Food, humor, Wipe the Drool

Host a Vegan Dinner Party Even if You’re Not Vegan (and most of your friends aren’t either)

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A few weeks ago, I received a group text from my friend Christine:

“Ladies! I have perfected a vegan menu! When are you coming over?!”

Christine is not vegan. None of my local friends are vegan. I put my phone down and walked away. When things this good happen, I get very suspicious.

After a moment, I decided to reply. I downplayed it so as not to make her feel too much pressure:

“YES YES YES A THOUSAND YESSES! P.S. – I’m blogging the sh*t out of this.”

DISCLAIMER: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission if you purchase the linked product, at no additional cost to you. I only ever link to products that I truly love. Like this.

And thus, Chef and Tofu Goddess Christine and I bring to you:

How to Host a Vegan Dinner Party Even if You’re Not Vegan (and most of your friends aren’t either)

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Don’t worry. We’ll talk you through it.

STEP ONE: FIND FRIENDS.

STEP TWO: TELL THEM YOU’RE HOSTING A VEGAN DINNER PARTY.

STEP THREE: FIND NEW FRIENDS.

STEP ONE: PLAN MENU

Christine saw my post about vegan food hacks and suddenly remembered the power of The Almighty Peanut Sauce. (If you have vegan friends who also have nut allergies, you should rethink your friendship. Or you can use tahini.) This spoke to her overall philosophy when it comes to menu planning:

I thought it would be best to work with ingredients or dishes that are inherently vegan, instead of trying to make something ‘meat-esque’ and working with unfamiliar substitutions. Embrace and love the ingredients for what they are! If we are honest with ourselves nobody really loves cauliflower when it’s trying to be rice, or mashed potatoes, or (for the love of Pete) pizza crust. Have at it with those things, but embrace cauliflowery goodness and don’t play with our emotions when it comes to pizza crust. And zucchini is a delicious vegetable, but it will never be spaghetti, ever.”

APPETIZERS

Pan-fried vegetable potstickers a.k.a. gyoza (yup, the kind you find in the frozen section of any grocery store)

InstaPot hummus with veggies and pita chips (this recipe will change your life)

Olive tapenade (…from Trader Joe’s because for crying out loud you can’t do everything)

As you’ll soon see, this entire menu contains items you can make ahead, or drunkenly quickly prepare on the stovetop while you sip your mango and raspberry infused sparkling rosé. Who wants to host a party and have to worry about how long it will take your soufflé to rise? Christine pan fried the potstickers to crispy perfection while we chatted and snacked on the other items.

MAIN COURSE

Noodles with peanut sauce

Lettuce wraps with tofu, mushroom and water chestnut scramble

Both of these recipes continue to make your hosting duties a breeze because you can make the entire noodle dish ahead and serve chilled or at room temperature, and you can even make the lettuce wrap filling ahead of time (or at least do all of the chopping). Christine chose angel hair pasta for the noodle dish, a decision I will shamelessly mimic from here on out. So light! So tender!

Ethnic cuisine tends to contain lots of naturally vegan dishes, and will help you create a cohesive menu. How about spring rolls and a Thai coconut curry (this curry paste is my everything) or pineapple fried rice? Or samosas (the Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods versions are vegan!) with a dal (lentil) makhani or saag (spinach) tofu? Remember: Coconut milk, nuts, potatoes, and spices are vegan friends who make everything delicious!

Nervous about tofu? Pro tip #1 from Christine:

Squeezing tofu is one of those things that sounds intimidating, like rinsing quinoa or soaking beans. How will you know if you squeezed it too much? Or not enough? Am I still a good vegan friend and Earth-lover if I’m wasting a bunch of paper towels on my tofu? What would Mr. Whipple say about all that squeezing? In truth, it’s not that bad and it’s hard to do it wrong. If you don’t quite squeeze it enough for a recipe like this one, any excess liquid cooks off anyway. So I thought this recipe was a good entry point into My First Experience with Tofu.”

mr-whipple-charmin
I assume my invitation is just lost in the mail?

DESSERT

Coconut cashew milk rice pudding 

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This pudding was so good that even though we were stuffed from going back for main course seconds, we housed it. It’s easy to make ahead and totally company-worthy, especially when paired with pretty glasses and freshly cut strawberries.

Still feeing nervous? Christine’s pro tip #2:

If you’re not sure about ingredients, Google is your friend. I was excited to find this Vegan Condiments Guide so I could be sure that all the ingredients would work. That’s also where I learned that honey is not vegan. Bees are animals, too! (The more you know… cue the shooting star and rainbow.) Your vegan friends will think you are next-level if you know that honey isn’t vegan, and use agave syrup instead. Rock star status!”

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Hang on, Christine. Way ahead of you. Photo credit (prior to extremely necessary annotation).

STEP TWO: SET THE MOOD

I suggest it look something like this:

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Christine says:

Vegans tend to love the planet a bunch, so if you want to try something new that might be easier to sustain than your new-found vegan dining habits, splurge on some cloth napkins and work them into your daily routine. You’ll feel extra fancy and reduce waste all at the same time. One averagely messy eater can use a cloth napkin for a few days before sending it to the hamper until laundry day.”

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STEP THREE: ALL THE SMUGNESS!!!!

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“Did I mention I’m not even vegan?”

And that’s it, folks! Easy peasy Charmin squeezy!

A special thank you to Christine for hosting such a fabulous feast and sharing your recipes and tricks with the blogosphere! I’m only a little mad that you’re a better vegan cook than me.

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Blonde Moments, Family Ties, humor

I Put the NO in NOLA (New Orleans)

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The trip that almost…WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU.

My family arrived at Newark Liberty Airport last week with plenty of time to catch our 12:34pm flight to New Orleans. It was Spring Break for this family of (mostly) teachers, kids, and retirees, and we were eager to cash in on the opportunity to visit a city none of us had ever seen. Everyone stared at me while I pulled out my phone to retrieve our flight number, punching it into the check-in kiosk. I was skating on thin ice for not having checked us in the night before.

My parents looked around nervously, trying to catch a glimpse of the security gate. The lines were surprisingly dead for a Tuesday morning. As Babs (mom) stared at her baggage check sticker like it was written in Klingon, my sister swiftly tagged both of her kids’ bags and called, “Okay, let’s go!”

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Put the who in the what in the where now? Photo credit

All six of us made our way to the security gate, where I pulled out my wallet to grab my driver’s license.

“What’s wrong?” my sister asked. She followed my gaze.

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“Oh my god. Where’s your license?”

I slapped my hand to my forehead.

“In my coat pocket,” I moaned.

Her eyes widened. I had quickly put my license in my coat pocket that morning in order to move my car to a tow-free spot for the week. It was still snowing in New Jersey, and I was thrilled when I put the puffy gray jacket back on its hook in the landing of my apartment, because, hey! It was 80 degrees in NOLA! Woo hoo! Let’s GO!

“I was trying to be responsible [and not drive around the corner without a license]!” I cried. I had never bothered to be so responsible before, which is why I didn’t remember to put the license back in my wallet.

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And I call myself a (moderately proficient) Project Management Professional.

I looked over at my father, halfway to the TSA pre-check line, and thought, If looks could disown. My sister and I had planned this whole thing on his dime and now I was about to ruin it all.

Being a 3-month-old meditating guru, I suddenly thought: This is a test. Don’t cry. Breathe. Stay calm. There is no f^&$@$ way they’re letting me on the plane!!!!

“Okay, let’s get on line and come up with a plan,” my sister said, snapping into teacher mode.

I only had time to chug what was left in my water bottle before we faced security, all the while trying to ignore the exclamation points firing in my head. People in airport uniforms hated me. I was searched every time, convincing me I had either “dumb enough to carry someone else’s crack-lined luggage” or “mail order bride” tattooed on my forehead. Because of this track record, I always got nervous, which then made them suspicious, and well, it was just a vicious cycle that ended with someone getting to second base.

The agent smiled (smiled!) at my sister BECAUSE OF COURSE HE DID and once she explained the situation, he politely said he’d call his manager, asking me to provide any other I.D. I might have in the meantime.

Did…did this mean…could I possibly… Nooo. I yanked out every credit card, health insurance card, student I.D., $3.08 Borders gift card (hey, how did that get in there?), and business card I had in my wallet, little pieces of my identity fluttering out like it was Mardi Gras.

Five (or two or forty-seven, who can tell when you’re wondering why you also forgot to wear an adult diaper?) minutes later, I was sent on through without so much as a pat down. I reached my family, patiently waiting on the other side of the security gate.

“Time for a drink?” Babs asked after taking one look at my face.

“All of them,” I nodded.

But I didn’t cry! And I made it through! Bring on the Hurricanes! And bring them on we did…

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…until two days later. When I started feeling…funny.

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And not funny ha-ha.

After an exciting and sleepless night followed by a raging fever, we concluded I’d come down with the stomach flu, a new friend who planned to stick around, Kato-style.

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F— my liiiiiiiife. Photo credit

Now that the fever’s finally gone, I feel reborn and ready to get my license tattooed on my arm. Except that my stomach is still to me what women are to men: a total mystery.

As for the rest of New Orleans? Also a total mystery.

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But I’m told this happened.

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Any other travel mishaps you care to share? Please. Make me feel better.

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Family Ties, humor, Veganiness

What Jesus Would Definitely NOT Do

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Every other week, I meet with one of my favorite people in the world, my thesis advisor, Mary Pat (or MP, as we affectionately call her). At the start of these chats, we often find ourselves sharing humorous anecdotes before getting down to brass tacks.

Speaking of nail-like things, this past week, she shared a little story about growing up Catholic as one of seven siblings. “This wasn’t like growing up in the 80s,” she said. “I mean, we had nuns. Nun nuns.”

“On Good Friday,” MP continued, “from 12 to 3, while Jesus was on the cross, Catholics are supposed to be quiet. Our parents would put all seven of us in our tiny basement and not let us out until we oh-so-silently finished our annual arts and crafts project. Which was,” she paused dramatically, “to make a life-sized Jesus on the cross using brown paper bags, red markers, tape, and scissors.  We didn’t have to make the cross, just Jesus — which was a depressing task to say the least, especially with four brothers who loved drawing the gory parts…”

I stared at her, mouth agape. “Go on.”

“Once giant Jesus was complete, my parents hung Him on the wall where He remained for the rest of Good Friday and most of Holy Saturday. Then, Saturday night before bed, we rolled Him up and put Him in a shoebox with a rock on top, like His tomb,” she took a breath. “This isn’t even the best part.”

I pursed my lips. This was already the greatest story I’d ever heard.

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Cannot…take…it!!!!

“In the morning — on Easter — we would come downstairs to discover that the shoebox was empty, the rock removed! If we wondered where He went, we needed only tip our seven little faces toward the heavens to find Him.”

“The…ceiling?” I could barely get the words out.

“That’s right,” she confirmed. “After we went to bed, my parents would tape Him to the ceiling in the dining room. He had risen!”

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I’m guessing it didn’t look like this.

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Any other horrifying fun family memories you’d like to share?

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PSAs

5 Lessons Learned From Just 10 Minutes of Daily Meditation

I’ve been meditating for ten minutes a day for about three months. This makes me, and I’m shocked I have to explain this to you, an expert.

Why meditation? Why now? It seemed like I couldn’t turn on a podcast without hearing people sing meditation’s praises, and I was really curious to see if it would affect my overall outlook. Besides, it’s nice to mix things up once you realize most of your waking hours are spent dealing with unwanted hair.

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That’s a lot of surface area.

I was pretty amazed to notice a difference in just one week, especially because most of the ten minutes were spent thinking, “Am I doing this right?” (Spoiler alert: You are.) I felt calmer, lighter, and happier, and all I’d really done was sit on the sofa, eyes closed, hands in my lap, listening to nature sounds on YouTube. Every time my mind would wander, I’d bring it back to my breath.

What was even more helpful than breathing deeply was doing a body scan, checking in with each part of my body. Most days, my shoulders and neck screamed once I paused to listen – a testament to my terrible posture and long hours in front of a computer. I also realized, on days when I felt most rushed, the anxiety seemed to pool in the middle of my stomach. After a few weeks, I began to understand that that was where my anxiety always lived.  It was startling to realize that I went almost 36 years without knowing that.

What really made me think these meditation evangelists might be onto something, though, was when I had a completely uncharacteristic reaction to someone saying something rude to me about a month into meditating. In the first instant, I had my normal response – horror, indignation, hurt. But just one second later, I burst out laughing. This bubble of pure joy erupted as I saw the absurdity of their behavior. This person’s comment (or more specifically, their tone), had nothing to do with me. A moment later, they were laughing with me.

That’s it, I thought. I’m sticking with this meditation sh*t for good.

DISCLAIMER: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission if you purchase the linked product, at no additional cost to you. I only ever link to products that I truly love. Like this.

5 Lessons Learned From Just 10 Minutes of Daily Meditation

1. You’ll Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable.

Ten minutes is a long time when you’ve got Twitter to check and Wheat Thins to eat. And once you get past those impulses, you might start (gasp) feeling even more things. Things you might not want to feel. You might relive moments you’d wish would stay buried somewhere in your parents’ basement along with those Koosh ball earrings. Like the results of this past election. Don’t stop. Don’t get up. Just keep breathing. You’re building a muscle that no CrossFit gym can ever provide.

2. This too shall pass.

If you’ve gotten past number one, a funny thought might occur to you: Everything is going to be okay. As you learn to live and breathe in the present moment, everything else becomes superfluous. You realize no matter how anxious or desperate you might feel in any one moment, it will change. Meditation helps you practice bridging that gap between feeling and action before you race to mask your emotions with the aforementioned Twitter and Wheat Thins.

3. Nothing is perfect.

Not even the dog who decides to loudly munch his kibble (probably to make sure you don’t get to it first) just when you start to meditate. Your inner critic will vie for your attention as soon as you even start to think about meditating. What’s the point? You’re doing it wrong. Ten minutes can’t possibly make a difference. You’re definitely doing this wrong. Just remember: The amount you resist meditation is a direct correlation to the amount it can help you.

And if 10 minutes a day sounds overwhelming? Try 5, or even 1. I picked 10 because it was the amount, for me, that I knew I couldn’t talk myself out of. Anything is better than nothing. Dan Harris, the ABC News guy behind 10% Happier, reminds me of that on his podcast [that I’m now addicted to] every week.

4. It’s all about me.

I probably should have warned you about this upfront, but something very disturbing will start to happen if you carve out ten (or five or one) minute(s) a day to just be. You will start to just be you. All that is gloriously and wonderfully you, without any distractions. As you let those thoughts and feelings come and go without judgment, you’ll start to feel an energy flow through you, and that energy feels a lot like love.

5. It has nothing to do with me.

The best and worst thing about loving yourself? Only you can do it.* And once you do, you’ll realize all of the negativity in the world can’t touch you, because it has nothing to do with you.

*That’s what she said.

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Go ahead. Just try to meditate.

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Have you tried meditating? What do you think?

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TV Junkie

Why You Need to Watch Santa Clarita Diet

Wayyyy back in the day, this blog was called Go Guilty Pleasures! Yes, with an exclamation point, because I make it my mission to tell you how you feel about what you’re reading. Back then I waxed poetic about Darren Criss and Justin Timberlake, but eventually I evolved to more mature matters, like eating dog kibble.

Well, old habits die hard, and I’m here to tell you how you should feel about Santa Clarita Diet, the morbid, quirky, irresistible Netflix show starring Drew Barrymore and that guy from Girl Next Door. (…Anyone?) They’re back for season two and I just about puked from excitement.

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If you can get past the puke in episode one, I promise it’s worth it! Photo credit.

This show is filling the Buffy-sized hole in my heart. It is utterly absurd, and yet entirely lovable, with characters who make the most implausible seem as commonplace as eating an entire box of Wheat Thins in one sitting. (…Anyone?) Take, for instance, this dialogue from the beginning of season 2, episode 1:

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INT. MENTAL HOSPITAL – DAY

JOEL (male lead a.k.a. Drew Barrymore’s husband) is inside a mental hospital. He shares a room with CRAZY HOSPITAL PATIENT and decides to come clean about his wife.

JOEL: She’s undead.

CRAZY HOSPITAL PATIENT: Really? How is that going?

JOEL: Honestly? Mixed. She has an intensity I love, but having to find human flesh for her to eat? That’s been hard.

CRAZY HOSPITAL PATIENT: I can’t imagine.

JOEL: We’re realtors, so, killing people and stuffing them in the freezer doesn’t come naturally.

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If you’re reading that cold, I’ve probably convinced you to never watch this show. But guess what? THAT’S EXACTLY WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS SHOW. They make that work.

Chyeah. I know. Catch you on the flip undead side, Chipmunks!

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humor

I Owe You: Your Friday Palate Cleanser

I know I just made you watch a video of me stealing my dog’s vegan kibble and eating it.

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Tastes great…less meaty!

I can’t believe you came back.

I love you so much.

As an apology and token of my affection, I’d like to offer you a palate cleanser.

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Wait for it…

You might recall from the aforementioned debauchery that my dog, Uncle Jesse, just turned 8 years old. And guess what? You can teach an old dog new tricks! A few years ago, I accidentally taught him how to stretch before our long walks. Recently I thought, “Wouldn’t it be helpful if he learned how to shake off all of this excess snow/water/disgusting street sludge before we get into the living room?”

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Oh sure, it all looks fine and dandy right NOW…

I figured it would be a tough one, and yes, it’s taken Uncle Jesse a lot longer than usual to decipher my funny mouth sounds. Sometimes when I say, “Shake shake shake!” he sneezes. Sometimes it looks like this:

But now (…most of time)? Behold!

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Have any favorite dog tricks?

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Animals, Food, humor, I'm Going To Chop My Ear Off Any Day Now, Uncle Jesse

That Time I Ate Dog Food

DISCLAIMER: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission if you purchase the linked product, at no additional cost to you. I only ever link to products that I truly love. Like this.

Guess what? Today is Uncle Jesse’s 8th birthday!

And I thought, “What better way to honor him than to steal his food?”

As luck would have it, our latest shipment of V-Dog plant-based kibble just arrived!

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30 lbs. Also the exact amount of weight I’ve gained since entering grad school.

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that this was one of my favorite vegan food hacks, albeit one enjoyed by my fur baby and not so much me.

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Until (spoiler alert) NOW!

I was keenly aware of the bag’s poundage, and my own, as I lugged it up two long flights of stairs and into the tiny apartment.

In a recent post, I said that this plant-based kibble smelled so “decent,” and Uncle Jesse loves it so much, that I might actually try it myself. And that if I did, I would, of course, blog about it.

Because why stop at peeing on houses when you can still sink a little lower?

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Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m getting hungry.

…If this goes viral, I’m not sure how I’ll feel about it.

If you’d like to celebrate how much we love our furry families, and every kind of love, I hope you’ll consider doing what I just did and buy a copy of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’s new children’s book, “A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo.” Proceeds go to The Trevor Project and AIDS United. (And if you really want to geek out, check out the line-up on the audio version!)

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