Meatless Monday – Veggie “Meat” Balls

Yes, I know it’s Tuesday and this post says “Meatless Monday.” That’s how things go sometimes, especially in a busy holiday season. No judgment, lots of grace!

Because their parents turned veggie before they were born, our kids have been vegetarian their whole lives. They’ve never had a beef burger. They’ve only had meat by accident.

At a Christmas party a year ago, Tween saw a platter of meat balls and commented aloud, “Oh, I can’t have those.” The gracious host replied, “Oh, yes, you can! They’re vegetarian.” He had one, and then another, and eventually we moved his sweet body away from the table so others could enjoy them as well.

Not long after, Friend scheduled time to teach Tween to make meatballs. Unlike his older brother, whose love for eating good food motivates him to cook good food, Tween hasn’t been overly motivated to learn to cook. But he had so much fun cooking with Friend, and I had fun watching her invest love and knowledge into her relationship with my son.meatballs in oven
meatball on spoon

As she prepared to host this year’s Christmas party, Friend invited Tween over to make another (double) batch of meatballs. For three hours they measured, chopped, sauteed, blended, stirred, and waited in expectation for that delicious first bite (Okay, it doesn’t really take three hours, but we talked and took breaks, Tween played with the dogs and the adults drank good wine – in other words, we enjoyed the process and the company).

Come party time, Tween proudly stood by the meatballs and invited guests to try them. Carnivores couldn’t believe vegetables could taste so savory-amazing. Don’t let prior experience with cardboard-tasteless, processed meat-less balls steer you away from this recipe. Try it for yourself!

Veggie “Meat” Balls

2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 1/2 c Saltine crackers, finely chopped
2 c walnuts, finely chopped
1 c ground vegetable protein (such as 
Morningstar Grillers Crumbles)
4 eggs
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp celery salt
1/4 tsp liquid smoke
1/2 c Mozzarella cheese, shredded

Use a food processor on pulse to chop Saltines, then walnuts, then onions (because dry before wet makes things easier), setting aside each ingredient as it’s done. Saute onions. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and blend. Use a small ice cream scoop to form walnut-sized balls and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

BBQ Sauce

1/2 c margarine
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 c brown sugar
1 c ketchup
2 1/2 c prepared BBQ sauce (we like 
this one)
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp salt
2 shakes liquid smoke

Saute onions. Add remaining ingredients to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour sauce over meatballs in a casserole dish and bake at 350 until warmed through, or place in a crock pot to warm and serve.

Meatless Monday – Veggie Chili

A dear friend offered to host the annual family-friendly Halloween/Trick-or-Treating party (meaning, as much fun for adults as kids, including Kitchen Dance Party long after we all should have been asleep) .

This Halloween dealt us a new parenting milestone – Teen definitely had his own plans and Tween, willing to attend party and eat food, felt desperate to Trick-or-Treat sans parental types. Let’s just say this was our first Halloween in eleven years that we did not attend an elementary school Costume Parade; we did not follow our Tween down the street; no Trick-or-Treating for us. Sniff, sniff.

Middle School boys, itching for independent Trick-or-Treat

Middle School Boys, itching for independent Trick-or-Treat

Anyway, Friend said she’d make both beef and veggie chilis. Knowing she had more than enough to do, I offered to make the veggie chili. Upon tasting it, another friend – stunned a pot of veggies could taste so scrumptious? – asked what in the world I did. And I can’t believe I haven’t shared Veggie Chili, one of my all-time fav comfort foods.

Thing is, I kinda wing this one. It always has onion, garlic, beans, and tomatoes. It usually has zucchini, bell pepper, and corn. Because I had some, I added mushrooms this time and they were delish, and will be a chili staple in the future. It has had carrots, but they weren’t a fav so don’t go there unless you feel passionately about carrots. I freely change amounts depending on how many I plan to feed: more than just my fam means another can or two of beans; a crowd means adding more fresh chopped veggies, beans, and tomatoes. Upping the quantity necessarily means upping the spices (but I always start conservative and add flavor as I go; you don’t want to get too spicy and fry kids’ mouths – you can always serve sriracha on the side).

So here’s what I did, and you can try your hand at winging a pot o’ veggie goodness.

Next-day leftovers over half of a baked Russet potato

Next-day leftovers over half of a baked Russet potato

Veggie Chili

1 large onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 large or 2 medium zucchini, diced
2 baby portobello mushrooms, diced
5-6 cloves garlic, pressed
3 15oz cans diced tomatoes, not drained
2 15 oz cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can each black and garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 c chili powder
1 Tbsp Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute (or other no-salt veggie/herb seasoning)
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp each onion and garlic powder
1 c corn (I use frozen, and roasted = awesome if you can find it)

In a large soup pot over high heat, saute onion until browned; if necessary, add a teaspoon of water at a time to avoid sticking. Add bell pepper, zucchini, mushrooms, and garlic, along with a small amount of water (1/4-1/2c, depending on veggie volume). Cover and cook down slightly, stirring every few minutes. Add tomatoes, beans, and seasonings. Chili may look dry but veggies will cook down and release additional liquid. Cover and reduce heat to medium. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 10 or so minutes; add corn and cook until heated. Adjust seasonings as needed.

Serve with corn chips or corn bread, or over cooked brown rice, french fries, baked potatoes, or spaghetti. This chili is versatile!

And, BTW, did you notice? No oil, no salt? Nothing bad for you in this one!

“There are such nice people in this world…”

…says Tween, as the lady burying the Target conveyor belt with items notices our simple three items – a pack of lip balm and two shower scrubbies – and invites us to jump ahead of her in line.

Of course he’s right. There are such nice people in this world.

This week we met fantastic doctors and nurses, office staff and techs, who extended extra care to a nervous kid and his on-edge parents. Friends have shown up with cards, hugs, ice cream, meals, more hugs, and lots and lots of prayers. Kiddo is back to school and we are inches away from solid steps forward. We feel overflowing gratitude for the loving kindnesses that have come our way.

As I reflect on human kindness, on the miracles God does through us connecting us to one another, I want to share with you an overdue story of incredible kindness:

In our small town, a Small Wonder fights a big Cancer in a little body. Her sweet Mama Bear calls her a “Gladiator in a tutu.” As this tiny Gladiator began to lose her hair this summer, Mama Bear sent out a Facebook plea for folks with leads on kid-appropriate head scarves.

We were supposed to be on vacation, yet we didn’t go on vacation. We saw the post. I prayed. Guy went into action.

Guy contacted a family who had participated in our church’s Mexico house building trip. This particular family has a fashion company, TART Collections. Gorgeous, beautifully designed, high-end women’s fashion worn by celebrities such as Heidi Klum, Jessica Alba, Katy Perry, Selena Gomez, and Sofia Vergara. They generously replied “Of course!” they could pull together some head scarves.

They called Guy back: could he arrange for Gladiator & Co to come to production headquarters? Why, yes, he could. Perhaps God kept us in town for this very reason.

Guy arrived at TART a few minutes before Gladiator & Co, who arrived to a rousing welcome from the whole company. A prominent “Welcome” sign hung in the lobby above a wrapped pink box, atop which sat a stuffed pink monkey. She unwrapped the box to discover a bedazzled pink backpack chock full of head scarves and little girl art supplies. She got a company tour, and got to touch and “ooh” and “aah” at the luxurious fabrics.fabric

When the tour stopped at the photography studio, Gladiator was presented with a custom-made Just-for-Her TART dress: they would do a fashion shoot with her. As she emerged from the dressing room, Gladiator appeared uncharacteristically timid. TART employees lined the long back wall, waiting to cheer her on. They encouraged her: “C’mon! Strike a pose!”

Long, dramatic pause, as Gladiator looked from one end of the room to the other… Suddenly, she bounced into pose, and the whole company erupted in applause! While she twirled and twisted for the camera, folks were off in another room, hurriedly making skirts from fabric Gladiator had admired.Gladiator

Gladiator got a turn behind the camera and found herself in a quandary: might she someday want to be a high fashion model or a photographer? The world filled with new and glorious opportunities! And all this so soon after her sixth birthday, in a week when she was both losing her hair and being made to feel less than by peers unable to understand this new reality. God knew His little beloved needed a boost.photog fin

Balloons, cupcakes, and a party ensued, and before it all concluded, Mama Bear received a TART catalog and pad of sticky notes. “Let’s get to YES! No is not an option.”

Of course Mama Bear wanted all eyes on her Gladiator, on The Fight, and not on the support team. TART folks knew, though, that a loved-on support team makes for a stronger Gladiator.

And so Mama Bear adopted Gladiator’s timid pose: “Well, let’s see, hmm, ooh beautiful, well, maybe I could choose… Oooh, what about That One?” Choosing one made choosing more easier.

The extravagant acts of kindness continued as TART offered Guy the Secret Code for Guy’s Wife (Me, an uninvolved and undeserving bystander) to also order “Not just one, but what she wants” items online. Seriously? When have I ever enjoyed a high fashion shopping spree? (Never!). I must have looked at each item at least six times before I made any selections, overwhelmed and overjoyed at the opportunity.

Mama Bear wrote:

“Oh, Cancer, how I hope you were there watching! The smile on her face lit up the room. For a few precious hours, she was not a kid with cancer…she was a model. A photographer. The birthday girl. The complete center of attention. And it was all made possible by the generous spirit and love of perfect strangers with huge hearts. The joy in that room was SO MUCH BIGGER THAN YOU, CANCER. My family cannot thank those incredble people at TART Collections enough for making magic happen in that studio yesterday.

“It seems like every time you succeed in getting us down, God sees and does something amazing, something real, something tangible, to turn it around and lift us all up. You can take her hair, you can take her immune system, you can take her kidney, but you cannot and will not take her spirit. She gets more beautiful each and every day. Her body may be getting weaker, but her spirit is getting stronger. You. Are. Losing. You picked on the wrong kid.”

Friends, doesn’t this just light you up? Doesn’t it change your perspective on human kindness, on what One can do for Another? Every time I have the privilege to share this story, which is way more than every time I have the privilege to wear my new and beautiful Tart clothing, I watch as faces change, attitudes change, and people see how they can do more, be more, love their neighbors more.

“Extravagant” is one of my favorite words. By definition it means: “exceeding what is reasonable or appropriate.” May I never be accused of extravagant spending in wasteful ways. May I always attempt extravagant love!