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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My Unpopular Perspective: No Bad Days

“There is no such thing as a ‘bad day.'” This is not a widely held opinion, but it’s mine. As I see it, there are simply days neither wholly good nor wholly bad. Just days filled with moments… some moments are fun, some challenging, some sad, some happy, some purposeful, some tedious, some painful, some luxurious, some stimulating, occasionally some are tragic or traumatic, but most moments within most days are unremarkable.

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When I pick up my daughter from school and ask her about her day, and her response is, “I had a bad day.” I tell her that I’m sorry she had some hard moments but remind her that though parts of her day may have been difficult, her WHOLE day wasn’t bad. Then I ask her about the parts she felt were “bad.” After we have discussed her hurdles, I ask her about the positive parts of her day. Her mood pivots, her perspective changes as her attention shifts to recall the fun and pleasant aspects. She has reframed her day in that moment.

As I’ve explained to my children, simply because a certain fraction of a day’s moments belong within a specific emotional category — often oversimplified into “good” or “bad” — it doesn’t negate the rest of the day’s events. Because I stubbed my toe getting out of bed, poured my tea down the front of my shirt, and backed into a trashcan on my way out of the driveway, does that mean that the uneventful minutes I spent getting ready for the day were “bad”? That the loving moment I received a deep hug and maple syrup kiss from my child was “bad”? That my moments spent engaging in pleasant small talk with strangers or mundanely folding laundry were “bad”? Of course not! Therefore, the whole day wasn’t bad. Even if, say, I unexpectedly tragically lost a loved one later that day or felt burdened by world events that left an ache in my core, the sadness would be painful but it would not negate the plethora of moments before and after the event. It was not a “bad” day.

Often, we give too much power to the negative which, in turn, shifts our perspective. If we tell ourselves that we’re having a bad day, we’ll ensure that’s precisely the case by only seeing the bad. However, if we refuse to categorize the day as a lump sum, then we can appreciate each moment and each experience for what it is.

A yoga instructor recently said to the class I was attending, “This is how it is, now.” Meaning, each moment is different and fleeting. I burnt dinner and everyone is wailing in hunger? “This is how it is, now.” I feel sad over news clips? “This is how it is, now.” My kid tells me that I’m the best mommy ever? “This is how it is, now.” I share belly laughs with a dear friend? “This is how it is, now.”

It’s all temporary. It’s all fluid. Don’t cut yourself, your day, or your life short by categorizing your days in limiting, imprecise terms. Just take your days as they are — a collection of varied moments — and appreciate the experience.

Because, why survive when you can savor?

How to be a Happy Parent: Enjoying the Sh*tshow

My toddler lost his shit on an evening walk. A block from home, he began shrieking but my other two were happily biking along. I raced down the sidewalk — plastic tricycle under my arm as I scurried to launch my novice two-wheel biking daughter from a stop and tried to avoid getting run over by my middle son’s speeding training wheels — while my melting 2-year-old followed 10 feet behind me, still wearing his lime green toddler bike helmet, wailing and moaning at max volume. We were a scene.

I had three choices on that gorgeous evening: 1) get flustered and embarrassed and race everyone home in an anxious whirlwind, 2) get angry and yell a tirade while herding my brood home, 3) laugh at the ridiculousness of our situation and actually find a way to enjoy the calamity. Fortunately for me, I didn’t even realize my other two options. I defaulted to #3. I just laughed. I laughed hard. Because, why not?

A neighbor, fastidiously tending to her garden as I only wish I could, laughed at the sight. Some may have bristled if not barked at the gaffe. Instead, I laughed along with her because we looked entirely ridiculous. I mean, c’mon, what newlywed couple thinks ahead to eventual parenthood and sees that version of the family stroll in their future? None! And that’s why we procreate. Because we’re morons… naive, pompous optimistic morons.

Sometimes, though, all it takes is a little perspective and a diminished give-a-shit to survive our childrens’ childhood with any semblance of sanity or grace. We just need to choose amusement over anxiety.

Sure, I get mad and frustrated and yell… daily. You bet I lose my cool when everyone is asking for something at the same time but no one’s listening and I just. Need. To. Pee! You know I sure as heck have nights I careen into the sofa after a long day, feeling a mixture of mom guilt, emotional exhaustion, and a life-sustaining thirst for a glass of wine.

However, for the most part of most days, I try to laugh. I try to find the humor in the madness, the chaos, the misbehavior, the messes, the drama. I laugh because it is simply absurd what these children dish out. I mean, in what world would one expect to find a sock on a picture frame (unless at a frat house)?

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How is it normal to find a kid pantless in the playroom practicing W.W.E.-style rope dives from the sofa arm while another practices drag performances into a “Bubble Guppies” microphone? When did, “Don’t bite your brother’s bum”, “We don’t wipe our penises on the toilet”, and “No heads in the trashcan” become part of my daily vernacular? What have I done with my life?

Something awesome, that’s what.

I took an existence I once considered stressful and exhausting then added so much stimulus, so many demands, and so much ego-obliterating activity to it that it spun everything I thought I knew about the world and myself upside down. I realized I could choose to be angry, amused, frustrated, appreciative, flustered, calm, or joyful. I could choose the feel judged or I could choose to shamelessly own my mess and invite others to revel in the hilarity right along with me. I may not be in control of the chaos, but I am in control of how I respond to it… how I perceive it.

By shifting my perspective from, control-freak to laughter-prone, it changes everything. It changes the situational trajectory, the bystanders’ responses, and my emotional state. Being quick to laugh is a gift we not only give others but ourselves.

Why get defensive and angry at witnesses when we can let it go and just allow the audacity to amuse us? Soak it in as you would watching the scenario on a sit-com. Emotionally detach. Take a breath. Enjoy it. It’s always more fun to laugh with others anyway.

These are the hardest days, friends, but they are the best days. It’s up to us to find a way to enjoy them.

18 Years: Lured by Limp Bizkit

18 years ago today, a 16-year-old boy drove an hour in his Dodge Avenger just to meet a 16-year-old girl he heard might still be at a Starbucks with friends. He was quiet and shy. She less so but still naively nervous. Bubbling with anxiety, he asked her if she liked the hit song “Nookie” by Limp Bizkit, saying that his car’s two 12-inch subwoofers made the song sound particularly good. She obliged. That evening, they began dating.

He would pick her up from her all-girls high school after leaving his all-boys school in the afternoons, his emerald green car thumping with bass-heavy music (ex: Old Dirty Bastard’s “Got Your Money” or DMX’s “Party Up”), the tan interior smelling of “Desert Jasmine” car air freshener. Santana and Rob Thomas’ “Smooth” regularly on the CD deck as she opened the car door, because he knew it was her favorite song. Pubescent faces beaming, bellies full of butterflies, they’d drive off in their school uniforms. Just happy to be together.

18 years later, they have three kids and nearly two decades of shared memories. They have spent more of their lives as a couple than not.

Through relationship turmoil, family discord, multiple deaths anticipated and not, college searches, job hunts, interstate moves, wedding planning, health hurdles, career shifts, infertility battles, surprise babies, labor and delivery traumas, child-rearing beauty and stressors, lay-offs, allergy discoveries, dietary shifts, surgeries, and countless precious and challenging life experiences they stayed together.

How? They were best friends and made sure to reconnect regularly by spending time together, whether it be watching a favorite TV show or just chatting on the back deck. And they laughed every. Single. Day.

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Who knew two 16-year-olds could make a good decision?

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Who knew we’d make it?

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Happy dating anniversary, The Hubs!

 

How Not to Throw a Grenade into Your Spouse’s Day

Ever wonder why your stay-at-home significant other mutters under his/her breath or gets agitated when you delve into work (or hobbies or gaming or ass-sitting) on the weekend or evening? This is free time, right? You work all week. What gives?

You’re right, this is unscheduled time to get accomplished — or simply choose to not do — what didn’t get done during the day or week. You’re right, you do work hard all week so the family can function and live. Yep, this is the case for both of you. This time belongs to both of you.

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If one of you checks out to do work or rest, that firmly places the other parent on duty. So this means, if your work day is extending into the weekend or evening, so is your stay-at-home significant other’s. If you decide to pound out some work without telling him/her first, you’re saddling him/her with kid duty without warning. You’re making an insulting assumption that he/she is willing and available (in all capacities) to drop any and all plans to pick up your slack. But that’s the stay-at-home parent’s job, right?

Let’s make this easier for corporate minds to grasp. It’s the end of the day on Friday. You have been counting down the seconds until end-of-day Friday since 7:00AM Tuesday. Then, just as you log off, an email pings on your phone. Your colleague dipped out — either for a business trip or weekend plans — and dumped a project with a yesterday deadline on your lap. Was there a “please”, “thank you”, or “I owe you one” in the request? Nope, just task list and spreadsheet attached to a blank message. Curse words, right? A steady stream of them pour through your head. That colleague is now officially on your shit list. You have neither the time nor mental energy for this. Guess what? You’re that shit list colleague to your stay-at-home significant other when you wordlessly drop childcare duties on his/her lap.

As the stay-at-home parent, one is officially the default parent. The one immediately assumed to be one duty day and night. The one who must clearly communicate, “I’m not here” or “I need a break” to be temporarily taken out of the line of fire.

This parent is the one perpetually honing the running home to-do list, tending the kids’ schedules (from extracurriculars to school events, playdates to check-ups), preening the family calendar (vacations and extended family get togethers, outings and downtime), and running ongoing inventory for shopping lists, all while noting who’s gone potty or snacked when. Who’s watched too much TV or had a privilege revoked or needs to practice one skill or another. Who’s in a bad mood or who needs cuddles. Who’s in desperate need of one-on-one attention. Who asked for what playdate with whom and where haven’t we played recently. The mental load is an unending, ever-growing burden. It is a significant downside of the stay-at-home parent’s career path. But we all make sacrifices. As a working spouse, though, it’s worth the due diligence to be acutely aware of your partner’s taskload (if not for his/her sake, then your own.)

We all have stuff pop up. And you know what, sometimes we’re all selfish or tired or tapped-out or busy. It happens. We screw up. We take advantage of our significant other sometimes, but don’t be surprised when it bites you in the ass if the bad behavior becomes a pattern. Because it will bite you.

So, don’t want an angry partner or muttered aggressions littering your auditory space? Then don’t throw a grenade into your significant other’s day.

Communicate. Review expectations. Ask if this is a good time. You know, don’t be that shit list colleague. And if you know he/she is toast but you need to just get this one thing done or sit on your ass for a beat, own it and make up for it later. But expect a curse word or two. You can tune that out though, right? I mean, you do have kids after all… the ability to tune out is parental survival.

You can do this. I believe in you.

School Daze: Easy Lunch Ideas & Shopping List (Kid-approved Vegan Food)

School lunches. There are four ways parents generally approach the irksome task: 1) prepare carefully sliced and arranged food figurines into pristine Bento boxes, 2) toss a Lunchable at the kid on his way out the door, 3) opt for cafeteria fare, 4) stick to the same worn-out lunch options out of ease and self-preservation. None are wrong, right, better, or worse. All get the kid fed.

My approach lies somewhere in the middle. I aim for easy-to-make, relatively healthy, filling, fast-to-eat, and kid-approved.

As noted School Daze: Morning Prep post, I pack the week’s lunches on Sunday. I have more delicate lunches lined up to go first with sturdier fare waiting in the back for Thursday and Friday packing. I don’t like to invest a lot of time into the prepping, so I opt for quick to make dishes that use ingredients I already have on hand.

This is an example of a week’s worth of pre-packed vegan school lunches my first grader polishes off.

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LUNCH #1; “Just Ranch” Salad with Pita Add handful of chopped salad greens, 1/3 of the cucumber (chopped), 1/3 of the carrot (chopped), 1/3 of the bell pepper (diced), a sprinkle of Follow Your Heart Shredded Cheese Alternative, and 2 mini pita pockets to a lunch container. Poor 2 Tbl of Just Ranch into a small container for dressing.

LUNCH #2: “Just Caesar” Salad with Pita Add 2 handfuls of salad greens, 2 mini pita pockets, and a liberal sprinkle of Follow Your Heart Shredded Cheese Alternative to a lunch container. Pour 2 Tbl of Just Caesar into a small container for dressing.

LUNCH #3: Veggies & Pita with Hummus Add 1/3 of the bell pepper (sliced), 1/3 of the cucumber (sliced into sticks or discs, whichever is preferred), 1/3 of the carrot (cut into sticks), and 2 mini pitas to a lunch container. Scoop a few Tbl of hummus into a small container for dipping.

LUNCH #4: Hummus Pasta Salad Add a cup of cooked pasta to a lunch container. Add 1/3 of the cucumber  (diced), 1/3 of the bell pepper (diced), and 1/3 of the carrot (diced), then stir in a couple scoops of hummus.

LUNCH #5: Lentil Marinara Pasta Add 1/4 cup of prepared lentils and 1 cup of prepared pasta to a lunch container. Stir in the desired amount of spaghetti sauce. Optional: top with Follow Your Heart Shredded Cheese Alternative.


SHOPPING LIST:

1 package of salad greens (or 1 head of lettuce)

1 large carrot

1 English cucumber

1 large bell pepper (whichever color is preferred)

1 package of mini whole grain pitas (you’ll need 6 mini pitas)

1 container of hummus (or homemade; you’ll need just a few tablespoons)

1 package of dried pasta (I used Banza for extra protein)

1 jar of spaghetti sauce (you’ll need just a serving’s worth)

1 bag of lentils (or prepared lentils if preferred, you’ll need just 1/4 cup)

1 container of Follow Your Heart Shredded Cheese Alternative

1 container of Just Ranch (you’ll need roughly 2 Tbl)

1 container of Just Caesar (you’ll need roughly 2 Tbl)


Comment here or tag me on Instagram (@thedairydiaries) if you make any of these lunches. I’d love to see your creations and variations.

Happy packing!

School Daze: Dinner’s Done (Meal Planning)

Back-to-school can mean even nuttier evenings than usual with homework and extracurriculars, worn-out kids and snack demands. So how do I minimize the chaos? Meal planning.IMG_20170819_181942_053

I used to wait until lunchtime to figure out dinner. Not only did that add to my stress level, stacking another task on my harried afternoon, but it often left me racing to the store for last-minute ingredients — which amped up the grocery bill — or I simply wound up making the same tired three or four meals on rotation, since we generally had the necessary ingredients in the house. Then I began meal planning.

Not only did my stress level diminish because there was no rush to figure out meals, but our grocery bill declined too. And, guess What? We ate better!

How do I meal plan? I go pretty low-tech compared to some, but this is my process.

1) Look to the calendar. Every week I sit down and plan out the meals according to our calendar. If I have a mom date one night, The Hubs is in charge of dinner so I don’t bother planning a meal for that day. If it’s supposed to be beautiful one day and The Hubs isn’t slotted to be busy with work, I’ll be sure to plan a grillable meal. If I know we have a packed afternoon one day, I plan an easy meal.

2) Special requests, anyone? Before finalizing the meal plan, I ask the kids and The Hubs if they have any meal requests for the following week. Then I try to incorporate those menu items.

3) Write it down. Simply using the Memo app on my phone, I type out my week’s meal plan.

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4) List it out. After creating the menu, I go to my preferred grocery store’s app and create my grocery list. Before adding the frequently purchased items, I make sure the ingredients for each menu item are on my list. Then, I add the usual staple products.

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Grocery list on the store app

5)  Abide by the list. The biggest part of meal planning isn’t devising a menu or creating a comprehensive grocery list, it’s sticking to the plan. At first, it can be tempting to wing it and go back to old habits of take-out or frozen meals. Forcing yourself to stick to meal planning is the key to its success. After a few weeks, it simply becomes habit.


Looking to shave even more money off of your grocery bill? Here are some easy ways to go about it.

1) Circulars and coupons. Check out local stores’ circulars and coupons then design your menu around deals.

2) In-season shopping. Buying produce that’s in-season is a major money saver. Apples and butternut squash in fall, zucchini and tomatoes in summer. Let the season’s produce inspire your menu.

3) Fresh over premade. The fewer processed items you buy, the cheaper and healthier your meals will be. Instead of buying a box of seasoned rice, stir your own pantry herbs into plain homemade rice. Instead of opting for a tub of guacamole, mash up your own. Not an inventive cook? There are tons of recipes online. Google is your friend.

4) Go meat-free (or low-meat). Since dropping meat, our grocery bill has been $50-$100 less every week compared to when we ate meat daily. The less meat you buy, the less you pay at the register. Beans, lentils, and other plant-based (unprocessed) protein sources are widely cheaper and healthier than animal protein. Compare the cost and nutritionals of a can of beans or a bag of lentils to a platter of chicken breasts or a pouch of ground beef, and you may be a plant-eater more often.

5) Buy in bulk. If space and finances allow, buy staple items in bulk. Just be careful not to purchase products simply because they’re available in bulk or on sale. This would not be the time to make impulse or experimental buys. Stick to tried-and-trues. If you won’t use it, don’t buy it.


Now that you have the know-how, get planning! Make your afternoons a bit less stressful and your evenings a bit smoother with a little extra planning. You deserve it!

 

School Daze: Morning Prep

School mornings… as pleasant as a hemorrhoid, no? Early start, grumpy kids (and parents), little time, lots to do, start times, and tantrums (from kids and parents.) Fun!

Though our mornings aren’t scenes of fairytale bliss, and far from serene, they are streamlined. They are organized. How? One word: preparation.

I wake up ahead of everyone to heat breakfasts, pop lunches into backpacks, and begin my day so that by the time my crew shuffles downstairs, the rhythm is already in motion. My first-thing-in-the-morning task load isn’t too great though because I prepare everything I can ahead of time.

Lunches and snacks? Made at the beginning of the week. I simply grab a container stack, the water bottle, and place it in the lunchbox.

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Outfits? Laid out for the school week on Sunday evening based on the weather forecast and week’s schedule. The day’s outfit hung in the bathroom, so there are no clothing battles in the too-early morning.

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Each outfit bundle contains a top, bottom, socks, and underwear

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A week of outfits

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The next day’s outfits

Breakfasts? Prepared and plated the night before. I just heat and place them on the table while my caffeine brews.

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Mama’s caffeine? Set up the night before and ready to brew.

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Mama’s tea

Basically, when I wake up in the morning, it’s a matter of hitting “play” as opposed to scrambling to piece it all together while attempting to ready myself and my minions for the day. (That’s a feat in and of itself.)

We all could use a leg up in the morning. Why not give yourself one with a little prepping?

 

School Daze: Out-the-Door Organization

As requested, I am starting a little series about my school year organization and preparation tips. Let me begin with the most exhausting portion of the school day: getting out the door.

Now, let me preface this by clarifying that I am not a professional organizer or even a neat freak. I have three young close-in-age kids and a clutter-prone husband who often works from home. I aim for livable neatness (as in, “heathens live here but someone among us is trying to be neat.”)

Sure, I have donation boxes waiting for months to be offloaded. I have paper piles and a cluttered basement. BUT I know how to organize to get multiple mini-humans (and myself) out the door early every day. So, here are my tips on organizing to get out that door in the AM.

If you’re like us, you exit via your garage door as opposed to your front door. This makes the mudroom the primary portal. Getting everyone in their shoes with their backpacks out one door can seem akin to wrangling cats into a rabbit hole.

We have a primary shoe basket in the kitchen just beyond the mudroom where we keep daily use shoes. I used to keep school shoes in there too, but that lead to “I can’t find my shoes!” And “Why can’t I wear my pool sandals on the pumpkin patch field trip?” drama. So that habit needed adjusting.

Solution: backpack and school shoe central:

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Out-the-door Organization

Using damage-free Command hooks, I hung the kids’ backpacks and shoes (soles out) on the coat closet door. I added a cheap folding step stool to aid my shrimpy first grader in reaching her top-tier items. Then, I adhered her teacher’s reminders just beside the door.

And there we go. No hunting for shoes. No missing backpacks. No school debris strewn across our kitchen.

Easy peasy!

Next up: morning prep.