Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Best Dinner I Could Imagine Eating Right Now

I'm not sure I could love my dinner any more than I'm loving it now.
Thankfully, I seem to have recovered from the flu. Tonight I got my appetite back!

This dinner took all of about 10 minutes to make and includes some of my favorite things! I mean, olives with cherries with sausages with squash with balsamic vinegar with pasta with spinach? How could that not be good?

I should note that the olives I prefer are the cured black olives with Herbs de Provence from the Mississippi Market deli. But I suppose you could use any olives you like. And I used my homemade chunky cherry jam, but I'm sure other cherry jam would work just fine. And if you feel like making the ravioli or sausage from scratch, more power to you. Tonight I needed a ridiculously easy dinner or I was going to stray from my usual chipper self. And you wouldn't want that, would you?

Cherry Glazed Butternut Ravioli with Sausage
serves 2

1 package Rising Moon Organic Butternut Squash Ravioli
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tofurky Italian Sausage, sliced
1/3 cup dry cured black olives
2-3 oz. fresh spinach, chopped (2 big handfuls)
2 Tbsp. cherry jam
1 Tbsp. Earth Balance margarine
Drizzle of balsamic vinegar

Boil water and cook frozen ravioli according to package directions. In a heavy skillet, heat the olive oil and add the sliced sausage. When the sausage has browned on both sides, add the olives and chopped spinach. Cook just until spinach is wilted, then remove from heat and add in the cherry jam, Earth Balance and balsamic vinegar. Stir until the jam and margarine have fully melted and formed a sauce. Then add the cooked and strained ravioli and stir to coat the pasta. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Stupid Flu

Sorry Vegan MoFo. I've missed a few days of blogging as of late and I suspect I'll miss more on this last week of the challenge. I'm not cooking anything and my brain isn't working well enough to come up with a creative post about food when I'm not really eating anything except hot tea with lemon.

I'm about 70% sure it's H1N1 (that's just because about 70% of those tested for the flu last week had H1N1 vs. other versions of the flu). They say the symptoms are about the same, but I've never had an illness knock me on my ass like this one (Except I haven't really gotten the season flu in a few years, so I don't have much to compare it to).

So the purpose of this post is really to complain and to make excuses.
I'm ssssssssssseeeeeeeuuuuuukkkkkkk. :( :( :(
My head hurts. My fever fluctuates between 100.3 and 101.7. I've got chills. My belly hurts if I eat. My nose is stuffy. My cough is deep in my chest and makes every bone in my body ache. Doing anything means I need a nap 10 minutes later. I might be getting an ear infection to top it off.

On the upside, I did invent a fashionable new scarf that doubles as a handkerchief. Mike seems to think that the idea of wearing one's hanky around the neck won't be popular, but it sure is handy. And keeps your neck warm during the chills. Sure, it's a little gross, but when you're sick like this, going to be gross anyways. Mine is made from long scraps of fabric out of my sewing bag- I ran out of actual hankies. I'll spare ya'll a picture!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Nothing New, Just Coconut Bacon

I made some coconut bacon yesterday and thought I was creating something new and amazing...But it turns out that it's not a new idea. Really, it's not new. Even the Royal Bacon Society knows about vegan coconut bacon. But it's still delicious! My recipe is not really any different than any of the afore-linked websites. But I tried mine cooked up in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet rather than an oven. Here's what it looked like:

I ate darn near half of it before it even went into the skillet. And then I promptly ate the other half. This is definitely as addicting as regular bacon. It's fatty, salty, crisp and all around bacony. The kids loved it, too. But Mike said, "It tastes like coconut". Party pooper.

I mixed together the following:
1/2 cup large coconut flakes (I used the "Let's Do...Organic" brand, which wins the award for stupidest brand name)
4 drops liquid smoke
2 Tbsp. Bragg's aminos
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
Lots of black pepper

I marinated it overnight and then fried it up in a hot skillet until the edges of the flakes were starting to almost burn. Yum! Baking it would probably make it crisper, but I had no problem munching on it this way and it took all of about 1 minute to cook.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fun surprise!

Just found out that I won 2nd place in an "I Love My Whole Grains" photo contest put on by the Whole Grains Council!

You can see my picture on this page. It's the homemade granola picture (Big surprise there, huh?).

My prize is a BUNCH of whole grain foods mailed to my house. This is awesome! Whatever isn't vegan will go to the food shelf...or to friends who are hungry and ask real nice.

Some Co-op Love

In honor of National Co-op Month, I've visited 2 other co-ops besides my own in the past week. Okay, that's not true.

I just happened to visit these other co-ops as part of my job and thought, "Hey, that'd make a good blog post". We're SUPER lucky in the Twin Cities of MN to have 12 natural foods co-op stores we can go to any time. We have more co-ops in Minnesota than anywhere else in the country! But even though they're all close by, I tend to just shop at Mississippi Market, because that's my co-op. This week I visited River Market in Stillwater and Linden Hills in Minneapolis.

After finishing my work at these sister co-ops, I found time to shop, of course! I try to limit myself to only buying products that I can't get at my co-op because I get my staff discount there. Here's what I found:
Linden Hills

Vanilla coconut milk kefir: We will carry at MM soon! Super probiotic and tasty without being overly sweet like most non-dairy yogurts.
Fenniman's Sodas: One of our favorites! Fermented like old-fashioned sodas and no preservatives. I bought one of every flavor and 4 packs of the Shandy and Burdock-Dandelion Brew.
Clem's Hot Pepper Mustard: It won 1st place in a mustard contest and it's local. Sold!
Pickled Beets from the deli: These rival my buddy Morgen's recipe. Sorry, Mo.
Organic Black Chickpeas: I can't wait to use these!!!
Organic Purple Barley: I hope the color stays after cooking. Imagine how crazy a barley soup would look!
Liz Lovely Chocolate Covered Sandwich Cookies: Enough said.
Lunch Bots Stainless steel lunch containers: Sandwich sized, with room for a cookie! The kids get these.

River Market

Coconut Bliss ice cream bars: Maybe we carry these at MM? I haven't tried them yet, but probably will tonight!
Everyday Shea body wash: I have the lotion and love it. Totally unscented and loaded with fair trade shea butter so it's super moisturizing. Plus, this giant bottle is only about $12.
Bulk dark chocolate covered bananas and cherries: The bananas are a little weird and I'm not sure why. Too banana-y? The cherries are the bomb and I can eat way too many. They're organic, too!
Pure Fun Organic Root Beer Barrels: Mike's favorite co-op memory from his childhood is of buying bulk root beer barrels everytime he walked down to MM. These are packaged, but help bring back the memories.
Gluten Free Primal Strips: I totally missed the gluten free change until Kittee pointed it out.

Yay Co-ops!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hiking Trip

We're back!
The past 2 days were probably the most relaxing days of the year so far. We went to Mille Lacs State Park and stayed at the Grand Casino hotel nearby. Mike and I didn't have any schedule or agenda (hard to believe, I know) and just did whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted... Including hiking, playing penny slots, taking a nap, playing bingo, and lounging around in the jacuzzi for way longer than is recommended.

Here are some of the highlights:
We fell in love with these bright yellow trees and found out that they're tamarack trees, a conifer that changes color and loses its needles in the fall. They really stood out against the evergreens and the bright red and brown trees.

Despite Mike's aversion to heights, we climbed to the top of this 100 foot observation tower to get a better look at the fall colors and the lake nearby. It was a little scary. And windy and cold.

We're laughing because it was so ridiculously windy and cold up there that we couldn't keep our eyes open enough for a picture!
Look at the view, though! Totally worth the climb. That's Mille Lacs lake in the background.

There were tons of birch trees there, with crazy multi-layer peeling action going on.
Here's our once-a-year cute picture together.

The Landmark Trail had all sorts of great info about the Native Americans that used to live along the lake and the Rum River there. We even could still see the depressions used to store wild rice hundreds of years ago!

And for those curious, from my tweet: Yes, we did end up bringing the crockpot along. It was super easy to heat up rice and canned dahl and saag! And it was so nice to have really good quality food after a long day hiking, rather than hoping for some plain potatoes and iceberg lettuce from the casino buffet (we did eat some fries from the casino, though!).

Thanks for all the sweet anniversary wishes!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Happy Day!

In honor of our 7 year anniversary, here's my list of Mike's favorite things to eat/drink:
  • Virgil's root beer
  • Popcorn with flax oil, nutritional yeast and salt
  • Spud Puppies (the Cascadian Farms organic tater tots)
  • Pizza!
  • Non-alcoholic beer (Usually whatever Trader Joe's has)
  • Leftover gluten-free pasta mixed with leftover rice and leftover tofu, all fried up in a skillet until it tastes magically delicious and nothing like any of the original dishes
  • Ice cream- Chocolate peanut butter or GF coconut cookie dough or really any kind
  • Tanpopo's Kitsune (Japanese soba noodle soup with spinach and tofu)
  • Lots of Bragg's Aminos on everything

And here's my list of some of the weird, nasty things that Mike likes to eat or has cooked for me:
  • Pasta with popcorn and cardamom(on one of our first dates)
  • Smoothie with apples, cantaloupe and cocoa
  • Orange juice mixed with root beer
  • Orange juice mixed with soymilk (yes, it curdles)
Hopefully I haven't forgotten anything... I love you, Mike!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Instant Gratification

If you asked me how I felt about instant oatmeal on any normal day, I'd tell you that I think they're a total waste of money and packaging for a bunch of sugar and a 1/8 of a cup of oats.

But today, when shopping for a pseudo-hiking trip, I nearly bought some.

I'm not calling our upcoming anniversary mini-vacation a hiking trip because although we're hiking in a state park during the day, we'll be staying in a posh suite and playing slot machines in a casino at night. It's not exactly worthy of the label "hiking trip" when there's a jacuzzi tub involved, right?

Anyways, even if we're not exactly roughing it, we need easy breakfasts that we can make in our hotel room. I've seen the menus at the hotel restaurant and there's not a single vegetarian item on the menu, let alone vegan and gluten free. And the microwave in the room doesn't do us much good because Mike won't eat food cooked in one (I don't mind them occasionally).

So the instant oatmeal was looking pretty appealing. I figure there's gotta be hot water for tea there. But I just can't bring myself to buy all that packaging.

So here's the solution:

1 mason jar
bulk "quick" oats (pre-steamed and sliced finer than regular rolled oats)
a big shake of cinnamon
a big pinch of salt
a healthy handful of organic brown sugar

There you have it. Waste-free cinnamon brown sugar instant oatmeal. Just pack some glass bowls to eat it out of and add hot water.

*Next trip I want to use maple sugar instead of brown sugar for maple flavor. No way am I packing maple syrup in my bag- That's just asking for a spill!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A few of my favorite things

These things make me happy that I'm thinking about right now:

Chocolate ice cream sodas
Space heaters
Pickled okra left in the fridge
Yogi Tea Chai Rooibos
Earth Balance on toast
Homemade jam
A bath towel still hot from the dryer
Leftover quinoa tabouli from the co-op's party
My super soft recycled polyester pajama pants
CSI reruns
3 day weekend starting today

Smashed Sandwiches

There's just something about a smashed grilled sandwich. You know what I mean- When you press a sandwich in a skillet with the back of a spatula until all the insides start to ooze out.

Somehow it just makes it taste better. Forget a fancy panini press, I'll just smash my sandwiches. (Note: I'm just kidding . I would love a panini press).

Here are 2 sandwiches I ate this week. I predict there is another one in my future tonight.

Like this roasted seitan sandwich with Tofutti cream cheese on rye bread.

And this seitan reuben with 1,000 island dressing made from habanero ketchup and homemade pickles with Veganaise. And fake cheese and lots of sauerkraut.

Here's the inside shot of the kids' birthday cake. I have to confess that I've had cake with breakfast, lunch, and dinner today. But I'll eat better tomorrow...because the cake will be gone by then.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


It's that time again, folks. It's the day that the kids get to choose the birthday cake of their dreams. Every year I ask the boys to design their own cake- then I bake it.

I was feeling pretty under the weather today (and since it was sleeting most of the day, that's pretty low), but after several hours of CSI on Netflix, Chinese food delivered to my door and chocolate peanut butter cups, I'm feeling better. Well enough to bake a cake anyways-

Szechuan Eggplant and Cashew Mock Duck from Grand Shanghai

This year the boys went non-traditional...No Chocolate! It's hard to believe, but they decided that they'd never had a vanilla cake and wanted to give it a chance. Along with peanut butter. And strawberries. So they decided on one peanut butter layer with peanut butter frosting, one strawberry layer with strawberry frosting and then a vanilla layer with vanilla frosting over the whole thing.

The nude shot

I think they'll like it. It's basically a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a ridiculously large amount of sugar. I used some of my Damson plum jam to add color to the strawberry buttercream layer because my strawberry jam and strawberry extract added plenty of flavor but not that hot pink color that strawberry frosting really needs.

It looks a little plain, but I think the boys will like it! We're hanging at Grandma and Grandpa's tomorrow evening and partying hard with pizza and cake. Yay!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I'm starting to notice a pattern.
On nights that I teach classes I don't eat proper meals or drink enough water. Ironic, huh?

After teaching people how to cook from scratch and encouraging them to give up their boxed mixes and fast food lifestyles, I'm left thinking about Pizza Luce at 10pm on a Wednesday night, swigging a liter of Pellegrino and blogging in the bathtub. What's going on?

Maybe I passed on all of my smart cooking energy to them and don't have any left after class.
Or maybe I'm just tired.

Sometimes I wonder why I teach food classes. I don't really HAVE to, except for staff trainings that I teach at the Co-op. Teaching anything in front of people stresses me out. I sweat continuously throughout class, no matter how cold the room is. I always forget to bring something. And I worry that there won't be enough time to cook everything or that I'll be left with an hour to fill and nothing to say. Then I see the students are all older than me and wonder what the heck qualifies me to be up there teaching. Oh, and Community Ed classes mean I have to add driving to an unfamiliar school on top of the stress of the class. {enough bitching already, Liz}

It doesn't matter that nothing truly disastrous has ever happened in one of my classes. Every class has a minor mishap or something that could improve, but it always works out.

Maybe it's the rush of wondering if I'll actually be able to pull it off, of only being convinced I did it the minute I read the class evaluations. Or getting to talk to people who have to sit there and listen, not talking back to me like my stepsons tend to do lately. The extra cash is a nice perk. So is the excuse to test out baking sweets and treats for weeks before a class.

On a deeper level, it's satisfying to share knowledge about food with people who are hungry to learn- people who are actually paying money to learn more about cooking food-- And to learn from people more experienced than I am who are sitting in the class. I love/hate reading the recent point Michael Pollan made about Americans spending more time watching food TV shows than actually cooking. I like to think that taking cooking classes is much more of a commitment to really learning to cook than anything you could watch on the Food Network. Sorry, Alton Brown.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Late canning

Wow. This was a long day. Work 9 to 4:30. Canning salsa with the community garden 5-9. Now all I can do is sip my ice cream soda and take a bath.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Monday, October 12, 2009

Overnight Seitan

Does anyone else have the "Cooking with PETA" cookbook on their bookshelf? I forget about it from time to time, but it really does have some rockin' recipes... Like Bryanna Clarke Grogan's Beefy Seitan Roast!

This seitan is so ridiculously easy and it's also some of the best tasting seitan I've had. My favorite part about the recipe is that it gives instructions for the oven or for a slow cooker. I LOVE mixing up the seitan dough at night, covering it in the flavorful broth, throwing in some onion and carrot and then waking up to the amazing smells of a seitan roast in the morning!

Before (Those are big onion chunks, in case you're wondering)

After- A big hunka seitan love

Sliced up and just begging to be put on a sandwich

I ate some of the roast this morning and sopped up the broth with hot buttered toast. Yum! I also made some broth yesterday, so there might be some seitan and dumplings coming up this week- We'll see!

Sunday, October 11, 2009


All of you Twin Cities vegan need to head over to ZPizza right now. Well, maybe not RIGHT now because they're already closed for the night. But soon.

Or you can do like we did tonight and have awesome friends who come over bearing 2 extra large pizzas with mushrooms, green and red bell peppers, zucchini, red onions, fresh tomatoes and vegan sausage smothered in Daiya vegan cheese.
Hell yeah. This is the life.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Garden Tally

As sad as I am to be clearing out part of the garden, it means that it's time for me to total up how much I've harvested from the garden...And I love a good spreadsheet.

I'm pleased to announce that so far I've harvested 193 lbs. of produce from the garden! (193.059 to be exact)

The cucumbers and tomatoes weighed in pretty heavy this year, with nearly 27 lbs. of cukes and over 126 pounds of tomatoes! Of course, 30 of those tomato pounds are in the form of green tomatoes that I harvested last night. I'll let some ripen on the counter top and some will probably be made into salsa.

There's still kale, beets and carrots to harvest, but I think the carrots were a flop this year. I peeked a little bit a month ago and didn't see much orange under there. We'll see.

Right now I'm going to go nurse my allergic self. I decided that I'd clean out the garage and my car today, but really should have worn some sort of H1N1 flu respirator type thing to keep all the dust out of my face. I'm paying for it now. But at least my car and garage are clean(er)!

Some kind of joke?

Really, Minnesota? On October 10? Snow? At least I have fair trade hot chocolate and Dandies marshmallows.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Friday, October 9, 2009

What's Left in the Garden?

I'm feeling a little bummed about the weather on account of my garden. Tomatoes just don't taste the same when they're picked in 40 or 50 degree weather. And now there's potential snow and highs in the 30s and 40s on the horizon.

Oh- I HATE trying to decide if I need to pick the green tomatoes yet. If it really is going to snow, you can count on plenty of green tomato recipes over the weekend, though.

Here are some garden crops that won't be finished with the cool weather:

The Bay tree! This gorgeous little tree is coming inside which means I'll have some greenery over the winter. The leaves are perfect for tossing in with beans and soups.

Beets! As long as the ground's not frozen, these will be happy. Of course, the greens are susceptible to frost so I may be eating beet greens this week.

Kale! Kale tastes the best after the first frost, so I'm looking forward to several more weeks of fresh kale and then a winter's worth out of my freezer. I planted more lacinato variety this year (in the foreground) than the green curly kind (in the background).

There's also some broccoli left that's still producing and even some green beans!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Quiche with Shiitakes and Chard

I've been craving pie lately, but not sweet pies. So today seemed like the perfect time to try Isa's Caramelized Vidalia Onion Quiche. The co-op has some gorgeous locally grown organic sweet onions! I decided to make it in a tart pan instead of a traditional pie pan (mainly because my pie pan appears to be missing...) and ended up with enough crust to make a mini pie!

I used a 3-inch springform pan for my mini pie and it was totally dreamy having a "whole" pie to myself! The crust was super flaky- hooray for Earth Balance and white flour!

On the side I had some chard. I'm a little obsessed with Mississippi Market's new recipe for sauteed chard. It has pinenuts and raisins and garlic and lemon. I know, I know. Raisins sound weird in there. But they're really good and I'm a raisins-in-things-hater.

I cooked my chard a little differently tonight, but I did include raisins!

Sweet and Savory Shiitakes and Chard

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
6-8 shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
2 bunches of red chard, stems finely chopped and leaves roughly chopped
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. chopped black or kalamata olives
3 Tbsp. chopped raisins
Dash of Bragg's Aminos or soy sauce

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add red onion and saute until onion is nearly transparent. Add garlic, shiitake slices and red chard stems (not leaves). Continue to cook for a minute or two, stirring frequently to prevent garlic from browning. Add chard leaves to the pan and cover (shove them all in there and use the lid to keep 'em in place. The pan will be very full!). When chard has wilted, but is still bright green, remove from heat and add lemon juice, olives, raisins and a dash of Bragg's or soy sauce. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New Baby Trees!!!

I'm the proud mama of two new fruit trees!

We had a dead silver maple (I think) that needed to be removed and that opened up some room in our yard.

And I met a cool new friend who grows fruit trees for fun (How awesome is that?!?!) He hooked me up with an Apricot and a Pear tree! Both are very winter hearty and happy living in Minnesota.
The pear tree is a Comptesse Clara Frijs Pear originally from Denmark in the 19th century. I must admit I chose this one largely based on the name. She just sounds so regal!

The apricot is a Chinese Sweet Pit Apricot. You can eat the pits!

I'm super excited to get these planted and watch them grow up. Maybe in a couple years I'll be canning apricot and pear jam from my backyard!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Preserved Limes

A few weeks ago it was sunny.
It was sunny enough to preserve limes on my kitchen table next to the window. Now it's cold and grey, but I have sunshine in a jar...Really intense, super spicy, sunshine.

My coworker Jan brought me a bag of Mexican limes and passed along this recipe. I'm not sure where the recipe is from, but I'll find out and give someone credit. I was skeptical about how well they'd be preserved, but after smelling and tasting them I can tell you that they're so acidic and salty that nothing could grow in there. They're amazing!

Edited to add:
By the way, this is intended to be eaten as a condiment. It's a traditional Indian accompaniment, but I imagine would also be good with Thai or even plain rice.

And I believe you could use any limes or lemons, but the little Mexican limes have very few, small seeds. I did take out any big seeds I saw. You can eat the rind and everything after these are done- the rind will be tender. Some folks like to take out the pulp from the middle before slicing the rind to use an an ingredient or garnish/condiment with dishes.

Lime wedges in cayenne pepper and mustard oil

Mexican limes
1 Tbs. sea salt
1/4 c. powdered cayenne
2 tsp. ground black mustard seeds
1 tsp. ground fenugreek seeds1 tsp. ground turmeric
1/4 c. warmed mustard oil

1. Squeeze some of the juice from each of the halved limes into a clean
glass jar. Add limes and top with salt.

2. Screw lid shut and shake to disperse salt. Limes should be submerged in
their own juice; add more juice if needed.
3. Place jar in warm, sunny spot. Shake jar occasionally while it's in sun
to baste limes.

4. Bring jar indoors at night.

5. Continue until limes are tender enough to cut with a fork (usually 5-8

6. Add cayenne, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, and turmeric; shake to
disperse. Set back in sun and heat for 2 more days, shaking occasionally andbringing in at night.

7. Pour mustard oil into jar; shake. Allow to rest for 4-6 hours.

8. Pickles are now ready to use. They can be stored on the countertop or in
the refrigerator.

Monday, October 5, 2009

For the GF folks...

For those living in the Twin Cities:
I'm teaching several sessions of a Gluten Free Sweets class this Fall.
We'll make Citrus Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting, Cinnamon Rolls, and a surprise cookie. I'll also cover general gluten free baking tips and tricks.

Registration info below:

Gluten Free Sweets
Wednesday, October 14
6:30-8:30 pm
Harding High School
St. Paul Community Education
Call 651-293-8733 to register

Wednesday, November 4
6:00-8:30 pm
East Ridge High School
South Washington County Community Education

Saturday, November 7
1:00-3:00 pm
North High School
North St. Paul Community Education
Call 651-748-7435 to register

Wednesday, November 18
6:00-8:00 pm
Mississippi Market Co-op- West 7th Street
Call 651-690-0507 to register

Gluten Free Soups and Salads
Wednesday, October 21
6:00-8:30 pm
East Ridge High School
South Washington County Community Education

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Damson plums aren't much to eat straight up, but they are perfect for jam making. Tart with a bit of sweetness, their flavor is intense and only intensifies when simmered slowly with sugar.

On Friday I was the lucky recipient of some less-than-perfect quality plums. There were plenty of wrinkled (near-prunes!) in the case to sort through, but I was able to make PLENTY of jam.

The color of these plums is outstanding- Dark blue on the outside and yellow on the inside. Your color wheel would tell you that the jam would end up green, but it turns a gorgeous shade of purple.

One of the best things about plum jam is that you don't have to peel any fruit! You can leave the fruit chunky for a hearty preserve or do like I do and puree the fruit for a smoother jam.

I used a ratio of 5 cups chopped plums to 3 cups sugar. I simmered until the sugar was liquefied and the plums were starting to break down, then pureed the mixture and returned to a boil. I boiled the mixture until the jam started to set when placed on a frozen saucer. It's not a hard-set type jam...more of a soft jam.

For those vegans out there who make jams and jellies: You might have wondered like I have about the tradition of adding a bit of butter to jellies to prevent foam from forming. Being vegan, I've always just ignored this instruction and skimmed the foam off my jams and jellies or just had a layer of foam on top of my final product. The foam doesn't hurt anything, but it could ruin your chances of winning at the State Fair!

So this time I tried using Earth Balance margarine.

The Before Picture

The After Picture

It worked! It didn't totally eliminate the foam, but it did dramatically reduce it. I didn't end up with any visible foam in the jars- and I didn't skim at all!

The downside to this? I didn't have any skimmed foam to sop up with baguette and that's darn near my favorite thing about making jam!

PS- I have about 1/4 case of leftover plums, even after doing 2 batches of plum jam and one of plum sauce! Anyone living near St. Paul should email me if they want the rest. It's definitely enough for 8 halfpints of jam, but they need to be used within a day or two.

***Update*** The plums found a home with lucky reader Dana!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Things that Keep Me Sane

Sometimes eating homecooked, sustainable food can be a real time-suck, but here are some things that help keep me organized when it comes to food, family, animals, etc. A lot of these relate to kids because, well, it takes some magic tricks to stay a sane stepmom sometimes.

*The animals are trained to know that they get fed only after my alarm has gone off. This means that they don't beg for food before I'm ready to get up and that they NEVER let me sleep past my alarm.

*The kids earn video game minutes every morning (well, every morning they wake up at Camp Dad) by being ready to go to school before 8:50 am. They have a checklist of things they have to do and can't write down their final time/minutes earned until everything is done.

*I keep a message board on the fridge and freezer to list the perishables inside. This way Mike knows when he needs to use up the broccoli even though he refuses to look inside the crisper drawer.

*I plan easy meals for Monday and Tuesday nights because those are our nights with the kids when they have homework (a.k.a. crazy nights filled with cranky kids. Friday and Saturday are homework free!). The rest of the week I have time to just wing it and cook whatever sounds good.

*I NEVER put unmated socks into a drawer. Single socks go in a bag until they find their match. If they don't get matched, they become dusting socks.

*The kids earn money for chores, but also lose money for naughty things like throwing shoes at their brother or playing with Pokeman cards after bedtime. Most chores and offenses have prices assigned on a spreadsheet (duh).

*I always pack the kids' lunches and my own right after dinner. My lunch is usually leftovers, anyways, so that means it's easy to pack up at night. Making lunches in the morning is darn near impossible for me to accomplish.

*We don't cook things for breakfast (besides toast), unless it's a special occasion or a weekend. It's plain soy yogurt with a touch of maple syrup and homemade granola (made on the weekend) for the kids every morning that they're at our house. I like toast or an apple with peanut butter.

*Bedtime routine is essential in our house because our boys are as night owl as they come. We start with a 5 minute warning. Then they take a bath, drink sleepytime tea (chamomile or one of the bedtime teas) and eat a little snack (graham cracker or toast). Then they go to the bathroom, get water, and clean off their beds. I read them 2 chapters of a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys mystery and then it's time for sleep!

* I try to do laundry by room rather than by color. None of us wear white anyways (that would just be ridiculous to even try), so I don't really see a point in sorting by color. If I sort by the room it goes to, then putting away folded clothes is simple- They all go to the same place!

*I do sort my towels and rags on shelves, though. The nice towels go on the upper shelves. The okay towels are in the middle. They're okay for various not-too-nasty purposes. The bottom shelf is for the rags we use to clean everything nasty (dog pee, spills, cleaning the bathroom, etc.). The kids are pretty good about using the right towels. This system is perhaps a symptom of my not-clinically-bad-anymore-OCD. Actually, this whole post probably is.

*I keep a grocery list template (in Excel spreadsheet form, of course) on the front of the fridge. When we run out of something, we just check it off the list. This way I'm always ready to shop.

Hope some of these tips/tricks are helpful. What are your favorite "staying organized" hints?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Baked After Work

When I was leaving work today it was raining and cold and I was hungry and tired. If there was ever a "mac 'n cheese night", this was it.

Baked Cheezy Pasta with Mushrooms
I like this baked mac 'n cheeze because you don't have to pre-cook the pasta. You can just throw everything in the oven!
(Gluten free)

Olive oil for greasing pan
16 oz. dry gluten free pasta (small shapes like shells are preferable)
3/4 lb. cremini mushrooms (about 16), sliced
2 Tbsp. Earth Balance margarine
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 1/2 c nondairy milk
1/2 c plain nondairy yogurt
2 cups water
1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1 tsp. dry mustard
2 tsp. salt
Plenty of freshly ground black pepper
Pinch turmeric
Faux parmesan (I like Parma! brand), optional

Preheat the oven to 400F. Lightly grease a 9x11 inch glass baking dish with olive oil. Pour uncooked pasta in the baking dish and top with the sliced mushrooms.

Heat a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add the Earth Balance and garlic and saute until margarine is melted and garlic is fragrant. In a separate bowl, combine remaining ingredients (except faux parmesan) by whisking until no lumps remain. Then add to the saucepan with the garlic and margarine and whisk to combine.

Remove the sauce from heat and pour over the pasta and mushrooms. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Then stir pasta and mushrooms together, making sure
everything is coated in sauce. Replace foil and bake another 10 minutes. Sprinkle with faux parmesan before serving.

I served this super easy dish with baked sweet potatoes and tofu coated in the "buttermilk" and cornmeal breading leftover from last night's fried pickles. I baked this tofu, though, instead of frying it and it was seriously just as crispy. I tossed the tofu and sweet potatoes on a greased cookie sheet and baked for about 40 minutes while the pasta baked.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fried Pickles!

I'd like to preface this post by saying "No, Mom, I'm not pregnant."

I just wanted fried pickles for dinner.

It all started a few days ago with Alton Brown's pickle episode of "Good Eats". His frying method was so simple and easily veganizable (is that a word?)...I started craving them immediately.

So tonight, after a long day, I had fried pickles to look forward to!

First, I sliced up some of my homemade fermented pickles into thick slices and heated some oil in the cast iron skillet (about 1/2 inch deep).

Then I set up the 2 dipping bowls: In one I combined 1/4 cup nondairy milk and a heaping tablespoon of plain yogurt. In another, I combined 1 cup of cornmeal with a Cajun spice blend. I used a spice blend intended for crawfish boils that a good friend gave me! Do NOT add salt to the cornmeal- the pickles are plenty salty!

Dip each pickle slice in the yogurt/milk (basically a buttermilk substitute), then in the cornmeal. Then re-dip in the "buttermilk" and again in the cornmeal. The pickle should be thickly coated in cornmeal.

Carefully place in the hot oil and fry until browned on one side, then flip and finish browning on the other.

Have a landing pad ready for when the pickles come out of the frying pan- they need to drain any extra oil and cool a bit. I used a dishtowel that was okay to get grease stains on.

I mixed up a little extra Cajun spices with some Veganaise and plain yogurt for a fun dipping sauce, but they really did't need any! These are ridiculously quick, easy and the ultimate salty, fried food!