Strawberry Cupcakes and Veg Kids

A few weeks ago my super-southern mother-in-law made a strawberry cake. It was beautiful, but not vegan and, as it turns out, not even vegetarian. The ‘strawberry’-ness comes from……a box of strawberry Jello. Hmmmph. I decided I needed to try to make a vegan strawberry cake, and luckily, my husband was given several quarts of fresh strawberries that were leftover at a concert reception. We are fortunate to live 10 miles from a fabulous strawberry farm, so fresh strawberries are absolutely wonderful right now. My three-year old helped me make these. She put the liners in the cupcake pans, dumped flour, and helped stir. She is a sweet baking assistant!

I don’t know what the Jello strawberry cake tasted like, but this was delicious. It was not as beautiful as the food-coloring-saturated cake, but it was still pretty, and taste is way more important than looks, right? My daughter has not yet hit the ‘princess’ stage (and I really hope she never does), but these would be a great birthday cupcake for a princess-y party.

makes 12 cupcakes

about 2 cups fresh strawberries

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1.2 cup oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup soymilk

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

2 cups flour

extra strawberries for decorating, optional

Put strawberries, sugar, and vanilla in a bowl; using an immersion blender, blend until somewhat smooth. Some texture/chunks of strawberry is okay. Add in the other liquid ingredients and stir well; add in dry ingredients, except for baking powder, and stir gently. Fold in baking powder gently.

Pour into lined cupcake pans. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes or until top is dry. Frosting with vanilla frosting (I used Earth Balance, vanilla, a splash of soymilk, and confectioners’ sugar).

On to the subject of veg kids….

Last week I had an involved email conversation with an old friend from college, who was my inspriation to become vegan 17 years ago. (Side note: one of my great shames in life is that although I’ve been vegan for a long time and feel very passionately about it, I have never, to my knowledge, converted anyone to veganism. I’ve gotten a few people, including my husband, to be vegetarian, but not vegan. In contrast, I’ve been using cloth diapers with my kids for a little over 3 years, and I’ve convinced at least 5 people to use cloth diapers…..so why can’t I get anyone to become vegan? Argh! Anyways…..) We live multiple states away from each other, but we’re still close and have so much in common. We were discussing raising vegan kids, and the lack of resources for explaining veganism/vegetarianism to kids. There are a good number of cookbooks with kid-friendly vegan/vegetarian recipes, but not many books out there to help explain to kids why we don’t eat animals. The NYTimes reviewed a book last week on the subject but it was for older kids, not pre-schoolers. My three-year-old has been asking questions lately, and I would really like a book to read with her to help answer some of those questions. So far we’ve just been telling her that we don’t eat animals because we love them and eating them hurts them, but I know she will continue to ask questions. Also, we are raising both of our girls vegetarian as opposed to vegan (for several reasons, which I will cover in another post), although they both eat a vegan diet probably 98% of the time. My friend and I decided that there needed to be more resources about raising veg kids; I am planning to do a few blog posts about what has worked for us and what I would like to see happen. In the meantime,  two questions:

1. Are you raising a child vegan or vegetarian? What has helped you to make that decision? and

2. Are there any resources – books, videos, etc. that you have used with your child to explain the ethics of eating and that you would recommend, or not recommend, to others?

Advertisements

Old Favorites and Upcoming Recipes

Last week was craaazy busy. Grades were due, I had to drive all over the state for various court appearances and meetings, and I had some music commitments as well. It was all fun and rewarding, but goodness, am I tired! One of my meetings took me to Greenville, where I was able to stop off at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s – woo-hoo! I was pleased to see that I am not the only fan of the TJ’s soy chorizo; it was labelled as a new customer favorite. Good stuff.

I had a beautifully refreshing 6 mile run this morning. I signed up for a marathon in the fall, so I need to start thinking about mileage.

I’ve made a number of old favorites/basics lately; I’ve also tried some new recipes and have salvaged (or attempted to salvage)  some recipe disasters.

Here is one of the attempts at salvaging a disaster: making frosting-stuffed cookies with fudge that didn’t quite work:

On to the old favorites: first, chick pea and zucchini burgers

1 can of chick peas, drained

1 clove garlic

1/2 onion, finely minced (optional)

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

salt, to taste

1 teaspoon dried oregano, optional

aobut 1 cup cooked rice

2 medium zucchini, shredded

1 tablespoon whole wheat flour, as needed

Puree or smoosh the chick peas, oil, garlic, and salt. It doesn’t need to be completed smooth.  Add other ingredients. Cook on a cast iron skillet that has been lightly oiled. Once you get the skillet hot, about 3-4 minutes per side should be sufficient.

We also had another old favorite, Trader Joe’s soy chorizo and kale

1/2 an onion, sliced

1/2 a container of TJ’s soy chorizo

1 bunch kale, torn into pieces

Saute onion; add soy chorizo and kale, and cook until kale is wilted.

Some upcoming posts:

Straight Up Vegan Pumpkin Bread/Muffins

Isa’s Spinach-Mushroom Strata from VWAV

Strawberry Cupcakes

Girly vegan

So, I am totally not a girly-girl. I hate shopping, I never wear make-up (seriously – I did not even wear any to my own wedding), I dry my hair by blasting the heat in my car and shaking my head near the vents at stoplights, and when travelling I take less stuff than the girls and my husband combined.

I’ve been hyper-vigilant about many aspects of raising my girls. I don’t want to squelch who they are, but I also want to share my values and ethics with them. I am relieved that, at least as of now, neither one of them has any idea what a Disney princess is, nor a Barbie (I’m sure not watching TV helps). I don’t want them to place unreasonable expectations on themselves or other females for what a woman is ‘supposed’ to be and ‘supposed’ to look like. My mother always stressed that ‘it’s what’s inside that counts’, and I guess that is largely why I am so not into my appearance.  I look professional when I am at work/in court/teaching, but I tend to wear the same suits over and over (and they are suits that I bought second-hand from a friend with excellent taste – saved me from shopping!) and I don’t include hair/make-up as part of my professional look. I am hoping to pass on to my girls my mom’s lesson about ‘it’s what’s on the inside that counts’. I want them to be proud of their academic, intellectual, artistic, athletic, musical, etc. talents, rather than proud mostly of how they look; I want them to be interested in accomplishments and achievement rather than in trying to please a societal standard of looks.  If they are interested in style/fashion, that will be fine, of course; I just want them to be interested in it for their own enjoyment, rather than because they are trying to be or look like something based on what others think of them.  I enjoy being an independent, strong woman, and I really hope to raise them to be the same. I can already tell it is going to be hard work, particularly considering the area in which we currently live, where ‘ambitious’ is seen as a negative personality trait. Sigh.

Anyways…..there were two recent events that made me feel kind of girly-girl, and I enjoyed both of them! One was these strawberry cupcakes (recipe coming soon). We had a surplus of fresh berries from the local strawberry patch, and this was a fun way to use them.

The second girly thing was …. using, for the first time, body spray – and liking it! I had a court hearing today and although I did shower this morning, I was convinced that I smelled. A colleague keeps several body sprays (and lotions) in her office and offered me a selection. I chose one from Victoria’s Secret, of all places. I have NEVER used body spray. Anytime I am given one as part of a gift, I give it to Goodwill. I had no idea what the benefit of body spray was – it just seemed like a waste to me. However, I have to admit that I liked how it smelled, and it was  a totally low-maintenance thing to use – just spray and go! I have a tendency to think that anything used for maintaining or improving one’s appearance must, by definition, be expensive, frivolous, picky to use, and generally high-maintenance. It was a true surprise for me actually enjoy using a ‘girly’ product, and I’ve actually since thought about – gasp – buying my very own body spray! We’ll see, we’ll see….it will depend on how much they cost, naturally. 🙂

questions…

If you spend a lot of time on your appearance, do you do it because it makes you feel better, or because you feel like it is expected? I admit to doing some appearance stuff based on what is expected: for example, it is expected that I wear a suit in court, so I do, even though my natural inclination is towards curdoroys and a sweatshirt.

Do you consider ambition a positive or neutral personality trait?

Vegan Peanut Butter Cups

I think these peanut butter cups and I have made up and moved on in our relationship. At first I thought the chocolate was too bitter and the peanut butter did not offer a strong enough contrast. However, as I’ve tried them a few more times over the past week or so, I grudgingly admit that they’re pretty darn good as is, and that it must have been my wonky tastebuds that created the problem.

You can use whatever chocolate you like here, but I think dark is actually better (it’s rare for me to like dark chocolate, which is tough when you’re a vegan) because the peanut butter is pretty sweet.

 

As I said when I blogged about the Easter peanut butter eggs, vegan peanut butter cups can be as easy as melted chocolate + peanut butter. These are a little closer to Reese’s, though, and I like that the peanut butter holds up on its own and is not a gloopy mess when you bite into the cup, as plain peanut would be.

makes 12 mini cups

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus another tablespoon or so

a splash (1/4 teaspoon) of vanilla, optional

a dash (1/4 teaspoon) of salt, optional

8 squares of Trader Joe’s Pound Plus 72% chocolate, or other vegan dark chocolate, MORE if you like chocolate and want a nice, thick wall encasing the peanut butter

Cream together all ingredients other than the chocolate (duh!). Melt the chocolate. Line a mini-muffin pan with paper liners. Put some melted chocolate in the bottom of each cup and use a knife to gently smear it up the side. If you like a thicker chocolate wall, use more chocolate; if you like a thinner wall (like me), use less. Put a teaspoonr or two of the peanut butter mixture in each cup and cover with more chocolate. I formed little peanut butter balls and just plopped each one into the chocolate-lined cup.

As I was making these, my sweet husband came by and felt the need to comment that REAL candy makers use air pressure to push the chocolate from the bottom up the sides of the cup (he apparently learned this on one of those “how it’s made” shows, back when we had cable). He offered to try doing the same with a straw. I declined. Crazy guy. Crazy, crazy, crazy. Anyways, if you want an even, professional look, maybe blowing air on the melted chocolate through a straw will give you that. I don’t know. Let me know if you try it!

Balance

Today’s run: a few slow, easy miles with my favorite big black dog. He’s such a sweetie. I’m so proud of him for still being able to run at such an old age.

So, in my opinion, these peanut butter cups were too un-sweet. I used really dark chocolate because that’s what we had on hand. My husband loved them, but I haven’t had one since trying them several days ago.

These, on the other hand, are TOO sweet! I’ve been inspired by some of the recipes I’ve seen on www.loveveggiesandyoga.com to try to create a vegan bar/brownie that’s covered first with a layer of cookies or chips and then with a rich, sweet liquid and baked. I tried making these brownie/oreo/coconut milk bars, but they were just too rich. They’re good, and they certainly look yummy, but I have to tweak the recipe before posting it. That’s not stopping me from eating them, of course.

I have to admit, I was downright terrified when I poured the coconut milk mixture on top of the brownie dough. I had never made anything like this, and I just didn’t see how all that liquid would bake into something  – but it did! The mechanics of the recipe worked; I just need to reduce the sweetness a tad. It’s a good excuse to make more brownies, eh?

Too-sweet vs. not-sweet-enough – not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but definitely a balance that needs to be struck correctly when making dessert!

The concept of balance is something I’m constantly working on. As a lawyer, it is really hard for me to strike a work/life balance; in fact, from talking with other working parents, I’m not convinced that there is ever a perfect work/life balance. My job is so intense, as are my children, that I sort of feel like I am 100% committed to whatever I’m doing at the moment. When I’m practicing, I’m focused 100% on being a lawyer; when I’m at home, it’s 100% focus on the girls; when I’m playing the horn, I’m totally focused on the music I’m working ont; and when I’m teaching, I’m completely focused on my class. Maybe that’s just my personality, though. I tend to do things in a very focused, deliberate, intentional manner.  I tend to feel very strongly about a few certain issues, some of which are very specific (veganism, extended nursing, cloth diapers) and some of which are more general (the environment, animal rights, the rights and needs of the disadvantaged, socialism). If it’s not something I feel strongly about, I generally don’t have an opinion one way or another; I’ve always thought that this makes me laid-back, but maybe it just makes me laid-back in some contexts and super-intense in others 🙂 I wonder if focus and intensity, although both good qualities, can tend to lead to imbalance, as it can be hard to divert focus or difuse intensity.

Two areas in which I am always trying to strive towards more balance are exercise and eating. I have run several marathons and run most days of the week, but I’d like to find a middle ground between training for a marathon and running 3 miles every single day. A few years ago I was good at running 3-6 miles on a daily basis, but now it’s 3 miles or 10+ miles.

I also am always aware, in the back of my mind, of unbalanced eating. I’ve been a vegan forever (17 years) and I never have internal battles over whether I want to eat non-vegan food; being a vegan is so a part of my identity that I don’t really have a battle with it. I’m also lucky to have a fast-ish metabolism and slim-ish build, so fat/calories are not something I battle over either. What I have internal battles over is food choices: too much dessert, too much pasta, too much tofu, no fruit, too much of the same veggies over and over. (I LOVE veggies but I rarely eat fruit – terrible, I know!). Lately I’ve been devoting some mental energy to thinking about going raw for a day a week, or a few days a month. I wonder if eating a raw diet every now and then would force me to consume food more intentionally and pay more attention to what I put in my body. I think for many people, going vegan does that, but as I said, I’ve been vegan for so  long that it is completely second-nature to me – no thought required! I wonder if eating raw would be good for both my body and my mind.

Any thoughts? Does anyone out there have opinions on going raw, either completely or part-time, or any thoughts on how to achieve balance in a particular aspect of your life? Do you think there’s such a thing as work-life balance? Have you achieved it?

Cast Iron Okra, Vegan Jacksonville (or not) and Some Other Favorites

I made these vegan peanut butter cups the other night. I’m still working on the recipe so I will post about it soon, but suffice it to say, my husband ate three in one evening. Yikes.

I am soooo far behind on posting about running…that was supposed to be 1/2 of the blog. Oh well. I guess food is just more fun to write about, eh? Anyways, I’ve mostly just done short, 3-5 mile runs the past week. We were visiting family in Jacksonville this past weekend, and I didn’t want to take too much time away from them, so I stuck to shorter runs. Speaking of Jacksonville, it is a way cool city with lots to do and lots of kid-friendly stuff. We ate at a great Middle Eastern place called the Casbah; I’d recommend eating outside with kids because inside is a little bit hookah-bar-ish and not particularly kid friendly. It had all the standard vegan Middle Eastern fare; the falafel there is unlike any I’ve ever had. It is bright green (from the parsley?) and super garlicy. It is worth getting.

We also went to the Jacksonville River Art/Farmers Market, which is a seasonal outdoor market. It was fabulous! It is under a bridge, so it is outdoors but shady. In terms of prepared food, it was very meat-centric, but there was one booth that had a few vegan cupcake options. I had a peanut butter cupcake, which was pretty tasty, and something I’ve never tried making. It was a nice treat, and a surprise to find. I had searched online for vegan/vegetarian places before we went, and there were none at all that I could find. We managed to do okay, though, and had a great visit.

This morning I was welcomed by some cool (well, relatively speaking – 50 degrees) air; we’ve had a recent hot streak, so the colder, rainy weather today was a wonderful relief. I listened to more Brahms. I did have an exciting (well, to me) listening moment on my way to work. I was running late, so I was able to hear some classical music instead of solely Morning Edition (our NPR station switches to classical at 9 a.m……as I said, I was running late!). They played part of the 1st movement of the Mahler Resurrection symphony, which is one of my favorites. As I was listening to it, I started thinking about all the times I’ve run to that music, and started thinking about running in general, which lead me to thinking about what music to next download onto my IPod. I decided it would be nice to run to some of the Bach Brandenburg concertoes – and the very next thing they played, after a fundraising pitch, was Brandenburg 3! Weird, eh?

Anyways…A few days ago I picked up some okra. My oldest daughter, who is three, really likes okra. I try to ignore it as a vegetable, because I consider okra a very southern veggie, and I try hard to resist liking things that make me southern (yes, I’m still slightly bitter about living down here! That’s why they call us damn yankees). However, it’s hard not to provide a green veg to a 3-year old who is clamoring for it. Who can turn down a kid who is begging for more veggies? Not me! Anyways, I usually do a light pan-frying job on the okra, and I have to grudgingly admit that it’s pretty darn tasty. It’s hardly a recipe, but here it is:

about 2 cups sliced okra

about 1/4 cup whole wheat flour

salt or seasoning salt

about 1 tablespoon olive oil

Put the sliced okra in a bowl; cover with the flour and salt and stir until each piece is individually covered.

Heat up the oil in  a cast iron skillet (my favorite kind!). When the oil is hot, add the okra. Cook for 5-10 minutes or until lightly browned.

I’m pretty proud of myself with respect to dinner tonight. My husband had made some fresh salsa, but that was about all we had around. I had a clingy one-year old who wanted to keep nursing, a whiny greyhound who wanted attention, and a talkative three-year-old who was hungry. Somehow, after a long day at work and many demands on my attention, I managed to make some tofu, pasta and spinach pesto. The best part of dinner, hands down, was that the one-year-old actually ate. The three-year-old is a fabulous eater, but the younger child is just not as interested in food (maybe because she’s still nursing….hmmmm). Today she ate salsa, tofu, and pasta with spinach pesto. Score.  My oldest was clamoring for tofu and broccoli. Sadly, we did not have any broccoli, but I did make the girls some of my famous quick cast iron tofu. I’ve blogged about it before several times but I cannot figure out how to link back to my own posts. So here’s the recipe, with an old picture:

cube a pound of firm tofu – press it if you have time but don’t worry about it if you don’t

oil, about a tablespoon

soy sauce, about 1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons

nutritional yeast, about a tablespoon

optional: garlic, hot sauce

Heat oil in a cast iron skillet. Throw in tofu and cook for a minute or two. Add soy sauce and nutritional yeast; stir to coat. You can east this right away, but I prefer to let it cook for 10-15 minutes until all of the liquid is absorbed and the edges get all brown and crispy. If you press the tofu first, you can cook it less and get the same result.

Tonight I also made one of my favorites, spinach pesto (again, NO idea how to link back….). This time I used raw sunflower seeds, which was new. It was delish. Once again, I cannot figure out how to link back to my previous posts about it, so here’s a basic recipe and a picture of the pesto on pasta that I packed for the girls’ lunch tomorrow.

1/4-1/2 cup raw nuts – almonds, cashews, even sunflower seeds, or a combination thereof; today I used half raw almonds and half raw sunflower seeds

1 bag (6 oz.) baby spinach

1-2 cloves garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste

2-4 tablespoons oil

Put all ingredients in blender and blend, or put ’em in a bowl and use your trusty ol’ immersion blender. The more nuts and oil you use, the richer and creamier it is (duh). This is a fast, fast recipe – it comes together while the pasta is cooking. It is healthy and raw, and everyone to whom I’ve served it loves it, including kids.

I’m working on a few recipes right now: Vegan Peanut Butter Cups, Vegan Oreo-Stuffed Brownies, and Granola/Breakfast Bars. Wheeee!

Mmmmmm…….Soft n’ Chewy Chippy Vegan Cookies……..

Yes, another Homer Simpson reference…..

 

These cookies deserve it, though.  They are everything a cookie should be  – soft, sweet, chewy, dense, rich, vanilla-infused, filled with melty chips……double drool.

I have been on a quest since, oh, about 1995, for the perfect vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe. I love all sorts of cookies: healthy, no-sugar ones, unhealthy, sugar-filled ones, and everything in between. If it’s a vegan cookie, I’ll eat it and be happy. However, my ideal cookie is chewy, soft, sweet, rich, with no nuts, and with a strong hit of vanilla.

 

I’ve been experimenting for a while with how to ensure soft, chewy cookies. I think it’s a combination of melted fat, more brown sugar than white, and slight undercooking. Averie at www.loveveggiesandyoga.com has some good tips and experimentation on how to perfect the chewy cookie. Her site is worth checking out for that and many other reasons.

makes 2 dozen, about

6 tablespoons Earth Balance or other vegan margarine

4 tablespoons coconut oil

1 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon vanilla soymilk (or regular soymilk)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 to 1 cup vegan chocolate chips, as you like (I used vegan white chips in half of the dough and chocolate chips in the other)

Put the margarine and coconut oil and melt slightly in the microwave. You want it well-softened but not all the way melted. In my microwave, this takes 30 seconds.

Cream in the brown sugar. Add the vanilla and salt. Put the mixture in the refrigerator for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until the margarine mixture has solidified a good bit. You want it stirrable but not liquidy.

Take the mixture out of the refrigerator. Preheat oven to 350.

Stir the margarine mixture until it is creamy; add the soymilk. Add the flour and baking soda and chips.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake about 8-10 minutes, or until slightly brown and just set in the middle.

Cool on cookie racks. Enjoy!