Thursday, October 30, 2008

Around the World: Black-Eyed Peas and Potatoes

Here is another menu inspired by my recent study of African cuisine. This lunch features three more foods used widely across the continent...

In the bottom container, I seasoned black-eyed peas and potatoes with touches of cilantro, cumin, and lime juice. Tender black-eyed peas and other cowpeas (also called "crowder peas" here in the U.S., because they’re all crowded together in their pods) are served all over the African continent.

On top of this dish are oven roasted okra pods. I love okra so much! Here in America we tend to think of okra as a southern vegetable, but it, too, has its origins in Africa. Whole roasted pods are fun to pick up and eat with your fingers.

In the top container are honeydew melon slices and a serving of plantain chips, a popular snack in West Africa.

Verdict: Everyone in the family was happy with this meal, although shmoo wouldn't even try the okra (more for thems that likes em!). The plantain chips were interesting, like a cross between potato chips and banana chips. 3 stars.

P.S. Speaking of plantains, have you ever visited the sad little monkey who bought the wrong bananas? Too bad he didn’t know the difference between bananas and plantains!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What I Did On My Vacation

Last week some of my girlfriends and I left the husbands and kids at home and took a trip to beautiful Portland, Oregon.

It was undoubtedly the most fun I've had in a long, long time. We ate and shopped and ate some more (Nicholas Restaurant has out-of-this-world Lebanese and Middle Eastern food, btw).

We stopped by Powell's Books for Home & Garden on Hawthorne Street, and look what we found! It's Vegan Lunch Box right up front, with a hand-written staff recommendation sign! Woo hoo! Powell's, you so made my day!!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Shmoo Review: Dr. Fuhrman's Eat for Health

Hey, Dr. Fuhrman's Disease-Proof Blog has a new look beginning this week. I was asked to be a guest blogger this week; you can visit and read an edited version of my Summer Veg Out post on the wonders of smoothies.

Speaking of Dr. Fuhrman, he also recently produced a new set of books and a DVD. As most of you long-time readers know I'm a huge fan of Dr. Fuhrman, so I couldn't wait to pick up a copy to review.

First, I read through his new two-volume set Eat For Health.If you've read the previous books Eat To Liveor Disease-Proof Your Child,Eat for Health doesn't offer too much in the way of new information. The basics are all the same: lose weight and live longer by making nutrient-dense foods the foundation of your diet, eliminating salt, exercising, obtaining healthy fat from nuts instead of oils, etc.

What is new is the slower step-by-step transition to nutrient-dense eating, which may make it easier for people who are just getting started, and the attention paid to emotional issues that may stand in the way of healthier eating. As an emotional eater myself, I appreciated the acknowledgment that sometimes healthy eating is easier said than done, especially when issues of addiction and self-worth are standing in your way.

Book One addresses all the basics while Book Two is made up of the exciting let's-get-to-it stuff: menu plans for each phase in the transition to healthier eating, dozens of new recipes, and information on how to shop.

Next, I was absolutely delighted with the new DVD Secrets to Healthy Cooking.Dr. Fuhrman and his wife Lisa demonstrate how to make the staple dishes central to his eating style: smoothies, salads and nut-based dressings, vegetable soups (including my favorite), a stir-fry, and sorbet. The production quality is excellent, the demonstrations are fun to watch, and best of all, each recipe section concludes with a recipe template showing you how to make up your own recipes using his model. Brilliant!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Around the World: Jollof Rice

Here is a little lunch box ode to Africa.

Jollof Rice is a dish served in many West African countries, including Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, and Gambia. I replaced the traditional chicken in the dish with chicken-style seitan, and cooked it in a base of tomatoes, tomato paste, ginger, onion, and green pepper, along with peas and carrots.

On the side is a dish of cooked collard greens served in a very African way: with a spoonful of peanut butter! Peanut butter, called groundnut in Africa, is added to a lot of savory dishes in ways we wouldn't expect here in America. It adds creaminess and flavor along with extra protein and fat.

For dessert I packed two more of those lovely baby bananas, which our guests from the African Children's Choir said were just like the ones in Uganda. I will always think of that now when I see baby bananas!

Verdict: My husband and I agreed, this was one of those dishes that you just didn't want to stop eating -- soooo good!! Shmoo was happy after we handed him almost all our big chunks of seitan and took his share of the green peppers. 5 stars.

Monday, October 13, 2008

African Children's Choir Lunch Box

This weekend we were honored to act as a host family for some members of the African Children's Choir while they were in town as part of their U.S. tour. The children are ages 7 to 12 and come from several African nations (our guests were from Uganda). Many of the children have lost their parents to AIDS and other diseases, and all of them come from situations of extreme poverty. They sing and perform to raise awareness of the plight of these children of Africa, and to raise money for relief and education.

Each host family was asked to send their children off today with a packed lunch. Hey, I thought, I can do that!

Since we won't be seeing them again I made improvised bento boxes out of disposable plastic containers and used frozen water bottles as ice packs. Into each lunch box went a homemade pita bread filled with my favorite Wild Garden Hummus and six baked falafel balls. Next to the falafel is a bento-style plastic food cup filled with lemon cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, with a squeezy-fish of dressing and a little food pick. Underneath the cup are some baby carrots you can't see.

I quickly ran out of room in the main container, so I used small side containers for the last strawberries of the season, fresh from Saturday's farmer's market. (I was going to pack some baby bananas, too, but they were all eaten up; they are "like the bananas in Uganda", I was told.)

Well, the Choir is on the way to Spokane now, so I won't really know how they like their lunches, but I hope they do. It was so much fun to meet them, to listen to them singing and playing, and to watch their amazing performance this weekend. (I think they burned like 8 million calories up there!) If the choir is coming to your town next, don't miss it.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Maple Syrup

One of the things that struck me right away about vegan cooking was the amount of maple syrup called for in many recipes. It seems that a lot of vegan cooks rely on maple syrup to take the place of honey and sugar in recipes, particularly in baked desserts.

I love me some Fruit Butter Bars in the fall, but with the price of real maple syrupgoing up and up (along with most everything else), I just can't afford to use that much of it anymore.

So, I devised this recipe for Homemade "Maple Syrup".

It's very simple, made with brown sugar, a bit of cornstarch for thickening, and a spoonful of natural maple flavor.

I bought 2 ounces of the maple flavor at my local health food store for $2.49; at one teaspoon per recipe the little bottle will make 12 batches of syrup. I know it's not the real thing, but in these trying times it's sure a tasty alternative, and with none of the chemicals and preservatives of storebought imitations.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Depression Cooking

How's that ol' economy treating you? I thought right about now you all might find Depression Cooking with Clara inspiring. Clara is a charming 91-year-old great-grandmother who lived through the (first?) Great Depression. She demonstrates some of the meals that she and her family ate and tells stories of the times:

You might note that the cheap staples she uses in most meals -- pasta, potatoes, onions, etc. -- are vegan. In fact, except for the cheese sprinkled on at the end, this first meal is entirely vegan.

In other economic news, people are cooking at home more and packing more home-made meals to save money. Let's hear it for home cooking!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Around the World: Ratatouille

This post marks the beginning of a brand new lunch box adventure: VEGAN LUNCH BOX AROUND THE WORLD!

For the next few months I'll be featuring lunch box menus inspired by cuisines and cultures around the world and around the United States. It's the kind of cooking I enjoy the most, and I can't wait to get started! I'm kicking the journey off with one of my fall favorites...

It's that time of year again: the big end-of-summer eggplant/pepper/tomato harvest! And you know what that means: ratatouille!

That's right, it's more than a cute cartoon! It's a classic French country stew made with eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini. I added cannellini beans to mine, although the traditional recipe doesn't call for them.

Alongside are a mini-loaf of wheat bread and a bar of Newman's Sweet Dark Chocolate (Newman's is our favorite dark chocolate -- smooth, not too bitter).

Verdict: Ratatouille only gets better the next day and the day after, making this a great dish for next-day lunches. This was the perfect lunch to enjoy while watching shmoo's team practice another fall classic, at least in America: tackle football. (That's right, despite my better judgment we are allowing our kid to smash violently into other kids for fun. You should see the bruises.) 4 stars.

Yogurt Envy

I'm so jealous! Blog reader Kadri from Estonia read my recent soy-free vegan yogurt review and pointed out that they make Oat Yogurt in Finland! How cool is that?

Kadri writes:

"My favourite non-dairy yoghurt has to be YoSa. It's oat-based and flavoured with real fruits and berries.

"It's absolutely wonderful - their organic bluberry-banana YoSa and plum YoSa are incredlibly good as well. I'm not sure whether one can get it in USA, but if you can, give it a go. I'm sure you'll love it, too."

I'm sure I would, if only I could!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Making Fiends in the Cafeteria

Sing along with Charlotte and the Veggies:
"Eat vegetables with every meal
Or your lips will start to peel
And your eyeballs will fall out
And your feet will smell like trout!"

Friday, October 03, 2008

Bicycle Frame Lunch Bag

Check out these instructions from Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories ("Making the World a Better Place, One Evil Mad Scientist at a Time") on how to make your very own bicycle frame lunch bag.

I wonder if you could adjust the pattern dimensions to fit a Laptop Lunch System?

Archived Interview

In case you missed it live, my recent interview with Dr. Melissa West is now in the archive. It was a fun interview!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Lunch Box Contest Honorable Mention

I couldn't resist giving out just one more Vegan Lunch Box award and free cookbook! This one goes to Christine in Arizona, who sent in this adorable "Summer Bunny" lunch!

"I grew up in Saskatchewan Canada, where every summer at afternoon I would be seated in my mother’s kitchen enjoying one of her delicious lunches. She used fresh vegetables from our garden, warm homemade breads and juicy fruit from the farmers market, which have also become some of my favorites as I continue to cook and grow. This Summer Bunny lunch was inspired by the cool Canadian summers in Saskatchewan that I miss terribly.

"Starting from the top left, I made carrots out of Granny Smith and Gala apples, held together with toothpicks. Next I made a salad with organic red leaf lettuce with chopped sugar snap peas, cucumber and radishes. I sprinkled Galaxy brand Veggie Shreds (parmesan, mozzarella and romano flavored) for that yummy cheese texture. For the dressing, I used Annie’s Organic Pomegranate Vinaigrette, which was delicious!

"On the bottom left I made a bunny-shaped sandwich (Athenos humus spread, sliced tomato and cucumber between whole wheat bread), a filled a mini watering can with sliced carrots (every bunny’s favorite food!), all over a bed of alfalfa sprouts. For dessert, I made two mini servings of organic rhubarb crisp, a HUGE childhood favorite of mine, sprinkled with granola and ground cinnamon. I also added some of Annie’s vegan chocolate chip bunny grahams for a little variety! And for the drink... Soy on the GO Cappuccino (also comes in chocolate and vanilla)."
Is that incredibly adorable or what? Thank you so much, Christine, for sharing your work of edible art with us!