Packing snacks for school

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Yesterday, I asked the kids to pack their snacks as I emptied their lunch boxes to make today’s lunch. As I sorted the recycling from the garbage and they ran to the pantry and grabbed apple sauce, granola bars and all sorts of packaged treats, I told them – we can do better than this.

My husband and I both work full-time and we’re busy and often exhausted at the end of the day. As much as I love making everything from scratch, I am pressed for time these days so I haven’t kept on top of the homemade snack making. And when the kids pack their own lunches (and we try to get them to help out as much as possible), they’ll grab what’s easy. Granola bars, crackers, apple sauce and though some of it is recycled, I’ve been feeling increasingly guilty about dropping the ball on my attempt to reduce waste.

In the spirit of them still being in charge of packing their snacks for school, I told them to grab recipe books and figure out what to make for their lunches. They chose recipes, asked if we had the ingredients and did their best to make them without much help from me.

My son made whole wheat chocolate chip cookies. He read out the instructions and I did what I was told. When the dough was mixed, I brought the cookie sheets to the table for him to form the cookies while I helped my daughter avoid burning her snack of choice.

She chose butterscotch pudding. She got out all the ingredients and followed the recipe with my supervision. She’s a bit older so while she needed help lighting the gas stove and has a tendency to wander away while the recipe says to stir continuously, she was able to pull off most of the recipe by herself.

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Much better – wasteless lunch snacks. Apple, half an orange, salted popcorn, giant chocolate chip cookie shoved in a container and butterscotch pudding made with soy milk. Lunch is in a different pocket – leftover mashed potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts and vegan sausage.

In the end, they both felt a sense of achievement, got to lick their spoons and pots and traded a bunch of packaged goods for home made treats. I think I’m going to try to do this more regularly. We won’t be able to consistently avoid waste but together we can make more of an effort to do better.

The only problem is the cookies my son made are too big for most of our snack containers! My daughter’s pudding is hidden behind the popcorn.

Eating well in winter

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Here, in Canada, we’re nearing the end of winter. This is the most difficult time of year for those of us who thrive on plant-based eating. Nothing is growing other than greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers. All fresh fruit and vegetables travel far to make it to our markets.

I do my best to eat local – both because I want to support my local businesses and because I want to avoid adding any unnecessary greenhouse gasses by eating foods that travel far to get to me.

One old-fashioned way to do both is through canning when fruits and vegetables are at their peak and eating them in the middle of winter. Over the summer and fall, I’ve made a number of jams, relishes and chutneys that I’m enjoying now.

In my oatmeal this morning, I have added a generous helping of apple pie jam that I make in the fall with apples we picked at a local farm. It is delicious and a great way to change things up. We still have a few jars left of yellow plum jam, peach jam and rhubarb jam – my kids love them on their peanut butter sandwiches so we go through a lot. But my favourite way to eat them is in my morning oatmeal.

Canning is a great way to bring the flavours of summer and harvest into the depths of winter. It’s not difficult once you get the hang of it. Small batch canning is an accessible way to start.

How do you add variety to your winter meals?

Polar Express Gingerbread Train

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Merry Christmas! I hope you’re spending holidays with loved ones doing the things you love. I’ve been doing a lot of sewing – which I enjoy like meditation – and today I’m in the kitchen. No doubt for most of the day! I’m not one to sit down much. Creating something special for my family puts me in the holidays spirit.

 

IMG_6820Every year, I’m tempted to make a gingerbread train with my special cake pan and it often goes not quite as planned. I considered making other plans but my kids are getting older and I don’t know how much longer the Polar Express will excite them. So this year, I took no chances with the cake, I greased it meticulously and it came out perfectly. I used wax paper and vegan butter to make sure I got butter into every groove.

The cake pan is very detailed so the cake itself looks pretty when plain. I made a simple glaze and then decorated it with Skittles, sprinkles and icing sugar to give it a good dusting of snow.

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We don’t have much snow outside – enough to cover the walkways but not enough to cover the grass – this snowy scene may be the best we get this Christmas! The Christmas trees are cutouts we made recently, covered with glaze, Skittles and dusted with icing sugar.

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The cake is the gingerbread cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World. The glaze is simple (1 cup of icing sugar and 3 Tbsps of water with a drop of lemon extract).

Happy holidays everyone! And best wishes for a joyful new year!

 

Easiest healthy breakfast for the kids

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When I started commuting for work a few days a week, which means I leave the house before my stomach is ready to handle anything solid, I started bringing overnight oats for me to eat when I’m settled at the office. They take me less than five minutes of prep time the night before and they’re ready to eat without a fuss.

Best of all, I can change it up a million different ways – soy, almond, coconut, cashew milk, any frozen or dried fruit I have on hand – there’s no end to the varieties I can make. As someone who gets bored eating the same foods over and over again, this is something that always satisfies. Even if I have absolutely no fruit in the house, I can always add a spoonful of homemade jam. This is a lazy but delicious meal.

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I enjoy it and I’ve found even the kids love it. In fact, if I make them overnight oats, breakfast always goes smoothly even if they’re overtired and grumpy.

This week, I’m going away on business for a few days so I made a few jars to keep in the fridge to make mornings easier on my husband. If you haven’t tried this breakfast, do yourself a favour and give it a try. Use your favourite vegan milk to make the easiest, healthiest and most delicious breakfast your can throw together in five minutes.

Overnight oats

  • jars with lids
  • oatmeal
  • seeds (I use chia and hemp)
  • cinnamon
  • fruit (I used peaches and blackberries)
  • brown sugar
  • vegan milk

Fill the jars 3/4 full of oatmeal. Add a teaspoon of seeds, as desired, cinnamon, brown sugar and top with fruit. If you’re in a real rush, just use oatmeal and a spoonful of jam. Fill the jar to the top with vegan milk. Put the lid on and give it a shake so all the seeds get mixed in.

Get a few extra minutes of sleep in the morning because breakfast is done!

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Simple, delicious vegan pancakes

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On Friday, when I brought my sleepy son to the kitchen for breakfast and sat him at the table and asked him what he’d like to eat – peanut butter and jam on toast or cereal being the options – he said, “pancakes. We haven’t had pancakes in forever and I love pancakes.” I told him we couldn’t make pancakes on weekdays but the weekend was coming.

And then yesterday, when I was baking a double batch of muffins to freeze for school lunches, he excitedly came running down the stairs. “I smell pancakes!” Poor guy, I had completely forgotten. It’s a good thing he likes muffins!

So this morning, the first thing I did was make a double batch of pancakes. This batch will last a few breakfasts popped into the toaster and nibbled as a snack.

If you’re new to vegan baking, you may wonder how the pancakes are made without egg or milk and if they turn out well. We have numerous recipes for pancakes, plain, banana flapjacks, pumpkin and anything else you can imagine and they’re all delicious.

Here’s a simple recipe you can use and adapt as you wish. Top it with fresh fruit, a berry sauce but most importantly, pure maple syrup. This recipe is based on Perfect Pancakes in Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz – it’s a great book for breakfast-lovers.

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Vegan pancakes

  • 1 1/4 cup of flour (I use half whole-wheat)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil (like grape seed oil)
  • 1 1/3 cup vegan milk
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat and oil a well-seasoned griddle. Make sure it’s hot.

Combine dry ingredients and wet ingredients in separate bowls. Add the wet to the dry and mix until there are only small lumps.

Pour batter onto the griddle – once bubbles are forming, flip. Serve warm with maple syrup.

I always make double batches because you can never have too many (and one batch doesn’t fill four people up). Reheat pancakes by popping them in the toaster.

Vegan camping

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This summer, we took a road trip to the East Coast of Canada. We brought a tent and reserved campsites at National and Provincial Parks from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. We made memories that will last a lifetime.

We’re seasoned campers – we love sleeping in a tent and hearing the sounds of the forest around us. We love waking up with the sun and the chirping birds. I love cooking over a fire pit – potatoes in the coals, veggie burgers flame broiled – everything just tastes better when we’re camping.

This summer, though, everything was different. When we arrived in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, there was a fire ban. We have a simple isobutane camping stove for making coffee but we didn’t have much fuel. We couldn’t light a fire in the fire pits provided. We ran out of fuel after making a pot of coffee and we were stuck.

Aside from our usual stock of fruits and vegetables, we had a cooler stocked with veggie burgers, vegan sausages, veggie dogs and tofu without a way to cook any of it. None of the stores we stopped at carried isobutane so we had to eat at restaurants for the first few days on the island (more about that later).

Eventually, we stumbled on the only store in Cape Breton that carries our fuel and we happily bought a couple canisters and a frying pan. Now we had a way to cook our traditional camping food.

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Snacking on dry cereal and reading a book on our campsite.

With so many choices for vegan burgers, hot dogs and sausages, you can easily blend in with the other campers. But when you run out of that and you’re in a fisherman’s paradise without another vegan around, it’s time to get creative.

With our minimal camping stove, a pot for boiling water and a frying pan, we found a few things in the rural grocery stores to feed our hungry mob. Our favourite by far was a noodle stir fry.

Note: We don’t usually buy instant anything but when you’re camping and using fuel that is as hard to find as these canisters were, you do what you must to conserve the fuel.

Vegan noodle stir fry

  • one package of instant noodles
  • oil (sesame, canola, grape seed – whatever)
  • one block of tofu
  • seasoning (Herbamare is great but use what you can find and what you like)
  • one package of broccoli slaw (or another packaged salad with broccoli, brussels sprouts and kale)
  • soy sauce packets (if you have them)

Cook the noodles according to the package. Drain and put aside.

Chop the tofu into cubes and fry it in the oil with the seasoning. When browned, add the slaw and cook until wilted. Add the cooked noodles and stir to mix. Add the soy sauce and mix again.

That’s about the easiest vegan meal you can source in an isolated town. Another idea we enjoyed – minute rice and beans.

Camping rice and beans

  • minute rice
  • can of beans (black or red kidney are great)
  • canned corn (normally I’d eat frozen but we were pleasantly surprised)
  • seasoning

Cook the rice according to the directions on the box. When it’s done, add the drained and rinsed beans and the drained canned corn. Season to taste and enjoy!

Breakfast

When we’re car camping, I put quick cooking oatmeal in little mason jars with raisins or cranberries, sugar, cinnamon and I leave some space for hot water. (You could use instant oatmeal but I prefer the texture of the quick cooking oatmeal – less mushy.) The jars should be 3/4 full.

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Pack your oatmeal in jars to reduce waste.

When you’re ready to eat, pour boiling water in the jars, screw the tops closed, shake them up a bit and let them sit for a few minutes to allow the hot water to cook the oatmeal. My kids love having their own individual jars.

If you’re pressed for space, fill a ziplock bag with oatmeal, sugar, dried fruit and spices. Maybe include seeds – we’re eating a lot of hemp and chia seeds these days. And you can make your homestyle oatmeal in a pot. There’s nothing like a warm bowl of oatmeal on a cool morning.

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Sunset in Prince Edward Island National Park

There are so many benefits to getting kids out into natural spaces – they benefit from exploring, finding creatures, get to know the provinces they’re learning about in school and they learn to love and protect the environment.

You can make some amazing meals over the fire or you can use some cooking short cuts and head out to enjoy the world around you.

 

Vegan grill: tons of veggies and burgers

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Asparagus season is my favourite time of the year. After a long winter of eating potatoes, carrots and other veggies that store well over the winter, the first really fresh vegetable that I can harvest from my garden is asparagus. By Spring, I am craving greens – the ones in the grocery store are tired and tasteless. And then these little sprouts break through the ground.

This winter was a long one. Which made the beginning of asparagus season extra sweet.

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And we love asparagus just about any way you can cook it. But my favourite way to eat asparagus is on the grill. And that brings up the question – grill?

What do vegans grill?

We put just about any vegetable on the grill either in packets or brushed with oil directly on the grill. The ones we brush with oil are: asparagus, peppers, zucchini, onions, scapes and mushrooms. The ones I brush with oil and seasoning are: potatoes, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, snow peas and carrots. And then there’s the veggie burgers, tofu, vegan sausages and vegan hot dogs. We’ve done corn on the cob on the grill too!

Since my eldest was old enough to eat solid foods she has been a big fan of barbecued vegetables. Sometimes we’ll toss the grilled vegetables in olive oil and mix them into cooked whole wheat pasta. Veggies that won’t usually get touched will get gobbled down if they’ve been grilled.

The burger above is one my son made himself – burger with vegan cheese, zucchini, pepper and asparagus. Topped with ketchup and it’s a delicious mess – everything falls off and the bun can’t contain its contents. And that’s my picky eater! Mine is topped with mushrooms, grilled onions and whatever else the kids have left me.

More ideas for asparagus

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If you have more asparagus than you know what to do with (this has never happened to me but I guess it’s possible), fry it in olive oil with garlic, add marinated tofu, fresh herbs and pasta. I like to top my pasta with a salty mix of nutritional yeast, hemp seeds, a splash of olive oil to make it all stick together and salt.

Easy tofu marinade:

  • 1 crushed clove of garlic
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (or other nice vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

Add cubed tofu to the marinade. Toss and let it sit for about 15 minutes in the marinade before frying it with veggies or you can bake it at 350 for 20 minutes stirring once.

Asparagus for breakfast

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If you still have leftover asparagus, toss it in your scrambled tofu.

The only thing you have to keep in mind with asparagus is not to overcook it. And don’t boil it.

Enjoy it while it lasts!