Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas wrapup - frugal and eco-friendly

My three year old daughter loves to paint.  She brings her paintings home for me and tells me all about them.
You get the picture.  She can draw people and things, but she's still a creative abstract painter.

So what do you do with stacks of these paintings that only a mother could love?

Beautiful and useful

Using kids' artwork as giftwrap solves two problems:
  • How do I wrap my presents?
  • What do I do with stacks of paintings that all look the same to me?
Family and Eco-Friendly

Wrapping gifts in alternatives to giftwrap is not just quirky and frugal, it's important.  It doesn't take much imagination to see the built-in waste of producing, packaging, buying, and disposing of square metres of decorated paper every holiday.  According to Earth911:
As much as half of the 85 million tons of paper products Americans consume every year goes toward packaging, wrapping and decorating goods. Also, wrapping paper and shopping bags alone account for about 4 million tons of trash annually in the U.S.
So does it look cheap and weird?

You decide:

More like unique and colourful!

Don't own any small perpetual artists?

Of course, not everybody will have this alternative.  

If these other wrapping alternatives don't suit, you could offer to babysit for your favourite family for a few hours, buy some old newsprint and paints, and have a giftwrap making (I mean fun painting) session!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Secondhand Smarts - Merry Christmas!

In my last decluttering post, I reported acquiring from as well as donating to my favourite charity shop.

Here, I brag about my savvy purchases.

This pile includes:
  • A brand new Dora Memory Game in original plastic (we have it already; this one goes straight into the present box for some other lucky kid)
  • At least 50 Lego pieces, including three anthropomorphised animal figures
  • 3 gorgeous butterflies
  • A dressup mask (so I can play along with Labyrinth)
  • Masses of sidewalk chalk
  • Mini bubbles
  • Alphabet craft stickers
  • Coloured paper, decorative pencils, coloured pencils, modelling clay and crayons
  • Bratz and My Little Pony activity books (Princess Bratz is leaving the house quickly, one way or another!)
  • 2x goggles and surf socks in my son's size (both on our shopping list)
  • Slinky
  • Magnifying glass
All for $32!  I paid that much, even secondhand on TradeMe, simply for that amount of Lego.

These have been wrapped festively and frugally - stay tuned for family and eco-friendly wrapping help!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Make your own vegan holiday chocolates

choc special red.jpg
Vegan specialty chocolates are expensive!  Making your own chocolates from molds is so easy I'm not sure I should share the secret.  Especially because we're trying to eat less sugar.

In less than 1/2 hour you can have a special yummy handmade vegan
gift for your mother, your child's teacher, or any other loved one.  

Got a whole hour?  You've got an impressively rich dessert treat for a party.  And your children can join in the fun.

You need:

  • Chocolate molds
  • Vegan chocolate
Chocolate molds

A chocolate mold is a tray with the shapes for your chocolate.  Each one will cost you less than a box of chocolates and you can use them to make hundreds and hundreds of chocolates over the years.

You can buy molds at homeware shops.  Novelty flexible ice cube trays can often be used as chocolate molds. (I want the strawberries and the Legos!)

Molds which have simple shapes and small to medium size chocolates are best for beginners.  General purpose shapes are good value for money.

My molds

  • Easter eggs
  • Flowers and leaves
  • Santas, candy canes and snowmen
  • Stars
  • Train set
  • Numbers and animals
So I can handle:

  • Christmas - Santas, candy canes and snowmen/Stars
  • Birthday Boy - Train set/Stars/numbers and animals
  • Birthday Girl - Flowers/Stars/numbers and animals
  • General Gift - Flowers/Stars
  • Easter - Easter eggs/Flowers
choc belgian.jpgVegan chocolate

We have Pams brand vegan chocolate (which contains palm oil).  I recently scored a bargain on vegan Belgian chocolate from our bulk store, and I suspect I'll struggle to go back to Pams!

1.  Melt chocolate

I first melted my chocolate using an everyday bowl, plate to cover, and a few minutes in the microwave.  So easy!   

Recently, I had some failures with this method and the choc ended up dry and crumbly - unknown problem (new chocolate?  new microwave?  old memory?)  It was frustrating and wasteful enough that my husband created a double boiler with a small metal mixing bowl and a small saucepan. choc double-boiler1.jpg

The double boiler method is quick and just about foolproof.  I don't even worry if the water touches the bottom of the bowl - it works anyway.  Make sure water doesn't get into your chocolate as you stir it into smooth perfection.

2.  Spoon into molds

You don't need to be perfect - you will still get nice chocolates even with slightly under or overfull molds.  Nobody has complained yet.

Less is more when you're first learning.  Fill about 2/3 of the mold and gently tap the tray until the chocolate settles into the shape.  Add more slowly as needed. 

If you overfill, don't worry!  A bit of flat edge around the shape is no big deal.  And you can either wipe away spills on the tray or leave them to crack neatly away after the chocolate is cool.

3.  Chill out

choc flowers small.jpg
Make some flat space in your freezer (recommended) or fridge.  This can be on top of other stuff.

Put any unused chocolate back into the double-boiler while you wait.

Chocolates will be ready after about 10 minutes in the freezer.  Look for a smooth surface all the way across - partially chilled chocolate will look different in the middle.

4.  Tap out your treasure choc stars.jpg

On a clean surface (I use a plastic chopping board), turn over the molds and gently tap and wiggle until the chocolates fall out.  (This can be the trickiest part.)  You may want to use a clean paper or cloth towel so the chocolates can't break when they land.

Store immediately in layers separated by paper towels or waxed paper.  Store in a cool place - in this climate and season, the fridge is the best bet.

Then watch everyone try to get on your "nice" list!

choc flowers.jpg 5.  Cleaning up

Warm water is vital for cleaning hardened chocolate from bowls, trays, and utensils.  Don't scrub!  Apply warm water and then wipe away the chocolate like magic. 

  1. If you used a double boiler, you will have some warm water all ready.
  2. If you lick... I mean scrape all the chocolate off your bowls and stuff while it's warm, cleanup is much easier!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Constant decluttering

These left us a month ago.
When I feel like I never want to see X again, I'm going with that feeling! 

OK, I'm not throwing all the toys away just yet, but there are plenty of other candidates.

Remember that things keep coming in, so things must keep going out.

I probably should have let someone else drop off the donations bag.  Continuing the Christmas spirit, I did not leave the charity shop empty handed.
These left today (note this bag is wider than half the sofa!)
Girl clothes on their way to another family

I've continued my paper decluttering successes and reduced some major stacks with a new resolution:  Keep Some.

I have some company stocks and a long-held bank account, both of which have generated many years of statements (back to the 80s!). 

I've been afraid to get rid of anything just in case I get into trouble without the records but also haven't yet decided what I want to do with them.  So the statements pile up.

My triumph

I've kept one statement from every year, plus anything that looks tax related.  So I have records in case someone should demand them, and I also have much much less paper!

Left: gone!  Right: kept


Find 10 things today that you will never use again - bin them or put them in your donations bag.  (Start a donations bag!)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Real Food Part 2: Eating Less Sugar 5 Ways

The Real Food series helps you eat more real food in the real world.  In Part 1, we ate more whole grains.  Now let's learn how to do what we know we should - eat less sugar.

What's so bad about sugar?

White sugar goes beyond being a refined food - it is an extract.  All that is left from the refining process is empty calories - calories with no nutrition.   Sugar tastes addictively great, but like stripped grain flours, that's a natural sign of a very rich calorie source.

Rotten teeth and bouncing blood sugar don't bother you?  Here are some more of sugar's problems.Sugar_babydecay.jpg

Dr Michael Klaper vividly describes systemic sugar damage - the sugar spreads through your bloodstream all over your body (eyes, organs, skin), combines with proteins, and then oxidises.  The effects mimic the aging process - your skin, eyes, muscles, etc, start to fail. 

When I indulge in high-sugar treats, I always have a hangover the next day. I can't feel the problems in my kidneys and blood vessels, but as a contact lens wearer, I can attest to that eye thing.

How to give up sugar

Dr Klaper worked with a buddy to commit to no refined sugar.  Hey vegans!  Like dairy, you may not understand how sugar hurts you until you give it up.

Too hard? A sweet tooth is largely a matter of habit - you expect the sweetness you're used to.  While you know if you choose cakes, cookies and candy you're choosing sugar, sugar's not just in special treats anymore.
The American Heart Association suggests no more than
-  6 tsp
added sugar (women)
-  9 tsp (men) per day.
Sugar - water.jpgStart with these tricks to cut out everyday sugar surprises. 

Don't drink sugar

Drinking is meant to quench your thirst, and water does the best job.  When you drink calories, they go down quickly, don't satisfy your appetite, and you'll eat more.   

Help your health - avoid:
  • Soft drinks and energy drinks - e.g., Coke with its 38g (10 tsp) per can or Red Bull with 27g (7 tsp) - CSPI tells you all about liquid candy
  • Juice - your mother may have told you to drink your juice, but even unsweetened apple has 23g (6 tsp) per glass.  Juice has some nutrients but not enough to be worth the sugar hit.  Yes, it's healthier than Coke, but if you want nutrients?  Eat the fruit.  Compare the fruit with the juice

    Some health experts recommend fresh juicing to get a super hit of nutrients - this will beat supermarket juice but here are Dr McDougall's pros and cons

    "Unsweetened" juice blends may contain deionised juice (juice sugar water).  And someone's buying those sweetened fruit drinks!

    No juice? What to do?  Drink water, water with a splash (lemon, lime, orange, molasses), herbal tea...
  • Coffee or tea with sugar -  If you have several cups of tea with a few spoons of sugar each, it adds up.  Going gradually will get you there:  today, only use half the sugar or one spoon less. Or use healthier sweeteners (see below).
Don't wake up with sugarsugar_cereal.jpg

Most breakfast cereals, especially kids' cereals, are super sugary.  85% of 85 cereals in this cereal list have 10% or more added sugar. Indefensible, yet someone is buying them.  Lots of someones.
Confused about cereal sugar amounts?  Here's help.  But honestly, the taste should give you a clue.  Nobody stops misleading health claims on the box either.

Even plain old cornflakes, ricies, and weetbix are not far off 10% added sugar.  They're processed products and along with the milk or milk substitute most people use, that's sweet enough.  If you're spooning extra sugar on top, you need a taste bud readjustment.   

Cut back, cut back again, and use healthier sweeteners (see below).

A breakfast that you sweeten yourself, like porridge or whole grain toast, is a better bet.  And you can use healthier sweeteners (see below).

Say No to sugar on the go
We eat less food at home and more while travelling - snack food is a huge business.  Too many snack foods are labelled healthy when they are anything but.  This trick works best with healthy hippie food that corporate food companies have stolen.  Like...

This is just one story about yoghurts which scream lowfat but have an entire day's worth of added sugar (6tsp) in one tiny pot. 

Most often used in small children's lunches or for women trying to be health-conscious!
Try a plastic container, some natural yoghurt, and only a couple of tsp of fruit, jam, or even sugar.  Word to the wise - vegan soy yoghurt contains no lactic acid so needs less sweetening.
Muesli (granola) bars

This review from Oz says it all:
  • Cereal bars can be loaded with sugar (most more than 20%) and saturated fat (more than a packet of chips). 
  • Some brands contain ‘fruit’ that owes more to chemistry than agriculture.
  • A piece of real fruit is a much healthier snack.
We are vegan but with careful label reading I have discovered some supermarket choices with wholegrains and an acceptable sugar and fat content (Pams and Nature Valley). 
Cut sugar in baking

If you do home baking, you're in a great position - the hand that controls the sugar scoop. 
  • Almost any standard cake or cookie recipe can have 1/3 of the sugar accidentally not find its way into the mixture and you will probably not notice. 
    (Exceptions are recipes like meringues or marshmallows where the sugar, not flour, is the main ingredient)
  • For more reductions, experiment by replacing some of the refined sugar with the healthier sweeteners (below).   I often use molasses, soft bananas, and stevia extract to replace lots of the refined sugar.

Choose healthier sweetenerssugar banana.jpg


If you can't face plain oatmeal or cornflakes, then dried, canned, or fresh fruits are your 5+ a Day option to the sugar bowl.  Raisins, bananas, strawberries, apples are easy. Get as exotic as you like with other fruits.

Juice is off the beverage list, but it is a healthier choice than sugar in baking.


Unsulphured blackstrap molasses is my fave breakfast and beverage sweetener.  The major byproduct of sugar refining, it has the nutrition of the sugar cane with lots less actual sugar.
Caution: Very strong flavour!   To start, use only a teaspoon or so in porridge or a hot drink and 4 Tbsp in baking.  Increase when acceptable.
Blackstrap molasses is a source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron; one tablespoon provides up to 20% of the daily value of each of those nutrients.  My vegan kids have been enjoying molasses since they started porridge.

Sugar Substitutes

Stevia_Plant.jpgOf the commonly used sugar substitutes, only stevia is naturally derived from a plant.  I use both stevia leaves and extracted stevioside (the sweet chemical in stevia), with the usual assumption that the stevia leaves are a healthier choice.  But you don't need much stevioside - it is so sweet that its scoop has a bowl about the size of the pupil of my eye.

Sorbitol and xylitol are also becoming popular as more natural low calorie sugar substitutes.

I'm scared of artificial laboratory based sweeteners like aspartame, cyclamate, and saccharin: their origins, their skewed and inconclusive testing and often corrupted results.  I don't use them or buy products with them.  There are other choices to make your life a little sweeter.

Cost $$

Molasses, fruit and stevia may cost you more than refined sugar.  Some healthier cereals cost more (but there's always great value porridge!)  Choosing water with a splash instead of Coke and fruit juice is definitely cheaper. 
In the end, decide where your best investment lies.  Hint: it's your health!   

What difference does it make?

Let's define an Average Person - during one Average Day she consumes some normal stuff:
  • one can of Coke (10 tsp)
  • two glasses of juice (12 tsp)
  • two cups of coffee with 2 tsp sugar each (4 tsp)
  • a bowl of average (36% sugar) cereal (3 tsp)
  • one popular snack bar (4 tsp)
Total: 33 tsp of sugar from these foods alone!  Remember, the AHA recommends 6 tsp.

She could have chosen some other (still normal) stuff:
  • 3 glasses of water with a splash (1 tsp)
  • two cups of coffee wtih 1 tsp sugar each (2 tsp)
  • a bowl of cornflakes (1/2 tsp)
  • a natural snack bar (1 1/2 tsp)
Total: 5 tsp - she has a real chance of being sugar healthy today. 

After one year

At this rate, she could avoid 10,220 tsp of sugar - that's about 2.5 kgs!
In time, cutting sugar out altogether might seem very possible.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Coffee, tea, or mess?

My next decluttering area volunteered itself during my recent Use It Up challenge - our tea/coffee shelves.  Too many Use It Up candidates equals a decluttering challenge!

These shelves have an awkward location.  I have to lean sideways over the kitchen bench to reach them, so only the lower shelf is really easy for me to reach.  And the minivac installation makes it worse.  What can I say?  It seemed like a good idea at the time...

Result?  Everything ended up piled on the lower shelf.  When I saw that the bags of tea I actually use had been tossed up to the top shelf as clutter, I knew there was no time to lose.


Accessibility is key for this type of project.  This is the high-use kitchen; these are hospitality items you want to gather at a moment's notice with one hand while preparing kids' nibbles and carrying on a conversation with the other visiting mothers.

So I want all the regularly used items on the bottom shelf or the front of the middle shelf. We don't have that many kinds of tea and coffee we like!  So what is all that stuff on that shelf?

This was all clutter!

We had:
  • two half full containers of decaf instant coffee
  • two nearly empty tea boxes and one small opened bag (I don't need breastfeeding tea anymore!)
  • two half full tea boxes
  • a jar of old mint

Teabags in plastic bags will keep longer and take up less room the more are used up.  Cut the labels from the boxes to keep inside the bags. 

During the declutter, I also enjoyed the very last of the Wildberry teabags (blue and purple box) with some of my stevia leaves from the last Use It Up challenge.


I found a canister for all the teas, including one plastic bag with the stray anonymous teas.  This is on top so I will use them up first.

I rehomed the salt and pepper.  I moved unopened tea and coffee to higher shelves.  I also moved the opened coffee packets up because my husband is the coffee drinker and he's taller.

And for my last trick, I removed the minivac installation.  I can think of at least two better places for it than in this tight corner.


Use it up! - Stevia is naturally sweet...

I'm still working on the last Use It Up challenge, (gluten free baking mix). 

I missed a golden opportunity to use some of this baking mix when I baked 40 plus mini chocolate chocolate chip vegan cupcakes for the Vegan Society New Zealand's stall at the recent Grey Lynn Festival in Auckland, New Zealand.

There would have been several takers for gluten-free cupcakes among the hundreds of cupcake devotees.

But spring is here and I've succeeded in my winter resolution to use up my big bag of Barley Tea.

While I was up in the (very cluttered) coffee/tea shelf, I noticed another prime candidate for the series.


Stevia is a plant with a naturally very sweet leaf.  The sweet chemicals steviol glycosides are many times sweeter than sucrose but do not induce a glycemic response and have been shown to protect teeth, not decay them. 

Due to the strong flavour, stevia may never entirely replace sucrose, but it's always good to know about healthier options.  Stevia will appear again in my Real Food series - Use Less Sugar.

Growing Stevia

These dried stevia leaves were from the last harvest of the stevia plant my mother gave me when we lived in our previous house.  More than 4 years ago. 

Each year, I only needed to shake the seeds from the flowers and water the new shoots and presto - a new stevia bush! 

Sadly, during the move I did not nurture the plant into its next regenerative season and no longer have a stevia plant.  Mom?  I'm ready again...I promise!

The leaves are still sweet in my tea after all these years.  I even chew and eat the sweet leaves as I drink the tea.

I will use up these leaves in hope of a fresh supply someday...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Your Thanksgiving Turkey - now in living colour!


I grew up with turkeys on my dinner plate or as cartoon figures drawn around five little fingers.

Like any animal, there's always so much more to learn!

Like the Native Americans (Indians), turkeys are another victim of colonial naming confusion so great that I hope you can explain it to me. 

400 years ago, the English market confused the American bird with an African bird that they already called a turkey - because it was shipped via Turkey.

Turkey life....

Wild turkeys live in woods in parts of North America.  They were introduced to New Zealand (where I live) around the 1890s.  The large park near my parents' house generally hosts a flock of wild turkeys.

They spend their days foraging for food like acorns, seeds, small insects and wild berries.  They spend their nights in low branches of trees.

Yes, wild turkeys get to fly!

They weigh about 8 kgs and can live up to 13 years (average 3-4 in the wild).  Turkeys have sharp full colour eyesight and fast evasive action when in danger including running (up to 29 km/hour) and flying (up to 88 km/hour).

Turkey talk...

turkeys.jpgWild turkeys communicate using a wide array of different vocal calls, including gobbles, clucks, putts, yelps, and whistles. Strutting is also used by males as a form of communication, to attract females and intimidate other males.

Turkey love...

Each spring male turkeys try to befriend as many females as possible.  Male turkeys puff up their bodies and spread their tail feathers (just like a peacock).

They grunt, make a "gobble gobble sound" and strut about shaking their feathers to attract females for mating.

Turkey family

After the female turkey mates, she prepares a nest under a bush in the woods and lays her tan and speckled brown eggs.  She incubates as many as 18 eggs at a time.  It takes about a month for the chicks to hatch.Turkeybaby.jpg

When the babies (known as poults) hatch they flock with their mother all year (even through the winter).  For the first two weeks the poults are unable to fly.  The mother roosts on the ground with them during this time.

Turkeys protect their poults from predators by hiding them in long grass.  Turkey mothers will band together to attack hawks.

Basically, turkeys are large, intelligent birds.  They are as varied in personality as dogs and cats.

Your holiday turkey

No prizes for guessing that farmed turkeys get the same raw deal as other farmed animals.  Yes, the story is horrible.  There is no happy ending...or beginning or middle.  If you buy a supermarket turkey, you owe it to him to read this.

Factory Farm Turkey Life

Your turkey was bred, fed, drugged, and genetically manipulated to grow as large as possible as quickly as possible.  He needed to be market size when he was slaughtered at 5 months - a tiny fraction of his natural lifespan.

Turkey feed generally contains antibiotics and animal by-products, and commercial turkey feed is designed to promote fast growth.

  • In 1970, the average live turkey raised for meat weighed 8 kgs. 
  • Today, he weighs 13 kgs.

According to one industry publication, modern turkeys grow so quickly that if a 7-pound human baby grew at the same rate, the infant would weigh 1,500 pounds at just 18 weeks of age.
He never once got to fly.

Factory Farm Turkey love

Your turkey's mother was artificially inseminated because her male partners were too big to mate with her.

Factory Farm Turkey family

Your turkey was hatched in a large incubator and never saw his mother. When he was only a few weeks old, he was moved into a filthy, windowless shed with thousands of other turkeys, where he spent the rest of his life.

To keep your turkey from killing others in such stressful conditions, parts of his toes and beak were cut off, as well as his snood (flap of skin under his chin) - with no pain relief.

Factory Farm Death

Millions of turkeys die in the first few weeks of life in a factory farm from "starve-out" - they stop eating because of stress.  Others die from organ failure or heart attacks because they're unnaturally big and fat. And slow-growing turkeys get killed right there in the shed by farm workers - so that unsaleable turkeys won't waste any more food.

Your turkey survived long enough to get to slaughter.

Factory Farm Slaughter

He was thrown by his legs into a large crate packed with other turkeys.  He was lucky because his legs didn't break like other turkeys in the worker's hands.  He also avoided dying during his truck trip with no food, water, or temperature control - millions of other turkeys aren't so lucky.

At the slaughterhouse, he was hung upside-down by his weak and crippled legs and his head was dragged through an electrified "stunning tank," which immobilized him.

Your turkey should be thankful to be successfully stunned - some of his neighbours dodged the tank and were completely conscious when their throats were slit. If the knife misses, they are scalded alive in the tank of hot water used for feather removal.

Conscious choices

If you struggle to feel thankful for that bad taste in your mouth, remember that these millions of turkeys are only mistreated because people keep buying them

Even if it is a long family tradition, you still have other choices.

Free range/organic turkeys

I don't wholeheartedly recommend this, because:

  • I'm vegan
  • You won't always know how much better a free range or organic turkey is, compared to the standard factory farm product.  You will need to do your research.
But investing in an alternatively raised turkey is a blow struck against indefensible factory farming.

Go easy and cheap - go vegan

Yes, you can skip the bird and still celebrate until you burst!

Here are just a few samples:

Turkey mushrooms.jpgI'm a huge mushroom fan, so these huge mushrooms get my vote! 

And of course, you can't go past my Frugal Vegan Stuffing - anyone can make this.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Happy Vegan Thanksgiving - Frugal Vegan Stuffing


Just in time for Thanksgiving and early enough to plan for Christmas - my other easy "use it up" bread crusts recipe:  Yummy Vegan Stuffing.

Not for the birds!  This is the dish to take to your family Thanksgiving so you can give thanks for vegan food. 

After all, stuffing is the original alternative to fill up tummies so you don't eat so much of the expensive meat - happy to help out there!


You need:

  • any size oven-proof dish with cover
  • enough vegetables to quarter fill the dish
  • enough starch (wholegrain bread crumbs, oats with a bit of flour, etc) to fill to the top (or a bit over)
  • liquid, herbs and salt
My stuffing
I used a large dish (my new/old Corningware 2.5L) and:


  • 1 thinly sliced courgette
  • 1 cup creamed corn
Other good stuffing vegetables:
Use mild vegetables that will cook into softness easily

  • celery
  • mushrooms
  • peas
It's been long enough since the Frugal Fruit Pudding that we have collected more bread crusts in the freezer.  And these are 90% wholewheat crusts (thanks to our supermarket instore loaf range). So hooray - we are gradually eating more whole grains
I grated these into crumbs using the food processor.

I also used 1 cup of dry oatmeal.

Other good stuffing starches:

  • Cooked rice
  • Wholewheat flour (no more than 1/2 cup)
Add the starch and mix in the vegetables.


Add richness (if desired) to your basic stuffing.

I used a handful of sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

Other good stuffing extras

  • Sesame seeds
  • Chopped cashews or walnuts
  • Slivered almonds
  • Olives
  • Chopped meat replacement
In a small bowl or jug combine:

  • oil (optional) If you use some of the healthier rich extras listed above, you may not need any oil.  The richer the stuffing, the more "normal" this will taste, but it will still taste great without any rich extras  Up to you...
(Stir into the liquid)

  • 1 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (optional - I happened to have a little bit of parsley from the garden)
Later, I'll show you what happened to the rest.

Pour combined liquid over the mixture in the dish.  The starch should be all wet but not floating.  Add more plain liquid (water or broth) if needed.

Cover and cook in the microwave on high for about 10 minutes.

I put the cooking dish on a dinner plate to catch bubbly drips.
You can brown the top in the oven before serving.

Sorry, I can't photograph how good this smells!

And I highly recommend Lani Muelrath's Forks over Knives Mushroom Gravy on the side!

What's your favourite animal-friendly holiday dish?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Real Food Part 1: Hate Whole Grains? Here's help!


First, watch Dr John McDougall: Lowfat foods vs whole foods

Whether you're seeking a healthy weight or just plain good health, you need to find your way to whole foods.

Whole Grain Health


Your body needs some fat.  Not lots of unhealthy fat from doughnuts, fries, butter, or steak. Just the right amount of the essential fats in whole grains and other whole plant foods. 

Brown rice has 3 times the fat of white rice, but the weight-conscious should still go brown because of the...


Whole grains have more fibre - refined grains have the fibre removed.  For example, brown rice has more than 3 times the fibre of white.

This makes your food

  • Slower to chew
  • More filling in your stomach
  • Cleansing to your digestive and circulatory systems
Vitamins and minerals

When grains are refined, nutrients leave too.  If you think iron, magnesium, and essential fatty acids are important, think hard about whole grains.

Refined grains?  Stripped grains, more like!  You're being cheated - the majority of grain foods for sale are stripped grains.

Here's a great primer:  Whole Grains 101

For more data, you can't go past the fully searchable USDA Nutrient Database.

We hate whole grains!  What do we do?

Many of us were raised eating stripped grains or just envied those that were.  Your mouth may be telling you that white bread and white rice just taste nicer.

That's a natural body response to a richer calorie source. So is gaining weight.

If (like me) you don't need richer calorie sources, you can gradually increase whole grains in your family's diet.

Go Gradual

Add 1/4 whole grains to your usual serving of grains.

Whole grains have more flavour and adding just a bit is a great way to introduce that taste to the family palate.


A bit of whole wheat plus a lot of white flour is a very popular standard loaf.  Make your own or buy it.


Learn how to cook brown rice and mix it into the white rice dish before serving.  If you usually flavour your rice, you will hardly notice the change.

oatmeal.jpgMorning cereal

If you enjoy a hot cereal like cream of wheat (semolina), add 1/4 the amount of natural oatmeal when cooking. 

If you already like oatmeal, replace 100% of it!

Home cooking

If you make cookies or cakes, replace 1/4 of the flour with whole grain flour.  Fresh baked foods are softer and you might even be able to use 1/2 whole grain flour right away.

This vegan pudding was made with breadcrumbs from 30% wholewheat bread.



After a month or two of enjoying better nutrition, try adding 1/2 whole grains.  (Mark it in your calendar.) Your taste will have adjusted - enjoy your success!

Real Food Part 2
Coming up: Learn some practical ways to enjoy sweetness with less refined sugar.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Co-sleeping Forever, or Why Blame Co-sleeping?

The boys get some rest.
Recently, in Gisborne, New Zealand, a tiny baby died in his mother's bed

The death is a tragedy.  Another tragedy is the reporting. 

"The tragic death of a Gisborne baby has highlighted the risks of adults co-sleeping with babies."

We are being instructed to believe co-sleeping is risky.

Not the mother leaving a 1-month old baby illegally with her 12 year old son so she could go drinking (and return to continue parenting drunk). 

Barbara Sturmfels described this media insanity well (commenting on Facebook):
Tragic yes, and tragically avoidable, but once again bed-sharing gets simplistically blamed by the coroner and the media for a baby's death. It's the alcohol that's the risk factor, not the bed-sharing. Bed-sharing is safe if it's done safely.
When a baby dies in a car accident at the hands of a drunk driver, does the news report say "The tragic death of a baby has highlighted the risks of driving with a baby in the car"? It says "... the risks of driving drunk..."
Safe sleeping guidelines are free in public hospitals and Plunket clinics throughout the country. Each misleading story drives some of us to repeat these guidelines as loud as we can without screaming.  The Coroner's Office and the Herald must know it.

Why do they blame co-sleeping?

Because that's the best they can do. 

They can't make irresponsible people into responsible parents. Some will drink, smoke, abuse drugs, and otherwise endanger their children - no matter what.

They can't make sure parents will always have a support person - a caregiver and/or a friend who will say, "Stop drinking, you've got a baby."  (Legend).

Driving drunk is illegal and can ruin your career - and some people still do it. Parenting drunk?  We're an alcohol abuse culture.  It's a growth industry.

Safe sleeping guidelines would not have saved that Gisborne baby.  The news report painted a vivid picture of consistently unsafe parenting.

It takes a village, and there is no village.

At the Coroner's Office
"Another drunk mother smothered her baby in bed."
"Tell them not to co-sleep."
"But you know co-sleeping can be done safely."
"I think they're not reading the pamphlets!  Another baby is dead!  I can't face another family ruined forever!  Tell them not to co-sleep!"

This approach is shortsighted - our families:
  •  miss an irreplaceable bonding experience that benefits other cultures
  •  risk unsafe co-sleeping due to ignorance and exhaustion
But the approach won't change. The alternative to the blanket ban is blanketing the community with safe-sleeping (and parenting) information and laws like the drink-drive or family violence campaigns.  We're talking about a sweeping culture change from the highest level - which will not happen.

No motivation for change

Even unsafe co-sleeping does not kill very many babies.  Unsafe co-sleeping notably kills very few babies from politically influential families.

And our society prefers to separate child and mother as soon as possible, so the mother can be an income-generator again.

And free pamphlets are not going to stop that.

Educate yourself

Our community must keep spreading the word.  Here are some words to the wise - not soundbites.
Another myth put to bed

Your offspring may still want to sleep with someone when they're fully grown - but it won't be you. (Thanks Pinky McKay)

Co-sleeping with my kids

Alex started out in bed with me.  My birth trauma meant I couldn't sleep while he was nearby, so he ended up in a separate room.  I remember waking and searching through the covers for my baby.

I wish I could have bedshared longer with Alex.  He was a baby who needed lots of attention night and day. I wish I had tried bedsharing again later instead of walking the halls several times a night for so long.

With Nadia - different birth, different house, different result.  Nadia and I eased naturally into co-sleeping with a crib alongside the bed.  Instead of the traditional nuclear family setup, for more than three years we have had the girls' room and the boys' room.  One parent there for each child.

Independence Day (and night)

Nadia sleeps through pretty well now - I thought we might make changes as a special occasion when she turned 4. 

But discussions about sleepovers had Nadia suddenly putting her hot pink pillow onto her very own bed - the lower bunk that was Daddy's.  She wanted to "giggle all night" with Alex.

She still has company and usually a feed to get to sleep.  And she's always back in our bed by morning.  She is welcome.  Some nights she goes back and forth and back again.  I love this natural transition - she shows her own readiness.

It's nice being able to read myself to sleep in bed again.  I've earned it.  And it was worth it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Eat More Fruit and Whole Grains - Frugal Vegan Fruit Pudding


I like to cook with what I have.  And this healthy fruit pudding can be made with practically anything.

Of course, I used my garden-fresh organic rhubarb.  With this recipe, I also transformed the bread end collection from our freezer from trash to treasure.


You need:

  • any size oven-proof dish with cover
  • enough fruit to half-fill the dish
  • enough starch (wholegrain bread crumbs, oats with a bit of flour, etc) to fill to the top (or a bit over)
  • liquid, spices and sweetening
My fruit pudding

I used a large dish (my new/old Corningware 2.5L) and:


  • 3 cups rhubarb
  • 2 cups sliced canned apple
  • 1 ripe banana
Rhubarb needs special attention as it's a very stringy and bitter plant.  I sliced the rhubarb stalks thinly in the food processor, and put them in the dish with:

  • 1 tsp baking soda (reduces the sugar needed)

  • 1/2 cup water
and cooked them in the microwave until mushy (5 minutes).

This gave me time to do more preparation.

When all the fruit is ready, add it to the cooking dish.


Does your family eat bread ends?  Yeah, I know.  We always have collections of them in the freezer.  I grated these into crumbs using the food processor - that filled the rest of the dish.  If I'd needed more, I would use dry oatmeal and no more than 1/2 cup ww flour.

When all the starch is ready, add it on top of the fruit.

I like to mix my fruit in with my starch, but you might choose to layer instead.

Spices (optional but recommended)

1/2 tsp of cinnamon, nutmeg, and/or ginger stirred into the mixture


In a small bowl or jug combine:

  • 3C (approx) liquid - water, juice, or any milk substitute depending on how rich you want it
  • Sweetener of choice to taste - since I used rhubarb, I needed lots more sugar than for just bananas and apples.  One source suggests adding 1/2 cup of sugar for 3 cups of rhubarb. 

    I always add sweeter fruits along with the rhubarb to reduce the processed sugar needed.  Raisins and dates give lots of sweetness. 

    I use a couple of Tbsp of blackstrap molasses along with plain sugar to add flavour and important vitamins and minerals
  • 1 tsp vanilla (optional)
  • 3 Tbsp custard powder (optional) - this results in the pudding setting solidly.  You will have a crumblier but still very nice dessert without it.
Pour combined liquid over the mixture in the dish.  The starch should be all wet but not floating.  Add more liquid (water, juice, milk) if needed.

Cover and cook in the microwave on high for about 10 minutes.
(I put the cooking dish on a dinner plate to catch bubbly drips.)

Served with a fresh garden strawberry and covered with soy yoghurt and the most delicious caramel soy topping (won from Angel Food and going on the shopping list).
Have more rhubarb?  Vegan Rhubarb Cake and more!

Have more bread ends?  Stay tuned for my vegan stuffing recipe, just in time for Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Planting for Summer - the toilet rolls rocked!

The summer squash seeds love their free biodegradable planters and showed their appreciation with big green leaves.

And the beans we planted at Small Poppies were going bonsai for lack of soil depth in that cute little decorated pink tub...unlike my planters, which are an ideal shape for deep little roots without needing lots of soil.

Trowel in hand, I investiged our kale and parsley jungle for some available real estate.  I approved some subdivisions, cleared some weeds, and began.

It's hard to let go of such faithful producers as the kale, but my sprouts need their turn in the sun.  So I stripped the last kale leaves (hello soup), shook off clouds of seeds, and pushed them over.

Frugal planters - priceless!

Planting into the garden using the biodegradable planters was so easy!  I could see little roots all ready when I unfolded the end, and the cardboard was well soaked from Nadia's last watering effort (I didn't know she read my blog!)  The structure protected the tiny plant and roots from the usual transplanting damage.

It was like moving a sleeping baby wrapped in a warm blanket.

My 3 year old could safely and easily plant these.  I had to plant the bean sprouts from their loose soil.


Three summer squash, two bean sprouts, and a harvest all for me...

I added more parsley to the last kale and the rhubarb is happy again.  


We also have the first strawberries. 
Planters_Strawberry.jpg    Planters_alex1.jpg

There were several.  What's the shelf life of a fresh garden strawberry?  Who knows?

Coming soon

What to do with all that fresh organic rhubarb - it's vegan, frugal, fatfree, and fabulous!