Monthly Archives: November 2008

Buy Nothing Day

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Every year, I think I should join in the celebration of Buy Nothing Day. I never quite make it though, and I have mixed feelings about it. Sure, I am trying to limit what I buy. I am not getting rid of all this stuff from my home just so I can cram more stuff into every nook and cranny (and on every flat surface). I also love the whole idea of sitting out on one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Black Friday is consumerism at its most rampant. You should see some of these crazy people! I say crazy not because I think they are crazy all the time, but because many of them get an absolutely crazed look on their faces as they pile more and more stuff into their arms, bags and carts. They are caught up in the frenzy, for sure.

On the other hand, I shop on Black Friday with my mother and my aunt. It is our tradition, and it is a nice way to get in some quality time with them. This is the big one, the reason that I get up at an ungodly hour of the morning and face those crowds. Without them, I would not do it, I am pretty sure. But there are a few other benefits.

  • There really are some good deals. If you plan ahead, have a budget, and don’t go overboard, you can save some serious money at these sales. Even in years where I have done some shopping ahead through the year, I like to look at the sales on household goods I need, because they are hard to pass up. And if you go in with a list of things that you need rather than an amount of money that you have to spend (meaning, you don’t buy more stuff with the money you save on your deals), you can actually end up spending less money for the season overall.
  • Shopping on this day actually reinforces my desire to get by with less stuff. When I look at all the people and all the extra merchandise the stores put out, with movies crammed in the clothing sections, and the major aisles filled with extra pallets of goods, I actually want to buy less. I have put stuff back on the shelves after looking around a bit and seeing the excess all around me.
  • I am mostly buying gifts for other people on these days. I try not to buy stuff that will just clutter up their homes, but unless you get things that are truly not wanted or wasteful, the social bonding benefits of gift-giving outweigh the stuff for me. I am thinking though, this is an area I could improve on. If it is the thought that counts, why does it have to be something bought at the store? Still, I like the focus on gift-giving and other people of this shopping trip.

Like I said before, though, the biggest sticking point for me is the time with my mother and my aunt. I don’t have many opportunities to spend such a long stretch with them. I could wish that they wanted to do that with some non-shopping activity, but they don’t. I am willing to make a few compromises for that family togetherness, I think. Well, obviously I am willing to do it, otherwise I wouldn’t be yawning my way through a line at 4:30 AM every year the day after Thanksgiving. At least I am not doing it alone!

Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions

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71. Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem

This collection of essays and articles by Gloria Steinem was just what I needed to read at this time. It reminded me of many things I already knew, but in a much needed way. I had two big takeaway points from this book:

1. Steinem is a nice, normal person who believes in equality for both women and men.
2. It is frightening to see how easy it is to forget the past and have to fight the same fight over and over again.

The first point in relevant because that is not the image I had of Steinem at all from what I have soaked up from the popular culture. I mean, I didn’t really think she hated all men and thought they should be disposed of, if only we could find a way around that pesky reproduction issue, but I thought she was a lot more strident than she is. I should have been suspicious of this image, because I had never actually read anything she wrote, nor had I seen her speak, but it was one of those things I didn’t much think about. It was background noise. I wasn’t really paying attention, but I remember the huge media coverage when she got married for the first time at 66. It was reported on radio and television news and in newspapers—you didn’t have to be paying that much attention to notice the coverage. I didn’t really understand the point of all that coverage—noticing that marriage as an institution is set up for the benefit of the male partner that treats the female partner as less than a full person is not the same as saying that men are repulsive. But I really didn’t know much about her at the time, and I was too busy with my regular life to do much investigating.

Still, while I certainly agreed with her that women’s rights were/are not what they should be, I did think that she was perhaps a bit strident, and dare I say, shrewish. I thought the conventional wisdom exaggerated her demeanor in degree but not type. I was very surprised then, to read this book and find a woman like many that I know: strong, smart, capable, ambitious, but nice, non-confrontational, wanting to make people around her happy. She just didn’t want to have to sacrifice her sense of self to make those people happy, which seems pretty reasonable to me. She discovered, however, that a very small amount of self-assertion earns you a shrewish label when you are female.

She also points out several times that a strict patriarchal society limits men as much as it limits women. It doesn’t seem as bad, since men have more privileges and rights, but it is still limiting. Men are encouraged to suppress all emotion, and choose manly activities, which is fine if a man is a stoic type who likes sports, hunting and other stereotypically “male” activities, but if he is interested in sewing, flower-arranging or ballet dance, he is swimming upstream, and likely to be smacked back into place. A truly feminist society would allow for the full range of human possibility in both females and males, with no preference to any one style. So you see? It’s not man-hating at all.

The most chilling parts of the book, though, are the sections where she details feminist movements in the past, where significant advances were hard-won, only to be suppressed afterwards with hardly a trace. I had no idea that the suffragist movement was so all-encompassing, going well beyond the right to vote. When these things are not reported in our history books and our popular culture, it is easy to believe that the things that feminists ask are working for have never been rights that women enjoyed or even wanted. When you get female anti-feminists like Phyllis Schlafly, Ann Coulter, or Caitlin Flanagan, mainstream media has something to point to when they say that women don’t really want these rights. No one seems to point out that these women have lucrative, busy careers taking advantage of the very rights they claim not to want. If they really thought that women should stay home and take care of their families, leaving the outer world to men, I can’t help but think that they would be housewives who stayed out of the public eye.

Overall this was a fantastic book, although difficult to read at times. I had to skip most of the article on female genital mutilation for instance. I am glad that I read it, and determined to see what else I am missing out there. Also, I think I am going to start yet another blog, so that I can continue to explore these concepts. I will probably invite some friends to join me there. I’ll let you know when I get that going.

Thanksgiving meal

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I love having people over for meals. I rarely have my family over, because they are suspicious of my food. I am slowly winning them over though. And they are big into food that someone else cooks, especially at Thanksgiving time, so I was able to get them over to my new house today for a big meal. My dad did make a turkey out on the grill, though. But that is a small concession to make, I suppose. I didn’t eat any of it, and they were happy to have it.

Here’s a picture of the meal, except for the garlic roasted brussels sprouts, the turkey and the double-layer pumpkin cheesecake:

The potatoes were mashed with Earth balance and Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream, the sweet potato casserole was based on this recipe from Fat-Free Vegan, and I got the cranberry orange sauce recipe on Rachael Ray’s website, although I added a bit of Grand Marnier to mine at the end. The stuffing recipe is the same one I make every year, although this year I left the raisins out in the hope that it would be more appealing to my mom that way. She did try it, but still thought it was weird; hey, at least she tried. Oh, and I also made the dill dip in the same post with the stuffing, but that was pretty well demolished by the time I took my picture.

Here’s a picture of my plate, with all the yummy stuff:

So, by switching my dessert (from the pecan pie of last year), I managed to go completely vegan this year. I thought about making some kind of replacement for the turkey, but there was really plenty of food; I didn’t miss it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Almost Vegan Pastitsio

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This meal took a little longer to make than many things I do, but it was worth it. It was very good, and both of the kids had seconds! I based this on a recipe in the Weight Watcher’s Take-Out Tonight cookbook.
Almost Vegan Pastitsio

I have been eyeing this traditional Greek dish on restaurant menus for a while now, wishing I could try it. With a ground beef filling and a milk-based bechamel, that was not going to happen, so instead I searched out a recipe to veganize. The nutmeg in the sauce disguises the soy taste wonderfully. I know there are egg substitutes that would work in this, but I am not really familiar with them, so I just used the eggs. Feel free to suggest vegan alternatives in the comments.

Sauce:
3 cups soy milk
1/4 cup cornstarch
3 eggs, lightly beaten
4 TBSP parmesan substitute (we used Parma!)
salt and ground pepper
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
Filling:
1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3/4 pound ground meat substitute, like Boca crumbles
1 pound plum tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced (although I used more–probably 4 or 5)
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
salt and pepper
1/2 pound whole wheat spaghetti or elbow macaroni
2 TBSP parmesan substitute
Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.
Meanshile, combind the milk, cornstarch and eggs in a large saucepan. Cook over low heat until thickened, stirring constantly. This took me a while, but I think I turned the fire down too low–I was warming, not cooking–so make sure the heat isn’t too low. When thickened, remove from heat and add the Parmesan sub, nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Place a lid on the pot and set aside while you make the filling.
At this point, you’ll want to preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a 7 by 11 inch baking dish with non-stick spray.
For the filling, heat the oil in a large skillet and saute the onion until softened. Add the remaining filling ingredients and cook until heated through, and the liquid from the tomatoes evaporates. Stir often.
To assemble the casserole, start with half of the pasta, then top with all of the filling and the other half of the pasta. Pour the bechamel sauce over the top and sprinkle with the last 2 tablespoons of Parma. Bake until golden, 30-35 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving, to set the casserole.
I was going to roast brussels sprouts with this, but the kids aren’t fans, so I ended up skipping them, and we had green beans instead. Lima beans stewed with some olive oil and oregano would have been good, too.

A couple of quick meals

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I read a lot of vegan blogs with fantastic gourmet recipes. I love to see people showing that great meals do not need to center around a hunk of rotting flesh, or baby animal milk. People do some truly amazing things. But in general, that is not me.

I just want to get dinner on the table most nights. I want my food to have nutrition and flavor, but I am not passionate about making it just right or gourmet, or taking a long time. There are so many things I want to do in life, and cooking is definitely one of them, but only one. I want to get good food made in the smallest amount of time that is necessary. Sometimes that is not such a small time, but some nights it has to be fast, or we can’t do it. Here are some examples of fast meals we have done lately.

First, I described my recipe for fast vegan fried rice awhile back, but here is a picture:

Doesn’t that look healthy and delicious? The kids even like it. The boy had seconds and the girl ate hers without too much convincing (although she did try to convince me that she wasn’t that hungry, a holdover from a virus she had the week before–she didn’t complain about the taste, though). Every time I make rice these days, I make some extra so that we can have this later in the week. It is super fast, nutritious and we all like it.

Here is an even faster way to use up leftover rice:


For this one, I used fried tofu I got from the international foods market, along with a canned Thai soup and frozen green beans. I had to add some sriracha hot sauce to mine, but my friend said it was very good.

So, there you have it: some fast to the table, but still flavorful vegan meals. I hope this gives someone some good ideas for quick family meals that don’t sacrifice flavor or your food convictions.

67-70

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67. The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twelfth Edition, Edited by Gardner Dozois

Always a great collection, this one was particularly good. There was one story I didn’t quite get, but many I really loved.

68. Eden Close by Anita Shreve

Short, a bit predictable, but gripping. I mean, I guessed what really happened the fateful night when the titular character was blinded in a tragic scene, but not every detail. I had trouble putting this one down.

69. The Terrorists of Irustan by Louise Marley

I really enjoyed this, in an appalled sort of way. The book was frightening in it’s parallels to our world, and in seeing a genuinely good person driven to commit terrible crimes because she really had no other way to affect the course of her own life or the lives of those she loves. I liked the way the end was both tragic and hopeful, although it was probably more hopeful than such a situation would be in real life, sadly. I thought the whole situation was handled very well, with things not being as black and white as they could be. This was definitely a book about male oppression of females, but the men weren’t all bad, either. Some were good, some did terrible things without really thinking it through, but were capable of learning. Highly recommended.

70. The Marlow Chronicles by Lawrence Sanders

This was an interesting little book about a dying man and the effect of his death on his friends and family. I was expecting something different from this one, because Sanders generally writes about big conspiracy type things, like corporations or governments, but this was an intimate group. It was a fascinating look at how people get along with each other, how someone knows who he is, really, and what people who are close to each other really mean to each other. I really enjoyed this.

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Let’s see, between now and the end of the year, I am having a housewarming party, hosting Thanksgiving dinner, getting ready for Christmas with the kids at my house for the end of the year vacation this year, plus all the normal work, cooking, seeing friends, house-cleaning (and must finish unpacking!). I think that I am not going to read as many books as last year (93) or the year before (83). Still, I think I am doing quite well for someone who bought a house in the year! I will at least get to 73, within shouting distance of 2006, I believe. Sounds good to me.

My Backwards Dinner

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The kids are at their dad’s for the night, so I had dessert first. I was really excited this weekend to see the coconut milk ice cream at Whole Foods this weekend. I was looking forward to it all day at work, so I decided to dive in as soon as I got ome tonight. Oh my goodness, was it good! So creamy, no soy taste, just about perfect. I had to stop myself from devouring the whole pint, but I am looking forward to being able to have it again, so I was able to take only one serving and put it back in the freezer.

Why do I get to eat dessert first, when I won’t let my kids do the same? Because I knew I was making urban vegan’s delicious 30 minute Polish meal. I didn’t get a picture, but it was awesome! I added cried cranberries to the carrots, and used baby carrots rather than slicing whole carrots, but other than that I pretty much followed the recipe as is. Oh, and the first time I tried to toast some walnuts to throw in the carrots, I accidentally turned off the wrong burner, so they burned, while I lost cooking time for the carrots. It all turned out very good, though, and I caught it before it got too bad. I had to throw out that batch of walnuts, but I didn’t ruin the pan or start a fire or anything.

I tell you, having my own house is so good for me–the kids weren’t here, but I cooked a real meal and washed dishes, two things I used to avoid when the kids were gone. I ate out a lot, or made sandwiches and left the dishes for the next night. So, healthy delicious eating, saving money, cleaner home. All in all, a definitely good thing!

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Yesterday I cooked twice. I worked from home, so I decided to cook lunch, too, and freeze some of the leftovers. I made the Red Lentil and Cauliflower Curry from Veganomican. I had made it before, but just from what I had on hand when I went searching in the cookbook. This time I actually planned ahead to make it and went to the store to buy all the ingredients for it. It was good last time, but this time it was even better. The parsnip was good–I had only had parsnips once before and I don’t think that was a good recipe. I remember thinking it was weirdly textured and bland, but it really worked in this recipe. I got an Anaheim chili, which isn’t quite as hot as the jalapeno or serrano recommended, because I think the kids may eat some when I thaw out the remainder. I have to warn you, though, they are still plenty hot enough to set your eye on fire if you touch it without washing your hands. I learned that the hard way well after I was done eating, while I was on a work phone meeting. People are asking me questions, and I am trying not to scream while frantically searching for the nearest washcloth to help rinse my eye out, with impaired sight since I couldn’t open the one eye. Not something I recommend. Be careful with chilis!
I had it with some garlic naan from Trader Joe’s. Doesn’t it look delectable?


And for dinner, I made my friend Andrea’s favorite dinner (well, her favorite dinner that I cook, anyway): Curried Stir-Fried Noodles with Vegetables. No picture of this one, but I can assure you it was very good, as usual.

See all these fresh veggies? I feel so healthy! And full.