Summer in Germany!

Kölner Dom von Deutzer Seite

Hey! It might get a little quiet around here for the next couple of months because our family has some pretty exciting plans in the works: we’re going to Germany for the summer!

For a long time, my husband and I have had a dream to see what it’s like to live abroad for at least a little while. I can remember sitting together at Four Peaks Brewery in Tempe, AZ after a marriage retreat in 2014 when we first came up with the idea we called Operation 2020. (If you’ve ever been on a marriage retreat, you know how they encourage you and your spouse to talk about your shared values, hopes, and dreams.) Over what I recall being a really tasty salmon salad, we talked about how cool it would be to spend an entire year in a foreign country. Immersing in the language, culture, and day-to-day life of a totally different place seemed like an incredible experience we could give our kids (and ourselves, who are we kidding?) We figured that by 2020 our kids would be ideal ages–13, 11, and 9–for travel, and we’d have six whole years to plan and save.

Germany was the logical choice for our destination. I am what you might call a Germophile. My family heritage is Swiss and German, my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees are both in German, and I taught German language at the college level at Arizona State for a couple semesters. I spent the summer of 2003 in Germany on a study abroad program with my alma mater, Wheaton College. Since Anthony and I wanted language learning to be a component of our kids’ experience abroad, it only made sense to go where at least one of us speaks the language and feels somewhat familiar.

As time went by, though, the reality of what it would mean to spend an entire year in Germany began to dawn on us. Probably, we’d have to quit our jobs, figure out work visas, and find some means of employment that would support a family of five for a year…not to mention having to either homeschool our kids or find a suitable school for them in another country. This mountain of potential obstacles dimmed our enthusiasm for making our trip last a whole 12 months. Our thinking began to shift. What if we spent three months instead? Like a summer? No visas required, no taking the kids out of school, and maybe Anthony could even keep his job and work remotely.

When we looked at this option, it seemed vastly more appealing, and we realized it could happen sooner than our original plan! With me finishing my nutrition degree last December, I knew I could work part-time in the spring to make a little money, leave for the summer of 2017, then perhaps find a more “serious” job upon our return. (Though I do plan to stay at my position at the Halle Heart Children’s Museum for awhile!) Anthony discovered he could in fact work remotely–coincidentally his co-worker has been doing just that from Germany off and on for the last year or so. Everything seemed to be falling into place.

And then came the additional motivator of Donald Trump becoming a serious candidate for presidency. What better time to leave the country?

So in September 2016 we started looking at flights. After clearing with our kids’ principal that they wouldn’t be kicked out of school if they left a couple of weeks before the end of the year–hey, travel is educational!–we bought tickets to spend 80 days in Germany, starting May 8th. The eight months since then have been a maelstrom of preparations. Our itinerary is now set with two weeks in Munich, one week in Vienna, and eight weeks in Cologne. I’ve wracked my brain to try to think of every detail of everything that needs to get taken care of before we leave, from the macro level of train tickets and accommodations to the micro level of how many earrings to pack. Our departure date is now four days away and I’m crossing my fingers that basically everything is, as the Germans say, “erledigt”–which is a nice one-word way of saying “taken care of.” At this point, my feelings about the trip keep reminding me of pregnancy: after eight months, I’m just ready to GO!

I’ll try to post delicious recipes and interesting nutrition content as much as I can over the summer, but things might be sparse here on the blog for awhile. (Who knows, though, maybe I’ll learn a lot about German cuisine?)

Wishing you a happy, healthy, and tasty summer. See you in August!

Barbecue Tofu Sandwiches with Veggie Slaw

Barbecue Tofu Sandwich

At the children’s museum where I work, there’s an exhibit called Marketplace, which is essentially a mini grocery store engineered just for play. When I give tours to field trip groups, this exhibit is where I educate kids about the various food groups as outlined on MyPlate. I explain to them that MyPlate not only shows the five food groups, but also what portions of them we should fill our plates with (as in, 50% fruits and vegetables).

Part of my spiel in this exhibit is asking kids to tell me examples of their favorite foods in each group. They usually do pretty well on fruits, vegetables, and dairy (except for the occasional kid who tells me that pigs give us dairy products or that oranges are their favorite vegetable), but they are often stumped when I ask them to name foods that contain protein. I can’t tell you how many times kids’ ideas of protein-rich foods are protein bars or protein shakes, rather than natural food sources. Granted, these kids are often second graders, so I have to give them a pass, but as a nutritionist, it’s surprising to me that the school curriculum covers so little about food and nutrition.

Once we get through the idea that protein is found in animal products and some non-animal products, I ask the students again: which protein-containing foods are your favorites?

Steak. Steak is the answer about 80% of the time.

I then ask kids about plant-based protein sources. Have they ever, for example, tried tofu?

“Ewwwwwwww, no!”

Come on! I want to say. You’re eight years old and your parents have already ruined you for tofu? But it’s true–ever since Americans first started experimenting with tofu in the ’70s and ’80s, it’s been saddled with a reputation as the flavorless poster child of the Health Food Movement.

It doesn’t have to be that way. As a meatless protein source, I find tofu easy to prepare, cheap to purchase, and a flavor chameleon that can adapt to anything you throw at it. Case in point: these delicious barbecue tofu sandwiches with veggie slaw. I’ve had tofu in many forms over the years, but the idea of slicing it and putting it in a sandwich was new to me when I first saw this recipe. Now that I’ve been making it for awhile, I can see how the shape and texture of pan-fried tofu sliced off the block is perfect sandwich material! Slathered with barbecue sauce and topped with a cool slaw, these barbecue tofu sandwiches are a super tasty (and totally think-outside-the-box) weeknight dinner.

So if someone asks MY favorite protein-containing food? Well, I won’t say they beat a juicy steak, but I will say these barbecue tofu sandwiches rank pretty high.

Barbecue Tofu Sandwich

Print Recipe
Barbecue Tofu Sandwiches with Veggie Slaw
A tasty vegetarian sandwich of pan-fried barbecue tofu and a cool, creamy slaw.
Instructions
  1. Drain tofu and squeeze as much liquid out of it as possible. If time allows, remove even more moisture by pressing tofu. (Place on a paper towel-lined plate and weigh it down with something heavy, like cans or books.) Slice tofu lengthwise into 4 equal slabs.
  2. Prepare the slaw: in a medium bowl, combine mayonnaise, red wine vinegar, garlic powder, and pepper. Add shredded broccoli/carrot mix and stir to coat. Set aside.
  3. Heat canola oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add tofu slabs and cook about 4 minutes per side, or until lightly browned. Reduce heat to low, add barbecue sauce, and cook for another 3 minutes or so, carefully turning tofu to coat both sides.
  4. Assemble sandwiches with toasted sandwich thins, barbecue tofu, slaw and pickles (if you like).
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Eating Well.

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Semi-Vegetarian Meal Plan Month #2

Cookbooks

A few months ago, I wrote a post that proved to be one of my most popular: a month of semi-vegetarian meal plans. Because, when it comes right down to it, a lot of us are just too stinkin’ busy to put a whole lot of time and effort into meal planning. Or, when grocery shopping day rolls around, we’re stumped as to how to piece together the jigsaw puzzle of cost, healthy choices, and ingredients we have on hand.

I feel you, because I sometimes lose my meal-planning mojo, too.

Thankfully, I generally get it back pretty quickly. As a nutritionist and food blogger, that’s kinda my job.

So here we are with another round of semi-vegetarian meals for a whole month! As in my first month’s post, these weekly plans have multiple aims. Here you will find meals that:

  1. Are healthy, half-meatless, and full of good-for-you ingredients like fruits, veggies, beans, and whole grains
  2. Mostly don’t take long, making them weeknight-friendly
  3. Work for YOU by making double batches of certain items for re-use later, as well as using up entire ingredients so you don’t end up with half a container of ricotta cheese and a random 5 oz. of chicken broth at the end of the week

So here you go! Four weeks of meal plans, based on four adult servings per meal. I hope they help take some stress out of your day/week/month!

WEEK 1

Monday: Barbecue Tofu Sandwiches with Coleslaw, Potato Chips, Watermelon (or other seasonal fruit)

Tuesday: Grilled Chicken Breasts (seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a little dried basil), Roasted Red Pepper and Feta Rice, Steamed Broccoli (make it in the microwave!)

Wednesday: Charred Corn and Rosemary Pizza, spinach salad with toppings of your choice

Thursday: Chicken Souvlaki with added fresh spinach for extra veggies

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Friday: Salad with Gorgonzola, Walnuts, Dried Cranberries, & Apple w/dressing of your choice, Better-Than-Store-Bought Biscuits (make a double batch and save half for Sunday)

Saturday: Dinner out

Sunday: Summer Vegetable Soup with Shrimp and Lemon, Better-Than-Store-Bought Biscuits (leftover from Friday)

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WEEK 2

Monday: Pork Chops with Pan-Fried Apples over Rice (make a double batch of rice to use Friday)

Tuesday: Ricotta Gnocchi and green salad of your choice

Wednesday: Easy Chicken Enchiladas (use meat from 1/2 a rotisserie chicken and 4 oz. reduced-fat cream cheese, not 8 oz. full-fat), Zucchini & Yellow Squash sautéed with olive oil, salt, and pepper

Thursday: Crab Quiche, Roasted Carrots (put in the oven with the quiche at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pepper)

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Friday: Broccoli Chicken Divan (use meat from the other half of the rotisserie chicken), Rice (leftover from Monday)

Saturday: Dinner out

Sunday: Spinach Lasagna (half batch serves 4) and green salad of your choice

WEEK 3

Monday: Turkey Bean Chili and Perfect Cornbread Muffins (double batch to use half on Tuesday)

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Tuesday: Mexican Salad: lettuce, corn, black beans, tomatoes, green onions, cheddar cheese, and dressing of your choice, other half Perfect Cornbread Muffins

Wednesday: Spicy Pan-Fried Noodles with Tofu and Carrots

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Thursday: Whole wheat spaghetti with purchased marinara sauce and 1/2 lb. ground turkey crumbles, green salad of your choice

Friday: Zucchini Cheddar Fritters, Sweet Potato Fries (purchased)

Saturday: Dinner out

Sunday: Salmon Burgers with Lemon Tarragon Mayo, Roasted Broccoli with Almonds and Parmesan

WEEK 4

Monday: Gazpacho and Grilled Cheese

Tuesday: Cajun Lemon Tilapia with Dill Sauce, Mashed Potatoes (make 4 c. extra for later in the week), Steamed Green Beans

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Wednesday: Beef and Carrot Stew with Couscous (substitute carrots for rutabagas in the linked recipe if you can’t find rutabagas or they’re not in season)

Thursday: Turkey Shepherd’s Pie (using extra mashed potatoes you made Monday)

Friday: Black Bean and Corn Quesadillas, Tortilla Chips and Tomato, Corn, & Avocado Salsa

Saturday: Dinner out

Sunday: Couscous Cakes with Feta and Sundried Tomato Salad

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Pokemon Birthday Party

pokemon birthday party

When planning a double birthday party for my 8 and 10-year-old boys, there was never any doubt as to its theme. In fact, there seems to be very little doubt that there is one pastime that unites the children of “Generation Z”: Pokemon. It’s the lingua franca of grade school-aged boys all over the world. My sons have been known to meet other boys for the first time and, after a whiff of introduction, become deeply embroiled in deck battles that last for hours.

As I was in the early planning of this party, I recalled a birthday party my daughter Christine attended recently. The whole thing consisted of a trampoline, a birthday banner, and a box of a dozen donuts. Christine had the time of her life. Reflecting on the goodness of this kind of simplicity for kids’ birthday parties (which can get WAY over the top, right?), I originally wanted my boys’ Pokemon party to be ultra chill, with no frills. However, it’s pretty hard to break away from my usual go-big-or-go-home approach to party throwing. As much as I kept telling myself to keep it simple, I definitely overshot. I’d say the end result was medium-fancy, not quite Pinterest-perfect, but with some themed pizzazz (because I just can’t help myself when it comes to themed parties). But most importantly, it was FUN!

Here’s the rundown of my boys’ special day!

FOOD

First things first: Pokemon-themed food.

pokemon birthday party

Since there are something like 800 Pokemon (all with ridiculous, made-up-sounding names), there’s no end to the punny takes you can get on Pokemon-themed food. My boys helped me think up the following menu:

Pika-Pika Pizza

Pokemon pizza

Bronzong Broccoli Salad (based on this recipe, which barely resembles a vegetable but tastes incredible)…

pokemon birthday party

Char-Melon

pokemon birthday party

Chikorita Chips

pokemon birthday party

Mega Punch (just cran-raspberry juice & sparkling water–see? I kept some of it simple!)

pokemon birthday party

Pokemon Cake (no themed name here, just a chocolate cake topped with some plastic Pokemon figurines by boys graciously allowed me to borrow):

pokemon birthday party

Pika-Chewy Granola Bars (party favor)

pokemon birthday party

For party favors, I’m always a fan of sending kids home with something either healthy or useful, rather than junk food or made-in-China toys that will get thrown out the next day. So for this party’s favor, I made a pan of Chewy Peanut Butter Chocolate Granola Bars, wrapped them individually, and slapped them with the name “Pika-Chewy Granola Bars.”

pokemon birthday party

Click here for a free printable of the tags: Pika-Chewy Granola Bars

DECORATIONS

This is one place the party stayed pretty uncomplicated. After all, my motto for decorating for kids’ birthday parties–or any parties, really–is “use what you got.” No need to go out and buy a ton of Pokemon decorations when plenty of the toys my kids already have can serve that purpose! That’s where our Pikachu “centerpiece” came from: stuffed animals surrounded by trading cards. Done and done.

pokemon birthday party

Add to that some red-and-white chevron streamers and the birthday table was set.

Pokemon birthday party

Another way to use the actual Pokemon cards as decoration was to stick them in some faux grass.

pokemon birthday party

And finally, no party at our house is complete without a themed sign, courtesy of an internet printable photo and some craft paper:

pokemon birthday party

ACTIVITIES

The great thing about a Pokemon birthday party is that, assuming kids bring their own Pokemon cards, there’s really not much else by way of activities you need to provide. And I say “assuming” they’ll bring their cards because my kids seem to do so to every conceivable event–like church. You know, just in case there’s a break in the worshiping and we have a quick moment to play a Jigglypuff vs. a Garbodor.

In the invitation to my boys’ party, we put a note that everyone could bring Pokemon cards if they had any–and if not, that was fine, too. For those kids who didn’t have any, all the boys did well sharing so that everyone could play deck battles galore.

Our other primary activity for the party was to set up a giant screen my husband borrowed from work to let the boys play Pokemon video games on. It was a huge hit, and it *may* still be in our living room for us grown-ups to watch movies on until his workplace needs it back.

video games big screen

And finally, present-opening took some time, of course…

pokemon birthday party

pokemon birthday party

pokemon birthday party

…along with singing “Happy Birthday” and eating cake and ice cream.

A big happy birthday to my two wonderful, Pokemon-loving boys!

i choose you

3-Ingredient Mango Frozen Yogurt

Mango frozen yogurt

I’m gonna come right out and say that Disneyland is missing a major opportunity.

Anyone who has been to Adventureland knows that you absolutely cannot have a complete Disney experience there without enjoying some Dole Pineapple Whip. You know, from the thatched-roof stand next to the Tiki Room where the line always stretches back to the I-10 (or at least to Sleeping Beauty’s Castle). I enjoy Dole Whip, with its cool, creamy texture and tropical sweetness, but I’m not quite as fanatical about it as some people I know. People go NUTS for this stuff.

So when I say Disneyland is missing an opportunity, here’s what I mean: there are other tropical fruits they haven’t experimented with that can be made into whips. Like mango! In this foodie’s humble opinion, this mango frozen yogurt (aka Mango Whip) is at least as tasty as the pineapple version served in Adventureland. It’s a zippy fresh fruit treat that, with only three ingredients, is ridiculously easy to make and surprisingly low in added sugar. If Disneyland tapped into this, the tiki stand could have lines that stretch all the way to the Pacific! Wouldn’t THAT be fun?

Mango frozen yogurt

Or, instead, you could just make it at home.

Mango frozen yogurt

Frozen mango + yogurt + powdered sugar + a blender, and in 5 minutes you’ve got the definition of refreshment in a bowl. So who needs Disneyland? (Ok, I do. I need Disneyland. When can we go back again???)

Adventure land

 

Print Recipe
3-Ingredient Mango Frozen Yogurt
A refreshing mango frozen yogurt with minimal added sugar.
Course Dessert, snack
Servings
(generously)
Ingredients
Course Dessert, snack
Servings
(generously)
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Place all ingredients in a blender or the bowl of a food processor and blend/process until smooth. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Eating Well.

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