Monday, August 27, 2012

Funerals, Family, and Food

Rob's uncle passed away this week. The entire time I've known Rob (almost 20 years), his uncle has suffered from a series of strokes and their lasting affects. His five children and amazingly strong wife made his physical struggles bearable. Their love, support, and respect of each other was always inspirational. Sadly, Rob's aunt died last year. We were unable to make it to North Carolina at the time, but this week after discussing the options, we rented a car and left for the Raleigh area. We spent two days traveling out there, two more traveling back and less than 24 hours in Raleigh. We are all spent emotionally and physically, but I'm glad we were able to see Rob's cousins (most of them we haven't seen for almost ten years) and support his dad.
Josie HATES traveling by car. We went car-free when Josie was a little over one and she'll be five years old in early September. All of my children hated car rides and car seats when they were young, but Josie never got over it. The boys travel like troopers, but Josie makes it hell for everyone involved. We took a suggestion from our friend/neighbor, Gita, and bought the kids little MP3 players before setting out. We only had a few hours to charge them and download an audio book and a song or two before we set out. We took the computer along to try to add more to the ipods, but when we didn't stop the first night until after midnight and we on the road the next morning as soon as the kids woke, it didn't get done. The ipods did save the boys from having to hear the brunt of Josie's wrath at being strapped into a car for hours/days. The ipod kept her pacified for a bit, but she didn't have enough variety or she dislikes to travel by car even more than we previously suspected. We did have some nice stops and good vegan food in unexpected places, but basically a blitz trip from Illinois to North Carolina with our youngest child is going to difficult and take years off your life. The great news is that we get to do it again in less than two weeks as we head to our scheduled beach vacation. Just shoot me now. We are vacationing with Gita and her family so I'm hoping Josie can ride with them for a bit. She promises she is always good for them. We are willing to pay money to get her out of our car for while.
We thought filling the kids up at Thara Thai before hitting the road might help. I think it did for a while. We drove until late at night or really early in the morning and stopped right before Dayton, OH to stay at one of the worst Holiday Inns I think I've ever encountered.
 One of the hardest meals to eat on the road as a vegan, in my opinion, is breakfast. I found the Butter Cafe in Dayton, OH online (thanks to blog!!!) and I knew we had to check it out.
 Cute decor, clean, and bright. Even with a lot of construction going on around the cafe and it being a Friday morning, the place was pretty busy. I would say it is pretty kid friendly, but it isn't a place for a hurried meal.
 Parker sipping his organic strawberry lemonade at Butter Cafe in Dayton, OH. (I have to mention the location several times because I'm blown away that we found good food in Dayton. Not once, but twice!*)
 Dema's tofu scramble with seasoned breakfast potatoes, vegan sausage, and toast with vegan butter at Butter Cafe. Nothing like a big breakfast before spending the day in the car.
 Parker and I had the vegan burrito with avocado and vegan cheese. It was as good or better than our favorite vegan breakfast burrito at Common Ground Co-op.
 Really hit the spot! Breakfast kept us fueled up until we finally arrived in the Raleigh, NC area for dinner.
 We met Rob's family at Neo-Asia in Raleigh, NC. We picked the restaurant based on the blog More Squash Please. I love bloggers who do restaurant reviews, thanks! We started with some yummy sushi and edamame because the kids the were starving.
 I ordered the homestyle tofu based on More Squash Please's recomendation and I definitely enjoyed it.
 Unfortunately, so did the kids because their pad thai didn't come until after everyone was done with their meals. I'm sure this place is good, but I'm giving it a thumbs down based on the service. Apparently, they put egg on the pad thai and had to make it again, but it still too forever and the kids had been traveling all day and were hungry and tired. It made for a lot of sadness. When the pad thai did arrive at the table the kids were so sad and said it was tasteless. They were right. Ugh. We had to take three heaping pad thai dishes back to the hotel. It was edible the next morning with a lot of hot sauce, but barely. My kids love Thai and we are spoiled to have Thara Thai (one of the best Thai restaurants in the country), but this place was just okay. If you go, definitely get the sushi.
 Finally, a moment to settle in to a nicer hotel (yeah, Hampton Inn!) right across from Rob's brother, sister-in-law, and our niece. Rob's dad was next door to them so the kids were excited to hang out for a bit after all the driving. We all stayed up too late (our families were down in the hotel gym drinking beer and watching the kids play on the gym equipment at one point...anything to get some of the pent up energy out!) chatting and Josie ended up sleeping in her cousin's hotel room. Finally, a successful sleep-over with cousin Lillian, thanks to uncle Marc (he charmed Josie to sleep by talking about things that made them both feel safe and happy). They were getting a bit of their goofy out the next morning before the funeral as we packed up our bags to get on the road again.
 Check out Josie's shoes. You can't really see them in this picture, but they have cats on them. They were the only black vegan "dress shoes" I could find on short notice. They went well with her cat purse. Luckily, everyone at the funeral thought it was adorable.
 The kids with their beautiful cousin, Lillian. We don't get to see her enough. We all needed to hit the road, but we decided to get some food first. We all met up at Z Pizza so Dema could have a vegan calzone.
 Josie eating a vegan calzone at Z Pizza in Cary, NC (near Raleigh).
 Vegan cheese and veggie pizza at Z Pizza.
 Vegan cheese, veggies, and veggie burger crumbles at Z Pizza.
 The boys completely passed out after gorging themselves on pizza.

After scoring a win at Butter Cafe in Dayton, I decided we should stop there again on the drive back to Illinois. Lucky's Taproom and Eatery* was a definite win. Although, it would be better to eat here and then go to a hotel. We were all very tired after eating and still had several hours to drive.
 Vegan chili cheese fries at Lucky's Taproom and Eatery in Dayton, OH.
 Parker's setian burger loaded down with vegan cheese, avocado, lettuce, onion, pickles, vegan mayo, dijon mustard, and cucumbers at Lucky's. He could barely open his mouth wide enough to eat it, but he managed.
 Josie eating vegan banana bread french toast sicks, toast and strawberry jelly, and home fries at Lucky's.
BBQ seitan nuggets at Lucky's. Seitan (homemade, I believe) breaded and then cooked in bbq sauce. It was all sooooo good!

It was so nice seeing Rob's family, cousins we hadn't seen in years, and we hope to not wait so long to see them again. We have a beach vacation planned in NC soon so we'll be making that drive again. Argh! We were pretty exhausted when we arrived home so food had to be easy.
Whole wheat pasta, steamed broccoli, peanut sauce, and ginger-amalki mix.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Things That Made Me Happy This Week

Last Sunday we had our first (hopefully, not the last) Davidson Park Movie Night. Jan and Andrew and their daughter Anna, our cool neighbors, had all the technical doodads to put a movie on outside. Legendary neighbor, Vicky, had an old monkey bar setup that works perfectly as a movie screen once a sheet is hung up. 
 All the kids got together at Jan and Andrew's house to pop popcorn (Parker introduced them to nutritional yeast) and they had the cool idea of putting it in little brown bags. You know, to get the real movie feel. Parker took care of popcorn refills and handing out Klean Kanteens with water or glasses of local apple cider.
 Anna's family checked with the park district so we knew our viewer limit and any other rules we needed to be aware of, Parker invited neighbors, and we all decided to watch Ratatouille since it is both family friendly and a great movie. As the sun set, we started the movie and eventually started snuggling under blankets because the temps dropped into fall weather temps, but that was fine. So much fun to be able to hang out with our wonderful neighbors and enjoy popcorn and movie in our park. We can't wait to do it again and hopefully have more friends/neighbors who can make it next time. The sun still goes down a little to late for some of the kids.
 Our Canadian neighbor friend, Tasha, hooked us up with these muesli morning rounds. It was the pre-homeschooling co-op power breakfast of choice for the kids. Tasha suggested peanut butter as a topping and the kids devoured them. I can't wait to buy more.
 Dema (3rd grade), Parker (7th grade), and Josie (Kindergarten) all ready for their first day of Joy in Learning (our new to us homeschooling co-op) this week. The co-op meets for a full day once a week and the families are so diverse and involved I know we will love the group. The kids had a great first day. I was a little stressed so I booked the zipcar (in the background) to make sure we arrived on time with all our stuff (all their backpacks were full and I had one for me as well since I'm teaching one of the classes) for the first day.
 Josie checking out different things in the microscopes at Joy in Learning. She thought this was the best part of her day.
Dema thought it was pretty cool as well. I think Life Science might be their favorite subject.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Weddings, Dancing, and Food

We were honored to be invited to Eric and Mandy's wedding this past weekend, in Chicago. We first met Eric when we moved back to this part of the country about 13 years ago. He is the eldest son of our dear neighbor, Joann, from our old neighborhood. He must have been about Parker's age when we met him! Yes, I feel ancient now! Eric and Mandy visited us about a year ago when they first got engaged. We were blown away by their deep love and respect for each other, as well as how on top of the wedding plans they were. We were still writing out vows the night before our wedding. Not this couple, they already had most of the details worked out. I so admire that!
 Portobello and Sausage Burger with potato salad from Native Foods
Bistro Steak Sandwich from Native Foods
Originally, we had planned to make a romantic weekend of our time in Chicago, but everything conspired against us so we took the train up and we were back home within 24 hours. Despite it being a whirlwind trip, we had a fabulous time and have decided to try to get away more often. Thanks to my sister and her fiance for watching Persephone and the kids. The weather was beautiful so we walked to Native Foods (Loop location) to grab a bite to eat on the walk to the hotel. We always love Native Foods and wish for one to open up in our little college town. I promise it would do well!
 Rob and me heading down to the wedding. We started the evening sleep deprived since Friday night we had Thai on our sweet neighbors' (Jan, Andrew, and Anna) porch, played with their dogs, drank a beer, and watched the kids play before coming home to do laundry, dishes, pack, etc.
 Love the Palmer House. So elegant and historic.
 I love the "In Memory" section the couple added.  It brought tears to my eyes. Eric's father died while we were neighbors and it was so touching to see how they both included their loved ones who have passed away.
 It was hard to get good pictures of the wedding party, but the top one is Eric on the left, his mother Joann, and her other son, Kurt. It was great to see Joann again and she looked so happy and beautiful! I wish we had pictures of Joann on the dance floor later. She really knows how to party and was out there with us the entire night.
Speaking of beautiful, Mandy was the picture perfect bride on her father's arm. Doesn't she look so happy?! It was such a touching ceremony and I love seeing Eric with his soul mate. We couldn't be happier for them both and had so much fun sharing their special day!
Mandy is vegetarian and she was so thoughtful to ensure we enjoyed our vegan entree. It was delicious! Thanks to Mandy, Eric, and the Palmer House for the food. Lots of perfectly steamed broccoli, herbed polenta, portobello mushrooms with roasted veggies and greens on top. Yum!
 In lieu of wedding cake, we were served these luscious cupcakes. This one was the perfect amount of chocolate.
This one had some fruit in the middle and was even better than the chocolate. So unexpected and sweet to have dessert!
 Rob after several hours of dancing. The suit coat had to come off. We don't go dancing often and it was so nice to have several hours of dancing to an awesome band. My feet has blisters by the end of the night, but I didn't feel anything until after the music stopped.
 We had to get up bright and early to make the first train home on Sunday so we were happy the train has a vegan burger in the dining car. It is definitely no Native Foods, but it was edible.
Not gourmet, but it filled our tired bellies.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Misc. Scenes from Our Week

 The nights have gone from little to no reprieve from the scorching hot of the day to almost chilly. When did fall get here? Dema has been sleeping in and the other morning Josie came downstairs to tell me I just had to go upstairs to see how cute Dema looked. She was right. I love how he is all cuddled up in his favorite orange organic cotton sheet that was too hot to put over him at night just a week or so ago.
 Look at that cute little face. Josie couldn't take it anymore and had to kiss Dema until he woke up. The love of a little sister can be sweet and slightly sadistic at the same time.
 One of Parker's friends was over this week (well several, but not on the same day). Parker was dismayed because the friend wasn't eating the snacks they were enjoying (cherries, strawberries, pb and j mini sandwiches, nectarines, plums, pluots, cashews and dried cherries) I looked in the bare refrigerator and decided no one can turn down vegan hot dogs in puff pastry with unsweetened ketchup and mustard for dipping. I was correct. Two batches disappeared and then I made a third with baked tofu instead of vegan hot dogs.
 Saturday the kids and Rob went to a nearby lake with the local "ski club" (thanks to our neighbors, Vicky and Greg who are members and encouraged us to try out some of their events). I stayed home with Persephone, cleaned the house, organized our homeschooling books, and listened to The Mockingjay again as I cleaned. Persephone usually follows me everywhere during the day and if I stay up at night she stays with me until I go to bed. Yet, Saturday she stayed on "her couch" (we were going to give this couch away so we put in the dining room next to the door to take to the curb, but Sephe doesn't get up on any of the other furniture and she took this couch over as her own) the entire day. She barked at every single person that walked by (which happened to be a lot since it was a beautiful day). I don't know if she was out of sorts because the kids were gone or bored with my cleaning/organizing. The kids had a lovely time at the lake and the boys even tried their hand (or legs really) at water skiing for the first time. Rob didn't take any pictures since he was also swimming and skiing.
 Our awesome neighbor, Margie, is so incredibly kind to Dema that I just want to hug her each time I see her. They read together almost every week day and lately she has created little scavenger hunts after he accomplishes a certain task. This time there was a box of Strawberry Fields vegan peanut butter brownies at the end of the hunt. Enough to share with his siblings. Yum!
 Josie had her last day of summer ballet. She can't wait for the fall semester to begin.
 More tomato sauce. Red, orange, heirloom, and grape tomatoes, garlic, carrots, spicy olives, cashews, white wine, red onions, various peppers, thyme, rosemary, oregano, raw pumpkin seeds, golden raisins,  nutritional yeast, tahini, and I'm sure some other stuff I can't remember. I love making sauce with veggies from our garden.
 Rob made some awesome black bean and tofu burritos for dinner this week, but I didn't snap a picture. We had some leftovers so I made burritos for lunch. Homemade black beans (Rob works some magic on them after I cook them), artichoke hearts, salsa, baked tofu, brown rice, avocado, a bit of Lisanatti vegan cheese, and a dab of vegan sour cream on a whole wheat tortilla.
 Peaches and nectarines.
 The pasta sauce above all pureed and served over whole wheat spaghetti and topped with black pepper and walnuts.
 We never tire of hibiscus tea. Isn't it pretty?
 A typical homeschooling day lunch. They need to keep up their strength for all the fun we have.
 Today was a snugly day. It was little thunderstorm after little thunderstorm. So nice after the three months of draught! Persephone isn't scared of storms, although she does seem to hate water, but she even felt the need to snuggle in today. The kids might have helped arrange the pillows, but she stayed like this for a very long time. Rainy days are really nice days with Persephone because there are no people and dogs to bark at and save us from 
Look at that cute little face. Often she reminds me of Dema.