Saturday, March 31, 2012

Up for some April Fool's Day fun?

Originally I was going to post on April Fool's Day about how I've created a brand new recipe from the food you sweep up off the floor. People, we end up with a lot of food on our floor.

Maybe it's just where we are in life, but I feel like we could easily create "floor trail mix" most times after I sweep. A gentle shake in a colander to get out all the dirt, and I could take the remaining cereal, crackers, nuts and dried food pieces to create a brand new recipe.

Instead I thought I would share this recipe from years ago to create this fun dinner for your family tomorrow night:

All you have to do is use your favorite meatloaf recipe and instead of making a loaf, use a muffin tin like this:

And bake for about 20-25 minutes. Need a good recipe? May I suggest this Barbecue Chicken Meatloaf?

After you remove the meatloaf, top with some mashed potatoes. I've found that using cream cheese in the mashed potatoes helps them hold their shape.

Finally, add an asparagus spear. The first time I made this, the boys ate the asparagus right up, I think partly because they were so tickled by having a "cupcake" for dinner.

Life is sweet,

Meatless Monday Grocery List: Best Barbecue Veggie Burgers

Recently I posted this recipe for our new favorite veggie burgers, the Best Barbecue Veggie Burgers.Link

Here's the grocery list for this new Sweet Pea family favorite:

1 onion
3 cloves garlic
3 carrots
1 large zucchini
8 oz mushrooms

1/4 cup barbecue sauce
1 1/2 cups oats

vegetable oil

A simple list for a simply delicious recipe!

Have a sweet weekend,

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Vegan's Best Friend: Cashew Cream

A few days into my Vegan Challenge, in the course of just a few hours, I had an email from both my mother-in-law and a college friend encouraging me to check out this book:

I took this as a sign, so I picked up a copy of the cookbook and found a recipe inside that has significantly curbed my dairy cravings: Cashew Cream

Cashew Cream is the easiest recipe you've never (I'm betting) made. All it requires is water and raw cashews, but the resulting pureed cream is pretty darn close to heavy cream, but without all the dairy and saturated fat.

I've been using the cream in all sorts of applications, but my favorite is my Spring Risotto, which I made vegan last night. SPH responded when he tasted it,

"Is this vegan? It's fantastic!"

Woo hoo! A vegan victory for the whole family. Thanks Chef Ronnen.

Cashew Cream

Raw Cashews (preferably whole, but I've used pieces and they work good too)

Cover the cashews with water. Place in the refrigerator overnight or up to 24 hours.

Pour the cashews and water into a blender. Process until creamy, scraping the sides if necessary.

Unless you have a super-powerful blender (ie, a Vitamix) you will want to strain the cream through a fine sieve.

Voila! Cashew Cream ready to be seasoned or used just plain as it is.

I've found myself drizzling it onto risotto, using it as a base for dressings or sauces, and even on my pizza instead of cheese.

Like I said, it's a vegan's best friend, especially if that vegan happens to lust after dairy like a fool (I resemble that remark).

Life is sweet,

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Greek Quinoa

I can't get enough of quinoa these days.

Lately, I've been cooking up a big pot of plain quinoa, and then using it throughout the week for breakfast (in my oatmeal--a recipe forthcoming for it), lunch and dinner. Whenever I have leftovers, I freeze it for a quick future meal.

Besides just loving it for its versatility, easy prep and the fact that it is gluten-free, I am especially loving the fact that it is a complete protein.

This is my latest original recipe, Greek Quinoa. If you happen to not share my love of quinoa, shame on you (kidding), but feel free to use any small pasta of your choice.

Greek Quinoa

2 cups cooked quinoa
1/2 cup packed fresh baby spinach, sliced
1/2 cup cucumber, diced
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1/4 cup olives, pitted and sliced
1/2 cup bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, diced (regular tomatoes are fine too)
Juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste (about 1/4 teaspoon or so)

In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, spinach, cucumber, red onion, olives, bell peppers and tomatoes. Toss well.

In a small bowl or lidded jar, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, oregano and salt and pepper. Stir vigorously or shake well.

Pour the dressing over the quinoa. Stir well to fully coat the quinoa and vegetables.

Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a lunch or dinner (can easily be doubled).

Some easy alterations/add-ons: grilled shrimp, feta cheese, sliced almonds, capers, artichoke hearts, chickpeas, and the list could go on...

Life is sweet,

Monday, March 26, 2012

Serendipitous Gnocchi

A serendipitous moment at the West Side Market this weekend. Strolling the produce and food stands, SPH pointed out:

How often do you even see Sweet Pea Gnocchi in your market? And next to the pumpkin? I'd venture to guess, um, never.

There was so much good food at the WSM, a mini-vacation from the ordinary:

Homemade dried fruit, including kiwi. Love it.

The boys are back at school this morning after Spring Break. It feels good to fall back into our weekly routine, and for them both to have a bit of a break from each other. R and G love each other to pieces, but even the closest of siblings need some time apart.

Our weather is different this week, more seasonable, instead of the mid-80s that graced most of last week. I'll be making a batch of chili this week, wondering if it will be until the fall that we enjoy it again.

Our weekly meal plan:

Greek Orzo Pasta Salad, Pineapple
Slow Cooker White Chili (chicken-less for me), Salad
Grilled Portabella Burgers, Roasted Cauliflower, Baked Beans (sans bacon for me)
Spring Risotto, Kiwi
Taqueria Asada Tacos(meat for the boys, mushroom or tofu for me), Refried Beans, Rice

Have a sweet week,

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Meatless Monday Grocery List: Greek Orzo Pasta Salad

We're back from a few days visiting my parents in Cleveland, which featured a trip to one of my all-time favorite food meccas, the West Side Market. For all you Clevelanders reading this post, can I get an "amen" on the Market? If you're ever in CLE, be sure to check it out.

So for this week's Meatless Monday Healthy Eating Challenge I'm featuring my favorite Greek Orzo Pasta Salad, making it Jersey Baby style.

Jersey Baby suggested topping this delicious orzo salad with some chickpeas for good measure. Since I'll be enjoying this salad without any feta, some chickpeas for protein are right up my alley, and a great suggestion no matter what.

Here's the grocery list for this delicious recipe:

1 large lemon
4 roma tomatoes or a package of grape tomatoes
1/2 red onion
1/2 bell pepper
1 small zucchini or yellow squash
3 cloves garlic

12 oz orzo pasta
2 cups (about 15 oz canned or frozen artichoke hearts)
1 cup chopped olives, preferably kalamata
1 -15 oz can chickpeas -OR- 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas

4-6 oz crumbled feta

red wine vinegar
dried mustard powder
dried oregano
olive oil

Have a sweet weekend,

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Homemade Raw Bars

My friend Shannon is way ahead of her time.

When we met our freshman year of college, our small college had a central dining room, where most of us loaded our dinner plates with "woo-hoo-we-can-eat-whatever-we-want-since-mom-is-not-here-to-tell-us-to-eat-our-broccoli" type of food.

Shannon? Her regular dinner was a trip to the salad bar, complete with a healthy greens salad, topped with legumes, peppers, carrots, tomatoes, maybe some lean protein like turkey and a light dressing. Man, she made us look bad. (Love you Shannon.)

When I was pregnant with R, I had started on my healthy food journey, but it was Shannon who was again pioneering away: "Have you thought about making homemade baby food?" she asked, then shared her favorite baby food cookbook.

So it's fitting that it is Shannon who created the original recipe for this blog post, one that the boys and I have made probably close to a dozen times, altering it a wee bit each go 'round.

This recipe is the closest thing I've been able to come up with for a homemade KIND, LARABAR, Clif or other raw bar recipe. If you're a KIND sort of person, then add lots of chunky dried fruit (we love dates, almonds and sesame seeds). If you lean more toward the Clif spectrum of bars, I think you'll love the recipe below.

These bars are dairy-free, soy-free and egg-free. If you need to avoid gluten, just use gluten-free oats and they're gluten-free too (while oats themselves don't contain gluten, many are processed in a facilities that also process wheat).

They're delicious, super-healthful, easy peasy to make and a mere fraction of the cost of regular raw bars they sell in the store. I haven't done the math, but I'd say they are 1/4 the cost of store-bought bars. Join me in saying, "Thanks Shannon!"

(pictured: Chocolate Peanut Butter variation)

Shannon's Basic Raw Bars

2 cups oats (regular or quick)
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup ground flax meal
1/2 cup almonds or walnuts
8 oz dried unsweetened dates
1/4 - 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 tablespoons honey, maple syrup or agave nectar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a food processor, combine the oats, coconut, flax and almonds or walnuts. Pulse until the nuts are the size of coarse sand.

Add the dates to the processor. Pulse several times and then process until the entire mixture is the consistency of coarse sand.

Place in a large bowl. Add 1/4 cup applesauce, honey or other sweetener and vanilla. Stir well. Add more applesauce (or alternatively more honey) until it is the consistency of a thick dough.

Spread into a 9x9 dish and refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Cut into bars.

Makes 12 bars.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Raw Bars

Use the Basic Recipe above, but add 1/4 cup peanut butter and 3 tablespoons cocoa powder.

Crazy Date Raw Bars

Use the Basic Recipe above, but add 1/2 cup chopped dates, 1-2 tablespoons sesame seeds and 1/2 cup raw slivered almonds.

We've done a bunch of variations and they have all been quite good, but the one thing you need to note:

**if you use salted nuts, it will draw out extra moisture in the mixture and instead of smooth bars, you will have very tasty crumbles.**

One last thing: if you add some nuts or berries and find you have crumbly "dough" instead of smooth, just add a bit more moisture in the form sweetener, nut butter or applesauce.

Life is sweet,

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Best Barbecue Veggie Burgers

We love a good veggie burger, especially my favorite the (almost) Northstar Burger. But since we've been eating a fair share of beans, soy and tofu, I thought it might be good to throw a new rendition of veggie burger into the mix.

This veggie burger is soy-free, egg-free, dairy-free and bean-free but full of great vegetables, whole oats and yes, some barbecue sauce. I've been working on this recipe for months now and I made it again this weekend. Ladies and gentleman, we have a winner.

There are a couple of tricks to making a mean veggie burger:

First, be patient while the vegetables saute. You want all, and I mean all the liquid evaporated, or you will end up with mushy burgers. A quick stir in the pan while the vegetables cook will reveal to you if there is any residual liquid hiding in the bottom of the pan.

Second, par-cooking the burgers in the oven helps firm them up before sauteing or grilling. It is worth the extra step if you can do it.

Last but not least, consider doubling this recipe, par-cooking the burgers and freezing half. Having ready-to-saute or heat homemade burgers in the freezer are a great healthy convenience food.

The Best Barbecue Veggie Burgers

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 carrots
1 large zucchini
8 oz mushroom container
1/4 cup barbecue sauce (we like Trader Joe's)
1 1/2 cups oats (quick or whole are fine, but don't use Steel Cut)
1/2 teaspoon additional salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

In a large skillet over medium high heat, heat the oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes or until the onions begin to become translucent.

While the onion and garlic cooks, shred or finely dice the carrots, zucchini and mushrooms, preferably with a food processor if you have access to one. Add the salt and shredded vegetables to the pan. Stir occasionally.

The liquid in the vegetables will begin to be released.

Wait about 10 minutes as you cook the vegetables, stirring occasionally. Once you notice all the liquid has evaporated, remove from the skillet into a large bowl.

Add the barbecue sauce, oats, salt and pepper to the bowl, and stir very well. Let sit 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Form into 6 burgers and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes.

The veggie burgers are now ready to freeze, saute in a skillet or grill. If you saute or grill, they need a mere 3-4 minutes per side to brown.

Makes 6 burgers.

Life is sweet,

Monday, March 19, 2012

2nd Half and Closer to Cheese

(Background: For Lent this year I decided to try Vegan eating.
You can read more about my reasoning and decision

At the end of last week I hit a milestone, one I hadn't marked on the calendar or anything, but one I realized as I made G a grilled cheese sandwich: The Half-way Point.

I write it in all caps because it is a big deal for me: I've passed The Half-way Point of my Veganism and with every passing day I inch closer to the finish line. And just like a marathon runner who gets a burst of energy when they realize they're closer to the finish line than that start, being in the second half of the Lenten Vegan Challenge gives me hope.

I have to tell you, there was a time or two or okay, maybe 58 in the last three weeks or so that I thought:

"There is NO way I can do this."

Followed quickly by:

"What was I thinking?"

You see, I always knew I loved cheese, but I didn't realize how deep my passion for cheese ran until I decided (of my own volition, mind you), that I wouldn't eat it for 6 1/2 weeks. 46 days to be exact. But who's counting?

For all you full-time, committed Vegans out there, you have my utmost respect.

Lest you misunderstand me, I don't usually consume gobs of cheese at every meal. I know it isn't the healthiest thing in the world and so I use it sparingly, but when I do, I savor and love every bite.

Goat cheese crumbled on my salad.

Parmesan sprinkled atop some pasta.

Sharp cheddar melted on enchiladas.

Oh my, I have to stop, I am starting to salivate (no joke).

This Lenten Challenge feels different than when I tried Vegetarianism two years ago. When I cut out all meat, I felt renewed, rejuvenated and enlightened. I never felt deprived and I discovered new ways to cook healthy food.

I still feel great eating Vegan, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit my cheese longings and the fact that at times I feel like my friend's newborn baby, needing to eat every 2-3 hours.

Let's face it: Veganism is not easy. I don't regret trying this eating experiment, and I do think I will walk away on Easter with some great new recipes and techniques for reducing our overall dairy consumption.

I am now convinced I will persevere. But please note, if you see me on Easter, I'll be bypassing all the chocolate bunnies and jelly beans and heading straight for some goat cheese.

Until then, 20 days and counting...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Meatless Monday Grocery List: Layered Taco Salad

Oh my word. We had visitors this weekend and I just now realized I hadn't sent out my weekly Meatless Monday Healthy Eating Challenge. This week you have to try my Layered Taco Salad.

This is another one of my very first recipes, one that we use again and again and again. In fact, the Sweet Peas had it just last week.

My former neighbor and good friend Michelle shared this with me. It is a winner recipe that I make often over the summer, and it makes me think of her. Miss you Michelle!

Here's the grocery list:

1 head Iceberg (or any type you wish) lettuce
1 red bell pepper
1 bunch green onions
1 container grape tomatoes -OR- 3 roma tomatoes
1 bunch cilantro
2 limes

1 - 15 oz cans kidney or black beans -OR- 1 3/4 cups cooked beans
1 -15 oz can corn -OR- 1 1/2 cups frozen or fresh corn
1 bag baked tortilla chips

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup light sour cream, yogurt or mayonnaise

ground cumin

Have a great rest of your weekend!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Rainbow Fruit Snack

Tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day but we decided to celebrate a little early today in Sweet Peaville:

I decided to also offer up an idea if you didn't happen to have leftover gold coin chocolates from the holidays. Use golden raisins instead:

After the boys enjoyed seeing the rainbow, I gave them each a small plate to create fruit art of their own:

(R's rocket)

(G's Tower of Terror)

Life is sweet!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Even Better Hummus

One of my very first recipes I posted on this site was my I'll-Never-Buy-Grocery-Store-Hummus-Again Hummus. It's a great recipe, but over the years I've made a lot of hummus, and this is my updated, refined, if you will, recipe.

I added more chickpeas and altered the ingredients a wee bit. The addition of paprika is aesthetic but also adds a hint of smokey flavor; feel free to omit it if you don't care for it.

Even Better Hummus

2 - 15 oz cans chickpeas, drained (reserve liquid) -OR- 3 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas*
1/4 cup tahini
juice of one medium/large lemon (about 1/4 cup)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon salt (plus a wee bit more if you use cooked, not canned chickpeas)
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
water reserved from chickpeas

In a food processor or blender, puree the chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, salt and 1 tablespoon of the oil with a bit of the water from the chickpeas (about 1/4 is a good start). The extra water will help "move things around" in the food processor or blender.

Puree until smooth, pausing to scrape the sides if necessary.

Taste the hummus. Does it need more salt or oil? Perhaps a bit more water to thin it out a bit? Puree again if you make any additions.

Once ready to serve, spread in a bowl or plate, sprinkle with a wee bit of olive oil and a dash of paprika.

*I've found that using cooked chickpeas makes hummus smoother, since they can be made more tender than canned chickpeas, and are therefore easier to puree. Cooking dried chickpeas at home it not only less expensive, but it is super simple, especially if you cook them in the slow cooker.

Serve with crackers and carrots, or whatever suits you!

Makes about 2 1/2 cups hummus.

Life is sweet,

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Free Pantry Organizers

If you buy pickles, jarred spaghetti sauce, or salsa, or really anything in a large glass jar, you have an easy, free pantry fix right under your nose.

I used to buy fancy schmancy food storage containers from The Container Store. I still have those great containers, but I've supplemented by collection with washed out and cleaned old jars like this:

Now when I hit the bulk section at Whole Food or just have a large bag of rice, beans, or pasta, I simply write on the side of the jar with a dry erase marker three things:

1. What's in the jar (unless it's pretty darn obvious).
2. For rice, pasta and quinoa, I write the water to grain ratio, like 2:1 for rice.
3. The cooking time.

I've started using these jars and they have a lot going for them:

1. They're essentially free
2. They're airtight
3. They're reusable and sturdy (if you have young children, you may want to keep the glass jars out of your little ones' reach in case it breaks)

Here's my formerly messy pantry shelf:

Notice the fancy containers in the back; they're still there, but I don't anticipate buying anymore anytime soon.

Life is sweet,

Monday, March 12, 2012

Do Something.

This is a true story.

Once upon a time there was a mom who wanted healthy eating to be at the forefront of her son's elementary school. She had seen Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and got fired up about doing something.

About a year ago she met with a few moms from the elementary school who were interested in healthy eating and wellness, but nothing seemed to be happening.

The summer passed and this mom kept thinking there had to be another mom who was willing to take the lead. This mom couldn't get it out of her head, "do something." Again she would hear it, "do something," "do SOMEthing."

So when fall rolled around, she baked 36 dozen pumpkin mini-muffins and recruited some friends to host a table with healthy foods and drinks at the school's fall festival. She had a flyer printed out that read, "Healthy Living is not Spooky!" and set out to recruit other parents (there *had* to be others that felt the same way, right?).

And guess what? There *were* other parents concerned about healthy eating. Really wonderful parents who were committed and motivated and willing to work on this issue too.

One of these parents just happened to be the Executive Chef at the local Whole Foods.


So together, a group of about 10 parents started meeting in fall to brainstorm ways to encourage healthy eating. Turns out there are lots of gifts and talents in this group of parents--whether graphic design, cooking, PR, communications or research, this group really took off, with their shared love and commitment to healthy eating uniting them.

This group decided that we needed to make healthy eating a grassroots effort at the school, which meant starting with students and parents.

So a couple months ago, in partnership with Whole Foods and Chef Ugur, they started Dig In! A cooking class in the spirit of farm-to-table, focusing on local, whole, healthy foods. Chef Ugur and Whole Foods volunteered their time and resources, and now there is a group of kids that meet regularly to learn and eat healthy foods.

(photos courtesy of Kennedy Communications)

Lessons on whole foods, local foods, eating lots of plants, avoiding additive-laden foods and just general cooking with wellness in mind.

And so it has happened, there is a growing group of parents focused on healthy eating. Students learning to try and eat and love healthy eating. This group is planning and dreaming and things are really coming together.

So, my question to you is:

Do you have a voice in your head saying, "Do something!"

Do it.

This is only the beginning for our group of students and parents...this year we're planning our work on a school yard garden, one we hope can be used for food for the students in the fall. And oh, what other plans we have in the works too!

Big dreams +
An awesome group of parents =
____?____ (can't hardly wait to see how this story continues...)

And now our meals for the week:

Burrito Bowls, Pineapple
Spaghetti with "Meat"balls, Green Beans
Polenta with Portabella Gravy, Asparagus
Veggie-Veggie Burgers
Layered Taco Salad

Life is sweet. And short. Do something-

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Meatless Monday Grocery List: Burrito Bowls

We heart Chipotle.

This recipe is my take on a Chipotle Burrito Bowl, an easy way to get dinner prepared ahead of time, and then just like our favorite quick-service restaurant, assemble a great meal in minutes.

If you have an avowed carnivore in your home, you can easily make his/her meal with their favorite animal protein too.

Click here for this week's Meatless Monday recipe: Burrito Bowls

And here's the grocery list:

shredded lettuce
1-2 diced tomatoes
1 avocado or guacamole (optional)
1 bunch cilantro
1 red onion
1 lime

2 - 15 oz cans black beans -OR- about 3 1/2 cups cooked black beans
1 cup uncooked brown rice
1 beer (optional)

shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
light sour cream (optional)

olive oil
ground cumin
ground oregano
garlic powder
chili powder

frozen corn

Have a sweet weekend,

Friday, March 9, 2012

From O'Sweet Pea Chef-lanagan

Oh my word. It is almost St. Patrick's Day, next weekend in fact!

I've been brainstorming some St. Patrick's Day ideas, since I love any excuse to encourage my boys to eat green. Then I was garnishing some enchiladas this week and it hit me:

Who needs special-shaped cookie cutters or the like? Fresh cilantro and parsley look like sweet little clovers right on your food:

For about 99 cents, you can Irish-up just about any savory dish you serve in the spirit of St. Patrick's Day.

Luck o' the Irish to you-

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Quinoa and Curried Chickpea Salad

Of course, now that we've started our seeds (see yesterday's Seed Start post), R's eyes have started to itch, a sure sign of an imminent Spring. Got Spring Allergies? Check this out:

Mucinex® has been giving away 10,000 free samples of Mucinex® extended-release bi-layer tablets on their Facebook page. This Thursday at 12:00 PM (noon) EST, they're giving away another 10,000 samples, and they'll do it again next Thursday, March 15. Just visit at noon (EST). Free is a great price for tablets that give 12 hours of chest congestion relief. This is a sponsored message from BlogHer and Mucinex®.

My friend Molly amazes me. A mother to 4, she remains unflappable in the face of lots of stressful situations. Most of all though, she amazes me because she is a full-time vegan.

People, veganism is not easy! Although I am enjoying my little Lenten challenge, I have to tell you, I am already dreaming of a huge cheese souffle for Easter morning. Cheese, how I miss thee.

But along this two week road I've come across some really great vegan recipes I might not otherwise have tried, and so far, this one is a favorite.

This is Molly's Quinoa and Curried Chickpea Salad. Try it, it is one of my new favorites.

Quinoa and Curried Chickpea Salad

2 cups cooked quinoa
2 - 15 oz cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained (or 3 1/2 cup cooked chickpeas)
1 red (or orange or yellow) bell pepper, diced
2/3 cup red onion, minced
1/2 cup raisins
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
fresh parsley, chopped (optional)

In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, chickpeas, bell pepper, red onion and raisins.

In a small bowl or lidded jar, combine the lime juice, vinegar, oil, maple syrup, curry powder, cumin and salt. Stir or shake well.

Pour the sauce over the quinoa mixture and stir well to fully incorporate.

May be served immediately, but tastes even better if left to marinate in the flavors for a couple hours or even overnight. Stir before serving.

Top with parsley (optional).

Serves 4.

Life is sweet,

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Seed Starts (You can do this!)

This past weekend the boys and I celebrated our second annual seed starting party. Yes, my friends, we (drum roll please...)...

have started our garden!

For those of you living in warmer climates, you can sow your seeds directly into the earth, but for those of us in cooler areas, starting seeds indoors will allow you a jump start on beginning your summer vegetable or herb garden.

Last year I decided to dive into seed planting at home, so I started to query those I knew who had experience in this area. I read books, articles and scoured the Internet for any information to help guide our way. Veteran gardeners were eager to share their wisdom, and so with a little bit of knowledge under our collective belts, the boys and began our seeding experiment.

Lest you think otherwise, I have two very olive-y, brownish green thumbs. I am not a gardening expert, but starting seeds is easy and FUN.

Here's my recipe for Seed Starts:

Seed Starts

1. Several pages of old newspaper
2. Two or Three tomato paste size cans (or anything with about a 1 1/2 to 2 inch diameter)
3. Seed planting soil, aka as soil-less mix (you can buy at any nursery, home improvement store, heck, I saw it at Target this week)
4. Tape
5. Marker
6. Seeds (tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, beans and zucchini do well--seeds that do NOT grow easily: lavender, eggplant, and anything that is a root vegetable--like carrots, beets, etc should be direct sown in the soil)

To start, we made our planting cups. The boys cut each newspaper whole page in half lengthwise, and then half again. Using one strip at a time, we rolled it up:

Once it was rolled, we bent the one end over the sides of the can (much as if you were trying to “wrap” one end) and taped it on the end and the seam to hold the cup in place.

We removed the can and repeated the steps above until we had approximately 20 cups, which I labeled so we would remember what was in each cup:

Then we prepared the planting mix by pouring lots of water over a compressed block of the mix:

The boys loved watching the soil mysteriously grow and expand as it absorbed the water. One 8x4 x1 inch block produced 8 quarts of planting mix, way, way more than we used for all twenty cups!

Once the soil was fully re-hydrated, we filled each cup approximately 2/3 of the way full with soil. Carefully, we planted 4-6 seeds in each cup and then put a scant amount of planting mix on top of the seeds. Since the planting mix was very wet, it was not necessary to water the cups.

Once our seeds were actually planted, we needed to help encourage their germination and growth. To do this, we covered our seedlings with plastic wrap and placed them in a sunny or warm spot (seeds do not need sunlight to germinate since they are still underground, they just need warmth). This allows for a more humid environment for seed germination, and also increases the temperature of the growing environment.

To water the seeds, we use a water bottle to simply mist the soil each day. The soil only needs a small amount of water, and if you try and pour a scant amount, it ends up being too much.

One note: Be sure to remove the plastic wrap once the seeds are sprouting.

Once the sprouts have grown, the plants need sunlight, often more than a window or partly cloudy day can provide. To help encourage plant growth, traditional florescent lights can be used to supplement sunlight. We happened to have a set of florescent lights in our basement, so we set up a quick contraption to encourage growth. A few hooks in the basement rafters were all we needed, along with some chain and s-hooks to build our grow station.

We do not use the florescent lights except on cloudy days, and even then, only for the daylight, as young vegetable plants do not need round-the-clock sunshine.

I know it sounds like a lot of steps, but it is actually fun and simple.

Now, let the growing season begin!

Life is sweet,

Monday, March 5, 2012

Alicia's Persian Dip (and a fun story and meal plan too)

When we moved to our home two summers ago, on a mild day I had the windows open as I unpacked.

Two of R and G's friends were over in an attempt to distract them while I unpacked. I remember the four of them asking if they could have a lemonade stand, as if this were a good idea considering I had not yet unpacked any cups, let alone a pitcher, spoon or any of the ingredients for lemonade.

No, a lemonade stand wasn't in the plan as I unpacked that day from our move.

Later that afternoon, as I unpacked the kitchen, I heard R, G, and their two friends yelling from the living room in the front of the house:

"Hi! Hey you! Do you want to buy any boxes? How about some water?!"

I walked around the corner to find:

R, G and their two friends had popped out the window screen from the front window and were sitting in it, their feet dangling outside.

Our new neighbor from across the street was the object of their attention, as they hollered from the front window.

"Great," I thought, "this is how I get to introduce myself to our new neighbor," as I quickly donned a meek smile and figured out how best to explain the situation.

As I quickly told the boys to get inside and put the window screen back in the window, I nervously laughed and introduced myself, while apologizing for the boys yelling at her to buy boxes and water (guess they were bound and determined to engage in commerce of some sort that day).

Imagine my relief when her reply was, "I love it. We raised two boys of our own and when they were young we used to joke that the walls of our house reverberated."

And so I met Alicia. Alicia is one of our wonderful (and understanding) neighbors. Over the holidays I shared some Candied Orange Peel with her that I gave to her in a very simple container:

Imagine my delight when a few weeks ago Alicia returned the container with some walnuts, white onion and fresh cilantro, dill and parsley inside:

Alicia then shared the basic recipe (Alicia, I hope I did it justice) for one of her favorite condiments, a Persian Dip.

Ladies and gentlemen, this dip is incredible. Think of it as a fancier, more substantial twist between tzatziki and pesto. It was so good in fact, that I ate the dip with some bread for my lunch the very next day. Yum.

Alicia's Persian Dip

1/3 cup packed dill, cilantro and parsley (or you could use mint too or just two herbs too)
1/4 cup diced white onion
1/4 cup diced walnuts
2-3 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
1 tablespoon greek yogurt (optional)
1-2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix:

Taste and add a dash of salt and pepper, more if needed.

Serve on crackers, use as a condiment on sandwiches or pita, or enjoy as a dip.

Makes about 3/4 cup dip.


Our meal plan for the week:

Lentil Soup, Slow Cooker, Bread, Salad
Taco Lasagna with Cilantro Lime Cream Sauce,(cashew cream instead of sour cream), Mango
Mushroom Tortellini, Red Sauce and Green Beans
Sweet Potato Enchiladas and Fresh Pico de Gallo
Northstar Cafe Burgers, without cheese, Sweet Potato Fries, Coleslaw

Life is sweet!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Wonder or Wonder!

Today is March 4th, a sort of silly "holiday" that doesn't even always cross my radar screen. But this morning when "March Forth!" showed on the calendar, it made me start to wonder where my current march is headed.

When transitions, decisions and change are a part of our lives (and really, when are they not?), we can wonder or we can wonder! what the future will bring. The space between plain wonder, disguised as doubt, uncertainty and anxiety and the type of wonder bearing an exclamation point is where I often reside.

Wonder! has a beautiful connotation. It conjures up images of star-gazing, beauty and awe. Wonder! is at the root of wonderful, a squarely positive word in our lexicon, evoking joy and peace.

But just plain wondering, which is often disguised worrying, can become my default position if I am not mindful and prayerful about trying to move toward a more wonder!-full thought life.

Don't we all face uncertainty in the same way? Even changes we've prayed over for years, like a wonder!-full newborn baby or a new job also bring us wonder ("will I know how to love and nuture this new life?," "am I up to this challenge?").

My current state of mind is fluxing between wonder and wonder!, as I try my best to look toward the road before me with a state of wonder! of what will head my way, but also wondering if I am even on the right path.

I've made the choice to fix my mind on wonder! and continue on my syncopated journey of parenting, homesteading, writing and involving myself in our community.

It sometimes feels awkward, as if I can't find a steady rhythm of life. But until I am lead to pursue a new tangent, I'm choosing to enjoy the sometimes surprises, dare I say, wonder! that syncopation brings to my daily life.

(Edited to add: I began writing this yesterday...and then today at church our pastor spoke about the difference between worry and prayer. That both worry and prayer are the same essentially: us packing up things that are on our mind, our hang-ups, etc. The difference is that with worry, we are carrying our cumbersome issues on our own, and with prayer, we lift them upwards and lighten our load. Very well said, and probably the difference between wonder and wonder! too.)


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Meatless Monday Grocery List: Lentil Soup

Spring is just around the corner but I am not ready to give up on soup season. It is still winter after all, and even if your weather is warming, nothing soothes the soul like soup on a rainy spring night.

Here's this weeks Meatless Monday recipe (click the link): Slow Cooker Lentil Soup.

Grocery List:

1 onion
1 cup packed spinach, kale or other green
fresh parsley (for topping, optional)

1 - 15oz can vegetable broth
2 cups dried lentils
1/2 cup uncooked quinoa (can omit)

olive oil
garlic powder
red wine vinegar

1 - 15 oz bag frozen mixed vegetables (carrots, corn, peas and green beans)

Happy Weekend All,