Monday, January 31, 2011

The Vegetarian Transcript

This evening marked the end of our month long vegetarian odyssey!  We finished out our adventure with a lovely tofu stir fry and a little conversation about our experience for the month.  I have included a transcript of our conversation below.  Enjoy!
Well, we're done!  We should probably talk about what this experience has done for our family. Personally, I loved the newness of these Monday through Friday meals.  Living with such a tight schedule saps a lot of my week-night kitchen creativity and these meals were both satisfying to cook and to eat.  My favorite dinners were the Greek Whole Grain Pizza and the Hominy and Sweet Potato Chili.
I thought this was an excellent experience and I found myself being more thoughtful about my choices throughout the day.  I went a little lower on the food chain and learned I don't need meat with every meal.  My favorite dinners were the Cabbage and Tofu Stir Fry and the Lentil Shepard's Pie.
When you are a vegetarian you have to think about it all the time.  It is so easy to misstep, but being a vegetarian feels really good for your body.  My favorite dinners were the Potato and Eggs and the Olive Pasta I had with Mom.
When you eat vegetarian for so long and you get to eat one bite of meat it tastes better than it ever has before!  My favorite dinners were the the Spinach Brown Rice and Eggs and the Quiche.

Emma:  Honestly, I think I could keep this up if we could eat meat like two days a week.
Finn:  Whoa!  I'm gonna disagree!  I REALLY missed the meat so I'd say I'd like meat three days a week.
Mel:  So you could eat vegetarian four days a week?
Finn:  Yep, I could totally do that as long as you throw down at least one day a week.  Like maybe Sundays.
Leif:  I could easily eat a vegetarian diet four to five days per week.
Mel:  I think that would make us Flexatarians!
Emma:  Besides I bet this saved us money.  Isn't meat expensive?
Mel:  I think we did save some money and we ate an almost all organic diet in the dead of a Chicago winter.  We also hardly had any pasta.  I am not an expert, but I'd bet that is a big mistake people make when they drop meat from their diet.  We ate a ton of whole grains, beans, and fresh veggies.  Super healthy!

Mel:  Here is the big question.  What do you want for dinner tomorrow?
Emma:  Greek Chicken Feta Pitas!
Finn:  Steak and Crab Legs.  Hey, I missed it okay?
Mel:  So much for saving money!
Leif:  Should I say something vegetarian?
Mel:  Nope.  Just say what you really want.
Leif: Okay, I want some ribs.  That's how I'm feeling right now, but you can put some beautiful  veggies next to them!
Emma: Mom?
Mel:  I want some more tofu!
Emma: Honest?
Mel:  No.  I'd like a pork chop, but I'd be fine with tofu for a few days after that.

Mel:  Did you ever cheat at lunch when you were on your own?
Finn:  Once.  I ate a turkey sandwich instead of a salad.
Mel:  Only once? 
Finn:  Yep.  Just once.
Mel:  What did your friends think?
Finn:  They didn't seem to care.  Except for Clare because she is a vegetarian, too.
Emma:  My friends thought it was really cool, but I cheated in Family Consumer Ed.  We learned to cook bacon and I totally ate some.  Who can blame me?
Leif: No-One.
Finn:  Yeah, everything is better with bacon.
Leif:  Cheat is such a harsh word.  I'll say I deviated from the plan while I was chaperoning the outdoor education field trip.  I willingly participated in turkey taco night.
Finn:  What?  I TOTALLY ate vegetarian that night!
Emma:  Mom?
Mel:  I cheated when I had lunch at Cemitas Puebla.  I had the vegetarian cemita, but also had a taco arabes.  It was totally worth it!

Mel:  What have you learned from this experience?
Emma:  I learned there are so many good choices to make out there.  Skip the salami and take a salad; you'll feel so much better!
Leif:  A couple of underscored the importance of thinking about what you are eating.  Food choices impact your personal heath and energy levels, but there are deeper global and environmental aspects to altering the amount of meat you consume.  What an easy way to reduce our carbon foot print!
Finn: I learned that when you put your mind to something it isn't that hard to complete it.
Mel:  Cool.  Thanks guys!

The truth is were were a meat for dinner everyday kind of family and all four of us can count the number of times we consumed meat of any kind in the past 31 days on one hand.  This experience has completely shifted the way we view our family table and I don't think we could ever go back.
  Thanks to Emily from Eat Close to Home for being our guide for the month!  You would be welcome at our table anytime!


When asked about purchasing provisions for the storm the teenager responded, "I think we should get the ingredients for a lovely winter stew" and the husband responded, "Dood...we totally need some of thise Totino's Pizza Rolls."  Welcome to my life.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Dinner for Four...a three-peat

 When we invited the Gills over for dinner two years ago we didn't realize we had started a January tradition, but last evening we hosted our friends for our third annual dinner for four!  Hanging with these two is always a joyful and laughter filled affair and the chef in me loves treating this dinner as a sort of culinary jumping off point for the year.  I look forward to this particular evening quite a lot.
Spoonful of Avocado Puree, Mascarpone, Grapefruit, and Stone Crab
 Roasted Cauliflower Fan with Kalamata Caper Vinaigrette, Arugula, Almonds, and Medjool Dates

 Jim's Little Peacemaker: Cornmeal Dusted Oysters and Shrimp on Homemade Micro Baguette with Creole Remoulade, Heirloom Tomato, and Lemon

The Peacemaker Sandwich is a predecessor of the ever popular Po' Boy.  In the 19th century, husbands used to bring the sandwiches home to bribe their potentially angry wives when they stayed out too late socializing.  After enjoying this micro version of the classic dish, I'd say it would be tough to stay angry at anyone who brought me one; the Peacemaker lives up to it's name.

 Seared Scallops with Blood Orange Gastrique, Brussels Sprouts, Tarragon, and Mint
Sourdough Egg Toast with Fontina, White Truffle, and Asparagus

All around this was a pretty memorable meal and I hated to see the evening come to an end, but least I can  look forward to January 2012 when we get to do it again!! 

My Guys.

My friend Jill snapped this picture of my guys on their trip to Indiana and sent it to me.  I just love it!  Not only did Finn make a great school, but he and his dad are closer than ever!  

Friday, January 28, 2011


"Sand Dune Snow Angel"

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fuzz Ball.

Sometimes I cannot believe our little dog was bald when rescued  her.  I'd say she is bordering on fluffy these days.  What a difference!

Rise and Shine!

Emma has been fighting a nasty dry cough for a few days and decided she should stay home from school and take it easy today, but that didn't stop her from presenting me with this homemade breakfast this morning!
She learned how to scramble eggs in school and finished out her plate with wheat toast with jam and a couple of vegetarian sausages. I have always believed that breakfast tastes better when someone else makes it for you and I have to say this was up there with the best breakfasts I've ever had!
Thanks Emma!

Outdoor Education

At one time I thought sleeping in a backyard tent (within walking distance of my home) filled with nine first grade girls would be the most ridiculous event I would ever chaperone, but that was before I  was put in charge of a group of kids during Emma's fifth grade over night outdoor education field trip. 
 During the course of our stay,  we were taken on a survival walk where mother nature's angel of death brought us into the middle of a forest and kept telling all these happy wide eyed city kids that if they go into the woods they'll be lucky to get out a alive. Suddenly I found myself whispering things to children like, "No, sweetheart, we are not really going to die; we are just on hike and it isn't very  likely we are going to need to build a fire with rocks for distilling drinking water to prevent our horrific dehydration.  Isn't this fun?"

Later we dined on corn dogs, baked beans, and canned peas and I noticed our table faced a lovely horse alphabet poster; just picture a horse contorting itself to look like a "V" and you'll understand why we lost our limited appetite for corn dogs to laughter.

Oh and there were team building games for the kids, too!  You know, the really fun kind where you have to move a group of people from one side of a field to another (in the rain), but you can only be carried and carry someone once?  Inevitably the game ended with the largest girl needing a lift from the smallest boy in the world.  Much awkwardness ensued and the next thing you know three Moms were calling out to the rangers, "Um you know what?  This game is over." and  "Yep, I think we've reached the point where we are seriously done building this team." and  "I am kind of questioning the productivity of this exercise."

To top it off, all of the girls and their chaperones slept in one giant room on bunk beds with broken springs in the mattresses and we'd all had beans for dinner.

For some reason the teachers thought the program had gone downhill since the previous year and decided to make different plans going forward, but that trip was honestly one of the most hilarious experiences of my life!
Now that Finn is ready for his turn roughing it, we thought it might be best for Dad to get in on the overnight field trip action this time around! Leif jumped at the chance, took a little time off work and headed to the Indiana Dunes this morning with Finn and the rest of the fifth graders.  I had heard the trip has vastly improved since Emma went and the rumors must be true because they seem like they are having the time of their lives!  Today they all did a little cross country skiing while learning about the winter adaptions of plants and animals in the dunes.  Leif even emailed me this picture of Finn starting a fire with a flint. They had spaghetti for dinner and played a little Chinese Checkers in their cabin before hitting the sack!  Doesn't that sound amazing?  I bet they'll have as much fun tomorrow!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Back in the Saddle...

After being slightly diverted by an evening of man-food madness, I am happy to report we are back on our vegetarian track and the mushroom, currant, pine nut pilaf and acorn squash we enjoyed for dinner tonight was just divine!  This was certainly one of our favorite dinners to date!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Historic Play-Off.

The last play-off meeting between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers took place on December 14th, 1941; the Bears defeated the Packers 33-14 and went on to win the Superbowl.  Today these legendary rivals met up in the play-offs and the Packers seized the opportunity to redeem themselves a mere 70 years later! The historic bout resulted in a 21-14 win for the Packers and a trip to Super Bowl XLV in two weeks!
We filled our house up with mighty fine combination Packer fans and Bear fans and I threw down some seriously non-vegetarian man-food that celebrated this historic rivalry in a few bites!
Ode to Green Bay
Potato Skins with Beer Cheese, Bratwurst, Brown Mustard, and Scallions
Ode to Chicago
Celery Salt Dusted Potato Skins with Vienna Beef Hot Dogs, Sweet Relish, Dill Pickle, Tomato, Onion, Mustard, Sport Pepper, and Poppy Seeds
While the Packers pulled out a decisive win on the field, the winner of our potato skin smackdown was far less clear!  The Chicago version was praised for it's familiar flavors and ability to capture the essence of both hot dogs and french fries in one bite and the Green Bay version had beer cheese on it and tugged at the heart strings of all the true cheese heads in the room!  Give cheese a chance...

Wisconsin Beer Cheese
1 (2#) block sharp Cheddar Cheese Grated
1 small onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 t hot sauce
1/4 t cayenne 
1 (12oz) bottle Dundee Honey Bown Lager

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment combine the cheese, onion, garlic, hot sauce and cayenne until well beaten.  Add the beer a little at a time and beat until incorperated after each addition until blended and creamy.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cover and chill for 2 hours.  Keeps in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.  Use as a dip or a spread and even for the occasional grilled cheese sandwich!

Game day is never complete without a bowl of hot wings and plenty of napkins!

I think the Super Bowl may be a bit of a let down after this memorable afternoon!
It was such fun that we even ended up with a couple of over night guests...

Seeing is believing!

Friday's high temperature in Chicago was a mere eight degrees; it  was the coldest January 21st on record in 27 years. The last time I checked South America's temperatures don't  dip that low with any alarming frequency so  it came as quite a shock to find nearly twenty Monk Parakeets hanging out in a tree eating berries near Emma's dance studio yesterday afternoon.

Monk Parakeets, also known as Quaker Parrots are native to Argentina, but feral populations can be found all over the world.  Rumor has it that the winter hardy Chicago population started when a few birds escaped from a crate at O'Hare Airport and headed for Hyde Park in the early 1970's.  Since then feral colonies have moved into the surrounding areas including Oak Park!  I saw the birds on East Ave and North Blvd., but you should  keep your eyes peeled around the high school and Scoville Park, too.  I can't think of anything I'd expect to see less than a tree full of wild chartreuse parakeets in the dead of winter in Chicago, but seeing is believing.  Catching a glimpse of these urban birds surely changed my ideas about city wildlife!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dinner Hour Headline:

"Dad unexpectedly wins an iTouch and consequently makes son very happy"

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dress you up in my love...

My childhood friend Cliona's parents had the most fabulous master bedroom I had ever seen in my 10 years of  life.   They had a bed in there like regular people, but they also had living room furniture in there like not so regular people.  Having armchairs by the windows made their bedroom seem enormous and grand to me...more like a hotel than a house!  The back  issues of Hola! magazine fanned out on the bedside tables indicated  their room a was a  non-English speaking room and that, my friends, was the closest I had ever come to visiting  a foreign land and there by magical in my 4th grade mind.  Cliona and I shared a common love of dance and  when Madonna's, Like a Virgin  album came out we used to sneak into her parent's room and dance like crazy. " Dress You Up in my Love" was my favorite and as we'd twirl and swirl around the room bounding from arm chair to arm chair I was pretty confident I was living a life John Hughes would love to film.  Dancing in Cliona's parents' bedroom is one of my favorite childhood memories.  We went on to perform in many talent shows together (She danced to "Send in the Clowns" and I danced to "Beat It"), trick-o-treated together, dreamed of becoming ballerinas and were as thick as thieves.  Then my family moved back to Wisconsin.  I said good-bye to Ohio and my friend Cliona; I think we were really too young to know how to keep in touch.

 Cliona and I managed to reconnect through Facebook and may I  just say she and I would totally be friends today had we not been separtated!  She lives in Spain (the land of Hola! magazine) and for all I know probably keeps a couple of  armchairs in her bedroom!  She clearly  has an army of friends, a love of soccer, and a palpable zest for life.  She and her husband have a gorgeous 1 year old daughter and I felt compelled to send a little something her way.  I ask you, what tom boy toddler beauty can't use a crazy pink tutu as part of her wardrobe?
Needless to say, this picture of Oriana Tula in her tutu made my day and I was tickled to see her dressed up in my love!  I predict she'll be twirling and swirling around her parents' bedroom in no time...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dinosaur Kale

We all love this vitamin packed power house of a green; I just never thought we'd enjoy Tuscan Kale with pancakes, but we did tonight and I must say  it was quite delicious!

Monday, January 17, 2011


"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. ... The chain reaction of evil -- hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars -- must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation."

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Pot Roast Privilege

 Just before the turn of the new year our friends, the Kraljs, invited us over for a family style pot roast dinner.  We accepted their generous invitation and 24 hours later decided to tackle a month of vegetarian eating.  This presented an obvious quandary, but we decided that canceling pre-existing plans or asking our friends to change their menu would be silly and more than a little rude so we made the conscious choice to take a hiatus from our vegetarian adventure for one night in the name of friendship!  Besides, when you're a chef, dinner invitations are sadly few and far between and it seems very shortsighted to irritate the few folks who are willing to cook for you.
 We went to dinner with a homemade Challah in hand, Emma whipped up a salad with a homemade dressing and El served up a memorable roast.  We settled into their family table and Finn was suddenly in pot roast heaven.  To be honest, that pot roast tasted better to all of us than any meat had in a very long time and that got us to thinking that Americans' meat heavy diets probably tamper with the basic and pure enjoyment of meat.  Enjoying a  meal with a meat element should always be something we look forward to and anticipate sharing with others, rather than a daily expectation.  Wouldn't Thanksgiving feel even more like a special occasion if the turkey was the only meat you'd eaten for the month?  Kitchen conversation swirled on this subject for part of the evening and I am starting to realize that pot roast, like one we just enjoyed with friends, should always be a privilege to enjoy.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Revisiting Holidays Past

 One of our most  treasured possessions from  the years our kids spent performing with the Joffrey Ballet in the Nutcracker are the lasting relationships we formed as a result hours of rehearsal time and a memorable series of super charged performances.  The Dwyer family is among the best holiday presents we've ever received and this evening we enjoyed a Mexican themed family dinner at out place to give all of us a chance to reconnect!

 I am especially grateful the talent of these three gorgeous girls gave me the chance to meet and make such a great friend in Marybeth!  I only wish we could get together more often!  Thanks for coming! Until next time, please keep feeding the taco king!
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