Happy Mother’s Day!

8 May

After gardening for most of the day yesterday, I’m ready for a relaxing Mother’s Day with my kids.

Apparently, breakfast in bed was on the schedule for this morning, but I didn’t know that so I got up as usual. My hubby was busy at the stove with veggies piled everywhere and a carton of farm fresh eggs on the counter. He was busy whipping up breakfast for me — a fantastic omelet stuffed with spinach, mushrooms, onions and vegan cheese, a fresh fruit salad, and an English muffin. Delish! (The only thing missing was a Starbucks decaf soy caramel latte, which is on the schedule for later today, I guess.)

For Mother’s Day, Madison made two handmade cards and bought me three novels from the used book store (she must have been shopping with Nonna in NC!). Brady made me a really cute necklace with a seashell on it, which I will wear to church this morning, and Logan made a card with his very own knock, knock joke on it:

Knock, knock
Who’s there?
Lettuce.
Lettuce who?
Lettuce, tomatoes, onions and peas!

Speaking of lettuce, tomatoes, onions and peas, the gardens for this year are officially under way! Since we finally had a warm, sunny day, the boys and I turned all the dirt, added compost and then raked out the four garden boxes. We sprinkled in some organic fertilizer and got them ready for the vegetables to go in. I planted several lettuces, Swiss chard, rainbow chard and peas yesterday. We also re-edged all the flower beds, raked out the leaves and did some general backyard cleanup. The flower beds are ready for annuals and mulch. If Mother Nature ever quits teasing us with these on-again-off-again nice days, and spring actually arrives, we’ll be in good shape!

Today, though, is a day for family. The weather is supposed to be beautiful — sunny and 65 degrees. (Maybe we actually will see spring this year!) We’re heading out to my mother-in-law’s for dinner and visiting. To my mom, mother-in-law, grandma, sister, and all the moms out there — I hope you have a wonderfully relaxing day!

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Put your money where your heart is. Buy local.

28 Apr

I am just back from a long Easter weekend in North Carolina. We stayed with my parents for 5 days and had a wonderful time. The warm weather and sunshine were such a welcome change from the cold, rainy days we’ve been dealing with here in Michigan.

I came home refreshed…and inspired.

While in North Carolina, I saw a poster in a store window that said “Put your money where your heart is. Buy local.” I thought it was so perfect. I know it refers to everything consumers spend their money on — not just food. But, of all the things I’ve learned over the last 16 months or so since I started this journey, trying to buy locally-made or locally-grown products as often as possible is the one that’s the easiest for me to incorporate into my daily life. I know it’s not always feasible to buy local goods…hey, I’m on a budget! But when it comes to food, I can’t stress enough how smart it is to really know where your food comes from, know your farmer personally, grow your own vegetables or support your local farmer’s market, and shop at smaller family stores instead of the big box stores whenever you can. Not only does this almost guarantee your food is safer, tastier and healthier, it also provides financial support to your own neighborhood. Now that’s inspiring.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, my mom is a fantastic chef. I always enjoy her cooking and our discussions about food, cooking and health. My Easter dinner was SO good. While the omnivores in my family dined on grilled pork, I devoured marinated and grilled portobello mushrooms. The side dishes were all vegan –- oven-roasted vegetables, grilled asparagus and a wonderful chopped salad with toasted almonds and chai vinaigrette.

While in Asheville on Monday, we had a fabulous lunch at Rezaz Mediterranean Restaurant. (I should have taken a picture!) We started with an appetizer of polenta fries with their housemade tomato jam (a sort of chunky sweet catsup). Honestly, I could think of a hundred things to slather that tomato jam onto! It was that good. My meal was a fat little potato cake topped with a green olive tapenade. On one side of this was a fresh arugula salad. On the other side were four thin slices of grilled ahi tuna. Then the whole plate was lightly drizzled with an orange vinaigrette. After lunch, we shopped some more and came home with 3-4 new cookbooks each. That gets me inspired!

Speaking of inspiring…I consider my dad the king of all things house-related. He’s a builder, woodworker, tile layer, painter, wallpaper hanger, upholsterer, deck designer, plumber, and master of just about everything under the sun. Honestly, my dad can do anything! His latest project is a restaurant in downtown Waynesville, NC, where they live. The owner/executive chef bought an existing restaurant building but is basically gutting the whole place and starting fresh — using local products such as reclaimed barn siding, tin panels and other materials. My dad has been working on this project for months. We got to tour the construction site while there and meet the owner/executive chef. His name is Kaighn Raymond and he, too, is an inspiration.

The name of his restaurant is Frogs Leap Public House. It will be a farm-to-table restaurant meaning they will focus on locally-grown, sustainably-farmed organic foods, which will then be transformed into amazing regional dishes. He’s planning to have a seasonal menu that will feature the freshest produce from local farmer’s markets and farms. I got to talk with him as we toured the place and I absolutely cannot wait to eat there! It looks like the grand opening will be in June, but I’m not sure we’ll get back down there before fall.

If you want to know more about Frogs Leap Public House, check out their website at http://frogsleappublichouse.org or “Like” their Facebook page. I left the restaurant…inspired.

So inspired, in fact, that I already have several new recipes on the menu for next week. Recipes and photos to follow, so stay tuned!

Oh, and put your money where your heart is!

Can you be vegan-ish?

5 Apr

I think that’s what I have to start referring to myself as. Vegan-ish. Not 100%, but mostly vegan.

I’m still making the majority of my meals vegan. But I do eat eggs a couple of times a week (fresh from happy chickens at a home in my neighborhood). I have, on occasion, enjoyed a small piece of humanely and sustainably-raised chicken or beef, purchased locally. Not too often, but once in a while. I’ve also been actively searching out sustainable seafood. I downloaded the National Sustainable Seafood Guide (here), which helps me choose seafood that is not overfished, is environmentally-friendly and supports healthy oceans. I’ve always enjoyed seafood and I’m glad it’s back in my diet.

I feel good about my food choices. I’m still eating lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. And I’m not supporting industrial animal farming in any way except dairy. Though we’ve cut way back on the milk consumption in our house, I still haven’t found a local source for it, so I’m stuck with the grocery store variety for Jason and the kids. Luckily, they like almond milk, so I keep buying it even though it’s more expensive than regular milk. I think that will be one of my goals this summer — locally made cheese and other dairy products.

But let’s get back to the vegetables. I think spring might actually arrive here in southeast Michigan sometime soon! Goodness, this weather is making us all crazy. We are 10 degrees or more below normal just about every day. I’m dying to get out into the garden and get my veggies planted! In the meantime, I’ve been experimenting with some new recipes. Some vegan, some gluten free and some vegan and gluten free. Check back often, because I’ll be posting them!

Here are a couple of recent ones that don’t require an actual recipe.

Sesame Green & Yellow Beans
Rather than the standard old steamed green beans with butter, try these for a quick side dish. Place cleaned beans in a deep saute pan with a little water. Bring to boil, cover and steam them until just barely tender-crisp. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. In the same saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil over medium-high heat. Toss the beans back in and give them a quick saute. Remove to a serving dish and toss with salt, pepper and toasted sesame seeds. Enjoy!

Polenta Pizzas
The kids wanted to do make-your-own pizzas Saturday night for dinner. They made theirs on regular pizza crusts, but I wanted something gluten free and vegan. I have a bag of Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Pizza Dough mix, but just didn’t feel like messing with it. So I stared into my pantry hoping something would jump out at me. And it did! I pulled out a container of instant polenta. I cooked it per the package instructions (which takes all of 5 minutes) and poured it into a foil-lined baking dish. I spread it out evenly and placed it in the fridge to chill while I got all the pizza toppings ready to go. Once cold, I lifted the foil and polenta out of the pan and put it on a cutting board. Using a biscuit cutter, I cut it into 4″ circles and sauteed them in a little olive oil, turning once, so they were crispy on both sides. Then I used these to build my pizzas on. Though they don’t have the texture of pizza dough, they were really tasty and still had all my favorite pizza toppings. I just popped them into the oven with the kids’ pizzas so the vegan cheese got melty. Cut slightly smaller, these would be fun appetizers! Here are my combinations:

BBQ Chicken Pizza (top)
BBQ sauce + Daiya vegan cheese + red onions + sauteed vegan chicken slices + minced cilantro

Mediterranean Pizza (bottom right)
Vegan pesto mayo + Daiya vegan cheese + grilled red peppers + kalamata olives + red onion + dash of dried oregano

Sausage Pizza
(bottom left)
Pizza sauce + Daiya vegan cheese + crumbled vegan Italian sausage

Spring is here…even though it’s still below 40 every day!

27 Mar

As usual, my “full plate” has been overflowing! We received a Home Depot gift card from my parents this past Christmas and I decided to update both of our bathrooms the last week of February. We painted, laid tile, installed new baseboards in one bathroom, and just gave them both an all-around new look. It had been almost 10 years for the one bathroom, so it was time. They look fantastic…thanks mom and dad!

Just a few days after we finished up, I got slammed with the flu. I mean slammed. I can’t even remember the last time I was that sick. I actually could barely get out of bed 2 of the days. I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. Two weeks later, I’m still battling the cough occasionally, but at least I’m back to functioning.

Now that spring is here, I’m looking forward to fresh vegetables at the farmer’s market and planting our garden. My mom sent me a seed catalog and I’m excited to get a new plan in place for my raised beds.

Even though it will be a few months before I can harvest anything, I’m in the mood for the taste of crisp salads and beautiful veggie combinations. I decided to make a quinoa salad last weekend and it turned out to be something you’d want on a warm summer day. It has a light flavor and plenty of vegetables. I will definitely be serving this up at a few backyard gatherings.

If you haven’t had quinoa before, you are missing out! Quinoa is a grain-like seed that has a nice chewy texture. It’s gluten free and is a nutritional powerhouse. Full of vitamins and minerals, it is an excellent source of iron, magnesium and zinc — which are good for blood pressure control and diabetes. Quinoa has just 220 calories per one-cup serving and provides 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. The protein in quinoa provides all eight of the essential amino acids we need, making it an ideal food for vegans and vegetarians.

Cooking quinoa is similar to cooking rice, but you have to remember to rinse quinoa in cool water before starting your recipe. If you don’t, it has a bitter taste. So rinse it well in a fine mesh strainer or colander with tiny holes. Then cook per package directions.

I made this salad only an hour or so before dinner, but the flavors were much more developed the next day when I ate the leftovers. I would highly recommend chilling this overnight before serving. It does not get soggy. It’s delish!

Spring Quinoa Salad
serves 6

1 cup quinoa
1 cup water
1-1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 English cucumber, chopped
1/2 yellow or orange bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup sliced grape tomatoes
1/4 red onion, chopped
1/4 cup sliced kalamata olives
salt and pepper

Bring quinoa and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Chill for about 1 hour.

In a blender, combine lemon juice, vinegars, dijon mustard and garlic. Puree. Slowly drizzle olive oil into running blender until smooth.

In a large bowl, combine cooked quinoa, cucumber, bell pepper, tomatoes, red onion and olives. Add dressing and toss to coat evenly. Season to taste with salt and freshly-ground black pepper. Chill overnight. Enjoy!

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

3 Mar

Wow. I can’t believe March is here and it’s been almost a month since I posted anything on my blog. I apologize to those of you who have been looking for new recipes! I spent all of January’s and most of February’s “blog time” doing the one thing I dread most. The 4 or 5 hours a week I was spending on writing and creating recipes and blog posts has been used for exercising. Then, for the last two weeks, all of my spare time has been spent remodeling two bathrooms (paint, tile floor, baseboards, new wall hangings, etc.). I’m trying to get back into my morning exercise routine, yet the winter doldrums keep dragging me down.

But, spring is coming and that means gardening, fresh vegetables, and a whole new outlook on what to make for dinner. Plus, I finally got my new stove so now I have an oven that works! I promise you, new recipes are coming!

Maybe you already know this, but yesterday would have been the 107th birthday of Dr. Seuss, the amazing author of children’s classics such as Green Eggs & Ham and The Cat in the Hat, among hundreds of other stories. Dr. Seuss is a big hit in our house. All of my kids have enjoyed his crazy, rhyming stories as they’ve learned to read. As they headed off to school yesterday, one of them mentioned it was Dr. Seuss’ birthday. That got me thinking…about something fun for dinner.

Yep, I did it — I made green eggs and ham for dinner. The eggs were fresh from our local farmer (I waited in the car for him to gather the eggs from the barn yesterday). I simply whisked them for scrambled eggs and added a squeeze of green food coloring. I still haven’t found a local source for ham, so it was not exactly *happy* ham, but it was nitrate and nitrite free and minimally processed, so I included a small amount for my omnivore boys. I made Whoville Taters (cubed potatoes, tossed in olive oil, seasoned, and roasted in the oven) and Starbellied Sneetch toast.

For dessert? Some Cat in the Hat yogurt parfaits! I simply took vanilla yogurt (made with coconut milk) and mixed half of it with thawed frozen raspberries and some stevia. I mixed the other half with a little coconut extract and chopped ripe bananas. Then I alternated layers of the two yogurts to look like the stripes on The Cat in the Hat’s hat. The effect would have been better if I had tall, skinny glasses, but I used what I had and I didn’t hear any complaints!

It was a fun dinner and led to Brady running upstairs and digging out ALL of the Dr. Seuss books to read before bed last night. We didn’t make it through all of them, of course, but it was a great way to celebrate such an important birthday!

Sub-zero temperatures mean it’s time to make SOUP!

9 Feb

If you live in the Midwest, you know what I’m talking about. This weather is absolutely ridiculous! Today’s high was 13. The low overnight tonight will be -7 and the high tomorrow is 7 with wind chills at -15 to -25. I mean…brrrr!

We’ve also been pounded with a crazy amount of snow in the last month. So far this winter, my kids have had 7 snow days and I’m expecting a snow day or delay tomorrow morning because of the extreme temperature. Every day when I pull into my driveway, I almost cry because I know the piles of snow will be here for a while. I don’t even know if it will melt before May!

On the little side porch on the left, there’s a cafe table and two chairs but you can’t see them because the snow is so deep!

There’s nothing better during weather like this than a steaming hot bowl of soup. Honestly, I could eat soup every single day, but it really hits the spot on bitter cold days like today. Yesterday I decided to veganize one of my favorite soup recipes. The original recipe is my sister’s and it appeared in my mom’s first cookbook, Of Peaches and Pansies. It’s a thick, creamy soup loaded with good stuff — Corn & Potato Chowder. A couple of easy substitutions made this meat free and dairy free, and equally as yummy as the original.

The original recipe called for diced ham. I used vegan bacon (Smart Bacon) because that’s what I had in the freezer. Next time, I’ll try a little vegan sausage. I think it will give more of that smoky, saltiness of ham that works so well with potatoes and corn.

Serve this with a salad and my gluten-free, vegan cornbread muffins (see November 5 post).

Vegan Corn & Potato Chowder
serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 strips vegan bacon or 4 ounces vegan sausage
1 onion, diced
2 cups diced potatoes (peeled)
1 red bell pepper, cored and diced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 cups unsweetened almond milk
1 can vegan creamed corn (no salt added, if you can find it)
1 cup frozen corn kernels
salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large stock pot. Saute bacon and onions until onions are tender, about 8 minutes. Add potatoes, red pepper and thyme and saute for a minute or two.

Add milk and bring to a low boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender and soup thickens slightly, about 15 minutes. Add cream corn and frozen corn and simmer until heated through. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with minced fresh parsley, if desired.

That’s what you get for asking.

29 Jan

As we sat down for dinner on Thursday night, I reminded everyone that I would be grocery shopping after Cub Scouts that night. That meant we needed to come up with ideas for dinner for the next week. I always shop from the week’s menu so I’m not wandering aimlessly through Kroger just grabbing random stuff. Without a plan for meals, how do you even know what to buy? Aside from that, not planning ahead means running to the store several more times during the week to pick up miscellaneous items for that night’s dinner.

So I asked for ideas and they all looked at me blankly. “Okay,” I said, “here’s the deal. Everyone gets to choose one complete dinner. Whatever you pick, I will make.” Well, then everyone had an idea! Jason immediately said “brats on the grill.” I said, “Fine.” (Followed by a look of surprise from him!). Next?

Someone said “panini.” I said, “how about a soup with that?” “Tortilla Soup, please.” Done. Next?

“Can we have taco pasta?” Done.

I said, “How about something with fish?” I think in unison they said “Fish Tacos.” They’re kind of time-consuming, but I agreed, since I haven’t made them in forever.

That left one day, and a bunch of blank faces staring at me. I said, “There’s one more day and the first person who comes up with an idea gets it.” Madison immediately said, “Can we have those vegan chicken nuggets from the store?!” And Logan shouted, “with that purple sauce you made one time?!” (the blackberry-mustard dipping sauce from Eating Well magazine.) I said, “what else do you want with those?” And before anyone else could respond, Madison said “mashed potatoes!” Done.

Well, that was easy enough. Only thing is, we’re eating a lot of taco-ish meals this week! I guess that’s what I get for asking, huh? 🙂

Here’s the breakdown:
Sunday – fish tacos, southwestern slaw, fresh pineapple
Monday – grilled brats (portobello mushroom for me), grilled marinated vegetables, applesauce
Tuesday – taco pasta, salad
Wednesday – vegan chicken nuggets with dipping sauce (June 24 post), mashed potatoes, corn
Thursday – tortilla soup (October 26 post), grilled panini

I guess I’ll worry about the weekend when it gets closer.

Regarding the brats, I had planned on buying the same old Johnsonville brats I usually buy in the summer, along with a pack of vegan brats for myself and Madison. When I got to Kroger and went to pick up the brats, I couldn’t bring myself to buy them. I stood there staring at that package…knowing it was 100% factory-farmed meat. I looked at every single package there. Nothing but factory-farmed meat. I contemplated the turkey brats…for about a second…then remembered all I had read about factory-farmed turkey. Disgusting. I put them back and walked over to the health food section again. I considered vegan brats for all of us, but I knew that wasn’t what Jason had in mind when he said he wanted brats. I kept looking. I finally came across a package of Organic Prairie’s Organic Pork Bratwurst. The front of the package says “Pork used is humanely raised on family farms without antibiotics.” I bought them ($6.99 for 4 brats…not too outrageous).

When I got home, I checked out their website. Organic Farms is a co-op of family farms whose owners believe in farming ethically and sustainably, providing their animals with as much pasture time as weather will allow. Here’s the description for the bratwurst I bought:

Ours start with pasture-raised, heirloom-breed hogs that frisk in the fresh air and sun, yielding the big-hearted flavor and gusto that brats are justly famous for.

If you get a chance, and are in the market for ethically/sustainably raised meats, check out their website at www.organicfarms.com. Be sure to read the sections on pasture-fed animals and some of the descriptions of their farmers. Though I’d much rather buy locally-raised meat, I have yet to find pork raised happily. This suits me just fine for the two or three times a year that I make brats on the grill.

I’ll give you a full report on the taste of the brats after dinner on Monday!