Between now and Christmas, I’m going to be doing a short series of blogs showcasing different ways you can give inexpensive but meaningful gifts to the ones you love. Today’s entry is about the Gift of Craft. You can read my previous entry about the Gift of Thought here.
You don’t necessarily have to be crafty to make a homemade gift for a loved one! There are tons of options for those of us who aren’t naturally artistic. Pinterest (of course) is a great place to look. My suggestion is to not base your gift on the Christmas season, but make it something they can enjoy all year through.
The Personalized Gift
Do you know someone who always brings a casserole whenever he or she is invited somewhere? What about making them a personalized baking dish so they don’t lose their favorite bakeware? There’s a fantastic tutorial here at http://www.makeit-loveit.com/!
This one is my favorite. I love to cook and bake, and I’m decently good at it. In the past I’ve made cookies, sea salt caramels, Portuguese golden cake, etc. This year I have a few new things up my sleeve that I won’t post here, but family is definitely getting homemade gifts this year. What about this great recipe for root beer barbecue sauce from amomstake.com? It looks delicious to me!
The Artful Gift
This is for those of you who may have a little more artistic talent than I do, but this Winter Tunnel from Crafty Kate is absolutely stunning. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a winter theme, but I love the 3d concept of something like this.
Do you knit? Make a scarf or a sweater or even socks. I still have a scarf that my Gran made for me almost 20 years ago. Does your loved one read a lot? Make them a bookmark so every time they read a book they can be reminded that you love them.
Do you have a favorite gift someone made for you? Tell me about it below, and stay tuned for the third and final installment of The Art of Frugal Giving!
In case you haven’t noticed, whole grains are a big deal these days. Highly processed foods like breakfast cereals and sliced breads brag about how many servings of whole grains you can find in each serving. There are also a large amount of health benefits associated with eating whole grains, despite what consumers of low-carb diets would have you believe. (HEY, there are many options out there, and each person is an individual. I’m not knocking low-carb here.) Here’s a list of five of my favorites and some recipes to try!
Do you have a distinct memory of when you first tried a few food? I do. It was March of 1999. I was 17 years old, and on my senior trip to Disney World. Animal Kingdom had just opened the year before, and my friends and I were there right around lunch. We stopped at a little African-themed cafe to grab some food, and wouldn’t you know it, tabbouleh was on the menu! One taste of the bulgur and parsley salad and I was hooked. It also happens to be The Hubs favorite salad, because it includes no lettuce!
When wheat kernels are boiled, dried, cracked, then sorted by size, the result is bulgur. This wheat product is sometimes referred to as “Middle Eastern pasta” for its versatility as a base for all sorts of dishes. Bulgur is most often made from durum wheat, but in fact almost any wheat, hard or soft, red or white, can be made into bulgur.
Because bulgur has been precooked and dried, it needs to be boiled for only about 10 minutes to be ready to eat – about the same time as dry pasta. This makes bulgur an extremely nutritious fast food for quick side dishes, pilafs or salads. Perhaps bulgur’s best-known traditional use is in the minty grain and vegetable salad known as tabbouleh.
Health bonus: Bulgur has more fiber than quinoa, oats, millet, buckwheat or corn. Its quick cooking time and mild flavor make it ideal for those new to whole grain cooking.
I couldn’t leave this grain without giving you a recipe for tabbouleh! This one at thewanderlustkitchen.com is pretty close to mine, just add liberal amounts of ground sumac:
I first tried sorghum after a trip to the bulk foods section of Whole Foods. My first experiment was sorghum risotto… on a very hot summer day… when I was refusing to turn on the air conditioning. Never again. Sorghum takes longer to cook than other grains, so prepare for that.
Farmers on the Great Plains from South Dakota to Texas appreciate that sorghum thrives where other crops would wither and die; in drought periods, in fact, it becomes partially dormant. Worldwide, about 50% of sorghum goes to human consumption, but in the U.S., most of the crop is fed to animals, made into wallboard or used for biodegradable packing materials.
That’s a shame, because sorghum, also called milo and believed to have originated in Africa, can be eaten like popcorn, cooked into porridge, ground into flour for baked goods, or even brewed into beer.
Health bonus: A gluten-free grain, sorghum is especially popular among those with celiac disease.
Farro is another one of those foods I discovered at a restaurant. UNO’s to be exact! Several years ago at the beginning of my journey I was trying to eat as healthfully as possible while still enjoying a restaurant meal, and I discovered their farro salad, a delicious combination of tomatoes, cucumbers, farro and balsamic, had half the calories of an order of french fries.
Emmer, an ancient strain of wheat, was one of the first cereals ever domesticated in the Fertile Crescent, and centuries later, it served as the standard daily ration of the Roman legions. But over the centuries, emmer was gradually abandoned in favor of durum wheat, which is easier to hull.
By the beginning of the 20th century, higher-yielding wheat strains had replaced emmer almost everywhere, except in Ethiopia, where emmer still constitutes about 7% of the wheat grown.
In Italy – and increasingly throughout the world – emmer is known as farro or grano farro or farro medio(“medium farro”) and is staging a comeback as a gourmet specialty. Semolina flour made from emmer is still used today for special soups and other dishes in Tuscany and Umbria, and farro is thought by some aficionados to make the best pasta.
Millet was another restaurant discovery, this time, it was a health food store cafeteria, specifically Good Foods Grocery in Richmond, Virginia (Stony Point location to be precise). They make an amazingly delicious Black Bean Sweet Potato burger that includes millet. Millet has a buttery quality that makes it feel absolutely naughty when you eat it, and is one of my favorites on this list. It’s easier to cook and less chewy that most of the other grains here.
Millet is not just one grain but the name given to a group of several small related grains that have been around for thousands of years and are found in many diets around the world. In fact, millets are the leading staple grains in India, and are commonly eaten in China, South America, Russia and the Himalayas. Now people in the United States are beginning to realize what they’ve been missing! Millet’s incredible versatility means it can be used in everything from flatbreads to porridges, side dishes and desserts – even fermented and consumed as an alcoholic beverage.
In addition to being cooked in its natural form, millet can be ground and used as flour (as in Indian roti) or prepared as polenta in lieu of corn meal. As a gluten-free whole grain, millet provides yet another great grain option for those in need of alternatives. Easy to prepare, and becoming easier to find, millet has finally made its way to the American table. Millet can be found in white, gray, yellow or red; and the delicate flavor is enhanced by toasting the dry grains before cooking.
Health bonus: Millet is naturally high in protein and antioxidants, and can help control blood sugar and cholesterol.
I’ve eaten millet several ways, but this recipe from thegreenforks.com is one of my favorites (clicking on the image will take you to the recipe):
Okay, you’ve probably heard of Quinoa, it’s everywhere these days and definitely trendy. It’s also pretty flippin’ delicious!
Quinoa (keen-wah) comes to us from the Andes, where it has long been cultivated by the Inca. Botanically a relative of swiss chard and beets rather than a “true” grain, quinoa cooks in about 10-12 minutes, creating a light, fluffy side dish. It can also be incorporated into soups, salads and baked goods. Commercially, quinoa is now appearing in cereal flakes and other processed foods. Though much of our quinoa is still imported from South America, farmers in high-altitude areas near the Rockies are also beginning to cultivate quinoa.
Quinoa is a small, light-colored round grain, similar in appearance to sesame seeds. But quinoa is also available in other colors, including red, purple and black. Most quinoa must be rinsed before cooking, to remove the bitter residue of saponins, a plant-defense that wards off insects. Botanists are now developing saponin-free strains of quinoa, to eliminate this minor annoyance to the enjoyment of quinoa.
Health bonus: The abundant protein in quinoa is complete protein, which means that it contains all the essential amino acids our bodies can’t make on their own.
I’ve eaten quinoa about a billion different ways (it’s my story and I can make it as big or as small as I want to) but this recipe from blissfulbasil.com just blew my mind and I am definitely making it again this fall!
How many of these whole grains have you tried? Will you try some you haven’t? Let me know in the comments!
Yeah yeah, I know, it’s October. Pumpkins and apples and ghosts (OH MY). I guess it’s finally time to write the dreaded pumpkin post.
It’s not that I don’t like pumpkin. I do, a lot, actually. It’s the permeation of pumpkin spice EVERYTHING that drives me crazy, mostly because it always starts before actual autumn begins. Also, I ABHOR pumpkin spice lattes. Sorry folks, but I’ll pass. Keep your cloves and nutmeg out of my frackin’ coffee! Blech.
But pumpkin itself, actual pumpkin, can be so delicious in so many different ways. (Actually, any varietal of winter squash is delicious to me. LOVE ME SOME SQUASH.) Last year I made a pumpkin chili that was delicious, and this year I’m trying something new: Pumpkin and Chickpea Stew. I saw the mouth-watering photo on Pinterest, and since the recipe includes all sorts of delicious things like cilantro, chickpeas, tomatoes and pumpkin, I figured it would be a cardinal sin if I didn’t give a shot, right? (Just go with it.)
The first thing I had to do was adapt the recipe from metric and give it more specific units of measurement. I mean, “2 onions” can be anywhere from 2-4 cups on diced onions, depending on size of the onion. I generally buy monster Spanish onions which yield about 2 cups. The original recipe is VERY health conscious, and it contained no added fat or salt, so I decided to add some healthy fat in the form of olive oil. So here goes!
Spicy Pumpkin and Chickpea Stew
2 tbsp olive oil (not in the original recipe)
2 cups onions, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp cayenne pepper (this makes it decently spicy, if you don’t like spicy, swap for sweet paprika)
2 tsp cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
2 red peppers, sliced
1 pumpkin, cut into 1″ cubes (my pumpkin was about the size of my head, and yielded about 1000 grams of pumpkin once I cut off the ends, peeled it and scooped out the seeds)
2 15.5 oz. cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes with juice
about a cup of water
Large handful of chopped coriander (cilantro if you’re American)
1 lemon, wedged
Gather thine ingredients, peasant! (Okay, sorry, I let my imagination run away with me for a second there.)
Dice your onion. Cry about it a little. Seriously, I think this bag of onions was made with mustard gas, because this onion acted like a chemical weapon. In a big pot over medium heat, add the oil and toss in those onions. In the meantime, mince your garlic (or if you’re lazy like me, smash it with the side of a knife and then chop it up like you’re one of those hibachi chefs) and slice your pepper. Measure out your spices and put them in an awesome teeny bowl. Open your tomatoes and chickpeas. Rinse and drain the chickpeas. Tell all that stuff to just chill on the counter while you deal with this orange monstrosity.
Tackle the pumpkin. Or try to. Then realize you have no idea how you’re even going to start. Have your logical brain kick in and say “Hey stupid, you should probably peel it.” Duh. Cut off the stem and and a tiny bit at the base, then peel it with a Y-peeler, because I think it might be impossible to peel it with a “regular” vegetable peeler. Why do they make those anyway? They suck! Y-peelers rule! It’s anarchy up in here! Then, cut it in half and scoop out the seeds, but DO NOT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD THROW THEM AWAY. Once you get the slimy gunk off of them and toast them up? DELICIOUS SNACKAGE. Then cube that baby into approximately 1-inch pieces. Because, well, because they cook faster at that size. Science says so. DEAL WITH IT.
Add the garlic to the onions, along with the peppers. Let those cook for a few minutes, then add the pumpkins and spices. Cook all that for 3-4 minutes to let the spices bloom, then add the chickpeas, tomatoes, and a bit of water. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer. Add some black pepper because you forgot to do that earlier. (Seriously, this is REAL LIFE, not some cooking show. Just go with it.) Simmer for 30-40 minutes or until pumpkin is tender, adding water if necessary. (It will smell amazing, and you will have a hard time not eating it before it’s cooked. Entertain yourself by feeding small bits of cooked leftover pumpkin to your dog.)
Wedge the lemon by cutting the pointy ends off and cutting into quarters. Set aside. Chop the cilantro coarsely, and add about 1/4 cup of cilantro to the stew to finish it. Let it cook for another minute, and then it’s DONE! Garnish with a sprinkle of cilantro and a wedge of lemon for a-squeezin’ on top! Yum!
NOTE: You may have noticed this recipe does not include salt. You may be tempted to add salt. Please take my advice and taste it first. I thought it would need it, but the spices make it so it doesn’t. Your taste may vary and you may find you like salt, and that’s fine, but just give it a little taste before you add it. (Plus canned tomatoes and chickpeas often have salt in them already, so you’re good there.)
They’re not sweet and don’t have a single ingredient that isn’t ridiculously wholesome. They have a mild pumpkin flavor and are chewy and filling, too! Bonus!
So, no, I do not hate pumpkin, not at all. But you’ll never catch me ordering a stinkin’ pumpkin spice latte.
It’s been a while since I’ve mentioned how much I appreciate your readership! I truly do. Without you guys and gals, I’d just be writing sweet nothings into cyberspace. Or aggravating my coworkers with kvetching about pumpkin spice lattes. The usual. I hope you enjoy reading my blog, as I enjoy writing for you! If you like it, and you’re able, please consider helping to support this blog. Below you’ll find a myriad of ways you can help me keep this thing rolling. Every little bit helps!
1. Support my caffeine habit! ($2 microdonation – will most likely be put toward maintaining this site, getting better lighting for my kitchen and purchasing materials for an AML Cookbook!)