Sunday, July 20, 2008


I am not going to be blogging on this site any longer; I'm finding that I just don't have the time for it any longer; I find the format rather clunky to work with as well.

I also find that it's much easier and faster for me to blog on our own website, and - most especially easier for me to find old posts and refer to them there. (I'm heavily involved in a couple of email lists that are taking most of my online time now.)

Anyone who wants to comment on a post on our website can send me email from there. The comment won't be public, but I'll answer.

Anyway; I would love to see you over at my website - all the articles from here have been copied over to there by now.

The URL is:

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Tempeh Demystified

1. What is tempeh?

Tempeh is a whole, natural food, traditional to Indonesia, where it has been eaten for many, many hundreds of years. It is an excellent source of protein and is often eaten as the main protein in a meal.

Tempeh is often made from soybeans. It can also be made from other beans or from various grains, or from a mixture of grains, a mixture of beans, or a mixture of both beans and grains.

All the tempeh I have ever seen for sale (in the USA) is shaped in a rectangle, about 8" long by 4" wide by about 0.5" thick (I just measured a package of tempeh). It weighs 8 ounces.

All the tempeh I have ever seen for sale in the USA is organic. The word 'organic' is strictly regulated by law in the USA, and specifically excludes any genetically modified organisms (GMOs). You don't need to worry about chemicals or GMOs in organic tempeh.

I have tasted various types of tempeh, and their tastes vary. Personally, I prefer the taste of soy tempeh. But I like them all. I've read that 'tempeh is an acquired taste'. I can only say that it wasn't an acquired taste for me; the very first time I ever tasted it, I said 'Hey, this is really good stuff!' (or words to that effect). Now that I know more about cooking it, I like it even better.

2. Is tempeh expensive?

The tempeh I most recently bought (8 oz - or two realistic servings as the protein component of a meal) cost $2.19 in a very small town, in a very rural area - it's probably a bit less expensive elsewhere; it has the status of an oddity here.

3. What is tempeh's nutritional profile and cost?

Tempeh is roughly the nutritional equivalent of boneless, skinless chicken breast. Let's compare (I'm using soy tempeh for the comparison because that's the kind I had available when I wrote this):

Soy tempeh: Based on 4 oz/serving (two servings per package)
Cost per serving - $1.10
Calories - 200
Total Fat - 7.5 gm
Saturated Fat - 1 gm
Trans Fat - none
Sodium - 31 mg
Total Carbohydrate - 11 gm
Fiber - 3 gm
Protein - 21 gm

Boneless skinless chicken breast - Based on a 4 oz serving:
Cost per 4 oz serving (based on the price I paid for them last, they were on sale at $1.99/lb) - $0.50
Calories - 110
Total Fat - 2.5 gm
Saturated Fat - 0.5 gm
Trans Fat - none
Sodium - 120 mg
Total Carbohydrate - 0 gm
Fiber - 0 gm
Protein - 23 gm

So, yes, the two foods are approximately nutritionally equivalent, with the tempeh having more calories and fat but not significantly more.

The tempeh costs more, but I don't think that $1.10 per serving of the protein component of a dinner is exorbitant or expensive. When boneless, skinless chicken breasts are not on sale, they cost more than this and often a lot more. I've often seen them at $3.99/lb, sometimes even higher.

The sodium content of all the chicken breasts that we can buy in our town is really much higher than the analysis above indicates; they are injected with a solution of sodium-whatever (I forget the chemical name) to make them absorb more water. Then they are injected with water too; the purpose of this is to raise the profits for the giant corporation growing the chicken and selling it. They are selling - you guessed it - water for a minimum of $1.99/lb and often much more. But never mind; that's another issue.

Maybe you can buy free-range, healthy chicken in your town. If you can, however, I'll bet it costs a lot more than $2.19/lb (the price of tempeh). If you make tempeh yourself, it costs a great deal less (see below).

4. Why would you want to eat tempeh if it costs more than boneless, skinless chicken breast?

a. You might like tempeh better than chicken.
b. You might be a vegetarian or vegan for ethical or health reasons, or you might live with a vegan or vegetarian, or just be cooking a meal for a vegetarian or vegan.
c. You might just want variety.

5. How is tempeh made?

Tempeh is made by the introduction of a certain bacteria to (simmered or soaked) beans or grains that have been rubbed to remove most of the hulls and then boiled. (I'll say just 'beans' henceforth for the sake of brevity, but please read it as 'beans or grains or a mixture thereof'.) The introduction of a bacteria is exactly analogous to the process by which yogurt is made from milk.

The inoculated beans are then incubated at a temperature of approximately 86 to 88 F (30-31 C) for 22 to 28 hours during which time the bacteria change the beans into tempeh. (Details are available in References 1 or 2 below.)

3. Can I make tempeh at home?

Yes, you can. You will need starter - the correct strain of bacteria - (see Reference 3 for a source for the starter) and you may need to first construct an incubator box to keep the incubating tempeh at a steady temperature. Such a box can be rather easily constructed from a foam picnic cooler, a light bulb and fixture, and a thermostat (see References 1 or 2). Such a box can also be used for starting seeds, incubating yogurt, and letting bread rise. The thermostat we found that keeps the right temperature is intended for use with pet reptiles, by the way [4].

4. How is tempeh stored?

I've only seen it for sale frozen, and we keep it in the freezer unless we intend to eat it in a couple of days. Then we put it in the refrigerator to thaw, and keep it refrigerated until use. Frozen tempeh will keep about six months. Refrigerated tempeh will keep about a week, possibly less. Don't stack packets of tempeh up in the fridge; they give off a small degree of heat and stacking up together them is not a good idea.

5. I see that the tempeh I bought has a few black and gray spots? Is that OK?

Yes, it's OK, it's normal. However, if the tempeh is covered with black or gray spots, then it's overripe and will have an unpleasant flavor. If it smells like ammonia or alcohol, or has red mold on it, then throw it away.

6. Does tempeh need to be cooked before eating?

Unlike tofu, tempeh needs to be cooked before eating. It is often steamed or simmered, and then grilled or baked or sauteed. However, sometimes it is just grilled or baked or sauteed; sometimes it is crumbled and used in recipes in that form.

7. Could you give me a simple tempeh recipe to start with?

One simple, but good, way to cook tempeh is to cut it into serving-sized pieces, then marinate it in a mixture of tamari and sherry, with lots of shredded fresh gingerroot. After marinating for at least half an hour, put the tempeh on a non-stick cookie sheet that has been sprayed with cooking spray or oiled. Don't remove the bits of ginger which cling to the tempeh. Bake at 400 F (~200 C) for ten minutes, turn the tempeh over, and bake another 10 minutes.

Another simple way is to mix one clove of crushed garlic and about 1/2 teaspoon of ground coriander into one half cup of water. Cut the tempeh into serving-sized pieces and dip them into the water. Then shallow-fry them about 1/2 an inch of oil, which should be bubbling gently when you put the tempeh into it. Cook about 2-3 minutes, turn the tempeh over, and cook another 2-3 minutes until golden brown on both sides. Drain the tempeh on a paper towel, and serve.

Or you can use the garlic and coriander, but deep fry the tempeh in oil that has been heated to about 350 F (175 C). Deep fry for 3-4 minutes or until crisp and golden brown.

Tempeh can be used to make a vegetarian substitute for 'bacon' or 'sausage' too.

There are many other ways to cook tempeh, and many excellent recipes using tempeh in vegetarian and vegan cookbooks.


1. 'The Book of Tempeh', William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi, Harper and Row Publishers, NY, NY, 1979.

2. 'The New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook', Louise Hagler and Dorothy R. Bates (Eds.), Book Publishing Company, Summertown, TN, 1988.

3. Tempeh starter is available from:

4. Thermostats suitable for use in a tempeh incubator box can be ordered from or many other online reptile supply houses.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The True Nature of Happiness

[A quotation from the Dalai Lama.]

Lack of understanding of the true nature of happiness, it seems to me, is the principal reason why people inflict sufferings on others. They think either that the other's pain may somehow be a cause of happiness for themselves or that their own happiness is more important, regardless of what pain it may cause.

But this is shortsighted: no one truly benefits from causing harm to another sentient being. Whatever immediate advantage is gained at the expense of someone else is shortlived. In the long run, causing others misery and infringing their rights to peace and happiness result in anxiety, fear, and suspicion within oneself. Such feelings undermine the peace of mind and contentment which are the marks of happiness.

True happiness comes not from a limited concern for one's own well-being, or that of those one feels close to, but from developing love and compassion for all sentient beings. Here, love means wishing that all sentient beings should find happiness, and compassion means wishing that they should all be free of suffering. The development of this attitude gives rise to a sense of openness and trust that provides the basis for peace.

--The Dalai Lama, from 'The Dalai Lama: A Policy of Kindness', edited by Sidney Piburn.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Growing Vegetables in Self-Watering Containers

1. What are Self-Watering Containers (SWCs)?

'Self-Watering Containers' is a misnomer, of course. Containers cannot water themselves! SWCs are containers, meant for growing plants (or modified for use as such) usually with a bottom chamber that is a water reservoir, and with a top chamber that contains the potting mix and the roots of the plants. The roots draw up water through a process of osmosis. The plants, thus, always get enough water and never too much. Because of this, vegetables (and some, but not all herbs) grow much better in SWCs than in traditional containers. There are other advantages to growing vegetables in SWCs rather than traditional containers - these advantages are discussed below.

2. Where do you get them?

You can buy them or make them. One popular commercial brand is The Earthbox. (See: ) I have seen Earthboxes in a local store; the pictures don't do them justice. They are quite good-looking.

Gardener's Supply Company sells a variety of very pretty SWCs. (See:

A Garden Patch also sells them, and theirs are the least expensive full-size SWCs that I have seen. (See

Please note that I do not have personal experience with any of the commercial SWCs; we made our own.

You can find clear directions for building your own SWCs here:

We used the directions above, changing them only in that we used plastic colanders from a dollar store instead of pond baskets. We used 18-gallon Rubbermaid-style storage tubs for most of our SWCs, and round large tubs with handles for a few of them. Each container cost us about $10 to make.

Once you grasp the principles of this method of construction, you can make SWCs out of many different types of containers, including kitty litter buckets and 5-gallon buckets, which are, of course, smaller than the 18-gallon storage tubs but will serve nicely for a pepper plant, one of the smaller varieties of eggplant, and other plants. If you have a cat, the litter buckets are 'free' and people can sometimes get 5-gallon or similar buckets free from delicatessens, supermarket bakery departments, sandwich shops, doughnut shops, etc.

A detailed manual demonstrating how to build a variety of SWCs is found here:

(I recommend that you save these two sets of directions on your own PC if you are interested in making SWCs. URLs for both sets of directions have changed recently and could both change again or be taken down altogether. Both URLs work as of 2/10/08. I will not be updating this page if they change; save them if you think you even might need them.)

And for an SWC with a slightly different twist:

(Scroll down to pages 6 and 7.)

Also, see has some other types of SWC as well. You can search on "Earth Box" and on "Self-Watering Container."

3. Why would I want to use SWCs?

  • If you are growing vegetables in containers anyway, then the SWCs make life much easier: you only have to water every few days rather than every day (or even multiple times per day in the case of large plants in traditional containers).

  • An even-better reason for using SWCs rather than traditional containers is that the vegetables grow very much better in them. I'd say that - per square foot of container surface - SWCs give you at least twice the yield of traditional containers, and probably even more.

  • SWCs also conserve water; little to no water runs off, and very, very little evaporates since you cover the surface with plastic, or other, mulch.

  • Using organic fertilizers is problematic in traditional containers; the traditional containers need watering so often that you are usually flushing organic fertilizer (which is slower-acting than chemical fertilizer) out of the soil before the plants can get the nourishment they need from it. But with SWCs, the fertilizer you put in the soil stays there and the plants can fully utilize it.

4. Are there any disadvantages to using SWCs?

Well, obviously, you have to make or buy the SWCs. Each container cost us about $10 - this can be a significant cost when you make a lot of them. When he made the first one, it took my husband about half an hour. He later easily cut that time down to ten minutes per container. If you buy them, they are considerably more expensive. I don't see any other disadvantages at all (assuming, that is, that you are going to be growing vegetables in containers of some sort rather than in a raised bed in the ground).

SWCs are, so far as I know, suitable for all vegetables. They are not suitable for many herbs and some flowers, which need drier conditions.

5. How do I use SWCs?

For the purposes of this report, I need only say: Read Ed Smith's book entitled "Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers: Using Ed's Amazing POTS System" and follow the directions in the book. Amazon has both new and used copies of the book. If you are fortunate enough to have a local bookstore (we aren't), then you'd probably prefer to buy the book there. Or maybe you'd prefer to read a library copy first to see if you want to buy it.
The book's details (from Amazon):

Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers: Using Ed's Amazing
POTS System, by Edward C. Smith

Paperback: 272 pages, (There is also a hard-cover edition.)

Publisher: Storey Publishing, LLC (January 1, 2006)

Language: English

ISBN: 1580175562

Product Dimensions: 10.8 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches

Smith discusses potting soil for use in SWCs, means of supporting floating row cover or clear plastic using an SWC, how to easily water them, and a lot of other important aspects of their use. But the main part of the book is a directory of vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers, giving growing tips and instructions for each one.

Some herbs and flowers don't like the constant moisture plants experience in an SWC, and Smith tell you which ones not to grow in an SWC. This too is very useful information.

Smith does *not* tell you how to build an SWC, but I have given URLs above that cover it.

I had worried that I wouldn't be able to grow a very large (indeterminate) tomato plant - plus its cage - in an SWC. But we answered that question last summer when we grew six full-sized indeterminate tomatoes in SWCs. We used rebar mesh cages; we just set the cage on top of the soil in the SWC as we would if it were in the ground. I had been apprehensive that they would tip over from the weight of the plants plus cage. The plants reached the roof of our hoophouse (8' feet from the ground) and started back down. None of them tipped over. All the tomato plants grew very, very well. So this was a non-problem.

We grew many different kinds of vegetables in the SWCs; all did very well indeed. We had 22 SWCs in use last year; we're making more this year.

I'd like to repeat that my harvests were far greater using SWCs than using traditional containers. The plants just amazed me by how splendidly they grew in SWCs. My vegetable plants were every bit as beautiful and healthy as the plants in the photos on this page:

I would have liked to have written a more detailed report of our experiences growing with SWCs, but I have not found enough time yet; so this will have to do for now. I don't want to delay it any longer Maybe next winter I can get a more detailed report completed - and then I'll have two seasons' worth of experiences to write about.


10 February 2008

Update of 20 July 2008: We're well into our second year of growing (mainly) in SWCs and I'm even more impressed with them. They are fantastic - if you are growing vegetables in containers, please give them a try. You'll be happy with them!

Also, there are new and very complete directions on the web for making SWCs from 30-gallon tubs (which are larger - and more expensive - than the ones we made: ours are from 18-gallon tubs). These directions seem a bit unnecessarily fussy to me, but there's a video and a complete guide. They are intended for TWO tomato plants.

The directions include self-supporting cages. But you know, those are the useless kind of cages. I don't believe they would support a large tomato plant adequately. We use circles of remesh - the heavy wire mesh used to reinforce concrete construction. These are MUCH stronger than the cages shown in this set of directions.

The directions and video are here:

Incidentally, Tomato Fest has an excellent, huge selection of heirloom tomato seeds for sale.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Book Review: "Perennial Vegetables," by Eric Toensmeier

Book Review: "Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener's Guide to Over 100 Delicious and Easy to Grow Edibles" by Eric Toensmeier

* Paperback: 224 pages
* Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing (May 16, 2007)
* Language: English
* ISBN-10: 1931498407
* ISBN-13: 978-1931498401
* Product Dimensions: 9.9 x 7.9 x 0.8 inches
* Price at (new) - $23.10

I very seldom buy new books, and even more seldom buy books as expensive as this. But I had a $25 Amazon gift certificate, so I went ahead and bought it, and I'm very glad I did.

The first section of the book is useful information on growing perennial vegetables (and other perennials, for that matter), and on landscaping using these plants, many of which have great ornamental value.

Part Two is a listing of each of the more than 100 (I didn't count) perennial vegtables, with information on each species. About half the listed plants have quite extensive growing information, and about half have shorter descriptions. A map is included for each species, showing where it will grow as a perennial and where it can be grown as an annual. Toensmeier has not included plant 'thugs' such as kudzu or Japanese knotweed, and warns the reader if any of the other plants may naturalize.

The author's inclusions of certain species (as vegetables) may be slightly questionable: we are more apt to think of them as fruit or as herbs, for example, rhubarb and lovage. (However, my daughter cooks a lot of Persian food, and uses rhubarb as a vegetable in a meat and vegetable stew.) Also, this book will be of even more use to people who live in a warmer climate than I do (northern Pennsylvania in the mountains, with Zone 4 weather). I actually already grow four of the vegetables in the book: rhubarb, lovage, Good King Henry, and sorrel. I discovered some others that I'll definitely try - two of which I had never even heard of before. Those who live considerably further south than I will find a wealth of species to try.

The book is well written, and carefully edited. It includes a list of recommended reading, a list of recommended web sites, a list of sources for seeds and plants, a list of sources for garden supplies and equipment, a bibliography, an index by both scientific and common names, and a really valuable list of perennial vegetables that will grow in each of the various climate types in the USA (including Hawaii).

If you're at all interested in growing perennial vegetables - or in permaculture in general - I think you'll want to read this book and probably to own it. I think it's a very useful book and a pleasure to read. I recommend it most highly to all gardeners.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Variations on a Theme II - Meal Patterns

We've listed many grains and legumes in Part I of this post. That's a good beginning.

But this knowledge, as such, is not exactly useful when you don't know what to make for dinner! If you want to cut down on your meat consumption - for whatever reason - maybe you are disturbed about the environmental impact of the USA's factory farms, or maybe you have health reasons to cut down on
meat or maybe for other reasons - you need to know *what to have for dinner*.

Many of us in the Western World grew up with one particular pattern for dinner (and only one pattern):

Meat or fish
A green vegetable
Maybe a yellow vegetable too
A source of starch, such as potatoes or rolls or rice
Maybe a salad

If you remove the meat or fish from the plate, that dinner pattern is not satisfying at all. It's nutritional content isn't sufficient. People aren't going to feel that they have had enough to eat, nor will they feel that it's aesthetically satisfying.

But if we look, again, to ethnic and traditional foods from other cultures, we will find several meal patterns that are based on grains plus legumes. These meal patterns include many of the world's great dishes; many of them are 'national dishes', so to speak, that almost define a culture.

Let's take a look at a few of these patterns. In each case, I will include a few examples. (There are many other such pattern-meals based on whole grain and legumes that I'm not listing here.)

1. The soup or stew meal. In this case, the legume is included in the soup or stew. Sometimes the grain is also included in the soup or stew, and sometimes it's separate - in the cases where it is separate, it is usually some form of bread, whether whole-wheat rolls, Irish soda bread, biscuits (which can be made from whole-grain flour and are, in fact,
delicious when made that way), pita, or tortillas.

Sometimes this meal pattern includes a green salad. When the soup/stew has many vegetables, I don't include a salad. If the soup or stew consists mainly of beans, then I will include a salad.

Famous meals with this pattern are:

* Minestrone - Italian - in this case, the soup includes beans and pasta. It may be accompanied by bread too.

* Chili - TexMex - accompanied by a bread, usually cornbread or corn muffins.

* Split pea soup - American (?) - accompanied by biscuits, rolls or corn bread

* Lentil soup - American (?) - accompanied by biscuits, rolls or corn bread.

* Vegetable soup which includes beans - French or others - with rolls. (Example recipe:

* Senate bean soup - American - with a bread.

There are many other hearty soups which include a little bit of meat; the meat is used as a flavoring. These soups, whether meatless or with meat, are a full meal. They are nutritionally good, and aesthetically and physically satisfying.

2. The whole or cracked grain with a thick bean sauce over it or the grain can be a breadstuff served next to the beans. The grain can be made into a pilaf, or cooked plain. The grain in this case is often rice, but can be bulgur (wheat), or corn (maize) in the form of polenta or corn-meal mush. The grain can be millet too, or buckwheat (in the form of kasha).

Meals with this pattern include:

* Feijoada - Brazilian - rice with a black bean sauce containing vegetables and flavorings. Sometimes it includes meat.

* Black beans and rice - Cuban - spicy black bean sauce served over rice.

* Red beans and rice - New Orleans - spicy red bean sauce served over rice.

* Koshari - Egyptian - Lentils and rice, served with macaroni

* Various lentil and rice dishes, such as Mediterranean Lentils (Recipe at:

* Gallo Pinto - Nicaraguan - Rice cooked with spices, onions, and red or black beans.

* Nshima with various sauces - Various African countries - Nshima is similar to cornmeal mush, but made with white cornmeal and made stiffer. A typical sauce would include beans, vegetables, and spices.

* Cassoulet - French - white beans cooked with meats and served with French bread.

* Boston baked beans - New England - served with brown bread.

3. The pureed beans meal. This is a puree of beans, with breads and vegetables to dip into it, or accompanied by rice.

* Hummus - Middle Eastern - a puree of chickpeas, tahini, garlic, cumin, and lemon juice, with pita and vegetables to dip.

* Ful - Egyptian, Sudanese, etc. - served for breakfast in its own cultures, but could be dinner or lunch here. Includes fava beans (or other beans) and tahini, and is served with chopped hard-boiled eggs, diced tomato, chopped onions, and (often but not always) feta cheese.

* Refried beans and rice - Mexican - can be kidney beans, pinto beans, or black beans. The beans are made flavorful with spices, onions, garlic and sometimes chopped peppers.

* Mushy peas - UK - traditionally served with 'chips' (French fried potatoes) and fish.

4. The stir-fry with rice pattern. This is Asian in origin, and although today's Asians universally eat white rice, we can eat brown rice instead and increase the nutritional value plus the flavor of our stir-fries.

There are so many variations on stir-fries that I can't even begin to list them all, but many times stir-fries will include tofu or tempeh (the legume) as well as assorted vegetables, gingerroot, garlic, onions, soy sauce (I prefer tamari to regular soy sauces), and sherry. The gravy can be thickened with a cornstarch/water solution if desired.

5. The Indian pattern of rice and/or a chapati (whole wheat flat bread), with a bean sauce (called 'dahl') on the side plus a vegetable curry.

These meals are often accompanied by a yogurt-based salad, called a 'raita'. A typical raita would have chopped cucumber, chopped tomato, chopped onion, cumin, and plain yogurt.

There are various dahls - some are made from lentils plus spices, some from chickpeas, some from split yellow peas.

There are an almost infinite number of vegetable curries, so I won't try to list them.

A simplified or Indian-style meal recipe is here:

6. The Ethiopian and Mexican pattern of beans (and other foods) served on a bread. From Mexico, this includes burritos, tacos, and tostadas made with beans. Even though served on a tortilla, these foods are sometimes accompanied by rice too.

The Ethiopian bread is called injera, made with the grain 'teff', and served with a thick lentil dish, plus various vegetable and meat stews. Injera is a large flat bread, the foods are placed on it in separate piles, and eaten with the hand.

The Middle-Eastern falafel, fits into this pattern. Falafel is a spicy burger made mainly from ground chickpeas, accompanied by lettuce, chopped tomatoes, and tahini, served on a pita.

We've identified five broad patterns for grain and legume-based meals:

1. The soup or stew meal.

2. The pattern of whole or cracked grains with a thick bean sauce.

3. The pureed bean meal.

4. The Asian stir-fry pattern including tofu or tempeh, vegetables, and rice.

5. The Indian pattern of rice, dahl, and vegetable curry.

6. The Ethiopian and Mexican pattern of beans (and other foods) served on a bread.

There are other famous bean meals that don't fit into any of these patterns. And then of course there are adaptations of meat meals, some of which can be quite good: bean burgers come immediately to mind.

More detailed information on cooking beans, general advice, equivalencies, etc. can be found in my blog post entitled 'Eating Beans and Rice':

If you are new to eating whole, basic, natural foods, and/or new to eating less meat, it would probably be very helpful for you to buy a few cookbooks that give recipes for these foods. My top choice of cookbook for this purpose is 'Extending the Table', one of the World Community Cookbooks
published by the Mennonite Central Committee - you can read about 'Extending the Table' here: .

This is a really lovely book: it's not 'food of the rich' but food as eaten by ordinary people in many countries of the world - much of it legume and grain-based. It has good recipes, and good coverage of the world's food, especially Africa (which is usually totally ignored in Western
cookbooks). I cannot say enough good things about 'Extending the Table'. It also has little homilies, a few of which are explicitly Christian. This doesn't bother me, but if it bothers you, you can skip the explicitly Christian ones.

My second choice of cookbook for this purpose is 'Lean Bean Cuisine' by Jay Solomon. Just what it says: bean cuisine. Solomon includes many bean recipes. They are appealing to me; flavorful and satisfying.

I would *very strongly* recommend that you read about vegetarian nutrition as well (even if you are only cutting down on meat, and will continue to eat some meat). In this connection, I recommend 'The New Laurel's Kitchen,
A Handbook for Vegetarian Cookery and Nutrition,' by Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, and Brian Ruppenthal and 'Diet for a Small Planet,' by Frances Moore Lappe. Both of these classics discuss vegetarian nutrition and both have many really good recipes.

My other recommendation here is 'Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure,' by Lorna Sass. The use of a pressure cooker is a tremendous time and fuel saver when you are cooking dried beans (as well as other foods). Lorna Sass is the definitive pressure-cooker cookbook author, and this particular
book (in my opinion) is her best. It includes directions for cooking every imaginable whole grain plus many, many beans, as well as excellent recipes! Lorna's recipes rock!

There are many other cookbooks useful for bean and grain cuisine, but I think these are the most important, so I'll stop now. Besides it's breakfast time for me. :) (Why do I write before breakfast? I don't know, except that I have always been a distinctly morning person.)

Friday, June 08, 2007

Variations on a Theme I - Food Patterns

I've been thinking about a theme or pattern relative to food.

So far as I know, most of the world's peoples (cultures) have relied for sustenance chiefly on a combination of grains plus legumes. Grains plus legumes are their main calorie and protein sources, with vegetables, fruits, and other foods supplying nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Herbs and spices add flavor, and oils add calories and nutrients. Eggs and dairy foods are valuable supplements for many people, with meat generally being an occasional treat reserved for festivals and similar great occasions.

There are a few exceptions to this reliance on grains plus legumes, such as the Inuit relying on seal meat and whale blubber, South Pacific Islanders relying on breadfruit, or the Irish and potatoes. These exceptions are usually caused by living in areas which are not suitable for growing any reasonable quantity of grains plus legumes.

It sounds pretty boring when you say it like that: grains plus legumes. Nevertheless, there are almost endless variations on this theme and it has supplied the basis of many of the world's greatest cuisines and most famous dishes. So I'd like to run down the list of grains and the list of legumes, first, and then note some of the great dishes made from them.

I'm not doing research on this, the grains and legumes will just be those that I remember... and they will all be generally available to people in the developed countries. (I doubt if I have any readers from Third World countries - and if I do - they no doubt already know how to best use the food available to them).

First, the grains. All of these can be eaten in the form of whole grains with their nutrition intact.

* Wheat
* Brown rice - Long-grain, short-grain rice, Basmati, jasmine, black rice, red rice
* Rye
* Corn (Maize) - White, yellow, blue, multi-colored
* Millet
* Quinoa
* Amaranth
* Oats
* Teff
* Triticale
* Kamut
* Spelt
* Buckwheat
* Barley
* Sorghum

That's 15 grains, and I've probably forgotten a few. There are many varieties within most of these grains, a very few of which I've listed (corn and rice).

Most of these grains can be eaten in the following forms:

* Whole
* Cracked
* Made into flakes
* Ground into flour

And some can be:

* Puffed
* Popped

With those various forms, many different foods can be made, including all the world's many different breads and pancakes. The various forms of grain are used for pilafs, cereals, soups, and a multiplicity of other foods.

Now let's take a look at legumes - I'll list legumes until I get tired of doing it (there are many more legumes than grains). First I'll list some of the 'odd' ones, the ones that are not in the species Phaseolus vulgaris:

* Soybeans
* Lentils, brown, red or green
* Dried whole peas, yellow or green
* Split peas, yellow or green
* Pigeon peas
* Chickpeas (garbanzos)
* Fava beans (broad beans in the UK)
* Runner beans
* Tepary beans (many varieties)
* Cowpeas (includes black-eyes peas, )
* Lima beans
* Hyacinth beans
* Adzuki beans
* Mung beans
* Moth beans

Now just a few of the common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) :

* Black beans
* Navy beans
* Kidney beans
* Cannelini beans
* Pinto beans
* Good Mother Stallard beans
* Anasazi beans
* Great Northern beans
* Calypso bean
* Cherokee Trail of Tears bean
* Jacob's cattle bean
* Hidatsa shield figure bean
* Lazy housewife bean
* Hutterite soup beans
* Lina Sisco's bird egg bean
* Tiger's eye bean
* Cranberry bean
* Arikara yellow bean
* Brockton horticultural bean
* Boston favorite bean

There are dozens more, I'm sure. But I think this will be plenty to give you the idea that there are lots of different beans. Some differ in minor ways from other; some are very different.

As an aside, please note that, according to Wikipedia:

Some raw beans, for example kidney beans, contain harmful toxins (lectins) which need to be removed, usually by various methods of soaking and cooking. The soaking water from kidney beans should be discarded before boiling, and some authorities recommend changing the water during cooking as well. Cooking beans in a slow cooker, because of the lower temperatures often used, may not destroy toxins even though the beans do not smell or taste 'bad'[1] (though this should not be a problem if the food reaches boiling and stays there for some time).

Beans can be cooked in various ways: boiled and baked are two common preparation methods. Some beans can be popped. Dried beans can be ground into flour, and the flour used in various ways. The falafels of the Middle East are based on ground chickpeas, for example. Beans can be made into tempeh, which is often based on soybeans, but other beans can be used. Soybeans can be made into tofu, tempeh, miso, or tamari.

So there is a tremendous variety of ingredients to work with for the basis of your grain and legume dinners. When you add the many vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices, and other foods, there is an almost infinite variety.

The next post will discuss meal patterns, and some very good meals based on grains and legumes.

08 June 2007

Monday, June 04, 2007

Report on My New Haybox Cooker - Success!

What's a 'haybox cooker'? See
for a good explanation.

I didn't want to ask my husband to build a wooden box for me although I would like to have a very pretty, decorative wooden box. But, while my husband does sturdy, he definitely doesn't do pretty! (He'd be the first to tell you this.)

I wanted something more permanent than cardboard and less subject to being scratched to pieces by our cat who finds cardboard boxes irresistible.

My friend Jan has a stainless steel 'fireless cooker'. It works very well, and is nice looking. This would be especially nice to take hot food to a church supper or the like.

It's here:

(You'll need to cut and paste, sorry, I have not yet figured out how to do URLs to make links in the new version of Blogger.)

or try:

Jan reports that the stainless steel inner pan is nearly a gallon in size, and that it cooks soups and stews very well, but it is not suitable for cooking dried beans.

But it's expensive - $99. And I often cook large amounts of soups or stews, then freeze quite a few dinners' worth for later no-cook nights. One gallon isn't large enough to cook for the freezer in quantity.

Then I thought of an Igloo (or Igloo type) cooler; the hard-shell coolers. These have obvious advantages in that they are already well-insulated and meant to retain heat or cold. However, all of the coolers that I could find, both locally and online, were narrow rectangles in shape. I don't
have any pots that are narrow rectangles.

Finally, we came across an Igloo 'Cube' cooler in a local drugstore; it's this one: (if this doesn't work for you,
just Google on 'Igloo Cube' to find one)

It cost us $29.99. I have several pots that fit into it, including one of my pressure cookers and a very large soup pot (separately, not at the same time, although I do have two smaller pots that will fit in it together).

I do not think it would be a good idea to put a hot pot directly on the bottom of the cooler. My husband cut a piece of scrap wood that fits on the bottom, and I put two layers of aluminum foil on top of the scrap wood. A couple of pieces of cardboard, again covered with aluminum foil, could be
used instead of the wood.

Then I scotch-taped aluminum foil to the sides of the cooler. I had meant to use heavy-duty aluminum foil but couldn't find any (at home; I didn't go to the store), so I just used regular foil. (And then I found the heavy-duty foil later on, of course. But the regular foil seems to work fine for this purpose.)

None of our quilts would fit in the cooler after putting a pot in it. I don't want to cut up any of our quilts, so I nestled an afghan into the cooler. An afghan is fairly loosely knit (at least this one is), so it's not the ideal insulation or air-space filler.

I'll go to the GoodWill Store soon and buy an old quilt that I can cut up to use in the haybox. Or maybe I'll buy a really cheap pillow at the Dollar Store and cut that up.

I decided to start out with long-grain brown rice.

I will experiment with using my pressure cooker in the haybox later; but I wanted this first experiment to be accessible to as many people as possible and lots of people don't have pressure cookers.

I put 3-3/4 cups of water in a heavy pot, and put it on the stove. I brought the water to a boil, then stirred in 1-1/2 cups of long-grain brown rice. (The proportion of water to rice is two to one.) I again brought it to a boil, put the lid on the pot, and put the pot in the haybox cooker/cooler, tucking the afghan in around the pot. Then I closed the cooler.

Four hours later, I opened the cooler, removed the pot, took a look at the rice and tasted it. It was not quite cooked enough so I again brought it to a boil (which only took about two minutes, as it was still quite hot), covered the pot and returned it to the haybox. One hour later I again took it out and the brown rice was perfectly cooked.

Brown rice generally takes about 45 minutes in a pan on the stovetop: so I saved at least 40 minutes of natural gas (stovetop) or about 60 minutes of electricity if I had used my electric vegetable steamer/rice cooker to cook the rice.

I'll be able to cook lots of soups, stews, chili and other such dishes in it when the weather is cold again (we don't want them now that it is summer). I believe I can use it to cook dried beans (soaked overnight first), although I may have to re-boil them in the middle of the cooking time.

I am sure that I can cook anything that cooks in a crockpot in the haybox cooker. Obviously, it can also be used for some things that I don't use a crockpot to cook, such as the brown rice.

Two pots of mine will fit in it, one stacked on top of the other. I would need to turn the cover upside down on the lower pot. But that should be OK.

I will also experiment with incubating yogurt in it: we make two quarts of yogurt at least once per week, sometimes more often.

UPDATE: It works beautifully for incubating yogurt. The yogurt is ready in four hours, just as it would be if I had
used the electric yogurt maker. But the haybox cooker doesn't use any electricity. I will do it this way from now on.
Complete directions are here:

I like this very much because it's so accessible to so many people. You don't need any skill to make it; you just buy it. You don't need carpentry tools. The cost is not exorbitant and will fairly quickly be recouped in saved energy costs. The concept is a cinch to master and it's easy to cook in it - no burning the food, no watching a pot on a hot stove. It doesn't heat your house or apartment - a very good thing in summer, not so good in winter.

You don't need sunshine to use it, although use of a haybox cooker would probably combine well with use of a solar oven. You can live in an apartment and use the haybox cooker.

If you have an elderly parent (or parents) who live nearby, you could prepare a soup or stew, take it to their place, pop it into the haybox cooker, and leave it with them so that they can have a good hot dinner.

The cubic-shaped coolers also come on wheels:

If I had seen one on wheels, I would probably have bought it instead, although carrying the cooler isn't a problem for us. But I believe the wheeled version would be better for a frail or elderly person.

And of course, there's nothing to prevent use of the Igloo cooler as a .... (surprise!) picnic cooler. You could also use it in your car to bring frozen food home from the store if the store is a long distance and the weather is hot.

One tiny step for independence, one smidgen less pollution emitted from our household, one tiny bit less greenhouse gas caused by our household, one step away from corporate control, one little bit less fossil fuel used by our household .... all to the good.

Most of us can only take small steps. But small steps taken by many people add up to something significant.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Why No New Posts For So Long?

May 12, 2007

Why No New Posts For So Long?

I've been creating a mirror of this blog on our own website, and that's taken me some time. I finished that and it's here: (Cut and paste this into your browser, please, I haven't yet figured out how to make a clickable link using the 'new' version of Blogger.)

Then I was sick for a couple of weeks (ugh).

Now I'm 'mad busy' (as my husband would say) with gardening! Brian is making (misnamed) Self-Watering Containers and I'm busy transplanting little plants into them. And watering other little plants, and carrying little plants outside in the mornings and in at night (we are still having frosts here some nights). Etc. But this will all settle down soon..

I have a list of topics I want to write about, and I'll get to them soon, I promise.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Soup to the Rescue!

Don't want to cook but want a good dinner? Soup to the rescue!

When I worked I just crawled home exhausted most nights, and then collapsed in a corner! Soup was my salvation then in cool weather; big main course salads were my salvation in hot weather. It's winter now, so let's talk about soup first.

Even now that I am retired, there are many nights when I just don't want to cook; and yet I want a meal that has both great taste and good nutrition. Soup fulfills both these requirements. It is also very cheap, and most soups freeze very well.

I'm not talking about little watery soups, but big hearty soups with some substance to them - soups that are a complete meal with a whole wheat roll or a slice of whole wheat bread. (Or even white bread, if you must!)

There are many different soups that are good for this purpose; I'll mention just a few:

  • Beef Vegetable Soup

  • Chunky Calico Chicken Soup
  • French-style Vegetable Soup - my current favorite! (Recipe follows.)
  • Lentil Soup - there are many lentil soup recipes
  • Split Pea Soup
  • Hearty Tomato Soup
  • Black Bean Soup - my recipe is on this blog, in the
    post entitled 'Eating Beans and Rice'.
  • Hamburger Soup - ground beef and many vegetables
  • Ribollita - Italian-style vegetable soup with Italian bread.
  • Minestrone

There are many more. But even with only the soups I have listed above, you can have lots of variety and you won't be bored eating the same thing all the time.

First, a few general tips on making and freezing your soups:

1. Don't use pieces of potato in soup that you will freeze. Pieces of potato turn into nasty horrible cardboard (bad texture, bad taste) when you freeze them.

2. The more fresh veggies you can use in your soup (as opposed to frozen veggies), the better your soup will be. But hey, we live in the real world; not the ideal world. Sometimes I have to use some frozen vegetables, but I can
always use fresh carrots, onions, garlic, celery, and cabbage.

3. If you put frozen peas in soup, cook them separately and just put them in the bottom of the bowl you will eat the soup from, then pour the hot soup over them. They don't reheat well, they get nasty, and they don't freeze well either. This way, they won't be in the soup that you either freeze or reheat.

4. To make the soup hearty, you can add a drained, rinsed can or two of beans. I prefer cannelini beans for this. My second choice would be other white beans. Dried, home-cooked beans are even better. But again: we live in the real world. Sometimes I have home-cooked beans and sometimes I do not.

You can cook and can (bottle) beans at home, but I've not reached that exalted state of organization yet. It would be A Very Good Thing to have home-canned beans and maybe someday I will. In the meantime, canned beans are fine
if you drain and rinse them to remove most of the added salt.

5. If you have a food processor, you can grate up a pound or two of cheddar (or other cheese) and freeze it in plastic freezer bags. Then you just need to take out some grated cheese when you start heating your frozen soup. The cheese is put in the soup when you dish it out. This also adds heartiness to your soup.

6. I don't like to use plastic containers in the microwave. So I bought several small glass (Pyrex) containers of various sizes and shapes. One is just the right size to heat a one-person-meal amount of soup (for us, this is two bowls of soup per person). This is very convenient. Of course, you can reheat soup on the stove top also, if you prefer.

7. Soup can be frozen in the small Zip-Loc (or other brand) 'disposable' containers. In spite of the fact that the manufacturer would like you to dispose of the container after one use, you can wash them and re-use them indefinitely. They stack in the freezer, which is good. I have a lot of these containers in a 'one meal size'. Theoretically, you can heat soup in the microwave in these, but I prefer to put the container in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes, then slide the soup out of the container, and heat it in a glass container in the microwave.

8. You can also freeze soup in plastic freezer bags. In that case, when the bags are sealed, put them all flat on a cookie sheet or plastic tray and freeze them that way. Otherwise, they slump down between the bars of the freezer shelf and stick to the bars. When your bags of soup are frozen, and
nice and flat, then take them off the cookie sheet and stack them on the freezer shelf. You cannot reheat in the frozen bags - just put the frozen bag of soup in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes, and then you can slide the soup out of the bag and reheat in the microwave (see #6, above) or on the stove top.

9. If you make a big pot of soup, don't wait for it to cool down naturally - it can take too long to become completely cool: this gives bacteria too much time to grow. Put the pot in a sink of cold water (with ice cubes, if you have them), and stir the soup gently. Replace the water with fresh cold water if it gets warm. Then freeze your cooled soup. Or put the pot outside for a while in the snow, if you have deep snow. (At the moment, we have about two feet of snow on the ground! That would cool a big pot of soup pretty fast, I think.)

French Style Vegetable Soup

This is my current favorite soup; it is very loosely based on 'The Soup - French Style' from The Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread Cookbook by Crescent Dragonwagon.

The amounts listed here actually made ten meals of soup. Each meal also included some kind of bread or roll, and often included grated cheddar served in the soup.


  • 2 very large onions or equivalent amounts of smaller onions
  • 8 small cloves of garlic
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 parsnip
  • 1 large handful of fresh green beans
  • 6 large mushrooms
  • about 1/3 of a small head of cabbage
  • 1/2 a 32-oz bottle of V-8 juice
  • about 1-2 cups of white wine (didn't measure)
  • 2 28-oz cans of whole tomatoes (or diced tomatoes)
  • 1 can of canellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • various herbs - basil, thyme, marjoram, a little tarragon
  • tamari (also called 'shoyu' - a superior kind of soy sauce)

Pretty cheap! Very healthy!

This is almost a minestrone - if you add cooked elbow macaroni, then it would be minestrone. It took about an hour's work. Well, I'll spend an hour to have ten nutritious and delicious meals meals any time. Warning: this soup is addictive. I've made it three times so far this winter, and will be making it again today. You can cut the quantities down, of course, and I usually make a smaller amount than given here.

By the way, this is one reason why I really love my food processor. You can cut all the veggies with a knife and cutting board and - indeed - you can do a more uniform and a prettier job with a knife and cutting board. But using the food processor makes the job go very fast.

I don't care about pretty in soup; I care about taste. Obviously, if you don't have a food processor, slice or chop by hand.

OK, from the beginning, this is how I make this soup:

I use the food processor for every veggie in the soup (except the canned tomatoes).

Chop 2 large onions and 8 small cloves of garlic in the food processor, put them in a bowl. Slice two stalks of celery with their leaves (try to buy nice leafy ones). Slice two peeled carrots.

Sauté all this in a a little olive oil. I do not have a large soup pot that will saute worth a darn, so I Sauté in another pan and then transfer everything to the large soup pot. I would like to get a better large soup pot someday.

Transfer the sautéed veggies to your big soup pot. Add two 28-oz cans of diced tomatoes or whole tomatoes - if using whole tomatoes put them in a bowl first and quickly chop them up. Top and tail the green beans, then slice them. Slice a peeled parsnip. Add the green beans and parsnip to the soup pot. Add a lot of white wine, maybe about 2 cups.

Add dried Italian parsley, basil, also some thyme, marjoram, and a little tarragon. Also some tamari. (When I last made this soup, I wanted to measure to be able to tell you how much of each, but I couldn't bear to slow the process down; my back really hurt at the time.)

Add about one pint (two cups) of low-sodium V-8 juice (tomato juice can substitute for this) and some water.

Bring the soup to a boil, then turn the flame down so it will just simmer. Cover the pot and let the soup simmer gently for about 40 minues.

Clean and slice the mushrooms. Slice the 1/3 head of cabbage finely. Add them to the soup pot. Drain the canellini beans in a colander and rinse them with cold water. Add the beans to the soup pot. Bring to a simmer again, and let the soup simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes - just until the mushrooms and cabbage are soft and taste cooked.

Taste - add more herbs or tamari if you think it needs them.

Frozen peas: just a few. I don't like frozen peas when reheated, whereas the rest of the soup reheats just fine. So I cook the peas separately, and just put some peas in each of the bowls before I dish the soup out.

Add grated cheese to the soup after it is dished out, if you wish. Grate black pepper over your bowl of soup if you wish, also.

This seems like a lot of work, but I want to emphasize that you are making about ten meals at a time. It's really not that much work considering how many meals you are making and how good it is.


16 February 2007

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