Never Buy Canned Garbanzo Beans Again

Garbanzo Beans(CLICK ON PHOTO TO SEE A LARGER VERSION)

I have a frugal, healthy cooking tip to share for garbanzo beans (chick-peas). They are a staple in our house and I try to never be out of them. My friend Nheena Ittner shared this idea and I have been cooking them this way ever since. I like to buy organic, dried beans in the bulk section of our local co-op. Not only does it allow me to have beans in bulk, but they are also not loaded with sodium or any chemicals or additives that may come with canned beans. Plus, this technique comes with the benefit of rendering vegetable stock. (Anyone who has bought organic vegetable stock knows what a money saver making your own stock can be.)

I replenished my supply of cooked beans today and froze half. The rest are in the refrigerator to add to salads and make fresh hummus. Thank you to Nheena for this wonderful tip!

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Blackberry Charmer Green Smoothie

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Click on image for a larger version.

Click on image for a larger version.

 

This week I had to stick to a lean grocery budget. This means our green smoothies will be uncomplicated and free from fancy ingredients. Sometimes simple is best.

Our “Blackberry Charmer” green smoothie this morning was refreshing and vibrant. Even though the blackberries were frozen it made me think of dark, glossy blackberries dripping from the vine. Maybe my mom will take me blackberry picking with her this summer.

Cherry Bliss Green Smoothie

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Click on image for a larger version.

Click on image for a larger version.

I could get used to relaxing in the morning with Mike. Cheers to the last day of spring break! This is what was in our glass this morning: a Cherry Bliss Green Smoothie. Of course, Athena was curious. πŸ˜‰ She is the sweetest photo bomber.

What’s Luck Got to Do With It?

β€œOh, I am fortune’s fool!”
― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

I have tried my best to be productive during my spring break and today I have been setting my cooking timer in 20-30 minute increments to multi-task a variety of projects. Do not worry, I built in some computer time and healthy snack breaks. I am supposed to be relaxing and regrouping, after all.

Mike and I have a small, three bedroom, ranch styled home and he has converted one of our spare bedrooms into a walk-in closet. The handy-man that he is, he had already made one of the spare bedrooms a walk-in a few years ago, but it was not very aesthetically pleasing. The room had ugly shag carpeting and it felt unrefined since he had used whatever supplies we had on hand. We envisioned a room that was uncluttered and calming; with standing closets that would not be bolted to the walls (just in case we had to sell our house). We knew that being able to stage the room as a bedroom might be more appealing to potential buyers.

Last summer we decided to make the dream closet a reality. Because we are on such a tight budget we tried to be as resourceful as possible and decided to upcycle the new

Mike converting entertainment centers into a standing wardrobe. They now have doors. I promise to post an update when the project is finished.

Mike converting entertainment centers into a standing wardrobe. They now have doors. I promise to post an update when the project is finished.

furniture pieces. Mike converted standing wardrobes from entertainment centers we found at St. Vincent DePaul’s for a mere $11 each. With some paint and new hardware, I transformed a Goodwill acquired desk into a purple vanity for the make-up nook that Mike converted from the room’s closet. It already looks spectacular, but to make a long story short, progress on our new closet ceased when Mike started classes at Northern Michigan University in the fall. While he moved most of his belongings into the room, my clothing and make-up has been scattered between the two rooms. Organizing these two spaces has been my priority today. As we continue to develop this new closet, I promise to give an update and will dedicate an entire blog piece to Mike’s handiwork. I think others may benefit from his ingenuity.

My future make-up nook.

My future make-up nook.

In addition to organizing our living space, I also sat down and planned out some lessons for my 9th grade English class. We are nearly 3/4 of the way through Act I of Romeo and Juliet and I am excited to commence with the play. The week before break felt like the first couple weeks of school. Any educator knows what I am talking about. The feeling of extreme mental and physical exhaustion when you could go to bed as soon as your feet cross your door’s threshold. I put 100% into making Shakespeare come alive for my students and there is nothing quite like seeing their eyes light up when they realize that they can decipher a text that was written over 400 years ago.

Today as I was lesson planning, I stumbled across Romeo’s quote, “I am fortune’s fool…” and I felt tears brim in my eyes. I am not sure why this quote, which I have guided my students through for going on twelve years, suddenly struck a chord with me, but it did. I have been feeling a wild mix of emotions lately as things seem to spiral out of our hands. Our household financial stress and the budget crisis that my school district is facing. The challenging physics class that Mike has to pass to receive his degree in the spring. A long and gray winter and the tension of Mike being able to find gainful employment so we are able to stay in the area. Sometimes it is easy to feel that we are luck’s play-toy; tossed here and there by whim. Though, the reality is that sometimes stress makes us stronger and empowered. I had to remind myself that one day Mike and I will be able to look back and smile, knowing that our past shaped who we became. As an educator, that is the message that I try to instill in my students. I must model this behavior. My parents, Jim and Karen Armstrong, raised me to be resilient. I am strong and so is Mike.

As I contemplated Romeo and my own life, I sought out other quotes about luck. I felt an emotional response to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s, β€œShallow men believe in luck or in circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect” and felt goosebumps thrill with a quote by Alice Hoffman. I searched my digital photo files until I found one of my favorites. It is a photo that Mike captured when we were on a hike through the Old Towne Heritage Trail in Negaunee. I wish I could remember the moment more clearly. In my mind’s eye I am certain we were walking slowly because our dog Phoebe, nose to the ground, was in her full spaniel glory exploring. I am not sure who looked down first, but there they were, TWO perfect four leaf clover. Mike (who I swear sleeps with his camera) snapped the life-affirming photos. Though, tempted to pick the clover, we knew that they were not a gift just for us. I hope others witnessed the message of hope as well.

Today I took Mike’s photo and combined it with the beautiful quote by Alice Hoffman. It speaks more eloquently than I can. The quote embodies the kind of thinking that I am learning to embrace. Every experience we encounter can be our teacher, if we listen. Financial hardship can make us learn how to stretch a dollar, become resourceful, and appreciate luxury. An especially challenging class makes us appreciate our ability to see things through and value our intellect and talents. Moments that stress us make us realize what is truly important. Sometimes gifts come in unexpected places and do not have a material value. They are priceless because we stopped to savor. I am thankful that I have a great partner to share this wild adventure. This post is for Mike. I thank you for the perspective we gather together. Here’s to a healthy, bright, and abundant future. β™₯

Luck

Weight Watchers Sweet Potato Soup with Coconut, Cilantro, and Lime

β€œSpring is the time of plans and projects.”
― Leo Toystoy, Anna Karenina

Athena is even smiling that it is spring break.

Athena is even smiling that it is spring break.

Today is mid-week of spring break. My facebook status this morning read, “Green smoothies, Mike’s doing morning yoga, and I’m reading poetry while a sweet kitty purrs on my lap. It might be cold outside but our cozy house is a restful destination for spring break. A day of writing and exercise stretches before me and a pot of Sweet Potato Soup with Coconut, Cilantro, and Lime bubbles on the stove. Tomorrow I have a trip to the salon and on Friday it’s Phoebe’s turn. As long as I can manage the mountain of grading I will return to work restored and renewed. β™₯ I’m extremely thankful.”

So far I have had a wonderful and restful break. My dad, step-mom, and brother came from Crystal Falls for a visit TWO weekends in a row and I have caught up on a couple projects. I share a blog with my dear friend and fellow educator, Heather Hollands, and this month I am blogging out student projects for National Poetry Month on Blended Voices. This quiets a bit of the guilt I have been feeling for neglecting my professional voice and writing.

Today I also tried a recipe forΒ Sweet Potato Soup with Coconut, Cilantro, and Lime from the Weight Watchers turn up the flavor cookbook. It has been my intention to try this soup since February and I am thankful for the time that spring break has afforded me to finally do so. (Yes, it is still soup weather in Upper Michigan). Β I snapped a few pictures along the way, Β just in case, I decided to share a recipe review. After one taste, I knew that this would become one of my favorite soup recipes. Not only was it uncomplicated to prepare but it is super healthy and (as the cookbook name suggests) full of flavor.

Aside from the Light Coconut Milk the ingredients for this soup are basic pantry staples.

Aside from the Light Coconut Milk the ingredients for this soup are basic pantry staples.

Sweet Potato Soup with Coconut, Cilantro, and Lime
from Weight Watchers turn up the flavor Cookbook

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 clove of minced garlic (the recipe does not call for garlic but I add it to everything)
  • 32 ounces of vegetable stock (the recipe calls for chicken stock and I swapped out vegetable)
  • 1 ΒΌ pounds sweet potatoes; peel and cut into chunks (I used two medium sized)
  • 2 Tablespoons ginger root; peel and chop
  • 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • ΒΎ teaspoon salt
  • ΒΌ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ΒΌ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ΒΌ cup light coconut milk
  • Β½ lime juiced and zested (I used bottled since that is what I had on hand)
  • 3 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

The recipe also called Β for the following which I did not have on-hand.

  • ΒΎ teaspoon cardamom
  • 3 Tablespoons dried unsweetened and toasted coconut shavings
  1. Heat oil and cook onions and garlic for approximately 5 minutes until softened. Add broth, potatoes, and spices; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes. Until potatoes are tender.
  2. Let soup cool for 5 minutes. Puree soup, in batches, in blender. Return soup to pot and stir in coconut milk, lime juice, and gently reheat. Ladle into bowls and garnish with cilantro and coconut.Serving = 1 Cup151 Calories, 5 g Total Fat, 2 g Sat. Fat, 0 g Trans Fat, 0 mg Chol, 329 mg Sod, 23 g Carb, 8 g Sugar, 3 g Fiber, 5 g Protein, 37 mg Calcium

This literally took about 30 seconds to puree in my Vitamix.

This literally took about 30 seconds to puree in my Vitamix.

6

After returning to the pan you add the coconut milk and lime. Since I only used 1/4 cup the rest will be used for our morning green smoothies.

After returning to the pan you add the coconut milk and lime. Since I only used 1/4 cup the rest will be used for our morning green smoothies.

Soup is on. Since I did not have the toasted coconut or lime zest I garnished with a thin slice of tomato and nutmeg.

Soup is on. Since I did not have the toasted coconut or lime zest I garnished with a thin slice of tomato and nutmeg.

It is as delicious as it is pretty.

It is as delicious as it is pretty.

With the red table setting and the sunlight streaming in the window one can almost forget the giant snowbanks outside.

With the red table setting and the sunlight streaming in the window one can almost forget the giant snowbanks outside.

Today I feel grateful for spring break and health. I am enjoying precious time to write, reflect, and share with friends and family my plant based recipes. If you enjoy my blog do not forget to follow me on twitter, like my facebook page, and follow my Produce with Amy board on Pinterest. It fills my heart with joy that I can help others embrace a healthy lifestyle. While I look forward to going back to my classroom, I really anticipate more time this summer to explore new recipes with the abundance of produce that will be offered at area farmers markets and my own garden plot. Thank you for reading and I would love to hear from you. Now, if I can convince Athena that my lap is not the most comfortable seat in the house, I can tackle some of my grading.


Collage

Tangy Ranch and Zesty Avocado ~ Plant Based, Homemade, Salad Dressing

“Lettuce is like conversation; it must be fresh and crisp, so sparkling that you scarcely notice the bitter in it.”
~Charles Dudley Warner

Homemade salad dressing that is fresh and free from the chemicals and preservatives that often accompanies store bought versions.

Homemade salad dressing that is fresh and free from the chemicals and preservatives that often are ingredients in store bought versions.Β 

Regardless of the season, salads are a go-to meal in our house. I am fortunate that one of Mike’s favorite meals is a dinner plate of greens, with whatever fruit and vegetables we have on hand, and some sort of protein (salmon is his favorite). If I want to receive an extra hearty,Β thank you,Β IΒ include a generous amount of gorgonzola cheese and he is a happy husband. We both love the addition of olives and since I try to maintain a plant based diet my favorite way to add protein to a salad is a dollop of hummus and a sprinkling of raw nuts.

I like to make my own salad dressings. This is especially the case in the summer when I have an abundance of fresh herbs available in my garden. My favorite combinations tend to be a vinaigrette where I start with a very basic recipe: olive oil, spicy mustard, minced onion and garlic, and vinegar. I love fresh dill with orange (zest and a touch of juice) and oregano with lemon. I find that store-bought dressings often contain chemicals, preservatives, artificial sweeteners (and since I like a tangy dressing) are often too sweet for my taste buds. Growing up in my family we took our consumption of vinegar seriously. Ask any of my cousins what they loved to eat as children at our grandparent’s house, the late Thomas and Hilda Puskala, and I guarantee they will immediately say, “cucumbers and vinegar.” I fondly remember Grandpa serving my aunt Christina and I cucumbers straight out of his legendary garden with vinegar, salt, and pepper for breakfast. Yes, breakfast, and we savored every crunchy bite!

While I tend to like vinegar and oil based dressings, this winter (yes, it is still winter in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan) I have really been craving a more creamy, ranch styled dressing. However, many contain dairy, and like I mentioned earlier ~ a cocktail of chemicals. So, I have been experimenting with my own concoctions and have settled on two recipes that I really enjoy. I used raw nuts to give the dressings some body and a kick of protein.

Tangy Ranch (Plant Based Dressing)

  • 1/2 cup raw cashews
  • 1/2 cup dairy substitute (unsweetened coconut or almond milk, soy milk, or hemp milk) I used almond
  • 1/4 cup of lemon juice
  • 3 Tablespoons of rice vinegar
  • 3 green onions (could use a couple tablespoons of regular onion)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dill
  • 1/2 teaspoon basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (I used pink Himalayan salt)
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Blend well. I did use dried herbs but plan to use fresh this summer. I used recycled spaghetti jars to store the dressing. As the ranch sits in your refrigerator it will thicken and may need to thinned out with water or extra vinegar or lemon juice (if you like your dressing tangy like I do). Weight Watchers PP = 2 PP per 2 Tablespoon Serving.

I buy raw cashews in the bulk section of our local co-op. If you don't have a high powered blender, I recommend soaking the nuts in water for at least a half hour.

I buy raw cashews in the bulk section of our local co-op. If you don’t have a high powered blender, I recommend soaking the nuts in water for at least a half hour.

I always have rice vinegar on hand. It really perks up the flavor of Asian soups, salads, and steamed vegetables.

I always have rice vinegar on hand. It really perks up the flavor of Asian soups, salads, and steamed vegetables.

This dressing is so simple and contains ingredients that those with a well stocked pantry already have on hand.

This dressing is so simple and contains ingredients that those with a well stocked pantry already have on hand.

I used bottle lemon juice but fresh would be even better.

I used bottle lemon juice but fresh would be even better.

Zesty Avocado (Plant Based Dressing)

  • 1/2 cup raw almondsΒ 
  • 1/2 cup dairy substitute (unsweetened coconut or almond milk, soy milk, or hemp milk) I used almond
  • 1/4-1/2 cup of water
  • 1/2 medium avocado
  • 1/4 cup of lime juice
  • 3 Tablespoons of raw apple cider vinegar
  • Red onion (couple teaspoons)
  • Handful of cilantro
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon parsley
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (I used pink Himalayan salt)
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Blend well. This dressing came out quite a bit thicken than the ranch so I added water to the blender. It will also thicken as it sits in the refrigerator and can be thinned out with additional vinegar, lime juice, or water. Weight Watchers PP = 2 PP per 2 Tablespoon Serving.

Raw, Unpasteurized vinegar has a lot of health benefits and I always keep a bottle on hand.

Raw, Unpasteurized vinegar has a lot of health benefits and I always keep a bottle on hand.

Cashews would work in this recipe as well.

Anything with avocado in it is a winner in my book. Cashews would work in this recipe as well.

Pretty and they pack a flavorful punch in this recipe.

Pretty spices that pack a flavorful punch in this recipe. You could add more or less of the red pepper flakes depending on your tolerance for heat. Hot sauce could also be added or even fresh jalapenos.

Ready to blend.

Ready to blend.

I would be lost without my VItamix. <3

I would be lost without my VItamix. ❀

I use recycled spaghetti sauce jars over-and-over.

I use recycled spaghetti sauce jars over-and-over.

My afternoon feast. A gorgeous array of fruit and vegetables with the Zesty Avocado Dressing.

My afternoon feast. A gorgeous array of fruit and vegetables with the Zesty Avocado Dressing.

I think the dressing would make a fantastic dip for vegetables as well.

I think the dressing would make a fantastic dip for vegetables as well.

As we move into summer I know that I will keep a steady supply of homemade dressings in my refrigerator. I promise to post more recipes as I experiment with new flavor combinations. Have fun experimenting with homemade dressings which are so easy, quick, and can be made to suit your personal taste. If you prefer sweeter varieties over a tangy dressing you can puree up berries or fruit to give your dressing a juicy infusion of flavor. One of the pit falls avoid with healthy eating is falling into a food rut. As long as we remember to switch things up often, salads will remain a healthy staple and we will never grow tired of them. The combinations are endless and it is so important to fill our plates with a rainbow of fresh produce.

Rainbow Plate