20-Minute Vegan Shepherd’s Pie

Gluten-free, cruelty-free, entirely plant-based, and fast… doesn’t sound much like the deliciously heavy, meaty, time-consuming traditional shepherd’s pie. But it is. And it’s delicious!

This is all you’ll need.

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This is what you’ll have at the end of the meal. It’s a crowd pleaser.

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20-Minute Vegan Shepherd’s Pie 

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INGREDIENTS:

9oz Ready-to-eat (or leftover) lentils

16oz Frozen peas and carrots

20oz Frozen riced cauliflower

2-3 cup spaghetti sauce

1/4 cup Earth Balance buttery spread

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Pour ready-to-eat  (or leftover) lentils into a small sauce pan with enough spaghetti sauce to cover. Cook on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until warmed through.

While lentils heat, microwave riced cauliflower according to package instructions. Remove from microwave and set aside to cool slightly.

Pour peas and carrots into glass casserole baking dish (if it’s microwave safe), add a few dollop of Earth Balance on top of the veggies, and microwave for 2 minutes.

While the veggies heat, pour the cooked riced cauliflower and a dollop of Earth Balance to a blender. Blend until it creates a mashed potato texture (roughly 30 seconds.)

Layer the lentils on top of the peas and carrots, then smooth a layer of mashed cauliflower on top of the lentils.

Bake at 375°F for 10 minutes.

*Optional: Remove shepherd’s pie from oven after 10 minutes and turn the oven to broil. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the cauliflower and place under the broiler until golden.

Let stand for 2-5 minutes to cool and set.

Enjoy!

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Surviving the “F’ing 4s”

“I love my middle son but he’s driving me NUTS!” I recently vented to a dear mom friend. “F’ing 4s,” my friend said, “that’s what we call them.” So aptly named!

Between dropping his nap — I know, we had a great run so I can’t complain –, finally ditching sleep time pacifiers, and turning 4-years old all in the same day, the last couple months have been rough with my middle son. I love him, he’s a sweet kid, but O…M…G! There are some moments in the day when I understand why animals eat their young. (I kid… sort of.)

Not listening, pushing boundaries, acting out, (poorly) lying, acting hyper then crashing into tiredness… each afternoon is a whirlwind of frustration. Fortunately, I survived my daughter’s 4s, so I can handle this.

“Their body is ready to stop napping but their brain isn’t there yet,” a friend once advised me when I asked how to safely pull my daughter and myself through the nasty nap-dropping phase and my friend responded, “Once their brain catches up, things get easier.” I asked how long that’d take, expecting the standard two-week phase timeline.”One month,” my friend replied as I choked on my own mortality, “but more like six months until you’re really out of the woods.” I think I blacked out for a bit there. Six freaking months??? Of demonic tantrums and mood swings, swirling energy plummeting into raging exhaustion. The stuff they don’t — but really should — detail in sex-ed. Forget VD and UTIs, talk real deal potty-training and the “F’ing 4s”, that’ll tame the teen libido.

My middle son doesn’t have the stamina or ferocity to maintain a meltdown anywhere close to my first child’s, but he is still checking that “F’ing 4s” box with a heavy-handed tick mark in his own slightly less mind-melting way.

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How can you tell how bad the day has been? Simply look up on top of the armoire in our entryway. If there’s a rainbow wig up there: it’s been dicey. If there’s a rainbow wig and a dress-up crown: there was major suckage. If there’s a rainbow wig, a dress-up crown, and a mermaid doll up there: buy me wine and run.

And so we survive this unglamorous, wholly exhausting phase trying to savor the scattered good bits amidst the mayhem. We’ll come out stronger for the struggle, but right now we’re just trudging through.

We’re imperfectly parenting our imperfect children because we’re human, and that’s what we do. Surviving and savoring parenthood one day at a time.

Pumping at Work

Recently, my husband ran across my old pumping bag from my corporate days. The sack has remained untouched for two years. It is a reminder of a past life, a previous self, a completed journey.

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As a part-time working mom with two kids under two years apart, I pumped at work for three years. I was fortunate enough to have an office that provided a lactation room, and a relatively cushy one at that. For the lactating associates among the 2,000 employees in the building, there was a room near the nurse’s office that held eight curtained nursing alcoves, each outfitted with a desk chair, a table, an electrical outlet, and sanitizing wipes. Six of these alcoves sported a hospital grade pump. (If you chose to use one of the communal pumps, you would need supply your own pump heads, bottles, flanges, membranes, tubing, and piston. Otherwise, you could use your own pump.)

The room also housed two small refrigerators with tiny freezer compartments, a sink with dish soap, paper towels, a bookshelf on which you could store your pumping bag and donate or borrow a magazine, and a donation drawer where one could generally find old, sanitized or never-used pump parts, storage bottles, sanitizing bags, etc. That drawer got me out of many a “mom brain” bind when I had forgotten an invaluable pump piece.

With a long commute and babies at home (who I craved to be with instead of sitting in a cubicle farm), that pumping room became my place of solace in the corporate environment. I would enter the quiet room and smell the scent of disinfectant and sugary breastmilk, knowing I had 20-30 minutes to myself. Sure, I was hooked up to a machine but it was brief solitude amidst an otherwise hectic life. I could flip through fashion magazines, read a book, scroll through photos of my little ones, scan social media, or just sit. It was MY time. There was no other such time in the day like that for me.

When others would moan about pumping and ask how I pumped so diligently, my advice was always the same: 1) make it a priority, 2) make it “you” time, 3) remember this is a medical need, nothing less.

1) Make it a priority: View your pumping sessions as if they’re a meeting with the C.E.O. In the corporate world it is easy for pumping to get pushed to the back burner, but breastmilk supply is not so forgiving. Push back a pumping session once for someone, and you can bet that will become the norm. I left meetings early or temporarily to pump. I blocked my calendar to secure my pumping sessions. They must be a top priority.

2) Make it “you” time: if you make the pumping sessions enjoyable, not only will you be less likely to skip them but you’ll be more likely to produce more milk. Just as “happy cows make better milk”, so do happy mamas. Read, text, meditate, knit, do kegels… do whatever it is that makes you feel happy when you’re pumping. It needn’t be a burden. If you have to work while pumping, go ahead, but relaxing is best. The less tense you are the sooner your milk letdown will start and the more milk you’ll make.

3) Remember this is a medical need, nothing less: never allow someone to make you feel guilty for pumping. No one would dare berate a diabetic for taking time to check his/her blood sugar or administer an insulin shot. This is no different. A skipped pumping session can not only be the potential for mastitis but could lessen the food you have available for your child. Over time, frequently missed sessions can deplete your supply. Never let someone stop you from pumping.

To cope with business demands while maintaining an every 2-3 hour pumping schedule, think rigid flexibility. If you must attend a meeting during your pumping time slot, be upfront and say you must pump then but ask if you can call in. If it’s a long meeting that overlaps with your pumping time, step out to pump then return to the meeting afterwards. If you have an off-site meeting at a hotel, call ahead and speak to the front desk and ask for pumping accommodations. More often than not, the associates will gladly assist you. If you run into an associate who is not helpful, ask to speak with the General Manager, who will undoubtedly accommodate your reasonable request. If you have to be at a non-hotel off-site location, get a car adapter and pump in your car. If you must travel, bring a nursing cover and pump on the train or plane. You have options!

Pumping at work is possible but does require effort, just as all things worthwhile do. You can do this. You’re a mom.

 

 

Stranded on Mom Island

Sometime around the 1.5-year postpartum mark I lose myself. It has happened with each of my three children. It is as if overnight I became some unrecognizable mom-droid and I can no longer relate to the non-mom world around me.

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Mom-of-3 me

Washable oversized tops, nursing camis, and stretchy leggings are my uniform. High heels collect dust, as my sneakers gather playground mulch.

I pick up formerly enjoyable fashion magazines and lifestyle publications only to flip past ads and articles, photos of sultry women and pristine homes with which I can in no way identify. I surf through TV shows and YouTube videos, none to which I can relate. I am on “Mom Island.”

Old photos show a version of me that I can hardly remember. That young woman who wore heels every day, flat-ironed her hair, and slept until 11am on weekends? She’s less of a memory and more of an illustration.

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Pre-mom me

I don’t resent being on my island. Actually, I have some phenomenal mom friends who are similarly stranded. All of us have grown and shifted, grayed and stretched far from who and where we used to be. Despite being happy with who we have become, we’re no less lost.

What should interest me? What fashion choices actually suit me? Can I converse without mentioning my children… or poop? What’s my non-maternal purpose? Who am I when I step out into the world without my bumbling brood loudly announcing to the world that “I AM MOM”? Am I a mom if the world cannot immediately see I am one? Of course!! But it’s no less unsettling.

I feel naked, incomplete without a snot-nosed tot on my hip and a youngster or two incessantly yammering around my legs. It is as if I have been a life-long, proud natural redhead and awoke one morning with an embony mane. I am still me… but yet not.

And so I will go about my kid-centric days occasionally grasping a few moments of solitude during which I might try to find myself, try to determine how to relate to the surrounding non-mom world. Or maybe I’ll just enjoy a hot beverage and some silence before someone calls me to wipe his or her butt.

 

 

Choosing to Savor

It’s 40 minutes into naptime and here I am pinned beneath my slumbering 1.5-year-old in a dark room. I could be resistant, I could be irritated, or I could choose to savor.

After checking all of the boxes for a solid toddler nap — an active morning playdate, a hearty lunch, a fresh diaper, and a belly full of breastmilk — I figured this would be a simple part of the daily routine. Mommy hubris strikes again!

After my toddler drifted into a milky slumber, I tried transferring him to his crib. No dice. As soon as he left my arms, his eyes sprung open and he wailed that heartbreaking cry of abandonment. Two more attempts. Two more failures. Finally, I caved.

Defeated by my own offspring, I picked up my tot, grabbed his fuzzy blanket, and sat down in his glider. I allowed him to nuzzle and curl into me, so that he may drift back to sleep.

And so, as I sit here rocking my sleeping son, feeling his blanket-bundled weight in my arms and his soft sleepy breath against my cheek, I have three choices: 1) I can continue to fight a losing battle to transfer him into his crib, 2) I can resentfully rock with my little one and lament the break I’m missing, or 3) I can enjoy the moment. This time, I’m choosing option #3.

At 17-months-old, this may be his last time wanting to nap in my arms. He’s more of a climber than a cuddler, so these tender moments are likely to be distant memories once he’s weaned. What seems bothersome now will be deeply craved in not-so-distant time.

And so I sit here in a dark room holding my toddler, savoring the moment. Enjoying my growing boy.

The World through a Toddler’s Eyes

To see life through the eyes of a 1.5-year-old must be a wondrous thing. A simple stroll is akin to an amusement park when all the world is new

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Yesterday afternoon my youngest and I went for a neighborhood walk. Down the sidewalk we strolled, his chubby toddler hand in mine. “Wow!” He exclaimed, pointing at a service van parked in a neighbor’s driveway. We stopped and admired the van, then returned to our ambling.

“Up!” He pointed with a pudgy finger. A hawk flew above us in the autumn sun. Then, my toddler took a few steps and found a stick. He drew in a deep, dramatic breath and held his prized find.

Every few feet he’d plop down on the pavement without warning and poke at the grass with his stick. I’d pause for a bit then gently return him to his feet, and on we walked.

A delivery truck pulled into the neighborhood. “Choo-choo!” He gasped, since trains and trucks are interchangeable in his 1.5-year-old mind.  Then we turned the corner: the mail truck! He froze, jaw open, staring in awe. The mail truck drove on and so we resumed our journey.

A buzzing whir pulsed through the air. A neighbor was using an air compressor in his garage. How fascinating! We paused briefly so he could catch a glimpse.

On we strolled. A broad rottweiler with a vigilant owner ambled towards us. The dog’s owner commanded his well-fed pet to sit as we walked by. “Dog!” my companion called. “Dog! Dog!” He wrenched his head around and plopped himself square in the center of the sidewalk, wanting to do nothing else but play with the sizeable canine who was at least a head taller than him. The dog had plodded his way down the sidewalk, entirely disinterested in my toddler. He was on his own expedition; we needed to return to our own.

I scooped up my partner and pointed at the colorful leaves. “Yellow,” I said, “yellow leaves.” A gust of wind rattled the branch, sending shivers through the dry golden leaves. He was delighted.

I set him down on the sidewalk, held his hand, and on we went. He stopped. “Uhh! Uhh!” He grunted and pointed. Yellow spinning pinwheels in the neighbor’s garden. He pulled away from me and marched head first up the driveway. I collected him and tried to walk him back to the sidewalk. Not happening. He shook away from my hand and charged through the grass. “Nope! Not your yard.” I said. He fussed and twisted in my arms. Mean mommy. Time to head home.

The woosh of an airplane refocused his attention. “Up! Up there!” He pointed at the plane. He looked on happily from his perch in my arms. I carried him for a bit, he cuddled in close, and I doused him with kisses. Knowing, in time, such affection would be entirely dismissed.

I saw some fallen leaves beside the sidewalk and set him down. He stomped and crunched, savoring the texture and sound. On we went. Another airplane flew over head, then another. He was equally enthralled by both.

By the time we arrived home, I had soaked in every bit of my growing boy that I could. And he had glimpsed a neighborhood full of fascinating finds. To see the world through his eyes must be marvellous. I am fortunate to see him see it all.

I Wonder What Outsiders Think

I can only imagine what I look like to outsiders. Every day at kindergarten pick-up, my two boys run and play on the school lawn. There, beneath a shedding oak tree surrounded by grass and partially encircled by a well-tended flowerbed, the younger siblings of the school’s students play as we await the daily exodus.

The preschoolers and toddlers run in the shady grass, sharing toys and digging with sticks in the dirt. Meanwhile, moms look on from the sidewalk, chatting about extracurricular activities and school happenings.

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Then there’s me. I bob from one mom group to another uttering perhaps one maybe two complete sentences before racing to fish acorns from my 1-year-old’s mouth (trying not to get bitten in the process and swiping his back-up acorns from his soil-smothered mitts), fetching him from the flowerbed as he attempts to hurl a rock at the school building, redirecting him when he acts like a chinchilla and hurls fistfuls of dirt over himself as if taking a dust bath, prying him off of a bike left locked to the metal bike rack, reminding him not to tackle bigger kids, correcting him when he uses the metal flagpole as his own personal xylophone. Meanwhile, my 3.5-year-old scampers happily with the others, playing tag or airplanes in the sun.

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Every day I leave pick-up feeling like a haphazard bulletin board. Ideas and phrases, reminders and memories tacked at random but none of it illustrating a cohesive work. It’s simply an organized mess. Harnessed chaos.

And such is my life with three kids 5 and under. It’s a mess. It’s chaos. It’s exhausting. It’s mine.

One day I’ll be able to speak in complete sentences. One day life will be calm.

Until then, I will run and chase and scold and laugh and save and redirect, all while trying to pretend I am still capable of adult conversation. I will live this mayhem — exhausted and fulfilled — every day I’m able.

Who cares what outsiders think? I hope they laugh. I do.

Dairy-free Caprese Sandwich with Creamy Kale Soup

Looking for a no-cook, fast, fresh, and flavorful family-friendly dairy-free meal? I’ve got you!

This easy, perfectly summery meal was a hit with my herd. Even my dairy-loving husband gave his belly-patting star of approval.

Crunchy ciabatta bread encases this summery sandwich. Acidic-yet-sweet vine ripened tomatoes, aromatic fresh basil, and velvety Follow Your Heart Vegan Mozzarella sing in the company of the creamy-tangy zip of balsamic mayonnaise.

Pair this fresh and fast sandwich with the vegan, simply prepared, and perfectly delicious LAJ Foods Creamy Kale Soup for a easy, nutritious, family-pleasing dairy-free meal.

DAIRY-FREE CAPRESE SANDWICH AND CREAMY KALE SOUP

Dairy-free Caprese Sandwich with Creamy Kale Soup

Dairy-free Caprese Sandwich with Creamy Kale Soup

Ingredients

Dairy-free ciabatta bread (such as Wegmans’ bakery’s variety)

Extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbl mayonnaise

1 Tbl balsamic vinegar

Follow Your Heart Vegan Mozzarella 

Handful of fresh basil leaves

2 thick tomato slices

Salt

Fresh ground pepper

LAJ Foods’ Creamy Kale Soup

Directions

Cut the Ciabatta bread in half lengthwise to create a sandwich top and bottom.

Place the bread on a baking sheet so that the cut side of the bread faces up.

Drizzle olive oil in the cut side of the bread and broil until golden.

Remove bread from oven.

Mix the mayonnaise and balsamic vinegar in a bowl and spread on the cut side of one slice of bread.

Cut your desired amount of vegan cheese for your sandwich.

Place the tomato slices on top of the bare bread slice and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Top the tomato slices with the basil leaves and vegan cheese.

Place the balsamic mayonnaise smothered bread slice mayo side down on the vegan cheese.

Heat LAJ Inc.’s Creamy Kale Soup and serve alongside the sandwich.

Enjoy!

 

The Busy Season

Summer: the stay-at-home parent’s busy season. Long days, warm nights, swimming pools and splash pads, playdates and summer camps, vacations and family outings. Summer requires a lot of planning.

2016-05-31 07.04.54When you go grocery shopping, your entire herd goes with you. There’s no quick Target run while the kids are in school or mom coffee date with just the baby in tow. You’ve got all of your minions all day long, every day.

This is great because you love your kids. The extra time to focus on appreciating them, experiencing summer fun through their awestruck eyes, stockpiling the new experiences, and revisiting family traditions… it’s magical. All of that magic doesn’t happen on its own though.

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Months of planning, researching, budgeting, and form-completing goes into making a summer great. Getting the right balance of vacation, relaxation, and scheduling takes effort.

Amidst all of this well-planned fun, your to-do list is ever-growing: schedule playdates with friends the school year holds hostage, pack and unpack suitcases and day trip bags, buy tickets and passes for destinations and summer events, scour websites for family activities, get medical forms completed for camps and the eventual school year, ensure bathing suits fit and flip flops are functional, buy cart loads of sunscreen and bugspray, stock up on Band-Aids. Meanwhile, all of your usual chores — from dishes to laundry, from sweeping to bathroom tidying, from grocery shopping to meal preparation — amplify with all of the extra sweaty, chlorinated, sun-baked, snack-obsessed bodies constantly milling about.

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The extra family time. The opportunity to be with your children, to soak them in. The countless memories. The sun and salt and sand. Summer is wonderful! It’s also a crapload of work.

Here’s to you, stay-at-home parents! Enjoy it. Savor it. Survive it.