My First Lesson in Whole-Foods, Plant-Based parenting

M at age 3
The oldest beetnik, age three. She was a worrier (still is).

Once upon a time I was married to a very nice man who was always telling me that he was so thankful I wasn’t a vegetarian anymore – and then he read The China Study. In fact, he read The China Study aloud to me during those first few post-partum weeks after the second baby beetnik was born and I was strapped to a rocking chair nursing non-stop. The result of this was we changed our diet to cut out all animal products and both of us felt great and life carried on more or less the same but with more adventures in the kitchen and my 2-year old first born telling every one we didn’t eat “animal projects” anymore.

Fast forward a year later to a conversation with our oldest daughter:

Us: What did you have for snack today at preschool? (It’s a co-operative preschool, the snack is provided by the parent-helper of the day.)

Daughter: *suddenly paralyzed by fear is unable to speak (for the first time in her life).*

Us: Didn’t you get a snack?

Daughter: *eyes get even wider but she still has not regained the ability to talk and is about to panic*

So, husband and I kind of looked at each other and shrugged it off – until it kept happening every time we asked. A seemingly innocuous question that was really more an attempt to make her feel good about preschool than us caring about what she had for snack.

Until one day while I was thinking about her strange reaction it just clicked: she was afraid to tell us what she had for snack.

The reason for this: cheese.

The snack at preschool almost always has some sort of cheese with it. Which makes sense right? Kids love cheese and you can almost always guarantee that they will eat it. Plus, it provides protein and as North Americans we are often obsessively concerned by the amount of protein we – and everyone else – are getting (that’s a whole other topic of discussion).

Anyway, I immediately went into that downward spiral of mommy-guilt because my daughter was afraid to talk to me about something. This was obviously a crucial moment in parenting. So I asked her, “was there cheese?” To which she answered meekly, “Yes… …I ate the cheese.” My husband and I stared at each other and then… we didn’t make a big deal about it. The last thing we wanted was for her to be afraid to tell us what she ate (or anything for that matter).

I can understand her fear though. We were all relatively new to navigating this way of life. Since then I have laid down a couple ground rules:

1) If you are hungry: eat.

2) This is how we eat at home (whole-foods, plant-based), when you are out you make your own decisions.

That’s pretty much it. As someone raising three daughters the last thing I want is for them to feel like any particular food is bad or off limits – society is going to put enough pressure on them and what they eat/what they weigh/how they look soon enough. Sure, I encourage them to avoid dairy (our oldest had some real problems with it before we changed our diet) but if they are at a birthday party and cake and ice cream is being served then they eat the cake and ice cream. I already feel like our family is a little out of the norm most days. I don’t want to be one of those parents who forbids their kid to eat cake and ice cream for any reason. Life is just to damn short for that.

M at age 3

(Disclaimer: I do not get paid to endorse The China Study and I have no affiliation with it so if I link to it and you click on that link the only thing that happens is you choose to read the link or not. I get nothing. Thought I would make that clear.)

Cooking my way through The Homemade Vegan Pantry & Truly Free-Range Chicken(less) Stock

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Sometimes you get a cookbook that you are so intrigued with that you want to make every single recipe. This happens to me all the time but I know myself enough to know that there is no way I’m going to be able to do that. However, I’ve finally found the book that makes me want to try.

The Homemade Vegan Pantry by Miyoko Schinner came out in June and, like most cookbooks, I always check it out of the library before making a commitment. It took me about two days before I knew I had to add this one to my collection.

I think my family is pretty good with not buying too much packaged food but I’ve always wanted to be better and Schinner’s collection of staples seems to be a good way to get back to the vegan culinary basics. The tagline for this book is: the art of making your own staples and I think that is a great way to get us to start using less packaged stuff – which will be good for us and the environment.

Since it is autumn the first thing I decided to make was the Truly Free-Range Chicken(less) Stock

2015_09_NotChickenStock

Over the last couple years (baby #3) I have gotten away from making our own soup stock. There is a fairly decent organic low-sodium vegetable stock that can be purchased by the case from Costco that will do in a pinch – but there is nothing as good as homemade soup stock. To be honest though, I’m sick of that stock and it tastes the same every time – packaged stock lacks the nuances of home made which tends to be a different every time you make a batch.

Making my own soup stock was something I got into the habit of doing when I lived alone during under-grad, and it doesn’t take as long as people think if you have all the ingredients on hand.  Soup stock is something that you can set up in the morning and let simmer on the stove all day (if you are home) or in the crockpot. My kids love it so much that they ask for it by the mug-full when it is fresh and that is before I even turn it into a soup.

I was once the person who always asked to take home the Christmas turkey carcass and would spend the next day breaking it down into as many pots as I could to turn it into stock. Thankfully, Schinner’s recipe is quicker, less messy, and more humane than wrestling with a picked-over turkey. After all, it’s the poultry seasonings that give it that chicken-soup flavour.

For my first kick-at-the-can from Homemade Vegan Pantry this one turned out really well. The flavour was rich and so was the colour. I used dried poultry seasoning (as recommended in the recipe) instead of fresh poultry seasoning herbs and I think I would go with the fresh next time. Schinner gives an oil-free option as well but I used the olive oil to give it a richer flavour. Plus, I have small children and since our diet is fairly low in fat I try and get it into them when I can. Winter is coming after all.

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One thing that always bothers me about making stock is throwing away all the vegetables at the end. I mean, sure they have been thoroughly decimated by the long cooking time but it still seems like such a waste. Schinner recommends making Curried Cream of Vegetable Soup by placing all the vegetables in a blender and adding some seasoning. I tried it and have to admit that I do not recommend it. It tastes like over-cooked vegetables blended and my kids gave me a pleading “do we really have to eat this?” look (no, they did not). I am not a big fan of blender soups – something about the aeration of them really turns my stomach, so that could have had something to do with it.

So I will definitely be making this stock again and again but am going to have to pass on the creamed veggie soup.

Food goals: I made pickles the other day

A small batch of fridge pickles. This is something I have wanted to do for years and the other night, after Sparks & Brownies and then a school council meeting, I came home and made pickles.

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Now, I know that sounds like I am some super achiever but I want to make one thing clear: I rarely have the energy to go out at night. The most I can usually do after dinner is put kids to bed and then collapse on my bed and read until I’m not allowed to read anymore (and hope that somewhere along the way the kitchen magically cleaned itself). I say this so you can understand just how easy it was to make these pickles. I was done by 9:30 and still had time to collapse on my bed and read.

These days I have two main food goals: make more food from scratch and waste less food. These cucumbers were on their last legs and it was a do-or-die moment. I had bought the supplies at least a week before and this wouldn’t have been the first time life got in the way and everything went into the bin with me feeling, once again, like a big failure of a pickle-maker.

Big chunks of Hutterite garlic

I think small batch canning is going to be the way to go for our family for a while. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in making big batches of things that it is either a) overwhelming or b) leads to food waste when we realize that our family of five really didn’t need two dozen muffins. I tried to use as much local ingredients as possible as well. The cucumbers are from The Cucumber Man and I also used elephant garlic from the Hutterites all of which I got at the local Co-op. We haven’t even tried these pickles yet but I’m hopeful. If they work out I will tweak the recipe and post it here – plus I suspect I will be pickling everything all winter.

(Full disclosure: I do write for the Calgary Co-op blog but I don’t get paid to shop there or mention them on my personal blog. I mention them because they are a great source of local produce and are all over the city.)

Cookbook Review: Let Them Eat Vegan by Dreena Burton

I love Canadian cookbooks. This isn’t to say I don’t have cookbooks from other countries (I love cookbooks, period)  – but I always return to cookbooks written by Canadian authors. When I was in high school my go-to cookbooks were usually by Bonnie Stern. She had a series of Heart Smart cookbooks that had lots of vegetarian recipes in them. I wasn’t a full-on vegetarian then (and not a vegan at all) but her recipes were healthy, easy-to-follow, and most importantly, delicious. I still have fond memories of a Moroccan-inspired recipe that combined dried apricots, prunes, couscous and chicken.

Let Them Eat Vegan

Since becoming a vegan I have discovered Dreena Burton and I think she taken residence in my heart for one of my favourite cookbook authors. Let Them Eat Vegan isn’t her newest book (but I haven’t spent enough time with the new one to give it a fair review) but it’s the one I have been using over and over again for the last five years.

One of the reasons I love Canadian cookbooks so much is because even as vegans they understand our need for comfort food. Yes, raw vegan cookbooks can be great too (I have a couple of those too, of course) but for someone who lives in Alberta, where winter can often be eight months out of the year, I just can’t find all the ingredients I need from a cookbook whose author is based in California and can have a CSA delivery (or two) every week, all year long. (I may be a little jealous of that.)

My family needs warmth. We need hearty fare.

We need: Mac-oh-geez

MacOhGeez

We need Almond Roasted Cauliflower (so much so that my kids fight over it and I can’t make enough for everyone to be satisfied).

Almond Roasted Cauliflower

The Vanilla Yogurt? It’s like having dessert for dinner. (Or breakfast or lunch, it’s really that good and even better when you mix it with fruit and let the flavours combine in the fridge for a couple hours.) It quickly became a staple in our house. Same with the Raw-nch dressing.

Other hits from the book that I have made more than once:

Festive Chickpea Tart

Corn Chowder Quinoa Casserole

Kale Slaw with Curried Almond Dressing

Kids Cheesy Chickpea and White Bean Soup

Creamy Carrot Miso Dip

Strawberry Goji Berry muffins

The veggie burgers (I can’t even remember which were my favourite)

The list could go on and on but I’m sure you get the idea. This cookbook is packed with delicious recipes and I’ve only really scratched the surface. Burton is a mom of three daughters so her focus is on family friendly food. I can attest that my own three daughters are big fans.

Full disclosure: I’ve been working on this review for a while now. It is really cold out today (high of 7 degrees, and rainy) and I didn’t know what I was making for lunch. But then I got really hungry and so we I whipped up some Mac-oh-geez and Almond Roasted Cauliflower and it was a hit. I already had the Mac-oh-geez sauce made and in the fridge which made this a really simple lunch as long as you have the ingredients on hand. I don’t use anything fancy for the bread crumbs – I just toast whatever bread I have on hand.

More Mac-oh-geez
Today’s batch of Mac-oh-geez. My middle daughter calls this Crumb Pasta.

 

The only thing beige about this lunch is the colour! Despite it's lack of flair it's packing a lot of flavour.
The only thing beige about this lunch is the colour! Despite it’s lack of flair it’s packing a lot of flavour.

It may be a bit of a false-start, but it is still a start

LeekyGoodness

I had some really fantastic plans to launch this blog on September 1st (I like doing things on the first of the month, it’s like a chance to reset the clock and start all those good habits that fell away during the last three weeks of the previous month). Honestly, my plans were great: I was going to have a couple cookbook reviews ready and a soup recipe or two and finish the story of how my daughter was afraid to tell us what she was eating at preschool shortly after we switched our diet.

However, the biggest thing I have been doing for the last few weeks is trying to keep our heads above water since a really nasty stomach virus is making it’s way – for the second time – through the house. It’s pretty much puke-central around here and it isn’t over yet.

Even with all that I still want to launch this blog on the first of September, so here we are. What a wonderful day to start something. My middle child started her first day of Kindergarten today (oldest child is too sick to go anywhere, probably for the rest of the week). I should probably post my favourite feel-better soup recipe that is packed with all kinds of vegetables and kind protein (and by kind I mean kind on the tummy to give some energy when sick). I did say this blog was “the adventures of a whole-foods, plant-based family” and what is more adventuresome than a family that can’t stop puking?

More fun soon. Promise.