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Snacks for Dinner

Last Thursday, Calla suggested we eat snacks for dinner. Her menu included soy yogurt, ice cream, spring rolls and Popsicles. Lennon requested Costco-style “samples” and dim sum. I didn’t feel like cooking a full meal and neither Scott nor I were interested in the remaining items on our weekly menu. He had eaten Asian food for lunch and didn’t want stir fry, and I had eaten a burrito and didn’t want Mexican. We weren’t able to find cilantro at the Farmer’s Market so fresh spring roll salad with a peanut sauce dressing was off the menu and Falafel would take too long.

After a week of crazy deadlines, skipped lunches at work and general heat malaise, I was feeling a lack of motivation and desire to enter the kitchen. Grabbing a recipe book for last minute dinner ideas wasn’t going to happen. I liked Calla’s idea of snacks for dinner, with some healthy modifications, of course.

Calla wasn’t happy that I changed up her menu. There was some compromising from me and lots of whining from her. I eliminated all the desserts, which basically left the spring rolls. I pulled out some hummus, leftover tofu ricotta from a stuffed shells recipe earlier in the week, carrots, celery, raw broccoli and marinated tofu and put together a veggie platter. I heated up the leftover pasta sauce and threw in a handful of frozen veggie meatballs, microwaved some cashew cream cheesy sauce leftover from a macaroni and cheese casserole from earlier in the week and assembled a couple of sandwiches which I cut into quarters. And I heated up a bagful of those awesome frozen vegetarian spring rolls from Costco–snacks and dim sum all in one. A container of seaweed salad, which Lennon deemed, “too chewy,” rounded out the meal.

Snacks for dinner wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great either, but I’ve been trying to be better about using up the leftovers in our fridge. I can’t say the fusion of Italian, Asian and hummus felt particularly awesome in my stomach, but for dinner on the table in 25 minutes after a long day, a much needed clearing out of the fridge, and a win for the kiddo who suggested the idea in the first place, snacks for dinner served its purpose.

Snack managers surveying the samples.

I’ve lost my spine. I was the girl who used to jump off 50 foot cliffs, ride roller coasters for the adrenaline rush and surf in the washing machine waves off the coast of Santa Cruz. Now I am just a middle-aged mommy wuss. While on vacation I took Lennon body surfing. He loved it. I thought it was pretty great too until a wave ground my body into the unforgiving shore and left sand imprints and bruises all over me. While I churned in the waves, the thought of my seven-year-old getting just as pounded forced my heart to drop a couple of feet into my knees. He was fine and loved the rough action of the waves. I got all motherly, gave a quick lecture on waves, rip tides, never turning your back on the ocean, blah, blah, safety, boring mother rambling on about something (insert the sounds of Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice here) and then suggested we hang out in the pool for a bit. He promptly declined my offer.

I had hoped my spine hadn’t completely turned to mush, but I know it began going soft a couple years ago when I rode California Screamin’ with Scott and his cousin Ami at Disney California Adventure. She’s my age and single with no kids. She was thrilled by the rush of the roller coaster, five gazillion loops and those horrible stomach lurching death drops into a hellish abyss. I was not. I prayed out loud, a lot, and cursed, a lot. I remember tearing up with relief when the ride finally ended. I crawled out of the car with sweaty palms, feet and my stomach trying to decide what exactly to do with my lunch. The guy I spoke with afterward who gave me a medical understanding of what the brain experiences on a roller coaster didn’t help my recovery either.

When I was younger, I swore I would never lose my spine for all things exhilarating. I would jump off cliffs just to mess with the head of my boyfriend who was afraid of heights but still felt compelled to jump if I did. I am sure he would enjoy knowing I was getting my karmic justice now. I blame motherhood. I never expected having kids would turn me into a bowl of mealy oatmeal.

I wish I could say I was carefree and relaxed about parenting and exposing my kids to adventurous situations, but I struggle with the idea of letting them experience life on their own. I battle my over-protective demons every single day, try to keep my mouth shut about the little dangers and save the lectures for the big ones. Lennon is getting to the age where he is going to start filtering my warnings, so I need to pick my freak outs carefully. Do I warn him about the slippery, muddy trail that he insists on running down? Sure, but I will try to limit my comments to just once in the beginning of the hike because when he lands hard on his bottom, the mud and bruises aren’t going to kill him. The fall may even teach him to be careful more than my yelps down the trail at him to “slow down!” Do I give him the “respect the ocean” speech and go swimming with him in the waves so his tiny 48 pound body doesn’t get pulled out to sea? Absolutely.

I couldn't have kept up with him on the trails, and yes, I tried.

He wore his mud stains well and with pride.

I know that just because I can’t seem to stomach the adrenaline rush anymore doesn’t mean I should encourage my children to live bland lives. Though the thought of my children jumping into crashing waves off a cliff into the ocean and getting sucked down and disappearing into a cauldron like we witnessed a few local boys do last week makes my whole body quease up–the part where we wouldn’t be able to save those boys should a rogue wave knock them out was particularly painful to watch. Adventure is good, but pushing the limits of life and death, not so much. I need to help my kids discern which is which and then trust that as they get older, they will make the RIGHT, I mean, mindful choices.

After a great deal of prodding from Lennon and some pointed looks from Scott, I toughened up and went back out into the waves and by the end of the trip, I was able to enjoy the ocean with my kid instead of constantly fearing his demise. I realized that the presence of the boogie boards we rented on the last day functioned a bit like an ocean security blanket for me. My reacquainting with the ocean and Lennon’s three days of experience navigating the waves definitely helped. Plus, we weren’t by ourselves on a remote lava shelf jumping into a churning cauldron of death. If something had happened, my chances of saving Lennon or finding someone who could were pretty great. Ironically, watching those boys jumping off that cliff helped me put body surfing on a relatively mild beach in front of a hotel into perspective.

As our kids get older, we will introduce more adventure into their lives. I am looking forward to 10 years from now when we can take them on the Napali Coast Kayak trip, and in the meantime, I will work at using those adventures as exercises to build up the muscles surrounding my soft spine. Perhaps some smaller adventures will keep it from atrophying altogether.

In the spirit of mush, I am re-posting a recipe for oatmeal but with some new toppings. My kids eat oatmeal all year long and since we recently visited Hawaii and already miss the tropical fruit, I suggest throwing in some fresh banana, brown sugar and topping it with chopped pineapple and toasted coconut. See, even oatmeal can be adventurous sometimes.

Homemade Oatmeal (Total cook time is 10-15 minutes.)
Directions:
-Add about a cup and a half of soymilk to a cast iron pan.
-Add in thick cut oats by the handful until they just begin to reach the top of the milk.
-Add a couple of dashes of cinnamon.
-Add a pinch or two of salt.
-Heat until the soymilk starts to boil around the edges, then drop to a medium simmer.
-Stir frequently as the milk begins to cook down and the oatmeal thickens. You want to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. My kids like their oatmeal slightly chewy so adjust the milk and simmer down to desired thickness.
-When the consistency is right (there really is no science to oatmeal), remove from heat and add chopped pineapple, shredded, toasted coconut, brown sugar, bananas and a touch more milk if you like.
-Serve with a side of toast and lilikoi jelly.

I ate my weight in tropical fruits this week–apple bananas, strawberry papayas and pineapples. While other vacationers were planning their Kauai trip schedules around luaus, snorkeling excursions and weather forecasts, we were busy planning ours around the daily farmer’s market schedules. A day trip discussion between Scott and me sounded something like, “Let’s go to the North Shore on Tuesday. We can’t go on Wednesday because we won’t make it back in time for the Kapaa Farmer’s Market at 3 p.m.” A drive through town most often involved a shout out to pull the car over because the banana lady hadn’t packed up yet, and Monday brought the sinking realization that we had missed the Koloa market and would have to attend the smaller Lihue market instead. We’ve eaten so much tropical fruit I am amazed my gums and the inside of my mouth aren’t raw. Though if I hear myself say, “that was the best pineapple I have ever eaten!” one more time, my ears may start bleeding.

We wondered if the fruit we bought from the farmer's market on Wednesday would last us until Thursday.

We visited Kauai for the first time during our honeymoon 11 years ago and luckily, we stayed in a condo with a blender. On a whim, Scott froze two papayas in an ice cube tray to see what a papaya smoothie would taste like. What started as an experiment turned into a vacation breakfast addiction, I mean tradition. Now whenever we are on vacation in Hawaii, the first thing we ask the hotel is the status of the blender. Room with a view overlooking the ocean? Sure, that’s a nice bonus, but, does the room have a blender?

I love papaya smoothies. LOVE THEM. I dream about their lovely creamy orange sweetness in January when the gray blues are settling into the crevices of my brain. I tell my friends to make papaya smoothies every time I hear one of them is headed to Hawaii. They graciously nod their heads, make some mmm hmm sounds, say things like, “ooh, that sounds good,” and smile at me vaguely. Maybe I am being too pushy and gregarious about our smoothies. Perhaps I should suggest they add rum, or I could get all grandma-like and send around a print schedule of where to find the Farmer’s Markets on Kauai to make things easier. Honestly, it would be a lot more helpful if I could recreate for them on the mainland what I so adore on the islands, but I can’t. Strawberry papayas and apple bananas don’t travel, and to try and blend a similar concoction at home with sub par tropical fruits is not worth the money and disappointment.

But, should you happen to be in the lovely Hawaiian islands this summer, here is the recipe. Make sure you stay somewhere with a blender, and a beautiful lanai and bonus view of the ocean, of course. And remember, there is nothing wrong with scheduling your hiking, snorkeling and various island adventures around the harvesting and purchasing of good, local fruit.

Papaya Smoothie
Ingredients:
-2 ripe strawberry papayas (check with the concierge for a listing of Farmer’s Markets around the island, or careen off the side of the road at the sight of a fruit stand)
-2-3 apple bananas (where you discover papayas, so too you will find bananas)
-Some pineapple is optional but not necessary
-Enough soy milk to keep the crappy hotel blender from seizing on the frozen mass of fruit

Directions:
-In the evening, slice open the papayas and remove the seeds. Scoop the papaya out of the skin by the spoonfuls into an ice cube tray. Onto a plate works fine, too.
-The next morning, add the frozen papaya, soy milk and banana to the blender, pray the engine doesn’t die or overheat, and blend until you have a smoothie with the consistency and creaminess of a milkshake.
-Drink and repeat.
-Serve with fresh, local, mashed avocado on toast.

Like I said, a blender in the room is absolutely imperative.

When I was a little girl I loved Valentine’s Day. I adored picking out boxes of valentines, receiving treats from friends, and the color red. The holiday felt happy and easy to me. While helping my kids put together their valentines for class parties, I realized how much the holiday is a girl event in my household. When my son began attending school, he couldn’t be bothered with giving valentines to his classmates. Writing his name was a chore, and I, the valentine task master had to see to it that he wrote his name 26 tedious times. He paid scant attention to which cards he addressed to his classmates and had to redo one when I delicately pointed out that he had just addressed a card professing sweetness and love to his least favorite kid in the class. He was lukewarm on deciding upon homemade baked treats and requested only that I not make chocolate cupcakes. This year, we went his old standby, almond thumbprints shaped into hearts with a strawberry jam filling.

 

At least the standby is a tasty favorite.

My daughter is old enough now to celebrate Valentine’s day with her classmates and she approached the holiday very differently. The other night, while I tucked her into bed, she dictated how she planned to prepare her valentines. Like a mini project manager, she explained to me what she planned to write, when she would “work” on them, how there needed to be stickers involved, and that she wanted chocolate cupcakes with pink frosting and heart-shaped sprinkles as treats for her class. She was very specific about the chocolate.

 

The icing and cake decisions were a serious business.

 

She sat diligently at the table, and wrote not only her name, but the word “love” on each card. She squealed loudly when she discovered the cupcakes in the morning and made sure to dress in one of her favorite shirts for the school party.

For years I thought the holiday of love was awkward, complicated and kind of crappy. To me, it was a holiday symbolizing unreasonable expectations and exclusion of those unfortunate (or fortunate) enough to have avoided being stabbed by cupid’s arrow. Even with a loving a partner, the holiday still has the potential for skewing sideways. Having an exuberant daughter, excited about bits of papery love and little heart stickers, makes me embrace the holiday again.

 

Pancakes for Dinner

Until recently, I had no idea I wasn’t eating good pancakes. For years I cooked flacid, sub par, wanna-be pancakes. I wrongly assumed vegan pancakes could never be fluffy and were a breakfast treat lost to vegans along with eggs and white birthday cake (the latter of which I am still searching for a successful recipe). But then, on New Year’s day, after a long night of helping a good friend say goodbye to a crappy year, my sister blessed my husband and me with the most beautiful stack of vegan pancakes I have ever tasted. Her pancakes sat in front of me, covered in maple syrup and Earth Balance margarine, like an airy stack of 24 hour diner flapjacks. They were the kind of pancakes you gratefully consume at dawn, after a night of some serious celebration during the college years. I, of course, ate mine at noon as an unexpected treat while picking the kids up from a sleepover with their cousins, and last Friday, we ate them for dinner with a side of Gimme Lean Sausage or “soysage” as we call it, and homemade smoothies.

So from now on, I won’t even bother with any other recipes for pancakes. I expect these would be fabulous with a mashed up banana or a handful of blueberries thrown into the batter, but until I’ve made up for my lost years on crappy pancakes, I will just enjoy them old-school style–plain with margarine and maple syrup.

The recipe comes from vegweb.com, and Vegweb if you are reading my blog, this devoted vegan thanks you. One thing to note about the recipe: every recipe I have ever followed for pancakes claims you shouldn’t over stir the batter, and that some lumps are fine. This recipe calls for stirring the batter until smooth. While that step may cause you to pause and question, don’t. Just follow the rules!

I had a brief moment yesterday, between gluttonous handfuls of leftover Christmas cookies, where I decided I was going to do a six week sugar detox. I also made a birthday resolution to train for a half marathon. Maybe it was my self disgust for my unabashed consumption of vegan cookies that caused me to pause, with a Russian tea cake in my hand and powdered sugar dust on my scarf, and declare a boycott on all sweets. Fortunately, about 24 hours later, I realized my ban on all things sugar-laced was completely unrealistic. Ironically, I didn’t come to the same conclusion about training for a marathon. Maybe it’s because running sounds easier than eliminating sugar. I feel crazy for even writing that last sentence.

Personally, I don’t believe in short-term diets for weight loss. They are a temporary, unrealistic solution to a long-term problem, which is precisely why I realized my ban on sugar was not going to work. As the sugar levels in my blood decreased, I remembered my “everything in moderation” motto. I don’t need to permanently remove cookies, and chocolate, and cupcakes from my diet. That would depress me, because I love to bake and eat treats. I just need to not eat homemade treats by the fistfuls during the holidays. Unless I am willing to make a major lifestyle change, one in which I truly believe–like eschewing all meat and dairy for diet and ethical reasons or adopting a new appreciation for the sounds of my feet hitting the pavement in a slow trot–the sugar stays. In considerably lower doses, of course.

After a Christmas cookie exchange at our house and an extravagant display of vegan cookies on Christmas Eve, the favorite and most requested recipe was the vegan Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodles from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s, Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. She has posted the recipe to her website, The Post Punk Kitchen, which includes a video of how to make the cookies. A few things to note about the recipe: I’ve never found chocolate extract at the store and usually just double the vanilla extract. I like to add a heaping pinch of rock salt to the cinnamon sugar topping, because chocolate, cayenne and salt together is soooo tasty. Also, the dough is on the wet side so I usually end up adding in a small handful of flour to make the dough more pliable. These cookies are chocolaty and spicy–a lovely “adult” cookie and nice accompaniment to a glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve.

 

A cookie definitely worthy of eating by the fistful.

A Letter to My Leftovers

Dear Leftovers,

We’ve had a rough relationship. You provide good eats on some days, but too often you smack me in the face with some nasty smell you’ve kept tucked under your lid. Unless I consume you within a day of your creation, I don’t trust you to behave well towards my nose or my stomach. You’ve wronged me so many times that it’s not easy picking between you and one of those freezer-burned burritos from Trader Joe’s…although you have been winning by a small margin.

Unfortunately, you and I have been forced to become closer this past month ever since the hubby and I started tracking our expenses. Like counting my calories on the LoseIt App makes me not want to eat, tracking our expense calories in a spread sheet takes all the fun out of spending. That means you and I need to learn to get along. Normally I can bury you in the dark space of the fridge behind a suspect batch of refried beans and a bagful of veggies and try to forget about you. But ever since I instituted a ban on impulsive lunches, I’ve had to turn to you for lunchtime support.

Then yesterday, you helped me produce this:

A crunchy salad with fresh cilantro and mint, tossed with a peanut sauce.

 

Fresh lettuce, carrots, cilantro, mint, and rice noodles leftover from our vegan spring rolls the other night tossed together with a peanut sauce dressing and some cut up squares of marinated Wildwood Tofu made a fabulous salad. 24 hours later, I sit here in my cube eating leftover homemade panang curry (tasty but a losing second compared to that salad) and I am still thinking about you. In fact, I want to elevate your salad concoction to main course status so I can eat you again for dinner and then dream about you as my lunch the next day.

So thank you for the memorable meal and bless you for not rotting the noodles. Keep up the good behavior and you may start spending more time in the brighter side of the fridge.

Sincerely,

Your Reluctant Eater

Peanut Sauce Salad Dressing
This recipe is an adaptation to the peanut sauce we make for spring rolls, and can serve as a fresh break from the heavy holiday meals. In your blender or Vitamix, combine the following ingredients:

2 heaping spoonfuls of smooth peanut butter (not the sweetened kind)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 teaspoon of fresh grated ginger
1 medium garlic clove (remember it is blending up raw, so be careful about the quantity . . . unless you want to be tasting repeats the rest of the day)
1/4 cup tamari
A splash or two of  mirin
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/4 cup orange juice

Blend together and adjust for salty and tangy. It is really hard to mess up a peanut sauce so don’t worry too much about the measurements. Serve with your favorite leftover Asian-style salad fixin’s.