Thursday, March 22, 2012

Three Cheers for Spring

It is strangely sunny and warm here. I know the Spring Equinox was just a few days ago, but the weather has been warranting cotton dresses (no cardigans! no stockings! no scarves!) for about a week and a half now. Usually March means temperatures in the 30s and 40s, and I think last year there was still snow on the ground. But 85 degrees?! All my windows have been open for days, and two of them usually have a cat snoozing in a welcome patch of sun.

Well, rather getting into the issue of climate change right now, I have for you some lovely green things to look at. First, here are some of my favorites I've seen around on other blogs...

And here are the succulent gardens I assembled today...

Happy springtime!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Deodorizing Lavender Body Powder

"As the rosemary is the Spirit, so Lavender is the Soul, or according to an old proverb, as a Man is to a Woman. Rosemary and Lavender as messengers from the stars followed Adam and Eve from Paradise in the form of plants as a God-given token to remind this first man and woman of their starlit home. Ever since, they have followed man wherever he goes, through temptations and sickness, and God has given these two lowly plants the power to bestow on man strength, health, endurance, and resistance to disease. Their mission is to follow man until he returns to his starry home. So goes a beautiful old legend."

That comes from Jeanne Rose's Kitchen Cosmetics: Using Herbs, Fruits, and Eatables in Natural Cosmetics (1978). There is so much folklore and history that revolves around lavender and its many uses, but I think this legend is particularly lovely to imagine. And quite lofty considering that I'm just talking about deodorant. Well, here's a very simple recipe for an effective deodorizing body powder. The cornstarch absorbs moisture, the baking soda neutralizes odors, and the lavender provides some extra antiseptic action as well as a soft, old-fashioned, floral scent. Make sure your baking soda is aluminum free (most are, including Arm and Hammer).

1/4 cup cornstarch or arrowroot powder
1/4 cup baking soda 
6 to 7 drops lavender essential oil

Place cornstarch and baking soda in a jar, cap, and shake to combine. Add essential oil, and shake again to fully disperse oil through the mixture. Let stand, capped, overnight before using for best results.

Of course, you may use any essential oil you like in this, or even a custom blend of several. Some other essential oils that are particularly well-suited for deodorants are bergamot, clary sage, cypress, eucalyptus, lemon, juniper, grapefruit, neroli, patchouli, pine, rosemary, rosewood, tangerine, tea tree, and thyme. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Slow Cooker Tortilla Soup

2 small yellow onions
2 to 4 garlic cloves
3 ancho chili peppers, rehydrated
1 large can tomato sauce
1-2 tablespoons soup base
tablespoons cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon oregano
¼ teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves
black pepper 

1 green bell pepper, diced
2 cups frozen corn
1/2 cup dried black beans, soaked overnight
1/2 cup dried pinto beans, soaked overnight
1 small can green chilies
1 can diced tomatoes 

½ bunch cilantro leaves
2 limes
grated cheddar or pepper jack cheese to taste
corn tortilla chips

Roughly chop onions, garlic, and chili peppers and place in blender. Add tomato sauce, soup base, and all the dry spices then blend until smooth. Pour this mixture directly into the slow cooker and add the diced bell pepper, corn, soaked beans, canned green chilies, and diced tomatoes. Add water if it looks too thick for your taste. Cook on low for about 10 hours.*

When the beans are fully cooked, cut tortillas into strips, toss with olive oil and bake at 400 for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned and crispy. Turn off the slow cooker and stir in cilantro and lime juice. Serve soup in bowls topped with grated cheese, tortillas, and more fresh cilantro. 

*The fresher your dried beans are, the better they cook in a slow cooker. But if you are using beans you've had on the shelf for a couple months, just be aware that they might take longer to cook. You'll just have to experiment a bit to find the right cooking times for your particular slow cooker and beans. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

"Beef" & Broccoli with Homemade Seitan

Of all the seitan recipes I've tried, my favorite remains the Vegetarian Beefsteak recipe from the Grit Restaurant Cookbook (which if you ever find yourself within 100 miles of Athens, Georgia I strongly recommend a visit). I went once on a cross-country road trip from the Pacific Northwest, and was completely enamored. Since I knew it would be years until I could dine there again, I bought the cookbook on my way out, and it has become one of my absolute favorites.

This seitan recipe is lightly seasoned, and is completely adaptable for quesadillas, sandwiches, pizza toppings, stews, or whatever else strikes your fancy. This recipe makes a large batch so you can experiment with using it for multiple dishes. Refrigerated and immersed in water, the seitan will last for a week or two. For tastiest results, slice thinly and saute in oil before devouring. 


3 quarts water
1 t salt
¼ c water
½ c vegetarian Worcestershire sauce*
½ c soy sauce or Bragg's all purpose seasoning
¼ t liquid smoke
2 ½ c wheat gluten flour

*Often the cheap store brands will be vegan, just check the label

Boil 3 quarts water and salt in a large stockpot. Meanwhile, combine together in a large mixing bowl or a standing mixer the ¾ cup water with everything except the wheat gluten flour. Add the flour and mix until a ball forms. Remove ball and place on a dry surface to knead for a few minutes or if using a standing mixer use a dough hook to knead the dough for 2 to 3 minutes.

Slice the ball into 1½ inch thick slabs and when the water comes to a full boil, drop them in. Stir for the first minute or two of boiling to prevent the seitan from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Boil for 15 to 20 minutes (after about 10 minuets the seitan will float to the top, so keep an eye on them and stir as necessary to insure that they cook evenly)

After the seitan is done cooking, remove from pan and drop in cold water and refrigerate for an hour or more before using. This recipe really shines when the seitan is sliced as thinly as possible and lightly fried in oil to create a nice crispy crust.

(adapted from Kitchen La Bohème)

Cornstarch Mixture:
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/3 cup tamari
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon fresh, finely grated ginger
½ teaspoon red chili flakes
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup water

4 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 to 4 cups thinly sliced homemade seitan
3 to 4 cups broccoli florets
steamed rice

In a medium bowl, combine 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 2 tablespoons water and garlic powder and stir until smooth. Add sliced seitan and toss to coat. In a small bowl, combine tamari, brown sugar, ginger, chili flakes and remaining cornstarch and water. Set aside.

Fry seitan over medium-high heat in 2 tablespoons oil until seitan is nicely browned and crispy. Set aside. In remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, fry the broccoli until nearly tender. Add seitan and tamari mixture, combining to coat sauce over broccoli and seitan and cook for a minute or two or until it looks good to you. Serve over steamed rice.