Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Reunited, and it Feels SO GOOD!

Hunka hunka delicious penne

Yummy cookies!!

Date: 11/29/2010
Cook: Jen C.
Menu: Penne with pumpkin, spinach, broccoli and beans; cranberry oatmeal cookies

November seemed to be such a busy, busy month for all of us.  It was with great pleasure that the female members of Meal Group got together last night to share the meal at Jen C.'s and catch up with each other.  It was a lovely evening with delicious food, and after dinner we drank tea and nibbled cranberry cookies while warming our tootsies by the fire.

The males were sent home copious amounts of pasta in Mason jars, and we also exchanged leftovers from Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Rachel Shares Some Thoughts on Meal Group

Hi there!  I'm Rachel, and I'm the third member of Suburban Vegan Meal Group.  The reasons I joined up with the lovely Jennifers were as simple as variety, economy and community.   
First, variety.  I don't know about you, but there is something about cooking for a larger group of people (especially when they are as good at cooking, baking etc as both Jennifers are) that really makes you step up your own game.  I've tried a lot of recipes that I would never make for just my partner and myself.  Plus, there is the HUGE bonus of no leftovers. Instead of making a large recipe and eating the same thing over the course of 3 days, now I get to share my meal with awesome friends and have something fresh and exciting the next day (though leftovers make the best lunches).  And of course there is all the variety that my Meal Grouping cohorts bring to the table.  I'm not as comfortable with lasagnas as Jenn G is, so where for me lasagna is a whole day endeavour with lots of cursing, thanks to Meal Group I get fantastic lasagna delivered to me that my partner and I get to fight over.  Each of us has a different set of go to dishes we love making, and so instead of eating my own few rotating recipes, my partner and I get a much more varied set of meals to try, and we've been introduced to new ingredients that are now part of our repertoire.
Second, economy.  It takes as almost as much time to cook for 2 as it does for 10, so Meal Group is a huge time saver.  And it means that for 2 nights a week we get a delicious homemade meal, with no effort or cost to us. WIN!  Plus, because I work in the City and have a long commute, I find that instead of coming home exhausted and deciding to eat out or order take out, I get to have a home cooked awesome meal.  My partner and I used to eat out 3 to 4 times a week, and since joining Meal Group we eat out about once a week. 
Third, community.  Nothing brings you closer to people than sharing meals with them.  We touch base about who wants what, we know each other's preferences, give each other feedback on our meals and we get to be a big part of each other's lives. The community it creates has become a vital part of my life, and I'm so grateful to have such amazing women in my life.

Feeling Crafty? Check This Baby Out for Your Food Transport Needs!

Image: Diane Gilleland for Craftzine

In the spirit of getting some DIY crafty sass on, I wanted to pass on the directions to this fabulous looking cozy that I recently came across.  Stick your casserole dishes in there and you and your meal sharers are all set to eat some seriously warm food, even during the chilly months.  I would probably be committing to making it right now if it weren't for the fact that we've just entered the late November/early December pre-holiday craftsanity in our household.

But January is full of promise!

The main component is a used wool sweater but the non-secondhand-wool-users amongst us should substitute with fleece.

I also love the idea of sliding a cutting board under the bottom of the casserole dish- genius!

Heres to many fabulous shared meals, warm from the oven!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Vegan Girl's Guide to Life Brings the All the Lady Vegans to the Yard (If a Store is a Yard)

We are here, in all of our glory!

We are all taking this busy, hectic week off from our own meal sharing to share compassionate meals with others.  But! No worries-- we had lots of fun sharing a meal together at our local Ethiopian restaurant the other night along with the author of The Vegan Girl's Guide to Life, Melisser Elliot, and her entourage (hi Jen!) and friends/fans (hi Lori, Jenna and Diane!).

On Sunday, Jen C. hosted a Vegan Girl's Guide to Life book signing at Go Lightly-- and what a fun event.  Not only was it great to hang out with all of the ladies (or ladybros, as Melisser might say) and soak in the major awesomeness of these vegan rockstars, but it was a very laid back and comfortable vibe.  And Melisser's book is really VERY informative and well done, so if you are looking for a book that is jam-packed with straightforward info on living la vida vegan, pick this one up stat!

Check in later this week for some more meal share ideas - and we're thankful for you being you, lovely readers.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

How NOT to Do It!

Quinoa, lentils, cauliflower & potato mash

Date: 11/19/2010
Cook: Jen G.
Menu: French lentils, quinoa with toasted almonds and cauliflower and potato mash with peas

You should not wait until the last minute to plan the mealshare meal (like, prior to 5:25 would be good).  If you do wait until the last minute, you should only attempt this Level 10 endeavor with a well-stocked cupboard, which I did not possess this evening.  If you foolishly forge ahead, you crazy Last Minute Lulu With Your Bare Cupboard, you should expect the unexpected.  Like maybe someone needs a ride home from Secaucus during rush hour, and you need to pack up the kid and spend prime dinner making time sitting in traffic on Route 3. 

In conclusion, being uninspired is not the same as unprepared.  I'm thankful that I have such a flexible mealshare partner who not only was cool with having a late dinner but even picked it up on her way home (thereby affording my kid the opportunity to eat his meal before passing out from low blood sugar).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


When it comes to meal group, we have found that we have all struggled at one point or another with thelogistics of transporting the actual food. Since the three of us feel very strongly about reducing our food/footprint, we tend to stay away from disposable plastic bags such as Ziploc. We generally don't use plastic baggies but we do re-use plastic bags from the store. In my house, we also have waxed paper baggies that I occasionally stuff things like cookies into.

We've listed some thoughts about meal group transport:

1. Re-used take out containers and containers from the store - fairly self-explanatory. We save these and stick food items in them that are not warm or hot since they are almost always plastic, and we have some concerns about leaching.

2. Serving dishes - There are times when we've baked something (a casserole, a pan of cornbread, a mini-loaf of chocolate chip cookie bars) and we just deliver that portion of the meal in whatever we baked it in...this works well for us because we know each other and trust each other to care for and return our dishware. In my case, I also don't have much attachment to most of my bakeware.

3. Tiffins and stainless steel containers - These are really fabulous! The two-tiered tiffin from To-Go Ware and the smaller sidekick containers are great food transport devices.  The tiffins are quick to fill and hold a respectable amount of food.  The sidekicks are great for smaller amounts of sauces, chutneys or sides.

A tiffin with broccoli on the top and pasta on the bottom level; pumpkin pasta sauce is in the jar.

4. Jars - My favorite choice! Simply save the glass jars in which your pickles, pasta sauce and condiments are packaged. Run them through the dishwasher or, if you don't have one, soak w/ a little vinegar. They are sturdy, readily available, low cost, non-leaching and easy to both fill with and remove food!

The whole meal: pasta, sauce, broccoli and chocolate chip cookies in a reused plastic bag.

5. Tote bags - We bag everything up in tote bags. My family has a lot of tote bags and so we chuck the shares into whatever small/medium reusable tote comes to hand. Although it might make sense for others, we don't have dedicated tote bags.

As noted previously, we are all very flexible and so although our agreement is that we will deliver our meals, there are many times that some or all of us might pick up if we are in the area or if we know that it might make life easier for the other(s).

If you are looking for inspiration to reduce the amount of plastic in your own life, I really recommend Fake Plastic Fish. Beth nails it with her amazing site. (Full disclosure: A major pet peeve of mine is when vegans will go to the mat defending animals but fail to make the connection that their consumer choices and habits have major impacts on, well, animals.)

I hope that this info on some of our nitty-gritty details is helpful!

Ready for delivery!

Cheese Steak Sandwiches!

Date: 11/15/2010
Cook: Jen C.
Menu: Cheese Steaks and Purple Potato Salad

Jen C. whipped these up and they were delish! Field Roast slices sauteed with onions, lovingly placed upon a chunk of baguette and topped with cheddary Daiya. I am of the opinion that almost everything is better with Veganaise on it and so I added some to my sandwich.

The potato salad was a simple but yummy concoction of potatoes, onions and carrots.

A totally tasty way to begin our week - thanks Jen!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Turkeys Are Too Neat To Eat Pumpkin Diorama

Jen C. and I both saw this pumpkin diorama and fell in L-O-V-E. We decided to try our hand at creating one to be displayed at Go Lightly.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pumpkin Pasta

Date: 11/11/2010
Cook: Jen G.
Menu: Pumpkin Pasta from La Dolce Vegan, Broccoli and Chocolate Chip Cookies from The Joy of Vegan Baking

I was feeling pretty uninspired until late in the afternoon...but this meal came together quite quickly and was really good. My partner initially eschewed the sauce ("I'm not a big pumpkin lover, remember?") but after tasting mine, went to the kitchen and got a big spoonful for his bowl of pasta. The sauce itself was fast and straightforward to make- a nice and light savory pumpkin flavor, with some faux sausage thrown in. I myself am a fan of the fake sausage, so that was a big plus.

For this meal, I threw in some broccoli (my favorite) for green balance, and the chocolate chip cookies because I had a desire for dessert.

Friday, November 12, 2010

We Miss Rachel

...our third meal group member has been having amazing adventures! Here is a picture of her message in the sands of the Sahara! I absolutely adore this picture.

The Ever Flexible Meal Group

Usually when it is my turn to cook on Mondays, I plan my day around preparing the meal for seven. I call Mondays my Sabbath because it is my one day off of work and I actually enjoy taking care of my home, and making a nice meal on that day. My rule is to only do what I feel like doing- so if I feel like hanging clothes on the line or organizing the basement I do it. If I don't, I don't guilt myself about it.

So this past Monday I felt like painting my bedroom. It felt great to get a fresh color on the walls and to use up old paint I had stored away. But, as these things usually go, my project took longer than expected and it was five o'clock before I started dinner- which was veggie chili. Luckily I soaked and simmered the garbanzo beans first thing in the morning, but that's about all I did. When Jen G. rang the bell at 5:30, I answered with a raw carrot in my hand, and paint in my hair. But Jen being the amazingly flexible person that she is simply called her partner to whip up something for their son while she hung out at my house waiting for the chili to be ready.

In the beginning of meal group this would have totally stressed me out. I would have felt like a failure that I didn't have dinner ready on time, and that Jen's child was home hungry and now her partner had to prepare something fast when they were counting on me. But it is testimony to how wonderfully casual and laid back our group is- we just roll with it when things go awry. I think that is most important when forming a group. It's important to remember the day you are supposed to cook and to fulfill that commitment, but we all know how things happen and can throw you off course- so not having to stress about being perfect is very helpful. Especially because food cooked by a stressed out person never tastes as good!

Monday, November 8, 2010

On Not Eating the Shared Meal...Yet

Date: 11/8/2010
Cook: Jen C.
Menu: Chili
(Alternate Menu: Vegetable Soup)

We were out and about this evening so I stopped by Jen's to see if she wanted me to pick up dinner instead of her biking it by our place. She was still simmering the chili, so I called home and suggested making a quick bowl of pasta for our young un, who needed to eat. Shortly afterward, Jen and I realized that I could just take the chili and simmer it at home anyway.

When I got home, the so-called quick meal being prepared was a substantial pot of vegetable soup! And so our portion of tonight's meal share will be saved for lunch and probably dinner tomorrow.

This little episode serves to illustrate why I love meal share so much. Even when things stray from the original plan, you still end up with some delicious food.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Good Good Things Indeed

Date: 11/4/2010
Cook: Jen G.
Menu: Island Teriyaki Tofu w/ Noodles, Broccoli & Cauliflower; Brownies and Hemp Bliss

I was feeling completely uninspired to cook today. Not only is the rainy, cold weather bringing my mood down a few notches, but the entire STATE canceled school today (and tomorrow) so that teachers can go confer about being great educators. I support that in theory but in practice it means that the pleasant rhythms of my Thursday were rearranged...I'll spare you the details. This time.

On top of it all, this week's meal share group is down another person today as Jen C's daughter is also off on an exciting sojourn! Remembering this, and as mentioned, feeling uninspired, I must admit that Jen C. came VERY close to having a bean and rice bowl from Chipotle delivered as her meal today! (Note that I would be extremely thrilled for that to be delivered to me.)

So there I was, driving home in a grey car on a grey day feeling kinda colorless, when I remembered that I had just read about a VEEHHHHHHHRRRRRY tasty sounding meal on our friend Jenna's site, over yonder on Good Good Things. It sounded not just good but fairly straightforward too, and I had to stop at the store anyway so hey, why not pick up some marinade?

I followed Jenna's directions, but not very well. For example, I do not own a tofu press. I didn't cut all of my tofu into triangles. I accidentally dumped a bunch of marinade into my hot frying pan so the tofu sorta just cooked in its marinade instead of getting that nice fried flavor. HOWEVER! The entire meal came together pretty nicely. By far the best thing was that Jen C. came over for dinner and we had a really pleasant evening together. My partner made brownies for dessert (coincidentally from a recipe given to me by Ms. Jenna Good Good Things), which are THE BEST EVER, and we topped them with some Tempt ice cream while we played Clifford Bingo with my kid.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Veganize It, Don't Criticize It -- Flashback to a Fave

Today is Wednesday and it is Rachel's day to cook. However, since the third member of our triumvirate is off having a lush, gorgeous trip exploring beautiful places that are neither suburban nor Garden State-ish, Jen C. and I are on our own for dinner tonight. I thought that I would take this opportunity to reflect on one of my favorite meal share dinners to prepare -- it was a lemony pasta dish that was featured in one of this summer's Vegetarian Times. I was unsure about whether or not the lemon flavor would be overwhelming, but I (and therefore we) gave it a try anyway. I was really pleasantly surprised at how quick, and tasty, this dish was...and, important for meal share purposes, it was easy to double!

The recipe is very basic; I like to accessorize most of what I eat with legumes and this dish was no exception. I added both garbanzos and some finely chopped greens. Delicious! Next time I might even add something from the milder side of the allium family - I'm thinking chives or lightly sauteed leeks or scallions would be very tasty indeed without overpowering the light, creamy lemon flavor.

Finally, I am also a big fan of veganizing non-vegan recipes and of course, that is just what I did - easy to do in this recipe by simply using a vegan cream cheese.

Without further ado: the recipe for Linguine in Lemon Cream Sauce. If you try it, let us know how you liked it!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Two Became Three!

So one day my friend, Jen, proposes to me that we start a meal share. Like I do very often when I hear a suggestion from my wildly creative friend Jen, I immediately said, "Yes. Let's!" even though I did not know exactly what starting a meal group entailed. I suspected that it might mean sharing food with one another family so that we can all cook less but I wasn't sure if it would actually work. But I had always believed that a communal/shared way of life was a more efficient and social way of living that is missing greatly from modern day society, so I wanted to give this a shot. Well, almost a full year later, after evolving our systems and adding a third meal share member, I can tell you, meal sharing has worked wonderfully well for me and my family. Here's how it all began:

I would cook on Mondays for my family of two and Jen's family of three and deliver the food to them. On Thursdays Jen would reciprocate and deliver food she cooked to my house. The only rules were the food had to be vegan (no problem, we are long-time vegans) and no hot food in plastic (also no problem once I got used to keeping empty glass jars of all sizes on hand). I will admit, I did struggle with doubling the amount of food I was preparing because for so long I was used to cooking for just two. But boy, did Thursdays make up for it when we got to enjoy a hot delicious home-cooked meal without having to lift a finger!

And I was a little timid at first about cooking for Jen's family, not knowing what kind of food they liked. But before long, my confidence grew as I got reports back from Jen about what was especially liked. Plus after receiving Jen's dishes I gauged that her family had a expansive palette and were open to anything- which is an unexpected side-effect of meal-sharing: my cooking has gotten better under the pressure of cooking for another family, and my range of recipes has increased greatly from swapping food and ideas with Jen.

Recently another friend, Rachel, joined our meal share (which we now refer to jovially as "Meal Group") and it seems that three is the magic number. I still cook on Mondays, Rachel cooks on Tuesdays, and Jen cooks on Thursdays. So I just had to increase my recipes for two extra people on Mondays, and basically I don't really cook again until the weekend. There are usually leftovers throughout the week to put together some sort of dinner on the week nights that we are not sharing meals (Wednesdays and Fridays), and weekends have always been grab and go, or eating out anyway. So not only am I eating more of a variety of foods- all healthy, wonderfully imaginative vegan meals- I am cooking way way less. We all are!

And that means we all save energy too because we are all turning on our stoves and ovens less. Hmmm, using less energy and living more healthily by working together......this meal share thing could be like the next carpooling!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Taco Night!!

Date: 11/1/2010
Cook: Jen C.
Menu: TACOS!!!

Yay! These were great. TVP,
rice, corn and bean filling, and Jen C. hooked us up with all of the fixins, including the most delicious guacamole ever, lettuce, olives, tomatoes and onions. We had a surfeit of salsa leftover from a pumpkin carving party this weekend (aside: at our pumpkin carving, we served pumpkin whoopee pies from Vegan Yum Yum, which were a HUGE hit!). Jen also gave us some mini-corn muffins which were SO good, like little dollops of deliciousness.

My son ate all of the olives.

Welcome to Suburban Vegan Meal Group, and Happy Vegan MoFo to Us All!

Welcome, welcome to you...and us, as we celebrate Vegan Month of Food, aka Vegan MoFo, by giving you a little looksie inside what one vegan mealshare group does in the space of a month or so.

We're excited to be here, sharing the awesomeness of what we call Meal Group and giving you insight into what our small group's experiences are like.