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.