Our Vegan Life

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Valentine’s Day Fun!

(I know it’s been a few days since Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, we had a bit of sickness run through our family during V’Day week(end), so the post ended up being postponed. However, I didn’t want to omit it all together, so here it is……)

We don’t do a lot of lovey-dovey stuff in our house around Valentine’s Day. As a couple we have decided that it is more important to show our love for each other on a daily basis, through the little things, rather than spend a lot of money on each other to show our love one day each year. (This is not to say that it is bad to celebrate Valentine’s Day…we have nothing against it…it’s just not our chosen way of showing love to each other.)

However, I (Shannon) have grown to love every holiday just a little bit more since having children. I enjoy doing fun little things with the children around various holidays throughout the year. One of the things I remember my mom doing for me growing up was having a Valentine’s Day tea ready for me when I came home from school. It was such a nice, special surprise, and a way of her showing love to me through something we both enjoyed.

So….last year, I put together a Valentine’s tea for my daughter. And this year, I asked her if she would like to invite 3 friends to join her at our home for a Valentine’s Day Tea Party. (Incidentally, I made enough tea sandwiches and goodies to share at lunch with Chad and our little boy as well.)

I had such fun putting the party together. I planned it for at least a month…putting together the menu, making little trips to the dollar store here and there to put goody bags together for the girls, and then searching Pinterest for ideas for a craft for them to do.

Valentine's Day Tea Party!

Valentine’s Day Tea Party!

For the food, I prepared two different type of heart-shaped tea sandwiches (cucumber with herbed vegan cream cheese, and sunbutter and raspberry jelly), heart shaped brownies, and a coconut yogurt parfait with strawberries and raspberries and topped with unsweetened coconut shavings.

the food

sandwiches and brownies

parfait

parfait

In addition to the food, the girls had a selection of berry teas to choose from: raspberry tea or a mixed berry tea. These teas were differentiated by the color of the heart tag on the tea bag. Raspberry tea had a pink heart tag and mixed berry had a red heart tag. The tags were attached by sewing them to the tea bag.

tea bags with sparkly heart tags

tea bags with sparkly heart tags

Each girl received a crown and a goody bag filled with stickers, bubbles (the kind used at weddings), a ring pop, and 2 heart-shaped bracelets of varying colors.

goody bags

goody bags

In my research for the tea party, I came across a fun craft idea for the girls to do after the tea party. Each girl received 2 smooth stones (from my personal collection), along with glue and a variety of colorful glitter with which to decorate their stones.

glitter rock valentines

glitter rock valentines

The end result of the craft and the tea party was a table full of glue and glitter and lots of smiles.

Herbed Cream Cheese and Cucumber Sandwiches

1 pkg Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese

dried dill

Spike seasoning

Combine ingredients to taste and spread on pre-cut bread. Add 1-2 thin slices of cucumber for small sandwiches or more slices for larger sandwiches. Serve.

German Chocolate Brownies

  • 3/4 cup pitted dates
  • 1/2 tsp coconut extract
  • 1/16 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder (or raw cacao powder)
  • 2 tbsp shredded coconut
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup raw almonds
  • 2 Tbsp non-dairy milk (almond, soy, coconut)

Combine ingredient in food processor and process until well mixed. Press into small square pan and cut into squares or with cookie cutter.

Frosting

  • 1 tablespoon melted coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon raw agave or maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons cacao powder

Combine ingredients in bowl and spread on top of brownies. Enjoy!

Old and New

Happy New Year! I know it’s been a while since we have blogged…and November and December would have been such great food blogging months, since that’s what most of us do a lot of during those two months. We have had quite a bit going on over the past couple of months, so we wanted to share some highlights with you as well as share some plans for the New Year.

A RACE: 

On November 3rd, I (Shannon) ran my first 5K.

After finishing my 1st 5K!

After finishing my 1st 5K!

I did not grow up an athletic person by any means, but as a 30-something year old I have learned that my metabolism requires it of me. Chad is a runner, and our 7 year old daughter enjoys it as well.  In May, Chad ran his first half marathon, and our daughter and I “ran” (jogged some/walked some) the “Kids’ Marathon” (1 mile).  That was the beginning of my relationship with running. After the 1 mile race in May, I slowly began training for a 5K. I had 3 goals: (1) to finish, (2) to run/jog the entire time (no walking), (3) to finish in under 40 minutes. I accomplished every one of the goals, finishing in just over 37 minutes (I don’t remember the exact seconds)!

A BIRTHDAY:

On November 9th, we celebrated our daughter’s 7th birthday! (Well, her party was actually on the 10th.) We had just moved to a new house a couple of weeks before, so our home was in no condition to host a party. However, we had been spending a lot of time back and forth between our house and Home Depot. On one of our trips there, I noticed a sign that read, “Ask us about our birthday parties.” So I did. As it turns out, Home Depot had just started providing a party room for children’s birthday parties. They provide tables, chairs, and table cloths, as well as the activity, a small building project for all of the children to put together. All we have to do is bring the food and any extra decorations we might want. Our daughter was excited about it at first, and then she wasn’t sure, because there were other thematic party ideas she was also interested in.  In the end, she was glad she decided to go for it, because it was a huge success! Everyone had a blast!

The food table

The food table

We kept the food pretty simple, just some veggies and pita chips with hummus and a fruit salad, which both kids and parents enjoyed very much.

Simple snacks: veggies and hummus, and a fruit salad

Simple snacks: veggies and hummus, and a fruit salad

Our daughter said she wanted carrot cake for her birthday cake, but she was concerned that a friend of hers doesn’t like carrots, so I made both carrot cake and chocolate cake cupcakes……

vegan cupcakes: chocolate with "butter" cream icing and a sprinkling of cocoa powder, and carrot cake with "butter" cream frosting and a sprinkling of cinnamon

vegan cupcakes: chocolate with “butter” cream icing and a sprinkling of cocoa powder, and carrot cake with “butter” cream frosting and a sprinkling of cinnamon

And it’s a good thing I made both kinds of cupcakes, because despite the fact that she insisted on carrot cake, she apparently did not remember what carrot cake tasted like, and decided after taking a bite that she in fact doesn’t like carrot cake anymore. Oh well…We had not cut into her big birthday cake yet, so we were able to share it at church the next day.

The birthday cake: Carrot Cake with "Butter" Cream Frosting and a sprinkling of cinnamon, with fun/funky candles

The birthday cake: Carrot Cake with “Butter” Cream Frosting and a sprinkling of cinnamon, with fun/funky candles

Since the birthday girl had been a little uncertain about whether or not to have the party at Home Depot, we spiced it up a bit with decorations that were more suited to her likes….like a pink rock star pinata!

rock star guitar pinata (filled with left-over Halloween treats)!

rock star guitar pinata (filled with left-over Halloween treats)!

For the activity, our daughter was able to choose ahead of time from a selection of building projects.  She selected a tulip box, so all of the children got to use wood glue and hammers and nails to put a box together. They even got to paint them! And Home Depot threw in some bulbs as a bonus surprise!

Birthday party activity: tulip boxes

Birthday party activity: tulip boxes

Happy Birthday to you!

Happy Birthday to you!

HOLIDAYS:

Of course, any recap of November and December wouldn’t be complete without at least a mention of holiday foods!

This year, we spent Thanksgiving Day with my parents in Indianapolis and then drove to Illinois to visit with Chad’s family. So on Thanksgiving Day, I prepared a meal at my parents’ house. We had Tofurky with roasted vegetables, garlic rosemary mashed potatoes (with sweet and yellow potatoes), and green beans, along with a gluten free vegan chocolate pie.

Tofurky with roasted vegetables

Tofurky with roasted vegetables

chocolate pie

chocolate pie

And the following day with Chad’s family, we had leftovers.

I got a little crafty this year, too. My children have a felt board where they can use felt cut-outs to make stories or designs. Since I knew we would be spending some time in the car over the holidays, I put together 2 gallon-size zip lock bags with travel felt boards. One was a “build your own snowman” and the other was a “build your own Christmas tree,” but instead of carrying the bulky felt board in the car with us, I included a large piece of sandpaper in each bag. It was perfect for traveling, as well as for carrying in the diaper bag for an extra activity in case of bored children….and sometimes they even take the pieces out and play with it at home on the big felt board.

Solstice Bread

Solstice Bread

A couple of years ago, we started celebrating the cycles of the seasons, so each year during Summer and Winter Solstice I make “Solstice Bread” (an adaptation of Beltane Spiral Goddess Bread in the book  Circle Round). It is a delicious slightly sweet, yeast bread that I shape in the form of a sun spiral. I make it over many hours the day before Solstice, and then we eat it for breakfast in the morning. So on the morning of the Winter Solstice, we shared “Solstice Bread” for breakfast, and welcomed the rebirth of the Sun.

Solstice Bread

  • 1 Tbsp dry yeast (1 yeast packet)
  • 1/4 c warm water
  • pinch sugar
  • 8 Tbsp Earth Balance buttery spread, softened
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • equivalent of 3 eggs
  • 1 c dairy free milk
  • 1 Tbsp orange zest
  • pinch salt
  • 4 1/2 – 5 1/2 c flour

Combine the yeast and water, sprinkle with pinch of sugar, and let set until foamy. Cream together with the Earth Balance, sugar, egg substitute, milk, orange zest, yeast mixture, and salt. Mix in first 3 cups of flour 1 cup at a time, first with a whisk and then with a wooden spoon. Add flour 1/2 cup at a time until the mixture if too stiff to beat. Turn out onto a flat surface dusted with flour and knead, adding flour until dough is silky and barely dry. Continue kneading a few minutes.

Put dough in lightly oiled bowl, turn dough over and cover with a damp cloth. Let rise in a warm place until 80% doubled in size. Punch down and divide loaf into two parts, one about 70% of the dough, the other about 30%.

Roll larger part of the dough into a coil about 2 inches in diameter. On a lightly oiled cookie sheet, wind the long coil into a spiral. Tear off smaller pieces from the smaller piece of dough and form into triangular shapes, attaching them around the outer edges of the spiral to form the flames coming out of the sun.  Cover with a clean cloth and set in a warm place. Let rise until almost doubled.

Bake for about 45 minutes in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven or until done. When the loaf is still warm, spread glaze over it.

Move the bread carefully, as the sections may separate. (Slide it onto its serving piece).

Glaze:  2 Tbsp melted butter + 1/2 c powdered sugar. Whip until blended. Spread on warm bread.

In my last post, I mentioned that I had completed my first attempt at canning. I started with apple butter and apple pumpkin butter, and then I decided to continue with some other foods. I ended up canning homemade spaghetti sauce and Milanese Tomato Soup (soup recipe from The Great American Detox Diet). Chad’s siblings have had babies in the past year, so we put together baskets with soup and sauce along with appropriate accompaniments, so they will have quick ready-made homemade meals for those days when they are just too busy to make anything. We also gave pumpkin apple butter to my sister and brother-in-law, and gave my parents canned Milanese Tomato Soup, canned spaghetti sauce, along with some meals we had frozen for them (chili, gumbo, Ethiopian cabbage stew, and minestrone soup). It was a vegan food-gifted holiday for us.

A day or two after Christmas, we had our first snow of the year….

snow

snow play

snow play

…and with the first snow of the year, came not only lots of fun for the kids, but also the first snow cream of the year!

snow cream

snow cream

Snow cream is a long standing tradition in my family. I’ve been making it with my mom for as long as I can remember. It’s such an easy recipe, and such a fun family tradition to pass on to our kids!

Snow Cream

  • snow
  • vanilla
  • dairy free milk
  • sugar

In a large mixing bowl, gather snow from a clean, undisturbed location. Scrape off the top layer, lifting the middle layer of clean snow and placing it in the bowl, until bowl is full. (Note: snow will reduces in size, so fill the large bowl entirely.) Add sugar and vanilla to taste. Add dairy free milk according to desired texture. Serve immediately for best results. You may also put it in the freezer, but it will need to thaw out a bit before serving it.

On New Year’s Eve, we had a New Year’s Party with our best friends and their kids, who we more often refer to as “The Godfamily” because we are the Godparents to one another’s children. They recently moved from being over 2 hours from us to being just about 2 minutes from us, which we are all loving! So on New Year’s Eve, we put together a little New Year’s party, snack foods, dancing, and counting down the New Year….at around 7:00PM…Yes, that’s right, 7:00PM, because that’s what happens when you have small children.

2013!

So here we are now in 2013…What are your resolutions?

Chad and I have each made our own very complimentary resolutions. I have decided to make mini-resolutions throughout the year. I personally think it’s easier to keep short-term resolutions rather than committing to do something all at once for 365 days. It’s kind of akin to the idea of taking something “one day at a time.”  That said, I have committed (along with some friends – we even have a group on Facebook) to give up processed/refined sugar from January 2nd – April 27th (my birthday). At that point, I will evaluate and determine whether it is something I want to continue or if I want to do something else….or both. Let me clarify what I mean by “no sugar.” For me, this means that I will do my best to refrain from “sweets” made with processed or refined sugar. I will, however, continue to eat fruit and naturally sweetened foods. I also recognize that there is sugar in a lot of foods, so occasionally sugar may inadvertently sneak it’s way into my diet, but I am going to do my best to avoid it without beating myself up or driving myself insane.

Chad has committed to conserve. For him this means conserving time, money, food, and such. So we will be asking ourselves the hard questions of whether or not we really “need” something before we buy it or eat it, work toward better use of time…we’ve even initiated Family Game Night (by request of our daughter). I think this idea of conservation is very relevant to being a vegan family. In a consumer culture, it is easy to get swept up in “stuff” and forget about the larger ramifications of our actions or our consumption to the rest of life on earth. As vegans, we think about ingredients in things, and we have curbside recycling, but perhaps the true reduction of harm comes from reduction of consumption. Eat less to feed more. Use less to share more.

One other thing we want to try to work on this year is keeping up with this blog on a more regular basis. We are going to try to share more recipes and life lessons more regularly than we have done lately. We’re not making any specific time-centered promises (like a daily blog or a weekly blog), but we are committing to at least be more regular with our blogging.

Happy New Year! We’ll talk to you again soon!

The Cat in the Hat Goes Vegan

Ok so maybe the Cat in the Hat isn’t really vegan…He is a cat after all. And Dr. Suess’ characters weren’t exactly known for their veganism. I seem to recall a “roast beast” mentioned in The Grinch That Stole Christmas…but in our household you are far more likely to see roast beets than roast beast. However, one of our son’s favorite characters is the Cat in the Hat, who he calls “Go-Go” (from the theme song of PBS’s “The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That”), so when planning his 2nd birthday party, our minds almost immediately went to Dr. Suess (Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar was a close 2nd, because he also loves caterpillars and butterflies). With 2012 marking the 75th anniversary of the publication of Dr. Suess’ first children’s book, fortunately there were plenty of ideas floating around on the internet (especially Pinterest).

Here are some photos and ideas to share from our son’s Dr. Suess themed 2nd birthday party…

GAMES

Shannon’s mom, “Nana,” is an artist, so we requested her artistic skills in preparing for one of the games, Pin the Hat on the Cat. Nana drew the Cat and the cut-out hats. We added some poster putty to the backs and voila…a homemade game was made! Blindfolds were optional, much based on age, but everyone got a dizzy spin around.

Our son and his friend playing “Pin the Hat on the Cat.”

We found a link with a pdf file of this next game, “1 fish 2 fish” online, so we printed it out, put clear contact paper on it, and Shannon had already made homemade goldfish crackers for the party (with the help of a crafty friend who made the goldfish shaped cracker cutter). There are 6 goldfish bowls numbered 1-6 on each page. Each child counts out the number of crackers indicated on the bowl and places them “in” the bowl. The children at our party ranged from ages 2-6, so this was a bit of an advanced learning game for some, easy for others, and just right for those in the middle. In the end everyone won, because they got to eat the goldfish crackers! Also, each child got to keep her or his game page and a bag of goldfish crackers to take home.

Our daughter taking her turn playing 1 fish 2 fish with homemade vegan goldfish crackers.

FOOD

On the food table, we included a copy of the Dr. Suess book “Happy Birthday to You!” for guests to write a note for the birthday boy. Also on the food table were Hat Pizzas, 1 Fish 2 Fish Crackers, Strawberry Banana Fruit Hat Kabobs, and of course cake…lots and lots of cake.

The food table

Hat Pizzas: dough + sauce + Yves brand vegan pepperoni cut in half + Daiya brand mozzarella shreds

Strawberry Banana Hat Kabobs

1 fish 2 fish, red fish blue fish: homemade vegan goldfish crackers (Shannon tried to color some red and some blue, but they turned out more blue green and salmon colored – LOL!)

a sample plate of the food

Chad’s mom is an amazing baker! She actually runs a business out of her home, baking cakes and cupcakes for people in her community. So it’s pretty much a given that Grandma will be making the cakes for birthdays in our house, and we have never been disappointed. Her cakes are not only delicious, but their super cute! For our son’s birthday, she made red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese (Tofutti brand vegan cream cheese) icing.

Birthday cake and cupcakes!

The decorations were made by placing 2 Dr. Suess character foam stickers back to back around a toothpick, and Shannon found the Cat in the Hat cake topper with candles online (but couldn’t find it again to include the link…sorry).

The birthday cake!

PARTY FAVORS

Shannon is by no means a sewer. She openly admits that her sewing skills typically end at sewing on buttons. But when she saw this idea for a library book bag, she just had to try it, and despite a few thread tangling mishaps, she was pretty proud of the end result. It was made by cutting out the hat shape in red and white strips of felt, and then loop stitching it onto a canvas tote bag. Then with a fabric marker, she hand wrote the Dr. Suess quote, “The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Since Dr. Suess was a children’s author, what better party favor than a library book bag for the children to take with them and fill with books a their local library! We also filled the bag with some fun Dr. Suess inspired items: a Dr. Suess character coloring/activity pad, crayons, Dr. Suess character foam finger puppets, and Cat in the Hat bookmarks.

Party favors: Dr. Suess/Cat in the Hat library tote bag filled with goodies

OTHER FUN ITEMS

We think those t-shirts with the sewn on ties are super cute, so when gathering items for the big day, Shannon started looking for a Cat in the Hat tie t-shirt. Lo and behold, she found one at an etsy shop. The super cute Cat in the Hat tie shirt that our son is wearing in the pictures below was purchased at Bella’s Sweet Boutique. (We’ve ordered other items from her since then, and she’s always been super helpful and accommodating. She even made a special order for us as a gift for someone.)

Birthday boy!

A Dr. Suess birthday party wouldn’t be complete without a Hat. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a picture of our birthday boy with it on, but here’s one of Chad wearing the big red and white striped hat.

Chad sporting the Cat’s Hat with our little girl

MORE HAPPY BIRTHDAY MEMORIES…

Shannon helping the birthday boy blow out his birthday candles. He ended up blowing out one and she blew out one.

The birthday boy eating his cupcake with big sister showing the Cat in the Hat cake topper.

Love at the Loving Hut Cafe: A Restaurant Review

We recently celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary and it has been a standing tradition that we go out to eat to celebrate.  You might be wondering: Where exactly does a vegan couple go to celebrate their anniversary?  Well, if that couple does not have a restricted budget, have to work during the week of said anniversary, or have small children (including one who is still breastfeeding), then they’d probably go to the Laughing Seed Cafe in Asheville, NC…But that’s not us.  We are saving that trip for year 15.  SO…we stayed local, and ate at the 100% Vegan/Raw restaurant, The Loving Hut Cafe in Cincinnati.

The Loving Hut Cafe is a newly found favorite of ours.  While living in Indianapolis we found that there were really not any true vegan/vegetarian restaurants where that is all that is served.  We frequented The Abbey Coffeehouse (when it was in business), The Broad Ripple Brew Pub, Three Sisters’ Cafe, Shalimar Indian Restaurant, and several other places around town that had options we could eat on the menu.  Truth is, there were only a few possibilities in town of places that specifically served a few vegan dishes on their menus.  But, there was simply no restaurant in town that was completely devoted to being vegan or vegetarian.  Our first experience of such a restaurant was the aforementioned “Laughing Seed Cafe” in Asheville, NC.  When we recently moved to the northern Kentucky/ Cincinnati Metro area we began looking for veg friendly places and were so glad to have found this place.   In fact, the very first time we had a meal there Chad remembers saying as we drove off, “Now, that is what we had been missing in Indy all those years.”

The Loving Hut Cafe has a wide range of options both vegan and raw.  There are several different options for burgers (Sonny, Quinoa, and Black Bean Rice burgers for example), a couple of different wraps, an American Panini sandwich, a couple of salads, and even a raw Reuben sandwich.  Beyond this they have several appetizers from nachos, vegan chikin drumsticks, to vegetable spring rolls.  They also have several fantastic smoothies and wonderful desserts.  While all of this is incredibly impressive, the most stand out thing we noticed was the children’s menu that had 4 or 5 options for kids, including an amazing mac’n’cheeze that tastes so good…kid approved good.  Our only critique of Loving Hut is that a little too much of what is on their menu is synthetic and processed foods and not nearly as much of a focus on a whole foods plant based menu.  We have no problem eating such processed foods occasionally, but not all the time and it would be nice to frequent a restaurant that has more of a focus on whole foods.  Otherwise, we give this place a 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Before getting into some of the specifics of our anniversary experience and the essential reasons we like Loving Hut, let us also mention a few items about the staff.  The entire staff, with the exception of the owner and one manager, are all volunteer.  They are people who truly believe in sustainable living, a smaller footprint on the earth, and healthy eating.  The entire staff is incredibly knowledgeable about all the food and veganism in general. The disadvantage of going to any restaurant where you have to veganize many of their menu items is that you will often get servers and even managers who look at you like you are crazy when you say the word vegan or when you ask them to remove the cheese and/or meat and replace it with something else.  The advantage of being at a place like Loving Hut is that the staff are working there because they share a similar desire to care for the earth, animals, and eating a healthy diet.  So, we don’t have to worry about any of their menu items not being vegan, but if we did have a question their staff is well versed and very accommodating to your needs.  When we brought our peanut-allergic son with us, they went out of their way to ensure that the food he would be eating absolutely had no nuts in it as well as no risk of cross-contamination.  After setting all this as background, here is our assessment and some pictures of our experience there.  If you are ever in Cincinnati anytime and can visit this great cafe we recommend that you do.

Some reasons we love this restaurant:

The atmosphere…As soon as you walk in, on one side of the restaurant there are quotes on the wall expressing the ethical and environmental philosophy of the restaurant, photos of famous vegans and vegetarians, along with shelves stacked with vegan and vegetarian resources,

and on the other side, is the kitchen and a menu on the wall, full of delicious food opportunities. Actually, one of the most difficult things about eating at an all vegan restaurant is deciding what to choose, because there are so many options.

For our anniversary, Chad chose the American panini.

Shannon chose the quinoa burger.

We shared an appetizer…the nachos.

and dessert….a raw orange and chocolate cheesecake,

                 and a raw blueberry pie.

And we noticed what was on the plates of some customers sitting at a nearby table…..the raw taco salad (which Chad has eaten since then and confirms that it is delicious),

         and a raw taco supreme.  The customers at the nearby table said it was their first time eating a raw meal. After they had an opportunity to taste their food, we asked them how they liked it, and they said they really enjoyed it.

You might notice in the pictures that the food is offered on paper plates or plastic boxes. At first we wondered about this, too. What is a restaurant with such an emphasis on the environment doing using so much paper and plastic? Well, we asked. As it turns out, almost everything is 100% compostable. The only thing that is not compostable are the little plastic to-go containers for condiments, and that is only because so far they have not been able to find ones that are compostable.

So there you have it….a family-friendly restaurant serving delicious food while both being conscious and bringing consciousness to the ethical issues behind environmental sustainability and conservation. The Loving Hut gets 4 thumbs up from this vegan family.

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