Thursday, March 26, 2009

The most nasty vegetarian meal I ate this Lenten season...

Only fourteen more days of vegetarian eating for me, and today, I hit an all time low. The thing about vegetarian eating is that it requires preplanning. This morning, I was well on my way to work when it dawned on me that I had not made any dinner plans for tonight. It's Thursday, the most difficult meal night of the week for us because the cherubs have piano lessons at 6:30 in Canton. This means I need to have dinner cooked and eaten and be out the door at 6:00 pm. On a good day, I can get home by 5:15, but more typically, it's 5:30.

While eating meat, the best solution to my problem of forgetting to plan would be chicken fingers and fries that the cherubs can start in the oven for me before I get home. I wracked my brain and remembered I bought some kind of fake meat like product at the beginning of Lent. Was it Quorn, the chicken nuggets made out of fungus? A veggie burger? I couldn't remember...but when I left at a decent hour and got home a little after 5 and dug deep in the deep freeze and found these gems - meatless meatballs! What was I thinking? Meatless meatballs...WTF?

I popped them in the oven with the fries and chicken fingers for the kids. The so called meatless meatballs were graylike blobs that looked like misshapen golf balls that were painted with a brownish color. What IS the brownish color? The phrase "ass putty" came to my mind, because that's how my friend Patti described natural peanut butter a few days ago. A total of 15 minutes later, my dinner was ready. These things literally tasted like NOTHING. They had NO FLAVOR. I tried dousing them with chili sauce, and that didn't work either. I chucked them in the trash and instead, I just ate a plate of fries and some leftover chocolate chip cookie dough.

These last two weeks of Lent are going to be hard, really hard. I'm already planning on smoking a beef brisket to go along with the traditional Easter ham. It's going to be a veritable meat fest at my house on Easter. The only joy I have found in this Lenten sacrifice is that I don't feel guilty if I eat sweets or carbs...I have been eating my fill of both and haven't gained a pound. I've discovered that I really would prefer to eat meat than chocolate and bread, which was a surprise to me.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Winter Sowing

Today, it doesn't feel like winter, it's 50 degrees out, but I am trying something new to me called winter sowing. Quite simply, it is a way to start seeds outdoors before the danger of frost has passed. Everything I learned about winter sowing, I learned on the Garden Web or on Wintersown, but I first leaned of it from reading this blog post. I like to grow herbs, and finding a good variety of herbs is difficult and expensive when buying flats. I don't get enough sunlight in my house to start seeds indoors, and I really didn't want to buy grow lights.
I like the idea that I can recycle milk jugs, take out containers, and even last years garden flats with repurposed plastic bags from grocery store produce. I spent about $20 in seeds. I'm experimenting chervil, scallions, cilantro, parsley, oregano, dill, sage, rosemary, garlic chives, sweet annie and summer savory. And also, some spearmint, in honor of the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers official cocktail, the mojito. The seedlings will have good 6 weeks to get started before our frost free date here in Ann Arbor, which is allegedly May 15th, but last year we actually had a frost warning on May 27th.
I am hoping this works....I love the thought of getting some gardening accomplished in March.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


I bought some falafel mix out of the bulk food bins at the People's Food Coop in Ann Arbor when I started on my vegetarian odyssey 25 days ago. I like falafel, but I have never made it at home. I decided to make Olga bread to go with it. I mixed equal parts falafel mix and water and formed 2" diameter balls. To cook them, I heated about 1/2" vegetable oil in a cast iron frying pan, and placed the balls in the hot oil. I smashed them down a little with the spatula, and then cooked both sides until they were a nice toasted brown color.

I really loved the sauce I made for them...I have no idea what is in the traditional falafel sauce, so I improvised. I don't want to forget what I did, so I had to blog it ASAP. I served my falafel patties in the Olga bread with slices of cucumber, red onion, tomato and fresh cilantro leaves. I made some grilled chicken for everyone else to eat in the family, and no one ate it. Even my meat and potatoes husband loved this dinner!

Mother's Kitchen Falafel Sauce

1 c. Greek style 2% fat yogurt
4 cloves garlic, minced in a spoonful of kosher salt
4 inches or so of an English hothouse cucumber, grated
Juice of 1/2 of a lemon
Kosher salt, to taste

Mix all ingredients together and add more kosher salt until it tastes great. You will know it when you taste it that you've added enough.

Hanging out the Wash Part 2

My mother-in-law always referred to the laundry as the "warsh". She did the " warsh" every day of her married life, even long after her 5 kids were grown and gone and her husband had died - it was the only way she could keep up with all the laundry with a family of 7. Whenever she visited us, she always did our "warsh" for us, which was wonderful. She pronounced the word wash the regular way while referring to what you do to the car when it is dirty, or the county in which I live (Washtenaw) etc. She died a few springs ago on a lovely May day and there isn't a day that I don't think about her still, and today I thought of her as I was hanging out the "warsh" to dry. She would laugh at my efforts to try to save the earth by air drying laundry as only a woman who for years hung out the warsh because she couldn't afford a dryer.

I have decided jeans are a load that need to be dried in the dryer, and for the kids, jeans can't be easily reworn. Trying to convince a middle school aged daughter to rewear a pair of jeans when she is sometimes interested in several wardrobe changes during the course of day is an exercise in futility. Middle school aged son would gladly wear the same outfit day in and day out if I let him, but he gets really dirty in a way that only a 6th grade boy can get dirty. Climbing trees, hiking around in the mud looking for a rumored hidden dagger in the park, etc. really isn't conducive to rewearing jeans, I needed a new load to focus on. What load is light and small enough to hang in quantity on the drying rack outside?

Underwear! Unfortunately, I am permanently scarred from viewing our next door neighbor Mrs. Ann's bloomers hanging from the line when I was a kid. I just didn't want to do that to the high school boy that lives next door. Instead, I tried towels and pillowcases outside, and hung my dress pants up to dry in the laundry room. I picked out enough items from two loads to then only have one load to dry. It's been about 45 F today in Ann Arbor, skies overcast, and little wind, and the towels are still not dry. I put them out at 1 pm, and it is now 6 pm. Luckily, the days are getting longer and I have decided to go to church tomorrow instead of tonight, so I can hang around here drinking mojitos watching the laundry dry.

Maybe this whole laundry experiment will go better with alcohol....

Monday, March 16, 2009

The real poop on World Peace Cookies


For those that get email from me regularly, either under my nom de plume "Moms Kitchen" or my real name know that my email signoff says "May Peace Prevail on Earth". I am a big fan of peace poles. I raised funds to put one in on my church grounds. I regularly wear a button pinned to my label that says "May Peace Prevail on Earth" that gets lots of comments. So I was really fired up to try Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies. You can find the original Dorie Greenspan World Peace Cookie recipe at Splendid Table.

Much has been written about these cookies - just google "world peace cookies" and see. Some have called them the best cookie ever, the name itself came from one of Dorie's neighbors that claimed they were so good, if everyone ate them, we would achieve world peace. I think they were probably given their new name because they are cookies in need of a public relations campaign. They are good cookies....I recommend you try them. However, I've got to warn you that forming them into 1 1/2 inch diameter ropes as originally described, they look exactly like...uh....hmmm...I guess the best adjective would be "scatological".

Upon forming them into the foot long ropes, they then need to be chilled for 3 hours. When I first formed these, I felt a little ashamed that the first thing that popped into my head was...(I'll say it in French because these cookies were originally from Dorie's book called "Paris Sweets)....I thought "Merde!" Every time I opened the fridge door, I was taken aback. Thinking that perhaps I was being a little juvenile, I looked forward to baking them later.My middle school aged daughter caught sight of them on the shelf and looked at me horrified, "Mom, what is THAT in the fridge????" "Cookies!", I replied cheerfully. "What did you think it was?" Middle school aged son then asked, "Are those the peace cookies? Maybe we should call them piece of crap cookies." I guess I wasn't the only one....

As you can see from the result, upon baking, they don't look much better. But they taste fantastic! An improvement would be to them into a square cross section. Also, I think you can skip using the expensive fleur del sel - ordinary table salt works better and gives a more uniformly salty taste to each cookie. The combo of salt and chocolate is heavenly! It seems like a lot of salt, but it is just right. I can't stop eating them. Perhaps like world peace itself, the work isn't often pretty, but the result is divine. May peace cookies prevail on earth!

My World Peace Cookies (that look more appetizing than the original)

makes about 5 dozen cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups mini chocolate chips

1. Stir the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.

2. Working with a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.

3. Turn off the mixer. Pour in the dry ingredients, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time until the floury mixture isn't spraying all over. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour is barely mixed in, The dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

4. On four pieces of plastic wrap, divide the dough into 4 balls. Shape the dough into logs and wrap with the plastic wrap. Form the dough into a square cross section, each side about 1 1/2 inches. Refrigerate them for at least 3 hours., or freeze them. If you've frozen the dough, you needn't defrost it before baking — just slice the squares into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.

5. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

6. Using a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into squares that are 1/2 inch thick. If they crack, squish them back together. Arrange the squares on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.

7. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — like brownies, they won't look done, nor will they be firm. Transfer the cookies from the baking sheet to a cooling rack to cool.

Air Drying the Jeans Load....

Some observations:

  • Hanging out the wash isn't cheap. It cost $20 to buy the cheapest laundry drying rack I could find. I went with metal because the wooden one I had in college broke if you put anything heavy on it.
  • A load of wet jeans weighs a lot - it strained my back to carry it up stairs and out to the back yard.
  • I hung half outside and half inside at about 10 am this morning. It is now 6 pm and neither the inside jeans nor the outside jeans are dry yet. I am leaving for a meeting and can't leave them out any longer. I am going to have to bring them in and dry them in the dryer!
  • My family needs their jeans load done in one day...we don't have any jeans to spare. So hanging out the jeans load is not a good option for us.
  • I'm thinking the environmentalists that recommend this option as a good way to go green aren't doing a family's worth of laundry at a time.
  • I'll try it again with a different load, but for now, I am convinced air drying the laundry isn't worth my time and effort....

Friday, March 13, 2009

Hanging out the wash - well meaning or misguided?

An interesting blog on my reader list is Eat Close to Home, and recently, there was a post about a One Stone Carbon Challenge which is very intriguing to me. Basically the concept is to find easy ways to reduce your carbon footprint. One suggestion for ideas of things to do is to hang dry clothes - to save 1 stone of carbon, it is suggested to try air drying 4 loads of laundry. This is something that is often suggested to reduce my carbon footprint, but I have always been skeptical of this idea. A good friend was trying to hang out her laundry last year and I thought her efforts were well meaning, but misguided. After all, she has a family of 5 to do laundry for, including a baby, and works full time. Does she really have time to hang out her laundry?

I can't put a finger on why I felt this way. Maybe it is because when I was a teen, I became fascinated by the idea of hanging out the wash. I wanted the laundry to smell "line dried fresh". My mother, having grown up poor in rural West Virginia without electricity or running water, thought my hanging out the laundry idea was well meaning, but misguided. After all, she did hang out her laundry for half of her life, as well as washed her clothes using a wash board and a wringer. One of her charming West Virginian colloquialisms is the phrase "Don't get your tit in the wringer", which means the same thing as the phrase "Don't get your undies in a bunch", but definitely conjures up a more vivid image. (or maybe I just think so because I had a mammogram yesterday). No one knows what a laundry wringer is anymore, anyway. Once my mother took that Greyhound bus to Detroit in 1953, she used a washer and dryer and never looked back.

My teenage laundry experiment ended after one try. We had an old fashioned T bar clothesline in our backyard that was never used since we moved into the house, so I strung it with some clothesline, and hung out the wash. Being a teenager, I had the attention span of a gnat. (Still do!) Soon after the laundry was hung, I retreated to the house to watch "General Hospital", my favorite TV show of the era. I didn't hear the thunderheads rumbling on the horizon as Luke and Laura embraced, or Richard Simmons did his exercise routine at the disco, or whatever was going on during that episode of GH. Nor did I remember my wash as the rain, and then hail, pummeled my clothes. Soon, night fell. The next morning, my mother reminded me about the wash still on the line. I went to take it down and it was covered with dew. By late afternoon, it was finally dry and the towels were planks and my Gloria Vanderbilt jeans were so stiff they could stand on their own without me wearing them. So much for line dried freshness! I saw the wisdom in using the dryer at that point. Maybe the coal miner's daughter that is my mother was on to something...

I went away to college and I did dabble in rack drying my clothes to save money and keep from shrinking my sweaters. After all, every quarter not spent in the laundry room at the dorm could be spent playing "Space Invaders" in the dorm lounge. Fast forward to it worth my time and effort to air dry my clothes? I am a nerdy engineer and have to do my own math when in comes to environmentalism. I can readily see that going green is the current huge marketing opportunity, so I am always skeptical about any green claims.

I have found the laundry facts and figures hard to come by, though. Some environmentalists talk about how dryers use 13% of your household energy costs, but that's for people that use electric dryers. Who uses an electric dryer? No one I know! There are no Energy Star ratings for dryers, because all brands use about the same amount of energy. According to Greenpeace says that traditional clothes dryers are very energy intensive. So-called 'condensation' models – without an exhaust tube – use even more energy and I can save 3-4 kWh per load by line drying. That's fine, but I don't have that kind of dryer. They also suggest making sure that my washing machine can spin at 1600 or even 1800 rpm. Mine does. They also say that gas-fired clothes dryer used far less energy - it uses 60 percent less energy (including the gas) and dries 40 percent faster. So, I am still confused....

Finally an answer! This blog gives me the data for gas vs. electric dryers:

  • Electric dryers - 3.3 kWh electricity /load
  • Gas dryers - .2 kWh electricity + .22 therms gas /load

So....what does that mean for carbon emissions? From this website

  • Kilowatt hours X 1.5 pounds of CO2/kilowatt-hour = pounds of CO2
  • Therms of natural gas X 11 lbs CO2/therm = pounds CO2

So that means electric dryers are responsible for 4.95 lbs of CO2 per load and gas dryers 2.72 lbs of CO2 per load. Gas dryers are much better....almost 2x better for the environment. That means to save a stone of carbon for me, it would take hanging up 6 loads of laundry. So is it worth my time and effort to hang the laundry outside? How much time am I willing to spend to save is 2.72 lbs of CO2? I figure it would take me 10 additional minutes to hang up a load of wash to dry and take it down off the line. That amounts to an additional hour of laundry time per week. I'm not sure I want to do that.

But I could focus just on the jeans load to start. I could convince the family to wear their jeans twice, and save a load that way, and then use a laundry rack outside in the summer to dry one load per week. I found out the trick to keeping the jeans from turning into planks - as it turns out. a 1/2 cup of vinegar added instead of laundry softener will do the trick. Check out many good tips on the handy website called Project Laundry List.

The bottom line? It's not worth it to me to hang out the laundry, it's far better for me to carpool AND it doesn't take any more time out of my's the equation I used:

lbs of CO2 generated by my commute = (miles of my commuteXnumber of lbs CO2 emitted from burning a gallon of gas)/(number of people I carpool withXMPG of my car)

My commute is 80 miles, my car gets 28 mpg and each gallon of gas emits 22 lbs of CO2, and I carpool with one other person....I save a whopping 31 lbs of carbon per day by carpooling...that adds up to 11 stones per week. For my time and effort....I'd rather carpool! But I will try the jeans thing for a while...I still want to experience "line dried fresh" clothes on a regular basis.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Curried Cauliflower Soup

Another one of my early blogging attempts was curried cauliflower soup. I love this soup - it is easy to make, and made with vegetable stock instead of chicken stock, it fits my Lenten friendly bill. I have yet to find any brand of vegetable stock I like on it's own...anyone know a good brand to try? Most taste boring to me, or taste like dirt. But in this soup, the curry powder really makes a not so hot tasting stock taste great, so no worries about what kind to buy. Just use what you have. I originally read about curried cauliflower soup in Martha Stewart's Everyday Food, and that's what inspired this recipe back in the day.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Blogging Vanity and Pickled Eggs

Since cooking is a major hobby of mine, I read lots of food blogs. The ones I like best are written by people that seem to me to be down to earth and don't have "the tone". What I have dubbed "the tone" is one that implies "I know everything". When I first was inspired by the likes of Smitten Kitchen, but I grew weary of the tone. I don't know SK, and I don't think she's someone I want to know. She recently blogged about how Club Med invited her to visit as part of an elite group of food bloggers. Bloggers that have "the tone" are always assaulting me with advertising. I am always a little suspicious of a little too many Amazon pass-throughs or Google Adwords on a food blog. Is the goal to share recipes or to make money?

Another blogger that I used to love and felt like we were practically blogging twins separated at birth has decided to use her food blog to make political statements quite regularly these days. I liked her so much better before I found out her political preferences. Next time I am cleaning out my google reader subscriptions, she will be deleted. I want to remember her just the way she was, where her blog post inspired a few of mine. I keep using this as an example for a newly divorced friend of mine that's considering internet can never really know someone by what they write on the interweb.

I write this food blog mostly to share recipes with friends. I am always thrilled to find out that someone found my blog and is a regular reader and it is some one I don't know. Wow! I'm surprised to find out about which ones are most popular. I love to get comments. The blog post that got the most comments was one I wrote about meatloaf. But are comments the best way to know what content is most popular? Probably not...for that I turn to Google Analytics.

I have a love/hate relationship with Google Analytics. I love that it just told me my readership is up by over 5000% since last year, but hate that it says my readership is only 2% higher than last month. Have I not been a good enough blogger? Who knows?

Google Analytics tells me that my most popular posts over this past year were:

My most read blog post of all time is my recipe for B&B Bar pickled eggs. It was my 4th blog post. ever. Google Analytics tells me it got over 1500 hits in this past year. Why pickled eggs, I wonder? Anyway, for the good people that didn't read my blog back then, follow the link and take a gander. Pickled eggs are spicy and are a upper peninsula bar room snack. They go great with cold beer, and they are a great snack for my Lenten fast from meat. Just writing about them is making my mouth water. I am going to have to make some to enjoy this weekend.

Thank you to everyone that reads my blog!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Beet Salad

One of the hardest things about my 40 meat free days is lunch. I need to plan ahead in order to make sure I have something good to eat for lunch, or I tend to get really bummed out. There is nothing worse than facing the workaday world without lunch to look forward to....

Last week, I made up a batch of beet salad, which got me through a couple days of work. Usually, I make this salad in the summer time when I have a ton of fresh basil around. The fresh basil is a must in this recipe, so I splurged for one of those little plastic containers that you can find in the produce section that cost an arm and a leg. I sure wish my kitchen window got enough sun to sustain a basil plant! I put the pot of beets on while I was making dinner last Sunday and then let them cook for a long time in their skins. I let them cool and diced them - I bought both golden and purple beets, which made the salad look exceptionally lovely. Definitely a great addition to my work day!

Reheating my blog's leftovers

In my quest to blog about vegetarian recipes for the 40 days of Lent, I was pondering whether I should repost great vegetarian recipes that I already have on my blog. Coincidentally, Ed Vielmetti recently posted that it was okay to repost your best content - to quote him "repetition is the soul of the net". Is it really a coincidence that Ed posted this, or as we Catholics like to think, the Holy Spirit at work? Since it's Lent, I'll assume the latter.

Who is Ed Vielmetti? It's hard to explain, but I guess the best way to describe him is the king of social networking. If you played the 6 degrees of separation game in Ann Arbor, Ed Vielmetti would be your Kevin Bacon. Everyone in this town has some kind of connection to the man. I know Ed Vielmetti, but I don't actually "know" Ed Vielmetti. I've never met him personally, but I know he is from the U.P., is a parent, cooks vegetarian, likes blueberries, is a fan of the Trenary Outhouse races, eats bi bim bap often, and is really interested in the Ann Arbor Public Library. I don't think he's religious, so maybe he might be surprised to see that I've suggested that his recent blog post might be the work of God. I think his wife is Jewish, though, because he once posted a great recipe for his wife's latkes. His blog, which is called "Vacuum" is a wealth of information about blogging. I don't know what his day job is, but it is something in the IT industry. So, if you want to learn more about blogging, check out Vacuum's blogger's secret posts. And this weekend, I will review some of my favorite vegetarian recipes again here - because it's okay to reheat your blog leftovers....

Friday, March 06, 2009

Macaroni & Cheese

I've been a bad blogger....I need to catch up on my blogging. I was supposed to blog a meat free recipe every night but I got behind. I'll catch up this weekend, but I have stayed meat free. Going without meat has been really hard for me this Lent. Not a day goes by where I don't crave it. Tonight for dinner I made macaroni and cheese (plus some sausage for the kids) and the sausage seemed so tasty looking. But the mac and cheese was good, too. I made this with Barilla's high fiber elbow macaroni, which makes it a much better nutritional proposition than the Kraft version. I also had some left over pasta from dinner from another night and I mxed that in, too. It's a great way to use up leftover pasta.

Macaroni and Cheese

3 T. butter
3 T. flour
2 c. milk
salt and pepper
1 lb. grated cheese - I used 2% cheddar
3 c. cooked pasta
1 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1 c. grated smoked cheese - I used a smoked Swiss

Melt butter in a sauce pan, add flour and stir. Gradually add milk and stir until thickened and unlumpy - you now have a veloute. Add salt and pepper until it tastes good, and then add grated cheese and stir until melted.

Stir in pasta and pour into a buttered casserole dish. Top with bread crumbs and cheese and bake for 350 F for about 20 minutes or until browned.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Ann Arbor Whole Wheat Waffles

What I made for breakfast this morning...

2 c. whole wheat pastry flour (I like Westwind Milling - it can be purchased at the People's Food Co-op in Ann Arbor)
1 c. milk
1 really ripe banana, mashed - okay, not so local, but it was there
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
2 eggs
2 T. vegetable oil
3 T. wheat germ

a handful of frozen blueberries from last summer - mine came from Michigan's west side. I dug deep in the deep freeze for these beauties!

Mix all the ingredients except the berries. When well mixed, let it rest for 5 minutes and toss in a handful of frozen blueberries. Makes 4 decent sized waffles. I love mine with boiled cider that I bought at Dexter Cider Mill last fall.