thank you for coming: the party favor

Weekend before last (busy days, guys), I co-hosted an entertaining class/gathering with my Vida Vegan partners, Janessa and Jess. (If you couldn’t attend, we will be putting together an e-book, possibly a printed zine with loads of tips and recipes.) What was one of the biggest stress points? The take-home gift. It’s what our guests would be leaving with and revisiting, reminding them of us and our evening together.

In talking with folks planning weddings and other parties, the favors kept coming up as a concern. Obviously, you want something that won’t just end up being thrown away. Ideally, you’d like it to be useful and enjoyable and somewhat unique. Yet you need to put these together without blowing the budget…even more than you already are by hosting this party in the first place.

While I love little potted succulents with place cards stuck in them and handmade pins incorporated into napkin rings for sit-down dinners, for a more casual gathering, nothing’s easier to present and grab on the way out than the jar-of-foodstuffs. Mason or jelly jars are already useful, and while they’re more expensive than most bags or boxes, they’re half your favor battle. Plus they’re very easy to doll up, by slipping fabric over the top, wrapping in a pretty ribbon, or making a custom label for them.

Then you get to fill them! Here are some easy ideas for filling (that don’t include pastel candy-coated almonds):

  • Dry cookie ingredients, poured in layers
  • Hot chocolate mix with mini marshmallows (Both Sweet & Sara and Dandies come in minis now!)
  • Custom coffee, tea, or spice blend
  • Stack of pretty cookies
  • Homemade candies, like truffles or caramels
  • Homemade flavored syrups

And here’s what we gave our guests: The hot toddy kit, with a Vanilla-Cinnamon Stash tea bag, cinnamon stick, star anise, dried orange peel, and brown sugar cubes. Just add hot water and booze and it’s the perfect wintery warm-up. We would have loved to include a little airplane bottle of whiskey with them, but these ingredients started to add up for us as it was—ain’t it always the way?

vegans & body image: katie

Welcome back to Vegans & Body Image, the biweekly series in which vegans share their stories and thoughts on body image in general, and what effect, if any, veganism has on it.

Katie Medlock is an Ohio-based vegan blogger I met at Vida Vegan Con. She works and lives for the benefit of humans and animals alike, and our world is lucky to have her.

katie_medlock_body_imageKatie, 27, female, thin side of average (yet curvilicious), 5′-7″

I’ve been vegan for over 5 years, with 2 months of pescetarianism before that. I went vegan for the animals and am quite the bleeding heart.

For the most part, veganism is more closely tied to my personal morals and ethical decision making than my body image. As I moved forward into veganism, I did notice changes in my body (less of a roller-coaster regarding my weight and bloaty-ness, for instance), yet the big changes did not occur until I shifted more toward a “clean eating” vegan diet instead of primarily convenience foods. These changes have most recently manifested in the way I feel my body function. (More energy! Less gas! Steady metabolism! Fewer food comas!)

For the past 3-4 months, I have enjoyed my return to participating in CrossFit as a form of exercise. Currently, I attend 3x/week and receive a good deal of support from my coaches when it comes to being vegan. They’re truly fabulous and check in with all of the athletes about their nutritional needs and “supportive eating” routines, and I’m no exception. It’s really wonderful feeling, as if my being vegan is not only tolerated, but encouraged. (One of my coaches even recently switched to being mostly vegan!) My decision to return to exercising and having a regular routine of fitness is mostly rooted in wanting to change my desperately lazy ways. I feel more energized and stronger day to day, and (to be honest) also am liking my journey toward a leaner, slightly more muscular physique.

When I was 19, I struggled with a restrictive eating disorder for the better part of a year before it began manifesting as binge eating and depression. Throughout my twenties I have been able to build on the strength I achieved during my initial recovery period and am able to find empowerment in many different things—not only how I perceive my body. In a way, veganism helped launch this newfound strength, in that my ethical foundations were fortified, as was my confidence in assertively living by my own moral code.

To boil down the most important elements of overall “health,” as I see it: providing my body the nutrition, rest, and movement it needs to function at its best, as well as attending to emotional and social needs.

At times, I feel the need to embody perfect health to fight the stereotype of a pale, meek vegan. Not only are there pressures to be nutritionally healthy, but to also break down the stereotypes that vegans can’t successfully live active lives without passing out or having their protein levels bottom out. Living as an unintended example of the picture of health is a difficult task, as I am often the only vegan that people around me know! I try not to succumb to such pressures and remind myself to live my life for me. Two years ago I was actually diagnosed with hyperlipidemia (total cholesterol = 279!!) and, after attempting to lower my levels naturally, am now taking a prescription drug to counteract my bad genetics. Ain’t nobody perfect!

I like to advocate for people to make the best food decisions they can—FIRSTLY, for the world and living creatures with whom we share this planet, and secondly, for one’s own personal health concerns and goals.

Thank you, Katie!

 Read others in the series, and please share your story. Find more info here or email me at VegtasticVoyage@gmail.com.

thanksgiving is the best flavor: veganized downtown cookie co’s stuffing cookies

Thanksgiving really is the best flavor. I can’t think of anything so purely comforting than the smell and taste of sage, rosemary, onion, cranberry, and bread, bread, bread. Not even chocolate. (Chocolate, you know I love you, but it’s…a different kind of love.) Chances are, I’m associating this flavor with the family get-togethers of my childhood, four-day weekends, and confabbing with my brother on the toughest task of the year: The Christmas Wishlist.

Since I was on my own this Thanksgiving (Tom’s still in Nepal, and I do not fly for holidays), I was under zero pressure to put together any sort of respectable feast. So I made these cookies instead.

The headline on The Huffington Post’s article was “Thanksgiving Stuffing Cookies Are About to Blow Your Mind.” Normally, I read this type of hype as more like, “We tried these and they were pretty OK, but we really want you to click on this link.” But come on, “Thanksgiving Stuffing Cookies,” that’s like a hypnobeam, MDMA, and a siren song all ganging up on me. I didn’t stand a chance.

New York’s Downtown Cookie Co offered up their recipe exclusively to HuffPo, and was (duh) very not vegan. But it was very easy to veganize (and cut down on the sugar a wee bit and up the cinnamon, because cinnamon). And these cookies were amazing from start to finish: The uncooked dough was delicious, the smell coming from the oven as they baked was a sweet, herby hug, and the finished product was subtle yet full-bodied. There’s definitely a savory lean to them, but the brown sugar–heavy cookie base really does make them accessible.

I’ve only made the one batch, and I think the only thing I would do differently next time would be to watch my cooking time more closely. The recipe said 10 minutes, but I let them go until they browned up a bit, so they were a little crispy the next day—not a problem for me in the least, but I’d just like to experiment a bit. I was confident enough in them that I brought some to Janessa, who was volunteering at the Tofurky Trot with me, and she gushed a bit more than her normally gushy baseline, so I’ll take that as a good sign. And I might mix things up by pulsing the stuffing in a food processor to break it down a little, for more uniform cookies…because the ones in my photo (again, while delicious and delightful) looked nothing like the ones in the HuffPo photo.

So here’s my veganized version of the Downtown Cookie Co’s stuffing cookie. Note: I made the full amount and came up with 2½ dozen 2.5-ish-inch cookies. This is a lot of cookie dough; I used my biggest mixing bowl and had a hard time mixing at the end without flinging bits over the side.

  • 1 c original Earth Balance (I use the tub, because I have no other use for the way-greasy sticks.)
  • 1 c brown sugar
  • ¼ c white sugar
  • 6 T water, plus 2 T ground flaxseed, whisked together and set aside for a few minutes to get all goopy
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1¾  c AP flour
  • ¼ t baking powder
  • ¼ t salt
  • ½ t cinnamon
  • 2½ c dry Arrowhead Mills savory stuffing mix, with any giant bread chunks removed (I got mine at Food Fight! but I’ve seen it at Whole Foods.)
  • 1 c dried sweetened cranberries

Normal cookie instructions apply. Get the flax mixture started in its own little bowl so it has time to come together. Mix your dry ingredients and set aside. Cream the EB and sugars, then beat in the flax and vanilla. Mix in the dry ingredients until it all comes together uniformly. The stuffing mix will be a combination of small bread chunks and crumbs, with just a few too-big chunks. While you’re mixing, if some of them just seem ridiculous or not wanting to play with the rest of the dough, I highly recommend you pluck them out and eat them immediately.

Drop 2-tablespoonish dollops of dough on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and smoosh them a bit to round them out. Bake in a 350° for around 10 minutes.

on the road: london

london towerI was in London. There was rain. I walked on bridges and ate biscuits and watched “the darts” on TV.

Tom had almost a week between his seminar in London and his course in Nepal, so I flew over and spent as much time as possible touching his face with my face, and the rest of the time looking at old buildings, perfecting my left-side-drive jaywalking, and pinching pennies and pounds.

felafel lunchWe stayed at Think Apartments, basically a hotel where housekeeping only comes in once a week and they have full kitchens. It was about the same price as other hotels, but we got to save a load of cash on food, making our coffee, toasted-breadything breakfasts, and the odd lunch. Trips to Tesco and Whole Foods netted us our vegan margarine, bagels, OJ, falafel, coffee…even coconut creamer. Unfortunately, in the freezer section, pretty much all the vegetarian meats had egg. Except the vegan fish fingers! They were soy-based, shreddy fakey meat, and if we’d been smart enough to pick up some lemon it would have been aces.

While vegetarian is super easy in London, vegan was a little tougher. I kept getting my hopes up, only to have them dashed. One day, in Leadenhall Market, the smell of baked potato lured me into a shop—baked potatoes, especially on a cold, rainy day…well, to be met with the words “only dairy butter” was a real bummer. But I steeled myself, put up my hood, and moved on to what was the only entry on my London to-do list: vegan fish & chips.

coach_and_horses_barOn word from my pal Janessa, I found two versions, the first at The Coach & Horses, London’s first vegetarian pub. What you need to know: You can grab a table in the small street-level bar and your food will come through a (what?!) dumbwaiter. But a bartender can grant you access to the upstairs dining room-slash-bakery. It’s also small but very cute, where cute chicks in cute aprons make scones and pretty cakes.

coach_and_horses_vegan_fish_and_chips

Forgive the candle-lit cameraphone shot!

The vegan fish is a sizable slab of tofu, wrapped in seaweed and battered up but good. My only complaint would be the same one I’d have all over this city: Salt!!!!!!!! I should have carried some with me, because if there’s oil, I need salt. The chips were chips (lightly salted), and the final component was minted peas. I have never eaten peas on purpose, but I was doing as the Londoners do and dug in. Guess what, mint and peas go really well together. Neat and O.

loving_hut_vegan_fish_and_chipsOur second round of fish & chips was at Loving Hut, in Camden. This fish was more of a fakey meat, sitting on a layer of seaweed, then breaded. Overall, this was way more fast-foody, with not-so-exciting chips and (sigh) mintless peas. But it was also half the price and still totally edible and vegan and what I needed to fuel another day of walking and exploring.

cookies_and_screamJust about a half mile from Loving Hut was Cookies & Scream, tucked away in Camden Lock Market, a labyrinth of buildings and awnings jam-packed with vendors of all sorts. I would give you more precise directions, but this is not the way. You must quest for your sweets, and if you are strong and wise, you will be rewarded with vegan milkshakes.

cookies_and_scream_shake

Tom earned an espresso shake and it was a salted caramel for this gal. Sugar. High. And the chocolate doughnut I got was so moist and chocolatey that it was almost a brownie.

canalGoogle Maps won’t tell you this, possibly out of an aversion to long, skinny boats, ducks, and joggers, but a stroll along Regent’s Canal will lead you to Vegan Cross, the vegan grocery/sandwichery/shoe store/t-shirt emporium that is a lesson in small spaces.

vegan_cross_shelvesWe loaded up on Field Roast, cheaper-than-in-America Cheezly, Secret Society of Vegans shirts, and other snacks. I wish I’d been hungry because their (albeit compact) deli was bustin’ with sweets and savories.

And before I knew it or wanted it, the time had come to deliver Tom to his gate and head to mine so we could fly off in opposite directions. Semi-vegan in-flight meals (read the labels, folks), Book Three in the Song of Ice & Fire (Game of Thrones) series, and sleep deprivation would carry me home to my little mewing coffee beans.

coffee bean kitties

London, I will be back. I will be armed with my own nooch and salt, I will tour your Tower, and I will remember to put the fancy insoles in my shoes so my feet don’t get all hurty.

vegans & body image: janessa

Welcome back to Vegans & Body Image, the biweekly series in which vegans share their stories and thoughts on body image in general, and what effect, if any, veganism has on it.

Janessa Philemon-Kerp is a Portland blogger, one of my Vida Vegan partners, and one of my favorite Portland finds. A native Oregonian, she’s lived and played all over the world, and she’s one of the most genuinely positive people I’ve met.

janessa_philemon_kerp_body_image

tibbyphotography.com

Janessa, 33, female, squishy & soft

Raised as a vegetarian, I turned mostly vegan at 22, and went the whole soy-hog at 28. In the early ’80s, white meat didn’t count as “meat,” so I ate chicken and turkey until I was 9.

I’ve never purposely eaten hamburger, steak, or any other red meat. I’m a born pastatarian. Drawn to foods like pasta, breads, and desserts, learning how to eat and like vegetables was something I actively worked on in my 20s. To this day, I’ll still typically pick a pasta salad over a kale salad. My appetite is not large, but I can put a lot of food away if there’s a plate of tacos or a bowl of popcorn sitting in front of me. I eat for enjoyment probably as much as I eat for nutrition.  My diet generally consists of cereal, smoothies, salads, tacos, fake chicken, desserts, pasta, and champagne cocktails.

Growing up, my mom did her best to keep me active and signed me for group sports like soccer, basketball, and softball. One of her favorite stories recalls watching my entire fourth-grade team chasing a soccer ball down the field in a match…then turning to see me slowly following behind, chasing a butterfly (it was pretty!). In middle school, I was on the basketball team for two years. I made one basket.

Needless to say, I’m not naturally athletically inclined. I like playing sports, and I enjoy working out—but the thing is, I enjoy eating and drinking SO MUCH MORE. Given the choice of a hike or Happy Hour, I really struggle with picking the former. Now, if you tell me you’ll bring snacks, I’m much more inclined to lace up my hiking shoes.

Since my 20s, I’ve been an occasional member of the gym, and sometimes even think about doing sit-ups at night. I’ve owned two workout videos: Tai Bo with Billy Blank on VHS in college, and Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred. I stay active day-to-day by riding my bike and walking a lot. My career in hospitality and restaurant management means I’m on my feet a majority of the time.

I find that my definition of “healthy” changes. Sometimes I feel perfectly healthy–I have all my limbs, I eat and drink a lot, but I also move a lot; other times I know I could eat a more balanced diet and exercise more. Healthy to me means eating food that is good for you, enjoying the food you do eat, and staying at whatever activity level makes you personally thrive. Healthy comes in every shape and size.

Being vegan and finding a vegan community has led me to discover new types of food, and I find vegans in general appreciate food an extraordinary amount. It’s so much fun to go out to eat with a group of vegans! In the past, I’ve felt like I’ve needed to look my best to really showcase what a vegan diet can do, but honestly, the amount of energy I have and the way I enjoy my life showcases how happy I am living a vegan lifestyle.

Thank you, jpk!

 Read others in the series, and please share your story. Find more info here or email me at VegtasticVoyage@gmail.com.