Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Recipe: Zucchini Lasagna (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Oil-Free, Tomato-Free)

This lasagna doesn't contain any meat, dairy cheese, wheat noodles, olive oil, or tomato sauce. I know that doesn't sound like lasagna anymore, but there's spinach! Omnivores put spinach in their lasagna, right? No, not usually? Oh well, I used a lasagna technique to make it, so I'm sticking with the name.

I'm half Italian. So I (used to) know good tomato sauce. I still miss it, and didn't really want to make a fake tomato sauce from beets and carrots. I've made it before and it's not very satisfying - at least not when tomato sauce is a main ingredient like in pasta. All the recipes I found for a lasagna without tomato sauce were loaded with cheese. I didn't want a heavy, rich lasagna like that. So I came up with this alternative - light but filling, and full of delicious veggies!

The zucchini I used is actually from a friend's garden. And it was HUGE! I should have taken a picture before I cut it, but I forgot. You can see by the size of the noodles I got how big it was. I didn't even use half of the zucchini for this.

The main components of this lasagna are:
  • Zucchini cut into wide, thin noodles
  • Lightly steamed spinach (about 5oz, fresh)
  • Tofu Ricotta by Oh She Glows (I omitted celery, oil, and red pepper flakes)
  • Roasted red peppers (2 peppers, roughly chopped)
  • Artichoke (1 can, roughly chopped)
  • Vegan mozzarella (I changed the flavors a bit for Smoked Coconut Gouda by Vedged Out)
I started out by slicing the zucchini into wide, thin strips and setting them in a colander in the sink. I sprinkled some salt on top and let it sit for a while to release some of its moisture.

To assemble the lasagna:
  1. Place a layer of zucchini noodles in the dish and cover with a bit less than half of the steamed spinach.

  2. Spread half of the tofu ricotta on top, and add half of the roasted red peppers and artichoke.

  3. Add another layer of zucchini noodles and most of the spinach that's left. Cover with the rest of the tofu ricotta, roasted red peppers, and artichoke.

  4. Add the final layer of zucchini noodles and the rest of the spinach. Top with grated vegan mozzarella cheese.

  5. Bake at 400°F for 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

Steve rated this lasagna a 9.2/10! He loved it, and he's not a huge zucchini fan. I loved it too, and will definitely make this again to use up all the zucchini we have.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Solar Cooking: Bran Flakes and Beans

Today was a high of 90°F and very few clouds. Perfect weather for solar baking!

I decided to try out a couple things: cooking dried beans and baking bran flakes. I also made some solar reflectors to concentrate sunlight. I glued aluminum foil to cardboard.

Dried Beans

I found an entry on eHow about how to do this, so I figured I'd try it out. My crock pot is black and the perfect size for cooking 1lb of dried beans. So last night I soaked 1lb of black beans in my crock pot. This morning I drained the beans and added warm water, then I had it outside by 9am with my new reflectors.

I used a glass jar to support the reflectors and keep them from sliding. Eventually I'll come up with a better system.

This was unsuccessful. The water never got hot enough to cook the beans. I highest temperature I measured was 180°F at 3pm when I brought it inside.

I then stuck the pot in my crock pot and turned it on to cook. Unfortunately, I forgot about the beans and overcooked them. Now they're a bit mushy. Eh, whatevs. Mushed black beans are great for taco filling and brownies, so no big loss.

So even though it didn't work, I still think it was worth it to try it out.

I have ideas to build a better solar oven. Hopefully I'll try it out later this week since it's going to continue to be hot.

Bran Flakes

I needed to make Steve some bran flakes to take into work, and these seemed like a great thing to bake outside. Turns out I was right!

I'll post another entry with the bran flake recipe I use. But basically, you mix all the ingredients, roll it out onto some parchment paper, bake that at 350°F for 5-10 minutes (until the the edges get crispy), rip it up into flakes, then bake that at 275°F for 20 minutes (stirring every 5 minutes).

After I rolled out the mix, I let it sit outside for about an hour. Then I ripped it up, and let it sit out for a few more hours. And they were just as good as baking them in the oven! (Ok, Steve said they were a little chewy. So I'll just leave them out a bit longer next time.)

I didn't have to turn on my oven on a 90°F day for it, so that's a success to me!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Purging Our Lives of "Stuff"

Steve is a minimalist at heart. I'm... getting there.

We want to clean up our lives in a lot of different aspects. We've switched our diet to more clean eating - no processed/boxed foods, very little added oil and sugar, loads of fresh fruits and veggies. I've started to replace our cleaning supplies with more environmentally friendly ones that I make - like baking soda and vinegar. I'm going to start making our toiletries at home out of natural, gentle ingredients. We're taking steps to clean up our energy usage - we just switched our electricity plan with our provider to 100% wind/solar (we're still on the grid, but our energy demand is coming from wind/solar rather than gas/coal).

We also don't want to accumulate "stuff". That stuff that just sits around and has no real purpose or function. Last Christmas I asked my family to not buy me gifts just for the sake of buying me something. I asked for something handmade and personal or something functional. Or nothing, I don't really need gifts. So I didn't get as many gifts as previous years, but I got better gifts in my opinion. My sister gave me a crochet housecoat that she made (and I wore all winter; very comfy!) and a heating mat for seedlings. Those are the kind of gifts I like. The kind of gifts I don't like are a Cars pencil holder that my mom got me one year (I know you meant well, mom!). Several years ago when the Cars movie came out my dad was super into it (and maybe one of my siblings too, I don't remember). So my mom got him a Cars pencil holder, which he loved. Then she bought me and my 3 siblings Cars pencil holders too. "Well, if I get it for one of you I have to get it for all of you!" (This is the same reasoning she used for buying me pretzels dipped in milk chocolate. Gluten, milk... sigh, I can't eat that. I have to give my gift away.) I never opened the box for the pencil holder and I didn't take it home. It sat at my parents' house until they got rid of it. I didn't need or want a Cars pencil holder. It's a great gift for my dad, but not me.

I made all of the Christmas gifts we gave to our families last year - various tea blends, healing salve, nut butters, whole grain mustard, vanilla extract, and a few other things. And I loved making all of it! I was able to tailor the gifts to flavors I knew my family would like - my brother got a curry cashew butter, and my dad got a pistachio/almond butter. I like giving personal gifts like that.

Steve and I are also more conscious of what we buy for ourselves too. We've been tracking everything we've bought for the past few months. This has definitely helped to keep us more accountable.

I have a personal goal for myself that I don't want to buy (or even be given) any new clothes for the rest of the year (underwear being an exception). This isn't a super hard goal because I rarely go clothes shopping, but can be a little challenging since I'm trying to get down to a healthy weight. So instead of buying new clothes if I need something, I want to alter the clothes I already have (like sew in a shirt that has gotten too big) or buy second hand from a thrift store.

If an effort to purge the "stuff" in our lives, we set a goal that each week we're going to get rid of something. Three weeks ago we cleaned out the garage. We got rid of a wheelbarrow, floor lamps, hockey sticks, poker sets, chairs, a baseball bat... Just stuff that sat in the garage because we don't use them anymore. No reason to hold onto them. So we sat everything in our front yard by the road with a FREE sign, and within a couple hours people had taken everything.

Two weeks ago we got rid of a lot of books. We gave them to a lady who will sell them for $1 a piece and then donate that money to the local animal shelter.

This week was clothes.

We went through our closets and got rid of a lot of clothes we don't wear anymore, and organized our summer/winter clothes that we're keeping. This is our haul to Goodwill. I also saved some old t-shirts to make into rags or use to practice sewing projects.

Dr. Quinn helped Steve sort through his clothes by checking their nap-ability. She approves of these.

I also re-discovered these awesome slippers I forgot I had!

Next week I'm going to tackle our toiletries. I know I have old makeup and hair products I don't use anymore that can be tossed.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

My Garden is Huge

Last week was mostly raining here, with some storming in between. My garden has loved it! Especially after a week of super hot weather.

I have been trying to go out to my garden everyday and keep the tomatoes and cucumbers tied up. With being out of town and the rain not letting up, my garden went a couple days without any maintenance. I spent at least 2 hours just tying up the cucumbers on Saturday. Yes, really. This includes extending the trellis too.

This is a picture of the tamed cucumber plants. The picture on the right shows the two additional pieces of trellis I added. It's hard to see it through all the plant, but I added a wooden panel and a green wire panel on the sides of the bed.

There are lots of baby pickles growing! I'm so excited! There is going to be a lot of pickling in my future. I'll probably start out with sweet gherkins (which is my favorite pickle), so I can pick a bunch while they're still small. Then I'll do dill, bread & butter, relish, all the pickles.

The tomato plants are getting really big too, and there are a lot of green tomatoes. We may have to build some overall support system for them, in case the cages aren't strong enough.

The zucchini plant is getting really high, and the butternut squash is starting to branch out. I put up a short trellis around the butternut to help keep that untangled.

My stevia plants didn't do so well with all the rain. I think the pots were too small, and they were just getting water logged. So I bought some bigger, better draining pots and replanted them. They seem much happier!

I planted some cilantro seeds in the big pot and lavender seeds in the small pot. The cilantro has sprouted, but nothing with the lavender yet.

I started some microgreens and they are doing really well!! I just used empty spinach containers from the market and poked some holes in the bottom for drainage. I'm growing broccoli, spinach, kale, and romaine lettuce. Look at how cute the broccoli and kale sprouts are!

And here is my herb harvest from the weekend. I plan to dry almost all of it - we used all the basil to make pesto and I use some of the fresh orange mint in tea. All pictures are in a 2 quart glass bowl, to give you an idea of the volume.

basil (ready to be pesto!) and chocolate mint

orange mint and oregano

garlic chives and sage

I have more herbs I need to harvest, but this is about all I can dry at one time. Once these are dry I'll harvest more.

Today I harvested a zucchini and a purple pepper. We used the purple pepper on our pizzas tonight, and I was very surprised to see that the pepper was green on the inside. I expected it to be like red or orange peppers, where it's the color through out. So I was kinda disappointed with this. It tasted like a green pepper, and the purple color went away when I cooked it. I just saw the word "purple" and decided I had to plant it. Oh well, now we know.