Monday, March 21, 2011

Indoor Composting

I am very lucky to be a part of a moms group with many cool moms with different backgrounds.  One of the moms hosted a tutorial in her home on how to make an indoor compost, since in Alaska we can only compost outdoors for a small portion of the year.

The materials we used were:
 2 18 gallon plastic bins (dark in color because you don't want light getting through)
enough torn up cardboard to cover the bottom on the bin
about a gallon of basic potting soil
100 red worms, found in the composting section of the local feed store
enough newspaper torn into shreds to make a thick (3 inch-ish) layer 

We drilled holes in both bins on the bottom, upper sides, and ONE of the lids.  Then you place the undamaged lid on the floor to act as a barrier in case anything seaps out.  Luckily, this has not happened to us.  Then you put one of your bins down and layer the cardboard, then the soil and worms (mix and make sure soil is moist), and finally the newspaper.  We feed our worms once a week by pulling back the paper shreds and digging a hole to bury the plant matter we have collected during the week.  Since I save a lot of scraps for making vegetable stock, we are able to keep this all in a large plastic salad container.  It's important to cover everything with soil to avoid mold.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Yes, Kids Do Like Green Veggies

This is the leftover kale puree from my super green mashed potatoes.  My girl likes her kale.

St. Patrick's Day: Corned and Green

My name is Erin, which actually doesn't make me as Irish as most people think.  I also have an lovely amount of freckles and a red headed daughter, though, so I'm earning my green.  For as long as I can remember though, I've always love St. Patrick's Day.  When I ate meat, I loved corned beef, I love potatoes and cabbage and carrots.  I like a good sweet and spicy mustard as a side.  I like playful green food and a holiday that doesn't require anyone to buy a present for anyone else, but you get to dress up.

I like this holiday.

Last year, I made my first seitan corned beef using this recipe.  I liked it a lot, but what I forgot until this year was that it goes a little heavy on the fennel and caraway.  Anyway, for this year, I decided to try to make my soy curls taste like corned beef, and I just used the same seitan recipe.  I mixed all the seasonings, dry and wet, with 4 cups of water and 2 cubes of "not beef" bullion.  I blended it all well and poured it over about 1lbs soy curls.  I let them soak for a good half hour before baking them at 350 for about 20 minutes in a covered pan.  I uncovered them and baked then about 10-15 minutes more turning them a few times.  

Meanwhile, I boiled potatoes in more "Not Beef" stock and sauteed some kale with garlic and olive oil. I blended the cooked kale with some of the stock so that it became a bright green sauce that I mixed in with the potatoes when I mashed them.  These are the greenest mashed potatoes I've ever made.
My toddler danced in circles and begged for more of the green puree.  What a funny girl.

My final additions to dinner were to quarter a cabbage and chop some carrots to cook in the potato water.  A friend made a spicy slaw and another batch of mashed potatoes and kale, not knowing I was bringing cabbage and potatoes.  She also made a delicious soda bread that was the perfect sweet addition to the meal.

I'm glad we celebrated early because I'm hoping someone else will be able to make the greenest mashed potatoes ever or a great vegan corned beef.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Soy Curls: Texture and Flavor WIN!

Dinner is soy curl tacos with mango salsa, "cheezy" nooch corn, and steamed chard and sprouted lentils with a cilantro lime dressing.  I'm really ready for summer here in Alaska- or a trip South!

I have been seeing these "soy curls" at the local health food store for a while now and wondering about them.  Then, I suggested them to a gluten-free vegan on a message board and she came back with a stunning review.  I knew I had to try them for myself.

Well, today as I read through Viva Vegan! by Terry Home Romero (half of the PPK duo of vegan goddesses), I found a recipe for homemade corn tortillas and decided to try it out.  The soy curls seemed like the perfect chewy, savory topping for my tortillas.  I got a nice big bag from the prepacked bulk (what a weird concept) and some masa harina for my tortillas.  I made flour tortillas often enough to feel comfortable with them, but these corn ones were my first attempt- I'm reminded of the expression "the first pancake."  Oh well, they tasted good, I just didn't get my dough right.
As you can see, it doesn't even look like I put a dent in the bag, but I made enough for two adults and a toddler.

My soy curls, on the other hand, were everything I was hoping for and more.  I soaked them in a mixture of Lawry's fajita seasoning and water, but didn't really measure.  I just made sure there was enough to cover most of them and kept tossing them by hand over the next few minutes while I fixed other parts of the dinner.
After about ten minutes, they have absorbed most of the liquid and are soft but firmly chewy.

Next, I made an aluminum packet with red onion, pasilla pepper, and cilantro chopped at the bottom, I poured my curls and leftover liquid on top and sealed it up.  I bake that at 350 for 15 minutes, then opened it and cooked for another ten minutes or so, turning once during that time so that the exposed parts wouldn't dry out.

Right out of the oven, the liquid has reduced to almost a glaze.

These turned out so amazing I can't wait to try other seasoning and cooking methods.  As much as I don't really like to think about meat so much anymore, I would compare the texture to a pulled pork or very moist pot roast.  I'm thinking it would be great with BBQ sauce or in a stir fry.  The actual flavor of the soy curl is very mild and the texture makes it perfect for absorbing whatever marinade is put on it.  I look forward to many dishes with this versatile soy product.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

My Vegan Pregnancy: Part 2

It's not easy being green.  Kermit is right.  Not only have I been "green" in the sense that I've been highly nauseous lately, but I'm having trouble being green as a result of that... and I'm not saving the green I used to.

Green is tough.

The thing is, the first trimester of pregnancy can be very difficult.  I have been sick, tired, and hormonal.  On top of that, my personal chef/maid/partner had to leave the country for three weeks for training with his work.  So I've been all by myself- except for a toddler who wants to play play play and make messes and wear away at every last nerve.  Plus, the toddler is not nauseous and doesn't have aversions to the smell of food, so she wants to eat.  Blarg!

The answer I came up with is not as green as I would like, but I feel pretty good about my choices: vegan convenience food.  There is so much more available now than in the past, and you can still eat delicious and balanced meals without cooking in your own home.

Here are some of my favorites:

Kashi Frozen Entrees
Kashi  makes wonderfully balanced meals with lots of veggies, grains, and often legumes.  The Black Bean Mango, Mayan Harvest Bake and Tuscan Veggie Bake are all vegan and delicious.  My favorite is the Black Bean Mango, but Violet really liked the Mayan Harvest Bake.  I like these because of all the grains and veggies, rather than just carbs and proteins like many frozen meals are.

Amy's Kitchen
Amy's has long been seen as a great source of vegetarian and vegan foods.  I have not tried all the vegan options, but I did just today enjoy some rice mac and cheeze (made with Daiya).  It was so ooey gooey and tasty.  My daughter gobbled it up after she got over the fact that it was a bit hot out of the microwave and had to cool down first.  The texture and flavor have the wonderful comfort feel for someone like myself whose grandma use to make her special recipe- Marie Calendar's mac and cheese.  This is one I'll definitely be buying again.

Ethnic Gourmet
There are way more options than I have tried, but I had the tofu pad Thai the other day with some egg rolls and Violet and I loved it.  The pad Thai wasn't as veggie-rich as the other brands, but I still thought it was a good side with some steamed veggies.

Other ways to avoid the smell of food:  

Steaming:  I found that steamed broccoli or greens was done quickly enough and with a mild enough smell that it didn't bother me.  I also discovered that a steamed red potato is perfect in it's starchy comfort and lack of cooking smell.  It also doesn't need to be sliced or wrapped and is ready for topping.

Boiling:  I have tried making chickpeas and black beans, and both had a bit of smell while boiling even with salt and water.  It was still much better than when I tried to cook veggie stock from my leftover veg though.

Broil:  It seems that if I season and then broil/bake tofu then I don't smell it as much and I can eat it more happily.  I prefer broiling because it's quicker and after a while the smell of baked tofu will fill the kitchen.

Blend:  I got a Vitamix, and will post about about that too, and it's a lifesaver.  When I blend everything up, I don't smell it and can get all those veggies that I just couldn't stand the smell of.

Other tips for avoiding the nausea that have worked for me:  I can't tell you what will help you, it's different for everyone, but these have helped me.

1.  An apple a day.  I get my CSA box from Full Circle Farm out of Washington, and I've been getting the most delicious variety of apples every week.  When I start to cook and smell foods or I get that nausea that only needs to be fed to subside, I eat an apple.  The crisp, sweet, and tart combination is the perfect solution for my nausea most of the time.  I also have been eating oranges for their tart and sweet flavor.

2.  Eat out.  If I don't have to cook it, I can eat it.  Usually, we try to really limit our restaurant meals, but I have given myself a break for these few weeks and it has really helped.  Especially breakfast out seems to really make a difference for me.  My favorite breakfast?  I got to Middle Way Cafe and order the eggs Florentine and sub tofu for the eggs and lemon tahini dressing for the hollandaise.  So we end up with an English muffin with sliced fresh tomato, fresh spinach, and then grilled tofu and a side of breakfast potatoes with a nice little cup of dressing on the side.  Violet and I love this breakfast.

3.  Snacks.  It seems that nausea is worse when you have an empty stomach, and everything I've read agrees with this.  My favorite snacks are Veggie Booty, pretzels, walnuts, and carrot sticks.

4.  Be realistic with cravings.  Sometimes your cravings can get so strong you will overeat, and that just makes you feel bad.  Just because you are craving mashed potatoes with such a fierce urge that you think you could eat 7 potatoes mashed up does not mean you actually should eat that many.  As long as it's something healthy, there's no reason to avoid the thing you crave, but you don't want to overdo it.  If you are a pregnant vegan and crave animal products, try making a vegan version or think about the nutrients and try to get those in another way.  I craved a hamgburger the other day, but the idea of a hamburger actually made me physically nauseous, but then I made a yummy loaded Boca burger and it completely cured the craving.

5.  Vinegar.  I have been eating a lot of broccoli.  Broccoli is so good for you, it's green, it's got protein, it's yummy.  Since dealing with this nausea, I've found that I like it best with Dijon mustard mixed with a little vegenaise.  Any time I can put a sauce or dip that is vinegar-y on my foods, I find that they are much less offensive to my tummy.

6.  If all else fails, pretend you are a picky toddler.  Hide the veggies if you have to.  Veggies and fruits are so good for a pregnant woman, so if it just doesn't seem edible, blend it into what you do like.  You can puree spinach and mix it in with mashed potatoes, make a soup with lots of veggies chopped small enough not to notice.  You can also make spaghetti sauce with many veggies mixed in without ever noticing a difference in taste.

7.  Eat what works and take prenatals.  I hate to use my prenatals as my only source of vitamins, but sometimes it's better to not eat things that will make you throw up anyway.  Throwing up is no good.  When I was pregnant with my daughter, I could eat breakfast and not get sick.  So I would eat oatmeal, mix in raisins and walnut butter for extra nutrients, and eat as much as I could.

Sorry I don't have more advice.  I wish I could take away everyone else's nausea and fatigue, because I wouldn't wish this on anyone.  If you have a partner available, have them cook out of range of your nose and try to rest as much as possible.  It's hard to get the rest you need when you are playing single parent to a toddler who doesn't nap for long, but if you aren't in that boat, ask for help and take assistance when you can.

Okay, I just used up another nap time that I should have slept through!