Sunday, July 26, 2015

Cooking with TVP



Oh TVP, what the hell are you? Most vegetarians, vegans, and maybe even a few omnivores have heard of TVP, but many many more are very confused as to what it is. TVP stands for Textured Vegetable Protein. If you've ever purchased fake bacon bits, they are made of TVP. Vegans from way back used TVP as a meat replacement, but as modernity has hit us, so has better alternatives for replacing meat in the meatless diet. The reason for this is that TVP can be very boring, and, if not cooked correctly, not very tasty.

I am in the camp, however, that TVP is a great staple to have around. It can mimic ground meat easily, is incredibly cheap (Bob's Red Mill makes it, and if you have a Natural Grocers near you, they have it cheap in their bulk section), and stores indefinitely. The trick is knowing how to work with it. Well, never fear! I'm here to help.

I use TVP as "meat" for spaghetti sauce, taco filling, biscuits & gravy, and a host of other things. So here's what you do.

Basic TVP "Meat Crumbles" Recipe

1 c. TVP granules
4 T. soy sauce (tamari or Bragg's works the same)
1 t. liquid smoke
1 1/2 T. coconut oil
1 t. pepper
1 c. boiling water

Put your water to boil on the stove. While that is working, put all the other ingredients (except the TVP) into a small bowl. When the water is boiling, add it and the TVP to the rest of the ingredients. Mix well and let sit for 10-15 minutes until the liquid is absorbed, and the granules are tender.

That's it! That's your basic recipe, and it equals roughly one pound of meat.  Now, here's how you go specific:

Italian Style TVP Crumbles

Add 1 t. each of granulated onion, paprika, along with 2 t. granulated garlic and 1 T. of Italian Seasoning to the "Meat Crumbles" recipe. Add to already cooked sauce.

Taco Style TVP Crumbles

Add 3-4 T. Mexican-style seasoning (or one packet of taco seasoning) to the "Meat Crumbles" recipe. Fry lightly in some oil and make your burritos, enchiladas, tacos, etc. If you add some to the Cheese Sauce recipe, posted in the recipes section here on my blog, along with some salsa, you have some nacho cheese dip for sinking some tortilla chips into. 

Sausage Style TVP Crumbles

This is perfect for pizza topping or biscuits & gravy. Add 1 t. each of rubbed sage, granulated garlic, granulated onion, red pepper flake, basil, and pepper, plus 2 T. of fennel seeds that you crack open with the back of a spoon. Fry lightly in oil and add to already cooked roux for biscuits and gravy, or put on pizza. 

If you want sausage patties, add a flax egg (3 T. water and 1 T. ground flax) and 1/4 c. to 1/3 c. of flour, and form into patties. Either fry in oil until brown on both sides, or bake in oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes per side.


I hope that helps solve your TVP dilemma, or at least inspire you to give TVP a try. My pantry wouldn't be complete without it!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Station Update

Good morning! It finally appears to be a day that might not be so swelteringly hot. During the hottest days of the year, I tend to 'seal' up the house the best I can by covering up the windows in dark fabric, rolling up a towels that I put down on door gaps, and running a few fans by the A/C vents. It helps a lot with my electric bill, but it can feel like perpetual night and sour our moods! In that sense, then, it will be nice to 'open' up the house today.

Anyway, I haven't worked on my latest book as much as I wanted to lately, mostly for reasons that you have already read about in previous posts. I really began again this past week with renewed vigor, laying down the plot of the book. It's moving right along again, but if there's anything else you know about me, it's that I never put a book out when I say I will.

Of course, now is the perfect time to catch up on my other books! If you haven't already, you can pick up my first book Cold right here, and my second book The Melody here, both are only $2.99 each! I can tell you that The Station will be my creepiest, most thrilling book yet, and I cannot wait for you to be able to read it!

And just to whet your appetite, here's another excerpt from my forthcoming book, The Station:

"He put his hand against the cold surface, running his fingers along the gouges. They had definitely been carved into it by human hands. The sides of the stone should have been covered in moss, but instead were black. He got down on his haunches to get a better look, and as he did, the whispering became a symphony of loudness and annoyance. He couldn’t ignore it, so he stood up. As he did, panic began to invade his body, and suddenly, he was scared.
            At that moment, a woman’s scream pierced the ungodly whispering and cut through his soul. The scream had come from no more than a few behind him. Every nerve in his body was on high alert and he had the distinct urge to run, but curiosity got the best of him. His mouth agape, he slowly turned to see what was waiting there. His heart was beating so fast that he feared it might beat out of his chest, and every hair on his skin was standing straight up.
            It took an eternity to turn the 180 degrees, but when he completed the turn, the owner of the billowy white cloth was standing five feet in front of him. It was the woman from his dream. The skirt of her ashen dress blew in the cold breeze, and that dreaded face from his nightmare, the one as black as night, was impenetrable by the light of the moon. He willed himself to run but his legs were frozen in place. He begged her not to come any closer, but it only came out as a murmur. “Please…please,” was all he could quietly manage. He couldn’t bear to look into that face again and see the empty void within.
           As suddenly as it seemed to begin, the whispering stopped. He didn’t move, she didn’t move, and the silence that surrounded them now was deafening. Again he willed himself to move with all the strength of his being, but before he could, something heavy struck the back of his head. He fell to the dirt floor of the clearing and then everything went black."



-H.A.

The preceding excerpt is copyright 2015 by H.A. Larson, who owns all rights to it.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Honesty


When it comes to the six traits that I admire most, honesty ranks right up there next to responsible, hard-working, funny, loyal, and motivated. It should be no surprise then that I have always been pretty open & honest with you. In my life, I've always strived to be true to myself, my family, and, you, my friends & fans. If I can't lay my soul bare when I need to the most, then when can I?

We all go through struggles in life, myself included, and by sharing my feelings I aim to do two things: show people that it's okay to talk about things that bother you, and, that by sharing your feelings you can begin to move forward from that which aims to hold you back.

I've never been a fan of Christina Aguilera, but she said something once that resonated with me: "What I am saying is there is nothing fake about what I do. I'm up-front, I'm real, I'm honest, and I'm open with my feelings." I related to her words, because that's exactly who I am.

The truth is, I don't know how to be anything other than who I am. I've never been a good liar, and I've never been able to pretend that I'm something I'm not. With me, what you see is what you get. Good or bad, like it or hate it, it is what it is.

With this starkness comes honesty. Sometimes I need to talk, to express myself, and as a writer, putting those feelings down in words is only natural. I'm not afraid to lay myself bare to others, because I don't derive any weakness from that. I think weakness is trying to hide behind a mask, only to watch that mask crumble under all the weight it's carrying.

Sharing my trying times has helped me to break free from the shackles of my feelings, and now things are moving on the upswing. So thanks for listening, and if you ever need me...I'm right here.

Have a fantastic day,

H.A.





Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Day Trip Adventure: Lincoln, Nebraska

Last Thursday, I took the kids to Lincoln, NE--our state capital--which is about an hour's drive from our home. I packed up a lunch and chose four free activities, for keeping within my ideal that adventure & fun doesn't have to cost money.

We started off at the Sheldon Museum located on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. While not large, it was very impressive. We started at a Henri exhibit, saw modern art, including the Mickey Mouse Warhol, and ended with a Willa Cather special exhibit.





This next one looks like it was taken down the stairs at the museum, but it's actually a painting. I thought it was great in its detail.



After the museum, we went to the Sunken Gardens. It was absolutely gorgeous! Many kinds and colors of flowers and foliage abounded, all surrounded by fountains, waterfalls, statues, lily ponds, and Koi fish.







We ate our lunch at the gardens, and then headed to the Capitol Building. It's an impressive structure filled with beautiful mosaic, marble, and murals.



We got a good view of this church as we walked to the entrance, and I thought it was a cool mixture of creepy and interesting.







Last, we visited Pioneer Park. It has a regular park with shelters, picnic tables, grills, and playground equipment, but there's more. Within you will find two nature centers, beautiful forested walking trails, outdoor play area, three wetland marshes, and an area to see bison, elk, & deer. Impressive indeed!







We had a fun day. I was pleasantly surprised by the free things there were to do that were truly momentous. I would recommend stopping in Lincoln for the day, or for a longer visit. It's definitely worth the trip!


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Confronting Ourselves



Recently, I've had to confront myself--and it's not the first time, you've heard me bring it up a few times this year already--and it definitely hasn't been easy.

I worked hard, back in April, to acquire a good-paying, part-time job working from home that was going to be all that and a box of chocolate. After about three months, I've come to realize that it wasn't even one piece of chocolate. On the outset, it seemed perfect. I would make nearly what I made working full-time at my previous job after taxes and deductions, I would be there for the kids when they needed me, I could work my own hours, and, most importantly, I could spend plenty of time working on my writing as well.

So what was it really like? Well, between never-ending dirty laundry, a messy house, one child constantly chanting "mommy mommy mommy" while watching loud television, and not being to live up to the job's expectations, I realized quickly that it wasn't working out the way I had hoped. I wasn't working much, and I sure wasn't writing much. Combine that with the money I wasn't making, the problems that that caused, and depression started to settle right in.

I guess it's that feeling of hopelessness that we moms can succumb to during the lean times. I know the lean all too well. I spent many years of my adult life being near poverty or in poverty that when I got myself out of that hole a few years back, I vowed never to return. The past few months has set me back and so I spent the last couple of weeks mired in depression and concerting thoughts.

Somewhere in all that I reminded myself of something. Lying in bed one morning willing myself to get up, my brain told me, "Get your ass out of this bed! You've dealt with so much worse, and you've lived so much harder. Instead of whining about it...do something about it!" I immediately thanked myself, got out of bed, and got busy.

I had renewed vigor and a sense of hope, but I had another demon to wrestle with: myself. When I first moved here, I was 30 years old and filled with a renewed sense of hope for a promising future (after fleeing a bad relationship): one that included my son and myself. I found myself in a string of jobs where I got treated poorly and so I would quit without warning to move onto what I hoped would be better. Years later, I became bitter about jobs, and so had a poor attitude about working any. Which made the work-from-home thing all the more painful.

I decided that not only did I need a career change, but I really needed a better attitude. I know I need to look towards my future, and that vision needs to be positive: after all, I've preached that enough times myself.
So, that's what I've done. I found myself a decent paying job, with good hours, and some really good benefits (something that in this day and age cannot be overlooked).

Now, I know that every day is not going to be perfect, but I can take comfort in the fact that I am employed, that I can make a decent life for myself and my kids, and I can once again look at the world through my 30-year-old eyes. I can also write, nothing will, or can, ever stop me from that.

Life is what you make of it. You can either choose to make it great, or you can choose to let it be the same. The choice is yours. I know which choice I've made, and it's wasn't just the choice to change my career path either. Sometimes, the choice we make to change our lives for the better starts from within.

I hope you have the greatest of days! I have another post coming soon about a day trip the kids and I took to our state's capitol.

Much love,

H.A.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Vegan with a Vengeance


Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of eating at Isa Moskowitz's Omaha restaurant Modern Love. For those of you who have no idea what that is, it's the only full vegan restaurant in town, and Isa just happens to be one of the most popular & famous vegan chefs. I ate at Modern Love a couple of times between January and February, before I was a full vegan, and I was blown away. It was the best restaurant food I had ever eaten, and it was vegan.

Now that I am a full vegan I decided that I needed a couple of good cookbooks to help me navigate my way through being a vegan. I first bought the Gentle Chef's books, and then I picked up the 10th Anniversary edition of Isa's Vegan with a Vengeance. The Gentle Chef is great and filled with ways to make your own 'butters', 'cheeses', 'creams', seitan, and seitan items, just to name a few. Isa's is great because it's the same kinds of foods I ate when I was an omnivore, but veganized, and I needed that.

I have now made six recipes out of Vegan with a Vengeance and they are all amazing! I highly recommend this cookbook to anyone who wants to start being a vegan, but even old-school vegans will enjoy this one. Isa is an amazing cook!  I especially recommend The Best Ever Pumpkin Muffins, and Brussel Sprout Fried Rice. This newer version of the cookbook has new photos, a few new recipes, and she has tweaked some recipes. 

Below are all of the dishes I've made from the cookbook except for pancakes.  :)



The Best Ever Pumpkin Muffins


Pomegrante BBQ Tofu with Brussel Sprout Fried Rice

Tempeh Reubens

Monday, July 6, 2015

4th of July


My best, but still blurry, photo from the Ralston fireworks Saturday night.



It's Monday, and I hope everyone had a wonderful, safe, and fun holiday weekend. One of my closet friends came over with her daughter, and we grilled a mixture of vegan & carnivore foods. For my end, I made carrot hot dogs, corn on the cob, and Maple-Mustard roasted veggies. This last item was a recipe I got from Isa Moskowicz's 10th Anniversary edition of Vegan with a Vengeance. The recipe called for potatoes and green beans, but I didn't have green beans. I did have a head of cauliflower that absolutely needed to be used, so I subbed it for the green beans, and it came out amazing. 

Later, after we had eaten, but before we consumed too many adult beverages, we headed down the road a few miles to a suburb to check out their fireworks display. We have gone to this particular town's fireworks for the last several years, and they never disappoint. I do have to say, that the amount of personal fireworks that people own has really grown! We saw so many fireworks before the BIG fireworks, that it was like having twice the show for the price of one.

Anyway, that was my 4th! Have a fantastic week!

-H.A. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Day Trip Adventure: Highway 75 to Indian Caves

As most of you already know, if anything, I'm about finding adventure, even if I can't stray far from home and/or don't have much money to spare. Yesterday was one of those days. I've been working towards paying off debts and trying to save, so not spending money can be a bit of challenge. I've also been keeping myself busy, and not driving around as much, both of which lend me to being more productive while spending less money. Anyway, I was feeling a bit cabin-feverish, and I know my kids especially were, so I decided to take a road trip going south on Highway 75. The idea was to stop at interesting points along the way, eat a picnic lunch, and then end up at Indian Caves State Park before heading home.


Our first stop on our journey was in Nebraska City, where we stopped at the Arbor Lodge State Historical Park where the famous Morton Mansion sits. The Morton family was the Morton salt family, and they were also famous for encouraging the planting of trees. Here's a view of the mansion from its right side.


Another view of the Morton Mansion from the left front corner. We had stayed at the Arbor Lodge before, and I've taken the kids to the Arbor farm, but we had never seen the mansion until yesterday. We may not have true castles in America, but we have fantastic old houses like this one.


Our next stop was in Brownville, NE, where we stopped at the old Captain Meriwether Lewis boat. It had a picnic area right on the Missouri River with a view of the bridge that crosses over into Missouri. I took this picture from our picnic table. It was a beautiful spot to eat a meal.


Right behind us was the old Captain Meriwether Lewis boat. It was part of the Army Corps of Engineers, but it appeared to be long since abandoned and even now closed to the public. I believe it used to be open to the public at one point in time.


Brownville, NE, was the first town settled/built in Nebraska. As a consequence, this very tiny town has plenty of old buildings, some of which have been preserved. This was the Stevens House built in 1862.



Just down the block and around the corner from the Stevens House is the Muir House. Robert Valentine Muir was the Treasurer for the Nebraska Settlement Co. and ran a sawmill & a ferry. He also published a newspaper I believe, and built this gorgeous home in 1868.



A view of the maintained gardens of the Muir House. Across the way is an old church that is now used as a concert hall. The town, as a tourist spot, has plenty of events, socials, and concerts throughout the warmer months.


This was a Settler's cabin in downtown Brownville that is mostly original, but has been partially restored.


After we left Brownville, it was just another 14 miles to our destination of Indian Caves State Park. I took this picture overlooking the hills and the Missouri River from a beautiful lookout point. Breathtaking! We really wanted to hike down to the namesake cave, but there was road construction and so the last few miles of the road leading to the cave were completely torn up & blocked by machinery. This bummed us out, but we got to walk around, see the Half-Breed Cemetery, and, of course, take in the views!


It seemed a perfect end to a perfect day to see a gorgeous, red, setting sun on its descent upon the horizon. We captured a few pictures from the car.

And there you have it, a little view into our fun day of adventurin'. If you're ever bored and need something to do, check around and see what kind of road trip you can take. Pack a lunch and hit the road...you might see something you've never seen before!