Friday, June 29, 2007

tiny dancer

Late again. I was so focused on the grocery trip that I forgot we had music class until it was half over. Although the studio is just a few blocks away, we only managed to catch the last three songs of class.

Miss Carol has called Eliza her "little dancer" every week for over a year. Dancing has always been Eliza's favorite part of class, even when she was an in-arms baby. No matter how otherwise sad, angry, or indifferent, she always snaps out of it (temporarily) to dance. She doesn't just throw her body into it, she feels it in her soul.

Today, Eliza was having a partially indifferent day. She had no interest in playing the drum before her, but she happily crawled into my lap for a cuddle-and-snuggle song that precedes the goodbye song. When everyone stood up to leave, Eliza leapt to her feet. "That was easy," I thought, having feared she wouldn't want to leave after just a few songs. But she didn't follow me to the door. She stood there with her arms out, saying something I couldn't hear above the din. I went to her and asked her to repeat what she said. "Mommy, please dance with me?" I held her hands and started to dance without music. She stopped me: "No, no. Wait for the music." I was surprised because she has heard the same goodbye song every week for 2 years, and she knows what it means, but we'd never been this late before.

I suggested we stop off at home to dance before going to the store, but she quietly and sadly turned me down. Miss Carol had even kindly offered to let us stay for the next class as we were leaving, but when I asked Eliza what she wanted to do, she just said to go to the car. Was she sure? "Yes," she sighed, still sounding sad. Once in the car, I reiterated my suggestion to dance at home, but she again said no.

I let her down - all because I was too scatter-brained to remember which day it is. Perhaps she'll feel like her usual self once she wakes up from her nap.

June in the kitchen (part 2)

"They gave us weeds?!" moaned C when he saw that week's CSA loot. I ended up making a Greek-style dandelion salad with tomatoes, raw botija olives, and marinated artichokes. C liked it so much he didn't complain about the bitterness (unlike with the radicchio chopped salad we had later that week - me, I'm a nontaster . . . bitter-shmitter).

The beet and berry salad (inspired by The Berry Bible) was a great way to make use of our CSA beets, strawberries, and red leaf lettuce. It was lightly dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.

For one of our Sunday breakfasts, we had "power porridge with coconut-pecan marmalade" from The Candle Cafe Cookbook. Dare I say it . . . the marmalade was actually too sweet for me, but Eliza pleaded for porridge leftovers until they were gone.

Dreena Burton had an unusual and intriguing pizza recipe in Vive le Vegan! that I had to try. The "crust" is a whole spelt tortilla, and the toppings are beam-yam hummus, zucchini, olives, and fresh herbs. Eliza was disappointed the crust wasn't soft, but she was willing it eat the whole mess with a fork once we crumbled it for her.

One morning, Eliza and I shared scrambled tofu with zucchini that I winged (I've seen so many versions). To the tofu and zucchini I added a little tamari, curry powder, allspice, and probably something else I'm forgetting.

For next week's recipes, I'm trying out recipes from a new cookbook and an "old" favorite.

Foods That Don't Bite Back
tarragon lentil-nut loaf
Moroccan-style tempeh w/ apricots, dates, & olives
sundried tomato & basil pesto pizza
chilled cucumber soup
carrot-tahini sandwich filling
grilled summer vegetable salad

Vegan with a Vengeance
mango-ginger tofu
chickpea-hijiki salad sandwiches
sunny blueberry-corn muffins

Some are dinner recipes, but the carrot-tahini and chickpea-hijiki sandwiches are for packed lunches. When I was in college, I packed a PBJ almost every weekday for years and years. It's not that I'm such a fan of peanut butter but that I was completely clueless about what else I could make that wouldn't be extremely perishable (of course, that was a time in my life when I could barely boil water). I have a tendency to fall back on PBJs and ABJs (we alternate peanut and almond butter) with Eliza because they're easy to slap together, and they come with an iron-clad guarantee they won't be rejected. She also really likes tofu salad sandwiches, but I have to have a batch of tofu salad sitting in the fridge because Eliza's patience maxes out at the time it takes to toast bread. So I'm curious how this week's new sandwich recipes will be received. Isa Chandra Moskowitz (author of VWaV) says the chickpea-hijiki sandwiches satisfy her occasional tuna cravings. I haven't had tuna in 20 years and don't miss it a bit, but I've been known to sneak seaweed into soups and stews, so the recipe looked good to me.

I think I've tried almost every non-dessert in the book; believe me, I'd love to eat the desserts in theory, but I have to limit desserts to a couple times a month, so it takes a long time to go through them. I'm thinking for July's desserts we'll have the blueberry-lemon cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World while berries are still in season and probably something from VWaV - the carrot cake photo has been speaking to me, but I just had carrot cake at Sipz Fusion Cafe in May.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Lavender Fields

C: Let me get this straight . . . we're driving two hours round-trip to see what . . . ?
me: Flowers.
C: Exactly my point.

By the time we hit the winding dirt roads that did a number on our little car's suspension, Chris was already wishing I'd never had the idea to go to Lavender Fields for its annual festival. It wasn't much of a festival, to be honest, but it sure was a beautiful farm.

I'd heard to expect bees in the spring, but I was surprised there were still so many being nearly July. There were thousands of bees buzzing everywhere. It's a good thing I'm only squeamish about creepy-crawlies, not flying insects. Eliza didn't bat an eyelash.

Eliza wasn't interested in the cooking demonstration, but she did take a shine to the little fountain. She insisted on plugging the water duct with her finger, which didn't stop her from complaining about getting wet. Still, she was having fun, so we just sat back and let her hang around the fountain for a half hour.

Soon Eliza's attention turned to the llamas over the fence from a neighboring ranch. She kept calling over to the llamas, but when they wouldn't come over, she decided that she needed to hop the fence to join them. (Her father pulled her down after I snapped a photo of her mischief.)

Eventually, she started to run out of patience, so after grabbing a couple things from the gift shop, we headed back home. I don't think I'll go back again while Eliza is so young, as it was a long way to go for something she didn't much appreciate, but I was happy to visit.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

my birthday, 2007

(Click on the photos for the full set.)

Chris took the day off work, and the three of us spent the morning at the ocean (La Jolla Shores) with friends. Eliza surprised us by frolicking in the waves - last time, she was horrified when water touched her toes. At first, both Eliza and Micah were a little reluctant, but as Reiko suggested, they gave each other courage and soon were splashing around gleefully. Laurel soon joined them, and our gaggle of 2-year-olds were having a glorious time in the waves with the daddies supervising.

Afterward, all nine of us headed out to Café Athena (in Pacific Beach). I had the imam bayaldi, which is eggplant stuffed with tomatoes, raisins, and walnuts, served with a pilaf. Eliza had lentil soup and grazed off my eggplant and the various mezes we all shared.

We had a whole room of the restaurant to ourselves since we arrived at an off time, which was nice, because the kids really get excited around each other and were more wiggly than usual. At one point, Eliza and Laurel hopped across the floor chanting "ribbit, ribbit!"

After lunch, we headed home so Eliza could take a nap. We three spent a quiet afternoon, not doing much other than making cupcakes. I made "sexy low-fat vanilla cupcakes w/ fresh berries" (from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World). Loren joked about eating my cupcakes, so he has my word I'll make a batch for the next Bradley reunion. :)

After Eliza went to bed for the night, Chris and I watched a classic movie, It Happened One Night, breaking with my tradition of watching Jane Austen adaptations on my birthday. Although not quite up there with Colin Firth's dreamy wet shirt scene from Pride & Prejudice, Clark Gable isn't too shabby to say the least. Claudette Colbert didn't even annoy me as much as she did when I last saw the movie, about seven years ago.

I also got a couple phone calls wishing me a happy birthday - how nice to be remembered. All in all, I had a very enjoyable birthday. I can't ask for more than good times with my darling daughter and husband and my dear friends.

Monday, June 25, 2007

misadventures in baking

pretzels for peace

Alton Brown made me do it.

After seeing the pretzel episode last weekend, I just had to try my hand at them. Baking soda is the magic ingredient that makes pretzels brown nicely, which was news to me. At first, Alton toyed with the notion of using lye for the basic solution, but his fictional lawyers made him use baking soda instead - damn! By the way, the peace signs were Alton's alternate suggestion.

I converted to vegan and whole grain a recipe I found in Home Baking. The first pretzel was a disaster. I thought I'd save time by forming the second pretzel while the first was simmering in the baking soda solution for a half minute, but I forgot to remove the first pretzel until several minutes had elapsed. Not only that, but I blew off keeping the pretzel on the spatula, figuring I could fish it out - big mistake - it came out soggy and in pieces. I baked the pieces with the other three pretzels on a lark, and it reminded me of that nasty baking soda toothbrushing they made us do in the first grade. I'm happy to say that the other three came out alright for a first try (Eliza and I ate one with dijon-agave dipping sauce).

In addition, I also baked the worst batch of muffins I've made in my life. I couldn't figure out why they were so dense (Dreena Burton's recipes have been on the whole quite reliable), until I mentally traced my steps and couldn't remember having put in the baking soda and baking powder. Mea culpa. Eliza was a real sport about eating them anyway. I think the only thing that could make my little carb-ivore refuse a muffin would be to simmer it in baking soda-water for five minutes!

Friday, June 22, 2007

final spring lunches

1. blackberries, sapote, & cherimoya
2. carrots (CSA)
3. "blueberry yogurt" (Feeding Kids Right)
4. sandwich: raw almond butter & lavender jelly on ezekiel bread

All the fruits, carrots, and even the lavender jelly were local organics.

The blueberry yogurt was very simple: blueberries, ground flax seed, plain soy milk, and dates in a blender. Although it was tasty and Eliza devoured it (I got just one bite), I think I'll save this one for home from now on.

The lavender jelly was part of my Mother's Day present. There's a lavender farm in North County, and I'm tempted to go to its lavender festival this Sunday.

Pictured right is a somewhat Mediterranean-themed lunch:

1. avocado, tomatoes, cucumbers, lemon juice
2. carrots (CSA) & crackers (from a box, has brown rice, quinoa, flax, and sesame seeds)
3. hummus
4. pumpkin muffins (based on Vegan with a Vengeance)

I loves Isa's muffins, but I always tinker with the recipes since I double the spices and avoid white flour and sugar. I replace the former with whole wheat pastry flour and the latter with maple syrup (usually I replace with agave nectar, but maple syrup complements pumpkin so well). I'd post my updated version of the recipe, but I haven't quite gotten the ratios right (next time, even more flour to make up for using a liquid sweetener), so the muffins are a little flat - although delicious!

The hummus I don't make with a recipe, which is just as well because I've never found a hummus recipe that has enough lemon juice and garlic for me. I just throw in the usual ingredients and keep adjusting until it tastes right.

Usually, we only pack a couple lunches a week, but we got together with friends today. I didn't take a photo of the lunch box because it looked a lot like yesterday's because I had leftover hummus. I also packed a bowl of cut fresh fruit: strawberries (CSA), sapotes, red grapes, and nectarines.

We rarely finish everything, but that works out well and translates into an effortless nosh later in the day.

locked in the car


Ah, a babushka in training! Eliza has decided that is her new look and frequently asks us to tie on her play scarf. The photo has nothing to do with my post - it just cheers me up to see her happy.

I was told to look on the bright side: today couldn't be worse than yesterday. As far as Eliza's behavior goes, it hasn't been. Her only mischief was turning on the gas outside twice, which I smelled immediately.

After spending the late morning with my friends and Eliza's friends, Micah and Laurel (the three amigos go way back, their parents having met one hot summer in birth class 3 years ago), Eliza started getting cranky around noon, so we headed back to the car. Eliza was buckled in, and just as I was reaching to open the driver's door, I heard bleep-bleep. The car had locked itself with my keys and sweet girl inside!

I was terrified as I called AAA (my cell phone was in my pocket), but I no longer panicked once I was told it had been marked top priority and someone would be there in under 10 minutes. It took five. The temperature was in the 70s, but the car had been parked outside for a couple hours and was considerably warmer. I'd had the foresight to open the moon roof so that the car wouldn't be blazing hot when we got back to it, and thank goodness for that.

I did my best poker face to keep Eliza from freaking out, and at first she was grinning and laughing at me through the window, but eventually, she figured out something was wrong and began to cry. I can't even say how sad and helpless I felt to watch my daughter's face beaded with sweat and tears. It was just another minute until help arrived, but it felt like much longer.

I would never deliberately leave my child in a car for a single minute, so those eight minutes were a nightmare to me. I'm going to have a spare key made and stick it to the underside of the car - having it stolen is a far better fate than being locked out.

Ironically, I was asked today if there were any safety devices she hadn't managed to beat. There is but one, but it's not the car seat (the upstairs gate, being bolted into a stud in the wall, has so far proved impervious). About a year ago, Eliza figured out how to undo the chest buckle of her top-of-the-line car seat, and from there could wiggle out. One evening, as we made the hour-long drive down the freeway back home from a friend's house, Eliza escaped her car seat at least a half dozen times. Each time, C pulled over ASAP, and we buckled her in again, making sure she was as snug as possible. Minutes later, she escaped again . . . and again . . . and again. We struggled with her car seat escapes for a week or two until we decided we had no choice but to turn her around and hope it would eliminate her desire to escape. I had done my homework, knew the statistics, and was planning to keep her rear-facing until she reached our car seat's rear-facing limit (32 pounds), which in her case, wouldn't have been until after her 2nd birthday. I never would have turned her around for convenience's sake (hers or mine), but her constant escapes were much more dangerous.

She hasn't tried to get out since, and no doubt can no longer remember that she was able to do so. Today, I encouraged her to pull the lock up, but it was a few inches out of her reach.

At the moment, Eliza is soundly napping with her animals, and I'm relatively calm, but it's hard to overstate how scared I was for a few minutes this afternoon. Eliza and Chris are my whole world.

she strikes again, part 2

The following is a cut-and-paste from an e-mail:

The cut lip was just the beginning, as it turns out. There was dried St. John’s Wort spilled all over the bathtub and bath mat. Then Chris came home early (5:30) and complained, “don’t you watch her?” Minutes after he accused me, Eliza ripped down the shade in the bathroom, ripping the window screen right in front of his face!! As frustrating as that was, a small part of me was relieved that he could no longer say it’s because I wasn’t watching her closely enough. He was sheepish and apologetic after that. A little later back downstairs, she was having a tantrum and started throwing fruit – including heavy melons – from the fruit bowls. She threw almost continuous tantrums from 6 to 8 until she did nothing but scream and refused to eat a bite of dinner.

I forgot to mention that she entirely refused to nap yesterday, then she threw a tantrum in the middle of the public library, and I had to carry her out while everyone gave us dirty looks. All that and the above all happened in a single day.

* * * * *

I forgot to mention that a roll of toilet paper was unraveled yesterday evening. In light of everything else that happened, it was overlooked.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

she strikes again

Eliza had a wonderful time at playgroup today. To my relief, she didn't eat any of the "beans" (some sort of green berries, which could be poisonous for all I know) she picked off a bush. Once I saw what she had, I didn't take my eyes off her until we left.

Just when I thought she was having a less-mischievous-than-usual day, she pulled a stunt while I was in the bathroom. Can't she be out of sight for two minutes without all hell breaking loose? I found her with her father's razor in one hand and blood above her lip. (Yes, the razor is kept in a drawer with a child lock.) It was only a small amount of blood, which didn't require a bandage and looked like nothing once the blood was wiped off, but it still scared the crap out of me. How many times has she been told not to touch the razors? She stopped trying to grab kitchen knives last month and will now say to herself, "Don't touch - that's sharp - that belongs to Mommy and Daddy."

And before I forget, another bit of today's mischief was emptying dried St. John's Wort all over the carpet.

Some days she scares me.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

bumper cars

%#!*%$@$# birth center parking lot!

This happened to my car just hours ago. There was no available street parking, so I had to park in the birth center's miniature 4-car parking area down a narrow alley. Now I'm quite familiar with this parking lot because Eliza was born at the birth center, and I always hated it with a passion, but it has been more than a year since my last well-woman visit, so I'm out of practice inching the car back and forth, forth and back until after five minutes of frustration, I finally manage to squeeze back out the alley. Only today it went like this:

crank the wheel right
inch back
crank the wheel left
inch forward
...repeat many times...
crank the wheel right yet again
inch back

Bam, right into the stone wall. When I got home, I saw my bumper had separated. C is going to kill me. Maybe I'll suggest a fixed bumper in lieu of a birthday present.


Elaine's post today was very timely for me. A few hours ago, Eliza swallowed a half vial of tiny crafting beads, which she had nabbed from the craft tower in the garage while I was loading the car. They're so tiny that they weren't a choking hazard, and a friend was amused to point out I should expect a glittering potty tomorrow. (Like when Eliza was a baby and I was able to read words in her diaper - I found out C had let her chew on a magazine page.)

Benign mishaps may be amusing, but I've always found it very troubling to have a kid who has never met a safety device she couldn't beat. She has even foiled multiple layers of security (e.g. getting past the lock on my bedroom door then past the lock on my master bathroom medicine cabinet and finally past the "child-resistant" top on ibuprofen). Ever since then, I stay in my bedroom upstairs until she wakes up from her nap.

I use all-natural homemade cleaners (think baking soda and vinegar), but there are still things in the house that could seriously harm Eliza if she ingested them, including my stash of organic essential oils.

She's just 2 years old, so there's only so much she understands. She has made great progress in the common sense department since she was the daredevil 1-year-old who injured herself so often that she dripped blood (not just scrapes) at least once a week and required a couple emergency room visits. She's still a daredevil, but that wild spirit is now infused with an understanding that some things are not safe. She no longer tries to go head-first off the back of the sofa, but she still doesn't get (or doesn't want to get) that swallowing anything other than food can be dangerous regardless of how many times we tell her.

Monday, June 18, 2007

library theme: fruit

Eliza wasn't full of ideas herself, but she happily approved of reading picture books featuring fruit. I immediately thought of Jamberry, Eating the Alphabet, and Blueberries for Sal, which we own, but searching the public library catalog for more ideas was mostly fruitless (no pun intended). Thanks go to Nina of Painted Rainbows and Chamomile Tea for several of these suggestions - she thought of books that were at my branch but didn't have a fruit keyword in the catalog. Ironically, I was so scatterbrained last week that I forgot to bring out the three fruit-themed books I mentioned above.

The Owl and the Pussycat
, Edward Lear (written), Jan Brett (illustrated)

An English-language classic, The Owl and the Pussycat is a familiar children's nonsense poem (see the poem here), but Jan Brett's illustrations do more than add pictures - they bring a story of their own.

I'm a fan of Brett's charming, minutely-detailed illustrations (something she has in common with Graeme Base, a favorite illustrator of mine), many of which are based on northern European folktales. The scenes are so rich that it takes multiple readings to take it all in. Brett's The Owl and the Pussycat illustrations set the scene among Caribbean islands. Besides illustrating the poem itself, Brett also tells a story along the borders of each page. Along the top edge are straw-woven patterns and tropical flowers, each right corner shows a different sea shell, and along the bottom edge, under the ocean, is a secondary plot of Brett's devising. A yellow tang is seen engaging the help of other sea creatures to find her or his piscine amour, which the pussycat brought aboard the pea-green boat in a fish bowl.

Eliza liked that the tuxedo-patterned pussycat looks strikingly like our Nikita. She even tried to tell Nikita about what she'd seen in the book, but our gentle companion registered a blank stare in her green-gold eyes.

What has all this to do with fruit? The pea-green boat contains a large basket of tropical fruit, including pineapple, bananas, and quince. Some of the fruit I couldn't quite identify, but they looked quite a lot like cherimoya and sapote, which coincidentally, we had in the house, so that's what I told her they were.

It's not too often we have the same favorite picture book of the week, but this week we both enjoyed this one the most. I'm considering trying to find a used copy so I don't have to deny it to other library patrons. Ages 2-5?

Lunch, Denise Fleming

This is a simple picture book about a hungry mouse that goes across the kitchen floor gobbling up fruits and vegetables (how did he know I forgot to sweep?). He sloppily eats his way through a white turnip, orange carrots, yellow corn, etc., adding a new color to his fur with every bite. The fruits in this book are blueberries, grapes, apples, and watermelon. He must have been taking lessons from Eliza, who managed to eat a quarter of a watermelon by herself this week, looking happy and serene as pink juice dribbles down her chin. Ages 1-2.

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear, Don & Audrey Wood (written), Don Wood (illustrated)

This was a timely book as well because of the strawberries in our CSA box lately.

Mouse is beaming, about to pick the perfect red, ripe strawberry, but is there something she hasn't considered? An unidentified off-scene narrator informs mouse that there lurks a big, hungry bear that craves strawberries, which sends the mouse scrambling to hide the strawberry. Without revealing the clever ending, I'll just say that Eliza "got it" and was tickled pink. The story and illustrations were delightful, and I'm sure we'll check out this one again. Ages 2-4?

Mr. Putter and Tabby Pick the Pears, Cynthia Rylant (written), Arthur Howard (illustrated)

I see from the back flap that Rylant is the author of several other Mr. Putter and Tabby . . . books. This book is an easy reader and is divided into a few very short "chapters." Mr. Putter and his tabby cat have a problem. His garden is overflowing with ripe apples and tomatoes, but all he can think about are the pears on his tree, which he tries to knock down using a slingshot loaded with apples. The next day, his neighbor has a surprise for him, and Mr. Putter eventually learns the value of patience.

Fruit, Pascale de Bourgoing (written), P. M. Valet (illustrated), Christina Cramer & Louise Goldsen (translated)

This was the only nonfiction children's book of the bunch. Its translucent overlays remind me of an anatomy section in an encyclopedia my family had - each sheet added another layer (muscles, nervous system) on top of a bare skeleton. The effect is interesting enough, mostly showing the seeds and stones inside, but it's nothing you can't get by slicing open a piece of fruit. The various trees and vines that fruit grows on are shown for contrast, which is something Eliza usually doesn't get to see. It was worth checking out for the theme of the last couple weeks, but I wasn't thrilled with it overall.

* * * * *

There is one last book called Cherries and Cherry Pits, but I can't find it at the moment. I'll update this when I do.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

raw lunch

The warmer it gets, the less I want to cook.

1. mock rice pilaf (Raw Foods Made Easy) - Super fast and easy, it has shredded zucchini, pine nuts, currants, and homemade dressing.

2 & 3 - cucumbers & sunflower pâté (Raw Foods Made Easy) - The dip was made in the food processor.

4 - organic oranges from Escondido

Not pictured is the almond milk I made. All my nut milk recipes come from Raw Food/Real World, the don't-hate-me-because-I'm-beautiful coffee table book of gourmet raw. While most of the book is just eye candy for me (since I lack a mandoline, juicer, and dehydrator), I have rotated among the nut milk recipes a since I got the book:

* almond milk
* vanilla Brazil nut milk
* cinnamon-maple pecan milk
* creamy macadamia milk

Eliza can't get enough of nut milk. She looked pleasantly surprised to find almond milk in her travel cup instead of water. I didn't get to drink a drop from that batch. Tant pis.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

LibraryThing withdrawal

O, LibraryThing, how I do miss thee.

You'd think I'd get some reading done with LT being down for days, but I find myself checking obsessively to see if it's back up yet. Speaking of not reading, I had it in my mind that somehow I was going to finish the Anne of Green Gables series (which I borrowed ages ago) while C is out of town this week, but instead find myself reaching for whatever is sitting around. In the last few days, I've read . . .

bits and pieces of a couple dozen cookbooks
The Teany Book by Moby
The Raw Detox Diet by Natalia Rose

The Teany Book
was a fun read - part tea, part baking, part history, all wacky. I am so not hip, but a vegetarian tea shop sounds like my idea of heaven.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The cat barked!

Nikita's vacation cat-sitter calls her "ol' scarf n' barf" after an unsavory trait she's had since kittenhood. A few times a week, when Eliza and I came downstairs in the morning, the first thing out of her mouth was,

"Oh, no! The cat barked! There's a big mess!!!"


But a few weeks ago, Eliza started started pronouncing it "barf" instead of "bark." It's just not the same. :)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

June in the kitchen (part 1)

For the first time in my life, I ate something I grew myself. These are kamut spirals (100% whole grain, colored with spinach, annatto, and beet powders) with an herbed chickpea sauce (Vive le Vegan!), which includes my own oregano.

This week's unusual find is an Armenian cucumber (grown in SoCal). I haven't taken a photo yet, but it looks like a long, skinny cucumber with a U-shape. The Wiki stub says although it looks like a cucumber, it's actually a melon and shouldn't be peeled. Excellent!

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Most of our recipes for the last two weeks have come from Vive le Vegan! by Dreena Burton. We've been enjoying them so much I decided to keep at it a third week. I plan to write my first cookbook review in a week or two.


  • fantastic French toast
  • millet-amaranth porridge
  • blueberry bounty buns
  • orange-poppy seed muffins
  • chipotle corn black bean soup
  • earthy lentil soup
  • greek basmati rice
  • hummus tortilla pizzas
  • w/ cannellini bean yam hummus
  • orange-poppy seed dressing *
  • coconut-lime cookies **
* I thought this would be amazing on a baby spinach salad with fresh fruit (whatever's in our CSA box Thursday).

** I generally only have one dessert per month, and I've already selected the cupcakes for my birthday, which is still three weeks away. C. was the one who had a craving for bar cookies, so I found a couple with less sugar for him to choose between. These use shredded coconut and fresh lime peel and juice.

Those are all the recipes - I love trying out new ones, but I only plan for 3-4 days a week to allow for flexibility.

After last week's horrendous shopping trip, it was a relief to find Eliza an angel this week. She asked to sit in the cart while she examined the produce, and some strangers even came up to me to say what a "precious little girl" I have. I know she's precious, but it's nice to hear once in a while.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The verdict is in. C's favorites were the French toast, chipotle corn black bean soup, and coconut-lime cookies, although he liked pretty much everything. Eliza's favorites were the cookies, the French toast, Greek basmati rice, and the spinach-strawberry salad, which she liked so much, she asked for it for breakfast the next day! She liked the blueberry bounty buns more than the orange-poppy seed muffins, and so did I. The whole barley in the muffins weighed them down (usually our muffins have whole wheat pastry flour), but the whole spelt was just perfect for the buns.

What did I like? I enjoyed almost everything, but I agree with C and E about the French toast. That was the first time I've made it in my life (I'm not sure why - I do make pancakes at least a half dozen times a year). I got a loaf of wheat batard from Whole Foods' bakery, which had white flour as its first ingredient and whole wheat as its second. It's unusual for us to eat any refined flours/grains (even cookies are whole grain), but it was definitely called for here. The cookbook's author, Dreena Burton, even said that a compromise was a good idea for this recipe. My only regret was that we had no fresh berries in the house for topping (the strawberries having already been used in spinach salad), but we did use organic whipped Earth Balance and pure maple syrup. I was very impressed, and I don't say that lightly because this happens to be the first vegan French toast I've ever had and the best french toast period. My only prior french toast experiences have been in places like IHOP or my family's wonder-bread-sopped-in-eggs variation. I tell you, if I knew french toast could be so good, I wouldn't have waited decades to make my own!

Chris and Eliza loved the coconut-lime cookies. They came out very well and were bursting with lime (zest and juice), despite their plain-Jane appearance. All I could think was that I'd rather have chocolate, but that's a chocoholic for you.

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CSA loot: June 7th

There's an organic farm a few miles up the road. In their CSA box this week we got zucchini, carrots, fennel, parsley, two kids of lettuce, red chard, an avocado, lemons, and strawberries - oh, glorious strawberries! How we used them . . .

lemons - "mock rice pilaf," "sunflower pâté" (both Raw Foods Made Easy), "Greek basmati rice"
zucchini - "mock rice pilaf" was mostly shredded zucchini
carrots - "earthy lentil soup," "chipotle corn black bean soup," and munching
chard - "earthy lentil soup" (it wasn't in the recipe, but I decided it would be a good addition)
lettuce - garden salads
strawberries - two meals' worth of spinach salad w/ "orange poppy seed dressing"
avocado - not yet used (just now fully ripened)
fennel - not yet used . . . maybe some raw fennel would go well with the avocado in a baby greens salad

elevenses of late spring

The hand belongs to Miss Eliza, who made it difficult for me to get a clear shot with all her grape snatching.

1. green grapes

These are the first California organic grapes of the season. For weeks, I've been grumbling to myself about all the South American grapes, which I refuse to buy, but at last my patience was rewarded. These grapes were a bit on the tart side for my taste, but I have a feeling this week's red grapes will be sweeter.

2. cucumbers (stars cut out of centers)

The cucumbers are organic-local. I got the idea to seed cucumbers by using a mini cookie cutter from a lunch DVD I watched last year. Eliza is more likely to eat foods if there are fun shapes involved.

3. Gala apples

They're from Washington - the only produce item I bought last week not from the southern half of California. Eliza talked me into getting them. I don't know why she's so apple crazy in the midst of such California summer abundance of citrus, stone fruit, and berries.

4. energy cookies (Vive le Vegan! by Dreena Burton)

These were from Vive le Vegan! by Dreena Burton (who happened to blog today about her cookies). She's far too modest - she is to vegan cookies what Isa Chandra Moskowitz is to vegan cupcakes - genius at work there. The "energy cookies" were almost like trail mix in a cookie shape and were unusually soft and chewy considering how chunky they are. They call for two flours (barley and spelt, but I had to substitute whole wheat pastry for the latter), four seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, hemp, and flax), dried fruit (I used black mission figs), vegan carob chips, and a bit of pure maple syrup. Eliza is a big fan.

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1. Armenian cucumber

It's just as cool and crispy as a European cucumber, but the peel has no bitterness at all. There was a very subtle sweetness, but it tastes nothing like a melon. I dressed it very lightly with fresh mint and a spritz of olive oil and lemon juice.

2. apricots

I kept them bright and orange with a bath in a crushed Vitamin C tablet.

3. Organic Morning O's & raisins

There's always that "what on earth do I have to put in the fourth box?" O's to the rescue.

4. "bountiful blueberry buns" (Vive le Vegan!)

Delicious! We'll definitely make these whole spelt muffins-in-scone-form again sometime. I didn't quite have enough blueberries, so I added cherries.

cherimoya love

I posted last week about the cherimoya fruit I got at the co-op. It took four days to fully ripen, but it was worth the wait.

Half the cherimoya was chopped and topped our Sunday family breakfast of "creamy raspberry oatmeal" (Vive le Vegan!). The other half was frozen and eaten as a dessert that evening. It was delicious, sweet, and creamy! I would have liked to pick up a cherimoya at the co-op this week, but I was obliged to go to Whole Foods instead because the cat was out of food. If only the cat could live on chermioyas. . . . On second thought, I'd go bankrupt if she did.

Monday, June 04, 2007

cupcakes meet knitting

Check out these stunning knitting-themed cupcakes on the VeganYumYum blog. I'm in awe!

Update: She explains how she did it with marzipan.

library theme: snails

The great thing about the public library is that it allows me to do theme weeks. Even with my large collection of picture books, I usually don't have enough books on a single subject to comprise a theme. Eliza is the one who chooses the theme. When she was a young toddler, C. and I would make a note of whatever her current obsession was (usually a specific animal), and the next time I went to the public library, I'd come home with a half dozen or so books on the subject. Now that she's a few months shy of 3 years old, she can outright tell me what she'd like to read about. For the past two weeks, we've been reading picture books starring snails. The slimy buggers wouldn't have been my choice, but this is all about what she wants.

A House for Hermit Crab, Eric Carle

A hermit crab that lives on the ocean floor has outgrown the shell he took for a home. Right away, he finds a larger shell, and the story follows his attempts to improve his home by asking other sea animals to join him.

My daughter grew more excited with each animal addition to the hermit crab's shell and insisted on pointing out each and every one on each page. Although this isn't a book about snails, one page features sea snails, one of whom joins Hermit Crab's posse to clean it of algae.

Although the story sounds odd at first blush (e.g., collecting other animals), the message is a sweet one about friendship and growing up. Hermit Crab always asks for help from other animals gently and respectfully. I don't want to ruin the ending, so I'll just say that it's not about acquisition - it's more about the symbiotic relationship Hermit Crab has with his friends.

This book features some of Carle's best crayon, paint, and collage art - the texture is fantastic.

I was charmed to see this note on the back flap about Eric Carle:

Eric Carle is the creator of many beloved books about animals, birds and insects, but he says that he feels particularly fond of Hermit Crab, the hero of this book. Perhaps this is because he was born in the month of June, under the astrological sign of the Crab. People born under this sign are said to be both creative and sensitive; they love their homes and gardens, and like to withdraw there when the outside world is stressful.
That's so me (I'm a June-born Cancer, too). Maybe that's why I liked Hermit Crab.

Snail Trail, Ruth Brown

Another reason I love the library is that this book is out-of-print. There was but a single copy in the entire city library system, but it was worth calling over to my branch.

Snail Trail begins, "Slimy Snail set out on a trail one bright and sunny morning." The snail and the trail he blazes are illustrated in extreme close-up. It's enough to give anyone squeamish of snails the willies, but kids who adore creepy-crawlies will adore the adventurous snail. Each double-page spread shows the snail going through a tunnel, down a slope, or other tricky maneuvers, which is a great way for younger toddlers to learn prepositions. The final pages zoom out to show the snail's trail in full - silvery slime and all - so that the readers can see where the snail went from a human point of view. This book would be mostly of interest to ages 1 to 3.

This was one of Eliza's two favorites for the week . . .

The Snail and the Whale, Julia Donaldson (written) & Axel Scheffler (illustrated)

. . . which brings me to Eliza's other favorite, The Snail and the Whale. The illustrations are not hyper-realistic like those of Snail Trail - they are cartoonish in the best sense, and the snails are almost charming with their impish grins. Eliza asked to reread this book many times in the course of two weeks and often couldn't contain herself from blurting out what happens on the next pages.

"This is the tale of a tiny snail / And a great big, gray-blue humpback whale," the rhyming story opens. Having an urge to travel and see the world, the snail beseeches the whale for a ride around the world on his tail. The scenes range from icebergs to jungles to grand forests and mountains. The duo have a wonderful time until the whale is in grave danger. It's up to whale's molluscan friend to save the day. Recommended for ages 2-6.

The Secret, Lindsay Barrett George

Can a 30-something mom have a favorite snail picture book? If so, this would be mine.

Mr. Snail has a secret message for Miss Snail. He whispers it to the mouse and off it goes, being "squeaked" to the beetle, "pinched" to the turtle, and "grumbled," "swished," "croaked, "wiggled," "shook," "buzzed," and so on until it reaches Miss Snail. With such a simple story, the text could have been dumbed down in another's hands, but Lindsay Barrett George gives it such charm with her colorful word choices.

What I liked most about this book, however, were the collage illustrations that reminded me a bit of Clare Beaton's Mother Goose Remembers with its bric-à-brac collage except where the latter contains sewing notions, The Secret employs silk flowers and items from nature mingling with ink and paint. The effect is startlingly three dimensional. Recommended for ages 1-4.

The Biggest House in the World, Leo Lionni

Little snail's grandest ambition is to grow up to have the biggest house in the world. To dissuade him, his wise father tells him the story about what happened once upon a time to another snail who dreamt the same. Once that snail figured out how to enlarge his shell, there was no stopping him - eventually his shell became so unwieldy that he could no longer move. Sensitive little ones may be disturbed by the snail's implied death, but the text is vague enough ("slowly faded away") that parents may be able to sidestep this. The snail's being destroyed by his own ambition is certainly sad, but the ending of the book is hopeful. The little snail's life is ahead of him, and he gains a new appreciation for nature and sustainability. For ages 3-6.

The Snail's Spell, Joanne Ryder (written) & Lynne Cherry (illustrated)

"Imagine you are soft and have no bones inside you. Imagine you are grey, the color of smoke," the text invites the reader. A little blonde girl curls up in a garden and pretends to shrink and morph into a snail, seeing the world of the garden from a new perspective. The Snail's Spell differs from other picture books with snails in that it brings up the different body parts of the snail and what they're used for.

My daughter was very quiet and attentive as we read this each time (usually she's animated and has conversations with books). I didn't think it was as big of a hit as The Snail and the Whale, but she enjoyed it in a different way. Her father was amused to see her slithering across the carpet pretending to be a snail. For ages 2-5.

The Snail House, Allan Ahlberg (written) & Gillian Tyler (illustrated)

This horse of a different color is the James and the Giant Peach of picture books. The children's grandmother entertains them with a fantastical story about siblings who shrank so small they were shorter even than a snail's feelers. They move into the snail's shell ("And it was a proper house too, with a door and windows, roof and chimney, table, chairs, three little beds, curtains, and crockery - everything!") where they travel through the garden having little adventures. For ages 3-7.

The Happy Day, Ruth Krauss (written) & Marc Simont (illustrated)

Winter has come, and all the animals are hibernating. When they suddenly wake up and race from their dens and burrows. What has captured their attention? The Happy Day is illustrated almost completely in pencil shades of grey, well-suited to the barrenness of winter, but also imparting a soft charcoal warmth to the animals. This is a short, simple story, and a well-done and subtle one at that. For ages 1-4.

How Many Snails?: A Counting Book, Paul Giganti, Jr. (written) & Donald Crews (illustrated)

Last and also least is How Many Snails?. The text and the illustrations are deathly boring. It tries to be more than just another counting book by asking the child to count only a subset of the items on the page (e.g., "How many clouds were big and fluffy? How many clouds were big and fluffy and gray?"). My daughter's only source of amusement was in pointing out that some of the dogs were wearing necklaces (they looked like pearl chokers). Neither she nor I have a high opinion of this book. I expected much, much better from the illustrator of Freight Train.

As for the snails, there's exactly one double-page spread of them. The book has no more to do with snails than it does clouds, dogs, or cupcakes.