Vegan Dinner Fail: A Lesson in Food Minimalism

Yesterday, I thought I was being a good mother expanding my kids’ horizons by introducing them to a normal summer culinary delight, a.k.a, hot dogs and baked beans. I don’t eat these, but don’t want to dictate my kids’ tastes. They saw commercials about hot dogs and even had some school lessons showing pictures of hot dogs. So, I did the right vegan thing by horrifying them with the ingredients and convinced them vegan hot dogs were the right choice. Problem one, I forgot hot dog buns. Problem two, I don’t want to use the stove. Okay, no big deal, I’ll throw the hot dogs and beans in the crock pot. Other people happily blogged this recipe, so it must be delightful. 

No. Never again. I don’t care how cheap beans are or how much I spent on vegan hot dogs ($6!), it’s not happening. It made the entire house smell like morning sickness vomit. Remember those days? It’s just your kid preparing you for all the meal refusals, thrown spoons, and upended bowls. 

What did my kids eat today? Bananas, oranges, and trail mix. Happily. Without complaint. I reminded myself that minimalism isn’t just for the house, but for every aspect of life. It’s a complete lifestyle. Keep the meals simple, unprocessed, colorful, and healthy. By offering this food, we save time, energy, natural resources, money, and sanity. No expensive processed vegan meals wrapped in excessive packaging, no dishes, no cooking, no threats (except when I found a piece of banana on the floor), no whining. 

Feeding kids will always be hit-or-miss, but a peanut butter sandwich and apple slices actually eaten is far better than an expensive, elaborate, vegan, Pinterest-worthy meal that gets thrown away and still leaves you with hours of dishes (or a stinky crockpot to clean). We are going to try not cooking for as long as possible. Mostly raw vegan without getting into complicated food-processor steps. Something like chickpeas mashed with avocado on crackers. The kids think anything on a cracker is fun. This weekend we will pick blueberries just to eat as they are or blend with watermelon for a great drink. 

Want to try it? Take a look at the fridge and freezer. Do you buy things because you really want them or because of some misguided obligation that this is what you’re supposed to have? Are you keeping it just because you spent money on it, even though you don’t want it? How about the pantry? How long have the cans been in there? If they aren’t expired, share them with someone who actually likes baked beans. All those spices? Pare down to a few spice blends. The clean, simplified space generates better energy and might even foster forgotten motivation and creativity.

Already an expert? Share tips in the comments. Want help? Ask away. We’re all in this together. 

Don’t worry, I’m not stopping the chocolate items. If it works, I will post a 2-ingredient dessert recipe soon. Keep up with all that and the up-coming relocation on Facebook and Instagram. 

Less is More

Not a recipe post unless you want to throw 1 ½ cups of Coke in with a Devil’s Food cake mix and bake it according to the time listed on the box while you read this (2 ingredients, less work and mess, yet still technically vegan-ish).

This morning, I actually woke up feeling like I was ready for the week. It’s Thursday, but so what? I’m trying to hold that fleeting feeling while weaving my way through the piles of…I don’t even know what is now on the bottom of my feet. I want to clean in a way that gets rid of the majority of what becomes the mess. I’m ready. “MOM! I need help!” “MOM! Look, I read the word!” “MOMMY! HOLD ME!” “MOMMY, can I have breakfast now?” “MOM! WIPE MY BUTT!” Ah, that’s why the mess keeps growing. The constant noise of my kids’ whining makes it grow.

Here’s the motivation. We are moving (again) and shaving several hundred feet off our available living space. It’s okay, though, because we don’t need what we have and the kids always pile on us in one room anyway. Privacy is so over-rated. We’ve watched the minimalism videos and drooled over the Tiny House Nation oh-so-clean-and-clever spaces. We’ve stood armed and ready with trash bags. I even have one right next to my desk, just waiting for more empty snack bags and unopened bills. The trash bag has been there for at least a week. Read on for how I approached a few areas in the house. I’m trying not to sound pretentious since there’s still such a mess and I have a lot of work left to do.

Kitchen: I put everything in boxes and only took out what I actually needed. Doing it that way saved a lot of time standing around trying to decide on what to keep. Why did I have so many knives? Now, I have two: one all-purpose chopping and one bread knife. Vegan households don’t need many steak knives. One bowl per person, along with a few 3-in-1 utensils. Do I even need the silverware tray now? But it’s so nice and bamboo-y. I set it aside to decide later. If the decision is taking too much time, move on so something actually gets done. Four skillets of the same size narrowed down to one. I bake more than I cook, so the bread pans are staying. I now have to do dishes after each meal (ok, right before the next one if it can’t be eaten off a paper towel), but it takes far less time. Time saved, water saved.

My Clothes: I had quite a pile of if-I-just-lose-this-much clothes. They’ve only been there for 6 years. Also, I admit I have no fashion sense and made my husband decide what to keep. Good thing I got large trash bags. When I noted how much time I spent staring at my clothes deciding what to wear, I realized I didn’t like any of them. Into the trash bag. I’m nearing 40, work from home, and am more concerned about comfort, so I kept a few nicer items in case I go somewhere and have to get out of the car. I have one pile left of undecided items. After 3 days, I’ve only pulled out 1 item. Decision made. I’m down to 4 outfits and 2 dresses. It’s totally based on my lifestyle, so find a number that works for you.

Kid Clothes: 4-5 outfits each. That’s it. My youngest just wants to wear the same tutu every day anyway. Laundry every few days, but smaller loads, so water and energy saved.

Toys: I don’t want to spend all day yelling at my kids about the mess. Everyone just feels bad and that’s not how I want to be remembered. They didn’t want to pick it up and we were tired of stepping on it, so it went in the trash. I loved it more than they did, but I don’t have time to play with it. Bought it just last week? Not played with, so lesson learned to not waste more money on it. It’s taken months of decisions, but they don’t have much left. I find it difficult to throw away anything with eyes, so we continue to trip over stuffed animals, but they don’t hurt as badly as Legos. My kids are quite happy playing with art supplies, empty moving boxes, and random lemons. Laugh all you want, lemons are far cheaper than even dollar bin toys.

Photos and Memory Items: I sat down with a big box of pictures and yearbooks from decades past. I hated high school, so yearbooks went in the trash. Pictures I wanted to keep – only the ones that made me feel good to remember, I took a picture with my phone and trashed the originals. I kept 1 photo book of baby/family photos. No more depressing journals, no more giant, heavy box. Mental, emotional, and physical freedom means room to create happier times.

So what is left to cause all this mess?!? Blankets from forts, paper airplanes, crayons for turning moving boxes into space ships, scrap paper for making bracelets, chalk used to learn how to write words, and empty bins from all the minimizing. The stuff of beautiful memories. Take a picture, trash the mess, and have epic races through all the open space. More points for the fitness app.

Yes, it’s trash. Donate if it’s really worth it, but most likely, it’s not worth burdening others with more stuff they don’t need. This is a great example of American excess and why we are far more stressed, depressed, and wasteful.

We will keep at it. Anyone else have a drawer of bags? Untangling and detaching emotional energy from the things holding us back takes work. Get a buddy, even if it’s just through FB messenger. Start with one small area and set a 5-minute timer, if it helps with motivation. Now to go through and minimize this post…I did, really.

What has worked for you? What area is the hardest? Comment below.

Donuts for Dinner: Chocolate Root Beer Donuts

I had a nice salad for second lunch after enduring a doctor’s appointment with one hyper kid and one tyrant kid, my Facebook news feed is full of Plexus and workout posts, the US has become an international joke, and my parents are coming this weekend, so I balanced everything out with these donuts for dinner. While you roll your eyes at my coping skills, I’ll make a second batch for whatever will happen tomorrow.

Chocolate Root Beer Donuts

  • 1 ¼ cup flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder**
  • 1 vegan egg*
  • 1 Tablespoon root beer extract**
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup melted non-dairy butter
  • ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup non-dairy milk

*Note: I can’t afford Vegan Egg at the moment and didn’t feel like grinding flax seeds, so for my vegan egg I whisked 2 Tablespoons of water, 1 teaspoon of oil, and 2 teaspoons of baking powder.

**Note: These are chocolate root beer because I didn’t have vanilla extract and I needed chocolate. Who knew it would be this awesome?!? You can sub vanilla and leave out the cocoa for plain donuts. Seems less happy, but whatever works for you.

Grease a 12-portion donut pan. Heat oven to 350.

Mix dry ingredients. Mix wet ingredients. Combine. Fill donut pan. Bake 10-12 minutes.

Frost and top in whatever way brings you the greatest joy. Sharing optional.

Chocolate Root Beer Donuts topped with powdered sugar and chocolate syrup

Stuffed Vegans: Cornbread Stuffing

So many people asking my kids if they’re ready to eat turkey. My kids are more than a bit horrified by that question, especially since we love watching the wild turkeys in the field behind the house. Is turkey the entire reason for Thanksgiving? Really?

Ah, the family drama-days. I mean, holidays. Having skeptical non-vegans over for dinner? How about a Thanksgiving staple that will make everyone happy? This cornbread stuffing is everything stuffing should be – savory herbed deliciousness. Make the cornbread and bread ahead of time, if you aren’t buying them. I used left-over corn muffins. 

Cornbread Stuffing (9×13 pan)

  • 1 1/2 onions, chopped
  • 6 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp chopped garlic
  • 2 Tbsp oil
  • 4 cups cubed cornbread (day old)
  • 4 cups cubed wheat bread (day old)
  • 1 tsp sage
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 2 tsp parsley
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth OR 1 1/2 tsp No Chicken Base w/ 1 1/2 c water
  • Salt/pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease a 9×13 pan. 

Heat vegetable oil in a pan over med-high. Add chopped onions, garlic, and celery. Cook until celery is soft, maybe 7-8 minutes. Add herbs and vegetable broth. Remove from heat and toss in bread cubes, stirring to coat, but not breaking the cubes. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes. Take out of the oven and steam your face as you inhale the scent of those herbs you buy once a year.

This can be made ahead and frozen. I did that today, but we ate half, so I’ll have to make a bit more. 

Cornbread Stuffing
Note: If you have kids (or adults) with sensory issues and plan on making those once-a-year recipes, it’s a good idea to make the food ahead of time and let the kids try them or at least see them so it’s not as stressful during the drama-day dinner. If they need to eat it with their hands, so what? Hand over a napkin and add “tried new food” to your Thanksgiving list. 

Sancti-vegans and Salad Dressing

It’s tough being a vegan who doesn’t like vegetables. Also, apparently I have a sensitivity to soy and nightshades such as tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, and peppers. Want to guess how many vegan recipes and products have those ingredients? Thankfully, not my vegan chocolate. 

It’s also tough trying to find balance and influence harmony. Nutrition is a key aspect of internal peace, so I spent the past month trying to reset my body and figure out a new eating plan for the family, each of whom has very different preferences. The only thing on which we all agreed was eating healthier meals. We broke it to my 5 yr old that french fries are not healthy and she can’t only eat chips instead. My husband and I started taking daily doses of black cumin seed oil, which improved our blood pressure, weight (down 8lbs), energy, sleep, skin/hair, and patience levels. It actually made us nicer and we even outlasted, for the first time ever, our ADHD kid during an all-day event. I also swapped my office chair for an exercise ball chair. It’s quite a work-out!

The food issue has been a bit more difficult. My kids won’t eat all those fancy vegan meals like vegan Pad Thai, Jamaican chickpea stew, or Buddha bowls. They will, however, make and eat hummus sandwiches. What’s that? Hummus between two slices of cucumbers. Ah, the simplicity. Pardon me while I toss all my nicely printed meal plans and shopping lists. Because I’m the parent, I set a rule that whatever they pick (from healthy options) they have to eat. Tonight, my 5 yr old chose 5 cherry tomatoes, 6 cucumber slices, and 7 spinach leaves. My 3 yr old asked for 100 pieces of watermelon, but settled for 7, along with 8 cucumber slices and 1/2 a container of hummus. Whatever, they ate it, it wasn’t french fries, and no food was wasted. 

So what about for the adults? I can’t keep handing my kids fruit while I sneak cookies. So, I finally caved and did the pretentious thing: salad in a jar. Yes, I’ve seen those pics of fridges filled with nicely aligned rows of jars and read about the “easy” once a week prep. Haven’t seen any pics of all the dishes that have to be washed. But, I need something ready that makes me eat a salad. So, I filled my grocery cart with greens, avocados, sprouts, berries, and other vegetables and sanctimoniously waited behind the lady buying beer and ground beef. Surprised vegans can be stuck-up? My sancti-vegan self got caught in a downpour while that lady made it to her car before the rain hit. Take that, me. 

– Be kind. If you want to promote an abundant life for the animals, live an abundant life so that you don’t even need words to share your message. 

Anyway, ego knocked down a level, I made the salad jars. I had to make 3 kinds because my husband only wants romaine while I want spinach and my 3 yr old won’t touch greens at the moment. I won’t bore you with salad recipes because, really, why do you need a recipe for a salad? I will, however, share the dressing recipe. It’s nothing new or outrageous, just simplicity and goodness.

Creamy Avocado-Lime Dressing

  • 1 avocado
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 4 Tbsp coconut milk

Do I need to say cut the avocado and remove the pit? Put the 3 ingredients in a blender or processor and blend until smooth. That’s it. 

3 kinds of salad in mason jars

Sancti-vegan Salad Jars


Goals for between now and my birthday (1 month) are to actually eat the salads, lose more weight, and save money (and the environment) by reducing the amount of boxed/packaged food we buy. Maybe the next post will be a positive update. Be nice out there and don’t be a sancti-vegan.

What are your goals? Let me know in the comments below or over at Facebook.com/smartmouthvegan 

Bumpkinz Bread – banana, pumpkin, zucchini

Makes 2 loaves

Oven 350, grease 2 loaf pans 

  • 2 large ripe bananas
  • 1/2 c. canned pumpkin
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. oil
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 c. grated zucchini
  • 3 c. flour
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. mini chocolate chips

Mash bananas in a large bowl. Mix in pumpkin, sugar, oil, and vanilla until combined. Add zucchini and combine. Mix together in another bowl the dry ingredients, then add to the wet ingredients. Stir to combine. Divide batter between the pans. 

Bake 45 minutes or until toothpick/chopstick/knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. 

Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes, then remove from pans onto a cooling rack. 

zucchini bread loaved displayed

Zucchini Bumpkin Bread

Something good from NC: Chik’n & Dumplings 

Whenever I get a recipe from a blog, I skip all the text and go straight to the recipe. I try to keep my text portion short for that reason. But a little story first 😉

I first moved to NC when I was 11 and it was NOT my choice. The first person I saw exclaimed, “Hey ya’ll!”. Perplexed, I asked, “What’s a heyaw?” A short time later I faced a long row of crockpots at a church potluck. It smelled and tasted so comforting and wonderful, but I had no idea what it was called. That would be chicken & dumplings (insert southern accent here). 

Having recently moved back to NC during an…uhm…interesting…political time, I was feeling a little down and needed some comfort food, but didn’t want to spend too much time on it. So here it is – comfort at its finest.

Vegan Chik’n & Dumplings

  • One pack Gardein Chik’n strips, thawing on the counter while you make the rest.
  • 3 large carrots, chopped (or 1/2 cup)
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped (I don’t like much celery)
  • 1/2 c diced onion (I used frozen diced)
  • 8 cups broth made from No Chicken Base 
  • 1/4 c vegan butter
  • 1/4 c flour

Easy Dumplings

  • 2/3 c Heart Smart Bisquick
  • 3 T vegan milk
  • Herbs (rosemary, oregano, garlic, whatever)

On medium heat in a large pot, melt the butter and sauté the onions and carrots about 5 minutes. Add the celery and sauté till soft. Add the flour and stir a minute, then add the broth and keep whisking while you add it so the flour doesn’t clump. While you wait for it to boil, mix the Bisquick, milk, and desired herbs. You may find you want to double the dumpling recipe. When the broth boils, add the chik’n strips. Drop the dumplings by spoonfuls into the broth. Reduce heat to a simmer and let cook for 5 minutes. Cover and cook 8-10 minutes more until the dumplings are cooked. Don’t over cook it.  Serve hot. 

This made enough for 6 if you double the dumplings. My 2yr old ate 3 bowls of it and we still had some for lunch the next day. If you’re wondering about the green stuff, I added a bit of kale since I needed to use it. I won’t do that again. 


 

Bowl of vegan chikn and dumplings displayed.

Vegan Chik’n & Dumplings

 

There you go. A bowl of southern goodness and cheer no matter what else you may encounter in NC. 
Say hi or hey over on my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/smartmouthvegan