Saturday, June 29, 2013

Seitan and Tempeh

This past week I made a big batch of seitan. I tried to make tempeh as well, but that failed. :(

Steve likes to eat seitan sandwiches at work, so I make a big batch of seitan every couple of months for him. I use a recipe for Hickory Smoked Veggie Turkey Lunchmeat from VeganDad. I leave out the oil, and I guess it's still good. Steve doesn't complain (I can't eat it). In the recipe, VeganDad makes the seitan into one big roll. I can't do that because my steamer isn't that big (I use my rice cooker with a steaming tray). I divide the seitan into 4 rolls instead of one big one to make it fit better.

I didn't take a picture of the freshly baked seitan because it didn't look that good. I forgot to double-wrap it (in heavy duty foil) and so it busted open. It didn't look appetizing, but that doesn't change the flavor or texture.

After the seitan is finished cooking I let it sit in the fridge overnight to cool down. It's very difficult to slice it thinly while it is hot. You see that picture on the recipe page, and how it's very pretty and thinly sliced? I can never cut it that thin, and I don't know how he does it. I read somewhere to slice the seitan while it's frozen. I tried that and it didn't work for me. Maybe my knives are too dull? I don't know.

Here is my finished product. After I slice it, I put them into zip-lock bags. Each bag will last Steve about 1 week of sandwiches at work (2-3 slices per sandwich). That's 9 full bags, one bag of the nubby ends of the seitan rolls (I usually add that to Steve's soups), and one bag that has enough for 2-3 sandwiches. I put all the bags in the freezer. On a Sunday night I'll grab a bag and stick it in the fridge to thaw overnight. Then Monday morning Steve takes it into work.

This one batch (I didn't even double the recipe) makes enough to last for over 2 months. This is my kind of recipe!

And the tempeh... so sad that didn't turn out. I even took pictures of the whole process to explain it all. I've made it once before a few months ago. I did a couple things different this time, so something I did must have messed up the tempeh. I tried to double the recipe and I tried to ferment it in tupperware containers instead of zip-lock bags. Doing a double batch was definitely a bad idea. It's just too much to work with. And de-hulling all those soybeans was such a pain!! But I've got an idea for an easier way to de-hull which I'll try out next time.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Productive Weekend!

Steve and I accomplished a lot this weekend.


  • Baked cookies outside.
  • Cleaned out our garage and got rid of a lot of stuff we don't need anymore (an old wheelbarrow, old hockey sticks, floor lamps, poker sets, etc.). We put it out by the road, and within a few hours some people had come and taken everything.
  • Hung up Tibetan prayer flags on our deck that I bought a couple years ago but kept forgetting about them.
  • Hosed down Steve's ice hockey equipment in the driveway so it (hopefully) won't smell too bad when we pack it up for the summer.
  • Installed a low-flow shower head. It also has a Pause button so we can easily stop the water while lathering or shaving.
  • Moved our two glass tables up to our deck and set up the chairs and umbrella.
  • I started to teach myself how to crochet with a book and some YouTube videos.

  • Set up a clothesline! It was very simple. We're really fortunate because the previous owner must have had one too; the posts and hooks were already set up for us.
  • Did a load of laundry and hung the clothes up to dry.
  • Trimmed the hedges in the front yard.
  • Hosed down Steve's hockey equipment again. Our driveway now smells like hockey.

My goals for this week:
  • Make tempeh.
  • Go through my books and clothes to figure out what I want to donate. We're trying to de-clutter our lives.
  • Experiment more with solar cooking. Maybe try cooking dried beans.
  • Buy ingredients I need to make hair conditioner and bar soap. I'd like to start making those soon since we're almost out.
  • Get the rain barrel started. We have everything we need (we think), just need to make it.

We finished off the weekend by having a delicious dinner on our deck. This left our poor house cat, Dr. Quinn, feeling lonely and neglected.

I fastened a large piece of fabric over our sliding glass door. Otherwise, the dogs would sit inside in front of the door and just bark at everything. Quinnie weaseled her way under the fabric so she could watch us outside. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Solar Cooking: Second Experiment

A solar oven uses energy from direct sunlight to cook foods. No fuel or electricity is required. It is desirable for people who wish to reduce their energy usage or utility bill. Since it does not use fuel, it is also very environmentally friendly in that it does not create any pollution by the burning of fuel.

This experiment is based off of a previously conducted experiment Solar Cooking: First Experiment. The following suggestions have been implemented:
  • Plastic wrap was used to cover the roaster instead of the solid lid
  • Cashew butter was used to replace the oil in the recipe
  • The solar oven was placed outside at 11:00 am
Also, upon research, it was found that brown sugar helps to add structure to gluten-free baking products. Brown sugar was made specifically to be used in this experiment.

Can cookies be baked using the sun instead of an oven?


It will take longer than baking in the oven, but the cookies will be successfully baked.

Materials and Methods

Equipment used:
  • 1 small, black speckled roaster (lid not used)
  • 2 mini cake pans
  • cooking utensils and ingredients to prepare recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies for 2 

Recipe modifications:
  • A gluten-free all-purpose flour mix from a bakery in Pittsburgh called Gluuteny was used.
  • Milk was not available and water was used instead.
  • Oil was replaced with 1 tablespoon cashew butter, and water required was increased by 2 teaspoons.

  1. Prepare cookie recipe using modifications described above.
  2. Divide the cookie dough in half and place each half in a mini cake pan.
  3. Place the mini cake pans in the roaster and place clear plastic wrap on top.
  4. Place the roaster outside in direct sunlight.


TimeOutside TempObservation
11:00 am80°FCookies are placed into roaster outside.
11:30 pm80°FCookies seem to be firm, but not completely cooked yet.
12:00 pm82°FCookies are somewhat firm and may be close to done.
12:15 pm82°FCookies are brought inside to cool.
12:30 pm82°FA taste test determined that cookies were not done. Cookies were placed outside for more baking.
1:45 pm84°FCookies seem to be much firmer. Experiment concluded and cookies taken inside to cool.


It was determined that this experiment was a success. Cookies were successfully baked using a solar oven. The cookies were soft but firm enough to be picked up by hand. The softness of the cookies is thought to be due to the nature of the recipe used.

The use of cashew butter in place of coconut butter (as used in the previous experiment) eliminated the oiliness of the cookies. The reduced oil may have also led to the cookies baking properly in a solar oven.

The biggest change from the previous experiment which contributed to the success is thought to be the use of plastic wrap instead of a solid lid. The solid lid was thought to create a hot box which should bake the cookies, while the plastic wrap allowed the cookies to be heated by direct sunlight. Placing the solar oven outside before noon may have also contributed to the success.

Some changes are still recommended to be implemented in future experiments, to help monitor the baking more closely or to help shorten the baking time:
  • Obtain an oven thermometer to measure the temperature inside the solar oven.
  • Construct reflectors to direct more sunlight to the solar oven.
  • Place food on a black (or dark) baking sheet inside of the solar oven.


This experiment has shown that baking using a solar oven is possible. The baking time was much longer compared to baking in a conventional oven. Further study is highly encouraged to determine how to shorten the baking time.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Solar Cooking: First Experiment

A solar oven uses energy from direct sunlight to cook foods. No fuel or electricity is required. It is desirable for people who wish to reduce their energy usage or utility bill. Since it does not use fuel, it is also very environmentally friendly in that it does not create any pollution by the burning of fuel.

Can cookies be baked using the sun instead of an oven?


It will take longer than baking in the oven, but the cookies will be successfully baked.

Materials and Methods

Equipment used:
  • 1 small, black speckled roaster with lid
  • 2 mini cake pans
  • cooking utensils and ingredients to prepare recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies for 2 

Recipe modifications:
  • A gluten-free all-purpose flour mix from a bakery in Pittsburgh called Gluuteny was used.
  • Brown sugar was not available; instead, more regular sugar was used.
  • Milk was not available and water was used instead.
  • Oil was replaced with coconut butter (not to be confused with coconut oil), and water required was increased by 2 teaspoons.

  1. Prepare cookie recipe using modifications described above.
  2. Divide the cookie dough in half and place each half in a mini cake pan.
  3. Place the mini cake pans in the roaster and place the lid on top.
  4. Place the roaster outside in direct sunlight.


TimeOutside TempObservation
12:00 pm78°FCookies are placed into roaster outside.
12:20 pm78°FCookies are still gooey.
12:40 pm79°FCookies seem a little firmer, but still gooey.
1:30 pm80°FCookies may be a bit more firm.
2:00 pm81°FNo apparent change since last observation. Still too gooey to be a cookie.
3:45 pm82°FNo apparent change since last observation. Experiment concluded.


It was determined that while some baking did occur in the cookies, this experiment was unsuccessful. The cookies were not firm enough to be picked up by hand, but were easily eaten with a fork. The cookies were also very oily which may have hindered the baking process. The oiliness may be due to the recipe.

Suggested changes to be done in further trials:

  • Cover the roaster with plastic wrap instead of the solid lid.
  • Use cashew butter to replace the oil in the recipe.
  • Obtain an oven thermometer to measure the temperature inside the solar oven.
  • Use a different object as the solar oven, such as a cardboard box painted completely black.
  • Construct reflectors to direct more sunlight to the solar oven.
  • Use solar oven earlier in the day, such as 10:00 am.


While this experiment was unsuccessful, baking cookies using sunlight may still be possible. Based on the observation and results of this experiment, several improvements have been suggested. Further study is highly encouraged.

Solar Cooking: Second Experiment

Freezer Meal: Vegetable Korma with Mixed Dal and Fragrant Basmati Rice

I used to LOVE Amy's Kitchen Indian Vegetable Korma frozen dinner. It inspired me to try making veggie korma at home, and then led to me making my own Indian frozen dinners.

Amy's frozen dinners really aren't the worst things in the world when it comes to pre-made food. It does contain tomatoes which I shouldn't be eating, but I would sometimes let that slide in the name of convenience. It contains oil, which I don't want in my diet. The sodium is also kind of high at 680mg per dinner. So this is definitely something that I didn't want in my eating plan, but I wanted to figure out a way to replicate it.

The biggest thing I love about making Indian food at home is that I can control the spice level. Steve and I love Indian food but we're also big wusses and don't like spicy food. I can make our food as mild and flavorful as we like it.

Even though we want to eat as fresh food as possible, we still like the convenience of pulling a meal out of the freezer already made. I don't always want to cook every night, and it's great for Steve when I'm away for the night and he has to feed himself.

I purchased 6 of these little trays off Amazon. They are the perfect size for a frozen dinner.

I didn't make up my own recipes for our frozen dinners. I use recipes I found online, but I'll tell you how I modify them to fit our preferences.

Vegetable Korma from
Her recipe is great and very easy to make. It does involve some planning ahead, as she uses her own pre-made curry base.

Her curry base was very easy to make as well. I used a food processor to slice up the onions ("thinly slice 10 onions"?! I don't think my eyes could handle that if I did it with a knife and cutting board!). I also omitted the tomatoes, oil, and ghee. I think it still turned out delicious. I then froze the curry base into 1-cup containers. So I just thaw enough curry base from the freezer when I want to make korma.

Back to her korma recipe - I omitted the ghee, oil, paneer, and tofu. I also didn't use the exact veggies she did. Instead, I used 1 large sweet potato, 1 head of cauliflower, a 16oz bag of frozen peas, and 4 carrots. Those are just the vegetables we prefer to have in our curries.

Mixed Lentil Indian Dal from
It was so difficult to find a good dal recipe that doesn't use a pressure cooker. I tried a few different recipes and we liked this one the best. I omitted the chilies, cayenne, and ghee/oil. I have never seen asafetida in a store, so I use garlic powder instead. I also didn't do the last step that says to fry the spices in oil. I just added the spices directly to the dal.

Fragrant East Indian Basmati Rice from
This recipes doesn't make enough rice. I actually make 2.5 times the amount it calls for. This is enough for the frozen dinners plus dinner for that night. I omit the oil in this recipe as well. There are a lot of suggestions on how to flavor the rice. I haven't tried any of the "creative additions" but I'm sure they'd taste great too.

Making the Dinners

I start out by making the dal first, then the rice, then the korma. The dal and rice have a little bit of prep work then they just sit on the stove to cook without much maintenance. So that gives me time to make the korma. The dishes don't all finish cooking at the same time, so I just keep them warming on the stove if we're going to eat them for dinner as well.

Here are the finished dishes:

Top middle: fragrant basmati rice. Bottom left: mixed lentil dal. Bottom right: vegetable korma.
Then I sit out my trays and portion the food into them. I like to do just under half rice, a scoop of dal, then fill the rest of the tray with korma. I don't measure it out, I just eyeball it.

The best part is that there's enough left over for our dinner that night too! I topped it with some unsalted roasted cashews. (And there was even more leftover for lunch/dinner the next day. These recipes really do make a lot of food.)

Wrap the trays up tightly in aluminum foil.

Then find space in the freezer (this may be the most difficult part).

When I first put them in the freezer I like to stack them in a crisscross. The trays slide into each other when stacked the same direction and I don't want the food to get smushed. So I stack them this way to let them freeze overnight. The next day I will stack them facing the same way on top of each other so they're not taking up so much space.

It didn't require that much extra work for me to make these frozen dinners. I had to increase the rice recipe, but the other two recipes I just made them in the quantities given. Each recipe was made completely in its own pot on the stove, so I didn't have a ton of dirty dishes laying around when I finished cooking. These dishes make a lot more food than we can eat in one night, so I like to put the leftovers in the freezer rather than try to eat it all before it goes bad in the fridge.

Now when we want a homemade Indian dinner, we just pull a tray out of the freezer and stick it in the oven!

Cooking the Frozen Meal
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Bake tray with foil on for 20 minutes.
  3. Remove and discard foil. Pour about 1/4 cup water over the rice to prevent it from drying out. Place a few roasted cashews on top of the rice.
  4. Bake for an additional 25 minutes.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Our Way of Eating

I just want to give everyone a general overview of the way Steve and I eat in case you're interested in eating the same way.

First and foremost, we are vegan. Vegan means that we consume no meat (beef, poultry, seafood, etc.), no dairy (milk, cheese, butter, etc.), no eggs, and no honey. This is an ethical standpoint for us. We don't want to contribute to the cruelty of factory farms. We're not preachy vegans, so I'm not saying this to try to convince anyone to be vegan. But I will gladly provide help and information if asked.

Secondly, we try to eat mostly whole foods. We've given up a majority of processed and pre-made foods (we still have our slip-ups, occasionally). This has done amazing things for our health! We've both lost a good bit of weight, and just feel better.

We also use practically no oil when cooking/baking. It is just a processed form of pure fat (no fiber, protein, or carbs). I never use it when sauteeing veggies on the stove; I just add a bit of water if the veggies start to stick. We never deep-fry foods, and will instead bake them in the oven. But I will occasionally use it when roasting veggies in the oven if it will help the texture/flavor. To me, in a lot of recipes the only thing oil does is add calories. The food tastes just fine without it, so I prefer to leave it out.

Because we don't eat oil, we also don't eat vegan margarine or store bought vegan cheese. I may someday attempt vegan margarine using cocoa butter. I frequently make vegan cheese, and it is delicious!

We eat organic foods as much as possible. Unfortunately, the nearest Whole Foods is over an hour away, and we don't always have access to good organic produce at our local grocery stores. Luckily, the Aldi that is a very easy walking distance from my house is now carrying organic apples, bananas, grape tomatoes, spinach, mixed lettuce, and white potatoes (and it is always in stock when I go there!). This makes my life so much easier! I can just walk there (we only have one car, and Steve takes that into work) to get our produce staples. The Giant Eagle in our town also sells organic produce, but I feel like we're at the whim of whatever they feel like carrying that week at whatever price they feel like selling it for. I can't always find organic broccoli, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, lemon, or limes there. I sometimes base our meals for the week on what we can buy organic at Giant Eagle. (For example, they had organic cauliflower and organic sweet potatoes last time we went, so I made veggie korma with it today) Having the garden is great because we know we'll have access to organic produce that we use a lot.

Then, on top of all of this, I follow an anti-inflammatory diet as prescribed by my doctor. I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis 5 years ago and following this diet has helped tremendously. I have only had a few flare-ups and have never been on steroid treatment.

The anti-inflammatory diet cuts out: gluten, red and white potatoes (sweet potatoes are ok), tomatoes, corn, citrus fruit (a little bit of lemon and lime are ok), peanuts, alcohol, and caffeine. Steve still eats these things, but not me.

You're probably thinking "What DO you eat, Amanda?" I often joke with Steve that the expression "you are what you eat" can't be true because I am nothing like a chickpea. I eat a lot of chickpeas. Falafel, hummus, chicky-pea salad, BBQ chickpeas, chickpea cutlets, chana masala, I even make blondie brownies out of chickpeas!

Side note: Did anyone else read the article about Hummus Conquering America a few months ago and get really excited? No? Just me? Well, companies are trying out a variety of chickpeas that is able to grow in Virginia climate, not just the Pacific Northwest! So when we start up the full homestead I might be able to grow chickpeas here!

... ok, sorry about the chickpea tangent ...

So the way we choose to eat means that I make a lot of things from scratch. Things that people may not even consider to make at home: grinding grains into flour, bran flakes, plant milks, vegan cheeses, granola, condiments like whole grain mustard and tomato-free BBQ sauce, fresh nut/seed butters (like almond, cashew, tahini, hazelnut... LOVE my Vitamix!) tempeh, tofu (haven't made it yet, but I plan to attempt it), seitan, crackers, fresh pasta noodles, etc. And I love it! I find great satisfaction in knowing exactly what is going into my food. Everything tastes better too.

It probably sounds like I would be in the kitchen all the time. This is somewhat true; there are days when I feel like all I do is prepare food. But I've also figured out some shortcuts and make-ahead meals so I don't need to cook dinner from scratch every single night. I'll share those tips on here.

I will post some of my recipes or links to recipes we really like. That way everyone can see that it is possible to follow a healthy diet that is satisfying, compassionate, and delicious!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Meet my Garden!

For the past couple years we've only had a 4'x4' raised bed and some herbs on our deck. This year we expanded to include two more raised beds and more herb planters. My parents came over a few weeks ago and helped us build everything.

We had some goals in mind when planning out our garden. Steve mainly wanted pasta sauce. I mainly wanted pickles, butternut squash for winter, and lots of herbs. I plan on drying a lot of herbs to use throughout the year. I also love having fresh herbs in our meals!

I looked into companion planting to figure out the best way to grow everything. I found the information in some gardening books I have, but Wikipedia has some good information too.

The first year we had a garden I got overly excited and planted 16 vegetable plants in our 4'x4' raised bed. A couple months later my back went out and I couldn't walk for a week. The garden was unfortunately neglected during that time, and I felt really overwhelmed when I was finally able to get back into gardening. So that is a big reason why I decided to space out the vegetable plants and have and a lot of smaller herbs in between them in the raised beds this year. I feel like it's much easier to control that way.

This year all of our vegetable plants and most of our herb plants were bought from Lowe's or Home Depot. I did buy some seed packets for herbs and tried to grow them from seedlings. Only a few grew well, and still haven't gotten that big. This year I plan to save seeds from the plants we have and grow them from seedlings next year. I'm going to try a better setup for the seedlings too, maybe with a heat lamp.

The Pickle Garden

This is our original 4'x4' raised bed. It is the pickle garden. There are two cucumber plants in the back and two bell pepper (1 red and 1 orange) plants in the front. Probably in a few days the cucumber plants will be long enough to start tying them to the trellis. There are also some small dill plants growing in the corners. I planted 3 rows of green onion seeds in between the bell pepper plants, but they haven't sprouted yet. Once we're able to tie up the cucumber plants, I might try to plant another row of green onion seeds.

The Pasta Sauce Garden

This is the pasta sauce garden. It is 4'x8' and divided down the middle. There are four tomato plants in the back and four bell pepper (2 red, 1 orange, and 1 purple) plants in the front. In the middle of each half is an oregano plant. There is a row of chives in front of the bell peppers and a row of basil in back of the tomato plants. I also planted some calendula seeds in the ends of the beds. I'm going to use that for beauty products. I planted some parsley seeds near the tomato plants but they haven't sprouted yet. I wanted to wait for the tomato plants to get big so they can give some shade to the parsley.

I had never even heard of a purple bell pepper until the saw it at Home Depot. I had to get it! I'm so excited to try this!

The Squash Garden

And this is the squash garden. It is a 4'x6' and divided down the middle. There is a butternut squash plant on the left and a zucchini plant on the right. There is an orange mint in the front left and a chocolate mint in the back right. There are also some small dill plants in the other corners. These squash plants are getting very big and bushy. If they get out of control I'll have to set up a trellis or something.

We also have a composter. My parents gave it to us for Christmas last year, and we started using it right away. It doesn't seem to have turned to compost completely yet. Steve eats a lot of peanuts, and there are still some shells that haven't decomposed. So we've stopped adding peanuts shells to the composter. Now that it's getting hotter it should start to turn to compost pretty quickly.

The Herb Garden

On the deck railing is sage, chives, oregano, and 3 basil plants. We love fresh pesto! I really love these deck railing planters. I bought 2 of them at Lowe's last year, but couldn't find them there this year. I had to order another one off Amazon. I'll probably order a few more next year. I'd love to see the whole deck lined with herbs and flowers!


On our bench I have a pot of chives, 2 pots of stevia, 2 more chives, lemon balm, 3 parsley plants, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

I really want to grow cilantro. Really, really, really, really want to grow cilantro. I could eat it on just about anything. I tried last year on the deck, but it bolted too quickly. I think I'm going to try growing it indoors this year (at least during the hot summer) then move it outdoors for fall.

Sunday, June 16, 2013


Hello! I'm Amanda and I live in western PA with my wonderful husband, Steve. We have three kids - Danny (mutt dog), Soaphy (mutt dog), and Dr. Quinn (medicine cat).

I graduated 2 years ago with a degree in Chemical Engineering, hoping to get an environmentally-minded job (renewable energy, carbon reduction, etc.). But I ended up falling in love with a man who lives on top of the Marcellus Shale. Which means a majority of jobs I'm qualified for in the area involve hydraulic fracturing. I couldn't live with myself if I compromised my ethics for a paycheck. I also couldn't imagine moving away from Steve to pursue my career. I'd pick this man over my dream job any day.

Steve and I talked about it, and I decided to stop my job search for the time being. I'm still keeping my eye on a few companies in the area that I'd love to work for, in case anything comes up with them. But I'm not letting myself get stressed out about not having job.

So instead of thinking of myself as an "unemployed chemical engineer" or an "underemployed computer programmer" I am now thinking of myself as a housewife! I was a little unsure about telling this to people, as I expected some to think this is just me giving up. Instead, I was met with excitement and high fives! (My friends are awesome!) That really made me feel a lot better about my decision. Also, having a wonderful, supportive, caring, understanding husband helps a lot too. He constantly reassures me that what I contribute to our household is a lot more important than a paycheck.

We don't have the aspirations of a typical American couple. We don't want to work for 40 years just to start living the life we want when we retire, don't want to live in the suburbs and commute to the big city, don't want kids, don't want to eat an unhealthy diet of fast and processed foods because we're too busy to take care of ourselves, don't define "success" as being rich with a big house and fancy new car and being in charge of people at work. ("I am a Division Manager in charge of 29 people! I drive a Dodge Stratus!")

Steve and I have a 5-year plan. In 5 years we're going to buy a plot of land and build a house to start a homestead. We want the house to be low impact (solar panels, grey-water recycling, passive cooling, etc.) but still on-grid. We want to have a large garden and orchard to be able to (mostly) live off of what we grow. We'll probably have a couple goats too because goats are cool. We're vegan though, so we won't raise them just to eat them, or keep them pregnant just to drink their milk. They will be our pets who eat our grass!

There are other factors in wanting this lifestyle - not having to work 40 hours a week in a crappy job, being able to work outside, having a cleaner and sustainable lifestyle, having a low environmental impact, having all the fresh and organic veggies we could want, having more time together (we're sappy in love).

So this is what I'm working towards as a housewife. I'm learning how to garden (including seed saving and sprouting), sew, crochet, reduce our energy usage, cook as much as possible from scratch (including grinding our own flours - I love my Vitamix!), preserve foods (canning, freezing, dehydrating), make soaps and other beauty products, and some other stuff as I think of it. I'm helping us get a head start on the homestead lifestyle.

Follow me in my adventures! :)

A shout out to my friend Shauna Mae at Your Token Vegan Friend for naming my blog! Check her out; she's lovely!