Monday, June 30, 2008

A Vegan Tea Party

My mom, previously seen here as the Weight Watchin' Vegan, is back today as the divine hostess of a scrumptious all-vegan luncheon tea party in celebration of my sister-in-law's birthday. I just had to take a picture of her glorious afternoon table bedecked with delicate plates and pretty food. Isn't it beautiful? Martha would be proud...

Mom made an ingenious selection of dainty vegan tea sandwiches with crusts cut away. In the center of the sandwich platter are black bread rectangles filled with avocado, hummus, and sweet paprika. These are encircled by a trio of sandwiches on white bread: cucumber with Earth Balance margarine; green olives and pimentos with fresh chives and vegan cream cheese; and watercress, chive, and Earth Balance. Along the base of the platter are tomato and fresh basil sandwiches on small baguette slices spritzed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil (my favorite).

Next to the sandwiches is a pasta salad from one of our favorite cookbooks, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone:Fusilli with Garden Vegetables and Tarragon, filled with carrots, tomatoes, peppers, sugar snap peas, red onion, and baby crookneck squash. Speaking of salads, my aunt brought a mixed fruit salad with fresh mint.

At the center of the birthday table is a Triple Chocolate Cake on a pedestal (I made the chocolate cupcake recipe from my cookbook as a 9-inch cake and filled it with raspberry jam). The cake is set off by two enormous pink Asiatic lilies from my mom's garden.

Finally, a summer tea party wouldn't be complete without a pitcher of iced tea, a pitcher of limeade, and a pot of hot tea (not shown) for those who wish to thumb their noses at the heat.

Verdict: Divine! These little sandwiches would make a great lunch box, packed with sweet iced tea, mixed fruit, and a nibble of dark chocolate or a dainty scone, don't you think? The only problem with this lunch is, now I'm too full to eat dinner.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Baskin-Robbins Gets Vegan-Friendly

No matter how many years go by or how many inspirational John Robbins books I read, I never get over the fact that my Inner Child believes that Baskin- Robbins is how people tell you they love you. It's sad, I know, but when I was little my Grandma and Grandpa would take me there, lifting me up so I could gaze at all the magical ice cream colors before making my choice. It felt like the biggest treat in the whole, wide world.

So imagine my dismay when the only vegan flavor my local store carried was Lime Daiquiri Ice. Rum-flavored ice was not exactly the child-friendly flavor I dreamed of sharing with the little ones.

This year, though, Baskin-Robbins has come up with two brand new vegan flavors: Tropical Ice and Strawberry Sorbet. My store carries both, and after shmoo's last softball game we all went there to celebrate. We tried both flavors; the Tropical Ice was awesome.

I know, I know, please leave your "how could you" flames in the comments section. You really should probably just stay home and teach your kids that there are sugar-free ways to show you care. But I still wanted to get the news out to those of you, like me, who don't feel like proper parents without some summertime trips to the BR.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Summer Veg Out Part II: LOCAL

Many of you already mentioned this important money-saving tip in the comments section of Part I, but I felt it was such an important point it deserved its very own post: eat foods that grow near you.

1. Eat what's in season.

What food grows where you are, and when is it at its peak? Produce is generally cheaper when it's in season in your area, even if you buy it at the local supermarket. It usually tastes better, too! For example, our own grocery stores are flooded with the most delicious local melons at the end of summer; it's almost a crime to eat them any other time of year. And I'll never forget the amazing artichokes we could get when we lived in California; I haven't seen a single fresh baby artichoke since I moved here.

2. Visit Farmers' Markets.

This is a no-brainer, really, and if there is a farmers' market in your area I bet you’re already going there. But did you know that you can sometimes score a really good deal right before the market closes? Workers usually don’t want to pack up and haul home all that unsold produce, and they might make you a deal if you stop by a few minutes before close.

For example, my mom stopped by our local market last week when the sellers were packing to leave and bought two bunches of organic baby beets with greens for $1.00 each, and someone I met at a party told me he always shows up at the market at 12:15 and picks up produce for a steal. In fact he had just bought over 10 pounds of Rainier cherries for $9.00 (they are normally $4.00 or more a pound).

Heck, it’s no sure thing, but it's certainly worth a try!

3. Join a CSA.

A lot of my friends are trying out Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), where they pay a fee and become "shareholders" in a local CSA farm. They then receive a box of fresh produce every week all through the growing season. It's an adventurous way to eat, as you never really know what's coming week to week; you may end up discovering foods you never thought to try before, like Jerusalem Artichokes, say, or green tomatoes.

If you have the money to pay upfront for a CSA share, it can be a great time and money saver. For example, my cousin's CSA cost $480 for 15 weeks. That sounds like a lot of money, but it comes to $32 per week for as much fresh food as he can possibly eat, without having to go to the grocery store or market.

For more information on CSAs or to search for one in your area visit Local Harvest. (Thanks, Zach!)

4. Roadside Stands.

Keep your eye out for small fruit and vegetable stands along the roadside or in front of local farms and orchards. If you don't see any, you might try checking the classified ads in your local paper for "Produce".

5. Pick Your Own.

In addition to farm stands, check the classified ads for "U-Pick" farms and orchards. It's usually less expensive and it's a wonderful way to spend the afternoon with the kids. I'll never forget the fun of picking fruit with my family at local orchards, sitting on the tailgate with friends eating Red Delicious apples as big as our heads, or making ourselves sick on cherries.

6. Grow Your Own.

Do you have a yard, patio, porch, or sunny windowsill? If so, you can probably save some money by growing some of your own vegetables or herbs.

Here's a picture of our own work-in-progress. We have a very large yard and are continually ripping up lawn and putting in more garden beds. This year, with the rising cost of food and fuel, we got serious about fruits and vegetables and planted five large beds. So far we have 15 tomato plants, a pumpkin patch, cantaloupe, strawberries, basil, zucchini, peas, garlic, grapes, sweet corn (in the foreground, hopefully "knee high by the Fourth of July"), a raspberry/blackberry patch, an apricot tree, rhubarb, herbs, and flowers (I never want to run out of space for the flowers.)

How about you? Do you have more tips on saving money, exploring your own region, and becoming not just vegans but localvores as well?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Fruit Crumbles Cookies in a Head-To-Head Snack Time Smack Down

Check it out: new data shows that fruit now tops cookies as the most common snack for children under 6.

The article also states that kids today:
• Are less likely to consume carbonated soft drinks, ice cream, candy, cake and fruit juice as snacks than kids the same age did 20 years ago.

• Are more likely to have fruit rolls and gummy pieces, yogurt, crackers, granola bars and bottled water.
What good news for the health of the next generation! If they start out eating healthier foods like fruits and vegetables those tastes will continue into adulthood, leading to less obesity and less diet-related disease.

And to think, it all started on Sesame Street with a certain furry blue monster changing his ways. Thanks, Cookie!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Swimming the Somen Sea

As promised, here's the first lunch in Daddy Shmoo's new bento box.

A grilled portabello mushroom fish with baby cucumber scales and snow pea eyes is set adrift on a bed of somen noodles with blanched snow peas and parsley "seaweed".

I really wanted to include a Lotus Root Salad next to the somen -- wouldn't that have looked lovely? But alas, I can't find fresh or even canned lotus root here, so I settled on roasting a red pepper and cutting it into sand dollars and little fish shapes, with fresh basil tucked here and there.

A squeeze bottle of somen dipping sauce (konbu stock with soy sauce and mirin) and garbanzo beans fill in the rest of the space in the box. I packed an orange alongside the lunch box for a sweet ending.

Verdict: "That was almost too cute to eat!" he said. "I was hoping someone would stop by my desk so I could show it off." But was it enough? "I didn't think it would be until I started eating the noodles; they were dense." So it seems it will hold enough if you focus on a filling starch like noodles or rice.

I asked him to rate the lunch on a scale of 1-5, and he thought for a minute. "I was going to say 4 stars, but I can't imagine any way it could have been better. So I guess that's 5 stars!"

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Summer Veg Out Part I: CHEAP

Have you bought food, driven anywhere, or been out of the house in the last few months? If you have I'm sure you noticed that prices are a wee bit up. I practically fainted the last time I bought a loaf of bread.

With the cost of food so high, how can any of us afford to emphasize fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables? When times are tough it's tempting to stick with foods that are cheap, calorie-dense, and comforting (like starchy American junk food) instead of foods that have fewer calories and might go bad before you finish them.

But fruits and vegetables are good for us! Eating healthy foods will save us money on medical expenses in the long run, and if you're a savvy shopper they might not cost as much as you think. Here are some of the cost-saving ideas I use and would like to share.

1. Don't stick to organic.

I know, it sounds terrible. It's certainly not ideal, but when I'm trying to save money, not every vegetable and fruit I buy is organic. Organic tends to cost more, sometimes a lot more, and unless it’s on the most contaminated list I'll buy whatever is cheapest. I wash all my produce well and peel non-organic fruits and cucumbers.

2. Eat seasonally.

Produce is generally cheaper when you eat what’s in season in your area, and it usually tastes better, too. More on seasonal, local produce in the next Veg Out post...

3. Eat frozen instead of fresh

Frozen vegetables are usually less expensive, and they are more nutritious as well.

Unfortunately, my son hates the texture of frozen broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and green beans. I have to agree; except for corn and peas the texture of frozen vegetables leaves me cold. Keep that in mind when considering switching to frozen; it’s no savings if nobody eats it.

4. Shop like a restaurant

Look for any bulk or wholesale grocery stores (aka "Cash and Carry") that cater to restaurants and businesses in your area. There are two in my city that are open to the public. Anyone can shop there and buy their personal groceries at the same price that a restaurant would.

Here is a picture of my purchase from the other day: six romaine hearts, a bunch of bananas, six grapefruit, pineapple juice, a 5-pound bag of frozen mango, an enormous bag of broccoli crowns, and cauliflower. The total cost: $19.29. The bag of romaine only cost $2.00, and the mangoes were a bit over $5. Look in the yellow pages under "Grocers-Whsle".

5. Ethnic Markets

Have you checked out the ethnic grocery stores in your area? Our local Asian market was selling bags of beautiful baby bok choy before the big grocery stores had even heard of it, and at a very low cost. Our Hispanic markets sell mangoes, limes, avocados, and more at much lower prices than the regular stores.

Was this helpful? What are your money-saving ideas? Please add your own ideas and suggestions in the comments!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A "Manly Man" Lunch Box

I'm not the only one going off to work nowadays. Daddy Shmoo has quit his at-home job and is working in an office now, heading out each day with a paper bag lunch tucked under his arm.

I wanted to celebrate his new job by getting him his very own Men's Lunch Box from JBOX in Japan. I wanted something bigger and not as cutesy as the Laptop Lunch System, something made for a Hearty Man but still bento-stylish. This looked perfect.

Now, I know some of you are thinking, "Didn't you read the dimensions, dipnoodle?" Well, I've always been spatially challenged, and with a description like "...perfect for big eaters! This is a large-sized bento box...this will hold a good portion of food..." I figured this would be plenty big.

But look at it! It's much smaller than I had imagined. In fact, it's so small you can almost fit it inside the Laptop Lunch Box. No wonder Americans are getting bigger by the day; apparently even our children are eating more than a full-grown adult in Japan!

Wow, what a disappointment. But still, I love the color, the built-in chopsticks holder and chopsticks, and the fact that it's basically one large container (with removable divider) so you can eat a big serving of one dish instead of coming up with four smaller servings of different foods.

I wonder if it really will hold enough food for a hungry adult office worker. Later this week or next I'll pack it up for my husband and report back with a verdict. Stay tuned...

P.S. My husband just pointed out that the label "Stylish Metallic Color For Men" on the lid is not removable and is, in his words, "pretty embarrassing".

Monday, June 16, 2008

Introducing the Summer Veg Out!

For most of us with school- age children, summer vacation is finally here. That calls for either a "Hooray!" or a "Dear Lord, when does school start again?" depending on how you look at it. Now that the kids are home, it’s time to totally VEG OUT.

No, I’m not talking about lazing around on the couch watching daytime television. I’m talking about revamping the kitchen to get the junk out and bring the healthy foods in. It’s time to tackle the problem of what to feed the kids during these long, hot summer days at home. My suggestion: fresh, healthy vegetables, and cool, refreshing fruits (along with whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and treats in moderation, of course).

But how, you ask? Well, I thought it would be fun this summer to put together a collection of posts focusing on how to make vegetables and fruits easy, attractive, and affordable for families.

Although the ideas I'm going to post are suitable for any season, summertime is the perfect time to tackle the family eating plan, breaking those unhealthy habits that may have crept in over the winter and adding more fun, healthy options in their place. A long break from school can be an opportunity to influence kids to make healthier choices while they’re away from peer pressure and cafeteria competition.

Ready? Tune back in on Wednesday for Part I of the Vegan Lunch Box Summer Veg Out!

P.S. The beautiful photograph above is courtesy of Michelle Ellis Photography. Michelle is a fabulous friend with a gifted eye, and I hope to hire her to photograph the entire extended Shmoo Clan very soon. Thanks, Michelle!

Friday, June 13, 2008

My Biggest Lunch Box EVER!

My husband's Rotary Club is hosting a cultural exchange group from India this week. "On Friday afternoon we need someone to fix them all a picnic in the park. They're all vegetarian. Volunteers?"

My husband eagerly piped up. "Why, my wife wrote a cookbook all about vegetarian lunches! I'm sure she'd love to do it! She'll make something fantastic!"

Thanks a lot, dear. Lunch for twenty, coming up!

My first thought was to panic. What could I possibly make for a group from India, where they make some of the most amazing vegetarian dishes I've ever had? It wouldn't be Indian food, that's for sure. Anything I made would only be a dim shadow of the brilliance they are used to at home.

I settled on one of my favorites from Vegan Lunch Box: Tofu Apple Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce. I increased the heat to grown-up levels with extra cayenne and chili oil.

Next to the Spring Rolls is a large green salad with a mini-salad bar of toppings to choose from (hearts of palm, baby carrots, celery, chickpeas, sugar snaps) and Yumm! sauce or vinaigrette for dressing.

I also decided to feature some local Mid-Columbian produce: fresh asparagus from a produce stand down the road mixed with snow peas fresh from our garden, lightly blanched and tossed with a simple soy sauce dressing ("Ted's Asparagus" in my cookbook). And the first picking of Chelan cherries was at the Farmer's Market this week; not as sweet as Bings, but close.

For dessert I made an enormous dish of Thai Baked Rice Pudding (the reviewer is right, it's fine without the eggs...darn, I wish I had taken the plastic wrap off before taking the picture!). I put a little dish of extra coconut milk on the side to sprinkle on top. I thought this baked version would be easier to transport and serve than my more liquid version. It was fine, but after tasting I've decided that I prefer the flavor of my runny, more traditionally Thai version.

Not pictured: lots of juice, lemonade and water to drink, and the crackers and cheese my husband insisted on bringing.

Verdict: After my initial disgruntlement at having been volunteered without my approval, I actually did get into preparing and serving the Big Lunch. It was fun meeting these men and women from India and hearing about their trip. There was a language barrier, but I got the impression that they were enjoying their tour of America. Some of them weren't sure what the tofu was (do they not have tofu in India?), but they all seemed especially taken with the black rice, and a few even asked for the recipe.

One of their American hosts looked over the spread with trepidation. "When I heard you were making the food I just knew it would be healthy." Sorry! Have some crackers and cheese...

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Clowning Around

Shmoo recently hosted a clown workshop for his friends, where they tried their hands at juggling, tumbling, acting in skits, plate spinning, and more.

Here's my shmoo in his graduation nose, hair still a bit damp from the pie fight. He took to clowning like a natural, who would have guessed? Actually, I've been calling him a clown most of his life.

I packed shmoo a lunch box to run off and join the circus with ("Now be sure to do what the carnies tell you, and don't forget to eat all your deep-fried vegetables-
on-a-stick"). A veggie dog clown (Yves) in a whole wheat bun has a lettuce ruffle and sugar snap buttons. The face is a mix of Vegenaise and ketchup. Cantaloupe and honeydew are decorated with two clown picks which can also be used for eating. Vegan animal crackers and in-shell peanuts complete the circus theme.

Verdict: Clowns -- cute or creepy? Whatever you decide, keep in mind that circuses with animals suck, so it's a good idea to get your clown kicks at animal-free circuses. Shmoo ate everything but the lettuce and the peanuts, which he wants to keep to feed to the squirrels. 3 rings.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Shmoo Review: Deceptively Delicious

I'm sure you've all seen this little pink cookbook winking at you from store shelves everywhere. Deceptively Deliciousis so popular that even now, almost eight months after its publication, it is still a "7 Day Only" loan at our library. Well, this week I finally got a chance to check it out myself!

The basic idea here is that if you want to end the struggle over vegetables at mealtime, start sneaking vegetable purees into foods your kids love, like mac and cheese or brownies. Then sit back and smile to yourself as they eat their vegetables in blissful ignorance.

Vegetable subterfuge, you say? Well, bring it on! I've been using the magical blender to erase any hint of certain vegetables in my family's dinners for a long time, and so have a lot of my readers. In fact, last March I wrote "Let's Hear It For Sneaky Mommas!", a special post raving about my blender and asking for more sneaky ideas from you readers (My favorite was blending spinach into mashed potatoes and calling them "swamp potatoes". Genius.)

Eager for even more ideas, I looked through Deceptively Deliciousfor some vegan recipes I could start with. I found....Ketchup. That's right, the recipe for homemade Ketchup was vegan. Everything else would require at least some substitutions, mostly in the egg and dairy department. Even the recipes for avocado spread and salsa dip contained dairy!

Some of the recipes looked worth veganizing, though: I loved the idea of adding yellow squash puree to a simple dish of "Buttered" Noodles. I would substitute nondairy milk and some nutritional yeast in place of the milk and Parmesan. The recipe for Creamy Potato Soup with secret butternut squash and cauliflower sounded excellent. I would substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth, nondairy milk and a splash of lemon juice for the buttermilk, and leave out the cheddar cheese.

Oddly enough I had more luck finding vegan options in the dessert section: Blueberry Oatmeal Bars, Chocolate Chip Cupcakes (without the frosting), Chocolate Fondue, and Fruit Punch were all vegan. Yum!

But on closer inspection, I really started to wonder about some of these "deceptive" dishes. For example, the Blueberry Oatmeal Bars contained 1/2 cup spinach puree. The recipe serves 12, so doing my math...that's about 2 teaspoons of spinach per serving.

Really? I mean, I know a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, but all that effort -- cooking, pureeing, freezing, and thawing -- to get two teaspoons of spinach into the kids? Is it really worth it to sneak 2 teaspoons of spinach into an oatmeal bar, or, for another example, 1 teaspoon of cauliflower into the frosting on your child's chocolate cupcake?

Ultimately, I don't think a vegan could easily get their money's worth out of this one, and although I applaud the effort and the many helpful tips and ideas here, perhaps it's best to stick to just a few of the recipes that contain larger amounts of the vegetable purees. Add some cooked vegetables and a salad on the side and some fresh fruit for dessert. If you do this most nights you can probably skip the deception the rest of the time and let cupcakes be cupcakes.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Strange Timing

How odd that I just happened to pack Pringles potato chips for the very first time in my latest lunch box post. It turns out that the creator of the Pringles can just died and was buried in a Pringles can.

Although my Minis came in a bag instead of a can, I must still pause to raise an excessively salty, fatty crisp in memory of Fredric J. Baur, inventor of the Pringles can. Thank you, sir. Those cans have turned out to be quite useful. In my Wilton cake decorating class we learned that a Pringles can is the best thing for holding a pastry bag open as you fill it with frosting. They also make a nifty wall organizer, vase, windmill, or even an antenna. And I guess Mr. Baur found one final use for them himself.

So long, Mr. Baur, and thanks for all the cans!

P.S. Speaking of Pringles, have you noticed there are like 5 million flavors on the market now? Wasn't one enough?

Monday, June 02, 2008


Shmoo has been begging for a peanut butter gummy worm sandwich ever since reading the Captain Underpants series.Now, on his second-to-last day of homeschool partnership school, I am finally able to oblige this repulsive whim thanks to vegan sour gummy worms, the first vegan gummy worm ever!

He also asked for potato chips with whipped cream, another gem from the Captain, but I drew the line and merely surrounded his wormwich with Pringles Minis.

On the side are two of his favorite fruit and vegetable combinations: blueberries and kiwi fruit, and corn and lima beans.

Verdict: A disgusting, revolting, worm-ridden lunch box. In other words, it was perfect! Shmoo reports that the gummy worms were very good, and "not actually sour". 5 stars if you have a 9 to 10-year-old boy or for Halloween.