Sunday, November 27, 2022

Recipe of the Month: Roasted Broccoli with Lemon and Garlic

Choosing a Recipe of the Month for November was a challenge. Brian and I have tried a lot of new recipes this month, but many of them weren't veggie-centric, and most weren't vegan. My new lower-carb regime has required me to shift in just the opposite direction, eating a lot more animal products in order to get the required ratio of protein and fat to carbohydrates. Brian has experimented with reduced-carb versions of lots of foods, from pumpkin bread (a big success, not just with me but with pretty much everyone who has tried it) to pancakes (much less successful; they weren't as filling as real pancakes and not nearly as filling as my standard breakfast of high-fiber toast and cocoa). But making these treats low-carb generally means using almond flour, which doesn't rise without a lot of eggs to help it along. I was beginning to wonder whether I might have to abandon the idea of making my Recipe of the Month vegan, as I've done for the past three years, and go back to posting any kind of recipe that features vegetables or fruits (most likely vegetables, since even fruit is too high in carbs for me to eat much of anymore).

Well, it may still come to that, but I can put off the decision for one more month, at least. And that's thanks to a new veggie side dish we added to this year's Thanksgiving menu: Roasted Broccoli with Lemon and Garlic.

I knew Thanksgiving was going to be a challenge for me this year. My folks always get a free-range turkey so I can partake of it, but my favorite part of the meal has always been the side dishes, and most of those are pretty high in carbs. My dad's stuffing is mostly brown rice with apples, mushrooms, onions, pecans, and herbs. We also have white and sweet potatoes and whole-berry cranberry sauce. Usually, the only vegetable on the table is herbed carrots, which not only aren't really my favorite, but are also pretty high in carbs as non-starchy vegetables go. So filling half my plate with those wasn't really going to work for me.

When I voiced this concern to Brian, he said he would be happy to add another vegetable dish to the feast if I could come up with one I liked. And when I brought up the idea with the rest of the family, I heard a lot of support for the idea of adding a green veggie to the meal. So I did a quick search on "low-carb Thanksgiving sides" and found a very simple-looking roasted broccoli recipe at Taste of Home. When I proposed this to the family, my aunt requested that we leave out the pepper, which she can't eat. So instead, Brian decided to do the broccoli with lemon and garlic, which is how my uncle said he usually makes it.

We bought about a pound and a half of broccoli, cut it into florets, and brought it to my parents' house. We also brought a jar of marinade made from 2 crushed cloves of garlic, 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and about a quarter-teaspoon of salt. As soon as the bird came out of the oven, Brian quickly tossed the broccoli with the marinade and spread it out on a large baking sheet topped with one of our silicone baking mats. He popped that in the oven, turned it up to 450F, and let it cook for about 20 minutes, stirring it once. By the time we'd finished taking our annual family photo, it was tender and flavorful. He transferred it to a bowl, sprinkled it with a little more salt and about 1 teaspoon of lemon zest, and added it—with some difficulty—to the array of dishes already crowding the table.

This simple recipe was a hit with most of the family. My dad didn't care for it, saying he prefers his broccoli only lightly cooked. But all the other adults at the table ate it with gusto, leaving none left over at the end of the meal. Fortunately, I was able to get enough to fill a quarter of my plate, which was the point of the exercise. 

So will we make this dish again? Maybe, maybe not. This is really a side dish, and we don't tend to follow the main-dish-plus-sides style of eating. We're much more likely to use broccoli as a component of a dish like sesame tofu or lemon-garlic Soy Curls. But it might make a suitable companion to a protein-forward main dish like vegan Swedish meatballs. (Although these meatless balls are rather carb-heavy, I could still have them as long as we stick to carb-light side dishes, like mashed cauliflower instead of potatoes.) Or better yet, it could accompany something else that needs to be baked, such as the low-carb version of our favorite butternut squash lasagna (made with sliced hearts of palm in place of noodles), and take advantage of the already-hot oven.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Shelter from the cold

Somehow, in less than a month, we've gone from summer to winter. Two or three weeks ago, it was so warm out that I was too hot in just a single layer of clothing; this week, I've been piling on four layers, including my winter coat and long johns, and still feeling like the wind is blowing right through me. It's the kind of weather that you can best enjoy by observing it from indoors, snuggled up on the couch with a blanket and a hot drink.

But there are other creatures in our yard that don't have a cozy indoor space to retreat to. Such as, for instance, the family of stray cats, a mother and two kittens, that Brian and I have been feeding throughout the year. (Yes, I know you're not supposed to feed strays because they kill birds, but the way I figure it, they won't kill as many birds if they have something else to eat.) As far back as last summer, Brian and I were discussing whether we wanted to try to provide "our" outdoor cats with some sort of shelter during the winter. But when Brian looked into what kind of shelter would be appropriate, it started to seem kind of complicated. Ideally, it would have at least two sets of walls, inner and outer, with a space between them for insulation. It would need two separate entrances, since cats don't like to be trapped in a place with only one exit. And the entrances would either need to be covered with some sort of door or else turn a corner to keep the wind from blowing in. It wouldn't be simple to construct, and unless we could find a corner of the yard where it would stay tucked away all year, we'd have to store it once spring came.

I was thinking about this one day while I was out on the patio, moving around the outdoor furniture and wondering how long we should wait before storing it away in the shed for winter. I wasn't looking forward to this task, since it's a bit of a hassle to cram it in there, and once it's in you have basically no access to anything else behind it. And it occurred to me that maybe if we just covered the table and chairs up with tarps, not only could they stay out all winter, but they could also serve as a sort of tent shelter for the outdoor cats. It wouldn't be as warm as a properly insulated shelter, but it would be a lot better than nothing.

Originally, I thought we wouldn't even need to buy anything for this project, since we already had a couple of old plastic drop cloths stashed away in the shed. But when Brian pulled them out, he found that the outdoor conditions had taken their toll on the plastic, which tore like tissue paper at the slightest pressure. Fortunately, the sale flier for the nearby Ocean State Job Lot was advertising outdoor tarps at fairly low prices. They were sold out of the 8x10 size, and Brian thought 5x7 would be too small, so we ended up buying one "basic" tarp in size 10x12 and one "tear-resistant" 12x16 one for a total of $32.

Assembling the shelter was a bit of a puzzle. First, we pushed the table up against the side of the house to take advantage of its thermal mass. (The wall warms up in the sun during the day and radiates that heat away at night, so it's a little warmer right next to it than it is out in the open.) Next, we took all the cushions off the chairs and stacked them under the table to provide a layer of padding and insulation from the cold ground. 

Then we covered the entire table with the smaller of the two tarps. It was bigger than we actually needed, so we doubled part of it over and still had enough to reach down to the ground on all sides. We tucked it under the feet of the table and added a couple of bricks to help weigh it down. On my end, I simply tucked up a fold of the fabric to make a tent-flap kind of entrance, but Brian decided to create a more defined entrance on the other side by tucking up part of the fabric and holding it in place with a clamp. 

After that came the trickiest part: piling all the chairs on top. Brian thought maybe we should just settle for two chairs and leave the other two loose, but I thought it we were going to cover the furniture we should try to cover all of it. So after some maneuvering, we found a way to interlock the chairs so that they'd all fit with only the legs of two of them hanging off the edge. We attached them together with some small bungee cords to keep the pile stable.

Then we took the larger and sturdier tarp and put it over this entire pile. Once again, we had way more fabric than we needed and ended up partly doubling it over before securing it under the table legs and adding a row of bricks to hold it down. And even then, there was still a lot of loose fabric overhanging at one end. We spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to tuck all this excess material out of the way before I had the idea to incorporate the metal trash can we'd already put out on the patio, lying on its side, to keep the cats' food dish from getting wet when it rained. So we sort of wrapped all the extra tarp material around this to make a sort of vestibule. This had the added advantage that next time the cats came looking for their food, they'd be sure to find and investigate the entrance to the tent. And indeed, the next day, I spotted one of the kittens emerging from it, so now we know that the cats have found the shelter and feel comfortable using it.

This, along with a restock of the bird feeder, took care of the animals in our yard. But we still had the plants to consider. Our parsley, which never minds the cold, is still looking green and healthy, so we haven't touched that, but we harvested what was left of the arugula, along with all the winter squash from the volunteer vine in the side yard. We got half a dozen of varying sizes, but some weren't fully ripe yet, and a couple of them had split open in the cold. So we're not counting this squash as part of our official harvest until we figure out how much of it will turn out to be edible.

Brian also went out and dug up the horseradish roots that he planted last spring. These were a bit of a disappointment; although at least one of the plants had been large and flourishing, the actual roots were only about twice the size they'd been when we planted them. After spending $12 and putting in all the effort required to plant and harvest them, we only ended up with a few ounces of horseradish — and we're not even sure how much of that will be usable. So while growing these was an interesting experiment, it's not one we're planning to repeat.

Lastly, we decided to make some effort to winter-proof our outdoor rosemary plant. Where we live, in USDA Zone 7, growing rosemary year-round is a dicey proposition; according to most gardening sites, you can't reasonably expect it to survive the winter unless you dig it up, put it in a pot, and bring it indoors. But ours was too big for that, and we'd occasionally had rosemary plants make it through the winter before, so we decided we'd at least take a crack at keeping it alive. 

Rather than trimming it back to three inches and burying it in compost, as most gardening sites recommend for growers in Zone 8 and higher, we decided to try a tip from Gardeners' Path: covering it with plastic. We didn't have any "floating row covers," but Brian happened to have a large plastic bag stashed away that he thought would be big enough to enclose it. He poked some holes around the edge of this and threaded through a piece of thick string to make a drawstring top, and then we sort of wrestled the plant into it and pulled the string snug to hold the bag in place. Then we piled leaves around the base for insulation, and we'll hope that keeps the plant warm enough to keep it alive until spring.

And with that, we are fully prepared for winter, indoors and out. When the wind kicks up and it's just too unpleasant to venture outside, we can snuggle up with our blankets and hot drinks without guilt, knowing that we've done our best to keep all the other critters on our property comfortable too.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Eggplant is the new black

For quite a few years, Brian and I have both been big fans of eggplant. It's not the most flavorful of veggies, but it makes a good carrier for other flavors, and it has a tender, melt-in-the-mouth texture. Brian had a handful of trusty eggplant recipes that he made over and over again, like grilled vegetable sandwiches, mujadara with eggplant, baingan bharta (Indian-spiced eggplant), pasta melanzane (pasta with eggplant, tomato, and mozzarella), and eggplant with string beans in garlic sauce. Every so often he'd try something new, like quinoa-eggplant salad, tofu with eggplant, or Thai eggplant with Soy Curls, but most of these recipes weren't interesting enough to make it into his regular repertoire.

Unfortunately, all his tried-and-true favorites had one thing in common: carbohydrates. Either they were themselves high in carbs, or they had to be served over a starchy bed of rice. So when I had my new reduced-carb diet thrust upon me, most of these old favorites became unusable. If Brian wanted to keep cooking with his favorite vegetable, he'd need to find some ways to work it into dishes that were lower in carbs and higher in protein and non-starchy vegetables.

So, in the past two weeks, Brian has developed a new use for eggplant: Put it in basically everything.

What he figured out is that eggplant's mild flavor and soft texture allows it to melt rather unobtrusively into the background of all kinds of other dishes. So if he wants to add more veggies to any existing recipe, throwing in some eggplant is an easy way to do it. In the past week alone, he's successfully added eggplant to both pad Thai and chili, boosting their non-starchy vegetable content without compromising their flavor. I could tell the eggplant was there — every now and again I'd come across a tender little morsel of something and go, "What's this? Oh, eggplant. Hm, interesting." But it had no significant effect on the meal as a whole. It was just...there.

So it looks like eggplant is going to become a staple food on our shopping list from now on. Rather than something we buy when we have a specific recipe in mind we want to make, it will be something that we always have on hand to throw into any dish that needs a little vegetable boost. It'll be an extra in the background of the crowd scene, rather than the star of the show.

Of course, I would like it if I could still find a way to enjoy some of our old favorites that use eggplant in a starring role, as well. But unfortunately, adapting those recipes isn't as simple as just increasing the proportion of eggplant to other ingredients. Because while eggplant can certainly be delicious, it isn't very solid. There's only so much of it you can cram into a sandwich or a bowl of pasta before it kind of loses its structural integrity. So in order to adapt our old eggplant dishes, we'll need to find lower-carb substitutes for the bread, pasta, and rice that used to provide the bulk of the meal. Cauliflower rice, maybe?

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Ecofrugality versus carb counting

This week, my life got a lot more complicated. Especially where food is concerned.

As I've mentioned here before, I've been making an effort lately to control my carb intake. My doctor advised me to avoid sugar and other low-fiber carbs and to balance out carbohydrates with protein and healthy fats, and I've been diligently following this advice. But after several months of this, my blood sugar was higher than it had been when I started. So she told me to see a nutritionist, and the nutritionist told me that I was going to have to start actually counting carbs. From now on—and, apparently, for the rest of my life—I have to make sure I don't consume more than 30 grams of carbohydrates at a meal or 15 grams for a snack. And on top of that, I'm supposed to balance out carb-rich foods at every meal with an equal volume of protein-rich food and, for lunch and dinner, double the volume of non-starchy vegetables. (I'm allowed occasional cheat meals, but not more than once a week.)

Add all of this to my preference for humane and low-carbon foods, and planning every meal has now become a puzzle with lots of pieces. And it's got me wondering: is it even possible to eat ecofrugally on a carbohydrate budget?

Back when I did the SNAP Challenge, one of the conclusions I reached was that a low-budget diet was heavy on grains and light on meat. And conveniently for me, a low-carbon diet was exactly the same, since plant-based foods have a much lower carbon footprint per pound than animal foods. But now, this type of diet is exactly what I'm not supposed to eat. The dietician gave me a list of carb-heavy foods I need to limit my intake of, and it includes most of the foods that used to form the bulk of my diet. Brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, quinoa, all kinds of beans, potatoes, popcorn, all kinds of fruit, even winter squash—all these foods I used to think were good for me are now "bad" foods that need to be rationed.

Meanwhile, a separate list shows the protein-rich foods I need to get more of. And they're nearly all animal products: eggs, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, shellfish, beef, lamb, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese. I can count beans and lentils toward my protein requirements for a given meal, but since they also count toward my carb quota, I can't eat more than a cup of them. She also listed plant-based protein powder as an option, but holy cow, have you seen how much that stuff costs? The brand she recommended, Nuzest, is $26 for 20 servings, and as far as I can tell, that's one of the most affordable options. I found some recipes for homemade protein powders, but they were all too high in carbs; for balancing out my carb intake, they'd be no better than beans or lentils, and considerably more expensive. Pretty much the only ecofrugal options on the list were eggs, tofu, and possibly some varieties of fish.

So it looks like I'm going to have to dial back my attempts to make my diet more plant-based. Replacing dairy milk with soy milk or almond milk is okay (in fact, the unsweetened varieties of both have fewer carbs than milk), but I'm certainly going to have to add back in at least some animal products. For instance, according to the recipe calculator at My Fitness Pal, our favorite vegan mozzarella has 10 grams of carbs and only 3 grams of protein per serving, so we'll have to go back to real mozzarella if we want it to serve as a protein source. And eggs, fish, and free-range chicken are all likely to play a much larger role in our diet moving forward.

These choices aren't that bad in terms of their carbon and water footprints, but they're all really expensive right now. The free-range chicken legs at Trader Joe's have skyrocketed from $2 to $6 per pound, and even the whole free-range chicken at Lidl is $4.50 per pound—nearly $25 for a 5.5-pound bird. Free-range eggs, which we used to find at Lidl for around $2.40 per dozen, have not been available there for weeks, and the best price we could find anywhere else was $3.50 per dozen. Fresh fish and seafood ranges from $5 to $15 per pound. 

Fortunately, I do have one big advantage: a husband who is willing to cook and bake for me. The changes Brian has already made to his bread and cookie recipes have made these foods considerably lighter in carbs than the standard versions. According to my "carbohydrate portions" handout, most breads have about 15 grams of carbs per slice, but when I entered his homemade fiber-rich bread (similar to this recipe, but with some adjustments in the proportions) into the calculator at My Fitness Pal, it came out to just 7 grams for a small slice. That means I can eat up to three slices for breakfast and still have 9 grams of carbs left over for a cup of (sweetened) soy milk in my cocoa. Likewise, his low-sugar chocolate chip cookies have just 6 grams of carbs each, so I can still enjoy one or even two of them for a snack (provided I supplement them with some extra protein.) But to work these miracles, he's had to invest in a lot of pricey ingredients like almond flour and flaxseed and a variety of low-carb sweeteners like stevia and xylitol, all of which jacks up our food bill still more.

But Brian is rising to the challenge.  In the the five days since I was given these new orders, he has plunged headlong into the low-carb fray. He adapted his cabbage and Soy Curl sausage recipe to achieve the proper balance of cabbage to soy to carbs (apples and roasted potatoes). He invented a new "hash" of eggs and green veggies, which we ate with his homemade bread. He dismantled a whole chicken, turning the thighs and drumsticks into our favorite Chicken and Rhubarb Sauce (accompanied by polenta and a large green salad) and the bones into stock. When the green leaf lettuce we bought for the salad proved to be rather tough and bitter, he perked up the leftover leaves by topping them with a new variation on vegan caprese. And even as I write this, he's constructing a chicken pot pie with an almond flour crust, using all the little extra bits of meat he strained out of the stock.

In short, eating ecofrugal on a carb budget is likely to be the biggest challenge I've taken up yet. It's already proving much harder to adjust to than the SNAP Challenge, the Live the Wage Challenge, or the Rationing Challenge—and unlike any of those, it's not something I can just wash my hands of at the end of a week. But on the plus side, that means if at first I don't succeed, I can try, try again. Rather than declaring it a failure, I can keep at it as long as necessary to make it a success.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Gardeners' Holidays 2022: Late Harvest

Autumn is now at its peak. The weather is pleasantly cool, the trees are ablaze with fall colors, and out in the garden, production is starting to wind down. We're still getting some tomatoes (mostly Sun Golds) and the odd handful of raspberries, but nearly everything else is finished. Brian is leaving the few Climbing French beans still growing on the trellis to dry so he can harvest them for seed to plant next year. And a frost warning a week or so ago prompted him to harvest and process most of the basil, zucchini, and peppers, along with all the tomatoes — blushing or not — that were reasonably large enough to harvest. So most of what remains is the stragglers: the cold-hardy parsley, the few tomatoes and peppers that survived that first frost, a few leeks, and a couple of tiny zucchini that may or may not get big enough to pick before the next frost hits.

Most years, our biggest crop in October is butternut squash. But this year, our squash crop is in an odd half-harvested state. The vines out in the garden itself have all died, but the volunteer plant out in the side yard is bigger and more rambunctious than ever. So, as a compromise, Brian decided to pick all the squash off the garden vines and the two fully ripe ones off the volunteer plant, while leaving the others on the vine in the hope that some of them will ripen before the frost gets heavy. Thus, we presently have a pitiful harvest of six squash — just one small squash off each of the four Little Dipper vines we planted and two larger ones off the volunteer plant, whatever variety it may be. And that's in spite of the fact that the volunteer got a much later start than the ones we grew from seed, only growing large enough to attract our attention around August. This is a truly pathetic performance for Little Dipper, which gave us eight squash from four vines last year and 21 the year before. At this point, I'm starting to feel like I won't particularly regret having to drop this variety next year when we replace Fedco as our seed supplier.

At the same time we harvested one crop, we planted another: the garlic. As I mentioned back in June, our yield of this has not been at all good this year either. We ended up getting just a couple of scapes and seven tiny heads, not even enough to sow for next year's crop. So we had to buy two new heads of hardneck garlic from the farmers' market at an exorbitant $2 each. Brian got a total of 15 cloves from those two heads and about 25 from the home-grown ones, and he planted the lot in the long bed in front of the fenced garden area, next to the rhubarb. This plot currently has asparagus in it, but we didn't get so much as a single spear off it this year, so Brian has decided to write it off and turn that spot into our new garlic patch. We'll hope the plants prosper a little better in their new home, away from the trampling feet of groundhogs and whatever else has been hanging out in our yard.

That's about all that's going on in the garden right now, which means we didn't have much in the way of home-grown produce to celebrate this Gardeners' Holiday with. We used a few of our home-grown tomatoes in the sauce for an Indian shrimp dish on Friday, and last night Brian tossed a couple of our peppers on the grill for some grilled vegetable sandwiches — kind of a last hurrah before the weather gets too cold for outdoor cooking. But today, the only thing I got to celebrate the transition to colder weather was a flu shot. Not as enjoyable as a butternut squash lasagna, perhaps, but probably better for me.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Recipe of the Month: Vegan Swedish Meatballs

Some months, I have to scramble to come up with a Recipe of the Month before I run out of days to post it in. I often have to make do with something that isn't really a brand-new recipe, but a variation on something we've made many times before, such as our favorite pasta a la Caprese. So it came as a pleasant surprise when this month, I actually found myself with numerous new recipes to choose from. 

Some of these were simply variants on older dishes. For instance, one night Brian tried tinkering with his usual recipe for corn bread, throwing in some almond flour and a little leftover tofu to make it less carb-heavy.

 Another evening, he altered a pasta recipe we'd made many times before, Cavatelli with Arugula and Dried Cranberries, by replacing the pasta with quinoa. (This worked surprisingly well.)

He also tried a new variant on the no-knead bread recipe he uses for our favorite Roasted Eggplant and Pepper Sandwiches. He'd already made this quite successfully with whole wheat flour in place of white, so he decided to take it a step farther and add all the extra ingredients he uses in my breakfast bread to make it healthier, including rolled oats, wheat bran, and flax meal. This made for a very heavy, chewy loaf that, unfortunately, didn't bake quite all the way through in the middle. But he thinks that was because he made the loaf too big, so it had too high a volume compared to its surface area. He plans to try it again using either a smaller batch of dough or a larger pot to cook it in.

A couple of other recipes we tried were brand-new, but fairly simple. For instance, a "Blue Hawaiian Shake" we discovered in the "mocktails" section of a mixology book had only four ingredients: blueberries, coconut cream, milk (we used soy), and ice. The result was more of a smoothie than a mocktail, but quite satisfying.

And then there were the little date balls Brian whipped up as a healthy snack for me — kind of like a homemade energy bar. These were a little less successful. The mixture of chopped dates, chopped walnuts, oats, and a little cocoa powder was reasonably tasty, but it didn't hold together very well.

But the most elaborate new recipe we tried this month was the Vegan Swedish Meatballs from It Doesn't Taste Like Chicken. This recipe caught my attention when it was first published at the end of August, so I printed it out and put it on the pile of ideas for future use. And this month, Brian fished it out of the pile and tried it.

This recipe was fairly involved. The author of the blog says she used canned lentils to make it, but we've never seen such a thing, so Brian had to cook the lentils before he could do anything else. And as it turns out, even in the pressure cooker, dry brown lentils take about 20 minutes to cook. Moreover, even though he used about three cups of water to one cup of lentils, it turned out to be not nearly enough, and the volume of cooked lentils he ended up with was much smaller than he expected. But having invested so much time already, he didn't want to backtrack and try making something else for dinner, so he forged ahead with what he had, combining the cooked lentils with wheat gluten and seasonings and pulsing it all in the food processor to form a "crumbly dough" — perhaps a bit more crumbly than intended.

After that, he had to form the dough into balls and steam them. This part of the process was also time-consuming: he had to bring the water to a boil first, then load the meatballs into a steamer basket and cook them for 25 to 30 minutes. (It might be possible to cut the time by starting to heat the water before preparing the dough.) And once that was done, he had to fry them in a pan with oil.

While the balls were steaming, he was working on the side dishes. IKEA always serves its meatballs with mashed potatoes, lingonberries, and a creamy gravy, but Brian decided to substitute oven-roasted potatoes (with skin) as a slightly healthier alternative to mashed. The meatball recipe included a creamy gravy, but it called for "vegan "beefless" broth or mushroom broth," which he didn't have. So he whipped up his own by simmering together about 1/4 pound of chopped mushrooms, a clove of crushed garlic, a teaspoon of nutritional yeast, and half a teaspoon of salt for about 20 minutes. Then he mixed this with the vegan butter and flour called for in the recipe, substituting coconut cream (which we had left over from the blueberry shake) for the "vegan culinary cream." And finally, he cooked up some green beans as a vegetable side.

Considering all the difficulties Brian had with these meatballs, they turned out surprisingly well, with an umami-rich flavor and a satisfyingly chewy texture. In fact, they were remarkably similar to the "plant balls" from IKEA — which is somewhat surprising, since they have almost no ingredients in common. (Their HUVUDROLL plant balls are made with "pea protein, oats, potatoes, onion and apple," so pretty much the only ingredient they share is onion.) They paired quite well with the lingonberries, potatoes, and beans. I found the gravy a little less successful, since the coconut cream gave it a distinct coconut note that didn't seem to me to fit in with the rest of the flavors in the dish. But it kind of grew on me after a while and I not only finished up my portion but even went back for one extra meatball, gravy included. And the hearty dish was satisfying to the tummy as well as the palate; I didn't find myself wandering back to the fridge for a snack later in the evening, the way I usually do a few hours after dinner.

Although we both enjoyed these vegan Swedish meatballs, I wasn't sure if it was worth making them again, considering the effort involved. However, Brian thinks they will go more easily next time. Being familiar with the recipe, he'll have a better idea of how long everything takes, and he'll be able to avoid problems like the too-small volume of lentils. So he plans to try it at least once more. It may be too elaborate a recipe to become part of our everyday rotation, but it will be nice to have in the repertoire for those slow, lazy weekends.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Small victories: Closing the clothing cycle

The ecofrugal life is not without its frustrations. One of them cropped up for me earlier this fall, when I discovered that my trusty lightweight coat — the one I've been wearing every spring and fall since 2009 — had developed a hole near the right shoulder too big for me to repair. (It was probably my purse strap rubbing on it for all those years that did the damage.)

Now, given that I bought this coat for a mere ten bucks at Goodwill and got roughly 25 seasons of use from it, you might say I have no real grounds for frustration here. But there was an additional wrinkle: after using the same coat for roughly ten years, I finally succeeded in finding a tailor to shorten the sleeves for me. This job cost me roughly $40, but it seemed justified given that the coat itself had cost so little to begin with and had served me so long already. I thought I'd probably be wearing it for another ten years at least, so it would be worth the expense to have it fit like it was made for me. And now, within a few years of making the investment, the coat had ceased to be presentable.

Adding to my frustration, I couldn't seem to find a decent replacement for it. True to my ecofrugal principles, I tried shopping secondhand first, but a search of two local thrift shops and several online ones turned up nothing suitable. I searched the sites of clothing retailers that got high marks from The Good Shopping Guide and Better World Shopper, but they either had no coats for sale or had none I liked as well as my old one. Some of them could have done an acceptable job, but they all would have cost me a minimum of $170, and my ecofrugal soul rebelled at paying that much for something that wasn't really what I wanted.

At the very same time I was having so much trouble finding a garment I actually needed, I was also having trouble getting rid of several that I didn't need. Some of these were in decent condition and could probably have been donated to the local thrift shop, but others were so old and worn they were fit only for textile recycling — something that we've discovered isn't that easy to do around here. There are a lot of places to drop off clothes in good condition for resale, but almost none that will take worn-out ones for repurposing.

With the help of the Helpsy website, I'd managed to locate a bona fide textile recycling bin within five miles of our house, but unfortunately it was in a direction we almost never go. We couldn't drop off our clothes there as part of our everyday errands; we'd have to make a special trip just for that purpose. So for a few months, these unwanted garments were just taking up space in a bag on my bedroom floor, and it wasn't until today that we finally got around to dropping them off. 

It was at this point that my frugal fashion luck started to change. Because, as it happened, the route to the textile bin took us right past the Goodwill store in East Brunswick — the very one where I'd bought my fall coat all those years ago. I'd mostly given up on going to this store, since its organizational scheme is such a mess that it's incredibly frustrating trying to find anything that fits. But since we were driving right by it, I figured it would be silly not to at least stop in and have a look.

The store was as disorganized as ever — so much that I nearly walked out empty-handed because I couldn't find the rack with the winter coats on it. But at last I located it and quickly started trying on coats right there in the aisle, not bothering to take them to the dressing room. And, amazingly, the third one I tried seemed pretty close to a perfect fit. The sleeves were a bit too long, but that was a flaw I could easily fix by just rolling them up. The price tag: $20, more than I'd paid for the old one (even accounting for inflation), but considerably less than any of the new ones I'd been considering.

So, after an unpromising start, this trip turned out to be the kind of ecofrugal victory that makes all the little frustrations seem worth it. In just one trip, I managed both to unload a bunch of garments I didn't want and acquire one I truly needed. My new-to-me coat is just as good as my old one, it cost less than one-eighth the price of a new one, and since it's secondhand, its green credentials are impeccable. And my old, unwanted clothes will now go on to new lives of their own. Perhaps some of them (the ones in good condition) will end up on thrift store shelves where they'll be just as great a source of frugal delight to some future buyer as this coat is to me. It's the ciiiiiiiiircle of clothes!