Where to start?! I have so much to blog about. It's been awhile since I've blogged. I got distracted by a sewing project. We've always used cloth napkins (one less thing to throw away), but lately we've been washing them after just one use which seems almost as wasteful. I love my kids and have dealt with every possibly bodily excretion, but I just didn't like the idea of sharing their napkins. Since all the napkins look the same, it would be impossible for everyone just to keep track of their own from meal to meal, so I decided to make each person their own napkin with a different fabric. Since it would be too much to ask some of the less observant members of the family (Dad) to keep track of whose fabric is who's, I also appliqued each person's initial on their napkin. I was determined to use up fabric I already had and not succumb to my usual temptation to buy all new stuff for a new project. Mission accomplished! A few of the napkins have a bit of patchwork on the back, since I didn't necessarily have the right sized scraps, but that just adds to the charm. I just finished them yesterday, and we have yet to actually try them out, since our dining room table is covered with piles (okay mountains) of clean laundry waiting to be put away. Here they are:
I hope to make one more set at some point to allow us to have the other set in the wash, but for now, I'm going to try to focus (back) on gardening, baking, and cooking. Oh, and we're going to be doing some rearranging of the house that will let me have a craft room. Woo hoo! I'm so excited about that, but I'm sure it will take me quite a bit of time to get everything set up. My craft "area" up in the attic is quite a mess right now.
On to other things. I'm still doing (and keeping up with) the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge. I messed up last week though and made the Challah when we were supposed to make the Casatiello. I'll make that this weekend. Although I love the name and have had it stuck in my head all week - with various dramatic (and really embarrasing if anyone could hear me saying it in my head) pronunciations, I'm not all that excited about making it. I loved the brioche (this casatiello is similar with salami and cheese also thrown in), but I don't want to compromise my Vegan diet twice (I had to the first time to try the brioche in all it's buttery, eggy glory). I'm going to have to try to make the Casatiello with rice milk, Egg Replacer and Earth Balance. And of course something other than salami and cheese. I'm thinking sun dried tomatoes. I guess it will be a good experiment. Anyway, I didn't love the Challah either. I had to use quite a bit of Egg Replacer in it as well. It ended up being quite bland, but I think that may actually be how it's supposed to taste. In my pre-BBA life, I probably would have loved it, but now I'm too spoiled by the other breads I've made from the book which are so much better. The challah, at least, was very pretty, and I enjoyed doing the braid. Here it is:
Finally (for now - there's still so much more to catch up on), for the past two weeks, I've actually sat down on Friday or Saturday and planned out the meals for the entire week. I know that's probably the norm for most people, but it's a real novelty for me, and it feels like quite an accomplishment. I wanted to share what we've been having:
Saturday Breakfast, 5/30 - Assortment of Poppy Seed, Blueberry, and Plain Pancakes, Bacon for kids.
Saturday Dinner, 5/30 - Gone to a party
Sunday, 5/31 - Pizza - With homemade dough from BBA - cooked in the oven on the pizza stone. Kids had bacon leftover from Sat. breakfast on their pizza. Adults had regular onions, carmelized onions, sauce. Need to come up with some more Vegan toppings.
Monday, 6/1 - Sandwiches - Turkey for the kids and avocado and tomato for me
Tuesday, 6/2 - Adults: Orange Pan-glazed Tempeh with Bulgur Pilaf. Kids: Leftover Pancakes
Wednesday, 6/3 - Adults: Sweet Potato Pot Pies. Kids: Baked Potato Bar (with more leftover bacon, cheese, etc.)
Thursday, 6/4 - Pasta
Friday, 6/5 - Pizza - same dough - this time cooked over charcoal in the fire pit. I think the dough was too thin for this to work well.
The next week was mostly the same, since I had a lot of leftover ingredients to use up. This coming week, I'll definitely have to throw in a few new things.
Saturday Dinner, 6/6 - Maple Glazed Tempeh, Roasted Potato, Garlic, and Bell Pepper Salad, Burgers for the kids
Sunday, 6/7 - French Toast or Eggs for the kids, Homemade Hummus and Pretzels for me
Monday, 6/8 - Tacos for the kids, more hummus and pretzels for me
Tuesday, 6/9 - Adults: Sweet Potato Pot Pies. Kids: Leftover French Toast and Tacos
Wednesday, 6/10 - I went out with some friends. Dad and kids were on their own.
Thursday, 6/11 - Adults not hungry. Kids: Mac & Cheese
Friday, 6/12 - Adults: Orange Pan-glazed Tempeh with Bulgur Pilaf. Kids: PB & J
I kind of fell apart on the kids meals. I go back and forth between wanting them to eat whatever I make and just wanting them to eat - period.
I haven't completed the meal planning yet for this week, but today, I'm going to be making these awesome sounding Berry Beer Baked Beans from my favorite cooking blog, 101 cookbooks. I've had these beautiful, local, Jacob's Cattle Beans that I've been wanting to use for almost a year. They just completed their overnight soak and will go in the oven as soon as I get back from the Farmer's Market (and supermarket) with the rest of the ingredients. Gotta run - I like to get to the Farmer's Market right when it opens, and I'm already late.
I made this cauliflower recipe from 101 cookbooks last night, and it was delicious - kind of like home fries but with cauliflower. The photo on the left is of the lemon zest and chives waiting for their turn to be thrown in the pan. I just thought they looked so pretty together in my handmade (by me!) pottery bowl. The chives are from my new herb garden - which is why there are actually a lot fewer than the recipe called for. I only have a very small chive plant so far that I'm hoping will grow a lot over the summer and come back next year and the next, etc. I may buy a couple more little seedlings at the farmer's market tomorrow. The photo on the right is the yummy finished product in a beautiful pottery bowl that my mother bought for me at a craft fair. I have to say it's kind of what inspired me to take pottery in the first place. It's really simple but the curves are just right and the color is so calmingly organic.
The photo in the middle is actually the beginnings of 101 cookbooks' 5 minute tomato sauce that I actually made the other day as well. This time I toned down the red pepper flakes and used the crushed tomatoes as Heidi recommends. Last time I had to used diced because that was all we had. I think I actually liked the diced tomatoes better. Either way, it's definitely going to be a staple (especially on Thursday nights when grocery money is getting low before payday on Friday. I was able to buy the ingredients for this whole meal along with a loaf of French bread for $15 - not bad).
I'm very excited about the fact that I've been doing so much cooking at home. I'm guessing that a lot of you especially those with families do that every night and always have, so it probably sounds ridiculous that it's a big deal for me. For a while, we weren't so good about always eating around the table or even eating together at all. When the kids were really little, we'd feed them something healthy-ish and get them to bed then get takeout for ourselves - not every night obviously - but more frequently than I like to remember. As the kids got a bit older, we'd get takeout for all of us maybe once a week or so with, I'm ashamed to say, a cereal night thrown in there every once in a while.
Now I have a full head of steam for cooking at home. I really hope I can keep it going. (I'm rather infamous for obsessing over one thing like it's all I can live for then moving on to the next thing with hardly a glance back at the thing I could previously not live without; knitting, sewing, pottery, gardening, etc. And those are the ones that I actually do revisit. There are some things that I dallied in that I will probably never go back to; scrapbooking, needle-felting, linoleum block printing.) I think there were several motivators. The first was starting our Vegan diet which pretty much limits our takeout options (not too mention the lack of funds being limiting). Who wants to buy a pizza only to scrape off the cheese and eat the crust? (Actually, my husband, sometimes. Yuck.) I think it (the diet) helps me have more energy, too. Plus, by some miracle of Veganism, I'm not so ravenous when I get home from work that I just have to eat the first thing I come across. I can actually comfortably wait to eat until I've prepared a yummy dinner. It also helps that my youngest is now almost two and most of the time would rather hang out with her older siblings than cling to me in the kitchen, so I actually have time to cook. Finally, Barbara Kingsolver's chapter in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle about cooking together and eating at the table together really helped motivate me as well. Note to self: Read that again if I start losing cooking-at-home steam.
Last night, my husband cooked dinner, so while he was doing that I started making my own cookbook. I had starting using the BookSmart software from Blurb to do that a couple of weeks ago. I really love Blurb and have used it to make our family's year-in-photos album as well as an alphabet book for my niece. Blurb has tons of different options for how you set up your book and your pages, and they have some really nice, professional and clean looking cookbook options. When the book is open, I wanted to have the recipe on one page and a full-bleed photo of friends and family doing food-related activities (mostly cooking, but eating, drinking, harvesting, etc. all qualify, too) on the opposite page. I got as far as doing 3 recipes with photos, and they look wonderful. Two things were nagging at me though. One is that I really like a spiral bound cookbook that stays open to the recipe that I'm using. (In the professional cookbook writing world, that's probably not the cool thing to do because none of the really beautiful cookbooks are spiral bound.) The second thing that was bothering me was that I would have to get in all the recipes and photos that I could possibly think of this time around because if I didn't, I'd have to edit the book and buy it all over again. I'm always discovering new recipes that I'd like to include. That might not necessarily be a bad thing. It would be kind of fun to publish a "New Edition" each year, but I know I wouldn't be able to throw the old one away, and it would just get confusing and kind of wasteful.
So . . . I had seen a reference to Tastebook on the 101 cookbooks site that I mentioned (okay obsessed about) in yesterday's post. I had noticed it a few times on Epicurious, too, so I finally decided to check it out yesterday. It definitely solves the two problems I mentioned above. It's spiral bound and you can order recipe pages individually - perfect! You can include a personal photo on each page. It doesn't cover the whole facing page like I wanted to do with Blurb, but it still looks very nice. The recipe formatting is pretty similar to what you get if you use one of the cookbook templates with Blurb, but it has a few additional fields that it formats nicely onto the finished page like yield, prep time, total time, and notes. I also like that it's all on-line. It usually takes me a really long time to make a Blurb book, and I always worry that after all that work I'm not going to be able to upload it for some reason. I've never had a problem, but still it's a bit stressful. With Tastebook, you upload as you go which offers the other nice feature of being able to work on it or look at it from any computer. The rest of my family wanted to help me with this cookbook, and I wasn't sure how I was going to do that with Blurb. I'm not sure if multiple users can share a Tastebook without making the recipes public (which probably wouldn't be a big deal), but I can at least log into my family members' computers when we work on it together. The other cool thing about Tastebook is that you can suck in recipes from your favorite cooking sites like Epicurious. Most of my recipes are family recipes, so I had to do a lot of typing, but I have 5 or 6 that I originally got from Epicurious, so I was able to get them from there. The only down side to that is that I would have liked to add a photo and some notes on my modifications to the recipe. Maybe there's a way to do that that I haven't figured out. With Blurb, you get to choose your own photo or photos for the cover. With Tastebook, you choose from about 50 different stock photos. Those photos are more beautiful than any I could take, but they're not of my family. Tastebook also has tabbed sections which I think is handy. I don't think you can get that with Blurb.
Utimately, I think Blurb gives you way more flexibility in your formatting than Tastebook, but Tastebook gives you more flexibility as far as adding/changing recipes later on - after you get the book. I love the limitless formatting flexibility of Blurb, but sometimes that's why I think it takes me so long - making all those decisions about how I want to format it, then changing my mind and redoing it a few times. Like I said, I had gotten as far as 3 recipes for Blurb, but I was able to do almost 40 last night with Tastebook. I'm nowhere near down yet, but I'll let you know how it comes out.
I found a new cooking web-site that I just love. It's http://www.101cookbooks.com/. The photos are gorgeous and the recipes are really unusual (but not to the point where it's impossible to find the ingredients). Apparently the woman who does the site, Heidi Swanson, decided that once she had close to a hundred cookbooks, it was time to stop reading and collecting them and start using them and decided to start blogging about it. Now she has a couple of her own cookbooks. (Maybe she had her first cookbook before that. I'm not sure.) How cool is that? I've already tried several of her recipes, but there are a few others I'm dying to try. There are these really intriguing sounding black bean brownies and these beautiful poppy seed pancakes. All her recipes are Vegetarian, and she has a lot of Vegan recipes as well, but unfortunately these two have both eggs and butter. I've had a lot of success substituting Earth Balance for butter and Ener-G Egg Replacer for eggs, but I've only tried the latter in recipes that only had one or two eggs. I think both of these recipes have 4 (oh wait, I just checked, the pancakes only have two - maybe I'll give those a try). The other thing is that I had made (and eaten) the recipes that I converted before I became a Vegan, so I knew how they were supposed to taste. I'd kind of like to try the brownies and pancakes with the right ingredients first. I'm probably just rationalizing. Anyway, both of those recipes have come the closest to swaying me off of my Vegan path so far. I have a similar issue with the Brioche recipe that's next up in the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge. I think making Brioche without real butter is probably just wrong. I think I'll make it, try a bite, then give the rest away. My co-workers might like the treat. Don't know if the kids will like it or not.
Anyway, more on Heidi's awesome recipes . . . I already made the hummus that I mentioned in my last two posts, but I stumbled across her website in the first place looking for Vegan appetizers to serve at my Book Club meeting last week. I found these Sweet Potato Falafel Bites which I just had to make. Here was my menu in case you, too, are looking for some Vegan appetizers:
Eggplant Caponata served with my homemade Pain a L'Ancienne from Bread Baker's Apprentice
Morrocan Phyllo Rolls served with Thai sweet and spicy sauce from my sister-in-law. (I made little appetizer-sized triangles. The phyllo dough was not my friend that day! I gave up after I thought I had enough for the party, so I had a lot of filling left over which was yummy by itself. I didn't make the maple sauce but I'm sure it would have been good.)
I was a little worried that there wouldn't be enough and a lot worried that I was using ingredients that people frequently really hate like sweet potatoes, eggplant, and beans. I guess my friends have pretty sophisticated taste because it was all gone by the time the evening was over. Other people brought delicious snacks, too, so there was plenty of food; asparagus soup, asparagus salad, local pork pate, and veggies and dip. The reason for the abundance of asparagus was that our book was Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (which I've mentioned in some of my other posts - if you haven't read it, you must). Asparagus is about the best local veggie you can get around here right now.
Wow, I'm amazed by how much I can ramble about one thing! And I'm not even close to being done yet. On somewhat of a tangent, speaking of local food, we also have rhubarb in our farmer's market right now, so the weekend before last, I made the beautiful rhubarb gallette you see in the picture above. It was quite tart but still my favorite way to use rhubarb. This recipe is on page 702 of The New Basics by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. Definitely a classic cookbook that gets a lot of use in our kitchen.
So the book club was a big success. We have a really nice group of dynamic (a.k.a not boring) people who had a lot to say about the book. For next time we picked An Absolute Scandal by Penny Vincenzi. We wanted a beach read for the summer. I'm on such a reading kick that I already bought it and read it this weekend. It was very entertaining. I've already moved on to one of the other books we almost picked, Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I love it so far, and I already want to go to Italy. Am I the only one who gets this influenced by books I like?
Okay just one more thing about 101 Cookbooks and I'll stop. I made the 5 minute tomato sauce from there last night and it was everything it was advertised to be - fresh, delicious, simple but not boring. Oh yeah, and it really only did take 5 minutes. It was also very spicy, but I can't stop eating it. I had my homemade bagel dipped in the sauce for breakfast this morning. How weird is that? (Can't have cream cheese or butter, I'm all out of almond butter, and couldn't bear to ruin one of my good bagels with Skippy, so it sounded good to me.) Still I think I'll cut back on the red pepper flakes next time.