Thursday, March 24, 2011

Egg Rolls!

Guess what I found, right there at Kroger, next to the organic extra-firm tofu? Egg Roll Wraps! Really! How cool is that? And, it was on "Manager's Special" for only 99 cents (cause it expires tomorrow), so, of course, I HAD to get it! Even though I've never made egg rolls in my life. But, there were instructions and a recipe of sorts on the back, so I figured I'd risk the 99 cents and go for it. 'Cause my family LOVES egg rolls. And, it's one of my squeemish foods because of all the preservatives in the industrial pre-packaged frozen food-product egg rolls you can buy at the store.

So, into the cart they went, and I brought them home brimming with confidence that I could figure out how to make egg rolls. I'm really not being ironic here, I really was sure I could do it. If I've gotten ANYTHING from the 30 Day Vegan workshop (we're in week three), it's been a very healthy dose of confidence. I'm working with ingredients I previously could not even identify, figuring out the techniques that go along with them, blending flavors and textures I had no idea could go together, and making a palatable (sometimes even delicious) meal from the whole mix.

Egg Rolls? Can I make Egg Rolls? Bring it on, baby!

I used tofu (yes! tofu!) instead of the animal flesh recommended on the wrapping package. Having previous experience with frying tofu for another dish, I jumped right in. Fried up about 14 oz of tofu seasoned with salt and pepper in 1 tbs of sesame oil til golden-y, then added in some garlic, ginger, lemon, lime and a wee bit of soy sauce. For the last couple of minutes, I tossed in about 2 cups finely chopped cabbage, 1/2 cup finely grated carrot, 3 green onions finely chopped, and some crab meat just for the heck of it. Cooked until soft and warm all over...

Cooled for about 20 min while I started our "main" dish...Broccoli Noodles with Thai Peanut Sauce (courtesy of the 30 Day Vegan). I had some extra Thai Peanut Sauce in the fridge, which I bolstered with a little extra soy sauce, and was good to go. Just boil the soba noodles, toss in the broccoli and pre-cooked chick peas at the end, and your pretty much done.

Back to the rolls, plopped about 2 Tbsp of filling onto each wrapper, and folded like a diagonal burrito (directions are on the package).

Rolls ready to go...

I don't have a deep fryer, so just put about 3/4" olive oil in my cast-iron chicken fryer, heated to about 350 (I do have a thermometer for that part), and plopped in four rolls at a time.

They cooked up QUICK! Just a couple of minutes on each side, then fetch them out onto a paper towel.

Lined up in a bowl ready to be joined by their compadres.

And, finally, a boat-load of Egg Rolls, ready to be devoured. Which they were.

So, how did they turn out? Wow! They were AWESOME! Every single last one of them was wolfed down around barely-muffled sighs of contentment, and that last one fought over and split into thirds for equal distribution. Even William, who detests vegetables in any form, was licking his plate to get up every last bit of filling. I can't honestly remember having better egg rolls from any restaurant.
Although a bit time-heavy this first time around for me, these could be some really awesome appetizers for entertaining. Make up the filling ahead of time, wrap and roll, and stick in the fridge until it's time to fry them. It really only takes about 2-3 min per batch to cook them, and cut in half they'd be perfect bite-sized morsels. Little dishes of dipping sauce, and you're all set.
Okay, so who's up for Chinese Night next Tuesday?!?

Signs of Spring

March has been tempting us into believing that Spring has arrived. Has it? Is it really safe to start planting? Or, will there be one last freeze to kill off tender young seedlings before She is really here?

Tulips at the mailbox.

More bulbs at the mailbox.

Second year strawberries starting berries.

Personal Sun Teas....perfect use of a large canning jar!
Reading to the kids on the back deck. Sleeping with the windows open. Puttering in the yarden. Yep, I think it's spring.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Don't Have Time to Write...

a post because I'm, enjoy this in the interim!

Yeah, it's kind of random, but well worth enjoying ;)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sushi Night

Last night the kids and I got a mutual bee in our mutual bonnets, and decided to make California rolls. I had ordered the seaweed (nori) and bamboo roller through Amazon, and it happened to arrive yesterday, and the kids happened to open the package, and then happened to inquire what the heck that was, and then decided we should make California rolls. Call it "strewing via Amazon".

We didn't have any sushi rice on hand, but pretty much had everything else (except the artificial crab meat...which I'm happy to skip), so off we went.

Pre-cooked brown rice from the fridge was re-warmed, with the rice vinegar/sugar/salt mixture stirred in, then spread on a sheet of parchment paper to cool.

Rice was then "placed" onto a sheet of nori with an o-so-delicate hand.

Seasame seeds were sprinkled onto the rice, then thinly sliced vegetables were added....cucumber, carrot, avocado, and a dose of cilantro and asparagus for me.

Then commenced the rolling.

Resulting in "rolls".

Which were then cut into bit-sized bits.

My favorite were the "ends" with a bunch of stuff popping out.

It was so pretty I had to take another picture.

Amazingly, the kids LOVED doing this, and actually eating this. Go figure.
Me? I'll never buy California Rolls again, not even at Costco, which has pretty good ones. Only FRESH from now on!
And, P.S., YOU can do this! It's totally simple and easy and yummy!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

30 Day Vegan - Day Six

I started out Saturday by baking Rise and Shine Breakfast Bread from the 30 Day Vegan workshop. Everyone LOVED it, and it really does make a great breakfast. Here's William's serving:

No, I didn't let him eat the whole 90+ carb serving; I had him cut it in half.
Then, out to the yarden for some more prep work.

Dumb dog ate my new gardening gloves.
I got the first load of material loaded into the tumbling composter, part of our multi-family composting endeavor.
Bin for collecting; tumbler for composting (hopefully quickly).
Margaret and I both had problems with the tumbler staying too wet and not composting properly. Since we can pretty much count on rain and dampness year round, I wanted a way to keep my "dry" material as dry as possible. I found an old wood pallet in the storage shed and put a batch of dried leaves on that. Hopefully up off the ground it will stay fairly dry, and be able to dry out a bit after a rain. Maybe I'll keep a small bit of plastic sheeting on hand for rainy days...
I then spend a bit of time working mushroom compost and soil conditioner into the upper planters. I ended up with enough excess soil to start filling one of the lower planters.
By then it was time to take the boys up to their friend's house for his birthday party. The usual "challenging", homemade cake, and ice cream. I got William dosed for the pizza, and set up an estimated dose for the cake and ice cream before heading off to the grocery store for this week's shopping.
There were a few more items this week that I didn't find, including sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds. The checker suggested that perhaps these were "seasonal" items. I find it a bizzare state of things that "seasonal" has come to mean "available for specific holidays" such as Christmas, Easter, Labor Day and SuperBowl, rather than to mean "this is when it is harvested". I got more jars (one case of quart, one case of small jeweled), and remember now why I don't do grocery shopping on the weekends; there are more people there, more meanderers, and the shelves have been picked over and aren't fully stocked. I'll have to plan the next couple of Fridays to print my recipes, make my list, and get to the store by mid-day on Friday.
By the time I'd unloaded everything and put away, the boys were back from their party. Since they'd consumed decidedly non-vegan food for their "dinner", I cooked just for David and I. My first run-in with tofu was in the form of Family Friendly Pad Thai.

It was most definitely yummy, though I found it a bit on the sweet side for my taste. I'd been curious about the peanut dressing thing (this one made with tahini and maple syrup), and I really liked it. I couldn't really taste or notice the tofu, which is probably a good thing. It did fry up nicely and I think "held" the fresh garlic flavor for the dish. David loved it, too.
Since my order from Johnny's Selected Seeds arrived earlier in the day, I sat down to start seriously planning out the garden, and to create a master list of "what to do when".
The kids wanted to watch a movie all together, and I made up some popcorn using coconut oil. We have an air popper, which is supposed to make popcorn "healthier" by eliminating the fat, but I find the popcorn ends up way to bland, and the salt doesn't stick. The coconut oil lent a great, subtle flavor, and helped the salt stick. Very nice!
So, up for today: Get some more work done in the garden (mostly prepare the ground for the beneficial's welcome garden), putter in the yard a bit, finish up the garden planning, and maybe do some baking. I'm looking forward to trying that Pad Thai sauce in a veggie wrap for lunch!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

30 Day Vegan - First Week

Well, we're most of the way through the first week of the 30 Day Vegan workshop. After starting out like gang busters last weekend, I backed off a bit on the vegan cooking mid-week. David was in Canada Wednesday through Friday, and since the kids haven't been entirely enthusiastic about some of the main dishes, I decided not to do a vegan dinner each night. We did a bit of grazing, and some left-overs, and the kids seemed to be fine with that.

But, Thursday night I made Lemon, Garlic and White Bean Pasta for myself (and the kids to have one bite of). And, because I'm incapable of following a recipe to the letter (even the first time I make it), I made a few substitutions:
  • Used cilantro instead of parsley (also because I had not parsley)
  • Used whole wheat thin spaghetti
  • Tossed in some pine nuts
  • Added a bit of garlic powder at the end for some extra garlic-y-ness

Wow! I really liked this dish! But, next time I will probably skip the zest and stick with just lemon juice. And, I think I overcooked the white beans when I pre-cooked them; I think the kids will like this better if the beans are a littler perter.

Served with a chunk of fresh-from-the-oven artisan bread:

I'm feeling pretty optomistic about our grocery bill for the first week. That first shopping trip on Sunday just about held us for most of the week, with just a few "here and there" items picked up mid-week. The overall bill was less than I usually spend on a week’s groceries, even though much of what I bought was “pantry” stocking of "specialty" items. I'm interested to see what this week's bill will be.

Also on Thursday we got a delivery, which Michael and Thomas immediately tore open and put together:

I decided to plant our garden from seed this year, so ordered this cute little mini-greenhouse to start seeds in. I also bought a book, since I've never started seeds before. The New Seed Starters Handbook also has a chapter on seed saving, which I've wanted to do, but have always been intimidated by.

Michael, of course, had to find some plants to put in the greenhouse:

I remembered to check our little avocado pits, changed their water, noticed one of them has a root sprout, and put them in the greenhouse this morning. Good think I checked on the other plants; the greenhouse had really heated up in the direct sun. I'll need to check it every day to be sure the plants don't overheat as the days warm up.
I’m trying not to let the “other projects” lingering in the back of my mind get to me too much while I'm spending more time in the kitchen. Most pressing are the garden and the impending moving in of Kit and family. The garden I’m behind on anyway since I don’t even have my seeds yet, so spreading out that project a bit won’t put me any further behind. I do, however want to finish mixing the upper beds this weekend, and take stock of the soil needs of the lower garden. And, I did get a start on “purging” in preparation for cohabitating; yesterday I went through my bedroom and closet, and the laundry room, resulting in two contractor bags of junk tossed to the curb. And, I managed to get ALL of the clean laundry folded and put away (there was A LOT piled up!). It has helped a lot that the kids have been pretty much self-directed in their learning this week (with a little nudging here and there), though I'm feeling a bit guilty about not reading to them as much as I would like. But, there's always next week.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

30 Day Vegan - Day Two

Yesterday was pretty low key in the kitchen. While I had managed to “wash as I went” for most of Monday’s cooking, I petered out toward the end and there was a sudden explosion of dishes mounded in the sink by the time post-dinner rolled around. It didn’t help that one of my kitchen crew was MIA; Thomas is usually in charge of unloading the dishwasher, and he was staying at a friend's house.

So Tuesday morning first thing was kitchen cleanup (I hate cleaning up a dirty kitchen in the morning almost as much as I do after a long day...drat those lazy Kitchen Elves for not showing up!). I checked in with 30 Day Vegan for my morning inspiration, then cooked up a batch of brown rice using our virgin rice cooker (it’s been sitting in the pantry for about a year, unused). The rice turned out a bit mushy, but that could have easily been my doing.

I had just enough time for quick sweep-up of the house, a shower, and veggie wraps for lunch, then the kids and I headed to homeschool Park Day. Brrrrrrrr….it was cold! We took along the rest of the Carrot Sesame(less) Spice Cookies, and everyone pretty much agreed they were yummy. William even ate two, but he was chasing a low, so I'm not sure I can count that as an official endorsement. I think the Homemade Granola he had for breakfast was "slow"; I gave him a correction 2 hours post-meal, and he hit a nasty low shortly after.

Back home I popped my cooled goopy rice into jars and refrigerated them for later use (maybe I should try California rolls!). Of the two dozen jars I bought on Sunday, plus the half dozen or so recycled jars I've been using, I now have only three left. I'm gonna need more jars!

Our usual Tuesday family was with us, so I made a double batch of Quinoa and Black Bean Chili. It was waaaaaay good, and very easy to make. I went easy on the chili powder for the benefit of the kids (I also ran out of chili powder), and I imagine for those who like their chili spicy a dash or two of Tapatio or other hot sauce might be just the thing (sorry, Kit, I didn't think of it last night!).

I served the chili with Veganized Old Fashioned Cornbread. I took the recipe off the back of the Hodgsons Mill corn meal bag, and made some substitutions.

2 Tbsp coconut oil (instead of shortening)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp milled flax seed + 3 Tbsp water (instead of an egg)
2 cups corn meal
1 tsp baking soda
2 Tbsp maple syrup (instead of honey)
1 3/4 cups almond milk (instead of buttermilk)

This version is baked in the oven in a cast iron skillet. It was great!

I think I'll try the Lemon, Garlic and White Bean Pasta tonight with Artisan Bread, and I need to make another batch of granola and cookies (Thomas didn't get to try the cookies...they all got eaten!).

Happy cooking!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

30 Day Vegan - Day One

Yesterday I did some “prepatory” cooking; beans, white and black, for future dishes. I could have just bought canned beans, but I want to do as much from scratch as possible.

Did a bit more organizing; putting stuff into jars. I’ve seen photos of some of the other participant’s pantries with nice labels on all of the jars and containers, but I’m just writing on them with a sharpie. (If I need a different label, I can just take it off with SolUMel). I’m also including carb counts for each item on my “label.”

Michael was my kitchen helper, and he made whole wheat spaghetti with marinara for lunch. Everyone pretty much played along with the vegan thing by skipping the parmesan topping without complaint.

I realized I will have to go back to the store because I’m missing some ingredients. Some I’d neglected to put on my list, and some had been scarfed down by certain children who shall remain nameless, but whose initials begin with M, S and G. We’re going to have to make a new rule along the lines of “If you need to climb on a chair (or your buddy) to reach it, then you have to ask first AND LISTEN TO THE ANSWER!”
I took a break and dropped Thomas off at John’s house for an overnighter; Nic was to join them later in the day. I would have gone by the store on the way back, but I left the house in my slippers, and Michael had no shoes at all.
Back home, and back into the kitchen, I whipped up a batch of granola and a batch of cookies, and jarred my beans (got two quarts of each black and white beans for later use). And, made up a batch of vegetable broth (tops of leeks, a couple of carrots, the tops and heart of a bunch of celery (the “good” parts went back into the fridge snack drawer), the outer leaves of a cabbage I’ll be using later this week, an onion (the only “virgin” veggie going into the pot) and the end of a bunch of parsley that wouldn’t be lasting much longer).

For dinner I used some of the white and black beans for the Veggie Wrap with Tahini Sauce (thank you, Margaret, for the loaner!). The sauce is very flavorful, and a little bit goes a long way. I really liked the combination of cold beans and veggies. We did cucumber, red bell pepper, tomato, avocado, and carrot.
So, a few thoughts and observations from Day One.
I can’t believe how often I’m taking out a full bucket of kitchen waste to the composter since we've been eating semi-vegan. I'm probably making at least one full bucket of scraps per day, and happy to be doing so. David brought Margaret’s tumbler over, so I’m hoping to get a load “started” in the next day or so.
Carb counting for William's insulin doses is going to be a real trick. I could meticulously calculate all of the carbs going into any given recipe, and then figure out his portion from there, but I think a lot of these dishes William is not going to be terribly interested in. And, my experience with this type of calculating "scratch" dishes has not ended up being terribly accurate (I swear some dishes add or loose carbs during cooking!). So, I'll be relying heavily on my "guestimating" skills.
I spent just about the entire day in the kitchen. The time was enjoyable (though I was tired by the end of the day), and I did at least as much "puttering" as "cooking." I’m not sure I can be this focused on cooking, spending this much time in the kitchen, for 30 days, much less for the rest of my life. But, I have a feeling that once I get into the mindset and rhythm of whole-food, vegan cooking, it will take me much less time to whip up meals. I’m mostly experimenting right now, and am unfamiliar with the ingredients and how to use them. I think it will get more stream-lined with time. I feel a bit like the movie “Julie and Julia”. Just not all year.
Today, I'll be pre-cooking some rice and other grains, and am planning on Quinoa and Black Bean Chili for first foray into the mysterious quinoa grain. Wish me luck!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

30 Day Vegan - Getting Ready

I was sick on Friday and Saturday, so I feel like I'm a couple of days behind. Especially when I see what some of the other seminar participants have been doing in their kitchens to get organized. Ugh! So, most of yesterday was spent in preparation.
First, I cleaned out the refrigerator; got rid of everything that needed getting rid of, and even washed the shelves.
Ready to be filled with goodies!
I also printed out this week's recipes and put them in protective sheets (I didn't have a binder on hand). Then made a shopping list of stuff I needed. It was a really long list.
After a nice little salad for lunch, I went shopping. Amazingly, I was able to find everything I needed except tahini at Kroger. But, Margaret assures me she found tahini there, so I'll just have to ask next time. In the mean time, she let me borrow some of hers.
Our "butt load" of groceries.
Grace informs me that the metric conversion of "butt load" is "bum load".
My seminar binder full of yummy recipes.
The total grocery bill was right around $250, but I got a few "extras". Most noteably:

  • My binder.
  • Wide-mouth Ball jars; one flat of freezer-safe pint-sized and one flat of quart sized. I used the box bottoms to help organize the pantry.

Two dozen lovely wide-mouth Ball jars and their partner lids.


  • Sandwich bread; As Margaret has explained to her family, my end of the bargain is to make meals and put them on the table. You can eat it or not (though I might require each child to take at least ONE bite), no derrogatory comments will be allowed, and you are free to make yourself something else to eat. I see a lot of PBJ's in our future.
  • Fruit juices.
I ousted almost all of our plastic storage containers (most of whom are missing mates), and loaded up the cabinet with our new jars.
My first "seminar" dish was Butternut Squash and Apple Soup. Very simple, and absolutely fabulous. Just about the best winter soup ever.

Served with artisan bread (also vegan). Perfect!

Ready for another day!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Papa Bear's Ink

Well, he's finally done it. David reached his "tat weight" - his personal reward for reaching his goal weight - and went to Timeless Tattoos this afternoon to get his very first tattoo. S and Jeff both went with him, and both came back with ink, as well.

David found the design on line, and added the Cherokee symbols that "spell" "Papa Bear". The design was inked by Rob Knight.
Here's Jeff's new tattoo...Darwin's Tree of Life, the first known sketch, found in his notebooks, of his idea depicting the evolutionary branching of species.

How cool is that?

Oh, and his shirt was kinda cool, too.

Sorry, S, I didn't think to get a pic of yours, but I'm sure we'll be seeing it blogged or FB'd soon!

PapaBear’s Monthly HD Workshop Outing

Saturday, March 5th was the inaugural Home Depot Kids Workshop for PapaBear and a menagerie of cubs. What will undoubtedly become the first of many Saturday excursions to PapaBear’s “toy store” involved a sleepover the night before getting all (6) cubs up at 7AM, dressed and fed and out the door so to be in line before any crowds formed. Remarkably, PapaBear had everyone up, dressed (including three bathed), fed, teeth and hair brushed and out the door at 835AM – a feat unto itself for sure! Of course, PapaBear had to leverage some measure of incentive for everyone to behave themselves. His non junk food enticement was to let them all play in the 2-story outdoor storage barns (hey, what grown up doesn’t like doing that, too).

This first project was to build wooden Home Depot NASCAR race cars. Using, wood glue, hammer & nails and the application of pre-printed stickers, the kids all managed to put the right parts in the proper position and not get glue in their hair or clothes – a true measure of success. Everyone passed inspection and received their aprons with project pins and certificates. And the cars all turned out pretty darn well, too.

It would appear that the team thoroughly enjoyed this outing -- afterwards nearly convincing PapaBear to take them out to second breakfast and/or early lunch. This required some restraint on his part, as he gently reminded them that they were NOT Hobbits and that one breakfast would have to sustain them until the normally scheduled lunch. The drove home singing at the top of their lungs to the playful sounds of Dr. Demento (Star Trekkin’ and Guitarzan were featured). Smiles all ‘round!!!

All the kids are left to wonder what the next project will be then?
Next outing, April 2nd.

(By PapaBear)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Vegan Roasted Chicken

Okay, not really.

I am gearing up for the 30 Day Vegan Workshop by, ironically, trying to get rid of some of the remaining dead animal flesh in our freezer. Along the same lines as "The sooner I eat all of this holiday chocolate and cookies and pies and deserts, the sooner it will be out of my house, and then I can start eating healthy again." Don't even try to pretend you've never said that to yourself.

So, I had two organic chickens in the freezer, which I thawed and used for an adulterated version of Tanya's Perfect Roast Chicken. And since it was a two-pack, I made two chickens figuring I'll be "de-meating" and freezing some of it for (sparingly!) future use. If, of course, Thomas did not wolf it all down first. He is a tween-aged growing boy, after all.

As I have never been a "chicken roasting" kind of person (I leave that stuff to David, generally), I was trusting that Tanya would not steer me wrong in handling (ick!) and preparing dead chickens. (I was right to trust the wisdom of Tanya). I stuffed our birds with grapefruit (I had a couple laying around getting juicy/soft), lemon, lime, red onion, fresh thyme from my sad little container garden, the last woody ends of cilantro from the other night (amazing how fragrant even the woody parts of cilantro are!), and Michael topped it off with some fresh chives from the garden (amazing how hearty chives are!).

It looked purdier pre-bird than post-bird.

I plopped the stuffed birds on top of carrots, potoatoes and onions, and into the oven they all went. (Please note, Tanya, I have an actual roasting pan!).

Can't necessarily claim these are "happy" birds, but at least they are cozy and were fed "organic" vegetable matter when they were alive.

One point five hours later, I pulled them out of the oven and let them "rest" for 20 minutes (they'd been working very hard in the oven). And, I have to say, I was duly impressed by their crispness.

They're not burned...they're crisp!
This was just about one of the tastiest chickens I've ever partaken of. And, I'm really impressed that I made it! And, the veggies rocked! (Notice how there are more veggies on the plate than chicken...I think that's supposed to be normal).

Yes, that is my dinner plate, balanced on top of my notebook and a bunch of gardening books (and a cat toy on the side). I'm trying to wrap up my on-line seed order before spring has passed entirely. I need more hours in the day...or to get out of bed earlier. Not sure which is more likely to happen ;)

Edible Solar System

I was rendered speechless by Michael's science project today.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Wrap I Wanted Yesterday

Yesterday our homeschool group took the kids to see the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra perform at a local church. It was fabulous!

Afterward, we met up for lunch at (against my better judgement) the food court at a local mall. Since our group has such varied eating habits, it seemed like a good (not too expensive) way for everyone to find something they would like.

I bravely ordered a veggie wrap with feta. Sarah handled the transaction, and very specifically requested "a very small amount of feta" (bless her). What I got a tortilla with a large amount of melted feta-like goo and a sad sprinkling of cooked vegetable thrown into the mix. Hmmm. Not, "Mmmmm." Just, "Hmmmm."

Dinner that night was another matter entirely. I was in control of the peparation of my wrap. We had a fresh pineapple sitting on counter begging to be eaten. David grilled the pineapple slices, red onion slices, and some salmon (marinated in the pineapple juice, lemon, salt, pepper and dill). I made Fresh Avocado Salsa, and Kitmama worked up some red rice and beans.

My first wrap included some salmon, but the second one (it was too good to pass up a revisit) I went without the salmon, and just stuck with the Avocado Salsa, grilled onion and pineapple, and fresh sliced red bell pepper on a whole wheat wrap. It was heavenly.

Today, I worked up an even "fresher" wrap for lunch. Sliced tomato, avocado (with a little lemon juice squeezed on time I'll do lime), red bell pepper, cilantro, red onion, and a bit of feta. Way, waaaaay tasty!

One of these was enough to completely fill me up, without feeling heavy. David had two. Even Thomas made a simpler version for himself. I think this is going to be my "other" favorite lunch for a while!