Monday, December 19, 2011

Groovy Gifts

We are not really doing the gift thing this year. The kids are getting one big present each, but something they will share with the rest of the family. We don't have a tree up or anything. I just can't get into the gift giving or receiving this year. Rob and I are giving each other the gift of saving for a new roof (this spring seems like the time) and a much needed kitchen remodel (still in the dream stages).

Here are some fun gifts that I would be buying if we were really doing gifts this year:

The Vegan Stoner's Snack Book  I know, I probably shouldn't promote something like this since I'm a mom and all, but it looks too cute. I just recently found The Vegan Stoner blog and I'm jonesing for more.

Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian Food cook zine. Me want!

Vegan Cuts has a couple code for Strawsome. We have enough glass straws for the entire family, but if we didn't I would buy these.

Fred Eats a Pea, but I would also want a rescued greyhound to go with. I've been thinking about adopting a greyhound for years, but I had one reason or another (kids too young, business in the house, etc.). Perhaps my dream will become a reality next year.

I've been using Charity's soaps and body products for years. They are homemade with great care and attention to quality. Charity is an awesome person and many of her products are vegan. Great for gifts, but also throughout the year.

Common Group Co-op gift cards. Who doesn't need food?

A membership to the Art Theater Co-op. A perfect gift for the movie-buff on your list. They get to be an owner of the coolest theater in town.

A membership or donation to WEFT 90.1 FM (home of Food for Thought). Your community radio station.

Parker already received his big gift:
A new laptop (red!) from HP (thanks, Rob!).

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Candy Holiday Houses

A dozen neighborhood kids all converged on Vicky and Greg's house yesterday to make gingerbread houses, but we used cardboard instead so we called the candy holiday houses.
This is just the type of crafty fun project that I never had the guts to do with my kids at home. It was even more delightful with a whole gang of kids from toddlers to teenagers.
Vicky and Greg provided the space, most of the supplies (Vicky asked for recommendations for vegan candies and we brought a few of our own), the vision (Vicky has done this many times before and she had magazines with ideas), and a glue gun (Vicky is amazing with that thing, cutting pieces of cardboard and gluing it to the particular child's preference).
Josie and her friend working on their houses or maybe eating the decorations.
 Dema and his cottage.
Josie's castle right after I told her we weren't going to eat it.
 Parker's finished castle.
The three candy holiday houses (Josie's, Parker's, and Dema's).
The kids had a fabulous time and were completely hopped up on sugar when we left with our finished creations three hours later. We have the best neighbors in the world. (Thanks to Todd and Tai, who came down from Chicago to spend some time with us and all the good pictures are Todd's work. Tai was busy being adorable and possibly eating a bit of candy.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Lentils, Frozen Pizza, and Mummies

I figured today would be a good day to cook from Appetite for Reduction. What with all the So Delicious products being consumed, I felt the need to balance things out.
Arabian Lentil and Rice Soup and whole wheat gobetti with Easy Breezy Cheezy Sauce and veggies (broccoli, peas, carrots, and cannellini beans) with green tea with lemon in the background

The soup is a keeper. I had some lemon zest in the freezer* and jarred lemon juice. You can definitely taste the lemon in this soup, but I found it refreshing. I could even get into eating this soup in the summer because it has a fresh light taste. Red lentils are my preferred lentil, but Rob goes for French lentils for soup so I'll make his favorite this weekend. It calls for brown basmati rice and it cooks all in one soup pot, which is a plus for lunch. I was not blown away by the Easy Breezy Cheezy Sauce from Appetite for Reduction. I much prefer Three-Nut Cheeze Whiz sauce from Quick-Fix Vegan. I may need fat in my sauces.
Yesterday was pizza day at Parker's school. Most pizza days we make our own or order a pizza the evening prior to send it with him the next day. This week we tried something new. Rob cooked up a Tofurky Italian Sausage frozen pizza while Parker ate breakfast. He packed the entire pizza in Parker's to-go ware. He easily ate it all for lunch (it is supposed to serve three, but Parker can eat a lot) so we'll stick to making our own for the family, but this is a great options for pizza days when we don't have time to make something the night before. The pizza is loaded with veggies which is just the way Parker likes it. There is just a dusting of vegan cheese to hold it all together (which helps when transporting to school). I've only noticed these locally at Strawberry Fields, but I've already put in an order for a case to keep in the freezer.
Parker's grade had Egyptian Museum day today. It was so much fun. Parker and his partner (who sadly went home sick so he didn't get a chance to present) created a display about mummification. Parker has already told us all about mummification at home so we visited the rest of his class and learned a great deal about King Tut, pyramids, "peaceful" Queen Hatshepsut, warfare in ancient Egypt, wigs, makeup, and jewelry for men and women of the time, Ra (the sun god), and many other fascinating aspects of ancient Egyptian life. All the kids did a great job and Dema and Josie had fun asking questions and getting attention from Parker's friends and teachers.
I had to drag Josie away from this exhibit with faces to color and pretty colored pens to color them with. Ancient Egypt has always been a favorite topic for the kids. As Parker was collecting his things to ride home with us, Josie and Dema told me some of the facts they learned. They said it was hard for them to hear everything so they suggested the projects get spread out more so the din wouldn't be quite so loud. Fun and educational event!

*I used to buy organic lemons and they would invariably get moldy before I could use more! Now I zest them immediately and freeze the zest and refrigerate the juice.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wee Ones Wednesday - Turning the Other Cheek

I mentioned almost two weeks ago that my eldest, Parker, was slapped on the face by a girl at school. They are in 6th grade and this is Parker's first time being slapped and I'm hoping it is the last. For those of you who know him, you can imagine how completely shocked and upset this event was for him. The way he recounted the events minutes after they happened (I was there picking him from school - we bike to and from school with him and usually one or two of his friends) he had not even been speaking with the girl directly or about her, in fact I'm pretty sure she wasn't even in his consciousness. They were not in any argument and there was little warning. She hit him on the shoulder first and asked if it hurt and when he said it didn't she slapped him and asked if that hurt. It did. I thought this was strange, but 11/12 year old humans are strange. They don't always think things through or think at all before acting. Still, I believe we should be able to ensure our children will not be physically assaulted at school. We talked with Parker about the incident and he was sure he wanted to file an "incident report". We said we supported him and trusted him to deal with the situation.

The next day he tried in three different classes to get a pass "to file an incident report". He said those words and each teacher said they would let him go, but never did. Things get busy and Parker isn't the most assertive kid in the class. A couple days after the slap, Rob offered to go into the office with Parker before school to file the report. Parker was even more sure about going forward since the girl had pinned him against the wall and was angry at him for telling people about the slap (she did it in front of several people so I'm not sure how she thought it was going to stay quiet). She never once apologized for the slap and continued to try to get him to apologize for telling people (he told one person and you know how that goes). This upset me more and if she had apologized that would have been the end of it, but she did the opposite of apologize and this made me worry.

Two weeks after the original incident, they were in the after-school, but on school property, club again (where the slap happened) and working with x-acto knives. She said something to the effect "You should be scared. I would stab you right now, but I would get arrested so I won't." She was on the other side of the table at the time with a knife in her hand. This was the final straw for me. The "incident report" had not be addressed in the week and a half since it was submitted and now things seemed to be escalating.

I emailed the principals and met first thing the next morning with one of them. Apologies and explanations for why nothing had been addressed and within hours Parker and the other student had been brought in separately and together. We had a rocky start, but I am satisfied with the way the school handled things in the end. We are quite lucky that Parker has such clearly caring and dedicated teachers and the administration came through as well. We are still figuring out the balance of letting Parker be his independent self and when to intervene, but we usually take our queue from him and we trust his instincts.

Parker was so upset to be "getting someone in trouble" that he was almost crying for her when she apologized and gave some sort of explanation in the office. The next class they were in together, he approached her and said "Can we be friends?" and she said something like "We already are." I really am amazed by him sometimes. I'm not sure I could have been so forgiving so quickly. He even said it was the best day at school yet. Nothing makes him happier than people getting along and peaceful solutions. I'm not sure if Rob and I are ready for middle school drama, but here we are and we'll go through it for the next nine years. Who said spacing children out was a good idea?
Parker attended two sleepover birthday parties in the last ten days. He is a homebody and likes to sleep in his own bed, but he had a fantastic time at both parties. The first one was just a block away so he walked over and was clowning around before he left. He thought he looked like an explorer with his backpack and sleeping bag. This party was for a friend he unfortunately doesn't see often, but they have known each other since they were little. The kids were having pizza so we ordered a vegan pizza and had it delivered to the party. We also sent vegan ice cream and baked goods. The food worked out just fine and a great time was had. The second party was at the house of a new friend across town and the mother was so awesome about making a vegan dinner, vegan cake, and vegan pancakes for breakfast the next morning. I met her for the first time while I was dropping Parker off, but we all were surprised to find out that she know my sister. Small town. Anyway, Parker raved about the dinner she prepared and I need to contact her for the recipe. He was very impressed and appreciative that the family thought of him. We've never really had any bad experiences with birthday parties, I guess we're pretty fortunate.
 Another first for Parker, he performed for the first time with the Drama Club. It was really a cute little play about middle school. They performed in the lunchroom at the school in the evening for a dessert theater. We signed up to bring a dozen cookies, but I brought four dozen. The kids requested Mexican Hot Chocolate Snickerdoodles and Chocolate Peanut Butter Pillow Cookies both from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. I made one batch of the snickerdoodles spicy like my kids like them and then a batch toned down for the play. I used almond butter instead of peanut butter for the pillow cookies. Rob helped me with the filling and kept saying it seemed to dry so we put in way too much So Delicious Coconut Milk Creamer (French Vanilla flavor, still working through the So Delicious coupons from VeganMoFom, best giveaway ever!). When I was assembling the cookies, I could tell something was a little wrong, but they turned out flatter than pillow cookies should be, but they were awesome! The filling tasted nougatty and I'll definitely make them like this again sometime. One of the parents selling the cookies at the play asked about them because they were quite popular.
Today was Josie's last dance class of the year. It was also a "audience day" where the parents get to watch and sometime participate. It gets pretty crazy, but Josie is usually very intense on these days and she listens to her teacher with complete and utter respect. Ms. Kate may need to take her for a couple months and then perhaps Josie will listen to us. Anyway, Rob rearranged his work schedule and took Josie to dance so he could be her audience member. She has been looking forward to this day for weeks! She also gave Ms. Kate a small token of our appreciation, a gift card to Common Ground Co-op. Josie was so excited that Ms. Kate was happy with the present. The pink outfit is from her BFF's Amara and Indigo and I can barely get her to wear anything else. She also insists on wearing half a dozen barrettes which are promptly taken out as soon as dance class is over.
Dema is enjoying special one-on-one time with our thoughtful neighbor, Margie. She borrowed a chapter book from a retired teacher friend and is reading a couple times a week to Dema at her house. Dema adores this time and they are on to the second in the book series. Margie doesn't just read to Dema, but she also gives him a special snack (and two to take home to his siblings). Margie introduced Dema to Justin's dark chocolate peanut butter cups, which he appreciates, but what he talks about non-stop after his time with Margie is the wonderful story they are sharing together. As the middle child, this attention just for him is priceless!
Parker has been asking for us to add more mushrooms to our diet. I bought a bunch at the co-op yesterday and made Thai-Style Coconut Soup. I can't believe it has been awhile since I've blogged about this one. So easy and you can make it hot or mild. I made a double batch today so we'd have enough for lunch, but Parker could also have some for dinner since he was at school. Our friend, Ernesto, was over prepping our upstairs for painting (yay!!!!) so he enjoyed a couple bowls too. We had apples, baked tofu sandwiches, and bananas with peanut butter and dried cranberries as well.
 Today with the first coat of primer. This is just a small section of the area being painted.
Here is the wallpaper I was taking off and the bonus second layer of old wallpaper and glue behind it.
Ernesto is amazing and was able to get more done in a few hours than I have been able to do in months. He is super efficient even with a four year old talking his ear off the entire time. Josie would not leave him alone and was trying to teach him ballet while he worked. He's a great sport! I can't wait to see the finished walls!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sinless and Savory Soups

Okay, we haven't just been consumed with consuming So Delicious products. We've been souping it up as well.
We all loved the Coconut Corn Chowder so much, the family requested it again. I started to make it just to realize I didn't have any corn in the freezer. No fear, I just turned it into a vegetable soup (omitted the coconut and add a bag of organic vegetable mix - yes, I did think for one second about take the corn out of the mix and using just the corn, silly though!) and added some star pasta (cooked it separately and added it since it tends to totally soak up any liquid and take over). We'll call this Vegetable Soup with Pasta, genius, I know. Rob, my husband who was very slow to come around to quinoa, said he would have preferred quinoa in the soup. Score!
Last night was Quinoa Kidney Bean Sweet Potato Stew (it was supposed to have black beans, but I didn't have any soaked and cooked, but I did have a couple cans of kidney beans). Very flavorful. I was wondering as I added the spices if this stew would end up being confused. The spices didn't seem to have a theme, but it worked out to add complex and layered taste that worked well. We prefer black beans, but I think I would continue to use kidney beans in this recipe. More of Josie's pottery in the background, this one is a rabbit bowl.

Parker is doing an essay about school lunches for his English/Language Arts class. He usually does not spend much time looking at what is served at school and is pretty intent on his own lunch. Yesterday he had leftover brown rice, steamed broccoli, seared tofu with tahini sauce and a Asherah Vegan Burger (Chipotle flavor) on focaccia bread. I asked him last night if he knew what the school serves for lunch. He had to make a persuasive argument about the lunches and if they need to be improved. We printed out the menu on the school website so he could see that he might possibly be the only kid at school yesterday with quinoa and sweet potato (in the burger), broccoli, brown rice, and tofu. (Although we were both pleasantly surprised to see collards on the menu for one day during the month.) He told me last week that sometimes the adults at school come look at his lunch to see what he is eating. This made us both smile. One of the things I miss most about homeschooling with Parker is having him here for lunch. It was so much easier to ensure high quality nutritious and delicious meals when I could serve it up fresh to him. I can empathize with the task the school district has in front of them with certain federal standards (no matter how arguably flawed)*, food that needs to be prepared in quantity and stay temperature controlled through several lunch periods, and kids who will throw away food or not buy food they don't want to eat. I think Parker and I will both learn something from this assignment.

*From our school district's website: "In order to receive the benefits of the NSLP, participating schools must offer free or reduced price meals to eligible children.  The schools must also comply with nutritional requirements outlined by the federal government. These guidelines follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans which recommend no more than 30% of a person’s calories come from fat with less than 10% from saturated fat. Lunch menus must also be designed to provide students with 1/3 of the key nutrients they need each day (calories, protein, Vitamins A and C, and iron). " More about this in a future post.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Put the Chocolate Mint in the Coconut and Shake it All Up

I know, I know, you are sick of hearing about So Delicious, but I'm not done blogging about their great products. The newest taste sensation is the holiday flavor Mint Chocolate for their Coconut Milk. Just the right balance of minty chocolate and coconutiness (another non-word that should be a word). I adore coconut, but for those who don't - no worries it isn't overpowering. I think it would be fabulous hot, but we drank ours chilled. This one isn't for chugging, but for sipping and savoring the flavors. All three tastes: chocolate, mint, and coconut are blended together in perfect harmony. If only all of life could be this balanced!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Full of Figs

I was happily shopping at our local co-op the other day. It was a normal pleasant time with Josie selecting some Arkansas Black Apples and Dema picking up a 4 lb package of our favorite tofu. Saying "hi" to Amelia and Josie enjoying her vegan spinach quiche (and maybe a roll, half a breakfast burrito, and a scone, but the quiche was her favorite).
Dema devoured black bean a yam tamales and a scone of his own. The next thing I know, I'm at home with Fig and Hazelnut Spread in my hand and Rob asking what it was, how we were going to use it, and how much it cost. The last thing I remembered was looking at the spread and thinking, why? The sale tag brought it to my attention and the rest just seemed to happen on its own. It is quite good smeared on bread and Josie couldn't get enough of it, but I'm wondering if food just jumps into your cart at the store or is it just me?
Wednesday I had a meeting and needed to leave at dinner time. Another impulse buy (on sale at Common Ground) to the rescue!
Wild Rice Cranberry Fig Roast en Croute from Field Roast (picture from their website)
I missed the bus so I actually was able to try a slice. Excellent. I love to make my own seitan, but I'll pick this up whenever it is one sale. Great to have in the freezer for a quick dinner. Rob made garlicky kale to go with it and there was enough leftover for Parker to take a slice of roast and kale for lunch the next day. All the kids loved it. Great texture, the cranberry and figs are lovely with the spices from the seitan. Of course, the kids being kids love anything en croute. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Nod to the Nog

I love nog. I loved it before going vegan and we used to make our own vegan version (just for special occasions) before they came out with the pint cartons of vegan nog. Some days I feel like I should change my blog name to "Vegan Oldtimer" since I'm always droning on about the old days when we had to walk uphill both ways to the health food store for the bite of tempeh. Anyways, now we have so many different vegan nog options there will actually be vegan nog tasting at our local co-op's owner appreciation day next week. Is life good or what?
I recently tried So Delicious Coconut Milk Nog (thanks to VeganMoFo it didn't cost me anything!) and I have to is soooo delicious! I don't like a nog that is skimpy on the nutmeg and this is the nutmegiest (this really should be a word) nog I have tasted to date. I want to marry this nog or maybe Rob and could have a threesome because I'd really like to keep him. The kids are fans (I cut it with regular soy milk so their pure little bodies wouldn't have too much sugar, or so I could make it last longer and have more to myself bwahahaha!). For adults, I have to say it tastes pretty fantastic with some Kahlua. I mean move over brandy - Kahlua is the spike for my nog from now on. I also baked up some East Coast Coffee Cake from Vegan Brunch to test out the baking magic of So Delicious Coconut Milk. I was right, this is the bomb for baking. I wouldn't buy it just to drink. I prefer my other plant milks for everyday use, but it is worth buying a carton for special holiday baking.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Quick Coconut Corn Chowder

Last night Parker had practice for a play the drama club is putting on this weekend so he was home a little late. We wanted to support the band/choir/orchestra for the 7pm concert, but Parker had homework to finish and the kitchen was a mess so I decided on something quick and warm for dinner.
Coconut Corn Chowder from Quick-Fix Vegan
I substituted a sweet potato for white potato, a red onion for the yellow onion in the recipe, and added a tablespoon of jarred jalapenos with wonderful results. The soup tasted awesome before adding the coconut milk so I would probably make it without sometime too. I did puree it a bit, but kept it pretty chunky. The cilantro is perfect so don't forget it. Parker had three bowls for dinner and asked for the leftovers (just one bowl) for lunch today. This reminds me, I need suggestions for lunch contains for soup. We have this container we bought from Common Ground Co-op and I like it for adults, but it is a little hard for Parker to open if we screw it on tight enough to not spill and it always comes back home with the top a mess. I does keep the soup warm though, but I'd like to find something more like an insulated stainless steel bowl. What do you all suggest?
Josie was tired and fussy about half way through the concert. She loved seeing our friends in the band and choir, but we arrived close to starting time so there were no seats. We were all bundled pretty well from biking to the school so we quickly were hot and tired of standing. Note to self, get to school events early. Who knew? I had to bribe her with promises of dessert when we got home. The last thing that sounded good to me after thawing out from the cold dark bike ride home was ice cream, but it actually tasted pretty good. I made a banana split with So Delicious ice cream (the VeganMoFo giveaway that keeps on giving!), a scoop of chocolate peanut butter and a scoop of vanilla, and a bit of a "dessert fail"*. It was mighty good and Josie's mood was much improved. Yes, even I do the classic parenting mistake of bribing my four year old with sweets when she is about to say very loudly that she "NEVER WANTS TO STEP FOOT IN A SCHOOL AGAIN". Luckily, she only said it loud enough for me to hear before I ushered her out into the hallway. Parker's play on Saturday (at the school again) will have desserts served so she should be okay.

*I picked up Clean Start at the library the other day and the first recipe I tried was probably the least healthy. The Peanut Butter Balls looked easy and something small to brighten up Parker's lunches, but my bulk almond butter is really sticky and never rolled into a ball. I gave up and made it into a brownie type thing and it was actually pretty good so here is what I ended up making.
Dessert Fail Almond Butter Bars
1 cup almond butter (we use raw unsalted and it has to be pretty fluid or you should just make the balls)
1/2 cup maple syrup (next time I would use dates or figs to sweeten)
1/2 cup crispy rice cereal
1 bar vegan baking chocolate
shredded coconut
shopped walnuts

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler (I just use a stainless steel bowl over a sauce pan with water). Combine the almond butter, sweetener, rice cereal, and melted chocolate in a bowl then spread the mixture in a small square casserole dish. Top with chopped walnuts and shredded coconut to taste (press them down to stick to the almond butter mixture). Freeze or refrigerate until hard. Cut in squares and enjoy.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Bake and Loaf from Vegan on the Cheap

Mexican Rice and Bean Bake with leftover sauteed turnip greens (Josie's pottery pig in the background)
Sunday I was feeling eh, not really sick, but just a tad unmotivated and a slight headache. Rob sweetly took care of breakfast and lunch, then offered to fill in for me on the radio show.  He was meeting a friend downtown for drinks and some sort of sports game so it would be more convenient than waiting for me to get home. This meant he was out for dinner and I was feeling lazy. I flipped through Vegan on the Cheap and found the Mexican Rice and Bean Bake. I'm always skeptical that brown rice will cook well in the oven, but I decided to give it a shot. I did cook it an extra ten minutes so more of the liquid would soak in, but it was simple and a huge hit with the kids. The Cheezee Sauce on top is also from Vegan on the Cheap. Rob had sauteed the last (for real this time) of the greens from our mini-CSA the night before. We had a few turnips leftover so I added them for a complete meal. The kids were exclaiming how delicious everything was and I'm sure to make this more often this winter. It is supposed to be less than $1.00 per serving, the dish used staples we had on hand (we'd cooked up some pinto beans a few days before) and you can make it to your particular tastes. I used medium salsa with black bean and corn and jarred jalapeno peppers for a bit of a kick. The leftovers I made into a wrap for Parker's lunch. He gave the lunch a big thumbs up too.
Comfort Loaf and whole wheat penne with veggies and leftover Cheezee Sauce (Josie's pottery leaf in the background)
I have never been a meat loaf fan so I rarely make any vegan loafs, but this is about to change. Veg loafs are so much better than meat loaf and really have little in common with them except that it is a great way to use up leftovers. The Comfort Loaf in Vegan on the Cheap calls for pinto beans (still had some to use up) and tofu with veggies and the usual suspects of bread crumbs and vital wheat gluten. Walnuts add some nutrition and crunch and next time I'll probably add some nutritional yeast if I think about it. I used the leftover Cheezee Sauce from the Mexican Rice and Bean Bake for a quick pasta with veggies to round out the meal. Parker's lunch today was a Comfort Loaf sandwich with some unsweetened ketchup on a bun. The Comfort Loaf and Cheezee Sauce are both less than $1.00 per serving. Who says eating well has to be expensive or hard? Both meals took minimal time to prepare and the oven did the rest. Even with my wait to the last minute ways, we ate in a timely fashion with leftovers for lunches. Who knows what we could do with some actual planning?!