peanut butter

Peanut butter isn’t, on it’s own, a food group, but some weeks it seems like my diet treats it as such. It’s simple, it’s versatile, and it pairs very nicely with chocolate (bonus!). Over the last year or so I’ve bought exclusively “natural” peanut butter, typically the store brand jars that contain only peanuts and salt. After eating that for a while, “regular” peanut butter more closely resembles frosting than the spread I now put on apples & sandwiches.

But only peanuts & salt? Surely it couldn’t be too difficult to recreate. After all, some grocery stores have a fresh ground serve-yourself option. So this weekend I went for it and, lo and behold, it was super easy after all.

Now there are so many possibilities: toss in some chocolate,  maybe some hazelnuts. Sometime soon I’ll try making sunbutter (a peanut butter alternative made from sunflower seeds) as well.

I have a Magic Bullet, which worked wonders. Toss everything in & let it run for a minute or two. As the peanuts grind they first resemble a paste, but give it a bit longer and the oils begin to come out. Next thing ya know and you’ve got super fresh PB.

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Fresh-Ground Peanut Butter
Makes ~ 1 cup

Ingredients

  • 2 cups roasted peanuts, shelled
  • 1 tsp salt

Directions

  1. Place peanuts and salt into processing device of choice*. If crunch peanut butter is desired, set aside 1/4 cup of peanuts before processing.
  2. Run for ~2 minutes, pausing to scrape the sides of the container to ensure uniform grinding.
  3. Crunchy Option: Crush the remaining 1/4 cup of peanuts with a rolling pin and combine with peanut butter
  4. Spread on EVERYTHING. This can be stored in an airtight container in the pantry, refrigeration isn’t necessary.

*As stated in the description, I have a Magic Bullet and it worked incredibly well. I haven’t tried this in a blender for food processor, but imagine it would work in a similar fashion, possibly requiring a few more pauses to scrape the sides of the container & make sure everything is evenly distributed.

homemade greek yogurt

If I’m being honest, yogurt has historically weirded me out a bit. Among other things, this is likely attributed to a wariness of dairy prompted by a babysitting experience in middle school during which I unknowingly opened a sippy cup of curdled milk sitting out. However, I stand by the rule that you “can’t knock it til you try it, and try it again” when it comes to new foods and have come to enjoy plain greek yogurt mixed with a little fruit. The great thing about plain yogurt is you can add whatever you want to it and not have to accept the loads of sugar packed into pre-flavored varieties. If you truly consider yourself a purist, you can take this a step further and just straight up make yogurt from scratch. Not only can you control the sugar content, but you also have the final say in the source of milk.

For those who are specifically in to greek yogurt, you make your own by simply straining regular, off-the-shelf plain yogurt. However, if you’re feeling adventurous and have some time on your hands, you can make your own yogurt with little more than a jug of milk as outlined here.

I’ve done this twice now – once with whole milk and once with lowfat. As might be expected, the whole milk makes a creamier, richer yogurt, but both kinds work perfectly fine for the process. Shoutout to my roommate, Hannah, for being totally cool with me setting a slow cooker wrapped in a towel out on our counter overnight & later occupying a fair amount of counter space with bowls of straining yogurt. She’s the real MVP.

The yield is dependent on how thick you like your yogurt. Greek yogurt is thicker than regular yogurt because it has more whey liquid strained out of it. This “more concentrated” yogurt explains the higher protein content of greek vs. regular yogurt. The thicker the yogurt is made, the less it will yield, but conservatively estimate half of the milk volume initially put in (ie. 1 gallon yields 8 cups yogurt). If you’d like to make more or less yogurt, the recipe is easily scaleable – just adjust the milk & yogurt starter proportions accordingly.

Homemade Greek Yogurt
Makes 8-10 cups

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Ingredients & Materials

  • Slow cooker
  • 1 gallon dairy milk
  • 1 cup plain yogurt with cultures
  • Food-grade thermometer (instant read, meat, candy, etc)
  • Large towel
  • Colander + large bowl + straining material

Directions

  1. Pour milk into the slow cooker, cover, & heat on high until the milk reaches 180°F. This could take anywhere from 2-4 hrs depending on your pot & quantity of milk. (It took 2 when I used a half-gallon, but closer to 3.5 with a full gallon the second time around). This temperature is apparently the threshold required for the milk to properly thicken.
  2.  Turn the slow cooker off and wait for the milk to cool to 110°F. Again, this could take another 2-4 hours.
  3. Once the milk has cooled, remove approximately 1 cup and combine with the plain yogurt. Stir carefully (not vigorously) until thoroughly mixed. Add back to the slow cooker and once again stir carefully (strokes instead of circles) until well combined.
  4. Replace cover & wrap the slow cooker in a towel and let stand for 10-12 hours. This is when the magic happens. You could go to bed with a swaddled slow cooker of warm milk sitting on your counter and wake up to a swaddled slow cooker of yogurt – how about that?
  5. Strain the yogurt by placing a colander over a bowl and lining with straining material. I’ve used both coffee filters & paper towels, though I think a nut bag or fine mesh strainer would probably be ideal. Fill with the thin yogurt mixture and let stand until it reaches near your desired consistency. I found that, once refrigerated, the yogurt thickens a bit more, so don’t worry if it’s not quite as thick as you’d like it when standing. Again, this is another 2-4 hour process depending on your consistency preference.
  6. Scoop out & store your yogurt. I imagine it would keep for a few weeks in the fridge, though mine absolutely will not last that long seeing that I’ll eat it first. Be sure to save some to use for the cultures in your next batch of yogurt, kind of like Amish friendship bread I suppose. I’ve set some aside in a separate container so I don’t forget and eat it all…

So yes, it takes a little while, but requires little effort. If you start around 4 pm, you should have fresh, homemade yogurt by lunchtime the following day.

Notes

Slow Cooker: A fantastic, common thrift store find. I have a 6 qt. Crock-Pot that I got from the repackaged clearance endcap at Target a while back, but have seen them frequently at secondhand shops. If you find one with a tacky, outdated pattern on the outside, consider repainting with chalkboard paint – it’s great for potlucks!

Straining Material: There are a lot of options here. Since part of my goal for the year is to not buy anything new, I’ve been testing out materials I have around my apartment. Coffee filters were sturdier than the paper towels – I was afraid I would tear the paper towel when scooping out the yogurt once it was finished. Ideally, I think a nut bag or other fine mesh strainer would work nicely.

Whey: The question remains: “what should I do with the strained whey from the yogurt?”. To be honest, I haven’t done much but let it sit in my fridge looking like a jar of lemonade, but apparently there are a number of uses. If you’re into smoothies, you can add it there, or use it (to some extent) in soups & baking. Here are 18 ways to use whey that may come in handy.

Read More »

ice cream bread

Back in October, we lost power for 3 or so days as a result of Hurricane Matthew. Inconvenient for sure, but only mildly problematic as we had access to university resources to shower, charge electronics, use wifi, etc. We kept our perishables in our closed fridge for as long as deemed safe, then were fortunate to be able to transfer them to some real estate in a friend’s chest freezer. Our ice cream had melted a bit (not completely), but didn’t re-freeze to the same creamy, scoopable consistency. That made it a prime candidate for this recipe.

Our local grocery store occasionally has “buy 2, get 3 free” deals (yes, you read that right) on different items, which has the potential to yield an excess of ice cream. I think I’d be a little wary of buying ice cream exclusively for the use of baking – ice cream may make bread better, but I’m not so sure that bread can improve upon ice cream. However, this is a quick, not-too-sweet recipe that is good to have in one’s back pocket.

There are a number of variations of this recipe floating around online already, but figured I’d report what worked for me. I used chocolate cherry bordeaux & mocha almond fudge flavors. To be honest, the mocha almond flavor had a little bit of an almost burned taste, perhaps from the coffee flavor, but the chocolate-cherry was super tasty and the cherry flavor certainly came through. Plus, I’m a sucker for nearly anything chocolate…

If I were to do this again, I’d definitely opt to add chocolate chips for a little something extra.

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Ice Cream Bread
Makes 1 loaf (10 slices)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups ice cream
  • 1 1/4 cups self rising flour*
  • Add ins, as desired (chocolate chips, nuts, sprinkles, etc)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease the bottom & sides of a loaf pan.
  2. Combine ice cream and flour, mixing until combined.
  3. Stir in any add ins, if desired, then add batter to loaf pan.
  4. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until a fork comes out clean. I recommend cooling before slicing.

Yep, it’s that easy! If you find you’d like something a bit sweeter or richer, serve slices with ice cream or peanut butter.

As a side note, it was a little tricky to get out of my pan, but I cut around the edges and used a fork to pull up one end, then turned upside down and shook until the bread separated.

*If you don’t have self rising flour on hand, you can make your own by adding 1 1/2 tsp baking powder & 1/2 tsp salt to 1 cup of all purpose flour

Anyone out there have strong opinions about their favorite ice cream flavor?

bigger in texas: houston

We descended on Houston for the annual Houston Marathon: in a whirlwind weekend I spectated the running of 26.2 miles and got a glimpse of all the city has to offer.

The beauty of travel & visiting friends is that it affords and opportunity to focus on people, moments & food, not things, while also contributing to a local economy. Not buying new things isn’t an attempt to completely remove myself from the exchange of goods and services, but to reevaluate what goods and services are truly necessary, build up communities, and acquire fewer material things.

what we saw
With effectively only one full day to see Houston, we did our best to make the most of it. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Houston Marathon: An annual event not for the faint of heart (literally), this race draws thousands of runners ranging in ability from novice to world-class elites.
  • Water Wall (Pictured): The Water Wall is an Uptown Houston landmark and public park near the Galleria shopping mall. This massive urban waterfall is dizzying to look at, but quite impressive.
  • San Jacinto Battle Monument: As someone who had never visited Texas before, I think this stop highlighted the fervor of Texas pride. The monument commemorates the Battle of San Jacinto – critical in winning Texas’ independence from Mexico – but, according to to monument, also altered the course of world history. In true “everything is bigger in Texas” spirit, this monument stands 12 feet taller than the Washington Monument.

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what we did
While there’s an endless supply of things to look & soak in here, it was also good to actively engage with what Houston has to offer during our visit.

  • Played Games at Agora (Pictured): If you need a dose of hipster coffee shop, drop in here to get your fix. We spent part of an evening playing board games we brought along amid an incredibly diverse (and caffeinated) crowd. Agora serves both coffee & alcoholic beverages, making it a worthy stop by day or by night.
  • Ran at Hermann Park: Hermann Park is home to nearly 450 acres of trails, green space and gardens, as well as a little train if you need to entertain a kid (your inner-child totally counts) or get off your feet for a bit. Outdoor concerts and performances are held at a covered amphitheater on the premises. Just across the street from the park is Rice University & its gorgeous tree-lined streets – also worth a visit.

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what we ate
The diversity of Houston inevitably means the presence of a multitude of delicious, authentic international cuisines. One could likely visit this city for the food alone, but in our short visit managed to hit up a few different eateries.

  • Guru Burgers & Crepes: An unlikely, but tasty combination. Admittedly, there were no burger-crepes or crepe-burgers, but the menu catered to vegetarians & omnivores alike. Guru places an emphasis on local ingredients where possible, which gets a thumbs up from me, as did my salad & house-made quinoa bean burger. The brussels sprouts were also tasty.
  • Amy’s Ice Creams: A stop for local ice cream is a necessity on any trip, in my opinion. Full disclosure: full from dinner, I only had a taste, but it was delicious. We watched one of the employees carefully craft a monster banana split, which was a tempting purchase, but we opted for one of their 350+ other flavors on rotation. Originally from Austin, there’s a San Antonio location in addition to Houston.
  • Kolache Factory: Picture, if you will, a bagel shop, but instead of bagels, the behind-the-counter shelves are stocked with filling-stuffed rolls. Kolache Factory is, admittedly, a chain in select markets, but a great (inexpensive) stop for a quick breakfast or lunch. I’d never actually had a kolache before, and boy was I missing out. They also can ship kolaches to you! Dangerous…
  • Addis Ababa (Pictured): The culinary highlight of the trip, by far. Thought it might fit the description of a “hole in the wall” establishment, this Ethiopian restaurant impressed. Food is served communally and eaten with the hands using injera (spongy bread) as the utensil. Not only does it taste great, but is conducive to conversation as we shared our opinions on our favorite dishes. We happened to be the only customers at the time we went, and spent some time speaking with the owner, a refugee from Ethiopia who is in year four of owning & operating the establishment.

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Are you from Houston, or have you visited before? What are some of your favorite sights & stops?

sweet potato sage pasta

I imagine many of those who know me would accuse me of having a “science-y” mind, but I think that that lends itself well to cooking; the kitchen truly is part lab, part studio. I love the experimental nature of cooking – some of my proudest cooking moments have come prior to moves, where I need to clean out the fridge and freezer and make do with what I have. Jam and brie cheese pizza is one highlight, apple pie eggrolls are another. It’s great when the product of one of these trials tastes good, but there’s a secondary sense of contentment that comes with diverting or preventing what would otherwise become waste.

After returning from holiday travel I needed to come up with something for dinner, but, in holding to making an effort to shop more at the farmers market, held off on visiting the grocery store. Somehow, inspired by a few teeny-tiny-beginning-to-shrivel sage leaves my roommate left on the top of our counter compost container, I ended up with the surprisingly tasty pasta using things I already had. I’ve adjusted the recipe a little to add a bit more flavor (more sage would have been better, so the recipe reflects that). It’s pretty simple, but thought I’d share.

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Sweet Potato Sage Pasta
Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 medium to large sweet potato
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1-2 tbs olive oil (or oil of choice)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Freshly cracked pepper
  • 1 12 oz. box of tricolor rotini (or pasta of choice)
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Yellow squash, optional
  • 4-6 fresh sage leaves
  • 4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Peel and cut the sweet potato into 1/2″ cubes. Finely chop the rosemary.
  2. In a medium bowl, toss the sweet potato with oil, salt, pepper and rosemary, mixing until the potatoes are evenly coated.
  3. Spread on a baking sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes – until the potatoes are fork-tender
  4. Cook the pasta according to the directions. As the pasta cooks, dice the onion and mince the garlic.
  5. When the pasta is finished, strain and set the pasta aside. It may be helpful to reserve a cup or two of the pasta water to use to keep the pasta from sticking to itself as it sits.
  6. Return the pasta pot to the stove and sauté the onion and garlic 3-5 minutes – until fragrant and the onions begin to get translucent. (If you choose, you can also sauté the yellow squash if you’re looking to add more veggies).
  7.  At this point, the sweet potatoes should be finishing up. Add the pasta back to the pasta pot along with the potatoes. Finely chop the sage leaves and combine. Add the feta just before serving. Add in some more salt, pepper and/or oil to taste.

If you give it a shot, or have other ideas & potential improvements, I’m always open to your thoughts and feedback.

 

s&s: animal, vegetable, miracle

Animal, Vegetable Miracle: A Year of Food Life | Barbara Kingsolver, Stephen L. Hopp & Camille Kingsolver

I thought I was going to go vegan in 2017.

I’ve been vegetarian for four years and generally eat a “whole foods, plant based” diet as they say. I suppose I’m a pretty standard vegetarian-that-might-turn-vegan candidate: I eat a lot of Greek yogurt, but don’t buy eggs; I would be okay giving up cheese – though pizza would look a little different then, wouldn’t it? I’ve teetered on the edge.

But, the book:

Before Christmas, I went and visited my grandmother and aunt to aid in the annual Christmas Cookie Baking Extravaganza. My grandmother’s Christmas cookies are a longstanding family staple, concocted from German family recipes passed down over the years. Their Thanksgiving arrival signals the beginning of the winter holiday season. This year it was my turn to help, as my cousins had gone the previous couple years.

As the three of us worked in the warm, fragrant kitchen, my grandmother & aunt began discussing this book, recommended it to me, and – lo and behold – it found its way into my Christmas package this year. And I’m so glad it did.

In summary, the book is a memoir of sorts, detailing the farm-to-fork adventures of author Barbara Kingsolver and her family. For one year, they vow to only consume food they either grew themselves or could obtain locally after moving to a farm in western Virginia. The book beautifully melded so many things I love or care about: communities, food, plants, conscious consumption, environmentalism & policy, to name a few.

Kingsolver et. al. highlighted the value (necessity, really) of investing in our local food economies. My vegetarianism was inspired by a desire to “eat more efficiently” by consuming foods lower on the food chain, thus requiring fewer resources to produce. However, I’d largely turned a blind eye to where those foods come from – which is often halfway around the world. Reading this book convinced me that I could “do more good” in my own eyes as a locavore vegetarian than a vegan, as there is not an abundance of easily available protein sources year round to support a vegan diet where I am. Obviously, everyone is free to make their own dietary decisions, but maintaining a vegetarian diet with a better focus on local foods seemed like the fit for me.

The authors weave this discussion of food economies with that of general consumption, and raise a number of great points as they get to know the people & fellow producers in their community. A common theme was the externalities of consumption, or the effects of an exchange experienced by a third party & not accounted for in the cost of an item or transaction:

“We have the illusion of consumer freedom, but we’ve sacrificed our community life for the pleasure of purchasing lots of cheap stuff. Making and moving all that stuff can be destructive: child labor in foreign lands, acid rain in the Northeast, depleted farmland, communities where the big economic engine is crystal meth. We often have the form of liberty, but not the substance” (152)

There was also a beautiful depiction of the love, care, and art associated with food production, and the intimate experiences we can have with our food through knowledge of or participation in its production. Their decision to eat seasonally meant that not all foods were available at all times, bringing new meaning to each season and the natural gifts that accompany them:

“Value is not made of money, but a tender balance of expectation and longing” (287)

Lastly, the book had an inherent call to action of responsibility at both the individual and collective level:

“Global scale alteration from pollution didn’t happen when human societies started using a little bit of fossil fuel. It happened after unrestrained growth, irresponsible management, and a cultural refusal to assign any moral value to excessive consumption” (345)

I really do think there’s a little bit of something for everyone in this book: those who garden, those who farm, those who are interested in learning more about where their food comes from, those intrigued by the intricate web of consumer transactions & policy, and most importantly those who eat. There are no all-or-nothing directives, simply lots of information incorporated into an enjoyable narrative.

If you’d like to learn more, there is a website associated with the book on which you can also find seasonal recipes and get a virtual tour of the farm.

Shelf & Screen is a series of reflections on various books & media addressing matters (directly & tangentially) associated with consumption & consumerism

the game plan

Happy New Year! As we begin 2017 and my pledge to be intentional with respect to my purchasing habits gets underway, the looming questions are now “what exactly will this look like?” coupled with “what exactly do I tend to buy, anyways?”.

My general objective is two-fold: to limit the purchase of new items, and to make meaningful, intentional purchases. I personally would prefer to own used things in most cases, but understand that may prove impossible. Coupled with the fact I also want to support local growers and businesses, I’ve decided I don’t intend to exclusively buy used things or pledge to not purchase anything at all. Instead, I’m looking for a sustainable in-between.

After reviewing the records of my spending from the last year, I’ve discerned that a good deal of it after rent & utilities falls into the following categories, so I’d like to outline the actions I intend to take in those areas. This is not exhaustive, and the bulk of “unnecessary” spending tends to occur on “incidentals”, so I’ll have to evaluate those on a case by case basis and am sure I’ll be engaging with that here as the year goes on.

general rules
For any and all purchases, I plan to keep the following in mind:

  • Make a good-faith effort to exhaust other options before making new purchases
  • Do my research. When buying things, one isn’t simply buying an item, but the associated externalities as well.
  • Prioritize post-consumer/recycled content
  • Avoid shopping (in store/online/even craigslist) “just because”

food
I imagine that one could resolve to spend a year (or more) reframing how they think about food, its sources, and preparation. I would love to be able to grow more of my own food, or do more preserving/freezing/self-prep, but current circumstances limit time and space. My roommate and I currently get most of our produce from a local produce box that is about 50% local, 50% bulk grocer. While I don’t consider myself prepared to go full-on locavore this year, there are a few concrete things I can try to do:

  • Plan meals
  • Buy from the supermarket bulk boxes for nuts, grains and spices. Bring your own container options cut way down on packaging waste, and are potentially cheaper (depending on the item)
  • Attempt to eat (mostly) what is in season locally. Is my vegetarian diet hypocritical if I’m eat plants on the basis of efficiency but predominately get produce from the other side of the world?
  • Actually take advantage of the farmers’ market!! Our local market is open (almost) 365 days a year and is overwhelmingly full of amazing produce from the region

toiletries & personal/home care
I’ll take this one as an opportunity to get a little experimental. I don’t purchase a wide array of things in this area, but use them on a daily basis. Are there products that I could make instead of buy? Are there products that I frankly don’t need?

  • Evaluate what I actually need, and quit buying what I don’t
  • Make products wherever possible
  • Research & purchase environmentally friendly alternatives as needed. (“Environmentally friendly” can be such a buzzword, and I’d like to learn more about labeling/what that truly means in this area”)
  • Invest in reusable alternatives up front where possible. This can range from the simple (bye bye paper napkins) to the adventurous (if I get bold maybe I can give the DivaCup a shot…)

transportation
I’m fortunate to live in a place where I can walk to most of the necessities, particularly school & grocery store. I do own a (used) car, and have no intentions of buying a new (to me) one this year, but in terms of transportation:

  • Bike & walk whenever possible
  • Carpool whenever possible
  • Group errands together to limit gas
  • Log miles as a sanity check on driving
  • Limit air travel (not that I do much of that, but I still want to be conscious of it)

gifts
On occasions where I need to find a gift for someone, it’s tempting to grab something off department store shelves in a rush. Luckily,  I’ve been slowly breaking myself of that habit. By holding myself to shopping local for gifts, or coming up with alternative gift ideas, I hope to be more intentional with my gift giving and put the thought into giving that my friends & family deserve. I will try to:

  • Purchase handmade items
  • Give the gift of experiences – restaurant gift cards, tickets to shows, day trips, etc
  • Find used books; they’re often in good-as-new condition
  • Exceptions:
    • If I know there is a specific item someone wants or needs, and a suitable alternative is not available, I’ll definitely consider gifting that item. Obviously the needs of the people I care about shouldn’t fall by the wayside because of this personal mission, but I want to also do my best to stay true to the spirit of why I’m doing this.

clothing & accessories
This is probably the most straightforward of the categories and can be summed up in two words: buy used.

  • Buy used as needed
  • Borrow for “one time use” events instead of accumulating clothes I don’t intend to wear again & again
  • Support local makers if looking for accessories
  • Exceptions:
    • Purchase new on occasions where uniformity is required. If for some reason I find myself as part of a bridal party in 2017, I’ll spring for whatever it is I’m instructed to wear, for example.
    • Underwear. I’m not a frequent purchaser of undergarments, but if the need arises I think I’ll opt new on this one.

Thoughts? Feedback? Any glaring omissions? Let me know, I’d love to hear from you.