Thursday, May 28, 2009

We love our new picnic table.

The kids and I loaded up the other day and went to buy a picnic table at Toys "R" Us. We had been wanting one for awhile, but I kept putting it off so that I could find the perfect metal or wooden one. Cheap (although it wasn't actually cheap - $89.99! For plastic!) and maintenance-free won out, though. It wouldn't fit in the back of our car so a sales guy helped me open the box and squeeze in all the pieces. Then Daddy lovingly stayed up in the dark that night to put it together for us.

Anyway, we use it almost every day now. Every day that doesn't rain, of course. I have been trying to have the kids eat most of their snacks and lot of their meals out there. Helps with indoor-mess problem. It's very helpful, too, that they are in charge of keeping their table clean. And they love going out there, damp cloths in hand, to clean it.

We were planning a trip to a nearby lake today, but we didn't want to miss out on seeing the cousins tonight. Instead, we had a special picnic outside, using our new stainless steel To-Go Ware container. It is three-tiered (and even comes with a little Sidekick that fits inside for dips or sauces, etc.). I always get inspired with the cute lunch boxes at Vegan Lunch Box.

We had sunflower butter and fruit spread (365 brand "Fruits of the Forest" - doesn't that name sound delicious?) on Food for Life fruit juice sweetened Brown Rice bread sandwiches. I think this may be my new favorite bread for nut/fruit sandwiches; it's spongy - like sponge cake (I mean, you know, as spongy as "less-processed" bread can be.). Fruit salad and granola "salad" with Galaxy Granola vanilla munch, Goji Berries & Almond Crunch, and a few Annie's Homegrown Organic Bunny Fruit Snacks mixed in. You know what they ate first, of course - the bunnies.

We also dig our new Bambu veneerware sporks (idea from Green and Crunchy...I'm such an easy target for cool kitchen gadgets that are pictured with pretty food)...spoon on one side, fork on the other. They are supposed to be disposable, but we have been carefully reusing them (can't leave them in dishwater, though, or they come apart in layers). They are biodegradable, though; I can just toss 'em out in the woods when we're finished with them!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chocolate Ice Cream & Chocolate Covered Nuts

In other news...I think I have mentioned before that my kids will eat practically anything if it is in frozen form. Here is one of our latest homemade "ice cream" treats. I started out making chocolate chia shakes that were inspired by ideas from Green and Crunchy and Kristen's Raw. The ingredients were raw soaked cashews, soaked dates, lucuma powder, raw cacao powder, soaked chia seeds, hemp seeds, etc.

I actually really enjoy drinking it, and Tornado drank it well, too. Dash was not really crazy about it, and neither was Sissy. It's funny; they tried it, didn't like it, but it was so tempting seeing Tornado and me drinking something thick and chocolaty from a straw - they asked for their cups back. They just barely sipped it, though, so I decided to make ice cream (by just freezing it in a bowl) out of their leftovers. I have made different versions with slightly different ingredients (adding banana, avocado, maybe a little agave nectar), but they love it just the same. They don't call it "the ice cream that's only sort of like ice cream only not as good." It's just ice cream to them, and they devour it.
In "slightly" less healthy (but "pretty" healthy) news...we've also been enjoying chocolate covered nuts these days. I just melt dark chocolate or vegan chocolate chips in the microwave, add a little milk, stir, dump in a bunch of nuts (any kind, the softer the better - like pecans or walnuts...almonds are good but even better if you use sliced almonds), stir, and drop spoonfuls on wax paper. Mmmm, I had really missed chocolate covered nuts; it had been awhile.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Weekend Celebrations

I mentioned I have been out of town three weekends in a row. The first weekend we had double shower duty. On Saturday, we threw a wedding shower for Angie (pictured here: Elizabeth, Angie, Missy, and me, taken after Lori and Heather, two of my other highschool friends, had already left). Angie, I've mentioned before, eloped in Las Vegas on 03-06-09. Boy, did she have our email loop going crazy that weekend when we got word that she was IN Las Vegas, already married, without telling us she was even thinking about it.We tried to go the "green" route when planning the shower. We used evites, eliminating paper use, and asked guests to be environmentally creative when wrapping gifts. There were some really fun ideas (wish I would have gotten a picture of Missy's newspaper ribbon; it was very pretty!) like this bow made from cutting strips of newspaper, tying together, and fluffing.
Centerpieces were flowers cut from Elizabeth's mom Jeanelle's garden. We used dishes from the church, where the shower was held.
I made party favors by putting flower bulbs (and coconut fiber "moss") in peat pots with recycled/handmade paper tags.
On Sunday, a baby shower was held for Elizabeth, who is due very soon. You can't really tell from this picture, but Angie (our photographer extraordinaire) spelled out Elizabeth's baby's name by finding objects outside that looked like letters (like the gate/fences that looked like an E and H). It was very cute, and I might have to try that sometime.

This weekend, Angie's and Lafe's moms threw them a barbeque to celebrate their marriage. (Ang, Lafe has now made two appearances on my blog; tell him I'm sorry, and I'll try to cut back!)
Angie's mom, Joyce, bought and prepared so much food especially for Sissy and me. I can't even tell you how nice that is. She made vegan coleslaw, potatoes, rolls, Tofurky kielbasas, cheese dip, and fruit. She was so dismissive about what a big deal it was to me, but seriously...reason #89 why I want to move back to Missouri. It's nice to be around people who know you and love you. And go to trouble for you.
It was really nice getting to spend the day solely with Sissy. I think I do that often with Tornado and Dash, and I don't do it enough with her. It's interesting how the kids act a little bit different when they are on their own. She just seemed like a little girl, rather than a "baby." She carries a "blankie" now, though. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be any particular blanket, as I am sure we would not be able to keep up with that; any of her little blankets will do.
Trips up north also mean getting to spend time with my nieces and nephews (and brothers and sisters). I LOVE my little Pierson. I don't know what it is about him; maybe because I've hit the two year post baby mark. Biologically (not rationally), I've got "baby" on the brain. He IS, however, one of the cutest babies ever.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Ice Cream Social

Friday Night's Mystery was, once again, simple and at home because the kids and I had to leave for Missouri early the next morning. We opened this play ice cream set that Googie got for Sissy in Chicago... ...and Tornado made this sign for Sissy's table that we carried downstairs...
...and we had ourselves a little icecream social (with crushed pineapple, chopped strawberries and bananas, and sliced almonds for toppings...I'm so annoyed I forgot to set out the cherries.)
We used SoDelicious strawberry - and we also tried the new Purely Decadent line of coconut milk "icecream."
Wow - it was DELICIOUS. I think it was my favorite type of non-dairy icecream yet - and it seems, perhaps, to be the healthiest alternative so far (other than making your own.) I'm going to get another flavor to try today during our trip to Whole Foods. The porcelain cups were so little Ryan had to have a ridiculous amount of refills - the kids enjoyed filling up their own cups, too! - but it was fun.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Girls' Chicago Trip '09

My mom drove my sisters and I to Chicago last weekend for a celebration of Cary's 30th b-day, which was in April. It also worked out perfectly that it was Mother's Day weekend, and we were able to spend that time with our momma.
Cary had prepared gifts for us all to open,
one every hour during the drive from STL to Chicago.

My gifts included a $10 gift certificate to Whole Foods for snacks during our trip, my favorite gum, chap stick, a headband, and earrings she purchased at her friends' jewelry show.
You can check out Mia Sorella Designs here.

Clearly, Tracy was very excited about her Kombucha drink, which she loves.

We stayed at Hotel Felix, an eco-friendly, hip, boutique hotel.

the lobby

Karyn's Cooked was in close walking distance from our hotel.
This is probably the best vegan food in Chicago I've eaten up to this point.
It's a great restaurant all around.
I ordered the jerk tofu sandwich, which came with potatoes and coleslaw.
Tracy ate half of my sandwich...
and I ate half of hers. I think this was the Philly "Cheese Steak" if I'm not mistaken. Both were very good. I think I liked mine the best, but it was really spicy. Hurt so good. What I did not get a picture of was the fried basket combo - zucchini, tofu, and cauliflower. I don't remember the last time I had anything breaded and deep fried. It was delicious (the cauliflower was my fave), and it was served with ranch and barbeque sauces. (plus I tried some of somebody's wonderful macaroni and cheese.) My meal was so good, but I was so full. When I said I didn't think I could finish, Cary urged me on.

"Yes, you can. You just have to focus. You have to let your mind go someplace else."
Mom and I took dessert back to the hotel to eat with our in-room movie. She ordered bread pudding, and I got the coconut cream pie. That cream on top was amazing, and I can't believe it's vegan. I really wanted the chocolate pie, but I ordered that last time I was in town - and I was trying to be different. I only managed to eat half of my pie because I was so full. I saved the rest on ice and had it for breakfast.
Does anyone else out there choose their hotel due, in part, to its proximity to Whole Foods? We made a few trips here.

For breakfast, I drank the rest of my acai smoothie drink and coconut pie from the night before. Then we walked over to Whole Foods, and I ate some watermelon and one of my latest favorite snacks - Sea's Gift Roasted Seaweed Snacks. I love these...but I admit, they may not be for everyone. No one wanted to try it as it is green, sounds like you're eating paper, and well, it's called seaweed. I think they're great, though - salty and just a few calories.

Sitting in the hotel lobby, preparing for a big day on the town...we (southerners) did not adequately prepare for the nippy Chicago weather. By late afternoon, it had warmed a bit, and the next day was nice and warm.

One of my best friends (since the third grade), Sarah, lives in Chicago, and she met up with us for lunch and a little shopping in hip, artsy area of Wicker Park/Bucktown.

lunch at Handlebar Cafe
I had been to Handlebar before and had the best Buffalo "Chicken" Wrap. I wish I would have ordered that again because I loved it - but again, trying to be different. Tracy ordered that as a sandwich, didn't like it, and let me have half. I liked what I ordered - I think it was "Vegan Diablos"- it just seemed too much like something I would eat at home.
We had an afternoon "snack" at Veggie Bite, which is also in the Wicker Park/Bucktown area. (We all accidentally called it Veggie Bites all day, much to Cary's annoyance.) I'd never even heard of this place, but I will be back. I might go to Chicago again just so I can come here. The milkshakes were delectable, and they were very nice about making mine extra thick for me. Tracy got a chili cheese combo plus a taco for her "snack," heehee.

This might have been my favorite thing all weekend. Sarah ordered these chili cheese fries, and we split them. If I had seen those, I wouldn't have ordered my boring plain fries. I loved Veggie Bites, and I wish we could have eaten a whole meal there. (ha, Cary, as I was proofreading, I realized I just called it Veggie Bites again...I'm going to leave it.)
Okay, so I did order another milkshake for the "road." There, I admit it. It was like fate as we were walking down the street and passed a bit of graffiti art. It seemed like all signs were pointing to it, reassuring me of my two-milkshake decision.

I never shop. I really hardly ever do. I would say this was my first real shopping trip. Usually, I don't buy much on vacations because I feel like I already spent too much on everything else. I became a consumer this weekend, though. And it was fun! My complaint about stores is this...nothing opened until 10 or 11. And almost everything closes by 8. It's really hard to maximize your time. Stores, please lengthen your hours!

Mojo Spa smelled delicious. It seemed like most/all of their products were pretty natural. I got the lemon body scrub. I wanted to buy this delicious smelling yellow cake with chocolate frosting soap. I was afraid Dash would try to eat it, though. I did get the kids these fun little soaps.
My favorite store, apparently, was Una Mae's Freak Boutique because I bought a jacket, this hat, earrings, necklace, and another sweater, not pictured. I made three different purchase transactions because I kept seeing something else that I wanted.

Got this vintage shirt from Buffalo Exchange.
I bought this scarf from Free People. It was on sale (I think I am mentioning that to justify my consumerism.) They use shopping bags made of cute fabric, which was such a little bonus. I'm going to give it to Sissy as one of her gifts.
Cab ride back to the hotel, after a long day of shopping...we literally "shopped til we dropped." (I'm sorry; it hurt me to type that as much as it may have hurt you to read it.)
Back out for supper at Pick Me Up Cafe...I gave Cary a b-day gift during every meal.

For some reason, we had so much stress in deciding where to eat supper that night. Cary and I were secretly trying to get reservations at "Rosebud" on Rush Street, which is apparently Mom's favorite place in Chicago. She had been so giving and supportive in eating at all vegetarian places, and I wanted to do that for her. We couldn't get a reservation until 9, and we were all just kind of tired. Yet, it was too early to call it a night.

Anyway, we ended up at Pick Me Up Cafe. It was fine. Not my favorite (It wasn't all vegetarian, and it probably wasn't a place I would have chosen to take Mom) but lots of vegan options to choose from so much better for me than going to a normal restaurant. I ordered the Moo-free Pizza.
the next morning at Chicago Diner for breakfast
It always nice to go to Chicago Diner, my first love. Wish I could have gotten one of their delicious sandwiches or entrees while we were in town, but it's hard to pass up a vegan breakfast. I do love breakfast food. I had a sausage patty, bacon, french toast, fruit, and two pancakes with berry sauce. In my defense, I only ordered one pancake, but they mistakenly made two. Bonus. It was all very yummy.
I wasn't going to get another milkshake. Honestly, I wasn't. But I did.
Chocolate/chocolate chip cookie dough. That's all I need to say.

We made reservations at Karen's Raw
after shopping the little area of CB2, Crate and Barrel, Land of Nod, etc.
We really needed to get on the road, though, as we were already looking at an a.m. arrival time. When we got there, we realized it was a $30/person buffet. The food on the buffet looked really fun, and I wanted us all to try it. However, no one really felt like we were $15/person hungry, let alone $30.

Cary and I got these slushies that were delicious. Mine was acai berry on the bottom, goji berry on the top. I could have drank three of those in a row. I also got a walnut pate/sprouts/tomato/avacado/onion sandwich and a coconut/carob raw "cheese" cake for the road home. They were both pretty good. Not to mention my Acqua Panna water. I am pretty picky about my water, as it is mostly the only thing I drink. I am not too fond of spring water normally, but this kind doesn't have that weird spring water aftertaste. Plus, it comes in a glass bottle, which tasted, well, less plastic-y.

There was plenty of singing going on in the car. You need to maximize this picture to truly appreciate Cary's effort. After much debate over which was the quickest route (it is so clear where we girls get our stubborn, always-think-we're-right personalities), Mom drove the entire way home. (Did I mention how stubborn she is?) I think we got home between 2:30-3:00 a.m. I had a lovely little Mother's Day card (not to mention, the house was very picked up) waiting for me on the counter. It was so good to kiss my sleeping little ones who I missed dearly.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo '09 was a hit.

Tornado just finished off the leftover bowl of jicama yesterday. He couldn't get enough of it. Dash and Sissy ate it okay, nothing special to them. I'm trying to go a little more "green" with my parties. As a lover of all things balloon-y and decorative, it's a challenge for me. However, I made steps this time by not getting paper plates and napkins and decorating with items like potted flowers and pineapples and bananas. (and reusing what I already own) I don't know - do bananas work for "Mexican"? I think so. I was thinking of the song we always sang in elementary - "Mama Paquita," but I just looked it up, and apparently it's Brazilian.
It may look like I photoshopped in those moustaches, but they were really wearing them. And that's also Ryan's real chest hair, heehee. :) These two had a little too much fun posing for me.
Mi senorita bonita even insisted on wearing a moustache, but she took if off to down her pineapple margarita. (I used Santa Cruz pineapple coconut juice mixed with frozen pineapple, and it was one of the best smoothies we've had in awhile.)
I think the moustache was having a sobering effect on Tornado because Ryan took about five pictures of us, and he couldn't quite get a good one.
yummy nachos
For dessert, I veganized this recipe for banana quesadillas. (And I added chopped bananas inside because it seemed to make it healthier.) It was good; everyone polished theirs off - especially Dash, in record speed. I wished I would have waited to serve them until they were cool because I think they tasted better after they had sat for awhile. That's what I would do next time.