Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pay It Forward And More Sugar!

Hey, it's PIF time! Now, it's my turn to send gifty goodness to three other bloggers. I figure by now you guys all know how this works. If not, here's how it goes..I don't know where this originated but I first saw it on Shellyfish's blog: the Pay It Forward challenge. So Cupcake Punk then did a PIF challenge and lo and behold, now it's my turn. We're all connected by 6 degrees of Kevin Tempeh Bacon, right? ;)

So if you'd like to participate, just leave a comment on this post that says "PIF" (don't be shy) by December 31st, 2008 and after that if I have more than three people who want to participate, I will randomly choose three people to, in the next 365 days, send a care package of homemade/handmade gifty goodness. The only catch is that you must have a blog and you must be willing to "pay it forward" by doing the same thing on your blog. Fair enough?!
Amended 12/21/08: Sorry, guys, totally forgot to mention that yes, non-North American bloggers are more than welcome to PIF too!

Speaking of fun stuff in the mail, we got a mysterious package in the mail last week..from Germany! With love from H.'s parents who had a bakery in Nüremburg, Germany send us a big box of cookies. My inlaws even noticed that we have two Klimt prints in our house and picked out a box to match. I am obviously very blessed in the inlaw department.

Inside the pretty box, behold the cookieness! Unfortunately, none are least I thought...

Until one week later (today), when emptying the box so I could fill it with vegan cookies for a potluck tonight, I found: Spekulatius cookies and they ARE vegan. Yippee yay!

So now I can try out Mihl's marvelous spekulatius butter and truffles. I have to say that I am so incredibly grateful for VeganMoFo because without, I may have never found Mihl's blog (and so many others)..and my life would be sorely lacking. H. is not a vegan but mainly eats vegetarian food..he's been very accommodating to my switch over to veganism two years ago (after 13 years veg)..but it's hard sometimes to veganize some of his german family recipes. But I can show him Mihl's blog and he's like, oh yeah, I LOVE that stuff, let's make it all. It's really cool to see someone get excited about vegan recipes. Plus don't you just find that cooking without egg and milk is SOOO much easier? Everything is pretty much shelf-stable and give me some Ener-g egg replacer to whip up any day vs. cracking an egg anyday!

Speaking of H., here he is fixing my bookcase last week. seems that someone has a vegetarian cookbook! I guess I overstuffed the bookcase so much that it started to wiggle and lean to the side.

Evidence of my addiction...okay, not all are cookbooks. Maybe 1% are art books..he he he! Handy H. put a brace into the bookshelf and all is fine now.

And last but not least, the no-crust pumpkin pie from Lindsay's (Happy Herbivore) Pudge-free holiday recipes cookbook. Super yum! 2nd time making this and I love it! I topped it with a store-bought soy whipped cream.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Polar Bear "Protest," More DIY Links, Proxy the Squirrel, and A Jumble Of Randomness

This post might seems like a collection of rambling, jumbled thoughts instead of one cohesive post. That's because it is! I am completely addled brained right now trying to finish up work for the end of the year as well as do all my holiday shopping. While doing said holiday shopping, my sister's Snuffles bear (lower right bear) was spotted in Harvard Square last night by me. Michelle claims that he's in town doing work for a polar bear conservation group..she believes this photo is not a store window holiday display but a bear protest against global warming. Did you ever have a Gund Snuffles bear? There are blogs and web sites dedicated to the little guy. He'll take on a life of his own once he snuggles his way into your heart.
Second, the DIY links..they just keep flying into my inbox. Maybe it's because of the economy that everyone is so interested in DIY this year..dunno..but isn't it great? I just think of blister-pak free gifts and giggle. Seriously, who in their right mind invented blister-paks? You know that annoying plastic packaging that covers most things we buy? That's a blister-pak The kind that won't open without scissors and stabs your poor little hands with its jagged edges?

Anyway, without further delay, here are those DIY links!
Here's a shot of "Proxy" the Squirrel (short for "proximity")..he's one of Squirrelly's kids and has been clever enough to watch his mom and me interact. See that blue thing in the lefthand corner of the picture? That's my leg..that's how close he came. And look how he looked at the camera? Wild animals will rarely make eye contact with you unless they are challenging you or feeling really comfortable. I'm hoping Proxy feels the latter! I just couldn't believe how patiently he waited for me to fiddle around with my cellphone camera in order to take this shot. In a few minutes his mom came back. I was surprised that she didn't chase the hell out of him like she does to all other squirrels who come near me (she's made it clear that H. and I are her big not-so-furry squirrels). She did a half-hearted chase and then gave up and let Proxy hang out with us. A mother's love I guess ;) Yesterday, I found out that Squirrelly has been cheating on me..she has seduced many of my neighbors into giving her treats. I found a tower of peanuts outside her door. She looked at me to claim that she knew nothing about it but I didn't I see two women this past week stop to admire Squirrelly and offer her a nut?

Speaking of squirrels, did you know that there is an acorn shortage here on the east coast?
NPR story:
CNN story:

So please, feed the fatties..they will love you for it. Besides, you can always get an immature giggle when leaving the house by telling your SO/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend/roommate, that you need to "grab your nuts" before leaving the house. Hee hee!

Sorry, no food pictures today but tomorrow I promise as well as finally posting my PIF link (Pay It Forward..I'll be sending gifty love by mail to three other bloggers randomly selected..more on that tomorrow!). I am one of three bloggers selected by the superbly talented Cupcake Punk's Jes (check out her award winning cake) for her PIF and it's my turn to send the love forward.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Just A Quick Post About More Gifty Ideas

I haven't had much time for making/baking/cooking this work week (and I'm too busy spying on squirrels..see above) unfortunately but saw that Whole Foods has a neat-o section of their holiday web site..all about homemade edible gifties. Yay!

Check out these guys with their own cute little gift tags. So cute..I can't stand it..I must make them all ;)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Holiday Gifty Idea #2: Candied Orange Peel
Look what was outside my window this morning! Our first real snow of the season. It was that really perfect, fluffy kind with the big flakes.

Of course, this meant that I didn't get out to visit my girl, Squirrelly, until later in the day. Here she's saying, "Didn't I order those nuts hours ago?!!" She and her babies got some corn chips, crackers, walnuts, almonds and their favorites: hazelnuts in the shell.

So, on to the gifties! It all started like this: H. was feeling a little sniffly this past week so I asked him if he wanted me to make some fresh orange juice . He was happy to get the juice and I *think* he started to feel better by yesterday because he's back to bouncing around the house with his various projects. But I was left with all these perfectly good orange halves from the juice making. So I thought, how hard could it be to make candied orange peel? I need some anyway for making two German holiday recipes later this month so instead of buying some, why not make it? I did my web research. I settled on this recipe because it made the most sense to me. I'll explain why in a sec!

I started by cutting the orange peel halves in half again. I then used a melon baller to scrap away most of the pith (whitish stuff). This worked fairly well but it was quite a bit of work. I then sliced the peel into longish slivers. Once I finished this, I put it all in a bowl, covered it with water and added a tbsp. of salt and left it out over night. I *think* this is the same reason that you'd do this with eggplant: to draw the bitter juices out but not certain.

The next morning (this morning), I drained the peel and washed it under running water to get rid of the salt. The next step is to place the peel in a pot and add a bit of water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, drain in a collander and then repeat this process two more time. This supposedly removes more of the bitter orange flavor too.

The recipe called for 1/2 cup of water and 2 cups of sugar. Honestly, I was loathe to give up 2 cups of my vegan sugar (call me the sugar grinch!) but after adding a cup and then 1/2 cup, I decided to do the whole amount. Remembering from my jam making that sugar binds up moisture, I thought that there may be a reason for this much sugar to help keep the shelf life of the candied orange peel. And the reason why I picked this recipe. So pour that sugar on!

Cook until the peel turns translucent..takes about 10-15 minutes on medium heat.

Put put the mixture in a collander which itself was in a bowl to collect the remaining syrup.
I then put the syrup in a bottle, added some of the orange peel and put it aside.

I put more of the sugar in a small bowl and then rolled the peel.

I then placed them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet..don't they look like gummy worms?!

The syrup in a bottle becomes an orange-flavored syrup, great for pancakes, tea, etc. It's a nice golden color and kinda reminds me of orange flower honey back in the pre-vegan days. But nicer!

The candied peel itself is nice for muffins, breads, cookies, whatever you want. I'll be giving out little bottles of it but for now, it's stored in a larger container.

And of course, chocolate-covered! I used unsweetened Scharffen Berger chocolate to counter the sweetness of the peel itself.

This was quite a project but I'd do it again because I got three gift ideas out of one plus plenty of candied peel for future baking projects. You can also save the sugar from the rolling step for any recipe that you want to add an orangy sweet flavor to.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Holiday Gifty Ideas #1: Vegan Peppermint Bark
Right now I'm in full production mode for holiday gifts. Here's the first: vegan peppermint bark! I got the idea when in Whole Foods the other day. Theirs is NOT vegan but I liked the idea of peppermint bark. I thought, well, I have all the ingredients and hey, wouldn't it make a great gift? I wasn't quite prepared for how well it turned out. I couldn't stop nibbling! And a recipe that calls for chocolate, mint, and smashing things with a hammer..well, that sounded like fun to me.

I improvised a bit..I had natural peppermints from WF that had no food coloring in them so they were a not so exciting off-white color. I added some swirls of organic food coloring to liven it up a bit. It seems that some peppermint bark is just with white chocolate but I really like it "livened" up with a layer of dark chocolate. I should warn you in advance that the only hard thing about this recipe is that vegan white chocolate chips are hard to find. Luckily I had picked up the last bag at the Boston Vegetarian Festival last month and had some on hand, otherwise, you can always make your own (they don't have to be in chip shape for this recipe). The key ingredient is really nice quality cocoa butter (food quality). Hannah from Bittersweet has the following recipe:

What we are basically doing is tempering the chocolate by microwaving it..if you're not sure what tempering is all about this site explains all! If you're a pro at tempering and prefer to do it stove top, do it!

The recipe I more or less followed for the bark is this (my own modification from the variety of recipes out there):

2 cups vegan white chocolate chips
20-25 crushed peppermints or candy canes
1/2 tsp. peppermint extract OR 3-6 drops peppermint essential oil (taste to your preference)
1 cup vegan chocolate chips or chopped chocolate (I used unsweetened Scharffen Berger chocolate with a few squares of Equal Exchange's mint chocolate bar for can get creative here depending on how sweet you like your chocolate)

Line any size cookie sheet with parchment paper. Next, remove your peppermints from their wrappers (if in wrappers) and put into a mortar and pestle OR food processor and gently crush into small pieces..but not so small that you end up with peppermint dust!

Then take a microwave safe glass container and nuke your white chocolate chips 30 seconds at a time. Check at 30 seconds and see if they are melting. You want them partially melted..they should still retain some of their shape. If they are not at that state yet, nuke them another 30 seconds. I know the temptation to do more without checking but you're burn your chocolate if you do. Just keep doing 30 second increments until you get there. Every microwave is different of course..mine took four 30 second zaps.

When the white chocolate is partially melted, remove from microwave and stir with fork or spoon to slowly dissolve the remaining solid. Eventually everything should be melted. Add the crushed peppermints and extract or essential oil..mix. Optional: swirl in a few drops of red food coloring. Don't mix too much or it just turns pink..I was going for a sort of swirls of red look.

Next, working quickly spread the mixture out on your cookie sheet using a rubber spatula. Remember to inhibit any perfectionist tendencies (note to self!)'s bark and it's supposed to look rough. It's okay if it doesn't make the corners of your cookie sheet. Just keep the mixture about 1/8 thick. Let cool at room temperature until solid.

After the white chocolate cools, melt your dark chocolate the same exact way as the white and gently stir the chocolate to a completely melted state. Pour/spread on top of your white chocolate mixture. Again, don't worry how it looks (should I tell you now that we've going to chop this up with a hammer so it really doesn't matter how it looks?). Let cool until solid.

Take the bark on the cookie sheet and put it in the freezer for 10 minutes to make it harder. Remove from the freezer and take another sheet of parchment paper and place on top of the bark. Using a small hammer gently break the bark into bite-size pieces.

Place into cute bags or containers and tie with a bow. I trimmed the tops of the bags with pinking shears. They make great holiday gifts. I've got some more gifty ideas coming soon--stay tuned!

And more vegan peppermint bark from other bloggers:
A Bit of A Pretzel: What To Do When You Must Go To The Mall In December
What can you do? Sometimes stuff just breaks no matter how diligent and careful you were in selecting it and using it. Even no matter how hard you looked to find something that wasn't made in China. H. and I really like to buy stuff that lasts so we're willing to pay a little more for something whenever possible and budget permits. So we were sad this past week when Mr. Humidifier just stopped working. Okay, true, he had a good run for 7-8 winters (we're not sure exactly). Unlike our previous Britta humidifier which last exactly one winter, H. never once kicked Mr. H. and stubbed his toe it on the way to bed. Some toe stubbing law of physics that I have yet to understand caused H. to stub his toe on the Britta on a regular business. There is nothing quite like waking up to the big "thump" and your S.O. swearing like a sailor. Overtime, the Britta developed several cracks and it cracked so many times that it was a patchwork of superglue (we really truly tried to work it out with Britta but it just wasn't meant to be). And then there was the disaster of the one we purchased for our office last winter..sounded like a jet plane engine and stopped working after just one week. My point: it's very hard to find a good humidifier nowadays because well, everything is pretty much crapola with a few exceptions.

So we tried "fixin" Mr. H first. After searching Amazon for information (their customer comments are a great place to look to find out problems with specific products), I thought that maybe Mr. Humidifier's water sensor contacts were bad. Not being incredibly mechanical (I have trouble even getting screw tops on and off!), I called in H. who, lucky for me, is very talented in that area. He flipped Mr. H over on his backside, unscrewed his underbelly, popped off his feet, and looked inside the patient. Not good. Not good at all. Seriously, H. wondered that it was a miracle that I wasn't already electrocuted! Rusty badness all over. Oh, brother. Mr. H. could not be saved. The patient was dead. And the internal mechanics were such that the transformer was placed on the very bottom of the humidifier and with a small vent that could easily take in water, this, H., showed me, was very, very dangerous in a "shocking" sort of way. H. stressed that he did not recommend replacing Mr. H with the same brand.

So we looked at each other with horror because we knew what that meant. Research would need to be and would would have to go the Mall. Not the mall during December with all the crazed holiday shoppers! We could order online for sure but we really wanted to look/touch/feel our new machine before buying it. Maybe that makes us machinery perverts, I hope not, but I suppose we just want a tactile confirmation that it won't be a piece of junk. After all, Mr. H's plastic casing never once cracked. The only downside I can think of in regards to living right in metro Boston is that there just aren't any good places to buy something like Mr. H..sure you can find some things but the selection is crap. You gotta go to the ' the malls, to really find a good selection.

So off we went: to Sears, off to Target, off to, well, whatever else we find. It turned out that there was a run on humidifiers so the shelves were almost empty but we did find a decent machine at Target. Somehow this particular Bionaire humidifier is not listed on the Target web site at all so that justified our visit we thought. Satisfied with our purchase, we then turned to the grumblies in our tummies. Luckily past research had been done.

What's a vegetarian/vegan to do if you are in an unfortunate situation aka at the mall and feeling a little hungry? Well, thanks to this great link, you do have options (and there are some horrible tidbits this author shares too..restaurants cooking in lard? Ugh...):

Our latest fav is Pretzel Time. H. actually jumps at the thought of going to the mall if it includes a stop at Pretzel Time. They have many different flavors but vegans can choose the "plain" and be sure to request w/o butter. Sign up for their pretzel club and you'll get a coupon for a "2-fer" (buy one get one free) and that trip to the mall might be a little less painful! As for Mr. H, well, he's being recycled as we speak.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Fattie Squirrel, Princess Squirrellerina, and the Pretty Pink Cupcakes

Oh, it's fat squirrel season! My favorite time of year...I can't stop saying to H. "ohhhhh...look how FAT that one is." Totally inappropriate if talking about people. Totally appropriate if talking about squirrels. Look at this fattie who was watching me in the backyard today:

And of course, this is Princess Squirrellerina, Queen of the Backyard, and aka my squirrel (or should I say I am her human) aka Squirrelly, the baby squirrel we rescued from the sidewalk 4 long years ago.

I believe the fattie squirrel here is her baby..I've noticed that ""juvenile" squirrels in their first year tend to get really fat before their first winter. Squirrelly herself pudged out and was almost, hum, should I say, obese?? But now, she puts on a little weight but as you can see, nothing compared to her baby! At 4 1/2 years old she's an old hand (or paw) at making it through the winter.

Here's a sad, terrible fact though..most juvenile squirrels don't make it through their first winter. They starve to death. The second cause of death of a squirrel is human-related from cars to pesticides to just plain cruelty. City squirrels often fare better than country squirrels but either way, if you like squirrels, feed 'em! They will appreciate it..and you can consider them your own army of warm furry composters--they just love apple corns, corn cobs, etc.

Today I put out pumpkin and squash seeds from a bunch of stuff I roasted yesterday. This guy watched me put it next to the composter. He thought I just missed the composter but silly squirrel, I left it there for you!

Now in an ungraceful change of topic, let's talk about cupcakes. Seriously, squirrels and cupcakes in one post..I'm in heaven! Before T-day I purchased "Pudge-free Holiday Recipes" from Lindsay at the Happy Herbivore. She is a seriously talented veganista! Okay, I admit her "Peppermint Chocolate Cupcakes" were what inspired me to buy and were the first recipe I, they did not disappoint. The amazing thing is that they are made with whole wheat pastry flour and applesauce to replace the fat yet so yummy. Imagine yummy chocolate cupcakey-ness with gooey chocolate chips slathered in a frosting that you would swear was creamy candy canes..soooooooo good! Yet almost guilt-free. My brain is confused now but my mouth is happy so whatever! My cuppycakies turned out a little different than Lindsay's because I ground up the white peppermints that I got from Whole Foods and "sprinkled" the cakes with a "snow" of peppermint. However, in hindsight, I should have just frosted them right before eating because the weather must have changed suddenly and my "snow" changed to "slush." So they weren't as pretty upon eating but just as tasty.