Sweet…and sour. Like me.

Some say, I’d rather be someone’s shot of whiskey, than everyone’s cup of tea. Here’s today’s frugal kitchen meal. Sweet and sour…something. Remember, in these times, use what you have. There are no rules. Substitute as necessary.

That’s true in your work, your food, or whatever else you have “should” rules about. All you need to be true to, is your lighthouse, your code, what keeps you and those around you safe, healthy, and whole.

What to eat when you’re avoiding the world…

Vegetable cheese strata

Lovely layers.

If you’re looking for a simple dinner that uses up vegetables, I can’t think of anything better than this vegetable strata, with the exception, perhaps, of soup. Whenever I make it, I start with potato – but you could use turnip, beets, pretty much anything that’s round and can be sliced. Potato will be the easiest on your budget, and they’ll last for ages in a cool dark cupboard. You may need longer than the recipe says to bake – if I make this in a big casserole for four (or two, with leftovers for tomorrow), I’ll bake it for an hour.

Cooking for one or two people? Sometimes the big bags of veg aren’t a bargain, because you can’t use them all. If you’ve got foods that seemed like a bargain, but now you don’t know how to use them up, let me know. I can help. I’ve got a recipe for pretty well anything. I’m not vegetarian or vegan, but I do have lots of plant-based recipes, and I’m happy to adapt if I can. And if you’re not shopping because you’re trying to stay home and stay safe, I get it. If you’ve got foods in your cupboard but don’t know how to use them up, let me know.

Soup, glorious soup!

Vegetable soup
What’s hiding under the broth? All these vegetables!

It doesn’t take much to make a quick pot of soup for lunch. I already had a cup of cooked beans (white beans with rosemary and garlic) in the fridge. I made those at an earlier time and froze part of the batch for future use. I like to do several kinds of beans on the same day, especially if I also have a batch of bread rising in the kitchen. That lets me use the energy of my oven as efficiently as possible. I know there are many Instant Pot fans out there; for me, an afternoon of cooking a variety of foods while the oven is hot is very soothing.

Here’s what I did:

I started with a jar (500ml/2 cups) of vegetable broth I had in the freezer, and thawed it quickly in the microwave. Failing that, it’s perfectly fine to just use water, some herbs, and salt if you like it. We tend to go very easy on salt in our house, so do that to your taste. Hot sauce or soy sauce are also nice additives for flavour. Or reconstitute some dried mushrooms and use the soaking water as your broth.

Next I chopped up some veg. In this case, you can see carrot, onion, potato, and green pepper. I used one each, except for the pepper – there was half of one left from yesterday’s homemade pizza. I brought those to the boil in the broth, and simmered til tender. Then I stirred in the beans, including the liquid they were cooked in. If they had been canned beans from the store, which would also work just fine, I would have drained and rinsed them.

That’s it! In the photo, they’re without broth so you can see how fresh and delicious the veggies look. This lunch is faster than fast food, and easy to make at home, where many of us are hanging out these days.

If you’re a front line worker in a grocery store, emergency services, healthcare or elsewhere, thank you for all you do. Everyone please stay safe out there!

Our grandparents knew how to make the most of a little

Apples, nuts and ginger at the ready.

One of our favourite Sunday breakfasts? Pancakes. Especially in these lean times, when we’re working hard to use food that’s in the cupboard, they are a go-to. Hearty, satisfying, and delicious. Here’s the recipe I use. My grandmother wasn’t above using a biscuit mix, but she was just as adept at doing it this way. Keep a few key provisions like herbs, spices, baking powder, baking soda, flour, sugar, and cornstarch, and you’ll be able to make all sorts of foods. Apples will store for a long time without refrigeration, if you have a cool, dark spot.

The burner I like to use on our stove is going wonky, so the temperature control isn’t working. It’s one of the things Steve was going to fix, before the world turned topsy-turvy. But it’s okay – it just means I prepare things on that place first, and then set them aside, since it only cooks at one speed: ultra fast. I browned the apples above in a little butter. For two of us, this is a single large apple, sliced, a few sliced almonds (maybe 2T/30ml) in a tablespoon or 15ml of butter. I also chopped up a couple of tablespoons (30ml) of fresh ginger instead of my usual cinnamon because I have it on hand at the moment. Dried (1t/5ml) would also work. Once they look like above, take off the heat and cover the pan while you make the pancakes.

Almost ready to turn. The bubbles are breaking through the top. As soon as the edges start to look slightly dry or less glossy than this, it’s time.

Serve with a couple of tablespoons of syrup or honey. If you don’t have that, you can use jam, or add sugar to the apple mix while it sits, or if you don’t eat sweeteners or can’t have them, simply use the apples. They’ll still taste delicious.

Pancakes with apples and almonds

How is your pantry holding up? If you’re trying to figure out how to use ingredients you have in a new way, or you’re missing something and don’t know what to substitute, give me a shout. I’ll help if I can.

No baking powder? For every teaspoon, substitute 1/2tsp (2ml) baking soda and 1/4tsp (1ml) cream of tartar. Or use 1T baking soda and add 1t (5ml) vinegar or lemon to the milk. Or use half-and-half yogurt and milk, if you have plain yogurt, plus the baking soda. Two more tricks: if you have no soda, you can whip your egg white until fluffy before folding it in (mix the yolk in with the rest in the usual way), or if you have club soda or gingerale or something similar, you can sub half and half with the milk.

Your Creativity will Carry You Through

We’ve been conditioned to shop. Programmed, really. Even with food. We live in one of the most abundant countries in the world, and the minute someone tells us we can’t have something, we run after it like desperate lemmings. Or at least that’s how it appears.

Today is March 28th. I’ve been in my little castle in the sky for more than a week without venturing outside, with the exception of the balcony, or the garbage chute. We can do this. You all know I like to save a dollar (even a dime!) wherever I can. I also hate waste. And I like to cook, and eat. So how is a food-lover like me managing these days?

Creativity is my secret weapon. And improvisation. And being able to set frustration aside. I also learned to cook from some women who were even more frugal than I. They had no choice. I do miss my vegetable garden right now. I know as we spend more time inside, I will REALLY miss it. But the cupboards, fridge and freezer will have to do.

Some things that have been my kitchen salvation during this:

  1. Rice and beans (including lentils and chickpeas). I always have lots on hand. I buy dried, not canned, because a much larger volume fits in the same space. Then I cook up batches and refrigerate or freeze some portions for quicker use, if I am so inclined. Right now I have white and pink beans in the freezer, already cooked, in mason jars. Lots of kidney beans and black beans in the cupboard.
  2. Canned tuna and nuts. Both sources of protein. If you’re vegan, the nuts will do nicely, but they are much more expensive.
  3. Eggs and cheese.
  4. Rolled oats and cornmeal. Porridge. Polenta. Granola. Muffins. Bread.
  5. Pasta, shapes and long.
  6. Frozen fruit and vegetables. They often go on sale. They don’t go bad as easily and take less space to store than fresh.
  7. Potatoes and onions. They store well in a dark cupboard or in a box on your balcony when it is consistently above freezing but not hot outside.
  8. Canned tomatoes. You can eat them plain, with eggs, in a soup, make delicious marinara or a casserole, without all heavy doses of sugar, salt and additives found in many canned varieties.
  9. Soy or nut milk in tetra packs, or UHT (shelf stable) milk or canned evaporated milk. Again, coming from a place where there are frequent storms and power outages, I learned to keep things on hand that can survive without a fridge.
  10. Many dried herbs and spices. Many.

Basically, it is cheaper and easier to keep the base ingredients for things you like to eat, and learn to cook them from scratch. Keep a supply on hand. Learn to use them. If you want tips, let me know. (Oh, and that vegetable chowder up top? Put a diced potato, onion, carrot, and about a cup of corn niblets (half a can, if canned, or use frozen) in a pot. Add cold water that covers them by about an inch (or the depth from your thumb-tip to the first knuckle). Bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer 10-12 minutes until the carrot is soft. Add a cup of milk (canned, plant, whatever you have). Add herbs or a grind of pepper (or both). Enjoy. Next time, switch up the veg. Or use tomatoes instead of milk.

Please care for each other. Stay in. Stay safe. Venture out only when you must. You’ve got this.

What are you eating?

Image by Ray Shrewsberry from Pixabay

Our grandmothers or great grandmothers (or for some of us, our mothers), used to keep stores of food that looked like this. It was preserved to survive without refrigeration. They worked like fiends during the summer heat, boiling and salting and preserving in a myriad of ways, to ensure that they would be prepared for the times when food was unaccessible. Even in urban centres, food storage was considered to be vital to a safe, secure home. Now many people don’t even know how to cook.

I’ve been cooking since I was a kid. I was raised to be careful with a dollar, and to not waste food. “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” is just one of the mantras I grew up reciting.

Over the past week or so, I’ve watched people leaving the big drugstore and grocery stores near me. They’re carrying lots of food that I might consider non-essential. A lot of it I would think of this way, because it is highly processed and prepared. This means it is also expensive, and takes up more space to store. I’ve got cupboards stocked with lots of dried beans, rice, oatmeal, flour, dried pasta, and the like. I know I could eat well for at least two weeks, if not longer. It might not always be gourmet, but it would be nourishing and tasty.

If you’ve got things you are wondering how to cook , leave me a message or connect with me on Twitter @walkeatlive. I’ll try and come up with some easy ideas for you. Check out some of the recipes here in the EAT section, too!

Bean, Corn and Mushroom Burgers

It seems all the fast food places have been on the fake meat train lately, but as usual I’m not thrilled with food that’s made in a plant. (Better to eat mostly food that you make from plants). On that note, last night’s burgers. Not vegan, although they could easily be. Instead, try this.

Per burger:

60ml or 1/4 cup cooked beans (chickpeas, kidney, I used pink beans in this one), mostly mashed with a few left whole

2 finely chopped mushrooms

1 T corn niblets (fresh, frozen or canned)

1 T breadcrumbs

Pinch of smoky paprika and cumin

You can add an egg if they are dry, or a bit of the aquafaba (bean water).

Shape into patties. Put in the fridge for 15 or 20 minutes to firm up a bit

Serve with cheese, vegan or regular, sliced tomato, dill pickle, and your favourite toppings, on a whole wheat bun.

And…she’s back!

It has been quite a year. A roller-coaster political adventure, re-integrating into work, and taking an opportunity to evaluate my goals afresh. I’m working on creating new avenues of opportunity, and focusing on health and wellness. We are back in our walking routine (although 10000+ steps a day campaigning was no holiday), getting around the city and finding pathways to joy and wonder. I’m looking forward to sharing food, wellness and attitude ideas with you again. (Major joy source: I’ll be a grandmother very soon. Stay tuned for news!)

Get Walking! You’ll See Your Neighbourhood from a Whole New Perspective

 The milder weather seems to be making a comeback. Hurray! For me, the best thing about that is the fresh perspective I’m able to get, every single morning. People who live near the ocean often comment that the view is always changing…as if they have a lock on that. I can tell you having lived in both places, that there is just as much change when I get out and about in beautiful #Toronto, as there is in a house by the sea. Whether it’s the pinky-hued sun peeking up in the distance, or a view of new construction, seeing City Hall from the rearward aspect, or glimpsing my favourite weather-light on the top of the Canada Life Building, there’s always something intriguing to see.

(Do you know how the weather light works?) The Beacon’s lights go upward when the temperature is rising, and down when it is falling; they stay steady when there is a constant temperature. There is also a light at the top, that is red for cloudy, flashing red for rain, green for clear, and flashing white for snow. I have to admit the past couple of times, I haven’t seen the top light turned on, but the temperature indicators seem to be working just fine.

Another sight that always catches my attention is this condo – the Jazz, which retained the original facade while building a tall building above. I’m always happy to see heritage buildings honoured while adding much-needed density.

What do you love seeing, as you walk around your city? Please share!

Are You Fit to Win?

Are You Fit To Win?

I’ve been away from the blog for awhile…back in January, I was juggling so many things that I managed to get sick. I am one of those people who *never* gets sick (and by that I mean rarely, and usually a very mild case of whatever it is). So I was surprised when I was beset by the flu, not long after my last post. Then work, and travel, and my secret project (soon to be not-so-secret, and definitely not secret to those in the know). Fortunately I have people around who look out for me, so I had lots of hot soup and TLC to help me get well.

Although unexpected events can be a major disrupter of my plans, what I’ve learned is that I can always get back on track (and so can you). Some key things I have learned to keep in mind:

  1. I don’t expect to come back at full speed on the first day.
  2. A shock or shakeup can be a great excuse to make a change to my habits.
  3. Exercise helps me with more than fitness – it builds resilience – so I return to it as soon as I’m able.

So now, as I get ready to take on a new and enormous challenge, I’ll be making sure I’m eating right, enjoying the process, being grateful every day, and working out to make sure I’m #FitToWin.