Vegan Cookie Cake: A Case of Mistaken Identity

I don’t know if I ever mentioned this but I’m a big fan of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde…. the musical. Not too many people have heard of it — perhaps, rightfully so. The schmaltzy melodies combined with decidedly melodramatic lyrics are a wee bit of a departure from the literary classic. But I like it: forces of diametric opposition clashing against one another, notions of mistaken identity…. great flute solos in the score…. all the good stuff!

Why do I mention this? you ask. Well, shocking as it may sound, it reminds me of my most recent baking adventure.

Last Thursday, I hit the kitchen for the first time in (alas) far too long. The objective: recreate the cookie cakes I used to love in my omnivore days. The recipe: Giant Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake.

The process, I will say, was fairly painless. Throw the wet ingredients — maple syrup, peanut butter and other vegan deliciousness — into a food processor before then adding the dry ingredients. Place in the oven and voila! You have your cookie cake.

Vegan Cookie Cake Shot borrowed from thumbinplum.com (Original image lost in blog migration)

And, as I am pleased to report, it was yummy! Many thanks to 1,000 Vegan Recipes for the recipe.

But alas my remarkable talent for overanalyzing has gotten the better of me once again… last night as I was enjoying my new creation I couldn’t help but wonder: is it a cookie or is it a cake? Can it be both? As my sister will testify, I conveniently referred to it as “the pie” but it’s definitely not a pie.

In “sampling” it once again this morning — enjoying my breakfast of champions — I sought to determine whether it was one or the other: cookie or cake. And I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just not quite a cake. Firstly, there’s no frosting: though, that’s not always a dealbreaker. Secondly, and more importantly, it’s just a bit too dense. Though thoroughly cooked, it has more the consistency of a cookie than a light cake. Also, though this may seem trivial, you can eat it with your hands: a practice I associate more with cookies than with cakes.

But as with any mystery, any case of mistaken identity, I may have to conduct further research. And so with lunch swiftly approaching, don’t be too surprised if I cut myself another slice of this cookie masquerading as a cake.

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P is for Pizza and that’s Good Enough for Me

Did you catch the reference to a certain children’s show we all know and love? Good. 🙂 I knew you would.

I’ve recently gotten hooked on the recipes of a young lady named Chef Chloe. Her work is genuinely inspired: unexpected yet familiar. From what I’ve seen, she specializes in comfort food — pad thai, fettuccine alfredo, pesto — but she adds a twist to her recipe that absolutely floors me. Lime, peppermint extract and rum (!!!) in a chocolate chip cookie recipe? Genius!

Last week,  I tried out her pizza and it did not disappoint. Where do I even begin? A photo is usually a good place to start.

vegan pizza

Literally, the best pizza I’ve ever tasted

The base is what stole the show. Rather than a tomato sauce (or my usual go-to: BBQ sauce), Chloe selects a white sauce — a white bean hummus with lots of thyme. The pizza is then topped with spinach, sauteed onions, roasted butternut squash and apples before you pop it back in the oven and pour yourself another glass of vino while you wait. And then, after the longest 10 minutes of your day… you finally taste it…

DIOS MIO.

It’s the perfect balance of sweet and savory: satisfying but not heavy and oh so flavorful. Aside from the sauce, I can’t pick a favorite ingredient. Is it the juicy apple? The crunchy crust? Or the sweet squash? Impossible to decide.

The only reservation I have about the recipe is that there’s about half a cup of oil in it: 1/4 cup in the sauce and another 1/4 cup for the topping.  Delicious though it is, oil adds a lot of calories and fat. According to nutritiondata.self.com, half a cup of olive oil contains 955 calories and 15g of fat.  Granted, the pizza is not meant for just one person — those calories would be spread between 2+ people — but I don’t like to take my chances. Next time, I’ll rethink how much oil is actually necessary.

Now (alas!) I find myself asking: where do I go from here? How can I ever top that?

Step number one: return to the kitchen!

Step number two: pick a country from which to choose the recipe!

Alas, that is the toughest of all: Italy? India? USA? Mexico? Dare I attempt: France?

Decisions decisions!

Vegan Soup: Quick and Cozy Supper

Found the beginning of this wee post languishing in my drafts folder from last December and thought it was time for it see the light of day… Enjoy!

I know this probably comes as no surprise but I should admit that I’m a bit of a musical theatre nerd. Though I myself don’t sing or dance (in public), I’m absolutely hooked.

Why do I bring this up? you ask. Well, for some inexplicable reason I’ve had a song from the Pajama Game stuck in my head over these past few days: Think of the Time I’ll Save. I won’t burden you with the details or context of this silly little song, but suffice it to say that it’s all about saving time.

Time is not something I have quite as much of as I once did. In the evening, I so often feel like 8pm takes me by surprise, even when I don’t go for a run after work.

One of the ways, I cut corners in the evening is to occasionally have Dr. McDougall’s soup for dinner, rather than make dinner from scratch. And let me tell you, it makes the time crunch all the sweeter.

vegan soup

Vegan soup: Low in sodium, high in flavor

I looooove this soup. It’s flavorful but low in sodium, hearty but not heavy and truly madly deeply vegan. I grab my week’s supply at Shaw’s but if you’d like to take a closer look, do click the link above. There are lots of different options: lentil, black bean, veggie and countless others.Lately I’ve taken a break from the veggie soup to a lentil soup because I love it so much I’m afraid I’ll OD on it. But that’s probably just my tendency towards ‘constant vigilance’ getting the better of me. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of it. It’s impossible.

As the winter months loom ahead, with our first snowfall just last night, I think it will soon be time to try making soup from scratch… on the weekends at least. I planned to develop a stew repertoire last winter (missing Scotland as I was) but alas time got away from me as it so often does. This winter however I am determined (determined!) to stick to the plan — no matter what! Something involving curry, lentils, pumpkin, onions… not at the same time perhaps, but at some time most definitely.

Keep your eyes peeled.

Veganism and Labels

I’d like to have a wee chat about labels. Not food labels or record labels or fashion labels: labels we use to identify ourselves as being of a certain persuasion. Can you guess which one I’m concerned about?

VEGAN.

Yikes. Before I switched to the diet, I was really intimidated by the word ‘vegan.’ For a long time, I used to mistake it for the word ‘pagan’ and that’s a fact. I thought vegans had to sacrifice the best in life — bacon, leather bags, omnivore friends — but I’m happy to report that that’s not the case. Yes, I’ve given up bacon; yes, I’ve started retooling my handbag collection; yes, it’s taken some time to explain to friends why I now prefer Pasta Primavera to my old favorite Pasta Bolognese. But, it’s all been really worth it.

The trouble is: even now that I’m vegan I don’t feel completely comfortable with the word ‘vegan.’ I feel like it doesn’t tell the whole story.

When I meet someone new, I grapple with how to phrase my background and my interest. Do I identify myself as vegan? Do I open with vegetarian and segue into vegan if the person isn’t horrified by the thought of vegetarianism? Do I say I consume a plant-based diet? Do I even describe it as a diet or instead as a lifestyle? Do I say nothing at all?

I don’t want to alienate omnivores. After all, I was one for the first 21 years of my life. I understand the challenge it is to even think about veganism let alone give it a try. But I also have an obligation to be honest with myself and my friends and colleagues.

Levi-Strauss saves the day as usual (Photo http://pdxretro.com)

A gentleman by the name of Claude Lévi-Strauss had this idea of signifier vs. signified. Initially it might sound abstruse but once you give it some thought it’s easy to grasp. Basically, he says that physical objects or processes are more fluid than the words we use to describe them can articulate.  The variety of labels we attach to these objects or processes can never precisely explain how dynamic these entities actually are. Make sense? If not, let it simmer like a nice red lentil dal or kidney bean stew.

Basically, the point is: it doesn’t matter. A label is a label. No label can ever fully explain what it seeks to explain. There are lots of ways to describe the path I’ve chosen and none of the variations take away from the inherent value of that path. This hopefully should take the pressure off. Don’t lose sleep over finding the perfect phrase for the path because the perfect phrase doesn’t exist. It cannot exist.

Whether you want to call it veganism, dairy-free/egg-free vegetarianism, a plant-based diet etc, it’s awesome: enough said.

Kale: Vegan Superfood

“I don’t know how to say this… but… I’m kind of a big deal.”

That’s what kale would say to you if it could speak.

Kale really is an amazing food. My sister has been known to describe it as superfood. I’ve been known to describe it as just plain delicious. Regardless of how well acquainted you are with kale, don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s old news. Whether you’re a seasoned vegan (no pun intended) or a staunch omnivore, you should definitely take a closer look.

kale

Kale — Don’t knock it til you tried it. (Photo: http://steamykitchen.com)

According to nutritiondata.self.com, a single serving of kale contains 206% of your daily Vitamin A intake and 134% of your daily Vitamin C intake, among lots of other nutrients such as protein, iron and calcium. But, I’m most excited by the Vitamin A and C. Those stats are pretty staggering considering the fact that when you eat kale it’s hard to have just one serving.

Maybe I’m reading too deeply into things (as I am apt to do) but… It seems to me that kale is most helpful during the wintertime. During flu season, who among us doesn’t like the idea of adding a little extra vitamin C to their diet? And since Vitamin A promotes good vision, especially in low light, who doesn’t want a little more Vitamin A right about now? For those of us without a spare pair of night vision goggles, a little help can go a long way in the winter months.

Now, you may be wondering: how on earth do I prepare this delectable green? Well… answer is… I’m not going to tell you. 🙂 Not yet at least. I’m going to save that for this weekend.

Stay tuned, friends!

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Vegan Musings on Scotland

I really love to write. Did I ever tell you that? Truly, I do. Truly. Madly. Deeply. I also enjoy reading — even reading my own writing, sometimes. Not all the time. The introspective (and slightly narcissistic) side of me relishes revisiting old aha moments captured in blog posts, while the yearning, nostalgic and slightly melancholy side of me longs for the newness of that discovery… But suffice it to say, this writing thing is something I love. Always.

Why do I bring this up? you ask. What, another philosophical posting?! you argue. Well, I was doing a  bit of thinking & reading just now that got me…. thinking some more.

I was thinking of the Motherland: of Scotland. It was three years ago this very day that I decided to take the jump and to book that ticket to Britain. Remembering all this, I puttered back over to my travel blog.

In revisiting it, I saw notes about (you guessed it) food! And alas not vegan food, I must say, though there certainly are vegan options in Scotland, as shown below. There were notes about gelato and cheese (?!?) and other things as well. But what tickled me the most was what a shock this all was to me, reading it just now. I couldn’t fathom that just 2 years ago I would even consider chicken tikka or fish & chips or dare I say it, a glass of milk. Couldn’t fathom it!

The thing about veganism is that it grabs hold of you… without your even realizing it. You remember before but you don’t really remember before. And even when you do remember, you don’t want it back. Not now, not ever.

Veganism takes a leap of faith, like most everything in life, but (unlike some things) it’s totally and completely worth it. Granted, it doesn’t happen over night; the transition takes a wee bit of time. But remember that in taking that first step, you don’t have to be making a lifetime commitment; you’re just making the commitment to take that initial leap, to give it a try.

As you transition into veganism, it’s also important to find good substitutes for your old favorites. In reminiscing about Scotland, I’d like to share some of mine, namely: haggis neeps & tatties, hot port, and caramel shortbread.

Vegan Haggis

Vegan Haggis: Cruelty-free Scottish delicacy (courtesy of http://www.goodnessdirect.co.uk)

Haggis neeps and tatties are a staple. A staple! Granted, I think being an expat in Scotland I got a wee bit more excited over the prospect of this dish than many locals, it is an essential component to Burns’ Night celebrations in January and many other occasions. I used to get mine for dinner at Greyfriar Bobby’s and when I was craving haggis in the AM at The Grind House. While I’d love to share with you my own recipe, the fact of the matter is that I buy my own haggis from a shop in Harvard Square,Cardullo’s. If you’d like to try this concoction from scratch, I recommend this blog post as a great place to start. Sidenote: neeps stand for turnips and tatties for potatoes.

Hot port was the first drink I ordered in Scotland (after a glass of Chardonnay, of course. Never having screwed up the courage to order a drink for myself in a pub ever before, I didn’t have the cojones to order anything other than my personal staple, chardonnay). But once I’d eased into the evening at The Last Drop, I took a walk on the wildside and ordered the port. How delicious it was! It’s particularly yummy with cinnamon biscuits and shortbread. If making it from scratch I would recommendthis recipe. It never fails.

Finally, caramel shortbread!  I remember I used to grab mine from Bean Scene when also indulging in their sinful chai latte. It was perfect after a long day in the library or a rather ‘strenuous’ evening in the pub. Sweet but also substantial, it could cure all ills. Now of course, I must make it from scratch, being loaded with butter as most traditional caramel dishes are. If you’d like to try it, I’d recommend this recipe. You won’t regret it!

What are some of your favorite dishes from foreign countries?

Vegan Sweets: Re-calibrating the Palate

I have a confession to make.

I should note that this will (inevitably) come as no surprise to most everyone I know: I’ve got a wee bit of a sweet tooth.

But let’s be honest, sweet tooth doesn’t really begin to describe it… sweet teeth would perhaps be more accurate but even that phrasing would fall short of the truth.

Sugar was always my kryptonite, my Achilles’ heel, my Professor Moriarty, my Bertha Mason locked away, waiting to strike…

vegan chocolate cake

Sinfully delicious vegan cake.

Why do I bring this up? you ask. That’s a great question. As I so often say: you may have guessed it although you might not believe it, since going veggie my ‘entanglement’ with sugar has begun to change.

One of my biggest concerns prior to becoming vegan was missing out on sweets and baked goods, especially around the holidays. I was worried about missing the Scottish delicacy caramel shortbread, or the Thanksgiving classic pecan pie, and everything in between.  But honestly, I don’t miss them. I don’t miss them at all.

Part of the solution has been that I’ve been able to recreate old classics like chocolate chip cookies and also discover new ones like gluten free raspberry scones — and don’t let the fruit component fool you. They’re delicious and suitably indulgent from a nutritional perspective. Truly!

But more than discovering these new recipes, I’ve found the biggest secret to my (slowly but surely) decreasing dependence on sugar is that my palate has changed. My expectations have changed.

Going vegan is so much more than switching from a turkey sandwich at lunch to a peanut butter and marmite sandwich, or swapping skim milk in my tea in for almond milk. Going veggie is about recalibrating how you think about food, what you expect from food, and what you look for in a good meal. It’s about delighting not in the familiarity of a sweet but rather in the journey by which you discover a new one.

Veganism is all about the journey and being at the stage of life I am I really love that. Indeed in many ways, the journey is even more fun than the destination itself. Though more often than not, the destination is pretty gosh darn delicious…

Vegan Take Out in Boston: A Fond Farewell

Written a few fewer moons ago… immediately prior to the cafe’s demise…

It is with great sadness that I write this post. Alas, after just over a year in business, The Pulse Cafe will be closing. As of November 20th, there will be no more chilli cheeze fries, Somerville Cheese Steak sandwiches or Tempeh Reubens finding their way into my wee kitchen: whether it be to console me after a strenuous day at work or to sustain me as I brave a cold night on my way to the pub.

The owner provides a short explanation on their Facebook PageI was the investor in Pulse and the plan for me was to be the “silent partner” and not have any management responsibilities, and only a minimal amount of time required. As often happens in business and life, things suddenly changed last year on July 5th, and I had to drop everything else and help in the restaurant full time, if the restaurant was to stay open. At the time we started the restaurant, there were even fewer vegan options in the area and we felt there is a huge need for a vegan restaurant to open. Now there are four new vegan/vegetarian options (True Bistro, Live Alive, Veggie Galaxy, and Clover), so I am grateful for all the other restaurateurs and their teams that serve us wonderful food! 

And so, with the impending close date, my sister and I shared our final feast from the Pulse Cafe last night: a combination of the tempeh reuben, TLT and nachos. Unfortunately, I was too busy chowing down to take a photo but suffice it to say, it was delicious. Downright spiritual, really.

Although it is with regret that I report their closing, I do know that life will go on, as it always does. I’ve thought about the alternatives I have and there really are lots once you take a moment to think about it.

First and foremost: recipes! Vegan with a Vengeance has a fantastic tempeh recipe which can substitute the tempeh lettuce tomato I used to love. But also: other local establishments. The Burren actually has surprisingly spectacular fries which will probably be my first substitute for Pulse’s fries.

Side note: I know what you’re thinking, “Fries are fries! How can you tell the difference?” But truly, after living in Scotland, I can tell you (emphatically!) that not all fries are created equal. There’s so much a chef can mess up in the process, whether it be overcooking them, undercooking them, adding too much seasoning (or God forbid, salt!), slicing them too thinly… the list goes on. Pulse had the equation right. Just right.

Vegan French Fries

Vegan French Fries (or is it Freedom Fries now?)

And while I’m certainly pleased to be off to a reasonably strong start in finding alternatives to Pulse, as is so often the case, more research will need to be done before I’m fully satisfied with the solution. What for example will replace that sinful Somerville Cheese Steak? Or the sweet potato quesadilla? Alas, I digress. This is a tribute: a parting of ways, bittersweet as it may be.

Dear Pulse, I am sincerely grateful for the short time we shared. Oh how I will miss you… In the words of Mr. Tennyson, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

Vegan Take-Out: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

Written many moons ago… before the cafe’s untimely demise…

Let me begin the first of what I know will be many odes to the Pulse Café located in between Davis Sq and Porter Sq. To put it quite simply, the Pulse Café is the bee’s knees. I love it. I can’t get enough of it and I honestly do shed a tear every Monday as that’s the one day a week it is not open.

Pulse Cafe: Vegan Food in Boston

Pulse Cafe: Vegan Food in Boston

Usually I go for the TLT (tempeh lettuce tomato) with chipotle aioli spread and a side of chili cheeze fries but last night I took a walk on the wild side. I ordered the sweet potato quesadilla.

I think you know where this is going.

It was… pretty darn awesome! A tiny bit soggy on the inside, I must admit, but the tortilla was crunchy. With a hint of chipotle and lots of vegan mozzarella, it was very creamy – the perfect dinner after a long day. And, although I cannot begin to fathom what it was made of, the vegan sour cream the quesadilla came with was delicious – albeit less tangy than the real sour cream I remember from my pre-vegan days. The salsa could have had a bit more of a kick but that’s a matter of personal preference, I suppose.

Needless to say, after that quesadilla I’m feeling fearless. After weeks of only ordering the TLT I’m ready to keep experimenting. Next up: the reuben. Can’t wait!

Love at First Bite: Starting the Vegan Journey

Like many vegans, I’m often asked: So, what made you go vegan in the first place? And as anyone whose ever asked me will know, I attribute it to my parents, especially my mother. The fact of the matter is that I can more easily tell you why I’m still vegan than why I started. I really only gave it a try because of my mother’s encouragement. 

And so I thought it might be nice to get the skinny from her: why veganism? How can somebody start? The first step can be intimidating but it’s also really exciting… and so, without further ado, please enjoy this guest post from my mother.

They say all journeys start with that first step. In the case of my vegan journey, it started with that first bite. The recipe, “Orzo with Curried Chickpeas and Raisins,” was taken from a cookbook that I had purchased, “Supermarket Vegan.” And while the first bite wasn’t magical (I should have added a tad more salt),  I knew I was on to something special, very special.

It all started just about two years ago. I’m not exactly sure what possessed me to purchase a vegan cookbook. I’ve always had an interest in nutrition but I’ve never been the least bit interested in vegetarianism. I guess I felt that vegetarians were closet cheese-aholics. Frankly, “Supermarket Vegan” was probably just an impulse purchase; certainly not my first one and by no means my last! I currently own 19 vegan cookbooks. In those cookbooks, I’ve discovered the joy of seitan, the wonder of roasted celery root, the splendor of sauteed collard greens.  I could go on and on. Did I mention the baked goods? I guess you would have to taste them to believe them. My point is that vegan cooking is wonderful. Honestly!! Anyone who would tell you differently should have their taste buds examined by a health care professional. Some of the ingredients can sound intimidating — vital wheat gluten, TVP, tempeh, miso — but they are easily found in a Whole Foods near you and most meals are prepared in a snap. As far as the health benefits, all I can say is that I feel great, really great: in body, mind and spirit. I’d like to say that I look ten years younger but that would be stretching it a bit.

To the issue of animal cruelty, my advice is: don’t ask if you don’t want to know. But if you do want to know, I strongly recommend “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer. Vegan cooking started out as a bit of a lark for me: a way to expand my rather limited repertoire. After reading this book, it became a passion.

Don’t be afraid to give vegan cooking a try. You’re not making a lifetime commitment. You’re simply opening yourself up to new possibilities. Vegan cooking may not be life-transforming for you but I guarantee it will be life-enhancing.

Go on. Give it a go. Start your journey. You never know where it might take you.

Vegan Cooking: A Family Affair | My sister Kathryn whips up a side of kale for dinner.

Vegan Cooking: A Family Affair | My sister Kathryn whips up a side of kale for dinner.