Friday, July 29, 2011

The Process of De-Parent-Ing

Yeah, so I totally made that word up. It's the only way I can describe what I see as a necessary process in raising our culture's kids. In an era of convenience and efficiency, children have become, according to most in our culture, a "difficulty." Wander through a bookstore and you will see dozens of titles related to methods of either controlling or fixing our children. Coupled with a misconstrued interpretation of religious values in a largely Christian culture, we seem to have the idea that children somehow start off damaged in some way, and nearly every parenting choice we make is some kind of effort to solve the problem of children. From birth, we are told to "encourage" our children to develop properly - tummy time, classical music, baby Einstein; black and white contrasting circles and stripes for newborns to stimulate their senses, bright, primary colors for infants and toddlers, tactile stimulation...only use certain words, foods, and activities to mimic their developmental if by NOT doing these things our children will fail to develop and remain perpetual infants! We are told how to teach them to roll over, crawl, walk, talk, read, write, and count to 10 - and we are offered a number of educational toys to help us do so. We are (unintentionally?) brainwashed to think that kids need us to make them develop normally. We are told that Mother Nature has no idea what she is doing, and that we must take over, for the good of our children.

There are a number of things that children will do, all on their own. With absolutely no prompting from us, children will:

1. Grow
2. Develop
3. Learn
4. Play
5. Eat
6. Sleep
7. Heal
8. Reproduce (eventually)
9. Empathize
10. Love

I promise.

We are a society that values individuality, efficiency, and competition. I'm not saying that these are bad qualities - but unchecked and unbalanced, they simply do not allow for children. We are a society focused on "getting things done" - getting to the end product - with, all-too-often, complete disregard for the method we use for doing so, when, in fact, this method is every bit as important as the final result. We have lost the value of leisure, pleasure, and even simple existence itself. We push our children aside and say, "Here, let me do that for you," instead of saying things like, "Please help me do this." The problem is NOT that our children want to help us wash the dishes, even though we are apparently (for some unknown reason other than the importance of washing dishes) in a terrible hurry; the problem is that we place too much value in breakable dishes.

When my child has a tantrum, it is not my job to put an end to it. He will not tantrum forever. He WILL (as long as I don't interfere with the process) learn to regulate his emotions through social learning and the natural development of brain cells. It is my job to see him through it. It is my job to find out why he is upset (because there is ALWAYS a reason) and it is my job to either help him accept the problem, help him find a solution to the problem, or just let him be upset about the problem for as long as he needs to. It is NOT my job, as a parent, to try and distract him, pacify him, discipline him, train him, or otherwise shut him up for the sake of not disturbing other people (who probably could do with a little more patience and self-regulation themselves) or in order to produce "well-behaved" children (which is something that has become a bragging right - a way to showcase your little pets to all your family and friends and say, "Look what a good parent I am - I've trained me a kid!").

Of course, our culture does not value intangibles. Not really. We spout Romantic ideals of love, happiness, and other equally bohemian scapegoats, but our actions speak much louder than words. We only value honesty because it keeps crime rates down and boosts public morale, which ups production. We value self-esteem because confident workers are hard workers. We value love and happiness - but only if we can squeeze them in while earning a good living so as not to depend on anyone besides ourselves for food and shelter. All children have physical needs and non-physical needs. The physical needs are things like food, shelter, clothing; the non-physical needs are things such as parental attachment, bonding, socialization, trust, love, emotional reciprocity, and security. We have become such a materialistic society that we place the highest value on the physical needs of the child, and neglect everything else. Don't believe me? Which do most Americans think is worse: A parent who works hard 40+ hours a week to feed and clothe their children, but has to send them to daycare and/or school to do so; or a parent who stays home or works minimal hours so they can be with their children, but has to depend on government aid for food and housing? Most people would tell the second parent to get off their ass and go to work. How many would tell the first parent to stay home? Why? The working parent is filling their child's physical needs, but - due to the completely backwards nature of our culture which forces parents to work without their children present - they are often forced to leave the bulk of non-physical needs in the hands of others. The second parent is filling their child's non-physical needs, but leaving the physical needs to be filled by someone else. Our society tells us that one is better than the other, but this is FALSE. ANYONE can give a kid food and a place to stay. Anyone. So why is it that we hold up the working parents who "sacrifice everything" for their kids - who work hard to give them food and shelter, which anyone can theoretically provide, but who are either forced to or choose to allow others to handle education and social development? And why do we condemn "lazy" parents who choose to stay home with their children, even if it means they have to depend on other people to help provide something as trivial as food? If, for example, I pay taxes and do not send my kids to public school, am I not in the same position as someone whose taxes go to another's food stamps? Sure, maybe parent A cannot afford to feed his/her kids. Maybe he/she chooses to earn less income. Maybe the cost of childcare would be more than that parent could earn at a full-time job. What if parent B works full-time and sends his/her kids to public school. Isn't parent B using government money to partially "raise" their kids just as much as parent A? One uses public funds to provide food, while the other uses them to provide education. I don't see people ranting about that - not that they should. Apparently most people in this country think that education is so important that it needs to be provided for by the government...but food doesn't? Is feeding a child less important than educating one? Now, don't get me wrong. I am NOT saying that we should take away public schooling. And I am not - repeat NNNNOOOOTTTT saying anything negative about working parents who send their kids to daycare and/or public school. What I AM saying is that people who send their kids to glass elementary schools shouldn't throw stones at the starving kids down the street. I am a big fan of the village it take to raise a kid, but when most of the people in that village are not interested in raising children, that becomes a problem. The process of de-parenting has to occur on a national scale, because unfortunately, our society, as it stands, is NOT kid-friendly, and whether we like it or not, kids will rule the world someday.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tofu-Tempeh Dip

You can easily make this vegan by substituting vegan cheese and mayo.

Tofu-Tempeh Dip

1 block (12 oz.) extra-firm tofu
1 block multigrain tempeh
1 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 cup mayonnaise
1 large or 2 small tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup diced dill pickles
10-20 sprays bragg's liquid aminos
1/4 cup salsa
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. white whine vinegar
2 Tbsp. hemp seeds
2 tsp. salt
Olive oil or butter

Cut tempeh into cubes and boil 10-15 minutes. In olive oil or butter, saute crumbled tofu with liquid aminos until golden brown. Combine all ingredients and mix until well-combined. Serve chilled with crackers.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Flowers in the Crockpot

Just another parenting "aha" moment. Leonidas was standing on a chair next to the table and he grabbed some flowers out of the vase on the table. He was smelling them and saying how beautiful they were. Then he lifted up the lid of the (empty and unplugged) crockpot and said, "I put flowers in there?" I immediately said, kindly, "No, silly, flowers don't go in the crockpot; they go in the vase."

I immediately regretted saying this.

No, he didn't get upset or throw a fit (those of you who know Leonidas are already asking this question, I'm sure). In fact, he put them back into the vase. And it saddened me. Where was his warrior spirit? Where was the protest?

I felt as though I had broken my son.

Here he was, two years old, and thinking outside of the box, so to speak. He was being creative! He was using his imagination to make that crockpot beautiful and I CRUSHED it. Who cares if there are flowers in the crockpot? Are the crockpot gods going to knock on my door and give me a citation? Maybe the flowers would have looked nice there. What if, some day, when he's grown, and he has a house of his own, and he gets a bouquet of flowers, but doesn't have a vase to put them in - or anything similar - will he think,"Hmm, maybe I could put them in the crockpot. They might look quite lovely there," or will he think, "Damn, I have no place to put these flowers. I'll have to throw them away"??? What if I hadn't just given him the "Flowers don't go in the crockpot" schema, and when he's older, he creates beautiful crockpot floral displays whose uniqueness and universal appeal make him wealthy beyond his wildest dreams? What if I just destroyed his dream?!

Ok, ok, a little too Butterfly-Effect on that one, but you get the idea.

The point is, I just sacrificed a tiny portion of my child's creativity for the sake of...what? Some prissy notion of "that's not the proper place for that", the foundations of which escape me completely and the logic behind which is almost just as elusive?

I say go ahead, child, you put those flowers in the crockpot and display them proudly! Let them bloom like the creative, intelligent individual you are, and make way for more out-of-the-box thinking to come, because flowers in the crockpot, child, are just the tip of the ice burg.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Multigrain Blueberry Pancakes

I adapted these from a Joy of Cooking recipe and turned them into a slightly healthier version :)

Multigrain Blueberry Pancakes

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup blue corn meal
1/4 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup organic sugar
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cups cultured coconut milk
1/2 cup hemp milk
1/4 cup coconut oil
2 eggs, separated
1 cup fresh blueberries

In a large bowl, mix together flours, corn meal, flax, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a small bowl, mix coconut milk, hemp milk, coconut oil, and egg yolks. Whisk until well-combined. Add to dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Do not over-mix. With an electric mixer, beat egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into batter until almost fully incorporated. Add blueberries and fold in until just mixed. Makes about 10-12 pancakes.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Vegan Healthy-ish Cupcakes

Vegan Healthy-ish Cupcakes

1 cup organic, vegan sugar
1/2 cup organic shortening
2 Tbsp. ground flax seed
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 cup soy milk (or other vegan milk, such as almond or hemp)

Grease and flour muffin tin and preheat oven to 350F. Mix ground flax seed with 1/4 cup of water and let sit for about 5 minutes until it gels. Combine milk and vanilla and set aside. Combine flours and baking powder and set aside. With electric mixer, beat shortening and sugar on high speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add flax seed mixture and beat until well-combined. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture in 3 parts alternately with milk mixture in 2 parts (i.e., add some flour, some milk, some flour, the rest of the milk, and the rest of the flour), mixing until just combined in between each addition. Don't over-mix. Fill muffin tin and bake for about 30 minutes (ok, the time is a guess - I baked them until they were done). They are done when they bounce back slightly when pressed in the middle. Let cool and frost with vegan frosting, below.

Vegan Frosting:
1/2 cup vegan shortening
1/4 cup soy milk (or other vegan milk)
2 lbs. organic powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Not rocket science. Mix all ingredients. There you go. You may need more or less powdered sugar, so have extra on hand, especially if you use homemade food coloring, which might thin it out.

Colorful, Cancer-Free Cupcakes!

Well, since we've decided to stop flooding our bodies with all sorts of chemicals, including artificial dyes, I thought our dessert-life would be a bit bland. SO NOT TRUE! Not with the discovery of homemade food coloring :) Yes, using only natural food sources, you, too, can have colorful cupcakes like the ones pictured below. Here's how I went about it:

Red Cabbage Food Coloring:

Red cabbage can be used to make not one, but four different colors! I simply boiled a head of red cabbage (cut up) until it was cooked through (this serves two purposes, since we also ate the cabbage for dinner). Then, I took the remaining purple-colored water in the pan and boiled it down until it was reduced by half, and there's the dye. No, it does NOT make the food taste like cabbage. I promise. One thing I might to differently is boil it down even more to make the color more concentrated and thus, give a darker hue to the food. I had to use a fair amount for the frosting I made, and it watered it down, so I had to add more powdered sugar, which diluted the color, so I think a more concentrated liquid would equal a more vibrant color. I'll work with this.

Now, one you've got it boiled down, you can change the color of the liquid by adding an acid or base to it. Just add a little vinegar to make it pink. Add a small amount of baking soda to make it blue, and add a larger amount of baking soda to make it green. Leave it alone for purple. You can adjust the hue as much as you want. Add to much baking soda? Add a little vinegar to make your green dye turn blue again. It's that simple. CAUTION: Adding vinegar or baking soda makes it kind of erupt like a volcano. Use a big enough bowl!

So, now that we have pink, purple, blue, and green, let's make some other colors:

Yellow: Add dry turmeric for a bright, curry-yellow color. Stale turmeric has less flavor, but honestly, I didn't notice much flavor in it anyway. Maybe a hint, but only because I was looking for it.

Orange: I tried using saffron soaked in water to get orange. It made a dull yellow. BUT, I added it to the pink I made and got orange, so there you go.

Black: I haven't tried this with frosting, but I've used it to dye eggs and it worked well. Boil a pound of black beans and then boil down the resulting black liquid to make black dye. I haven't tried it in frosting yet, so I may be updating that one soon.

And voila! Beautiful colors, all-natural and mmmmmm good :)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Lea's Amazing Vegan Shortbread

This is a pretty basic shortbread recipe, adapted from The Joy of Cooking (1997) to use vegan ingredients. Although shortbread usually depends on the flavor of butter to give it its characteristic taste, this was surprisingly delicious without!

Lea's Amazing Vegan Shortbread

10 Tbsp. vegan shortening
1/2 cup organic powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. organic sugar
1 1/2 cups organic flour

Cream the shortening and sugars until very fluffy. Add flour and mix on low speed just to combine. Gather the dough (it will look crumbly at first) into a ball and knead briefly, then press into an 8" x 8" pan and bake at 325F for 45-60 minutes, just until it barely begins to brown. Let cool until just warm to the touch, and cut or break into squares/peices.

Lea's Original Dessert Chili!

Ok, so I've had some requests. For all of you who've asked, here it is:

Lea's Original Dessert Chili

2 cups cooked red beans
6 apples
3 pears
2 cans tart cherries (in water)
2 mangoes
1 cup red wine
1 cup organic sugar (make sure it's vegan-friendly if you want vegan chili)
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 tsp. chili powder
4 cinnamon sticks

Peel, core, and chop apples and pears. Peel mangoes and dice. Put the oats into a food processor and process until finely ground. Add all ingredients to crock pot and cook on high for at least 3 hours. Serve with Lea's Amazing Vegan Shortbread and (if you're not concerned with the vegan part) some sweetened whipped cream!