My New Year’s Plans, or a rather long post that doesn’t contain food or craft.

I’m wishing each and every one of you out there – yes, you! – an amazing 2011.  My hope is that this year will be a year of hope, renewal, growth, understanding and joy for you all.

Though I know many people frown on the idea of New Year’s Resolutions due to the high-expectation, high-disappointment factor, I’ve always been partial to the idea of setting goals, however daft they may seem.  Admittedly, I tend to go with things that are generally achievable and things like “Climb Mt. Everest” or “Swim the Channel” don’t generally appear on my list of things to do, though I  suppose  I could do them given the right budget and training, I mean, why not?

My goals tend to be less lofty and more practical such as “Stop Biting Your Nails”, circa 1994, which worked really well, and was so easy, too.  Another good one was “Write Papa Joe once a week”.  I was worried my grandfather wasn’t getting any mail, so circa 1987 I decided to write him weekly to be sure he had something “fun” in the box.  While I’m sure my pre-teen letters of “Hi, how are you? I’m fine.” were far from fascinating, this epistolary habit followed me for quite a few years, and I now regret I didn’t write him twice a week.  Similarly, “Call Grams Every Saturday”, circa 1999, was more to help me keep my calls regular as I loved calling and talking with my grandmother, but wasn’t doing it on a “count on it” basis.  If I’d known she’d be gone just 7 short years later, I’m quite sure I’d have been calling her daily. Heck, I’m so sentimental, I cannot bring myself to erase her phone number from my mobile – even though I know it by heart.  Sillyfish.

Anyway…

We are here to talk about 2011, and what I’m hoping to make happen this year for me, my family and yes, my little blog.  How about a little non-exhaustive list  of what’s to come…hey, I’m doing it already! (see below)

It’s not on the list, but more of this, too!

1) I think the first one is pretty obvious : I’ll be taking a picture of Guppy every day all year long.  A few years ago when I first started blogging I realised I was taking daily pictures of food and crafts, but not of my own daughter!  Talk about priorities being a bit askew. She’s old enough to be into it this year and at 5 and 1/2 has already been working on what she calls her “picture smiles”…I have no idea where she gets it from, seriously.

More pics of Guppylove…

2) Les Vendredis Francophones or Francophone Fridays is also an idea that I’ve wanted to implement for ages, that is, to blog regularly in French.  My initial hope for this blog was that it would be a true bilingual vegan hang-out where we could all just smile and nod when we didn’t understand…but as most ESL or EFL bloggers will tell you, English is the language that most everyone reads, and so, wins by default.  I may not get a recipe up each Friday, but that’s going to be the day you’ll see on in French (and hopefully an English translation the next day).

3) More lists…kinda like this one.  I have always been the consummate list maker (I can tell you every book I read in 1993 for example) though I don’t know why…mostly so I don’t forget things I guess.  It recently dawned on me that I’ve stopped keeping track of things (maybe in order to forget?).  Hard to say, but either way I’m going to make some little notebooks and I won’t be afraid to use them.

4) When I started Sportyfish, A Vegan Training Log back in February 2008 (?!) my intentions were to show just how beneficial a healthful, plant-based diet was to recovery from a training regimen, as so many people are still woefully misinformed concerning sports nutrition.  Intentions are good, but after what we now refer to as “the accident” (bicycle wreck resulting in broken foot, torn ligaments, 1 year out) I just let it go…but I’m bringing it back.  It’ll be all caught-up and spiffy before you can run a 10k.

5)  I’m ashamed to admit it, but my regular yoga and meditation practice has been on hiatus for far too long.  Meditation and yoga there have been, but not with not regularity – some asanas here, a little cushion time there.  I know it’s about choices, and about time management, so it’s time to suck it up and get things back on track.

6)  I’ll be running my first 50km in April!  Woooooot!  You’ll be hearing more about it as the time comes, but I’ve got to tell you I am excited and scared and thrilled all at once.  I’ve never, ever come close to running such a distance before, but my long-term goal is to run a 100km in 2013 and this is the first real step to getting me ready for that race. (Race is of course an inaccurate term : I won’t be racing, I’ll be running, that is I hope I’ll be running, and not crawling.)

7)  Fueled By Plants : Endurance Fuel For Athletes, a book of recipes for everything from pre-race to recovery snacks and drinks, is something I began working on shortly before “the accident” (see #4).  I’d put the project on hold, but since my training is getting closer to being back on track, I’m feeling back in the zone.  I’m outing myself on this one, mostly because I know it’ll help me get things from the “abstract” to the “concrete” stages.  It won’t be a book only for vegans, but it will have only vegan recipes, of course!  When the time comes I’ll be looking for a few endurance and outdoor types to help me test some of the recipes : peeps who enjoy hiking, biking, climbing, running, trekking, swimming…or with small toddlers…you get the idea.

More sewing, too…

Aren’t you excited about 2011?  I really am, despite the challenges before us all, I know this is going to be a fantastic year.

Meal Plan Mondays : Balsamic-Roasted Butternut Squash

Now that the holidays have come and gone, this week’s meals are a little more frugal and a little less festive.

And that’s okay.

As we explain to Guppy, there is a time for everything : a time for eating Christmas cookies and chocolates, and a time for soup and lighter fare.  Coming down from the holiday excitement is always a little melancholy for me, but Friday’s pizza nights means there is always a party to look forward to, right?

Monday : Spinach Quiche and roasted-garlic and white bean soup (from the freezer – I’d forgotten about it  – total score!)

Tuesday : Potato and butternut Soup and baking powder biscuits

Wednesday : Seitan with Quince, Apple and Onion, Rutabega-Fennel Clapshot (test recipes for The Urban Vegan’s forthcoming cookbook!)

Thursday : left-overs

Friday : Pizza Night!

Here’s a peek at two test recipes we enjoyed last week from The Urban Vegan :

Pumpkin-Maple Muffins – enough said.

 

Spicy Lentils – I’m such a fan of lentils served just about any way, but this picante recipe was a real winner.  I served it up with some balsamic roasted butternut squash, because I can.

And so can you!  This isn’t a test recipe, but it is one of our favourite way to eat butternut squash – try it!

Balsamic-Roasted Butternut Squash

+/- 5 cups cubed butternut squash

1 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tsp dried thyme

salt and pepper to taste

Heat your oven to 200°c/400°f and toss the cubed squash with the olive oil and vinegar.  Using your fingers, crumble the dried thyme over the squash, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then toss to coat.

Spread the cubed squash in a shallow baking dish or on a baking sheet in one layer and bake for about 45 minutes or until melty-tender.  Sprinkle with some salt if necessary before serving.

Do you have a favourite frugal (ie : cheap) recipe you love to serve?  Please feel free to share with the kids at home!  And don’t forget, if you’re looking for meal plan inspiration you can visit the MPM archives.

 

W.I.P. Wednesday : Finishing Up Scarves…

A short post to show you what projects I’m trying to finish up…

a bit girly, non?

This one came together really quickly, but I had just a bit more to add to make it long enough.  I have this thing with short scarves, I don’t know what it is, but they drive me crazy.  If it’s not long enough for me to wrap it around my neck at least once with one end over each shoulder, it’s just too short.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this scarf since I started it back in October.  I love the super-soft baby weight acrylic yarn, it’s like a little puffy cloud of sweetness.  I bought a big bag of 6 skeins when it was on clearance last year, and I now wish I’d have bought more it’s so lovely.

Can you see the mistake?

Anyway, the yarn is fantastic, but it’s so thin, and using the 4mm needles does take a long time.  The other frustration was when the needles were pulled out – much harder to slip them back in than when using 8s or 10s!  I’ve put it away twice to do other things, but need to get it done as it was supposed to be a holiday gift for one of my nieces, but is obviously still not ready.  I hope to finish it up by this weekend.

Do you have trouble finishing up your started and almost done projects?  It’s so funny, but the closer I am to completing the craft, the slower going it seems to be.  Must be because the challenge is over…

 

 

Meal Plan Mondays : Tester Yummies

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday weekend, because even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, it was still the weekend, right?  We had a lovely time, and we even got snow on Christmas Eve morning!  Guppy woke to a few centimetres of snow, just like in holiday stories, and she was elated.  The snow of course didn’t last, but it couldn’t have come on a better day.

The recipe testing continues for The Urban Vegan’s upcoming cookbook, and I must say that everything I’ve tested so far has received 4 stars.

chickpeas with tomatoes, eggplant and kale

tuscan bean dip

classic chocolate chippers

polenta-kale cutlets  with pan-seared tofu with basil balsamic glaze

Here’s this weeks vittles, the foods with a* are tester recipes.

Monday : Minimal Pastina Soup with Spinach* (lunch), Insanely Thick and Comforting Squash Soup* (dinner), served with baking powder biscuits.

Tuesday : Pumpkin-Maple Muffins* (breakfast), Spicy Lentils* served with mixed rice (dinner).

Wednesday : Tajine salé de seitan à la courge (savory seitan and squash tajine). I’ll be posting this recipe later in the week, too!

Thursday : Quiche – I think spinach, but I’m not sure.  We’ve been craving quiche, so I’m all about keeping the troops happy.

Friday : Pizza night, I hope.  If I get my wish, we’ll be hanging out here for New Year’s Eve…time will tell!

Are you making anything special this week?  Lighter meals seem to be de rigeur with all this celebrating, don’t you think?

Happy Christmas!

I’m wishing you all a sincerely joyful holiday, filled with love, laughter and lightness.  It’s ok if it’s not perfect, just be thankful that “it” is.  A special thought to you out there who are not with your loved ones this year.  I’ve missed family celebrations before, but this is my 8th  consecutive Christmas without my U.S. family, and I sure miss them right now.  Let’s sing together…”I’ll be home for Christmas…”

Some holiday cheer?

Sam says, “My humiliation is complete.  Please, look away. “

“I won’t cry, but I am going to pout until you remove that ridiculous picture, even if Santa Claus is coming to town.”

Merry Christmas to all!

Mashed Potato Christmas Trees

Personally, I love playing with my food, don’t you?

Take mashed potatoes, steamed green beans, chickpeas and mushroom gravy and have some fun!

Mama Fish’s Tree

Papa Fish’s Tree

Guppy’s Tree

The pictures with the mushroom gravy were just too reminiscent of mud slides and natural catastrophes devastating forests, so I’m censuring those.

This is one of our favourite ways to eat mashed potatoes around the holiday season.  To be honest, the humble spud doesn’t make it to our dinner table too often, finding itself relegated to “special requests” by Guppy.  Other choice veggies/decorations are of course cherry tomatoes, peas, olives, corn, diced red or green pepper, red onion, etc.  Steamed broccoli makes lovely surrounding shrubbery, and there have been steamed cauliflower clouds in the skies as well.  Hot sauce (for the big kids) or ketchup could be used for garlands, too. I set out the “ornaments” in little bowls and everyone decorates their own.

Very fun stuff, kids.  Tasty, too.

W.I.P. Wednesday : Basic Unlined Felt Stocking

The big count-down is on, kids, and if you’re like me, you’ve still got gifts to make and cookies to bake.  I was working on this relatively easy, unlined felt stocking today and thought I’d share this idea with you.  Depending on how fast you embroider and sew, this can be a very quick project.

These were for Guppy’s teachers this year.  I didn’t think to take a picture until we were leaving for school, hence the horrible lighting in the pre-dawn hours of 8:30am!  You can hardly make them out, but there are snow flakes above the trees…

You’ll need :

  • Vegan felt.  I used the vegan felt made from recycled plastic bottles I’ve blogged about before.
  • Embroidery Floss & Needle
  • Pencil or something to trace your pattern on.
  • Christmas stocking to use as a model (if you don’t have a stocking at home, just free-hand it or google it, there are lots of them out there).
  • Scissors, thread and optional sewing machine (you can hand sew this quickly).

1) Start by tracing your stocking shape onto your felt.  The quickest way to do it is to line up your two pieces of felt back to back, or fold a larger piece in two, then pin together.  That way you’ll only be cutting once.

2) Once you’ve cut out your felt, you’ll want to draw a little something on it to embroider.  If you’re in a hurry (it is 3 days to Christmas) try to make your design rather simple.  I just free-hand using a fat pencil.  If this scares you (it did me the first time) practice a few times on a piece of paper first.

I just free-handed this little elf girl, see the minimalist lines, etc. She’s not done, yet – I still need to give her a smile!  Snowmen, Christmas trees, etc. work well here as they require few details yet still look lovely.

3) Embroider!  Some people prefer sewing first, then doing the embroidery, but I find that because there isn’t much room to move inside the stocking it’s easier to embroider first, then sew. Look at the “How To” section at the top of the page for tutorials on basic embroidery, or again, google it.  There are many helpful videos on YouTube, too.  I just used a basic split-stitch for most of this little elf, but do what is easiest for you.

4) If the idea of embroidery scares you, just add a few appliqués.  Follow the technique for the Basic Holiday Ornaments to get fun shapes, then handsew them onto your stocking – just be sure to allow for a seam allowance, or your adorable shapes will be swallowed by the seams! Aaak!

5) Fold over the opening of your two halves to finish them off and give them a nice, finished seam.  The best is to fold over once, then fold over again so the raw edge is tucked up nicely.  The amount is up to you, just be sure it’s not too bulky and that it’s the same on both halves.  Sew them up with your machine (faster) or by hand (not terribly slow, if you’re only making one stocking).

6) Now it’s time to sew the two halves of your stocking together.  Pin them right sides together, like so :

Now just sew along the edge, giving yourself about a 1/4 inch seam allowance, and turn inside out! You might also want to add a little bit of ribbon to the top for hanging, or embellish with ribbons, etc.

I don’t actually have a finished picture of this one as I should be sewing it rather than writing a blog post about it, but to see a finished one, just again refer to the first photo in this post!  Hopefully this one will be sewn up and stuffed with goodies before next year…

Do you have any ideas for quick, last-minute gift ideas?  Just remember, it’s ok.  No matter what you’ve made or who you’ve made it for, it really is the thought that counts, no matter how trite that sounds.

W.I.P. Wednesday will be back next year!  It’s going to be an exciting year, and there will much going on.  I can’t wait!

Meal Plan Monday : Half a plan…

I have more holiday spirit than you can shake a candy cane at, but one of the tiny frustrations about the season is not always being in control of what we’re eating.  The Fish Family will be spending a few days with family at the end of the week, and that means not planning the meals, at least not in their entirety.  I will be contributing to the meals, though, and hopefully will be able to get some pictures if it’s not to dark!

In other news, I’m excited to tell you I’ll be doing some recipe testing for Urban Vegan who has a new cookbook in the works.  The next few days will feature some of her recipes, and they sound delicious.

Here’s what I’ve got planned for the next few days :

Monday : Lemon Poppyseed Muffins (special holiday breakfast), Tuscan Bean Dip with veggies and green salad (lunch), Chickpeas with tomato, eggplant & spinach (dinner).  All three of these are tester recipes for Urban Vegan.

Tuesday : Polenta-Spinach Cutlets with Basil Aioli served with green beans (lunch), Old Bay Cakes served with mashed potatoes and green salad (also test recipes).

Wednesday : I’m not sure if we’ll be here or not yet, so today will probably be about eating left-overs to empty the fridge!

My muffins lean to the left, just like me!

Because I’m posting this after breakfast, I can share a photo of these delicious muffins from Urban Vegan forthcoming book.  The sun doesn’t rise until after 8:30am now, so the light isn’t wonderful, but the muffins were. I knew I needed to snap a picture of one before they disappeared!  Beautiful crumb, bright, lemony taste, perfect for a leisurely holiday breakfast.

Not sure what to make for dinner?  Take a peek at the sample menus on the Meal Plan Mondays page for some inspiration.

Better Salt-Dough Decorations : W.I.P. Wednesday

Making salt-dough decorations is a fun and inexpensive way to get festive  with family or friends.  It’s become a bit of a tradition, and every year we look forward to it.

You might be wondering how we could be making these decorations for a third year in a row, but keep in mind : primo – We had almost no decorations when we first started; secondo – They don’t only hang on the tree! We’ve got decorations hanging around the windows, picture frames, even random nails that were left in the walls by our home’s former occupant.

We don’t make a huge amount each time, and there is always some “spoilage”, ornaments that break from years past.

All this blathering on, but not telling you why I’m blogging about them, again.  Simply put, I’ve come up with a better formula that I find makes for more sturdy, beautiful ornaments.  Additionally, I’ve got an improved drying technique that I think has allowed for thicker decorations, allowing for more fragile design reinforcement.

Just like last week’s ornaments, for these you’ll need minimal supplies :

  • Cookie cutters!  If you’re thinking “I don’t have any cookie cutters, Shellyfish!”, just hold your horses.  Bowls, juice glasses, etc. make wonderful circles, and I’ll bet your kids or nephews or sibs have some fun shape-making gear they use with their Play-Doesque toys.  Look around, you’d be surprised what you’ll find with an open imagination. Libby, dinosaurs are wonderful here, too, obviously!
  • Flour! This is not the time for your organic, whole wheat variety.  Save that for your cookies.  Use the cheap-o white bleached stuff, or get creative with buckwheat (pretty colour) or corneal (fun texture) and regualr flour combos.
  • Salt!  This year I got crazy and used large sea salt, mostly because I wanted to change-up the texture.  I liked the results, but regular fine salt will give you a more classic, less rustic, look.
  • Glycerine or heavy, neutral oil.  If you have some glycerine, often used in home cosmetics, it’s the best choice, however, don’t get frowny-faced if you don’t.  Heavy oils like apricot would work well, but regular vegetable will work in a pinch.

Naked

See the lovely salt? You could add food coloring to the dough, and it would look lovely with the large bits of sea salt mixed in, I think.

This project is best spread out over several days.  Your first day is making the dough and cutting out your shapes, the next few days will be for drying out the ornaments (depending on which technique you use, more on this below), then painting and drying, and finally an optional painting session for adding detail or a second coat of paint.  This is important to keep in mind if you’ll be working with children.  Depending on their ages (or temperaments) you could do the cutting and drying first, then allow them to paint, or break the project up into multiple days, which is what I did with Guppy.

Better Salt-Dough Decorations

1 part salt (I used a glass to measure)

1 part flour

3/4 parts warm water

2 to 4 tablespoons glycerine or vegetable oil

Food colouring (optional)

Mix the salt and flour in a bowl, then add the water, a little at a time until you get a smooth dough, not too sticky (add more flour if need be) and not too stiff (add more water).  Add the glycerine and optional food colouring, and knead until it’s well blended and sleek and pretty.  Now set aside, loosely covered, for about an hour.

Now roll out your dough as if it were cookie dough (but don’t eat it, blek!) on a piece of parchment paper, or just form into objects if you’d like.  Once you’ve rolled out your dough and cut out your shapes you’ll need to let them dry. It’s important to let them dry out really well before painting, because if they continue to dry once you’ve applied paint it could crack and not look as you’d hoped.  Just keep in mind that the thicker your dough, the longer it will need to dry.

Please, before you begin drying your ornaments, be sure to remember to poke a small hole using a toothpick or knitting needle or whatever so that you can hang them up.  Once they’re dry, it’s too late.

Drying Method 1) Place your decorations on a radiator or furnace register and leave them there for a day or two (or in my case, leave them for about 4 days).  I cut out the shapes while Guppy was sleeping and when she woke the next morning she declared “Mumma, you’ve decorated the radiators!”.  See, you’re already decorating and they’ve not been painted yet!

Drying Method 2) Bake your decorations on parchment paper-lined baking sheets at about 80°c/175°f for a few hours.  You don’t want your oven hot, because it will cause the decorations to crack or bubble up – not good, unless that’s what you’re going for.

Drying Method 3) This is the method I would recommend as it seems to work the best for us.  Simply combine methods 1 and 2!  I suggest starting by drying the decorations on the radiator or similar surface for at least 24 hours, then baking them.

Decorating is fun and also can be as sophisticated or basic as you choose.  We start with some paint – you can use anything, really, markers work well, too.  Once the first coat of paint has dried you can add details, or go the way of the glitter.  Painting on glitter is easy : My method is using common white household glue and mixing it with glitter and applying it with a paintbrush.  When the glue dries it leaves behind a lovely shine and glitzy glitter. Gold or sliver spray paint would also be fun.  I have some and hope to play with it a little if I have time…

Just remember to have fun, no matter which technique you use!

* A special danke to Mihl & P for sending us some really special cookie cutters.  They made this year’s decoration creation session extra special!