Double Sunday Running Round-up and Healthy (-ish) Peanut Butter Cookies (plus some recipe lust)

YIKES! We were on vacation sans Internet, hence the lack of posts. I’m not doing well on my 5-posts-a-week goal. It will be better from now until Christmas, because I don’t think I have any going-away plans. We went to New Hampshire to visit my family. (Of course, we picked the one week when the temperatures got into the 90s, and of course there is no air conditioning there.) I got in some decent runs; we swam in the pond, hiked, visited a farm, went to farmers’ markets, ate fresh produce, had communal meals, played with nieces/nephews, had in-door parades during a power outage, and generally had a great time hanging with my family.

Last week’s running, as much as I remember: Monday 0; Tuesday 6; Wednesday 4; Thursday 0; Friday 6; Saturday 0; Sunday 5ish. Total: 21. Not horrible, considering I was away much of that time and was hanging out with family I rarely get to see.

This week’s running: Monday 10 (in the New Hampshire mountains, no less!); Tuesday 3; Wednesday 0; Thursday 3; Friday 2; Saturday 3; Sunday 14. Total: 35. Not bad!

I’ve been listening to the following while running: Bach b minor mass; Stenhammer symphonies; Dvorak symphonies, and RadioLab podcasts. I really like podcasts for running; they keep me interested and not focused on any pain I might be feeling. However, I don’t get the daydream while listening to podcasts, as they require such concentration. Sometimes daydreaming during a run with music is just what I need. ūüôā

What about everyone else: While exercising, do you listen to music, podcasts, something else entirely, nothing?

My husband has recently been put on a low-salt diet. I know this is healthier for both of us, but I LOVE SALT!!!! I think what we’re going to do is cook in a low-salt way, and I will add salt to my food if I want it (which I will). I am also trying to watch my food intake, as I have gained a few pounds over the last few months. I don’t weigh regularly, but I can tell my stomach is flabbier than usual, and my clothes are snugger. I don’t want a few pounds to turn into 20, so I figure it’s better to take care of it now. I always seem to gain a little weight when training for a marathon; I’m not sure why that is. Between nursing, running, and having a somewhat-fast metabolism, I’m usually pretty lucky to be able to eat whatever I want. Having just hit my later-30s, though, I guess I need to be more careful. Sigh. So, expect fewer dessert recipes, but they will still be made using real ingredients. I’m just not that into low-fat baking (or cooking), and I don’t like using too many artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes. First, they’re expensive (even the natural ones like agave); second, they don’t always give the same results (notably, Splenda and stevia); and third, I would rather have a smaller amount of a full-sugar, full-fat dessert than more of a reduced fat-and-sugar one. I think for me it has to do with sustainability: I don’t want to be hooked into buying sugar replacements and substitutes all my life, so I’d rather just learn how to control myself around the real thing. Easier said than done, sometimes, of course! ūüôā

Another question: real sugar and fat, or substitutes (other than substitutes to make something vegan)? What’s your preference, and why?

With both of our new diet needs in mind, I made these cookies tonight. I couldn’t take pictures because there is something wrong with my camera. Like most PB cookies, they weren’t that much to look at, anyways. They were yummy and substantial, and not too sweet. The ground oatmeal gave them a really nice chewy denseness, and the combination of peanut butter and vanilla is just sublime.

They’re slightly healthier than other peanut butter cookie recipes because of the oats, as well as the lack of margarine. Most peanut butter cookies, even vegan ones, call for a fat other than just the peanut butter; in fact, my own go-to peanut butter cookie recipe calls for a cup each of peanut butter and vegan margarine. Skipping the margarine makes the cookies lower in fat, and, surprisingly, less crumbly than traditional peanut butter cookies.

1 cup peanut butter, softened in the microwave for a few seconds

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon salt, more if you are using unsalted peanut butter

approximately 1/2 cup soymilk, more or slightly less as needed

1 1/4 cups oatmeal, ground into flour (I use the Magic Bullet for this)

1 cup flour

Cream peanut butter, sugar, vanilla, and soy milk. Add in salt and flours and stir until well combined. Batter will be quite dry; add enough soymilk to make a pliable, but not wet, dough. I found that just under 1/2 cup (as in, a teaspoon or so less) was enough. I baked these in the toaster oven for 10 minutes at 350, because I didn’t want to heat up the whole kitchen; you could bake them in an oven at 350 for the same amount of time. Grab hunks of dough and flatten between your palms; place on cookie sheet and bake. These cookies will not spread, so you can put them pretty close together.

A recipe I saw today that I am dying to try is from Averie over at www.loveveggiesandyoga.com. She has great recipes, but this white-chocolate blondie looks a.ma.zing. They¬†look SO dense, but without being wet or gooey. She seems to get the ideal consistency in her bar cookies; I’ve never been able to mine as perfect as hers. Mine are either too cakey, too wet/gooey, or too dry. I’m going to try these sometime later this week. I have some vegan white chocolate stashed away that I guard very carefully and use only in absolutely wonderful recipes; I think this one is deserving. I’m thinking some flax would be a good egg substitute, but we’ll see.

Some other upcoming recipes:

the BEST homemade vegan ice cream ever. No lie.

peanut buttery-oatmeal-chocolate no bake bars. Drool.

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Slackness, Show Tunes, and Cinnamon-Roll bread

Yikes. It’s been a few days, eh? I really meant to be better about this blogging thing. The whole intent was for me to write down recipes so that I can replicate stuff we like, with a secondary intent of showing folks how easy veganism can be (i.e. you don’t need to buy all those fancy, pricey faux-meat and fauz-dairy products, nor do you have to have all sorts of wierd and unusual ingredients to make vegan food). So really, I should be blogging every day or every other day to accomplish these goals. Oh well. It’s been a rough week, mentally, for me, but things are picking up. In addition to my running goal, I’m going to challenge myself to blog 5 out of 7 days this coming week, starting Monday.

Business first: Running. Eh, almost non-existent….I haven’t done more than a few 3-mile runs this week. Today I ran pushing the girls in the stroller, which always seems like it should count extra. I will run long tomorrow, but not likely long enough to meet the 25-mile goal. Oh well. Life happens. This week, I’m going to shoot for 4 out of 5 week days, at least two of those being 4 or more miles, and then one at-least-10 miler on the weekend. Oh, and weights and crunches, again. We’ll see.

Today I had the opportunity to spend most of the day playing music. It is a nice break from my normal life of lawyer-professor-mommy. I sub in with a sort-of-local brass quintet; they call me when they need me. They had a wedding gig this weekend and needed an¬†extra horn player. It was a lovely ceremony at a woman’s house; we then played the reception in her backyard, right on the lake. We did not play any truly extraordinary music, or even any music that was challenging to the listener at all, because this was not an arts-type venue; we were there for entertainment. It was kind of nice to just let my mind go and just play, without having to engage in huge amounts of intense thought and concentration. The guys I play with are all good musicians, at least in terms of technique, so we end up sight-reading half the music we play at such gigs. That always keeps me on my toes; it keeps my mind awake, and lets me think only about the notes on the page as they go by. It’s a different sort of playing than one does when working up a big, serious work. One of the nice things about the reception today was the reaction we got from some little old ladies (they really were) who were sitting near us. We played something from some musical, and they just loved it, so then we started playing a bunch of showtunes. At the end of every one the little old ladies hooted and clapped; one in particular kept telling the trumpet nearest to her how much she loved it. It was nice to bring some joy and brightness to someone’s life, unexpectedly. I usually get bogged down in heavy, intellectually-and emotionally-challenging music; I love it, and it provides a certain service for my mind and soul, but every now and then it’s nice to see (and participate in) the fun side of music. We did that today, and it was truly enjoyable.

Onto a recipe…..I made this the other day. We’ve been eating it for breakfast. I love making bread. It is a very sensory experience, and somehow earthy and natural as well. It is also surprisingly easy. I’ve run into a lot of people who are completely intimidated by the idea of making yeast breads. It is SO easy one you learn the basics. Homemade bread is delicious, and cheaper than what you can buy at the store. I usually just make a standard half-whole wheat, half-white loaf, but when I have the time and mental energy, I get creative and make bread with herbs, or other seasonings, or shape it free-form instead of using a pan; then, when baked at a high heat, it gets nice and crusty.

I digree, however. If you’ve made bread, this is an easy recipe. If you haven’t, this will teach you the basics and give you a nice, cinnamony treat.

1 package active dry yeast, or 1 tablespoon

1 tablespoon white sugar

2 cups warm, not hot, water

salt, 1-2 teaspoons

4-6 cups flour; I use half whole-wheat, half white, but you can use all white (all whole wheat is hard to pull off, at least without a whole lot more sugar and oil)

1 tablespoon oil

for the filling:

2-ish tablespoons Earth Balance, or other vegan margarine

2-4 tablespoons cinnamon sugar

Method:

Put yeast, sugar, and warm water in a big bowl. Let it sit for about 5 minutes, until the yeast proofs – this means the mixture gets all bubbly; little bubbles will rise to the surface, and there will be a tan foamy substance on top of the water. It’s a fun process to watch, if you have time. After the yeast has proofed, add about 3-4 cups of flour, the oil, and the salt. Stir. Add more flour until you can’t stir any more. Scrape the spoon and bowl, flour your hands, and starting kneadin’ that dough! I like to knead it directly in the bowl. Add more flour as you knead, as necessary. Any time the dough starts sticking to you, add more flour. Usually, 5-6 cups will do it, but it depends on the humidity, the kind of flour you use, etc. You want the dough to be soft to the touch, but not sticky. So, when you have nice mass of dough, to test it for doneness, just poke it with your finger; if the dough attaches itself to your finger, keep going!

Once the dough is kneaded, cover the bowl with a towel that has been dampened with warm water. Place it somewhere warm and let it rise. Usually, an¬†hour or so is enough for the first rising; you want it about double the original size. Punch the dough down. If you were making regular bread, this is when you’d put it into bread pans. However, we’re making cinnamon roll bread! so there’s an extra step…

Divide the dough into two. On a floured surface, spread out one of the sections of dough. You don’t need to use a rolling pin; just use your hands/fingers to smush the dough into a rectangle that is about 6 inches by about 12 inches, approximately. Smear the dough with 1 tablespoon Earth Balance and sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar. Roll, starting at one of the 6-inch sides. Gentle pinch the ends together. ¬†Put the rolled dough into a greased loaf pan. Gently pinch the end of the roll. You don’t need to completely attach it, though. Do the same with the second piece of dough. Let the dough sit, covered with the wet towel, for about 1/2 hours to rise again. Bake at 350 for about 20-30 minutes, or until golden on the top.

Quick Vegan Cinnamon Rolls and a Rainy Run with Mahler

Today’s run: 9+ moderately-hilly, cold, rainy, windy miles in about 90¬†minutes; Mahler 2 in its entirety. It was actually a really good run. It was drizzling when I set out, and I feared I would only be able to do 3 or so miles because of the rain (not because I don’t like the rain; I was worried about my IPod!). It continued to drizzle the whole time, but not enough to make me cut the run short. I got some funny looks from drivers-by – there’s very few runners in our town, let alone folks who run in shorts and a t-shirt when it’s 50 degrees and rainy out – but it was really a wonderful run. I prefer colder, greyer weather for running. It was quiet out; I did not see a single other person out, except for people in cars. Mahler is always a treat to listen to, and the 2nd symphony is truly a glorious work of art – hearing the organ come in at the end of the 5th movement always leaves me with chills. Such moving music. I came in from the run and made myself a BIG pot of Earl Grey, and enjoyed one of these cinnamon rolls. I have a stack of papers to grade by tomorrow, but I’ll get to those in a minute. ūüôā

Did you ever have one of those moments when you told your parents you needed 5 dozen strawberry-frosted chocolate-filled vanilla cupcakes for school, and you needed them tomorrow, and oh, sorry, it’s 10:00 p.m. already?

Well, I had one of those moments last night. Except that I was the one being told that something was needed the next day, and it was by my husband, not my kid. Well, really, to¬†be fair, he DID tell me earlier, much earlier, but….um….I sorta forgot until the night before that I promised to make him something. Whoops.

He needed some breakfast-y baked goods for a class he’s teaching. So I needed something quick and easy, something that I could make with ingredients I had on hand, and something that would appeal to a group of disgruntled, sullen, non-vegan teenagers….

Enter these yummy cinnamon rolls. They’re super easy, relatively healthy (I don’t generally cook low-fat on purpose, but these are certainly lower in fat than the average cinnamon rolls), and tasty.¬† They are not as hearty, substantial, or sophisticated as yeast-dough cinnamon rolls, but I didn’t have the time/patience to make yeast dough. These do the job when a sweet breakfast treat is required, quickly. Husband texted from his class to tell me they were a ‘smash hit’. Success!

Makes about 24  Рrecipe would be easily halved

1/2 cup sugar

4 cups flour (since I was making this for omnivores, I used all white flour – plus I had run out of whole wheat flour. I’m sure half whole wheat would work fine.)

2 tablespoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup oil

1 1/2 cups water

1 teaspoon vanilla

Filling:

2 tablespoons vegan margarine, melted

cinnamon sugar – about 1/4 cup total, made however cinnamony you like it

Frosting:

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

a dash salt

1 1/2 tablespoons soy milk, more or less

(Note: you may want to make one-and-a-half times the frosting recipe; I only had a cup of confectioners’ sugar left, and this baaarely made enough to cover the rolls. If you like really gooey, sugary cinnamon rolls, using 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar and 3 tablespoons of soy milk).

preheat oven to 350.

Method:

Sift dry ingredients. Add wet and mix until just mixed. This is a variation on an old biscuit recipe; you want the dough thick and solid, sticky but not TOO sticky, and not runny at all.

Put about 1/2 the dough on a greased metal cookie sheet. Using your hands, pat out to about 1/4-1/2 inch thickness; you want a rectangle that is about 6 inches by 12-15 inches. This is approximate; these are cinnamon rolls, not rocket science, so don’t worry if¬†your dough is not uniform in thickness or is not a perfect rectangle. It’ll all work out, I promise.¬†The dough will be a little sticky; a little will stick to your hands, and that’s okay. However, if LOTS is sticking to your hands and you can’t effectively pat it down, add¬†a¬†little flour. The dough will be too thick to use a rolling pin.

Once you have a rectangle, smear about a tablespoon of the melted margarine over the dough; sprinkle cinnamon sugar liberally over that, going as far to the edges as you can (but again, it’s not rocket science, so don’t worry about being too precise here). Using both hands, roll the dough length-wise (i.e. start rolling one of the long sides towards the opposing long side. Gosh, there should be an easier way to explain this….you want a log that is the longer length, so a 12-15 inch log rather than a 6 inch log. Got it?). Again, you might get all stressed that this rolling thing is not going to work, since the dough is kind of sticky. Don’t worry. You might have a few little tears but keep rolling, using both hands at once so that the dough doesn’t pull back. Any tears will correct themselves in the end.

Slice into 1/2-3/4 inch slices, approximately. Place on a rimmed cookie or baking sheet, with one of the cut sides (cinnamony sides) up. Leave some space between each roll because they will puff up while baking. If you use an unrimmed sheet, the cinnamon-sugar might ooze out and fall onto your oven floor, causing an icky burning smell.

Bake at 350 for about 20-25 minutes, until golden and no longer moist on top.

Mix frosting ingredients; you want the frosting not too runny; thick enough that it will stay on the rolls instead of dripping off (but some drips are good), but runny enough to spread.

When they come out of the oven, frost with the frosting. Cool in the pans. Enjoy.

These would also be good with orange icing (using OJ instead of soy milk in the frosting) but alas, we did not have any OJ on hand.

Question: if you’re an exerciser, do you use an Ipod when working out? I got through my first marathon and first 2 half-marathons without an Ipod (for either the races or training). Now, however, I’m pretty darn dependent on my Ipod. I can survive without it for shorter runs, but those lonely country roads get awfully long without some music or podcasts to accompany me. Is anyone similarly addicted? I read about the beauty of being alone with one’s thoughts during a run; I love that idea in theory, but in practice, it only works for me for about the first 5 miles.

A day at home and some Bach

No recipes today. I’ve been slightly obsessed with making tortillas and filling them with pureed black beans and veggies (my husband has nicknamed these ‘bean-a-dillas’ – ha). They’re not very exciting, plus I think I already posted the tortilla recipe.

Today’s run: 3 + miles, pushing the double stroller – that counts as double mileage, right? ūüėČ Really, I don’t mind running with the girls in the stroller. I always dread it, but then after the first few minutes it’s not so bad. I usually don’t have to run with them because I get out early enough in the morning that they’re either still asleep or eating breakfast with dad. Today, however, I went on a much-needed¬†cleaning spree and ended up with a later run, necessitating taking the girls. We ran to the library, and then enjoyed story time and an impromptu playdate with some friends who also showed up for story time.

I spend a good bit of time grumbling about where I live (‘everything is so far away! it’s so rural! there are chickens a block away from us! we’re surrounded by rednecks! whole foods is an hour away! these accents are driving me crazy – I have no idea what people are saying to me!’ etc. etc.), but I do have to admit that the town we live in does have some decent attributes. We can walk to the library and the coffee shop (conveniently located a block apart); we can walk to a few restaurants (none of which have much we can eat, but still….); we can walk to the town square, which has some cute shops; we can walk to several playgrounds; ¬†we can take a longer walk and get to the grocery store and post office. So it’s not all bad, and I really need to remember that. Sure, there are some things that could be better – we feel very isolated sometimes, in terms of making friends and meeting people who share our interests – and it is a totally different culture from that which I grew up in, but really, day-t0-day, we have it pretty good. There’s not much traffic ūüėČ and although I have a looooong drive to work, I at least have a good job, as does my husband. Our girls have made friends with some of our neighbors, and there’s plenty of animals around for them to see.

Still, though, it’s hard to balance the day-to-day with our long-term goals. I look at the area in which we live and worry about what sort of environment our girls will be growing up in and what sort of values they will be exposed to at school. Parenting is so tough, and it’s so hard to know what is best for your kid – and in today’s economy, it’s not as if you can just up and move to create a better opportunity for your kids. We can’t just move back to the northeast without jobs, as much as we’d like to. So I guess I just need to work hard at teaching my kids what we think is important, and helping them develop into kind, compassionate, intellectual, curious, understanding, hard-working, ambitious people. Really, we’d face parenting challenges wherever we lived; in more urban, educated/liberal areas, there is SO much pressure for kids to get into the right school, do all the right activities, get into an Ivy League school, etc. etc. Having grown up in such an environment, I know there are problems with those values, too. Parenting is just so tough sometimes. Sigh….

On a brighter note, husband and I played together in a concert tonight, which has become a rare occurrence for us. We played in a performance of a Bach cantata, and it was thoroughly enjoyable. I used to play all the time; music has been a huge part of my life since about 3rd grade. In recent years, as I’ve shifted my professional life to law, I’ve been more of¬† a listener and less of an active performer. I still always played, but just in our living room. I try to play a few concerts a year; as a brass player, I’m in the back of the orchestra, so it’s not like I am responsible for big solo parts. I love listening to music, but I also really love playing it and being part of producing it. Tonight was a good reminder of that.

Questions, just because I’m curious:

1. What do you like about where you live? What would you change? I like being within walking distance of stuff. I don’t like being an hour away from a mid-size city, and I don’t like the mostly closed-minded attitude of so many people around us.

2. Is there anything you used to do – a hobby or interest – that you’ve had to give up or scale back on? Do you have plans to incorporate it back into your life sometime? I would love to do more music, but I don’t see doing more than teaching private lessons to a few students and playing a few concerts a year for quite some time – until I’m no longer a practicing lawyer, probably.

Vegan Cake Pops

Okay, so they’re not technically cake POPS because I was too lazy and cheap to buy lollipop sticks. Cake pops just sounds much more adorable than cake balls.

First things first. Today’s run: a really slow, easy 3 miles. No music, because one of the munchkins misplaced my Ipod. I made up for it, however, by rehearsing a Bach cantata this afternoon and then listening to part of the Met broadcast of Wagner. Good stuff. We really wanted to see the simulcast¬†broadcast of this week’s opera, but we both had rehearsal so we couldn’t go. I highly recommend the Met’s simulcast project – bringing opera to the masses via local movie theatres and reasonably cheap tickets. We’ve been to a few and enjoyed every single one. They have cameras EVERYWHERE so you get close-ups of the orchestra (my favorite!), the singers, the set, etc. etc. plus they go and interview the singers backstage during intermission(s). It is fabulous. I’ve never been to the Met but I really don’t think I need to go, now that they are doing these simulcasts.

Now on to more important things: CAKE. I love cake. I love frosting. It is always an act of balance to get JUST the right amount of cake and frosting in your mouth for each bite…..and a layer cake presents a different challenge, since you’re contending with so many levels of cake and frosting. Drool.

I’ve been hearing (and seeing) all about cake pops recently, and I know I’m way behind the trend, but I finally just decided to try to make them today. Unlike most stuff I try to veganize, I have no idea what I’m trying to replicate here, as I’ve never actually had a cake pop. I wasn’t sure what the frosting-to-cake ratio should be, so I just experimented until it seemed right and stuck together well.

These are surprisingly easy, although they take some time because there’s several steps; however, a lot of that is resting time so you can get other stuff done.

I found them a little sweet, but my husband absolutely loved them. I think he may have actually swooned.

I prefer vanilla to chocolate, but making these chocolate just seemed easier so that’s what I made. I am working on a vanilla version.

You could go totally crazy decorating these, but it’s Saturday night after a busy day so I just made them sans decoration. Slack, I know. They’d look cute with coconut, sugar crystals, vegan fondant (I’ll post that recipe soon), candies, etc. etc. put on after rolling them in chocolate.

Cake layer: I just used the standard vegan chocolate cake recipe that every vegan and¬†every vegan¬†restaurant uses. It’s an old recipe that was used during times of rationing; it happens to be naturally vegan and it’s yummy and easy. I¬†used slightly less¬†sugar than usual, because the rest of the recipe is so sweet.

1 1/2 cups flour – I used 3/4 whole wheat and 3/4 cup white

3/4 cup sugar (original recipe calls for a cup, but 3/4 is plenty here)

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup water

1/2 cup oil

1 teaspoon oil

1 tablespoon white vinegar

Mix all dry ingredients. Sift well so that there are no lumps. Add water, oil, and vanilla and mix until just mixed. Fold in the vinegar. (The vinegar forms a cool reaction with the soda and makes the cake rise).

Pour into¬† a 9 x 9 and bake at 350 until a toothpick in the middle comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. For this recipe, don’t worry about overcooking it; since you’re just going to crumble the cake anyways, it doesn’t matter if it’s a bit dry. You also don’t need to worry about making it come out of the pan, since it’s all going to be smushed up.

Frosting:

1 stick vegan margarine

4 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt, more or less to taste

1 tablespoon soy milk

Let margarine soften. Cream it, then add 1 cup of the sugar. When it is well mixed, add other ingredients, alternating between the remaining sugar and the vanilla/soy milk. Mix until smooth. You don’t want this frosting as liquidy/spreadable as you would for a normal cake, since you’re going to use it to keep the crumbs together.

Coating:

1 1/2 cups vegan chocolate chips, melted (I use Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s brand, usually)

Procedure:

After the cake has cooled, pull it out of the pan and crumble it in a bowl. You want it basically to be crumbs, but some bigger pieces are okay.

Add frosting and stir until the crumbs stick together.

NOTE: I did NOT use all of the cake and frosting. I used about 4 cups of cake crumbs (which left about 1/3 of the cake as regular cake) and a generous cup of frosting. I think the 4:1 proportion is a good estimate; use more cake crumbs if the dough seems too wet, and more frosting if the crumbs aren’t sticking together.

Using your hands, grab pieces of the cake-frosting mixture and roll into balls. Place on a cookie sheet and put the sheet in the refrigerator for an hour or so. Using the 4 cups of crumbs and 1 cup of frosting, I got about 2 dozen good-sized cake pops.

Melt the chocolate chips over low heat, stirring often and watching carefully to be sure they don’t burn.

Gently roll each cake pop into the melted chips. It’s okay if not every inch of cake gets covered. Place back on the cookie sheet. Wait 15 minutes or so until the chocolate has hardened, then eat and enjoy!
If you want to decorate, sprinkle coconut, nuts, sugar sprinkes, candy, etc. on the chocolate after you take each pop out.