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How to enjoy the holidays as a vegan

 

I had a lovely Thanksgiving yesterday, how about you? All my planning and baking turned out great, and my vegan dishes got 4 thumbs up from the 13 year old twins. Now that the holiday season has officially begun, and the meal-including invitations are starting to fill our our calendar, I'm thinking a lot about how to enjoy the season as a vegan.

The cardinal law of being a vegan (or vegetarian, or gluten-free) is simple: Bring your own food. But beyond that, figuring out what to bring can be a challenge. Here are a few things to think about before you pick a recipe:

1. Find the spirit of the event.

Every holiday party has its own personality. Thanksgiving with my in-laws is about big plates of food and every sibling and cousin in one place around the long table. Thanksgiving with my mom is hot chocolate, cookies, tree lighting and craftiness. For some families, it's that Norman Rockwell brining-the-turkey-to-the-table moment.

Before you explore your vegan options for an event, take a second to acknowledge what you want to experience and what you love about it. Is there anything you don't want to feel you're missing out on? What doesn't matter as much to you? How can you take part in the spirit of the thing?

Can you spot the vegan options?

For example, at the big Swiger family dinner, everyone brings several dishes to share, so it's no big deal for me to bring 3 vegan dishes. Jay and I can load up our plates with food we love, and no one notices except to compliment it (out of the three sweet potato options, mine were the only ones completely devoured!).

2. Focus on the seasonal flavors.

 

A lot of vegetarians try to recreate the entire omnivore meal plan, which can be interesting, but is it really what you want?

 

What are the flavors you're most exited about? Focus on recreating those, or make sure there'll be a vegan option. The thing I always loved about Thanksgiving is the stuffing: sage-y, thyme-y, savory; paired with tart cranberries. I've made veggie stuffings in the past, but this year I made a chickpea tart that had the same flavor. My husband loves desserts, so I brought us a vegan version. Neither one of us ever cared about the turkey, so I don't worry about Tofurkey or Field Roasts.

3. Bring what you love.

While it's awesome when your uncle falls in love with vegan black bean empanadas, don't drive yourself crazy pleasing others. Be content that as long as you love it, and it improves your experience: it was worth the effort.

 

And now that you have some ideas for how to pick, here are the recipes I've used (and loved) in the last few years:

  • Black bean squash empanadas, from The Veganomicon – brought to last year's Thanksgiving, and gone to moans and compliments in under 10 minutes.
  • Festive Chickpea Tart– made the night before (but not baked) and then frozen. It thawed as we drove the 3 hours to meal and then baked for 30 minutes. Delicious!
  • These sweet potatoes – they beat out the other two options on the table.
  • Brownie Pumpkin Pecan pie – easier than it sounds.
  • Elvis cupcakes, from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World – a family favorite! Banana cupcakes filled with peanut butter frosting and topped with chocolate ganache.
  • Maple pecan pie – made this for just us…and I'm smitten.

What do you do to enjoy the many eating opportunities during the holidays?

 

This is the first in a series on “How to enjoy the holidays as a…” (Maker, Introvert, Writer, etc)

Have any suggestions for what I should cover next?

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Feel Good: Homemade Pumpkin Spice Soy Chai

As part of my Feel Good Experiment, I'm paying attention to what feels good, and that includes all those tiny wants. You know, when you're in the middle of something, but you think, I would really love a hot cup of tea. Well, now that I'm paying attention, I realize that I crave warm beverages a lot. All day. I want coffee in the morning, tea all day, and hot chocolate at night. But then I tell myself, Ok, just wait until you finish this email. Or, Get one later. And 8 hours later I still don't have my tea and it's time for bed and I say, Oh well, I'll get one tomorrow. 

Homemade soy pumpkin chai & pumpkin oatmeal. Yum.

 

Putting off a cup of tea might not be a big deal…once. But my daily deprivation, my unfun do-this-before-you-get-what-you-want game is a sign of something bigger. It's a failure to really listen in to what my body wants, and it's a symbol of all the other things I don't listen to (stretching a cramped leg, getting that Dr's appointment, a feeling that this project isn't quite-right).

So a cup of tea is the perfect place to start listening in to what feels good. It's small, it's risk-free, it's delicious and warming. And taking the time to make a perfect cup (and then enjoy sipping it) is a lovely reminder that I'm allowed to feel good, that I'm allowed to bring more good things into my life.

 

Yesterday I posted the above picture to Instagram and got a few requests for my recipe, so here it is, my guide to make the perfect cup:

 

Sharing pumpkin soy chai on the site today!

There are two steps to making this tea: make the pumpkin spice + brew the tea. The first step can be done way in advance – I make pumpkin spice in bulk every week and then add it to everything: smoothies, oatmeal, coffee, apple pie.

I started with this recipe, but tweaked it to fit my put-it-in-anything plans.

Pumpkin Spice for Anything:

1 cup of pumpkin puree
2 tsp cinammon
1 tsp ginger (I love it freshly-grated, but dried will work too)
1/2 tsp nutmeg (you might want more, but I don't really like it)
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 cup soy milk *

Mix it all up with a fork. It'll still be a bit thick, but that's ok, because you're going to add liquid any time you blend it in to anything. Seal it up and keep it in the fridge for a week.

 

*Important note about non-dairy milk substitutions:

I prefer almond milk (and hemp milk) for just about everything: baked goods, on my cereal, smoothies…but NOT for this. Other milks get weird when you heat them up…almond milk gets bitter, hemp milk starts to curdle and rice milk heats fine, but it's just way too thin for a creamy drink. If you're going to mix this in hot tea or coffee or oatmeal, use soy milk.

(Could you use milk? Sure…but why would you? The soy milk has a sweet nuttiness that really plays well with chai)

 

Making the tea

2 Tbl Rishi Tea: Masala Chai (loose tea)*
1 cup soy milk
1 cup water

Bubbling soy chai;

Put the tea and liquids in a little pot and bring it to boiling. The directions tell you to boil it for 5 minutes, however! If you keep it all the way up at High for 5 minutes, it gets a little bitter. So I turn it down to medium (still boiling, but less angrily) right after if it comes up to boiling. Set your timer and enjoy the chai-y fumes.

While the chai is bubbling, scoop a big spoonful of your spiced pumpkin into the bottom of your cup. If your drinking cup has a narrow mouth, use a wide mouth bowl or measuring cup for the next step. I want the hot liquid to hit the pumpkin to dissolve it, so scoop the pumpkin into whatever you're going to strain your tea into it. While you're at it, get out your strainer.

 

Straining the chai

 

When the timer dings, pull the tea off the stove and strain it. The pumpkin should dissolve nicely, but give it a quick stir just to be sure. If you've strained it into something else, pour into your mug.

Untitled

There you go! Delicious pumpkinness!

I love it in my oatmeal...

And if you've got a little tea left over, pour it into your oatmeal.
(Go on and add an extra scoop of the spiced pumpkin to your oatmeal while you're at it.)

 

A few other ideas:

  • The spiced pumpkin recipes all call for sweetener. If your tea isn't sweet enough for you, splash in some maple syrup. The soy milk I used had some sugar in it, so I didn't need any, but when I add the pumpkin spice to coffee, I usually do.
  • If you don't have loose leaf tea, use a tea bag (I like these) steeped in 1/2 soy, 1/2 water, then mix in the pumpkin.
  • If you've got the chai liquid stuff, mix it with soy as directed on the box, heat it up, then scoop in the pumpkin. (I like the Oregon Chai brand.)
  • When you're all warmed up (or sipping this butternut soup), make a pumpkin smoothie! 1 frozen banana, 2 scoops of spiced pumpkin, about a cup of almond milk, 1 Tbl of flax seeds: blend it all up.

What's your favorite feel-good drink of the fall?

 

Recipe: Earl Grey Shortbread

Earl Grey Shortbread! Recipe from @amysnotdeadyet #vegan
Today I'm super excited to be doing something completely different: collaboarting with Amy to share a vegan (and non-vegan) recipe!

This recipe is so simple and so straightforward, it was uber-easy to make it vegan: I just substituted Earth Balance butter for regular butter. That's it! I've included the vegan recipe below, but you should definitely click through to see Amy's pretty illustrated recipe.

These cookies are what I think of as proper British biscuits. Not overly sweet or powerful, they're fragrant and mild and just the right kind of sturdy to stand up to a warm cup of tea. We used Earl Grey here, but I'll be making these again with Vanilla Rooibus (and vanilla instead of orange zest) and Ginger tea (ooh, with fresh grated ginger instead of zest!). Because of the short time and limited ingredients, these are the perfect thing to make when you're staying with friends and want to impress them with your sophisticated baking.

I was worried that the vegan butter might not create the right kind of texture, but these were like a perfect cookie pie crust. Sturdy, with little crumbling in your hand, but a lovely crumby-ness once you bite.

 

Vegan Earl Grey Shortbread

Time: About 10 minutes to blend up, 1 hour in the freezer, 15 minutes in the oven.

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon finely ground Earl Grey tea leaves (from about 2 bags)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) Earth Balance butter, softened
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

Directions

1. Whisk flour, tea, and salt in a small bowl; set aside.
2. Put butter, sugar, and orange zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture until just combined.
3. Transfer dough to a piece of parchment paper; shape into a log. Roll in parchment to 1 1/4 inches in diameter. Freeze 1 hour until firm, or chill overnight in fridge.
4. Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut log into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Space 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment.
5. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until edges are golden, 13 to 15 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 5 days.
6. Enjoy with a big mug of tea and an episode of Dr. Who.
A few notes
1. I used Mighty Leaf Organic Earl Grey (because it's what I had, because it's my favorite!), but the tea leaves are not ground up small. They're long and lovely…but much too big for this recipe. I crushed 'em up a bit, but when I remake this recipe, I'll be sure to grind them even smaller, because wherever the pieces were too big, they added a touch of bitterness to that bite of cookie.
2. The top of your cookies probably won't get golden, because vegan butter doesn't do that the way real butter does. To see if they're done, check the bottom, which will be a nice golden brown color.
3. The Earth Butter gives it a pleasant, mild butteryness, but I bet you could kick that up another notch by replaced a tablespoon of the powdered sugar with brown sugar (that'll give it that buttery/carmely-ness you associate with butter cookies).
Additional toppings:
Because these cookies aren't sweet, I started thinking about tasty toppings to sweeten 'em up a bit.
I dipped a few in chocolate, because I'm crazy like that. To do that, melt some chocolate chips (or a dark chocolate bar) is a small, flat-bottomed ramekin. Dip the edge of the cookies in the melted chocolate and set aside to harden, or munch them while gooey. Mmmm.
Next time I make this, I might make an orange glaze, by mixing a 1/4 teaspoon orange juice with a few spoonfuls of powdered sugar. Adjust the sugar until you've got the consistency you want (add lots more powdered sugar and really whip it up for a full-on frosting.)

 

To see her darling illustrations (and get the non-vegan version), visit Amy.

 

PS. This is totally new for me, and I'd like to know what you think! Would you like more vegan recipes? Should this collaboration be a recurring thing?

Sugar Cookie Day

I woke up today, the first day of my sabbatical, thinking about sugar cookies.

(Well, not just sugar cookies. I was also humming this song (you're welcome!) and wondering if new people joined the CraftyBiz Kitchen overnight (they did!).)

Specifically, these sugar cookies. I'm making them right now (ok, as soon as I stand up).

That's a LOT of flours!
(the recipe takes a LOT of flours! 5!)

And I am dying to decorate them like the Pioneer Woman and Bakeat350 taught me here.
IMAG0247

And, well, I just wanted to share. Sugar cookies! Decorating!
No big business lessons. Just luxuriating in a sabbatical. Look for pictures tomorrow (or follow me on Twitter and get pictures LIVE. Thrilling. I know.)

IMAG0245

That's how I'm spending my snowy Thursday. What are you doing?

(pictures added 12/18. You can see that I fell far short of The Pioneer Woman's beautiful examples. Sigh)