Friday, October 4, 2013

'Better than Condensed' Tomato Soup

Autumn changes the menu, doesn't it?  
Suddenly I want to make all kinds of cozy meals; Hot, creamy soups
Shepherd's Pie, home baked buns... Mmm.

Yesterday, we wanted to sit down to a big hot bowl of tomato soup. Back in my canned-soup buying days, we would often enjoy tomato soup. But I can't bring myself to buy the cans anymore. Especially when I know I can make it at home. 

So we did! And, served with garlic toast, the kids didn't even mind it too horribly much. It was not EXACTLY the same, but that's going to happen when we're changing our tastes... I really enjoyed it! And it was super simple to make. 

Better Than Condensed Tomato Soup

3 Tbsp     butter
2 Tbsp     flour
1/4 tsp     salt
1 cup       tomato juice
1 Tbsp     paprika (I did this mostly for color)
dash         garlic powder
dash         dried onion powder
dash         basil
dash         oregano

1. Melt butter in saucepan
2. Blend in flour 
3. Whisk in tomato juice and salt. Add slowly to prevent lumps.
4. Cook until smooth and thick. Enjoy!

What are some things you used to buy that you now home-make?


Monday, September 16, 2013

Benefits of Mulching a Garden

Welcome to my second year of gardening this plot. After doing some winter reading on gardening - particularly weed control, I decided to try mulching this year. It looks pretty great, no? 

I read that grass clipping mulch has a few benefits: 

  • Mulch retains the soil's moisture (and protects soil from blazing sun)
  • Mulch helps control weeds
  • Mulch becomes compost, adding nutrients to the soil
I also noticed that, during our cool June, my tomato plants turned purple. Apparently this happens when tomatoes are too cold - they become unable to absorb potassium from the soil and become purple. Right around that time I began to mulch and noticed that the tomatoes regained their green color and grew again. So mulch also acts as an insulation against cool temps. Aha. 

This photo compares the mulched area to the unmulched area. (I couldn't get to the whole garden at once). All of the garden had been weeded at the same time. See the difference? Mulched area has no weeds, and the black part has 8 inch weeds. After seeing this, I immediately fell in love with mulch. I may just mulch forever now. 

At first, I didn't believe the advice to 'pile on the mulch'. 
'Two feet deep!' they said. 
'Go for it!' they said.  
Really? I didn't want to bury my plants for crying out loud...

But now I see that the 4-5 inch layer I poured in quickly became pancake-thin. We're harvesting now, and there is hardly any mulch left. Amazing.

Next year I definitely plan to continue with the mulching, even ramping it up a bit.  ... alot. I'll 'go for it''. 


Saturday, August 24, 2013

We Made Our Own Pasta! (and averted a pasta crisis too)

My sister and I joined forces to tackle pasta making. Armed with a pasta machine and our handy dandy recipies, we were ready.  Or so we thought.

Good news first. Ta-da!! 
(Doesn't my sis take great photos?)
Here's what our Tomato Pasta and Spinach pasta ended up looking like. Beautiful fettuccine nests, no?

We weren't sure we would make it that far though. Having never done this before, we made a few mistakes. On the first run through the machine, our dough looked more like pemmican or beef jerky. The reddish color didn't help appearances...

Eww, right? We were worried... 
We immediatly fled the room in search of YouTube help. This video saved our pasta! (And as a bonus, it was professional, informative, and amusing) We returned newly informed, and our pemmican turned right back to dough. Amazing.

All better! 
We found our dough was too thick to go through the pasta machine (which we didn't know was what made it look all weird and bubbly). We rolled it out, folded it, rolled it again, and then put it through the machine. That worked much better.

Apparently technique really does matter.  And timing.  And the way you knead. And the setting on the machine... everything I guess.

And now we have homemade pasta!

Have you ever attempted homemade pasta? What kind, and how did it go?


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Gluten Free Week 1 - A Few Lessons for Newbie

Week one on the Gluten Free kick has taught me a few things. 

Like compassion. 

I didn't think giving up bread was going to be a big deal. Especially if I can buy gluten free bread. How hard could it be?  

Turns out gluten-free bread is quite different. Dense. Salty. Kinda... corn-mealy. It's possible that I made it wrong, and it is actually supposed to be fluffier. But so far I'm not loving the gluten free bread, and eat it only when I really, really want bread. Which has been several times this week...

Bottom line, if I had to make this switch forever, it would be an adjustment. I can understand a little bit why people say it's difficult. So, if I'm gaining a tiny bit of understanding about another person, that's already a win. 

Also learned that wheat (includes 'malt') is in alot of stuff.  
It's even in soya sauce! (which I used anyway)

Best of all, I learned that my symptoms are likely not linked to gluten so much as aspartame. I was not happy to learn this. Gluten-free is doable. Not my favorite, but doable. But to rid my life of diet coke is a whole other story. Actually, the whole aspartame thing is a whole other story. So I'll share that another time. For now, I'm glad to know that these symptoms can be managed by my food and drink choices. 
I still plan to go forward with the 30 Gluten Free days, but will also be cutting out aspartame. 

What diet changes have you made? Did you find them difficult?



Friday, August 16, 2013

The 30 Day Gluten-Free Experiment

Photo courtesy of Svetlana Tikhonova
After weeks of experiencing varied symptoms, I decided I would try going gluten free for a few weeks to see if that makes a difference. 
First I went online to check it out. 

Natural listed these common symptons of gluten intolerance:

-bloating, gas, queasiness, abdominal cramping...
-weakness, dizziness, tingling

Experiencing some of these symptoms, and others not listed, I was not sure what to think. These can be symptoms of alot of things, but I'm willing to use the process of elimination here. People have said how gruelling the gluten-free diet is, but I look at the list of foods allowed, and it's pretty wide open actually.

Check out this list from the Mayo Clinic

Allowed Foods: 

-Beans, seeds, nuts
-Fresh eggs
-Fresh meats
-Fruits and vegetables
-Most dairy products

As for grains, there are many grain products a person can use or buy. (see Mayo Clinic's list

It's the processed foods that get you. Gluten (malt barley is a form of it) seems to be everywhere. I think it will be helpful that we're eating less and less processed foods around here. 

The Hardest Part? Probably toast, pasta, pizza and wraps. 


Bread and Pasta - buy, and go easy. At $5/loaf and .99/100g for rotini (that's $5 for a box!) it will be more of a treat than a staple.  I'll use more rice and potatoes instead.

Pizza - not sure. I may try making crust or tortillas with homemade rice or oat flour. We'll see how it tastes... 

Wraps - hopefully the rice or oat tortillas taste okay. If not, then I may go with lettuce leaves as the wrap? It doesn't sound especially fabulous to me. I'd have to want a wrap pretty badly...! 

Yesterday was day two. Lunch was hummus with tortilla chips, grapes and trail mix. (Yum!!), and supper was sloppy joes with corn chips (could have served it on rice, but I was too lazy to cook rice.) That was pretty good too.  

I'm thinking this won't be too difficult (probably because I know it's only for 30 days). We shall see.

What has been your experience with Gluten Free eating?

** Note ** the NoName tortilla chips do not contain gluten (as far as this newbie can tell), but the Tostitos brand we often buy does contain gluten (malt). Just fyi.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Veggies Our Kids Don't Know They're Eating

Our picky eaters make mealtimes a challenge sometimes. 

It wasn't always a problem though. Back in our macaroni-and-cheese with hotdogs days, they had no arguement with what I served. White bread, sugary cereals, and meals from a box. What's not to like? 

But as I've been changing us over to a more healthy diet, it's become difficult to get them to eat vegetables. They refuse to try anything other than that ONE they'll eat. (however begrudgingly) One of our kids won't eat fruit either. 

It's been a year or two, and we're finally off of white bread and white flour. I just recently stopped buying boxed breakfast cereals. And they're okay with the brown bread, oatmeal, and scrambled eggs for breakfast. But the veggies (and fruit and nuts and seeds) are a no-go.

So I've had to get creative.  And sneaky.  I hide those veggies in anything that I can. Sure, I put some in their plate, and on pizza, just to keep it in front of them and thinking about it as a healthy option. But mostly, they don't know they're already eating it.  (Until I tell them afterward at least!) 

Here are a few sneaky ways I feed them veggies, legumes, seeds and fruit: 

Tomato Sauce:
I puree the sauce with mixed beans, lentils and even add some spinach or kale (or both). (I also add a bit of seasoning as needed to mask the kale/bean taste).
Uses: pizza sauce, meat sauce for pasta, tomato sauce in casseroles/lasagnes

Meatballs / Burgers:
I add pureed beans/lentils to the ground beef before mixing. I added too much the first time (40% beans), and it ended up tasting a little dry, but we'll tweak it and try again. A vegan friend gave me some great advice: when replacing meat with alternatives (like beans), making it TASTE like meat is important. So I add BBQ sauce and taco seasoning when using beans in  meat dishes. Works great!

Larabars and Cookies: 
There are a few sites listed below that offer some TASTY desserts that have little to no sugar, yet taste like chocolate. Magical, AND HEALTHY snacks and desserts!? All natural, all veggie/legume, no sugar, and pure yum. 

The kids didn't mind these Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Truffles (Made from chic peas!!!)  (here's a recipe for baked ones I'd like to try)
And they also enjoyed this Fudge Larabar recipe that really does taste like chocolate. (and it's just fruit and nuts!!! Crazy) (though mine look smoother and more uniform than hers... which is good for my texture-fussy family)

I'm still working to get veggies into them (and reduce sugar). Actually, I'm working on that for me too :) 

How do you feed veggies to your picky eaters?


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

How and Why to Make Your Own Oat Flour (It's Easier than you think)

Making Oat Flour is super easy.
Oatmeal + Blender = Oat Flour

(Aren't you glad you stopped by to read these wise words?)

Okay, but WHY.

WHY would we make our own flour?  Three reasons. 

Grounding your own flour is convenient. 
On that crazy day when you run out of flour, there is (with this fancy recipe) now an option. Use oat flour instead. Voila.

Milling your own flour is easy. 
Oatmeal + Blender = Oat Flour. That's it.  This also works for other things:
Almonds + Blender = Almond Flour (or Almond Butter if you blend too long...)
(Here's a post by AttuneFoods about other flours you can (or can not) make at home)

Milling your own flour can be cheaper. 
Buying the whole seeds and grains can be cheaper than buying the processed flour. Between buying bulk, finding sales and using coupons - and growing your own too - it can be cheaper than buying oat, almond or other 'specialty' flours.

What kinds of flour have you made? (and how?)


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