Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter (Oestara) Eggs! Done naturally! ... who knows what's in those dye pellets, anyway

With Easter rapidly approaching, and 2 little kids at home who can't wait to have an Easter Egg hunt tomorrow morning, I absolutely had to dye some eggs.  We just did a dozen this year, but we dyed them the natural way because I really want to eat them, not just look at them.  And, quite frankly, those dye pellets they sell in the store scare me more than a little  bit...

We get our eggs from our butcher.  We usually get a dozen or two gorgeous brown jumbo-sized ones (free-range, collected by the guys that work at the butcher shop).  Today I bought 1 dozen of my usual brown beauties, and 1 dozen white eggs (still local, but from about 1 hour down the road) for dying.  I usually prepare my eggs as a meal by themselves.  No meat needed...  which is how I justify including them in out weekly food budget. 

Gorgeous Naturally-Dyed Easter Eggs
Per cup of water use:
  • 1 cup yellow onion skins — makes orange
  • 1 cup chopped beets — makes pink on white eggs
  • 2 tbsp ground turmeric — makes yellow eggs
  • 4 teabags Green Tea-- makes green eggs
  • 2 tbsp ground paprika--makes reddish-orange eggs
  • 1 cup chopped purple cabbage — makes blue on white egg
 For each color you choose to make, bring 1 cup of water to a boil and add your ingredient. Turn the heat down to low and simmer, covered, for 15 to 30 minutes. The dye is ready when it reaches a hue a few shades darker than you want for your egg. Strain liquid into a wide-mouth mason jar.   Add 1 tablespoon white vinegar to every cup of strained dye liquid. 

Allow dye to cool.  

Hard boil 1 dozen eggs.  Let cool.

Put your eggs in your desired color and transfer to the refrigerator.
Allow to chill until the desired color is reached. Carefully dry the eggs, and then rub each one with a little bit of vegetable oil if you want them to shine. Polish with a paper towel. Store the eggs in the refrigerator until it is time to eat (or hide) them.

I wanted to get this post up before Easter day, so this is still a work in progress for us.  I will post photos of finished eggs when they are ready.  


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Thing About Spring is That Cold Weather is Never Far Away: Beef Barley Soup

The last few days have had our little family buzzing with outdoor activity. The birds were singing, the flowers were starting to bloom, and the bugs were out in force. We spent most of our time outdoors, and even met our new neighbors.  But then, BANG!  Today hit and the snow is flying again. 

Here's a hearty soup to keep us all warm (eventhough my eldest daughter is wearing shorts over her leggings today):

Traditional Beef Barley Soup
2 1/2 quarts water
1 lb stew meat cut into small pieces
1 can diced tomatoes (or 4 roma tomatoes, diced)
1 large onion diced
3 stalks celery diced
1 soup bone (beef marrow)
1 cup barley
Seasalt to taste

Add all ingredients to a large pot.  Bring to boil and reduce heat to low.  Stir often.  Cook 2-3 hours.

Serve and enjoy!  We had big baby spinach salads with this... it IS spring, afterall!


Monday, April 7, 2014

Delicious and Green: Whole Grain Pasta with Peas and seafood of choice

SPRING'S HERE!    Or, at least, it's above freezing and the ice is out of the pond. While it isn't quite grilling weather yet (BARELY above freezing), I'm still wanting dinners to be a little lighter.  Less sauce, less fat, more flavor and color and texture.

One of my family's favorites is pasta with peas.  We usually make it with a lot of garlic and shrimp and the kids love the little pieces that they can pick out one at a time to eat.

Whole Grain Pasta With Peas and Shrimp
1 lb whole grain pasta 
 6-8 garlic cloves, minced
4 green onions, sliced
1/2 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped and destemmed
1/2 bag frozen peas (I threw a handful of leftover adamame in this time as well)
20-25 pieces frozen shrimp (or salad shirmp, sliced calamari, or bay scallops)
Salt to taste
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, until al dente'.  Drain and set aside. 

In a large skillet saute garlic, green onion, parsley, and peas in about 3 tbsp of oive oil.  Salt to taste.  

Add Pasta to pan and toss together ingredients. 

Put in a large bowl and serve right away.

Enjoy... with a glass of wine!


Monday, March 31, 2014

Zen Center Morning, and another Grandma Memory: Vegetarian Lentil Soup

Long before yoga and meditation were mainstream or even practised "on the fringe" (the 1980s to be exact), my Grandma was doing both of them.  "Stretch" classes and "resting" on the couch while sitting upright with eyes closed were what she called it.  While I couldn't be convinced to slow down  and participate back then, I could certainly be convinced to eat her lentil soup at lunchtime.  Usually with a half of some sort of sandwich. 

Then, while I was in college two of my professors strongly encouraged their students to have the experience of at least one day of meditation at our local Zen Center.  It was eye-opening, excruciating, amazing, and completely worth it. We had a silent lunch of lentil soup and salads punctuated by the sound of windchimes and a singing bowl.

And so, with an open heart, I'm presenting to you my Lentil Soup Recipe (I assure you, there is Zen in the chopping):

Vegetarian Lentil Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
        1  onion, finely chopped
3 ribs finely chopped celery
1 finely chopped bell pepper (any color)
1 pound  whole lentils rinsed
1(14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
2 quarts vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground toasted cumin
Seasalt to taste

In a large skillet, saute together the onion, celery, and bell pepper with the olive oil.  When onions are translucent and fragrant, add the vegetables and the rest of the ingredients to a large soup pot. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer.  Let simmer 30-40 minutes until the lentils are tender.

Serve and Enjoy!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Another Shift In Perception: Vegetarian Hoppin' John

For years we've wanted an electric car.  For even more years, I've read about all sorts of "green" living tips and philosophies... ranging from homesteading and "grow-your-own-everything (including children LOL)", to DIY sources of power, sustainable diets, carbon footprints, wabi-sabi style, "living small", re-purposing, wild-crafting... the list is seemingly endless. And over the years ideas have come, and ideas have gone by the way-side depending on where we were in life. 

Now we've finally come to a place where a BIG idea has been made an affordable reality.  We are now the proud owners (leasers, really) of an electric plug-in Nissan Leaf.   If feels fantastic to finally be in a place where it fits for us both in our budget and in our hearts.

After only having this car for 1 day, my "green" sensibilities have been peaked once again by one mind-blowing fact:   This car is plugged into a standard  (USA) electrical outlet for 12 hours and has enough charge drive 17+ miles to work, and back.  That's an entire commute, and with some leftover in reserve.  We're leaving lights and appliances plugged in 24 hours per day.  I finally understand the amount of energy we're using up... more than enough to power several cars!

And, of course, this gets me thinking about tons of "green" things and my plans to do better and what can be done first.  Replace old appliances... sure...   insulate the farmhouse better... you bet.  But probably the easiest is to eat lower on the food chain a few days per week.  The statistics are out there and blatant about how many millions of tons of grain and gallons of water go into sustaining our 1st world meat-eating habit.   Am I going vegan?  Nope.  But I AM being more mindful and actually employing it weekly in my grocery shopping list.

Hoppin' John is a Southern (U.S.) black-eyed pea dish usually made around New Years Eve and is thought to impart good luck on the household.  I made it in hope of good luck in out transition to an electric car:

Lucky Vegetarian Hoppin' John
1 lb dried black-eyed peas
1 bayleaf
1tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
1 tsp dried basil
freshly ground black pepper
cayenne pepper (to taste, if desired)
 Sea Salt to taste

2 tbsp Olive oil
2 cooking onions, chopped small
1 yellow pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (28oz) tomatoes
2 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
Hot sauce (optional)

Rinse and soak black-eyed peas overnight.  Drain and rinse again.  Put peas into a heavy soup pot and cover them with fresh water.  Bring to a boil and add bay leaf, oregano, thyme, cayenne, sea salt, and black pepper.  Lower the heat and simmer for 2-3 hours. Stir occasionally and add water if needed.

In a skillet, heat olive oil and saute' onion until translucent.  Add the pepper, celery, and garlic.  Saute' until tender.  

Add veggies, canned tomato, and cooked brown rice to the pot of peas.   Stir well and heat through.  

Serve and enjoy (Mark and I liked it with hot sauce!)

I apologize that the picture is in terrible focus...
Here's a couple "Spring's Trying Real Hard To Get Here"  shots:

Friday, March 14, 2014

Dandelions in the yard (ok, not for another couple of weeks...) : Homemade Dandelion Wine In My Glass!

I love Spring. The green grass, the birds singing, and leaves on the trees and the WEEDS in my lawn!   Especially Dandelion.  I love Dandelion.  Early on in the season (probably next week or so for me), Dandelion greens are ready for picking and eating.  Over the winter, their bitter sap goes down into their roots as the green tops go dormant.  No sap = Sweet(er) leaves.  This is the perfect time to pick if you want some fresh leafy greens from the yard (no spray, please).

A few weeks later, the tops of the Dandelion turn bitter with the return of the "sap" and they begin to send up a plethora of flowering shoots.  At this point, you can either a) dig up the plant b) get mad and spray your yard so the "weeds" don't spread c) give up your grass for lost and let the flowers go to seed and spread everywhere (the neighbors LOVE this) or, my favorite d)  Pick the flowers, and make WINE!

My husband and I started brewing our own beer and making our own wine and hard cider back in our 20s for two key reasons 1) it's fun and we love creating our own adult beverages and 2) I became sensitive to corn and here in the U.S. corn sugar is used in EVERYTHING... even beer and wine.  I like my drinks to make me feel happy and relaxed, NOT sick!

Last Spring was actually the first time I tried making Dandelion Wine, and it was SO worth it when we finally opened up a bottle at the beginning of this month!
You need a few supplies, a lot of blossoms, and the ability to wait about a year if you want to make wine.

Traditionally, Dandelion Wine was made first thing in the season (umm, probably somewhere other than Upstate New York) so the blossoms were gathered in Early March.  The wine was ready to drink around the Winter Solstice to remind us of Spring sunshine during the darkest time of the year.

This year, I was glad to drink my sunny wine during our March blizzard(s), eventhough we are now experiencing quite a few more daylight hours than we were just a couple months ago.

Sunny Dandelion Wine
Yields 1 Gallon (3.8L)
6 cups (1.5) Dandelion Petals (NO GREEN at all)
2 lbs (900 grams) granulated white sugar
1 lb (450g) Yellow Raisins
1tbsp (15g) Acid blend*
1 Package (5-7g) wine yeast*
1 Campden Tablet (optional, if cloudy wine bothers you)*
1 tsp (5g) yeast nutrient*
1 1/2 cups (360 ml) orange juice (room temperature)
1 tsp (5g) pectic enzyme*
*these are specialty items.  We are lucky to have a store in our town that specializes in wine-making, but these are readily available online too at any beer-making supply store*

other items you'll need:
2 (7.6L) gallon food grade plastic bucket
2 (7.6L) gallon airlocked fermentation vessel
wine bottles

 Fermentation vessel with airlock
Corks and "Corker".
Food Grade Plastic Bucket (this one is 5 gallons, we use it for Brewing beer too).

1) Prepare dandelion petals (remove them from the stem and the bitter green base).  Place petals, sugar, raisins, and acid blend into a food grade plastic bucket.  Bring 1 gallon (3.8L) of water to a boil and pour it into the mixture.  Add Campden tablet, if desired, and let mixture sit for 24 hours.  If you ARE NOT using a Campden tablet, cool the mixture to lukewarm. 

2) in a jar, make a yeast starter culture by combining the wine yeast, yeast nutrient, and orange juice.  Cover, shake vigorously, and let stand 1-3 hours, until bubbly.  Then add to the must (must= the mixture in your bucket)

3) Add the pectic enzyme, loosely cover with plastic wrap or foil, and ferment for three days in the bucket.  Then rack the liquid into a 2-gallon (7.6 L)  airlocked fermentation vessel and allow it to ferment to completion.  About 3 months!

Transfer the wine into bottles, cork them, and put them in a cool, dry, place... out of the sun.

4) Wait at least another 6 months before sampling.

Just in time for the Big Snowstorm!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Winter Greens and Leek Gratin or Giddy in the Produce Section

As I was saying in my last post, a couple weeks ago I got a little giddy in the produce section.  It was GRAND!  Then, I forgot about half the plans I had, and realized that I had 1/2 bunch of Chard, a full (completely forgotten) bunch of Collard Greens... and a few leftover leeks in the fridge. Beautiful, fresh produce that I didn't want to freeze (there's quite enough of that going on outside, thankyou) so it needed to be used up right away.  I decided to use ALL of it in a recipe I modified from Alice Waters's Swiss Chard Gratin .
Turned out amazing and it's the best way I've found yet to use up cooking (winter) greens.

Winter Green and Leek Gratin
1/2 bunch Swiss Chard chopped (stalks chopped and set aside)
1 bunch Collard Greens destemmed and chopped
2 leeks rinsed and cut into circles (white part only)
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (I keep bread in the freezer for this)
2 tablespoons Earth Balance Margarine (or olive oil w/ salt to taste)
2 teaspoons flour (grain of choice)
1/2 cup Soymilk
a pinch of ground nutmeg
Seasalt to taste
fresh ground black pepper to taste

Wash and stem the chard and Collards. Save the chard stems, chopping them into small pieces.  Bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil and cook the stems and collards for 3-5 minutes. Add the chard leaves and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain and cool. Gently squeeze out the excess liquid from the stems and leaves and coarsely chop them. 

Melt 1 1/2 tablespoons of margarine over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pan and add the chopped leeks. Cook over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the greens and season with salt. Cook for 3 minutes. Sprinkle with the flour and stir well. Then add the soymilk and nutmeg and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add more soymilk if the mixture gets too thick. The greens should be moist but not floating in liquid. Taste and add salt if needed. 

Preheat oven to 350f.  
Butter (with margarine or grease with oil) a small baking dish. Spread the chard mixture evenly in the dish. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the top. *  I added Daiya Cheddar shreds in this picture, but found that it wasn't a necessary addition*  
Bake in oven until the gratin is golden and bubbling, 20 to 30 minutes.

Serve and enjoy.  We had ours with Ham!