Friday, 31 May 2013

Vegetable Quinoa Salad with Vegan Almond Cheese

Quinoa is a food trend that has been picking up steam for quite some time now. There is reason for this, several actually. Quinoa is a complete protein making it a great choice for vegetarians. It is extremely versatile and quite delicious. It also has plenty of fibre.

With the warmer weather finally making an appearance I tend to gravitate towards cold salads, fresh, raw vegetables, and healthier options. This particular salad is a great option for a light lunch or as a side dish to a nice piece of fish or something yummy from the grill.

This dish would be great if you decided to leave out the vegan "cheese", but I think that if you are feeling adventurous and have a bit of extra time, you should give it a try. The "cheese" is less cheesy tasting then traditional feta, but offers a creamy texture, and zippy, salty tang.

I used red quinoa for this salad because I think it holds up a bit better to being cooked, cooled, and dressed. However, I have used white quinoa many times before for this type of preparation and have been pleased with those results as well, so the choice is yours.

Vegan "Feta"

1/4 cup ground almonds
1 1/2 TBSP fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup water
2 TBSP Olive oil
1-2 garlic cloves
3/4 tsp salt

Place all ingredients in food processor. Blend for five minutes or so, until very smooth. If you need to add a bit more water to help with the blending, do so sparingly. 

Line a strainer with a couple layers of cheese cloth. Fill with nut mixture, fold overhanging cheesecloth over top of mixture and weigh down with a plate. Make sure you have your strainer in a bowl, preferably one that the strainer does not touch the bottom of, and place in fridge for about twelve hours. 

Once cheese has set in fridge, remove gently from cheesecloth by inverting it onto your hand. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 200 F for about 1 hour. If your cheese looks like it is browning a lot or quickly, lower temp. Bake until firm. Note that it is a softer "cheese" when finished so it will still be delicate. 
Remove from oven and allow to cool completely on baking sheet. Once room temp, transfer carefully to a plate and chill for at least six hours. 

Vegetable Quinoa Salad

4 cups cooked quinoa (1 cup raw)
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 2 lemons
1/2 English cucumber, chopped small
3/4 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 red pepper, diced
1/2 orange or yellow pepper, diced
Small handful each of cilantro, parsley, and chives. 
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste. 
Vegan feta. 

Gently combine all ingredients but cheese in a bowl. Season to your tastes  (keep in mind that once cooled it will be less seasoned tasting) 
Once mixed, very gently fold in crumbled cheese. It will have a similar texture to goats' cheese, so some of it will mix into it but try to maintain some clumps as well. Reserve a bit of the cheese to sprinkle on top. 
You may serve immediately or cover and keep in the fridge for up to two days.  

This salad can easily be modified to fit personal tastes. My husband LOVES cilantro so I put lots in for him. If you don't like something, like tomatoes, leave them out or replace them with something you like better. 
Because my cheese was quite garlicky, I did not add any to the salad. If you choose to forgo the cheese however, I would add a clove of minced garlic into the salad. 

I hope everyone enjoys this easy and unique salad. I look forward to hearing your feedback.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Standardize This!

Here we go again, the battle between the judges and the judged.

Recently we were encouraged to have a psychological assessment done on our little man. It sounds scary, like a machine will be hooked up to their brain and they'll be tortured in a dark room or something, but we were assured that it was a play based encounter which would give a better understanding as to how little man learns and would be a useful tool for his teachers and EA's once he went to school. 

If someone could easily understand how he learns and thinks, therefore helping him to open up and take in more while at school, then that seems like a very good thing. "IF" is the operative word here though. 

What I failed to understand was that this was an extremely rigid standardised test designed to measure the intelligence level of typical children with a particular background and upbringing.  Not only are standardised tests not the best way for these "typical" children to be rated, but what about all the non-typical children? 

We were allowed to watch the assessment from an observation room where we were not visible to little man. He did quite well with coping with the new person in the room (the tester) thanks to the presence of his worker, whom he loves. Unfortunately though, that is where the positive in this particular scenario ends. Although he was not bothered by her presence, he was not really very interested in playing with her. What I did not know was that she would pose a question in a very particular phrase and could prompt once following the question in the same wording. ANY child, but certainly autistic children, sometimes need things to be rephrased for them. Little man in particular needs a question or request to be reworded very frequently, even common ones. The autistic mind is a marvel, the intelligence and ability to retain information is astonishing, however everyday conversations and questions are often perceived as foreign, and take some explaining and time to comprehend.
This does not mean someone is stupid. Every person is smart. Some excel in particular areas and struggle in others. Some seem to have a quick mind for most things. All people though, need to understand a question, truly GET what is being asked of them in order to answer it to the best if their abilities. To not allow this sort of room for comprehension in testing shows the narrow mindedness of the creators. How can you have accurate testing which you set a standard by, if not everyone is comprehending. It is extremely possible that with a slight rewording, someone who would have scored nothing on a question would be able to answer far exceeding the average person. 

My husband used a perfect analogy: You are a genius,you go to a foreign country where you do not speak the language, and they give you a test. It does not matter how smart you are, if you do not understand what is expected of you, you will fail. To them you know little if not nothing abut the subject being tested on. 

As little man's parents, we have a fairly good understanding of his current comprehension and capabilities. Watching him answer question after question wrong when you know he knows the correct answer is frustrating.  

We spoke with the lady following the assessment and were explained that things must be done a particular way. I enquired about the fact that she was asking many things that he had the capability to accurately respond to if she had reworded or made her expectations clear, and I was told that this is not how standardised testing is done. She then told me that she understood that all parents want to be able to hold up a piece of paper that says that their child is gifted, however in testing autistic children they very often scored low because of the difficulties that autism presents to the testing process. 

I was blown away by this statement. One, I am not a parent who only wishes their child be scored high so that I can have some sort of bragging rights about his intelligence. How absolutely arrogant would I have to be if that were my reason for wanting my child to succeed. Also, if the majority of autistic children score lower then their potential then why urge parents to participate in it in the first place? If you cannot assess the autistic mind accurately then don't put them in a position where they are falsely represented and underestimated. 

My major concern with the outcome of the test results was that this is a tool used by educators to pre-assess a child before meeting him, and begin a game plan for said child based in the information. If the results are in fact accurate, I truly see how this can be a useful tool in being as productive as possible from the get go. 

If it is not however, then a child walks into an environment where he has been grossly underestimated and it will take longer for his educators to challenge him. They may even rate progress based on success that in fact occurred much before being incorporated into the school system. No one wants to be treated as less then they are. If you or I were forced to spend our days with someone who patronised us at every turn and spoke to us as though we had the intelligence level far below our own we would find it offencive and less then helpful. 

Unfortunately standardised testing is a part of the education system all the way through. I am pained at the idea that my child will be subjected to such judgement and a total misunderstanding of how his spectacular mind works for the next 14-20 years. We, as a society, have begun to teach our children to "be yourself" and "everyone is special", but then we contradict this by shoving them in rooms with pencils and little circles that need to be perfectly filled in so we can slap them on a scale somewhere where they will either be better or worse then the average. This is not helpful. It is stunting the creativity and confidence of our children. Standardised? Who's standards are we referring to exactly? And why is their word absolute? Flawed. Entirely. 
I will teach my children, all of them, that personal success based upon things that are important to them, is more important than any government regulated mass test ever could be. Tests do not define you. Someone else's expectations should not be yours. I will teach my children to feel good about what they can do, not bad about what others say they can't.