Quinoa Salad

March 3, 2010

This salad, served warm or chilled, is even better the next day.  Try it alone, stuffed in a pepper or tomato, or as an accompaniment to glazed tempeh.  It’s an easy and delicious way to get the family to try quinoa!

1 cup red quinoa, cooked (use a 1:2 quinoa to water ratio, bring to boil, turn down heat and cook 10-15 minutes)

1/4 purple onion, diced

1 bell pepper, diced

1 tomato, chopped

3 Tbs corn

3 Tbs peas

4 Tbs olive oil

1 1/2 tsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp lime juice

cracked black pepper, sage, garlic salt to taste

To make: Cook quinoa.  Add in pepper, tomato, onion, peas, and corn.  In a separate container, mix soy sauce, olive oil, lime juice, and seasonings.  Toss dressing in with salad and let chill 30 minutes.

Schools are only one piece of the puzzle

February 19, 2010

Media coverage regarding the school lunch program has increased recently both on the local level and even nationally.  Everyone seems to have an opinion on the matter.  As a parent, as a vegan, as a cook, and as a school food service worker, this issue is close to my heart and one about which I feel I am knowledgeable enough to share my thoughts.

Before forming opinions about school lunch I must encourage everyone to set aside the negative stereotype of the fat, greasy, grouchy lunch lady plopping unidentifiable scoops of mush onto kids’ trays.  School lunch has come a long way since my parents were in school, and even since I was in high school.  The basic framework is still there, but the food has changed, the methods of cooking have changed, and the ways of serving the food have changed.  We don’t have fryers anymore.  We don’t serve pots of slop.  We don’t steam our vegetables beyond recognition.  That is not to say we’re perfect–we certainly still have a ways to go.  School nutrition directors are constantly looking for new ways to arrange the budget in order to provide better options for the children, who are always the first priority.  We truly do the best we can with the limited funds we are given.

But we have a lot to deal with, more than most parents consider.  Some school cafeterias are run by management companies, who try to make profit for themselves and for the school by lowering costs as much as possible.  Many others are run by the districts themselves.  Some districts are supportive, some are not; some have the money to offer a lot of choices and even organic foods, most do not.  We have to please the school board, the students, the parents, the accountant, the USDA, the health department.  Sometimes these groups have conflicting views.  We have to offer lunch at a low cost and provide it at reduced cost or free to students who qualify.  We have to provide it on time every day, we have to keep participation in the program high enough to keep the budget balanced, we have to plan months and even years ahead.  Some schools have to deal with limited availability–we cannot get certain foods in our district, for example, because the nearest distributor is too far away to deliver to us.  Keep these things in mind when thinking about the lunch program–it’s not just a matter of making your child’s favorite food every day.  Our days are far more complicated than most parents assume.

Also consider that students do not walk through our doors as clean slates.  By the time we meet them, they have already formed likes and dislikes, favorites, and ideas about what is “normal” to eat, what is “good” to eat, and what is “cool” to eat.  It is not entirely our responsibility to make your children like peas and apples.  If they think pizza and french fries are okay to eat daily, that is what they’re going to want.  If your children see you passing up the vegetables at dinner time, they’re not going to want vegetables either.  Don’t blame us because your child has never seen a fresh pear.  It is your job as parents to introduce your kids to a variety of healthful foods, to teach them what should make up their daily diet and what is a treat or an occasional splurge, to set an example for them by eating healthfully yourself.

At our school, which services sixth through twelfth grades, we have no less than twenty entree options every single day.  We usually include at least three side dishes each day, three kinds of milk, and two kinds of juice.  Every day I hear kids complain there is nothing to eat.  So we offer new foods:  they have no interest in trying them.  They pass by the salad bar and get a cheeseburger.  They wrinkle their noses at vegetables unless they can put cheese on top.  Numerous kids have no idea what chickpeas are (we put them out for a week and were asked every day what they were) and the beautiful Red Anjou pears arranged in a basket at every serving line sit virtually untouched.  They will not eat plain berries; we have to sugar them.  We have salsa every Tuesday and one week we put black beans in it–we used only about a third of the salsa we usually do.  Last week, we had a chef come in and create a few entrees and sides for us.  Fresh cabbage and peppers?  No thanks.  No, we don’t like pineapple.  Can you pick the peapods out for me?  Um, I’ll just get a cookie.

Any worker in school nutrition will tell you–we are practically begging to offer your children the fresh and whole foods that will keep them strong, lean, and healthy.  But we need to offer foods they will eat, and if the stigma against plant foods is perpetuated, we can’t accomplish our goals.  Parents, you cannot be so quick to point your finger at us.  Look at what is on your dinner table tonight.  Look at the foods you have been feeding your children for years.  Look at what you eat yourself; look at what opinions you express toward peas and broccoli and spinach.  Think about how many times you order pizza or go to a restaurant and act more excited about it than when you cook a meal at home.

What your children eat is first and foremost a manifestation of the values you have instilled in them.  Grocery shop with your children and tell them about different fruits and vegetables.  Try new recipes.  Visit an orchard.  Show them how to read nutrition labels.  Research ingredients you don’t recognize.  Check out an ethnic restaurant you’ve never tried.  Lead by example and make healthy choices yourself.  When your children come to school excited about eating healthfully, then we can start to create real change in our lunch programs.  The school lunch program needs a foundation of kids raised to eat healthy foods to truly succeed.  We need your help and your support to make it happen.

Cookbooks for Christmas

December 31, 2009

Guess what I got for Christmas?  A pair of shiny new cookbooks!  I was a little surprised when I received them, but then I remembered how I’d shown both of the books to my fiance a few weeks ago.  This year I guess the little hints paid off!  There is nothing better than getting a new cookbook.  I love opening it for the first time–the scent of the paper and ink, the stiff binding, the pages white and not covered in cocoa, flour, or oil…

cookiesssssss.

C is for Cookie

First up is Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, the newest creation by my idols role models Isa and Terry (I like to think that if we met, we would immediately be on a first name basis with each other).  This book is the same size and format as Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, but instead dishes out kickass cookies and brownies.  I have to confess, I’ve been trying to eat healthfully and stay away from sweets, so I waited for the right occasion to crack this puppy open.  I’m glad I’ll be able to share this stuff with friends at a New Year’s Eve party instead of having to eat it all myself!  So far I’ve tried three recipes:  chocolate chip cheesecake brownies, no-bake Swedish chocolatey balls, and chocolate cut-out cookies.  All three turned out great!  I can’t wait to try some of the recreations of popular cookies–the book contains versions of Cowboy Cookies, Samoas, Caramel DeLites, and Nutter Butters–but I couldn’t be more pleased with the other recipes as well.  I am especially looking forward to trying the MACAROONS!

This book is sure to become another mainstay in my kitchen.  VCTOTW is one of my standbys whenever I need to make something for a party or potluck, but I think this new book might put up a good fight for the spotlight.  As said before, it’s organized the same as the cupcake book, so things are easy to find and the photos are interspersed throughout the book to tempt you into making nine recipes at once.  As I flipped through the recipes I found myself thinking, “Ooh!  I have all those ingredients!” many times.  With few exceptions, these cookies and brownies can be made with ingredients most of us already have in our pantry.  So pick up a copy of the book and be prepared to bake whenever the mood strikes!

book cover

1000 Vegan Recipes

The other book I received is 1000 Vegan Recipes by Robin Robertson.  I wanted to love her previous book Vegan Planet more than I did, and sorry to say it only sees occasional use in my kitchen.  But I do enjoy the creativity, flavor, and variety in Robin’s recipes, so I was excited to see this new book.

It doesn’t disappoint!  This thing is a friggin encyclopedia.  If you’ve ever been asked “What do you eat?” by a non-vegan, this is the perfect gift for them.  It contains everything from sauces to desserts, with a number of ethnic recipes as well as some good down-home type dishes.  In fact, there are so many recipes I hardly know where to start.

So, in the spirit of Julie & Julia, I’m thinking I may attempt to make all 1000 recipes…

Sweet and Sour Tofu

November 4, 2009

I’ve been craving some good fake Chinese food lately.  I say fake as in the kind of “Chinese” you get at mall food courts and the buffets that inexplicably also serve french fries and mini corn dogs.  Not authentic, not even really Chinese, just sort of… Asian-esque enough to pass.  Usually I prefer to find quality stuff, but sometimes some junky food is just what hits the spot.

I recently decided to take matters in to my own hands.  I’ve done chow mein and lo mein before, so this time I ventured into the world of sweet and sour “chik’n”.  It doesn’t come out tasting chicken-y (which I view as a good thing), but in terms of satisfying a craving, it does the trick.  The best part?  It’s simple!

Sweet and Sour Tofu

1 block tofu

1 cup Panko (Japanese style bread crumbs)

turmeric, cayenne, black pepper, sage, and garlic powder to taste (I used a generous dash of each)

House of Tsang Sweet and Sour Sauce (yep, I’m too lazy to make my own)

Remove the tofu from its packaging, squeeze as much water out of it as possible, and wrap it in plastic.  Be sure all areas of the tofu are well-covered.  Freeze overnight.

Place tofu in a bowl and microwave on high for 4 minutes, pausing after each minute to flip or turn the tofu.  Continue until defrosted (press on the tofu–if it’s not hard anymore, it’s thawed) but be careful not to cook it.  Squeeze all the water out of the tofu; press hard, there’ll be a lot!  Then cut the tofu into 1″ cubes.

Meanwhile, mix the bread crumbs and seasonings.

Dip the tofu in lukewarm water, shake off the excess, then roll in the bread crumb mixture.  Place on to a well-greased pan (I sprayed generously with canola oil).  When all the tofu is in the pan, spray lightly with oil.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, until breading begins to turn golden and tofu is firm and crispy.  Turn once or twice during baking time for best results.

Coat tofu in sweet and sour sauce and serve warm.  Enjoy!

Bonus recipe: For sesame tofu, mix sweet and sour sauce with honey (you naughty vegan!) about 3:1 (more sauce than honey), toss the baked tofu in the sauce, coat with sesame seeds, and place back in the oven for about 5 minutes or until sauce has dried a bit.

Bonus FLOP: I also tried to modify this to make coconut fried tofu (you know, like coconut shrimp).  I froze the tofu and thawed it.  Then I rolled it in a mixture of panko, unsweetened coconut, a little sugar, and ginger.  Then I fried it in Earth Balance.  It tasted pretty good but a lot of the breading came off during frying–I think it would work better with a deep fryer.  I ended up pressing a little extra breading mixture onto the tofu after I fried it.  If you have a deep fryer and try this, let me know how it goes!

Oops! Thrifty Tuesday- Quesadillas

October 20, 2009

Well, it seems my worst predictions for the month have happened!  Things have been ridiculously weird this month–I got in a car accident, for one–and I’ve been left with far less time to post than I would have liked.  I’ll try to make up for it!

Here’s an easy recipe for the days when you really don’t have the time or patience to make anything.

Tex Mex Quesadilla

2 Tb guacamole

1 Tb salsa–the chunky stuff, like Newman’s Own Farmer’s Market Salsa

2 Tb frozen corn

3 Tb black beans (if from a can, rinse them first)

1 Tb diced onion

2 fajita-size flour tortillas

Heat a frying pan over medium and spray with vegetable oil.  Spread all ingredients over tortilla, leaving about 1/2 inch around the edges, and sandwich together (I recommend putting the salsa on one side, the guac on the other, and sprinkling all the other stuff on one side, then smooshing the two tortillas together–this helps them stick the best).  Fry until tortilla is golden brown, then flip and repeat.  Use a pizza cutter to slice into pieces.

Serve with guacamole, salsa, or Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream for dipping!

Vegan MoFo Day 5: Mainstream Monday

October 6, 2009

This is a perfect day for Mainstream Monday, because as it happens, everything I ate today was mainstream.  So, instead of recipes or reviews or anything fancy like that, why don’t I just list my meals for the day?

Breakfast:

chex

chex

oat milk

oat milk

camerons coffee

cameron's coffee

Lunch:

healthy choice bread

healthy choice bread

sandwich vegetables: tomato, spinach, cucumber, peppers

sandwich vegetables: tomato, spinach, cucumber, peppers

McCain Trax

McCain Trax

Dinner:

hy-vee whole wheat penne

hy-vee whole wheat penne

hunts pasta sauce

hunt's pasta sauce

Snacks:

halloween oreos

halloween oreos

capn crunch!

cap'n crunch!

Note: Clicking images brings you to where I got them from, not necessarily the product’s website.

As you can see, I wasn’t the healthiest of vegans today, but we all have our ups and downs.  Mondays are usually a down for me.  Also as you can see, vegans do not only eat lettuce.  Far from it; in fact, I don’t even really like lettuce.   My diet is usually much more balanced than this, but it so happened that I didn’t have many groceries in the house today, nor a lot of time with which to cook from scratch.

Anyway, the point isn’t that I ate a lot of junk today.  The point is that I fed myself for an entire day with nothing but foods that can be found in any grocery store (except maybe the oat milk, but that can be easily made at home or substituted with any non-dairy milk).  And I was full and happy and had plenty of calories.

PS:  Please don’t give me crap for using canned pasta sauce.  It is my dirty little secret and you should be honored that I trust you enough to share it with you.  I promise I only use it once in a while.

Reason #5 for being vegan: cruelty-free clothing materials–polyester, faux leather, cotton and more–are often less expensive than coats and shoes made of wool, fur, or leather.  These items last as long as the non-vegetarian versions and are just as comfortable and stylish!

Vegan MoFo Day 4: Serene Sunday

October 4, 2009

“A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety.”

Aesop

cupcakes

Nothing is worth more than this day.

– Goethe

There is no greatness where there is not simplicity.

– Leo Tolstoy

water

It isn’t enough to talk about peace, one must believe it.

And it isn’t enough to to believe in it, one must work for it.

– Eleanor Roosevelt

memorialday 054

harvestparty 018

Ours was never a religious family, but we did always try to get all our chores and errands done on Saturday so that Sunday could be nothing but fun and relaxation.  I’d wake up and hear the radio playing in the kitchen while my parents sipped coffee and read the mammoth newspaper; they’d set aside the comics for me when I joined them with my bowl of cereal, and together we’d waste away the early hours of the day.  That relaxing morning, so simple and short, set us up for a fantastic day of…nothing.  We’d play, we’d see a museum, we’d drive around with no destination.  No matter how we spent the day it was with nothing but pure leisure in mind.

These days I try to keep up that tradition.  Life should never be so busy that your work needs to bleed into all seven days of the week.  Maybe you need to do chores every day; that’s fine, but make one day dedicated to work you at least enjoy.  The dishes can wait another 24 hours.

047

I think this philosophy translates well to animal activism too.  It seems that most of us work day and night for what we believe in, fostering dogs and feeding strays, handing out fliers and talking to friends, going to events, asking for more vegan options at restaurants and grocery stores, writing on blogs just like this one, contacting legislators, organizing demonstrations…you get the idea.  The work is never done and probably won’t be for a very very long time, and there’s so much to do to help animals that there are simply not enough activists to do it all.  As a result we often end up taking the world on our shoulders, not only adding activist work on top of our already busy schedules, but weaving it through our daily actions as well.

And it continues to add up.  Every time someone asks us what we can eat.  Every time someone hints that we are bad parents for raising our kids vegan.  Every time some misinformed person tells us we need to milk cows for their own good, and every time another unwanted bunny/chicken/pig/dog/cat/ferret is brought to the shelter and put on a euth list for being too old or not cute enough.  Each time we see another milk industry-sponsored “study” or hear about a CAFO investigation, we add it on to our lists.  We won’t stop until we can fix it.

But what happens to us?  Our hearts are in the right place, but somewhere deep down I think we all suffer from a tiny little misled belief that we can do it all.  We can’t, and our conscious mind knows it, but our inner engines keep running 24 hours a day anyway (I know I’m not the only one who has woken up at 3 a.m. and hopped online to write a letter or post something about animals).  All of the negativity, disappointment, anger and sadness we undoubtedly encounter as vegans and as activists builds up, because we are afraid to acknowledge that our work can be draining.

You heard it.  Sometimes being vegan just plain sucks.  Once in a while I just reach a tipping point where seeing one more photo of a pig makes me burst into tears.  Inevitably, we occasionally are faced with the feeling we’re running in place, because no matter how hard we work it seems we’re getting nowhere fast.  Most of us are ingrained with the fix-it gene:  when we feel this way, we stop crying and suck it up and tell ourselves we just need to work harder.  Our solution to being overwhelmed is to plunge our hands in the muck even deeper.

I’m telling you different.  Take a day off.

Reserve one day a week as your oasis.  Turn off the computer, turn off the television, hell, go somewhere where you can’t even see electronic devices, much less let them beep and yell at you all day.  Spend time with family, make yourself a nice home-cooked dinner, or if you don’t like to cook, order take-out and play board games on the living room floor.  Wear sweat pants.  Put on some David Bowie and dance around with your hairbrush.  Find something that relaxes you, rejuvenates you, makes you smile.  Find something that helps you remember you–not you-the-parent, not the whatever-you-do-for-a-job, not you-the-activist or you-the-vegan.  Under the Urban Decay makeup and organic cotton t-shirt you are still a person who needs a little time to love yourself.  For one day, forget about the world and do what you want to do, not what you need to do.  Step off the bullet train that is your life, if only for a few hours.

In the end, it’s not the sheer hours we put in for animals, or the amount of sweat and tears we shed.  It’s the heart we put into our work and our passion and compassion for animals that makes the difference.  Letting ourselves get beaten down and stressed out only makes us bitter.  We are activists because we want peace for all creatures–yes, that includes farm animals, but it also includes ourselves.

So sit down and have a cup of coffee and a cookie.  Baker’s orders.

all photos from personal collection; please do not re-post without permission.  text is open for personal use.

Lysander’s Lentil Soup Mix

October 4, 2009
Lentil Soup Mix

Lentil Soup Mix

I was feeling a little under the weather the other day and as it turned out, it was also my day to do the grocery shopping.  I didn’t bring a list, and ended up just wandering around the grocery story tossing things in the cart.  When I got home I realized I had purchased mostly soup ingredients and things to go along with soup, and convenience foods at that (refrigerated biscuits, even!).  It’s easy to tell when I’m sick and don’t want to cook!

In any case, I picked up Lysander’s Lentil Soup Mix, which is basically a little pre-measured bag of lentils with a spice packet and directions.  You boil the lentils, drop in an onion, tomato, a bell pepper, and the spices, and cook it for half an hour.  Then you add rice and cook it another half hour.  That’s it…easier than pie (I can’t say easy as pie because my pies never seem to turn out).

I am always skeptical of dry soup mixes, but this one turned out really well.  The vegetable additions help a lot, and the result tasted pretty similar to what I would have made myself.  I did toss in some fresh chopped basil and a little turmeric, but only because I am too stubborn to let someone else do all the work–it tasted fine as-is.

At $2.89 a package the mix is overpriced–lentils are cheaper than pasta at the local bulk foods store–but it’s a nice little packet if you don’t have a lot of time or have never made lentil soup before and want to get a feel for it before making it from scratch.

Nutritionally, it’s hard to beat as far as soup mixes go, even before the addition of the vegetables.  A 52-gram serving has 13 grams of protein and 14 grams of dietary fiber (the package says it makes 6 servings, but it only made about 4 bowls for our hungry family), only 0.5 grams fat and 170 calories.  The sodium is high, but no higher than canned or packaged soups, and Lysander’s does not use preservatives or MSG.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find a website for Lysander’s, but the photo above will take you to a shopping website that might be able to help you find a way to order online.  Lysander’s is available in most mainstream grocery stores; in mine, it was in the soup aisle near the bouillon cubes and other dry mixes.

Vegan MoFo: Farmer’s Market Friday

October 3, 2009

Welcome to day 2 of Vegan MoFo (though it’s almost over, it still counts!).  I’m posting late because my original idea didn’t work out:  I got done roasting the butternut squash for my cheezy potato boats and realized I didn’t have any potatoes, which are, um, sort of necessary for making potato boats*.  But then I started feeling ill and decided not to leave the house to buy more.  So, the potato boats will have to wait.

*You may ask why I would fail to realize my lack of potatoes if I had the intention of making potato skins.  I bought a 5 pound bag of potatoes earlier this week…no joke, probably Tuesday.  So any logical person would not expect them to be gone already.  I guess I underestimated how much we like potatoes in our household.

I’ll post as soon as I get more potatoes.  In the meantime, you can still enjoy Farmer’s Market Friday!

Today’s Secret Ingredient: Parsley

Tabouleh

I was recently invited to a Minnesota School Nutrition Association chapter meeting about the Farm-to-School program.  We were asked to bring a dish made using one of the recipes on the Farm-to-School website.

I made the Tabouli (tabbouli, tabbouleh, taboulli) recipe.  But then I changed it, because I know what real tabbouleh tastes like, and their recipe is nothing near correct (to their credit, the recipes are made with school kids in mind, and most grade school kids would not eat real tabbouleh).

Go ahead and make their recipe; it’s a nice base.  Then drizzle in some olive oil and lemon juice, and add more parsley and garlic.  Then add more parsley again.  When you’re done, add some more parsley.  Do you have any parsley left?  Toss it in for good measure.

Ah, that’s better.  Make sure to do a mirror check after you’re done eating as your teeth will most likely be full of parsley.

The tabouleh was really fun to make because it was all local save for the olive oil, the lemon juice and the bulgur, and those were all purchased in bulk from the co-op.  I got the tomatoes, parsley, cucumber, garlic, and onion from a local farmer, and paid about $4 total for it.  With the other ingredients, this recipe comes to about $6 total, or a mere 60 cents per serving.

So did the people at the meeting enjoy it?  I wouldn’t know, because my dear fiance ate all of the tabbouleh while I was out of the house, and it never made it to the potluck at all.  I did manage to get a bite and thought it was pretty good (after my additions, of course).  Give it a try; parsley is actually a pretty decent food despite its bad rap as a garnish.

Reason #2 for going vegan:  You’ve got an excuse to avoid your grandma’s fruitcake!

Banana Oatmeal

October 2, 2009

Good morning!

I know sweet cereals aren’t good for me, but I do like a little touch of sweetness in the morning.  Plus, I have Hypoglycemia, so I need a little sugar (that’s my excuse, anyway).  Oatmeal is a nice compromise–it’s filling, relatively healthy, and with this variation, it even includes fruit.  With a good breakfast I can start the day off right no matter if it begins with a screaming toddler or a pretty sunrise.  Or even both.

P.S.:  The little one loves this, too!

Right Side of the Bed Oatmeal (feeds 2)

1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats

1/2 cup raisins

2 Tb brown sugar (just scoop, no need to pack it)

2 tsp real maple syrup

1 banana

Heat some water in a pot (3 cups?  Depends on how much oatmeal you use, and you’ll have some left over) until bubbles start to form at the bottom (turn off the heat before it boils).  Meanwhile, cut the banana into four pieces and mash it a little with a spoon.  Sprinkle a little water (maybe 1 tsp) into the bowl.  Microwave for about 1 minute 30 seconds.  Bananas do amazing things in the microwave, so stick around and watch*.  You’ll know when it’s done (hint:  it bubbles and breaks down into smaller pieces).  Place the oats and raisins in a separate bowl.  When the water is hot, pour it over the oatmeal–enough to cover the oats, plus a teensy bit extra.  Stir after a minute or two and add the sugar as you stir, then stir in the banana.  Drizzle the maple syrup over top.  Enjoy!

*I am not sure who I learned this from, but I think it may have been from someone on the PPK Forum.  In any case, it was someone awesome.