Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Little Shmoo's Top Five Countdown #4

Now if this were my top five, I think this one would be #1. I'm thrilled with how a thermos of Lunch Box Fondue makes eating fresh fruits & vegetables so much fun. Shmoo loves getting those veggies on his fork and dipping them in hot, cheesy fondue.

The veggies are a selection of all his favorite dippers: new potatoes, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and yellow wax beans. The lidded container (barely) holds an apple mixed with chunks of fresh pineapple.

Verdict: One lonely carrot was left rattling around the lunch box. 5 stars for Number 4.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Little Shmoo's Top Five Countdown #5

Welcome to the Little Shmoo's Top Five Countdown. Only six lunch days left until school is out, and I thought it would be fun to revisit shmoo's very favorite lunches. This weekend I asked him which lunches he thought were the very best and wrote them down as he said them, with the first one coming in at Number One.

We'll start the list with Number 5: flautas. I first packed these fried corn tortillas filled with beans on December 8th, and then again (with recipe!) on March 16th. Both times they were an enormous success, with repeated requests for more flautas from shmoo and his dad at dinnertime.

Along with flautas and a small container of salsa I packed a pear, blanched broccoli, and half a Thinkorganic! Cherry Nut bar.

Verdict: Only broccoli stems were left in the lunch box. 5 stars for Number 5.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Golden Carrot Nominations

Are you one of the lucky few who enjoy a healthy, vegan-friendly school lunch program? If so, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine wants to know about it! PCRM is looking for nominations for its third annual Golden Carrot Awards, and thought Vegan Lunch Box readers might be able to give them a few leads.

PCRM is looking for "outstanding food service professionals working to improve the healthfulness of school lunches". The grand prize winner gets $1,500 plus $3,500 for the school. They're looking for programs that feature "vegetarian entrees, low-fat meals, fresh fruits and vegetables, and nondairy beverage items and that promote nutrition education".


Today is a special "Field Day" at shmoo's school, with games, relay races, obstacle courses, and early release. So instead of a lunch box, I thought I'd share another recipe.

Last week the school asked volunteers to bake cakes for a "Cake Walk" fundraiser. The theme was "international", so I made Tahinopita -- Greek tahini cake!

I found the original recipe in a spiral-bound collection of "Popular Greek Recipes" compiled by the "Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society of Charleston, South Carolina" that I found in a thrift shop. I don't think I've ever had anything quite like it. It's dense and a bit crumbly, rather like a big cookie. If you leave off the sugar syrup glaze it tastes just gently sweet.

It's very satisfying and filling from all the tahini, raisins, and nuts, and on top of being vegan it contains no soy, margarine or oil. I think it could easily be made with whole wheat or spelt flour, so lots of healthy possibilities with this one. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Very Merry Unbirthday

Today is "Birthday Free Dress Day" for all the students with summer birthdays. We decided to celebrate shmoo's "unbirthday" by bringing in a batch of cupcakes to share. We made our favorite chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting and organic sprinkles.

For lunch, a "low carb" tortilla is wrapped around refried beans and packed with a container of salsa for dipping, plus cantaloupe balls, jicama, and baby carrots. I'm not really a low carb person (to say the least!) but these "low carb" tortillas were the healthiest choice at the grocery store; they're made with oat and whole wheat flour, and oil instead of hydrogenated shortening or lard.

Verdict: I felt grumpy waking up early to frost 27 cupcakes (you don't appreciate how many kids that is until you have to frost them each a cupcake at 6 in the morning), but bringing them in and hearing the kids cheer made it seem worth it. The "low carb" roll-up was a big hit, too. Only a couple baby carrots remained in the lunch box. 4 stars.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


I used a recipe from the good ol' New Farm Vegetarian Cookbookto make knishes for lunch today. A knish (kuh-NISH) is an Eastern European/ Jewish pastry with a savory filling like mashed potatoes or kasha. These little knishes are filled with mashed potatoes, grated carrot, and peas.

Above the knishes are orange slices and some blanched yellow wax beans. For dessert I baked another batch of muffin-sized Vegan Chocolate Babka. I hadn't forgotten my promise to post the recipe in honor of Double Helix (and vegan bakers everywhere!) but wanted to make them again first to make sure I had the recipe quite down. My husband thinks I should bake babka several dozen more times, just to make really, really sure.

Verdict: "Give Me A Little Knish, Will Ya Huh?" Hee. Shmoo ate all the beans first, but only finished three of his knishes. The babka didn't even live to see lunchtime -- it was eaten up at morning snack time. 4 stars.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Meatball Sub

Thanks, everyone, for your well wishes! I'm better but a bit tired, and back today with what would have been Monday's lunch. I simmered Nate's Meatless Meatballs in tomato sauce and packed them in a warm thermos. I cut the top off a wheat roll in a bowl shape, so shmoo could scoop out the meatballs and make himself a hot meatball sub at lunch. Above the sub are blanched, chilled asparagus, Barbara's Snackimals Oatmeal Wheat-Free Cookies, and fresh blueberries.

You may note that the cookies are in a brand new container. I just found a boxed set of six 2.5 oz stainless steel ramekins at Target, complete with little plastic lids. And yes -- oh happy, happy day! -- they fit in the lunchbox with their lids on! Look how it fits between the two medium containers just so. Having a mediumish container with a lid should be handy, although they don't hold as much as the square containers do. I would give you a link but can't find them for sale online; I hope everyone who wants one can find them at Target.

Verdict: Man, those Nate's Meatballs are spooky good. I get a bit anxious when I first bite into one and have to double-check the package for the word "meatless". Shmoo raved about the sub and ate every bite, but only ate the tender tops off the asparagus. 5 stars.

Monday, May 22, 2006


...not shmoo, he's fine, but I'm sick. No lunch pic today, but he did head out with a lunch -- pb&j, apple, baby carrots, and a fruit leather. Nothing too exciting. Hopefully I'll be better by tomorrow!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Black-Eyed Pea Pitas

Two recipes today from Erin Pavlina's Vegan Family Favorites: Black-Eyed Pea Dip in mini-pitas and Carrot Pecan Salad, made with apple juice, Vegenaise, pecans, and dried cranberries.

I've started thinking of Vegan Family Favorites as the cookbook version of a coffee clache. I imagine all the moms that contributed their favorite recipes gathered together at a kitchen table, sharing stories while the kids play. The dishes are simple, easy, and very straightforward, just right for that mother of three trying to get healthy vegan food on the table that their kids will eat.

To complete the meal I tucked in a pear, some vanilla soymilk and a bottle of water, and two peanut butter creme sandwich cookies.

The final ingredient listed on the cookies was "natural flavors". Just out of curiosity I called the company to find out if the flavor was dairy-based. I learned (sorry if you all already knew this) that "flavors" are proprietary (meaning they won't tell you), but if the flavor is derived from one of the eight main allergenic foods (milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish), they are required to print that little "may contain..." warning on the package. So since it did not warn that it may contain eggs or dairy, the operator and I figured it was safe and that that was about as close as we could get to knowing for sure.

Verdict: So nice to have a meal that involves no hot stove or oven today! I had never considered using black-eyed peas to make a hummus-like spread, but it worked well and we all liked the field pea flavor. Shmoo ate all the fruit, cookies, and pita breads, but only two bites of the salad. He said it was the dried cranberries that put him off, but I wouldn't dream of leaving them out. Double up on them (and the pecans!) and let your picky shmoos pick them out. 3 stars.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Cream Cheese Spirals

I made a batch of vegan cream cheese herb spirals this morning so I could work on the recipe and get it just right for the cookbook (Yes, I'm still working on it! No, I don't know when it will be ready. I'd like a fall release date but don't know if it's possible yet, so stay tuned!). I also tried a variation using roasted red pepper tapenade instead of cream cheese, which my husband oohhed and ahhed over (he won't touch vegan cream cheese).

On the side are a fruit salad (apple, orange, kiwi & blueberries), some lightly steamed and chilled broccoli, and half a Dark Chocolate Walnut Nectar Bar.

You can see shmoo's bottle of water on the side, but I think he could really use ten of them today. Gosh, I remember those last few days of school when the classroom was sweltering hot and I couldn't wait for it all to be over. Just 2 1/2 weeks left!

Verdict: I really love these new dried fruit and nut bars I've been seeing more and more of lately -- Larabars, Thinkorganic! Bars, and now these Nectar Bars. They're all made from just a few simple ingredients, mostly dried fruits and nuts, with no sweeteners or powders or vitamins added (sometimes that "vitaminy" taste in regular sports bars -- eew!). This chocolate bar was made from dates, walnuts, unsweetened chocolate, cocoa, and vanilla. That's it! It tasted like a healthy, chewy brownie. Just the broccoli stems were left in the box (shmoo prefers the tops). 4 stars.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Magic Loaf Sandwich

A year or so ago I took a vegetarian cooking class put on by members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. One thing the SDA has opened my eyes to is the wonder of the Dinner Loaf. Loaves seem to me to be especially emblematic of vegetarian Adventist cuisine (that and Loma Linda and Worthington brand canned "meats").

The teacher gave us all a nifty handout showing how we could create our own "Entree Loaf" by choosing one item from each category. Because I apparently have nothing better to do today (and it's 100 degrees outside and I don't want to move), I have recreated this handy form online.

That's right, my friends! Visit The Magical Loaf Studio and you, too, can custom-design your very own Adventist-style Dinner Loaf!

To make my Magic Loaf I chose cooked crimson lentils, oat bran, almonds, veggie broth, nutritional yeast, and sage. I also had some leftover extra firm tofu in my fridge, so I crumbled it and threw it in as well.

Of course, one of the best things about loaves is how yummy they are on bread with ketchup the next day, like a cold meatloaf sandwich. Alongside the sandwich are a pear, some peas, carrots & corn, and two little Aplets & Cotlets (from my Mother's Day stash).

Verdict: It's all over but the crusts. 4 stars.

If you find any especially good loaf combinations, post about them here. Some combinations they recommended in the class were garbanzos, oats, cashews, and bean liquid; split peas with cashews and soymilk; and mixed beans, walnuts, and vegetable juice. I'd like to try millet, red lentils, and sesame seeds...or black beans, rice, and pine nuts with spicy vegetable juice and cumin...or kasha, butter beans, and walnuts...

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Hot Dog Macaroni

Shmoo is quite the veggie dog lover, is he not? This time I took a cue from my lil' brother's childhood, and mixed sliced Yves Veggie Dogs in with macaroni and vegan "cheese" sauce. My brother went through a phase where he ate hot dogs mixed with boxed mac and cheese (the non-veg kind) every day for lunch until my mom thought it was going to come out his ears. On the side is an applesauce cup (I haven't been able to find applesauce tubes around here, but I'm still looking).

To complete this all-American kid meal, I made a pan of brownies. Oh, I've been craving brownies lately -- not the cakey kind that I usually make, but the fudgy, gooey, ultra-chocolatey kind. It was Dreena Burton to the rescue, with her incredible Fudgy Brownies recipe in Vive le Vegan!And to drink, a mixture of almond milk and vanilla soymilk, to go with that chocolatey brownie.

Verdict: Shmoo loved the hot dog macaroni; the "Amazing Mac 'N Cheez Sauce" I use for mac & cheese (from Ultimate Uncheese)is perhaps one of his favorite things to eat. And the brownies were perfection, just what I had been dreaming of! I can't imagine an omni ever guessing that these did not have eggs and dairy in them. 5 stars for sheer yumminess, but not too many for healthiness.

"Yes, where are the veggies?" I hear my critics complaining. Well, we do eat fruits and veggies every day, but I've noticed that my cooking tends to go back and forth between trying to be as super-healthy as possible, and trying to taste as delicious and comforting as possible (guess which style my husband and son prefer?).

Although I know it would be better if we always ate exclusively for our health, I don't think every vegan out there really cares about health first and foremost. Veganism for many is a path of compassion, rather than a "diet" or something they do for their bodies. And I'm glad of that, because everyone knows diets are meant to be broken! Thank goodness there are supremely decadent, ultra-rich vegan goodies -- like fudgy brownies! -- out there to enjoy, so we can continue to be kind to the animals, even when we're not being kind to our waistlines.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Jamaican Red Beans & Rice

Two more recipes today from The Vegetarian Family Cookbook. In all honesty, I have to say that until Nava Atlas offered to send me a copy of her book I hadn't given it any notice. That's really just because it started with the word "vegetarian", which in most of my cookbooks translates as "lots of eggs and dairy". But all the dishes I've looked at have either been vegan or have easy vegan options. Now I can't seem to put it down! Her recipes inspire me as an adventurous cook, but are still dishes that my son will gladly eat.

First, in the thermos, Quick Jamaican Red Beans & Rice, made of cooked brown rice, a can of red beans, and some light coconut milk. On the side are whole wheat Banana Fritters, another adaptation of a traditional Jamaican recipe, with a little container of maple syrup.

Nava recommended a green salad or a dish of glazed butternut squash to go with this meal. Sounds good to me, but as shmoo says when in one of his Raggae moods, "A nuh mi fi like it (I am not one to like that)." So I added a dish of blueberry soy yogurt topped with frozen cherries and raspberries.

Verdict: Beans and rice is such a staple at our house. If you cook a large batch of brown rice at the beginning of the week and keep canned beans on hand, you can have a fast, simple and kid-friendly supper together in minutes. Adding coconut milk this time gave it an extra-rich flavor we all loved -- even better the next day for lunch. The fritters were denser than a regular banana pancake, and more banana-y. Everything got eaten up by my wanga-gut (hungry belly) boy. 4 stars.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Aussie Tucker

My Dad is in Australia right now (hi, Dad!). Here's a little packed lunch in honor of his once (and future?) home.

First, could it be? Yes! It's a Vegemite sandwich! I made the "Love It or Leave It Vegemite Sandwich" from Vegetarians in Paradise -- a thin layer of Vegemite, veggie ham, pineapple, and grated carrot. Next to the sandwich are a side of baked potato crisps.

And even though it cost a fortune, I couldn't resist packing in a fresh paw paw (papaya). My grandmother grew up near her Uncle's paw paw farm in Queensland, and told stories of plucking them ripe from the trees and eating them in the shade. She missed them when they moved to America; back then fresh papaya was something you could only dream about in the deserts of eastern Washington.

For dessert, I used my Twinkie pan to make Lamingtons -- sponge cakes dipped in chocolate and rolled in coconut (follow the link to the recipe, but watch out or you'll be eating chocolate icing for breakfast with a spoon...or no, maybe that's just me...).

Verdict: Americans, don't go flipping out on me ("Vegemite? Now you've gone too far, Jennifer Shmoo!"). Vegemite and its English cousin, Marmite, are actually quite good! Spread thinly, they have a salty, savory, beefy taste that reminds me of strong miso. But pineapple on a sandwich? Shmoo thinks that's just crazy-talk, and asked that it be removed. He got inspired by my Aussie stories and took his wooden hopping kangaroo for show-and-tell; I wish I had gotten it in the picture. Now how do you pack paw paw without it getting a bit mushy? 4 stars.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Blintz & Babka

I've had a lot of fun lately raiding the library shelves and learning about Jewish cuisine. Here's my attempt at a bissel lunch (a little lunch). First, a veganized potato- cheese blintz. I made tofu crêpes (another masterpiece from Bryanna Clark Grogan) and filled them with mashed potatoes and crumbled "Betta Feta" from Ultimate Uncheese,to replace the farmer's/cottage cheese called for in the recipe (I've always thought "Betta Feta" tasted more like "Betta Cottage Cheese" to me). I was told no blintz would be complete without a serving of applesauce, so I packed some in the large lidded container.

Tzimmes reminded me of compote; it's a sweet, spiced mixture of vegetables and dried fruit. I made mine with sweet potato, carrot, raisins, and prunes, but I had to make sure shmoo's portion only contained carrots and raisins (more prunes for me!).

And for dessert I couldn't resist making chocolate babka -- yeasted sweet dough rolled with a chocolate-cinnamon filling and topped with streusel. Normally it's baked in a loaf, but when I read that "Barney Greengrass on Manhattan's Upper West Side" serves individual babkas baked in muffin tins, I had to give it a try for the lunch box. Hey, it's as close to Manhattan as I'll ever get (but if you try it at home remember to spray the muffin liners with nonstick spray, or the chocolate filling will stick).

Verdict: Such a production? The tofu crêpes were absolutely amazing -- so easy to make and work with, so tasty, and so, so crêpey! And excellent served cold -- shmoo practically inhaled it. The tzimmes, not so much. But, oh, the babka! Somebody stop me before I babka again! 5 stars.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Cheese Sticks

Someone recently mentioned longing for packaged string cheese as a child, and it got me thinking on coming up with a vegan version. Now I'm positive that prepackaged vegan cheese sticks are either out there somewhere (?) or in the works, but it's still nice to come up with a healthy homemade version (and this one happens to be soy-free to boot). This vegan "cheddar" is a recipe from Bryanna Clark Grogan's subscription-only newsletter; it's made from a base of roasted red peppers and tahini, with magical gelling agents agar and carrageenan. I poured the warm mixture into an ice stick tray to create a cheese stick shape. I'm sure you could do the same with any of the vegan block cheese recipes out there, in books like Dairy-Free and Deliciousor The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook.

Next to the cheese sticks are baby carrots and jicama, a kiwi fruit, and soy crisps. For dessert, two slices of dried mango are resting in a muffin cup next to the crisps.

Verdict: The sticks were softer than regular cheese, but still finger-foodable. These were much, much better than my last block cheese attempt -- more flavorful and without that overwhelming mustard taste, and oddly enough without an overwhelming red pepper flavor, either. Shmoo only ate one, though, and says he still prefers transfat-filled Tofutti slices. He liked the soy crisps, but I wonder what happened to plain old mini-rice cakes -- sometimes even a vegan wants a break from all that soy! 3 stars.

Update: Right after dinner shmoo asked, "Are there more of those cheese sticks?" and then proceeded to eat all the rest. "But I thought you didn't like them?!?" I exclaimed. "No, I decided they were good!" So hey, you just never know!

Monday, May 08, 2006


Welcome to my son's newest passion! Shmoo started Coach Pitch Softball this season and the team's second Big Game is tonight. Hubby and I both observed that we would have wailed in misery if our parents had made us play baseball (we're more the library/chess club crowd), but shmoo says wistfully, "I wish we could have softball practice every single day!"

So take shmoo out to the ball game with an Yves Veggie Dog on a whole wheat bun and a small ketchup on the side. The baseball is a Zucchini-Raisin Muffin from The Vegetarian Family Cookbook by Nava Atlas -- a whole wheat muffin filled with zucchini, applesauce, walnuts, and flax. I frosted the muffin with a basic white icing and piped on baseball stitching using icing tinted with natural food coloring. And I couldn't resist throwing in some (yes, it's vegan!) Cracker Jack, complete with a Surprise Inside.

Speaking of baseball, are you looking for a vegan baseball glove? Target carries inexpensive vinyl baseball gloves for kids (in pink, even!). And if you're looking for a top-of-the-line finest-of-the-fine all-vegan glove, visit Carpenter Trade.

Verdict: This was a fun lunch, and shmoo loved the baseball muffin. He had never heard of Cracker Jack, so I had to sing him the song and explain what it was. 5 home runs.

P.S. Tomorrow is yet another noon release -- see you Wednesday!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Tofu Sandwich & Pineapple Lemon Bars

Two recipes today from Dreena Burton's Vive le Vegan!First, I followed her suggestion and mashed leftover Lemon-Herb Tofu with Vegenaise for a tangy sandwich filling. Next to the sandwich a Pineapple Lemon Bar is waiting for dessert. I also packed some Brussels sprouts and a bag of popcorn sprinkled with cheesy nutritional yeast flakes (I'm liking these snack-sized baggies!).
Verdict: Shmoo wasn't too crazy for the other two tofu sandwich spreads we've tried, both made from mashed raw tofu. These were much, much better. The tofu had a firmer texture and extra flavor from being baked with lemon juice and herbs. I'll be using mashed baked tofu for sandwich spreads from now on. The Pineapple Lemon Bars weren't as sickly-sweet as traditional lemon bars, and we liked the oat & coconut crust. Thanks, Dreena! 4 stars.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Indian Rice & Chapatis

Last night I made Indian Rice Salad from May All Be Fed-- brown rice cooked with Indian spices, then tossed with veggies and a mild dressing and chilled. The recipe recommended serving the salad with chapatis (Indian flatbreads), so this morning I made a batch of Oat Chapatis from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian.I tucked two into the lunch box and we ate the rest with breakfast (they're excellent warm with margarine and spicy peach butter).

Also in the lunch box today are a tropical fruit cup and a new experiment I am calling "So-Gurt". "It's not fair," shmoo complains. "Everyone else in my class gets Go-GURT® but I don't." Have any other parents out there been hearing this? Oh, the sufferings of youth! Apparently squeezing flourescent yogurt out of a tube is simply not to be missed.

I know some marketing genius is developing soy yogurt tubes even as we speak, but in the meantime I'm trying my hand at homemade: I filled a snack-size ziplock bag with about 1/2 cup cherry soy yogurt and froze it overnight. This morning I cut a very small slit in one corner of the bag. Hopefully at lunchtime shmoo can finish tearing the corner away and push out the custardy yogurt.

Verdict: My son was able to successfully squeeze yogurt out of a baggie, making him feel at one with his peers. It seems silly to me -- half the yogurt he would get in a cup, and a wasted plastic bag. But then again, so do a lot of things nowadays. I guess I'm just an old mom, sitting in my rocker telling "when I was your age, we ate with spoons" stories. Oh, the rice and chapatis were good, too. 4 stars.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Layered Bean Dip

Stone-ground corn chips for lunch today with a layered bean dip made with refried beans, avocado, salsa, vegan sour cream, and black olives. On the side are slices of watermelon and jicama. Beverage: Rice Dream Horchata (cinnamon rice milk).
Verdict: It must have been quite a while since we last had horchata. When I told him it was in his lunch today he said, "Oh YUM! I don't remember what that tastes like." A good lunch, easy to throw together and very well received. 5 stars.
P.S. No lunch tomorrow, see you Thursday!
P.P.S. Gee, if I'd been thinking at all I would have saved this lunch for Friday -- Cinco de Mayo!! Oh well, I guess I posted it early so now you all can make it for Friday!

Monday, May 01, 2006

May Day

It's an old May Day custom to give May Baskets filled with flowers and treats to your friends. I didn't think real flowers would hold up well at school, and what schoolkid really needs another piece of candy? So I'm surprising shmoo with sheets of flower stickers instead.

For lunch I made cream cheese spirals: wholegrain dough spread with vegan cream cheese and a sprinkle of chopped fresh herbs (basil, parsley, thyme, and dill), rolled up like a cinnamon roll, cut it into slices, and baked. On the side are an Odwalla Chocolate Chip Peanut Nourishing Food Bar and a fruit salad of strawberries, orange, and banana. Beverage: Kagome Purple Roots & Fruits Juice, a veggie/fruit juice combo. " I can drink my vegetables!" the bottle enthuses. Let's see if shmoo will say the same...

Verdict: He drank all the juice! It tastes mostly of grapes and blueberries; you would never guess it contains spinach, beets, cabbage, etc. At the last minute I worried that I hadn't packed enough food for him, and threw in two more spirals. I shouldn't have worried; he ate the bar and all the cream cheese spirals, but then got too full to finish the fruit salad. Four would have been just right. 4 stars.