On the beet theme, for this week’s school lunches I’ve made secret chocolate muffins, which are made with 2 cups of cooked beet puree. That recipe can be found in Simply in Season (as Secret Chocolate Cake).
I am happy to report that we’ve started “cooking with kids” again: today’s child in charge is Albus, with Kevin in charge of him, and the menu features German fare: spaetzle (a boiled homemade egg noodle), sausage hotpot, with cinnamon apple pancakes for dessert. No beets involved.
I’ve decided to blog rather than nap during quiet time this afternoon. Is this wise? Well, I was out with friends till midnight last night, and dragged myself out of bed to make last-minute school lunches this morning, and I hung today’s laundry while it was actually raining (spitting, more accurately), so I’m not sure wisdom is the word of the day. But getting ‘er done is. (Um, that phrase just insisted it had to be used). So, I made it through the morning with two exuberant children and nothing that a cup of coffee couldn’t fix, the big kids left with delicious nutritious meals in their backpacks, and the sun is now shining. This speaks to the luck of whim and of deliberately not making detailed plans.
So, I know that many of you are already making your own yogurt (and a big thank you to all who have offered tips and instructions!), but for those of you who aren’t, or who are curious to try, I am here to tell you: It is easy! I’ve been making four litres of milk into yogurt (four litres of milk equals four litres of yogurt). This lasts our family about a week and a half. We eat the yogurt for breakfast; we eat it in place of sour cream on beans and rice, etc.; and I’ve been combining it with strawberries to make above-average popsicles.
What you’ll need: whole-fat milk; yogurt starter; cooking pot; candy thermometer; insulated container; jars with lids.
Directions: In a large pot, gently bring four litres of whole-fat milk to a simmer (or try a litre if you’re experimenting and nervous about potentially spoiling that much milk). Heat the milk to 180 degrees F, stirring occasionally to spread the heat, and to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom. This takes some time, and I have not rushed it yet; and have had good results. For consistent results, I recommend using a candy thermometer affixed to the side of the pot. Meanwhile, “sterilize” several quart canning jars by pouring boiling water into them and letting them sit for a few minutes (I realize this does not actually sterilize them, but it’s as strict as I get in my kitchen; if you do something else, please let me know). The boiling water can be re-used: when you’re done sterilizing the jars, pour the hot water into a large plastic jug (or other container), and place the jug into an insulated cooler (which in this instance will be a heater).
When the milk has reached 180 degrees F, remove it from the stove, and cool. This goes faster if you set the pot into a sinkful of cold water. When the temperature has dropped to 110 degrees F (or more precisely is below 120 degrees, but above 90), stir in the bacterial starter. Translation: stir in some fairly fresh yogurt. You can freeze yogurt in ice cube trays for this purpose. I’ve erred on the side of more is better. I put in about 1/4 cup per litre, or even slightly more.
The Home Creamery is a good reference book on making all things milk-related, and it recommends 1/4 cup of starter per quart of milk.
Now, pour the prepared milk into jars leaving some space at the top, add lids, and place into the warm innards of the heated-up cooler. Don’t lift the lid for seven or eight hours. In the wintertime, you may need to check that the water is hot and the temperature approximately 90 degrees F; right now, not so much.
What you’ll get: And when you do finally peek, it will look like a little miracle has taken place right here in your own kitchen. Yogurt! Firm, sweet, tangy, creamy yogurt.
It is easy to keep making something that tastes this good, and is as good or better than anything I can buy (my homemade bread falls into this category, too). On the other hand, it is rather less easy to keep making things that are less popular with the children (and with us) than storebought. So, I must confess that I’ve shelved a Green Dream or two, and have not made crackers since the first batch, which seemed to wane in popularity after a day or two; and we bought graham crackers for our firepit cook-out; and I haven’t pursued making pasta or cheese or …. you name it. Much food continues to come into our house packaged in plastic bags and cardboard boxes. SIGH.
Peanut Dressing for Noodles or Dipping, adapted from the rebar cookbook
Mix together: 1/4 cup peanut butter (crunchy or smooth); 2 garlic cloves, minced; a hunk of fresh ginger, to taste, chopped (I freeze fresh ginger and saw off flakes, as needed); 2 tbsp honey; the juice of one lime; 1/4 cup tamari sauce; 2 tbsp cider vinegar; 1/4 cup coconut milk, or stock, or water. This mixture can be whirled in a blender, or heated together in a pot on the stove till smooth and combined.
Toss with hot whole wheat spaghetti noodles, 1 tbsp sesame oil, and chopped veggies for an instant picnic salad. (Well, almost instant; you might prefer to cool it in the fridge before eating).
If you are using the sauce for dipping veggies or tofu, you may want to skip adding the coconut milk/stock/water, which thins it out a bit. Also note that hot sauce or red pepper flakes can be added directly to the mix if you are lucky enough to have an entire family who will agree to eat spicy food (ours won’t).
I started this post two days ago. It’s all about food. I’ve been wondering whether my growing obsession with non-packaged, home-produced food is a starry-eyed version of head-in-the-sand behavior: as if, by removing plastic from my life I will somehow right the innumerable wrongs that continue to be committed in the name of consuming, convenience, and self-contentment. I still drive a vehicle that burns gasoline. I still use a computer that runs on electricity, much of which comes from a coal-fired plant. Have you seen footage of oil gushing into the blue blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico? I am culpable. I’ve been wondering whether my desire to control what we eat is a simplistic attempt at atonement, at optimism, a desire to do something–anything–to stem the flow; an act against hopelessness, or stasis.
Well, if it is, so be it. Here are some recipes that we’ve been enjoying.
Creamy “Ranch” Dressing
(adapted from The Joy of Cooking)
Mix together in a bowl: 1 clove garlic, finely chopped, several pinches of salt; 3/4 cup plain yogurt; the juice of one lime (or 3-4 tbsp cider vinegar); chopped fresh parsley or cilantro (optional); several finely chopped green onions; ground pepper to taste.
Particularly good over a taco salad, or a spinach and steak salad, or served on the side as a veggie dip.
(adapted from a recipe found online … like this one will now be …)
Combine in a bowl: 1 and 1/2 cups rye flour; 1/2 tsp salt. Add 3 tbsp butter. Blend together with a fork or pastry cutter till butter is incorporated (like biscuit dough–it will look and feel crumbly). Add in 1 and 1/2 tbsp seeds: caraway, fennel, sesame, poppy, whatever your liking, or in combination. Stir in 1/4 cup water, or slightly more or less, till you’ve got a stiff dough that holds together but is not sticky. Roll out thinly on a dusted countertop, and place onto ungreased cookie sheet sprinkled with fine cornmeal, or rye flour (I did the rolling and placing in stages, not all at once). Score with a knife into cracker shapes. Will approximately fit onto one tray. Bake at 400 F for 10 minutes.
These turned out! I made wheat crackers awhile back which did not. I would not recommended substituting whole wheat or white flour: the rye flour is essential to the flavour. (I also found a semolina and olive oil recipe online that looked yummy; but I didn’t have semolina; another time). My conclusion is: the tastier the flour, the tastier the cracker. I must add, however, that these “turned out” because I am not picky about shapes and sizes, and some of the crackers ended up being a bit wonky looking. It would have taken way more time and effort to create the Perfect Cracker. These were quick and easy to make, plus the kids like them. Next time, I will double the recipe and make two trays.
Finally, a list of Non-Pre-Packaged Snacks, for future reference, produced after much brainstorming, and with suggestions from you:
– tortillas rolled up with hummus and spinach; or cream cheese and jam
– leftover pancakes or waffles
– cheese with apple slices, or crackers
– whole washed apples, oranges, or other fruits
– homemade trail mix: raisins, dried cranberries, nuts or seeds, and a sprinkling of chocolate chips
– homemade muffins, cookies, brownies
– boiled eggs
– tortilla chips or homemade pita chips with yogurt dip, or bean dip
– cut-up veggies with or without dip
– dried apple slices, or other dried fruits
– yogurt and/or/with pearsauce or applesauce
– summer sausage
– seaweed (seriously: my kids love eating ripped off bits from a sheet of seaweed)
– popsicles (for home use only; and here’s an awesome tip from the folks at Bailey’s Buying Club: make popsicles by spooning pearsauce or applesauce into popsicle molds, and freezing; you can stir some yogurt into the mix, too.)
Here’s what’s going into our snack pack for piano lessons this afternoon: brownies (Leah’s oatmeal banana recipe); washed whole apples; apple slices (for CJ, who spits out the peels, usually into my hand); cucumber slices; cheese; homemade rye crackers. Will they enjoy it? Why not? Albus actually said, while I was brainstorming some of these ideas out loud, “Those sound like awesome snacks!”
So that’s what I’ve got for today. A little snack pack that represents what-the-heck-else-can-I-do? Seriously. Tell me, and I’ll try. Send some green dreams this way. ‘Cause I need more.
Lentil Barley Picnic Salad with Ginger-Soy Dressing
Cover with salted water and cook together in a large pot the following ingredients: 1 cup green lentils; 1 cup pearl barley; 1/4 cup wild rice; 1/4 cup brown rice. (Or use whatever combination of legumes most inspires you. Leftover rice can be added to the salad afterward, too; it’s a very flexible salad). Simmer for about an hour, or till tender. Drain. Place in a large bowl with a tight lid.
In a small food processor, puree together the following ingredients: 1 clove garlic; 1 teaspoon salt or to taste; black pepper to taste; 1/4 cup cider vinegar; 1 square inch (or so) peeled fresh ginger; 1-2 tbsp tamari; 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil; and an additional 1/4 to 1/2 cup of canola or other vegetable oil. A touch of honey or sugar can be added as well.
Pour the dressing over the legumes, and mix. Add leftover rice, if desired. Add your choice of seasonal veggies, such as: grated carrot; chopped cucumber; thinly sliced red peppers. Squeeze the juice of one lemon or lime over top of the salad. Add crumbled feta or queso duro blando, if desired. Taste for seasonings. Cover and store till picnic-time.
This salad is popular with all of the kids, believe it or not. I’m making it for tonight’s soccer-side picnic, and will also serve tortilla wraps with tuna salad or hummus, and spinach; apple slices, and disgustingly mushy brownies on the side. (In fact, the brownies were such a flop, I despair of ever making good brownies. Anyone have a good recipe? I substituted sunflower, pumpkin, and flax seeds for nuts; maybe that was the problem).
Update on the two-week early rising challenge. I accomplished my goal: rose early to practice yoga on M/W/F of both weeks. And I got up this Monday morning and did the same, though part of me resisted. Part of me always resists. I love my bed. I love dreams. I love sleep. But what amazes me is how much I also love being awake in the quiet house, hearing the birds, and starting my day with exercise. It just takes a nudge to push me across that line from oh my bed how I love you, to hello good morning! I return home awake, energized, and operating much more efficiently than I would had I spent an extra hour and a half in bed. (It has been my habit to rarely get out of bed before 7am, and it’s a rule in our house that no one else is allowed to either). I would like to substitute a run on one of those mornings, but plan to stick to the basic early-rise-and-exercise, three mornings every week.
Eco-confession: I’ve been driving to my early morning yoga class. It’s located embarrassingly nearby. Yes, I have a bicycle. Where is my helmet, where is my lock, why am I never organized at 6 o’clock in the morning? I could get organized the night before. It would take me an additional two or three minutes to bike rather than drive. There is no excuse.
Eco-attempt # 1: I made laundry detergent this weekend. I’m washing the first load right now. If it works out, I’ll post the recipe.
Eco-attempt # 2: We’ve been buying milk in glass bottles. Nice, organic milk. Only problem is, we might have to choose between buying this nice organic milk in glass bottles and sending our children to university. It’s that expensive. But I’m appalled by all the food-related packaging I purchase. Recycling isn’t enough. Ideas?
The house is quiet. I love Monday mornings …
Photos above by AppleApple, who took them from the back seat of the truck on our way home from a soccer game. She took about seventy photos at that game. The rule is that I get to edit as I choose (translation: erase). But she says she doesn’t mind. It just makes her happy to take pictures.
How I can tell I’m on the mend: 1. I wanted to drink a cup of coffee this morning. 2. I’m spending my Sunday baking!
In honour of that, a few recipes …
(From Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day; this cookbook is on loan from Nath)
Nath brought us supper last night, and she brought a loaf of this bread. Though I wasn’t feeling well enough to partake, Kevin mentioned that it was terrific. I don’t have the interest in baking a fresh batch of conventional bread today, so I thought instead I’d whip up a giant batch of dough to keep in the fridge, enough to make eight small loaves, which I can bake up at my convenience during the next two weeks. I’d already bought a giant plastic container in which to keep the dough, but hadn’t gotten around to making it since borrowing the cookbook, oh, way too long ago. Here’s the simple mnemonic: 6-3-3-13. That’s six cups of lukewarm water, 3 tbsp salt, 2 tbsp yeast, and 13 cups of flour. I must ask Nath whether she uses that much salt; it looked like a lot to me. [NOTE: When consulted, Nath confirms that is too much salt. She uses half that, and she also uses coarse salt, to in future, I plan to put in approximately 1 tbsp, or even slightly less]. I’ve mixed up the lot and it is now sitting on my counter to rise for two or so hours. After which, I will pop it in the fridge and pull sections off whenever I feel the urge to add fresh bread to our supper meal.
To bake: cut a grapefruit-sized ball out of the dough, and shape it into a load. Let it rest, uncovered, for 40 minutes. Twenty minutes before baking, turn on the oven at 450 (if you’re using a baking stone, pop it in at this time; if you’re using a covered pot, like I plan to, also pop it in). Just before baking, dust the load with cornmeal or bran, and slash the top of the dough several times to make it look pretty (this step is not mandatory, especially if you’re baking in a pot, in which case, you’re going to be dumping it in anyway). Bake the loaf for 30 minutes, approximately. If you’re using a baking stone, slip a pan of hot water into your oven on a lower rack; that will add some steam and improve the texture of the crust. If you’re using a covered pot, the dough will steam itself. If you’re using the pot, you can remove the lid for five to ten minutes of the baking time, to brown the crust.
Note: this makes a smallish loaf. If your family is large, or if you just love bread, double the size of the loaf; I can vouch for this working in the pot, but have never tried it on the stone. In the pot, the baking time for this size is approximately 30 minutes covered, and an additional 10 minutes uncovered. Let cool on a rack. Devour!
Old-Fashioned Cookie Bars
(adapted from Hollyhocks and Radishes; thanks to Bobbie Chappell for introducing our family to this cookbook, which hails from Northern Michigan)
Cream together 1 cup of softened butter, 1 cup of brown sugar, and 1/2 cup of white sugar. Beat in three eggs. Beat in 1 tbsp of vanilla, and another tbsp or two or three of maple syrup (optional). In a separate bowl, mash one banana, and add it to the wet mixture. In a third bowl, sift together 2 cups of whole wheat flour, 2 cups of white flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, and 1 tsp salt. Add the sifted dry mixture to the wet mixture in about three batches. As it gets more difficult to incorporate, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of milk. Stir in 1 cup of oats, 1 cup of sunflower seeds, and 1 cup of chocolate chips.
Spread on a buttered cookie sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes at 350, or until browned around the edges, and not as well-done in the middle. While still hot, cut into squares, and allow the cookie sheet to rest on a rack till completely cooled. Remove from the tray and store.
Note: Baking times vary. When baking bars, be sure to check early rather than late, and don’t wait to remove the tray till everything is toasty brown, or you may find the bottom is burnt: get it out while the middle is still a bit underdone. The bars will firm up while cooling.
Also note: This is a very flexible recipe. My first attempt, today, made a crumblier, cakier bar than my previous two bar recipes. Next time, my plan is to eliminate the milk altogether. While I can’t recommend this version for lunch-boxes, due to the crumbly/cakey consistency, it is awesomely delicious. Kevin agrees re the taste, and after a quick brainstorm on how to make these bars transportable to school, Kevin is going to try wrapping them individually and freezing them. (Have I mentioned how much I love that he is making the kids’ school lunches? He’s been doing this for the past couple of weeks while I wash the supper dishes; a companionable time for chatting, too, while the kids tear apart the house post-supper).
Note#2, edited in several days post-posting: Kevin would like the world to know that the frozen bars taste delicious–he ate two when he was home for lunch today, straight out of the freezer. Apparently, they don’t freeze into a solid block, but take on a texture much like convenience store freezer treats (in a good way). Frozen into convenient two-piece bundles, they’ve been excellent additions to the lunch boxes (the few that have gone out the door this week). Maybe I’ll make a pan for playgroup this coming week.
I’d post the Sunday waffle recipe, but my guess is most people already have a favourite waffle recipe in their roster. Mine comes from the Simply In Season cookbook: Whole Wheat Waffles, which I double, and make with a combination of yogurt, and milk soured with vinegar (never having buttermilk on hand, more’s the pity).
It’s such a beautiful day. The children have been playing together–all four of them!–virtually non-stop since daybreak. Kevin is playing guitar right now in the living-room, and got out for a jog around the neighbourhood in the brilliant sunshine. I got to listen to CBC Radio One while baking, and was treated to the Sunday Edition‘s three-hour special honouring International Women’s Day, AND THEN, to Tapestry‘s illumination of the Celtic goddess/saint Brigid (if you’re interested, both shows have podcasts). And now I’m blogging. And I can eat again. Have I mentioned that coffee tastes good, too? It’s such a perfect day.