Thursday, September 12, 2013
Friday, August 23, 2013
Being thrifty makes my heart sing. So does being able to make healthy meals fairly quickly out of things that I can always find around my kitchen.
The days are increasingly autumnal, and I am craving standard comfort food. And today I wanted cream of tomato soup.
But there were obstacles.
Obstacle #1: I do not buy canned soup. It is loaded with unpronounceable ingredients as well as LOADS of sugar and salt, it may expose me and my loved ones to BPA, and, if you break down the cost by serving, it is ridiculously expensive when compared to homemade soup, which tastes better anyway!
Obstacle #2: Because of that pesky BPA, I also try not to buy canned tomatoes, even though they are so handy to have around. Instead, I buy high-quality pasta sauce in glass jars, which I substitute for tomatoes in a pinch, and sometimes I buy the Pomi boxed tomatoes, though they are pricey.
Obstacle #3: I do not regularly stock cream. I love cream, but I do not love ultra-pasteurized dairy products, and I'd have to make a 160-mile round trip to buy cream that is not ultra-pasteurized. So I do not regularly buy cream.
Obstacle #4: Milk can be used instead of cream if stabilized as a white sauce, but milk prices are high (routinely over $4 a gallon here), and I am using my milk for kefir, so I do not want to use loads of milk for cooking, as that would cause my frugal heart some pain.
So I made cream of tomato soup anyway.
My favorite recipe is from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. I cross referenced it with a version in good ole Joy of Cooking, which uses a béchamel sauce in lieu of cream. Then I made this version, which makes six generous portions:
- 1 stick of butter (I always used unsalted. Salted butter has shitloads of salt in it.)
- 2 onions, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 6 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 50 - 70 ounces chopped tomatoes (fresh, boxed, jarred, whatever)
- some basil (fresh if you have it; dried if not. You may not need it if some of your tomatoes are from a glass jar of tomato-based pasta sauce)
- pinch of sugar (you will not need this if you are using any tomato-based pasta sauce)
- 4 cups chicken stock*
- a tiny bit of allspice
- 3 tablespoons of flour
- one cup of powdered milk
- 2 cups of water
- salt and pepper to taste
- dash of nutmeg
1. Melt 1/2 the stick of butter in a soup pot and add the onions, carrots, and garlic. Cook on medium until softened, about 10 minutes.
2. Add tomatoes, basil, sugar. ( I used one box of Pomi and a partially full jar of Muir Glen pasta sauce that I had to use up anyway. So, because I used the pasta sauce, I didn't add extra basil or sugar.)
3. Cook another five minutes, then add chicken stock. (I just added the frozen cubes of homemade stock that I had in the freezer and let the cubes melt into the simmering veggies. Thawing isn't really necessary.)
4. Simmer for 45-50 minutes.
5. While the tomato base is simmering away, make what I like to call "cheater's cheap-ass béchamel:"
melt 1/2 stick of butter on medium low, add the flour, and stir your roux for 2-3 minutes. Measure our your powered milk, top it with water to make 2-3 cups of powered milk, and whisk it with your roux. Continue to heat and stir until thickened. It will get thick like Alfredo sauce. Add salt, pepper, and a dash of nutmeg. Turn off heat.
7. Put all the blended base back into the soup pot, and add the cheater's béchamel. You may need to add a little more salt: taste it and see.
You now have a big batch of comfort food!
*Every time I roast a chicken (and I always buy whole chickens, not parts; more bang for your buck), all uneaten skin and bones and other bits as well as trimmings of the to-be-roasted vegetables (especially the leek tops!) get boiled several hours in a large quantity of water, are allowed to cool, and then draining through a colander for a nice, clear broth. I then freeze this in usable portions for when I make soups and sauces.
Posted by Elizabeth at 2:32 PM
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
I've read that our modern, pasteurized, homogenized milk does not sour; it spoils. Spoiled milk is of no value and is not good to consume.
Soured milk, on the other hand, is good for us. Also called "cultured" or "clabbered," it introduces beneficial yeasts and bacteria into our digestive systems. You sour milk by introducing the right kinds of bacteria to it. This is how we get buttermilk, yogurt, cheeses, and kefir.
I have tried the make-your-own yogurt thing. Like all soured milk products, you need a starter culture. But with yogurt, you need to renew your starter fairly frequently by buying more. New starter can be high quality store-bought yogurt. But if I have to buy store-bought yogurt to make homemade yogurt, I don't really see the point.
Kefir is different. Kefir starter continues to grow as you make more kefir. It is like the mythical wine cup that refills itself. It is the gift that keeps on giving.
Kefir is made from "grains," which you can buy online or get from someone else who makes kefir. I got mine from a friend who got hers from a friend who got hers from a friend. She gave me a tablespoon about two weeks ago. Now I have about two tablespoons.
|my kefir starter|
William Lee, author of The Friendly Bacteria, says that kefir grains are called "'grains of the Prophet Mohammed,' the Prophet having been credited with their introduction." Other sources say that kefir originates from Russia.
To make kefir, you put the grains into a clean glass jar. You pour milk over the grains and cap the jar. Then you let it sit, shaking occasionally, unrefrigerated, for about a day. If you refrigerate, it takes a lot longer to produce kefir, so if you want a slower process, pop it in the cold storage.
When you want to use the kefir, strain it through a sieve. The tart, slightly thick liquid that comes out is your usable kefir. The solids in the sieve are your starter. Yo can refrigerate your strained kefir until you are ready to use it.
You need to feed your starter (by pouring fresh milk on it) once you have strained the kefir off it. This keeps it alive. If you aren't going to use your kefir, you still need to strain it and give it new milk.
The Internet is full of mixed advice about whether or not to rinse your grains and your glass jar. Rinsing slows the growth of the starter and produces a more mild kefir. Unrinsed grains produce a more robust starter and a stronger tasting product. I do not rinse my grains. (I want ALL that beneficial bacteria!).
Sally Fallon, in Nourishing Traditions, says that you can freeze the starter grains for several months if you are not using them, but if you freeze too long, they will lose their ability to culture.
Since the starter grows, you will be able to share your starter with others fairly quickly. You can also use grains to make other fermented things. Full Moon Feast, by Jessica Prentice, has recipes for low-alcohol herbal ales made with kefir grains. I haven't tried those yet, but they are on my list!
|kefir shake, coming up!|
a small handful of almonds
1/4 cup hemp protein powder
a piece of fruit (I especially like fresh mango)
a cap-full of flax seed oil
It is tart and satisfying, and I know I am getting a pretty good dose of probiotics!
Update: just found some very delicious-sounding recipes for more smoothies. Must try!
Posted by Elizabeth at 2:52 PM
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Staying with the theme of turning the worthless into the worthy, I have a stash of material that seems too good to throw out.
Mio marito collects stamps, specifically stamps from southern African countries. He has just sorted through a few pounds of stamps (and that's A LOT of stamps) and has a lot of extras that he does not need.
He tipped them into the bin.
"Nooooooo," I scream.
Surely, there is something we can do with these pretty little babies? Necklaces? Earrings? Brooches? Fun things with scrabble tiles and epoxy? Fun things with Mod Podge?
Help! Please send ideas and tutorials my way!
Posted by Elizabeth at 1:46 PM
Monday, August 19, 2013
In a previous post, I wrote about my passion for compost, which makes the worthless into something worthy.
But then there were bears.
I tried four different outdoor composting systems, including a solar-oriented, cone-like thing the bulk of which I buried about four feet underground. The bears enthusiastically destroyed them all.
So I started to read about vermiculture, which is an indoor composting system. I started my own vermiculture set-up in 2010, and I am now a true believer.
It is for anyone looking for an easy and efficient way to compost. It is especially good for those who live in cold climates, because indoor composting happens year around. And the product just can't be beat: it produces the best soil amendment ever.
I do it right in my dining room, and most people do not even know it is there. No smell. No flies.
Here is what most people see:
What is behind the magic screen?
|the shredded paper can make a mess...hence the magic screen!|
And what does it do? It turns kitchen scraps, junk mail, and cardboard into totally digested, soil-scented worm castings for the garden.
|shredded junk mail|
|household cardboard waste|
All of the above results in:
|thoroughly composted material|
I bought the composter online, and I even bought the worms online. It was super easy to set up.
I started with the three-tray composter, but I have added two additional trays (which can be purchased separately) to make a five-tray composter. We needed all five to keep up with our output of waste.
Here are some important tips I have gleaned from three and a half years of worm farming:
- Use no meat, grease, citric fruit, or coffee grounds. The meat and grease result in a bad smell, and the other things are too acidic for the worms.
- Egg shell is the one organic material that does not break down. So I know longer use eggshells in the composter.
- Use A LOT of shredded paper and cardboard. Every time you add food scraps, add a good inch of paper or cardboard on top. This is how I achieved no smell and no flies. Plus, I got to compost all of our paper waste! I bought a little desktop shredder for the junk mail, and I hand-shred the cardboard.
- Keep the drainage spigot open and let it drain 24/7 into a bowl that you set under the spigot. The resulting "compost tea" can get poured directly onto your houseplants as an organic fertilizer. Check the bowl about once per week or whenever you are adding material to the composter. it is amazing how much water decomposing fruits and veggies generate!
- I use blunt edged, plastic salad tongs to move the compost around when I am adding new material to a tray. I do not like to touch the squirmy worms, and the blunt tongs do not seem to hurt them. I have dedicated the tongs to this purpose and use them for nothing else. So you do not have to be afraid to eat salad at my house.
Posted by Elizabeth at 12:03 PM
I started this blog in January 2007 and abandoned it, heartbroken, in July 2007.
I was working at a high school, the students found me out, and there was some rather targeted cruelty aimed at me because of my blog.
It still hurts a little.
BUT I no longer work at that school, and I have time to try again. I hope to pick up where I left off, write about some of my passions, and post some things that might be interesting or useful.
Here we go!
Posted by Elizabeth at 9:34 AM
Friday, July 6, 2007
I haven't been up to blogging recently--I received creepy anonymous comments that just put me off the whole thing--and now I have so many things I could post about I am totally overwhelmed.
And I don't want to get into the cycle of the blog running me rather than me running the blog. So if it doesn't feel fun, I ain't gonna do it.
But I just found out about http://www.kiva.org/ - and it is AMAZING. You microlend to deserving entrepreneurs--you help fund them now and they pay you back so that you can refund another. Minimum loan amount is $25.
I just sent $50 to help build a $450 loan for Patience Erhunmwense, a 36-year-old mother of two and a client of Lift Above Poverty Organization (LAPO) . She sells ice cream in Benin City, Nigeria and wants to buy a freezer and develop more ice cream flavours.
Posted by Elizabeth at 3:07 PM
Thursday, June 14, 2007
A follow-up on G&Ts and the ultimate tonic water:
This may be the most exciting thing to happen as a direct result of this blog: free stuff sent to me to try out and report on. How cool is that?
Jordan Silbert, founder of Q Tonic was as good as his word: he sent me two bottles to taste, and Alan and I have just finished our tasting, having sat outside under the shade and languidly sipped our gin and tonics.
My review: attractively packaged in a small bottle that will make exactly two short G&Ts. Not too sweet and with only about 7g of carbs per bottle--which is only about 3.5 g of carbs per short G&T (!). No high fructose corn syrup. Organic ingredients. Hand-picked Peruvian quinine (*not* synthetic).
What's not to like?
This is what: at the moment it is available only in New York City at the following four places:
Milk and Honey
Blue Hill at Stone Barns
BUT Jordan says it will be available soon at gourmet groceries around the country. If you want to stock it, you can contact Q Tonic here to discuss possibilities.
This was really fun. I can't wait to be able to buy this regionally. I am sure it won't be sold locally, but I'm hoping some Santa Fe store will stock it. And I will stock up.
If anyone else is out there needs to test out a product--imported dark chocolate? vintage ports? artisan cheeses?--please do let me know. I'm game.
Posted by Elizabeth at 5:50 PM
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Just finished a stash-busting project: a felted dog bed made from leftover Lopi.
I adapted the pattern from Wendy's felted kitty bed, which is based on the increases used in Elizabeth Zimmermann's Pi Shawl (hence Wendy's name of "Kitty Pi").
To make a circle grow, Zimmermann used the knowledge that a circle's circumference doubles as the radius doubles, which my math-teacher husband tells me has nothing to do with pi, but that's what EZ called her application of this fact and thus it shall ever be known in knitting circles...)
I followed Wendy's instructions exactly except that I made it much larger by doubling stitches an additional time at 24 rows--288 stitches--and I used size 13 needles. It was a super-quick knit-up--chunky yarn, huge needles, knit in the round (which is much quicker for me than straight knitting). I knit in the car during the last two camping trips, and it rolled off the needles lickety-split.
From her pattern, it looked like Wendy was counting on 40% shrinkage, which seems high, but I used that in my own adapted pattern and did indeed get the size I was after (about three feet in diameter). It will suit James for a while, since he typically curls up when he sleeps.
I didn't block mine as severely as Wendy did--in fact, I couldn't stop James from playing with it while it was still wet!
My knitting friends asked me about being worried if he will chew it. I'm not really. The felted knitting is super thick (like carpet), and James has a soft bite. Also, if he does a chew hole in it, it can't really unravel (thanks to the felting), and I can just throw it into the washing machine for re-felting to mend the hole!
Posted by Elizabeth at 11:49 AM
Saturday, June 9, 2007
Alan cleaned out our camping closet and found the following things that have become Week 15 of the project:
ONE blue tarp-bag (which held we know not what)
FOUR carabiners (which we have never used for anything)
ONE plastic flask (which is not as nice as the fancy leather-sided, stainless-steel bourbon flask we already own)
ONE water-bottle holder that says "For women who thirst for knowledge: Women's Colleges 2003"--given to me by a colleague because I attended Smith College (a women's college in Massachusetts)
TWO enamelware camping mugs that are oversized (which Alan deems too large to be decent)
ONE opened packet of unused rubber tie-downs
ONE hand-operated air-pump
Salvation Army Thrift Store gets the lot.
In addition I released TWO books that I had read and am unattached to into the wild: The Guide: A Novel and Telling Tales
Total for this week: 13
Total so far: 123
Posted by Elizabeth at 8:41 PM
Just got back from a semi-aborted camping trip. I thought we would be gone four nights--we were gone only two. Came back to a hail storm, so it was a good call to return early.
We left on Thursday afternoon in order to secure a goods site at Sugarite Canyon State Park. I'd read a great write-up in Christina Frain's New Mexico Campgrounds: The Statewide Guide. I'd never been to Sugarite, but Frain said it was one of the prettiest state parks of New Mexico, so we had to go.
It is indeed one of the prettiest. Breath-taking views, great trails, forest, water, mountains, even a ghost town.
As soon as we got there I realized that the camera needed new batteries. Drat! No cool picutres from our trip to share with you.
The best I can do is resort to Google. Here is one from explorenm.com. It is a wide-shot of Soda Pocket Campground, where we camped. It doesn't really convey the majesty of the canyon views, but there are copyrighted photos on the site where I got this un-copyrighted pic, so have a look if you are curious to see what the camping looks like close up.
I also realized that we needn't have worried about securing a good camping spot--this was one of the three "crowded" weeks of the park due to the annual Fishing Derby, and there were still many empty sites.
We hiked three trails while we were there, but it was windy and pretty cold the whole time--heavy frost/ice on our tent when we woke up on Friday morning. It had gotten down to 20-something degrees in the night and didn't reach 65 in the daytime, and the cold wind just blew and blew, making reading, cooking, even sitting difficult. So although we had paid for two nights, we packed up on the afternoon of the second day and headed south toward home.
We stopped by the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge--there is primitive camping allowed there, but again the gale was blowing by the lake, and although we would have seen some great waterfowl, it just wasn't going to be fun to sit unprotected in cold wind. We did see some beautiful deer on the drive in and a very nice assortment of ducks on the lake.
As a last resort before returning home, we drove to Cimarron (home of the haunted St. James Hotel and the Philmont Scout Ranch) and then into the protected Canyon to see if we could snag a spot in Cimarron Canyon State Park. It was late afternoon of a Friday, so we were doubtful.
Jackpot! An amazing site at the Maverick Campground--on the river, with trees and shade and view of high cliffs--and both drinking and toilets just across from our site. No wind, mid-70s--the warmest we'd been in 24 hours.
Again, my camera wasn't working, but this picture I found when I Googled gives a sense of the canyon. Thank you, edboyden.org.
The dog was in high heaven--lots of mud and water and wonderful places to dig.
However, we were pretty dirty at this point--having been frozen, having moved camp, having slept with a muddy dog, having failed to wash/shower for two nights and almost three days. The clouds were getting up and it looked like an afternoon thunderstorm was in the works, so we packed up after lunch and headed home via the scenic route--through Eagle Nest and Angel Fire and Guadalupita. It rained and rainbowed--and hailed soon after we unloaded the car.
So we're home tonight a bit earlier than anticipated.
I managed to send two books into the wild as part of the trip, one at each campground.
Posted by Elizabeth at 7:37 PM
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
I have always disliked Victoria's Secret--overpriced lingerie, objectified female form, bombardment of unwanted catalogs and, like nearly every other bra vendor in the USA, they don't even sell my bra size.
(To get a good fit, I have to get my bras imported from Europe. I can mail order all my other clothes and they fit well, so I am a pretty standard size--but I can't buy a US bra off a rack. Given this weird state of affairs, I suspect many, many women in the US are wearing poorly fitting bras, and I have actually surveyed fit instructions online and have found most of them incorrect. But that's another blog topic to be covered in future....)
Today on Bioneers, I heard about the campaign against Victoria's Secret, who had been making its catalogs out of wood pulp taken the Boreal forest.
Victoria's Secret mails ONE MILLION catalogs a day. That's a lot of wood.
After two years of campaigning, Victoria’s Secret reached an agreement with ForestEthics and signed a new paper contract.
Which makes it sound reformed.
Consider the recent email I received from GreenDimes:
We contact thousands of catalog companies and mailers on our member's behalf every month. Each of these is cooperative and provides an easy way for us to take customers off of mailing list... all but ONE. Victoria's Secret. They require us to call them each and every time we take a customer off of their lists - which can mean hold times of 30 minutes! Odd given that people can request to RECEIVE and REDUCE catalog mailings on-line. I guess this is why they keep sending 350 Million catalogs every year.
Not bad for a company that started just last autumn.
Good company = GreenDimes
Bad company = Victoria's Secret
Posted by Elizabeth at 9:20 PM
It was an experiment. Would we get any sleep? Would the puppy behave bizarrely? Would we be slung out of the campground?
We decided to go for just one night in a state park close to home in case the whole venture was a total disaster. We went on a Sunday night, when we knew the campground would not be full. We camped high on a hill, away from other campers.
It was glorious.
We had a view of cliffs and mesas (which I failed to photograph). The park offers rock and adobe shelters. You can see our rock shelter here. So we had shade, view, walks along the Pecos River, and a dog who could not have been happier.
He barked only to welcome me back from the longdrop. We put him on a 30-foot cord, and he ambled around the campsite, somehow completely missing a snake we encountered while on a walk and and a fox that came to visit as we sat around the campfire.
That night, we had to coax him into the tent. He refuses anything unfamiliar, but once I lifted him bodily into our low-slung, three-person tent, he began to investigate. It took a little while to settle him down, but he spent most of the night curled up at our feet, dozing and enjoying the den experience with his pack (i.e., us).
The yucca and prickly pear were in bloom:
It amazes me how therapeutic just one night spent camping is. I was cheered and relaxed.
We're off again this weekend, this time to a park a bit further afield and for several nights.
Posted by Elizabeth at 7:18 AM
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Catching up from my hiatus, I didn’t take pictures for the project, but I did offload the following:
TWO bags of grout powder (a kind of mortar) that have been in our utility closet since we moved into the house ten years ago. Also, TWO other mysterious bags related to grout and tile that we also inherited when we moved in. I returned them to the workers who had used them in the first place (ten years ago), thus freeing up space for dog food and rawhide chews.
I forgot to count the ONE bag of pig-skin twisties that I had bought for our puppy and that he wouldn’t touch and that I gave to my friend Anne several weeks ago. Anne has two exquisitely behaved Blue Healers who also seem to quite like the twisties.
Also to put in the break room is ONE can of lighter fluid for barbecues. I hate this chemical stuff and have used either Chimney Starter to make fire or paraffin fire-starters (which are also fairly toxic, but for some reason they frighten me less than lighter fluid.) Don’t know why we even have a bottle of lighter fluid. Someone must have left some at our house…?
So that’s seven for May 26.
And then there’s last weekend, June 2: I do not think this can count toward any total number of things offloaded, but I did gather all the books that wonderful friends had lent us in the last month and returned them. As you can see from the picture, it was a rather huge pile, and rounding them up and sending them back to owners actually managed to de-clutter our home quite significantly!
Posted by Elizabeth at 7:49 PM
Golly. I haven’t blogged for two weeks.
Since January, I'd been blogging very regularly—except for the odd week of Work Hell that prevented me from getting to it.
But, forcing myself to examine why I haven’t blogged lately, I see several factors:
One, of course, is the glorious summer weather. I want to be outside—camping, cooking, eating, drinking, walking my dog, gardening—and patently *not* inside at a computer. Life is meant to be lived, not just blogged about, and I’ve been doing a whole lot of living. And it’s been great.
And then there is the slightly shameful reason I haven’t blogged.
About three weeks ago, an anonymous print publication was circulated at work, and in it, I was roasted for my blog. Actually, the blog was not mentioned, but very silly pictures (taken from here and here) were lifted out of context, and I was lifted up to ridicule for all colleagues to see.
Not very nice. Still makes me shudder. And get a bit weepy.
I know I should have thicker skin, but it made me think I should drop the blog altogether. The experience was so embarrassing and mean-spirited. (I should mention that I work at a high school, and this text was, I think, student-produced. Thus, I was outed and ridiculed by the very students I serve.)
No matter how long you work for them and what you give, some teenagers just don’t ever seem to appreciate it, whether it be creating challenging and important classroom lessons or helping raise scholarship money so that they can attend the amazing school in the first place.
It makes my heart ache.
And then there were major work demands: another Board meeting, the end of our fiscal year, a graduation to help organize.
And then there was Memorial Day weekend, during which we looked at more houses to buy.
And there is, of course, the ongoing puppy experience.
And the first tent-camping trip with the puppy (which was glorious).
So now I’m back, but I am not sure how regularly. My need for blogging seems to coincide with cold weather and need for challenge. And I feel I've had more than enough challenge in the last few weeks.
Enough excuses. I have missed you all, and I'm sorry I've been out of touch.
Posted by Elizabeth at 7:21 PM