And then you eat salads out of mason jars — an accidentally vegan lunch salad recipe

eat salads out of mason jarsOkay, so I’m about two years behind the whole salad in a jar craze. But actually, I was Way ahead of the trend because I’ve been eating–and drinking–out of Mason jars since before they somehow became cool. Just ask my co-workers circa 2000 (they thought I was crazy! Who’s crazy now?!).

Despite my jar-lovin’ ways, I was sceptical when I first heard about salad in a jar. My scepticism asked, how can you possibly get enough salad into a jar to constitute a meal? Really, this girl gets pretty hungy, and I’m sorry but a mere pint of romaine just isn’t going to fill my bellah.

However. That was before I discovered my current lunch salad.

It’s crunchy. It’s healthy. It’s filling. And it packs conveniently inside a Mason jar. Oh, and did I mention it is also super frugal?

My lunch salad starts with a bag of pre-shredded coleslaw, which goes for $1.39 at Food Basics. One bag of cole slaw mix will make 3-4 lunch salads, which truly fill my tummy for hours.

I add a simple, wholesome, vegan dressing, toss with some toasted sunflower seeds, and head to work with my frugal healthy filling lunch. In a Mason jar.

Frugal Urban Tummy-Filling Lunch Salad

1 pint pre-shredded cole slaw mix, raw

1.5 tbsp tahini

Enough Olive oil to make it runny, about a tbsp

3/4 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Salt to taste

Sunflower seeds, roasted without salt

To take this to work, I usually pre-mix the salad the night before, following these exact instructions: First, place cole slaw mix in a bowl. In a small mason jar, mix together the tahini, olive oil, apple cider vinegar and salt, using an old bamboo chopstick. Pour dressing over the cole slaw and stir with the chopstick until everything is combined. Then use first the chopstick, and then your finger, to get every last bit of dressing out of the smaller jar and eat it right then & there because it is sooooo yummy.  Taste the salad and adjust for salt. Pack the salad in a pint-sized (500 ml) Mason jar, put the lid on, and store it in the fridge overnight. Pack the sunflower seeds separately, and when you are ready to eat, sprinkle them over the salad.

When you make it the night before, the salad shrink down as the cabbage gets soft and chewy. I like it this way, but if you prefer to follow the Pinterest-approved salad-in-a-jar method, you could choose to mix the dressing in the pint jar, then pour the undressed cole slaw mix in over top of it, keeping it upright overnight. In the morning at work, turn it upside down and the dressing will magically mix with the cabbage, theoretically leaving you with a perfect, fresh salad for your lunch. Still pack the seeds separately, or they will get soft and less fresh and crunchy.

While the second method gives you a fresher salad, I found the dressing didn’t mix completely well, as it is a fairly thick consistency, and I found eating it a bit awkward, with bits falling all over since they weren’t stuck together all nicely with the dressing. But maybe that’s just me. I am known to be a bit clumsy.

Enjoy my contribution to the world of “salads in jars”! With a full tummy 🙂



Real Food Standby #4: Stove-top Popcorn

You put the oil in the pot

And you let it get hot

You put the popcorn in

And you start to grin

Sizzle-sizzle, sizzle-sizzle, sizzle-sizzle, sizzle-sizzle

Sizzle-sizzle, sizzle-sizzle . . . . POP!!

That’s really all you need for a recipe! This snack can be salty or sweet, cheesy or plain, but it’s always easy and low-cost.

Popcorn has long been the go-to late-night snack for our family. For years my partner and I have been driving various neighbours crazy with the aroma filtering through to their apartments late in the evenings. Lately I”ve been throwing it in our snack bag. The kids see this as a real treat!

It’s very frugal–even if you factor in buying non-GMO organic popcorn and coconut oil–and just about as quick as microwave popcorn. But when you make it yourself, the ingredients are much healthier. We usually buy ours in the bulk aisle of the health food store, or occasionally through the ONFC food co-op. Either way, it’s a fraction of the price of any store-bought snack, and also much better for you.

Simple Stovetop Popcorn

coconut oil or palm oil

popping corn

Optional toppings: sea salt, melted butter, parmesan cheese, nutritional yeast

Spoon a large gob of coconut oil into the bottom of a large cold lidded saucepan. Turn the heat to max. As soon as the oil has liquefied, add popcorn to cover the bottom of the pot. We don’t measure quantities, but rather aim for the oil to be level with the kernels, and the whole mass covering the bottom of the pot. Too little oil and you will end up with lots of unpopped kernels. Too much, and the popcorn will be soggy or oily. Feel this out and you will have a skill for life 🙂

Put the lid on the pot and listen for the popping to start. Have a large bowl or two ready to receive your popcorn.  If the popcorn starts to fill up the pot and lift the lid, dump some of it out into the bowl. In this way you can easily make large quantities even in a relatively small pot. Throw some salt on it immediately, as it sticks better when it’s hot. Return pot to heat and give it a good shake every few seconds so any kernels get shifted to the bottom of the pot for a chance to pop.

Once the popping almost stops, dump the whole into the bowl(s) and salt to taste. Add your optional toppings and enjoy!

How do you like your popcorn?

Nourishing November

It’s been an intense few weeks. I’ve been really too much obsessed with food, most specifically, with cutting food out of my diet. And since I’ve already cut out nearly all processed food–we hardly buy anything that comes in a box anymore–paring down on basics like wheat, dairy and even peanut butter was making it incredibly hard to find enough to eat around here! Even with my Real Food Standbys!

I started to ask myself, “Why are you obsessing over food? What is the real issue here?” And the answer came: It’s all about nourishment. What with homeschooling, food shopping and preparing, keeping the house under control, and being there for my partner as well, I don’t find a lot of time to nourish myself.

So I started focusing on food, and in the back of  my mind has been the thought that if I get my diet *perfect* I will feel complete, whole, rested, healthy, unstressed, kind all the time, on top of every aspect of my life! Without ever needing to stop and rest or take myself out for ice cream!

Obviously, I need some real nourishment.

So I’ve decided that November is going to be about nourishing myself (and my family too, since we generally eat the same stuff!). This month, instead of worrying about what I shouldn’t eat, I’m going to take a “crowding out” approach this month, filling us up with yummy, healthy, diverse, colourful, unprocessed, organic,  and–can I even hope for it??–frugal foods. These foods will crowd out the less healthy and nutrient dense options, at least some of the time.

Some of my “crowding out” techniques:

– get more good into our smoothies by adding some good supplements like Omega-3s and greens and whatever else I can come up with (bee pollen? mineral powder?)

– we’re soon getting a half a side of beef (yay!) from a local farmer. This will crowd out the occasional less-than-ideal meat purchase from the grocery store.

– focusing more on power-packed snacks. I just bought the eBook, “Healthy Snacks To Go” by Katie Kimball of Kitchen Stewardship. I bought it with a handy coupon through the GNOWFGLINS webinar, “Frugal, Healthy Snacks”. If you act quickly you can probably ask for access to the re-play and get the coupon too! I’m in no way affiliated with either blog, and don’t make any money from your clicks, but I am impressed with the eBook, and am excited to make some power bars tomorrow!

– somehow eat more veggies, maybe by varying what I use in our daily lunch soups? (any suggestions welcome!)

– do more lacto-fermenting. I put up a delicious batch of kimchi-style sauerkraut last week, and made my first Beet Kvass. I’m inspired to do more!!

But besides all the food stuff, I’m going to work on nourishing myself in other ways as well this month. I need time outside the house, to be alone, away from the kids, to be with friends, to exercise and to buy a few needed items that will make me feel good (like new shoes and a pair of jeans!).  Because if I’m really going to go all the way with this homeschooling business, I’m going to need to care for myself too.

You need to put on your own oxygen mask first.

So, what about you? Are you going to have a Nourishing November too?

Found on this week’s Simple Lives Thursday, hosted by GNOWFGLINS.

Real Food Standby #3: Applesauce

While I’ve never been one to buy jars & jars of applesauce off the shelves, I’ve come to ADORE home made applesauce. There is something so delectable about the aroma of simmering apples, and the warm sauce freshly made just can’t be beat. I have no idea why, but it tastes so much sweeter than a raw apple, even though there’s no sweetener added. It’s fast, it’s easy, and if you preserve a bunch, it’s a great way to continue eating local apples all winter long.

Some of our favourite uses include:

– in oatmeal. Since going sugar free, this sweet sauce has been a major boon to us in the breakfast department.

– in yogurt. I’ve perfected the art of forming a cute pink applesauce heart in the middle of a tiny bowl of yogurt.

– just plain eating. Best while it’s still warm, but also a delicious snack when the kids are hungry NOW!

Next year I am definitely going apple picking with the kids, and will make jars and jars of applesauce to last us all year. For now, I’m getting them by the slightly bruised bagful from the Herb & Spice (I just discovered their cart of marked down produce–what deals!!).

Simple Applesauce

3 pounds organic apples

1 cup water

Core and roughly chop apples. Place in a saucepan with a cup of water. Bring to boil and simmer for about 15 minutes. Once cooked pass them through your food mill to squash out all the good stuff and leave the skins behind. If you don’t have a food mill you can always peel the apples beforehand, or leave the skins on and blend it all together for a more fibre-rich mixture. If you use very red apples, the sauce will be a lovely pink colour. Refrigerate and enjoy, or process in a water bath according to up-to-date canning instructions.

Real Food Standby #2: Smoothies

We’re officially on day 4 of our Real Food Revolution, and things are going so well. My kid has been able to stay in the “green zone” pretty much 100% of the time, not counting normal reactions to having shiny pieces of red ribbon snatched away by her little brother and that sort of thing.

To be honest, I feel a little guilty and silly for not trying this earlier. Imagine trying to learn and figure out the world, all the while battling these monster reactions to stuff your mom keeps giving you!!

I think the biggest change has been with our breakfast. We used to have oatmeal with honey and blueberries, or cream of wheat with brown sugar. No more! We’re still having oatmeal, but I’m using a few drops of Stevia instead of the honey. And we’re also starting the day with a smoothie, which gives them some fruit, some pro-biotics in the form of yogurt, and some omega-3s from flax oil.

With organic blueberries and sustainable strawberries, this is certainly adding to our budget but hopefully next year I can stock up when they are in season. (I think I will need a bigger freezer!) The kids are loving their smoothies (as am I!), and I feel really good getting all that healthy stuff into them at the top of the day.

So here’s the recipe. You can adjust the quantities depending on your taste and budget. I just eyeball it, to be honest!

Breakfast Smoothie


frozen blueberries

frozen strawberries

1 ripe banana

4-5 drops of Stevia

3-4 tsp flax oil (it’s pretty flavourless so I’ve been increasing it day by day)

water to cover

Toss everything into the blender. Blend on highest speed until smooth. Enjoy with a side of soaked oatmeal.

Kombucha Hypothesis

I am very sorry to all the people I have promised to give a SCOBY to and then haven’t followed through. I have a confession: I’m scared to let strangers who find me over the internet, even kombucha-loving strangers, know where I live. And I have also been very crap about SCOBY delivery 😦  Sorry, strangers!

BUT! I have a Kombucha Hypothesis that may just negate the need for SCOBY delivery altogether!

I’m not sure if you remember, but I’ve written before about how crazy tough and virulent the kombucha mother is. Like a mother bear separated from her cub! She will take a beating and come back in full force!

So, I was thinking, all scientist-like, that store-bought ‘bucha is, or at least should be, a raw, unpasteurized food. Thus, it should have live yeast/bacteria in it. Thus, it should be able to produce a new baby, just like these babies I found in my Apple Cider Vinegar.

So I bought me some Kombucha (paid nearly 5 bucks for it!) and let it sit out for about a week with the cap off. And voilà: a tiny little newborn baby SCOBY floating in it!

Now, the second part of the hypothesis, and this is the really exciting bit, is that IF a bottle of ‘bucha can produce its own little SCOBY, it SHOULD be able to produce a BIG SCOBY in a new batch of tea & sugar. Right? I know this contravenes our new sugar-free diet, but come on, this is science!

I don’t have an answer for you yet; my experiment is brewing away, and I will fill you in as things progress. But if this works, it will mean (nearly) free Kombucha for ALL!!!!!

(I feel like a cartoon mad scientist right about now.)

Our Real Food Revolution

Yesterday at 9:37 am I instituted a Real Food Revolution. Not that we were eating much “fake” food, but I will explain that in a minute. The reason it happened at 9:37 am was that that was the time my daughter started screaming at the top of her lungs, throwing her toys around her room, and slamming her door over and over again . . . because I had not adequately tied the knitted ear-warmer around her waist in such a way as to hold the sheet around her small body.

I emailed my husband, “Did you give her sugar?” He had let me sleep in after yet another night of terrible sleep caused by our little guy nursing like a newborn (he’ll be 2 next week). “Yes,” he replied, “but only a little.” Only a little, and yet there it was, the connection I had seen and have been seeing for years, only for some reason this time it gelled in my brain: give her sugar, and she acts like a maniac.

Sure, there are times she has had a bit of something sweet and not freaked out, usually when we’re outdoors, maybe with friends or family, or after a good solid dinner. But we aren’t always in an outdoor, social, post-prandial state of being.

So I googled something along the lines of “Kids, food, behaviour” and started reading. So much of what they recommend avoiding reminded me of what I’ve read in Nourishing Traditions, so I’ve decided to change our eating.

This won’t be a dramatic departure for us, but one shift I’ve decided to make is in my concern over spending money on food. While eating in a more traditional way will certainly cost more money, I think it is worth it. Our children deserve to get the best we can give them, and even our adult bodies will thank us for things like cutting out sugar, reducing grains, and doing things to boost the nutrition of whatever we are eating.

We will try to do this as frugally as possible, which means cutting waste and spending right for the right things. So my current quest will be to find some frugal “real food” staples that I can attempt to have on hand so we won’t resort to less nutritious options.

Today’s staple is Hummus! I love my hummus recipe. It makes a nice big batch which lasts us several days of snacks and lunches. My challenge right now is to find something instead of pretzel sticks to dip in it!

Fantastic Hummus

1 cup dry chick peas, soaked overnight then cooked for 1 hour

1/4 cup cooking water from the chick peas

1 clove garlic

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp cumin powder

2 tbsp lemon juice

25 g olive oil

75 g tahini

Soak the chick peas overnight, drain and cover with fresh water. Cook for 1 hour. Place cooled cooked chick peas in food processor along with the garlic, salt and cumin. Process  until mushy. Scrape down the sides. Stir together the water and lemon juice and add to the food processor while it is running. Stop machine and scrape down, then process until quite smooth. Stir together the olive oil and tahini, and slowly drizzle in while the machine is running.

That’s it! Enjoy your creamy delicately flavoured hummus with a drizzle of olive oil or a sprinkle of cayenne pepper or a few cooked chick peas scattered over the top.

Wave of fermentation

(Cue the Pixies)  For some reason I have been hit by a wave of fermentation lately. It all started when I figured out why my kombucha was suffering so: (too small a surface area compared to the volume! D’uh! I was so glad to figure this out, and now my baby is getting healthier with each batch. I also bought a new glass juice jug for it, which makes it a wee bit more styley and less back-alley than a mason jar.)

Now I never go long without refreshing my sourdough starter as you know, but we have added another ferment to the family lately: sauerkraut! I made one delicious batch of kimchi-style sauerkraut last summer, but never repeated the experiment. I kept bringing cabbages home from the grocery store, but never managed to get them soaking in brine.

All that changed last week when I brought a lovely organic cabbage from the Herb & Spice, and had the brain wave of using my beautiful le creuset baking dish as a crock. I sliced up cabbage, onion, and garlic, and added salt, whey and hot pepper flakes, and set it to brine away for a few days.

Now, it did stink up the house something awful, but at the end of three days, I ended up with a nice full mason jar worth of very spicy sauerkraut. Too spicy for my partner unfortunately, so . . .

Today I brought home two more lovely cabbages from the Herb and Spice. I chopped those up, added some carrot, onion, garlic and ginger (skipped the hot peppers), pounded it with salt, and now have it happily burbling away beside my kombucha. I am so excited.

For this batch I used the directions on Sandor Katz’s website: I like his explanation of how to layer the salt and cut up cabbage, letting the salt do the work of attracting the juice out of the cabbage leaves instead of pounding it all to heck.

However, I did happen upon an interesting find that has made that very pounding a whole lot easier. I was in the flower shop around the corner, and spotted among their small collection of antiques a wooden object I believe to be a sauerkraut pounder! The woman in the shop said she thought it was for grinding, but I used it to pound the kraut into the bucket, and it completely did the trick.

Ever made sauerkraut? What do you like to ferment?

A little update

So, tomorrow night is pay time, and how did we do with our week and a half of minimal spending? Not so great, it turns out.

On the weekend, I had a sudden craving for the Nature, so we rented a car on Saturday and headed out to Gatineau park. It was great (except for “sharing the road” with a million cyclists in the park–why oh why didn’t someone at the National Capital Commission think to install bike lanes throughout the park???). We saw frogs, beavers, a cute cabin with a woodstove and delicious cedar scented walls. I came back refreshed and filled up with green, woodsy air.

Then afterwards we drove out to Alpenblick farm and bought some of their pasture raised meat. It was fantastic–we got to meet their ponies, goats, llama, sheep, cows, dog, cat, and pig, all happily roaming around the property. We got an education in their farming methods, which come from the Swiss Alps, and on the nutritional value of organic and pasture raised food. I recommend a visit to anyone in the area interested in pastured meat.

Then on Sunday I finally picked up my bucket of wheat from Castor River Farm at the Lansdowne Market. Yay! I now have what seems to be a limitless supply of wheatberries to turn into delicious nutritious food for my family. I was glad to still have the car to pick up the bucket because it was HEAVY!

All this ran us a pretty high bill, but apart from the car and gas (around $55), it was all food expenditure that will last us a good long time, not to mention bringing healthy organic locally raised food to our table.

One frugal decision was to pull our girl out of preschool. She loved it last year, but this year the classes are shorter, and none of her friends are there any more. She missed them so much! So we’re done with that, and will be taking advantage of the free school-board-run play group four mornings a week. The friends we missed at preschool go to play group three days a week, so we really get the best of both worlds.

At the end of the month we’ll assess everything, but I feel confident that we’re going to be doing okay with the one-income living.

Now what shall I do with my bucket o’ wheat? Stay tuned for a discussion on sprouted grain flour.

Kombucha in da house

A few weeks ago, I saw somebody who had extra kombucha mushrooms to give away. I had investigated this a year or so ago, but then was too scared to try it in the end. This time, before heading out to the West end to pick up this strange living item, I bought a bottle of kombucha (“The Wonder Drink” brand) to see if I would actually like this fermented tea business anyway.

Turns out I do! It is sweet and sour, slightly fizzy, and very refreshing at the end of a meal

So I went and picked up my mushroom. It’s not a real mushroom, but rather a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (also called a SCOBY) that forms a flat “mushroom” which floats on top of sweetened tea, turning it into this interesting drink.

It really is pretty cool. The mushroom is sortof slimy and creepy, and the thing that weirds out my partner the most is that with every batch, it makes a “baby” that floats on top of the old mushroom, which can then be given away to someone else who can start making their own kombucha. I’ve got a couple hanging out in my fridge right now if anyone wants it!

What you do to make 3 litres is you steep four tea bags in 1 litre of boiling water, to which you have added 1 cup of white sugar. You dissolve the sugar and let the tea steep for at least 15 minutes. You then remove the tea bags and add 2 litres of cold water. Then you add your mushroom plus maybe a half-cup of kombucha from the previous batch, and make sure the mushroom is floating nicely on top. Then cover with a tea towel and let it sit for a week. After that you bottle it and then enjoy! One website I read said to leave the bottled drink out for a few more days to get it more fizzy, but I didn’t find a great difference. It would be work playing with though.

My first batch, I made in a large pyrex bowl. It worked fantastically, but I use that bowl almost daily for baking and whatnot, so I went to a local wine making store (Musca, on Somerset W) and bought a 5 Litre wide-mouth demijohn. This is a wonderful container for making kombucha. The mouth is plenty wide enough to remove tea bags, gently place the mushroom, etc. And the 5 L capacity means there is plenty of air circulation (I have no idea if the kombucha needs this; I’m just guessing since all of the instructions stress covering it with a tea towel, not something air-tight). I just secure a tea towel over the top with a large elastic band, and leave it on the shelf for a week.

Is it a miracle drink? There is lots of info out there on kombucha, most of it controversial. Kombucha contains lactic acid, and many of the same pro-biotics as yogurt, so it should aid digestion. There has been no scientific evidence for the claims made by some. The bottom line seems to be that it isn’t dangerous, and it’s healthier than soft drinks.

I dunno–everyone in my house is sick right now except for me, so I’m leaning toward the “miracle drink” side of things 😉

Are you curious? Ottawanians, leave me a comment if you want to try it, or if you would welcome a mushroom into your life. A new baby arrives every week! Come on, share the love!