How we spent our Chubby Vegan Christmas

Prepare for a photo bomb of all sorts.

It's Christmastime yo. And we've got my brother, sister-in-law and their three kids under our roof. So as much as I care about my virtual family, we've got to soak up all the brother-sister-cousin-niece-nephew-aunt-uncle time as we can! So rather than bore you with the details of our Christmas, let me just use a few words and a couple collages to share our holiday with you!

This was the first year Pearyn was super into the whole "elf on the shelf" phenomenon. Only, the real elf on the shelf creeps me out a little. And was packed in away in one of a gazillion boxes. So we opted for the cute and cuddly version that our kids could touch. They got into oodles of trouble; like mixing some cookies in my new mixer, trying to make a fruit smoothie and playing with the television. Speaking of trouble, Brae wanted to basically climb up the Christmas tree 24/7, so that made for an incredibly eventful holiday season.

In addition to elf on the shelf and decorating our tree we got Brae's first Christmas ornament, made some yummy holiday-themed treats and made cookies for Santa. I soaked up some gorgeous winter weather (what can I say, I was born a snow bunny) and Ry read Twas the Night Before Christmas for our fifth Christmas in a row now (his favorite tradition).

Before we turned in we made sure to leave some cookies out for Santa, carrots for the reindeer, in addition to some oats with "sparkles" to sprinkle in the yard so they could find their way. The kids woke up and opened their stockings first, while Chubby Vegan Dad made the annual tofu Christmas wreath and we waited for my parents to come over and open gifts with the kids. Pear was pretty pumped about the make-up she got in her stocking (play stuff) and probably won't have a career as a make-up artist in her future, judging by her ability to put on lip stick.

Pear was pretty excited about her art studio desk we got her and started doodling almost instantly. (Thank Heavens we had the sense to put it all together the night before). As for Braeburn and his first Christmas, he was most excited about the tofu wreath, the bows and a few of his Batman cars.

Chubby Vegan Dad spoiled me rotten by getting me my new baby (a professional Kitchenaid mixer I swore up and down I'd never use, but have actually become obsessed with), while he got a home beer brewing kit. Some of the girls and I got together and bought all of our hubbies the same beer kit with different recipes. Now the men can have a brewing day and we can gab and play with the babies.

The biggest blessing this Christmas has been having my family under one roof for an entire week. It's been difficult from time to time because my almost-one-year-old niece is a bit under the weather, but it's more than worth it to get to spend time with everyone. Watching the kids play together makes me long for a bigger family, closer family or some mystical universe where Colorado and Ohio aren't thousands of miles apart.

I hope your Christmas was as blessed and delightful as ours!

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Why I think you NEED to check out Need brand

WARNING: You're about to expose yourself to unadulterated, unedited, mom-of-two, likes to eat vegan ice cream and cookies, only runs a few miles a week, chubby vegan stomach. Also, having children does something weird to your belly button. I swear. It like makes it the black hole or something.

Last month I got approached by someone from Need brand. Not sure what that is? Me either. So I googled it, naturally.

Turns out Tia and Tamara (yes, the awesome chics from the beloved 90s sitcom Sister, Sister), have hopped on the natural, crunchy parenting bandwagon. In fact, Tia has become a full-blown vegan, what, what! 

They created Need brand for mommies out there looking for personal items that are good for them, good for baby and good to the animals (aka cruelty-free). What's not to feel good about?

Right now they have two products out, Milky and Stretchy. Milky is a simple herbal tea supplement designed to help lactating mothers increase their supply. And Stretchy is an all natural, organic moisturizing cream aimed to take those pesky stretch marks away (cute and adequate name, right?).

I was lucky enough to review Stretchy (I haven't figured out yet if it's because I'm a mom or because I'm a chubby mom, I kid, I kid!), which after housing two children, going from an A-cup to a C-cup when I was 13, then a D-cup to a triple-letter bra size after having two children and just having my big ole' giant, boxy hips to begin with, well, it's safe to say I could use a could stretch mark cream .

Sure, I've tried them before. From lotiony butters to herbal concoctions it's safe to say my body has been slathered - unsuccessfully - with all the different "formulas" on the market. So when I decided to try this "moisturizer," I was more than skeptical.

But I've got some good news for ya'll. Now, did Stretchy take away all my marks, give me flawless skin and make me look 20 and toned again (haha, jokes on you, I wasn't toned when I was 20!)? No, not exactly. 

But after six weeks of use at bedtime, my stomach stretch marks that were still purply-pink after delivering my daughter almost FOUR years ago, have definitely blended into more of a flesh tone. This is quite the accomplishment for a little ole' lotion if you ask me. Are they still there? Yes. But can you see them as drastically as you could before? Heck no. That's a victory to me, you know, just in case I shed my feathers and decide to sport that string bikini this summer! 

Now, the results. Don't say you weren't warned. (These photos have not been edited in any way and reflect the results after six weeks of once-a-day use. The crappy tattoos also have not been edited in any way and reflect the poor decisions of my early twenties. Hey, I love em, what the hell). 

I can't vouch for what happens if you use it all through pregnancy, but I can say I was pleasantly surprised when I looked at the before and after photos of my stomach. 

And if that's not enough to convince you to give the product a try, let me just tell you it smells DELIGHTFUL. Anytime I put it on my daughter would be following me through the house asking me why I smelled so good. I actually purchased some for myself in my stocking stuffer this year because I like the way it softens all of my skin, not just my silly ole' stretch marks. If you don't believe me, you can cruise over to the Needs site and read the kick-butt reviews there, too.

The downside to this fragrant awesomeness? It's price tag certainly leaves room to be desired, at $17.99 it's definitely on the higher range of moisturizing products. But it's cruelty-free. And I felt like I was pampering myself. And it smelled SO good, did I mention that?

The Needs brand will be expanding it's offerings this year, so stay-tuned to find out what else they have in store (literally!). 

Semi-femi Chubby Vegan Mom side note:

Now, before you go and get all "those stretch marks are your tiger stripes, you earned em,' be proud of em'" on me, let me shed a little light on my feelings about this. Am I ashamed of my stretch marks? Absolutely not. 

I don't mind my baby marks, but sometimes, the other ones dotting my body take me back to a place I'd rather not go. Being 13, changing for gym class, being covered in these stupid marks because my boobs got big too fast or because my hips expanded, it was embarrassing. Especially when half of your friends were waif-like and didn't have one on them. So there's nothing wrong with having them, but there's also nothing wrong with wanting to not have them if you don't have to. 

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Have your Christmas wreath and eat it too

With Pearyn just five months shy of turning four, she's ridiculously into doing any and every thing mommy and daddy are doing.

It doesn't matter if we're shoveling the driveway, changing her brother's diaper or scrubbing the kitchen floor with a toothbrush (we totally don't do that), she absolutely has to be involved.

Since her brain is like a little sponge and she absorbs everything she's learning right now, we've decided to start including her in as much as we can if we can make it a learning experience. So for the last month while we packed boxes and put together new furniture, she's been helping her daddy tighten screws, measure lengths and make sure pictures are level.

And because we're in the throes of Christmas and the super awesome baked goods it brings along with it, she's been my little sous chef when it comes to all things breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. Luckily for her we're elbow deep in dough, sugar and chocolate.

Today I decided to take something easy on. I wanted a dessert that would be simple to veganize, easy for Pearyn to contribute to and super Christmasy (yep, that's a word, just made it up).

Enter the cornflake, mashmallowey Christmas wreath. If you've had a rice crispy treat, chances are you've experienced one of these little circles of joy. They're cute and green and you use little cinnamon candies to add some red accents to the wreaths.

These were a hit with Pear Bear, they were quick to make, the vegan marshmallows worked perfectly in place and after sitting for about a half hour they were totally sticky-fied.

Vegan Christmas wreaths of Heaven
(Makes 28 two-inch wreaths)
Five cups cornflake cereal
1 bag vegan marshmallows (I use Dandies, they're available at our health food store, the big ones worked fine!)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegan white chocolate chips (just for some flavor)
4-5 drops green food coloring (we buy a locally made brand at the health food store)
1/3 cup vegan butter (we use Earth Balance!)
Optional: Red, vegan cinnamon-flavored candies

In a large pot, melt the butter on medium heat. Add the marshmallows (I cut them into fourths with kitchen sheers to make sure they'd melt easily), stirring until they melt into a buttery, creamy fluff.

Add food coloring and vanilla extract. When it's all smooth, stir in the cornflakes. Add the vegan white chocolate chips in the last minute and stir together.

Spread a piece of parchment paper out on a flat surface and using a spoon or just your hands (keep a bowl of water nearby or you'll get sticky!), make two-inch circles. Top with red, vegan candies. Let them sit for at least 30 minutes before taste testing. Keep them in an air-tight container for the next three days!

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This holiday season, let's agree to disagree

I don't know what happened to me, folks. One minute I was rolling my eyes at a Facebook comment and the next I was raging against the machine. OK, not really, but I did allow myself to get a little worked up over something someone I don't even know said. (Got to love internet and it's ability to make us all sound like rambling, psychotic, know-it-alls!)

When it comes to face-to-face interaction, if there's a particular topic I feel strongly about, you're going to hear it (that is, if you do something to evoke me). I'm not one of those individuals that hops up on my soap box and preaches to others about how wrong they are. Because truthfully, that's the big problem with a lot of passionate people. We feel so damn strongly about something that we only see it as a black-or-white issue. When in reality, very few things in this world are black or white.

I fight a lot. There's something combative in my nature, I call it charming, my husband calls it high maintenance. But one of the things he always compliments is my ability to see the other side. In fact, when it comes to the way I see things, it's all pretty much gray to me. Even taxes, I know there's a set percentage and everything, but I really feel like there should be some wiggle room there.

Maybe it's my fear of being wrong, maybe it's my subconscious telling me to agree to disagree or else I'll murder someone, whatever it is, I fully admit that passion doesn't always correlate with accuracy. Just because I really, really think and believe in something, doesn't make it right. Especially not to everyone else.

This holiday season, maybe we can stop calling each other stupid just because we don't believe the same thing. And while most of us are smarter than to come out and simply tell someone "they're stupid," maybe we can stop inferring it, stop snickering at the people who think differently than us, stop believing the world will spin off it's axis just because another person doesn't agree with us.

Am I a little bit on the hippie side? Probably. (I mean not just anatomically, but the way I live my life). I'm vegan (gasp, shock, awe!), I like cloth diapers, I worry about global warming, our children don't get flu vaccines (or a handful of others for that matter), I make my own baby food and I'm a tiny bit of a feminist. (More gasp, shock and awe I'm sure).

But just because I think we shouldn't eat, use, abuse or bother sentient beings, doesn't mean I'm right. Do I fully believe a vegan lifestyle is the right decision for MY family? Yes, yes I do. Does that mean I think every person not adopting one is an asshole? Yes, yes I do. NO. I'm really just kidding. I realize there are numerous families that don't see anything wrong with drinking milk from cows, with slaughtering pigs for bacon, and honestly, I can't blame them. Some people don't view animals in the same light I see them; that doesn't make me right or them wrong, it makes us different. And thank Heavens for our differences because what would we have to complain about if we all thought the same way.

We choose to vaccinate on a delayed and alternative schedule. I've talked about this in detail before, but the gist is this: we did our research, we looked at both sides, we talked to our children's physician and in conjunction with him we came up with something we were all confident and comfortable with. Does this mean you can treat me like my children are the next plague? NO. No, you don't have the right to. You have the right to respect my decision as a parent and the thought and research I put into that conclusion.

 I have several friends who never received a vaccination and guess what, none of them have carried small pox. This isn't to say it can't happen, it's just to display a point. When you choose to vaccinate you do so at the risk of suffering possible adverse side effects, anywhere from a simple rash to death. While you can't 100-percent guarantee someone they won't have a reaction, you also can't 100-percent guarantee an unvaccinated child will undoubtedly contract and spread every terrible disease and illness. When it comes to parenting, hell, life in general, we weigh the options, assess the risks and play the odds.

I could bore you with the studies showing connections between the hormones and steroids being pumped into our meat and dairy that have been linked to cancers, to young girls going through puberty MUCH earlier, not to mention our increased heart disease rate. But I don't. Because I would like to believe that you know these things. And that when you decide what food you're putting in your bodies (just like we decide what food or vaccination we're putting in ours), I'd like to think that you've researched it, understand the risks and are playing the odds you believe will be in your family's favor.

And while we're on the topic of making people feel stupid, I'd like to extend that thought process out to professions as well. Guess what? Being a nurse, a doctor, a surgeon, doesn't make you smarter or better than me. Does it mean you have more experience and knowledge in medicines, chemistry and heart surgery? Yes. Does it mean you're better or smarter than me in every other way? No.

I dedicated my college degree to English, to the study of language and literature, but just because I can diagram a sentence doesn't mean I'm queen of the world. Hell, just because I went to college doesn't mean I'm better than the man or woman working behind the counter at a grocery store who chose not to. They could probably tell me a lot more about customer service than I know. Intelligence has  to do with the field you're judging someone on. Several of my nursing friends have utterly atrocious spelling and grammar. Do I giggle behind their backs and talk about how stupid they are because they can't spell "weird" the right way? No. I acknowledge that their specialty is NOT grammar and therefore, they aren't stupid because they can't tell me the difference between first, second and third person.

So this holiday season, maybe we could all be just a little bit nicer to everyone else. We all have something we're passionate about. We all have something we love and believe in. But just because someone doesn't share our love, passion and beliefs doesn't make them wrong, and telling them they're stupid, doesn't make US any more right.

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Vegan stuffed peppers for dummies (in casserole form)

Have you ever made stuffed peppers?

They're amazing, aren't they? While I've never followed a "strict" stuffed pepper recipe, I've always stuck to the basic components of it: peppers (tops off, ribbed and seeds removed), some sort of ground "meat," some form of liquid tomato, onions and rice.

And while they're always delicious (regardless of what ingredients I end up tossing together), the peppers themselves are kind of drama queens. It's not like you just cut the tops off and throw some stuff in them, oh no, you've got to take things out, put things in, cook them just the right amount of time so they're done but not mushy.

This past week I was at the grocery store picking out some carrots and I started drooling over the peppers. What can I say, sometimes I get weird hankerings. I contemplated making stuffed peppers for about three seconds before I decided they were way too much work, especially if it was just going to be myself, my husband and our two kids eating them. There's no need to impress them with the presentation.

And then I was inspired by a dumbed down cabbage roll recipe I did a few years back and decided it was time to make this happen. This takes hardly any effort at all (if you really want to skimp on time just grab some frozen diced up veggies and you'll really be set) but it tastes JUST like the tedious stuffed peppers you used to make.

You're welcome.

Vegan stuffed pepper casserole
(serves 8)
3 medium green peppers, diced (you can do 4 if you really like peppers, or use red, yellow or orange if you want to get really crazy!)
1 large sweet onion, diced
2 cups cooked lentils (just follow your lentil instructions)
3 tomatoes, diced
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
2 TBS vegan Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp salt
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp basil
2 TBS minced garlic
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 cup vegan cheese (optional, we used Daiya Mozz because we had that on hand)

Cook your lentils and brown rice. (Just follow the instructions on their packaging). Preheat your oven to 385 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together your cooked lentils, brown rice, black pepper, salt, thyme, basil and garlic. Add vegan Worcestershire sauce and tomato sauce. Stir in diced onion, peppers and tomatoes. In a greased, large casserole dish (9X12 or whatever), pour stuffed pepper mixture. Top with vegan cheese if desired. Bake for 20 minutes, or until cheese starts to melt and brown a little.

Serve with your favorite salad, veggie or garlic bread! Contemplate never stuffing a pepper again!

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This crazy tragic, sometimes almost magic, awful beautiful life

I can't even fathom how it's already December 8. I swear I was just making our Thanksgiving Day microwaved feast yesterday! (I kid, I kid, none of our dishes touched the microwave, however, only one of them was homemade)!

Speaking of our Thanksgiving Day feast, I have to give mad props to Trader Joes. It's been six years since I first had any form of fake "turkey" roast and this one, unlike my first one, did not disappoint. At all. The texture was tender, not rubbery or chewy, and while the gravy it came with was just a wee bit bland, we added a touch of salt and all was right in the world again. We also had some stuffing, cauliflower "mashed" potatoes and peanut butter pie. Not bad if you consider we closed on our very first home the day before and had movers at our house 8 a.m. on Black Friday. 

Did I mention we're now homeowners? (Oh yeah, probably 497 times in the last two weeks, my bad). We've never been homeowners. We've always rented. So while the responsibility of something like a roof collapsing is scary, it's way more fun knowing we can do whatever the heck we want to this house. Pear wants orange walls in her bedroom, no more worrying about covering up the paint a year from now when we inevitably move again. We found a home in our price range in the city we were really, really trying to get into. It's got a top notch school system, access to the highway for my husband and is nestled in a neighborhood where property values have remained incredibly steady despite the less-than-stellar real estate market. 

It's a sweet little ranch with three bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, two fireplaces, a new kitchen and a completely finished basement, complete with an office and guest area for overnight family and a giant rec room for the babies to run around in. The outside has a bunch or trees, animal feeders and a pond with a little streaming fountain. We basically have no intention of ever moving out. EVER. 

And if moving hasn't made us busy bees, I had my yearly company work meeting to attend this past week. It's basically a three-day excursion where the entire company tries to cram a whole year's worth of "us" time in because we're all virtual. It's an utterly amazing event and the places we get to go are beautiful. This year we traveled to Tucson, Ariz., and while the temperatures were a little bit chilly, nothing else was. 

The resort we stayed at was welcoming and between a jeep trip to the mountains and a tour through the biosphere, we got to take in things we normally never would. Not to mention a team-building exercise where we put together 12 bikes to donate to the Boys and Girls Club of Tucson and a ping pong tournament after dinner on Thursday.

I've said it before and I'll probably say it a million times more: I work for an absolutely phenomenal company. 

I should probably also mention that it literally takes a village to raise a child, or, in our case, it takes a grandma, an aunt, a cousin and a very patient and loving husband (I mean, he did help make them and all). 

Without the help of my family and the support of my husband, these little business trips wouldn't be possible. 

So now that I've returned to our snow-covered home, it's time to get back into blogging and start some serious unpacking. I mean we've got the basics covered, but I've got a dining room to jazz up so we can hop on the family dinner train. 

And I haven't even started to contemplate our cookie assortment for operation show everyone vegan cookies are delicious and keep this tradition going with Pearyn. What cookies are on your must-make list this year?

I hope your family is enjoying the season and squeezing in as much of the holiday spirit and family time as your sanity can stand!

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'The Imperfect Environmentalist' - a perfect find

There are some serious, serious perks about being a blogger, my friends. 

Aside from the whole getting to vent my feelings, frustrations and rants all over the world wide web (what the heck is the INTERNET??), every now and then I receive a super exciting email from someone or some company doing someTHING amazing, asking me to try out their awesome THING. 

The most recent item I was lucky to get my hands on was Sara Gilbert's book, "The Imperfect Environmentalist." Look, I'm going to let ya'll in on a little secret here. When it comes to environmentalism and all those sorts of things, I usually take the approach of, "well, being vegan is super green, so that's enough." 

Oh, and we cloth diaper. So take that, landfill!

I know, I know, it's not the right attitude to have and I don't ALWAYS have it. Sometimes, however; it's easy to get swallowed up in all these different "movements." You can be vegetarian, vegan, \'green,' an environmentalist, eco-friendly; seriously, there's a lot of things to be and it's not always simple to know where to start. 

Enter Gilbert's book. 

"The Imperfect Environmentalist" provides seriously poignant, but easy-to-follow advice for a reader with any sort of education level, skill set or economical background. Are you a vegan living on your friends couch? OK, cool, Gilbert provides you with tips, such as buying only organic must-haves, like the dirty dozen to save costs or by riding your bike more to save money and gas! Perhaps your a humane, meat-eating, farmer market loving billionaire? No problem, Gilbert provides you with tips on how to go organic past your refrigerator, from the toys your children are playing with, right down to the organic cotton pajamas they should be wearing. 

"The Imperfect Environmentalist" is the perfect mix of informative, but cheeky; practical, but fun. Gilbert tackles the topics of environmentalism and going organic with a grace and down-to-earthness that makes this transition seem more like a reality and less overwhelming. 

Trust me. Coming from someone who has employed the "I'm doing enough for the world!" sentiment more than one person should, "The Imperfect Environmentalist" is a must-have for your bookshelf; or hell, for your friend's coffee table if you're crashing on their couch! 

No, but really, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this book (made on recycled paper!) for yourself, your friends and anyone else in your life who should care a little more about the footprint we're leaving on the world. 

Oh, or anyone who has ever watched Roseanne. (Or still watches the reruns over, and over again. Longing for the caustic, biting wit of Darlene Connor. Sorry, Sara, I had to). 

For those of you living under a rock: Sara Gilbert is widely known for her roll as the angsty daughter on the show Roseanne, but can now be seen rocking the television show The Talk, and spreading her kick-ass vegan, environmental ideals to the world. 

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Why we'll be microwaving our Thanksgiving feast

The Chubby Vegan Clan has got some super exciting news.

For the last three months we've seen at least 30 properties, checked out six different communities and walked through everything from a ranch to a two-and-a-half story. We made an offer and it didn't work out. 

The truth is, it wasn't our dream home. 

But the one we found just under a month ago, was. Is. We found our dream home. 

The funny thing is, it's not at all what we pictured we'd end up with. After drooling over gallant two story homes and walking through giant split levels that left us winded, our perfect Chubby Vegan family home ended up being a quaint ranch with the most awesome, super updated, ultra-finished basement. 

So while our humble abode appears to be on the smaller side above ground, we've got twice the space once you head downstairs.

The best part about the house we ended up with? With all that finished space on the lower level (and a second fireplace!), we'll actually have a presentable looking home. People will be able to walk into our home and have no idea that we've got two kids and an overflowing, surplus of toys. (Because they'll all be hidden away in the fabulous basement)!

Honestly, before even seeing the basement, I knew our house was "our house." The second we stepped into the "formal" living room, with it's wood floors and the fireplace with the wooden mantle, I pictured our family's stockings hanging. And I could already see the Christmas tree illuminating out the big bay window. It didn't just make sense for our family, it felt like our family. 

So after a lot of contracts, inspections, forms, more inspections, all that hubub, we're finally closing in on our closing date. (Fingers crossed) If all goes according to plan, the Chubby Vegan Clan will be homeowners THE DAY BEFORE THANKSGIVING. 

I know, right, we've got to be crazy! Not only will we be in a new home with less than a month until Christmas, we're not closing until the day before Thanksgiving and we hired movers for BLACK FRIDAY.

Guess who will be doing all her shopping on Cyber Monday? This Chubby Vegan Mom right here! 

So pardon us for being so busy lately, buying a home really requires a lot of effort. I mean like so much. Do you even know how many papers you have to sign just to ATTEMPT to get to the closing table? Like 70 bajillion. And well, we haven't made it to the closing table just yet, so I don't have the slightest idea what we're going to be dealing with there. 

Nevertheless, I think it's safe to assume we're going to have our hands full over the next few days. (You know, with boxes, packing peanuts, tape, all that essential stuff for moving). 

Hence the title of this blog and why we'll be skimping for our Thanksgiving feast this year. Seriously, we have a tradition every year of doing something completely different, completely homemade and way over top. From peeling a trillion baby pearl onions to making our own roast, we've tackled a lot over the last few years. 

This year, well, it'll certainly be unique, but it'll be a lot less than homemade. 

We're going the 100-percent sell out route. We've bought a turkey-less turkey and stuffing kit from Trader Joes, we'll be throwing together a run-of-the-mill stuffing (because they never give you enough in those kits) and just because it's already way too carb heavy, we're going to make a cauliflower mash. 

I haven't considered what we'll be doing for dessert yet, part of me really wants to tackle a pecan pie because I have yet to make one successfully (plus if I botch it I'll just blame it on the move!), but the other part of me knows I'll be a total stressball headcase already. 

What is your family doing for Thanksgiving this year?

And more importantly, what dessert will you be making!!?

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Need a dinner idea? Try something tasty and timely!

I have a confession.

Before going vegan, there were a lot of foods I had never, ever in my life tried, let alone wanted to.

After a few years of veganism, I found my taste buds broadening and I was really into trying new foods.

And by new foods, I basically mean several, several new cuisines. By switching to a diet which most people consider incredibly "restrictive," I actually opened my kitchen up to so many different parts of the world, from Thai food, Vietmanese and my now favorite, Indian.

Seriously, I never had yellow curry or aloo gobi until I went full-on vegan.

There's only one problem with all of these amazing cuisines. While I absolutely adore the flavors, spices, breads and entrees, I am utterly clueless when it comes to preparing these myself. I've tackled a curry dish and some vegan naan, but outside of those two dishes, I'm basically a foreigner when it comes to cooking with faraway spices.

So what's a girl to do when she doesn't have the moolah to pay for all that takeout, but she also has no idea how to make the stuff herself?

She goes to the grocery store, that's what.

My husband and I have been in constant search of readily-available Thai, Chinese and Indian foods at our store; but it's imperative they don't TASTE like they came off the grocery store shelf.

Enter Tasty Bite.

Because the food Gods most have known I was in search of some tasty vittles, I was lucky enough to receive a sampler pack of Tasty Bite popular vegan items from the company; which included: channa masala, punjab eggplant, ginger lentil rice, Thai lime rice, kung pao noodles and pad thai noodles. While Tasty Bite isn't an all vegan company, they do offer 27 different ready-to-heat entrees, rices and noodles that are.

Now I may have received these first six pouches for free in exchange for this review, I'm telling you right now I've actually spent our own Chubby Vegan money on these as well. We were lucky enough to find them at our regular grocery stores, in addition to the more unique flavors at our health food store. And no joke, I have yet to find one I don't like. Chubby Vegan Dad is a bigger fan of the Asian noodle pouches than me, but that's probably because I've been too busy stuffing my face with ginger lentil rice and Indian food. These heat up in no time (either on the stove or in the microwave) and they pair so well with a veggie as a side dish.

And they're totally within budget. In my grocery stores, the noodles run you anywere from $2.99-3.99, while the rice and Indian dishes I've seen for $2.49-3.99 and are available in the world food aisle.

I'm telling you, we've tried a lot of premade ethnic food pouches and so far, these have become our go-to brand.

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Quit scaring parents into submission and start thinking

So this is going to be a touchy spot for a lot of people. It doesn't matter if you're a vegan mother, an omnivore father or a who-knows-what-you-eat pediatrician; when it comes to children, we all want ultimately the same thing - for them to be safe, healthy, happy and a little better off than we are.

We don't want them to experience pain or sickness, so we do whatever we think it takes to keep those things from them. Sometimes this means monitoring how many fruits and veggies they're eating, sometimes it means giving them medicine.

Before I delve into this topic, let me reiterate this statement one more time: at the end of the day, we all want our children to be safe, healthy, happy and a little better off than we are.

As a parent who tends to take the road less traveled, I've gotten used to defending my stance on situations. Most times, I have a defense prepared before (and sometimes when) one is even needed. As much as our world wants to "embrace" different schools of thoughts, there are certain one's we're just not ready to accept.

Vaccinations are an incredibly hot topic right now. From fears that too many shots will lead to autism, to the idea that not vaccinating a child will result in them being afflicted with the black plague, polio and meningitis all at once, these shots are putting parents in a seriously stick-y (hey, I had to have a little fun) situation.

What's a parent to do in such a dangerous world? It seems sometimes like we're damned if we do, damned if we don't.

Do your research.

Get educated.

Ask questions.

And make an informed decision.

This is probably the best thing any parent can do for themselves, their sanity and most importantly, their children.

I'm not a doctor, nor is my husband, so we're not going to sit here and pretend we are. What I can do is tell you what we decided was best for our family and why. After hearing in a birthing class that in the last 30 years children have gone from receiving an average of 18 vaccines to almost 40 now, my husband and I decided to start asking questions.

We read as many sources as we could on vaccinations, from information provided by the Centers for Disease Control to off-beat books and materials written by pediatricians like Dr. Sears. And then, after we came to our own conclusion, we took that to our children's physician. With the help of our information and his education, we were able to agree upon a vaccination schedule for our children that addressed all of our concerns. Our children do not receive every vaccine, however; they do receive some.

The flu vaccination, is one we do not give to our children. It's not that I want Pearyn and Braeburn to contract influenza and be sick for weeks, it's just that we've weighed the pros and cons and we don't think it's necessary. Our doctor has provided us with the possible side effects from the vaccination, in addition to the complications they could face if they do get the flu this young, and as their parents we decided against it.

This bothers a lot of people we tell. They don't understand why we won't just give our children the flu vaccine, I mean, it's safe, right? Look how many people get it. Look how few people get reactions. Look at all the doctors telling us to get them, all the magazines saying we need them and all the news programs informing us of the deadly consequences if we don't.

Here's the thing. I'm not saying you shouldn't get your child vaccinated. What we chose to do for our family may not be the right thing for every other family. But I am saying it's what I believe is best for our family. An alternative, lighter vaccination schedule is what we believe will help our children be safe, healthy, happy and better off than us.

What I am saying, however; is that people need to stop scaring parents into submission. Take this month's Parents magazine for example. They have an article with common questions regarding the flu vaccination. While I appreciate the information this article provides (responses to things like 'will my kid get the flu FROM the vaccination?'), I don't appreciate the fact that it basically scares parents into getting the vaccination. I understand it's what the CDC wants from us, but my Parents magazine is going to start pressuring me too?

You might think I'm a cuckoo for launching into this debate. It's one vaccine, who cares! I guess it's the way the information is presented, WHO it's being presented by. I'm used to being bullied into the "norm" by large, government-run organizations, but once my magazines start scaring me I take it personally. Take for example Parents' response to the concern "my baby already gets too many shots." While doctors hear this from lots of parents, we need to know what "serious" risks we're creating for our children (ages 6 months to five) if we don't vaccinate. According to Parents' source, 20,000 kids ages five and younger are hospitalized with the flu every year, because of things like dehydration and pneumonia.

That's kind of serious. Who knew the flu bug could cause such a commotion?

If that's the case and we're going to start "protecting" our young children from things that could potentially lead to dire consequences, I propose we should stop eating, manufacturing and allowing the sale of chickens, cows, and reptiles such as turtles, lizards, and iguanas in the United States. According to the CDC, actually, verbatim:
" Every year, approximately 40,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the United States. Because many milder cases are not diagnosed or reported, the actual number of infections may be thirty or more times greater. Salmonellosis is more common in the summer than winter. 
Children are the most likely to get salmonellosis. The rate of diagnosed infections in children less than five years old is about five times higher than the rate in all other persons. Young children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised are the most likely to have severe infections. It is estimated that approximately 400 persons die each year with acute salmonellosis."
Too bad there's not a salmonella vaccine we can start pushing too. Unfortunately, as we learned from our own nearly two-month ordeal with salmonella poisoning and our two-year-old (at the time) daughter, it may start in chickens, cows and reptiles, but it's easily transferred to other foods and surfaces, like cantaloupe, for example. Did you know the contaminated cantaloupe outbreak of 2011 is the second deadliest food-borne illness in the U.S.?

After hearing those facts, are you going to suddenly stop buying cantaloupe? Probably not. If your doctor told you those facts would you? I don't know, you tell me.

I'm not saying you should live your life in fear that your child will get salmonella, but I'm also saying maybe we shouldn't be scared into giving them a vaccination if we're not really, on our own, 100-percent comfortable with it.

In fact, I'm not asking you to think like I do. I'm just asking you to THINK.

For yourselves.

And for your children.

Make decisions based on research, education and consultation, not FEAR.

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How our vegan family handles Halloween

Last week was one of my daughter's favorite 'holidays' - Halloween.

This was her fourth one and the first year she realized what was going on when the great candy swap happened.

You may not be familiar with the great candy swap I'm referring to. Two things happen when we discuss how our vegan family partakes in Trick-or-Treat; either people forget completely that we don't consume ANY animal products, including dairy-ridden things like chocolate and gelatin-based gummies, or they think we don't let our kids go out at all because we're completely against the collecting of candy.

The thing is, just because we're vegan and riding the cruelty-free train, doesn't mean we don't like dressing up and an excuse to eat too much candy!

For the last few years after our daughter finished trick-or-treating, we simply swapped out the candy she collected for the vegan treats we had purchased (before you go assuming it's crap like apples and bananas, think again, our daughter got full-sized vegan candy bars from Go Max Go Foods, the company behind vegan versions of your favorite candy bars, like Milky Ways and Butterfingers).

She was never privy to the exchange we made, until this year.

Since our daughter has started preschool, where classroom and birthday parties abound, bringing along homemade cupcakes and ice cream, we've started talking to her about why our family eats differently than everyone else.

She proudly proclaims to anyone that sees her eating that she doesn't have stuff with cows milk, eggs, gelatin or fish. She doesn't understand fully why we eat the way we do yet, but she's starting to grasp it and we've opened the communication lines.

Right now, she's satisfied with the response that we respect all living beings, so we choose not to eat things from them. We also stress to her that just because someone does eat animal products doesn't mean they're bad, they're just different from us.

So far, she's satisfied with those explanations, but it doesn't mean she'll always be. This little girl is constantly keeping us on our toes.

This year, however, our little Strawberry Shortcake proudly handed over her candy basket and asked us to get rid of the "icky" stuff and then to show her all the awesome loot she DID get to eat instead.

She was over-the-moon excited for her pumpkin cookies, vegan candy bars and vegan gummy bears. It also helps that we take her trick-or-treating in my parents' neighborhood, where her memaw and papaw spoil her with too many vegan chocolates and her great aunt Elaine that lives next door gives out pretzels, oreos and other vegan-approved junk food.

I realize things are easier right now, because she's so little. I know there will come a time when she's probably going to want to sneak a bite of real chocolate. But instead of spending our time worrying about how we're going to handle hypothetical situations, we're just going to take each issue as it comes.

And while our Batmanned-out Braeburn didn't get to partake in much actual trick-or-treating (he got pushed around in a stroller), he did get to enjoy a cookie the size of his head.

Because what's Halloween without a few giant cookies?

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Pumpkin cupcakes, ghostly bananas and frankenstein pasta - OH MY!

This isn't really a wordy post, I just wanted to show all my readers what fun stuff we've been sending our little girl off to preschool with.

Pear's a pretty big fan of all things bean, so we packed her some Frankenstein pasta with black beans for hair and smile and chick peas for eyes! We used a natural food dye we purchased at a local health foods store to give our noodles a green hue. Then we threw some chocolate chips into some strawberry slices for some really red-eye berries! 

Because it's preschool, the kiddies are still allowed to bring their own treats for their classroom parties. We don't like our little one to feel left out because we're a cruelty-free family, so these pumpkin ghost cupcakes were the perfect compliment for our dairy and egg free, but still fun, requirements. I'm pretty sure the teachers enjoyed a few of these as well! (Because really, who can make just one cupcake?)

For Pear's last Halloween-themed lunch, I used a pumpkin-shaped cookie cutter for the bread and then my exacto knife (originally purchased to cut through fondant) to cut out the eyes and mouth. Surprisingly easy AND ridiculously cute. We cut off the ends of a banana (don't worry her bubby ate the middle part!) and added some mini Enjoy Life chocolate chips to bring the ghost nanas to life. 

I love love love seeing the cute things parents do with their children's food. Not only does it look good, but it tastes good too. Which, in any kids eyes, is a win-win! 

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Falling off a train at full speed

Writing is one of the easiest things in the world to me. In college, when friends would whine endlessly about wasting an entire weekend working on a paper, I would what exactly they were doing to their paper that I wasn't to mine. How on Earth could it take them an entire weekend to do something that I could do in a mere few hours.

It probably sounds like bragging. But I'm not. The truth is, writing is probably the only thing that truly comes "easy" to me. I mean if we're talking about fractions or physics, well, it might take me months before I grasp what most people learn in a week.

Yeah, I'm really, really, really bad at anything involving numbers (unless those numbers appear in writing, in which case I'd have to ask you what kind of number is it, a date, an amount, and whether they're over 10, and then I'd proceed to tell you the proper way to use them in writing). Yep, I'm that girl. Annoying grammar-loving girl.

For the last month and a half or so, writing hasn't really come easily to me. Sure, I could have churned out a few blogs here and there about the long and arduous process we've experienced while trying to buy our first ever home; I could regale you readers with stories from my most recent work trip for a convention in Las Vegas. But the truth is, that's all I'd be doing - blogging. There wouldn't really be much of me behind it, just a simple rehashing of the events in my life.

For those of you worried, the truth is I've been in a much better place the last few months. I'm finding my footing again on the sane train and I'm happy. I'm slowly learning what pieces I need to just let go of in my life and which ones I should hold onto tighter.

I've found that by simply changing the way I look at things in my life makes a huge impact on my feelings. Instead of viewing all the tasks I have to accomplish in a day as responsibilities, I'm treating them like opportunities. Things that were seemingly overwhelming have become enjoyable again. Instead of worrying if I'm wiping noses right or feeding my kids the best organic, homemade meals, I'm taking more time to love on them, to enjoy them, to inhale their playful scent in. I'm enjoying being a wife, not because of the title it carries, but because I find new ways to love my husband every day.

I know, it sounds corny, it sounds so Lifetime movie of me, but suddenly, being me feels less like a burden and more like what it is - a blessing.

My only regret is that I wish I had more hours in a day to do the things I've spent so much time neglecting. I mean, honestly, is there really enough time in a day to snuggle with your babies? Enough evenings in a week to curl up on the couch for movie night with your family? Enough date nights to reconnect with you spouse and enough weekends to create new memories with other friends and far away family?

Since graduating, my entire existence has been about finding a "job" (literally and figuratively) and doing it well. But if you treat everything in your life as a job, of course you're bound to get burnt out.

This blog isn't a job. It's a passion. It's what I love doing. And I love being vegan. And being a mom. And being a feminist. And being a career woman. I love being all these things. And while I've expressed these ideals here and there, I haven't always been 100% upfront with how I feel, for fear of alienating or casting off my audience. I just can't do it anymore. This is my space. And it's about time I start living in my space the way I want - uncensored.

So that's my spiel. That's where I've been and I'm happy to be back. Really back this time. Not the pseudo-back I was a few months ago.

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Jack's magic three bean chili: Moody Monday

I'm not going to lie, I've always been a ridiculously big fan of fairy tales. Whether it was the haunting, twisted Grimm Brothers' tales or the fluffed up, sexually-biased Disney versions. So when I decided to dedicate VeganMoFo to all the fabulous (and maybe less-than-stellar) shows out there, I absolutely knew I had to do a dish for Once Upon a Time.

While I could have easily done another rad apple pie of some sort, I decided to tackle something with good ole' magic beans - Jacks to be certain.

And since fall has been flirting with those of us in Ohio for the last week, I figured what better dish to make than a three bean chili?

The best part about this (other than the magic)? It's got no fake meat and loads of cauliflower!

Jack's magic three bean chili
(makes 8-10 servings)
1 can garbanzo beans
1 can cannellini beans
1 can black beans
10 roma tomatoes, cup up (about dime-sized pieces)
1 red onion, diced
1 28 oz can of tomato sauce
2-3 cups water (depending on how chunky/watery you want your chili)
3 jalapeno peppers, diced
1 head of cauliflower, chopped
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 TBS vegan worcestershire sauce
2 TBS chili powder
1 TBS crushed red pepper
1 TBS onion powder
1 TBS garlic powder
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp dried basil

Dice up tomatoes (try to keep as much juice as you can for the chili!) and toss them in a big ole' pot on the stove. Add water and tomato sauce. Cook on medium to high heat. Add diced up onion, jalapeno peppers and chopped up cauliflower. Stir in brown sugar, vegan worcestershire sauce, chili powder, red pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, cinnamon and dried basil. cook for 15 minutes. Stir in garbanzo, cannellini and black beans. Cook another 30 minutes on low to medium heat (you want a slow boil/bubble).

Serve with your favorite vegan cheese and chip!


Trekkie tacos, the next generation (again): Throwback Thursdays

So I'm not going to lie. 

I'm a girl that likes her tacos. 

I'm also a girl that really, really digs Spock (not the original Star Trek one, more the Zachary Quinto variety). 

So this past Tuesday my husband and I finally caught up with the rest of the world and watched the latest Star Trek movie. I loved it, by the way. 

Afterwards we started perusing Netflix and found literally every Star Trek series and movie a trekkie could dream of. So we started watching the old school 1960s version and it was actually pretty entertaining. I decided I wanted to dedicate a VeganMoFo meal to it, but really, what the heck are they eating up in space? Freeze-dried meatloaf? 

Rather than try to make since of this, I used my English-loving background and decided on tacos, because Trekkie Tacos is quite a nice alliteration, don't you think?

These bad boys didn't last for long in our house. Chick peas make an awesome taco filler and I cooked them with some spicy cream cheese verde sauce. Yeah, they're delish.

Trekkie Tacos
(serves 4)
2 cans chick peas
1-2 TBS taco seasoning (you be the judge, some people like em really tacoey some don't)
1/2 cup vegan cream cheese
1 small jar of artichoke hearts
2 jalapenos, diced
1/2 cup verde salsa
Your favorite taco toppings (we had lettuce and pico)
Small corn tortillas
Splash of oil to cook with

Add about a TBS of oil to a large saute pan. Turn burner on medium heat and add chick peas to the pan. Add taco seasoning. Soften vegan cream cheese (you can microwave if for a 20 seconds) and then stir it with the chick peas. Add your verde salsa. Stir in artichoke hearts and diced up jalapenos. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Throw on your favorite tortilla and top with the works!


A chocolate zucchini doughnut fit for Homer: Wild Card Wednesdays

You might have read about my passionate love for Patrick Dempsey and all the other McHotties on Grey's Anatomy on Monday, but today's post is a love affair that has lasted almost as long as I've been alive. 

No, seriously. 

Since premiering in 1989, at the ripe age of four, I've been utterly obsessed with everyone's favorite yellow family, The Simpsons. It's probably not something I should be proud of, but I can quote nearly every episode, I dragged my husband to see the movie on opening night and I've owned, beaten and replayed every last Simpsons video game. 

I'm what you call a super fan. 

When I worked at the newspaper my editor and I used to quote lines from the Simpsons back and forth to each other, because, let's be honest, who doesn't need a little wisdom from Ralph Wiggum in their life? In fact, my dad not only went to school with Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson, he was friends with her. 

Isn't it funny what a small, crazy world it is?

So now, in honor of my hands-down favorite cartoon in the entire world (and serious contender for television show EVER), I just knew I had to dedicate something to Homer. And if you've seen The Simpsons, you'll know there's only two dishes I could have possibly tackled when making something for VeganMoFo.

Unfortunately, I couldn't come up with a vegan substitute for a three-eyed, radioactive fish, so I had to settle for creating the perfect doughnut recipe ever. And considering my husband, daughter, nieces and nephews bashed on these doughnuts, I'd say they were officially successful. 

Don't let the zucchini fool you. With a little help from your awesome food processor (don't have one? Stay tuned, I'm going to announce the king of all giveaways later today) you won't even notice a little veggie in your doughnut!

Chocolate zucchini not-too-good-for-you doughnuts
(makes 48 doughnuts)
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/4 cups zucchini, cut and pureed
1/2 stick vegan butter (I use Earth Balance)
1/4 cup coconut oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup applesauce
1/4 cup vegan coffee creamer (I used Silk French Vanilla)
2/3 cup vanilla coconut milk yogurt
1/3 cup mini vegan chocolate chips (I use Enjoy Life mini chips, you can buy them at most groceries or health food stores)
1 TBS cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 TBS baking powder
1 TBS baking soda

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Spray or grease a mini doughnut pan. In a large bowl, cream together your sugar and softened (not melted) vegan butter. In a food processor, blend chopped zucchini, oil, applesauce, creamer and yogurt. Add to sugar and vegan butter mix. Stir in cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder and soda. Stir in flour, cup by cup. Add in chocolate chips and mix until you reach almost a thick texture of mouse/brownie batter/dough. 

Once your dough/batter is mixed, scoop into a gallon Ziploc bag and cut a small tip at the end of a corner. Pipe your doughnut mixture into the doughnut circles. I filled mine almost all the way full, this resulted in chunky, super cute fatty donuts.

Bake for 10 minutes. When you first pull them out, let them sit for about five minutes and then turn them over and tap them out onto a wire baking sheet.

This recipe originally appeared on my Sunday segment on Mom-Spot.com


Vegan beef stroganoff straight off of Wisteria Lane: Trashy Tuesdays

We're moving right along with our VeganMoFo theme this week with our Trashy Tuesday segment. I was in my first year of college when Desperate Housewives came out. I had been too busy with selecting the major that would impact my entire life, meeting my best friends, playing softball and you know, doing that classes thing to actually start watching it when it first came out. Luckily my mom taped it (I'm not sure if we had DVR back then), so I got my taste of Wisteria Lane over summer break.

My absolute favorite character was the seemingly perfect, but utterly neurotic Bree Van de Kamp. How could you not love the completely uptight, straight-laced, dinner is at 5 p.m. sharp and if you miss it I might gouge  your eyes out with my perfectly done nails and our wedding silverware attitude?

Sure, she ended up going a bit psycho, who wouldn't under such stress? She was the perfectionist of all perfectionists. And that's why I'm dedicating this Trashy Tuesday to Desperate Housewives. Because I can't even begin to imagine all the home-cooked, straight-outta-Betty-Crocker meals Ms. Van de Kamp cooked up for that family.

I've been having a craving for a while, expedited by one of my friends asking for a recipe for it, so I decided it was time to experiment with my own vegan "beef" stroganoff. This is chock full of mushrooms and all that other awesome ooey-gooeyness you remember about the classic dish. Now, it might not be a healthier version, but it is cruelty free!

Vegan beef stroganoff
(Serves 4-6)
16 ounces baby bella mushrooms, cut into quarter-pieces
1 large onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 cups "beef" broth (I used Edward & Sons Not Beef bouillon cubes to make this up)
1 cup vegan mushroom gravy (I used a generic store brand that was animal-product free)
1 cup vegan sour cream
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp black ground pepper
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
10 ounces wide noodles (my local grocery store has a completely egg-free, not just yolk-free, egg noodle style noodle)

 In a small pot, boil water and cook your pasta per instructions, set aside once fully cooked and drained. Cut mushrooms into quarter pieces, dice onion and garlic and cook on medium heat in a skillet with the balsamic vinegar, until almost tender (about 15 minutes). Remove from skillet and set aside.

In the same skillet (you want all that yummy flavoring), cook vegan beef broth on high. Reduce heat to medium and stir in flour with a whisk until completely blended. Stir in vegan sour cream, gravy, salt and pepper. Once combined, turn off heat and stir in mushroom mix from earlier. Serve over your favorite noodle (make it authentic by finding an eggless "egg" style noodle!)

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Not your cafeteria's vegan mac and cheese: Moody Monday

Welcome to the second week of VeganMoFo! Hard to believe we've already been blogging for six days now, am I right? I'm telling you, the first week of MoFo feels super chaotic and confusing (even when you have the best laid plans), so I always seem to enjoy the second week more. Most everyone is in their groove, the really awesome recipes start coming out and the big giveaway announcements start appearing.

(Stay tuned for my really big, really awesome giveaway announcement on Wednesday. Trust me, with a retail value of $450, this is one contest you really, really want to be around for.)

The funny thing about my second week is that I didn't (and don't) have it nearly as scrupulously planned out as my first week was. I was done cooking last week's food on Monday! This week, I'm lucky to get it done the night before!

But that's the way the VeganMoFo cookie crumbles, and as long as there's a recipe for that cookie, it doesn't matter!

In case you're new to my blog or not privy to my theme, I'm dedicating this month to many of our beloved television show favorites. Last week we tackled True Blood, Melrose Place, Big Brother and Gilligan's Island. And don't you worry, we've got just as much fun in store for you this week.

So for today's Moody Monday madness, I've decided to create a recipe for my favorite television show in the entire world: Grey's Anatomy. What can I say? I'm a sucker for a mature Patrick Dempsey. And well, when Eric Dane was still on the show, he wasn't too hard on the eyes, either.

So while brainstorming ideas with my husband about what I could do, I told him I was thinking about revamping cafeteria food found in a hospital, you know, since Grey's Anatomy takes place in a hospital. I was pleasantly surprised when the same exact food came first to both of us: macaroni and cheese.

And what's even better about this awesome Moody Monday recipe is not only does it meet my theme, it falls in line with VeganMoFo's daily theme of Mac and Cheese Monday (because really, what other kind of Monday even exists?)

So I present you with this killer loaded vegan mac and cheese recipe you probably won't find in any hospital cafeteria near you, but you'll wish you could!

Loaded vegan mac and cheese
(serves 6-8)
1 cup raw cashews
1/2 cup plain vegan yogurt (I find it's a little more sour than sour cream sometimes)
1/2 cup plain almond milk
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
10 oz cooked whole wheat elbow pasta
1 wedge Daiya cheddar cheese
1 TBS onion powder
1 TBS garlic powder
Handful of fresh chives, diced into tiny pieces
Breadcrumbs or panko for a crunchish topping
Vegan bacon bits (I stirred in half a cup and then added another half a cup on top).

In a small saucepan, boil the cashews on high heat for 15-20 minutes. (You just want enough water to keep them submerged). In another saucepan, boil your pasta according to the packaging instructions.

Once the cashews are cooked, preheat your oven to 350. Toss cashews, yogurt. almond milk, nutritional yeast, onion powder and garlic powder into a food processor. Blend until super duper creamy (it kind of looked like cake batter).

In a medium bowl, stir your nut "cheese" blend with your pasta. Take your wedge of Daiya and cut into small chunks (about the size of a dime). Stir these cubes into the cashew pasta mix. Stir in chives and bacon bits. Scoop into a casserole dish (mine was 1.5 QT) and bake for 20 minutes. Take out of the oven and top with breadcrumbs or panko and vegan bacon bits. Bake for 10 more minutes.

This ends up tasting like one of the best comfort, homecooked foods ever. Trust me.

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Why Facebook makes my blood boil

Consider this your warning: Below you will see some curse words. You'll also see some photos that might be considered adult in nature. I'd rate it PG-16, however, four of the eight photos that appear below in these collages are allowed on Facebook. I'll let you determine which ones you'd want your child to see.

While I've been busy whipping up a batch of amazing macaroni and "cheese" for my Moody Monday's television recipe, I decided to take a break and start perusing my Facebook page. I was recently introduced to this kick-ass "project" by one of the mommy blogs I follow, called the 4th Trimester Bodies Project.

This photography project is "dedicated to embracing the beauty inherent in the changes brought to our bodies by motherhood, childbirth and breastfeeding."

It's sad that we live in a day and age where we have to EMBRACE the beauty in being a mother. In the stretch marks it may leave us with, the slightly knottier breasts, the sometimes chewed-on nipples, the wider, curvier hips birthing a human being can leave us with.

Every mother is beautiful and different in her own way. Heck, even if you weren't physically able to birth a child, but adopted one instead, it doesn't mean that motherhood hasn't had it's wear and tear on your body. Your arms from lifting it, your smashed chest from clutching a child, the crumbs and spit-up you find in your hair, clothes, hell, cleavage. Being a mother - in any sense of the word - changes your body forever.

We live in a society where we don't just celebrate beauty, we demand it. We want it in our faces, we want more of it and we use it to complete nearly every task throughout the day. Want to sell a hamburger? Just put a a bikini-clad girl in your commercial licking barbeque sauce off her fingers. Can't decide what kind of cologne is right for your hubby? Just find the one with the hottest, most-naked man on the box. Need to get that special woman something in your life to reignite the romance? Clearly you should get her some edible underwear.

We don't want to see what real people look like. We'd rather stare at the photoshopped faces and bodies of our beloved celebrities and then pick at ourselves in the mirror. We need to feel badly about ourselves because what happens if we actually become comfortable with our looks. What happens if we wake up one day and decide we are good enough - without the push-up bras, mascara and four-inch heels? Well, for starters, our entire market would probably collapse. According to an article that appeared on The Economist website, the beauty industry alone (make-up, diet, grooming products) generates at least 160 BILLION dollars worldwide. Yeah, we may say we need to "embrace" our inner beauty, but I've got 160 billion George Washington's that says we don't practice what we preach any time soon.

So that's what was so awesome about this 4th Trimester Body Project. It's something that's empowering to women. It's something for women. It's something that finally says "I'm OK with my body and showing it off doesn't mean it has to be sexual." The pictures are tastefully taken, most of them depicting women in a simple pair of black underwear and a bra. (I carefully chose the word underwear there, because if I would have used 'panties' it might have sounded too sexual, crazy, huh?) Some of them show a woman breastfeeding her child, however, if the caption didn't tell you that's what was happening,  you wouldn't know. Because guess what? The child's head is covering the woman's breast.

I'm not saying you have to be all ra-ra-ROAR about breastfeeding and natural parenting to get on board with this campaign. The first time I breastfed my daughter in public, I felt incredibly uncomfortable, not because of anyone else, but because I just couldn't get the hang of it. Am I a supporter of women being allowed to breastfeed? Yes, I am. Even though it wasn't quite my cup of tea, I think that women shouldn't be shoved into a bathroom stall or their car because they want to feed their babies.

 Might it result in a few sideway glances from 10-year-old boys or an awkward conversation with children who haven't been exposed to breastfeeding before? Sure. But guess what?  It's called being a freaking parent. Sometimes, you have to educate your children. Sometimes, you have to accept that just because you don't think boobs are made to feed babies and formula is fine, not everyone feels that way. And if you really have that big a problem with boobs and the female body, you should probably avoid the mall, where there are photos plastered everywhere with bras and boobs the size of my entire body; the beach or pool, where there are boobs BUSTING out of bikinis and well, the grocery store, because there are women, with breasts and cleavage EVERYWHERE.

So here's the big picture. The people behind this awesome photography project keeps getting banned from Facebook and Instagram because their photos are "violating Facebook's Community Guidelines." Which, I've read them and can't say they have. But let's pretend we've got some 900-year-old prudes running Facebook and they really do have a problem with the "nature" of these photos.

I present you with this (a collage I put together of four photos pulled from community pages active on Facebook as of 9/8/2013), and ask you, why is it these "groups" are still actively allowed to post (you know, if we're all just about following the rules here, Facebook Gods).

Maybe it's because the girl in the top left is just dancing, or had an itch, right? And the one next to her is just bowling, because, who DOESN'T go bowling in just their underwear and post it on Facebook right? And the girl lying on the bed in some knee socks and a thong? I bet she's reading a good book and is just part of a book club on Facebook. And the last picture, clearly she's OK because she's just showing off her right to bear arms (and boobs for that matter).

To be honest, I don't have a problem with any of these photos. The female body is an absolutely gorgeous thing. I do, however, have a problem with some asshole social network execs censoring one because, what, it's too real? Being a mother and being beautiful isn't allowed? Or is it that being a mother means that we're not beautiful anymore? Which is it, Facebook?

Guess I'll just quit wasting my valuable time on your biased, censoring website and get my ass back in the kitchen where it belongs. Because if I'm female, then that's probably all I'm good for.

Well, unless I'm bowling in my panties. Then I'm OK.

Please consider signing this petition to tell Facebook what assholes they're acting like.

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VeganMoFo 2013: My first Fab Five Friday

Somewhere amidst all the menu planning, baking and eating required for VeganMoFo, we've got to find time to peruse each other's blogs. If we're too busy cooking up our own dishes for VeganMoFo then how the heck are we supposed to enjoy all the other awesome vegans out there?

So every Friday during VeganMoFo I like to turn my oven off and step away to admire and appreciate the hell out of all you fabulous fellow veggies. I like to call these my Fab Five Fridays, a blog post dedicated solely to five kick-ass dishes I saw during the week.

For starters, apparently I'm on a vegan seafood kick because I found myself drooling over Olives for Dinner's vegan scallops with pea puree and watercress multiple times this week. In fact, I was sitting at lunch with my husband and I actually looked up the original link I found on Twitter just so I could show him how amazing these faux scallops were. I then added it to my shopping list like ASAP because if mama wants vegan scallops, mama needs to have some vegan scallops.

And to keep the vegan seafood kick rolling, if you haven't seen Food and Yoga for Life's raw, vegan "salmon" nori rolls then you should probably just head on over there right now. I have always been a sushi lover, long before my vegan days, so being able to have a cruelty-free version of something I used to be literally addicted to is astounding.

And while the next dish isn't from the vegan sea, it is something I've never, ever heard of, but feel like I NEED to have it right away. The Jolly Fox tackled some Hawaiian delight known as a loco moco, which consists of rice, veggie burger and a fried vegan "egg." It doesn't matter that this "egg" is tofu-based and stacked on a veggie burger, this dish looks super duper rich ... and did I mention delicious?

I might not have seen an actual photo of the Illustrated Guide to Vegan Delight's sauerkraut soup you never know you wanted, the funny illustrations of a cartoon woman shoving sauerkraut into her mouth by the handfuls made me really, really want some soup. And it made me wish I was capable of creating funny drawings.

And because NO Fab Five Friday would be complete without some sort of amazing dessert. I may not be on the raw-food train just yet, but these chocolate peanut butter and jelly raw bars from Unrefined Vegan  might be enough to do the trick. Not only are they seriously yummy looking, they're easy peasy to put together and they're healthy. And let's be honest, how do you say no to peanut butter and chocolate:?

What amazing dishes have you seen this VeganMoFo? Think I missed one? Have something awesome planned? Make sure you let me know and I'll be sure to pay a visit next week!