Thursday, December 13, 2012

A new one from our funny boy

I've talked about Nate's unusual complaints (always after bedtime, btw). Tonight he added one in: I was talking on the phone to my Mom and Nate came around the corner, bleary eyed, to tell me "Mom, I just feel too crowded."

I just laughed, there was no way to stop it. He got a kick out of himself, talked to Grandma for a while, then back to bed where we chucked about his previous complaints, came up with some new ones, and hopefully fell asleep. New ones included Nate's "I feel like I'm a cheetah and I can't stop running" and my "I feel like I'm a Cheeto and someone's trying to eat me!" It's fun to chuckle with my big little boy. He's the best.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


I am not a "yes" Mom. I wish I was, but more often than not I'm a "No, stop it, right now, immediately, no way!" Mom. So having popsicles on-hand that the kids can eat whenever they please makes me feel a little better about my parenting!

Every few weeks when we get low, the kids and I make up a huge batch of homemade popsicles and keep them in the freezer so they and their friends can help themselves. We make them all at one time so I don't have to be bothered too frequently (remember, I'm inherently very lazy). We make about 30 at a time, and it takes about 30 minutes to get them all into the freezer.

After they're done, I take them out of the holders and leave them in a bin in the freezer so the kids and their friends can grab whenever they like. I have been so pleased to see how much their friends like them; they're pretty healthy so I didn't know how they'd go over with kids who aren't used to our way of eating. Not only do they like them, two Dads have mentioned how their kids talk about them all the time and came over to get their own tastes!

To make them I just use frozen fruit, almond milk and water (fill to just below the top of the fruit), and a squeeze or two of agave nectar in each blender. When I was in DC, I used the frozen organic fruit from Trader Joes. Here in Panama a 6-inch bag of frozen organic raspberries is over $6!! So when I found non-organic big bags of frozen fruit at PriceSmart, I counted my blessings and bought them thankfully. Our choices here are blueberries, strawberries, and a combo bag of pinapple-mango-peach-strawberry. I let the kids choose how to mix and match. Our neighbor Neely (10) loves strawberry-banana so we always make a batch of those for her.

We also use the same mix to make "scrapies" - the kids eat these with a spoon while they're still frozen.

To make about 30 popsicles, I'm estimating it costs about $11.50 (or about 40 cents each):

* Almond milk: $3 * Agave: $.50 * Frozen fruit: $8

Here are our favorite popsicle molds from Amazon:

* Cutie-pie ice cream cones. These are on the smaller side and easy for little kids to hold onto. We have two sets of these!

* Bug molds - the boys love these. They are HUGE!

* Rocket pops! These are medium-sized.

* Straight-up popsicles. Pretty good-sized.

* Star molds, big favorites with everyone. Medium-sized.

* I bought these for one of Jack's Chanukah presents; we haven't tried them yet. Small ones.

These are the containers I use for the "scrapies":

Remember: anything you can do ahead of time will make your life better. Give it a try!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Freezer cooking for real!

I've always loved the concept of freezer cooking / OAMC / whatever you want to call it. I think I was a pioneer wife in a former life. It's been great for when a baby was on the way, or to prepare for those nights when I'm just too lazy (or busy) to be bothered. Now I'm about to start work again for the first time since Nate was born and I think it will be especially important!

I applied for, and got, a position at the Embassy called Secretary Rover - I fill in when people are out on vacation, sick, maternity leave, or when a position hasn't been filled but they still need help. It's on an "as needed" basis, and it looks like right now they really need help in a few departments! The sense I got was that I'd be working full-time for at least a month, I should get some more information about it this week. I start on November 6th, and of course the kids both are out of school that WHOLE week. Ack!

Between friends and our housekeeper, I think the boys will be fine. I plan to spend this next week cooking and freezing as much as I can to make sure we can still eat well, if a little simpler than usual, on those busy nights. I don't want to spend the time I do get with the kids worrying too much about food.

So I made up a meal-plan for this coming week with all freezer-friendly foods, and as I cook for each night this week I will double, triple, or quadruple (or more!) the recipes and freeze. It is harder to find vegan options that freeze well as compared to an omnivore diet (so jealous of meat and cheese which freeze so beautifully!) but it still can be done. Here's what I plan to make this week:

* Sweet and Sour Lentils
* Vegan sausages
* Peanut sauce (to put over noodles)
* Sweet Potato Burritos (without the cheese) - these freeze wonderfully!
* Veggie chili
* Pasta/tomato sauce
* Black bean burgers
* Dal Makhni
* Falafel patties
* Granola for breakfasts and snacks

It's a pretty heavy list, I'm not sure if I'll finish it all, but I'm going to give it my best shot. I'll try to blog what I can so stay tuned!

Funny boy

Nate rarely comes to me with a medical complaint, but when he does it's more convoluted than you'd expect a medical complaint from a 6-now-7 year-old. Yesterday he complained that "Mom, it feels like I don't have water and I have too much water at the same time." Okay, good, sure, I'm on it. Nine questions later, and I think he had a sore throat. I'm still not entirely sure.

The other general complaint is "I feel weird" and "My head feels huge."

Funny child.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What do you eat? Vegan pesto edition!

I've been meaning to try making my own pesto ever since I tried LeGrand's vegan pesto at one of those sample booths at Whole Foods. I didn't even realize it was vegan when I first tried it; all I knew is that I wasn't overloaded with cheese and that it was bright and tasty.

My first try today wasn't excellent. It was good, and since the flavors are so simple it was easy for me to get close, but it still needs work. I made it a bit too salty, and even at its teeny amount the parsley was just too much for me (I am not a parsley fan). Here's what I did today: 2/3 cup cashews, soaked for an hour 2.5 ounces basil .25 ounces parsley 3 tbsp olive oil 2 tbsp lemon juice 1 tsp salt If anyone tries and comes up with a tweak to smooth out the flavors a bit, please share it back with me! I turned this into a pesto pasta salad: whole wheat rotini, chopped up bell peppers, broccoli (I softened up the broccoli by throwing it into the boiling pasta water about 5 minutes before I drained the pasta). Cooled the pasta down, added in the veggies and pesto, and served!

Everyone ate it without comment, even though it was the first time they'd had pesto before. Both kids had two bowls, and there's enough for Stewart's lunch tomorrow. I'll keep experimenting with this one since herbs are so cheap here (the basil cost me about $2)! Yay Panama!

Monday, October 22, 2012

What do you eat? Greek salad edition!

I'm generally a follow-the-recipe kind of cook. Unlike my friend Dave, if I start throwing ingredients around, nothing good comes from it. So I stick to a script and everybody gets out alive. I made a minor tweak to a recipe today and it was a big success (in my humble opinion!) so I'm excited to write about it.

Tonight we had vegan greek salad: cucumbers (de-seeded, skin on), bell peppers, and tomatoes (de-seeded) all chopped into bite-size pieces (I like to be able to eat a salad with a spoon. Odd, I know. It does make it easy for the kids to eat, so there's that.) I like this kind of recipe because you can always add in whatever you like; tonight I added half a can of corn and some small-chopped romaine that were on their way out of this life. Traditional? No. Yummy? Yes.

I googled around for a greek salad dressing and found this one at All Recipes. Looked good, reviews were good. I made it as printed (scaled to 8 servings which I think the link will do for you), except for substituting an "all flavor" kind of herb for the onion powder (didn't have any), using 1/3 cup red wine vinegar, and adding 1 tbsp lemon juice from the jar. So the big tweak? I soaked about 1/3 cup of cashews for an hour or so before making the dressing, and threw those in the blender with the other ingredients. It came out creamy, thick, tangy, and delicious. I dressed it about a half hour before diner. It got pretty watered down once it was on the food, despite all the de-seeding, so I'd use it right before eating. still tasted good!

Served with bread and "butter" (Earth Balance). You can see Jack's dinner priorities in this pic:

In non-food news, I found out that I got my provisional Top Secret security clearance which means that I can work (secretary rover) whenever they have need of me. I'm up for a proper part-time position; pitted against my across-the-street neighbor Stacey. That's not uncomfortable at all. Ugh. Hopefully we'll hear who got it in a week or two. The boys are happy at school, our maid is great, and I'm busy planning Jack's birthday and Halloween and Thanksgiving and Chanukah! We're doing great on our budget and haven't eaten dinner out even once this month. Very pleased! Tomorrow night...falafel? We'll see!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What do you eat? Vegan sausage edition!

I have this thing about fake-meat; I love it, but I don't mistake it for meat. Nothing tastes like a steak except for steak. No veggie burger on earth will taste like a real burger. Enjoy fake meat for itself, not because it will remind you of any meat you've ever tasted. And I do enjoy veggie burgers, vegan sausages, all of that stuff - I enjoy them a bunch. But they're pricey and loaded with fakey-stuff, and pretty hard to find here in Panama (and costly when you do).

 Before we moved down here, I made a list of projects I've been dying to work on but haven't really had quite enough time to sink my teeth into. Making my own seitan was one of them and I think I've made a good start. Stewart says this is now his favorite dinner, and the boys and I enjoy it a bunch as well. It freezes beautifully so I'm able to pull these sausages out of the freezer for an easy fun dinner. The only thing I haven't tried is grilling them; I'm keeping some in the freezer now for the next time someone has a barbecue on Friday night.

This recipe is taken from Vegan Dad's version of Isa's vegan sausages. I followed it almost exactly; my only changes are to use half the amount of pepper (it still had good heat for us with half), no paprika, and a bit less nutritional yeast than called for (it was too noochy the first time I made it).

This recipe is really easy and takes only a few minutes of prep. The ingredients are simple, and it takes very little TLC. Definitely worth trying. See Vegan Dad's site for ingredients and instructions. Here's how I do it (I double the recipe and make 12 big sausages:)

Whir the fennel seeds in the food processor to break them down, then add some of the veggie broth (out of 2 cups total) and all of the beans to get them nice and smooth.

While they're whirring, add the spices and the nooch and the rest of the ingredients to a bowl EXCEPT for the wheat gluten. Hold that back.

Add the bean mixture to the bowl and stir to combine. Add the wheat gluten and mix immediately. It will turn into a floppy dough.

I usually separate into 12 even chunks but next time I'm going to try 16 slightly smaller ones. Anyway, use a knife to cut into even pieces. Form each piece gently into a sausage shape and roll up like a tootsie roll in some tin foil.

Steam for 45 minutes until they're spongey but firm. They should hold their shape when you poke them.

You can eat them as is, but they taste especially fabulous fried in a TINY bit of oil in a pan. The sides crisp up and they're really great. Today I served with rosemary roasted potatoes; Saturday I will serve with the traditional classy crinkle cut french fry.

Yum. Very curious what my omni family will say about this one when they come down for Thanksgiving. Jason, you're my official test subject. Get ready!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Two amazing boys

I need to write about the last 24 hours for us, and how my boys shine all the time but especialy when the chips are down.

Jack had a light fever, and a tummy-ache, off and on since Friday. Nothing serious. He also has a tiny patch of staph or some other skin infection on his butt and we've been treating that with topical antibiotics. Yesterday, though, after a rare nap, he woke up crying, burning-up, with a horrible headache. I grabbed Motrin, Jack, my purse, and drove straight to the Embassy doctor. We ended up going directly from there to the hospital at my insistence. The combination of the staph on his butt and now a fever with bad headache; I wasn't taking any chances. While we were at the Embassy Jack managed to throw up all over both of us, so we headed to the hospital in funky style.

The Motrin I'd been able to get down on the way to the embassy calmed him down a bit; he lay listlessly in my arms all the way through downtown to the Hospital Nacional. They treated us very nicely and explained that they wanted to do an IV to give him fever meds. I broke the news to Jack who is not a fan of shots, and tends to worry about them even when we're at home, randomly asking "I don't need any shots today right Mama?"

When I told him he was going to have one big shot that would stay in his hand, he started sobbing. I think it hurt me worse than it hurt him. I told him that it would hurt, and that stinks, but that it would mean no more shots all day. That I'd never lie to him and that we'd be right there with him. While we waited, he would work himself up to crying, and I'd talk about how it would hurt but not for too long, then I'd distract him and the cycle repeated 3 or 4 times. Finally it was time for the big IV.

Jack was laying on his side, I stood in front of him, Stewart behind. I was determined to keep him from moving to make sure they didn't have to do it 2 or 3 times. We cradled him hard against the table, and the tech talked to Jack about not moving his hand. It was the only part of him that we couldn't hold still; Jack would have to do that part himself. The tech got ready to go, and I looked down to see my four year old baby start taking deep breaths. Deep breaths. He was steadying himself. I still barely believe it. And then it was in, and Jack hadn't made a peep. I didn't know it was done until Stewart said "great job!" Jack never cried, never yelled, never whined. He steadied himself and faced it down like a gosh-darn stud. That boy is something...someone I could never have anticipated. I'm in awe of my kid.

The medicine flowed, order was restored, and Jack got a little loopy and giggly. We were together for hours, holding hands, joking around, whispering about plans for a big trip to Africa on his 21st birthday. He is the steadiest, most contented, enthusiastic, hard-working, sweet, funny, sassy child in the world.

And where was Nate in all of this? I had no way to get word to him, so Celia met his bus and found a home for him across the street with Stacey. He didn't know we wouldn't be home until after 9, so he just went with the flow and let them give him dinner (which he didn't eat because he was confused), get him in pjs, teeth brushed. I picked him up, brought him home, and all 3 of us got in my big hot-tub-bathtub and soaked the day off. And the puke in my hair, we definitely soaked that off too. It was heavenly.

Kids to bed, and then I decided Jack probably had meningitis and stayed up until 2 am checking him every 15 minutes and using my iPhone to scan his body for the start of a rash. At 2 I woke Stewart up, ordered him to keep doing what I was doing, and slept for a few hours next to Jack. I woke up to Nate, my pride, saying "Mom, I did as much as I could by myself, can you just do my sunscreen?" He was fully dressed in his uniform, shoes on, breakfast eaten. I did his sunscreen and literally staggered back to bed. He waited outside by himself for the bus and headed to school.

And now he has what Jack had, though we won't be heading anywhere for an IV. Jack is 100% restored. I revel in these boys. I can't get enough of watching them grow. I am grateful beyond words for both of them. Amazing life.

What do you eat? Peanut noodle edition!

Jack was so sick yesterday and we're all recovering, so I needed something easy for dinner tonight. Grabbed some frozen peanut sauce (talked about it here) and dug some soba noodles out of the pantry. I love recipes like this which allow you to use up whatever veggies you have on-hand

Simple recipe: cook noodles, cool down with water, drizzle with sesame oil to keep from sticking, sautee veggies, add cucumber strips (optional, of course), mix in peanut sauce. Serve cool or warm, whatever you like. I used 20 ounces of soba noodles; I do find that the recipe, as written, is a little too much for a regular pound of pasta. If you use it, just pour most on the pasta and reserve a bit for use as a dip or whatever else you'd like. Nate wasn't into it tonight, but he's also clearly coming down with what Jack had (fever, headache) so I give him a pass (this is a "thumbs-medium")


 Jack had toast for breakfast, lunch, and dinner so he wasn't given a vote. We had enough for 3 of us for dinner, Stewart's lunch at work, and probably mine as well. Tomorrow I plan to make something more complicated so stay tuned!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

What do you eat? Pancake edition!

I've been meaning to try this for a while and opportunity presented itself when Stewart took the boys swimming with some friends this morning.

We're trying to save some money for next month (Thanksgiving, and some welcome family guests) so I have us eating from the pantry this past week and this coming week. Found a box of Bisquick and decided to veganize some pancakes for lunch today.

 Disclaimer: I honestly haven't read the Bisquick box to see if there are any animal products in the standard mix. There may be some milk powder or something.

 To make the panckes with the Bisquick mix, I used Bob's Egg Replacer mix (1 tbsp mix + 3 tbsp water = 1 egg) and one cup of almond milk instead of regular mix. Cooked them in Earth Balance margarine and used regular pancake syrup that we bought when we were missing maple syrup (I can't find it anywhere here!). Served with homemade hummus and carrots and bell peppers.


 I thought they were great. Stewart says they were a "tad" cakey but he only said that when I told him they were vegan. :-) Before that, he was "mmmmm...."ing so I'm calling vegan-bias on his cakey complaint. Kids downed them happily. Will make the rest for a cheap lunch tomorrow!

Friday, October 12, 2012


Dinner tonight was summer rolls again; used up all the leftover supplies from yesterday and added some sauteed green beans to the fillings. So I decided to write about our big move instead; food isn't the only thing going on with us.

This is the text of the email I sent to friends and family when we had been here a few weeks. Sorry for the repetition but it covered all the things I wanted to cover, and sweet Jack has a fever, so it saved me some work!

 Hi everyone! I'm sorry to take so long to be in touch but the last few weeks have been a little crazy. We arrived in Panama last Tuesday and were able to move straight into our house (sometimes the house isn't ready or vacated yet, but we were really lucky). It's really fantastic. I've attached some photos. It's the first time I haven't had to share a bathroom with the kids and I have to admit it's pretty nice. The kitchen is really good, and the driveway / garage is still my favorite part. The backyard is big enough for the kids to run around in and we keep some squirt guns and toys back there for them to use at will. They have a little playroom and there's just enough space.


 Our "stuff" arrived this past Tuesday and I think I'm mostly unpacked and fairly well organized. There are closets EVERYWHERE so it makes it a lot easier to fit things in than it did in DC! It was nice to have traveled light, though - the movers said I brought about half the amount of stuff that most families do.

 The reception has been so nice - people really understand being displaced and take care of newcomers. There are at least 8 other Embassy families in our little gated neighborhood (about 100 houses altogether) and most of the kids are under 10. All but 2 kids are also going to the school I picked out for the boys, so it's a real neighborhood feel. The kids went to one week of day camp this past week and by day 2 they both had kids asking to sit with them on the bus.

Oh, the bus! Would you believe they come to each kid's door and pick them up and drop them off outside of our house?! So looking forward to not driving back and forth to school every day!!

On Friday evenings, one family will order pizza and put out some chips and everyone comes over and the kids ride bikes and scooters in the street while the parents drink beer and chat. It's really lovely. There's a little 1970's playground right next to our house - old-school teeter-totters and a "carousel." The kids meet up there or at the park down the street that has more stuff to play on. The freedom here is new for the boys - riding bikes in the street, and even letting Nate go to the playground next door by himself. It's a breath of fresh air.


 The Embassy is about a half-mile up the road and we head up there every third day or so to take advantage of their pool. I'm arranging for a swim teacher to come meet us there once a week to give the boys swimming lessons. Gymnastics here is really popular which is great for the boys, and it's the only thing (besides the housekeeper) which is cheap compared to home - $30/month for a class that meets 3 times a week!! Silver Stars was busting the budget at $100/month for once a week.

 We went for a hike in the jungle today and saw real banana trees, birds of paradise growing like weeds, and crazy-big spiders. Another benefit here is that I lose weight just standing still and sweating. :-) I've applied for a part-time "as needed" position with the embassy and hope to hear something soon. They've had me in for my language testing but no official interview yet. Our housekeeper Celia starts on August 15th and will be taking care of laundry, cleaning, making beds, and she'll watch Jack every day from 1-4 (when Nate will arrive home). It's ridiculously luxurious just to think about. She's fluent in English which is a huge blessing because there really is very little English here. I have some basic Spanish and it's getting a workout! There's a little store a few blocks from the house, kinda like our 7-11 on the corner of Q and Rhode Island. But it has liquor too. :-)

It rains every afternoon around 1, and stays cloudy most of the rest of the day. I love it. We sit in the backyard under the canopy and listen to it pour. Jack gets naked and runs around.


 We finally got Internet a few days ago, and cable. Now I just need a phone! After our car arrives this week, we'll have more opportunity to travel around. So far we've mostly stuck to home but we'll start branching out soon. The kids seem to be handling the move just fine. They miss their Grandparents and mention their friends, but they seem to be very adaptable. School starts on August 16th which will be great for getting them even more involved with friends and sports and whatnot. They sleep like the dead here (the heat and activities wear them out); Jack fell out of bed the other night and just kept sleeping on the tile floor. :-) I really like it here, but I miss my family and friends. Please stay in touch and let me know how you all are doing. Everyone says that January - April is absolutely gorgeous here. Buy your tickets now!!!

 Love, Leah

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What do you eat? Summer roll edition

Since we're eating from the pantry this week (trying to use up the random things I have around and keep the weekly grocery bill low), we're getting fancy with a package of rice paper and some rice noodles, tofu, a Panamanian avocado, cilantro, and my favorite peanut sauce.

 The peanut sauce comes from an Epicurious recipe and we all love it enough to drink it straight. I quadruple the recipe each time I make it and freeze the other 3 portions for use on linguini (we'll probably have that next week). I obviously use veggie stock instead of chicken stock, but otherwise follow the recipe verbatim.

 Nate was my sous chef tonight; he got the rice paper wet, I filled it, and then he rolled it up. But when a friend stopped by to chat for a few, Nate took over completely and made 6 rolls entirely on his own! Go little chef!


 The kids still don't love avocado so their rolls were just noodles, sauce, cilantro, and tofu that I'd marinated in Soyaki. Grown-up ones were sans tofu, plus avocado. Yum. If I'd had green onions, I would have gladly used them. The nice thing about summer rolls is you can fill them with anything you darn well please! I've even seen people make them without noodles, just sautee'd veggies. This isn't a particularly healthy dinner, but it's not too bad and it's fun to eat. The verdicts?


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What do you eat? Lentil edition

When people find out that our house is mostly free of animal-products (no meat, eggs, dairy, cheese, etc.), they inevitably ask at some point: "So what do you guys eat?!?!"

Somehow, despite getting dinner on the table most nights, I really never know what to tell them. Since I'm living the life of luxury here in Panama with a full-time maid to help out, I'm able to enjoy cooking again and do homemade most nights. So I thought I'd document dinners, include some recipes, and let the kids give a Thumbs-Up-Medium-or-Down on the meal.

 Tonight we had Lentil Night, one of Nate's favorite. I was introduced to the sauce by Stewart's cousin Colleen who uses it as her brisket recipe. I tried it for my once-a-year-meat-at-Chanukah brisket several years ago and it was a HUGE hit. A big enough hit that my mother put me in charge of the yearly brisket. Anyone who knows Jewish Mothers knows that's saying a lot. I give all the credit to Colleen. 

About a year ago, I had the idea to try the sauce on lentils, sort of a "sweet and sour sloppy joe lentil stew." It was a big success and we eat it once every week or two. Besides being delicious and nutritious (mostly), it's cheap and filling! This recipe makes enough for dinner for us 4, several days of lunches for Stewart, and another dinner for us 4 later on in the week. I never ever cook for just one night - I'm far too lazy for that! If you want to make a normal sized amount, just cut everything in half and use one bag of lentils (with no extra beans) - it will be a little less saucy than we like but still great.


Cook one pound of lentils (I just boil in water) and when they're done, drain and add two cans of cooked beans (I used one can white and one can black beans tonight but any are fine). Set aside.

In a large-sided pot or pan (I use the same one I cooked the lentils in), sauté any veggies you have in the fridge, along with a couple of onions, in whatever oil you want. Tonight it was red peppers, garlic, onions, and some tomatoes in canola oil. When the veggies are soft and starting to brown, add the lentils back into the pot.

Make the sauce by adding to the pot of lentils: two jars of Heinz chili sauce (or generic version), two cans of beer, a bunch of brown sugar (I used about a half pound tonight), and some soy sauce (I used about 6 tbsp tonight). That's it! Stir the sauce it into the lentils and let simmer for a half hour or so, serve over brown rice or on hamburger buns for "sloppy lentils" or over pasta! It's pretty sweet with a lot of tang and I would expect most kids to really like it. Let me know if you try it!

The verdict at our house: