Friday, September 27, 2013

Vegan French Toast

Vegan French Toast
French Toast has for years been basic comfort food for me. When I was single, there were many nights that I made it for dinner. It's just tasty.

So, when I became Vegan, it just made sense that I would want to find a good Vegan French Toast.
But, that wasn't such an easy task. Finally, I found one. I think it was in  Veganomicon, but I can't recall for sure. Of course, I love homemade mixes & try to avoid making much of anything from scratch if I can make it from a mix, so I adapted the recipe I found. Enter Vegan French Breakfast Mix.

After creating this, I made it for a couple of different families with kids. Both groups were Orthodox Christian families visiting my home during a Lenten time. So they would have expected Vegan food. Both groups knew that I was Vegan - so they should have doubly expected Vegan food. I do not "sneak" Vegan food by people who don't know what to expect. BUT, the kids in both families still thought that I was serving them traditional egg-based French Toast (I think the adults knew me better than to think I was serving them eggs in Lent, but I'm not sure)!

Sometimes I like to dress this up by adding a selection of fancy fruit toppings if I'm serving guests - such as Strawberries in Syrup, Cherry Pie Filling, or a Pineapple Topping.  But, if I'm eating this alone, I like just a simple dash of powdered sugar over the top- not even any buttery spread or syrup.

Vegan French Toast
To make, mix
1 part French Breakfast Mix
2 parts vegan milk
Soak bread slices (baguette is good, but use whatever bread is your favorite for French Toast)
Heat non-stick skillet as for pancakes over medium heat, until a bead of water dances when dropped onto pan.
Toast each battered slice in skillet on both sides till golden brown.
French Breakfast Mix
Make dry mix, sieve into your favorite storage container
1 part Cornstarch *
1 part Sugar
2 parts Chickpea Flour **
Dash salt for every Tablespoon Cornstarch
Dash Cinnamon, if desired

*Tapioca Starch should work equally well here if you prefer, but I haven't tested it yet. I have yet to find an application for Corn Starch that Tapioca Starch wasn't not only a good substitute, but preferable.

** Chickpea Flour is sold in Indian Grocery Stores as Gram Flour - not to be confused with Graham flour, which is a Whole Wheat. It is also sometimes sold as Besan Flour.

This is being shared on Simple Lives Thursday, Make Your Home Sing Monday, Clever Chicks, In & Out of the Kitchen, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, Anti-Procrastination Tuesday 
Lydia's Flexitarian

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Simply Marinated, Grilled Tofu

Simply Marinated, Grilled Tofu
There are bunches of recipes for Grilled, Marinated Tofu out there. I've tried a lot of them - probably 10 to 15 different recipes over the years, both purchased and homemade. Some were too sweet, some too bland, some too greasy, some too fruity, and many of the home made varieties were just too labor intensive or time consuming! The store-bought varieties were, almost without exception, WAYY too expensive.

This is my all-time favorite. It is SOOO easy to make, delicious, and perfectly seasoned. No need to press or use a lot of fancy techniques.

I adapted the marinade from a recipe for Chicken from Betty Crocker.

Simply Marinated, Grilled Tofu
Use 1 pound (14-16 ounces, or 1/2 Kilo) Firm or Very Firm Chinese Style Tofu (not silken Tofu), the variety that comes in a plastic box in the refrigerator case. Cut the plastic film from the top, all the way around, and pour off the liquid. Allow to stand for a few minutes while you mix the marinade, and then pour off the liquid again. Cut the tofu once lengthwise, and then in about 7 crosswise slices (see picture). My little one likes to eat Tofu straight from the box, so I gave her the end slice in the picture.

After slicing, pour marinade right into box, slightly separating pieces so that the marinade can get between the slices. If you plan to marinate for longer than 1/2 hour (which is optional), cover it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to marinate.

Stir Together
3 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Water
½ Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
½ teaspoon Fresh Garlic
Dash Cayenne
Tofu Marinating right in its box.
Marinate briefly (20 minutes to overnight - it's up to you), then lift pieces out of the marinade and grill in an indoor electric grill, which has been lightly oiled,  such as the George Foreman grill.

I cook these slices till golden brown - I don't really time it, but it takes about 10 to 15 minutes. If you try to remove it  from the grill too soon, it may stick. The grill both cooks and presses the tofu, eliminating the need to press before marinating! You may drizzle with a little extra marinade, if desired.

Alternate Cooking Method:
If you don't have an electric grill, the tofu may alternately be baked on a nonstick cookie sheet for 400 degrees for 1/2 hour, broiling to brown at the end if desired.

Serving Suggestion: I like to serve this with Szechuan Green Beans, Steamed Rice & Sliced Cucumbers. It also makes a nice sandwich filling.

Tip for Dining with Omnivores: This marinade is also good for Chicken before it is baked or roasted!

This is being shared at:
Fabulously Frugal Thursdays, Real Food Allergy Free, Gluten Free Fridays, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Healthy Vegan Fridays, Simple Lives Thursday, Make Your Home Sing Monday, Clever Chicks, In & Out of the Kitchen, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, Anti-Procrastination Tuesday

Monday, September 23, 2013

Vegan Black Bean Soup from the Slow Cooker

Black Bean Soup with Rice & Tomatoes
This is a hearty, wonderful soup that is quite popular at our house. My young daughter is absolutely thrilled to see it on our table for dinner. And, even better, it's easy to make - total hands-on preparation time is about 10 minutes!

This is a nice one to put on before Church in the morning & serve for Sunday Lunch or Dinner.

Black Bean Soup
Cook in Slow Cooker or Crock Pot 4 to 5 hours on High
3 Cups Dry Black Beans, Sorted & Rinsed - No Need to Soak!
7 Cups Water (I start with Cool Water from tap)
2 1/2 teaspoons Salt
1 (12 oz) bag Frozen Bell Peppers & Onions (or 1 Bell Pepper & 1 Onion Chopped)*
3/4 Cup Sliced Carrot* (or 1 large carrot, sliced)

After cooking, and Shortly before serving, Add
Black Bean Soup Simmering
1 (15oz) can Diced Tomatoes (with their liquid)
2 Tablespoons Taco Seasoning (or packet of Store Bought)
1/4 cup Wine (any color - dry, not sweet)
Add water if needed to achieve desired thickness/texture - usually a cup or two.

Blend with Immersion Blender until mixture is about 1/2 blended & 1/2  (or, however you prefer)

Serve with Rice & Tomatoes for Garnish.
Corn Muffins & Slaw are nice Accompaniments.

(I have not made this on the stove top, but I would expect it to work fine if you presoaked the beans, and stirred it occasionally while cooking.)

Just a note - the black beans do turn the carrots a strange purplish color - not to worry - they taste fine : )

*When making this for a friend who could not eat peppers, I substituted Mirepoix Mix (1/2 cup each - onion, celery, carrots) for both the Three Pepper & Onion Blend & the Carrot - it worked great.

Tips for dining with Omnivores: Grilled Kielbasa slices make a nice garnish. Additionally, Omnivores may enjoy Sour Cream and/or Shredded Cheddar Cheese on top.

This Post has been featured on Fabulously Frugal Thursdays
Fabulously Frugal Thursday

This is being shared at: In & Out of the Kitchen, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, Anti-Procrastination Tuesdays, Teach Me Tuesdays, Penny Pinching PartyFrugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Healthy Vegan Fridays,

Friday, September 20, 2013

Mushroom Barley Soup

Mushroom Barley Soup
I have always loved Mushroom Barley Soup. Of course, growing up it was Beef Barley Soup with Mushrooms, but I find the Vegan version is  so much tastier.

This is a classic, homey soup like Grandma made (or, in some families, like Grandma would have made if she had been fond of cooking!)

Perfect for a nice family supper on a chilly evening. By the fire, if you have one - with some Crusty Bread.

Mushroom Barley Soup

2 teaspoons Oil (Optional)
1 (12 oz) bag Frozen Mirepoix mix  (or 1/2 cup each, Celery, Carrots & Onions)
2 to 4 Ribs of Celery, chopped
1 teaspoon Minced Garlic (I use the kind from a Jar)
1 to 1 1/2 pounds fresh Mushrooms, your favorite variety (White Button Mushrooms are fine here, but Baby Bellas & other varieties are also good)*
6- 8 cups Water
1 cube Bouillon
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Thyme
Black Pepper to taste
Cook till Mushrooms are done, and all veggies are tender
Then add
1 cups "Quick" Pearl Barley (1/2 11-oz box)
Cook till barley is done – about 10 to 20 min.
A bit of dry cooking wine, such as Sherry, may be added at the end if desired.

*Canned Mushrooms may be used in place of fresh if you and your family like them.

Freezer Prep Tip: If I cook this for the freezer, I freeze it before I add the Barley. Then, when I heat the soup, I add the Barley and simmer it till the Barley is done. This keeps the Barley from getting more done than I like it in the freezer.

Gluten Free Version: If you desire, a cooked Brown Rice can be added instead of the Barley.

Tip for Dining with Omnivores: Bits of Cubed Leftover Beef may be served as a garnish. Some also like Sour Cream in this soup. A Bread & Cheese & Salami board would also be well-received with this dish.

This is being shared on Wise Woman


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Diet Guru Red Flags

There is a dizzying array of titles on the subject of diet & nutrition.
It seems that we're constantly deluged with diet advice. So often I speak with people who have read the latest book of nutrition advice (whether for weight loss or for general health) and are enthusiastic about following it. Then, some time later, they are disillusioned. They couldn't stick with it. They DID stick with it, and cannot figure out why it made them sick or made them gain weight, or had horrible subsequent health effects. And then, I always hear, "There are SO many so-called 'scientific' studies out there! How can anyone know for sure which one is right?"

I'm of the opinion that ad hominem attacks aren't the way to go. I don't want to single out a single diet guru and vilify him or her. But, I admit to getting VERY frustrated with those who make big bucks off of selling diet plans that make people sick or even shorten their lives.
I believe a mostly-Vegan, whole foods diet is best for health. Why? There's a long human history of it working well for people. There's a huge amount of modern scientific evidence for it (see links at the bottom of this post). It is consistent with the historical teachings of the Christian Church on the Spiritual role of food - that we should avoid excessive consumption of rich food, and that we should live simply & frugally most of the time. It's something that everyone can do without a lot of extra work or special treatment. I can eat a substantially vegan diet almost anywhere, anytime without special work (I do not worry about trace ingredients- I look at the big picture). And, it works well for me!

How do you know which diets are good?
Do I believe that you have to eat that way 100% of the time, and without the tiniest flexibility to reap great health benefits? No. I think it's a big-picture thing. Personally, I'm not good at moderation, so I prefer to aim for 100% as much as possible. But, I do have the occasional exception.

Here are a list of common diet guru red flags I have observed. When I see one of these - or several of them, I know I'm being "sold a bill of goods."

1. You catch them in ONE lie or they misrepresent studies done by others. My dear Grandmother, of Blessed Memory taught me this one. "If you catch someone lying once, don't trust them in the future." Simple. But how often I've seen a diet guru lie - by misrepresenting someone else's work to pretend it supports their own work, for example. And their readers think, "Well, it was just one - I'm sure the rest of his or her advice is fine!" If they tell you about the work of another author, and the results of studies done by others, do a little research to make sure that's what the other person actually said before accepting their arguments hook, line & sinker. One tremendously popular diet & health guru claims to be a disciple of the work of a certain researcher & author of previous times. But when you read the guru's book, and then read the book of the researcher it purports to follow, you find that the researcher's work is often misrepresented. In fact, the researcher endorsed a vegetarian diet, while the guru presents his life's work as saying the exact opposite. All this while using the original researcher's name to promote the guru's work.

2. Their comments are over-the-top. If they promise you'll lose 10 pounds per week, or that this diet fixes every health problem ever known to man, or you can just take a magic pill - be suspicious. But, more than that, if they say (as I've seen) something like, "You're better off not to eat at all than to eat [this food]!" or "Eating [this good food] is worse than eating a [candy bar/bacon cheeseburger]." Be very suspicious. This is "sales puffery" and not very honest (see #1.)

3. They endorse greed & gluttony, and vilify simple food. This one goes back to the Garden of Eden. Overindulgence, gluttony, greed and laziness have never been the key to good health - Spiritually or physically. If someone tells you that you should indulge in rich, heavy food constantly, and avoid simple, straight-from-the-earth whole foods, be suspicious.

4. Their advice hasn't worked for them. If they're selling weight loss, look at their picture and see if they appear to be normal weight. Make sure you check the internet for a recent picture - some gurus put publicity photos of themselves on their books that look so unlike them that their own mother wouldn't recognize them.  If they're selling health, their own health records should be an open book. There's an online video that shows a bunch of popular gurus and what they really look like. It's a little too caustic for my tastes, but it does make a good point. (full disclosure: I'm the first to admit that I'm not as thin as I'd like to be on a vegan diet - but I'm wayyy thinner than I used to be. And, my cholesterol numbers are down, too : ) I also readily admit that I don't always stick to the plant based, whole foods model. As if the cookie recipes didn't give that away! And, I'm not making any money off this stuff, anyway.)

5. There's a huge money trail or they promote their own products - or affiliates - as the key to success . Or, you need to spend a lot of money. When you read their favorite studies, find out how those studies were funded (usually a quick internet search will tell you). If they're selling diet products, foods or supplements, that only they make or sell (or that are available from only one supplier), be suspicious. Especially if those products are much pricier than what you already spend.

6. They tell you "you're special." Or, "I'm special and you'll be special too if you follow me!" This is one of the ones I find most annoying. Whenever someone says "Everyone is different" or "You have to do this for your health because [your uniqueness]." What I hear is, "My program doesn't work for anyone else, but I want you to still believe it will work for YOU!" It's true that God made us each unique and we're each special, but the "you're special" sales pitch is too often an appeal to pride. Similarly, the pitch of "I have secrets the rest of the world doesn't know -and I'll share them with JUST you - so you'll be special!" is older than the Gnostic Heresy. It's true that everyone is special. But I wouldn't put sugar in my car's gas tank just because it's unique, and I also believe that (with the exception of rare illnesses like PKU) eating a certain diet isn't good for just me when it's not good for others.

7. Their advice is making people sick. I remember some years ago when a certain high protein diet was the rage, an acquaintance (who was ON that diet!) said, "I have a friend who lost 80 pounds on this diet! And a KIDNEY!"

8. Their advice has a short track record. Human history is about 6 or 7 thousand years old. If their diet has not been followed by anyone until the last 50 years, be suspicious.

9. Their food advice violates your values, or is only sustainable for a short period of time .  If their goal seems to be making food a more important factor in your life than relationships with God or others, or frugality, or stewardship of your time, or other goals YOU think are important, be suspicious. Not only could this diet be hard to sustain for the long term, but you might also find that it takes you somewhere in life you didn't want to go.

10. Their scientific support is old and sparse or their research breaks with reputable scientific method. I know one trendy plan that has (as far as I can discover) TWO studies to support it. And, those two are old studies from roughly the 1950s, that were poorly designed and have not be replicated since then. I know of one wildly-popular current health & diet guru who admits that rather than conduct a scientifically designed study with a control group, that was peer-reviewed and published in a reputable journal, his information was gained through using his own patients as research subjects with no control, no peer review, and no publication - and unfavorable results were simply discarded from his data pool!  One study that was widely reported a while back (besides being underwritten by a big industry) compared people who were literally starving with the subjects on their food. Gee, guess who had the better health data? Oh, then there are those diets that claim they have evolution on their side - the earliest humans ate the way they recommend - without providing a single scrap of evidence, or verifiability. Or, perhaps they cite the stomach contents of ONE mummified corpse to imply that the entire world ate a certain diet. (I recognize that many scientists believe in Evolutionary Theory and mention it as a support, but when it is their MAIN argument, and they provide no evidence for their assertions about various ancient diets, be suspicious) If nutritional advice is solid, there should be an abundance of scientific support, lots of duplication of studies (repeatability) with lots of new studies rolling off the press! Here is a site for a steady flow of good research on the vegan diet

11. They continually cite themselves and their own supporters as "authority." I recently perused a popular book on diet & health. The end notes were ample, and took many pages at the back of the book. But, on closer examination, I discovered that the author had established a "foundation" that provided these studies. And the author's own followers were the authors of the huge majority of the studies in the end of the book. Those from outside sources were misrepresented as being supportive of the author's arguments when they were not (see #1).

12.  They ignore the elephant in the room. People are constantly trying to find some obscure ingredient that has the "secret" to long life and good health. But, it seems to me that the "big picture" is what makes or breaks our health. The constant (and not always easy) effort of a disciplined life will take us much further than finding an exotic supplement to add a trace and heretofore unknown "nutrient" to our diet.

13. Footnotes for minor points, while making their big points with no support at all. This is one I see A LOT in diet books. The author scrupulously footnotes all of the basic information that everyone knows and agrees with, then when they make their central points - those points that break with the scientific majority - there's no support at all. I especially see this with evolution-based arguments ("Cavemen ate this way!" - Interestingly, the various evolution-based diets contradict EACH OTHER!), and "traditional" ("Primitive people all ate this.  . . and NEVER got sick!" )  arguments (which also contradict each other).

14. Me, myself & I - they're the only one with their opinion. If you're reading about a diet or health program that is associated largely or exclusively with a single author & researcher, that should send up a huge red flag! If you tell friends "I'm eating this way" and they ALL reply "I love that author! Her book is great!" - well, that tells you you're following a lone wolf. If  the guru claims, "I'm all right, and it's the world that's all wrong!" be suspicious. (See #6)

15. They appeal to Rebellion. "You don't have to listen to the diet dictocrats!" "You don't have to deprive yourself!" or similar appeals to rebellion are an appeal to unhealthy emotions like rebelliousness and anger, not on science & health. And, they're more often a bid for the writer to have power over you rather than a bid for your good health. (If you're a Christian, the Bible teaches that rebellion is a sin 1 Samuel 15:23 - think of that when you see someone appealing to your rebellious tendencies)

15. They overemphasize weight loss, and under-emphasize health. As my dear Mom used to say, "That diet will make the work of your pall-bearers a lot easier - they won't have to lift so much!" Weight loss is worse than useless if you lose your health along with the pounds!

Finally, if you're checking out a new diet, look at the one, two and three "star" ratings on the various sites that offer reviews (such as Amazon). Read what the raters have to say, and see if there are any red flags being discussed. EVERY book will have some bad reviews- and often lots of them - but if you read carefully, you can see when a reviewer has spotted red flags for you & points them out. It can save a lot of time. And it can save your health!

Here's a list of JUST A FEW of the respected researchers supporting a vegan or nearly vegan diet. It's especially interesting that most of these experts came to the same conclusion independent of each other - and many were strong supporters of meat & dairy consumption when they started out:
Dean Ornish, M.D.
Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D.
T. Colin Campbell, PhD
John McDougall, M.D.
Neal Barnard, M.D.

Here are some materials I feel are Red-Flag Free : )


Brief answers to common questions about protein, calcium, etc.
Health issues & Nutrition site - Dr. T. Colin Campbell
Health Issues & Nutrition Site - Dr. John McDougall
Article on Getting enough Protein

Books about Benefits of Veganism

The China Study: My Favorite book on the topic that I wish EVERYONE would read
Reversing Diabetes - book by Dr. Neal Barnard
Reversing Heart Disease - book by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn
Overcoming addictive eating - book by Dr. Neal Barnard

Movies & Videos

Feature Documentary on Benefits of Plant-Based Diet - Forks Over Knives
Nuts & Diabetes, ten minute video
Olive Oil and the Mediterranean Diet, 10 minute video by Jeff Novick

This is being shared at: Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Penny Pinching Party, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday, Healthy Vegan Fridays, Weekend Wonders, Fun Friday, Making Your Home Sing, Clever Chicks, Modest Monday, In & Out of the Kitchen, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, Anti-Procrastination Tuesdays, Teach Me Tuesdays, Wise Woman, Encourage One Another, Real Food, Allergy Free, Gluten Free Fridays

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Healthy Vegan Fridays

Monday, September 16, 2013

Split Pea Soup

Split Pea Soup
This is one of those wonderful, homey dishes that you can throw together in the Slow Cooker or Crock Pot in less than 10 minutes, and come home to a meal like Grandma might have made in the evening.

It's a classic soup, basic comfort food, simple, and economical.

Split Pea Soup
1 bag Frozen Mirepoix mix (or, 1/2 Cup Each, Carrots, Celery & Onions)
1 teaspoon Thyme
1 ½ teaspoon Celery Salt (or 1/2 teaspoon Celery Seed & 1 teaspoon Salt)
1 cube Bouillon 
2 teaspoon Garlic
2 cups Split Peas, rinsed and sorted (a 1# bag)
6 cups water
Cook on high in Crock Pot (about 5-7 hours is okay, it may be done in 3-4 hours, but it’s hard to overcook this one) You can also simmer this till done - for about an hour - on stove top.

Freezes Well.

Of course, if you are preparing this for any special diet, make sure that all ingredients you select (especially spices & seasonings) fit your needs.

To Serve: Serve with Crusty Bread & Salad. May be topped with Croutons or Popcorn.

My favorite flavours for this dish: Top it with a generous sprinkle of Mrs. Dash Southwest Chipotle Seasoning Blend, then serve with Crispy Pita Chips crumbled on top.

Tip for Dining with Omnivores: Serve some diced Ham or Crumbled Bacon for a Garnish. Cheese & Crackers also go well.

This is being shared on In & Out of the KitchenAnti-Procrastination Tuesday, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday

This post was featured at

New Nostalgia

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The True Cost of Gardening (or, How to Get Your Produce for ONLY $50./Pound!)

A Community Garden
Wherever you go nowadays, there's an article on "How I Feed a Family of 15 on only 3 Dollars Per Week!" or some similar title. One is given to believe that if you just "Know the Secrets" you can eat almost for free.

When you read these articles, whether they're blog posts, magazine articles, or cookbook introductions, nearly all of them promise that you can have "Free" produce from your garden.

Not so fast there!

Although my dear Grandmother of Blessed Memory did feed her family of 7 with fresh garden produce, and saved lots of money - none of it was free, even though Grandma had a lifetime of frugality experience, dating from well before the Great Depression!

I believe that gardening is an amazingly admirable endeavor, and can truly boost a family's budget.

But, upon reflection, I am sure that many modern families spend more to keep a garden than they ever save.

If you examine some of the following categories of often overlooked garden budget expenditures, you might discover how you really CAN save a lot of money gardening - as I do know people who get each of these things for cheap or free - but as long as you're paying for these things, you MUST calculate them into your food cost if you're going to be honest with yourself.

On the other hand, if you LOVE to garden, it may not matter to you how much it really costs - having an enjoyable hobby and delicious food is a reward in itself. And, if you garden for preparedness or self-sufficiency reasons, that provides a motive outside of cash savings.

If you have a wonderful friend - like I do - who gives you a huge bag of home-grown produce from her garden, appreciate it for the tremendously generous & sacrificial gift it is! : )

As harvest season begins, it is a good time to look at financial planning for gardening -both for this season and for next.

If you're planning on gardening to save money, take a few minutes to calculate the actual costs before you jump in with both feet. And then, figure out some ways to trim or eliminate those costs. Consider whether an option like a CSA box might actually be more cost-effective for some of your produce needs. I find that most people who write on the subject of saving money by gardening never even touch on many of these categories in their calculations.

The REAL Cost of Garden Produce

1. Land Costs. Every mortgage payment or rent payment that is higher because you have land and not JUST a dwelling must be considered as part of the cost of your food. If you have a higher mortgage or rent payment than you would have if living in a small dwelling with no land, your food isn't free. Community or container gardening can be good options for those without land.

2. Commute Costs. Do those who work away from home in your family have to spend more money on gas, and more time getting to and from work so that you can live on a property with land - or so that you can afford the payment on a property with land? Do those who stay home use more gas to run errands than they would if they lived on property with no land?  This is part of your food cost. This is also a cost to the environment.

3. Durable Garden Infrastructure. Fencing, Raised Garden Bed construction, Straw, Potting Soil, Railroad Ties, Lumber, Markers, Potting Sheds, Greenhouses, Grow Lights, Pumps, Irrigation Equipment, Rototiller costs (rental, purchase, maintenance), Trellises, Composting equipment, and Frost-protection Equipment. These purchases should be calculated at a per-year cost for the life of the equipment, and figured into the cost of your food per pound. Some people reduce these costs by buying at estate auctions, or going to a thrift store such as those run by Habitat for Humanity.

4. Garden Equipment & Supplies. Wheel Barrows, Garden Hose, Sprinklers, Pots, Hoes, Rakes, Shovels, Insecticides and Herbicides (whether organic or chemical), Fertilizer, Purchase of Helpful Insects, Buckets and similar items are all part of your costs.

5. Seeds. A lot of gardeners will say, "I spent $1. on seeds and I got 10 Pounds of Produce, so my Produce cost 10Cents/Pound!" That's not really true, but these costs do have to be added to the other costs of gardening. Some people save their own seeds from year to year, althoughthis doesn't work with every kind of crop, it is worth investigating. (I understand it cannot be done with some hybrids).

6. Power & Water. Costs of Water for irrigation, and any power demands for Grow Lights, Greenhouses, or Potting Sheds should be considered.

7. Time. You should measure the use of your time in the garden against other, potentially more profitable uses of your time. If you have your own business that earns you $20/hour, then your time in the garden away from that business loses you $20/hour.

8. Preservation Equipment. Canning Jars, Lids, Freezer Bags, Freezer Containers, Colanders, Pressure Cookers, Water Bath Pots, Vacuum Sealers, Purchase of a Deep Freezer, Dehydrators, and Smokers, etc, are all part of your produce costs. Once again, estate auctions, garage sales, and thrift stores can help you economize here.

9. Garden Losses. Last year, we watched a Doe and her Fawn clear out row upon row of the community garden. Some gardener put in a lot of time and money for a zero (or near zero) harvest that year. To have a fair accounting, he or she should average the bad years with the good years.

10. Medical Costs/Lost work time. For many years in my childhood, my Mother put in a garden in the spring, only to have her back go out and leave her unable to move from the floor for about three weeks each spring. The garden would be overtaken with weeds, and our harvest would be minimal (we kids were too young to be much help, I'm afraid). If you get a back injury, a severe cut, a knee injury, a severe sun burn, carpal tunnel syndrome, or go into diabetic shock while gardening, the increased cost of medical care and lost time from work should be calculated as part of your produce cost. Pain & suffering don't have a financial cost, but if you have a serious health issue, they're worth considering, too. For some with medical issues, a CSA box might be a much better option than doing it yourself.

11. Produce Storage. The cost of electricity for operating a deep freezer is very high - sometimes estimated as high as $50./month for an older model - new "Energy Star" models can run about $5 a month, after the cost of purchase. Installing additional shelving or a pantry for canned goods is a cost that must be considered. If you purchase produce every week, you can afford to have a smaller house & less storage space than if you're keeping an entire year's worth of food in your house. Operating a backup battery system for your freezer or buying a freezer alarm can be another cost. Which brings us to the last point:

12. Stored Food losses. If your deep-freeze should fail while you're out of town or when you don't notice it (and it does happen!) any food in it is a loss that must be averaged against the "good" years. Costs of clean up, and possible freezer replacement are not negligible either. And of course, any food that is simply not consumed & goes to waste is also a loss.

To summarize, I'm all in favor of gardening for fun, for tasty food, and for the environmental benefits. And, if done properly, it CAN be a great money-saver. But, I'm also in favor of an accurate accounting of the actual costs, so that garden produce prices can be accurately measured against the cost of purchased produce.

This is being shared on Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Simple Lives Thursday, Hearts for Home, Making Your Home Sing, Clever Chicks, In & Out of the Kitchen, Anti-Procrastination Tuesday, Teach Me Tuesday, Wise Woman, Fabulously Frugal Thursday

Monday, September 9, 2013

St. Anna, the Grandmother of Jesus

I love this Icon of St. Anna from Kykkos Monastery
in Cyprus. It shows St. Anna's Daughter, the Virgin Mary, and
Her Grandson, the Baby Jesus, symbolically sitting in her lap.
It also shows the vital role of the Men of her Family -
St. Joachim and St. Joseph.
Today is my Name Day - the day I celebrate my Patron Saint, St. Anna.

I was not born with the name Anna, but rather I chose that name when I converted to the Greek Orthodox Faith. It is common for those who convert to Orthodox Christianity to choose a new name - especially if the name they were born with is not the name of a Saint.

So, when I was converting, I had the daunting task of finding a Saint that I especially admired, whose name I would share, and who would pray for me.

Many, many Saints are Saints because they were Martyrs for their Faith. The only thing we now know about many Saints is the fact that they were Martyrs. St. Anna is not one of those.

Many other Saints are Saints because they were great Monastics, who choose for the sake of their Love of God to live without an earthly family. St. Anna is not one of those - she was a married woman.

St. Anna, to most appearances, lived a "normal" life. She was a wife and she was barren. She wanted a child very much, but did not let that desire get in the way of her great Love for God, as many people might when they have a strong desire that God does not grant. Instead of becoming bitter over being deprived of her desire, she was faithful. In fact, so faithful that she and her Husband gave Two-Thirds of their income to the service of God! They attended the Temple faithfully, and prayed faithfully.

Then, miraculously because Sts. Joachim & Anna were past the normal age of childbearing, God granted them what they asked - a beautiful baby Daughter - a Daughter who was to become the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ!

But, when she received the Child that God gave her, Saint Anna did not hold on to her selfishly- but instead, just like Hannah, the Mother of the Prophet Samuel, St. Anna gave her little Daughter back to God - to serve Him all her life! It was this great sacrifice that prepared the Virgin Mary to become the Mother of God (we call the Virgin Mary the Mother of God not because she somehow pre-existed & created God -she did not - but because she participated in the great miracle of God becoming Man- and she was miraculously HIS Mother! To deprive her of this title is to deny the Divinity of Christ.).

I love St. Anna because she served God through serving her family and her community. She lived in Love & submission to God all her life- whether or not she got what she wanted. She gave generously to God - both at the Temple and through the Poor. And she Lovingly gave back to God the Child he gave her. Most importantly, she became the Mother of the Mother of God

When I converted, I was middle aged & single. I suppose a lot of people assumed that I chose St. Anna as my Patron Saint because I wished - like St. Anna - to be Blessed with a Child in middle age. But, that was not really on my radar screen. I fully expected to live out my life as a Single Christian - I simply admired St. Anna's faithful service to God through her community. But, that was not what God had in store for me.  As it happened, I DID marry in middle age, and was blessed with a beautiful Child (and an easy labor) when I least expected it. I am sure that the prayers of St. Anna had a part in my being so Blessed!

Christ is Glorified in His Saints!

II Thessalonians 1:10

10 When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.

For more information about St. Anna, check out these links:

This is being shared at
Modest Monday, Making Your Home Sing, Better Mom Monday, Tell Me a True Story, Teach Me Tuesdays, Unite, Wise Woman, Hearts for Home

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Justin's Butternut Squash Soup

Justin's Butternut Squash Soup
My friend Justin is an avid gardener - in school last year, a large part of his education was centered around his love of gardening (check out this link)! I really admire the way his Mom & Teacher tailors & personalizes her kids' education : ) I have a special love for Justin's whole family - and they all work on the garden.

One of Justin's family's big garden crops this year was Butternut Squash - because Justin just adores Butternut Squash soup. When his Dad generously gave me a bag of their garden bounty (sent by Justin's Mom who was home with his brand new baby Brother!), Justin had a simple instruction - that I should make soup. And make it Hot & Spicy!
Justin Hard at Work in the Kitchen.

Of course, with my daughter, the hot & spicy thing wouldn't fly. And, I had never made Butternut Squash soup before. So, I improvised a soup in Justin's honor. Delicious! And customizable hot & spicy : )

This recipe is naturally Vegan & Gluten Free as long as you choose ingredients (such as Bouillon) that fit your needs.

Justin's Butternut Squash Soup
Pierce & Microwave till peel-able (this took about 15 minutes for 2 good-sized squash), then Peel, seed & cube
(Alternately, Squash may be roasted in oven according to your favorite method)
2 Butternut squash
Meanwhile, sauté
1 12oz Bag Mirepoix Mix (or 1/2 cup each, Onions, Carrots, Celery)
Add Cubed Squash to Sauteed Mirepoix
Add enough water to just cover and
2 Tablespoons Vegetable Bouillon Powder or 2 Bouillon Cubes
1 teaspoon dried Thyme
1 teaspoon salt

Butternut Squash can be carefully pierced with a knife
a few times before microwaving.
Cook till Squash chunks are tender then puree till smooth with immersion blender, adding enough water to make soup texture. (if it is too thick (more like baby food than soup), the soup may bubble & splash, burning you)
2 Tablespoons White Wine

Serve with Croutons (such as Pita Chips or Melba Toasts - of course, choose a GF crouton if needed).
Allow each diner to season their soup with
Mrs. Dash Southwest Chipotle seasoning (or other preferred heat source), if desired.

Freezes well.

This is being shared on Gluten Free Fridays, Weekend Wonders, Healthy Vegan Friday, Simple Lives Thursday, Kids in the Kitchen, Pin it Saturday, Clever Chicks, In & Out of the Kitchen, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, Penny Pinching Party, Allergy Free Wednesdays, Fabulously Frugal Thursday

Monday, September 2, 2013

Three Minute Corn on the Cob

Fresh Summer Corn on the Cob!
I grew up in Corn Country. A big summer highlight was buying freshly grown Silver Queen Corn from a farmer's wagon by the side of the road, and rushing home to quickly cook it and serve it with some fresh summer Tomatoes. When you've eaten corn this way, all other corn becomes inferior. When I traveled and tasted the corn other places, I wouldn't even eat it for the longest time.

When corn is fresh, and cooked very gently it is full of natural sugars, and very sweet and tender. But when it ages, or is overcooked, those sugars turn to starches, and the corn begins to taste woody. Only an inferior, fibrous type of corn would be cooked by a slower method.

That's why I'm not attracted to recipes that call for slow cooking corn. Or for freezing Corn on the Cob.

The local advice when I grew up was this: "Put the pot of water on to boil, THEN go out to the field to pick your corn!" That's how freshly-picked and gently cooked it was supposed to be!

Of course, modern hybrids are bred for a little longer storage than the Gourmet Silver Queen Corn of my youth (which I have not seen in years!), but overcooking is still overcooking.

Another childhood Corn memory involved the not-so-fun chore of husking corn for the entire family and painstakingly removing every silk (and, no one had just one ear!). And waiting for what seemed like hours for a giant pot of water to boil so the corn could be cooked in it. Not such a fun memory.

Nowadays, I have the delight of perfectly prepared, fresh, sweet, tender corn - with no work!

In addition to being super-easy & quick, this method produces hands-down the tastiest corn I have ever eaten : )

Three Minute Corn on the Cob
Bring your selected corn home.
Cut off the long stem, and the very tip with the silks. This should take 30 Seconds at most.
A Plate of Corn, Ready to Serve
Peel back the end just a little, and make sure there are no bugs (assuming you didn't do that when purchasing). Replace Husk.
Place corn on plate in microwave.
Cook for 2 1/2 minutes per ear. (If you cook 4 ears, that's 10 minutes, but one ear is 2 1/2 minutes. I don't do more than 6 ears at a time)
You may want to rearrange the corn half way through cooking for the most even cooking.
Place on table on plate. Corn will be very hot, and will stay very hot for a while (this is good if you like to have your favorite spread actually melt on your corn).
Each diner shucks his own corn at the table (you'll want an extra bowl for husks!). The silks come off easily, since they've been steamed!
I like to leave the husks attached at the stem end, and use the husks for a handle - much better than those little plastic corn holders of my youth : )

This is being shared at: In and Out of the Kitchen, Anti-Procrastination Tuesday, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Fabulously Frugal Thursday, Simple Lives Thursday