25 April 2013

Making Kefir

A few years ago, in order to get more kinds of probiotic in our diet, I learned to make kefir, (pronounced kuh-feer). Now that I am eating a vegan diet, I do not use any dairy, but my husband does, so I continue to make the kefir for him. I was pretty intimidated when I first started working with the kefir grains, since I knew little to nothing about how they should behave. But after a misstep or two, I got the process down to a science and discovered that kefir is very flexible and much more tolerant to neglect that I thought it would be.

I could extol the virtues of kefir here, but instead I will give you a play by play on how to start your kefir and a recipe for my husband's favorite Mango Lassi. But if you are interested in knowing more about the health benefits of kefir, here is a website where you can find more than you really want to know about kefir,  Dom's Kefir website....
I believe there is a fair amount of latitude in how you treat the grains and still get an acceptable end product. I have heard many different ways of managing your kefir grains, some people say you must culture every day, others say culture in the fridge to slow down the process, but that you can't store the grains in the fridge for long if you aren't using it much, some say only use pasteurized milk, others say it is best to use raw milk... So I am just going to tell you what has worked for me and suggest that you read what several people have to say on the subject and then decide how you will proceed. Speaking from my own experience, I have found that the grains will tolerate a lot of different environments and schedules, after all kefir grains have been around for centuries, without pasturized milk or other coddling. There are a few things however, that must be done right in order to keep your kefir grains healthy and happy.  First of all the grains are a living entity, a collection of yeasts and bacteria that need a clean environment to live in and the proper kind of food to feed on in order to thrive and reproduce. By clean environment I mean a very clean glass container, but no plastic, since plastic has microscopic pores that will be impossible to clean well enough to prevent contamination. I run the glass container through the dishwasher with the heated dry option on to make sure there are no stray yeasts or bacteria hanging around. All implements that you use with the kefir grains need to be non-metallic, so use a plastic or nylon strainer, and plastic utensils, but no metal, it could damage the viability of the grains. If you handle the grains with your hands, make sure they are very clean first, I wear latex gloves if I am handling them to make sure that I don't contaminate the grains. Kefir grains need quality food to be healthy, just like we do, so if at all possible use organic milk or fresh raw milk to culture your kefir. If organic milk or raw isn't an option, then at least make sure that you use very fresh milk, don't use milk that has been sitting in the fridge for a week, since pasteurized milk doesn't go sour like raw milk does, it just goes bad and the bacteria that is growing in it is not of the beneficial variety.

What you will need to begin making Kefir:
Kefir grains, at least 1 tablespoon, (they can be found at Amazon.com from several sources, just read the feedback before purchasing to make sure other have been satisfied with the grains they received. I would say to be on the safe side look for a seller that is selling fresh live grains that can be delivered to you in a couple of days.)
A clean glass jar and lid. When starting with new grains that need to be grown, use a pint jar and plastic lid or two part regular lid with plastic wrap between the lid and the kefir grains in the jar.
Very fresh milk. Organic or raw is best, but fresh at the very least. Reconstituted powdered milk can also be used .
A plastic or nylon strainer
A plastic spoon or spatula
A plastic funnel, optional but I like it since I don't want any of the grains to miss the jar when transferring and hit the counter.

My Story...
 When I got my grains in the mail, inside the bubble pack envelope, I found a sandwich sized ziploc bag with less than 1/4 inch of goo in the bottom of the bag. I had no idea what kefir grains looked like, so I just followed the directions and waited to see what would happen, but I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that I had just wasted my money... I waited 24 hours and the milk smelled vaguely of yogurt, but was thin and there was no whey, so I left it another 8 hours. By this time there was a little more activity, so I strained the liquid off and found a bunch of little white things that looked like cottage cheese left in the strainer. I rinsed them with water trying to find the goo that I had originally put in the milk but all that I found was these tiny pieces of what I took to be clabbored milk. At this point I was pretty sure something was wrong and that my grains had just dissolved in the milk. I decided to just put the white ricotta cheese looking pieces in fresh milk with about half of the milk I had strained off to start with. Thinking that maybe the "grains" were like yogurt and you just used some of what you had from your last batch to start your next one... Wrong... the little pieces of clabbored milk were the kefir grains. They had just started to revive and take on their true shape. So after a day or two more of being fed fresh milk the grains were making nice thick kefir and yes, I had gotten my money's worth. The point of this story is to say, be patient, follow the directions, once your grains have made their home in the jar on your counter, they will start producing tasty healthful kefir for you.
Mature Kefir grains look like cauliflower florets

 When you order the grains you will be shipped about a tablespoon in quantity. They won't look like much. You will probably wonder if you got the right thing... Once you receive your grains, put them in milk immediately. For this quantity of grains add 1 cup milk to the grains in a pint sized canning jar and leave at room temperature in a place out of direct sunlight, (direct sunlight could damage your grains) and leave for 24 hours. The first batch you make from newly arrived grains will probably be thin and smell and taste a little off... I would just strain the grains out of the milk the first time or two and put the liquid in the compost or if you have a septic system flush it down the toilet, (it is great for promoting microbial growth in the septic tank! I use extra kefir in place of the very expensive name brand product called Rid-X that serves the same purpose). After the first day or two the kefir will begin to thicken and the taste will be similar to that of plain yogurt and will have pockets of yellowish liquid throughout, (the liquid that you see is whey, it will blend back into the milk when you use the kefir).
The grains will float to the top of the jar and pockets of yellowish whey will form in the milk when the kefir is ready.

Now you can pour the kefir through a plastic strainer, reserve the strained kefir liquid and put the grains back in your culturing jar with a spoon or spatula and cover the grains with a cup of milk.

Of course this is much more than a cup or two of milk, but I have been growing my kefir grains so that I will have enough to share at a class I am giving. The grains are what is left in the strainer in this photo.
 At this point your milk is colonized  and you can either store the strained kefir in the fridge in a glass jar for use in smoothies and other goodies, or go for a fermentation of the kefir, which will give you a full flavored, slightly effervescent kefir that has a more developed family of helpful yeasts and bacteria.  I found that the one day culture of kefir was pretty weak in flavor, and there is very little sparkle or effervescence, but if I left it to culture another day, the flavor was much improved and the sparkle far more pronounced. I almost always ferment the kefir liquid for a day before I put it in the fridge. So I have one jar culturing with the grains, and one jar without the grains fermenting for a day or two, (depending on the inside temperature).

According to those who are in the know, kefir should be cultured every day in order to keep it healthy. I will agree that they produce great kefir when cultured every day, but since my husband is the only one consuming it, He can't keep up with the supply. What I do is culture the kefir every day until I have enough to last my husband for a few days, then I put the grains in the fridge covered in milk and leave them for up to two weeks. Since most of the kefir that is consumed at my house is made into lassi and smoothies, and goes straight from the jar to the blender, I make sure to label the jar containing the grains with bold letters stating that these are the Kefir grains DO NOT USE. I would hate for my happy little colony of kefir grains to end up blended into a smoothie!! If in two weeks I haven't used the grains, then I drain off the kefir liquid, add fresh milk and leave it on the counter, after 24 hours, I pour that off , add new milk and place in the fridge. Any of the milk poured off of the grains is usable of course, but I usually pour the storage kefir into the toilet to boost the health of our septic system.

As the amount of grains in your jar grows you will need to increase the quantity of milk that you add to the grains for culturing. If you are getting thick, whey filled kefir in 8-12 hours then increase the size of the jar and double the amount of milk you add to your grains. It should take a full 24 hours to develop your kefir, so if it is taking less time you need to change the environment some, either increase the volume of milk being cultured or reduce the temperature of the culturing environment to slow the process., And I would say yes, you can culture in the fridge from time to time, just not every time you culture so that the grains have the opportunity to grow and maintain their colony health).

Healthy grains will grow and multiply fairly quickly so if you are having trouble staying ahead of what is being produced and you have gone up in container size and have added increasing quantities of milk, to the point where you can't use it all, then it is time to divide your grains. If you need less kefir, then decrease the quantity by removing 1/4 of the grains, (more if you are really not keeping up). You will need to reduce the amount of milk you are using to culture the kefir when you divide the grains. It should take about 24 hours to culture, if it is taking longer than that, the volume of milk in is too much for the grains to handle, so reduce the quantity until you are getting cultured kefir in about 24 hours.  What do you do with the extra grains? The grains can be eaten, or if you have a friend who loved the lassi when you serve her once, you can share some of the grains with her! You can also rinse the grains thoroughly in water and dehydrate them in a dehydrator with only air, no heat, (like most yeasts heat will kill kefir yeasts), until they are completely dry. Then store them in a small quantity of dry nonfat dried milk in a freezer bag. Label and store in a cool dark place, (dehydrated grains have a 2 year shelf life if dehydrated without heat and stored properly).

Now that you have Kefir, what do you do with it? Well, if you like the taste of plain yogurt, then you will probably like the taste of plain kefir, but if you are like my husband, plain is kind of... meh... He prefers to have his kefir in a lassi or smoothie. You can also use the kefir to make other lacto-fermented foods like sauerkraut, when you want to avoid salt. It makes a killer ranch dressing as well as other salad dressings, or it can be used like buttermilk in pancakes or other soda leavened foods, but heat kills the healthful properties of the kefir, so if you are looking for the health benefits then stick to uncooked preparations.

Here is my husband's favorite:

Mango Lassi 
Makes one serving but may be doubled or tripled without overfilling the blender.
One heaping cup frozen mango pieces, (for details see: Mangos)
One cup kefir
One healthy tsp. honey (if your mango is very, very ripe and sweet, or you like a tangy lassi, the honey is optional)

Place frozen mango and kefir in blender then add honey (which keeps honey from sinking to the bottom under the blades where it might not mix in). Blend until smooth. Serve immediately.

I also like to make these into popsicles  for a refreshing snack for hubby while he is working in the garden. Kids love them, they taste similar to a cremesicle without the sugar and preservatives! What a way to feed them their probiotics!

If you are looking for healthful  ways to add good flora to your digestive tract, or want a more digestible way to consume milk, then I would recommend Kefir. Yogurt is good, but as far as healthy yeasts and bacteria for you gut, Kefir beats yogurt hands down. Here is a couple of quotes from Kefir.net "...Yogurt contains transient beneficial bacteria that keep the digestive system clean and provide food for the friendly bacteria that reside there. But kefir can actually colonize the intestinal tract, a feat that yogurt cannot match.”
Yogurt has two basic forms of helpful bacteria,  where Kefir has 13. "...Kefir contains several major strains of friendly bacteria not commonly found in yogurt, Lactobacillus Caucasus, Leuconostoc, Acetobacter species, and Streptococcus species.
It also contains beneficial yeasts, such as Saccharomyces kefir and Torula kefir, which dominate, control and eliminate destructive pathogenic yeasts in the body. They do so by penetrating the mucosal lining where unhealthy yeast and bacteria reside, forming a virtual SWAT team that housecleans and strengthens the intestines. Hence, the body becomes more efficient in resisting such pathogens as E. coli and intestinal parasites. So the bottom line is, Yogurt is beneficial, but Kefir is superior in its benefits to intestinal health.

Blog Hops this post is linked to:
Tasty Tuesday#4
Farm Girl Blog Fest #29
Farm Girl Friday #105
Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways #69
Farm Girl Blog Fest #30
Clever Chicks Blog Hop #32

Healthy Frugal Snacking

Since becoming vegan/ mostly raw, I find that I am often hungry between meals. It has been hard for me to break the habit of not eating between meals, since for most my life that is one of the ways that I controlled my weight. But now that most every thing I eat is raw and all of it is plant based, I find the need to eat far more frequently. Actually, I eat all day long...

Today I started out with my early morning green drink, (which is 1 1/2- 2 frozen bananas, 1 heaping tsp. barley green, 1 level tsp. Erin's Super Green Drink powder and 8 oz. of water blended in a personal sized bullet blender), then a small mountain of fruit: apples, clementines, bananas, kiwi, mango,  and pineapple. After that I had my Beet the Blues Detox drink and went on about my morning. After watering all the seedlings and transplants, and doing the household chores I found myself peckish again around 10 a.m. Snacking can be expensive if it is a full time job, so I am always trying to find healthful, frugal snacks to eat between meals.

Since I was out in the garden when hunger struck, I picked a bunch of greens, including Blue Curly Kale, Wild Kale Mix, and Bright Lights Swiss Chard. The kale is trying to go to seed, but I am encouraging it to last a week or two longer by cutting off the flower stalks as soon as they appear, (BTW the kale flower stalks taste just like broccoli). Once inside I rummaged around in the freezer and found some berries from last year's harvest that I had frozen. I decided to make a green smoothie with the kale and the blueberries.
Here is the recipe:

Kale Berry Smoothie
2 frozen bananas
2 cups of mixed blueberries and blackberries frozen or fresh
1 bunch kale or other deep green leafy 
1 healthy handful of fresh lemon balm, (spearmint will also do, but I really like the citrus-y taste of the lemon balm) or the juice of 1/2 a lemon and a tsp. agave.
Water to aid in blending, and to obtain desired consistency, about 2 cups ( you can also use organic 100% fruit juice if you like).

Put 1 cup of water and the greens in the blender and blend. Then add the frozen bananas, the blueberries, and the lemon balm, (or its alternative), and blend. Add more water, (or juice) to make the drink to the thickness of your liking.

The smoothie is thick, cold and refreshing, but will have a slightly different texture than many smoothies, since it has fresh greens in it. It is delicious, and will probably hold me for another couple of hours, until I can make myself some lunch. The total cost of my mid morning snack was about 40 cents, since the blueberries, greens and lemon balm all came out of the garden, the only thing I included that had a cost was two organic bananas, which cost about 20 cents a piece.

I am always looking for a way to cut grocery costs, especially if we are paying the premium price of organic food. Growing a garden is one way that I can afford to eat the way I need to and not break the bank. The other part of that is to find ways to use what we grow in as many meals and snacks as possible. For every head of lettuce I pick from the garden, every batch of fruit I freeze, I am saving money. If I think about what we have growing when I plan my meals; I can use what is coming out of the garden first and then add other things that have to be purchased to round out the meals.

I know that there are many people who do not have the luxury of land to grow in, and for those people I am going to be writing a series of blog posts on how to grow your own food when you have no space for a garden. I also will be giving tips and thoughts on the most inexpensive and practical ways to buy the foods that you can't grow. So please check back and find out how you can be frugal and eat well at the same time.

Until next time! Elle

Blog Hops this post is linked to:
Frugal Days Sustainable Ways #69
Farm Girl Fest #30

A Stroll Around the Garden

I have been a bit under the weather. I normally don't suffer much with spring allergies any more, but we had some very strong winds blowing recently and the amount of the pollen in the air is enough to choke a horse, so my head is aching and my throat is sore. I have been doctoring the sore throat with a souped up version of my Beat the Blues Detox Drink. I took the basic tonic ingredients and I added double the cayenne, double the honey, and double the lemons, I also added 2 large cloves of garlic. I put it in the blender and gave it a good whirl with a couple of cubes of ice. I will nurse this all day. This will knock out any bacteria that is lurking around in the aggravated throat tissues, and give me a good detox to boot! I am also taking the "Four Thieves" combination of essential oils, clove, lemon, cinnamon,  eucalyptus radiata, and  rosemary, to fight bacterial infection, and my echinacea tincture to boost my immune response. I was feeling crummy all day yesterday, and woke up rocky this morning, but I think my body is getting a head of steam with all the "help" it has had in the last 24 hours, so I know I will be feel like myself soon!

Since I am still feeling sub par, today will not be as busy a day as I had planned, but I will take you on a tour around and show you what is going on in the garden.

Tomato seedlings are out for the day to harden off . The other flats are just getting started, but the weather is finally warm enough to start them outside.

 Romaine lettuce is ready for cutting. Since the weather is beginning to get warm, most of the early lettuce has gone bitter and started to bolt, but some of the lettuce, like the romaine is a little more heat resistant.

Oak Leaf lettuce is sending up flower stalks. I will be pulling them up in the next few days to make room for beets and turnips.

 A honey bee is pollinating the Giant Red Mustard flowers.

 Turnip seed pods are beginning to ripen. I am hoping that they are going to be ready to be pulled up by the time I need the bed for warm weather crops.

 The mature Bright Lights Swiss Chard is going to bolt soon, and the succession crop of chard is planted between the rows. For now I am cutting the flower stalks off  to encourage new growth in order to stretch out the harvest and shorten the "hungry gap" between spring and summer crops.

 The trellised blackberries are covered with blossoms and bees.  Unfortunately, a good portion of our blueberries were burned in an deep chill late in the season, but it looks like the blackberries will make up for the losses!

It has been many years since we had any quantity of honeybees visiting our garden. For the most part we see bumble bees, little tiny bees and wasps, so it is sure nice to see the honeybees again!

I have been harvesting the onions a few at a time and using them to season our salads, and putting slices of the onions with cucumbers in the vinegar left from one of the empty jars of pickled daikon . They make flavorful compliments to simple meals.

The strawberries we replanted last year look like they are going to be fruitful this year...I can't wait!

This is a busy time of year for us, starting seeds, preparing beds, managing the winter crops trying to eek out a couple more week of food, and putting plans in place for more beds to expand our growing area. I also have been spending time enjoying the warmth of the sun, the birds, bees and butterflies and soaking up as much of the pretty spring weather as I can, before it gets too hot. Our spring here is short but sweet and then we have unrelenting heat and no rain to speak of for the whole summer. We have designed our gardens to weather the heat and the drought, by heavy composting and deep mulches to keep the moisture in. I just wish that there was something that I could do that would make me more heat tolerant!

I hope you enjoyed the stroll around the garden with me and that you will come back for a visit soon!
Blog Hops that this post is linked to:
Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways #69
Clever Chicks Blog Hop#33

16 April 2013

No Guilt Vegan Lasagna

I love Italian food. Actually, I have a fondness for ethnic foods in general, but Italian dishes in the past have always been my go-to comfort foods. Since adopting a vegan diet, and focusing on raw foods where possible, the pasta and cheese that I used to find such comfort in are a thing of the past. I have gone through a sort of grieving process. I am very fond of cheese and pasta... at times I really miss them, along with chocolate, coffee, sugar and a list too long to detail... I chose to eat a vegan diet because I wanted to win my battle with Fibromyalgia and get my life back. Unlike many people who follow a vegan diet, I have no problem using foods derived from animals, such as milk, eggs, cheese, and honey. These were mainstays in my vegetarian diet, but no matter how healthy I tried to eat, I wasn't making any headway with the debilitating manifestations of FM, so I decided to give vegan/raw a try. Having made such wonderful progress in my health, tempted as I may be to cheat and have some comforting, deeply satisfying, rich, cheesy lasagne, I will forgo the pleasure and stick with the vegan diet. Sigh...

It has been on my to-do list for some time to come up with a recipe for a comforting, rich, flavorful lasagna that would be healthful, relatively light on caloric intake, and fully raw. This past week I finally set aside the time to play in the kitchen and came up with what I consider a success. Of course it isn't lasagna in the classic sense of the word, since it isn't served hot and there is nary a whiff of dairy cheese anywhere, but it is quite good. It would make a great festive dinner for the summer, when it is too hot to heat up the kitchen, whether you're vegan or not.

**Before I get into the recipe, I want to talk about some things I do to make my life easier day to day. In order to be equipped for preparing interesting and varied meals, I have found it necessary to do certain things ahead and in bulk in preparation for daily meal preps. I have a routine. I make and keep on hand several kinds of lacto-fermented foods, like sauerkraut and kimchee, for adding to salads and using as a flavorful side dish or snack, I pickle daikon and other veggies, sprout a number of different kinds of seeds for use in salads and wraps, I soak and sprout some seeds to boost nutrition but "harvest" them when just the tips of the sprout pokes out, before any leaves develop. I soak and  freeze or dehydrate all the nuts that we eat, to eliminate the naturally occurring enzymes that prevent premature sprouting, but are also digestive inhibitors. I make kombucha, and for my husband who does eat some dairy and loves baked bread, I make kefir and enjoy keeping a sour dough starter for making bread. I also keep a supply of sundried tomatoes in the fridge, soaked and ready to use. I keep these things going perpetually. Something is always growing, culturing, or fermenting on my counter. If you are trying to eat more living food, I would suggest that you get in the habit of preparing as many staple items as possible ahead of when you will need them. That way daily meal prep times are greatly reduced.**

The Lasagna Ingredients List

For  Cashew Cheese
Two heaping cups of raw cashews, soaked for 4 hours in water, then drained,(this will make about 3 cups soaked cashews)
Two large or 3 medium cloves of garlic, crushed and roughly chopped
A large handful of fresh basil, (about 3/4 cup)
One tsp. sea salt or real salt
 Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar, 1/4 cup
Scant 1/3 cup water
One Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

For the Filling
Two carrots grated
One large zucchini
2 cups spinach or chard, shredded
One package enoki mushrooms or one cup cremini mushrooms sliced thinly

For the Sauce
Two cups of sun dried tomatoes, soaked for 4 hours in water, reserve 1/3 cup soaking water.
Two Roma tomatoes, quartered
Sprig Fresh rosemary, Two -three sprigs each parsley and oregano, and a handful of basil  , (approx. one cup).
Two- three garlic cloves, crushed and roughly chopped
Two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
A tablespoon or two of tomatos powder, (optional)
Red wine, 1/4 cup, or one tablspoon balsamic or red wine vinegar
One tsp. agave
One tsp. salt

Equipment Needed
Large sharp knife
High powered blender, (not a personal bullet blender)
Mandoline, or V-slicer, (if available)
Garlic press, (if desired)

 The Cheese
The first step to making the vegan lasagna is to soak a large bag of raw cashews for at least four hours, (I get mine from an Indian market in Charlotte, their prices are very affordable. If you don't have a ethnic market that sells raw cashews, look for them at the natural food store). The cashews should soak long enough to remove all the digestive inhibitor and to make them soft so that they will be creamy when blended. The cashews should be raw, roasted cashews will not work for making cashew cheese for the lasagna. Drain the cashews and let sit in strainer for awhile to drip dry. Take out 3 cups of cashews for the recipe and place the remaining cashews in a freezer bag for use in the future. Be sure to mark the bag as soaked cashews and store in the freezer.

In a high powered blender, place the three cups of soaked cashews in the blender with 2 large or 3 medium peeled and chopped or pressed garlic, 1 tsp. sea salt or Real salt, a big handful of fresh basil, and 1/4 cup Bragg's apple cider vinegar and 1 tsp. agave. Pulse to begin chopping the nuts, then add water a little at a time to keep the blades taking the nuts down. Do not add much water at first, pulse and scrape the cashew mixture frequently, start with a scant 1/4 cup of water and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Add water carefully and sparingly, just enough water to keep things moving in the blender. Once the nuts are moving around the blender and it is beginning to get creamy, stop adding water and just pulse and scrape to keep things moving. Each time will be different dependent upon weather and how much water the cashews took up while soaking, but I used less that 1/3 cup of water when I made it. The objective is to have a very thick "cheese" the consistency of drained ricotta cheese. Taste and adjust salt as desired and chill while preparing the veggies for assembly.

The Veggies
For the filling in the layers of the lasagna, grate two carrots, shred into strips several handfuls of spinach or swiss chard. I used swiss chard, folded several leaves together lengthwise and cut across the width in small strips. Since I was using Bright Lights Swiss Chard, that has a rainbow of colors, this made each strip green on either side with a pretty splash of color in the middle. Thinly slice a small package (4 oz. is plenty) of cremini mushrooms, or if you can find them use enoki mushrooms as I did. I found a variety of fresh mushrooms at an oriental market for a very affordable price. The enoki mushrooms are quite nice in this lasagna, but if you can't find them cremini will be fine, just slice them thinly.
Choose a large zucchini. This is a great use for those blimp sized zukes that went unnoticed for a few days in the garden. As long as the flesh is still tender and the seeds are small, a zucchini 10-14" long is perfect. With a sharp knife, cut the ends off , cut in half across the width, then stand on one cut end and cut a strip off to make a flat surface, so it will make good contact with the slicer. With a mandoline or V slicer, slice medium thick lengthwise slices of a zucchini. If you don't have a slicer then stand on end and make 1/8th slices with a large sharp knife. These strips will be about 1/8" thick or slightly thicker, but not as thick a 1/4 inch. They will be used in the place of pasta in the raw lasagna.

The Sauce

 Here is another time that I make in advance what I will need over the course of a week. This recipe calls for 2 cups soaked sun dried or dehydrated tomatoes, so I put a whole bag 8 oz. of them in a mason jar to soak with some garlic granules and a sprig or so of fresh rosemary. They will keep in the fridge for several weeks so what doesn't get used in this recipe will be available for use for other purposes later. Soak the tomatoes for when you soak the cashews, so that they will both be ready when you want to prepare the lasagna. Reserve 1/3 cup of soaking liquid. Cut the ends off two-three ripe Roma tomatoes, quarter and place in a high powered blender with the soaked sun dried tomatoes, a handful of fresh basil, a few sprigs of fresh oregano, parsley and rosemary, (strip the rosemary off the woody stem before putting in the blender), and 2-3 large cloves of garlic crushed and rough chopped. We are crazy for garlic so we use a lot; if you aren't as enthusiastic about garlic as we are use less. Because I have it on hand, and I really like the bright tomato-y flavor I use a tablespoon or so of tomato powder at the end of the blending process, to thicken up the sauce. This isn't readily available in stores so it isn't integral to the recipe, but does add a nice flavor if you happen to have some. I get my tomato powder from Honeyville Grains. The tomato powder is part of my emergency pantry and long term storage food supplies. To the tomatoes, herbs and garlic add 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and 1/4 cup of red wine, (optional, but if you don't use the wine add a tblsp. of balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar),  a tsp. of agave and a tsp. of salt.

 Blend these together, pulsing and scraping to get the mixture into the blades until things are chopped up well. Then while blender is running, add some of the reserved tomato soaking water, small quantities at a time, so that the whole business ends up a little looser than the consistency of tomato paste. Only use as much as necessary to get the blender blades to pull the tomatoes mixture through and create a nice thick paste. If available, at this point add your tomato powder and blend to distribute.
The tomato sauce should be very close to the consistency of tomato paste.

The Assembly
The assemble is done on individual plates.  Start by placing two strip of zucchini on the plate.  Spread a modest layer of the cashew cheese on the zucchini then spread with the tomato sauce. Next sprinkle with shredded carrots.

Place the enoki mushrooms, (or cremini mushrooms if that is what you are using), then arrange your shredded greens atop the mushrooms and cover with a second layer of zucchini. Repeat, as for the first layer, cheese, sauce veggies and top with a final layer of zucchini.

Top the final strips of zucchini with sauce and sprinkle with  a nice dusting nutritional yeast. Decorate the top with a few sprigs of enoki mushroom and a small piece of curly kale or parsley. Serve at room temperature with  a crusty bread, and a salad.

I hope that you will give this a try, I know it is a little different, but then sometimes doing something a little different is a good thing! Take care and I will see you again soon!

Blog Hops this post is linked to:
Tackle the Menu Tuesday 
Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways #68 
Busy Bee's 13th Blog Hop
Adorned From Above Blog Hop #16
Farm Girl Fest #29
Farm Girl Friday #105

11 April 2013

A Day At Heart's Ease Cottage

Well, the weather is warming up and it is time to spend our days outside. I thought I would do a pictorial "Day in the Life" at Heart's Ease Cottage. Just for fun!

We started our morning by making our three day supply of vegetable juice, we buy organic carrots and a few other veggies, but all the greens come from our garden.

After juicing the next job was to clear the bolting lettuce from one of the beds and replant with the starts that just came out from under the lights inside.

Bibb lettuce seedlings go in where the mixed leaf lettuce came out. The romaine in the front of the bed is still tasty so we will try and get it used up before it decides to go bitter and bolt.

My husband took the plastic off the green house tunnels, cleaned them and spread them out to dry so they can be stored until cold weather requires them again.

Da is top dressing the beds with compost before I plant the next round of veggies.

The compost is very friable and full of earthworms.

While Da is top dressing, I am clearing the cabbages from the bed and preparing them to go inside to become sauerkraut, dehydrated cabbage and stir fry for dinner.

Cabbage heads and trimmings. The cabbage heads go to the house, trimmings go to the compost pile.

After the most of the cabbages are cleared from the bed I rake it clear of debris. Da will top dress once it is cleaned up and I will replant with the next crop of late spring cabbages.

My next task is to prepare the cabbages to become sauerkraut and dehydrated cabbage.

We will use the dehydrated cabbage in soups and casseroles. We eat mostly raw, but on occasion I like to have something cooked. The rest is stored for long term storage emergency pantry use.

By 2 o'clock the  green drink and mountain of fresh fruit we had for brekkers have disappeared and tummies are grumbling. It is time for me to make lunch! I will start with a base of fresh picked and washed mixed lettuces, chard and spinach from the garden.

To the bed of greens I will add grated organic carrots, bell pepper, red onion, broccoli, home made raw sauerkraut (see tutorial), home made raw daikon radish and carrot pickles (see tutorial), and top it with a few soaked raw cashews. There is no need for a salad dressing since the kraut and the pickled veggies add both a burst of flavor and a little moisture.

I topped the salad with a sprinkling of dulse flakes for extra vitamins and iodine and add a side dish of fresh mango, pineapple and kiwi. A healthy, tasty and beautiful lunch that is a feast for the eyes as well as the body!

 The rest of the afternoon was spent preparing dinner and working on this blog entry... I am beat. We got a bunch of things done, spent time in each others company and even got a start on a bit of a tan, it has been a lovely day!

Blog Hops this post is linked to:
Clever Chicks Blog hop #30

A Long Time In Coming... Part 2

In the intervening years since the chimney fire, (read part one of the story here), our little cottage has seen many changes and improvements. The initial construction was done when we were novice builders and there were some things we decided to do over, due to mistakes made by inexperience. We also had to use salvage goods for building materials, since there were limited supplies for a good while after the hurricane, so we replaced our salvage yard doors and floor coverings as time and money allowed.

The total time elapsed on completion of the house after the hurricane was about 6 years. During those years we lived our lives around the construction projects going on inside. We split our time between indoor construction projects, and establishing gardens and outbuildings to house our growing menagerie of barnyard animals.
A roof top view of one of our early garden configurations. The espaliered fruit trees and our two "sentinal" plum trees were just a few years old. The potting shed was later torn down to make more room for blueberry bushes.

The kids helped to finish their rooms, doing whatever task was appropriate to their age. Driving nails, spackling sheet rock, sanding and painting, were some of the things that they did. Our oldest son, who was 9 or 10 at the time, wanted to place a time capsule in the space above his door frame, so in the future if the walls ever came down again, there would be a history of the boy whose room it was. Before we closed the walls in with sheet rock, he placed his time capsule in the wall and signed the wooden header above the door with his signature and the date. The youngest also "signed" his wall frame before the sheet rock went up, although his signature was that of a 3 year old so it wasn't really legible. I think the experience of living as we had to live for those years, gave my children exposure to a number of useful skills and experiences that added significantly to their lives as adults.

Our house has been a work in process for 24 years, we have raised our children, home schooled two very different children, supporting their interests by allowing them to develop parts of the yard for their own use. N. our oldest, was very interested in creating bonsai. He had several beautiful specimens that he created and more that he collected from other places. He selected the east side of the house to have a showcase garden for his bonsai. He and his dad designed and built display tables for his bonsai and collection of Ping Mountain rocks that he used as foils for his trees. It was a lovely addition to the yard and gave us much pleasure.
Our oldest son with a couple of his bonsai trees. Circa 1996
N. training his root over rock Ficus Benjamina

 Our youngest child, E.M., was interested in animals and wanted to raise chickens. He and his dad built his first chicken coop when he was 6 years old. His first flock was a bantam rooster and  5 hens. As the years went by we added other chicken coops, then we added a rabbit house and later two barns for our herd of dairy goats and their progeny. He raised chickens and sold eggs and supplied eggs to our table,  sold rabbits to 4-H members as show animals, and the dairy goats gave us an ample supply of goats milk for cheese and to drink.  The grounds around our house were developed to support his interests and we enjoyed the life that the animals brought to the homestead and the wholesome, beautiful food that came to the table.

The first small coop that 6 year old E.M and his dad built to house his prized bantam Rooster "Bad Boy" and his 5 hens. The bantam eggs make wonderful omelets!

E.M. planting flowers around the rabbit cage in his "Bunny Garden"  Circa 1996

 Our home schooling years, (17 years in total), occupied our attentions and land for many years. As the boys grew and developed new interests, we tried to make sure that they had a place and time to explore them. Now that the boys have grown to men and live in their own places, the homestead has been taking on a new face. We are now crafting our land to meet the needs and interests of an empty nest couple. Our interest has always been self sufficiency, organic sustainable agriculture, and preserving of "lost arts" like herbal medicine, food preservation, and "simple" living. Now that it is just the two of us, that is our focus. We are vegan, so we no longer need to have livestock or chickens, and as much as I loved having the animals around, I want to be free to travel for extended periods, so we no longer have barnyard animals. We have been streamlining our gardens, adding more beds to host my medicinal herbs and beds for permanent perennials like asparagus and ginger and edible perennials that we never had room for when we had growing boys, (and their friends), to feed. We have also been looking to the future with our efforts going to establishing a learning center/ nursery here at Heart's Ease Cottage. Teaching is my passion, and I want to make our years of experience and the techniques that we have developed available to others who are interested in self sufficiency and small scale homesteading. More on that in future blog posts, but for today I want to turn one of our most recent projects...

A year or so ago, a friend of ours gave us a 1890's vintage wood stove. He had kept it as a project for years, but never had the time to work on it, so he gave it to us. It spent a year in stasis in one of the chicken houses, protected from the weather, but still in need of a lot of TLC. Then last summer, my husband began to putter on it, brushing it with a wire brush and sand paper to eliminate the rust, (much of this was done without my knowledge, since he was trying to surprise me with the completed stove).

One piece of the unfinished stove

He sent several of the ornamental parts off to be nickel plated, and began to make plans for the interior brick chimney to be refaced. At this point he let me in on the surprise, since he knew I would want to choose the new interior look. We had the chimney repaired, the interior refaced and the stove sanded  and painted with stove black. When the decorative pieces arrived, (a saga in itself, where the plating company changed location and lost some of the key parts... which as of yet have not been found or replaced...sigh.), we were ready to put the stove in place and hook it up to the new chimney. So, after 22 years of waiting, Heart's Ease Cottage is once again equipped with a wood burning heat stove. The project is not finished, since we will be refurbishing the wood floor in that room during the warm weather months and installing a ceramic tile base for the stove to stand on. For now the stove is sitting on a fireproof pad awaiting the completion of that room. But in the meantime are able to use the stove and enjoy its warmth for heat and ambiance.It has been a long time in coming, but it is so worth the wait! Many thanks and big hugs to my husband for knowing the desires of my heart and working so hard to bring them to life!

The old Franklin stove and the 1944 brick chimney which was damaged by the hurricane.  Circa 1989

A day time view of the new stone and newly refinished 1890's stove.

 I am so excited about having a working stove in that room again, and it sure is pretty set against the lighter stone we chose for the chimney face!  Circa 2013

So while the cool weather lasts, we are drinking hot tea and playing cards or backgammon near the fire and enjoying the fruits of our labors. Until next time! I hope you are loving life and living your dreams!

Blog Hops this post is linked to:
Busy Bee's Blog Hop #12 
Country Homemaker Hop#60
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