Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Healthy and Inexpensive Eats on the Road


Chances are, you're planning a road trip at least once this summer! I'm gearing up to leave on a family camping trip myself, that will involve several hours of driving to get to our destination. 

With two hungry teenage boys in the backseat, I know I need to be prepared with lots of healthy, inexpensive snacks to dole out en route, or we're headed for the dietary (and budgetary) disaster of a fast-food fix somewhere along the way.

One of the strategies I've developed over the years is to make sure to pack some extra-tasty snacks so that they don't feel “deprived” without a stop at McDonald's for lunch.

Two of the best ways to make sure you don't get stuck spending a fortune eating junky food at a greasy spoon on the way to your holiday destination are:

1. Planning ahead: You know you're going to need to eat along the way (and if you have boys who are non-stop eating machines in tow, you know they will need to eat a LOT along the way!) I aim to start tucking some homemade healthy snacks into the freezer a week or two before our departure date, so I just have to pull them out and pack them right before we leave.

2. Packing a cooler: Depending on your final destination, you'll want either a basic cooler to fill with ice, or an electric cooler (one brand name is Koolatron). If you're tent camping without access to electricity, a basic cooler will do the trick. If you'll be staying at a bed and breakfast or hotel, the electric cooler will allow you to easily maintain a stash of healthy foods and drinks throughout your holiday without the inconvenience of draining and refilling a basic cooler with ice every day or two.

What Snacks Should You Pack?
Every family seems to have their favourite “go-to” snacks; below are some suggestions that are quick and easy (and/or make-ahead-and-freeze friendly).
  • Oatmeal and Fruit Bars (freezer friendly) - substitute raspberries or chopped peaches or plums for the blueberries in these delectable bars
  • Pocket Sandwiches (freezer friendly) - my boys love these Curried Beef and Spicy Pork pocket sandwiches! The fillings can also be tucked into pitas or wraps if you don't want to wrestle with bread dough, although they're messier and not as travel-friendly that way.
  • Popcorn (pack individual servings in ziptop bags)
  • Whole fruits and sliced vegetables (pack a container of hummus for extra hunger-pang-busting power!)
  • High protein finger foods: Trail mix, cheese cubes, hard boiled eggs and jerky.
  • Nut butters and breads or crackers for spreading them on
In addition, we always pack a large Thermos jug with ice water so we can stay well-hydrated in the heat (for a special holiday treat I also bring along a bottle or two of Santa Cruz Organic Lemonade for our roadside picnic – it goes on sale occasionally at Food Basics, Fortinos and Metro for $1.99/960 mL bottle so I stock up then!)

While prepping food for a road trip does take some time and forethought, that effort pays off hugely in the health of both your body and your finances. I'm always glad I took the time to stock our cooler and picnic basket with wholesome, homemade foods and I'm sure you will be, too!

Do you have a favourite healthy, inexpensive snack for toting on road trips? Leave a comment and share it with us!  
 Mountain Rose Herbs. A herbs, health and harmony c 
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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

RECIPE: Curried Beef Sandwich Pockets


Summer meals should be relaxed and easy. In my house, it's a good thing if they're "make it now, grab it whenever you're ready to eat" as the boys are often off on adventures with their friends and not necessarily around to eat when Joe and I do. 

These pocket sandwiches, like my Spicy Pork Pocket Sandwiches, are a huge hit with my teenage boys. They are good to eat either hot or cold, so work well for a picnic or an on-the-road feast if you're travelling. They also freeze well, so stashing a batch in the freezer makes for an easy-to-reheat snack or meal on a day you don't have the time or inclination to cook.

We really like these paired with Cucumber & Bean Salad; they will pair nicely with just about any kind of summer salad, though - this post has a roundup of some of our favourites.

Ingredients:

1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 lb ground beef
1 carrot, grated
1 zucchini, grated
½ tsp ginger
1 tsp curry powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tbsp flour
1 lb bread dough - I use my Whole Wheat Refrigerator Bread Dough (or 4 pita breads, halved)

Instructions:
  • In a large frying pan, sauté garlic and onion in oil until they start to soften.
  • Add ground beef, carrot and zucchini. Cook until no traces of pink remain in beef.
  • Add ginger, curry powder, salt and pepper.
  • Stir flour into yogurt until smooth. Add to beef mixture and simmer over medium-low heat until mixture thickens.
  • Divide the bread dough into 6 or 8 equal pieces (depending how big you want the sandwiches - smaller ones work well for younger kids). Roll a piece of dough out into a rectangle until it's about 1/4" thick. Spoon filling onto one half of the rectangle; fold over and crimp edges to seal. Repeat with remaining pieces of bread dough. Cut 2-3 slashes diagonally across the top of each pocket to allow steam to escape. Arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with a clean dish towel and let rise 20-30 minutes (you can skip this step if you're in a real hurry, the crust will just be thinner and not as fluffy). Bake at 375ºF for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Makes 6-8 sandwiches (If you don't want to wrestle with bread dough, spoon filling into pita pockets instead).
Serves 4

I shared this recipe at Full Plate Thursday.

Mountain Rose Herbs. A herbs, health and harmony c 
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Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Belated Spring Yard Sale Report

Yes, it's the beginning of July - and I haven't posted a single Yard Sale Report for this year yet!

Fear not, I *have* been out on my usual yard saling adventures. With the cold spring we had, I really didn't get started until the end of May. And despite the fact that I've hit a substantial number of sales this season, I haven't come home with much. These days I'm pretty picky about what I'll buy, even at yard sale prices, as the more I declutter, the less desire I have to bring something into the house that just ends up accumulating dust.

That being said, I do enjoy the "thrill of the hunt" enough to continue digging around in boxes of random stuff on people's driveways on the slight chance I will unearth something wonderful (I still adore the vintage glass candlesticks I found wrapped in paper at the bottom of a box at an estate sale 4 years ago).

My first find of the season was at a church rummage sale:

The final 3 Harry Potter books, in pristine hardcover, for $1 each. This was perfect timing as my older son was just ready to start Order of the Phoenix. These put a big smile on his face!

At the same rummage sale, I also picked up these in-brand-new-condition books for my gift cupboard (50 cents each!):
 
 At the same sale, I also picked up a new-in-the-shrink-wrap kids' DVD of magic tricks for $3 (not pictured - it's already been gifted!!)

A few weeks later, I picked up this beautiful, coffee-table-sized book on herb gardening for 75 cents:

Since I am on a never-ending quest to expand the number of herbs growing in my garden, this is a welcome addition to my library (and I admit that I spent a significant portion of a Saturday afternoon leafing through it on my porch!)

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I scored all 3 of these items at a fundraiser yard sale:

Handwoven basket (to become the new trash can in my office), 25 cents; beach mat $1 and single-serving stainless steel Thermos $2.

Grand total: $11 for 10 items, or $1.10 per item

July's looking like it's going to be light on the yard sales for me; I have 2 Saturdays where I'm doing demos at the Farmers' Market, plus we'll be on vacation for part of the month, too. So it may be a while before my next yard sale report appears - rest assured that I'll be back eventually with another update!

Have you found anything great at a yard sale lately?

Mountain Rose Herbs. A herbs, health and harmony c 
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Monday, June 23, 2014

Weekly Menu Retrospective #131


Welcome to my weekly roundup of the past week's eats. I prefer to report what we ate in the last week, rather than what we're planning to eat in the coming week. Why? The reason is pretty simple: although I usually have a general idea of what we're going to eat in the next week or so, life often unfolds a little differently than planned, and I adjust my menu plan on a near-daily basis to accommodate leftovers and other not-possible-to-plan-ahead circumstances. I find this is the easiest way to ensure that I minimize our family's food waste. I'm also willing to admit that I'm a rather spontaneous cook, given to preparing foods that strike me as the most appealing thing to eat right here and now!

If you'd like a whole book full of inexpensive, quick and kid-approved recipes, check out my book, Cheap Appétit : The Complete Guide to Feeding Your Family for Less Than $400 a Month (While Eating Better Than You Ever Thought Possible) on Amazon (Amazon.com, Amazon.ca and Amazon UK) and Barnes and Noble.  It's gotten multiple 5 star reviews!! I've included page references to recipes that are in the book in my menu plans so you can locate them quickly. For more details about the book, go here. 

 

Breakfasts:

Granola (p. 92) with homemade yogurt, Carrot Raisin Bran Muffins (p. 102), scrambled eggs with bacon and toast

Lunches: 

leftovers, grilled cheese, sandwiches, salads

Dinners:
Monday: Chickpeas with Potatoes and Peas (p. 138) )

Tuesday: Creamy Tuna Pasta with Peas and Carrots (p. 146)

Wednesday: Sausage & Apple Saute (p. 137) served over rice

Thursday: Chicken Breasts with Garlic & Herbs, Easy Oven Fries (p. 194), Creamy Cucumber Salad (p. 205)

Friday: Black Bean Chili (p. 160) and Cornbread (p. 212)
  
Saturday: Spaghetti with Creamy Tomato Vegetable & Meat Sauce 

Sunday: Roast Pork, Roasted Root Vegetables, Apple-Raspberry Crisp
 
In keeping with my local and organic challenge, I'd also like to note the local and/or organic items on this week's menu:

Organic: coconut (in granola), coconut oil, raisins, sunflower and pumpkin seeds (in granola), flax seeds, fresh ginger,  coffee (locally roasted and delivered by bike!), tamari, oregano, basil, parsley, Fairytale tea, peppermint tea
 
Local: potatoes, onions, carrots, apples, cucumbers, red peppers, salsa (home-canned), honey (unpasteurized), sour cream, whole wheat flour, ground beef (antibiotic and hormone free, pastured), milk, buttermilk
 
Local AND organic: 
oats, cornmeal, eggs (not "certified organic", but real free range and fed organic feed), apple cider vinegar, arugula*, lettuce*, green onions*, herbs*

*from our backyard garden

Tired of figuring out what to make for dinner? I've completely overhauled my budget menu planning service and the new monthly plans will be available starting in July. Plans include complete menu plans and grocery lists featuring inexpensive, seasonally-focused ingredients. Over 75% of the simple and affordable recipes are NEW and NOT on the blog or in the book. Click HERE to find out more!


For more great meal ideas, check out Menu Plan Monday at orgjunkie.com. 


Mountain Rose Herbs. A herbs, health and harmony c 
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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Celebrating Local Food Week: Five of My Favourite Local Food Deals

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It's the first official Local Food Week here in Ontario! To help celebrate, I figured this would be a great time to share some of my favourite local food deals here in the Hamilton area.

1. Ground beef at VG Meats: You can buy a 30 lb box of their (frozen) regular ground beef for just $60! This is a super awesome deal. Their meat is antibiotic and hormone free and they raise their animals humanely. We've been buying their beef for a couple of years now and anything else just isn't good enough anymore :) They regularly offer great specials on other meats as well, and have excellent freezer packages available if you're looking to buy a LOT of meat at once. Visit their site to find out more.

2. Local, organic rolled oats from Grain Process: For under $25, you can buy a 10 kg bag of organic rolled oats from Grain Process. A school in our neighbourhood purchases their products as a fundraiser so it's really convenient for us to order through them. They also have a retail outlet in Scarborough; it has weird hours though so make sure you check to see when it's open before you go! They have a pretty extensive range of products, both organic and conventionally grown. The prices do fluctuate up and down a bit but are generally very good. If you're wondering what on earth we do with all those oats, our routine consumption of homemade granola, baked oatmeal, muffins and cookies makes pretty short work of that big bag!

3. Bulk honey from Dutchman's Gold Honey Shop: If you bring your own jars to the Honey Shop up in Carlisle, you can purchase bulk honey (either Wildflower or Summer Blossom) for $9.25/kg. This is a fantastic price for local, unpasteurized honey. Their prices do fluctuate from season to season, but are always a good deal.

4. Stirling Creamery butter from Vos Eggs: You can buy locally produced Stirling butter for $4.45/lb at the Vos Eggs stall in the Hamilton Farmers' Market, top level. Stirling has been churning out world-renowned butter since 1925 (Saveur magazine has called it "one of the world's 30 great butters". You can't say no to something that great for such a good price!

5. Produce from smaller, local growers at the Mustard Seed Co-op: The local growing season is just getting underway, and I've already found some very good deals on fresh, local greens from small local producers at the co-op. This is going to be my second stop (after my backyard garden) for produce this year. Members will also be able to order bushels of produce as the season progresses (perfect for canning, can't wait for the tomatoes!) They're having their official grand opening this Saturday, too, from noon-6 p.m., so it's a great time to stop by the store and check it out!

Are there any other great local food deals I should know about? Please share them with us in the comments!
Mountain Rose Herbs. A herbs, health and harmony c 
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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What's New in My Garden This Year: Herbs Galore & Some New Fertilizer Options

Spring has FINALLY arrived here in Southern Ontario, and the planting has begun!

I have a surprising number of new additions to the garden this year - it wasn't something I really planned on, it just kind of happened :) The photo above is calendula seedlings which I was thrilled to see coming up; I was given a calendula plant by a local herbalist last summer and it did very well for me. I was hoping it would reseed itself vigorously and it seems to have done just that! If most of them thrive, I may actually be able to give a couple away myself. I dry the flowers all summer long to use for making salves and balms.

You may recall that I tried 2 new food plants last year: sorrel and ground cherries. While I loved the taste of the sorrel, it hasn't come back up this spring :( (it was a division from a friend last year). The ground cherries were a bit of a bomb, they didn't seem to ripen properly before the husks went all brown on me (they were probably in a less-than-ideally-sunny location, which may have contributed to the problem). They also took up a lot of space, and given that we didn't adore them, I don't think I'll grow them again.

Onwards to 2014 - here's a quick tour of what's new in my garden this spring:

Lots of herbs!
 On the top row are lavender and sage and the bottom are thyme and lemon mint (which was subsequently planted in the clay pot before putting it in the ground so it doesn't take over the entire bed!). The sage and thyme I picked up at the Mustard Seed seedling sale; the mint and lavender came from William Dam.

The lavender, sage, and thyme are all planted in my front bed that gets plenty of sun so I've got fingers crossed that they all thrive there! And I'm hoping these perennial herbs will finally fill out the bed along my front walk that's been looking a bit scruffy the past few years. The calendula seedlings are in the same bed with all these herbs, so I'm looking forward to a robust and great smelling herb garden along my front walk as all these plants fill in.

The lemon mint was selected by my 14 year old son - he requested a few plants of his own to grow this year and fell in love with this mint when we were at William Dam. He also picked out a few jalapeno pepper plants which are now in one of our raised beds. He has committed to doing all the care for these plants - we'll see how long it takes for him to get tired of the weeding and watering routine :)

I decided to give garlic a whirl last fall, and while it looks like critters got at a lot of it, I have 3 plants coming up strong. I was also given some lemon basil seeds by my lovely friend Roseatta, so a bunch of them have gone in the ground and I'm anxiously waiting to see how many of them germinate! The photo on the far right shows some of the perennial onions we were given last year by a colleague of my husband's. These are VERY robust - even after the brutal winter we had, they popped right back up in early spring and as you can see they are already producing huge amounts of green onion tops for us (which is good, because I put them in just about everything that isn't dessert).



For the first time ever, I broke down and got some lettuce seedlings so we could start enjoying our lettuce harvest a lot sooner. I picked these up at the Mustard Seed sale and I believe the variety is "Red Flame", but don't quote me on that because I have a terrible memory for that sort of thing :) I have direct sown some lettuce seed as well, so if all goes according to plan we should have a steady lettuce harvest for quite a few weeks (of course, things seldom go entirely according to plan in my garden!)

I was also gifted some strawberry plants, so in the ground they have gone, and a welcome addition they were, too. I haven't been tending to my strawberry patch very well since I transplanted them to another raised bed a couple years back, and the plants are looking far from robust. I am going to work on getting these guys back to good health this summer!

New Fertilizer Options


The plants aren't the only new thing in my garden plans this year. I'm going to be trying a few new ideas for fertilizing (something I've typically been not so great about). I have three new options I'm going to use, two of which are free and the third extremely inexpensive.

First up is this milk and molasses plant food recipe - super easy to whip up and something I might actually remember to do on a regular basis!

The next option is Freebie Fertilizer #1 and I might add I was quite relieved to discover this tip! As many of you know, I have been brewing kombucha for a couple of months now, and I am starting to get overrun with scobys (that's my scoby hotel on the left in the photo above). Of course, I am happy to give them away to friends who want them, but there are only so many takers (especially when each person who takes one starts getting overrun with them too, and my whole circle of friends is swimming in scobys). You can imagine my excitement when I discovered that people have had great success using them to fertilize their plants. Here's hoping my strawberries, tomatoes, rhubarb and raspberries all benefit from a little "scoby" treatment. Apparently many chickens go nuts for scobys, so if you are also overrun with them and know someone who has chickens, that might be another great alternative. I may just offer some to our egg farmer!



Freebie Fertilizer #2 is another one I just discovered after being given a comfrey plant (my plant is still looking a little worse for wear after being transplanted, so that's a stock photo). Comfrey can be used for fertilizer in a variety of ways; here's a good summary. I'm most likely going to go with the mulch option as it's the least involved and I am, after all, a pretty lazy gardener :)

I'll be sure to share how my fertilizer experiments work out later in the season!

What new and exciting things are happening in your garden this year?


Mountain Rose Herbs. A herbs, health and harmony c 
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Thursday, May 15, 2014

RECIPE ROUNDUP: Rhubarb, 2014 Edition


I have a special place in my heart for rhubarb - I think it's a very under-appreciated foodstuff! It's easy to grow yourself, and if you don't have your own patch, you probably have a neighbour or friend eager to unload their excess - and free food is a good thing. Rhubarb is also easy to freeze (simply chop and portion into freezer bags or containers) so you don't have to let any surplus go to waste.

Way back in 2011, I shared some of my favourite rhubarb recipes, and I thought it was about time to share some more! These are all recipes I have my eye on to try this growing season:

Lacto-fermented Rhubarb Chutney

Strawberry Rhubarb Sorbet

Rhubarb Smoothies

Rhubarb Marmalade

Pineapple Rhubarb Jam

Pickled Rhubarb

Roasted Rhubarb Salad

Spring Salad with Rhubarb Vinaigrette

Caramelized Rhubarb Pork Stir-Fry

You can also substitute rhubarb for half of the blueberries in my Easy Blueberry Oatmeal Squares or use half rhubarb and half strawberries to make strawberry rhubarb squares instead.

For a tangy breakfast treat, try adding about a cup of chopped rhubarb to my Baked Oatmeal recipe.

And if you happen to have a copy of my book, definitely make the Rhubarb Cinnamon Crunch Cake - it's one of my family's favourites!

Do you have a favourite way to cook with rhubarb?
Mountain Rose Herbs. A herbs, health and harmony c 
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