Saturday, April 24, 2010

Six Simple Sprinklings to Satisfy

Personally, I love the taste of simple food sprinkle with a little somethin'. More often than not, I opt to add a bit of flavoring after the cooking or prep of the food is done so I can get a nice spicy, sweet, or salty hit followed by the pure and simple taste of what I'm eating. Here are some of my favorite toppings and how I use them....

Oh cinnamon, good ole' cinnamon! It pairs so nicely with sweet or savory flavors, is warming to the body, has acclaimed medicinal qualities- and is delicious to boot! I love to sprinkle (or dump) my ground cinnamon on:

  • Apples, bananas, or other fruit- normally accompanied by some kind of spread (tahini alert!)
  • Hot cereal (rice, quinoa, GF oatmeal, millet, etc)
  • Cold cereal (puffed rice or millet) with non-dairy milk
  • In a fruit smoothie
Maple sugar is my newest addiction. It's dehydrated maple syrup granulates, and is often used to replace sugar in baking. I haven't actually done that- it gets spendy. Speaking of spendy, maple sugar is very expensive- however a little goes a long way in adding flavor to:
  • Oatmeal
  • Any hot grain cereal
  • Cold cereal
  • I bet it would be good on fruit
And more!!

Paprika is a spice milder than chili powder but it still gives great color and a nice bite to any food. It is really delicious to sprinkle on:

  • Cooked sweet potato
  • Potato
  • tofu
  • grains
  • beans
  • Nuts, roast them with the paprika and you've got an addition!
  • Leftover soup
  • Anything else that could use a mild spice hit

Salt should not be forgotten! It's gotten a bad wrap because of its damaging effect on health when eaten in excess. Well, yeah! You'd get way too much sodium if you were eating all fast food, prepackaged dinners, packaged snack foods, and pre-made seasoning and sauces. But when moderately used in a whole foods vegan (gluten-free) diet, it is really great. Now, I used to be a salt freak- I heaped it on everything. Everything. I couldn't taste my food, only salt.

Then I got freaked out by all the "salt is bad for you" stuff and broke the habit, cleaning my taste spuds and awakening my senses to pure food. Salt is now a lovely addition to any food- and when a dish is deemed "perfectly salted" by my family I don't enjoy it as much because it tastes salty to me. I honestly enjoy the taste of pure and simple food, just lightly seasoned with herbs or spices. However, I still love a little salt "hit" when I eat, so I cook little to no salt into my food (soups, sauces, stir-frys, etc) and then sprinkle on a little salt, with some black pepper or paprika, as the case may be, at the table. When I take a bite I have a bit of salt hit my tongue accompanied by the pure taste of my food. Delicious. Does that make any sense?

Black Pepper- freshly ground has the best flavor. I used to hate the taste of anything remotely spicy, including black pepper, but I am now a convert. I don't use too much, just a light dusting on certain foods. I love it on anything that needs a light spicing up. Try this: cooked beans, warmed or not, with a sprinkling of salt, black pepper, and green onion. Yum!

Chopped green onion, chive, parsley, or cilantro is great to add color and flavor to any food- grains, beans, and especially Italian food. I also enjoy them added to wraps and on soups- heck, anything! Though I like to chop mine fresh each time, if you're short on time, feel free to have a little bowl or jar of pre-chopped toppings to throw on your food. You won't be sorry.

Butternut squash apple soup with a chopped green onion garnish

Sunday, April 18, 2010

How I Bake My Muffin and Use Science, too

I suddenly realized today that I've never talked about homeschooling specifically- after all, I told you I homeschool in my bio on the sidebar!

There are many types of homeschooling out there- I follow one form called unschooling. No, it doesn't mean I un-learn everything, but that I learn how I want to learn. For me, that is through real life and not out of a textbook.

It may hep to know my schooling history. After begging my mother for a solid month at the age of 6 to go to the public school 45 minutes away (we were out living in a yurt on some land off the highway), she relented. I went to school for the first time midway through first grade. I finished up that year, then we moved and I spent second grade at another local school. We moved again, and I went to third grade there. Near the end of that year, I felt like I had had enough. I didn't particularly like the teacher, so I "homeschooled" for fourth grade. What that actually turned into was me watching the Animal Planet and Food Network channel the entire year. I was so loaded from all the stress, rigid rules, and strictness of school that I just needed a year to unwind. At least I was learning all about cooking and animals!

However, I remember it being hard to keep up a social life at that time, since I knew no other homeschoolers, and my friends went to school all day. I made the decision to return to public school for my fifth grade year. I ended up with a fantastic teacher, though it was difficult to adjust to the fact that I couldn't ask a question whenever I had one. I couldn't approach the teacher whenever I needed assistance. No, it was raise your hand and stay in your seat. I continued on to the middle school, completed sixth grade and was half-way through seventh when I realized I had had enough. Upon the beginning of the second semester of seventh grade, I only kept up with my English and math class, both of which had the best teachers on the face of the planet. I attempted, at first, to keep up with everyone else with the school science and geography textbooks, but found it extremely dull. It just wasn't interesting, and they turned me off to the wonderful world of science and social studies. Just because of textbooks and the requirement to read them, I didn't want to learn anything about it. I thought it was all un-interesting. That has all changed now.

And now here I am, 14 years old and enrolled in the eighth grade band program, and a news casting class, where I am part of a team that produces and broadcasts a news show for the school to watch. I learn all the other "subjects" through my everyday life, such as community classes, walking to the local museum, and home life, to name a few.

I intend to homeschool for the rest of my life. If and when I need to, I'll pick up a textbook and study for my S.A.T.

But the truth is, in the "real world" "subjects" like geography and math don't stand separately. They bleed together in different ways depending on what your doing. Take baking for instance, a unique blend of math and sciences*, and passion of mine. Here's a basic breakdown of what I see in - say - baking a batch of muffins; you may have to add, subtract, multiply, or divide if you are doubling, one-and-halving (yeah, I do that sometimes), or cutting in half the recipe. You must consider how the baked good will change depending on any substitution you make- such as replacing an egg. Should you use applesauce, ground flax seeds, a banana? Each will affect the taste and texture in different ways. If I wanted to bake the dough into jumbo or mini sized muffin tins instead of the regular (same geometric shapes, but different sizes), this affects baking time and how the dough forms. If I were creating a muffin recipe, there would a whole lot more to it (e.g. ingredients to take into account). There's much more to it than that, but as you can see, things kids do every day are actually using all those skills that were drilled into us in conventional school. Maintaining this blog is teaching me about web design, html, writing, spelling, and much more!

Take a minute and think, what are some things that you (the kid) or your kids (the parent) does on a regular, or even irregular, basis. Split the activity apart and I bet you'll find lots of things you though could only be learned out of textbook. It's time to face the real world, baby.

Nowadays, just for a start, I take a band and news class, private flute lessons, babysit and pet-sit, volunteer at local organizations (mostly with animals), and take a jazz dance class. I avidly listen to audio books- the Artemis Fowl and Harry Potter books are my favorites, as I've listened to both series dozens of times over (no joke!). The readers are fantastic- go Jim Dale and Nathaniel Parker! Listening to audio books allows me to double task, while unconsciously learning pronunciation of words, sentence construction, and more. I also read lots of books about food (nutrition guides, cookbooks) and animals. I love to create baked good recipes (math and science alert!), and cooking for my family. Biking is a great joy for me.

As you can see, I live a life as real as anyone, and through it I'm learning many things.... in the way that I want to. This allows the knowledge gained to have meaning with me, which makes it more helpful in letting me reach for my goals. And that's what I really love- I don't have to sort through lots of useless information to find a small gold nugget of helpful information. Instead, everything I get is a big mountain of the 24 carat stuff.

In order to more understand the role of parents and children in unschooling, I highly recommend checking out this site and the Wikipedia link at the beginning of the post. John Holt's book- Teach your Own (he coined the word unschool, by the way) is what awakened my family to the true meaning of the word, and led us the the happy set-up we have today.

*I recently found a book at my library called BakeWise, a book that explains all the math and science of baked goods, and understanding how to make the perfect cake, cookie, etc. It is based on the usual components of baking (sugar, gluten, eggs, fat- aka everything I try to bake without), but I'm hoping it will give me some insight on how to create a successful baked good without all those things. It is pretty awesome!

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Compassionately Vegan Gluten-Free Easter

Aggravated over eggs? Heartbroken about ham? And what about those little peeps? The gluten filled Easter candies? You don't want to contribute to cruelty or activate an allergic chain fire, but you want an enjoyable Easter with all the fixin's. Don't despair, I've made up a tutorial (kid approved, by the way) of tips and must-haves for a compassionately vegan, gluten-free, icky-preservatives-free, fun-filled Easter.

To start: Easter, whatever religion you view it from, is the celebration of new life. Spring. The flowers beginning to bud, the vegetables beginning to grow, the eggs being laid with the promise of chicks, and baby animals coming into the world. When considering Easter traditions and how to make them compassionately vegan and gluten-free, I have to remember that the core of the holiday isn't Peeps or chocolate bunnies. It's the celebration of new life. Of course, it's fun to have candy shaped like rabbits, and eggs, so use these tips as you will.

Vegan Sweet & Sara peeps

You can still have an Easter egg hunt! With those reusable plastic eggs easily purchased at any cheap store, chicks need not be hurt in your hunt, but neither do the children. If you use candy to fill the eggs, make sure it is all preservative and additive free. There are many great brands out there, but I find large amounts of them get very expensive (not to mention chocked full of plastic and other unfriendly earth packaging) so I would recommend whipping out some homemade treats- such as my Peanut Butter Cups or some de-spookified treats from Hannah's Ebook. Or, just skip the candy and go for your kid's favorite nuts or seeds. Pistachios, pecans, peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts... the possibilities are endless. Be sure to get them still in the shell, as your little one will have a blast with the nutcracker!

Get the WHOLE family in the festivities: Have your Easter egg hunt include eggs with treats inside for the pets in your house. Homemade vegan dog treats for the pups (be sure to have the kids help out), nuts for rodents, a special fruit for rabbits, and catnip for cats are all god starting places. Go crazy and be creative!

Chocolate solutions: The fact being that most chocolate bunnies on the market having cow's milk and other crap, in the past my sister and I have received our favorite chocolate bars (I love Taste the Dream) but we recently found authentic VEGAN chocolate bunnies! Adorable, fair trade, and certified organic, these little sitting bunnies are crafted by Sjaaks Organic Chocolates, which also has vegan Easter egg chocolates. They have a variety of other themed chocolates, and assorted vegan caramel, nut, and truffle chocolates. Be warned, however, not all their chocolates are vegan, though a good percentage are. We were lucky enough to pick up a couple bunnies (and a box of assorted nuts and chews. Yum. Yumyumyum!) at Sidecar for Pigs Peace in Seattle last weekend.

Decorate the egg.... shaped cookies: Yeah, I know, I used to decorate blown out egg shells, too. But now I do something even better! Bake up a batch of your favorite cookies, such as sugar cookies, my gingersnaps (leave out the cayenne and replace the fresh ginger with a dash of powdered for for young kids), or any other reliable cookie recipe shaped in the form of ovals, aka eggs. Make sure to invite the little ones in to help with the cookie cuttering (and the older ones, they enjoy helping, too! I can tell you from experience...). Decorate the naked cookies with the whole family using assorted colors of frosting and cute toppings to add pizazz, such as nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and coconut shavings.

Don't stop at cookies! Instead of edible crafts, you can make fresh hats, necklaces, and bracelets with freshly picked plants, make Easter themed cards for one another together, or even decorate paper eggs.

Give a themed gift If you don't go heavy on the candy, a themed gift is always a fun thing. For instance, a couple years ago my sister and I both a received a cute bowling set where carrots were the bowling pins! Clothing, jewelry, toys, or even flowers are all options.

Take a nature walk. Gather up the family and take a look at your budding neighborhood, your community flower garden, or just take a walk around the yard to admire your garden and flower beds. New life is everywhere, so get the family together and take some time to appreciate it!

DO NOT buy a bunny on impulse: Children may beg for a bunny at Easter, but impulse buying is not a good choice. Do you homework first! Rabbits are not as cuddly as you may think, being prey animals. If, after researching the required care and commitment of taking care of a rabbit, you want to bring one into your home, always adopt. Pet store rabbits are cute, but they are mass bred and overworked mother rabbits are behind it all. There are so many abandoned bunnies (partly because they were dumped after impulse Easter purchase), so there is no reason not to rescue one. If you child really wants a rabbit, on Easter provide him/her with information on the care and commitment needed, perhaps accompanied with a toy stuffed bunny, to inform them about the required responsibility needed from the entire family. is an excellent site with information about Easter rabbits, in depth care needs, and much more.

What's on the menu? Well, lots of things, actually. Look at what you normally have on the menu, what's already vegan? What can easily be made vegan? What's already gluten-free? What can easily be made gluten-free? For example, if a dish traditionally has butter, use Earth Balance non-dairy butter, coconut oil, or olive oil in place of of it. If a dish calls for all-purpose flour, and you REALLY don't feel like experimenting with a dozen alternative ones, I will use Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour in a pinch. If you've been vegan/gluten-free for years, you probably already have a laundry list of suitable dishes to choose from. On the other hand, if this lifestyle is new to you, seek out the help of other blog writers, cookbooks, etc. A must for Easter is tofu deviled eggs, where tofu is cut in the shape of the egg, a bit is scooped out of the center and used as the hard boiled egg yolk in the recipe. Use eggless mayonnaise (such as Vegenaise) in the filling.

Use these few simple tips for a painless and enjoyable Easter, with family and friends:

#1 you can generally adapt your usual day to day GF vegan favorites into Easter fare.
  • Shape cookies into Easter shapes (think eggs, bunnies, and flowers)
  • Color frosting with spring hues
  • Embellish cupcakes and cakes with flowers and greenery
  • Add spring colors and flavors (asparagus, fresh greens) to dishes
#2 If you have company eating your GF vegan meal, add plenty of fat and salt to the food, possibly more than your used to. This method makes the food more appealing to many non-vegan palates. For GF baked goods, make sure there is plenty of sweetness and delicious flavors to distract them from the fact that the texture is not akin to the fat, sugar, gluten, egg, and milk filled cookies and cakes they are used to. If the baked good tastes great on it's own, more power to ya!

#3 Have plenty of fun activities for family and friends to take part in:
  • Decorate Easter hats
  • Have a group craft, perhaps decorating paper eggs or bunnies. Bring on the googly eyes, sparkles, and ribbon!
If there are lots of kids, a Easter treasure hunt. Have random eggs hold different clues, treats, and notes. Some can have nuts or candy. Others may have a rock with a note reading Oops! Nothing here! Have the eggs lead to the ultimate prize (one for each kid, of course), whether it be a vegan chocolate bunny, a bag of candy and nuts, or a toy stuffed animal.
I hope these tips help, and have a fantastic Easter!

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