Monday, April 30, 2007

Mabel's Labels

So far in his school career, shmoo has misplaced four lunch containers, two container lids, several cloth napkins, and at least a dozen spoons (I've restocked the spoon drawer twice!)

So when Linda from Mabel's Labels offered to send some labels for shmoo, I was delighted. Now, as you can see, all shmoo's containers have his name and a cute little cat on them. Shmoo even got to pick out the color scheme and picture himself. And now when he forgets his lunch things they will at least have a bit better chance of making their way back to him.

My big question about the labels was how well they hold up to repeated washing. This picture was taken after lunch, when the containers had been washed with warm soapy water and air dried. The labels showed absolutely no sign of wear. I asked Linda about durability and received this response: "I personally have labels that have been on for over 2 years - the life expectancy of our labels is LONG!"

I love the labels, but here's what I really wanted to share, especially for those of you dealing with food allergies: Mabel's also sells Allergy Labels. How cool is that? You can detail what your child is allergic to and put it on everything they will eat and drink from during the day.

Hmm, I wonder if you could even change the wording from "I am allergic to:" to "I am vegan, I don't eat:"? Just a thought.

Thanks, Linda!

Road's End Shells & Chreese

Here's another new vegan product I picked up while on vacation: Road's End Shells & Chreese. I bought a box of their Cheddar Style Shells & Chreese to see how it would compare to my regular homemade version from Ultimate Uncheese (a perennial shmoo favorite).

It was so easy to make! I boiled the noodles, tossing in some frozen peas and corn at the end, drained it, then added some plain nondairy milk and the flavor packet. Just like a conventional box of mac & cheese! The instructions called for just 1/4 cup of nondairy milk, but the pasta still seemed too dry. I added at least an extra 1/4 cup before getting a nice, smooth consistency.

On the side are baby carrots with Vegenaise and dill for dipping, fruit salad, and three Mi-Del Ginger Snaps for dessert.

Verdict: Whipping this up took no time at all, but how would the flavor compare? "Hey, this tastes just like the macaroni and cheese that you make, Mom!" shmoo said. High praise for Road's End, from both the cook and the consumer. 5 stars.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

PUL Wrap

Vegan Lunch Box reader Lilia saw my recent post on Wrap-N-Mats and wrote in with these pictures and comments:

I saw your post about the Wrap- N-Mats and your dislike of the plastic smell. I found a solution and thought you might want to share with your readers. I made my own cloth diapers for my dd who is now 2 1/2 and potty trained. I have tons of PUL left over. This is polyurethane laminate coated fabric. After I read your post last night, I decided to wrap my sandwich in it. I made the sandwich last night, refrigerated it overnight and carried it in my insulated lunch bag. My sandwich was nice and soft at lunchtime. It didn't get stiff. I will be making more of these now for my family and my friends.

To get an idea about what the fabric looks like you can go to Diaper Shop. It's fairly soft considering it's coated, especially if the material that was coated is a knit. A little more stiff if it's a woven, but still folds up more like a thick napkin than plastic. I bought lots of "diapercuts" from Diaper Shop. You can get a nice variety of fabric choices this way, without having to buy a full yard. They run about $3 a cut. and could probably get 4 out of one 20x20 cut. Much more affordable than the Wrap-N-Mats.
As you can see from Lilia's pictures, making a PUL wrap looks easy, with no layers of fabric and plastic to sew together. And the fabric selection is great, with both fun prints and plain solids. Thanks, Lilia!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Follow Your Heart Pizza

On a recent trip out of town I was finally able to pick up some Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet Cheese. I've been hearing about this stuff for years and couldn't wait to try it for myself. Today I took a bit of the mozzarella-style cheese and turned it into a lunch box pizza with tomato sauce, broccoli, and capers.

On the side is, yes, another Applesauce Fruit Squeezie and a bite of fair trade dark chocolate.

Verdict: I really, really wanted to like Follow Your Heart. It's more local than Sheese and isn't made with transfats like Tofutti slices. Perhaps it's a case of having inordinately high expectations, but I was disappointed. None of us liked the taste or texture of any of the Follow Your Heart cheeses. We found them gritty, soft, and watery. But still, I felt worlds better giving this to my son versus giving him Tofutti, and cooked on top of pizza shmoo said the mozzarella tasted "not bad". At lunchtime shmoo picked the broccoli off the pizza first and gobbled it up (dang, I should have put more on!), then ate every last bite of the pizza -- even the crusts! 3 stars for Follow Your Heart.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Wrap-N-Mat and Celebration Roast

Here's another new lunch toy! I came across Wrap-N-Mats a few months ago and was interested in trying one out. Wrap-N-Mats are a reusable plastic bag alternative that fold around a sandwich and close with velcro. The PEVA or PVC lining keeps the sandwich fresh, then at lunchtime the mat unfolds into a placemat. Nifty!

After we got over the fact that the brand new mat smelled like a stinky shower curtain, we decided to wipe it down and stick a sandwich in it.

I filled two slices of sprouted barley bread with Vegenaise, ketchup, lettuce, spinach, and cold slices of Celebration Roast. I bought the roast recently on a good friend's recommendation, and oh, I'm so glad I did! Even the meat-eater among us agreed that the roast was some of the best-tasting veggie meat we've had. Tasty hot or cold, Field and Celebration Roast are made from wheat gluten, pea flour, and lentils -- no soy, so they're a great veggie meat for those with soy allergies. The Celebration Roast includes a stuffing made from butternut squash, apples, mushrooms, and carrots -- more sneaky vegetables for the shmoo.

I know the whole point of the Wrap-N-Mat is to reduce waste, so it's ironic that the other treat I scored for the shmoo this week was an Applesauce Fruit Squeezie.That's right, shmoo can finally squeeze goo out of a plastic tube just like his friends! I packed the tube-o-mush alongside a fresh orange and some dairy-free Fig Newmans.

Here's the mat all folded and ready to go. Since we're on the subject of bags, I packed shmoo's fig bars in another plastic bag alternative: Natural Waxed Paper Bags. I like to fold the bag and use a hole punch to make two holes through the fold, then tie the bag shut with raffia or twine. (I'm sure I got that idea from Martha...)

Verdict: The Wrap-N-Mat worked nicely, but I must say I still prefer packing lunch in a lunch box. There's something so satisfying about how everything fits together inside a box, and since I tend to pack more fruit and vegetable salads, wet foods, noodles, rice, etc., a lunch box suits my style. But if you are a sandwich-a-day person, a Wrap-N-Mat would sure beat throw-away baggies. Shmoo was utterly delighted with his applesauce tube and wants to know if he can have one in his lunch every week from now on. 4 stars.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Shmoo Review: Twinkie, Deconstructed

"EEEW"..."Gross!"..."YUCK!" Warning: don't curl up in bed with Twinkie, Deconstructedif outbursts like that are going to keep your spouse from sleeping. Because it's hard not to exclaim out loud as author Steve Ettlinger leads you through the mysterious inner workings of the industrialized food system.

Ettlinger sets out to follow each ingredient in a Twinkie back to its original state, and describes the convoluted industrial processes that give us such food additive favorites as "polysorbate 60" and "sodium stearoyl lactylate".

This book is the perfect read for anyone who wonders where our food comes from and what it's made of. If you partake of modern processed goodies – and I don’t mean just the golden cream-filled ones -- you may be quite surprised to find out what you’ve been putting in your mouth. Even though Ettlinger chose to focus on the Twinkie because of its popularity and long list of ingredients, the additives and chemicals he describes are present in a vast number of the foods on our grocery store shelves -- yes, even some of the vegan ones.

Vegans might want to pay special attention to the chapter on soy, where Ettlinger describes the process by which soybeans are transformed into shortening, lecithin, and soy protein isolate, the last of which shows up in many vegan "meats" and "sports bars".

I highly recommend Twinkie, Deconstructed, but maybe not for bedtime reading. Because even after you quit shouting and let your partner go to sleep, you may find it hard to sleep yourself, your mind haunted by images of giant factories filled with corn, flour floating through sprays of chlorine gas, and soy flakes soaking in vats of lye. I know I did.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Shmoo Review: Everyday Dish

If you are a visual learner nothing beats watching a teacher demonstrate what they are trying to teach you. Case in point: cookbooks versus cooking shows. Some of us have a hard time looking at a written recipe and grasping what the cook is talking about, or what the finished recipe is supposed to look like.

If this sounds like you, I’m happy to report that there are plenty of great DVDs and cooking shows out there to introduce you to vegan cooking. In fact, three of my favorite vegan chefs recently sent me a copy of their new vegan cooking DVD, Everyday Dish: Vegetarian and Vegan Meals for Everyone.

Well-known cookbook authors Dreena Burton, Bryanna Clark Grogan, and Julie Hasson have teamed together to create this instructional DVD of 15 vegan recipes, including goodies like Hummus Tortilla Pizza, Lemon Lime Bars, and Triple Chocolate Pudding. The entire DVD is shot in the same gorgeous, well-appointed kitchen, and by the end of the show I felt I’d spent a cozy afternoon in this kitchen cooking with friends.

Although all three of the chefs were charming to watch, I thought Bryanna’s recipes most benefited from the visual format. Many of her recipes require a lot of preparation and call for ingredients that even long-time vegans might be unfamiliar with, like raw wheat gluten, agar, and TVP. If you have never made something like a gluten roast, it’s quite helpful to be able to watch one developing and see what it looks like when it’s done.

Another benefit of cooking DVD versus written recipe is catching all those little tips and tricks experienced cook use but don’t write down in their recipes. Dreena demonstrates how to handle a food processor without making a mess; Bryanna shows you the best way to open silken tofu. They both had me thinking, "Gosh, why didn’t I think of that?"

I would recommend that before you watch this show for the first time you insert the DVD into a DVD-ROM and print all the recipes. That way you can follow along and take notes on the recipes as you watch. Having copies of the recipes will also give you an idea of the quantities involved, as there is mostly no mention of exact amounts during the recipe demonstrations.

If you learn best by watching, are new to vegan cooking, or just enjoy watching cooking shows, the three accomplished vegan chefs of Everyday Dish are here for you!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Monkey Chow

We've gone BANANAS! First I went ape for this monkey bento container from Japan. Then when Mr. Monkey arrived he needed his very own banana napkin. You can see how things went from there...

The top container holds two Tofu Lettuce Cups -- gingery tofu, peanuts, coconut and lime juice wrapped in buttercrunch lettuce leaves.

The monkey container holds some mango chutney to add to the tofu before eating. Please note adorable banana-handled spoon.

In the other large container tropical party picks hold two miniature hazelnut butter and banana sandwiches next to a small cup of "Monkey Chow" (fruit-shaped cereal).

Finally, every monkey loves to eat his vegetables, so I packed cooked carrots and peas above a trio of corn tires.

Verdict: Oops, I forgot to pack a spoon, but shmoo didn't care. He picked up the container and shook all the peas and carrots into his mouth like the wild, crazy primate he is. Then he devoured the corn tires, flinging the empty cobs around the room and screeching. Just kidding. The little sandwiches and cereal went next, followed by the tofu...without the lettuce. 4 stars.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A Typical Sunday Breakfast

Sometimes readers ask to see what we eat for other meals around here, like breakfast. So, leaving lunch boxes aside for now, here's a picture of one of my son's favorite weekend breakfast treats: waffles and eggs. That's right. In fact, he likes a fried egg placed directly on top of his waffle, just like this, so he can eat them both together. Yes, indeedy.


Were you fooled? Did I getcha? Oh my gosh, I'm so bad at pranks it was hard to even write that paragraph!

No, it's not an egg, I promise!

What is really in this VEGAN breakfast? You're looking at a Vans Organic Blueberry Toaster Waffle topped with vanilla soy yogurt and...a canned apricot half.

I found this idea for "Sunny-Side Up Waffles" in the Pillsbury Kids Cookbookand couldn't resist saving it for good ol' April Fools Day. The recipe notes that you could also use a canned peach half if you prefer.

Unfortunately, I didn't have any veggie bacon on hand to complete the illusion, but ripe kiwi fruit made a pretty side dish.

Verdict: Both shmoo and his dad had to stare at this little breakfast trick for quite a while before finally giving up and asking me what they were looking at. Best of all, the yogurt and fruit really did make a tasty waffle topping. Happy April Fools' Day!