Monday, December 11, 2006

No Child Left Behind (NCLB)

No Child Left Behind is coming up for reauthorization in 2007. I encourage you to go to this website: A Petition Calling for the Dismantling of the No Child Left Behind Act. It has some information on why it's a bad law. Even if you choose not to sign the petition, which is open to all U.S. citizens, please read the information so that you can be informed about some of the problems wrong with this legislation.

Basically, each state sets its own standards for curriculum, what is taught in schools at various grades, and the criteria for becoming a teacher. NCLB is an attempt to standardize that for all fifty states. It has functioned poorly. In my opinion, it has been disastrous for public education in this country. There are many problems with public education, to be sure, but NCLB is not the solution. I encourage you to sign the petition. Thank you.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Vegan Peppermint Ice Cream

I previously posted a Vegan Pumpkin Ice Cream recipe that I am now only moderately happy with, but I promise that you'll like this one.

3 cups plain Silk creamer
1/3 cup oil
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp xanthum gum
2 tsp peppermint extract
1/2 cup sandwich-type cookies, crushed (4 Candy Cane Joe-Joe's)

In a blender or food processor, combine all ingredients except the cookies. Pour into ice cream maker and freeze according to its instructions. During the last five minutes, add the crushed cookies.

I've been making vegan ice creams for a little while now, but it was one of those synchronicity things that got me to this point. I found a great recipe in The Voluptuous Vegan by Myra Kornfeld. It was for a peanut butter banana ice cream. The author provided a recipe that included heating the ingredients and using arrowroot powder as a thickener. She also provided an alternative method that did not require heating and used xanthum gum. Around this same time, I bought some Mudslinger's Freestyle vegan ice cream. Reading the ingredients, I noticed the use of xanthum and/or guar gum. Then because it was designated a Blog of Note, I visited A Vegan Ice Cream Paradise. Which made me intrigued about making soy ice cream with a soy creamer rather than silken tofu.

So, I picked up some Bob's Red Mill xanthum gum; I quit using silken tofu in my ice creams, and replaced it with Silk creamer. This is the best vegan ice cream I've made so far; I'm really pleased with the texture of it, it stays creamy and doesn't get so icy, and the flavor is fantastic.

Christmas Music Interlude #2

Last weekend, I added more Christmas songs to my MP3 player. I am now up to 333 songs. Jingle Bells is still #1 with 20 versions; I included Lionel Hampton's Swingle Jingle this time. At #2 again is Winter Wonderland with 16 different versions. Tied at #3 is White Christmas and The Christmas Song with 15 versions each. Rising up to #4 is Silent Night, with 11 versions, including Enya's Oiche Chiun. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is at #5 with 10 versions. There is a three-way tie for 6th place with 9 versions each of Sleigh Ride, Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town, and Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Joining the list at #7 is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with 8 versions. Blue Christmas is still #8 with 7 versions. And there is anothe tie for 9th place with What Are You Doing New Year's Eve and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen with 6 versions each.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Italian Stuffing

Here is the Italian stuffing recipe from my mother-in-law:

1 lb. hamburger
1 package Jimmie Dean
1 large onion, diced
2 cups Minute Rice
6 eggs
3/4 cup parmesan cheese
Lawrey's seasoning salt

Cook rice. Cook hamburger, sausage, and onion; after cooked, drain. Mix all ingredients in pan and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

I don't know how authentically Italian this is, but it is one dish my wife loves and we have incorporated it into our holiday meals. This year, I attempted a vegan version of it:

1 package (12 oz.) Smart Ground "hamburger crumbles"
1 14 oz. package Gimme Lean sausage
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
2 cups Minute Rice - brown
1 1/2 cups silken tofu
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/4 cup plain soymilk
1 cup vegan parmesan
Lawry's seasoning salt, to taste

Brown the sausage with the onion and garlic; add hamburger to warm through. Cook rice while you're browning the sausage. In a food processor or blender, combine silken tofu, nutritional yeast, and soymilk until smooth. Mix all ingredients in pan and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

I'll probably still play with this, but I was really trying to duplicate the recipe as faithfully as I could and make it vegan.

Lawry's seasoning salt consists of salt, sugar, paprika, turmeric, onion, and garlic. I may replace it with my own homemade seasoning mix of those spices in the future.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Vegan Thanksgiving Wrap-Up

So, here's what we had for Thanksgiving this year:

Of course, we had the Unturkey by Now & Zen. Sadly, it now appears that they have gone out of business. Someone over at Vegan Represent first told me the news, and Now & Zen's website is now gone.

I made three different stuffings this year. First, I veganized my mother-in-law's italian stuffing. I also made the Wild Mushroom Stuffing from Robin Robertson's Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker. I also made Giada De Laurentiis' Ciabatta Stuffing, again veganized.

For our vegetable side dishes, I made Sweet Cinnamon-Maple Glazed Baby Carrots from Nava Atlas' Vegetarian Family Cookbook. I also made Brussels sprouts from Rachael Ray's recipe.

You also have to have mashed potatoes, so I cooked up some yukon golds. And we also opted to use Rachael Ray's recipe for Smashed Sweet Potatoes this year rather than baked sweet potatoes.

My mom usually makes macaroni and cheese, but this year, I made a vegan version so I could have some too. I used a cheezy sauce adapted from the Joanne Stepaniank's UnCheese Cookbook. To that, we added some vegan cheese, topped it all with some bread crumbs and baked the whole thing for twenty minutes at 350 degrees.

To top it all off, I made sweet potato pie. I'm still working on this recipe; when I get it down to my satisfaction, I'll post it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Christmas Music Interlude #1

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I officially began my Christmas music binge. I loaded 235 songs onto my MP3 player. Jingle Bells comes in at #1 with 14 different versions, #2 is Winter Wonderland with 11 versions, #3 is a tie between White Christmas and The Christmas Song, with 10 versions each, #4 is Let it Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! with 9 versions, #5 is another tie between Sleigh Ride and Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town, with 8 versions each, #6 is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas with 7 different versions, #7 is Silent Night, #8 is the last tie with What Are You Doing New Year's Eve? and Blue Christmas, with 5 versions each.

Sadly Waiting

I thought it was time I posted the poem whose title I borrowed for this blog. A couple of years ago I taught a poetry lesson, the sestina, and had my students write poems in this style. After that we worked with Susan Sibbet, through California Poets in the Schools. She came in once a week for eight weeks or so and taught poetry writing to my students. I have worked with Susan for several years and each year I ask her back because I love how she brings out another side of my students that as their regular classroom teacher I don't always see. Well, every few years, the poets, like Susan, are able to nominate poems to be published in their yearly anthology. Well, that year, one of the poems she submitted was Matthew's poem, Sadly Waiting for Recess, and it was published in that year's anthology. This gives you some idea of what kind of person Susan Sibbet is. She chose a poem to submit from a lesson that she did not teach; I took it as a high compliment and a sign of her generous nature, that, and the quality of Matthew's poem.

To find a review of Susan's latest book, No Easy Light, you my go to Verse or to NewPages. You can also find more information about her and her book at Sixteen Rivers Press.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Sadly Waiting for Recess

Recess is ages away,
when will it be recess?
I wait and I wait.
Walking in circles.
Just waiting for recess to come.
Now I just want to smash clocks

Circles remind me of clocks.
I really just can't wait!
To get outside running huge circles.
Please let recess come!
Now I need to get away.
Come, recess!

I need to fast-forward time so I don't need to wait
Clocks need to be faster so recess can come.
We all need recess.
Why do I hate clocks
Is it because I want time to go away
The teacher is yelling at me because I'm walking in circles.

Why wait?
I could just sneak to recess.
Who cares about clocks.
We don't need to learn shapes that look like circles.
Let recess come!
I wish I could fly away.

Who am I kidding? I must wait
If I need to get away
The decorations look like clocks
They're all in shapes like circles
I must go to all my classes before they come
Look, it's almost recess!

5 minutes before recess!
I almost can go away!
No more waiting!
Goodbye clocks.

by Matthew Lau

Monday, November 20, 2006

Last ACR Picture

Just for fun: Can you see the spider?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More from Audubon Canyon Ranch

Here is another picture from Audubon Canyon Ranch. I just like this one. I think it's framed really well. I like all the colors, layers, and textures in this photo. I like pictures of nature as my screensaver; I find them relaxing and pleasant to look at. Hope you like it too.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Audubon Canyon Ranch

A week or three ago I took my class on a field trip to Audubon Canyon Ranch. It was the best field trip I've ever been on as a teacher. I took my digital camera and took quite a few pictures. I decided to share some of them here.

I like this one because of the moss hanging from the trees. It has a very southern feel, and yet it's on the coast of northern California. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Battle Cranberry

I am such a food geek. I have been looking forward to (and am now watching - 9:24 p.m.) Iron Chef America with Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay versus Rachael Ray and Mario Batali.

I really wish the Food Network had a vegetarian and/or vegan show, but that doesn't stop me from watching all the time and picking up cooking tips.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Election Day

I voted yesterday. Did you?

I still don't know all the election results. I know some things went the way I wanted and others did not. Oh well... our democratic republic in action.

I vote in every election. And because I am a teacher, I make sure I talk it up with my students. Especially since I teach fifth graders, who study American history. We teach them the basics of our government as established by the founding fathers. I want them to see that voting is living history, and that when they are of age, they will be able to vote. Too many don't take the right to vote seriously, and I want to do what I can to make sure my students won't be like that when they're adults.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Vegan Pumpkin Ice Cream

Here's my recipe for vegan pumpkin ice cream. It's that time of year!

2 cups silken tofu
1/2 cup soymilk
1/2 cup oil (canola)
3/4 cup dry sweetener (sugar)
1/4 cup maple syrup

1 can pumpkin (15 oz.)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves

1) Process the tofu, soymilk, oil, and sweeteners in a food processor until smooth. 2) Add the pumpkin and spices. Continue to process until well-mixed. 3) Pour ingredients into your ice cream maker, following its directions for freezing. (Mine takes 25 minutes). 4) Enjoy.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Good News

I've been working on my other blogs, one is part of my vocation and the other purely as an avocation, and "Sadly Waiting for Recess" has been sadly neglected. One, I had a really hard summer. I've been procrastinating writing about it because I've been living it, and reliving it in writing just hasn't been sounding like a good idea to me. Two, I've been rethinking this whole blog in the first place. But I think I've decided to keep posting things from time to time. Three, I've been doing a lot of writing in my journal at home. So my writing lately has been of a much more personal nature and not something that I'm willing to share.

I always check out the Blogs of Note and this post on All Things Biodiesel caught my eye, as I work in San Francisco.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Eating Vegan in Las Vegas

My wife and I went to Vegas for my 40th birthday. I was more concerned about eating vegan and eating well (and by well I mean healthily) in Las Vegas this time than I think I was four years ago, the last time we went.

I did get some tips and hints from a couple of on-line veg*n forums. I also stumbled across Surviving as a Vegetarian in Las Vegas.

A couple of places I would definitely recommend, and they both happen to be in the Alladin. One is the Spice Market Buffet. It's one of the best buffets on the stip, especially for vegetarians. They have a Mediterranean station with pita, falafels, hummus, baba ghanoush, dolmas, and tabouli. There was also an Asian station that had a stir-fried vegetables dish, including baby bok choy and lots of broccoli, and a spicy eggplant dish that wasn't really that spicy, though the eggplant was excellently prepared, considering that it's a buffet. Of course, there's always salad, and the American station did have asparagus and mushrooms that were quite nice.

I would also recommend P.F. Chang's. Apparently, this is a chain restaurant. I was not familiar with it before because there is not one in the San Francisco Bay Area that I'm aware of. Anyway... the food is excellent and there are many vegan options. There were nine vegetarian entrees, so plenty to choose from. We ordered the Coconut-Curry Vegetables, the Garlic Snap Peas, and the Vegetarian Ma Po Tofu. We also ordered Chang's Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps and the Vegetable Dumplings for appetizers. Our waiter was excellent (his name was John) and quickly picked up on my being vegetarian. He pointed out that the soy sauce was not vegan because of the sugar, and he brought us brown rice even though we didn't request it. The Lettuce Wraps were my favorite, and the Ma Po Tofu was nice and spicy.

We also ate at the Taqueria Canonita in the Venetian. It has an excellent location at the end of the canal, where the gondoliers turn the gondolas around for the return trip and belt out some Italian song for all the onlookers. We went there because the last time we went they had these excellent tofu tacos. Sadly, the tofu tacos are now gone. Yes, I did complain to the waiter. But I was able to get three tacos filled with mushrooms; it was an option on the menu, and they were quite tasty. But I was still disappointed about not having the tofu tacos.

We had a bad experience with the buffet at Paris. My wife really wanted to go there for breakfast because she heard it was really good. We got up a little late that morning (we had been up till 3 a.m. - but that's another story) and arrived around 10:30. After waiting in line for over half an hour, we were finally seated. Oh, did I mention the jackhammer? They were doing some renovation, and yes, some guy was actually using a jackhammer. Okay, so I was hungry, a little hungover, and irritated by the jackhammer. I wanted to leave but stuck it out because I knew Kelley really wanted to eat there. Because of the renovation there weren't as many seats available; no one wanted to sit too close to all that noise, which you really couldn't escape anywhere in the buffet. So, at 11:00 they begin switching over from breakfast to lunch. Kelley's waiting in line for eggs, which she really wanted, when the guy serving the eggs says that the lady two or three people ahead of her in line would be the last one getting eggs; she was not happy. They had already pulled the oatmeal and the other hot cereal (I don't remember what it was) and replaced them with soups, neither of which was vegetarian. So, a word of caution buffet eaters: pay attention to the times for breakfast and lunch, because they might change it on you while you're waiting in line.

We had breakfast our last day there at the Big Kitchen Buffet at Bally's, where we were staying. It was quite good. I had grits, which I love, and Kelley was able to finally get her eggs. Unlike many of the other buffets we've eaten at, including at the Luxor, Excalibur, Alladin, and Paris, the buffet at Bally's has natural light pouring in from the windows. No, there wasn't really any view to speak of, but it was pleasant to eat in natural light, while the other buffets are all enclosed or underground. And the food and service was good.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Summer Reading List

So, I decided that one of my summer projects would be to get lots of reading done. It's really hard for me to get much reading done when I'm working, so I always try to read as many books as I can over the summer. Last weekend, I went through my bookshelves and made a list of all the books I've started and haven't finished yet. I decided I should probably read those first. Here goes...

I'm reading several self-help books, including two by Phillip C. McGraw (Dr. Phil): Self Matters and The Ultimate Weight Solution. I'm also reading Self-Esteem by Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning, Never Good Enough by Monica Ramirez Basco, Overcoming Anger by Carol D. Jones, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, and Life's Greatest Lessons by Hal Urban. I recently finished Undoing Depression by Richard O'Connor, and I have two other books on depression that I haven't started yet, but that I hope to get to this summer: I Don't Want to Talk About It by Terrence Real and Breaking the Patterns of Depression by Michael D. Yapko.

I don't read as much fiction these days, but have been reading quite a few history books: Band of Brothers by Stephen E. Ambrose, Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis, The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell, and An Intimate History of Humanity by Theodore Zeldin. After I finish Ambrose's book, I'll watch the mini-series; I still haven't seen all the episodes even though I own it on DVD. And then I'll probably start his book on Lewis and Clark, Undaunted Courage, that two of my uncles highly recommended to me.

I also have an interest in eastern religions, so I'm reading The Tao of Inner Peace by Diane Dreher, The Dhammapada, translated by Eknath Easwaran, and The Te of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff, the sequel to The Tao of Pooh.

I'm usually reading something that has to do with teaching, and now is no exception with The Conspiracy of Ignorance by Martin L. Gross and The Excellent 11 by Ron Clark.

I'm also usually reading something on fatherhood or parenting, and currently I'm reading Father Courage by Elizabeth Brown Levine and Zen and the Art of Fatherhood by Steven Lewis.

My interests in music, notably jazz, are fulfilled by West Coast Jazz by Ted Gioia and The Masters of Bebop by Ira Gitler.

Besides flipping through my various vegan cookbooks, I'm also reading a couple of related books, Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating by Erik Marcus and How to Read a French Fry by Russ Parsons.

And with my father being sick with terminal cancer, I'm reading FatherLoss by Neit Chethik.

I actually am reading two fiction books, The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien and Dreamcatcher by Stephen King. And after reading Dan Brown's books, I'm making my way through two books edited by Dan Burstein, Secrets of the Code and Secrets of Angels & Demons.

And, finally, down to the last three, which are all kind of off by themselves: Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, The Sudoku Code by Francis Heaney & Frank Longo, and Touching the Void by Joe Simpson.

I'm not sure exactly what this list of books says about me, other than delineating my interests and showing what's going on with me at this time in my life. It also seems a little anal retentive that I'm trying to finish all these books that I've already started before staring any new ones, but then I clearly haven't been very successful in that, because I seem to be always putting aside some book and picking up a new one that interests me.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

School's Out

I'm back after a long absence. The last day of school was Thursday, June 15. It was just so crazy those last few weeks of school, that I didn't have the time or energy to post anything, but now that I'm off for the summer, I will try to post something every weekday. Weekends, as always, are family time, and I try to stay off the computer.

I had a really bad attitude the last two weeks of school. As a teacher, you just get tired. It's almost as bad as new parent tired. Going to work was exhausting. I wasn't sleeping well. We were spending more and more time practicing for the fifth grade promotion ceremony, and I was spending less and less time actually teaching. I love teaching! If I could just teach, and not do any of the administrative stuff (report cards - yuck!) I would be a happy man. It's a little sad as the school year winds down, but I wasn't feeling that this year. I was feeling very out of sorts - resentful of all the time I was putting into the promotion ceremony. Parents just assume that we're going to put it on, but I don't really see it as my job. I would really like the parents to ask me and my fellow fifth grade teacher to put so much time, energy, and enthusiasm into it, but they didn't and I felt very taken for granted. I was hired to teach, not prepare students for a one-hour promotion ceremony. The time we put into it does not seem justified by how quickly it's over. And it's really for the parents, not for the students, and certainly not for me. I'm so stressed by the whole process, that it's not enjoyable for me, and doesn't provide any type of closure of the school year for me.

So, anyway, I'm really glad it's over. Now it's time for me to recharge my batteries and get myself sorted out again. And at some point, probably in July, it will dawn on me that I have to go back to work soon, and that I should start thinking about the new school year. But for now, I'm going to relax and work on myself (more about that later).

Sunday, April 30, 2006

This Weekend

We had my brother-in-law over on Saturday to celebrate the new job he starts on Monday. We had the Brooklyn Pad Thai from Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. I made a Tofu Praram by steaming some spinach, which served as the bed for the Faux Chicken from La Dolce Vegan! and the Perfect Peanut Sauce from The Garden of Vegan, both by Sarah Kramer. I made a green curry dish, primarily following the recipe on a jar of Thai Kitchen Green Curry Paste. Of course, I did not use any fish sauce and I used a vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. I added tofu, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, zucchini, red bell pepper, and straw mushrooms. It turned out well, though next time I'm also going to add some baby corn.

When I was at Trader Joe's buying soymilk, some Thai Kitchen Thai Iced Tea caught my eye. I picked up the can and quickly scanned the ingredients, all four of them: water, pure cane sugar, whole milk powder, and black tea. Then, beneath that, I noticed it said "Gluten-free" and "Vegan." Since when is "whole milk powder" considered vegan?

For dessert, I made the Frozen Coconut "Thaiphoon" with Mango, Lime, and Peanuts from Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson. This is the first vegan ice cream I've made without using silken tofu. The flavor was/is great, but it did turn out a little icy. I'm pretty sure I'll make it again, but I may tweak the recipe, substituting silken tofu for the soymilk and arrowroot.

For Sunday's dinner, I made the Grilled Seitan with Nouveau Bernaise Sauce from The Vegetarian Meat & Potatoes Cookbook by Robin Robertson. For dessert, we had the Banana Walnut Bars from The Garden of Vegan, but I substituted some blueberries for the walnuts.

Just because I had some cooked lentils, part of a can of corn, and half a red bell pepper in the frig, I made Wolffie's Black Bean & Lentil Salad from La Dolce Vegan! It turned out well, and will make a good dish to take to work this week for lunch.

Last Weekend

My mom came over to babysit the boys so the wife and I could go to Symphony Parnassus. They performed Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Ralph Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending, and Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1 in D "Titan." I didn't care overly much for the Barber piece. The Lark Ascending was just beautiful, and the violin playing by Dawn Harris was astounding; I would now like to own a recording of it. And the Mahler was not at all what I expected; it was the kind of work that the phrase tour de force might have been coined for. By the way, our friend, Frank Davis, is the principal trumpeter.

I made the Faux Beef from La Dolce Vegan! by Sarah Kramer, then used it instead of the tempeh in the Teriyaki-Glazed Tempeh from Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson. I made a double batch of the teriyaki, steamed some broccoli, without cooking it all the way through, then added the broccoli to the seitan and teriyaki. Of course, I also cooked some brown basmati rice on which to serve the teriyaki seitan and broccoli.

For dessert I made the Banana Hazelnut Cream Pie from Vive le Vegan! by Dreena Burton, which managed to be both light and rich simultaneously.

I made the Basic Yogurt Pancakes for breakfast on Sunday from The Vegetarian Family Cookbook by Nava Atlas. I used soy yogurt, of course, and added blueberries to them as well. I also baked the Raspberry Fig Breakfast Bars from The Garden of Vegan, but used fresh strawberries instead of the figs and raspberry jam.

For us to eat during the coming week, I made the Meat-Free Meat Loaf with Good Gravy from The Vegetarian Meat & Potatoes Cookbook by Robin Robertson. This is the best vegan "meat" loaf I've had and definitively replaces the recipe I used to use.

On Tuesday, I also made the Great Stuffed Mushrooms from The Vegetarian Meat & Potatoes Cookbook. It was a bit much to eat these with the "meat" loaf because they are really entrees all on their own. They were, however, delicious stuffed portobellos, and went really well with the Good Gravy.

Saturday, April 29, 2006


April is Jazz Appreciation Month. I realize that the month is now basically over, but I had to put a plug in for the American art form. It's the music I mostly listen to nowadays. I love it for itself, but I am seriously out of touch with what passes for pop music these days. I can't watch MTV anymore. I've even out of step with VH1. I certainly don't listen to hip hop on the radio. And I just don't understand the popularity of American Idol. Some of my idols are Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Red Garland, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Cal Tjader, and Dave Brubeck.

April is also National Poetry Month. If you're interested, here is an article about X.J. Kennedy on the website of my local public radio station, KCSM, which plays jazz, by the way. You can even listen to them live on the web here.

Food Update - Two Weeks Ago

It was Easter weekend. We had my mother and grandmother over for dinner on Sunday. I made the marinara my mother-in-law taught me how to make. I added some Tofurkey sun-dried tomato sausage links, then about ten minutes before serving, I warmed up some meatless meatballs from Trader Joe's in the sauce. We ate the sauce over some whole wheat rotelle.

As an appetizer, I made the Bruschetta with Tomatoes and Basil from Donna Klein's The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen.

I also tried two new recipes from The Vegan Gourmet by Susann Geiskopf-Hadler and Mindy Toomay. I made the Cannellini Beans in Mint Marinade and the Rice and Lentil Salad with Pimiento-Stuffed Olives. I didn't have any pimiento-stuffed olives, but I did have some picholine olives in the frig. The bean dish was good and I'll make it again, but the rice and lentil salad I will make again soon. It was delicious.

For dessert, I made the Bread Pudding from The Compassionate Cook by PETA and Ingrid Newkirk. As a topping for the bread pudding, I made the Tofu Whipped Cream from How It All Vegan! Earlier in the day, I made the Chocolate Rice Crispy Squares, also from How It All Vegan! The boys ate the rice crispy squares, the adults had bread pudding, and I had both.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Food Update - Three Weeks Ago

For our anniversary weekend, now three weeks ago, my wife wanted Indian food. So, I made the Tandoori-Inspired Tempeh from The Vegetarian Meat & Potatoes Cookbook by Robin Robertson. I substituted "chicken" seitan for the tempeh. This is the second time I've made this, and my wife says it's her new favorite. I also made the Vegetable Biryani and Cool Cucumber Salad from Sarah Kramer's La Dolce Vegan! I've made the Biryani before and it's delicious! The Cucumber Salad I made for the first time. It was great, very refreshing, and a nice contrast to the other dishes.

I also made Saag Aloo. I've made this Indian dish before from a recipe I found on the Internet, but it didn't taste nearly as good as when we order it in restaurants. So here's my take on Saag Aloo. It comes close to what I'm trying to achieve. I consider it a work in progress, so I'd certainly appreciate any feedback.

Saag Aloo
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 12 - 16 oz. spinach
  • 1 medium potato, cubed
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 can coconut milk
  1. Boil cubed potato until almost cooked, about 10 minutes.
  2. While potatoes are cooking, puree spinach in food processor.
  3. Heat oil in large saucepan, and saute the onion until translucent, adding the garlic for the last minute or two. Reduce heat to low, add the spices and cook for another minute.
  4. Add potato, pureed spinach, and coconut milk to saucepan. Stir and simmer gently until spinach is wilted and all the flavors have blended.
Serves 4.

For our friend who was baby-sitting for us, who also enjoyed the Indian dishes by the way, I made dessert. She loves chocolate, so I made the Death by Chocolate Pie from The Garden of Vegan. I realize it didn't fit in with the Indian-themed dishes, but it was decadently delicious.

California Distinguished School

We made it. The team told us back on April 4th that they were going to validate our application, which essentially meant that we will be designated as a California Distinguished School! But we had to wait until it was officially announced. This past week my principal received a call from the state superintendent, so we can finally celebrate publicly.

I was so worried that we weren't going to make it. I've been feeling a lot of anxiety over the last couple of days, a real hollow feeling in my stomach. They questioned us about how we were collaborating across all grade levels, and I knew that we really weren't. We do a lot of things across a couple of grades, like how the fourth and fifth grade teachers share writing rubrics and how we work on science because the fifth grade students are tested on science content (40% fourth grade science and 60% fifth grade science) on the STAR test. But we don't have as much set up as an entire school community, and they noted those as things we can improve on. That, and students didn't know what a standard was. They know we're using the state standards in our teaching, but not comprehensively, and not in a way that our students know what the objectives of our teaching are. I defintely feel their criticism was accurate and founded, and I appreciate how they noted them as goals for us to work on, to improve and make continual progress.

Despite those criticisms, they did observe all the things we put in our application, and felt that we accurately represented what we do here at Lafayette Elementary. They commented on the strong community we have here, amongst teachers, students, and parents; and how that community feeling ran through everything that we did.

I'm really proud to be a teacher here. I always have been. I'm in my eighth year teaching, all of them here at Lafayette. I know how lucky I am to be at such a good school. It was a good school when I was hired here, and I think it's only gotten better. I'm proud to have been a part of that. And I'm truly glad that we're beginning to get a little recognition for all the great work we do here.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Food Network Star Update

Okay, I think I called it way back on Sunday, April 2nd. I predicted Guy Fieri as the next Food Network star, and now he's one of the two finalists. I missed last week's episode, because it was our anniversary, so last night I watched three hours of The Next Food Network Star, last week's episode, plus a special two-episode pre-finale. Next week, the winner will be announced. I voted for Guy Fieri today, and so can you.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Omnivore's Dilemma

Here is a quote from an interview with Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore's Dilemma. I obtained the quote from here.

Q: What do you do if you don't have that $4 a pound for farmers' market nectarines?

A: We have to make healthy and sustainably grown food more accessible to people. As organic becomes bigger, the price is falling. But I also believe strongly that more of us can spend more on food than we think. There is probably 10 percent of the population, or 5 percent, that absolutely cannot afford to spend more, and we need to help them. We need to change the food assistance programs so you can buy produce.

For the rest of us, the amount of our income we spend on food is only 9 percent -- half what it was in the late '50s. So where has that money gone? It's going into entertainment, leisure -- cell phones and iPods and pay TV and all the things we think are essential. I'm not saying people shouldn't have those things. But if they were to make food a higher priority, if they were to appreciate its importance to their health and the health of the environment, they could spend a lot more. If we went back up to that 18 percent, we could revolutionize the food system.

And to the extent that we could move our food system from one based on quantity to one based on quality, we could make a tremendous impact not just on public health but on our pleasure, in everyday life. It seems to me if we're really going to move toward a different food system, we have to be a different kind of eater. The industrial eater wants strawberries 12 months a year, doesn't want to cook, wants to be able to eat that meal in a car. We have to reinvent ourselves as eaters in order to reinvent the food chain. It's all connected.

Eating seasonally is a big part of it, and giving up this obsession with convenience at all cost. And if we're really going to move to a new kind of eater, I think we really do have to rediscover cooking.

I'll close with a quote from former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop: "Out of 2.1 million deaths a year in the United states, 1.6 million are related to poor nutrition."

Fast Food Nation

I just finished reading Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. I know many people have already read this book, but I must recommend it. While not pleasant, I would like to share with you three paragraphs from Chapter 9, "What's in the Meat." The first paragraph briefly details how horrible it is to die from E. coli; the second describes some of the problems with slaughterhouses, mentioning specifically those of Iowa Beef Packers (IBP); and the third is very informative on past practices of the USDA:

Children under the age of five, the elderly, and people with impaired immune systems are the most likely to suffer from illnesses caused by E. coli O157:H7. The pathogen is now the leading cause of kidney failure among children in the United States. Nancy Donley, the president of Safe Tables Our Priority (STOP), an organization devoted to food safety, says it is hard to convey the suffering E. coli O157:H7 causes children. Her six-year-old son, Alex, was infected with the bug in July of 1993 after eating a tainted hamburger. His illness began with abdominal cramps that seemed as severe as labor pains. It progressed to diarrhea that filled a hospital toilet with blood. Doctors frantically tried to save Alex's life, drilling holes in his skull to relieve pressure, inserting tubes in his chest to keep him breathing, as the Shiga toxins destroyed internal organs. "I would have done anything to save my son's life," Donley says. "I would have run in front of a bus to save Alex." Instead, she stood and watched helplessly as he called out for her, terrified and in pain. He became ill on a Tuesday night, the night after his mother's birthday, and was dead by Sunday afternoon. Toward the end, Alex suffered hallucinations and dementia, no longer recognizing his mother or father. Portions of his brain had been liquified. "The sheer brutality of his death was horrifying," Donley says.

The pathogens from infected cattle are spread not only by feedlots, but also at slaughterhouses and hamburger grinders. The slaughterhouse tasks most likely to contaminate meat are the removal of an animal's hide and the removal of its digestive system. The hides are now pulled off by machine; if a hide has been inadequately cleaned, chunks of dirt and manure may fall from it onto the meat. Stomachs and intestines are still pulled out of cattle by hand; if the job is not performed carefully, the contents of the digestive system may spill everywhere. The increased speed of today's production lines makes the task much more difficult. A single worker at a "gut table" may eviscerate sixty cattle an hour. Performing the job properly takes a fair amount of skill. A former IBP "gutter" told me that it took him six months to learn how to pull out the stomach and tie off the intestines without spillage. At best, he could gut two hundred consecutive cattle without spilling anything. Inexperienced gutters spill manure far more often. At the IBP slaughterhouse in Lexington, Nebraska, the hourly spillage rate at the gut table has run as high as 20 percent, with stomach contents splattering one out of five carcasses.

For years some of the most questionable ground beef in the United States was purchaed by the USDA - and then distributed to school cafeterias throughout the country. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the USDA chose meat suppliers for its National School Lunch Program on the basis of the lowest price, without imposing additional food safety requirements. The cheapest ground beef was not only the most likely to be contaminated with pathogens, but also the most likely to contain pieces of spinal cord, bone, and gristle left behind by Automated Meat Recovery Systems (contraptions that squeeze the last shreds of meat off bones). A 1983 investigation by NBC News said that the Cattle King Packing Company - at the time, the USDA's largest supplier of ground beef for school lunches and a supplier to Wendy's - routinely processed cattle that were already dead before arriving at its plant, hid diseased cattle from inspectors, and mixed rotten meat that had been returned by customers into packages of hamburger meat. Cattle King's facilities were infested with rats and cockroaches. Rudy "Butch" Stanko, the owner of the company, was later tried and convicted for selling tainted meat to the federal government. He had been convicted just two years earlier on similar charges. That earlier felony conviction had not prevented him from supplying one-quarter of the ground beef served in the USDA school lunch program.

I think these quotes give you an idea of Schlosser's style of writng, as well as the thoroughness with which he researched his subject. I found it hard to put the book down, though I was frequently disgusted and disturbed by what I read. However, I do not regret it; and I would much rather know than not know.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Anniversary Plus One

I'm off on Spring Break this week, and Kelley took today off work so that we could extend our anniversary celebration a little bit more. We went out for breakfast at Hobee's this morning. I had my usual tofu scramble with home fries. It was nice to be out on a weekday and not have the boys along; they were in school as usual and we were able to have a nice talk.

Then we went to go see Spike Lee's The Inside Man. It was an excellent movie, a smart thriller filled with characters interesting to watch. This is what happens when you have a good script written by one person and not a committee put into the hands of a talented director. Is it flawed? Of course it is; it's a thriller. Which means it's plot-driven and not character-driven. Is it going to go down as one of Spike Lee's best movies? No, of course not. But is it a good movie worth seeing on the big screen? Yes, I would definitely recommend it.

And then we drove into the city and went to Amoeba. Kelley wanted to pick up some more music played on the cello. In particular, she was looking for CDs featuring Jacqueline du Pre. We also ended up picking up Bach's cello suites as performed by Msitslav Rostropovich. I picked up a couple of Poncho Sanchez CDs and one by Ben Webster.

On top of all that, it was a beautiful day. We've had so much rain lately. And except for a couple of light sprinkles, it was without rain. Instead, the blue sky was filled with large, fluffy white clouds. And the air was so clear, you could see the Farallones.

We had a really nice day. We love our children, but we were a couple long before we had children, and today was an enjoyable throwback to those days.

Sunday, April 09, 2006


Today is our anniversary. We've been married for five years. A friend of ours is coming over to babysit the boys for us. We're going to Millenium for dinner, and then going to hear Kelley's music teacher perform at the Conservatory of Music. That's it for now. More to follow tomorrow or the day after.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Vegetarian Times Update

Some good news. Yesterday, I finally was put in touch with Jenny Desjean, the circulation director for Vegetarian Times. I was pretty frustrated at that point, because I tried again to reach the bookstore manager, who I was told repeatedly was the only person who could help me. She was out all last week at a trade show, and was also not in yesterday. Jenny listened to my situation, my frustration, and my complaints, and handled it really well. (This post is a follow up to my previous post.)

She followed up with me via e-mail as she said she would, and she did look into all the concerns I had. I also received a phone call from the bookstore manager assuring me that the book I ordered was being shipped out today. Apparently, the contact information for the bookstore "fell off" the website. It is not on the Contact Us page for the whole website, which is where I looked for it. But it is now on the Contact Us page for the VT Store.

So, all in all, still not the best, but Jenny Desjean mentioned how she is going to make sure the contact information for the bookstore is on other places on the website. I appreciate all the help she gave me. It was still frustrating in locating someone who would actually just listen to my concerns. And to have her apologize for my frustration with the situation went a long way in my not feeling so frustrated.

Monday, April 03, 2006

California School Recognition Program

Well, tomorrow's the day. We will have a team visiting our school tomorrow to validate our application towards becoming a California Distinguished School. I'm nervous about the visit, but I think we'll do well. As our principal keeps saying, "We're already a distinguished school."

This year there were 2,043 elementary schools that were eligible. You can see the program information if you like. Of those, 997 schools sent in applications. Those applications were then evaluated and reduced to a total of 368 nominees. We are one of those 368 schools. Our application received a score of 7.7 out of a maximum possible of 8.0. So now the final part is the site visit where they will be seeing how we look in reality, if we actually do what we said we do in our application.

I'm hopeful. We are a good school and often overlooked because of other schools in our area that have good reputations. But if we earn the California Distinguished School Award, I think that will go a long way towards us getting the word out about what a good school we are. We're a diamond in the rough; it's our turn to shine.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Next Food Network Star

Okay, so I'm usually critical of reality shows on TV. Most of them are banal, if not downright insulting to my intelligence. I still don't get why people watch Fear Factor; it's just disgusting. Anyway, I am hooked on The Next Food Network Star. I came in on the last season too late to vote. I ended up watching nearly all the episodes on some weekend when they ran a marathon.

But, this season, I've been watching from the first episode, and I can't wait to vote online when it gets to that point. My guess for the winner at this point: Guy Fieri. He's got the cooking chops; he's got personality; and he's done well in all the challenges so far. We'll see if I'm right or not.

Cooking Update

Friday night, I made some coffee ice cream. I modified the Chocolate Ice Cream recipe from How It All Vegan! I used Trader Joe's coffee soy milk, omitted the cocoa powder, and added 3 teaspoons instant coffee powder. So far, I think it ranks as the best soy ice cream I've made.

Saturday morning I made the Basic Buckwheat Pancakes, also from How It All Vegan! Quite yummy; they're great with just a little soy margarine.

This morning I started prepping the Vegetarian Pot Roast from The Vegetarian Meat & Potatoes Cookbook by Robin Robertson. The gluten is made and marinating in the frig; will probably cook it Tuesday night. I also got started on another dish I'll make for dinner later this week. I'm going to make "Chicken" Parmesan with seitan. So, I made the Buffalo Mostarella from The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook by Joanne Stepaniak. I haven't tasted it yet, but it sure smelled good as I was cooking it up. I did actually cook it in my usual make-shift double boiler, a stainless steel bowl set on one of my pots, instead of cooking it in a saucepan. I've had trouble with nutritional yeast "cheese" sauces burning over direct heat, so I use a double boiler.

Also this morning I made the Death by Chocolate Pie from The Garden of Vegan because I wanted it to chill long enough to have this evening. I used the crust that goes with the Banana Hazelnut Cream Pie from Vive le Vegan. I didn't use the hazelnuts, but increased the amount of chocolate cookies instead of the graham crackers called for in the recipe. And since the filling of the Death by Chocolate Pie is essentially a chocolate mousse, I added 6 tablespoons of Amaretto. It turned out well, though I think I baked the crust a little too long; it was hard to cut, but tasted fine.

This afternoon I made Cootie's Coconut Cookies from How It All Vegan! They turned out good, but weren't great. I'm going to keep looking for a good cookie recipe that calls for coconut.

And from my own recipe, I made some hummus. We bought a huge bag of baby carrots at CostCo yesterday, and I just love dipping carrots in hummus.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Vegetarian Times - Bad Customer Service

A couple of weeks ago, somebody on the GoVegan Forum posted a note about a clearance sale at the Vegetarian Times website. I checked it out and ordered two books: The Nutritonal Yeast Cookbook by Joanne Stepaniak and Cooking with Gluten and Seitan by Dorothy R. Bates and Colby Wingate. I received the Nutrional Yeast Cookbook, but not Cooking with Gluten and Seitan. Instead, I received The Whole Foods Diabetic Cookbook by Patricia Stevenson and Michael Cook.

Of course, the package arrived late Friday night, so there was no way I could call about the mistake until Monday. I called the number on the sales order that came with the books. It was one of those automated answering systems, and I did not know the extension number of the person I wanted to speak to. So, I left a message with the receptionist. She did call me back the next day and left me a message on my cell phone; I was in the middle of teaching a lesson, and I do not answer my cell phone when I'm working. Anyway, she told me I had to call a completely different number. I dutifully called that number and left a message with that organization, the Home Bar (?) Publications Bookstore. The recording on that sytem was also of poor quality, so I am uncertain of the name. Did anyone answer at that extension? Of course not. But the lovely woman's voice told me I could order by leaving my name, number, credit card number, and the order number of the book I wanted, and would I please speak clearly. Has anyone called me back from that location? Of course not.

So, this morning I tried the Vegetarian Times website again. Go see for yourself on the Contact Us page. There is no number or e-mail address for customer sevice. So, I tried the phone number again. Yet, again, I left a message for the receptionist. No one returned my call. I waited two hours and called again, this time finally getting a real person. She (her name was Sharon) confirmed the information I was given previously for the bookstore manager in Virginia. I said I left a message for them two days ago and no one had returned my call. She reiterated that the number I called was the accounting office and that I had to deal with the bookstore manager. I then asked if there was a complaint department, someone I could register a complaint with. I was transferred to someone who did not identify herself and said the reason I did not get a call back was because they (the people in Virginia) are out of the office at some trade show and that I would be able to reach them on Monday. I said, "You must be joking," and then she hung up on me when I started to explain how I was unhappy with their customer service.

Something tells me this frustrated little story isn't over yet.

Teacher Strike?

Wednesday of this week, my union, UESF, held a meeting for a strike vote. I heard yesterday that the teachers voted overwhelmingly in favor of a strike: article here. This was clearly a lot of posturing on the union's part. There are still two more mediation meetings to take place in April. We won't go on strike unless both of those meetings fail. The fact that the district and the union are in mediation is one indication of how difficult these negotiations have been. But, frankly, while I do not look forward to going on strike, I will. We have not had a new contract for about nineteen months now. And we have not had a raise for four years, not even a cost of living increase. It is simply an unacceptable situation. To say that the district is poorly managing its human resources, namely the teachers and paraprofessionals who do the brunt of the work, is a vast understatement.

I heard on the local morning news that Oakland teachers are also planning to strike soon.

A Focus on Vocabulary

Yesterday, we had a professional development day at my school. (We're closed today for Cesar Chavez Day, which is why I'm writing this at ten in the morning.) We spent the morning on teaching vocabulary. A couple of weeks ago one of my colleagues, Nancy, and I spent a Wednesday at a middle school where we received the training that we then taught yesterday to the rest of the teachers at our school. It went really well. I was worried because a lot of our professional development time is not well-spent, and we don't look forward to these days. But Nancy and I put together a pretty good morning training, if I do say so myself. And I did get some good feedback as well. The other fifth-grade teacher at my school said we did a good job, and my student teacher said he learned a lot. If you're interested, you can see the research article, A Focus on Vocabulary, that was one of the resources we used in our training.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Weekend Cooking

Last weekend I made dinner while my mother and grandmother were visiting. Neither of them are vegan. I used the Shook 'n' Cook Breading from La Dolce Vegan! by Sarah Kramer on some seitan "chicken" that I made. I baked it and it wasn't too bad, just a little dry. Oddly, when heated up in the microwave the next day it was more moist. Next time, I'll either pan fry the chicken or make some gravy to go with it.

I made two side dishes from The Vegetarian Family Cookbook by Nava Atlas. The Sweet Cinnamon-Maple Glazed Baby Carrots were really good. My 22-month-old son loved them. I also made the Scalloped Cauliflower or Broccoli. I didn't have any vegan cheese on hand, so I made the cheesy sauce that I use for my stovetop macaroni and cheese. I used a combination of cauliflower and broccoli. This dish also turned out really well. It was a nice change from steamed or oven-roasted veggies.

My mother and grandmother liked all the dishes, but they've both been supportive of my being vegan. Still, it was nice to hear the compliments.

This weekend I cooked up a storm to celebrate the end of Parent-Teacher Conference week. This morning, I baked. I made the Cinnamon-Walnut Coffee Cake from La Dolce Vegan! I used the topping as a filling, pouring about two-thirds of the batter in the cake pan, spreading the "topping," and then covering it with the rest of the batter. I then actually topped it with cinnamon sugar. It turned out great!

I also made a variation on the Raspberry Fig Breakfast Bars from The Garden of Vegan by Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer. My wife picked up some organic dried white peaches at the farmer's market near her work. I rehydrated them in some warm water and used them as the filling instead of the figs and raspberry jam. The Breakfast Bars taste awesome, which is why I keep making them. Everybody in my family likes them. But, they are a little on the crumbly side. So this time, I also tried adding a couple of flax eggs to the oat mixture to make it hold together better. I always add a tablespoon or two of ground flaxseed to my baked goods, so this wasn't much of a stretch. They did hold together better. And they tasted wonderful. I can't wait to try it with fresh white peaches.

I also made Roasted Breast of Seitan Turkey from The Nutritional Yeast Cookbook by Joanne Stepaniak. I just got this cookbook in the mail this weekend. Somebody over at the GoVegan Forum posted a note about a clearance sale at Vegetarian Times. I also ordered Cooking with Gluten and Seitan, but they sent me the wrong book; have to deal with that tomorrow. Anyway, the Seitan Turkey turned out quite well. I actually wasn't expecting much, but it was delicious. I also liked the gravy that I made from the pan juices.

To go with the Turkey as a side dish, I made the Sweet Potato Gratin with Pineapple and Coconut Milk from Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson. The cardamom in this dish is what sets this one apart. It is not low-cal or low-fat by any stretch, but it is vegan and it is tasty.

Earlier in the day, just to have something else simmering away, I made the Perfect Hominy White Bean Chili from Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson. I haven't tasted this one yet; I'll have it for dinner tomorrow night, but, man, it smells good. I was just intrigued by this recipe. I've never had chili with hominy before, but I just had to give it a try.

And for dessert... I made strawberry ice cream using the "Anything Goes" Fruity Ice Cream recipe from How It All Vegan! by Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer. I bought an ice cream maker just a few weeks ago. I'm really enjoying making and eating my own homemade ice cream. I've found that if you process the silken tofu and sugar into a mousse-like consistency, then add the other ingredients, it makes for a really nice soy ice cream.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Parent-Teacher Conferences are Over!

I'm tired... but it's over. I met with the parents of all thirty of my students this week. And I am exhausted. Teaching is hard work, but it's not nearly as tiring as talking to other adults about their children.

And it wasn't that I was dreading any of them (the adults or the conferences). In fact, all the conferences went really well. I just decided this year that I was not going to stress myself out about them. I got a little stressed worrying about whether I would finish all the report cards in time, but not about actually meeting with my students' parents.

You know you're tired when your child's preschool teacher comments that you look a little run down, as happened yesterday. I just looked at her with my weary smile and croaked out, "Parent-Teacher Conferences." We nodded knowingly to each other and not another word was said.

But it was nice to have it acknowledged just how tired I've been this week. And it also was just one more piece of evidence of just how wonderful my son's preschool teacher is.

Anyway... I'm glad it's Friday, and the weekend is upon me. I need to do some serious relaxation and rejuvenation. I need it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Becoming Vegan

The title may be deceptive. I've been vegan for about a dozen years now. But I'm just now reading Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina. The quote below is from their book.

"It's also true that some people are at a loss when it comes to shopping for and preparing nourishing vegan means or don't know how to obtain balanced vegan meals when eating out. So they think vegan (or vegetarian) diets don't work for them or aren't sufficiently nourishing. It's not that it can't be done, it's just that they haven't learned how to do it. This is not entirely surprising because most of what we learned about food and cooking while growing up was geared to meat-centered diets, not vegan diets. Thus, most people need to spend some time acquainting themselves with this new way of eating. Attending cooking classes, reading, and learning about practical issues and nutrition through vegetarian events can make a big difference in gaining new skills."

I've been a lazy vegan for quite a while. It's not that I was lax about being vegan, that I cheated and ate ice cream or something like that, but more that I was a lazy cook. I relied too much on store-bought vegan foods. Not that there's anything wrong with them; some of them are quite good. I happen to really like Boca Burgers. But you can only really eat them once a week.

I relied on two cookbooks by Joanne Stepaniak, Table for Two and Vegan Vittles, for a long time. And in the last handful of years, I've received other cookbooks as gifts, notably The Whole Soy Cookbook by Patricia Greenberg with Helen Newton Hartung and The Complete Vegan Cookbook by Susann Geiskopf-Hadler and Mindy Toomay. I guess once family and friends really accepted that I was vegan and that I wasn't going to go back to just vegetarian the cookbooks started coming in.

Of course, now, I'm cooking for more than just my wife and I. We have two young children. Liam is now four and Aidan just turned 22 months old. So, I'm much more cognizant of my own well-being and of the loved ones that I cook for. I've been educating myself about nutrition and buying vegan cookbooks faster than I could possibly utilize them.

I have to say that Morgan Spurlock's film Super Size Me had a big impact on me and my wife. It was a huge motivator in cutting fast food out of our diet. In fact, we've cut way back on eating out period. I'm also reading Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. As I said, I was lazy. It's just so easy in our culture to rely on convenience foods.

The good news is that we're eaing healthier. I am educating myself about nutrition in general. I recently finished SuperFoods Rx by Steven Pratt and Kathy Matthews. And, of course, I'm currently reading Becoming Vegan. And I'm enjoying cooking.

This past Christmas I decided that my wish list would not be full of DVDs and jazz CDs; it would be full of vegan cookbooks and cooking utensils. I have rediscovered my love of cooking and baking. Baking was always therapeutic for me, even back when I was an omnivore. In fact, I got away from baking because vegan baking seemed so daunting to me, but I have been learning, trying recipes, making mistakes, and coming up with some mighty fine vegan baked goods.

I'm a self-taught cook. I've yet to take any cooking classes, but I'm looking into that too. I've just been more adventurous, trying recipes that I wouldn't have tried before because they looked too hard. And I've become totally addicted to the Food Network. I've learned so much by watching others cook.

So, to wrap up, I think Davis and Melina were spot on, which is why I quoted them above. Growing up in the meat-and-potatoes Midwest, I am definitely a product of that culture, so the choice to be vegan has had its challenges. But I have never been malnourished. More importantly, I've begun to truly accept the joys of vegan cooking. And the eating too, of course.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Two Great Quotes

"We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth." - Henry Beston, The Outermost House, 1928

I've included the Beston quote, because it's always been one of my favorites, and somebody over at the GoVegan forum reminded me of that fact. So, it's here now too.

My grandmother is down visiting, and she said this thing the other day that really stuck with me. I had been making some comment about karmic retribution, when she said, "I'm really careful about what I put on my wheel." And then she went on to explain that when she was younger she put stuff on her wheel that came back around to her, in other words, she did some things she regretted and they came back around and bit her in the ass. Well, I think it's wise. You may have some fancier, more grandiloquent way of saying the same thing, but I like the simplicity of what my grandmother said.

And I'm trying to be really careful about what I put on my wheel.

Monday, March 20, 2006

National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. I'm just here to get the word out. If you're at all interested, go check out the
Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation. They have information on more than just colorectal cancer.

I care because my dad has colorectal cancer, and everyday I wear my Buddy Bracelet, which says: "Colorectal Cancer: Preventable. Treatable. Beatable!" I don't want anyone else to go through what my dad is going through. And it hasn't exactly been a cakewalk for everyone else in my family.

I encourage you: go, read, find out what you can. Know what the symptoms are. Find out what changes you can make to your diet to decrease your chance of contracting cancer. The information is out there. What's stopping you?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Poncho Sanchez

Yesterday, the wife and I went to see Poncho Sanchez in concert. We got Grandma to watch the boys, we drove down to Saratoga and saw the Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band at the Carriage House at Villa Montalvo. One, it was a great venue, very intimate. Two, it was just a great show. I've only been listening to Poncho for the last two or three years. I was introduced to him by my father- and brother-in-law. Poncho regularly records both studio and live albums. Now that I've seen him live in concert, I totally understand why my brother-in-law prefers Poncho's live albums. The band was just tight, a great horn section and awesome percussion, in other words, a perfect latin jazz band.

With two small children, we don't get out as much as we used to. Now that we have to be a little pickier about what we do when we do get a chance to go out, we have been seeing a lot of live music. We used to go to the movies all the time, but I have to say I'm enjoying the music a lot more.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry - But Not Vegan

I was just over at the Forum where somebody mentioned that Guinness is not vegan. Tomorrow's St. Patrick's Day, so you know I'll be having a pint of Guinness. I'd probably be having a pint of Guinness even if it wasn't St. Patrick's Day. I am not giving up drinking Guinness. (And, no, I am not an alcoholic.)

On a more general note, I do consider myself vegan, but I have never been stringent about seeking out vegan beers and wines. I realize some people will be upset or disappointed by this, but then that's their problem and not mine. I know and understand that animal products are used to make beer and wine, but that's something that ethically I can live with.

I have a good perspective on being vegan. I don't see it as deprivation. I eat well. Many people will ask, "What do you eat?" The assumption being, of course, that I am depriving myself of good, healthful foods. It's a whole way of thinking about being vegan that's influenced by the omnivorious, meat-and-potatoes diet of our culture. I just refuse to think about it that way. My choice to be vegan is just that, my choice. It's something that I chose for me. I don't impose it on anyone else, not even my children, and I don't proselytize about it. For me, it is both filling and fulfilling, literal and figurative.

However, I am not going to deprive myself of alcohol that is made using animal products. Veganism is already an extreme choice. I've seen it written that 1% of Americans are vegan. That's a relatively small group. I'm proud to include myself in that group. It's right for me in terms of my health. It's right for me in terms of my ethics and spirituality. It's right for the environment. And, it's also impossible to be 100% vegan in our culture. I do the best I can. I'm vigilant about reading labels. I quit buying soy cheese because they're mostly made with casein, an animal protein. But I'm not going to give up drinking the occasional glass of wine or beer because it's not vegan. I eat well, and I want to drink well too.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

District Snafu

I'm working on my report cards for the third quarter and the upcoming parent-teacher conferences, which are next week. I'm not really wild about report cards. If I never had to fill out another report card, I'd be a happy teacher. They're just a necessary evil, I guess. If I could just teach, I mean really teach, and not have to evaluate my students, that would be bliss. Sadly, this is not so.

I'm annoyed because parent-teacher conferences are next week, from the 20th to the 24th, but the end of the quarter isn't until the 30th. Somebody in the district office apparently doesn't know what a wonderful tool a calendar is. My principal was on the ball and e-mailed them back in September pointing out this little discrepancy, but said e-mail was ignored. Typical. And here I am, preparing report cards for the third quarter that really only reflect about seven weeks worth of teaching and learning, when it should be for a full nine weeks.

While it's an annoyance to me, it's a disservice to my students. I teach one major writing assignment each quarter: narrative, book report (response to literature), research paper, and persuasive essay. Well, the research papers are turned in, according to my schedule. But since I'm not working on my schedule, but on the district's, which is pushed up two weeks, there's no way I can grade all the research papers in time and include them on this report card, where they belong.

I hope they won't make this mistake again. But in the meantime, I feel perfectly justified grumbling about it here.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Liam and I at Land's End

So I spent way too much time figuring out how to post a picture to my profile. Well, I finally figured out how to do it. It's a shot of me and my son Liam at Land's End with the Golden Gate Bridge (obviously) in the background. It's an old shot, but one of my favorites.

About this blog:
My name is Richard Walker. I live in San Bruno, California. I am a teacher, husband, and father of two boys. I like to cook vegan meals, read, and listen to jazz. This blog will attempt to record those roles and interests of my life.

Monday, March 13, 2006

A Garland of Red

I was driving to work this morning and on KCSM the DJ mentioned that it was Red Garland's birthday. So, I decided today was a good day to start my blog. I've been considering it for the last few days, but wasn't sure if I was going to jump in or not. Well, I'm a big Red Garland fan, and I decided this was a sign. So, here I am.

"A Garland of Red" was Red Garland's first album as a leader of his own trio. He signed a five-year contract with Prestige Records after Miles Davis tapped him to be in his quintet and people began to take notice of his talent. Of course, this is Davis' first great quintet, with John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones. Red recorded many trio albums with Paul Chambers (bass) and Arthur Taylor (drums).

This album has some jazz standards, opening with Gershwin's "A Foggy Day," followed by Rodgers and Hart's "My Romance." Both of which are fine covers that portray the tone of the lyrics, though all the songs on this album are instrumentals. Then Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love" really swings in the hands of this trio. They end side one with a slightly bluesy "Makin' Whoopee."

Side two opens with an uptempo "September in the Rain," which has great bowing by Paul Chambers. Then they slow down again with another Rodgers and Hart song, "Little Girl Blue." Before going out, they really kick into gear with Charlie Parker's "Constellation." They end with a Garland original, "Blue Red."

"The word garland immediately brings to mind a string or wreath of beautiful flowers. It also represents a collection of short literary pieces usually consisting of poems and ballads. Without considering it a semantic license, I believe I can assume that garland applies in the same sense to this collection of short musical pieces consisting of standards (ballad tempo and above), a blues and an original. In this collection, however, there are two garlands, the one being presented and the one who presents it." - Ira Gitler