Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I'll be in Madison, WI tomorrow- who has suggestions for what I should do?  My friend Brandon and I will go to the Green Owl and Monty's Blue Plate Diner.  And Willy Street Co-op, of course.

Anything else I should be sure to visit?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Laundry Time!

I'm pretty picky about the products I use (had you noticed?) and laundry soap is no exception.  I've been using Seventh Generation "Free and Clear" laundry soap for years and really like it.  But when there's an option to make something just as good- or better- myself, I have to at least give it a try!

So when my buddy Morgen successfully made her own laundry soap, I was inspired.  I used this recipe and it was really easy!  It can be a little tricky tracking down a couple of ingredients you'll need, but all are available online if you can't find them locally.

First, the soap.  I used Dr. Bronner's soap because, really, what can't this soap do?  It claims to perform nearly any cleaning task and I like the almost nonexistent fragrance of the baby soap.  You'll need to grate the soap, so make sure you have a good grater handy.

Next you'll need washing soda and borax.  I got the borax at Mississippi Market Co-op.  I'm pretty sure most of the co-ops sell this one.  The washing soda was harder to track down.  After about 8 phone calls I found that none of the hardware stores carried it, but a Cub Foods grocery store did.

When you melt in the soap, be sure to stir frequently.  This was kinda fun...and smelled really nice and clean!

In the end you've got 2 gallons of laundry soap!  Super exciting!  This is the cheapest soap I just have to see how it performs...

***Updated to add that this laundry detergent rocks!  My clothes are clean and have no scent to them!  Now all I need is a big 1/4 cup ladle to scoop it into the washer...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Breakfasts and My Favorite Gift

Wow- This week flew by, filled with relaxation and goofing off...and good food!

Mike and I spent Christmas morning together before the kids came over.  We ate a rockin' breakfast and then I worked a jigsaw puzzle while he played banjo- fun!

Breakfast was spicy roasted potatoes, scrambled tofu topped with avocado and home-canned garlicky tomatoes, and roasted portabello mushrooms.  And I had an organic mimosa- a super rare treat.

I think my favorite Christmas present might be the stainless steel drinking straws that Mike got me.  I prefer drinking nearly every cold beverage from a straw, with the only exception being carbonated drinks (then it's glass bottles, all the way).  But plastic is nasty and I end up washing and reusing them so many times that I worry about the plastic degrading and leaching more nasty endocrine-disruptors into my food.  Perfect solution- Stainless steel straws!

Here's Billie Cat enjoying the sunshine while I mix up a breakfast milkshake.

A couple days ago my friend told me about a savory bread pudding she whipped up for dinner and I couldn't stop thinking about how good it sounded.  Usually bread pudding sounds totally disgusting to me- soggy bread, raisins, eggs and too much sugar.  But savory bread pudding opens up new doors.  Delicious doors.

Spinach, morel and sundried tomato bread pudding

Spinach, Morel and Sundried Tomato Bread Pudding

1/2 cup dried tomatoes (I used home-dried cherry tomatoes)
1/2 cup dried morel mushrooms
Boiling water
12 oz. firm tofu
1 1/2 cup almond milk
1 Tbsp. mustard
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black salt (if available)
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
4 cups stale crusty French bread, cubed
2 large handfuls baby spinach

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Lightly grease a 9x9 inch glass baking pan.  Pour boiling water over the dried tomatoes and mushrooms in a heat-safe bowl.  Let soak for about 10 minutes or until rehydrated.

In a bowl, puree together the tofu, milk, mustard, salt, black salt, thyme and garlic.  Take a little taste- it should be garlicky, a little mustardy and plenty flavorful.  If not, adjust as needed.

Drain the tomatoes and mushrooms. Chop them into bite-sized pieces if needed.  Add to the tofu mixture and stir to combine.  Add bread crumbs and spinach and stir until they are completely coated.  Dump everything into the baking dish and smooth out the top.

Put in the oven and bake uncovered for about 30-35 minutes.  Serve hot!  This will keep in the refrigerator and is super easy to cut a slice and pop in the toaster over for a quick and rich breakfast.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Maybe it's the cold weather, but we've been cooking with more chilies lately.  For brunch yesterday I cooked up some leftover beans and rice and topped it with a peppery tofu scramble and some jalapeño sauce, similar to the one they serve at the Seward Cafe in Minneapolis.  The tofu scramble had roasted red peppers, fresh green peppers and onions- So Christmas-y!

The jalapeño sauce was just minced jalapeño, salt, lime juice, and vinegar.  It was super tangy and hot and Mike and I love this stuff over tofu scramble.

Today Mike sounded so sad when he realized that all our our garlic chile sauce from this summer was gone that I made some more from our dried chile ristra

I just winged it, so I think you can, too.  

Hot Sauce
About 30 small dried red chiles (cayenne or Thai)
Nearly boiling water
1 clove garlic

Soak the dried chiles (stems removed) in just enough nearly boiling water to cover them for about 20 minutes.  Reserve the soaking water.  Place the soaked chiles in a blender with 1 clove garlic, about a tsp. of salt and a splash of vinegar. Pour in about 1 cup of the chile soaking liquid.  Blend until almost smooth- I like to have a little texture from the seeds left in the sauce.  Then taste (carefully!!!) and adjust the salt and vinegar to your liking.  If you like a thinner sauce, add more of the soaking liquid.  I ended up adding all of mine and filled 2 8oz. bottles and a 2 oz canning jar with sauce.  Refrigerate.

Note: This is not a recipe for canning!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cranberry Fun!

Friday I scored several free bags of slightly mushy Wisconsin cranberries from the co-op.  I initially had cranberry jam/jelly in mind, but I still have way too much jam to make any more.  Yet.

So instead I threw together an improvised cranberry ginger soda and a batch of gluten free cranberry-ginger-walnut muffins.  I LOVE how pretty the cranberry soda looks and after a few days, I'll let you know how it tastes.  You'll notice that we re-used a Fentiman's bottle this time- It's because we got a bottle capper!  We always thought the bottle cappers would be really expensive or complicated, but it means that we can bottle smaller sized bottles to give away and that we can re-use bottles instead of ever buying new ones.  So it will definitely save us money in the long run.

The muffins turned out pretty tasty.  They're not strongly flavored with any one thing, but a combo of citrus, nuts, cranberries and ginger.  Oh, and they're as sweet as cupcakes because I pretty much just swapped a few ingredients from my stand-by GF cupcake recipe!

Cranberry Muffins
1 cup millet flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup tapioca starch
1.5 tsp. xanthan gum
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. powdered ginger
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup orange juice
1 cup nondairy milk
Zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup cranberries, roughly chopped
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.  Whisk together the millet flour, rice flour, starch, xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda, salt and ginger.  In a separate bowl whisk together the oil, sugars, vanilla, OJ, milk and zest. Add the liquid/sugar mixture to the flour and stir until thoroughly combined.  Fold in cranberries and walnuts.  Spoon batter into liners until about 3/4 full. Bake about 20 minutes or until the cakes are solid and golden colored.  Allow to cool a couple minutes in the pan, then remove from muffin tin to cool completely.  Store in an air-tight container once they are fully cooled.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Well, the pantry challenge is over!
It pretty much ended on Thursday at lunch time when I was so sick of the same curry that I went downstairs (at the co-op) and bought some of the deli's soup for lunch.  But it wasn't until today that I did a real grocery shop for food to take home.

I was a bit worried that I'd end up spending about $300 on groceries today and un-do all the savings I've had by doing this challenge.  But with my 20% employee discount and $10 member coupon, I only spent about $150 to restock my kitchen (including buying a $20 bottle of flax oil and 3 bottles of organic canola oil because I had a coupon).  Pretty good!  I tend to spend about $100 a week on groceries, so I basically cut my spending in half by forcing the family to eat all the foods that we usually overlook in the pantry.

I'd post up some pictures of the yummy brunch I made this morning, but I think Mike has the camera- So it'll have to wait.  Tonight I thoroughly enjoyed roasted portabello mushrooms, homemade crackers and pickled dilly beans.  And almond milk.  It's nice to have fresh foods in the house again!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Quick Gift

Super quick, super easy gift!

Herbal Bath Salts
Here's what you'll need per gift:

1 half-pint canning jar
1 cup epsom salts
About 6 drops of essential oil (I used rosemary and then lavender separately)
A pinch of the herb whose oil you chose

Pour about 1/2 of the salt in the canning jar.  Add the drops of essential oil and a pinch of the herb that corresponds.  Fill with remaining salt and screw on the lid.  Shake the jar until the herbs are distributed throughout and the scent is fairly pungent when you open the lid.

Done!  (Easy to mix up for yourself right before a bath, too)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Make Ahead Meals- Curry and Mexi-Bake

As my pantry items dwindle, it's becoming even more important that usual to make meals and ingredients ahead of time.  Mike ended up buying some rice last week because he had to make dinner quickly for the kids on Friday- I can't really blame him.  He didn't really sign up for this pantry challenge.  I pretty much just imposed it on him.  But we agreed that if there are pre-cooked grains and beans ready to use, he won't be tempted to shop.

This week's theme is boring pantry ingredients made interesting with spices and home-canned fun ingredients. I've planned a curry and a Mexican themed casserole.

I found a 1/2 box of Alter Eco brand Fair Trade Ruby Rice in my pantry today.  I thought I was out of rice about a week ago, but found this, some arborio rice and some sushi rice in little bags.  Since I also had some more lacinato kale frozen out in the garden, some canned jackfruit and a couple potatoes, it seemed like I could throw those all together to make a curry.  Everest makes an amazing jackfruit curry that I've ordered the past 3 times I have gone there, so if mine is half as good as that one, I'll be happy!  The spices I used are: cumin seed, mustard seed, fennel seed, turmeric, garam masala, salt.  For the sauce I used some dehydrated coconut milk, a jar of home-canned tomatoes and a jar of home-canned harissa.  So far it smells good...

The casserole consists of a layer of polenta (the last of it!), a layer of mashed pinto beans and a layer of home-canned tomatillo salsa mixed with an extra can of tomatillos.  The beans are seasoned with garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander, epazote and Mexican oregano.  And salt.  Can't forget the salt.

I'm starting to wish for some oil now.  I have a smidge of coconut oil and a bottle of sesame oil left.  No more canola oil, olive oil, local sunflower oil or grapeseed oil. Wonder what popcorn will be like popped in sesame oil???

We also just ran out of nutritional yeast and are almost out of regular sea salt.  I have plenty of Hawaiian pink salt and other fancy salts to use, though.  I might have to break down and buy salt and oil in order to use up the rest of my beans and grains, though!  Since I've made it 2 weeks, now I'm wondering if I can do 3 weeks.  But I might go crazy before then because I just used the last of the cumin.

I'll take some pictures of these dinners plated, because the photos of them packed away in their Pyrex containers are less than appealing.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Just a Little Bit...

I broke my pantry challenge a lil' bit. Not a lot, just a lil' bit.

But it was for a good cause!  (As long as cookies and cake are a good cause... and I firmly believe that they are).

A friend of mine planned a vegan cookie swap a while back and I couldn't bring anything half-assed,  thrown together from the little bit of cornmeal, oat flour and tapioca starch that I have left. I needed white flour.  And sugar- I was out of both.  So I purchased the flour, sugar, Earth Balance and craisins I needed for my cranberry pistachio shortbread cookies. Nothing practical for dinner, I promise.  (My buddy Sarah can vouch for me.)  And now look at the amazing cookies I'm bringing home!!!  Adorable gingerbread people, Magical Coconut Cookie Bars (from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar), Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies, Double Chocolate Cookies (adapted from Cook's Illustrated), and TWO kinds of Mexican Wedding Cookies/Snowballs/Russian Tea Cakes.  Plus, I have several slightly-too-browned cranberry shortbread cookies left at home.  It's nice to have friends who bake!

Tomorrow I'm bringing a cake to a Yoga Day event for the Iyengar Association.  We decided on a Citrus Spice Cake with cream cheeze frosting. I also had to buy a few ingredients for this, but I figure that's exempt from the pantry challenge because this is for a job, not home consumption.  Here it is naked:

I'm using the Golden Vanilla Cupcake recipe from VCTotW and added orange juice, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg and orange oil.  Yum!  I'll try to remember to get a final picture and "inside shot" tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Back to our regularly scheduled programming: Pantry Challenge Day 14!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why Pen Pals Rule

This right here is why pen pals are super awesome...especially my pen pal.

My West Coast twin sent me a "Cali-love care package" that blew my mind.

LOCALLY GROWN bananas, persimmons and avocados!!!!!  Oh, how amazing that sounds on this cold week!  And after a long, long day it was so much fun to come home to this package filled with produce grown by small farmers that she knows, artwork and Uncle Eddie's cookies!

Can't you just feel the Cali love?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Day 10- Pantry Challenge

I'm pretty amazed at how much food I have left in my pantry.  And in my fridge.  Here are some of the tasty foods we've eaten this week without grocery shopping:

  • walnut-bean-millet balls over brown rice with tomato-peach glaze
  • curried yams and collards over millet
  • TVP tacos with homemade corn tortillas
  • rice crispy treats
The tacos were Mike's idea because he always craves corn tortillas, but all the ones around these parts have preservatives- nasty!  I found about 3/4 of a cup of masa harina in the pantry, which was just enough to make tacos for our lunch- Hooray!

The rice crispy treats have an interesting story.  I brought too many boxes of Sweet & Sara marshmallows (yes, it's possible) on our camping trip in August.  On the way home one package got a little wet in the cooler and it made the marshmallows really gooey and weird.  But I couldn't throw them away, so they sat in my fridge for a few (4) months.  When I was cleaning our fridge a couple nights ago I examined them and decided that they were probably still safe to eat...and I had a 1/2 package of brown rice crisp I had to make some rice crispy treats!

I had one for breakfast this morning and now the kids are enjoying them with some hot limeade (a.k.a. hot water with bottled lime juice and maple syrup!)

So we're definitely not hurting for any food yet even though I have 10 empty bulk jars sitting on a shelf.  I'm taking this opportunity to clean my bulk jars, something that doesn't happen too often.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Day 6- Pantry Challenge

I'm pretty sure it breaks the pantry challenge rules to go out to lunch, but since I get to make the rules I'll say that it's allowed today.  Mike justified it by pointing out that we practically live at the co-op, so eating lunch there is just like eating at home.  I had a really rockin' panini with tempeh, portabello mushroom and avocado!

Tonight I finished up some seitan noodle soup and decided to bake some cookies.  I've had a canister of Dagoba Xocolatl hot chocolate with chilies and cinnamon in my pantry for waaaaayyyyy too long. Like from back when Dagoba wasn't owned and ruined by Hershey's (Most of their dark chocolate bars now contain milk...Same with Green and Black's since they were bought out by Cadbury).  I'm all for some fair trade, organic hot chocolate, but I found that I prefer mine without chilies or cinnamon.  So I dumped the last of my millet flour and sugar together with hefty dose of this mix and some other cookie-type ingredients and got some pretty wild cookies.  They look like lumps of coal, but taste like spicy chocolate goodness.

Here are the staple things I've run out of so far:
Tofu, tempeh
Basmati rice
Millet flour
Wheat gluten
Earth Balance (tragedy)
Lemon juice, lemons
Gluten free pasta
Canola oil
Soy yogurt
Almond milk

Plenty of dry beans, millet and condiments left, though.  Plus other weird odds and ends like water chestnuts and sour cherry preserves.  Next week should be interesting!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Day 4- Pantry Challenge...And Oyster Crackers

I'm pretty much out of "convenience" foods now.  No more tofu or tempeh.  No more pasta.  Tonight I made use of a can of chickpeas (now it's on to dry beans), some garden tomatoes and some dried garden cherry tomatoes in a stew.  Yep- That's right.  Garden tomatoes in December in Minnesota.  These green 'maters were late bloomers on the kitchen table but are now red and tasty.

Sauteed onions, jalapeno, cumin seed, fennel seed, coriander and mustard seed simmered with dried cherry tomatoes, fresh tomatoes and chickpeas.  

I found a box of oyster crackers that I had forgotten about in my pantry.  I got them as a sample from the co-op and never ate them.  Every year my mom makes some amazing seasoned oyster crackers...but they use powdered ranch dressing mix and most oyster crackers have hydrogenated oils- yuck!  These crackers have clean ingredients (They're Olde Cape Cod brand) and I used a mix of spices that tastes like ranch dressing mix to duplicate my mom's recipe. I think this would be good with pretzels or other crackers, too.

I need to have a disclaimer before this recipe to say that it is not low fat.  Or even medium fat.  I don't recommend making a habit of pouring oil over your crackers, but once a year it's freaking awesome.

Almost Like Mom's Seasoned Oyster Crackers

1 8 oz. package of oyster crackers (I think a 12 oz. package could still be well seasoned by this recipe)
1/4 cup olive oil or canola oil
2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. dried parsley
2 tsp. dried dillweed
1 Tbsp. nutritional yeast flakes
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Pour the oil into a large plastic resealable bag.  With a mortar and pestle, grind together all the spices/herbs, nutritional yeast, salt and pepper.  Dump into the baggie with the oil.  Add the crackers and seal the bag. Gently toss the crackers around in the oil and spices until they are all coated.  Remove any air from the bag and reseal.  Let sit overnight and then eat so many of these that you feel sick.  Then lick the bag.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Day 2- Pantry Challenge

Not much time for bloggin' because Sons of Anarchy season finale is tonight!

Today I had a grilled cheeze for brunch- made with some day old free bread and the "colby" cheeze I made yesterday from the Uncheese Cookbook.  Ridiculously good, by the way,  I also ate pickles.

For late lunch I had leftover split peas and rice, almonds, craisins, candycane Jo-Jo's, and some vegan gummy bears that were free samples.

For dinner I had Mike's brown rice special- brown rice, tofu, kale from the garden.

Here's lunch for tomorrow:

Nearly the last of the leftover GF stuffing, some smoked tofu, pickled beets, butternut squash dip, a satsuma mandarin, craisins, and almonds. Yum!  It's like a sampler platter!

I'm teaching until late tomorrow, so I'll update again on Thursday with the pantry challenge progress.