Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Quinoa Loaf and Ketchup Gravy

Last week, I made the most amazing quinoa loaf that heralded in the Spring that just won't show up perfectly.  I got the recipe from a Whole Food app I have on my phone.  The recipe can be found here.  I will admit that I did not wait the recommended amount of time before turning it out of the pan and slicing and I ended up with quinoa pilaf.  Sadness, but delicious sadness none the less.

With this, I made Ketchup Gravy.  This is quite possibly the greatest invention I have ever devised.  If I did not invent this, please let me know.  I'm walking around with a big head here thinking this is all mine.  The idea came to me because I wanted a gravy to go with the quinoa loaf as it's a little dry, but I kept thinking back in those taste memory receptors of my grandmother's meatloaf that she would cook basted in a liberal coating of ketchup.  The solution satisfied both desires.

Ketchup Gravy

1 Tbsp vegan butter (Earth Balance Organic for me)
1 Tbsp whole wheat pastry flour (who knew you could make gravy with whole wheat flour?)
1 cup veg broth
2 Tbsp ketchup

In a small pot over medium heat, melt the butter then add the flour and stir together.  Add broth and bring to a boil.  Once it starts to thicken, add ketchup and continue to stir constantly.  Pepper to taste (I didn't need salt with the ketchup in it).  Keep simmering until it's the desired thickness (it will thicken a bit more once it cools).  It's so yummy as has that great ketchup-y flavor, but also tastes like gravy.  Very good for a weirdo like me.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Split Pea Soup and Onion Bread Rolls

I WISH I had pictures, but unfortunately it disappeared as soon as it was done.  The soup had a great rich buttery flavor from the Jerusalem artichokes and the rolls turned out fluffy and tasty.  This meal is a great way to welcome Spring when it's still a bit chilly out.  Here in Alaska, the sun is shining, but it's still 40 degrees or lower, so this satisfied my desire for beautiful Spring flavors while still soothing my soul from the falling snow.

Split Pea Soup

1/2 cup dry split peas soaked for 4-6 hours
1/2 cup dry green lentils soaked for 4-6 hours
1/2 yellow onion chopped finely
3 carrots chopped finely
4-5 small Jerusalem artichokes chopped finely
3 stalks celery chopped finely
1/2 cup frozen peas (or fresh)
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp olive oil

Saute all veggies in oil until they start to soften over medium high heat in a large pot.  Salt and pepper to taste, then add split peas and lentils and 2 1/2 cups water.  Stir well to make sure nothing got stuck to the bottom of the pot, then bring to a boil.  Once it's boiling, you can drop it down to a simmer and let simmer for about 1/2 hour- 45 minutes.  You may need to add some more water, but base it on the consistency you like your soup.

Onion Bread Rolls

1/2 package yeast
1 cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp onion powder
1 Tbsp olive oil
Onion flakes for decoration on top of each roll

I use my mixer, so I'm not sure exactly how to exchange time in mixer for kneading.

In mixing bowl, dissolve sugar in warm water, then sprinkle in yeast.  After about 3-5 minutes it should be foamy.  If it's no foamy, you have bad yeast and will need to try a different packet.  If it's foamy- you're ready.  Add the rest of your ingredients and mix on medium with your dough hook until it gets elastic and is moving as one ball.  Cover with a damp cloth or seran wrap and leave in a warm place for 1-2 hours.  It should AT LEAST double in size, maybe more.  Push it down so it deflates, and turn on the mixer for a minute or so just to get the bubbles mostly out.   The dough will be a little sticky, so it helps to get your hands wet before handling it.  Break the dough into 4 balls and place them spread out on a greased cookie sheet or on a silpat mat.  Sprinkle with onion flakes if you want.  Drizzle with a tiny bit more oil and cover with seran wrap for another 1/2 hour or so.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees and cook for about 10 minutes until golden brown (remove seran wrap before cooking).

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Roasted Beet and Horseradish Quinoa Risotto

My mom is visiting and I was so worried she'd feel like something was missing when I cooked for her.  She's a freegan (though she didn't know that word until I said it) for the most part, and lately the dumpster she frequents has had prime rib. Hence, she has been eating prime rib quite often.  I certainly wouldn't try to make a fake meat prime rib, but I did want to mirror some of the flavor, so I made this recipe using beets and horseradish for that great savory rich flavor, and quinoa to make sure she got all the protein she needed.

1 cup quinoa
3 cloves garlic
4 small beets (or 2 large beets) with greens 
2 Tbsp olive oil
5-6 cups veg broth
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1-2 Tbsp horseradish to taste
2 Tbsp- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Wash the beets and beet greens thoroughly.  Cut the tops off and half or quarter the beets and wrap them in aluminum foil with one of the garlic cloves, 1 Tbsp of oil, and salt and pepper.  Place package on middle rack and roast for about an hour.  Use the back of your knife to peel the beets and chop them into small cubes.  Turn the oven up to 400.   Chop the greens into small strips and toss with a bit of oil, salt, and pepper.  Spread them out on a cookie sheet and bake for about 10-15 minutes, until crispy (thanks for the idea Christina).

Once beets are cooked, begin the risotto.  Heat the veg broth to a simmer first and have a ladle ready.  In a large nonstick pan, heat the other Tbsp of oil.  Rough chop the garlic and saute quickly and add quinoa and stir to coat with oil.  Stir constantly and ladle enough broth to cover the quinoa.  Add broth as needed and stir in the horseradish and balsamic vinegar.  Continue stirring and adding broth until the quinoa is soft, about 30-40 minutes.  Stir in the beets and nutritional yeast until quinoa is all pretty red.  This will be very hot, so you might want to let it cool a little before serving.  Top with crispy greens and enjoy!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer pt. 1


I'm half way through this book and already I need to talk about it, write about it, get the images in my mind onto the screen and out of my head. I've never had a book that I hated reading so much, or that I felt was so important to read. It's like reading The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, but it's real and it's everywhere. I read The Jungle in high school AP class, and I can still remember the descriptions of the drain in the floor where everything from the animal leaked and ran out. It's a classic if anyone is interested in the meat packing industry of the 1930's.

I started reading Eating Animals while in bed one night (because I'm the mom of an infant and when the heck else would I have time to read). Anyway, I'm in bed and literally gagging through the first chapter when my husband had to tell me to stop gagging or stop reading. Fair enough. Here I am now half way through and I have hardened myself to it. I'm on the verge of tears and nausea with every page, but I push through. Reading this book you get a sense that what is being said is so important that you have to just plow through and get there... and it's not for a happy ending. The only happy ending for me is when I get up, open my refrigerator, and there aren't animals there. I find myself dreading my next trip to the grocery store because I'm afraid all I will see is "fecal soup" and beakless birds.

I had a similar experience, though not as gruesome, when I taught middle school in the central valley. Many of my students had parents working in the agricultural fields all through the valley. The parents would come to conferences and open house directly from the fields, still in their pesticide-soaked work clothes and hold their babies to their chests, hug their children, and cough. One student had an unexplained seizure in my class. She just fell out of her chair and started convulsing. I don't know the source of that seizure, but the doctors also couldn't figure it out. The worst thing was the coughing though. There always seemed to be coughing. Usually, the kids who lived in the workers' housing right next to the fields coughed the most. I had one student who had a persistent cough that shook my heart each time I heard it. It was the cough of an old man, and it just wouldn't go away. For months he coughed. I asked him what his parents did, and he said they worked in the fields. They both drove the sprayers. I thought of the stories we read about Caesar Chavez. I hear that cough when I see that conventional produce is cheaper and more readily available. I hear that cough and see the face of one of my 8th graders who had been held back a year, so he was 15 in 8th grade. He was so excited to go to work with his dad on the weekends. In 8th grade he began working in those fields. He said he liked working on the organic farms best, and brought me a bag of organic onions one Monday.

It's hard sometimes to put a face to the food on our plates. Things are so different from the idea of a farm like I grew up on, or like you see in the movies. Reading this book has taken me back to that place, made me long for the snow outside to melt so I can plant my garden, made me grateful for the CSA farm I am able to get fresh produce from each week, and made me sick. I have never felt a desire to push vegetarianism on others until I started reading this book. It's our country, our children, our future. I still don't want to push people or make anyone suffer, but I do want people to think about what they feed their families.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Baby Food: Soy Yogurt

My daughter got her first yogurt today! I have been on the fence about giving yogurt, and I don't know why. I finally realized it's because of the warnings about not giving yogurt unless it is "Whole Milk Yogurt." Well, I just read my milk post, and I know that the whole milk thing is just about fat, so I decided to fatten up some soy yogurt.

Fatty Good Soy Yogurt for Baby

1/2 cup yogurt
1 teaspoon almond butter (she has shown no nut allergies, if you have nut allergies or worry about this with your baby, don't include it)
1 Tablespoon prune puree
1 Tablespoon flax meal

I stirred it all together really well and expected Violet to eat about half of it. She loved it and ate it all happily. I could tell she was getting full at the end, but that's the goal! This would be good with any sweet puree and I think I might make a date puree to add next time or maybe even a pea puree. What a great way to get so many nutrients!

Gluten and Sugar free Cowboy Cookies

I have been trying to make the perfect sugar free cookie, and for me this is it! This is a great cookie for people with allergies, excluding pecans of course. I love pecans so much though.

Makes about 10 cookies. I usually make small batches of cookies, so that I don't end up with a bunch of cookies just sitting around the house. I have a small family and don't need 2 dozen cookies in my house ever.

1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup shredded coconut (unsweetened)
1/2 cup hot water
6-10 dates (depending on size/sweetness/your taste)
1 cup quick cooking oats
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3-4 vegan chocolate chips or chunks per cookie

In a food processor, pulse the pecans, coconut, and oats while the dates soak in the hot water. Once the items in the food processor are nice and sandy- textured, add the water and dates. Pulse until completely mixed. Add coconut oil, baking soda, and salt and pulse a few more times until completely combined. Use a tablespoon to scoop balls of dough onto a cookie sheet with parchment or silpat mat. Place 3-4 chocolate chips (I used Tropical Source, which have evaporated cane juice as a sweetener) on each cookie. Then press them down with your hand. They won't spread during cooking, so you can put them close together. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until the sides are slightly browned.

These end up a bit cakey, but I am in love with them and so pleased with the great sweetness and texture without flour or sugar. They are a little crumbly, so I might add a tablespoon of flax meal next time.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Daughter Isn't a Cow

I was asked to write about why I won't be giving my daughter milk, and I was ambivalent about writing this. There are three reasons for my ambivalence:
1. I don't see any reason TO give milk to a human child, she's not a cow.
2. I give my daughter cow's milk formula.
3. I don't like to be negative in terms of my diet, but prefer to focus on the things that I do enjoy eating.

So, you caught #2 huh. I put it that way because I think it's a poopy thing to do to a child. I could explain myself, but the gist of it is that I'm a hypocrite who won't give her milk in a sippy cup, but do give it to her from a bottle. The decision to give her formula was a very hard one, and when we broke down and did giver her formula, we had really done just that; broken down. As a mother, the hardest thing so far is to feed my daughter for 15 hours a day and still have her not gain an ounce, to know her brain needs to be developing and know that she's not getting the nutrition she needs from my ready and willing breasts, and to have tried everything all the professionals and moms around you suggest and still see no change. It's heart breaking and made me feel so discourage and helpless. For my husband, it was even harder, because as much as I felt like I couldn't do any more, he really felt like there was nothing he could do. We researched and took advice from a lactation consultant and were strongly discouraged from using soy formula (which isn't vegan anyway: see last week's article on Spawn Better). The point is we gave her some cow's milk formula and she grew. She has continued to grow and we've continued with cow's milk. I don't think it's what's best for her, but we were so fearful to stop the ONE thing that finally worked. I know now that she doesn't have a soy allergy because we share a bowl of oatmeal with soy milk in it every morning, and that seems to be the main concern from what I've read. There's also some questionable suggestions that an animal protein is better than a plant protein for babies. Who knows. I'm happy to report that I am writing this with a can of soy formula on the counter ready to try out. My daughter is the strongest, most active and adventurous baby I have ever seen at her age, and I have high hopes that she will continue to thrive with this formula.

Okay, so after formula and breast, what will I give her then? Well, when she turns one, she will not spontaneously turn into a cow (I hope) and so I will not spontaneously start giving her milk for a baby cow. I had been putting off this research because I couldn't imagine any argument for cow's milk that would make any sense. I knew the basic one would be calcium and protein, but our soy milk is enriched and she'll get her calcium from the same place I get mine. Her protein is not a concern seeing how this kid loves beans and rice and lentils and tofu and any other protein source I've given her. So instead of looking for why NOT to give a toddler milk, I looked up WHY to give a toddler milk. I think kellymom sums it up best in one word: convenience. I really see nothing to add as she gives great alternatives to cow's milk excluding only one that I can think of which is soy and coconut yogurts which are more readily available now.

If you are still thinking this whole convenience thing is more than you can give up, consider this. Yes, I agree some of these things sound extremist or exaggerated, just like claims that milk is "healthy" for children. While I might tend to agree that these are probably not all going to apply to you and your baby, I will say that more and more Americans are discovering that they have milk intolerance that is mild and has gone undiagnosed. People who just tend to be gassy or get stomach aches a lot are finding more and more that they have a dairy intolerance. And why wouldn't they? Humans are supposed to lose the ability to produce lactase in childhood because they are no longer nursing, so drinking the milk of another species should make us sick.

If these seem like biased opinions, consider where you usually get your information about milk and who is funding them. The USDA who is setting up the food guide doesn't have a lot to gain from its consumers choosing to boycott milk and milk products.

But, as LeVar Burton always said, "You don't have to take my word for it."

More resources:
The Harvard School of Public Health says that milk is not the best source of calcium.
The Cancer Project links milk consumption with prostate cancer.
Time ran a story about a possible connection between childhood diabetes and cow's milk.

There are also entire websites dedicated to the dangers of milk:
Not Milk
Milk Sucks

In the end, it is up to you to provide your child with what you feel is the healthiest and most beneficial nutrition you can. For me, that doesn't mean the most convenient, it means the best.

Related Reading:

Fiction: This story includes some harmful effects of the ethnocentric notion that all children need cow's milk.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Yellow Curry Tofu With Potatoes, Carrots, and Spinach

This one is for my homey Arnold, king of J! I went to Humboldt State University and lived on campus, leaving me with dorm cafeteria food. I was very lucky to be at the campus with one of the most veggie friendly dining halls in the country. Although some days the veggie dishes didn't appeal to me, that was okay because there was a huge salad bar with tons of fresh veggies, tofu, beans, etc. and there was always rice. So if all else failed, you could make yourself a stir fry. That's pretty unique.

Look here and see how some other college stack up.

When I was eating at the J, Humboldt's dining hall, one of my favorite dishes that I always loved was a yellow curry sauce with big cubes of tofu and spinach. The sauce was a mild curry with a creamy coconut base. I have thought about it for years, but never before attempted to recreate it. I used to eat it over rice, but I had rice last night, so I "beefed" it up with potatoes and carrots.

Yellow Curry Tofu With Potatoes, Carrots and Spinach

1 tbsp canola or light olive oil
1/2 yellow onion chopped
2 medium sized red or yellow potatoes cubed
1 large carrot cut lengthwise and then in inch long slices
1/2 package of tofu cut into 1/2 inch cubes or larger
1-3 tsps yellow curry powder (I only used 1 tsp, but I shared with a 7 month old)
Small can of coconut milk
1 cup vegetable stock
1 tsp tamarind powder (I know this is a hard one to find, so you could sub fresh lime juice instead)
1 cup fresh spinach
salt to taste

In large nonstick pan or wok, heat your oil at medium high. Add the onions first, then stir in the potatoes, carrots and tofu. Toss frequently and cook for about 5 minutes. The goal is not to brown, just to get it started. Add the curry powder by sprinkling over everything so that it coats your cubes with a light yellow. Add the coconut and vegetable broth and let it come to a boil. Add the tamarind powder or lime juice lower the heat to a simmer for about 15-20 minutes until your potatoes are soft. Turn the heat off and stir in the spinach so it cooks through but doesn't turn to mush.

Not only did I LOVE this dinner, my little munchkin finished her bowl and ate another (her bowl is about 1/8 of a cup, but still).

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tomato Ginger Lemongrass Simmer Sauce

My food processor is full of deliciousness that I want to drink directly from it through a straw. Mmmmm. I am already dreaming about dinner.

This was inspired by one of those jarred simmer sauces that you see occasionally and think, I could make that. You don't think that when you see jars of simmer sauce? I just prefer to make my own everything. The disclaimer with this is that I am no Indian food expert, so while it tastes great to me, there are probably about 5 more spices you could add to improve it. If you know those spices, go ahead and use them and enjoy!

Large can of stewed tomatoes
Small can of coconut milk
1 tsp oil
1 yellow onion chopped into large cubes
2 carrots chopped
1 red bell pepper chopped
3 cloves garlic
about 4 inches of lemongrass finely grated
2 tbsp ginger finely grated
1 bunch of fresh cilantro
4 dates (you may need more depending on the sweetness of your other ingredients and the size of your dates)
1/2 tsp coriander

Over medium high heat, saute the onion, garlic, bell pepper, and onion in the oil until the onions are slightly caramelized. Stir frequently to keep from burning anything. Next, add the grated ginger and lemongrass and toss once or twice. Add the tomatoes, coconut milk, dates, coriander, and cilantro (go ahead and just tear the top off the bunch of cilantro because you are going to blend it all anyway). Let this all simmer together for 10-15 minutes. Carefully pour it into your food processor and blend everything together. After it's blended you can salt or more dates if needed. This can be simmered with tofu, seitan, tempeh, or with cubed zucchini. I'm thinking of making green lentils, then simmering them in the sauce and serving them over brown rice.


**Edited an hour later: I made the lentils and brown rice and that was the perfect pairing with this sauce! This recipe makes a lot, so I froze two ziplock bags of leftover sauce and used about 1/4 cup.

Fishless Sticks: Take 1

Oh bother. I'm posting this because it is a cautionary tale for others. I would not recommend making this recipe as it stands, but the flavors are good, so feel free to steal the idea and improve upon it.

Fishless Sticks

1/2 cup TVP (texturized vegetable protein)
1 cup hot water
1 tsp kelp granules (I used Braggs and found them in the spice section at the health food store)
1-2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning to taste
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
2 flax eggs (6 tbsp water and 2 tbsp flax meal left to set for a few minutes together)

Combine all ingredients but flax egg and let sit for about 10 minutes or until TVP is soft/chewy and has soaked up the water. While this is happening I preheated the oven to 350 degrees and thought about how I knew these wouldn't hold together, flax egg be damned. I thought that if I had some leftover mashed potatoes, that would make a great binder. But I didn't. I got out a cookie sheet with a silpat mat (foil would work too) and formed my mixture into fingers/sticks the size of a good puffy ladyfinger cookie. I got 6 sticks from this recipe. I baked them for 25 minutes until they were brown and crispy on the outside.

When I took them off the mat, they were a bit crumbly and aren't holding together well, but the flavor is nice. Next time I'll try it with potatoes or something to bind it. Feel free to comment with ideas.

Does a bear **** in the woods? What about your baby?

People are always shocked to learn that my 7 month old uses the toilet, and has been since she was about 3 months old.

It's shocking to me too most days that a tiny little baby will choose, and I do mean choose, to go poop in the toilet. What's our secret? A motivated baby and a little extra work on our part.

When Violet was first born, our midwife talked to us about Elimination Communication (EC), or "Natural Infant Hygiene." She said that her grandson didn't ever need diapers, but that took a lot of dedication on her daughter's part. Basically, she said a good start was to hold the baby over the toilet when she first woke up. That was the time when baby was likely to need to pee, and that would get the baby used to peeing in the toilet.

It seemed simple enough, but our baby didn't really love being held over the toilet when she first woke up. We gave up pretty quickly. We were tired, cranky, and it seemed easier to just change the diaper and move on. Things changed when she started getting diaper rashes. The final suggestion that worked for us was to not use any wipe (not even the natural ones, not even a wash cloth). We would wash her in the sink with warm water and no soap after every diaper change. EVERY DIAPER CHANGE. To accommodate this, we moved the changing table into the bathroom. I think for us, this was the key to our success.

Suddenly, Violet associated the bathroom with pee, poop, and getting clean. Now I look back on those days of changing her diaper in her bedroom and wonder what she thought about that, or what she would think about it now. She almost immediately began peeing on the changing table every time we changed her diaper. As soon as the diaper came off, even a soaked one, she would pee. We figured, she's trying to tell us something. So, we started holding her over the toilet after taking off her diaper. The rest, as they say, is history.

She still wets at least 8 diapers a day, but she pees in the toilet almost as many times. When we started the diaper change/ hold over the toilet routine, she began pooping in the toilet right away. For the first month and a half we were doing this, she didn't poop in a single diaper. We have had poopy diapers since then, but it's usually only about two a week that I don't catch, and even those I usually realize she's pooping midway and take her to the toilet to finish. Part of that is that she is mobile, so she's playing and grunting and not always facing me, and I don't see her look. She seems to be getting more communicative though, because the other day she crawled over to me and looked at me very pointedly and made her poop face. She still hasn't copied the sign for poop that I show her when she goes.

Now she is also able to sit on a trainer seat (pictured above) and that's nice because it's rough on the back to hold the baby over the toilet. I do the hold where she has her back to my chest and I hold her by her thighs. We still use this when we are out, but she just uses her seat at home.

While I completely respect the purists out there, I think our partial use of the EC strategies us best for us. I'm glad we weren't overly dedicated in the beginning, because I think it would have upset Violet to be forced into it, and when it was directed by her actions it came effortlessly and happily. People ask me how I "make" my daughter use the toilet at such a young age, and I'm really glad that that is not the case. I'm not potty training my daughter, I'm allowing her the option to choose not to go to the bathroom in her pants. No one likes sitting in their own filth, and given the choice you'd be surprised how quickly even a small baby will choose the cleaner option.

I hope our story helps if you are trying EC/NIH or interested in trying, or if you are someone struggling because it's just not working for you. I would suggest giving it a break and coming back to it when you are both ready. It doesn't have to be all or nothing. It doesn't have to be every day. It can just be giving your child a choice or recognizing that face once in a while.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Baby Toys That Aren't Toys and Essentials

My daughter doesn't have a lot of "toys" because we just aren't that interested in consuming a bunch of shiny plastic objects for limited enjoyment. She does have a few things that we have picked up used or that have been given as gifts. I think these toys are great.

Violet, at 7 months old, feels she is a better judge of an object's interest and enjoyment quotient than anyone who distributes to Toys 'R Us though, and has found many of her own toys.

Her top 10 in no particular order:

1. Dog toys. She likes to play tug o' war with the dogs using their rope toys.
2. Spoons. She likes wooden spoons, metal spoons, baby spoons, anything spoony is her favorite.
3. Shoes. Much like the dogs, she loves to find a shoe and chew on it, be it her own or someone else's. In addition, she enjoys chewing on feet and socks either together or separately.
4. The dishwasher. If the dishwasher is open, she is in it. This is true wether there are dirty or clean items inside, so loading the dishwasher has become a speed sport.
5. Books. While these are purchased for the baby's enjoyment, it's hard to read to someone eating the book.
6. The covers on the baseboard heating. She learned to take the one in the bathroom off. Fun!
7. Her own clothes. If you take a sweater off her while she is playing, she will pick it up and toss it and sway it around. If you give her a stuffed animal she looks at it like you are crazy.
8. My elliptical trainer, especially when I am on it. We are learning the word, "NO!"
9. The springy door stopper that she can flick and it makes a "BROING!" sound.
10. Her toothbrush. When she is in the bath and fussy, none of her bath toys- Not even Mr. Squid!- will make her happy. But her toothbrush has yet to disappoint. She brush brush brushes those two teeth. Not too surprising given that since she's been born my husband and I have needed major dental work. She knows what's good for her.

That said, she has taken immense pleasure in her 80's Johnny Jump Up my mom "reclaimed" from a dumpster somewhere and washed for us, her used horsey jumper, some rubber blocks that squeak that we picked up for a dollar at a consignment shop, and a couple xylophones that we purchased used at Once Upon a Child. We have saved hundreds of dollars with the used toys, hand me down clothes from family members, and used cloth diapers we have purchased. Not only have we saved money, but we have followed the first R of resource preservation, which is to reuse.

Being Part of a Pack

I love my dogs. They are my children, and siblings to my human baby. One of my dogs loves my human baby, the other does not- or so I thought. My younger dog, Clover, has been stuck to the baby like glue since she was born. In fact, while I was giving birth at home in a rented birthing tub, the dog was leaning over the edge just waiting for her new pack-member to arrive. For every picture of my daughter in her first month of life the dog was in the frame. She wouldn't leave the baby's side for more than a quick trip to the food bowl or outside to relieve herself.

I remember the shaming looks Clover would give me as Violet would cry and my husband and I would flounder in those early days trying to figure out what to do. Clover's eyes seemed to say, "What did you do to my baby!" or "Why aren't you helping her?"

As Violet has grown, Clover has allowed herself some distance, but still shows love and affection for the baby on a regular basis. The best example of Clover's devotion was a few weeks ago when Violet was petting Clover and pinched her. Clover got mad, growled, and jumped up onto the couch to get away from Violet. Of course the baby did not realize she was being snubbed, but the dog came into Violet's room and found us a few minutes later as we were sitting on the floor reading a book. I wondered what would happen as I had seen how upset Clover was. She walking in holding one of her favorite toys (the rope ear of a stuffed bear dog toy she received as a puppy) in her mouth. I leaned back and watched for signs of aggression as the dog dropped the toy in front of the baby and then nosed it forward. That's right. She was giving up her most prized possession as a peace offering. Clover doesn't treat the rest of us like a member of a dog pack, but like a very loving person.

Ein, our older dog, is much more of a dog and a pack member. While I was giving birth he sat across the room acting disinterested but keeping an eye on me. When the baby came, he was often in the room, but again kept his distance. He does not lick the baby or play with her, and will move away from her if she tries to play with him (of course since he's not interested in playing, he is her greatest love and most sought after companion). There are subtle ways, though, that Ein shows that he recognizes Violet as a member of his pack. When we have been gone for an hour or so and come home, Ein always sniffs Violet to make sure she's the same baby (or to say hello, or for whatever reason he does this). He does not steal her food or toys unless they are abandoned, and would never take anything from her hands.

But today I saw him really acknowledge his baby sister. I got Violet one of those sleds that you pull behind you, and at the dog park she got to ride in it. There were dogs all around, and I kept looking back to make sure she wasn't getting trampled. What I saw each time I turned around was Ein. He stayed either directly behind her or next to her- never close enough for her to touch him- for the whole walk. He is usually the adventurous one up ahead playing with the other dogs, but this time his baby was on the ground and subject to other dogs, and just as he protects Clover when other dogs scare her, he protected Violet.

We are a pack, and just like any family that means we might not always like each other and we will surely get on each other's nerves, but we look out for each other.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Raw? Vegan Macaroons

I'm not 100% sure about the rules on RAW, so the chocolate chips I used might not qualify. If you know, feel free to correct me. I have seen raw vegan cookie recipes again and again and what I made was nothing original by any stretch, but I threw it together on the fly and was pleased with the results.

Food processor
Mini ice cream scoop/ cookie scoop

1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup Tropical Source chocolate chips (or the ones you like, or carob)
1/2 cup sweetened coconut (I would have used unsweetened, but sweetened is what I had on hand)
1 large majool date, pitted

Blend all ingredients in food processor until it sticks together nicely. Scoop with cookie scoop onto plate or tupperware. I pushed down really hard into the scoop to get a packed ball. Without a scoop you would just have to roll them and that might now work as well. Now they are refrigerating to hold their shape better, but I tasted the mixture and it's just like a yummy chocolate macaroon on Passover.

Vegan Lasagna Veggie Style

I have seen plenty of recipes for "vegan" lasagna that instruct you to layer artificial meat with noodles and artificial cheese. Those are fine. I could easily add those things to this lasagna and it would be tasty, but different. I wanted a fresh veggies lasagna that celebrates the coming Spring. I live in Alaska and while I know Spring should be here any minute, the two feet of snow covering my garden taunt me and tell me it will never be Spring again until the White Witch is overthrown (I've been reading The Chronicles of Narnia to my daughter). Also, I just got my weekly CSA box and had a bounty to play with. My CSA provider is Full Circle Farms and I would recommend them to anyone in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

Vegan Lasagna Veggie Style
Serves 2 (this recipe could easily be doubled or stretched with other ingredients that I will mention along the way)

Food Processor or Blender
Nonstick or cast iron pan
knife and cutting board
loaf pan (or if doubling use a nice big deep pan or your choosing)

1 medium or large eggplant
1 medium or large zucchini
6 large crimini mushrooms or 2 portabellas
tablespoon sunflower seeds or pine nuts
handful of fresh flat leaf parsley
2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
about 1/2 cup fresh or defrosted frozen spinach
2 tablespoons olive oil plus some to oil loaf pan
garlic salt and red pepper flakes to taste

First, cut the eggplant lengthwise and salt. Place in a 350 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes. You want it nice and soft. Allow the eggplant to cool while you prepare other ingredients. In the food processor you can put parsley, 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast, and a tablespoon of oil. When the eggplant is cool, scoop it out of the skin with a spoon and add to the food processor and blend until smooth.

Next, chop mushrooms finely and place in medium high heat pan with about a tablespoon of oil. Add garlic salt and cook until browned. Add the sunflower seeds and let them quickly brown as well. Take this mixture from heat and set to the side. Now you can slice your zucchini into lengthwise strips as thinly as you can. A mandolin would be nice for this, but I don't have one so I just did my best with what I had.

Oil your pan and place down a layer of zucchini strips. On top of the zucchini, place a thin layer of your mushroom and sunflower seed mixture. On top of that, spread a thin layer of the eggplant mixture. I almost ran out of eggplant, so a large eggplant is recommended or using one of the add-ins listed below. After the eggplant, add a layer of spinach and then more zucchini, then mushroom and nuts, then a final eggplant layer. Top with nutritional yeast, salt and red pepper flakes if you like them. Cover with aluminum foil or tight fitting lid.

Cook at 350 degrees for about an hour or until everything is bubbly.

**Variations** You could use any or all of them.
To stretch this recipe and add more protein, you can do a few things:
1. Add a can of cannelini beans (drained) to your eggplant mixture when blending.
2. Add TVP (textured vegetable protein) that has been reconstituted, artificial ground beef, or an Italian Field Roast sausage to your mushroom mixture.
3. Add cooked lasagna noodles in layers throughout.

Ode to Tofu

I love the way a bit of oil in the pan can crisp the edges of slices of tofu and make the quintessential "health food" taste like such a guilty pleasure. I made tofu with peanut sauce and spinach last night and felt like I was totally getting away with something. I've always eaten tofu, as long as I can remember, and I have always liked it. I never understood the people who say, "Tofu doesn't taste like anything, so you can do whatever you want with it." I disagree completely. Not only does tofu have a distinct taste, different brands have their own flavors and textures.

Last night I had some Wildwood Sprouted Tofu. I like this brand for a couple reasons.
1. The flavor and texture are more toothsome and rich. I like a tofu that has a more savory flavor and not the sour/acidic flavor some tofus have.
2. The handy two pack design of the packaging means I don't have to eat an entire block of tofu at once (or figure out how to store the other). Whenever I have leftover raw tofu to use, I always end up over marinating it in something salty or sweet (or a combination of the two). I like salty and sweet, but tofu soaks up that marinate like a sponge and usually leaves the tofu over-salty/sweet. It's better for me to season it just an hour before cooking at the most.

I usually stick to firm tofu for all my savory delights, but I do buy silken tofu occasionally. I like to make pudding from the silken tofu, and actually really like a good mousse. I either like the chocolate mousse recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World or I get the Mori Nu pack that you mix in with your tofu (I like to add about a 1/4 cup of melted chocolate chips to this for added richness).

Since I'm a meat free mom, I get to share all my tofu goodness with my little girl. Tofu is a great first food because it's soft and easy to moosh in the mouth. My daughter Violet has taken an early interest to spices and diverse flavors, so I have been able to just share whatever I am eating with her. She has enjoyed some BBQ tofu, miso soup with tofu, and bits of tofu from stir fries.

Tofu is not a staple in our meat free diet, and actually ends up being more like red meat for omnis- a special treat to have once or twice a week. With so many great protein sources in whole foods, we don't live off tofu, as I think some of my friends and family imagine, but we do enjoy our yummy blocks of white goodness.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sugar Addiction

The PPK girls have ruined my life- and by life I mean waistband. I used to have such a hard time finding sweets I could eat, and didn't have any recipes for making my own. I was left with specialty dark chocolate and pie. Now, I can whip up some awesome vegan cookies in less than a half hour, and have cupcakes in just an hour or so. I literally make cookies almost every day.

In light of my increased sugar intake, I've been doing a little research on kicking a sugar habit. Sadly, I don't like what I've found. I keep reading about quitting "cold [tofurky]" and cleansing your life of sugar. Ugh. I'm not trying to send myself into a coma of boredom, I just don't want to be such a pudge. I already know about agave nectar. It is the fruit of the Gods in my life. Special thanks to Costco for making this branch of my habit semi-affordable. I wanted an even more hard core substitute though. And again, Costco had the answer; dates.

I was reading a Living Without magazine that I picked up at my local health food store, and I saw something about using dates soaked in water in the place of brown sugar. I tried it today with a basic chocolate chip cookie recipe, but I full on used dates and water to replace all the sugar that was called for. They cookies turned out a bit cakey (but I bet if I left out the liquid that was called for they wouldn't be) and delicious! They were sweet without being too sweet and the chocolate chips were able to really stand out. I am looking forward to more experimentation, and when I have a good recipe I'll share. Now I feel like there must be all kinds of ways to avoid the white devil (refined sugar) in my baking. This will be added to my list of experiments under the umbrella of my new passion; allergen-free cooking. Also, with a baby girl who already has plenty of energy, the last thing I need is to give her sugar.

Until then I'll be having sugar plum dreams about sweet sweet treats. I keep waiting for the PPK confection book. I already have some truffle ideas and it's taking all my self control not to act on them.

***Edited March 24, 2010: BINGO! Of course my sugar free cookies are not fat free, and there are ways I could cut back, but it's oil from the pecans and coconut oil! Pecan oil might not be as healthy (I know almonds the "heathy" nut, but I tend to favor all nut oils), but coconut has many benefits and I don't use a ton. As a bonus, I was able to make these cookies gluten free too! Sugar and Gluten Free Cowboy Cookies

Field Roast Vegan Sausages

I have heard this term tossed around a lot lately, and I think it applies here: nom nom. I love the Field Roast sausages. And, what's more, they are easy for me to get in the regular grocery store. They don't require any special trip, but offer such a special taste.

So far I've tried the Italian and Chipotle flavors and both have been great. They have a lot of flavor going on, and I can just picture Guy Fieri saying, "That's out of bounds." I like to put the Chipotle ones in my "mom meal."
The mom meal is something I came up with toward the end of my pregnancy when I just couldn't really be bothered to think about what I was going to eat. The "mom meal" is when I take a Field Roast sausage and whatever veggies I have in the crisper (good choices include; onion, zucchini, broccoli stems, kale, etc.) and I saute these until nicely browned. Then, I add brown rice and coat with the oil and add a little more oil than is called for. I let it come to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cover for about 40 minutes. When it's done, I add nutritional yeast liberally over the top and add chopped fresh tomato if available. The rich flavor of the sausage gives the whole pilaf-like meal so much flavor.

For the Italian sausage, I made vegan gnocci from the recipe in Vegan With a Vengeance and just made a simple red sauce using sausage and canned tomatoes with some capers and kalamata olives to make it putanesca-ish.

Both these sausages mimic the flavor, fat, and texture of real sausage incredibly well. The delightful difference is that these sausages have vegetable derived oils instead of animal fat in them. As my husband pointed out, they are still greasy. It's a great grease though, and it makes for better cooking.

I have the chicken apple flavor in the freezer waiting for me when I'm ready for more sampling.

Gardein BBQ Skewers

I was perusing Alicia's Silverstone's website and saw a chicken recipe that specifically called for Gardein chicken. I figured if it was suggested by name, it must be good. I got the chicken, the pulled pork, and the BBQ beef skewers. I have only tried the skewers so far...

The taste is beefy, I won't argue with that, but there is an aftertaste that I just can't get past. I tried a few preparations, so I feel like I gave this product every chance.

First, I cooked a skewer in a pan with a tiny bit of oil and browned all sides. I didn't add any sauce because I wanted to actually taste the flavors of my mockmeat. The texture was the first thing I notice, it's good. There's a chewiness that really replicates meat in a nice way. I also liked the forward flavor. The problem was this synthetic aftertaste that I can only compare to rubber, which then makes the texture seem gross in my mind when my taste buds tell my brain: "rubber."

I had hoped it something I could mask.

The second time I made these skewers, I cooked three in the broiler. I figured that would give it a rich flavor, and provide a nice base for some sauciness. I tried one with bbq sauce, one with teriyaki sauce, and one with steak sauce. The flavors again were great, and each matched well with the flavor of the meat, but there was still that aftertaste.

I would say that if you can get past the aftertaste, this is a great alternative, but you aren't going to fool any meat eaters with this. I have read reviews of the chicken where people said their meat-eating friends couldn't tell it wasn't chicken. This beef would not fit that description.

I am considering trying these one more time and using them in a stew with a red wine base. I'm thinking the bold flavors of a stew and long cooking time might overpower that plastic-like taste, but I am not ready to spend the money to try again just yet.

We'll see how the other flavors pan out.

Fake Meat: You've Come A Long Way Baby

When I was first a vegetarian, I worked at a Mexican restaurant. Being a foolish teenager, I would sometimes eat the delicious fresca beans that were made fresh every day and had a wonderful flavor that I have spent my adult life trying to recreate, but more often I ordered the "veggie meat." The cooks actually called me Veggie Meat as a nick name. The "veggie meat" came in frozen patties that looked and tasted pretty much like McDonald's hash browns. I have seen veggie burgers that still have this look, and I assume the same potato-y taste.

During this time, I dated a guy who was Buddist. I wish I had a picture of this guy and his family, because they look like the typical American family, so when I found out he was a Buddist is was very surprising to say the least. He introduced me to Morning Star Farms and their meaty non-meat. I suddenly realized that fake meat could taste... Well, it tasted meaty, almost to the point of repulsion at times. In college I would devour Morning Star corndogs like they were potato chips and make their hot dogs in my dorm room microwave daily. I didn't really think about sodium consumption or the fat that was in these items. Also, now that I am an expert label reader, I am saddened to see that Morning Star uses milk in most of their products. As does Garden Burger. Milk hasn't been an option for me for a few years when my body suddenly realized I wasn't a cow and started fighting back against my insistence that food for a baby cow was fine for an adult woman.

So now here I am without my go-to meat substitutes and navigating the labels and prices of what to eat and feed my family. Quite frankly, I would rather have quinoa, lentils, or beans than most meat substitutes, but I am having fun trying new things. I will post reviews of the "alternatives" that I try periodically and am open to suggestions as well.