Our Vegan Life

Food, Family, and Fun

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

If You Give a Vegan a Hot Dog…..

If you give a vegan a hot dog….

she will NOT ask for another.

She will ask for a soda and some ginger mint tea, and she will spend the afternoon curled up in bed with a tummy ache.

This is what happened to our 6 year old daughter this week.

This week she completed Kindergarten. On their last day, they had Field Day, a day full of fun and games and races, a dunk tank, snow cones, a bounce house, and more! We told her that we would try to get there a little early to pick her up so we could see all the fun things she was doing and maybe even watch her in a race. When we got there, however, we were told that her class was in the cafeteria having lunch.

For the record, she was in morning Kindergarten and so she typically has lunch at home, but we had been told that there was a possibility that they might be having hot dogs, so if we wanted to send her with a vegan hot dog just in case that would be fine. Well, we forgot to send her with a vegan hot dog (since we don’t normally keep processed faux meat in our house), so Shannon’s first thought when we heard they were in the cafeteria was, “Oh no! She’s being left out!” If only that were true….

When we arrived in the cafeteria, Shannon went over to where our daughter was sitting, and seeing her eating a hot dog, immediately asked, “What are you eating?” Our sweet, innocent daughter replied, “A hot dog.”  Shannon: “But it’s not vegan, sweetie.”  Daughter: (worried, sad look on her face) “I didn’t know.”  Shannon: (taking the last 2 bites of hot dog out of her hand) “It’s ok. I’m not mad. You didn’t know it was meat.”  And then Shannon proceeded to walk over to the teacher with the remainder of the hot dog in hand and a stern look on her face, and said, “My daughter was eating this.”

The teacher was very apologetic, and said she hadn’t gotten over to her table yet to check her lunch bag and didn’t know the cafeteria staff had put a hot dog in her bag. In all fairness, it was rather chaotic in the cafeteria, and we know that there was no malicious intent on their part, and no irreparable damage was done (not like giving our son a peanut butter sandwich), so Shannon didn’t totally ream her out, and yet the point was made. She simply said, “Well, I told [my daughter] I wasn’t mad at her. It wasn’t her fault. She didn’t know.”

We assured our daughter over and over and over that we were not angry with her, and we discussed the lesson we learned about not assuming food is vegan, and also how we might all be more careful in the future. (1) She will always ask, “Is it vegan?” (2) We will remember to send a substitution any time there is even a possibility of special food being served (although this is less likely to be an issue with her in the future, since she will always have a lunch packed for her from 1st grade on), and (3) In preparation for when our (peanut-allergic) son enters school in a few years, we will definitely have more conversations with the school about being more conscious and careful about food.

Speaking of consciousness…As Shannon strapped her into her car seat, our daughter asked, “What animal did I eat?” Despite the mistake, she wanted to be conscious of the “friend” she had unknowingly consumed. 

So, if you give a vegan a hot dog, the first day, she will get a tummy ache….

But the next day, she will have a tummy ache and be cranky.

We anticipated that our daughter would have some digestive problems after eating meat, but what we had not considered were the mood swings and emotional impact it would have on her. If you’re going to accidentally eat meat, hot dogs are not the purest form of meat, and public school cafeteria hot dogs are undoubtedly some of the lowest quality available. I’m quite sure our daughter did not consume a free range, grass fed, all beef hot dog. Rather, she more likely ate a variety of unknown animal parts (possibly from a variety of animal sources), pumped full of chemicals and hormones, and God only knows what else.

And so when our sweet natured daughter suddenly manifested signs of what can only be described as monster behavior the day after eating this totally foreign substance to her body, it occurred to us that there was going to be more of a problem than simply digestive issues. Meat in and of itself was foreign to her body, but having eaten something overly processed and full of hormones and chemicals, she had eaten something entirely foreign to her body, and it was impacting not only her digestive tract, but every part of her being, including her brain. This incident caused us to question whether we truly realize the impact food has on our entire being.

If you give a vegan a hot dog, she’ll have a tummy ache, and mood swings…

But if you give her love and whole foods, she’ll be just fine.

Vegan Gumbo Ya’ll!

Shannon grew up in the South, but doesn’t remember having gumbo much growing up. We’re not exactly sure how that happened…Maybe it’s just the difference between the definition of “Southern cookin'” in Alabama and Louisiana. In Alabama, everything is fried and in Louisiana, it’s served with rice. (Big stereotypes, we know.) So when we found a recipe for vegan gumbo, we knew it was going to be an adventure since neither of us is an expert in gumbo, but the recipe looked good (and Isa Chandra has never steered us wrong so far), so we gave it a try.

Well, it was a hit. And by a hit, we mean both our 6 year old and our 21 month old both proclaimed, “I like gumbo!” on multiple occasions throughout the meal. Our 6 year old even said it was prize worthy. We’re not sure if our Southern friends would agree, but we certainly enjoyed it.

Okra Gumbo with Kidney Beans and Chickpeas

3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup flour (gluten-free flour works too)
1 medium sized onion, diced large
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced large
2 cups quartered cherry tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
Fresh black pepper
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
8 springs fresh thyme
2 1/2 to 3 cups vegetable broth at room temperature
2 cups okra (about 10 oz) sliced 1/4 inch thick or so
1 1/2 cups cooked kidney beans (a 15 oz can, rinsed and drained)
1 1/2 cup cooked garbanzo beans (a 15 oz can, rinsed and drained)

Rice for serving (I used jasmine rice, because it cooks in about 15 minutes).

First make a roux. The instructions call for a little less fat than a traditional roux, which means it doesn’t get as goopy. If you’d like a more traditional roux, just add 3 more tablespoons of vegetable oil. We added about 4 1/2 Tbsp of oil total, so ours was in between.

Preheat a large, heavy bottom pot over medium-low heat.

Add the oil and sprinkle in the flour. Use a wooden spatula to toss the flour in the oil, and stir pretty consistently for 3 to 4 minutes, until the flour is clumpy and toasty. I had to add more flour than called for to create the necessary clumpy, toasty-ness, so you may also need to play a bit with the amount of flour. We also used a gluten-free flour, so I’m not sure if that had anything to do with it.

Add the onion and salt, and toss to coat the onions completely in the flour mixture. As the onions release moisture, they will coat more and more. Cook this way for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add garlic and stir for 30 seconds or so.

Add the peppers and tomatoes and cook down for about 10 more minutes. Place a cover on the pot to get the tomatoes to cook faster and release moisture. As the tomatoes break down, the mixture should become thick and pasty.

Season with fresh black pepper, add bay leaves, smoked paprika and thyme and mix well.

Stream in the 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth, stirring constantly to prevent clumping. Add the okra and beans, then turn the heat up and cover to bring to a boil. Stir occasionally.

Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook uncovered for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the stew is nicely thickened and the okra is tender. If it’s too thick, thin with up to 1/2 cup vegetable broth. If it’s not as thick as you like, just cook it a bit longer.

(The original recipe calls for adding 1 Tbsp of lemon juice, but we forgot and it tasted just fine without it.)

Salt and pepper to taste. Remove bay leaves and thyme stems, and serve in a big bowl, topped with a scoop of rice.

You may optionally slice up some vegan sausage and add to the gumbo while it’s cooking. We might do that next time, but for this meal we were keeping it strictly whole foods. And, of course, we topped ours off with some Louisiana hot sauce for a little kick. Delicious!

The Great Zoo Controversy: A Practice in Vegan Parenting

There are a couple of distinctions when classifying vegans. There are dietary vegans and there are ethical vegans. Dietary vegans do not consume animal products or by-products as a part of their diet, but may not necessarily draw the line on wearing leather or using animal ingredients in household products, etc. Ethical vegans not only abstain from consuming animal products or by-products in their diets, but also in clothing, household products, etc. However, even within these categories, there are differences in opinion on some matters, such as the use of animals for entertainment.

Most vegans will agree that circuses with their caged or chained up animals who are poked and prodded (and otherwise mistreated) in order to train them to jump through hoops and do other tricks for our amusement is most certainly not vegan. However, for some vegans, the entertainment aspect of a zoo is not quite so clear cut. With all of their alleged emphasis on “conservation” efforts, on the surface zoos seem to be at least attempting to take care of animals. And this, I think, is why zoos have become a bit of a gray area for some vegans.

For me (Shannon), deep down I think I have always felt a little uneasy about zoos…even before I became a vegan. I remember feeling sorry for the large cats pacing back and forth in their confined spaces, the penguins staring at the backdrop behind them almost as if wondering why they couldn’t get past the wall to reach the beautiful picture that was there, and wondering how miserable the polar bears must be in the summer heat when their natural habitat was an icy cold climate.

(The bear on the left, I call the “performance bear.” It walked around and dove into the pool, swimming around, and generally giving a good show. The one on the right just lay there panting. I almost wondered if the “performance bear” was born in captivity and if the other bear was brought there from its arctic climate, knowing the difference between “home” and where it is living.)

As parents, we have had many conversations about whether or not to take our children to the zoo or to let them go on zoo trips if their school was going. When Isa was very small (before we became vegan), we took her (she slept through most of the trip). We took her again when she was a year old, because I had heard that the local zoo had revamped their penguin exhibit. So we went, because I had always thought the penguin exhibits are the most depressing due to the extreme difference in space between their natural habitat and what I can only describe as the zoo “box.” They did have more space than most zoos, but it was still significantly less than their natural surroundings. Since then, we decided that we would not personally take our children to the zoo, but if their school class went on a field trip that they could go as long as one of us was available to go with them.

A few weeks ago, we received a permission slip from our 6 year old daughter’s Kindergarten class, requesting permission that we allow her to go to the zoo. We discussed it again, and looked at our calendars, and agreed that I (with our 21 month old son in tow) would go with her. Thus began the preparation. How does a vegan parent express to her child why animals living in a zoo habitat are simply not the ideal situation for any animal, while also allowing her child to enjoy the wonders of nature? This was the task I was faced with while preparing my daughter for what she calls her “first zoo trip” (since she was too young to remember the other trips).

After some thought, I came up with the following idea:

  • Ask child to choose 1-2 animals she is most interested in that she may see at the zoo
  • Use the internet or library books to look up information and photos of those animals in their natural habitats, and discuss what your child notices about the animals in their natural habitat.
  • Have child draw a picture of the animals in their natural habitat.
  • Ask child to notice the difference between the animals in their natural habitat and what she sees at the zoo.
  • Go to the zoo.
  • Have child draw a picture of the animals in their zoo habitat.
  • Discuss the difference between the 2 pictures.

Our daughter chose polar bears and penguins as her focus animals. She chose to draw the penguins. Here is her picture of a penguin in its natural habitat.

(The penguin is jumping from an icy mountain in to the water.)

Today was the zoo trip. Our daughter (and 21 month old son) enjoyed seeing the animals in real life as opposed to in a picture, and at the same time, our daughter was able to express the difference. She understands that they don’t have enough space and their climates are different. There are other conversations to be had with her regarding zoos (and other “entertainment” topics) as she gets older, but for now, she has made an age-appropriate observation. Below is a photo of the penguins we saw today.

Her homework for class tonight was to draw a picture and write a sentence about something she learned at the zoo. Here is what she drew and wrote.

(Her sentence: “A penguin’s natural habitat is bigger than a zoo habitat.”)

There are two sides to the picture. On the left is a penguin in its natural habitat. On the right side is a penguin (and penguin baby) in the zoo habitat. My daughter told me that the penguin on the left is larger because its habitat is larger, and the penguin on the right is small because its habitat is smaller. She also said that the penguin in the zoo habitat has a painting behind it.

Raising vegan children in a non-vegan world (there’s a book already written by that title) is a complicated process and practice. Not all parents, vegan or non-vegan, will agree with our decision, but for the time being this is how our vegan family chose to approach the great vegan controversy of the zoo.

What’s for dinner? Sweet potato burgers!

I am always after a great vegan burger. I have a few in my pocket, but can you ever really have too many? I have made black bean burgers, lentil burgers, and burgers with more of a mushroom base. Well, thanks to Pinterest, I have added yet another veggie burger to my repertoire. This one is full of sweet potato goodness. MmmmMmmm.

I changed a couple of things from the original recipe, such as the seasoning blend, optional additions, and it called for pan frying, but I baked it for a healthier option. We made it for dinner last night and it was unanimously approved! We hope you enjoy it as much as our family does.

Sweet Potato Veggie Burgers


2 cans cannellini beans, drained                                                                                    1 large sweet potato, baked/peeled/mashed (about 2 cups)
2 Tbsp tahini
2 tsp maple or agave syrup
1 tsp of spice blend: chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, italian seasonings, cumin, and paprika
1/4 cup wheat flour
optional: nutritional yeast, chia seeds, hemp seeds
bread crumbs


  • Preheat oven to 400F.
  • Bake sweet potato.  Scoop out the flesh and mash in large mixing bowl.
  • Add drained beans to mixing bowl. Mash beans and potato together.  (See image on right.)  
  • Mash in seasoning, flour and any additional seasoning. Your mixture will be quite soft and moist. But you should be able to form a patty.
  • Form a patty from mixture and coat in bread crumbs. Then place the patty on cookie sheet.  Cook until browned on both sides.

The finished product!

I’m planning on attempting to make a gluten free version of this soon by using gluten free flour in the burger and then nutritional yeast instead of bread crumbs as the outer crust.

Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start…Breakfast!

We are constantly told “breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” and it truly is. Eating a healthy breakfast gives your body energy and boosts your metabolism to help you get through the day (and lose weight – If you’re trying to lose weight DO NOT skip breakfast!). So what better place to start our recipes but with breakfast?!

There are  a lot of wonderful vegan breakfast options out there (2 fast ideas: oatmeal with fruit and almonds/walnuts or 1/2 grapefruit and a handful of almonds), and we’ll share more of them with you as we continue this blogging journey. For now, we want to share with you a fun and healthy breakfast you can make the night before and reheat if you don’t want to get up early in the morning. It would also make a great addition to a brunch with friends (perhaps make it in individual serving sizes in a muffin pan or mini quiche dishes).

Asparagus and Sun-dried Tomato Frittata
(from Vegan with a Vengeance, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz)


  • 1 lb extra firm tofu (Where do vegans get our protein? This is ONE of many places.)
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce (or wheat free tamari, if you need gluten free)
  • 1 tsp Dijon (or yellow) mustard
  • 1/4 c nutritional yeast (VERY HIGH in Vitamin B12!)
  • 2 tsp olive oil (or oil of your choice – I’m a big fan of refined coconut oil)
  • 1/2 c onion (1 small), diced
  • 3 stalks asparagus, rough ends discarded, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1/4 c sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 c fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces


  • Preheat oven to 400F.
  • In a mixing bowl, crumble tofu and squeeze through your fingers until it resembles ricotta cheese. Mix in the soy sauce and mustard. Add nutritional yeast and combine well. Set aside.
  • In a small (8 inch) skillet, saute’ the onions in oil for 2 minutes. Add asparagus and sun-dried tomatoes, saute’ for about 3 more minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and turmeric, saute’ for 1 more minute. Add the lemon juice to deglaze the pan; turn off the heat. Transfer the onion mixture to the tofu mixture and combine well. Fold in the basil leaves. Transfer back to the skillet and press the mixture firmly in place. Cook in the oven at 400F for 20 minutes. Transfer to the broiler to brown the top, about 2 minutes (watch closely so as not to burn). Let the frittata sit for 10 minutes before serving. Cut into 4 slices and lift each piece out with a pie server to prevent it from falling apart. If it does crumble, just put it back into shape.

Here is what it looks like still in the pan (before cutting and serving).

(Nutritional Fact: Cooking in an iron skillet actually adds iron to your diet.)


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