Four Weeks of Mostly Vegetarian Dinners (winter)

I’ve posted several accounts of our family meals that are all-vegetarian or include a little fish.  That’s the way we eat normally, and it’s the way we ate during most of this four-week period, but this was one of the rare times when we purchased some chicken to eat at home and ordered some in a restaurant, as well as eating quite a bit of ham at a party.  You see, we aren’t strict vegetarians.  We believe that eating meat infrequently is better for our health and the environment, but we like to be flexible.  Sometimes it’s more polite to eat some meat than to make a fuss about what we’re served as guests.  Sometimes we’re away from home and need to eat in a restaurant with limited options.  Sometimes one of us feels a craving for a particular meat, and because of our generally healthy metabolisms we believe that our food cravings are a sign of genuine physical needs.  Sometimes we eat meat just because it tastes good–as is the case with the incidents here!  Moderation in all things. This four-week menu is still mostly vegetarian.  I plan our menu for dinner every night and lunch on days when there’s no school.  Daniel cooks on weeknights, and I cook on weekends and days off, because he works from home whereas I don’t get home from work until just before dinnertime. Week One:

  • Sunday:
    • Lunch: Leftover Apricot Lentil Soup, cheese, and crackers.
    • Dinner: Salmon Tetrazzini made with canned salmon, whole-wheat pasta, and frozen peas.  Side dish of canned pineapple.  Tetrazzini is just about the only recipe for which I can be bothered to make a white sauce, a task I find annoying but worthwhile for this deliciousness!  My tetrazzini recipe came from a magazine years ago, probably Redbook; it called for turkey, but at various times I’ve made it with salmon, tuna, tofu, or vegetables in place of the turkey.
  • Monday (New Year’s Eve):

Martinopoly: What My Kid Did for Martin Luther King Day

Martin Luther King, Jr., has been one of my heroes as long as I can remember. Since my son Nicholas was 3 years old, I’ve made a point of doing something on Martin Luther King Day each year to remember Dr. King and his principles.  That first year, we discussed the basics of the civil rights movement and Dr. King’s assassination and attended an interdenominational service where some of Dr. King’s speeches and essays were read.  Other years, we’ve read a children’s book about civil rights, volunteered at National Day of Service activities, or watched Dr. King’s speeches on YouTube.

This year, Nicholas is 8 years old and in second grade.  As in kindergarten and first grade, his school did some teaching about Dr. King in the week before the holiday.  We went into the holiday weekend with no set plans for commemorating the holiday, and then I wound up with a headache that came and went all weekend, interfering with the chores I needed to get done.

Nicholas announced on Monday morning that he had decided what we would do for the holiday: He would make a board game about Martin Luther King, Jr., and then we all would play it together.  He spent several hours making the game board while I washed dishes, packed up Christmas decorations, and did other chores.

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Read more…

Less Acid Spaghetti Sauce, January 20 Version

Spaghetti with marinara sauce is my favorite food.  However, tomato sauce and spices can be irritating to a stomach that’s been having that burning “acid” feeling or a tongue with inflamed taste buds at the very back.  I have been having both problems lately…but I really wanted to make a new batch of spaghetti sauce…so I tried to make a mellow one, and I used a trick I read online to reduce the acid, and it really seemed to work!  This sauce is tasty but didn’t burn my mouth or stomach at all, even though I ate a big portion and then licked the pot! 🙂

This recipe must be higher in sodium than most of my homemade sauces because it contains seaweed and baking soda as well as salt.  If you are on a low-sodium diet, leave out the salt and then add salt to your portion if you think it’s necessary–you’ll probably use less that way.

Other factors influencing this batch of sauce were that we happened to have run out of oregano, somehow, without anyone putting in on a shopping list, and that we were so low on fresh garlic that I knew it wouldn’t be enough for a whole pot of sauce and decided to use granulated garlic instead.  Spaghetti sauce is very flexible about this sort of thing.

Here are the instructions/ingredients/method for approximately reproducing this batch of sauce: Read more…

How to Get a Kid to Like Mushrooms

We strive to be the kind of family that shares meals–not the kind that “has to” fix nuggets and fries for the kid every night!  The reality is somewhere in between.  Many of my multi-week menus indicate adaptations for Nicholas: We prepared meal components separately and served his in separate dishes not touching, while we mixed ours together; or we set aside food for him to eat plain, while we seasoned ours in some interesting way; or we served him cucumber or apple slices because he wouldn’t eat our vegetables; or we even fixed a packaged food for him to eat while we ate leftovers of something he hadn’t liked so much.  Different people like different things, and once in a while our menu bends around one of the adults disliking something.

Still, in general we want Nicholas to eat a wide variety of foods for nutritional and politeness reasons, and we want him to like what we like because it’s convenient!  I’ve read–and I remember from my own childhood experiences–that children often come to enjoy a food they previously rejected as their tastes change with time and/or repeated tasting of the food enables them to notice its good aspects more than its bad ones.

Nicholas just turned 8 and just overcame his resistance to mushrooms, in almost exactly the same way as I did at almost exactly the same age.  These are the features of this process: Read more…

Top 10 Articles Earthlings Read in 2012

On New Year’s Eve, I looked at my WordPress statistics to see which articles in The Earthling’s Handbook drew the most readers in 2012.  Interestingly, 9 of the top 10 were published before 2012!  I choose to believe that this is not because my writing has declined but because my older articles have ongoing relevance and accrue more publicity around the Internet each year they exist.  🙂  I scanned down the list of articles ranked by number of readers to determine the Top 10 articles written in 2012.  Here are both lists: Read more…

3 Books for Laughing Out Loud

Today’s Three Books on Thursday theme is books that make the reader laugh out loud.  I can’t, of course, guarantee that what’s funny to me will be funny to you, but here are three books that in my opinion are filled with hilarious moments:

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson is an account of traveling around Great Britain.  Bryson was born and raised in Iowa, then lived in England for 20 years and wrote this book as he was preparing to move back to America.  The first time I read it, I thought it was entertaining and somewhat funny.  The second time I read it, I started in a hospital waiting room–where I was awaiting surgery, very sad about the circumstances that brought me there, and extremely hungry and nauseated–and it was so funny I could hardly believe it!  Anything that could make me laugh on that day has got to be good.  Bryson has a way of noticing tiny details that are really very strange and pulling them together with just the right phrasing.  He also has a great sense of humor about his own behavior and perceptions, which got very grumpy at times during this journey because he was hiking long distances, and the weather and/or terrain didn’t always cooperate.  I also love his book The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America; it’s over 20 years old now, so it’s something of a time capsule of a past America, and very funny.

Legal Daisy Spacing: The Build-a-Planet Manual of Official World Improvements by Chris Winn is a mysterious catalog which seems to be aimed at some aliens who are much bigger than we are and are planning to make our pesky planet (or one a lot like it) much tidier yet more smoggy.  From this catalog, they could order such items as coastline tiles and molds to form mountains into proper conical shape.  Here are a few pages.  The charming style of the product descriptions makes the whole concept less alarming and much funnier.

More Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel is the second anthology of a comic strip about lesbians in San Francisco.  This is the volume I happen to own and have read many times; they’re all good!  These strips were published in the 1980s, and Bechdel did a great job of appreciating the lesbian subculture while showing the awkwardness of getting along in everyday life at a time when lesbians were considered very strange and threatening by mainstream society.  Although I’m very straight myself, the main character Mo’s worries and over-seriousness and social awkwardness are very similar to mine, and all the characters are fun and well-drawn.  Just recently I picked up this book for the first time in a while, flipped to a random page, and immediately started laughing at the next-to-last frame of this strip.  (NOTE: This book includes a lesbian sex scene.  Don’t read it if you can’t handle that.)

After the above, I feel I ought to offer an alternate book for children, and luckily my 8-year-old son and I have been reading one!  Lulu Goes Shopping by John Stanley is one of a series of anthologies of the 1940s comic book “Little Lulu” published recently and available in our local library!  (Look under “graphic novels” in the children’s section.)  My dad used to read me “Little Lulu” comics from his childhood, and they’re often very funny!  Lulu and her friends are always having adventures, making up stories, attempting things that go spectacularly awry, resolving arguments innovatively, and confusing the adults.  The unique cuteness of the art really adds to the humor.

10 Lessons Learned from Rewiring an Old House

This is a guest post by Ben Stallings, my brother, who is a permaculture gardener, home energy efficiency auditor, and owner of a curbside recycling business in Kansas.

I spent most of my spare time in 2011 rewiring our 1920 house, replacing the old knob & tube wiring with modern nonmetallic cable that meets code.  Now I’ll take a look back at what I learned from the experience, in case any of you are thinking of attempting the same thing!

1. The electrician’s bid was reasonable.

When we first bought our house and tried to insure it, we found that the insurance company we wanted to use would not insure us because of the potential safety hazards of our knob & tube wiring.  I got a bid from an electrician to rewire the house, but it seemed laughably high: US$7,000.  (That’s almost 10% the cost of the house.)  It was clear from his attitude that he didn’t want the job, so I figured the bid was inflated. Not so, it turns out.  The materials don’t cost much, but the labor is very intensive.  I know I wouldn’t take on another job like this for $7,000.  At the time we didn’t have that kind of cash on hand, but now that we do, if I had to do it again, I’d pay the electrician to have it done. Read more…

Japanese Udon Noodle Soup

Happy New Year!!  Somebody told me long ago that in some cultures it’s traditional to eat “long noodles for long life” at the turn of the year.  We all like noodles in our family, so we have taken up this tradition.  This year and last I made Japanese Udon Noodle Soup for dinner on New Year’s Eve.  It contains two main ingredients that might be unfamiliar to non-Japanese people, but it’s quick and easy and tasty!  My mom taught me to make it.  (We’re not Japanese, but we spent a few months in Japan when I was a toddler and my dad was working there, and my parents have visited Japan several times since.)

These ingredients should be available from any Asian grocery store, and many supermarkets carry them these days:

  • Udon noodles are like thick linguini.  They’re made from wheat flour and have a very plain yet pleasant flavor.
  • Bonito broth mix is like bouillon; you buy a little jar of strongly flavored particles that dissolve in water to make a broth.  Bonito is a kind of fish.

This recipe is very flexible.  You can use up leftovers in it or use the vegetables you happen to have in the house.  The protein can be tofu, egg, or fish (already cooked, not breaded or strongly seasoned).  You can add any Japanese-style garnishes you happen to have, such as seaweed sprinkles or pickled radish or mung bean sprouts. Read more…