Cleaning Out the Larder

I just got done cleaning and organizing the freezers for this upcoming garden season. I must say, I am pretty proud of myself! I have used up nearly everything!

I had 2.5 gallon bags of tomatoes still in the freezer, but tonight, those are becoming roasted tomato sauce. Yum! There are 2 bags of kale left, I will use those this weekend. There is a bag of peppers left still from TWO summers ago, so those will get defrosted and tossed to the chickens. If they don't eat them, at least they will be compost. Same goes for a 2 year old bag of swiss chard.

After all that, there are 2 bags of basil that need to be used... I think I will let them stay frozen and use in my sauces this summer, and any fresh basil we get this year will be eaten fresh or become pesto. There are STILL 2 gallon bags of tamales I made with my sister last summer... Those get eaten as is, but we are so slow on them. Maybe they will have to be handed out to the neighbors.

We picked up our year's supply of beef (flexitarian and healthy eater here!) so the meat freezer is totally stocked. I still have a few cuts left from last year's beef, so I think I need to have a little party and get people to clean up for me.

The only things left in the pantry are several jars of jam (blackberry and sour cherry) that need to be used up... The blackberry is kind of gross - I left the seeds in (BIG mistake) and I did not add enough sugar for how sour the berries were. Eventually I need to recook it and turn it into freezer jam. I have NO ideas for the sour cherry preserves. They are not sweet enough for me to put on toast, but I don't really know what else to do with them! Help!

I have a box full of stuff that needs to go to the food pantry (donations) that we will ever eat. Canned tuna, cream of "whatever" soup, and some odds and ends. Just gotta get on that.

How about y'all? Are your larders ready to be cleaned and restocked for the year?



Beware, there is a rant here... If you don't want to read, look away!

Omnivore, vegetarian (and all it's subparts, lacto-, ovo-, pesce-), vegan, raw foodist, locavore, foodie, picky, garbage disposal, organic snob, DIY everythinger.... Perhaps you have been classified as one of these, or some other label I can't think of. I know I have.

Since Christmas, Hubby and I have tried to live a mostly vegan lifestyle for health reasons, influenced largely by documentaries and books such as The China Study, Food Matters, Forks Over Knives, Food Inc, and lots and lots of other things that point to the idea and research that a veg based lifestyle is better in the long run.

Do I call myself a vegan? Most of the time, but I am learning if I do that, I get looks... Looks when I say a pizza looks good, or looks when I eat a cookie that I know contains butter... Looks when I answer the question, and looks when I tell people to stop worrying about what the hell I put in my mouth.

Easter brought an interesting situation, one I had not dealt with before. Hubby's step-mom, bless her heart, was trying to work menu items into the celebration that we could eat. "You can eat this, it is vegan, you cant eat that, it isn't vegan." While I told her not to worry about feeding us, that we are used to just feeding ourselves when it comes to things like holidays and simple get togethers, she worried. As she usually does. I KNOW she was coming from a place of love and concern, as all mothers do... But I was frustrated that I was being told what I COULD and COULDN'T eat. Fact of the matter is, I will eat whatever the hell I want, whenever the hell I want.

I faced a similar situation tonight at school. My professor wants us to bring in dishes to have a potluck next week for the last day of class. I asked the question (damn my mouth) if anyone else was a vegetarian or had food allergies, because I don't want to feed someone nuts if they are going to asphyxiate! Then my prof asked what I was, and I said well, vegan, but PLEASE NO ONE CATER TO THAT. Bring what you want! Then I had people in class telling me that what they were going to bring was stuff that I COULD eat. (And you better damn well know that I will eat dessert. I have no willpower when it comes to sugary goodness.)

I KNOW that people are concerned about whether I can partake in the celebration, and eat good food with them. That is what our culture is a lot about, and most cultures for that matter. New life? Food. Death? Food. Marriage? Food. Divorce? Food (mostly desserts). My point is that now, my life doesn't revolve around the food. While, heck yeah, I love to enjoy good food and break bread and partake in celebrations with cake, my celebration now comes from the people I am with. I enjoy other's company more than I enjoy what I CAN or CANT eat. I don't like feeling that I have burdened people with my choices.

Honestly, I will eat meat (especially the beef from my sister because it is damn good and damn local). I don't do it often, but it happens. I don't eat meat/dairy due some moral obligation, but when I do I make sure to choose humane options, locally produced is preferred. I do not make special requests (other than no cheese, no mayo, easy stuff like that) at restaurants because I understand the idea that cooking for someone with dietary restrictions is a HUGE pain in the ass. I don't want to put anyone out because I am choosing to alter my diet. I would rather worry about feeding myself and going to a party full and enjoying the company rather than stuffing myself silly with food I know is bad for me.

I try to keep my opinions about what other people put in their mouths to a minimum, but I am happy to share what I eat, because I feel I am making a healthy choice. I guess my point is, is that I don't want to label myself anymore. I don't want to be a vegan, I don't want to be a carnivore, omnivore, foodie, etc... I just want to eat what I want, when I want, and I don't want people to worry about it. 


Vegan Lasagna

Yesterday, I made a vegan lasagna to take to Easter dinner at Hubby's family's... It was the biggest hit! Everyone loved it! Seriously, I don't think anyone knew it was vegan unless they asked me. Here is the recipe by extremely popular demand. And I use the word recipe loosely, a dash here, a dash there.... You know how I roll. (As soon as I make this again, I will take pictures)

Vegan Lasagna
1 box no-boil lasagna noodles
1 medium onion, chopped
handful of shredded carrots (I had some that were sitting around from making a slaw, so in they went!)
1 red bell pepper, chopped small
1 zucchini, chopped
2 boxes of mushrooms, chopped (I think it was a total of 16 oz, I used white buttons for this, but use what you have)
3 or 4 large handfuls of fresh spinach, chopped (don't have fresh? use frozen, just make sure to squeeze out the water. You can really go nuts here, spinach cooks down to nothing)
handful fresh basil, chopped (I wouldn't sub in dried here)
1 container vegan substitute cream cheese (I used Tofutti. Not vegan? Use regular!)
1 package (12 oz?) extra firm tofu, drained but not pressed (you can use ricotta cheese!)
1 tbs-ish dried oregano
1 tbs-ish dried parsley
1 tbs-ish dried garlic (granulated, not powder)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast (I REALLY estimated here. Sorry guys)
1 small jar tomato paste
30 oz plain canned tomato sauce (I HEAVILY seasoned my filling mixture, so no need to spring for fancy jarred marinara)

Start out by sauteing your onions and carrots with salt (be slightly generous, but don't go nuts. There are a TON of veggies in here) and pepper in a but of olive oil. Allow these to leach out as much water as possible. Add in your mushrooms. Seriously, cook these until the water has leached out and mostly evaporated. Add in the zucchini, and again, allow the water to leach out. (I cooked this all on medium-high heat.) Add in your spices, spinach, and basil. Allow all to wilt and then stir in your nutritional yeast, tomato paste and cream cheese. Crumble in the tofu so that it resembles curds of ricotta. I promise it doesn't taste weird. It just tastes like whatever you season it with. Allow mixture to cool slightly before assembling.

Heat oven to 350. Assemble lasagna - tomato sauce on the bottom, noodles, filling, sauce, noodles, filling until you have no more stuff left. I made sure to have the top of my lasagna be a layer of filling and sauce so that the noodles did not dry out. (cover with cheese if you want some more dairy) Cover and bake for 45 minutes. Cut, and eat with yummy bread!

**Update** I entered all of the ingredients into My Fitness Pal, and with this recipe making 12 HUGE portions, each portion is only 262 calories! (If you only use about a tsp of olive oil and some extra water to saute your veggies)


For My Sister

I just spent an hour on the phone with my sister talking about the movie Food, Inc. and we talked about how the processed food world is out to get us by killing out health, immune systems, and pretty much the human race as we know it. 

We also talked about how she is practically a single mother who has fallen into a routine of chaos and crazy with no light at the end of the tunnel on how to get healthy meals in front of her beautiful children without incorporating all that processed garbage. 

Then we talked about some ideas and processes to make life easier during the week without going totally nuts... Here are just some simple reminders for her when she goes to the store. (I'm also publishing this post for anyone who has a crazy busy life, whether it be kids, animals, school, career, whatever!)

Coffee Creamer - My sister likes coffee creamer sweet and vanilla-ish, but doens't like plain coffee with milk. Instead of buying insanely processed coffee creamer with tons of ingredients you cant pronounce, choose a slightly less processed one that is made with only 4 ingredients.

Dinners - I have posted on this before, and I will make a new post soon... YOUR CROCKPOT IS YOUR BEST FRIEND. My crock pot doesn't have a timer, so I attached a Christmas light timer to the outlet, and voila, I have a crock pot on a timer. I spent an insane 6 hours making about 20 or 25 gallon sacks of meals that I just had to set out the day before to thaw, and then put in the crock pot in the morning, and turn on the timer. Maybe make some potatoes/noodles/rice when I am ready to eat. Done. I will make a post with recipes soon. I promise!

Breakfasts - I will do a post on this soon too, I swear! I am not a breakfast food fan, as in I would rather eat dinner leftovers for breakfast, and usually do. But here are some good quick breakfast ideas... Oatmeal (quick and dirty, self explanatory). Pancakes - don't but a boxed mix. I will post my premade pancake mix recipe in the soon to come breakfast post. BUT make a bunch of extra pancakes, then store in the freezer. Homemade toaster pancakes. Same goes for waffles. Making a big Sunday breakfast? Make DOUBLE! then pout your extra eggs, bacon, sausage, whatever into english muffins and store in the freezer. Homemade Jimmy Dean breakfast sammies. 

Lunches - I am a salad fan. I am also really bad about making lunches. How about when you make dinner, just make extra! Making baked chicken breasts for 4? Make 6 chicken breasts, and cut up the leftovers to put on salad. Same goes for fish, steak, beans, pork, whatever you like. Dont want to make a salad every day? Yeah, neither do I. Pick up your salad greens in bulk and make 3 salads in advance (who wants to eat salad every damn day?), and just grab out of the fridge when you grab your coffee fixins. Got kids? Me neither, so I am working on those ideas. 

More Dinners - Making meatloaf on Saturday or Sunday? Make TWO! Bake the one you want to eat now, then store the other in the freezer for a rainy day. This idea can be applied to so many things... Meatloaf, seasoned chicken, marinated pork, seasoned fish (as long as your proteins haven't been previously frozen. And if they have been, just toss a different cut of meat into a marinade and store in a freezer bag (also in a tray to prevent leakage) and then make that cut of meat later in the week. Buy bulk spices and make your own blends and store in mason jars. This takes time, but it is worth it to not have extra salt, soy fillers, and strange chemical preservatives. Scared of them going rancid? Store them in the fridge or freezer. I will post recipes soon! 

Veg and sides - Frozen vegetables are awesome, just dont turn them to mush! I toss mine into my little steamer thing, into the microwave, and I have perfectly crunchy veg in 4 minutes. Rice? Cook up a bunch and store it in the freezer. All you have to do it microwave in a covered bowl with a splash of water, and you have fresh(ish) rice. If you buy quick cooking rice, then it will only take 10 minutes, so you really dont need to make it ahead. 

Breads - not everyone has time to make bread. Just try to choose brands with as little added sugar (especially high fructose corn syrup) as possible, and choose whole grain. If you have a local bakery, even frickin better! You will get FRESH bread once a week, AND support a local business. You probably will be able to even talk to the actual person who baked the bread and you can find out where they get their flour, and what the ingredients are. And I'm pretty sure you will be able to pronounce them all. 

Snacks - I really think the freezer can be your best friend. Making muffins? Make extra and store in the freezer. Same for brownies, cookies, quick breads, etc. Make granola bars, they last forever in the fridge. Choose baked snack chips or crackers rather than fried. Choose whole grain crackers with reduced sodium. 

Meats - My sister has this on lock! SHe has her own beef, pork, and chicken, AND fresh eggs, so she doesn't have to worry about CAFOs and factory farmed disgustingness. But for those who don't have that luxury, try to buy organic, free range, grass fed options. Find a farmers market. Find a CSA. Find a farmer. Find a local butcher who will at least be able to tell you where their meat comes from. 

Dairy - This one can be tricky. I am not a big dairy eater, so I don't think about this much. Try to find a local, organic milk supplier. Here in Ohio, Hartzler dairy is becoming HUGE. They are originally a family owned operation, and still are I think, but getting bigger... They raise their dairy cattle on grass, no hormones, etc. They also use low temperature pasteurization to preserve healthy enzymes and it is NOT homogenized. This means if you let the milk sit, you can pour off the lovely layer of cream at the top on the bottle. YUM. However, it is really expensive, BUT if you recycle the glass bottle back to the farmers market/grocery store to which you bought it, you will get $1 off your next gallon. And just don't drink so much darn milk! (Easier said than done for some)

Sugar - is the damn devil. If you are trying to reduce your sugar and calorie intake, BEWARE of NON-fat options... they typically have added sugar to make up for the lack of richness of no-fat. Sugar stored in your body's cells turns into, guess what? FAT! If you want sour cream or cheese, just get the real versions and be satisfied rather than eating the non-fat option and not feeling even remotely satisfied, and then overeating to make up the lack of satiation. 

Now granted, I am not a licensed dietitian (YET), so not everything I say or reccomend will work for you or your lifestyle. These are just things I know to be true, and things I believe in. 

Do you have any other ideas or suggestions for my sister to try??? She is pretty much open to any and all help. And if you try to post mean comments about my suggestions, I won't publish them, so don't waste your energy. 


DIY Patio Umbrella Holders - Tutorial with Pics

I want to place 2 patio umbrellas on our driveway patio because, unfortunately, it is like the surface of the sun out there. No relief from the sun, and past about 10AM in the summer, the concrete is like walking on hot coals! Below is the picture of what I really wanted...

These HEAVY umbrella bases weigh in at 110 pounds each PLUS they have wheels so one could move them around as needed. BUT good gawd! They are $70 alone!!! Plus, I would need 2 of them... That just was NOT going to happen. So I decided to make my own! This project cost me about $13.

Here is what you will need. Keep in mind, I made 2 bases.
~2  (60 lb) bags of ready to to go Quickrete
~2 large flower pots (I used ones I had purchased years ago at Ikea, bonus - they have wheels
~2 (2ft) long sections of PVC pipe. The pipe I used was 1 1/4 in which fit my umbrella poles perfectly
~tape - really effing strong tape



STEP ONE - drill a hole in the very center and and bottom of your flower pot to allow water to drain out of your pipe. This hole should be much smaller than your PVC pipe, obviously so the pipe doesn't fall through the pot. 

STEP 2 - This part sucks... you will need to stand up your PVC pipe and tape it into place. I used painters tape. I DO NOT recommend this. Use MUCH stronger tape PLUS another pair of hands for filling the flower pot. Make sure your pipe is centered over the drainage hole. 

Step 2 (part 2) you want to make sure your PVC pipe is standing up nice and level in all directions so that your umbrella later on will not be cock-eyed. I taped my mini level to my pipe and did it that way. 

STEP 3 - mix up your quickrete with water until it is the consistency of peanut butter. Use a LITTLE water at a time... It can turn into concrete soup with only a few too many drops of water. 

STEP 4 - Fill your pots around the pole. This is where the extra set of hands and really effing strong tape will come into play. I did not have extra hands, nor really effing strong tape, so my pipes moved as soon as I piled in the concrete. I had to reestablish the level and plumb of the pipes. Not fun. 

STEP 5 - smooth out your concrete and allow the flower pots to set for a few days. Then, just plop in your umbrella, and there you have it! Also, make sure to clean up your mess so your wonderful, loving, supportive husband doesn't get mad at you for playing in concrete when you really have no idea what you are doing :)

Step 6 - after your concrete has set up and hardened, make sure to drill some drainage holes in the PVC or in the side of your pot, especially if the concrete doesn't reach the top of the pot.
All there is left to do is put in your umbrella!

My concrete does not reach the top of the pot, so I plan on filling them with potting soil and flowers. 

So for $13, I got gorgeous, mobile, 65 lb umbrella stands. That makes for a happy yardener. 


Yarden Happenings

Today was GORGEOUS! I finished writing a paper and then got my butt outside to do some work on the yarden. I continued cleaning out the back of the yard. I had to empty the compost of all the branches and dead plants before I could dismantle it, and then I had to figure out what to do with all the crap. It wasn't very windy today (odd for April, like really odd) so I broke everything down and had a little fire in the pit. I'm not sure exactly why, but holy crap, that was the worst smelling fire I have ever had. Even the branches I burned smelled like garbage. It was gross, and I kinda felt bad for my neighbors. Only a little bit though...
This junk all got burned. And it was gross. 
This is the cement pad now where the compost and a planting bed was... Still kinda is...  I need to sift out the compost and add it to the beds. Also finish tilling out that broken down bed... I think I am going to put a little table and chairs back here for the summer once its all cleaned up.
View of the back now that stuff is coming down and out. Those pallets will go to good use in our basement
In that picture above, you can see the back fence. My lovely, stupendous, and oh-so-freakin-friendly neighbor decided to put up a teeny tiny fence blocking his yard from the little path between my fence and the neighbors garage. This will prevent me from traveling to the direct back yard neighbor's yard to weed wack and take care of that area so it doesn't become all overgrown and grow into my yarden. So my solution for now will be to take down the old crappy wire fencing (taking it to scrap for some cash) and then I will be able to maintain my yarden and his yard, and while I'm at at, I will just take care of everyone's yard... Ok Tiny Gardener, get off your high horse... I gotta take some aerial shots so you guys can really see what I'm talking about.

Anyways, the Spring cleanup is coming along nicely, and I can't wait for the next task... I need to get the tarp off the chicken run and get that all tilled out and level again. The girls have really dug out some serious holes, and it just all looks awful. Plus, there is STILL a garden bed in there that needs tilled out... Oy!

I can't wait for you to see what I have in store next. I'll be posting a new tutorial on making your own patio umbrella stands! Woot!

How is your garden cleanup coming? Anyone else taking out beds and replacing them?