Friday, September 28, 2007

Old Sweaters and Other Knitting News

Since using an old wool sweater seemed to be the only solution to the felting project, I set out yesterday afternoon to see if I could find one. BTW, if anyone is curious, here's the link to the project. According to my instructor, the upside of felting is that it makes a virtually indestructible final product.

I find that every thrift store has a personality and specialty. The Salvation Army very close by is good for clothes and furniture. The one on the outskirts of town is good for kitchen items and craft supplies. The one across the river has an amazing selection of furniture at rock bottom prices. My favorite Salvation Army of all is in the Adirondacks. It combines all of the best elements of the others with an exceptionally friendly staff. You visit while you shop there.

The smaller thrift stores in our town are less than impressive with two notable exceptions. One Jim despises because it has a crappy record selection, the clothing selection never seems to change and they insist on playing religious rock and roll (anyone remember Stryper?). However, from my perspective, they have an amazing selection of housewares (this is where I found my pressure cooker), crafts, books and the occasional electronic coup (a clock radio for the boys and a telephone for the girls).

The other Jim hates for similar reasons and, as a bonus, it's totally overpriced. However, their bag sales they can't be beat and, while their mens clothing is ho-hum, their ladies clothing is high end, in style and in pristine condition.

I headed to the first of the smaller thrift stores because they had all clothing on sale for 25 cents and it was on my way to another errand. I hit the jackpot right away, finding two gigantic wool sweaters in the mens section. Fifty cents seemed like a fair price for something I was reluctant to do. So I spent last evening beginning to unravel the first of the sweaters. I discovered that I really hate the way wool feels. I'll definitely be sticking with cotton or acrylic yarn in the future.

Since knitting seems to be the topic of the day, check out this link to more cotton dishcloth patterns than I ever thought possible! The link came in this mornings Ideal Bite email. How oddly appropriate. Is everyone knitting crazy this time of year??

Since several of us seemed to be stumped on how to pick up stitches, check out this link that explains the process. Its got pictures for all the visual learners out there, like me!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Knitting News

Last was the first class in the intermediate knitting class I'm taking. (See Ruthie, great minds think alike!) We're starting out making a felted purse. You have to use wool to felt which, being vegan, bugs me. Originally, I was going to skip the project but now my plan is to hit the thrift store and find a big old wool sweater to unravel and then knit into this project. If there are any knitters out there who know of another type of yarn that can be felted I'd love to hear from you.

Ultimately, I don't think felting is something I'll be doing in the future but next week we start SOCKS!!! I couldn't believe the socks our instructor had made. She claims that we all have enough skills to make the socks already. I have my doubts but I desperately want to try. Like Ruthie and her hats, I suspect one sock will lead to another and another and another! At least socks and hats are useful.

If I get any cash on my upcoming birthday, I think I might splurge and buy some Soysilk Yarn. I'm so intrigued by this. For now I'll be sticking with my thrift store yarn finds as I embark on some covert holiday crafting (there are too many peekers to detail my plans right now!)

I'm intrigued by log cabin knitting as it was described to me last night as a way to use up yarn scraps. I don't know how to pick up stitches yet, or if I do I don't know that's what I'm doing, so this is a future project but here are a few links that describe the process.

Log Cabin Afghan Square

This Old Log Cabin

Its my day off and I have much to do! I hereby promise not to pick up the scarf that I've begun knitting for my niece at all today...Well, at least not during the daylight hours...Well, at least not until I'm helping kids with homework and I want to keep my hands busy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

More on Apple Butter

Courtney asked about my apple butter recipe. I confess that I draw my apple butter inspiration from Barbara.

I love Chile's idea of straining the liquid out of the cooked apples before pureeing to cut down on cooking time (energy use). She says the liquid tastes like apple juice. What a great treat that would be for any little ones helping in the kitchen when you make apple butter. Its so brilliantly simple! Thanks Chile!

I got a lot of beets canned yesterday and I've got the dirty fingernails and purple cuticles to prove it. I have four mutantly large beets, each weighs in at about a pound and a half, that I plan to cut into fries, bake a bit and freeze for another time. They are really delicious this way and kids like them because they look like French Fries. Go figure.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

We've Got the Beets!

We have way too many beets. They've begun to take over the fridge. I've been putting them aside thinking I'll can them when I have enough to make it worthwhile. Clearly, when all three drawers in your fridge are filled to the point of exploding, the time has come.

I've really enjoyed getting back to canning. I feel that it is such a worthwhile use of my time and energy. The sunny days of CSA pickups are beginning to dwindle. In the cold of the winter it will be so comforting, and economical, to dip into my cupboard of home canned foods.

After reading several bulk cooking books a while back, I've begun to embrace the logic of keeping the liquid content of frozen foods (usually water or broth) low. I've thought about it and carried it one step further. In the past, I would take the apple butter I'm working on, make it into apple muffins and then freeze the apple muffins. Well the apple muffins take up a lot more freezer space than the cup of apple butter I used in them. If I froze just the apple butter to use later wouldn't that be a better use of my freezer space?

I think constantly questioning why we do things a certain way is really helpful in breaking out of our wasteful ruts. Speaking of this, my daughters are both going to the homecoming dance this year. When we went to homecoming it was not a very dressy thing. Now, I'm told (or is it, now that I'm old?), it requires a rather fancy dress. Tasha went "shopping" in her aunt's closet of dresses that have been worn exactly once. She came up with a beautiful black dress. Leen's going shopping in the same closet today. I love that they both chose to do this without any prompting from me.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Don't Be Such a Crabapple!

Jim picked a huge bag of crabapples at my mom's house last weekend. Yesterday we finally began the business of cooking them. I'll be making them into a spicy apple butter since that seems to be the best use of them from everything I've read. Unlike my usual apple butter, this one will probably require some sweetener.

Yesterday I was able to rehabilitate some overcooked pasta by using it in a frittata recipe. It wasn't the angel hair pasta the recipe called for, it was ziti but we cut into into little pieces and it worked wonderfully. The last of the overcooked pasta will find its way into the minestrone soup that I'm cooking in the slow cooker today. I'll stir it in just before serving to avoid it just disintegrating.

I'll also be making some baba ganoush to use up some of my excess cooked eggplant. Its one of those dishes I've always wanted to try but never did.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

All These Dates!

I have a confession to make, I replaced ALL of the sugar in the chocolate chip cookie recipe with pureed dates. I didn't mean to I was mindlessly going along when I realized I'd done it. The good news was, it really didn't change the taste at all. I thought the texture was a bit bready but no one else seemed to notice.

Ultimately, I think that using half sugar and half date puree would have solved this problem, minor though it may be. When you cream together margarine and sugar you really begin to set the tone for the texture of your final product. Sugar and margarine work together to create these little air pockets that make your product tender rather than bready. Using some sugar would help maintain this tenderness.

I think its probably more important to go this route with comfort foods, like chocolate chip cookies that you're serving for a crowd. I think if you're making chocolate chip cookies for yourself to enjoy and you want a healthier, less guilt inducing option, using all date puree would be fine.

BTW, I've been using organic date pieces in oat flour, the cheapest form of dates I can find, for my date puree experiments. I've been just barely covering the dates with boiling water, covering them and letting them sit a while. Then I puree them and measure out an amount of dates equal to the amount of sugar in the recipe.

I've also measured out the amount of unsoaked dates equal to the amount of sugar in the recipe, covered that with boiling water and pureed just this amount. The dates make such a nasty mess in my Vitamix that I prefer to do a larger quantity at a time and store it in the fridge for a few days.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

How About Another Date?

Last night I grated all the zucchini that accumulated in the last week. It was an amazing amount. I froze most of it (in preportioned containers for easy use later) the rest I made into zucchini bread. I still had some pureed dates, so I decided to use them in place of the sugar in the zucchini bread. Its spooky but true, they worked wonderfully! Again I did decrease the amount of liquid in the recipe and I added some flaxseed meal to absorb excess moisture.

When you consider the nutrion information for dates compared to white sugar you begin to see the logic of my little experiments.

Tonights the real test. I'm making a giant chocolate chip cookie for my daughter's birthday and I'm going to substitute dates for 1/2 of the sugar. Its just family but I'm betting no one will be able to tell.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

How About a Date?

We've begun the third week of school and still we haven't completely adjusted to things. I'm wondering if things will ever run smoothly again? (I have this constant sensation that I'm being shot from a cannon.) I'm so glad that I decreased my time and responsibility at work. I can't imagine how we made it through last year with me working 30 or more hours a week. At least this week marks the end of the majority of "meet the teacher" and "parent orientation" type activities which always happen at inconvenient times in the evening.

I did wind up pureeing the dates for my second batch of Banana Oatmeal Cookies and now they win a gold star. Everyone loves them. Speaking of pureed dates, I substituted them for all of the sugar in the Banana Bread recipe from Compassionate Cook by PETA. First I soaked the dates in boiling water until they softened, then I pureed them. I did decrease the liquid in the recipe slightly to account for the extra moisture the date puree provided. The results were very good, so good in fact that no one noticed I didn't use sugar.

Date puree seems to lack the strong taste that blackstrap molasses has when used as a sugar substitute.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Healthy Cookie Quest

Ruthie & Allisone shared their favorite healthy cookie recipes with me. I really appreciated this since I still haven't peeked in a cookbook on my own yet. (There's actually a really good reason for this. When I attempted to put my cookbooks back in the cabinet that I keep them in, I discovered the cabinet seemed to be pulling out of the wall from their weight. Well...I do have a lot of cookbooks:) Now the cookbooks are in two enormous piles waiting for me to clear out a bookshelf to put them in - Jim is fixing the cabinet tonight but has requested I keep my five tons of cookbooks in an alternate location. They are not convenient to peruse at this time!)

Yesterday, for an after school snack, I whipped up the Banana Oatmeal Cookies that Ruthie suggested. These were easy and tasty, although my sons dislike date chunks no matter how small they are. I might try pureeing the dates next time or using raisins. Jim, the girls and I loved these and couldn't believe they had no added sugar.

The kids are off today so I'll be trying the other two suggested recipes with them, as well as continuing the organization extravaganza. (The boys' room is next on my hit list.) Also in the kitchen, there will be some preserving going on today to clear out the fridge for Saturday's CSA pickup. There are zucchinis to shred and freeze, tomatoes to turn into sauce, and greens to wilt and freeze.

I've really wanted to make seitan the last few days but haven't had the time. Last night I made Isa's seitan recipe, although I prefer the texture of Lachesis' Seitan O'Greatness. The problem was, I didn't have the time to dedicate to cooking the seitan, mixing up a batch takes no time at all. What's a girl to do?? This girl tried cooking it in the pressure cooker for 15 minutes on high. It actually turned out pretty good. I cubed it and served it with greens, red peppers, carrots and the marinade from the Jerk Seitan recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance as a sauce. (If I didn't have time to cook it, you know I definitely didn't have time to marinade it!) There were no leftovers so it must have been good.

I still stand by original assertion that my favorite seitan is baked seitan but in a pinch this worked out very well.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Clean Up, Clean Up

The frantic pace of the first few days of school seems to be settling down a bit. I'm getting used to being back home and back at work too. I'm working a whopping 6 hours a week now and all of it is teaching classes (ie. exercise is built in to my job again!). I've been so busy the last few days I can't imagine how I fit in working all those hours last year. Everyone is happier with this arrangement, even the my teenage daughters. Wo'd have thought it?

Despite my new found time, my house still looks like 5 people just moved in. I guess we did and boy does it show. I made a start over the weekend by actively ecycling things we no longer need that have been taking up space but there's still more to do.

My only goals outside of the house today are to get dog and guinea pig food, our CSA pickup and go to my son's meet the teacher night. These can all be done in the evening and that leaves me the rest of the day to get organized. The piles are daunting but with some good music blasting (I'm opting for Steely Dan, I'll go through the entire catalog if necessary!) I should be able to get through.

For dinner tonight, I'll be clearing out the fridge of as many veggies as I can. I'm leaning toward Jerk Seitan with a variety of cooked greens and carrots.

I'm also on a quest for a healthy cookie for my sons' lunchbox. The quest only began this morning and I haven't so much as cracked a cookbook open but I welcome any suggestions you may have.

Monday, September 10, 2007

My Favorite Crepe Recipe

My all time favorite crepe recipe comes from The Power of Your Plate by Dr. Neal D. Barnard. The recipe is actually called Eggless Omelets, although I find it more satisfying as a crepe.

Combine in a blender:
2 cups flour (I use whole wheat pastry)
1/3 cup nutritional yeast flakes (although I use powder and it works fine)
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 cups water
1 Tbs oil (I use olive oil)

Blend until smooth. The recipe says it can rest for up to 30 minutes or even overnight but I always use it right away and it works fine. Pour 1/4 cup onto a nonstick griddle (I use cast iron) over medium high heat (I cook it closer to medium but that may be a quirk of my stove).

Either tip the pan to spread out thinly or use the back of a spoon. Let cook until the edges begin to curl up. Flip and cook on the other side. Serve stuffed with whatever you like.

I made them this weekend and stuffed them with Chickpeas and Greens and Cajun Black Eyed Peas. Delicious!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

I'm busy digging out from under the remains of a wonderful summer. I'll be back posting next week. Chile, I promise to post the crepe recipe first thing!