Friday, January 30, 2009

Follow the Drinking Gourd

I checked out Follow the Drinking Gourd from the library for our NC trip. We didn't listen to it until we arrived home, but now we are hooked. Josie asks for the CD for naps and to fall asleep to at night. She even fell asleep without fussing with Rob Monday night while I was at a WEFT board meeting and that NEVER happens. Thanks to Morgan Freeman and this magical audio book, getting Josie to sleep is a breeze. It is overdue, but I don't care...I can't return it until we buy a copy. The story is simple and pretty short. It is about a slave family running away to freedom by following the north star. Freeman's voice combined with the music and singing is addicting to Josie. I find myself singing "follow the drinking gourd" during the day to is pretty catchy. It is quite cute because she will even ask for this CD when she tucks her dolls into bed for a nap. She is smitten. Oh yes, the boys enjoy it too.

Fuck Cancer

I don't usually cuss on my blog, but cancer deserves all the profanity we can throw at it. There is a wonderful person dying of cancer in a house a few houses away from me and her strong, lovely sister is caring for her. I watched my mother die from cancer almost seven years ago in her 50s. I empathize with what Cynthia and her family is going through. It sucks. It sucks to watch someone you love and who has so much more life to live being taken from you by this horrible disease. It sucks to be grateful for morphine. It is hard to see life going on around you as someone you love is losing theirs.

In a world with cancer, why do we humans feel the need to wage war and cause more death and destruction. There are plenty of diseases which we have no control of which are horrific enough...why must we cause more horror? Why can't we spend the money we are currently spending on war, on a cure for cancer or food for starving children? Life is tough enough and oh so fleeting, why do we insist on making it tougher?

I want my mother back, I want Rob's mother back, I want Judi to live.

Fuck cancer.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Brain Food

People often ask about unschooling (the term used by some for the homeschooling philosophy we tend to gravitate toward) and how it works. A few weeks ago, I was making breakfast with the kids and I thought "this is a perfect example of unschooling, I should blog about it". So here you go...

Life is learning, learning is life. Food is needed for life so food is a catalyst for learning. Vegan food is yummy, good for the Earth, compassionate, and fun, especially pancakes...wait, where was I going with this? Oh yes...

This is how it unfolds, in our completely scheduled and rigid (not!) life. I head downstairs in my pjs thinking it is probably a good time to cook something. As I daydream about what I could prepare for breakfast, I hear the patter of little feet. I'm followed pretty closely by my eight year old, Parker, carrying my 16 month old (after he has helped her go to the potty). Parker asks what is for breakfast and if he can help. I ask him to decide and the shout from behind him (my four year old, Dema, snuck in at some point without me noticing) "PANCAKES!!". "Okay", I say, "if you guys make them and double the recipe". Parker reads the ingredients out loud to Dema and he and Dema work together to double all the measurements (lots of fractions which Parker explains to Dema). Dema and Josie take turns pouring everything into the bowl. While they are doing all the work. I ask them questions about what nutrients they might be getting from the pancakes and that leads to them adding blueberries and raspberries with a side of grapes since we are all in agreement that pancakes are not one of the most nutrient dense foods one could eat. Dema asks questions about baking powder and baking soda and how the ingredients interact to create a pancake. Parker asks about the origin of pancakes and what other cultures eat them. Josie has a great time holding the measuring tools carefully and waiting for Dema's okay to dump them. We watch observe and discuss how the pancakes change when the cold blueberries are added to the warm batter while they cook and how the insides of the cooked pancakes without fruit differ from the ones with. As we wait for the pancakes to cook, the kids sing songs together (it just happens to be US history sentences). The boys ask what the Latin word for pancakes is, but I can't find a Latin word for pancakes so they play with the Latin words they do know. We did find out that "plancenta" is "cake" and since the boys know all about plancentas (one of the great learning benefits of homebirth), this spurred another interesting conversation.

The pancakes and fruit disappear. We all had fun and we covered some reading, math, health, world studies, science, history, home ec, language, biology, reproduction, and music before we even finished breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Coconut-Curry Rice and Collards

Another great tester recipe from Robin Robertson's new cookbook due out later this year. Coconut-Curry Rice is quick, simple, yummy, and inexpensive. I am a sucker for anything with coconut and/or curry so this recipe felt like home to me. I think it would be great with quinoa too (shown here with brown rice). The garlicky collards was a perfect companion for the curry.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Car Crash Casserole

I made Upside Down Shepherd's Pie from My Veggie Kitchen to take to my cousin Nancy's the day we were hit driving home. I had the dish on my lap with the leftovers in it when we were hit. I remember thinking is sort of a strange dazed sort of way when I looked down after the impact how interesting it was that all the food had ended on on the left when we were hit on the left side. Rob remembers wondering what hit his arm during the crash and he realized it was the casserole dish. The kids were very worried that we left the casserole in the car when we were given a ride home (we were sweetly given a ride home...all five of us...from someone at the scene and I didn't feel like saying "wait, I must get our leftovers out of the mangled wreckage of our car before we leave"). So now this dish has become forever in my mind "Car Crash Casserole". Now, I don't want that to keep you from making it because it is darn yummy so you can call it whatever you wish. I've changed it quite a bit from Matt's already excellent recipe so I am actually giving you my recipe, but go on over to My Veggie Kitchen and check out the genius which was my spring board. I don't give recipes often because I usually look through blogs or cookbooks for inspiration and even though I rarely stick to other people's recipes, I hate to reprint when I've only made a few changes. In this case, I feel like I've changed enough, but as I said, Matt's post was definitely the inspiration. I also used some of the seasoning from Vegan with a Vengeance's Punk Rock Chickpea Gravy (which I don't think I've actually ever crazy is that?) This is for my sister, Karen, who complained (nicely) that I rarely post recipes on my blog.Car Crash Casserole:

6 cups mashed potatoes* (honestly, I have never measured...enough mashed potatoes to cover the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13 casserole dish...I usually use 7 - 10 potatoes depending on the size and I have some left for the kids to chow down on while they wait for the casserole to cook)

3 tbs Earth Balance (you could also use olive oil, I have an it was fine)
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 pinches ground cumin
2 pinches paprika
pinch dried rosemary (crumbled in your fingers)
pinch dried thyme
pinch dried oregano
pinch ground coriander
3 tablespoons tamari (you can omit, but up the sea salt a bit)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 bunch kale (de-stemmed and cut into strips)
1 cup broccoli florets (I still chop them up for ease in eating for the kids)
1/4 lb mushrooms, sliced (I've omitted when I didn't have mushrooms on hand)
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup frozen corn
2 large carrots (chopped)
1 can chickpeas, drained (or your favorite bean...cannellini works well too)
2 cups vegetable broth (I also use 1 cup veg. broth and 1 cup cooking water from the potatoes)
1/2 cup soymilk (is fine without or use your favorite non-dairy milk)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper

**"Crunchies" for topping

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Melt Earth Balance (or heat up olive oil) in a sauce pan (I use a 10 in. cast iron skillet). Add onion and mushrooms (if using) and saute until soft. Stir in garlic, broccoli, and spices, and cook until garlic is aromatic. Add the flour, stirring constantly for a minute or two. Add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently until the sauce thickens. Turn heat to low.

Spread mashed potatoes in a lightly greased 9 x 13 casserole dish, spreading the potatoes evenly over the bottom and up the sides. Pour in the filling. Bake for 45 minutes. Take the dish out of the oven and sprinkle the crunchies evenly over the top of the casserole (you might want to do a light sprinkling or pile it on...up to you). Bake for another 5 minutes, but not too long or the topping will burn.

Try different vegetable and bean combos. I do highly suggest having at least two green vegetables and the more colorful the better tasting.

*Mashed Potatoes
I'm guessing you all know how to mash potatoes, but here is what I do. I bowl the sliced potatoes for about 20 minutes, drain (saving the liquid), and mash with a hand masher with a handful of nutritional yeast, fresh ground pepper, and sea salt. If it needs more liquid, I add the reserved liquid from boiling the potatoes. Sometimes I add red pepper flakes, minced garlic, non-dairy milk, etc.

**Garlic Bread Topping (or Crunchies):
1 tablespoon olive oil (you may want more)
2 cloves minced garlic
1/4 cup bread crumbs (I've made it without bread crumbs...the pumpkin seeds and walnuts are the important part, in my opinion)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup chopped pumpkin seeds
red pepper flakes to taste

Heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet on low/medium low heat, add the garlic and saute for couple minutes then add the remaining ingredients and mix together and serve over pasta (or if you are like Rob just eat it with left over sauce and don't wait for any pasta).

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My Boys are Push Overs

I love the hands on the hips...sort of completes the picture.
I don't know if this will serve them well or not as they get older, but my boys are quite the little push overs for their female friends. I've seen this with local friends and now here is some evidence from our weekend spent with their cousin, Lillian. I adore Lillian and wish we lived closer so the kids could see each other more than a time or two a year, but it is interesting as parents of boys for almost nine years and a girl for only sixteen months to see the gender differences. Girls tend to like to direct play more than boys do. You often see boys (this is a generalization of course and I can already think of two friends who are male who also have this trait so don't attack me over this) playing a game and no one is "in charge". They go in and out of the game and no one seems to mind and there doesn't have to be a is almost "parallel play", but more interactive.In this picture you can see Lillian behind Dema after she put the finishing touch on his head.

When girls get involved, or many of the girls my boys play with including their little sister, it seems the boys are now just pawns in the master plan of the mind of the female. A little like grown-up life, perhaps?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Audio Book Review

I haven't done a book review in a while and since we just got back from a long car trip during which we listened to several audio books, I decided a book review was in order. Now I'm distinctly reviewing these books as audio books because some books lend themselves to being read aloud and some do not.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo and read by Graeme Malcolm
We, especially P
arker, fell in love a while ago on a car trip with Because of Winn Dixie by DiCamillo. I reviewed this book in a previous post. I had seen The Tale of Despereaux at the library, but never picked it up. Then my sister took the boys to see the movie when it came out, but again I didn't pay much attention. I was quickly picking out audio books from our local library an hour before we left for our trip and I grabbed this one. I am so glad I did! We all thoroughly enjoyed the book. Okay, truth be told, Josie did not really enjoy it because she prefers classic rock so we had to listen to music until she fell asleep and then we put on Despereaux. Warning, this is not happy little book and there might be some parts which are scary to some children. Graeme Malcolm really makes this book an enjoyable listen. He totally nailed the different characters and made it quite entertaining. Parker said the movie was better because it wasn't as violent, but he gave the audio book a thumb up. The kids wanted to keep The Tale of Despereaux for another listen after we returned home. The version we checked out was unabridged so it was perfect for a long car ride. Since this is a vegan blog, I will warn you this is not a vegan book and could be upsetting for the rat lovers out there. The rats are the villains and there is talk of eating and killing. There is even child abuse. Okay, I'm not selling the book, am I? You just have to hear it. The way it is done is quite funny and entertaining and there might even be a lesson or two thrown in. It is a fairy tale through and through. None of the characters are perfect and none completely flawed (okay some of them are very, very flawed, but somewhat lovable at the same time), but they are enchanting and just believable enough for the listener to care about them, but larger than life enough to be funny.

Charlie and the
Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl and read by Eric Idle
This sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (which we listened to on a previous car trip as well and it is so much better than the movie I saw as a child...I haven't seen the Johnny Depp version) was a hi
t for the boys. They were laughing out loud at this fantastically crazy audio book. Eric Idle did a great job with the voices and even Josie was interested for a little while (probably because she would hear her name from time to time since one of the characters is Grandma Josephine). It was so nice to listen to this book on the way home, which for us seems to take longer than the way there. Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator kept the kids interested and giggling. It is just so over the top that even parts that could be scary (Vermicious Knids in space eating pretty much anything and Minusland) are quite funny. Again, nothing redeemingly vegan about this book, but it does have a pretty funny poem about the president which remind me of "W". It was just goofy enough for an almost nine and four and half year old boys to forget they were sitting in a car.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Delicious Double Ziti

Two tester recipes from Robin Robertson's newest cookbook (due out this year). Both these ziti recipes were a huge hit with my family and I'm sure you all will love them too. Quick, yummy, and easy on your wallet. I'll let you know when the cookbook is available. I can't wait!!

Ziti with Green Olives, White Beans, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes:
Josie in particular couldn't get enough of this dish. I will be making it often.

Baked Ziti:I know, it is a messy photo, but I was lucky to get a picture at all before everyone ate this one up. Rob is the Baked Ziti taste tester in the family because he ate it in his pregan days. This dish got Rob's enthusiastic thumbs up!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Golden Potato and Tofu Casserole with Kale

I've blogged about FatFree Vegan's (happy belated 3rd blog birthday to her by the way...please check out her blog if you haven't already) wonderful recipe for Golden Potato and Tempeh Casserole a few times before. I didn't intend to make this recipe the other night, but I'm so glad I did. I sliced up some potatoes intending to make something else and realized I didn't have a key ingredient and didn't feel like substituting. I needed to get dinner on the table in a hurry so I quickly shifted gears went for something similar. I made baked tofu earlier in the day so I decided to sub this for the marinated tempeh in the recipe. I also feel almost anything can be improved with the addition of greens, especially kale, so I cut a big bunch of kale into strips. I topped it with Crunchies. Pretty much the only thing I kept from the original recipe is the potatoes and the luscious sauce. Susan's recipe is divine as is, but if you decide to go my route, put the layer of potatoes in the baking dish, add the tempeh or tofu, add the kale (it should completely cover the dish...kale cooks down a lot), add the second layer of potatoes and then cover completely with the sauce. Also, if you use the Crunchies (the pumpkin seeds and walnuts add fat, but also wonderful nutrients), don't put the casserole back in the oven after you put on the tend to burn quickly. I think this was the best version yet of this very flexible recipe. To bake tofu, I just put a little olive oil, tamari or Bragg's Amino Acids, nutritional yeast, minced garlic, and molasses or agave nectar into a big glass casserole dish. I slice up the tofu (not silken...I really like Wildwood super firm tofu for baked or fried tofu and I find I don't need to press the tofu first) and get both side wet with the sauce and put in the oven (I have a convection oven setting and this works perfect for baked tofu) on whatever I might need to oven set to for something else (anywhere from 250 to 350...I rarely heat up the oven for just one thing) and bake for 10 to 20 minutes and turn it over and bake for 10 or 20 minutes more and turn it over and do this until most of the liquid is gone and the tofu is hard on the outside.

This time I served it with garlicky sauteed collards. Double yum for the collards (thanks to my southern husband and his grandmother for my love of collards) and kale. I asked the kids to pick out some fruit and they all came back with a different fruit from the freezer so we had raspberries, blueberries, and peaches. The entire family enjoyed it for dinner and there was just enough for Rob to take some for lunch the next day. Parker asked that I make it again soon. I'm sure I will.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Parker's Vegetable Soup and Curried Split Pea Soup

Parker asked tonight if he could make supper. Now, he helps me cook all the time and has since he could stand. In fact, if I don't have three children in the kitchen with me while I'm cooking, I hardly know what to do with myself. I asked him if he wanted a recipe and he said "No, I have a new recipe in my mind I'd like to try out." So I let him go. I made some Curried Split Pea Soup from Vegan with a Vengeance while Parker did his thing. I just wanted to be around to watch how things took shape about be there to answer questions should they arise. We are also a chatty bunch of people and we can't cook without talking...we rarely do anything without talking non-stop so cooking is quite often a loud event. It was so much fun! I loved watching him thoughtfully pick out ingredients. He decided to try to recreate a soup we had once at a restaurant probably two years ago. I was pretty impressed with the ease and simplicity, yet he pretty much nailed the soup. He also wrote down the recipe and took the picture. So without further ado...

Parker's Vegetable Soup:

1 teaspoon Organic Better Than Bouillon (vegan version, of course)
2 cups water
1 package frozen peas, carrots, corn mix
1/2 package of firm (not silken) tofu cubed
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp rosemary (crumbled)
1 tsp salt (you could definitely go lighter on the salt)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1/2 soy milk

In a soup pot, bring the water to a boil and dissolve the Better Than Bouillon. Add frozen vegetables and all the other ingredients except the soy milk and stir. Heat for 10 to 15 minutes, add the soy milk, stir and simmer (do not let it boil after adding the soy milk) for about five minutes. Serve hot.
Josie and Dema just ate Parker's soup and loved it. Rob and I were pleasantly surprised and Parker was pleased. I can't wait to see what Parker comes up with next. I will probably give him dinner duty once a week. Parker still had room for two bowls of Curried Split Pea Soup after two bowls of his creation. Cooking really works up an appetite. If you haven't had the Curried Split Pea Soup, you really should make it. Very, very easy, yet tasty, hearty, and inexpensive.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Living in the Moment

2008 will go down in the family history as "The Year of Near Misses". I feel like it was a good year and pretty positive overall, but if I think about it too much I realize we had quite a lot of stress and worry or at least potentially stressful worrisome situations. Most of these situations turned out fine and as usually the case, it was best not to stress about it and just be. So really it should be named "The Year Which Taught Us to Live in the Moment", but unfortunately I don't think I'm quite there yet, but I'm perhaps a little closer after experiencing 2008.

At the end of this year, we were driving home from my cousin Nancy's house after a post-Christmas family get together and we were hit by a woman who ran a red light. It was not a good accident...most aren't I suppose, but we are all fine. I am having some lingering pain in my knee, but we are quite lucky. All five of us were in the car and Parker was pretty upset by the event. Dema took it in stride and was able to find some positive excitement and Josie was pretty fine with all of it. Our car was more than totalled by the crash and subsequent traffic light falling on top of it. I have to say, I am quite impressed with our 10 year old Subaru Outback (or as some of our friends call it "the vegan mobile"). I highly recommend Subaru. My sister had the odd experience of watching our car get towed away (not an easy task apparently with bits off it all over the road, the light on top of it, and just pretty much being a mangled mess) while she listened to my voice mail saying we had been in a crash. She just happened to stop at a store across the street from the wreck after we had been given a ride home. I still count this accident as a "near miss" because we all walked away.

Nothing like a car crash to give some perspective on things. I'm still working through it all. For now one thing it means is that we will find out how well we can do the "car-free" thing. We've tried it for a few weeks here and there and we try not to use a motor vehicle often, but now we won't have the option of a car. I'm excited to face this challenge, but am open to it not being the best choice for our family. Rob bikes to work pretty much every weekday in all kinds of weather, but I have three kids to take with me everywhere I go. We homeschool which makes it even more interesting. If I just had to drop them off and pick them up from our neighborhood school and cruise around town on my own that would be easier, but homeschooling for us is rarely being at home all day. We have various activities we do on different, library, homeschooling group, etc. which take us all over our twin cities and beyond. We are on a bus route, but I have to say our bus system leaves much to be desired for those who are not just wanting to get to campus and home. We take the bus a fare amount as it is and it can take hours to do one errand and it can entail standing out in the very cold weather for longer than the kids would like. Especially, nights and weekends, the bus will not be our answer. We have a lot of great friends who have offered to help out when we need it and I'm sure from time to time we will need to ask for help more than we like to, but that may be good for us as well. I also have to weigh in how this will effect my business since I have errands to run for the business and quite often have to hurry as it is to make appointments. It will just take more planning and forethought and flexibility and possibly less flexibility in some areas. I will try to take it a day at a time...a moment at a time...and enjoy the now.