Tent camping with kids- vegan style!

Last week, my husband and I took our kids tent camping in Lake Tahoe. This might sound like a crazy idea, considering that both of our kids are under five years old, but it was great! The weather was perfect and, with a little planning, we were able to eat well and have fun. The kids, of course, got really, REALLY dirty...

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...but that's just part of the fun for them. The water was cold but gorgeous...

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...and we had a great day at the beach!

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Cooking was quick with our simple accommodations- I love the minimalism that camping forces! To make our meals easier, I did most of the food prep at home. I chopped all of the fruits and veggies and bagged them for each meal. For breakfast we had tofu scramble burritos one day (one of my veg bags contained all of veggies and a small container of pre-measured seasonings) and then instant oatmeal (we added a few goodies like peanut butter, bananas, raisins, applesauce, etc.) the next day.

Tofu scramble burrito prep on the camp stove:

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Lunch was PB&J sandwiches for the kids and Indian samosas (wheat tortillas with a mixture of potatoes, peas, and Indian spices that I prepared at home) for us. For dinner I pre-made my favorite lentil recipe (red lentils with kale) so we just had to heat it up when we were camping. The second night we had pasta with sauteed veggies (pre-chopped and bagged) and, of course, vegan s'mores (we used Sweet and Sara vegan marshmallows which are fabulous)!

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We also brought along tons of snacks including Larabars, zucchini bread, Super Charge Me cookies, sesame cashews, fruit, and veggies with hummus.

Here is a menu brainstorm that I did before planning the meals for our trip. I know this list will come in handy for me on future trips!

Breakfast:
  • Pancakes
  • Oatmeal
  • Tofu veggie scramble with potatoes (or as burritos)
  • Scones (Dreena Burton's Squirrelly Scones- YUM!)
  • Cinnamon rolls
  • Bagels with peanut butter or vegan cream cheese

Lunch:
  • Sandwiches (PB&J, tofu or tempeh, soy cheese)
  • Samosas Lentil and/or grain salad with veggies

Dinner:
  • Chili and cornbread
  • Veggie burgers and sweet potatoes or grilled corn
  • Veg kabobs, hummus, pita bread
  • Pasta with sauteed veggies
  • Soup and bread
  • Red lentils and kale with bread

Snacks:
  • Muffins or quick bread
  • Cookies
  • Veggies and dip
  • Fruit (incl. apples w/PB)
  • Bars 
  • Nuts
  • S'mores!

Vegan skin care by emerginC

I recently received a sample* of a "multi-vitamin + retinol serum" product made by emerginC. This is an anti-aging serum that is designed to fight free-radical damage, reduce wrinkles, and strengthen skin. The ingredients are vegan and it is free of parabens, artificial colors and fragrances, and other undesirable ingredients. Even the box that it was packaged in was printed on Forest Stewardship Council and Sustainable Forest Initiative certified paperboard with non-toxic vegetable-based inks!
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Now, my approach to aging is pretty simple. I believe in living as healthy as possible and letting aging happen naturally. I'm definitely not interested in any kind of surgery and I won't be spending thousands of dollars on expensive products intended to turn back the clock. That being said, though, I did really like this serum. I have a very sensitive skin but didn't find it at all irritating. My skin felt smooth and some fine lines seemed to be less visible. I loved the air-tight design of the package that keeps the serum fresh and I loved that it was vegan and didn't contain icky ingredients. I will definitely consider continuing this product and trying other emerginC products as well!

Please see the emerginC website for information on where to purchase this and other emerginC products.

(*Note: I received a free sample of this product but did not receive any monetary compensation for this review.)

Blackberry cobbler

After dropping my oldest son off at preschool this morning, my youngest and I went to a blackberry farm. I was worried that he might eat more than he put in the basket, but he actually did a great job of helping me fill up our containers! The blackberry bushes were thorn-free, which was something that I'd never seen before. I remember spending, what seemed like, hours picking wild blackberries when I was a kid. It's funny how you never lose the ability to detect what a berry will taste like by the way that it feels in your hand when you pick it from the vine.

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As fall is quickly approaching, it has triggered a feeling in me that I get every year about this time. Knowing that summer is almost over sends me into a panic and I start scheduling camping trips and baking cobblers just to squeeze a few more summery things into the year. Tonight I made a light soup with farro, chickpeas, and some CSA veggies from one of my favorite cookbooks (Deborah Madison's Vegetable Soups book).


What better way to finish this meal and this day than with warm blackberry cobbler? As usual, I made up my own recipe that is lower in fat and sugar than most. I love, love, loved this cobbler and so did my husband!

Vegan Blackberry Cobbler
4-5 cups fresh blackberries
1 tbsp cornstarch or arrowroot powder
1/2 cup organic sugar, divided
1 tsp orange zest
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup non-hydrogenated margarine, melted
1 cup non-dairy milk (I used rice)
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 375〫F (190〫C). Gently combine blackberries, 1/4 cup sugar, cornstarch or arrowroot powder, and orange zest and set aside.
  2. In another bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Whisk to combine well but don't over-mix.
  3. Lightly grease an 8x8 or 9x9 baking dish (or deep dish pie or casserole dish). Pour batter into prepared pan then pour the berries over the top (do not stir- the cake will puff up around the berries as it bakes). Bake for about 45 minutes or until golden brown.
Enjoy!

What end-of-summer things are you enjoying?

Zucchini and sweet pepper pancakes

I was really craving something different for lunch today and I had some farmers' market and CSA veggies to use up too. I decided to make some zucchini pancakes but, when I looked around online for a recipe, I couldn't really find anything that seemed like what I wanted. I made this recipe up as I pulled things out of the refrigerator and the pancakes turned out great!

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Vegan Zucchini and Sweet Pepper Pancakes
Makes about 8 pancakes

1 large zucchini, grated or finely chopped
1 sweet bell pepper (2, if the peppers are small), grated or finely chopped
1 Tbsp parsley (I used Italian parsley), finely chopped
1/2 yellow onion, grated or finely chopped
~1/2 cup amaranth flour*
~1/2 cup garbanzo (chickpea) flour*
1 tsp baking powder
Sea salt and black pepper to taste

*Note: I chose amaranth and garbanzo flour for the extra protein and iron content. You can use any kind of flour that you like.
  1. Finely chop and combine the zucchini, pepper(s), parsley, and onion (a food processor makes this really fast).
  2. In another bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, and salt and pepper. Then add the flour mixture to the veggies.
  3. Lightly coat a pan with olive oil or cooking spray and heat over medium heat. When hot, shape the pancake mixture into patties and cook until brown on both sides.
Paired with a salad of baby lettuces and edible flowers that was lightly dressed in lemon juice and olive oil, these pancakes were perfect for lunch today! I think they would also be good served along side a tofu scramble and some fresh fruit for breakfast.


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Epicuriosity and vegan whole wheat naan

One of the best side benefits of eating vegetarian/vegan, in my opinion, has been the exposure that this has given me to foods from other cultures. Restaurants that serve foods from other regions of the world are frequently veg-friendly and I have discovered so many things that I love with what I would call my "epicuriosity".

Among my favorites are Thai, Ethiopian, and Indian. I am on a huge Indian food kick right now and plan to be making a few things at home in the next week or so. I visited a local Indian market to get a couple of ingredients and, hopefully, will have some success stories for you soon!

A few days ago I made some naan (a leavened Indian flatbread). Instead of a traditional naan made with ghee (clarified butter) and white flour, I "veganized" the recipe and substituted whole wheat flour for most of the white flour. The result was great! I love this bread!

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Vegan Whole Wheat Naan
Makes about 8-10

1 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp + 2 tsp unsweetened non-dairy yogurt
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp sugar
1 1/4 tsp dry active yeast
2 cups whole wheat flour*
2/3 cup white flour*
  1. Place all ingredients in a bread machine in order recommended by the manufacturer and turn to "dough" cycle.
OR
  1. Dissolve the yeast in about 1/4 cup of the water; stir in the sugar and set aside for 10 minutes. The mixture should get foamy- if it doesn't, the yeast isn't active or the water was too hot.
  2. Mix the rest of the water with the salt, olive oil, and yogurt and set aside.
  3. Put the flour in the bowl of a food processor or mixer. With the processor running, slowly pour in the water/oil mixture. Then add the yeast mixture and process until the dough forms a ball. Add more flour or water, if necessary, so that dough isn't crumbly or sticky.
When dough has finished, preheat a griddle on medium-high heat. Divide dough into 8-10 balls. Roll each ball flat on a floured surface (bread should be thin- about 1/4 inch thick). Place flat doughs on the hot griddle (oil shouldn't be necessary) flipping once the first side has browned well.


*A note about flour: I kept 2/3 cup white flour in the recipe so the bread would maintain a soft texture. You can use whatever ratio you like.

Gluten free, raw, vegan cheesecake- is it any good?

In a word, YES! Yes, yes, and YES!

The fabulous folks at Earth Cafe generously sent me five flavors of their gluten free, raw, vegan cheesecakes to try* and they was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! The best cheesecake that I've ever had!

Traditional cheesecake is LOADED with calories and fat and is one of the most unhealthy things that you can eat. Just thinking about it makes my stomach hurt.

The Earth Cafe cheesecake, though, is hand made with natural ingredients like cashews, dates, and coconut and tastes amazing!

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My husband and I tried five flavors: "Who's your daddy?", Rockin' Raspberry, Strawberry Fields Forever, Blueberry Thrill, and Cali Style Lemon. Picking our favorite would be like picking our favorite child- they were all excellent! I only have photos of three of them- I think we must have been too eager to snap photos of the last two before we dug in!

"Who's your Daddy?"
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Strawberry Fields Forever
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Cali Style Lemon
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These cheesecakes get a big "thumbs up" from me!


(*I received free samples to try but did not receive any monetary compensation for this review.)

Quinoa

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Quinoa (pronounced "keen-wa") is a grain that frequently shows up on "super foods" lists. While it may not actually give you super powers, I do love it because it is high in protein (considered a "complete protein" because it contains all nine essential amino acids), iron, complex carbohydrates, B vitamins, zinc, and magnesium. Also, it cooks in only about 15 minutes!

If you haven't ever eaten quinoa, I encourage you to give it a try this week! You can buy it at most grocery stores (it is also frequently available in bulk) or even at Costco.

Here are four ideas to get you started:
  1. Add lightly toasted sesame seeds and sea salt to cooked quinoa and serve as a side dish.
  2. Toss cooked and cooled quinoa with a bit of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, sea salt, pepper, and your favorite veggies for a great grain salad or green salad topper.
  3. Instead of oatmeal for breakfast, top warm cooked quinoa with almond milk, fruit, and nuts or seeds.
  4. For meals that are usually served over rice or noodles, use quinoa instead.

Grilled pizza

It takes a lot to impress me with pizza but if it is homemade and grilled it is likely to be great, if you ask me! I make my own crust and, with all the different kinds of flour out there, there is a bit of alchemy that goes into this process. I love the amazingly supple and authentic dough that I can make with "00" Italian flour but I love the wholesomeness of whole grain flours (which make a thicker, more bread-like crust). I am always changing up the recipe based on what I have in the pantry too.

Monday night I used some amaranth flour in the mix and it turned out great- wholesome but still on the thin side. I use my bread machine to make the crust and that simplifies the process quite a bit. Here is my crust recipe using the flours that I used on Monday.

*Feel free to substitute any or all of the flours for all-purpose or another kind of flour you like (total should be 3 cups of flour)*:

Homemade pizza dough
Makes enough for about 4 adults

1 cup lukewarm water
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
1 1/4 cup bread flour*
3/4 cup amaranth flour*
1 cup whole wheat flour*
1 Tbsp active dry yeast
  1. Place all ingredients in a bread maker in order suggested by manufacturer and set to "dough" setting. Check a few minutes into the process and add flour or water, if necessary, so that the dough isn't crumbly and dry or sticky.
  2. When the bread maker has finished, divide the dough into 4 balls (or as many as you like). Roll the balls with a rolling pin on a floured surface to desired thickness (should be on the thin side).
OR
  1. Dissolve the yeast in about 1/4 cup of the water; stir in 1 tsp of the sugar and set aside for 10 minutes. The mixture should get foamy- if it doesn't, the yeast isn't active or the water was too hot.
  2. Mix the rest of the sugar with the salt, olive oil and remaining water and set aside.
  3. Put the flour in the bowl of a food processor or mixer. With the processor running, slowly pour in the water/oil mixture. Then add the yeast mixture and process until the dough forms a ball. Add more flour or water, if necessary, so that dough isn't crumbly or sticky.
  4. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Transfer to an oiled bowl and let rise for about an hour.
  5. When the dough has finished rising, divide it into 4 balls (or as many as you like). Roll the balls with a rolling pin on a floured surface to desired thickness (should be on the thin side).
Grilling pizza
I don't have a pizza stone or peel or any other fancy pizza-making equipment. Here are my basic instructions for grilling pizzas on a gas barbecue grill.
  1. Preheat your barbecue grill on high. Just before placing the crusts on the grill, turn the temp down to low to medium-low. Place as many crusts on the grill as you can fit and leave the top of the barbecue open. Let brown slightly on one side only then remove from the grill, flipping so that the cooked side is up on the pan.
  2. Top the cooked side of the crusts with your favorite sauce and toppings. Note: I recommend slicing the veggies very, very thin so they get cooked enough when the pizzas go back on the grill.
  3. Place a sheet of aluminum foil coated with olive oil or cooking spray on the grill and place the pizzas on top. Make sure the grill is on low heat and close the lid. Watch the bottom of the pizzas closely- they will brown quickly! Remove them as soon as they are done and enjoy!
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6 Quick breakfast ideas

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Morning is always such a busy time in our house and yours too, I imagine. While I'd love to lounge in my PJs, drinking tea and eating tofu scramble with roasted potatoes, the reality is that I don't have that kind of time!

Here are six quick breakfast ideas to help you get your day started on a healthy note!

  1. Smoothie: Smoothies are such an awesome vehicle for so many good things. If you haven't tried a green smoothie yet, give it a try! Here are some ideas to get you started.
  2. Oatmeal: To make this a faster breakfast, stick with rolled oats or try overnight oats or cook steel cut oats overnight in a crock pot.
  3. Waffles: Waffles are a "sometimes food", as Cookie Monster would say, but I do like them every now and then! When I have a waffle craving but no time to make my own, I use organic and light frozen waffles. Try them with fruit and nuts and drizzle with a tiny bit of real maple syrup. Yummy combos: try apples and walnuts, bananas and peanut butter, or peaches and almonds.
  4. Pancakes: I make a batch of my super pancakes every couple of weeks, doctored up with added protein and various other ingredients. I freeze the leftovers for quick, microwavable breakfasts later in the week. I add fruit and a bit of syrup to the batter, so I can skip the syrup when I serve these to my kids.
  5. Muffins: Muffins are another great vehicle for good stuff. I add nuts, seeds, and all kinds of things to mine to make them a heartier breakfast.
  6. Yogurt: Choose a yogurt that isn't loaded with sugar or other icky ingredients (I buy soy yogurt) and add to whole grain cereal (Kashi Go Lean has lots of protein) or top with nuts or seeds and fruit.