Monday, March 23, 2009

The whirlwind winds down

A lot has happened in the past couple weeks, and I finally feel like things are winding down. First thing to note is that last Sunday, Bill and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. Our marriage had a (surprising to naive me) rocky start. One year together by no means makes us experts, but I am glad to say that I think we are getting better at this whole marriage thing. I really do love being Bill's wife. To celebrate, we had Sunday brunch at Zencha Tea Salon, which I highly recommend. They make beautiful tea inspired pancakes and waffles. And I always love the tea there, favoring their Indian Chais. For dinner we went to Marcella's, which was pretty nice. The food was good, although they didn't have a ton of vegetarian options. What we had was made with very delicious ingredients though. I enjoyed our experience there.
I am also happy to report that last week I started a new job. I am working part time as an administrative assistant at a funeral home, and I am really liking it. The people I work with are great, the hours are perfect (9-2, M-F), and the field is interesting to say the least. People have been asking me if I am weirded out by working around dead people, but I am not. I view death as a part of life. I do feel compassion for those who have lost loved ones, but I don't feel personally sad. I did often feel sad working at my previous job where many troubled youth and broken families came in. That was really hard for me.
Starting my new job (and also shopping around for professional and color conservative clothes to add to my mostly colorful wardrobe) , and also dog sitting last week left me in a bit of a tizzy. But things have settled down now and I feel like this week I can start working at a routine that balances work and home life again, this time with the priviledge of working only part time.
I feel like my life, in general, has been going in a really good direction. I praise God for His blessing, for answering prayers, and for challenging me continually in my thoughts and actions. I am thankful for my lovely family, my amazing friends, my new job, and the great community that I live in. I am ready to fully engage in all of it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bialys- the bread adventures continue

Last week, I baked my first successful loaf of yeasted bread. It was a simple recipe for Hearth Bread from The Bread Bible. I had tried making bread several times, but had never had a successful loaf before. I believe that I rushed all of my previous attempts, never letting the bread fully rise. The loaf I made last week took all day to go from flour bin to oven, but almost all of that was inactive time, letting the sponge ferment and the dough rise. But it turned out quite delicious.
High off of my victory, the taste memory of home-baked bread still lingering in my mind, I turned down Bill's request for bagels while we were at the grocery store. No. I can make bagels at home. For Christmas, I received the book Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, but had been hesitant to use it because of the books unique technique of making large quantities of dough and storing it in your fridge to make several loaves over the course of a week or two. I had failed all previous bread baking attempts, what would i do if I mixed together all that dough and it went to waste making loaf after loaf of sunken, underdone, cakey bread? Well, last week's success gave me the confidence to proceed with the 5 minutes a day technique (which is a bit hyperbolic, techinically you might only take 5 minutes to form the loaf, but it must still rest for a while before you put it in the oven). Instead of following the authors' advice and starting with a simple boule, I went in head first with bagels.
And I failed.
I followed the instructions to the tee, and things looked promising at the start, but somewhere between boiling and baking the dough, something went amiss. I ended up with flat, doughy, inedible rings. And a lot of dough left in the fridge. Exactly what I feared.
But! The dough was also good for making bialys, and so make bialys I did. And they turned out wonderfully, as can be seen in the picture below. I still have some of the dough left, which I will probably use to make more bialys. I think I will wait until I have a bit more experience before I attempt bagels again.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

more time, less money, less waste

Well, I am now officially unemployed (although I have not been working for over a month), and will receive my last paycheck next week. For the past month that I have been home I have been working over our budget and trying to figure out how we can get our costs of living down. It's amazing how much Bill and I have taken for granted, and how wasteful we have been merely due to not giving enough time to combing over our finances. For example, I never really look over our utility bills, I just see how much we owe and write a check. But after spending a little bit of time researching, I was able to see that we were spending too much money on our cell phones, and get that cost reduced.
Having the luxury of more time has also inspired me to implement some of the more environmentally friendly changes that I have been wanting to make for quite some time, but haven't seen as practical time wise. Mostly, we are going to try to live a less disposable life. I have decided not to purchase anymore paper towels or napkins. I have time now to sew the cloth napkins I have been wanting to make for a while, and will cut up some old towels that we have laying around to use for the potty accidents the small dog still has sometimes. I am also resolving to learn how to make the perfect sandwich bread. All previous attempts at bread have produced lackluster results, but I am tired of paying an arm and a leg at the market to get the tasty healthy bread we like, and hate the accumulation of plastic bread bags in our closet.
These measures, and others like them, will hopefully help me to trim down our grocery budget, which is our largest flexible cost. The other costs that I am trying desperately to cut are our gas and electric bills, which have both been out of control lately. I have been keeping the thermostat set at 62 for the most part, which leaves it quite chilly in here. I've never kept it that cold before, and I am glad that winter is almost over. However, I am finding that the space heater we purchased in hopes to cut the gas bill is driving up our electric bill quite a bit. That and the fact that I live with a man whom I affectionately refer to as the King of Lights, because he is incapable of passing a light without turning it on.
All in all, this journey of frugality and environmental stewardship is ever changing, but it certainly has been fun to learn new ways of thinking and looking at the world, and I love challenging myself to do things differently.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Vegan MoFo: One Last Hurrah

So, I utterly failed at keeping up with Vegan MoFo. Meh. At least I found a whole slew of new blogs visit.

Posting everyday was a bit much for me. The change in the weather has been a drag. This time of year is always difficult emotionally, and I just haven't felt up to doing much of anything. In the passed few weeks, I've barely cooked at all, which is definitely out of the norm for me.

As my final post in VeganMoFo, I decided to tell the story of my first time with tofu.

Having been a vegetarian for 4 years now, I feel like I can consider tofu to be a dear friend. But our relationship was not always a good one, and it had a very rocky beginning. I would also like to declare the following statement for anyone who was unsure: It is perfectly easy and acceptable to be a vegetarian or vegan and not like or use tofu. It's interested how many people remark "I don't like tofu" whenever I mention that I am a vegetarian. For the longest time, neither did I. I would also like to note that tofu is not just for vegetarians. It's its own food, not always a subsititute for meat. Anyway, I digress.

When I first started thinking about where my food came from, and toying with the idea of vegetarian/veganism, I spent a lot of time researching on the internet how I could make animal-free versions of some of my favorite foods. Being that my pre-veg signature dish was lasagna, I didn't know how I'd ever make a delicious vegetarian lasagna, much less a vegan one. How would I ever replace ricotta?!

The internet informed me that vegans used tofu in place of a ricotta filling in a lot of recipes. Unfortunatly, I never read any of those recipes. At that point in my cooking career, I didn't own any cookbooks, and never really cooked from recipes. I just made things up as I went along, and the results were always delightful. Why, then, would I need someone else's recipe? (Sidenote: I still love experiementing on my own, but reading cookbooks has done so much to mature me in the kitchen) Still not sure what to do about all the meat I used to use in lasagna, I opted instead to make stuffed shells for my first time with tofu. And I made the 2 typical first timer mistakes. First off, I used silken tofu. It was the only kind I had ever seen. I didnt even know regular tofu existed. Secondly, I stuffed the shells with only crumbled up silken tofu. No seasonings. No nutritional yeast. No lemon juice. Just plain silken tofu.

Overcooked pasta shells stuffed with plain tofu, covered with the cheapest jarred spaghetti sauce. As you can imagine, they tasted terrible. I was so disappointed. I told my then vegan roomate that I had made vegan stuffed shells with tofu, that I didnt like them, and that they were in the fridge if she wanted them. She seemed excited when I told her, but several days later the large pan was still pretty much full. Pehaps she didnt want to hurt my feelings, but oh I wish she would've told me what I had done wrong!

I did try tofu again a few months after that, in a restaurant, and I really liked it. I am now well versesd in the different varieties of tofu and their appropriate uses. And according to Bill, I make a mean tofu scramble. Tofu has definitley been the most challenging ingredient in my kitchen, but I am definitely comfortable with it now, and am able to enjoy it in many different ways.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Vegan MoFo: Product Review- Oat Dream

I love trying new products. I didn't always though. I used to be very set in my ways and turn my nose up at food items I as unfamiliar with. That all changed when I became a vegetarian. I started trying new things out of necessity, and now I purposely seek new things out when I am at the grocery store.
Last time I was at Whole Foods stocking up on soy milks, this product caught my eye, Oat Dream. Now, I have had Oat Milk before. I tried Pacific brand oat milk, and while i did enjoy the flavor, the texture was grainy. Pacific also makes a very grainy almond milk that i don't particularly care for, not when I could have smooth, creamy Almond Breeze. Anyway, from my previous experience with Dream* brand products, I suspected that their oat milk would not be grainy like the Pacific brand. And I was right. The texture was wonderfully smooth and creamy.
As for the taste, it was delicious. However, I did opt for the Maple Brown Sugar flavor instead of plain (or maybe vanilla was the other option, I cannot remember). The first time I tried this was on a lazy morning, poured over a bowl of cereal. As I was being lazy, I ate my cereal on the couch, and then sat my bowl down beside me. I kept thinking I smelled cookies baking, but then I would remember that there was some oat milk left in the bowl beside me. It smelled like burnt sugar (in the good way). The taste was sweet and kind of caramelly. Definitely a decadent addition to my boring bowl of high fiber cereal.

While this product certainly will not replace my normal cheap, unflavored, unsweetened soy milk, it will definitely go o my list of occasional treats. I recommend trying it, even just for fun. I also really appreciate the increasing number of alternatives to soy milk on the market.

*unfortunately, there is no information on their website about this product.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

VeganMoFo: Soy and Seitan "Turkey" Roast

A while ago, I made this roast by Bryanna Clark Grogan (scroll down the page a bit to find the recipe). I am one of the few who really really love Tofurky. Around Thanksgiving time, when Trader Joe's sells them for a decent price, I usually stock my freezer with a couple extra, plus one to cook on thanksgiving. Because these things aren't cheap, and because I take a lot of pride in serving up dishes I made with my own hands, I decided to give Bryanna's roast a try. This recipe makes two of the roasts pictured above, and by my estimation, cost me about $6 to make with ingredients I already had on hand. It did take several hours to make, but most of that time is inactive.
This roast was delicious. I mean, really good. I highly recommend trying this out some weekend while you are just putting around the house. I was very skeptical while I was making this. I was afraid it would end up too doughy, or that it wouldn't have enough flavor, but it was great. The recipe suggests letting them cool completely before serving, for a better texture. Take that suggestion! It was my intention all along to eat this roast the next day, but I did take a nibble as soon as I pulled them out of the oven. At that point, the taste was good, but the texture had me worried. But when I ate it again the next day, it was perfect. Bill enjoyed having thin slices on sandwiches for lunch. We ate one roast over the course of a week, and I froze the other one for later use. I am definitely going to take this dish to the Christmas gathering with my friends.
After making this, I don't feel the need to ever buy a Tofurkey roast again, except maybe if I needed the time convenience.

Friday, October 10, 2008

VeganMoFo: Where the magic happens

I haven't been able to update for a few days, unfortunately. Well, today will be mostly pictures for a kitchen tour!

We are currently renting our place, and the kitchen is quite far from my dream kitchen. While small, it is bigger than most of the kitchen's I've had since moving away from my family.

This is what you see from the doorway from the dining room.This is what you see to the right. To the left is a door to the back "yard". It's boring, so no photo. This stove is pretty old, but it's gas, which is hard to come by in rentals around here.
Here's a peak inside the fridge. The fridge is smaller than average, so it's always jammed full. For perspective, I am 5'4" and it's about the same height as me.

Condiment city

Here's my bakers rack against the half wall. Spices and vinegars live here, as well as all of my cookbooks.

Here is a close-up of my faithful assistant, Beatrix.
This is the cupboard where the grains and tea live. I have a similar cupboard where the baking supplies live. I also took a photo of the cupboard where all the dishes live, but that photo mysteriously disappeared.
This isn't actually in the kitchen. We ran out of cupboard space in the kitchen, so we have an armoire in the dining room where I keep snacks, canned goods, miscellaneous food items, lesser used appliances, and the serving dishes.
Looking over these photos makes me feel so privileged. Thank God that I have never have to go hungry.