Thursday, June 30, 2011

Easy Vegan Chicken Noodle Soup-Tastes like the real thing!

(Sorry--I don't have a photo!)  We all know that nothing makes you feel better than a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup, heavy with vegetables and thick noodles.  I have stumbled upon--strictly through experimentation--a recipe that I feel is very close to the real thing.  The beautiful part is that this recipe is vegan!

I like thick, thick noodles, so I use lasagna noodles.  I just break them up into the water, rather than cooking them whole.  I have not found "egg noodles" or the wider noodles that are vegan--they all seem to have egg in them.  I could make my own, vegan version, but with the full time job, I just don't have time for that.  (Making pasta is definitely something I would like to learn how to do, though!)  I use whole wheat pasta for this.  It adds substance and is higher in protein, fiber, and other nutrients than "white" pasta.

Before I cook the pasta, I cut up a shallot, half an onion, and 2-3 cloves of garlic. (It really depends on how I feel at the time.)  Saute them--in margarine, not oil--until the shallot and onion are transparent, and try not to brown the garlic.  Using margarine adds some robustness or heaviness to the broth.

I use bullion, because we have found that to be an economical, low-pollution (recyclable packaging and less of it) option for broth, but any vegetable broth will do.  Instead of simply heating up water for the pasta, I start with the broth.  (6-8 cups. Again, it depends on how I'm feeling at the time. In winter, a thicker soup is nice, so less broth. In summer, a lighter soup is often better.) I don't remove the sauteed garlic and such from the pot.  I simply add the water and bullion cube (or the broth, if you use pre-made broth) to the pot.  The vegetables will permeate the broth with their flavor this way, and it dirties less dishes.  Bring the broth to a boil for the noodles.

While the broth is heating up, I get my vegetables ready.  The staples for this (for me, anyway) are celery, carrot, and onion.  I use 2-3 stalks of celery, greens and all, 2-3 carrots, greens and all, and I tend to dig through the fridge for whatever leftover veggies we have.  This allows me to clean up the fridge and reduces waste.  What are you going to do with half a tomato and 3 mushrooms, for example?  Chop the veggies, and separate the greens from their respective vegetables.  You will add those toward the end.

Now, here's the important part (for me.)  What I have found through my experimentation is that the meat substitute that adds the closest flavor to actual chicken is Gardein Chick'n Filets.  They are spiced just right, and the mouth feel is very, very close to actual chicken.  When I pull them out to cube them for the soup, I pour the juice from the packages into the broth.  Works like a charm.  (I really think you will be amazed if you try this.)  I have made this soup in the past with store bought seitan, but that's usually not seasoned.  It's good, but it's not quite the same.  (You will find I don't do an excessive amount of cooking with tofu--it's not my favorite.)  You can get Gardein products in most natural foods markets.  I can't recall at the moment whether they are available yet in conventional grocery stores.  You can find out from their website.  (I am not in any way affiliated with Gardein!  I'm just sharing a product that works for me.)

I guess you don't have to wait for the noodles to soften before adding everything, but I do. I want to make sure the noodles cook all the way through but don't get mushy.  I usually add everything else when they are al dente.  That way, they will stand up to the longer cooking time.  Hold back the greens and the "chicken."

Lower the heat, once you've added the veggies and simmer the soup for 30-60 minutes.  This is an area where you just have to go with your intuition or check the veggies for softness.   I usually check and stir the soup after 15 minutes and then again every 15 minutes until it feels about right.  After this period, add your greens (chop them) and the "chicken."  

You can add your herbs and spices now, too, or you can wait until about 10 minutes before you are finished cooking it.  I usually add mine then.  I usually only use black pepper, red pepper flakes, salt (You will need to add salt,) and sometimes sage fresh from my garden.  I might chop up a few leaves or pick smaller ones and put them in whole.  Other possibilities are oregano, basil, dill, tarragon, rosemary, thyme--anything, really, depending on what kind of a flavor you want.  There are no set measurements.  Sorry.  Everything here is about using your intuition and/or your sense of taste to figure out what is right.  You do want to be careful with the red pepper flakes, though!

Once you lower the heat, simmer the soup for 15 minutes and check it every 15 minutes until it seems or tastes ready.  You do want to give everything time to cook all the way through. There's nothing quite like enjoying a nice, hot meal only to come across something that's cold in the middle!

Serve with bread or a salad, and voila!

I cannot make any healing claims about my soup, but it sure as heck is tasty, and it comforts me.  This soup will likely feed you for a few days--it makes a very big pot--so be prepared to either reduce the recipe or portion it out for freezing.  Better yet, invite some loved ones over to enjoy it with you!  That's my favorite way to eat it.  ;)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Easy Sprouted Quinoa Salad (Sweet)

My boyfriend, with my blessing (not that he needs it,)  has started to experiment with sprouting.  (I have always loved sprouts, by the way!)  This recipe--more of a guideline, really--is for a super-easy, sweet sprouted quinoa fruit salad.

First, you need sprouted quinoa.  For a serving, I use 1/3-1/2 cup of the sprouts.

I then add pepitas (pumpkin seeds,) sunflower seeds, raisins, a splash of maple syrup, and a splash of rice or apple cider vinegar.  The servings are small, so it would be good as an addition to a light lunch or dinner.  I had it for breakfast this morning!

That's pretty much it.  You can substitute any nuts, seeds, or berries you want and experiment with your vinegars and sweeteners, but I found this combination tastes really good.

Sprouting is easy, gives you a nice protein boost, and sprouts are very versatile.  I especially like them on sandwiches.  We have them stored in a plastic food container in our fridge.  It's probably best to add a layer of something absorbent to the bottom of your container in order to make them last longer, but it's best to use them up quickly.


Victory for Dairy Consumers in Ohio!

Court Supports Truth in Labeling for GE Foods - Real Food - MOTHER EARTH NEWS

This is wonderful news!

It is very, very important that consumers have a clear choice when making food purchasing decisions. Most people can't grow their own food, which leaves them at the mercy of our food industry, which, in my opinion, is more harmful to consumers than not.

This is a huge victory, and I hope to see this type of ruling spread to other states.

WTG, Ohio!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Family Life.

It is not my intention to get super-personal on this blog, but in order to appreciate what we do at the Little Stone House, I feel I do need to share a few things.  Now, when I mention "my boyfriend and I," I'm speaking only of things I know to be true.  I don't normally speak for my boyfriend.  The fact of the matter is, we think a lot alike.  There are plenty of couples who are different enough to balance one another.  We support one another, because we have so much in common.

Our family consists of the two of us, the cats, both sets of parents and siblings, and our closest friends. (In our house, close friends are family.)   When I refer to "the family" or "a family member," it could refer to any of those individuals.  We have no children, and I have no plans to become a mother. I have simply never wanted to go down that road in life.  I devote the same energy I would as a mother to my family and to the cats.  I try to be good to people and do good things for them.

I work full time, and he works from home.  Due to this dynamic, he handles a lot of the household affairs.  I pitch in when I am home (weekends, days off, vacations.)  I'm grateful that he is willing to do this, because otherwise, my life would be very chaotic!  I handle the majority of the cat care, vetting, arranging pet sitting when we travel, etc.  It works out well.  Neither of us is afraid to ask the other for help when it's needed.  The house is in good shape, and I don't believe anyone feels overwhelmed.  (Well, OK. Sometimes, I do, but that's my own fault:  I have a bad habit of trying to do too much!)  The average day when both of us are home tends to be pretty fluid and relaxed.  We get a lot done, but I find that neither of us feels stressed. It's a nice way to live.

About twice a month, we visit my parents, who live about 45 minutes away.  Even though that could easily be done in a day, we stay overnight in order to avoid exhaustion and stress. Besides, a major reason we go is to help them with their house.  This setup allows us the time we need to relax and get things done.  His family is up in New England, so quite a ways away. We try to visit them twice a year (we never fly,)  and they try and come and visit us once a year or so. Those visits also tend to be pretty relaxed, and I always enjoy visiting with everyone.  We see our closest friends once or twice a month, but we are frequently in touch with them online or by phone.  We make sure everyone knows they are thought of.  I find that, for me, this is pretty good. I'm an introvert, so I tend to need a lot of down time.  Of course, we each do things independently of one another as well--that's just healthy.

He's the big cook and gardener, so he does most of that, though I try and cook 2-3 times a week, so that it doesn't all fall on him. I like to cook, but again--with the full time job, I tend to be very tired when I get home in the evenings.  If one of us feels sick, the other steps in.  No one is forced to do something if they don't feel they can, and no one has a "to-do" list, other than the personal ones we may keep for ourselves.  There are no "your chores" or "my chores."  We just do.

The majority of the time, we both like to stick close to home and work in our studio.  About once a month, we meet up with a group of friends for dinner and socializing.  We both like to entertain, so now that the downstairs has been remodeled, we are trying to plan a couple of parties.  Even those won't be huge, elaborate affairs, though.

There was a time when I wanted to be into everything and just had to go out all the time, spend money, and buy things.  I realize now that that was more of an escape for me than anything else.  I was unhappy for a very long time.  Now, I'm happy, and my home is a very comforting place to be, so I am happy to spend time there.

The Little Stone House.

I have run and deleted 2 green/simple living blogs, and this is my third attempt.  I tend to get overloaded and pare things down, but I found that after I deleted the last one, I missed writing about this stuff.  I hope to be better organized and more regular in my postings here, and I hope that my readers will enjoy what I write.  I'm not a pro or an expert, but I like to share with others what my boyfriend and I are doing to simplify our lives.  (Maybe the third time will be a charm!)

The Little Stone House is actually a brick townhouse in a suburb of Maryland. (I hate siding!  It's ugly, and I don't feel like it's a sustainable component.  Blech!)  I was lucky to get an end unit, so we have a little, corner lot--less than 1/2 acre.  The floors downstairs are porcelain tile.  After we had the floors done, I told my boyfriend, "Now I live in the little, stone house I've always wanted!"  I was half-joking, of course, but it really does have a "Little, stone house" kind of feel to it now.

We are not homesteaders, but we are trying to learn to be independent. There are times when we come close.  During a good growing season (for us, that's mid-Spring or so well into late Autumn,) we yield probably a third of the food we need from our tiny lot.  He does the gardening, I document it and try to learn as much as I can.

We want to be off the grid, but due to the nature of our location, we are not able to really do that. When I said in my profile that we minimize our use and use the greenest technology we can, what I meant by that is that, though we can't convert and go off the grid, we make the best use we can of existing technology.  We would both like nothing more than to go completely solar, but our neighborhood rules don't really allow for it yet.  To their credit, they are working toward that, but we're not there yet.  We also just cannot afford to do any retrofitting right now.  The tile floors are a recent upgrade, and they will help our energy use considerably, I think.  The house is already much cooler at a higher temperature than when we had the carpeting. 

We are also both learning how to be more efficient.  We are in the process of replacing all of our light bulbs (previously compact fluorescent bulbs) with LED bulbs.  The bulbs are pretty expensive, but I believe the savings we will see will be significant.  I also recently learned that CF bulbs are not necessarily the clean light source we once thought they were.  It used to be that you had to take precautions if you broke one and you couldn't simply put them in the trash.  Now, it appears they are bad for you, overall.  We are using up our old incandescents while we stock up on the LEDs (1-2 at a time,) and I have taken all of the old CF bulbs to our county's toxic waste collection site.  From a cost and waste-hating stance, that was hard for me, but I think it was the right thing to do.

When I am going to be away from my computer or laptop for more than a couple of hours, I turn them off.  I don't put them to sleep, I power them down. Sometimes, I only turn my computer on once all day.  I don't leave chargers plugged in if my machines are not charging.  I don't leave lights on in any room if I'm going to be gone for more than 5 minutes.  At night, we use LED nightlights.  For a while, we were using solar lanterns, but the process of putting them out in the morning and then hauling them in at night proved to be too much.  Plus, our yard is no longer able to be used in the ways we used to.  (I'll get to that in another post.)  We are finding things that work for us, within our current budget, and we are experimenting. 

The next step for us will be to replace our front door. It is not weather-efficient, and it is not in good shape, either.  Replacing the flooring did make the gap under the door smaller, but it just needs to go.  I'm in the process of saving up to do that now, and I hope to apply to my home corporation in a few months for that replacement.

We recycle, catch rain water, compost, and make copious use of Freecycle, thrift stores, and the various charities that come and pick up unwanted items. We try never to throw out something that may still have some life in it, and we also pick things up from the curbside that we can use (as long as the items are clean and dry and we actually have a use for them.)  It's sickening to me how much people throw out.  We shop with reusable bags, and I also recycle all plastic bags that are large enough by using them as trash can liners and to clean out our cat boxes.  Even cat food bags get reused as trash bags.  Nothing goes in the trash if it does not have to.  Our neighborhood has 2 trash pickups a week, and we put our trash out at the curb maybe twice a month.  That's with 8 cats in the house!  If our county won't recycle something, we try to find a way to reuse it ourselves.

We don't shop retail, unless we absolutely have to.  (Groceries, hardware, etc. is a different story, of course.)  If we can get it from Freecycle, friends, a 2nd hand store, or find it, we do.  I very rarely even buy books or movies any more.  The resources are out there to find virtually anything you want without having to buy from The Big Guys.  When our floors were done, we went with a locally-owned, family business, which is located right across the street from us.  One of the work crew owns a restaurant, which we will patronize eventually.  We refer our friends to local businesses when we are aware of them.

It's not easy, and we are not perfect.  We have a car, because our families live fairly distantly and are not easily accessible by public transportation, but we are fortunate that it is an efficient one.  We combine errands, and if we don't have to go anywhere, we don't.  If we do need to run an errand, we first see if we can walk to take care of it.  I do a lot of my errands on the way home from my job.  We also need the car to transport the cats back and forth to the vet, etc.  Like with everything else, we streamline our use.

We don't have TV service, and we don't go to the movies.  We use Netflix, which allows us to pick and choose what we want to see.  Most advertising gives me a headache, and I'm not interested in most of what people are selling.  Pitch to me once, that's my philosophy.  We also still use our public libraries.  I adore my local library!  I have been able to get many of the books I've needed there over the years, and for a while when we didn't have Netflix, we got all of our movies there.  I don't watch the news, and I don't listen to it on the radio. I scan the headlines and read only what I feel a need to read.  I don't feel our media works in the public interest any more.  I feel their job is to sell airtime/ad space/papers/etc.  Let me rephrase that:  I don't believe the media is allowed do work in the public interest any more.  Everything is corporate-owned now, and neither my boyfriend nor I want any part of that.

Ah, yes. The cats.  You will be hearing a good deal about our cats and other animals on this blog, as well.  We live with 8 rescued cats, and I am trying to simplify and make their lives pleasant along with ours.  When I took them in, I made a commitment to take care of them. There are so many unwanted pets out there right now.  When a person takes on an animal, it should be for life.  These cats get everything they need, and I am also in the process of moving them to grain-free food, which is what they should be eating.  We are almost there, I'm happy to say. 

I have noted that we are vegans.  Cats are decidedly not, and I don't believe in forcing them to conform to a vegan diet.  (There are people out there who do this, and I really don't approve.)  It does pose somewhat of a dilemma for me, but my cats were in my life before I became a vegan.  I just try to make the most humane and sustainable choices for them that I can when it comes to their food.  If I did not work a full time job, I would probably start making their food myself, so that I could source the meat directly from humane farmers.  There are only so many hours in the day, though!  It's a compromise that I choose to make. I guess that is the best way to put it.  I love animals, so I can't imagine not having any in my life.  There are other measures I am starting to take with them, too, to minimize their impact on the planet.  I won't get into all of that here. This post is already very long.

So, while we are not an actual homestead, and we are stuck on the grid for now, we have found ways to draw the world in to us and minimize the harm that we do. We both spend a lot of our time creating our art and in my case, preparing and selling vintage items/antiques.  We watch a show or a movie at meal times, and the rest of the day (when I am home,) we pursue our own interests.  We spend time outdoors. We read.  We cook most of our food from scratch.  We maintain contact with the people in our lives who are most important.  We reach out to neighbors when there is a need.  I really feel like we are at a point where we are minimizing the "junk" in our lives and are living the best lives we can.  There is always more we can do, but this is where we are now.

Thank you for reading.