Saturday, May 29, 2010

More posts will be coming soon

I've had to take a break the last week or so as I've dealt with some gluten problems. I'm feeling better now, and am gathering materials to start working on some projects I've been wanting to do.

Some of my projects:
Refinishing a cabinet for my craft and sewing supplies
Building storage cubbies for LMS's toys
Building storage and work space for my craft and sewing supplies
Reupholstering some chairs
Decorating LMS's room

I have other projects in mind, but I don't want to get too ahead of myself :)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A new project to work on

I haven't gotten as much accomplished lately as I'd like to due to some gluten problems. I finally figured it out last night (some contaminated vitamins) and stopped taking them. I'm feeling better today, and will hopefully be back to normal soon.

I did buy my first piece of project furniture last night. I got a great deal on an old chair that I'm going to reupholster. It'll end up either in LMS's room or our library/guest room. I haven't made a decision yet. LMS's bed is quite massive, so I think I'll probably need a taller chair to balance it out better. I found one on craigslist that I think would fit the bill, but am waiting for more info. Hopefully it works out.
It's not pretty, which is why I'll be reupholstering it, but it seems solid, and I like the woodwork. Right now it's airing out on our screened-in back porch: the previous owners sprayed it with Fabreze. Yuck! Because of my chemical sensitivities, I can't abide the smell of that stuff- it gives me an instant headache.

Once I have both chairs, I'll figure out what fabrics to use for each. I have some fabric that might work for the chair for LMS's room, but I'm not sure if I have enough. I've found several reupholstering tutorials lately, so I feel confident that I can do this and am looking forward to learning new skills.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Why we will be building bookcases

Monday I unpacked all of our books.
They haven't been unpacked all at once in years.
And we've gotten a lot more books since that time.

Once I've finished the storage cubbies for the playroom/sewing room I plan on building enough bookcases to fill the wall behind LMS. Hopefully that'll be enough space for our books. If not, I'll have to get rid of some of them. I have a hard time doing that, though, so I'm hoping it won't come to that. In the meantime, LMS is having fun re-discovering her books.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Organic Coupons

I recently found out about a new organic coupon site- Mambo Sprouts. You can sign up for coupons to be emailed or snail mailed to you, and they have giveaways, recipes, articles, and so on.

May is Celiac Awareness Month, so they are having a giveaway for several gluten free products. Head over here to check it out.

I'm always looking for coupons for gluten free products (they tend to be rather scarce), so I'm happy to find another source.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

U-Pick Strawberries

There's nothing like the taste of a freshly picked strawberry. Yum!

Saturday we went to a local u-pick farm and picked about 22 pounds of strawberries. As I paid for them, I realized that I could have bought them for a lot cheaper at the grocery store. This got me thinking about the trade-off between lowest cost and locally grown. Locally grown isn't necessarily cheaper, but it is the greener option.

While we did spend more, we also had the satisfaction of picking our own produce. Since we picked it, we know exactly where it was grown- not across the country in California and not in another country.

Was it a money saver? No. 

Do I think it was worth it? Yes.
Lots of strawberries for our green smoothies!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Glass Straws for Our Green Smoothies

It's way more fun drinking a green smoothie with a cool glass straw. I did some research and we ended up buying four Glass Dharma glass straws with the little colored bumps and a cleaning tool on ebay. (The little colored bumps keep the straws from rolling away.)

They aren't super cheap, but I think it's better to buy once, wash, and reuse glass straws, than to keep buying and throwing away plastic straws. We bought wide straws and they're great for smoothies- much better than super skinny plastic straws. I read reviews about the straws and everyone agreed that the glass straws don't break very easily, and if they do, Glass Dharma will replace them.

Broken glass is not something I wanted to deal with, so I also looked into stainless steel straws. However, someone brought up the point that you can't see inside them to make sure they're clean. Ewww! I'll risk broken glass rather than have green fuzzies possibly growing in my straw. At least with glass straws what you see is what you get.

LMS has been thoroughly instructed on the proper handling procedures of the straws, and hopefully there won't be any unfortunate accidents.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Gluten Free Granola

I can't eat most store-bought granola, as oats are frequently contaminated with gluten. I've tried several varieties of gluten free granola, but I haven't loved any of them, and they are expensive.

I found a recipe in Baking with Agave Nectar by Ania Catalano for granola and decided to try it since I only needed to make slight adaptations. There are no wheat ingredients, and while it does call for oats and oat bran, you can find gluten free versions of both.

I bought gluten free oats and oat bran, which aren't cheap but do last awhile. Since it's the first time I used this recipe and I wasn't sure of the results I halved the recipe. I wanted to put it on top of yogurt with some fresh berries, so I didn't go the orange flavoring route, though now that I think of it that might taste really good. I also left out the dried currants.

There's not a lot of oil, and the applesauce makes it a lot moister than my pre-gluten free granola recipe. I like crunchy granola, so I left it in the oven an extra half hour. It got more crunchy as it cooled though, so I may not have needed to do that.
Taste verdict:
I liked it. The pecans are nice touch, but I really like pecans. I think it would make a good granola bar because of the moisture content. I need to do some experimentation and try different flavor combinations. Hmmm.... orange pecan cranberry, lemon blueberry, dark chocolate cherry, apple cinnamon.... yummy!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Saving Money by Decorating Your Own Cakes

Little Miss Sunshine just celebrated her fourth birthday, and like the previous few years I made her cake. I could have spent a lot of money buying one, but why? Now, I don't claim to be a professional at all, but I do enjoy it. I'm learning new things and saving money.

For LMS's second birthday, I made a Finding Nemo cake.  That was a lot of fun, but all the icing work made my hand cramp.

Last year I made a castle cake to go along with the Cinderella theme. This one got away from me a bit and didn't turn out quite how I originally planned, but it still turned out well. I was planning and preparing a birthday party and a graduation party at the same time, so I had to know when to say when. That's something I'm working on- trying to squash my perfectionist tendancies and not stressing when things aren't exactly how I planned.

We had a graduation party for Mr S the same day we had LMS's birthday party. I made a cake for that one also. We had a lot of cake after these parties....

I also made these little chocolate hats out of Reese's cups, Ghirardelli squares, mini Reese's Pieces, and a dab of frosting. So easy, and so yummy!

I really like how fondant-covered cakes look, so this year I decided to give it a go. I made a simple purple polka dot cake and was encouraged by the result. I made a marshmallow fondant, then colored it with different amounts of purple coloring. I really like how the cake turned out- the only thing I'd change is to buy a small round metal cookie cutter to cut the polka dots. I used a knife and traced around a pill bottle, which got the job done, but wasn't as precise as I'd like. I love the shades of purple- so pretty!
One draw back of the fondant is that it doesn't taste good. I keep seeing people say that marshmallow fondant tastes better than regular fondant, but I wasn't impressed with the flavor of the marshmallow fondant. LMS ate half the fondant on hers, Mr S and I peeled it off. If anyone knows of a fondant that actually tastes good, let me know! I think I'll try adding some flavoring to the fondant next time.

While I did spend money on the materials and supplies, they cost less than a store-bought sheet cake, and significantly less than a specialty cake like the ones I've made. Are my cakes perfect? No. But just because a professional makes them, doesn't mean they look professional. Don't believe me? Check out Cake Wrecks.

Since we're now gluten free, the cake I made was gluten free. While gluten free bakeries are popping up all over, their products aren't cheap. By making my own gluten free cakes I save even more. My birthday is coming up in June and I'll be able to do some more experimenting. I'll try some flavored fondant, more precise cake shaping, and cookie cutters for shapes. I love learning new things!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Green Smoothies

Between eating gluten free and being more frugal, we've been changing up our usual meal plans. This means minimal amounts of processed foods and more produce. We've been trying to incorporate more fruits and veggies into our diets, but not with the greatest success.

I've seen quite a few people blog about green smoothies, and thought it sounded interesting, though also slightly gross. Since I recently bought a bunch of kale, I thought I'd try some green smoothies. Since a key ingredient seems to be kale, why not?

The first day I made them I used some kale, some spinach, some frozen blueberries, some frozen bananas (peeled and frozen the night before), some frozen pineapple (chopped up frozen the night before), and some water.

I wasn't sure how all that would turn out, but our blender had no problem pureeing it all- even the stems on the kale. I love our blender- it's a Kitchenaid and sooo much better than the cheap blender we got when we were first married. The smoothie looked rather gross- greenish/purple, but was actually quite sweet. Ever had Odwalla's Green Super Food juice? It was similar to that.

LMS looked at it with suspicion, as did Mr S and I, but we told her it was a pineapple (her favorite!) smoothie (which it was, there was just other stuff in there too), and she dug right in. Once we tasted it, Mr S and I decided it was good and drank it all down.

The second day, I got a little over-zealous with the spinach and kale, while reducing the amount of fruit. I used a frozen banana, a few chunks of frozen pineapple, 8 or 9 fresh blueberries that were starting to get wrinkly, and half an apple (cored because I really didn't want to drink pureed apple seeds). The end result was a lot less sweet, and a lot thicker and pulpy-er than yesterday's smoothie. LMS and Mr S were not nearly as enthusiastic about drinking them today (and neither was I, truth be told, but I set a good example anyway).

The third day our smoothies consisted of kale, spinach, banana, pineapple, some strawberries that were on their way out, and some mini carrots. It was much better than day two's smoothies.

I'm having fun throwing stuff in the blender and seeing how it turns out. I think I'll try some cabbage tomorrow... I also want to try adding flax seed, hemp protein and other healthy add-ins.

Does anyone else make green smoothies? Any ingredient suggestions?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Agave Nectar and a Giveaway

I've used agave nectar over the last year or so, after a dietician told me that it is low on the glycemic index and won't give me a sugar rush, but I've mostly used it to sweeten plain yogurt. On a couple occasions I've used it in chocolate peanut butter rice crispy treats with good results. I love chocolate and peanut butter, but that recipe calls for corn syrup, which always gives me a bad sugar rush. I don't remember having a reaction when I used agave nectar.

My most recent experiment was gluten free granola, sweetened with agave nectar (post to come).

Sheri over at Green & Crunchy is giving away a bottle of Xagave and a recipe book. I'd love to try the recipes and see the difference between Xagave and the brand of agave nectar I've bought in the past. Sure hope I win! Check out her post on Xagave nectar and all the ways she used it. They all sound yummy! Now I need to buy a dehydrator....

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Kale Chips

We're trying to eat healthier and buy less junk and more produce. This is a process since we're not used to eating lots of produce and we do like our junk food.

I've read about kale chips on various blogs, but I thought they sounded rather gross. However, I tried some at the farmers' market last week, and they're actually quite good! We went back to the stand that had kale and bought some to flat leaf kale to experiment with.  I also bought some curly leaf kale at the grocery store.

The flat leaf that I bought at the farmer's market:
The curly leaf that I bought at the grocery store:

I washed and dried the kale using my salad spinner, then tore them into small pieces.

I then drizzled olive oil, salt and seasonings over the kale and massaged the oil and seasonings in.

I spread the kale on cookie sheets.

And baked at 350 for 12 minutes.

After 12 minutes the flat leaf kale looked like this, so I think less time would have been better.

The curly leaf kale wasn't all crispy, so I left it in for a few more minutes. I'm not sure how much the different cookie sheets affected the outcomes, but I'm sure the stoneware slowed the cooking time on the curly leaf kale.

It's hard to tell, but these leaves are nice and crispy!

The verdict:
The flat leaf kale ended up super crispy and brown. I'm not sure if this was strictly because of the pan I used, or because of the variety of kale.

The curly leaf kale turned out better, but the larger pieces didn't crisp up as well- they took longer to cook. Next time I'll make sure all the pieces are smaller.

Less is more with the oil. I initially thought I didn't have enough oil, but went with what I'd seen others do and didn't add more. After cooking, the kale chips were a bit oily, so I definitely could have used less oil and still have had good results.

I'm going to make them again, but I'll do just one pan at a time, and I'll use less oil and more seasonings. One of the recipes I found said to mist the olive oil on- that's an idea to try, if I ever get an olive oil mister.

Have you tried kale chips? What did you think?