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Friday, January 30, 2015

Sloppy Sams Recipe- Vegan Sloppy Joes, Refined Sugar Free

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We never had sloppy joes growing up at home. We just had them in our school lunches. A few years back on my blog, I mentioned how I must be one of the few people in the world that actually have fond memories of their school lunches, but I do. I always enjoyed the sloppy joes when they served them, despite their being super messy to eat.

So of course, when I found out there was a vegan version of sloppy joes, called sloppy sams, which are made with lentils, I needed to try it out- since I'm a big fan of making lentil alternatives of meat dishes I love, because that's a perfect way to get my kids to eat lentils. And it's no surprise that I found that sloppy sams are a terrific way to use lentils- and fortunately my kids like them too, since they're sweet and sour and just generally yummy. Not to mention messy, and kids like messy foods, or at least I do.

I serve my sloppy sams on homemade gluten free bread, but feel free to serve them on any homemade (or even store bought) rolls... or if you don't care, you can even use this as a sauce for rice or pasta or mashed potatoes.
While I use celery and peppers in this recipe, feel free to use whatever vegetables you have lying around your house. The most important thing in this recipe is the sauce, not the specific veggies used.
And, of course, if your family won't eat lentils, feel free to replace the cooked lentils with browned ground beef or chicken or turkey in this recipe. Or stretch the meat by doing it half/half with lentils.

Sloppy Sams Recipe- Vegan Sloppy Joes, Refined Sugar Free

Thursday, January 29, 2015

How We're Saving Money on Heating This Winter

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Image Credit- Artur84- FreeDigitalPhotos.com
I have been challenged by the Money Advice Service to write a post on my January's "survival guide". For me, the biggest challenge in January has got to be keeping warm, as that month usually is the coldest month of the year. Right now I hear there has been a blizzard (or pseudo-blizzard) going on in the east coast of the US- we had a snow "storm" and freezing temperatures in the beginning on January- keeping warm is probably on everyone's mind.
But warmth usually means high utility costs, because most of those things that heat up your home typically use a lot of energy. Especially after December, usually a month in which most families have many extra expenses, cutting costs is something most people are think about- so why not talk about how to keep warm without blowing the budget?

Where we live it is relatively warm year round- only occasionally does it dip below freezing temperatures (though it did do that already a few years in a row in December and January). But that doesn't mean it actually isn't cold here. It often is 40-50 degrees outside... and the houses here generally have no central heating. Which means that the only heating options are on the expensive end- they're electricity or gas run- both expensive round these parts.

Because of how expensive our heat is to run, I try to run the heaters as infrequently as possible, and use these various tips to keep warm without the heaters. If you live in a place where it is colder than my area, you'll need to keep the heat on all the time to prevent frozen pipes- but consider setting the heat very low- like 45-50 degrees or so (or however high you have to do it to prevent freezing/damage) and use these tips to warm yourself the rest of the way.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

An Awesome Get Together With a Like-Minded Family

You know how sometimes you have one of those days that are just so perfect, everything going so well, but they just are so full that they leave you exhausted afterwards? Today was one of those days.

I have a friend, Holly, who is just really awesome and we're so similar in so many ways. Her family is healthy eating, gluten free and dairy free and adventurous eaters, and they're homeschoolers- unschooling inspired just like we are. We're lucky to have each other! (Thanks to the internet for helping me connect with like minded individuals!)
Today I traveled with the kids to her hometown (1.75 hours away by bus) to give Holly and her kids a private wild edibles walk around and near her house.
So first we found, learned about, and foraged a bunch of plants: henbit, stinging nettles, wild mustard, mallow, milk thistle, calendula, dandelion, sow thistle, bull thistle, plantain, lambsquarters, olive leaves, large num nums, horehound, eryngo, mullein and more!


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It was fun to do a kid centered foraging walk, unlike the adult centered ones I usually do, because it involved making it even more fun and hands on than I usually do, as well as giving me the challenge of figuring out how to explain it in kid friendly language.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sharing My Love of Foraging

Purslane- one of my favorite foraged veggies
I've been foraging for years now. Since I was a little kid, I was foraging a few things here and there (mainly jewel weed, wood sorrel, and mullberries), but I've probably been intensively foraging for the past 4 and a half years, and blogging about it here and there. (I have a whole bunch more plants I want to blog about, just need to get around to writing them up.)
Foraging, for me, is many things.

For one- I find it really cool to know all about the plants that grow nearby, which ones are good to eat, which ones can be eaten in a pinch, and which ones are gonna make you sick or kill you if you eat them. I just like the knowledge, the fact that I know about all these things that are right in front of everyone's faces yet most are completely clueless about. I can't even count how many stories I've heard about kids ingesting some plant they found somewhere, with parents freaking out, calling poison control, sure their kid is at risk of dying or hospitalization because they ate some unknown plant...

Plants are everywhere! They should not be unknown! People should know which plants are dangerous and which plants are totally safe, and even beneficial to eat- and they should teach that to their kids. My kids, for example, know to avoid the oleander plants nearby by a mile. So yea, in addition to just thinking its cool to know these stuff, I think its also imperative for safety's sake to know what is fine and what is dangerous to eat.

I also find foraging fun and provides me with some adventure- it's like I'm going on a quest and finding different things on a scavenger hunt. I never know what I'll find, which adds the element of surprise. Yesterday, for example, I found dock for the first time in a while, which made me super excited. Finding morels this past Saturday was my biggest foraging thrill ever so far.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Asian Inspired Charred Eggplant Salad Recipe- Baba Ghanoush Take Off

 photo IMG_2455_zpsce5e4a44.jpgDid I ever mention before that eggplants are cheap locally, and I'm always trying to find new ways to use them? Oh yea- probably about a million times already...

Are you bored of hearing about eggplant? Probably not as bored as I sometimes get of eggplant. Yes, I do love eggplant, but I get bored of food easily, when I have the same food prepared the same way over and over again. I oppose eating boring food. You should enjoy your food, and being bored of food means your mean is a waste of calories, because you might as well get enjoyment out of the food you eat, but if you're bored of it, that ain't happening...

And eggplant, though I like it, sometimes stares at me and taunts me to make it some way other than my standard two methods that I always fall back on- charred eggplant salad with tahini- also known as baba ghanoush- and eggplant and tomato- ratatouille type. Eggplant and tomato sauce, eggplant and tahini. It gets boring already. With the amount of times eggplant shows up on my menu, due to it being one of the cheapest veggies I can get in the winter (and I often end up getting some free from friends as well), as much as I like those combinations, sometimes I just want something different.
I actually really love eggplant in Asian dishes, but eggplant is this super sponge, and I haven't managed to figure out how to make it without it soaking up a gallon of oil each time... So eggplant stir fry just doesn't end up happening around here.
But I did want that Asian flavor in my eggplant, somehow.
I decided to do a little fusion cooking, and do an Asian style baba ghanoush- charred eggplant, Asian style seasoning...
And oh man- this is amazing, non boring, and perfect! It was exactly what I needed to make my eggplant different and tasty...
I highly recommend it!

Asian Inspired Charred Eggplant Salad Recipe- Baba Ghanoush Take Off

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Frugal Accomplishments This Past Week and Accountability For My Struggles

This past week was a relatively good week frugality-wise. Not perfect, but pretty decent.


In terms of the three things I'm trying to work on and be better with:
So first I'll start with the best- zero food thrown out!
Ok, that doesn't mean no food was wasted... it just means that I didn't clean out the refrigerator this past week... I'm sure this coming week when I clean it out I'll find rotten food that needs to be tossed... but even so, I'm still happy that no food ended up in the trash this week.
As for cloth diapers- I ended up using only 3 disposable diapers- 2 because Rose had a diaper rash and I was wondering if maybe the cloth diapers were making them worse... I always doubt myself when a kid has a diaper rash. But either way, the rash went away even after I put her back in cloth- so it must not have had anything to do with the diaper, and probably with something she ate that didn't agree with her. I also ended up using 1 diaper when I was in a big rush and didn't have time to do diapers in a few parts- folding the diaper, snappying it in place, placing on the cover, adjusting it so the cover covers the prefold... or to fold and stuff the pocket diaper. So I'm realizing that I should probably keep a few pocket diapers already stuffed for times when I'm in a big rush, so I don't use sposies as a crutch.
And as for laundry... I ended up having to rewash a load of laundry that was left in the machine too long. Oh well... First time in the few weeks since I started keeping track. Hopefully there won't be a repeat any time in the near future.

And now on to what I actually did right this week, what we did in our house to save money:

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Djaj wa Rishta- Syrian Chicken and Spaghetti- Gluten Free Option

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Unfortunately pasta dishes are known to not be the
most photogenic. Oh well, at least it is delicious!
My family members sometimes "complain" that since I make such a large variety of foods, and am always experimenting in the kitchen, when there is one food I make that they really like, they have no idea when they'll see it again since I don't repeat dishes very frequently, if ever.
This dish, however, is the exception to the rule.
Djaj wa Rishta, Syrian chicken and spaghetti, has become a staple in our house, mainly because it's a one pot meal that is pretty easy to make and delicious. Everyone in my family enjoys it, and I've been making it on and off for at least 6 years, since I discovered it on a forum all those years ago, posted by my friend Dana.
I make mine with gluten free spaghetti or linguine (corn pasta), but you can make it with wheat spaghetti or whatever other type of spaghetti you want if gluten isn't an issue for you.

Variations: Though I haven't tried it- if you're on a paleo diet, I am sure this would taste great with spaghetti squash instead of the spaghetti, or spiralized carrots. And if you're a vegan, I'm sure you could make this with tofu or seitan cutlets in place of the chicken.

Djaj wa Rishta- Syrian Chicken and Spaghetti- Gluten Free Option

How the Bankruptcy Process Works

This is a post by Nancy Evans.

No matter how thrifty you are, you can’t plan for everything. An accident or sudden illness could cause you to lose your job and destroy your savings. A single night in the hospital could easily cost over $20,000. There is the case of the English couple with that was facing a bill ten times that size after the premature birth of their son. Even with health insurance, you could be liable for a percentage of the cost--and that percentage could wipe out your savings.

Hospital bills aren’t the only major setback one could face, but they are one of the major reasons why even the most conscientious of savers can end up in dire financial straits.

When faced with a devastating financial crisis, you can try to tough it out, or you can use a safety net that was created specifically to help consumers cope with suffocating debt: bankruptcy.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Gluten Free Dairy Free Moussaka- Greek Eggplant Casserole- With Vegan and Paleo Options

Though I love eggplant, my family, unfortunately, are not such fans. I mean, they'll eat it if I make it in something that is otherwise tasty, other than my one pickier eater. But eggplant is often on sale for very cheap round these parts, and I don't want to not be able to take advantage of it, just because of their not being thrilled with this vegetable.
That is why I was really excited to discover an eggplant recipe that my family is not only willing to eat, but they love it so much that they demand seconds and thirds as well. I can definitely say Moussaka is my favorite eggplant recipe in the whole wide world, and I've tasted many.

What is it?
Moussaka is an eggplant based dish, with many regional variations, originating in the areas of the former Ottoman Empire, though mostly associated with Greece (probably because of that scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the protagonist is embarrassed by her moussaka for lunch at school). The traditional Greek preparation, upon which I based my take-off, is made with fried eggplant ground beef or lamb in spiced tomato sauce, and bechamel sauce. Kind of like a very eggplanty, pasta free, meaty lasagna.
Since I am dairy free, I make mine with a vegan white sauce, though you can use any other vegan white sauce recipe if you want, or even a dairy bechamel sauce. I've made this moussaka with ground beef, ground turkey, and even with lentils instead of the meat- it's delicious every way. If you want to make this vegan, go with the lentil and vegan white sauce. If you're Paleo or dairy free, use the meat and dairy free cheese sauce. Otherwise, feel free to use whatever variation you desire, suiting your tastes and budget.
I don't fry mine eggplant, to save work and use less oil, and it works just as well.
This is a somewhat more labor intensive recipe, but it is so delicious that it is well worth the effort.

Gluten Free Dairy Free Moussaka- Greek Eggplant Casserole- With Vegan and Paleo Options

Thursday, January 22, 2015

How to Make a Homemade Firetruck Birthday Cake- Without All That Processed Food Junk

 photo IMG_0040_zps8ed06432.jpgA great birthday cake can truly transform a birthday party from fun to fantastic. If, like myself, you try to stay away from processed foods, especially margarine/shortening and food coloring, you might feel bad, thinking your kids will be suffering, since they can't have those "super cool" cakes that others have at their birthday parties.
Not to worry- you can still make great cakes for your kids birthdays, even without all that junk and chemicals normally found in these fancy cakes.
Ok, I take that back.
Not 100% without processed food.
You see, when I think of a fun birthday cake, I usually think lots of fun colored frosting, not just brown frosting. Chocolate frosting is cool, but kids want their race car cake or heart cake or space ship cake to have lots of colors and not just be entirely brown.
The "problem" with making a fully healthy birthday cake is that the healthier sugars all are brown, so any frosting made with them ends up being brown. To be able to make white frosting, which can then be colored with various means (I'll get to that in a second), you need to use white powdered sugar. Not powdered healthier sugars.
So- I make fun cakes for my kids' birthdays nearly processed food free. The only processed junk is the white sugar in the frosting. It's possible that maybe I'd be able to make a white frosting with powdered xylitol, but I haven't tried it yet. In the meantime, its just been white sugar.
But- food coloring free, hydrogenated oil free, dairy free, gluten free, egg free, and the cake refined sugar free- yea- that's what I'm talking about!

My friend, who's seen the birthday cakes I make for my kids, asked me if I'd be willing to make her son a healthier birthday cake for his birthday. A fire truck birthday cake, I was game to try it, and I really like how it came out, and so did the birthday boy, so I wanted to share how I made it with you.
I haven't seen anything like this before out on the internet, so hopefully it'll be a good resource for those fire truck loving birthday boys whose mamas don't want to use chemical food coloring and other junk in their kids' cakes.

So, before I go further, let me list all the ingredients I used, and then I'll explain how I made it.

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