Adventures in Canning

My mom has told me several stories about how my grandparents used to can their own vegetables.  My grandfather was an amazing gardener; he even grew grapes and made his own vinegar.  That side of the family is also very Italian, meaning a lot of tomatoes and homemade pasta sauce!

Apparently my parents used to can things, too, but I was too young to remember.  I have one vague recollection of pickles being made, but other than that I knew next to nothing about canning.  Usually I blanch and freeze veggies like green beans and kale, but now that the tomatoes are ripening at a rapid rate, it’s time to start preserving them before they go bad!

tomatoes in sink

My brother gets the credit for how beautiful these are.  If there’s such a thing as a gardening gene, he’s got it.  Over the last several years, he’s done a lot of reading and research on organic gardening, and our yields have increased dramatically.  These tomatoes definitely taste as good as they look!

Peeling them was easier than I thought it was going to be.  As per a few suggestions I found online, I cut an X in the bottom of each, blanched them in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then dunked them in ice water.  Sure enough, the skins slid right off.

diced tomatoes 01

A lot of the recipes I love call for diced tomatoes, so I tried canning those first.  After doing some research (thank you, Google!), I improvised a water bath canner by tucking a vegetable steamer into a big pot of water.  There was a little snafu when I realized that the quart jars we have in abundance weren’t going to fit in it, but I was able to find these pint jars instead.

diced tomatoes 02

As you can see, it worked out rather well, especially for a first try at canning!  I processed them for 40 minutes, and they both seem to have sealed.  I can’t wait to try them in something.

The rest of the batch was destined to become tomato puree.  Here are the tomato chunks, cooking down:

tomato puree 01
tomato puree 02
tomato puree 03

Since I was too lazy to seed them by hand, next up was the food mill to remove the seeds and tough bits.  I remember using this thing in the past for some reason, possibly when my parents were making pasta sauce after another big tomato harvest.

food mill

After that, the puree process is pretty much a bunch of cooking and stirring until everything reduces to the proper consistency.  That took several hours, but both the delicious aroma and the final product were well worth it.

tomato puree 04
tomato puree 05

I couldn’t find any more pint jars, so I had to freeze this.  I think it will keep well regardless.  I also put a little fresh in the refrigerator to use on pizza and the like!

Question for the comments:
If you have a garden, how do you preserve your produce?


Vegan Care Package Swap!

I’d heard about package swaps since I started dabbling in the blogosphere in its various forms, but had never tried one due to budget, time, etc.  But when a vegan care package swap popped up on Cook. Vegan. Lover., that sounded too good to pass up!  I love sharing food with people and have gotten even more passionate (read: crazy) about it since going vegan.

I was paired up with Helena over at Divine Health.  Her package came yesterday, and boy was it full of awesome stuff!

care package 01

I couldn’t wait to unpack it and see all of the goodies.  The fact that it was padded with bubble wrap made it that much cooler in my book since, like most people who are easily amused, I have a thing for bubble wrap.

care package 02

As I may have mentioned, I also have a thing for hand creams, soaps, and body care products in general.  The hand cream thing started as a necessity due to my perpetually dry hands, and it sort of turned into a quest to find the best moisturizer possible.  Thanks to the Harvest Fest, I’ve discovered the wonders of Shea butter, and this tub of hand-crafted, fair-trade stuff is going to come in handy!  The soap went right in my “specialty soaps” bag, and with the Northeast winter coming it’s going to be imperative to have a good vegan lip balm around.

care package 03

Dessert and snacks!  Who can argue with that?  A big gluten-free, vegan chocolate chip cookie (delicious!), a snack bar full of quinoa goodness, and…rice milk chocolate.  I haven’t had anything even closely resembling milk chocolate in ages, and I love chocolate bars with nuts in them!

care package 04

And to cap it all off, jasmine lemon tea, soba noodles, and a lovely handwritten note!  I tried the tea this morning at breakfast, and it was amazing.  Light green tea flavor with just a hint of lemon and jasmine…mmm.  And I’m looking forward to trying those soba noodles, since they’re not just buckwheat–they have a bit of mugwort in them!  Stir fry, anyone?

I’m really glad that I decided to participate in this swap.  It’s been great getting to know another member of the vegan community, and it’s always fun to share vegan treats with others.  Thanks to Lindsay and Cook. Vegan. Lover. for hosting this!

Spicy Calzones with Spelt Crust

I’ve probably mentioned that I love spicy food.  Salsa, curry, hot peppers…if it’s spicy and vegan, I’ll try it.  So of course when I saw the recipe for Spicy Mushroom and Hot Pepper Calzones in 1,000 Vegan Recipes, I knew I had to try it.

I took the opportunity to try making the dough with spelt flour, which is something I’ve wanted to try for a while.  It didn’t work out quite the way I was intending.  One, the dough was more sticky than I expected; and two, it didn’t rise as much as whole wheat dough does when cooked.  But the flavor was good, so I think I’ll come back to it in the future and see if I can fix what went wrong.

spicy calzones 01

For the record…yes, these were spicy.  The hottest peppers I keep around the house for use in sandwiches and salads are banana pepper rings which, to me, aren’t all that hot.  These calzones call for and entire 12-ounce jar of hot cherry peppers–which are hot.  Very hot.  Even reducing the amount for two calzones instead of four made an appreciably spicy finished product.

The rest of the filling was chopped white mushrooms, crumbled tofu, and a few seasonings.

calzone filling

I liked the overall flavor of these calzones, but I think in the future I might scale back on the peppers a bit!  My mom dipped hers in marinara sauce, and that was also good.  I think spooning a bit over the top or even spreading some inside the calzone would be a tasty addition to the recipe.

spicy calzones 02

As a side note, I have still been working on that zucchini bread recipe, but I think it’s going to turn out better as muffins.  I’ll post as soon as I have it tweaked the way I want!

Question for the comments: Do you like hot/spicy food?  If so, what’s your favorite?

Eating Disorders Series: An Introduction to Disordered Eating

A while back, I came across an article on orthorexia that upset me a great deal.  The gist of it was that orthorexia is a myth created to make healthy eaters look crazy.  Throughout the article, the author misconstrued the qualifications of true orthorexia and failed to grasp the severity of the symptoms that make it different from run-of-the-mill healthy eating.  My initial response was to write my own article on the disease, but lately I’ve been feeling the need to get more in-depth with the entire subject of eating disorders.

To say that orthorexia, or any eating disorder, is a myth is to do a great disservice to people who suffer from very real, very dangerous diseases.  Better-known eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia affect as many as 10 million women and 1 million men in the US alone¹.  Factor in other disordered eating behaviors and the number jumps to 24 million².  These diseases are real, they’re serious, and they can be deadly.  They affect not only a person’s bodily health, but also his or her mental health, personal relationships, and ability to function in everyday life.  And they are sadly misunderstood.

My goal with this and future posts in this series is to educate about these disorders both through statistical facts and personal experiences.  I spend a lot of my time on this blog sharing pictures of food–as well I should, as it’s largely a food blog–and not much about what goes on when I’m not cooking up a storm.  But before I became a foodie, I was an anorectic with bulimic tendencies.

It started innocently enough, as these things often do, with a legitimate attempt to lose a few extra pounds.  I’ve never been overweight, per se, but I’ve been uncomfortable, and that’s what I was aiming to fix.  I lost about eight pounds and felt better.  Losing five more made me feel even better, and by the time I hauled myself out of denial, I’d lost 24 pounds and was addicted to laxatives.  I was terrified of condiments, sweeteners, and any beverage that had calories.  I wouldn’t taste things I was cooking or lick my fingers when I was baking because I was afraid of consuming extra calories.  I wasn’t emaciated, but I was sick.

The scary thing is that there are a lot of people, women and men, walking around with the same problems I had, problems that society frequently condones.  Everywhere we go, we’re fed conflicting messages of deprivation and excess.  Advertisements try to get us to eat at certain restaurants or order certain dishes without regard for whether or not it’s a good choice.  Magazine articles and TV diet “gurus” launch ever-changing campaigns against “evil” foods and flood the popular consciousness with new tips and tricks on how to lose all the weight that was gained by eating the food touted in advertisements.  There is so much conflicting information out there about health, wellness, body image, and just about everything else relating to food that it can be dizzying at times.

None of this outright causes eating disorders, but it doesn’t help much, either.  Eating disorders are complex diseases, and even the smallest trigger can push a person over the line.  I don’t want to give the impression that eating disorders are all about food, because they’re not; but food is what these diseases revolve around.  Whatever else is going on, it gets expressed in the way an eating disordered person relates to food and what they ultimately do to themselves as a result.

This is going to be a heavy series, so I don’t know how often I’ll add to it, but it’s something I think needs to be put out there.

1 – “Statistics: Eating Disorders and Their Precursors.” National Eating Disorders Association. 2005
2 – Eating Disorders Statistics. The Alliance For Eating Disorders Awareness. 2005

Winter Squash with Forbidden Rice Stuffing

‘Tis the season for squash!

acorn squash

When I was at the Harvest Fest, I picked up this lovely acorn squash.  I’m a pretty big fan of squash in general, but I’d never tried the acorn variety.  Of course, there was only one thing to do with a squash this awesome…

forbidden rice

While browsing for squash recipes, I came across one in 1,000 Vegan Recipes that included forbidden rice in the stuffing.  I just so happened to have some forbidden rice hanging around from a past co-op sale, but hadn’t had a chance to try it yet.  So that’s the recipe I went with–winter squash with forbidden rice stuffing!

I goofed a little the first time around and forgot to add water to the roasting pan when softening the squash, but a few extra minutes fixed that.

stuffed squash filling

stuffed squash unbaked

Aside from forbidden rice, the stuffing had garlic, ginger, a hot pepper (fresh from the garden!) almonds, and fresh parsley.  Everything got pre-cooked before being stuffed in the squash, then the whole shebang went in the oven for 45 minutes.  The extra work involved in making stuffed stuff is usually worth it, and this time was no exception.

stuffed squash served

The squash was tender and buttery, and the stuffing was nutty both from the rice and the almonds.  It was so good that I went out and bought another acorn squash so I can make it again really, really soon.  I cooked up a little chard from the garden to go with it, and it was an awesome meal.

Question for the comments: What’s your favorite veggie to stuff, and what do you stuff it with?

Return of the Monk Bowl

When I got my copy of The 30-Minute Vegan, the Monk Bowl was the first recipe that caught my eye.  It’s one of those simple recipes that makes you wish you’d thought of it first.  Basically, it’s a bowl of quinoa topped with steamed veggies and oven-roasted tofu cubes.

monk bowl 01

Simple, right?  But so incredibly delicious.  The best thing about it is its versitility.  The tofu gets marinated in a little soy sauce or liquid aminos and oil before going in the oven, and you can use any kind of oil depending on the flavor you’re shooting for. (I used sesame this time.)  If you’re not in the mood for quinoa, you can swap it out for rice or noodles.  And as far as the veggies go, anything that’s in the fridge and tastes good steamed is fair game.

monk bowl 02

Since we have an absolute boatload of leafy veggies around the house right now, I loaded my bowl up with kale, red cabbage, beet greens, and quartered Brussels sprouts.  Then everything got a drizzle of flax oil and liquid aminos and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast as per the recipe suggestion.

Verdict?  Amazing.  Makes me wonder why I don’t throw one of these together more often when I find myself alone for dinner.  It’s pretty much the perfect one-person meal.  I think it would also be awesome with rice stick noodles and rice vinegar instead of quinoa and flax oil.

Today’s kitchen antics: testing another loaf of zucchini bread and attempting to preserve some of the myriad zucchini that have been popping up in the garden!

Kim Chi!

A few weeks ago, a family friend gifted me with three beautiful heads of red cabbage.  As I’ve probably mentioned, I love cabbage, especially the red kind.  It’s great to stir fry, on sandwiches, in salads, and as a wrap!  But three heads are a lot for one person to tackle, so I’ve been looking for inventive ways to use some of it.

Enter the Kim Chi recipe from 30-Minute Vegan’s Taste of the East. I didn’t even know it was in there until I started seeking out cabbage recipes.  And since I love Asian food as well as cabbage, I thought I’d give it a try.

soaking kimchi

Using the food processor to shred the cabbage made it quick and easy, which was nice because the seasoning blend requires a lot of minced garlic and ginger, and I’m not a very fast mincer.  The rest of the seasonings were easy to put together: a little liquid aminos, miso, and agave nectar, along with a rather enormous amount of cayenne.

kimchi seasoning

After the cabbage soaked in the jar with water and salt for an hour, I drained and rinsed it as per the recipe and mixed everything together.  I added a little bit of carrot, broccoli, and zucchini for color.

kimchi bowl

This is the first time I’ve tried making anything pickled, so I’m hoping it comes out good.  It smelled very interesting when I was putting it back in the jar…cabbage definitely don’t have that strong of an odor when you slice it up by hand!  That along with the spiciness of the seasoning blend made for a pungent combination.  Now it all has to ferment for at least a month before I get to see how it tastes.

Question for the comments: What’s your favorite thing to do with cabbage?

Harvest Fest!

What a great day today!  After church, my mom and I headed over to the Local Harvest Festival in Washington Park.  I wish I’d brought my camera–it was a great little setup.  Several awesome local businesses and farms had tables and little tents.  I got adventurous with produce and picked up an acorn squash and some beets.  I also found out that Otter Hook Farm has a CSA with a pickup location at the local co-op!  I’m really excited about that, since I’ve been looking for a good CSA without luck.

Vegan Creations–a local maker of delicious vegan food, cookies, hummus, etc.–was also there, along with Once Again Nut Butters and Vermont Soapworks.  My mom and I tried cashew and sunflower butters; both were excellent.  My mom wound up buying a jar of the sunflower butter, and I’m thinking of using it in place of peanut butter in a recipe sometime.  We also picked up an organic fruit and veggie wash, and I got some raw shea butter to use in my continuing battle against dry hands.

I was super-excited to discover All Good Bakers, most of whose selection was vegan.  I tried an amazing energy snack ball with peanut butter, oats, puffed rice, and vegan chocolate chips–total yum.  My mom picked up a huge vegan cinnamon bun to have for breakfast.  All in all, we had a great time.  It was cool to see so many people out and supporting local business and agriculture!

I haven’t been doing anything terribly creative in the kitchen this weekend, but I’m excited about the menu I have lined up for the week!  Spicy pepper and mushroom calzones, lime peanut noodles, Indian soup and bread, and of course I want to stuff the acorn squash I bought.  I’ve never had acorn squash before, so I’m especially looking forward to that one.  I’ve also been working on adapting a low-sugar zucchini bread recipe, which I’m hoping to tweak tomorrow.  As usual, there will be pictures and posts of my kitchen antics!

Jamaican Veggie Medley!

In the “I’ve really wanted to make this for a long time, but was always lacking one ingredient” category, 30-Minute Vegan‘s Jamaican Veggie Medley!

jamaican veggie medley 01

As per the cookbook’s suggestion, I served it with a little quinoa and kale on the side.  This was a super-easy, tasty recipe.  True to the premise of the cookbook, it didn’t take very long to prepare.  The tofu and veggies (mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, and cherry tomatoes) are cut large to avoid burning while broiling in the oven, and that cuts down a lot on chopping time.  I would definitely go for a longer broiling time next time, though; the tofu wasn’t quite as crispy as I would have liked.

I think I’ve mentioned that I love anything jerk spiced, too, which made this pretty much perfect.  Cinnamon, cloves, cayenne, ginger, etc. isn’t a combination that turns up in a largely Italian kitchen, even if you cook as much as my family has over the years.  Out of all the things I’ve tried since going vegan, jerk spice blends are definitely one of my favorites!

jamaican veggie medley 02

I added a little liquid aminos and nutritional yeast to the quinoa and left the kale unadorned save for a light sprinkle of salt.  All in all, it was a tasty, easy meal that I would make again!  (In case you were wondering, the one ingredient I always seem to lack is cherry tomatoes.  We rarely have them around, but someone at church had an excess last week and we wound up taking some home!)

Why I Love Exercise

Although I mostly post about food, this is supposed to be a lifestyle blog, so I thought I’d break from the norm and talk about something a little different: exercise!

Anyone who knows me knows that I have never been a lover of formal exercise.  The first time I truly got in shape was in high school.  I homeschooled and needed something to count as gym, so I began lifting light weights and working out with some exercise videos we had around the house.  I was also into Dance Dance Revolution at the time, and I would do that both for fun and as a cardio workout.

After high school, though, I pretty much lost interest.  I still played some DDR, but abandoned anything like a regular workout schedule.  Let’s face it, exercise can be boring.  It requires time and effort, and is a sweaty and uncomfortable endeavor a lot of the time.  Thinking about that didn’t give me a whole lot of motivation to get back to working out.

Then, a couple of years ago, I looked at myself and realized that I was sadly out of shape.  I didn’t look bad, per se, but I knew my muscles weren’t what they could be, or even what they should be.  I had tried to get into an exercise regimen multiple times in the past without lasting success, so I’m not sure what motivated me this time.  Whatever it was, it worked.  I’ve been exercising five days a week ever since, and recently added yoga on weekends.  My regimen includes resistance training, weight lifting, and a variety of home exercise DVDs.

To clarify, I still don’t love the act of exercising itself.  There are a lot of things I find uncomfortable or frustrating, and I really hate hauling my butt out of a warm bed during the winter in order to get in a morning workout.  However, I can’t deny that I love the effects of regular exercise!  Sweating through a half hour or an hour workout every morning has really paid off.  I’m able to lift more weight than I ever have before, and many of the little aches and pains I used to suffer are gone.  The thing I’m most proud of is my resting heart rate, which used to range between 75 and 85–it’s now between 55 and 65.

So what I really love exercise for are the benefits.  I’m hoping that I can keep up my current level of fitness for a long time.  After being this much in shape, I can’t imagine losing it!

Question for the comments: What’s your favorite way to work out?

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