If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’ve been dipping my toe in the vegan pond for a couple of months now. It started out of pure curiosity. My cousin was looking for someone to join her in trying out a 3-day vegan meal plan, and it sounded like an interesting challenge, so I jumped on board. That was back in May, and although I enjoyed the challenge and the energy boost that came along with it, I wasn’t quite ready to commit. For one thing, I got really sick shortly after completing the challenge, and I believe that part of that was my body going through a detox period.
In June, I bought a few vegan cookbooks and decided to give it a try again. This time, though, I decided to follow Mark Bittman’s concept of being vegan before 6 (VB6). Basically, you follow a strictly vegan diet (focusing on whole foods) until dinnertime, at which point you can consume lean meats and dairy. This concept approaches veganism from a health perspective (with the added benefit of treading a little more lightly on the environment). While I have no interest in trying to “recruit” new people to adopt a vegan lifestyle, Bittman’s concept and research into the health effects of a part-time vegan diet have been excellent tools to have in my back pocket when encouraging my family members to approach vegan cuisine with an open mind. (Fair warning: if you come to my house, I’m probably going to feed you at least one vegan dish!)
And so far, I think people who have tried the vegan foods coming out of my kitchen (including me!) have been pleasantly surprised. I do occasionally use substitutes, although when possible I prefer to make my own so I know exactly what’s going into them — and to save money, of course, because vegan substitutes can be incredibly expensive.
In addition to the cookbooks I’ve purchased over the past couple of months, I rely heavily on books from the library. Some haven’t been so great, while others have become instant favorites that I know I’ll need to add to my cookbook collection. The following books have been the most helpful and/or inspirational:
- VB6, by Mark Bittman — outlines the concept and health/environmental benefits of a part-time vegan diet. Favorite recipes from this book include homemade vegan mayonnaise, portabello mushroom bacon, and chicken with fennel salad (this book does contain a chapter of dinner recipes which include meat).
- Healthy Happy Vegan Kitchen, by Kathy Patalsky — health-focused, colorful, West Coast-style recipes; includes a chapter of kid-friendly dishes. Favorite recipes include easy tofu scramble, eggless salad sandwich, smoky tempeh wrap, and veggie-cashew cream cheese (this has become a staple in my house!).
- The Homemade Vegan Pantry, by Miyoko Schinner — instructions for creating pantry staples and homemade substitutes, with everything from flax seed meringues to “unribs” to vegan oyster sauce. Favorite recipes include oil-free melty cheddar, almond feta, well-crafted macaroni & cheese mix, and classic pancake & biscuit mix (works best for pancakes, in my experience). There are so many great projects in this book that I’m eager to try, but it’s just been too hot for me to want to spend much time in the kitchen experimenting, so I’ve mostly just played around with the cheeses so far. They take days to make, but the results are out-of-this-world delicious!
- The Vegan Cookbook, by Adele McConnell — beautiful, creative vegan recipes, many with a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern influence; includes a few gluten-free, soy-free, and raw options. Favorite recipes include zucchini & orange carpaccio with herbed almond cheese (pictured above), rice paper & nori rolls, and pan-fried sage & basil gnocchi.
- Thug Kitchen, by the Thug Kitchen crew — creative, intensely flavorful, inexpensive recipes; if you can get over their profanity schtick, this is jam-packed full of amazing recipes (but really, the profanity wears thin pretty quickly). Favorite recipes include fire-roasted salsa (another staple in my kitchen), spiced chickpea wraps with tahini dressing, roasted potato salad with fresh herbs (literally the best potato salad I’ve ever had), BBQ bean burritos with baked Spanish rice and grilled peach salsa, and roasted beer & lime cauliflower tacos.
I also draw a lot of inspiration from blogs like Boards & Knives and Minimalist Baker, as well as the magazine Vegetarian Times (which often features vegan recipes, but also has non-vegan recipes that are easy to adapt using soy milk or one of my homemade nut cheeses). Although I haven’t given up meat completely (I still eat it about 3-4 times a week), I have cut out dairy almost completely, with the exception of pizza — making homemade cashew mozzarella or finding a good store-bought substitute is my next project!
Also, a shout-out to the few pre-packaged vegan foods that I’ve fallen in love with over the last couple of months:
- Hilary’s Eat Well World’s Best Veggie Burger — I’ve also tried the root veggie burger and the black rice burger, but the original is the best. Also, yay for a product that’s made right here in my town using locally-sourced ingredients!!
- Mean Vegan Saucy Jack Tamales — Filled with pulled jackfruit and a vegan queso, these are probably the most amazing things I’ve ever eaten in my life. No lie. They’re kind of expensive, and unfortunately only available in the Kansas City area, but seriously so, so good. The company also makes BBQ pulled jackfruit (looks kind of like pulled pork), but I haven’t gotten around to trying that yet.
- Endangered Species Chocolate — Not all of their products are vegan, but all of the ones that are have a nice fat label on the front of the packaging — no scanning of ingredients list necessary! I love their almond spread with cocoa (a nice alternative to Nutella, which is made with milk), and the lavender mint creme filled dark chocolate bar is the key to my heart. Good price (in fact, discovered the almond spread after almost having a coronary over the price of Justin’s nut butters), supports sustainable farming practices, and the company donates 10% of profits to animal & environmental preservation causes. Also, cute animal photos on packaging! Win-win-win.
- So Delicious Soy Milk Neapolitan Frozen Dessert — True story: as a small child, I was forbidden by my doctor to consume dairy because it gave me such extreme ear infections. Dr. No-Cheese, as I called him. Do you know how devastating it is to tell a 3-year old she can’t have ice cream or cheese anymore? To appease me, my parents would occasionally buy me a pint of Tofutti tofu ice cream (in either chocolate or vanilla raspberry swirl). It was delicious, but good luck finding it nowadays! Most non-dairy ice cream on the market is made from an almond, cashew, or coconut base. I’m sure there are some people who like those, but I’m not one of them. They all have a weird nutty sweetness to them that I find off-putting. Also, they’re insanely expensive ($6 for a pint? no). Then one day I discovered this soy-based ice cream (an entire quart for under 5 bucks!!), and it’s so creamy and delicious — especially the chocolate part, which instantly transported me back to my Tofutti-loving childhood.
- GoodBelly Probiotic Juice Drink — So I mentioned at the top of this post the detox my body went through when I first started this journey. This juice has really helped me to restore balance to my gut. Fair warning: it gets a little grainy toward the end of the carton no matter how well you shake it, and the flavor of the probiotics takes a little getting used to. My favorite flavor is the Cranberry Watermelon, but the Pomegranate Blackberry is really good too.
- Tres Latin Foods Black Bean & Sweet Corn Pupusas — Another expensive little treat that I love but don’t buy often. They also make a kale & pinto bean pupusa that I haven’t tried yet (as well as several non-vegan flavors). Gluten-free, non-GMO, and made in nearby Colorado. All good things!
- Gardein Chipotle Lime Crispy Chick’n Fingers — I started buying these because Target had a 25% off discount offer on the Cartwheel app. They’re pretty good to add a little extra protein and substance to a wrap filled with vegetables. I’ve also tried the Mandarin orange crispy chick’n, but I wasn’t a big fan of that. Gardein products seem to come very highly recommended by other vegans/vegetarians, but so far I haven’t really seen the need to incorporate them into my meals (since I do still eat meat at dinner sometimes).
I’m enjoying this journey and the opportunities to discover new foods and get creative with them in the kitchen. Hopefully as I play around, I’ll be able to share a few tips and recipes here. If anybody has any questions, I’m happy to try to answer them! :)
Here’s another recently (as in, last night) finished project. I started these socks last September — I’m apparently terrible about not finishing my projects. Anyway, this is just a simple top-down stockinette sock with a 1×1 ribbed cuff, short-row heel, and flat toe. For the yarn, I used two balls of Crystal Palace Mini Mochi in Baby Face. They’re so fuzzy and warm, I can’t wait to wear them on snow days next winter!
More info available on Ravelry.
I started this sweater back in January and seemed to move along at a pretty rapid clip. I thought for sure I would finish it in plenty of time to still be able to wear it at the tail end of winter and into early spring. But for the life of me, I couldn’t seem to get the spacing right while picking up stitches for the second sleeve. I must have tried five or six times before giving up and packing the sweater away in a project bag. I told myself I’d only be putting it away for a week or two, just long enough to clear my head and return to it with fresh eyes.
Six months later…
I get my strongest urges to knit in mid- to late-summer. It’s that back-to-school feeling in the air, combined with over air-conditioned rooms, a desire to hurry along the rest of summer (and usually lose myself in a good Netflix binge), and daydreams of cozy autumn evenings by the fire. Last week, finding myself suddenly hooked on Pretty Little Liars and needing a good excuse to spend all day watching it, I picked up this sweater again. It still took me two or three tries to get those sleeve stitches evenly spaced (same story when picking up stitches for the button bands and neck trim — is anybody actually good at picking up stitches?!), but I was so eager to just finish the thing. This morning I sewed on the buttons and gave it a good blocking, and by dinner it was dry. I threw on a rumpled dress, grabbed a sprig of silk flowers, and ran out into the backyard to snap some photos in the fading light. It’s funny how you can let a thing languish without care for months and then pick it back up with such fervor, racing to a self-imposed finish line.
The pattern for this sweater is pretty much perfect, although I do wish I’d made the sleeves a bit shorter. I actually did shorten them from the dimensions called for in the pattern, but they grew considerably after blocking. The yarn is wonderful too — that perfect semi-solid coloring that I love so much. The only thing I would change, if I had it to do over again, would be to choose a more neutral color. This sweater is so soft and pretty, I want to wear it with everything — but the color (in addition to kind of clashing with my pink hair) doesn’t go with as many of my dresses as I’d like. Maybe a good excuse to buy more dresses. ;)
Sorry to be away from this space for so long! I’ve gotten so caught up with posting semi-regularly on my personal style blog, I’ve kind of neglected everything else. So what else have I been up to? I seem to be obsessed with floral everything lately, from beautiful stationery by Rifle Paper Co. and 1canoe2, to ultra-feminine tops and dresses, to crafting my own paper blossoms.
The paper flowers I’ve made so far have come from tutorials by Lia Griffith. The first ones pictured are tissue paper poppies, the yellow and pink ones are cupcake wrapper peonies, and the rest are kind of a riff on her technique for making a crepe paper ranunculus. I say it’s a riff because I just used birthday party streamers instead of the heavier Italian crepe paper, and I didn’t shape the petals exactly the way she did. With both the peonies and the ranunculuses (ranunculi?), I first painted the white paper with watercolor paints. That’s another thing I’ve been getting into lately. In the last picture you can catch a little glimpse of my first two paintings: portraits of my cats, Buddy and Sally.
With all of the crafting I’ve been doing, we decided to rearrange things a little bit in the dining room to carve out a corner for my supplies. I found the adorable cubby shelves at Target; below that is a little microwave cart full of paper, paints, brushes, my sewing machine, and all of my flower supplies. It’s so convenient!
Oh! I also cut off all my hair and dyed some of it pink, but the color faded away after about a week (and now I’ve just got really pretty blonde highlights). Still trying to decide whether or not to go full pink next time, but I’ve got about 3 weeks to make up my mind before my appointment.
Last weekend I attended a short workshop at my local library on how to make altered books. I’ve been playing around with different techniques, and once I get a few more pages done I’ll take some pictures and share about that project here. Until then…
Did you know that it’s actually still January? I guess that seems like a ridiculous question if you’re in New England and shoveling out from 2 feet of snow. Meanwhile, here in Kansas it’s warm and I’ve got the windows flung open wide, sun pouring in from every direction. Listening to Paul Simon and birdsong. Dreaming about flowered dresses and linen sweaters. Winter will be back tomorrow, but for today I breathe deep and fill my soul with Spring.
If you’ve been following along on Instagram, you know that I’ve been plugging away on a pretty pink cardigan this month. The pattern is Primrose, by Cecily Glowik MacDonald, and the yarn is The Woolen Rabbit Essence, in the colorway Blush. I’m having a bit of a love affair with the color pink right now, so it seemed the natural choice. I thought this would be the perfect project to get me dreaming about spring while stuck inside under a blanket of snow — but we haven’t gotten any snow this year, and it’s supposed to be almost 70° later this week! Fortunately* I’ve been sick off and on for most of the month, so there’s been plenty of downtime for knitting anyway. And I eventually resorted to making my own snow, from this tutorial, which really cheered up the mantel after the Christmas decorations were put away. [*Obviously not great that I’ve been sick, but from the perspective of getting this sweater done, it’s been a terrific opportunity!]
Besides the knitting, there have been a few kitchen projects here and there. A chocolate pie, an epic failed attempt at baking bread, some lovely apricot scones, butterscotch blondies, and my new favorite thing: the Marocchino. It means ‘Moroccan’ in Italian, but the drink isn’t Moroccan at all. Apparently the name derives from the color of the drink, which is reminiscent of Moroccan leather. The first and only time I had a Marocchino was last winter at a little bar in Milan, where Flavio and I had stopped to get out of the rain. It’s a mixture of cocoa powder, ristretto (a very short, strong espresso), and frothed milk, typically served in a glass cup with a metal handle. Yesterday we were pretty bored and discussing what kind of coffee to have post-lunch, and one of us had the idea to try making a Marocchino at home. It’s a little bit involved for such a small drink, although not at all difficult.
Marocchino (serves 2)
1.5 – 2 oz. ristretto
about 1/4 c. frothed milk
1 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder, for dusting
Sugar, for serving
To make the ristretto, we used our regular old 2-cup stovetop moka pot, but only used half the normal amount of water (and the usual amount of coffee). The trick is to pay close attention as the coffee brews, because it doesn’t make the typical hissing/gurgling sound when it’s done.
The easiest way to make frothed milk is with one of those little electric frothing wands, but you can also use a small French press or the steamer thing on an espresso machine (although I could never make that thing work). Any kind of milk will work, but low-fat and skim milk will be foamier than whole milk.
To assemble the Marocchino, first dust a little cocoa powder in the bottom of a small (about 3 oz.) cup. Glass is traditional, so you can see the pretty layers. Next, pour in half of the ristretto. Carefully pour in a couple tablespoons of frothed milk, holding back the foamiest part with a spoon, then dollop a bit of the foam on top. Finally, dust with additional cocoa powder. Serve with sugar.
Kind of getting this in under the wire before the holiday season ends, but I wanted to share some pictures of the Christmas treats I made for my family. I wasn’t really planning to do the Christmas baskets this year, because I didn’t think I’d have time, but at the last minute I decided to whip up a few goodies. Nothing canned this time, but they all got red plum jelly over the summer. Right before Christmas, I got an amazing deal on a KitchenAid stand mixer at Target, and that made a tremendous difference in being able to knock out all of this baking in just 2 days. Alright, on to the goodies:
- Hazelnut Coffee Toffee – recipe here (and also in the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook — my copy had a typo re: butter amount, but the blog recipe is correct). I also made a batch of this for my coworkers. Accidentally doubled the espresso powder in the batch I made for my family, but it still turned out amazing. My mom kept telling everyone that if they didn’t like it, she’d take theirs! But the only one who didn’t enjoy it was my 2 1/2-year old niece…she shouldn’t have had it anyway, but I think she grabbed a piece right out of her daddy’s hand. Note: the recipe is designed to be poured onto a 9×13″ baking sheet. It sets up nice & thick this way. For the batch I made for my coworkers, I needed more toffee, so I multiplied everything by 1.5 and poured it out onto an 11×17″ baking sheet. It came out a little thinner this way, but was still super delicious.
- Pennsylvania Dutch Hard Pretzels – recipe from Pretzel Making at Home, by Andrea Slonecker. Meh, these didn’t turn out so great. I don’t think I baked them long enough, or rolled them out thin enough. They tasted great, and they looked pretty (well, some people thought they looked like little piles of fake dog poo, but I thought they were pretty!), but they were really hard to eat. I would’ve preferred to make soft pretzels, and still think those would’ve turned out better, but hard pretzels store better. Oh well! Wouldn’t be one of my Christmas baskets if there wasn’t something inedible in it! :)
- Iced Sugar Cookies – similar cookie recipe here, icing recipe here. A classic. I make these every year, and was so happy to have found my favorite royal icing recipe when I was organizing my recipe collection a few months ago. It’s so billowy and white, like marshmallow fluff. And the stand mixer handled it like a pro — last year, all of that powdered sugar burned up the motor in my little hand-mixer. The cookie recipe I’ve linked to here is the closest I’ve found to the one I actually use, which came attached to a polar bear cookie cutter I bought from King Arthur Flour a few years ago — just omit the ginger & nutmeg (or leave them in, because they sound delicious!). I had such a fun time decorating the cookies this year; the bells were spray-painted with metallic gold Cake Graffiti, the brown frosting was flavored with Dutch cocoa powder & ground cinnamon, and I hand-painted names and seasonal sentiments on a few of the cookies with a mixture of red gel coloring & almond extract.
- Gingersnaps – recipe here. Last Monday, I had made the toffee and the doughs for the pretzels and the sugar cookies (both of which required an overnight rest in the fridge), and still had most of the afternoon ahead of me. I decided to go ahead and make these gingersnaps, despite barely having enough ginger. Mostly I just wanted something to put in these adorable little boxes!!
So, that was my holiday baking for 2014. I’ve already got lots of ideas for next year’s baskets, including homemade sausage, something canned (maybe tomato sauce?), chocolate truffles, and of course the iced sugar cookies!
(All of the packaging was from World Market, except for the labels on the toffee boxes — those are just the standard labels that come with a box of Ball jelly jars.)