Showing posts with label dessert. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dessert. Show all posts

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Best Vegan Cupcakes in Philly

Benji's Pupcake

After class today and to mark the end of a very long week, I treated myself to some lunch at Su Xing House Restaurant. Unlike Philly's venerable but I guess rat-infested vegan Chinese spots (which, of course, Brian loves), Su Xing is clean, almost classy, reliable, free of mock meat (they rely on tofu, seitan and a variety of veggies instead) and not heinously greasy. I feel almost virtuous when eating there. This stop today did not, however, soothe the Beast of PMS who roared, "CHOCOLATE, Bitch! Hormones cannot be sustained on garlic sauce alone!" I quickly acquiesced and headed over to Philly Cupcake.


I discovered this teeny, very pink spot by accident a few months back when I was studying for the GRE. I'd walked past them before but assumed nothing would be vegan. I was proven wrong on that day I finally noticed their "We Have Vegan Cupcakes," sign. Most of their flavors are not vegan but they usually have about four vegan selections per day. Today I picked up a peanut butter chocolate and red velvet cupcakes. Ostensibly, one is for me and one is for my husband but he isn't due back home until tomorrow night and I never vowed on our wedding day to always share cupcakes with him. I've kept my last name, why not my sweets? So far, the red velvet is sitting safely in the fridge but I've already nicked the chocolate swirly candy once placed on top of it along with a pinky-sized serving of frosting. I would not hold my breathe, Brian.

I love the Vegan Treats peanut butter bomb cake and Vegan Treats catered the desserts at our wedding but Philly Cupcake easily takes the cake (forgive me). Vegan Treats is a junk food delight, for sure but Philly Cupcake's items are moister, less crumbly, and way less synthetically sweet than most Vegan Treats' varieties. In fact, I find most Vegan Treats cakes to border on being Hostess-like and I never liked Twinkies or Ding Dongs (their donuts and sticky buns, however, are near-perfect and I don't even care for donuts...until that rare moment when nothing else will do). Philly Cupcakes are just right. They even have mini pupcakes, so Benji got a treat, too.

At $4 a pop, they are priced more than they are worth. Philly Cupcake also has an environmentally nasty custom of using tall plastic cups and covers to house a single cupcake rather than using a paper box. But, as a very rare treat, they are definitely worth it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Go Candy, Go!

It is a myth that chocolate is not vegan. Chocolate comes from the seed of the cacao tree so its entirely plant-based. Since choosing to be vegan, I've not given up using yummy Ghirardelli semisweet chips when making baked goods or eating various dark chocolate bars that I easily find at my local Stop and Shop and elsewhere.

I have, however, not had the candy store milk chocolate bars full of sugar, fat, and deliciousness because they contain dairy and other animal ingredients. Well, I don't have to forgo the sweet candy bar fix anymore because Go Max Go Foods has come to the rescue and released four vegan candy bars that are as delicious as their nonvegan forbears. Jokerz is like that chocolate bar that starts with the letter "S" and is proven to satisfy. Twilight is much like the bar named after our fine galaxy. Buccaneer is as exciting to taste as the three rascally fellows its named in honor of. And Mahalo is as joyful as indulging in some chocolate, coconut, almond goodness on a Hawaiian beach.

After inquiring with the company about when their candy bars might be available in Philly and suggesting a couple of places that might be great to inquire with (Essene and The Rocket Cat Cafe), they were kind enough to send me all four flavors. For free. In return for their generosity, I promised to post about the candy bars here. I am so happy to report that Jokerz totally tasted like its nonvegan fraternal twin. My one regret is that I only indulged in half of the bar because I promised to share them all with Brian. This whole marriage and sharing thing will be hard when it comes to chocolate this sweet, chewy, nutty and delicious.

I confess, however, to eating Mahalo all on my lonesome. Brian said he wasn't crazy about that nonvegan candy bar anyway so I told myself I was doing him a favor. My grandmother used to hoard that joy of almond bar during Lent and then would eat them all up come Easter. In her later years, she complained that the candy didn't seem as juicy and delicious as it once was. Maybe it was her aging tastebuds or maybe the candy's recipe did change. All I know is that I wish my grandmother were still here to try Mahalo because its juicy coconut bits and chunks of almond made me swoon. She loved Hawaii and she would have loved this candy.

Go Max Go candy bars are available in many stores in the US and they soon will be even more widely available. Thanks so much to them for hooking me up with some delicious candy--I still have Twilight and Buccaneer waiting to be devoured by Brian and me--and for making a lot of vegans with a sweet-tooth very happy.

Picture and the products mentioned in this post courtesy of Go Max Go Foods.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Vegan Cupcakes From New Jersey, with Love

Okay, I cannot vouch for the flavor of the baked goods by the etsy shop, The Cupcake Mint because I haven't ordered anything from them yet. But I could not resist sharing their link for two key reasons: (1) everything is vegan and (2) they are based in New Jersey. I must support my home state. If these treats are as delicious as they are gorgeous, I will not be disappointed.

Consider gifting your loved ones or yourself with some local baked goods this Valentine's Day. If you're in the New Jersey-area, contact the Cupcake Mint--they offer free delivery to New Jerseyans who are within a 25 mile-radius of them (although you can still order and pay for shipping through etsy if you're not). If you're in the Philly-area, try Cakekraft or Microbaked. Microbaked made the amazing cupcakes I had at last year's Trenton Avenue Arts Festival.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

New York City's Tiengarden, Babycakes, & More

On Friday, Brian and I took a vacation day to go into Manhattan and see Spring Awakening before it closed on Sunday the 18th. Of course, when we planned this trip, we had no idea it would be one of the coldest days of winter so far. Also, we hoped to get cheap student rush tickets with Brian's Drexel ID but these are not guaranteed without a very early start to the day. The idea of taking the train early in the morning only to have to hang around until 8 PM for the show did not seem like a vacation day to me so we slept in Friday morning and didn't get to New York until close to 2 PM.

By the time we arrived at the Spring Awakening box office, the student rush tickets were gone and the cheapest ones left were $87. Sorry but no. We passed some time until the TKTS booth at Times Square opened at 3 PM by grabbing a quick lunch at Food Emporium's salad and sandwich station. I got a simple salad of greens, grilled vegetables, black bean and corn salsa, red onions, and carrots. The menu said they had smoked tofu but all I saw laid out were some sad looking, unseasoned chunks. I love onions--raw, roasted, caramelized, every kind--but I had to give Brian about half of the onions in my salad because I was so overloaded with them, they were burning my mouth.

After standing on the TKTS line for maybe 10 minutes or so, my fingertips started to burn and sting. Even through my Isotoner supposedly nuclear thermal seal gloves, I felt like a mild case of frostbite on my hands was a very reasonable proposition. I did not want to get frostbite standing in line for $60 tickets to Spring Awakening all while putting up with crazysss Chicago promoters prancing around me in red tights and sticking fliers in my face. I told Brian that I could wait until his office got tickets to Spring Awakening for free when the tour arrives in Philly in June. We went with plan B instead.

The American Museum of Natural History is my favorite museum. More specifically, any planetarium is one of my favorite places in the world. I love this part of Manhattan, too. So often when I visit the city, I'm downtown where the streets are smaller, the buildings shorter, the space more compressed. Uptown is more like how I grew up when I lived in Manhattan (except without all the money and nannies)--more residential, a bit quieter, wider streets, kids coming home from school all bundled up with their friends, parents, or nanny. By the time Brian and I walked up to the museum and saw a lit up polar bear figure standing in the middle of an ice skating rink, I knew missing Spring Awakening was not a loss.

Still, it was late and we had less than 2 hours before the museum closed. Brian wanted to see dinosaur bones and I wanted outer space. It was such the perfect time and day to go because it wasn't crowded at all, mostly toddlers (many of them, for some reason, without shoes) and tourists. We were able to spend a lot of time admiring huge fossils and didn't have to scramble for seats at the planetarium. Halfway through the space show, "Cosmic Collisions," I felt the way I imagine the devoutly religious feel at a moving service: awe-struck, blissful, and humbled. Later on that night, right before Brian and I fell asleep I asked, "What is space? What would the end of space look like? What would nothingness be made out of? Doesn't that just freak you out!?" He answered, "Golden Girls is almost over. I'm going to bed."

After the museum, we headed downtown for food. I wanted to try Sacred Chow but Brian was craving Chinese food so we checked out the entirely vegan Tiengarden instead. We ordered soup--wonton for me and sweet and sour for Brian. The soup hit the spot on a cold night but it did not come close to being as wonderfully flavored as my favorite wonton soup at Philly's Golden Empress Garden. There wasn't much in the way of meat-like dishes other than veggie ham (barf for me, heaven for Brian). Just variations of tofu and wheat gluten with veggies. Brian loves his mock meats but this menu seemed a bit more wholesome to me. For my entree, I ordered soy nuggets in basil sauce with broccoli, zucchini, and red peppers. Brian ordered sliced wheat gluten in ginger sauce with carrots and broccoli. Although we were the only ones in the restaurant, our food took quite some time to arrive. There wasn't much in the way of portions and my vegetables were very crisp--just barely cooked--and lightly coated in sauce. Not a nice greasy takeout hit but a good thing now that I'm back on Weight Watchers. I liked the nutty rice mix and the crunchy veggies but I definitely could have done without the soy nuggets. They were off in a way I could not describe until we got home and Brian said, "Your nuggets tasted like feet." In fact, during dinner, Brian did something I have never seen him do: he gave me back the nuggets I shared with him. Brian said his gluten tasted like bread, which is basically what gluten is but the best seitan doesn't scream "soggy, salty bread."

We headed next door to Bluestockings Women's Bookstore, vowing to not visit Tiengarden again. I could have spent hours in New York's only feminist bookstore. Not because it's feminist but because it's a bookstore and I could basically live in any bookstore. I think I enjoy skimming countless books in a bookstore more than I actually enjoy just sitting down to read one book. Brian and I looked at a book called Body Drama for quite a while. It's the book I wish I'd had when I was 14. I'm pretty much over obsessing over my stretch marks and how I look in a clingy sweater but it's always nice to be reminded of what a world with sane body image can be like and it's nice to have a boyfriend who likes reading that kind of book with me.

Although Bluestockings had tea and a selection of pre-wrapped vegan desserts, since posting about the forthcoming Babycakes book, I had cupcake on the brain so I decided we should give Babycakes another try. I went for the gluten-free vanilla cupcake and a tiny agave brownie bite with Earl Grey tea. Brian ordered a sticky bun. By the time we sat in a corner by the window, the place was hot and popping. I tried the brownie and it was very moist with a hint of nutty caramel but not too sweet. Nice. I tried some of Brian's bun, which tasted more like a crumbly and dry biscuit. The second I dug into my cupcake, unfortunately, I knew my opinion of Babycakes would not improve. In fact, I had to downgrade it quite a bit. If I had ordered a corn muffin, this would have come closer to hitting the spot. But no, I ordered a vanilla cupcake. I know that Babycakes specializes in healthier, allergen-free fare and the place was not wanting for business but a cupcake should be moist, not dry. It should stay together and not crumble. And it should taste like sweetness and vanilla, not lemon and corn. A cupcake is a cupcake, not broccoli. If I do ever visit Babycakes again, I'll stick with the brownie bites.

We headed back to Penn Station in time to make the 10 PM express back to New Brunswick. Due to it being Alaska-cold, however, NJ Transit had its infamous signal problems and we waited on the track for over an hour and a half. Even though we missed Spring Awakening, didn't have a single great meal, and got home exhausted and freezing, our day of hooky was fun and relaxing. I also got an extra weekend day with Brian before he headed back to Philly on Sunday night and another chance to right the cupcake wrongs on Saturday when I made the Toasted Coconut Cupcakes with Pecan Fudge Frosting from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World for my friend's birthday. They were a huge hit with all the Wii-playing adults although one seven year old passed on the cupcakes, instead requesting "normal" ones (meaning without nuts).

*I'm copying personal finance blog, The Simple Dollar, by bolding critical parts of this post, namely: vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants, meals, recipes, and things I find funny.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Vegans of Color Postings

While I haven't been posting here, I've posted at Vegans of Color. Check it out:

Cattle, Mavericks, and McCain and why that campaign ain't got a thing to do with real mavericks.

Black Dog Syndrome on the plight black dogs (and cats) face in shelters.

I've cooked up a storm lately, baking yummy apple cobbler (from The Joy of Vegan Baking) and toothsome tofu nuggets (from You Won't Believe It's Vegan, my new favorite cookbook), maple roasted yams and garlicky kale. But I'm too much of a hungry hoarder to ever take pictures. Plus, my camera sucks.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Would You Like Fries With That?

The second Brian and I turned the corner of Trenton Avenue just before noon on Saturday, we knew the festival was already well on its way to being a huge success. And by huge, I mean so much huger than it was last year. The number of food and art vendors seemed to be double the amount from 2007. I immediately began eyeing the cute purses, aprons, and jewelry I wanted to buy. Dozens of tables were lined along several blocks and the entire length of the festival was sandwiched by two stages starring local musicians and performances by the Walking Fish Theatre.

Our first official stop, though, was to Viva Las Vegans. The truck was parked off to a side street and I was a bit worried about festival-goers missing the sidelined truck. I met Blythe and Derek, the wife and husband duo behind the operation and the first thing I noticed is, OK, Blythe is gorgeous. She and I talked about the inspiration behind Viva Las Vegans—she just wanted some simple and quick vegan comfort food that literally didn’t cost an arm and a leg. We talked about how we ended up in Philly (or really, how I will eventually end up in Philly) and our job experiences. Our first conversation went so well, I almost forgot to step aside from the window when the first customer came along. I left to help Brian place some recycling bins along the avenue. We were both pleased and surprised by both the picture perfect early summer sunshine and the huge crowd.

Pretty soon, we wanted to eat and we, of course, were going to hit up the vegan food truck. We did eyeball other food vendors and that’s when we were even happier to have Viva Las Vegans. There wasn’t much vegetarian-friendly fare, let alone vegan options. One vendor had vegan stew, to which Brian remarked, “Who wants to eat stew at a street fair in the sun?” By the time Brian and I returned to the truck, the line was bustling. I ordered the crispy soy chicken sandwich with jalapenos and Brian got a fish filet. Derek was generous enough to give us both for free. As we waited for our food, Brian offered up my services to Blythe and Derek and they both quickly took him up on his offer. I was admittedly nervous about the possibility of being more of a hindrance than a help to them since I still use my fingers to solve even the simplest of calculations. Blythe assured me that she’d yell out the prices for me and also, there was a calculator. I ate my delicious sandwich and went into the truck.

Viva Las Vegans has devised a complex and sometimes fragile ordering shorthand. For instance, when someone orders a crispy chicken, you write down “CC” and hand that off to the cooks. When someone orders a soy burger, you write down “SB.” OK, so that was easy. Yeah, but what the hell do you write when someone orders a fish filet and French fries? FF and FF? Derek insisted that “FF” would signify French fries and writing out “fish” would be the filet. It only took one or two ambiguous FF’s before I caught on.

As far as I know, everyone’s change was correct and we only lost one order, which we quickly fixed. Vegan customers are about the friendliest bunch you could ever hope to serve. One customer loved the idea of the truck so much that he asked that the generous remainder of his change go toward buying the next customer’s order. How often does that happen at Burger King?

During my truck time, I also met the owner of the Northport Fishington Cookie Factory, who supplies Viva Las Vegans with their cookies. Brian and I split the oatmeal cranberry cashew concoction and, oh my god, was it good.

In addition to that cookie, I ate a chocolate nut vanilla cupcake from Baked, a local microbakery that provides baking lessons and vegan and nonvegan baked goods for special order and Philly bakeries and cafes. When I bought the cupcake, I planned to share it with Brian. After one bite, I asked him if I could buy him another one because I no longer wanted to share mine with him. The cake was so moist and not too sweet while the frosting was creamy with the perfect balance of sugary and savory flavors.

A member of Philadelphia Tree People made vegan chocolate chip cookies. This cookie was out of this world delicious—soft, buttery, and, since this is still a compliment, one that did not taste vegan at all. I reluctantly gave my last cookie to Brian but don’t think that didn’t hurt.

Derek and Blythe assured me that my help at the window was indeed very helpful. What little I did for one afternoon, however, was nothing compared to what they do everyday. Standing and working in tight quarters to deliver delicious, high-quality, vegan comfort food takes a tremendous amount of hard work and elbow grease. I admire the risk and bravery it takes to launch a small business and especially the dedication it takes to provide much needed vegan grub in the food world.

If you’re ever in Philly, please do yourself a favor and visit Viva Las Vegans at 33rd and Market. Order a Big D with extra cheese, bacon, and ask for some fries to be sandwiched in between (Blythe’s second creation for Brian on Saturday). Then leave a generous tip.

Pictures by Brian.

Monday, April 14, 2008

First Mutual Menu Giveaway: Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

Something I've wanted to do for quite some time on Mutual Menu is have occasional contests where we give away cookbooks and other items we really love. We're finally getting this rolling after being inspired by Vegan Soapbox's Cookbook Giveaway and Elaine Vigneault's post on why blog giveaways are great.

Our first giveaway is a brand new copy of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World: 75 Dairy-Free Recipes for Cupcakes that Rule by vegan cookbook heavyweights, Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero (they've also co-authored the recent Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook and Moskowitz created the seminal Vegan with a Vengeance: Over 150 Delicious, Cheap, Animal-Free Recipes That Rock) . Vegan Cupcakes seemed an obvious first choice for many reasons. One, who doesn't love cupcakes? Two, the book is compact, cute, full of scrumptious pictures, and written in a friendly tone. It's also the first vegan cookbook I ever purchased and every creation I've made so far--Golden Vanilla, Apricot-Glazed Almond Cupcakes, and Lychee Cupcakes with Coconut Glaze--has been delicious. Additionally, the book contains many practical tips and troubleshooting for successful cupcake baking so anyone looking to enhance their baking repertoire in general will find much to learn here.

A major deterrent for many when it comes to adopting animal-free eating is the idea that food will not taste good anymore or that some food items, such as baked goods, will be impossible to replicate. I can assure you, you don't need chickens' eggs, cows' milk, and butter to make delectable cakes, cookies, pies, and other treats. Vegan Cupcakes is a testament to this fact.

Brian and I bought this book on Sunday at Robin's Bookstore in Philadelphia, which was one of the places we went to on our first date. It was in Robin's where I first realized I was going to know Brian for a very, very long time.

OK, back to the book, we will pick one person at random and send the cookbook to them. To enter the giveaway, just leave one comment to this post (be sure to include your e-mail address when signing on to comment). Entries will close on May 12, 2008. Unfortunately, to keep shipping costs down and post office visits short, we can only ship the book to those in the USA. Depending on how the first giveaway goes, we may, however, open up later contests to other countries.

Visit The Post Punk Kitchen for recipes and community. Visit Robin's Bookstore and buy some books. Visit Vegan Soapbox and enter their cookbook giveaway too. Please do spread the word and invite others to enter and read as well.

*Picture courtesy of The Post Punk Kitchen.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Top 10 Reasons Going Vegetarian Doesn't Mean You'll Lose Weight

1. Scallion pancakes and faux boneless spare ribs from Veggie Heaven. The first item is fried dough. The second one is animal-free but still slathered in ruby red barbeque sauce, black charred soy skin, and it leaves behind a neon orange grease spot on white paper. Oh, and it has fake fat in it. It's really awesomely, junkily, and spookily delicious.

3. Bread. Especially if you've not gone vegan and the bread is accompanied with butter and cheese. And even if you are vegan, Earth Balance ain't no health food.

4. Fried shrimp in General Tso's sauce at Kingdom of Vegetarians. And fried noodles, moo shu mock chicken, and wonton soup at Golden Empress Garden. Uh, yeah, Chinese takeout was my downfall when I ate meat and it's my downfall now that I don't.

5. Vegan cookies, especially Alternative Baking Company, Liz Lovely, and Brian's mom's oatmeal raisins.

6. Burgers, fries, and shakes at Foodswings. At least you walk it off getting back to the subway station, right?

7. Eating more avocados, more nuts, and more seeds.

8. Coconut milk in curry, coconut milk in your chocolate truffles, licking the coconut cream off your fingers after you open the can of coconut milk.

9. Eating more than the suggested serving size of tofu that is already dripping in oil when you eat from Whole Foods' buffet at 10 pm because you've just gotten out of cookbook writing class, are tired and hungry, and still have to trek back to Jersey. That the buffet is surrounded by the bakery selection doesn't help either. Because you do need dessert, right?

10. Speaking of even more desserts: cupcakes, chocolate, cake, doughnuts--all vegan and vegetarian now. All often very cutely stylized, and absolutely necessary after eating something salty.

So yeah, those are all the reasons I'm still in Weight Watchers and all the reasons I haven't lost any weight since going pescetarian and then vegetarian!
* picture is of me eating my portobello and brie sandwich--courtesy of Johnny Brenda's--at last year's Trenton Avenue Arts Festival.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Banana Spelt Bread

Delicious, simple, and with an aroma that fills your kitchen with comforting goodness, banana bread is one of my all-time favorites. This variation is adapted from Veganomicon. Its many virtues include being vegan, lower in fat, full of fiber, and subtly sweet. The use of spelt flour ups the fiber content and gives this banana bread a darker-than-usual hue (as does the molasses). It’s nutty, perfect with tea, and you can’t go wrong lightly slathering it with butter or Earth Balance and some jam.

This weekend, I brought the banana bread over to Jamesina and Ryan’s house, both of whom are longtime friends of Brian. I worried that it might be too healthy but everyone gobbled it up, particularly Brian, who I had to save pre-visit slices from, lest there be none left for anyone else. Ryan said the bread was reminiscent of Friendship Bread, which I’d never heard of. So Jamesina got me rolling with a starter for it and the end result will be posted very soon (it takes 10 days to make!)

3 small, very ripe bananas
1 ½ teaspoon Ener-g Egg Replacer mixed well in 2 tablespoons warm water (or ¼ cup sweetened or unsweetened applesauce)
¼ cup canola or walnut oil
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark molasses
1 cup all-purpose flour (preferably organic and unbleached)
1 cup + 1 tablespoon whole-grain spelt flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon table salt
2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350ยบ F. Lightly grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan.
2. In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly mash bananas with potato masher, spoon, or fork. Add egg replacer, oil, sugar, and molasses and hand-whisk briskly or mix with beater on low.
3. Add flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt to banana mixture. Use large spoon to mix until just combined, being careful to not over mix.
4. Add batter to loaf pan and place in oven. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until top is brown and cracked and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Do not over bake or bread will dry out. Remember, it will continue to cook after taken out of the oven.5. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before taking bread out of pan and placing on cooling rack to cool completely.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Seven Ways to Host a Vegetarian-Friendly Cocktail Party

1. Focus on Cocktails: Cocktail parties are much easier to vegetarianize or veganize since the emphasis should be on the drinks and the finger-food, not on a main dish that must seemingly be meat-based. Perhaps you’ll decide to make wine the centerpiece of the event. Have a few bottles of white, a few bottles of red, and you’re done. If you’d like to make an actual cocktail, focus on making one or two rather than buying enough hard liquor bottles to stock your neighborhood watering hole. The point is to welcome and share time with loved ones, not to overwhelm yourself and your guests with choices. Make a pitcher of pomegranate margaritas or green apple martinis. Have some ice-cold beer on hand for those who want less sweetness in their life. An even cheaper and particularly festive cocktail option is making bellinis. Buy a few bottles of Asti Spumante or Prosecco at around 12 bucks a pop and a few cans of Goya apricot, peach, or mango nectar for less than a dollar each. Fill a champagne flute about a quarter way with nectar and top with the fizzy wine. No need to stand around pouring, shaking and stirring various liquors as you consult a mixing bible. A bonus is that everything always looks more delicious and bright when there are champagne flutes involved. Whatever the main cocktail will be, be sure to have some sparkling water and ginger ale spiked with grenadine or cranberry juice on hand for the teetotalers and for booze breaks. Also, not all alcohol is vegan. Stella Artois and Yellowtail wines apparently are. Check company web sites and the following resource on vegan liquor for more information.

2. Hello Hummus: Vegans are notorious for loving hummus. I never even really ate much hummus until I started dating Brian and I am now addicted to it to. Hummus is also one of those "naturally" vegan foods, meaning that meat-eaters don’t give much thought to whether or not it is vegetarian as they might with, say, tofu. They just know it tastes good. Hummus is a wonderfully nutty, creamy dip can be made in classic form-just tahini, chickpeas, and olive oil-or enhanced with red peppers, sun dried tomatoes, fresh garlic cloves, or kalamata olives. The possibilities are endless. Hummus complements cut up, raw vegetables, crackers, pita wedges, bagel chips, sliced and toasted baguette, anything you can dip. Mixing up a batch at home is not difficult but there are many quality brands you can pick up at your local market. I like Sabra, as it is the creamiest and most vibrant-tasting store-bought brand I’ve come across and is sprinkled with fresh parsley or paprika.

3. The Grapes of [Having a] Blast: I’d consider this option no matter what drink you choose to highlight, but a plentiful bunch of plump black grapes draped onto a simple white dish is a no-brainer choice for the wine party. Sumptuous on its own or with cheese, grapes signify abundance, sweetness, and a true party. Bacchus, often depicted as surrounded by grapes, was not the god of wine and getting down for nothing.

4. Cheese-One Word Says It All: Cheese is not vegan. Unfortunately, I cannot yet endorse an edible vegan cheese substitute, particularly ones that can be eaten without having to melt it and hide into other ingredients first. Certainly you can have a cocktail party without cheese and no one will notice but if you choose to include it along with myriad other plant-based options, I don’t see a problem. If you want a truly vegetarian cheese-meaning it is made with microbial rennet rather than with the stomach lining of baby cows-there are plenty that are easy to find. I just found a great one, Andes Panqueche Cheese with Chive for less than three dollars at Stop and Shop . Cabot, Organic Valley, Horizon, and kosher cheeses have varieties that do not contain animal rennet. Alouette, makers of herby cheese spread, do not use any enzymes so it’s entirely lacto-vegetarian, no cow tummies whatsoever.

5. Put the Vegetable Back into Vegetarian: Meat-eaters often think of tofu, veggie burgers, and oddly formed Tofurky when they envision a life without eating animal flesh. They forget that there are no vegetables that are off limits. There are hundreds and thousands of vegetable varieties that are all for the taking. They are delicious raw, steamed, grilled, roasted, stir-fried, or spiked with garlic, lemon juice, oil, and sea salt. For a cocktail party, stick to varieties that are naturally finger food-sized or can be easily cut and served raw, like crudite standards carrots, broccoli, grape tomatoes, and celery. But don’t discount other less obvious choices such as sliced radishes; sugar snap peas; olives brined in gin and stuffed with whole garlic cloves; glistening platters of ruby-red and savory peppadews; caramelized red onions; blanched asparagus turned in a small amount of balsamic vinegar and tamari; peppers roasted into sweet, charred blackness and seasoned with sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and olive oil (you can buy them frozen and just reheat according to package directions if you don’t have the time or wherewithal to torch them yourself); fried green beans; even fried onion rings. The options are as infinite as your imagination or recipe library. The salty, savory notes of these dishes go great with alcohol. Besides, these are guaranteed to go so much faster than any half-hearted vegetarian cocktail sausage that just ain’t gonna cut muster with avowed meat-eaters (believe me, I tried and failed at tricking one with mock meat).

* This is me, pre-party, as Hostess Bear. Whenever I make this face, I turn into a bear, any kind of bear I choose. It's a really long story. It's also one of those Couple Things that only Brian and I find endlessly hilarious. My mother too. But that's the sorta story behind this picture.

6. Relax and Enjoy Your Guests: There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious in the kitchen but if you’re having people over to eat with the sole mission of impressing them, consider becoming a caterer. The whole point is to be with people you love and perhaps don’t get to see very often. If some dishes are eaten up more than others, don’t take it personally. Food left behind is a sign that people were thoroughly enjoying rather engorging themselves. And if anyone complains that there wasn’t enough or any meat or that the queso-less quesadillas taste bad without cheese, don’t give up throwing parties. Consider having a talk with or even getting rid of a “friend” who’d judge you and your hospitality so harshly.
7. Always Serve Dessert: Especially when dessert is a vegan chocolate ganache chocolate cake from Whole Foods that you surprise your Christmas baby girlfriend with. Other lovely cocktail party desserts: brownies or rice krispie treats cut into mini, bite-sized squares and stacked like a pyramid; cupcakes; dried fruit dipped in dark chocolate; roughly cut shards of bittersweet organic chocolate with almonds and dried blueberries; a big bowl of clementines alongside small plates and more than a few napkins; spritz cookies.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Baking Power!

If you've never made a cake from scratch, you have to try it! What a rush!

Joselle walked me through my first, full-fledged lesson in cake baking this past Saturday. It was a real high; something we both needed after a two-hour literal walk along the trails of Center City Philly (i.e., the relatively new and forward-thinking Schuykill River Park and City staple Boathouse Row, along a sculpted Kelly Drive and Fairmount Park). We felt winded from rock climbing at the Water Works, and made our way over to the nearby Whole Foods before nightfall. Joselle and I sought out some dinner comestibles (as she would say) and a bunch of ingredients for a cake recipe selected from How It All Vegan, one of the two whole entries in my dusty collection of cookbooks. It was kind of like we were squirrels in search of sweet treats. And sweet treats we did uncover!

After a simple dinner experiment of pasta elbows slathered with Aldi tomato sauce and carmelized onions mingling among Trader Joe's Meatless Meatballs---accompanied by fresh salad and cooked broccoli blanketed in a layer of Earth Balance and salt---the Mutual Menu was prepared to bake. We were all set with utensils in hand, when Joselle shocked this cookie rookie with a single blunt statement: "We forgot the baking powder." I quickly replied with obvious naivete that there was a box of some in the back of my fridge. A few things I neglected to mention to my culinary queen: 1.) This box had been in the back of my fridge for more than two years; 2.) This box had been open for an equal amount of time; and 3.) This box contained baking soda, not baking powder! Neither of us was entirely sure of the difference, but Joselle's experience suggested there's a method to all this madness.

Off came the slippers as she and I put on our hiking sneakers to trek all the way across the street from my building to the Quick Stop, a cigarette-smoke infused former 7-11; the frequent rest stop for neighborhood vagabonds and junkies-with-the-munchies. Case in point, Joselle noticed that you can actually buy a pancake-sausage breakfast sandwich there for $.99. What a steal, I suppose, if you're not in the market for a vegan cake's missing baking powder like we were. And, although we never found said baking powder, we stumbled upon a fresh box of baking soda from said Quick Stop. The fact that the trusty Arm & Hammer logo was defending other nearby bakery sale items on the shelf sustained our optimism. The plan would proceed!

The next hour or two invited new experiences for me and increasing yawns for my instructor. A bleary-eyed Joselle advised her student on the importance of fresh ingredients and a gentle mixing form. And, since I consider myself a gentleman, I mixed the select contents of my retro-pink ceramic bowl, and we heated things up! We also licked all of the utensils in sheer abandon, considering there seems to be less of a threat of salmonella poisoning with vegan recipes. As for the vanilla cake with maple walnut's all good! The baking soda didn't kill us. Instead, it just gave the candy-sweet cake a dense flavor similar to a soft pretzel. Since I'm from Philly, I guess that should taste like home, right?

Joselle later researched this arcane difference between baking soda and baking powder. It seems that baking soda---although a considerable subsitute for the similar powder format---has a unique quality that helps to neutralize the acidity of traditional baking ingredients like buttermilk or citrus additives to make a recipe come together cohesively. Baking powder, on the other hand, is self-reliant in this regard. As a hypothetical solution to Saturday evening's dilemma, Joselle suggests adding a teaspoon of vinegar to the mixture to give baking soda something to neutralize; just a little source of satisfaction that we're all looking for in this world. If you find yourself in a similar scenario, give it a shot!

I've already managed to enjoy quite a few voluptuous slices of our creation since Joselle headed back to New Jersey on Sunday evening---but I tend to eat when I get depressed. And I get sad because---even more upsetting than watching such a sweet treat disappear with each passing meal---it makes me feel downright blue to see a woman so sweet suddenly retreat to her seemingly distant life once again. One day, the Mutual Menu's members will be able to be together without having to say goodbye to each other for another week every single Sunday night of the year. I just wish there were a way to eternalize such a great-tasting cake like the one we made together. Well, I guess it's back to the old mixing bowl and oven mitts!

For the Mutual Menu's take on this recipe, please get in touch---or pick up a copy of How It All Vegan to add to your own dusty collection!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Random Fridays: Cookies and Blogs and More

My good friend, Sky, recently did some tabling for Animal Place during the 8th Annual World Veg Festival, where Compassionate Cooks’ Colleen Patrick-Goudreau was speaking and doing a signing for her just-released cookbook, The Joy of Vegan Baking. Sky introduced herself to Colleen as a friend of mine and the two of them orchestrated the photo above.

Colleen has kindly allowed me to post the picture here as long as I place the disclaimer that she did not sleep much the night before. Well, she looks to be about the most adorable and cheerful of sleep-deprived people I have ever seen. But since she was gracious enough to create this message for me and always kind enough to answer my e-mails despite the fact that we have never met and I’m sure she gets a slew of e-mails daily, I will post the disclaimer, however unnecessary I think it is.

The real reason for posting the picture is to provide more incentive for anyone reading this to run out and buy The Joy of Vegan Baking (besides Sky, our most devoted, and possibly only reader, who already has her copy). I would recommend it to the novice baker, as this book is chock full of excellent and sound advice on baking techniques. The more experienced baker, especially one who can’t imagine making a cake without eggs and butter, will expand their cooking repertoire as Colleen shows you that vegan baking is a) not some new-fangled fad but a technique that has been used throughout the ages for various reasons and b) delicious. You don’t need chicken’s eggs and cow’s butter to make cookies. Believe me. Try eating Liz Lovely or Alternative Baking Company cookies and tell me you miss the yolks. Then bake your own using Colleen’s recipes. Beyond the many cookie, bar, cake, and muffin recipes housed in this collection, Colleen also shares recipes for pancakes, crepes, waffles, breads, puddings, smoothies, and so much more. For starters, I am dying to make the mango sticky rice and German apple cake. Besides all of this, you get a chart on various baking apples, the deal behind baking soda and baking powder, easy and cruelty-free alternatives to using eggs, milk, cream, and butter for baking, and indices that are broken down by type of ingredient and occasion. At the heart of this book, however, is Colleen's clear and eloquent explanation on her journey of becoming a joyful vegan and her reasons for this choice. As a pretty hardcore cookbook fan, I can safely say that The Joy of Vegan Baking is easily one of my favorites and one I am sure to refer to quite often.

In Addicted to Race’s podcast episode number 82, host Carmen von Kerchove reads a comment I posted about a previous podcast, which focused on bloggers of color. Go check it out to hear what I said.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Random Fridays: Helping You (and me) Procrastinate

* Addicted to Race is a podcast hosted by Carmen Van Kerckhove, co-founder of many fabulous blogs (Racialicious, Anti-Racist Parent, and Race in the Workplace), which focuses on "America's obsession with race." The first podcast I listened to was, "Where are all the bloggers of color?" (Hello. Right here. Just because you can't enter "blogs + colored" in google search and find the one domain we're all supposedly hanging out in doesn't mean we're not here! Wow!). Addicted to Race tackles what I just put in parens beautifully. I'm currently listening to the episode on celebrity adoptions and they are so right on. And while I'd love to link to the individual episodes, the page is not working right now so just visit the site and scroll through a bit.

* Jezebel is sorta old news but I just finally decided that I need to read them every day and I love their biting, feminist, silly, and serious commentary on such subjects as, "Is Amadinejad hot?" and "Does it suck standing next to Angelina Jolie at the Clinton Global Initiative?" It's like eating organic junk food. Somewhat naughty but oh so good.

* Brian and I are going to the Cloisters this weekend with his friends in Brooklyn. We'll also be stopping at Moo Shoes so I can buy winter shoes and, of course, eating vegan cupcakes of some sort.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Random Fridays: Getting Off the Computer

* No posting this week because I've been dealing with a nasty bout of ongoing repetitive strain injury. One doctor says I now have arthritis in my right hand. Fun. I told Brian that I was reading a copy of Arthritis Today and that all the active seniors pictured in the magazine are now my people. While I get all this sorted, I've been using some great (and free for 45 days!) software, RSI Guard. Even if you're not suffering from any symptoms yet, if you're on the computer or sitting at a desk regularly, I encourage you to try it out. Stretching and resting work best in preventing a problem rather than correcting one so take care of yourself now. The program interrupts your work, prompting you to stretch. And it also demonstrates the stretches for you! You can adjust how often you'd like the interruptions and can postpone them if you'd like (but you really shouldn't) or, if you're low on willpower, set it so that your mouse and keyboard will stop working until your stretches are complete. It also gives you a full report on your computer habits. In just about an hour and a half of use today, I've made 404 mouse clicks. Now I know why I'm well on my way to bingo tournaments and Tai Chi classes at the senior citizens center! I wish I had started using this about 5 years ago.

* Compassionate Cooks' Colleen Patrick-Goudreau has finally released her first book, The Joy of Vegan Baking. I ordered my copy yesterday and cannot wait to get my hands on it. Just the chocolate chip cookies featured on the cover alone seem worth the price of admission. I've tried out a few of Colleen's recipes already from her site (it was she who inspired the maple syrup and tamari combo I am now obsessed with) and they've all been tasty.

* On Monday I went to my very first cooking class. It was with vegetarian-friendly cookbook author, writer, and chef, Myra Kornfeld at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Food and Health in New York City. I had so much fun that I walked out of there convinced I should become a chef. For now I'm just going to take more classes. I will post more about the class when arm pain has subsided. The short version is Myra, the assistants, and all my classmates could not have been nicer; I ate a lot of macaroni cheese; I made yummy roasted curried sweet potatoes with shallot-yogurt dip and chickpea corn cakes with olive tapenade; and just about died eating the apple brown betty and ginger chocolate mousse (and I'm not even that big a fan of ginger!). Everything was so delicious. Don't tell Brian but I'm going to make him the potatoes this weekend. He'll die.

* I'm going to stretch now!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Balance in the Distance

A long-distance relationship poses all sorts of challenges, particularly when it comes to sharing meals together. For Joselle and me, the last few weeks of summer have been quite the rollercoaster in the way of our mutual menu. It's not always funnel cake and water ice. When we meet up for condensed weekend time together, we typically pack those too-few hours with unconventional mealtimes and restaurant excursions (e.g., recent trips to Greenlight, Red Bamboo, and Zen Palatte). This can all be very exciting, but oftentimes much more expensive and somewhat less healthy than homecooked meals.

When we're apart---which is a good bit of the time---mealtimes for me are extremely lonely, and homecooked meals are few and far between. I don't enjoy shopping and cooking for myself; something that basically equates with understocked cabinets, bland meals, and poor nutrition. This hits me hardest when I experience an onset of Epstein-Barr Virus symptons (stemming from adolescent mononucleosis), which seem to be recurring more frequently with each passing year. These are the times when I need to take the best care of myself, but I typically feel the least motivated to prepare food, clean up, and do it all over again. Lethargy and mild depression often go with the territory, and it becomes a real pain in the neck to whip up meal after wholesome meal.

I'm sure when Joselle and I eventually find a way to be closer to each other, meals won't seem so far away. They probably won't always be as perfectly prepared and timed as we like them to be; but we'll definitely work to establish nourishing systems and structures for ourselves that will help to better define our life together (we've already discussed the importance of sitting down to eat dinner as a family). For now, the adage of "you are what you eat" is so very true; a lonely meal that leaves my stomach empty also leaves my spirit feeling pretty much the same way. And, let me tell you: As tender as Trader Joe's Soy Nuggets can be when properly nuked, they'll never be able to take the place of a meal with my main squeeze, Joselle.

Friday, July 20, 2007


Another busy work week has precluded Brian and I from posting this week. Here's a quick rundown of interesting links and happenings:

  • Listening right now to a segment on NPR's Day To Day, "Kids and Vegetarians." Dr. Sydney Spiesel, who is interviewed, seems to think vegetarian diets are just fine for long as the diets are lacto-ovo and not entirely vegan. While not entirely anti-vegan, he does lay out some precautions for the parents of children considering this diet. This is something I think about in terms of my future children. Will they be vegetarian? Mostly vegetarian? Eating chicken? I can't imagine denying them the joys of a good grilled cheese sandwich (mostly because I cannot deny myself). All stuff I'm only just beginning to clear brain space to think about.
  • Tonight, Brian and I will be heading into the city to see Neko Case at Summerstage. We both cannot wait. I've loved Neko Case's music for years and since we've started dating, I've gotten Brian hooked to her as well. This is my first time seeing her. And it's a free show. Doesn't get more perfect that that.
  • While I haven't been able to schedule in posting time here, I have been able to briefly glance at some very good blogs. The Urban Vegan follows a Philly resident in her meals and travels. She's featured some really amazing looking desserts that I'm looking forward to trying, like Coconut Pie made with cashews, coconut cream, and a drizzling of chocolate ganache. There's also vegan Nutella, which I have to make for Nutella-virgin Brian. If it's anywhere near the ambrosia that is the original Nutella, life will be worth living. Straight From the Farm is all about utilizing the goodies that can be found in Philadelphia's Weaver's Way Co-op, which Brian took me to in June. The blog includes many recipes, gorgeous photographs, and coverage of many Philly food- and farm-related events. Tropical Vegetarian Family displays the meals of one vegan family in Puerto Rico. I long believed that being Puerto Rican meant it would be nearly impossible to live without the undeniably delicious pernil--roasted pork--but, so far, I have been able to resist. My grandfather made the best pernil and, sadly, since he isn't around anymore, it'll be that much easier to pass on the pork. But Tropical Vegetarian Family shows that is possible to make great Puerto Rican dishes without meat, poultry, or dairy. I mean, we do love our plaintains and rice and beans so it really isn't that hard.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Taking Care in How We Prepare

Try thinking of something more difficult than making a meal to simultaneously accomodate vegans and omnivores alike. It's nuts. Literally. Many foods---such as peanuts---are a mealtime nemesis for many people, thus affecting the lives of those who care for and chow down alongside them.

Twice this week, I've been privy to the details of young people confined to a life so cognizant of reading ingredients and interrogating food-service staff that it actually makes me feel relieved to be just vegan. A student attending the college where I work has a potentially fatal allergy to peanuts. Earlier this week, the dining-service staff were instructed to refrain from using any sort of peanut-based cooking product throughout the entire summer semester; all snacks with any peanut ingredient were immediately removed from the cafeteria's vending machines. If this student even so much as breathes peanut dust, it could quite possibly kill her.

This past Saturday night---at a dinner to celebrate Joselle's mother's recent birthday---a family friend told me about her grandson, whose dietary restrictions are even more prohibitive. In addition to a plain old peanut allergy, this adolescent lad has no choice but to keep his distance from all food products hosting wheat gluten and dairy (if you thought you had a rough childhood, think again). Fortunately, his loving mother works diligently, mastering meals to suit both his needs and tastes. I was most impressed to hear of her party-ready cupcakes made with rice powder (let's just hope this kid can still indulge in a little sugar).

Hearing about these cases makes me consider what a true luxury it is to be able to choose veganism, rather than merely conform to it. For folks with biological guidelines, it's not that simple; and I'm sure it's no piece of gluten-free cake for their loved ones either. As Joselle and I discuss our mutual menu, I'm also eager to learn more what it means to share a table with those who savor their survival most of all.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Vegan Marshmallow Goodness

This technique for doctoring up marshmallows with something other than graham crackers and chocolate comes from my good friend, Sky. Before passing it on to me, she sent it in to Veg News' ( Vegan Marshmallow Contest. And she won! I haven't tried it yet but she's promised to bring her prize of Sweet & Sara ( vegan marshmallows to NYC and perhaps share her creation when we meet up at Caravan of Dreams ( in NYC for dinner in July:

So sweet it is. Cut a large marshmallow in half (or just rip 'em, tiger) and delicately smoosh a perfectly ripe strawberry between said halves. Insert a toothpick to hold the wonderfulness together and pop it in the freezer for a bit. Meanwhile, melt some dark chocolate. Grab them bad boys out of the freezer, insert into the dark chocolate, let cool and then... well, yum.