Last night we served the soup with tofu sliced into "steaks" and sprinkled with a little Braggs, garlic powder and Italian seasoning. I baked the tofu for about 15 minutes in a 400 degree oven. You could certainly turn it over to make it crispy but I didn't bother. We also had toast some Tofutti Cuties that my mom had brought over the weekend.

For tonight's dinner I'll be using some of that soup as a base and adding some Cajun seasoning and a scoop of peanut butter along with some white beans that I soaked overnight and started cooking in the crock pot this morning. I know peanut butter and Cajun seasoning sounds odd but I found that tip in one of Nava Atlas' cookbooks and it really lends richness to a dish. I may give dumplings a try tonight as well.

Tuesdays are manic at our house with my teaching schedule and the CSA pick up. Thankfully I only have five more weeks of continuing ed classes and the CSA is winding down as well. For anyone thinking about joining a CSA, now is the time to get info. Our CSA does sign ups beginning in the fall for the following year's harvest. Our CSA actually sold out its shares this year so checking it out now may save you dissapointment later.

In an effort to make good nutrition real to my continuing ed participants, I've been cooking for my classes. So far I've shared pumpkin muffins and apple crisp. Tonight I'll be sharing some kind of apple muffin or loaf recipe. (I still haven't found my old apple bread recipe. Grrrrr!) I think its so important to show people that healthy vegan food can be yummy too. There are far too many people who think vegans just gnaw on wood chips or things that taste like wood chips.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Making the Week Easier With Vegetable Soup

The Chickpea Nibbles weren't bad. I made two batches; one with 1 stp chili powder and 1 tbs olive oil, the other with 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 Tbs tamari, 2 tsp olive oil and 1 tsp sesame oil. I think both batches would have tasted better with more spice. Next time, I'll double the chili powder and garlic. I also thought they were too oily so I'll try using half the amount of oil. The other thing I discovered was you really want them dried out when you take them out of the oven or they have a strange texture when they cool off. They taste best crunchy. I chickened out and didn't bring them on our visit.

I was able to get our bread for the week baked yesterday, which is a huge relief. The batch of banana bread I made yesterday is already almost gone. There might be enough for school snacks for Tuesday but I'll need to come up with another breafast option. Since there are still apples, I'm leaning toward apple bread but I'll have to go on a treasure hunt to find my recipe. I don't know why but I haven't used it in a few years.

There are a great deal of veggies in the fridge including carrots, peppers, beets, turnips, cauliflower and broccoli. I also have a lot of potatoes, garlic and onions. Since the cool fall weather is here, I'm planning to make a big pot of vegetable soup today that I can use for the week. I don't mean have the same soup everyday, I mean using a basic vegetable soup as a base for a variety of soups during the week. For example, I might add rice one night, tofu another, beans on another still. If I keep the soup really basic I can change the spices each night as well. Some nights the soup may be the main course, other nights it might be a side to go along with dinner. The added bonus is it will clean out the fridge. I'll keep you posted each day about how we use it.

One note of caution, DO NOT add cauliflower and broccoli to a soup like this except on the day you plan to serve it and only right before you serve it. If cooked for a long time, they will make your soup, and your house, rather pungent. Also, I'm not kidding when I say big pot. I'll be using a 16 quart stock pot to make sure we have enough for the week.

On the frugal project front, I've got to get working on the last pair of heavy curtains for upstate. I need to have them done by Friday.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

More Chickpea Options

Today we'll be visiting with family who flew in for the wedding. I'm planning to make more of the Apple Butter Pull Aparts to take with us but I've just realized one family member is gluten intolerant. I've decided to try making Chickpea Nibbles so she has a snacking option as well.

Chickpea Nibbles are a recipe from How It All Vegan by Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer but I've seen versions of it in several places. Basically it's two cups cooked chickpeas tossed with your favorite seasonings and 1 tbs of oil. Its baked in a 400 degree oven turning halfway through. I know it breaks my rule about never trying new recipes on company but it certainly sounds simple enough and if its a bust I'll just leave it home. BTW, for fans of How It All Vegan and The Garden of Vegan, Sarah Kramer has a new cookbook coming out in November called, La Dolce Vegan. I love the titles of her/their cookbooks. Sarah's website is if you want to keep track of what she's got in the works.

Also on today's agenda is making bread and breakfast for the week.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Aldi's Link

Thanks to a list I belong to, I've discovered that Aldi's has a weekly newsletter with the specials in it. The nearest Aldi's is about 45 minutes away, so it would have to be a pretty spectacular bargain but if you have one closer this may be very worthwhile info.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Cleaning Up

Last night I finally gave Ruthie's corn muffin recipe (see comments 10/9/2005) a try and got two thumbs up from everyone in the house. Thanks Ruthie! Ruthie hit upon what I've always suspected, you don't need the salt in corn bread/muffin recipes. In fact, it tastes better without it. My kids decided to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the muffins for lunch today. That's the best sign of approval this mom can get.

My kids were all off yesterday so we were able to accomplish a lot. With the help of my oldest daughter, we got the greens rinsed, chopped, steamed and frozen. My younger daughter helped me start to reorganize the basement. I didn't realize how cluttered it was until I tried searching for a bat in it the other night. Aside from vacuuming, her main contribution was to transfer all the scrapbooking stuff off the table and into a storage cabinet that was sitting around empty. We even got some laundry done. They were both huge helps!

Getting organized is such an important part of being frugal. Think about how much money I'd be wasting if I hadn't gotten those greens into the freezer and they'd gone bad. It would be like going to the store buying your veggies and then chucking them into the garbage on the way out. You spent the money but have nothing to show for it. Everytime food goes funky in your fridge, you've wasted a bit of money.

If you're wondering how getting the scrapbooking supplies under control saves money, here's how. First there's the obvious, do I have a particular thing I need for scrapbooking, like glue sticks or am I out? Knowing when you're out of something let's you plan for buying it when the price is right. Honestly, I'm not a big scrapbooker, for me the bigger savings is that my craft table is clear. This makes it easier for me to work on other craft projects (think birthday or holiday presents or even curtains.) Many of the crafts that I do are in some way money saving. If I have to hunt for space to work on them, I'm less likely to do them and in turn less likely to save money upon their completion.

There will be no creative cooking tonight, we're heading to a wedding and my parents are watching the kids. They're planning to bring a veggie treat for dinner, nuggets or soy pizza or something similar.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

That Nap Really Helped

My ambitious plans for yesterday were cut short by my desire/need to sleep. I got the flour put away, put my kindergartener on the bus, threw a log on the fire and sacked out on the couch with Mel, our dog. The events of the night before wore me out.

Afterwards, with a much clearer head, I was able to make dinner (split pea soup and eggplant-check out Sept 1st post, Super Easy Eggplant), dessert (apple crisp) and breakfast (apple butter pull aparts). The fridge full of veggies still await me.

Here's the recipe for Apple Butter Pull Aparts it's originally from The Vegan Handbook from the Vegetarian Resource Group but naturally I've played around with it a bit.

Stir together:
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 Tbs dry sweetener

Cut in with pastry cutter or fork:
1/3-1/2 cup canola oil (I use 1/3 cup or it seems to oily but you decide)

2/3 cup water
Stir until well mixed. You should have a pliable dough. Roll out on floured surface to about a 16"x18" rectangle.

1/2 cup apple butter onto dough (you can use a little more if you like, just keep it about an inch away from one of the long sides.)

Sprinkle top of apple butter with:
1/2 cup raisins

Begin rolling up dough from one of the long sides (not the one you kept an inch away from.) I use a rubber scraper to help the dough roll up without leaving any behind. Wet the edge to seal shut and keep the apple butter inside. Place seam side down on a greased cookie sheet. I use two pancake turners to move the roll.

1/4 cup apple butter on top of roll

Sprinkle with:
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Using one of the pancake turners, slice into 1 inch pieces (but do not seperate them) before placing into preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes. As the name suggests, once baked, they just pull apart.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Bats in my Belfry?

Actually, the bat was in my basement and then in my bedroom. I could have done without the bat hunting at the end of my long day but sometimes life just throws you a curve. I'm not certain of the proper way to trap a bat but after much lunancy and running about with heads covered, Jim threw our quilt over the little bugger and finally managed to get him out the door at about 11:30pm. Aside from a small piece of my sanity that is gone forever, no creatures (human or bat) were harmed. Needless to say, I had a little trouble settling down to sleep last night.

Due to a blatant lack of time and imagination, I ended up making soup for dinner last night. I filled my 6qt pot about half full with cooked chick peas. Then, I combined 1/2 cup tamari, 1 Tbs. nutritional yeast, 1Tbs maple syrup and 2 tsp. garlic powder and pured this mixture over the chick peas. I added enough water to cover the beans by about 2 inches. I chopped up some carrots that were hiding in the fridge as well as some of the greens. Finally I added 1 cup of bulgur, stirred it all up and hoped for the best. I brought it up to a boil, lowered the heat and let it simmer for about an hour. We served it with whole wheat toast.

I had to teach a continuing ed class last night so I grabbed a quick bowl before anyone else. I thought it tasted pretty good but I wasn't prepared for how much everyone else liked it. They were all raving about it when I got home, even while we were bat hunting. Everyone took it for lunch today! I think I may have stumbled on a really tasty way to deal with all these greens!

On today's agenda: put away the 50 pound bag of whole wheat pastry flour I've been ignoring, steam/freeze some greens and other veggies, possibly can the last of the apples (although I think I'll do this tomorrow), and make some muffins or other breakfast food. I may also take a nap, I didn't sleep very well last night!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Overnight Apple Butter

Apple butter made overnight in the crock pot was delicious! I used Barbara's recipe as a model and simplified it a bit to suit our needs. Since there are six of us, I cored and chopped enough apples to fill the crock pot. I didn't peel them. I used a mix of apples; Cortlands, Macouns, and Yellow Delicious because these are what I had on hand. I added a cup of water (because I didn't have any apple juice), 2 tsp cinammon and 1 tsp nutmeg (because I didnt have allspice or cloves).

I cooked on low overnight. In the morning I used a potato masher to mix it all around. I turned the crock pot to high and left it uncovered while I hit the shower. By the time I had the pancakes made, the apple butter had thickened to a great consistency, slightly chunky and not watery at all.

I chickened out and didn't make the cornbread but I'll be giving Ruthie's recipe a try later this week. Thanks Ruthie! Last night I put chick peas in the crock pot for tonights dinner. I still have a fair amount of greens in the fridge, 3 eggplant, some broccoli and a bunch of radishes. I'm leaning toward soup with the eggplant cooked as "steaks" on the side but I'll be perusing my cookbooks for a more creative way to combine these ingredients.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Closing Things Down for Winter

The rain let up today and we were able to enjoy a parade and fireworks. In between, we cleaned out the garage, put away all the outdoor furniture and made a plan for insulating the attic over our bedroom. It turns out the insulating job is a much bigger deal than it originally looked to be because there was no moisture barrier put down initially. We don't have the time or manpower to accomplish insulating this weekend it will wait a week or two.

Our visit to the thrift store yesterday was a thrill. I found a seemingly unused ceramic countertop compost container and paid $3.00 for it. It sells on for $42. I'm tickled because the container I had been using, one of those fundraising tins, was falling apart.

On the food front, yesterday I did get the applesauce canned as planned and dinner went off without a hitch. Today we went with rice and beans, another meal that requires very little tending while cooking. Topped with salsa and served with collards it was yummy. We snacked on pumkin and squash seeds afterwards.

I'm going to give the apple butter that Barbara posted on her blog a try for tomorrow (check out I may try cooking it overnight and then making crepes to go with it for breakfast. The leftover beans, rice and collards along with some other veggies will be combined into a soup for tomorrow's dinner. I'm leaning towards cornbread to go with it, although my success rate with cornbread is less than stellar. (I only stink at making two things, cornbread and brownies, but I keep trying every now and then.)

On tonight's agenda, an old movie with the kids and hopefully finishing the covers for the fans.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

A Rainy Weekend

This weekend is the local fall festival, hopefully the rain will hold back a bit so we can enjoy some of the activities that are planned around town. At the very least, we'll hit the local thrift store and antique shop. Don't tell my kids, but secretly I'm a little tickled that there's rain in the forecast. This will give us a chance to catch up on things indoors.

I've got about 14 quarts of applesauce to can tomorrow. I already cut, cooked and pureed them so all that's left to do is bring them up to a boil and process. It shouldn't be too time consuming since all the hard work is already done. This is probably one of the final canning sessions of the season, which is a good thing because I'm starting to run low on canning jars.

I'm hoping Jim will insulate the attic over our bedroom this weekend. I've been exploring the house in search of drafts and discovered two that I had never thought about before. We have through the wall exhaust fans in our bathroom and kitchen. While the heat loss through them is probably minimal, its definitely cooler right next to them. I'm working on making a cover for each of them that will attach with heavy duty magnets (for easy removal) at the four corners and the center. I'm using the leftover fleece blanket from the curtain project in the boys' room. I'm thinking of backing it with something wind resistant, perhaps an old windbreaker or raincoat? I'll let you know what I decide on.

And the menu for the day? Lunch will be a choice of leftover pasta or peanut butter and jelly. For dinner, I have leftover gravy and cooked yellow split peas from earlier in the week. I'll be using these to make a loaf type dish very similar to the Red Lentil Loaf (see September post). I'm thinking about cooking some root veggies in the oven with the loaf. A meal like this can be popped in the oven and cooked with minimal attention which is definitely a plus when you're trying to accomplish other things.

Friday, October 07, 2005

How We Survived the Hectic Week

This has been one of those long weeks with far too many demands on my time. Its been the type of week where the temptation to get take out is almost overwhelming. Here's how we avoided it.

I really took advantage of the window of free time I had on Tuesday. When I made the baked mac & "cheese", I made a double batch. That got us through lunches on Wednesday without using bread. Also on Tuesday, when I made the carrot lentil burgers to freeze, some of the mixture was placed into a loaf pan to use for dinner Wednesday night. I topped it with a simple gravy which makes it more fun, according to my kids. We had gotten delicata squash from the CSA which rounded out Wednesday night's dinner.

Thursday was so busy, Jim actually took the day off from work to help me out. After scanning the fridge to see what we had an excess of we decided on lentil soup for dinner. Together we chopped up celery, leeks, a few tomatoes, a ton of carrots, and several cloves of garlic to use in the soup. This cleared out some much needed fridge space. It also covered Friday's lunches and left us with a ton to freeze to ease the pressure of future hectic weeks. We served the soup with the eggplant puree that we'd made earlier in the week, on toast.

Was it glamorous? Not really, but it all tasted good and everyone had plenty to eat. Perhaps this is a larger lesson of frugal living, sometimes it isn't glamorous. Sometimes its just about getting from point A to Point B with your wallet and good health intact. Now that the hectic week is over, my meals will reflect the extra bit of time I have.

On the menu for tonight, pasta with tomato & white bean chunky sauce, mixed green salad, focaccio with eggplant puree and apple pie.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Muffin Rx

Yesterday I ran a little short on hours in the day. To make up for this, I was up by 5:45am baking muffins for a preschool nutrition/fitness program that I teach every month. In a spectacular moment of brain death, I forgot to add sugar to the batter. I was pulling the first 24 muffins out of the oven when I discovered this. They tasted awful. Fortunately, I had enough batter for another 24. I added the sugar, popped them in the oven and pondered what to do with the first 24 muffins.

I couldn't use them on the preschoolers, they'd never trust me again. I couldn't use them as is on my kids, they'd throw them in the woods on the way to the bus stop. Right then my older son wandered out and asked for a muffin. Then it hit me, sprinkle of sugar on top! Sugar on the surface of food gives the illusion that the food is sweeter than it really is. Clearly this was what I needed. I opted for powdered sugar because it clings to food better than granulated sugar.

I held my breath while my son took a bite. He never noticed, he was too impressed with the powdered sugar on top! A drizzle of maple syrup right before serving would probably work well also.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

What's Left In the Fridge This Week

The Carrot Lentil Burgers were quite good yesterday. I didn't have any tomato paste on hand so I substituted ketchup which seemed to work really well. The batch I make today to freeze should get the carrot overpopulation into check (I hope!) Last night I began the pre-CSA pickup fridge cleaning out event. So along with the burgers we had coleslaw (that used a head of cabbage plus a few carrots) and okra sauteed with more carrots, onions and sundried tomatoes.

There's still a huge bag of kale, a head of mystery greens (I can't remember what it is), two bags of carrots, 2 beets, some onions, a few halves of acorn squash and 3 eggplants cooked but still in their skin.

I'll be making baked mac and "cheese" and use the kale in that. The original recipe called for broccoli but my kids actually like it better with kale, as long as its cut into small pieces.

Since the oven will be on already, I'll cut some carrots, beets and onions into chunks and spray with just a bit of olive oil (tossing with a little olive oil would work well too) and roast them in the oven. I cover the pan I have them in with a cookie sheet initially to help soften them up a bit and then take it off for the last 15 minutes or so to brown them.

The mystery greens and the squash may become soup if the greens aren't bitter. If they are bitter, they will be steamed and into the freezer they will go to be used in a spicy winter soup.

As for the eggplants they will be peeled, chopped and tossed in the food processor with a little minced garlic, a little olive oil and a little salt. This is really yummy and will be used as a spread for Wednesday's lunches.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Too Much of a Good Thing

This time of year we always find ourselves with an abundance of winter squash. Since they can be used just like pumpkin in recipes, I find myself making a lot of breads, muffins, pancakes and, most recently, biscuits with them. I have to be careful not to fall into what I call "too much of a good thing syndrome."

You've fallen into this syndrome when a particular food item or recipe appears on your menu just a little too often. Busy parents don't often notice but there are clues from the family. This is the big clue, foods or recipes that brought raves on the first few appearances now garner sighs. So what's a frugal cook to do?

In the case of winter squashes, this is where a freezer comes in handy (canning pumpkin is not recommended.) I just keep the squash with no visible blemishes in a dark cabinet by my potatoes. Check these every few days to make sure they are not getting soft. The remaining squash are halved, seeded and cooked face down on a lightly greased baking sheet at 350 degrees for about an hour. Cooking time depends on size of sqash halves. Make sure whatever you bake the squash on has a raised side because they leach out quite a bit of juice while cooking. The seeds can be baked on a lightly greased cookie sheet at the same time. Once cooled, the squash are scraped out and stored in the freezer so I can use them over time.

In my house, I know that a once a week appearance of pumpkin bread or muffins is acceptable so, no matter how tempted I am, I try to stick to that. I try to alternate in other seasonal foods, like apples. Using foods in season whenever possible minimizes your costs while maximizing your nutrition.

When it comes to recipes appearing too often, I'm guilty of falling into this trap, especially this time of year. My two standard quickie dinners are Peanut Noodles and Mac & "Cheese" and I've begun to overuse them as we rush to meetings and school functions. I just realized this weekend that I need to thumb through the cookbooks for a new recipe or two. Adding 1 or 2 new recipes can revitalize your repertoire.

I scan cookbooks based on the ingredients I have on hand. I'm going to give the Lentil Carrot Burger from The Compassionate Cook a try tonight because I have a plethora of carrots. If it goes well, I'll make a big batch to freeze. Never make a big batch of anything the first time because if it stinks you're stuck with it!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Curtain is Hung

I'm always apprehensive when I hang a curtain for the first time. Friday night I got the curtain rod and mounting hardware for the tv room curtain. As I mentioned before, it had to be strong enough to hold a heavy curtain without bending in the middle. We went with a wood rod with balls on the end and the decorative mounting bracket. It cost about $34 which seemed like a lot to me until I realized that was the cost of the whole window covering project for that room.

Now that the curtain is in place it gives the room a warm finished look. It also seemed to hold the heat in as the evening cooled down. I'm glad that I waited to make the tie back until the curtain was in place. I was able to play around with different positions until I found the best one and now I know exactly how long I need to make it.

My sister-in-law was visiting and didn't realize the curtain was originally a bedspread which was a relief (you jump in with your two cents any time Audrey!)

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Mel's Haircut

Mel is our bichon, he's a furry little family member who needs very expensive haircuts about every two months. Two years ago we stopped taking him to the groomer, at $50/haircut it was getting too expensive. For the last two years, he's had a variety of hideous hair trims by one of us using a scissor. We keep planning to buy a clipper but a good one is over $100 and bichon hair is coarse enough to need a good trimmer.

Jim mentioned Mel's hideous haircuts and my search for a high quality clipper on ebay to his carpool buddy, Joe. Joe immediately offered Jim a Flowbee that was collecting dust as his house. Joe said it worked great but they no longer used it.

For anyone who doesn't remember the commercials, a Flowbee hooks to the vacuum cleaner and sucks the hair up while it shaves it off. I always thought it looked ridiculous but I'm a changed woman. That little gizmo gave Mel the first decent haircut he's had in 2 years and there was no mess on my floor. I have no plans to use it on anyone's head yet but it was wonderful for the dog and the price was certainly right. Jim was able to reciprocate with some spare golf clubs that were taking up space in his trunk, which was nice.