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January 22, 2017

Apple Butter Marinated Tofu

(marinating above and baked below)

I'm learning to prepare tofu in new ways, and to make it shine as the protein of a meal.  Recently the grocery store had a special on Ken's salad dressings, so I tried a few that I normally might not.  When stuck at home due to bad weather, I brainstormed with what I had on hand.  This Asian-inspired dish is tempered by the sweetness of apple butter, and the nuttiness of sesame seeds.  The sweetness of the apples made a great complement to the umami soy sauce in the dressing.  Let me know if you try it yourself!

Apple Butter Marinated Tofu

1 package Firm or Extra Firm Tofu, pressed
1/2 cup Parrish Pioneer Ranch Unsweetend Apple Butter (or other brand)
1/2 cup Ken's Steak House Lite Asian Sesame With Ginger and Soy Dressing
1/4 to 1/2 cup Toasted Sesame Seeds

Press the tofu under a heavy plate for 20 minutes to remove excess water.  Slice the tofu into four patties approx 1/2 inch thick.

Add the other ingredients to a small bowl and whisk. 

Place the tofu in a dish large enough to allow room around all the patties.  Drench with the dressing.  Cover the dish and allow tofu to marinate for several hours or overnight. 

Bake the tofu in the dish at 325 degrees for approx 40 mins, or grill.  I recommend baking over grilling as you can have more of the sauce in the pan with the tofu steaks.  Grilling will give a crispier skin, but less sauce.  Serve warm on salad greens or plain.

January 21, 2017

Mushroom Cauliflower Edamame Stew


Veggie stew in the crockpot on a rainy day in Los Angeles - this is our Southern California winter.  The pups are ensconced in blankets so tightly that I can't see even a whisker.  Netflix a classic movie like "Bridget Jones' Diary" and head to the kitchen for this hearty soup featuring cauliflower, edamame, and mushrooms.  


Mushroom ~ Cauliflower ~ Edamame Stew

1 bag riced cauliflower
1 bag shelled edamame
1 bag Trader Joe's frozen sliced Mushrooms in Olive Oil and Parsley
1 15 oz can Campbells cream of mushroom soup
1/2 box low sodium veggie stock
equal amount water
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp dried mustard
1 cube frozen minced basil

Microwave cauliflower in Pyrex bowl for 3-5 minutes till steamed.  Dump cauliflower in crockpot and use same bowl to roast mushrooms in oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.  If edamame are not pre-cooked, blanch them (I simply defrosted a bag). 

Place the veggie stock and cream of mushroom soup in a bowl.  Fill mushroom can with water and add to bowl with the spices (garlic, mustard, basil).  Whisk to combine. 

Use a crock pot liner bag for easy cleanup.  Add all the veggies to the crockpot and pour liquid over it.  Heat on low for 2-4 hours.  Ready to serve when warmed through.

January 20, 2017

Serial Starter ~ #52essays2017


I am a Serial Starter.  I tend to start project after project, leaving a trail of incompletion like litter in my wake.  On public radio today, the new "regime" change was being discussed.  Obama was praised for having cabinet appointments that were truly experts in their field, coming from academia and corporate America rather than politics.  But the point was made:  One can know all the facts about a country or situation, but if the person does not have bold vision, the appointment is or was still a bad match.  

I have an oversupply of Bold Vision.  I heard once that FDR was a true Renaissance man in that he knew enough about any subject to make his guest comfortable chatting about their interests, whatever it may be, for at least a few minutes.  I always aspire to that level.  In that fashion I am enthralled with how to do anything.  Thus I pick up any craft long enough to figure it out, then leave the project unfinished in my living room, moving on to the next.  I start project after project, and I always have to do it with the proper tools, so I collect those too.


There are never enough hours in the day to complete all my grand aspirations.  These have included:  aforementioned craft kits and projects, Toastmasters (working towards my Competent Communicator award), taxes, insurance claims, job listings regarding my freelance career, going back to school. 

So what holds me back?  Firstly, fear.  The fear of what will happen if I truly give a situation my all, and it's still not good enough.  I am a born Virgo and a perfectionist.  I can complete a craft, throw away the pattern, and no one will know the flaws in the project, but I will.  I have to let go of my expectations and enjoy the process of learning and personal growth. 

Secondly, time management.  I hold many roles, and have no partner with which to share household duties.  My career is my own to make as a freelancer, which means I have two jobs:  working, and looking for work, simultaneously.  I have no problem setting priorities but am frequently overly ambitious.  I make lists, relish in crossing them off task by task.  Since I can't add more hours to my day, I have to give myself more credit for the things that are completed.

Thirdly, accountability.  I live alone and work on a freelance basis.  Unless I am actually at work, very little of my life is observed by anyone.  My home can be well organized but have way too much stuff, as I am the only one who has to view it.  And if I don't talk about my hobbies, no one knows of them.  So I am calling on myself for accountability, and it doesn't even have to be to another person.  I use my blog to report to the world what I'm up to, even if no one's reading it. 

In 2017 I have but one resolution:  to finish things; just do it, put it away and put it behind me.  I'm starting this by completing my Competent Communicator, or CC, in Toastmasters, and by blogging regularly.  I'm no longer putting off exercising but rather sucking it up and getting it over with.  Taking my new resolve to follow through as a simple mantra will make this my year.  

January 12, 2017

#52 Things You May Not Know About Me ~ #52essays2017

 #52 Things You May Not Know About Me for #52essays2017

1.  I have jumped out of a plane, once, on my eighteenth birthday.
2.  I have been certified as an EMT basic.
3.  I have held a green card to fight forest fires for the forest service.
4.  I have visited Russia.  It's really the only time I've been out of the country, except for Tijuana.
5.  I served a year as an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer working in homeless services in Los Angeles in the middle of college.
6.  I volunteered for Literacy Volunteers of America and taught two seniors how to read.  
7.  I have never liked the taste or idea of meat, even as a toddler.  I couldn't fathom eating flesh.  I came up with lots of ways to get out of it, except for the summer I first learned to "cook" using a microwave to heat up hot dogs while my mom was at work.  8.  I love to cook and especially bake.  I can't stand most spicy/hot food.
9.  I was a lifelong 4-Her, and then 4-H leader.  I have participated in many county fairs and summer camps.
10.  My family relocated four times when I was between 9-18 years old, nearly every two years throughout middle and high school.   This made me great at being the "new kid" in a crowd.  I was born in the suburbs of Chicago, but Southern California has felt most like home.
11.  I was raised Catholic, and went to a Catholic high school, where I learned too much about religion to be a proponent of any one.
12.  My brother and sister are seven and nine years older than me.
13.  My grandpa owned a Pepsi plant in Southern Illinois.  I was raised on soda pop, but I don't keep any soda in my house now.  In the 1930s-50s my family had our own soda line and family label.  The plant was sold when my grandfather got sick with cancer in the mid-eighties. 
14.  My favorite color is brown, and I like sunset-y shades like gold, orange, and scarlet.
15.  I played piano as a kid and wish I still had one.
16.  I have been a bunny mama, which inspired my love of pets.  I have re-homed my bunnies, for their own good, when I moved into a new house which had no air  conditioning in the heat of summer and couldn't take care of them as they deserved.
17.  I became a dog mom, when I was gifted a puppy as part of a location payoff for a film shoot.
18.  I rescued a dog from a shelter, who was turned into the shelter when her owner went to jail.
19.  I was certified with that dog as an animal-handler therapy dog team to visit nursing homes and hospitals with my pup.
20.  I learned so much about veterinary medicine from my pups, who have dealt with back issues, kidney disease, bladder stones, worms, and other mysterious maladies necessitating both western and holistic treatments. Most of all I have learned to be their advocate.
21.  I've fostered about five dogs for a dog rescue.  Only one has been a "foster failure."
22.  I put on monthly fundraiser events for the rescue from whom I got my puppy.
23.  Though the internet has changed my means of consumption, I will always be a bookworm.  My favorite book of all time is "Watership Down." 
24.  I once owned a condo for several years, and even hung onto it as a rental when I left the state.  Due to the high cost of housing in CA, I haven't owned since. I've lived alone most of my adult life.
25.  I have landscaped a yard myself from scratch, including the building of a patio, the design, and the installation of plants and pathways.
26.  I collect Amaryllis bulbs.   I also love Dahlias and other bulbs.  If I plant seeds, I tend to think they're weeds and dig them up when they sprout.  But I do well with tubers.
27.  I have a Bachelor of Arts in Film Studies from the University of Utah.  "Film Studies" is watching a film and being a critic, as opposed to "film production," which is how to load a camera and make a movie. 
28.  I work as an assistant director in film and television.  I applied for the training program five times before I got in, including once where I made alternate.  I did 400 days in my apprenticeship to get into the union but was already a first AD in the third area before I got into the training program.  I got my start on the television show Touched by an Angel in the nineties.  I worked as a grip and as craft service before I was a set p.a.  I love the predictability of the process of filmmaking - blocking, lighting, rehearsal, shooting - but the freshness of each day's work, along with the camaraderie of cast and crew.  I've worked with a lot of different stars but I don't tend to talk about them.
29.  I am fairly good with navigation and usually know where I'm going.  Filming in different parts of the city has helped me to know my way around. 
30.  I have asthma and allergies, which lead to frequent sinus infections and bronchitis.  I take about five pills daily but I am not defined my illness or condition.  I like to hula hoop and walk but I'm bad at gyms and indoor exercise. 
31.  I have my certification as a Health Coach from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition.  When I retire from the film business I would love to be a nutritionist.
32.  I maintain an ETSY shop, with vintage pyrex and craft items.
33.  I did a lot of leaded and copper foil stained glass in college, and wish I had time to do more.
34.  I've decorated several floats for Tournament of Roses parades.
35.  I've served as an election clerk.
36.  I love to do pet photography with my dogs, and would love to make it a side business with other people's small pets.
37.  I've been published as a freelance writer for a magazine. 
38.  I've been to Antiques Roadshow several times.  I love garage sales and thrift shops.
39.  Cross stitching is one of my most relaxing hobbies.  I take needlepoint projects wherever I go.
40.  I love kids, but I don't have any of my own.  I babysit for friends fairly regularly.
41.  I love road trips, and traveling in general, though pets and finances sometimes make that difficult.  I love to play host too whenever friends or family come into my city.
42.  I'm active on facebook.  It lets me keep in touch with work contacts, family and friends in other states from so many moves and activities.  I have lots of friends from blogging and pet pages that I haven't met in person, and some that I have met only after becoming friends online.  These are joyful reunions!
43.  I can't drive a stick shift.  I had my brother's old car as my first car and I burnt the clutch out within six months.
44.  I'm Mac-proficient and love that my devices can talk to one another.  Everything I know about computers, websites, blogging, photo editing has been self-taught.
45.  "Law and Order" reruns are still the best thing on television. 
46.  I'd like to build a "Tiny House," a la Tiny House Nation.  I have lots of design ideas but don't want to shell out the time or money until laws make it legal to own and park such a dwelling.  Right now they're outlawed in most jurisdictions.
47.  I'd like to retire in Italy, even though I've never been there.  First, I'll have to learn the language. 
48.  I tend to be straightforward in my speech, interactions, and writings.  But I do see shades of gray in life and thoughts.  Sometimes my bluntness is a benefit, sometimes it is a negative. 
49.  The most difficult thing I have ever done is to let go of my first dog, Chance, when he was ten years old, with the help of a vet, this last October.
50.  I am giving my tenth speech in Toastmasters next week, which will qualify me for my first CC award, "Competent Communicator."  After three CC's one becomes a DTM, "Distinguished Toastmaster."
51.  I have had a blog for eight years, but I don't consider myself a writer.  There are now 140 blog posts with the tag "recipe" on my blog.  I also talk about crafts, events, frugality, and will start including some essays.
52.  I am pushing my boundaries by joining #52essays2017.

January 11, 2017

Needle Felting with Crunchy Crafters Meetup


Last night, I took a fun class on needle felting in Pasadena through the Crunchy Crafters meetup group.   Ginko, the group's founder, was our instructor.  She put together kits and shared her talent with us, teaching a little penguin buddy that she had designed to be used as a Christmas ornament.  The six women who attended were so diverse and each inspiring with all their talents and interests. 

My little guy clearly channeled Opus as I designed him.  I think it takes practice to become as purposeful and whimsical as Ginko.  Her cute little samples are below.


Ginko also brought another project to show us the simple charm of needle felting.  Her little snowman features a scarf made from a piece of a real scarf or sweater that was being discarded.  Ginko pointed out how easily upcycling can figure into felted projects.


We met at a small cafe in Pasadena where Ginko does a chalk mural on the wall on a regular basis.  She's clearly talented with design.



The directions for our penguins were pictured step-by-step on a postcard, as well as written out in front of us.  Ginko demonstrated how to measure out wool by weight in grams, then took us through the construction at each stage.



We started with plain un-spun wool, and used a special barbed felting needle to bind the fibers together by poking in a straight up-and-down motion at a ninety degree angle.  Deeper plunges with the needle are used to attach, while repeated short jabs shape the material by compacting it together.

The core of the shape can be sped up by making a "form" of natural yarn rolled into a ball or egg.  I then added the black wool over the entire body by first stretching the fibers to form an evenly thin consistency, sort of a sheet.  From this a bit was ripped off at a time, covering small portions of the body at a time until the entire surface was black.



The eyes were the first detail to be added, then the belly.  The beak was formed by folding the wool into a triangle and shaping the beak on the form block separately, then attaching to the body.


At the end of our two hour class, my little guy was short one wing.  I finished him at home and added eyebrows to improve his expression. 


I'm so glad I discovered this meetup! I learned something new, and came away with a tangible item, as well as a new skill, new friends, and something I can teach my 4-H kids in their craft project that they can then enter into the county fair--what more could I ask for?

January 9, 2017

Tea that will Change your Day


One way that I took care of myself this holiday season, since I didn't spend money on long distance travel, but also was without my family, was to make sure I had some yummy and comforting teas available to me.  
 I've bought these flavors in the store more than once, and they come in wonderfully decorative tins that I've repurposed to hold other items.  When I went to buy more this time around, my store was out.  This prompted me to get smart, and look on the internet, straight for the source - Harney & Sons Fine Teas.  When I found them online, I was shocked to find that they sold what are meant as refills - the same tea, in larger quantities, without the fancy packaging, for a MUCH cheaper price! 

I raced to put a huge bag of Chocolate Mint tea and Hot Cinnamon Spice tea (the same as the one in the tin labelled Hot Cinnamon Sunset).  Now I am restocking the tins I keep out in view in my kitchen, and I am prepared for every winter cold that comes my way.

January 8, 2017

Mom's Chinese Eggs & FBLA's January Meeting with Burmese Cooking Demo


Where there used to be hunter-gatherers, there are now grazing-snackers, of which I am one.  So my favorite recipe category is often that of appetizers.  When called upon to bring an Asian-inspired dish to the Food Bloggers Los Angeles' January potluck meeting, my mom's familiar "Chinese Eggs" came to mind.  She makes them whenever she's entertaining with appetizers, and always on Christmas eve, when we graze without a formal meal while opening presents as a family.

The smell of these eggs as they simmer for two hours in a broth of soy sauce and sherry fills the house with its pungency.  Having a distaste for all things "meaty" when I was young, I steered away from eating the eggs, but I still associate them with "fancy" adult parties and holidays.  I was excited to approach them with a fresh attitude this weekend and found I liked the flavor.



Food Bloggers Los Angeles' January meeting today centered around a Burmese cooking demo by Soe Thein, author of the blog Lime and Cilantro


"Besan" is another name for finely ground chickpea flour, the basis for Burmese tofu, which is different than soybean-based tofu, known as bean curd in Burma.  Soe demonstrated the process of making chickpea-based tofu, a garlic oil dressing, and a typical Burmese cabbage salad that is posted on his blog.  He also brought his own vegan substitution for fish sauce, and made both salads in vegan and regular (with fish sauce and shrimp flakes) versions. 



Our beautiful table, and a sampling of the pot luck items made by the fourteen attendees:


Patty Rose of Fresh Food in a Flash brought homemade crackers she'll be teaching in a class this week.


Nancy Eisman, author of Melissa's Produce Plant-Based 411, brought a coconut dessert using agar agar, a binder derived from seaweed.  



 Chinese Red Cooked Eggs

8 Eggs
1 Cup Soy Sauce
1/2 Cup Dry Sherry
3 Tbsp. Sugar
4 Thin Slices Ginger Root
2 Sticks Cinnamon
2 tsp Whole Cloves
2 tsp Grated Orange Rind

1.  Let eggs reach room temperature.  Hard boil and cool until able to handle.2.  Tap egg shells lightly all over to crack shells but do not peel.
3.  Return eggs to pan and add all ingredients.  Add water to cover eggs and bring to a boil.  Simmer 1 1/2 hours.  Cool to room temperature.  Refrigerate in liquid (with broken shells on) several hours and/or up to several days.
4.  Peel eggs and drain & discard liquid at serving time.  Slice eggs in wedges and serve.

my simmering pot (double recipe)

the finished product

January 6, 2017

"Home Tweet Home" ~ Burbank Tournament of Roses Float 2017


One of the highlights of my Los Angeles Christmas season is working on the Rose Parade float for the Burbank Tournament of Roses.  Six floats in the parade are "self-built," meaning completely community funded and community built, with no corporate sponsorship or professional assistance.  Burbank is one of the six, and competes for a special award within this category.  2017 marks my fifth time volunteering during "Deco Week," the intense final preparations in the days immediately proceeding the parade where the flowers are applied. 

The best part of working on the float is working with friends, both old and new.  Each year I seem to take one more friend with me who has never done it before.  This year it was my friend Molly and her mom, who was in town from out of state for the holidays.  We went down a few days before Christmas, when the team was in paint mode and most volunteers hadn't started yet, and were able to get a personal tour of the float and barn, including the areas where the driver and observer sits.  Molly and her mom were so impressed they came back the next week to volunteer.

Our wonderful host gave us lots of float history, and I learned that the driver has no vision of the road in front of him.  There's actually a line painted in the middle of the road especially for the parade.  The float drivers look down at the open road below their feet, and steer so as to stay on the path of this painted line, thus keeping the float in the middle of the parade route.  The observer rides towards the front of the float, and has their own brake which they can operate in the event of an emergency, such as a parade viewer falling into the road. 

I was lucky enough to work with my friends Wendy and my neighbor Cleo this year, and made new friends along the way, both locals and folks who came into town from hundreds of miles away just to work on a Rose Parade float as a lifelong "bucket list" goal. 


The Burbank float is designed each year by a community member and selected through a rigorous competition voted on by association members.  This year's float design centered on a group of birds collaboratively building a new home for their fledgling family.  It's one of my favorite float designs but by its nature much of the work on the actual float had to be done on ladders or platforms, limiting the amount of people working on the float itself.  Many volunteers were working on pieces of the float on the ground before they were attached to the float itself.  This also limited the "assembly line" nature of some float designs, which slowed the process somewhat. 


I was able to volunteer three or four days during deco week this year, including about seven hours on New Years Eve.  I left a few minutes after eleven p.m. New Year's Eve, arriving home just in time to ring in the new year with my pups.  I took a few pics each day I was there, and enjoyed seeing the progress as the float changed each day I helped.  My first job was to apply salmon lentils to petals  that formed details on the house.  I didn't even know where these parts were to be used until I saw the final float!


The next time I went down, I worked to outline the letters on the weather vane.  The vane had been completed and assembled but it was decided it needed more contrast to make it stand out, so I had to apply white rice to the edges of the black letters in a vertical plane, as the assembled weather vane couldn't be laid down.  This type of painstaking attention to detail happens every year.  The "E" and the "S" took me about three hours. 



I also got to "mumm" the bodies of the birds, in particular a green bird with a white circle on his belly (in the first picture of this post).  One side of the float is known as the "camera side" as this is the side exposed to the media as it passes along the parade route.  Unfortunately my little green buddy was not on the camera side, but he received careful attention nonetheless. 



By the last time I went down to the float on New Years Eve, we were down to petaling the bird's wings with individual rose petals.  I worked underneath a bird to do the underside of his tail from a seated position on the ground, and did two or three more bird's wings with a team of volunteers. 


 It's so much fun to see the float come together as a sum of all its individual parts.  I missed the final judging on Sunday, where all the parts are animated, as I had to babysit this year, so I didn't get my own photos or video.  But I can see each piece that has my handiwork and admire how much was put into the float by all the volunteers.




I watched the parade comfortably from my living room, snuggled with my pups and enjoying a special breakfast.  It's fun to cheer as I see a float I know intimately come down the street!   The parade was held on Jan 2nd this year, as the first fell on a Sunday.  Pasadena has a prohibition against parades on Sundays dating back to the days of horses, so this provided everyone in the parade with an extra day to decorate.  Sadly, this year was the first since 2009 that Burbank did not receive an award.  Still, our float was whimsical and fun as it traveled down the boulevard.


I kept my tradition of buying a sweatshirt from each year I've volunteered.  I get stopped with questions all the time when I wear them and have fun educating people that they too can be involved. 


January 5, 2017

Homemade Cranberry Sauce and Acorn Squash Stuffed with Cranberries and Chestnuts



My blog is a great creative outlet and hobby for me that spotlights the new and fun aspects of my life.  However, I don't often talk about how other bloggers influence me.  This year a friend helped make my holiday special.

I spent the holidays of 2016 in Los Angeles, away from my family.  I wanted to do something special for myself but without a lot of muss and fuss. I saw a posting on facebook around Thanksgiving by my foodie friend Sue Burns, who writes the blog It's Okay to Eat the Cupcake.  A recipe for a homemade cranberry sauce, it was a simple facebook posting, not an elaborate blog post; but the photo caught my eye, and the fact that it was simple enough to be written up in a couple of sentences fit my holiday agenda.


I've never liked cranberry bread and generally steer away from them, but the fact that I made this sauce myself allowed me to flavor it to taste.  And the citrus in the recipe convinced me that it would be sweet, not tart.  I added cardamom to Sue's recipe for a bit of warmth.  The sauce was fun to watch bubble and pop as the cranberries boiled and softened into a thick mixture.  



To balance the sweet/tartness of the cranberry sauce, I served it stuffed in a roasted acorn squash, and added the holiday garnish of roasted chestnuts.  It made for a beautiful and special holiday presentation as a meal for one, but would easily work with a crowd. 


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