Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Homemade Buns

On my days off this week, I decided to replenish the buns in our freezer by making a batch. We use buns mostly for veggie burgers, and they are so much better (and cheaper!) when made by hand.  The recipe is slightly altered from one that I found on The Fresh Loaf. Here is my version:

2 cups white flour
1 1/2 - 2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons regular yeast
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups warm water

Start by activating your yeast. Mix yeast, sugar, and water in the bottom of a large bowl, and let it sit for about 10 minutes. It should look all foamy when it is done, like this:

Mix together the white flour, 1 1/2 cups of the whole wheat, and the salt in a separate bowl. Slightly beat the eggs, then add the olive oil. Mix the wet and dry ingredients into the yeast mixture, stirring until a dough starts to form and pull away from the sides. Dump the dough onto your countertop, and knead for about 10 minutes, adding flour as needed. The dough should be tacky, but not overly sticky.

Dough before kneading

Dough after kneading

Next, clean out your bowl and coat it in a thin layer of oil. Put dough into the bowl and flip it upside down to grease the top of it. Cover it in a clean tea towel and put it somewhere warm to rise for an hour. 

Dough greased and ready to rise

Dough rising

My warm place is my oven. While I am kneading, I turn my oven on to the lowest setting (150 F) for a few minutes. I then turn it off and turn on the light. I put the bread into the warm oven and keep the light on as it rises. After the first hour of rising, the dough should be doubled in size:

after first rise

Punch down the dough, knead it a couple of times, and put it back in your warm area to rise for a second hour. It will double once again. After the second hour is over, punch down the dough again, knead it a couple times, and divide it into 8 or 12 pieces, depending on the size of bun desired. I did 8, as we tend to make our burger patties large. Flatten each piece into a small disc and shape into buns by folding the edges into the center:

Fold in the edges 4 times

The bottom left is what all of your buns should look like after shaping

Flip all of your buns upside down, so the smooth part is on top (prevents seals from splitting while rising), and place on a greased cookie sheet. Cover with the towel again, and let rise for 35-60 minutes. Mine rose really quickly, so they only needed another 35 minutes. 

final rise

Preheat your oven to 450 F (remember to take out the buns if you were rising them in the oven!). Flip over the buns so that the creases are on top. Bake at 450 F for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown, and hollow sounding when tapped. 

hot from the oven!

Allow them to cool completely, and either freeze them immediately, or keep on the counter for 3-4 days, if they last that long! Mine don't look exactly like kaiser buns, but they are homemade and delicious, which is all that matters to me! Happy Baking!


Monday, February 21, 2011

Freezer Mania

I have a confession to make. We have an addiction of sorts, and it's time to come clean. We are two people, living in a house with one roommate, and there are 4 freezers in that house. 3 of them belong to D and I. That's right. Two people, three freezers. And two of those freezers are chest freezers. And they are all full.

It seems excessive, no? But I wouldn't change anything about it. What do two people with no children and two cats (who use none of the freezer space, except to sit on the tops), need three freezers for? Well, it may be my addiction talking, but they are very useful! They save us money throughout the winter by preserving fresh summer produce, making it easy for us to create quick meals during the week from scratch!

Each of our respective freezers has a separate job. The fridge freezer holds all of our currently in use products, or items that we regularly need access to. What are they you ask? Well, we currently have frozen yogurt, vegetable stock, open bags of frozen fruit, an opened bag of bread, bread crumbs, and many other things that are currently being used. Here is a photo of it. It is messy and looks terrible, but I wasn't about to stage my freezer for this post. This is how it looks every day, and I am fine with you seeing it this way :):

The second freezer, that lives in the pantry area of our kitchen, is mostly for items that are too big to fit into the fridge freezer, but are needed on a fairly regular basis. This includes our homemade pierogies, organic corn and peas (for quick vegetables with dinner), various soups, and other homemade quick dinners.  

The blue container is leftover Christmas baking

We have only had the third up and running since last summer, but it has been a very welcome addition to our freezer family. It was a free hand-me-down from my parents, and it lives in our garage. It keeps all of our frozen fruit and vegetables that are currently not in use. We also have all of our freezer jams, bagels, and baking needs stored in there. For fruits, we have blueberries, strawberries, plums, peaches, raspberries, and cherries, all organic and fresh from last summer. For vegetables we have cubed and pureed pumpkin, kabocha squash, beans, and broccoli. We also have pesto from the garden, and tomato sauce. In October of last year, one of our local bulk natural food stores went out of business, so we stocked up on organic nuts, chocolate chips, and hot cereal. All of these are kept in mason jars in that freezer to keep them fresh. 

Garage Freezer. Jams on the left. 

We do at least one "freezer meal" per week, and I use the frozen fruits in smoothies at least twice per week, probably more. The fruit is great for baking as well. Buying frozen organic fruit is very expensive during the winter, and it is never as good as the stuff you freeze yourself. Opening up a bag of frozen strawberries and smelling them takes me back to summer time, when I was saying that I never wanted to see another strawberry again. But oh am I glad that I put all of that work into it. Looking outside to the cold, grey sky and being able to smell summer in the kitchen is one of the greatest luxuries I know. 


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Green Alternatives: Food Storage

Green Alternatives is a series that shows you the green alternatives to normally wasteful/toxic products. I use all of the featured products in my own home. I am not being paid to endorse any of the products in this series, I just really like them! In my opinion, a green alternative falls into at least 2 of these categories:
     1. They contain no toxic chemicals/fragrances/etc
2. They are reusable and/or eliminate/reduce the amount of waste normally produced with their counterpart
     3. They contain less or no plastic
     4. They are produced by ethical companies who care about my health and the environment

This week's Green Alternatives will be covering food storage. I have slowly been trying to wean or pare down our plastic food storage for three reasons. One, it is very hard to remember what exactly is in the fridge, especially when all of the leftovers and various other things are stored in plastic yogurt containers that all look the same. Two, it kind of freaks me out that my food is sitting in plastic, having who knows what leeching into it. And three, since I have a strict "no microwaving of any plastics, no excuses!" rule in the house, it is a pain to store food in plastic only to have to transfer it to another non-plastic container to reheat. I don't like to do more dishes if I don't have to. I still keep all of my yogurt containers for freezing things like soup and vegetable stock, and there is no way I have the money to entirely replace all of my tupperware, but I figure replacing it little by little, I am making some difference. I also will not be purchasing any more plastic food storage systems. Glass all the way. So here is what I use for food storage in the fridge:

These nifty little containers are made by Anchor Hawking, a great source for all things glass. The best thing about their products is that you can find them almost anywhere! Well, I can at least. Also, all of the lids that come with their products are BPA free, even better. And they are super affordable! I just got a glass set of 4 custard cups (with lids), a 9x9 glass baking dish, and a 9x13 glass lasagna dish on sale at Canadian Tire for $8.88. So this is a very affordable way to phase out your tupperware. Now, I am by no means suggesting that you should immediately banish all things plastic from your home. By keeping this in mind, maybe next time you need to purchase a new food storage set, you will look for glass. I can hope, anyways, right?

Now as far as dry goods go, I have a mostly glass pantry. The two biggest exceptions that I have are what I store my flour and sugar in. I buy my flour and sugar at Costco, so they come in giant bags. 20 kg of flour at a time, and 10 kg of sugar. I buy the sugar there because it is cane sugar, and the flour is unbleached and from a local company. I have never seen a glass container big enough to hold even half of the sugar, never mind the flour. So I use big plastic tubs from D's work. Does anyone know of a source that I could locate a glass alternative? Right now, about half of the flour goes into the big tub, and the rest is sporadically placed in the biggest glass containers I have  throughout the kitchen. The sugar all fits into its big tub. But for the rest of the pantry I have collected glass storage sets and also use mason jars, as well as recycled jars. For the mason jars, I simply reuse my old canning lids that I cannot seal again, or put wax paper over the top so that I don't have to buy new lids. Yes, they have random things like "Pears 2010" written on them, but I have enough faith in myself to be able to distinguish between pears and navy beans.  Here is a small sample of my pantry storage ( I am much to ashamed of the state of my pantry to actually allow you in there right now haha) :

I always label my "whites", like baking soda and icing sugar, to avoid baking disasters! Otherwise, I mostly rely on my memory to remind me of what things are. In the picture there is spaghetti, flaked coconut, and baking soda. 

This post has inspired me to organize my pantry and take you for a tour. Maybe next week? We can set up a date, I will keep you posted!

Happy Tuesday!


Friday, February 11, 2011

A Week Of Soup

When I look outside I see this...

And what does that make me want to eat? Soup, and lots of it! This week's menu featured three meals of the warm stuff, and I thought I would share them with you.


Soup from the freezer! On the left is Broccoli Cheddar (my mom's recipe), and on the right is what we call Nonna Soup. Basically, it's an incredibly delicious tomato barley soup made by D's Nonna (Italian for Grandmother). We have a pending lesson from her on how to make this soup, but we always have a supply of it from her in the freezer, because she knows we love it!


Bean Soup! D's mom's recipe, also incredibly simple. Made with the beans I froze last year, potatoes, and dried basil. So good, especially with homemade rosemary focaccia, which is exactly what we had with it. 

And finally, Friday

Curried Parsnip soup, found here. This was the first time we made this recipe, and it was amazing! It didn't make very much though, so next time I will double the recipe so that we have some the next day for leftovers. 

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

1/2 cup butter (or olive oil)
3 medium carrots, diced 
1 medium onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1/2 cup flour
2 tbsp. organic cornstarch
4 cups low sodium vegetable broth (homemade is best)
4 cups milk (cow, goat, soy, almond, you choose)
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup lightly steamed broccoli

Melt butter in large soup pot. Add carrot, onion, and celery, and saute until soft. Add flour and cornstarch, mix well, then add stock and milk slowly. Cook, stirring constantly, until smooth and thick. Add baking soda and cheese, stir until blended. Season with salt and pepper. Keep it warm (not boiling) on the stove, letting the flavors come together for about 10 minutes. Add the broccoli at the end of cooking time, and heat through. 

What are your favorite winter meals?


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Yarn Along (4)

Joining in with Ginny again this week for another Yarn Along Post!

It has been a crazy couple of weeks. I don't have much for progress to show on my knitting this week, as I am STILL attempting to unravel the huge entanglement that is currently the bane of my existence. I did, however, decide to let you see the awful knot and also ask a couple of questions. So here we go:

On the right is a second skein of the same yarn that I am afraid 
of undoing in case I cause another knot!

So the knot comes between the cast on hat and the round ball that I have managed to untangle and make sense of. I think that my inexperience with this type of skein may have caused this horrendous beast, and so I would like to ask for some advice. Is there a trick to undoing this type of skein without causing a giant entanglement? What did I do? Part of me wants to just cut off both ends of the knot and start fresh with the already untangled yarn, but the other (stubborn) part of me just wants to get it untangled and then get going on the hat. I really just want to knit though and not have to stress about untangling it. 

And then the second part of this Yarn Along is the book. Or should I say books? You see, after the last Yarn Along, I finished my book in 2 days. And then I hit a book slump. I have this problem with going from book to book, you see. I can't seem to get the old characters and story out of my head. I am constantly in angst over which will be my next book, and it is especially hard to pick a new one after an exceptionally good book, which is what the last book really was. So what do I do to get out of this slump? I randomly pick up unread (or sometimes read) books off of my shelf, and I start reading. I then decided that it is not that book's "time" yet, and move on to the next. By the end of the week, I have started any number of books and have not committed to a single one of them. I am a literary floozy. So I have started 3 so far, and no such luck finding the one. So any help on this would also be appreciated. Shall it be Jane Eyre, The Hours, or The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? Put in your vote, and I will choose the one that is the most popular and stick with it. I promise.

Hope you are all having a lovely week knitting and reading!


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Green Alternatives: Laundry

Green Alternatives is a series that shows you the green alternatives to normally wasteful/toxic products. I use all of the featured products in my own home. I am not being paid to endorse any of the products in this series, I just really like them! In my opinion, a green alternative falls into at least 2 of these categories:
     1. They contain no toxic chemicals/fragrances/etc
2. They are reusable and/or eliminate/reduce the amount of waste normally produced with their counterpart
     3. They contain less or no plastic
     4. They are produced by ethical companies who care about my health and the environment

Today's post is about laundry. Personally, this is how I started making changes around our house, and I think it is probably the easiest transition. We have been making our own laundry powder for over a year now, and I will never go back to store bought detergent. It is incredibly easy and cheap to make your own, and it works great! The recipe I use works well in cold water, which is all we really use at our house, except for towels. It's not great if you want your whites to come out incredibly white, but I just bleach my whites occasionally, and that works well for us. 

Normal laundry detergents are full of toxic ingredients that can harm you as well as the environment. They contain synthetic surfactants which cause skin irritations and allergic reactions, and also react with the atmosphere as they are breaking down and produce known carcinogens called nitrosamines. Almost all average laundry detergents contain synthetic fragrances that are petroleum based, which can cause respiratory distress and skin irritation. Then when you're done with them, these detergents dissolve heavy metals as they break down in our waterways, allowing them to circulate into our food chain. The companies that make these detergents also don't need to disclose all of the ingredients that are in their products, so a lot of it is left up to the imagination. If they don't want to put it on the label, I am assuming it's because most people would not purchase it if they knew what was really in it. Gross. Ready to switch yet? I promise it is really easy and it will save you money!

So my recipe for homemade laundry powder is:

1 cup soap flakes (or grated all natural soap- homemade would be cheaper, I just haven't tried it yet)
1/2 cup borax
1/2 cup washing soda

Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container. Use 1 tbsp. for regular loads and 2 tbsp for dirtier ones. I find soap flakes at my local natural foods store in the cleaning aisle. 

There is a version of homemade laundry liquid that you can make that is even cheaper than this one. I make the powdered one because we don't have a lot of storage space, so you can make just a small amount at a time, as opposed to the liquid, which makes a fairly large amount. The liquid recipe can be found here

                                                   Laundry powder and dryer sheets, chemical free.

Now on to dryer sheets. Dryer sheets are probably one of the most toxic products in your house. They contain known carcinogens such as Benzyl acetate, Limonene, and Chloroform. But even more disturbing is the number of chemicals they contain that are neurotoxic. These chemicals go by names such as A-Terpineol, ethanol, and Linalool, and almost all of them are on the EPA's Hazardous Waste List. These chemicals attack your body's central nervous system and can cause brain damage, paralysis, headaches, nausea, and many other health problems. And we use them on a regular basis! There are many different alternatives for dryer sheets, such as dryer balls, but they are usually made from plastic and come in a ridiculous amount of packaging. What I use is a cloth dryer sheet that is completely chemical and fragrance free, and can be reused thousands of times. We got ours as a gift about 2 years ago, and haven't looked back. There are a whole bunch of different brands available, mostly at health food stores. They work very well, and when they start getting a little lax on their duties all you have to do is throw them in with your wash and it brings them back to life! And they came in a little cardboard box. No plastic, child proof, impossible to open packaging needed. Or wanted. 

If you don't want to go out and buy cloth dryer sheets, you can always add some vinegar to your final rinse in your wash, and it will act as a natural fabric softener. And if you are lucky, you can always hang dry your clothes outside, and let the sun and warm breeze naturally soften and brighten your clothing! Obviously not applicable to my fellow Canadians right now who are still enjoying Old Man Winter's sense of humour (or malice, whatever you like). 

Have a great week!


Friday, February 4, 2011

The (In) Convenient Movement

We have recently discovered this amazing little Italian cafe in our city, and have fallen in love. It is in an awkward location, is incredibly small, and serves the best food I have had in a restaurant in a very long time. And why is this place so amazing? Because everything is made by hand, with love. Now I know that sounds cliche, but it's true! You can taste the love! And the time and effort that has been put into each bite. That is rare, and it shouldn't be. How many places can you go and eat homemade bread, soup, and pasta? The pasta is handmade. And the sauce. And everything else that they serve. It is by no means fancy, in fact it is simple. Really simple. But it is better. It tastes like a meal you would make at home. And it is cheap! This proves that you can make simple food entirely from scratch, and sell it for less than another place that is simply reheating frozen processed food. We have it (mostly) all wrong here in North America.  This is how every restaurant, or cafe is in Italy. You don't have to search out a good meal, hoping you won't be served something horrible. Everything is good. Why isn't it like that here? You have to go out of your way to find a good (or even decent!) meal here. And if it happens to be good, there is a very small chance that everything was handmade. Why???

                                                                                          Maple Baked Beans

I think it is because we are all about convenient, fast, and cheap. Well, this cafe has two out of three. It is fast, and cheap (OK, not Dollar Menu cheap, but that is a WHOLE other post). But it is not convenient. It takes time and effort to make all of that food. And most people don't want to put that time and effort into their food, or even their lives. It frustrates me! Making dinner used to be an all day affair. It then got reduced in time, thanks to modern appliances and electricity. But the time spent making dinner seems to decrease with every generation, to the point where spending 15 minutes preparing dinner is almost too much to ask.  We are all about the prepackaged, precooked, processed foods, and it is not only ruining family dynamics, it is killing us!

I am often told that I am an "old soul", or "old fashioned" because of the way I live my life. When I tell people that I make my own bread, or can my own fruit, or make my own pasta, they look at me like I am crazy. Or that I just have way too much time on my hands. Believe me, I don't have a ridiculous amount of time on my hands, but I do use the time I have wisely. I love to cook, and bake, and generally just be in the kitchen. And you know what? The effort that I put into my meals is so worth it when we get to sit down and enjoy them.  I embrace inconvenience. It slows me down and makes me thankful for how lucky I am to have a meal to eat, and that it is delicious and healthy. We are so lucky to live in a country that provides us with jobs and freedom, and the ability to feed and nourish our families. And we take it for granted every day.  I think we all need to slow down a bit, and really start putting some effort into what we are putting into our mouths.  This convenient way of life is making us miss all of these wonderful things, like the smell of bread baking throughout the house, or the way a jar of homemade strawberry jam brings you back to the middle of summer when you were up to your ears in berries. And inconvenience brings us together. How much fun is it to attempt a new recipe together, or even just to sit down to a great meal together and talk about the day while savoring the love that has been cooked right into that food? Nothing can beat that. I encourage you to embrace inconvenience, and see where it leads you.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Today I am going to write about a bit of a social faux pas that I partake in. Regifting. The art of taking gifts you have received and giving them to others as gifts. Now, I love a good regift. Because of that view, I fall into a category of people that are considered cheap or unsentimental. Do I like being in that group? No! But I also don't really care what people think. I personally think that regifting is a great way to use gifts that I receive that I would normally not use. It reduces the amount of waste in the world, and it promotes using products or items that have already been manufactured and put a carbon imprint on the earth. I hate to see something that I have been given just sit on a shelf and never get touched. This particular item might be coveted by someone else, and used for many years to come. What is the harm in giving it away?

I think the main concern with regifting is that people see it as a cheap way to give a gift, and the possible embarrassment of the person who gave it to you originally may find out that you didn't like it. People think that if you regift something, you must keep it a secret until the end of time, and that the memory of doing something so horrific and indecent will haunt you for the rest of your life. If someone finds out you are a Regifter (shudder), you will be forever shunned socially. Come on. Personally, I am perfectly happy with someone regifting something that I gave them. If they aren't going to use it, let someone else! And it isn't necessarily an insult to the original gift giver. Maybe you already have something similar to the item, and you don't require a second. And if you really don't like the item, or it just doesn't fit in with your lifestyle, then please, give it to someone who will appreciate it! And as far as people thinking you are cheap, who cares! I like saving money, who doesn't? You aren't considered cheap for donating this item, or selling it in a garage sale. So why not gift it?


I receive a lot of gifts that I don't use. It's mostly because I don't use any synthetic or chemically laden products, and avoid fragrances as often as possible. A lot of the times I already own the item or something similar, or I just don't have a use for it in my life.  Most people who know me know not to buy chemically laden things for me, but there is always a Secret Santa or work related prize that I am receiving that hasn't been tailored to me, and I end up with this stuff. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the thought, I just don't want it. But I also know a lot of people who love bubble bath, or perfume, or lotion. I also receive a free gift every time I purchase something from Rocky Mountain Soap, which is usually a monthly order. How many lip butters and bath salts can a person use? And this way, the people receiving these particular gifts are exposed to an all natural company that has an amazing line of products.  Yes, some of the stuff that I regift may have toxic ingredients, or be environmentally unfriendly, but the way I look at it is that the people I give these to are more than likely going to go out and purchase a similar product on their own. Why not relieve myself of this product I will NEVER use, and save a new one being purchased? I would never give one of these products to someone who avoids them like I do, nor would I ever purchase them for anyone. Plus, some of the items I have regifted have been super cool, but I just didn't have a place for them in my life. Why be selfish and hold onto it for an occasion that will never come? It's good karma to give those ones away!

Ok, so I have outed myself. Anyone brave enough to join into my socially awkward circle? What are your thoughts on regifting? If you think I am cheap and unsentimental, I am fine with that. I was prepared for social suicide with this post. The cheese may (or may not) stand alone.

Have a lovely Wednesday!

xo Brenna