Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Double-batch Chickpea Cutlets and Guitars

Kneading is a perfect job for little hands in the kitchen
Chickpea cutlets made into fantastic filling sandwiches with kiwi
Rob and Dema practicing (they started guitar lessons this weekend)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Best Dinner Ever

Not the best meal ever (although it was very good, addictive really), but this is what Josie declared while eating her third or forth helping at 9pm (long after dinner was over). I guess we should back up...

Yesterday was like most of Spring Break - filled with friends. We had friends over almost nonstop from 10am until 9pm. I love days filled with friends! Especially our morning friends. We adore this family and their soon to be five beautiful children, but alas they are moving away very soon. It makes us all sad but I know better than to get too attached to people in our college town. Countless friends have come and gone. It is just to heartbreaking if I think about it too long so I think about their new adventure and hope that we'll see them some time in the future on this small planet of ours. The other hard thing about them leaving is how well everyone gone along yesterday. With seven kids playing there is bound to be one issue, but nothing yesterday. They are also a homeschooling family with their eldest a little older than Parker and with Parker seriously debating homeschooling again it is hard for him to see a friend leave the area.

The afternoon was filled with our neighbor friend who is between Josie and Dema's ages, but is really Josie's friend. The girls started out hanging out on our porch while it rained and as the storm blew in we transitioned inside. Her dad and I chatted all afternoon while the girls played ponies and princesses. So nice for Josie because she wants to spend every second outside and playing with a friend helped her get through the rainy/stormy part of the day. Josie has joined her friend for dinner a couple times recently so they wanted to continue playing and have dinner together again, but I had absolutely no idea what I was going to make. Fridays are clean out nights since we typically haven't been to the co-op since the beginning of the week. So our friend went home sad that she couldn't have dinner with us.
Quick-Fix Vegan to the rescue! Sicilian Stuffed Shells was just what the evening needed. Josie and I had a great time going out to the freshly washed garden (thank you, rain!) and picked some parsley. Josie ground the fennel seeds as I put the walnuts, golden raisins, etc. into the food processor. Josie mashed the tofu with the nutritional yeast. I whipped up my marinara sauce. Josie asked if we could make a butternut squash too. Of course! She peeled the squash with some help with Rob as I stuffed the shells.
As we were putting the shells and squash in the oven, we all lamented that our friend didn't stay for dinner since we had plenty. So Rob and Josie walked across the street to see if she still wanted to join us. She did, but her parents were a little nervous since she doesn't always eat for them so she might not eat at our house. I wasn't worried because four kids eating together makes it almost impossible for one not to eat. Right before I put dinner on the table, another neighbor came over to share her news that she was going to be a grandmother again! Our friend's dad came over to see how his daughter was and ended up in Rob's office watching a basketball game on his computer so the kids ate by themselves which works well. I lost count of how many servings Parker had, Josie and Dema had seconds, and our little friend ate hers without a complaint and said it was good. I asked our friend to help make "dessert" because she was impressed that Josie helped make dinner. In our house dessert is almost always fruit so I had her cut some bananas, I spread the almond butter on the bananas, and she topped them with a chocolate chip and cranberries. After dinner the kids were all bouncing off the walls so I included our friend in a new after dinner tradition of ours. We ran a couple laps around the park. The girls did some yoga and dressed up before it was time for our friend to go home. I love our neighborhood.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Eating Well Even When the Days are Longer and Time is Short

I hope everyone had a lovely Meatout 2012. March 20th always makes me miss volunteering at FARM headquarters in my beloved Rockville, MD. Sigh.

Here is good ole Illinois, we walked for new shoes, bought an umbrella, and loaded up with books at the library in 84 degree heat. What is up? I hate to complain because it has been truly beautiful out, but it is March people. How am I supposed to instill hope in the future, especially when it comes to climate change, for my kids when everything is blooming in March?

The warmer weather means more than an anxious twelve year old, it means living outside at the park*. I don't have my spring/summer cooking mojo on yet so this means eating after 8:00pm since we're outside until dark or after. This means quick throw together meals for starving cranky children so I've relied on a frozen veggies and some "time savers".
Time saver number 1 - World Foods Green Curry Sauce
I didn't really do anything to the sauce except follow the directions of canned coconut milk. I used tofu, mixed veggies (green beans, corn, carrots, and peas), and roasted white and sweet potatoes severed over brown rice. Not very authentic, but good enough for Dema to eat three helpings. It wasn't spicy enough for Rob, Parker, and me.
Time saver number 2 - World Foods Pad Thai Sauce
I wing my pad thai sauce and this was no except. I knew the little bottle wasn't going to be enough for the amount of pad thai I cook at one time so I went ahead and made a sauce. This time it had tomatoes, figs, almond butter, and the usual pad thai sauce suspects. More mixed veggies from the freezer (green beans, corn, carrots, and peas) and braised tofu. The kids loved the pad thai as usual, but they really enjoyed the hibiscus tea with kiwi. They went through nine kiwis (they all can to be put on the glass first).

I bought both sauces at World Harvest (yes, shopping there is dangerous for me because they always have something I need to try because it is accidentally vegan) and while I doubt I'll buy them again (I made my own pad thai sauce and just augmented it with the bottled sauce so it really didn't save time and the green curry sauce wasn't spicy enough) I could see how someone cooking for just one or two would find them useful.

*Speaking of "our park", our friend and awesome photographer snapped some pics of the kids this weekend at the park. They were wild as always so I'm amazed she was able to get so many nice shots.
Photo by Erin D
Photo by Erin D
Photo by Erin D

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Signs of Spring, Bike Maintenance, Chocolate, and Respect

I'm sure others are experiencing the same thing, but this Spring is already crazy weather-wise. We had the easiest winter I can remember and spring hit so fast and hot that the kids are already asking to swim in Vicky's pool. We've been hearing the snakes on the way too and from school, but finally had a sighting last week. Others look at the blooming daffodils, the budding trees, the magnolia trees which are already losing some of their petals, but for us spring has sprung when we start to see the snakes.

Josie's been riding Dema's old orange bike for months, but she has coveted Parker's old pink bike since she could talk.  She asks to see if she is tall enough to ride the pink bike every month. This weekend it worked (sort of, she needs a bit of help starting out since she can't touch the ground while sitting on the seat).
She kept riding like the wind around our park exclaiming "This is a dream come true!" so easy to please her sometimes.

She is not just interested in riding her "new" bike (she says it was "built in the olden days" since it is older than she is), but she is all about keeping it in top performance shape. She loves to pump up the tires (which is a bit hard for me sometimes) and check out the different squeaks and tighten the bolts. Thank goodness someone else in the family is interested in bike maintenance. Rob was replacing an inner tube on our friend's bike and Josie was right there learning all she could.

The other day I went to World Harvest to pick up Rob's favorite tahini (the man gets the shakes if we run low on olive oil or tahini) and was attracted to the buy five chocolate bars get one free. I know, I know...sucker! World Harvest is a locally owned store that floor to ceiling merchandise. You want variety, you go to World Harvest. I had many chocolates to choose from (even many vegan chocolates), but one stood out above the rest to convince me that buying six (one of them free!) chocolate bars was a good idea. Madecasse. Specifically, the Pink Pepper and Citrus (photo from their website). I have thought about writing a blog post about Josie's love of pink pepper, but I haven't yet. She loves it on everything. Rob and Josie came up with adding the pepper to our nooch popcorn, now she won't eat popcorn any other way. I bought some for a Fat Free Vegan recipe, but I don't think I ever used it for that because we used it in everything else. So I knew I had to buy the Pink Pepper and Citrus chocolate bar for Josie. Over the last few weeks the entire family (and some of the kids at Parker's school who ask for some of his lunch) has thoroughly enjoyed a square or two (or three) every couple days. We can also recommend the 70% Cocoa bar (you didn't think I would get six of the same kind did you?) and please check out what the company stands for because it makes the chocolate even sweeter. I think this may be our favorite chocolate now. Josie is our geography buff (she asks daily to do her geography and brings me maps to talk about China, Japan, Guatemala, Russia, Egypt, Argentina, etc.) in the family and she loves pointing out Madagascar on different maps to show where her chocolate comes from.
Several weeks ago Parker was talking about a something that happened during a class project. While he was telling the story he mentioned a girl's name we hadn't heard before. Now Rob and I have been amazed at the changes physically and emotionally in Parker (12) lately. We aren't trying to push him into adulthood, but we remember our own teen years so we're open to the crushes and loves that naturally occur during this time. So one of us interrupted his story to ask if the girl he mentioned was "cute". Parker was taken aback and disgusted. Not with the idea of finding someone attractive, but that we were so shallow to ask. "Would you ask this about a guy friend?" "What does it matter if she is physically cute or not?" "Is that how we value females?" We were silent. He was completely right. He has always taught us so much, even before he could talk. I am so glad he is able to be better than his parents and call us out when we clearly need to be reminded. Since having a girl four years ago, I have hoped that we would be the type of parents to help her through a society that values women more for their physical appearance than for their mind, but I think her big brother has her back on that one.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pi Day

It has started. Parker informed me at 6pm last night that he needed a pie for Pi Day at school. His cool math teacher was bringing a pie, but it wasn't going to be vegan so she said he could bring something in. I am pie challenged. My mother made fantabulous pies and she was trying to teach me the art of pies before she died, but I haven't been able to really think of making pie since her death 10 years ago.
I make pumpkin pies and quiches, but not an honest to goodness pie with a homemade crust. On top of having issues with pie making, I didn't have any ingredients. A quick search saved the day and I found these. Hand held apple pies (a turnover type thing) was even better. I had apples and I wouldn't have to figure out how Parker would take an entire pie to school. I sent four with him in our to-go ware and the kids each had one for breakfast this morning.
I didn't try them, but they asked if I could make more soon. Success!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Chi-town Chow

Erin and I left Friday morning for Chicago to visit our friend Loretta sans children. We had a great time taking in some museums (I highly recommend the Hull-House Museum. How is it that I've never been there before?), walking, talking, and eating. Unfortunately, Erin and I didn't get to sit next to each other on the train, but I did chat with a gregarious man who apparently was riding the train home after five years in a minimum security jail. I learned all about his life, loves, children, jobs, crime, what it is like to do time, the legal system, etc. It was very interesting to talk politics and prison industrial complex to romantic relationship and rearing children. I love taking the train and while I am sure he is not reading this, my thoughts are with him and I wish him all the best in finding a job, reuniting with family, and getting back into life outside after five years in prison.
Loretta was a fabulous city guide for our weekend and made it a breeze to navigate around town. The weather was perfect for walking the city and eating our way through town. Our first bite to eat was just a few block from Union Station. Good thing since I was starving by the time we arrived. Native Foods has three locations in the Chicago area, but the one I'm most excited about is the location we stopped at since it is close to the train station I see this as being out first or last place to eat on more visits to Chicago. For those of you who haven't had the joy of eating at Native Foods, you order at the counter and take a number back to the tables and wait for your food. It is amazingly fast for such a large menu and the staff is very nice and quick to clear out your plate once you are finished or offer refills on your drinks.
Erin's Rockin' Moroccan Bowl at Native Foods
My Twister Wrap
Loretta's Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger
We went for some pre-dinner drinks at The Signature Lounge. It was so nice to sit down after walking around town all afternoon with our bags (luckily, we pack light). The view was wonderful, of course, and it was a place I'll probably not be able to visit with the kids. Parker has a slight fear of elevators so I had to text him while we were riding 96 floors up. He texted back "AHHHHHH!!!!!" The Signature Lounge is a great place for pictures and we were there just at the right time to see the sunset, but alas I didn't get any pictures except for a couple of Loretta and Erin looking into the sun.
The drinks were quite good (my Lakeshore Lemonade was perfect), but we only stayed for one since they also a tad expensive and we were getting hungry.

Dinner was at the Ethiopian Diamond since Erin is new to Ethiopian food. I didn't get a picture, but here is the vegetarian food from their website. We shared some tasty fried appetizers (the veg sampler has one sambusa filled with lentils, one filled with potatoes, and one with greens and they were all good) and we shared a two-person vegetarian dish like the one above. What I love about Ethiopian food is all the different flavors, sharing communal food, eating with my hands, and that no matter what it never looks like enough food for everyone but everyone leaves stuffed. It is magical. How I wish we had an Ethiopian restaurant less than a couple hours away.
We stayed up late talking and playing Qwirkle (Eric says she doesn't like games, but don't let her fool you, she has a hidden competitive side and is an awesome Qwirkle player) so breakfast was actually after noon brunch at Handlebar. Loretta and I slept late while Erin was up and at 'em running through the streets of Evanston as we snoozed. I started with some coffee with soy milk and the best bloody mary (Bloody Hammer?) I think I've ever had. It comes with a fried pickle!
My Pepita Scramble from Handlebar (Erin ordered this as well)

Loretta's scramble with artichokes (special)
Erin and Loretta swapped some food and said the artichoke scramble was better, but I was very happy with my meal. Rob has been the Handlebar with the kids before and we'll be going back again.
Sorry for declining quality of the photos (I'll blame it on the Bloody Hammer), but trust me the food looked great and tasted even better. We shared some special that was fried dough and fruit inside...'nuf said.

After all the eating we walked. This is why I LOVE the city. Great food, but loads of walking so I never felt uncomfortably full and I was always ready for our next meal. I couldn't go to Chicago without visiting our favorite toy store, Building Blocks, owned by our friend Katherine (her husband and son spent the weekend keeping my husband and kids company back in C-U). We didn't get to see Katherine or her newborn daughter, but I did pick up a little something for my kids...Smens (environmentally friendly scented pens). We walked to Bleeding Heart Bakery where I picked up some vegan donuts for them too (chocolate with peanut butter icing). They say I officially rock.
A half eaten (they were huge) chocolate and Bleeding Heart Bakery peanut butter donut after it sat in my purse for two days of walking around the city and the train ride home.
The donuts traveled with us to the Field Museum. Loretta and I checked out the Americas and Africa while Erin worked with some clients to take pictures on the museum campus. Stef met us at the museum and once Erin was finished snapping pics, we headed to Trader Joe's for some wine and then Urban Vegan for some grub.
My Yellow Curry with "Shrimp" from Urban Vegan (Stef ordered the same, but less spicy)
Erin's Cashew Nuts with "Chicken" from Urban Vegan
Loretta's Spicy Eggplant with "Fish" from Urban Vegan
Urban Vegan is tiny (seats 20?) so we had a wait, but the staff was very sweet and gave us edamame with we took up their entrance with four giggly women and three bottles of wine. The food definitely made up for the wait. I am fairly picky about Thai food, but I can't wait to take the family back to Urban Vegan. I love having an entire menu to choose from and when I ordered my yellow curry spicy it was quite spicy, but not overpowering. The shrimp was almost scary authentic, but I had to try it. You all know my love of brown, red, and black rice so I was super happy to see the rice. I am such a nerd, I had a small reusable to-go container for leftovers. I love the size because I can store it in my purse without taking up a bunch of room. You can buy one at Common Ground Co-op locally or online.
The to-go container a few weeks earlier at the library with treats for the kids.
I can't wait to take the family back to Urban Vegan.

We didn't get much sleep Saturday night after staying up late talking and then losing an hour for Daylight Saving Time so be all had a little treat we'd been saving from Bleeding Heart Bakery. I think Loretta and Erin had scones and I had a Blueberry Streusel Muffin. Then we headed out for brunch at Karyn's Cooked. We walked quite a bit and anticipated a wait when we arrived, but we were able to be seated immediately. We had a mimosa to get wet our appetite.
Erin's Potato Pancakes from Karyn's Cooked
Loretta's Scramble from Karyn's Cooked
My Tofu Quesadillas from Karyn's Cooked 
The food at Karyn's was excellent as usual. My quesadillas were spicy and the cheese sauces were perfect along with the veggies and avocado.
Erin and Me (I'm the short one) on a bridge on the way to Union Station.
Loretta and Me (again, the short one) on the same bridge. Picture by Erin D
It kept me satisfied through the walk to Union Station and the train ride home and after. Erin and I were able to sit next to each other on the train. She is a fascinating person and we don't get much time to talk one-on-one so this was a real treat for me. All week I've been pining for all the wonderful food we consumed in Chicago. When we eat out for a couple days I'm typically happy to eat at home for a long time after since I love the food we cook (and I did come home to some fabulous risotto with kale and olives Rob made while I was gone), but this time I'm trying to figure out how soon we can make another trip up to Chicago. It was so much fun to spend time with "the girls", but I was so happy to get home to the kids. Josie was so excited to see me that she said she was "circling me with a bubble of love" and the boys talked non-stop to me the mile walk home from the train station. It is nice to take some time for myself, but their sweet faces have never looked better to me. I'm just not completely happy without them around.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Another Saucy Supper

We make some version of this theme at least once a week. Greens, tofu, rice, and sauce. It really never gets old and the kids love it every since meal. This time we used white basmati since we are out of brown rice and I'm working on cleaning out food we already have on hand. Rob made his browned tofu and sauteed kale. I decided to go with a new sauce and found a peanut sauce in Viva Vegan that called for cumin. I thought this would work well with the rice and I was not disappointed. I used almond butter instead of peanut butter and now I have yet one more go-to sauce.
 Josie has been walking with me to pick Parker up from school lately. She says she just can't wait another minute to see her brother. Most of the time she walks, but this afternoon I could tell she was super tired so I put her in a mei tai carrier. Parker asked if he could wear her home, she was thrilled!
 She is much heavier than his backpack.
 When we arrived home, we found Rob outside enjoying the spring weather on the slack line at our park.
A jump before Josie insisted on taking a turn.