Tag Archives: Simple Food

Simple Pancakes

The weekend is almost here! Time for slow, relaxing breakfasts with the ones you love. (If you eat breakfast.)

One of my favorite breakfasts is pancakes. Chocolate chip pancakes, to be precise. Yes, I am an adult that enjoys chocolate chips on her pancakes. So does my father. We are German.

Here is my favorite pancake recipe. It is quite simple and also happens to be vegan.

Ingredients*:

  • 1-1/2 C all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 T sugar
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 1-1/2  C water
  1. Mix dry ingredients.
  2. Add the wet ingredients.
  3. Mix well.
  4. Pour ladles onto hot pan.
  5. Flip once, when most of the batter starts to bubble.
  6. OPTIONAL: Add chocolate chips! and spread when melted.

Enjoy!

* C = cup
t = teaspoon
T = tablespoon

The Cat in the Garden – A Short Story

There once was a boy, who wasn’t really a boy. He was only 17 so he wasn’t a legal adult yet, but he was beyond boyhood. He never considered himself a teenager either. Being a teenager seemed to him to be a time of rebellious experimentation that he never got to experience. No, this boy, this man, had been living on his own since he was 15 years old.

His parents had died. Instead of going with the strangers from Social Services, he ran away. He didn’t run far, but they never found him. Maybe they never looked for him — there was no one around who would have checked in on the situation.

He’s been completely alone for over two years now. Two years may not seem like a long time to some people, but these years contained the growth of a new universe for this young man.

When he ran away, he didn’t go far. Just across town to the wooded area behind Public Works. He had grown up taking camping trips with his family and when he learned from Social Services that he wouldn’t be able to stay in his house, he figured the woods would be a good place to live.

He never stole anything, but he was still able to find everything he needed, even clothes. It was amazing what people just threw away. Especially people who lived in town homes. They had the most lucrative trash — he didn’t know why. Not only was he able to build a home for himself, he was able to provide his own food.

Picking old vegetables and fruits from the trash is dirty business, but he did what he needed to be done. The seeds stuck to the gooey flesh weren’t trash anyway. They had so much potential. He rinsed them off, gave them their own special plot in his wooded abode, and cared for them until he had a disorganized garden of tomatoes, berries, garlic, cucumbers, peppers, onions, and more, even corn.

He ate like a woodland king when the weather was warm enough. He ate like a city bum when the weather was cold, however. He frequented dumpsters much more often in the winter, especially those behind restaurants. He had no money and no way of earning any. But still he lived a life full of adventure.

One day in late spring, he came back to his home to see he had a visitor. As far as he knew, no person ever knew his plot existed, but this cat had come to find him.

“Hello there, furry little one,” the boy said, kneeling down.

The cat did not run away, but timidly approached and sniffed the boy’s outstretched hand. The cat then rubbed his head against the boy. It meowed and looked up, hopeful.

“If you’re hungry I’m sorry I don’t have much for you,” the boy said, opening the canvas bag of food he had just collected, mostly stale bread. “Definitely no cat food and no meat either.”

The cat stuck its head in the bag and pulled out a piece of bread that was soggy with some type of sauce. It then began chewing.

“Well, alright, if that suits you,” the boy said. He sat down and they ate their small meals together.

The cat stayed with him for almost a week. It stayed and napped for hours at a time. And sometimes it left for most of the day. The boy didn’t know where this domestic cat had come from, but he sure liked having it around. It had been such a long time since he had any sort of company, anyone to talk to. And the cat kept the squirrels and rabbits away from his crucial garden. On his “grocery runs” as he thought of them, he made sure to get something extra — fish or meat — for the cat, too.

On the sixth day, however, when the cat came back from one of its long outings, someone had followed it. The boy was napping in his hammock when he heard the rustle of footsteps approaching. They were too near before he could think of anything to do. He sat up, panicked and shocked, as a woman walked right into his secret garden.

“Oh!” The woman said, perhaps equally as shocked when she moved the branch from her vision and saw what, or rather who, was before her. “Oh! I didn’t expect to… Have you seen a big, grey cat? Oh, there you are!” She spotted the cat scratching its claws on a thick, rough tree.

“Come here, you.” She bent down and the cat immediately bounded over and leapt in her arms. “You’ve had us worried sick. Thank you so much for finding him,” she added, looking up at the boy. “He’s my daughter’s and she’s been so upset since he’s been missing. She’s on the spectrum and doesn’t have many friends…”

She trailed off as she took in the whole of her surroundings. The hammock, the old canvas tent stuffed with blankets, the fire pit, the handmade rain barrel propped up in a tree (so the boy could shower), the garden, the old pots and pans, everything that the boy had collected in the last two years. Her gaze lingered on an old blue speckled pot that looked very familiar.

“Do you… You don’t…” She kept looking between the things and the boy, searching his face for some kind of clue. “What is this place?”

The boy looked down and licked his lips. “It’s just a place I like to hang out. You know, to get away.”

“That’s a lot of food,” she said.

“Well your cat is good company, but can eat a whole lot,” the boy tried to joke.

The woman nodded, but didn’t look convinced. “This is Spaghetti,” she said, nodding to the cat. I’m glad he was able to keep you company.”

The boy only nodded.

“Look…” she started, looking nervous. “Thank you for looking out for him. Do you… Would you like to have dinner with us tonight? As a thank you. I’m sure Juliet, my daughter, would like to thank you, too. She’s 14. Maybe you two would get along. After all, Spaghetti seems to quite like you both.”

“I…” The boy started, but then the words got lost in his throat with a croak.

“No pressure,” the woman said. And she finally smiled.

The boy looked up and saw another entire universe in that one smile, one filled with love.

“Okay,” he managed. “I’ll come.”

“Do you have to ask your parents? I can talk to them if you want,” she said.

The boy looked down again. “No.”

The woman nodded to herself and left it at that. “You can follow me. It’s not a far walk,” she turned and gestured kindly, still holding Spaghetti firmly in her arms. “What’s your name?”

“My name’s Romeo,” the boy answered.

The woman almost stopped and asked “Really?”, but checked herself just in time. Instead she said, “I’m Emily. It’s nice to meet you Romeo.”

Romeo nodded again and tried out his own smile.

 

The End

Sun Tea in 4 Easy Breezy Steps

In the sunny days of summer, I like to make sun tea. It’s very easy to make and super refreshing to enjoy as iced tea when finished. Here’s how I do it.

  1. Prepare. I use 3 tea bags in a wide-mouth half-gallon Ball jar. There are plenty of sun tea jars you can buy, but I don’t like them because their specificity limits their use and most of them are made of plastic. Mason jars are extremely versatile and classic. I use 3 tea bags — usually 2 black tea and 1 fruity herbal tea — because I don’t need my tea to be very strong. I fill the jar to about 1500 ml or 6 cups and cinch the tea bag strings in the lid when I screw it on, leaving just the tags out.
  2. Brew. I place the jar in a sunny spot in my backyard for about half a day, or until it looks like the tea is a nice, tasty shade of brown. Then I bring it in and discard the tea bags.
  3. Embellish. Sometimes I add some honey to the jar and it is best to do this when the tea is still warm from the sun so the honey melts in evenly — stir well or give it a vigorous shake (if you’re using a sealed mason jar). Alternatively, you can add sweetener per glass as you drink it (works well if people in your family prefer varying sweetness) or leave the sweetener out all together.
  4. Serve. If I want to drink it right away, I’ll add a bunch of ice cubes right to the jar and shake it again before pouring myself a glass. Otherwise, I’ll store it in the refrigerator and pour it over a glass of ice when I’m ready for a drink. It’s best to drink the tea within a week. If you add sweetener, use within 4 days.

Alternatives:

  • Add crushed fresh mint to brew with 2 black tea bags.
  • Add lemon or other fruit slices (strawberries, raspberries, watermelon, peach) while storing in the refrigerator.
  • Instead of using black tea, mix and match any combinations of black, green, white, cinnamon, or flavored tea.
  • After the tea is cooled, freeze in Popsicle molds for a frozen treat.

Enjoy!

Cooking

I don’t think cooking more in itself will simplify my life. Buying prepared food is easy and fast, but it’s expensive (and spending more money than I have complicates my life). It would be even more expensive to have a personal chef to prepare all of my meals for me, so that’s not happening any time soon. Therefore, knowing how to cook is a very useful skill.

Cooking simplifies food in the way that we know everything that went into our meals. Our diet is simplified. Cooking from scratch reduces the ingredients so we’re eating basic elements of life grown from the earth, not “edible food-like substances” concocted in labs or extra ingredients to lengthen shelf time. (Michael Pollan’s books and documentaries are great resources for getting back to the roots of our food and how humans eat.)

I did not learn how to cook growing up. I could prepare myself some food — like boil pasta, make myself an English muffin pizza, pour cereal, chop up a salad, etc. I could survive, but my repertoire was not very balanced or interesting. I didn’t know what a roux was, how to reduce a sauce, how to make pancakes from scratch, what causes food to rise or be sticky or caramelize, or what happens when you whip in some air. I’ve learned a lot and I continue to learn new things all the time. (I still don’t really know the difference between boiling and braising.)

I’m not taking a kitchen 101 class or a cooking course or anything. I’m just going in the kitchen and trying my hand at cooking different recipes. Sometimes they work — most of the time they work — but sometimes they flop. I learn from both outcomes. And I’m having a lot of fun doing it.

I put “cook new recipe” on my weekly to-do list for a month before I finally got around to doing it, but now I’m on a roll. I don’t even have to put it on my list anymore. Every Saturday morning before work, I drink my coffee and flip through a cookbook (usually The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook) and pick out 2 or 3 recipes to try to that week. Then I go to the grocery store after my shift and get everything I need to cook those recipes. This has been the best form of meal planning for me so far.

Cooking is more than a hobby for me. I wouldn’t really call it a passion either. It’s a way of life, I guess? It’s a way to life? We cannot survive without eating and being able to provide for ourselves will make ourselves better — more independent and more sustainable. And, above all, I enjoy cooking. I think it’s fun and interesting and sexy and delicious.

Cooking, I believe, is love — that we give to ourselves and share with others.

My Minimal Cookbook Collection

French Women Don’t Get Fat

If I could only have 1 cookbook to use for the rest of my life, I would choose this one. The recipes contained therein are simple, made with real ingredients, diverse, and overall very healthy (because they are made from scratch with real food). It is the first cookbook I go to when I’m in need of a recipe or ideas. I shop from this book. I find the stories and text entertaining and helpful. I also think it’s beautiful.

There are no photos in this book. At first, it kind of threw me off and I didn’t really like it. How was I supposed to know what I was trying to make? How would I know if I did it right? What’s it supposed to look like? But the more I’ve cooked from this book, the less it has bothered me. Now I quite prefer not having any photos to judge my creations against. I use my own imagination in presenting the meal and never feel bad if it isn’t as gorgeous as some staged photo would be. I make real food for my table, not set up for a photo-op. And the real judgement comes from how the food tastes. And I am always satisfied with how the food cooked from this book tastes.

Fresh from the Vegan Slow Cooker

I like this book for its set-it-and-forget-it-ness. I also value that it’s animal-free. However, it sometimes calls for some strange ingredients that I don’t like to cook with, or just haven’t tried because it is so foreign to me. I haven’t tried tempeh or seitan and don’t really use tofu. I know these foods are pretty ancient, but I didn’t grow up with them so they feel weird to me. I also don’t like things like textured vegetable protein (TVP) because it is not a real food — it’s an edible food-like substance concocted in a lab and produced in a factory.

There are still a lot of simple (and natural) recipes to cook from this book that are quite delicious. Most recipes call for a lot of ingredients, but it makes a lot and is usually a balanced meal on its own. I don’t really think ahead enough to use our slow cooker as much as I could. And yet I actually enjoy the act of cooking and the slow cooker takes a lot of that away. On heavily-scheduled days, though, it can really come in handy.

The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook

I don’t usually use this book to cook regular meals at home, but it has some gems in it — especially things I use for sides. (The Brussel sprouts with bechamel sauce is so good.) Most recipes are just a little more complicated than I prefer, but it is quite a fun book, especially for a huge Harry Potter fan like me.

We make the sweet treats (of which there is a lot) whenever we want to bake together with the children or want a dessert for a special occasion. And we make the more complicated recipes when we want to spend some quality time cooking together. For example, the meat pies. I don’t have the time or patience to make them entirely from scratch by myself on a weekday, but if Andrew and I want to spend the day together and have a nice meal after, it’s perfect.

Crazy Sexy Kitchen

Another vegan cookbook that contains some ingredients too weird to be found in my pantry. A beautifully designed book with a lot of photos and information for those who might be new to veganism. As a whole, the book is more strict with food than I care to be (I just don’t care all that much about making sure all of my meals are pH-balanced), but then I know every option is super-healthy. Even the desserts only use naturally-derived, complex sugars.

Again, I don’t use this book very much in my day-to-day cooking, but it’s got a lot of interesting recipes for when I’m feeling adventurous. I also have a good amount of friends and family that are stricter vegans than my family at home, so this book is great when I’m preparing food for parties or get-togethers with them.

3 Easy Breakfasts

I don’t like to think too much in the morning. And I wake up really hungry. So I eat these breakfasts roughly 87% of the time. They are easy with the children, too.

  • Cereal with Fresh Fruit. I usually buy Cheerios, Rice Krispies, Life, or Shredded Wheat. The fruit is usually a banana. Strawberries and blueberries are a special treat from the grocery store. Raspberries are a special treat from our garden.
  • Yoghurt with Muesli. Plain, whole milk yoghurt. I buy Bob’s Red Mill Muesli.
  • Oatmeal with Nuts and Dried Fruit. Quick oats cooked on the stove. Usually chopped walnuts or almonds. Usually dried cranberries or raisins. I’ll usually drop in a little swirl of honey, too.

And that’s it.

When I’m feeling ambitious and have the time, I like to pancakes. I make them from scratch because it’s really easy — and then I just use stuff in my cabinets instead of buying another product. I usually serve them with eggs fried over-easy. Sometimes I serve them with chocolate chips. ^_^

Other times I will do eggs with toast. It’s one of my favorite breakfasts, actually, but I really don’t make it that much. It’s a little tougher to the little kids to eat. Maybe that’s what makes it so special for me. Because my favorite favorite is when Andrew let’s me sleep-in in the morning and he makes breakfast for everyone and it’s over-easy eggs with toast. Delicious.

Yes, but usually I keep it to the three listed above. I don’t get tired of them because there are lots of ways to change it up with each item. Easy preparation and clean-up is a big plus-side, too.

9 Tips for a Simple Kitchen

I can’t say that the kitchen is the most used room in our house because we have a small house and, frankly, all of the living areas get used a lot everyday. The kitchen is, however, the hardest room to keep clean.

We are in other rooms a lot, but a lot happens in the kitchen. Our only table is in our kitchen, so in addition to cooking and eating there, we use that surface for playing and working, too. Things are always being used and moved and dirtied and cleaned. Here are some tips I use to keep this complex area just a little more simple.

  1. Get rid of appliances and specialized or redundant tools. You don’t really need a hand mixer, an ice cream maker, a quesadilla maker, or a toaster oven and a toaster. You can use a spoon (or a stand mixer), a blender, a pan, or just the toaster or an oven. Keep only multi-use tools or appliances completely necessary for your style of cooking. Remember: owning less things means less storing, finding, cleaning, and replacing.
  2. Stash appliances and tools in the cabinets, cupboard, or a closet. Even the toaster. You probably don’t use it as often as you think, therefore, you don’t need it within reach taking up counter space at all times.
  3. Make your tools versatile. I used storage bowls as mixing bowls and cutting boards as serving trays.
  4. Embrace your ugly or “outdated” kitchen. Reading this post made me completely release a pesky renovation list from my head. Replace “ugly” with “quirky”. Styles come and go, but that doesn’t mean your kitchen can’t still serve its purpose. Embrace your quirky kitchen. As long as it works, right?
  5. Pick a few colors or one theme. We used to have an assortment of hand-me-down and thrift-shop plates, cups, bowls, etc. There is nothing wrong with second-hand things in themselves, but having a cohesive set makes things simpler. Dishes stack better, fit next to each other better, and reduce visual clutter (ex: multiple dish patterns in multiple color schemes). I’m all for second-hand, but get a complete, matching set to simplify things.
  6. Use a small refrigerator. Food won’t get shoved to the back to spoil if there isn’t any room for you to add new food in front. Eat what you have and shop fresh. Meals are more flavorful that way. You will waste less, be more creative, and save space. And a smaller refrigerator uses less electricity — good for your finances and the environment.
  7. Get rid of your dishwasher. Read this post explaining 8 reasons why.
  8. Organize by use. When we first moved into our house, we didn’t have a plan on how to use our kitchen. My husband and I never had a kitchen of our own before and we were unfamiliar with this one in particular. 4 years of trial-and-error later we finally reorganized and I LOVE it. Tools, cans, grains, nuts, flatware, spices and flavorings, baking supplies, and storage pieces each have their own designated areas. This makes cooking A LOT easier.
  9. Organize by ease of cleaning. This is a tip from Marie Kondo. (She is the tidying boss.) Keep surfaces clear — utilize all of your drawers and cabinets. When everything is out of the way, cleaning counters, tabletops, and floors is much simpler.

Enjoy your kitchen and the delicious food you prepare!

Do you have any tips for a simpler kitchen to share? Post them in the comments below!

Vegan Valentine Cookies

Instead of going to the shops and buying your love highly processed and highly priced chocolates, try baking these lovely vegan cookies.

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 8.09.56 PM

These cookies are rich and decadent, fruity and nutty. They are made with chocolate chips, dried cranberries, and sliced almonds. Hopefully they’ll be able to satisfy all of the people that you love in your life.

Yields: 4-5 dozen cookies              Time: ~ 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 2 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 C coconut oil, softened
  • 1 1/2 C sugar
  • 2 t molasses
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 4 T cornstarch mixed with 4 T water
  • 1/2 C semi-sweet chocolate chips*
  • 1/3 C sliced almonds
  • 1/2 C dried cranberries

*You may want to check the ingredients list for milk fat to ensure vegan-ness.

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Mix flour, baking soda, and salt together in a small bowl. Set aside.

Mix coconut oil, sugar, molasses, and vanilla extract together in a large bowl. Make sure any chunks are worked out of the coconut oil.

Add cornstarch mixture and mix well.

Add the dry ingredients gradually, mixing well.

Add the chocolate chips, almonds, and cranberries. Mix well.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto un-greased baking sheets. Bake for 9-11 minutes or until lightly browned.

Let cool on baking sheets for 3-5 minutes before using a rubber spatula to transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Enjoy!