This is just a short little anecdote that happened this morning. I make my kids’ lunches everyday but my older one is in middle school now where he can also get something there if he so desires~ a mango smoothie, Doritos, or whatever he feels is missing from his lunch that day. I’m not thrilled with his options which seem to include every chip that has ever graced a grocery store shelf, but I do not tell him things are off-limits because really, he could get whatever he wanted and I’d never know. I encourage him to try things while being aware of what is actually in his food. This morning he asked, “If they want us to eat healthy, why do they provide so much junk food?” A very good question indeed. They make the kids who buy a full lunch take raw veggies from the salad bar, as if that will balance out the meal, but of course kids just throw away what they don’t want. Salad bars are great in lunch rooms, but sometimes I think they give permission to make the rest of the food nutritionally void and allow vending machines full of junk in the cafeteria. My son has a very good point, why allow that stuff at all? Why not make foods with veggies naturally in them~ soups, lasagna, enchiladas, tacos, casseroles, chilies, stir fries, etc…? Actually, I heard about a school cafeteria that has a stir fry bar which I think is better than a salad bar by far. The kids pick out meat and veggies and have them stir fried with rice or noodles while trying different sauces and flavors and most likely trying different veggies as they compare lunches with their friends. It’s eating a meal with the vegetable in it and enjoying it, not plopping some raw veggies down next to their pizza and either eating them because of a sense of duty or just pitching them. Plus everyone knows it is easier to get the nutrition out of a cooked vegetable than a raw one. It seems the school cafeterias are set up to perpetuate the notion that kids only like junk food but will possibly eat some healthy stuff if they are made to do it in small amounts, on the side. That is not giving kids enough credit. They deserve more.
Our summer began much the same way as last year’s summer, with a trip to Louisville, KY to see family. This year we ate multiple times at Annie May’s Sweet Café and were even picked up from the airport with big pretzels from there (thanks Mom!!) which were the first we have had in years and something my youngest misses very much. They only have them on Wednesdays and if you really want a lot of them you best get there early. If you find yourself there on another day there are plenty of other delicious foods to eat though~ I recommend getting a sandwich while my oldest adores the soup there and the carrot cake cupcake. My youngest had a ‘super cookie’ which he thought more than lived up to its name and in fact all the sweets we tried did not disappoint. They have a sign that says they deliver which my son got all excited about until I explained that meant deliveries around town, not to Seattle. Talk about bursting someone’s bubble.
We also went to Holiday World again and was even more impressed with their gluten-free options than last year. (Disneyland/world take notes please!) Besides the fact you can find allergy free food as well as just gluten-free food about anywhere in the park, they now set up a little stand that is completely gluten-free.
We flew on Delta and brought our own food which was good since the free snacks were cookies or pretzels. The boys used to be able to eat those cookies so that was sad, but they got over it while sipping ginger ale and eating from their over-stuffed food bags. I had packed enough for an all day delay like the one we experienced last year and since the flights went actually well we ended up with a lot of left-over food. Delta does have one gluten-free option for buying food, something snack-y and overpriced of course, but at least if you are starving you do have something to eat.
We came home to a ripped-up kitchen (husband is remodeling) and continually high 80s and 90 degree heat with no A/C so cooking has not exactly been my favorite pastime thus far this season. I tend to love the heat but after a few evenings of sweating through dinner prep even I am ready for a break in the high temperatures. The farmers market on Saturdays is booming with berries already though with the best blueberries in June I’ve ever had, and my friend just brought over fresh picked raspberries last night and those are the best I’ve ever tasted in any month so I guess the sun and heat are working for some things. I sure hope this means we’ll have an extra long berry season and not just an early one that is over as quickly as it popped up. After the trip to see family my sons were a little sick of photos but I had to take this of the Saturday Farmers Market. There are less gluten-free vendors there this year but my oldest still gets his favorite street tacos there and my youngest has discovered kettle corn. It’s worth the trip for those alone.
Halloween is a mixed-emotion day for anyone with food allergies or intolerances. It’s hard to be a kid and go from the excitement of having a bag full of candy to the disappointment of setting aside all the forbidden ones. Luckily Halloween has always been more about the dressing up than the candy for my kids , but it’s still always a big let-down when they sort their goodies. I try to have extra gluten-free, dairy-free candy here that the can trade for the stuff in their bags, including some of their favorite chocolates that they are certainly not going to find trick-or-treating. It helps. And it also gives them some character really, to have to show some judgment, understand consequences, give up some things that are hard to give up because it’s the healthier choice for them. They get to learn it isn’t the end of the world to part with some candy and that is a lesson in emotional maturity that I can be thankful for. They handle it, and so do I. Let’s enjoy this day everyone! Be safe and have fun.
When I looked for recipes online for vegan cream of broccoli soup I found a lot of recipes with cashews. My oldest and I do not do nuts very well, or at least our stomachs don’t, so those recipes obviously wouldn’t do. I looked at regular cream of broccoli soup recipes but was reluctant to try a complicated recipe with so many substitutions required, so I was pleased when I finally found a recipe that used white beans for the ‘cream’ part. I tweaked the recipe a bit because it was a simple recipe and easy to add to it, but the bulk of it comes from Tasty Yummies, so thank you TY!
It’s hard to make green soup look good, but trust me, it tastes like a dream. My oldest was so excited he ate it every day for three days straight and loved every drop. I served it with garlic bread sticks which I make almost every day anyway, by taking Trader Joe’s flat breads
or a gluten-free baguette if we happen to have one, (if we do it is Olivia’s Super Free or Wildflour brand). Whether I use the flatbreads or baguettes, I preheat the oven to 425, spread about 1/2 t olive oil on a piece of bread, add crushed garlic and Tuscan Sea Salt which has Italian herbs added into it, then bake for 10 minutes, or less if the baguettes are room temperature. Truth be told, I make breadsticks so often I actually just have all the ingredients in a jar of olive oil so I can just scoop it out and rub it on the bread, no garlic crushing or salt sprinkling required. Anything to get dinner on the table faster, right?!
Vegan Cream of Broccoli Soup:
1 head of broccoli
1 chopped leek
1 chopped yellow onion
enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a soup pot
3-5 garlic cloves, crushed
1 15oz can of cannelloni beans
2.5 C veggie broth
Sea Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1 t. Herbs d’Provence
First steam the chopped broccoli for about 3 minutes, until nice and bright green. Sauté the onion, garlic, and leek in a soup pot until translucent, sprinkle with the Herbs d’Provence, then add in the beans and broth. Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat and add in the broccoli. Once cooled a bit, puree in a blender until smooth~ it doesn’t take long. Add salt and pepper to taste, then scoop out with a bread stick and eat your fill guilt-free since this is one ‘creamy’ soup that is low in fat and high in fiber as well as highly nutritious. For a blended soup, this was exceptionally quick and easy. Definitely will go into my week night meal rotation.
Have you been looking for a gluten-free, dairy free, nut free, and egg free graham cracker? Schar has you covered.
I don’t know about you, but after three weeks of making school lunches and snacks for two, I was about out of fresh ideas. Then I saw these new lovelies at my local Whole Foods and my mind raced with excitement~ grahams with sun butter, or peanut butter, or vegan cream cheese! Smores for a special treat! Taken as they are for a snack! And of course, covering them in (dairy free) chocolate because I don’t care how old you are nor how sophisticated your palate, everyone loves chocolate covered graham crackers.
Now I know people who professionally cover things in chocolate have a big routine with the melting and the hand mixing and spreading and all that, but really you can do these very simply and trust me, they taste divine. All I did was take apart a dark chocolate bar (Endangered Species brand)
then dipped the grahams (with the help of tongs) and let them cool down and solidify on wax paper:
I then tried melting and dipping with some Enjoy Lifevegan chocolate chips I happened to have in my cupboard and they turned out to have a more milk chocolate taste and were also slightly lighter in color as you can maybe see in the picture. They then went into the refrigerator for further solidifying and safe keeping. They would last a week in the fridge if my sons let them, but chances are they have three days at most.
These were so easy and such a rare treat I think this will be what I do for my kids’ birthday celebrations in their classrooms this year. Each child will get two along with a few strawberries, and I can guarantee not a one will miss the gluten, dairy, eggs, or nuts. So much better than cupcakes and if anyone doesn’t like chocolate (I’ve heard a rumor these people exist) then they can have some plain Schar grahams which are a tasty treat in their own right. Perfect!
This is a little bit off topic from my norm here, but an old English major can only go so long without writing about books. Isn’t there a saying~ “You can graduate the English major from school but you can’t take the schooling out of the English major”….or something along those lines. My boys have been reading their own books, often in bed but also on lazy afternoons and rainy Saturdays for years now, but I have continued to also read them bedtime stories which means finding a book they both want to hear. This isn’t actually too hard since they are less than two years apart and share many interests but still takes some hunting. Plus we also listen to books in the car, sometimes the same one as we are reading aloud but usually not, so we have been exposed to quite a lot of children’s literature. My oldest the other day asked me what had been my favorite book so far in our reading aloud category and it got me thinking of all the amazing stories out there that really have been a pleasure to share with my little guys, so I thought I’d compile a list here of some of those favorites to share with anyone looking for ideas for their own family or classrooms.
These aren’t in any particular order other than what my memory coughs up, and I’m going to add links to amazon just for convenience sake. We got most of these from our local library ourselves.:
1. Nurk by Ursula Vernon This book is about a shrew (!) who goes on an adventure. The suspense, relationships, and vocabulary are all pitch perfect. He grows in believable ways through understandable adversities that aren’t kid-ified. Vernon also wrote the Dragonbreath series which I didn’t read but it was the first series that really captured my youngest’s fancy and made him into a real reader on his own time. Ages 5-9
2. Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr It seriously takes an exceptional book to keep my sons’ interests if the main character is a girl. They loved this book where this young girl is on an island all by herself and shows a degree of intelligence and self-reliance that is not often seen in this age of helicopter parenting. There is also a bit of animal communication which is always appealing to at least my own kids, and the author keeps the child-like perspective in mind the whole time without ever being condescending, silly, or forced. Well done. Best guess~ 6-9 year olds.
3. Stuart Little by E.B. White How did I get through childhood without reading this one? My kids tell me all the time that they aren’t “in” to classics but both loved this one. It’s a classic for a reason. And ageless.
4. Circle of Doom by Tim Kennemore Despite the dark sounding title, this is a laugh-out-loud book, especially if you have a big family, are from a big family, or have a connection to a big family. The hilarity revolves around the family dynamics of the three siblings who each think they are outwitting the others. The parents make pretty funny appearances as well. Kennemore has done a fabulous job taking archetypal family members that anyone can recognize and making them seriously funny. 7-13~ really easy read but there are a couple of bad words (like the ‘d’ word) so when reading aloud I just changed them. I feel like I should clarify, when I say “easy read” that doesn’t account for the fact that a lot of the hilarity is nuanced and I actually laughed more than my kids did because of that aspect, so maybe the age recommendation should actually be 7-39.
5. The Silverwing Trilogy by Kenneth Oppel We actually listened to the first book of this in our car (on CD) and now my boys are reading the second book themselves. This is told from the point of view of a silverwing bat and the drama that he and his friends and family go through is epic, exciting, sometimes gruesome and other times beautiful. There are also lessons in religious fanaticism layered in and several mythologies made up entirely by Oppel. He is an extremely creative author and this trilogy is an award winner. We’ve read two other books by him, The Boundless and Airborn, which my sons liked though I think they are better read by a slightly older reader (12+) due to the romantic relationships and the fact that Oppel makes his bad guys excruciatingly evil. He does this in Silverwing too, but somehow the evil bats are not quite as hard to take as the evil people. Ages 8-12.
6. Of course the crème de la crème is Harry Potter. We have read these aloud, listened to them in the car, my oldest has read and reread the books 2-4 times each and my youngest has read them at least once. Oh yes, and watched the movies. J.K. Rowling is brilliant. Enough said. Ageless.
He is also a fan of the Dragons of Wayward Crescent series by Chris D’Lacey. These are unique in that there are smaller chapter books for the starter readers, and also bigger books for the more advanced. I did read one or two of these aloud and found them charmingly suspenseful, and perfectly suited to a child’s imagination. Ages 6-12, depending on the book.
Both my boys (and therefore I have too) have listened to all of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jacksons and Heroes stories in the car on CD. They have passed the time on many long car trips but I have to say my sons have enjoyed them more than I have. Even they will point out similarities to Harry Potter story lines though, not that he copied but if you are writing after Rowling, you might want to make an effort to keep it as different as possible when you have two boys and a girl going on missions and the main character is a reluctant hero who had no idea of his special-ness up until book one.
For lighter reads, both my boys like the Aldo Zelnick series by Karla Oceanak. These seem to have a similar reading experience as Wimpy Kid with a more likeable main character. Ages 7-12
I will probably keep adding to this list but I will stop for now. OK, just two more~ we just started the Molly Moon series by Georgia Byng and it alternates between funny and suspenseful in an ever delightful way. And if my sons were writing this post they would include Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits by Michael D. Beil. This alternates between two narrators, a boy and a cat. As I said, my boys would recommend it, not sure it’s in my top 10, well yes I am sure and it isn’t. But it’s all about keeping the kids interested in reading, right?
If you have a child in school these days then you surely have heard of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math.) It’s the big thing right now~ there are STEM schools, STEM measurements, and people compare the STEM-ness of schools when making decisions about where their child will go. Personally, I’m wondering where creativity fits into science, technology, engineering, and math. It seems to me innovation is tied to creativity and we need to foster that in our children just as much as the other things. Not only that, but creativity gives people the space to appreciate art, music, literature, and all the things that still exist beyond our screens. Our kids will be proficient in computers, that’s a given, but do we really want to tie our futures so inseparably with modern technology? Has there really been nothing of use in the world up until the computer chip was invented? What about the natural world? Science seems centered on dissecting it, but what about giving kids the chance to appreciate it? Breathe it. Realize they live in it along with billions of other beings and need to think about that fact. An example of what I’m talking about is the fact our school district does not have art teachers. There are volunteer parents that go in and teach art to classes at most once per month, but often a lot less. Why are we teaching these kids that art in not that important? They have music and PE and library at least once per week, but art for some reason is not valued enough to have at least a weekly class with a trained teacher. This just blows my mind. Kids get so much out of art class and I’m not just referring to the kids who are gifted in it. When I go in and help with art lessons I’m always struck by the highly intellectual students who are astounded they can make something aesthetically pleasing with their own hands, and the hyper-active students who can focus on something that is truly their own, and the quiet students who love being able to work on something as an individual and not be overwhelmed with the constant group activities that are also so vogue in modern education. It gives students a place to pause and consider what art means to them, to recognize every single one of them has some creativity and how good it feels to express it, and to understand it is valuable to work on something purely for aesthetic reasons. These are just a few of things that I see falling out of schools in favor of STEM, and I’d like to propose a post-STEM environment focused on Creativity and Nature. Computers will be integrated in their lives more and more with textbooks changing into tablets, research done on Google, Kindergarteners giving PowerPoint presentations~ that’s all part of the modern world and I’m not trying to stop it, there just needs to be some focus on what goes on outside of a screen and perhaps inside of a head. Of course, I have to bring up the Edible Schoolyard Project as I so often do because it embraces nature and creativity both in such a beautiful balance, and in an increasingly teched-out world kids need to be reminded of the importance of these things. Isn’t education about expanding the mind after all…? It certainly can’t just be about learning how to use a single tool. Our kids are brighter than that and they deserve more.